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Islam and science are compatible, as long as you cut out the bits of science you don’t like

I visited Brighton, once. I took a pleasant stroll down along the beach, dipped my toe in the water, and I liked it! Therefore, my current physiological state is entirely compatible with swimming the English Channel, and how dare anyone criticize my lack of swimming practice and stamina and strength as somehow incompatible with being a successful English channel swimmer. Didn’t you see in my first sentence that I liked it?

That’s how I read Sana Saeed’s article in which she declares that Richard Dawkins is completely wrong about the incompatibility of science and religion. Her reasons are remarkably superficial and trivial, and she manages to kill her own case midway through. Here’s why she thinks they’re compatible:

I spent my childhood with my nose firmly placed between the pages of books on reptiles, dinosaurs, marine life and mammals. When I wasn’t busy wondering if I wanted to be more like Barbara Walters or Nancy Drew, I was busy digging holes in my parents’ backyard hoping to find lost bones of some great prehistoric mystery. I spent hours sifting through rocks that could possibly connect me to the past or, maybe, a hidden crystalline adventure inside. Potatoes were both  apart of a delicious dinner and batteries for those ‘I got this’ moments; magnets repelling one another were a sorcery I needed to, somehow, defeat. The greatest teachers I ever had were Miss Frizzle and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

I also spent my childhood reciting verses from the Qur’an and a long prayer for everyone — in my family and the world — every night before going to bed. I spoke to my late grandfather, asking him to save me a spot in heaven. I went to the mosque and stepped on the shoes resting outside a prayer hall filled with worshippers. I tried fasting so I could be cool like my parents; played with prayer beads and always begged my mother to tell me more stories from the lives of the Abrahamic prophets.

That’s all very good — it’s a great start to have a childhood in which she was enthusiastic about science, and perhaps she could have even gone on to be a practicing scientist when she grew up (she didn’t) — and she could have even continued to be a practicing Muslim. There is nothing in her story that rebuts any claim of the incompatibility of science and religion.

But here’s where there is an incompatibility: she could do experiments with magnets and potatoes, but did she ever ask herself if those long prayers really worked? Did she ask her grandfather how he knew heaven existed, and would she have been content if he’d simply said it was a tenet of their religion? Did she ever examine those stories of the Abrahamic prophets and ask if they were really true?

No, she did not. She comes right out and says it: magnets and potatoes, sure, but there are some things you are not allowed to question.

In other words: There’s plenty of wiggle room and then some. On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith), there is ample room for examination, debate and disagreement, because it does not undercut the fabric of faith itself.

She’s so blinkered by her faith that she doesn’t even realize that setting boundaries on what you may question is completely antithetical to science, and that her religion compels her to accept counterfactual nonsense. The only way she can say religion is compatible with science is by imprisoning a broken science within the limited boundaries of what the patriarchs of her faith will allow.

You may not question god, angels, the Qu’ran, Mohammed, the existence of the afterlife, or God’s will, but hey, as long as you unquestioningly accept everything the antique holy book says about the nature of the universe, it’s totally compatible with science.

She gives an example of how Islam and science are compatible, but it’s enough to make one cry in despair.

Muslims, generally, accept evolution as a fundamental part of the natural process; they differ, however, on human evolution – specifically the idea that humans and apes share an ancestor in common.  

Well, then, that means you don’t accept evolution. There is no good reason to single out humans as exceptional — the science says one thing, religion defies the evidence, and Saeed accepts the religion.

In the 13th century, Shi’i Persian polymath Nasir al-din al-Tusi discussed biological evolution in his book “Akhlaq-i-Nasri” (Nasirean Ethics). While al-Tusi’s theory of evolution differs from the one put forward by Charles Darwin 600 years later and the theory of evolution that we have today, he argued that the elemental source of all living things was one. From this single elemental source came four attributes of nature: water, air, soil and fire – all of which would evolve into different living species through hereditary variability. Hierarchy would emerge through differences in learning how to adapt and survive.

This is a “theory” that is not founded on evidence and experiment, propagates archaic ideas about the structure of the universe (water, air, soil, and fire are not the fundamental attributes of nature), contains erroneous statements about biology (al-Tusi endorsed a hierarchical ladder of life, and also set humans apart as a special case), and completely lacks the population thinking that was the core of Darwin’s insight. He was a smart fellow who did some brilliant things, but he was also a person of his times and his biological explanations were most definitely not comparable to what Darwin came up with 600 years later.

That Saeed thinks they are is just another sign of her ignorance.

Al-Tusi’s discussion on biological evolution and the relationship of synchronicity between animate and inanimate (how they emerge from the same source and work in tandem with one another) objects is stunning in its observational precision as well as its fusion with theistic considerations. Yet it is, at best, unacknowledged today in the Euro-centric conversation on religion and science. Why?

Because it was wrong? Because it did not lead to greater understanding of how biology works? Because it was all tangled up in ridiculous religious beliefs that you were not allowed to question?

I think Saeed understands her religion very well. But despite some early promise in childhood, it’s clear that she doesn’t understand science at all.

Comments

  1. zenlike says

    So some guy who was also muslim proposed an alchemical version of evolution? Totes prove religion and science are not at all add odds! Thanks Saeed!

    By the way: this is the byline on Sana Saeed’s Twitter Feed:

    writer with a bad habit of cutting through the bullshit.

    She wallows so much in her own bullshit, that she cannot recognise it anymore.

  2. frankb says

    Those attributes of nature sound like the four states of matter but nowadays we have a better list: solids, liquids, gasses, and plasma. Fire is not plasma and soil is a terrible example of a solid. If religion forces you to keep fire and soil on the list then it is not compatible with science.

  3. alkisvonidas says

    Well, if we’re going to play Great Missed Opportunities at Being Darwin, why not go back to the source? I.e., that 2nd Physics Book of Aristotle, where he brings up the idea of evolution by natural selection and promptly dismisses it, all in the space of two paragraphs:

    A difficulty presents itself: why should not nature work, not for the sake of something, nor because it is better so, but just as the sky rains, not in order to make the corn grow, but of necessity?[...] Why then should it not be the same with the parts in nature, e.g. that our teeth should come up of necessity-the front teeth sharp, fitted for tearing, the molars broad and useful for grinding down the food-since they did not arise for this end, but it was merely a coincident result; and so with all other parts in which we suppose that there is purpose? Wherever then all the parts came about just what they would have been if they had come be for an end, such things survived, being organized spontaneously in a fitting way; whereas those which grew otherwise perished and continue to perish, as Empedocles says his ‘man-faced ox-progeny’ did.

    Such are the arguments (and others of the kind) which may cause difficulty on this point. Yet it is impossible that this should be the true view. For teeth and all other natural things either invariably or normally come about in a given way; but of not one of the results of chance or spontaneity is this true.[...]

    So there you have it: the hypothesis of natural selection, without religious overtones, already mangled and confused by teleological thinking. Christian and Muslim philosophers, who tried to build on Aristotle’s work, really did not stand a chance with all their presuppositional baggage.

  4. A Masked Avenger says

    She’s so blinkered by her faith that she doesn’t even realize that setting boundaries on what you may question is completely antithetical to science…

    In the sense that a motivated reasoner is likely to have difficulty with objectivity and empiricism, sure. But it’s perfectly possible to be a scientist who considers certain questions off limits, as long as they’re inaccessible to science in the first place.

    For example, we assume that it’s OK (or not OK) to eat meat, or use animals for research that saves human lives. We assume that “women are people too”, that no human can rightfully be enslaved, that no service provider can refuse his services on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof, etc. We assume without question that no woman can be forced to serve as an incubator, and most of us assume that fetuses deserve no rights of any kind whatsoever. A few of us extend that to the recently born.

    These are defensible ethical positions, but the are not empirically verifiable, because they are not even objective claims in the first place. They hinge critically on the assumption that all self-aware humans deserve the same rights as any other, and the assumption that animals and non-viable and/or non-sentient humans do not. If we reject these assumptions (or something close) because they lack objective verifiability, then we commit a horrendous error that paves the way for all sorts of atrocity. We do the right thing to hold them, to consider them sacrosanct, and to dismiss any attack on them. We discuss ethics, but these few assumptions are axiomatic. We can invoke utilitarianism, etc., but we believe in equality for women, minorities, and the differently gendered, even when the consequences are not to our liking.

    I’m not constructing a defense of religion here, or belief in leprechauns–that would be a bait and switch. But in principle it’s perfectly possible to be a good scientist AND a pastafarian. You’d have to be a particularly self-aware one, who recognizes the non verifiability of his religion and carefully avoids accidentally making empirically testable claims about his noodliness, but it can be done.

  5. says

    @4
    A Masked Avenger

    you are a bit mixed up. sure, it’s generally ok to treat those things as axioms, but I really don’t think they are axioms. Reason and evidence do support them.

    You are kind of going into the never ending debate of whether morals are real or whatever. Perhaps you are unaware of how to bridge the supposed is-ought gap. And don’t forget (as the wikipedia writer seems to) that some things that we think are basic values might be able to be changed by reason and evidence, particularly when different values a person holds are shown to conflict.

  6. kraut says

    “On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith),”

    At least part or all of those claims are denied by other religions positing a different god or a multitude of gods. So much for your fucking theological truth, lady.

  7. Rey Fox says

    On anything that is not established as theological Truth (e.g. God’s existence, the finality of Prophethood, pillars and articles of faith),

    I love how in the very link she gives, the last article of faith is treated as optional. So much for “established as theological Truth (with a capital T).

  8. tfkreference says

    On my iphone, the word “articles” in one of the quotes broke across two lines and I read the context as “arctic lies of faith.” I like that phrasing better – but I’m not sure of an apt connotation for arctic.

  9. A Masked Avenger says

    you are a bit mixed up. sure, it’s generally ok to treat those things as axioms, but I really don’t think they are axioms. Reason and evidence do support them.

    I’m mixed up about plenty, but not about this. I’ve already said that there are decent supporting arguments. However, neither empirical nor logical proof is possible. This is very nearly a mathematical theorem. Ethics have no objective existence, so they can’t be demonstrated empirically. And logical proof requires initial axioms, which already entail anything that can be proven, so the only ethical statements you can “prove” are the ones you’ve effectively already assumed.

    The existing approaches to the is-ought problem are useful, but none of them should be mistaken for objective demonstrations. Each ultimately falls before the simple question, “so the fuck what?” E.g.:

    “In order to achieve goal A, one ought to do B.” So the fuck what? I care fuck-all about achieving A. Next?

    “The mere act of persuading me proves that you recognize my agency as the equal of yours.” So the fuck what? And you’re wrong anyway. Persuading you is just cheaper and easier than killing you. I only do the latter when the former fails.

    “The mere act of promising not to kill me implies an obligation not to kill me.” So the fuck what? You can say that all you want, but your widow will find it cold comfort.

    “Society is allowed to decree ‘oughts’.” So the fuck what? Your majority can fuck itself for all I care. And by the way, I can give you another almost-theorem that proves mighty convincingly that it is inherently impossible to administer a society without violating its stated mores–effectively that the President not only is vanishingly unlikely to comply with society’s ethics, but that it is literally impossible to function as a President without doing so.

    And so on. The discussion is valuable, but ultimately it’s turtles all the way down. You can’t get to lights without assuming at least one ought somewhere along the way.

  10. A Masked Avenger says

    Should say, “you can’t get to OUGHTS without assuming at least one ought…” Damn autocorrect.

  11. dannysichel says

    “Did she ask her grandfather how he knew heaven existed, and would she have been content if he’d simply said it was a tenet of their religion?”

    Given that she specified he was her late grandfather, I think any answer he provided would have been sufficient.

  12. unclefrogy says

    masked avenger. I would disagree that all those things which you enumerated depend on the assumption all self-aware humans deserve the same right as any other.
    deserve has nothing to do with it it is that they or shall I say we who desire them and claim them. It is not something that us granted from the outside it arises from each individual internally. Is there some entity that grants life or decides who deserves life or is it really I LIVE!
    Just who or what does this deserve come from or who or what is it that grants any of these things?
    uncle frogy

  13. consciousness razor says

    However, neither empirical nor logical proof is possible. This is very nearly a mathematical theorem.

    Very nearly a mathematical theorem is the same thing as not a mathematical theorem. You are asymptotically approaching pure bullshit.

  14. robro says

    alkisvonidas #3

    Such are the arguments (and others of the kind) which may cause difficulty on this point. Yet it is impossible that this should be the true view. For teeth and all other natural things either invariably or normally come about in a given way; but of not one of the results of chance or spontaneity is this true.[...]

    So there you have it: the hypothesis of natural selection, without religious overtones, already mangled and confused by teleological thinking. Christian and Muslim philosophers, who tried to build on Aristotle’s work, really did not stand a chance with all their presuppositional baggage.

    Are we confident that paragraph was written by Aristotle? A curious thing about the writings of Aristotle, Plato, and so on: As far as I can tell, all of our sources for them were preserved by religiously devoted Christians and Muslims for many hundreds of years and our oldest versions (often fragmentary) only go back to after the advent of the Christian period (4th century) and typically much later…9th, 10th being common. That means a gap of 800 years or more between when these works were written and when the manuscripts we have were penned. I say “preserved” with some reservation because I don’t trust the process to maintain accuracy and not introduce theologically motivated material. I know that experts do various textual tests to determine authorship and identify interpolations, but haven’t found information about research on the Greeks (there’s tons about the Bible of course). I’m no expert and don’t have access to the scholarship…just something I wonder about.

  15. Scientismist says

    brianpansky @#5: Thank you.

    A Masked Avenger (@#4 & #11): You are right, that ethical positions are not empirically verifiable. But, in the sense you mean, neither is anything else. In science, we know something to be true only within a range of tolerance, and to a particular likelihood. Science is not objective, and neither is ethics (I despise the word “objective”, as it is a near-perfect Humpty-Dumpty word, meaning only what the speaker wants it to mean, which is not likely to be what the listener will think it means).

    And neither science nor ethics is sacred, either. If I can assert, as a “sacred truth”, that women, but not fetuses, are people, then others can (and have, and do, and will) assert exactly the opposite and justifiably dismiss any opposition as blasphemy. Neither position is “empirically verifiable”, but both hold consequences for empiricism itself. The scientist (and the ethicist) says “Look at what I got here — Hey people, whaddaya think?” But if your ethical circle excludes women, valuing them not as people and potential colleagues, but merely as incubators for future people, and then you eliminate another batch because they are valued only as property, and others because they don’t love the right people, et cetera; then pretty soon you are down to saying “Hey, whaddaya think, Bishop? ..or Imam ..or Commissar ..or Congressman…”

    As an antidote to the idea of either “objective” or “sacred” truths in either science or ethics, I recommend watching Bronowski’s Episode 11, “Knowledge or Certainty.” Or better, get the book (“The Ascent of Man”) and read, slowly, the last three paragraphs of chapter 11. If you still think “We do the right thing to hold them [our ethical assumptions], to consider them sacrosanct, and to dismiss any attack on them,” if you believe you have absolute knowledge on these, or any matters, with no test in reality, then I can only beg that you please think it possible you may be mistaken.

    And finally, consciousness razor @#17: “Very nearly a mathematical theorem is the same thing as not a mathematical theorem. You are asymptotically approaching pure bullshit.” Yes!

    All knowledge is uncertain — I wish more people could learn to live with that. The precision of a mathematical proof within a defined formal system is a wonderful thing, except that it seems to prompt, in some people, the delusion that we might solve the Schrodinger equation for all of life, including today’s ethical dilemmas and tomorrow’s news headlines.

  16. alkisvonidas says

    robro #18

    Are we confident that paragraph was written by Aristotle?

    We are confident enough that such a paragraph would not have been tampered with by Christians or Muslims for religious reasons.

    First of all, if they were to tamper with it, it would be to remove it. Why would they sneak in there an idea contrary to the few things they and Aristotle were in total agreement about, i.e. that there is purpose and design in the universe?

    Second, the scholars (and their intended audience, i.e., educated clergy and other scholars) knew perfectly well that Aristotle was a pagan philosopher. They may have viewed him as the most important authority on secular matters, but they certainly didn’t consider him infallible, and in fact had made it perfectly clear that in matters of theology, scripture trumped Aristotle. Aristotle’s mistakes (and “mistakes”) were routinely discussed by medieval scholars. So, they had no reason to commit forgery of his work (save translation/transcript errors, of course).

    Third, as you write, his works were preserved first by the Arabs (and Byzantines) and then by Western Christianity. There were simply too many independent scribes, with vastly differing agendas, so that it would take an enormous conspiracy to tamper with Aristotle’s works — and it would be relatively easy to spot.

    Finally, hard as it may be to believe, early Christians and medieval scribes weren’t as unapologetic frauds and consummate liars as are today’s creationists and christian fundamentalists. They have preserved pagan polemics in an attempt to refute them. They even preserved many of their own apocryphal and non-canonical books. They considered it important that what they deemed “heresy” shouldn’t go unanswered, regardless of what we may think of the quality of their refutations (we are not their intended audience, in any case). Most of what is lost, in fact, was due to ignorance and neglect in the darkest times of early and medieval christianity, and very little due to active destruction. If a christian wanted to obliterate some piece of knowledge back then, by far the best course of action would be not to transcribe it.

    That said, there is indeed a chance this paragraph was not, in fact, authored by Aristotle, but for a very different reason: Aristotle’s books were in fact the equivalent of lecture notes, the gist of his philosophy to be taught and discussed in class. So, he may have been refuting an objection that came up during class discussion. If so, some unknown student of Aristotle had made the first step towards an understanding of the main idea behind natural selection!

  17. A Masked Avenger says

    And neither science nor ethics is sacred, either. If I can assert, as a “sacred truth”, that women, but not fetuses, are people, then others can (and have, and do, and will) assert exactly the opposite and justifiably dismiss any opposition as blasphemy.

    Yes, that is indeed my point. The fact that no ethical proposition is OBJECTIVELY true, immediately implies that there is no objective criterion basis for proving that mine is better than yours.

    As an antidote to the idea of either “objective” or “sacred” truths in either science or ethics…

    We seem to have a communication problem. Wherever you got the idea that I’m under the illusion that absolute certainty exists, you didn’t get it from me. I didn’t say it, and I know perfectly damn well that it doesn’t exist. If “objective” to you means “absolutely certain,” then we’re not speaking the same language.

    Empirical observation is not absolutely certain, but it is objective: the result is either repeatable or not, and it makes no difference who is performing the experiment. A great illustration is the color red: it’s subjective in that the concept wouldn’t even exist if our entire species were dichromatic–but that segment of the light spectrum exists whether or not humans even have the power of sight. It can be experimentally verified by color-blind scientists. If we discovered an isolated population of dichromats, we could easily concoct an objective demonstration to prove to them that there are colors we can see and they can’t, even though we could never get them to experience it for themselves. It is objectively demonstrable despite their colorblindness, and regardless how much the fact might anger them.

    Mathematical truths are also not absolute, but they are absolutely objective. All sentient species will invent the same mathematics–although creatures in non Euclidean spaces will not accept the parallel postulate. It fails absolute certainty because it’s only as good as its axioms, which might be empirically based, or purely made up.

    Ethical propositions are different from either of the above. It is impossible to empirically support an ought. I mean not that certainty is unachievable–that’s always the case–but that it’s impossible even to formulate an ethical proposition into a statement that can be tested in the first place. Try. Try devising an experiment to demonstrate that murder is immoral. Try and fail, because it’s impossible.

    You CAN construct a mathematical argument that murder is immoral. However, you can only do that if you have at least one axiom that asserts the immorality of SOMETHING. It necessarily follows that you will have effectively assumed what you set out to prove.

    This is a tiresome argument, because nobody seems to get it, even though it’s perfectly clear. There is no objective empirical observation or logical argument that can be used to prove any moral proposition. Period.

    There are lots of resistive things we can say, of course. We can prove that gender equality is fair. Which proves that it’s moral, if you already believe that unfairness is immoral. We can prove that it maximizes net happiness, which proves it if you already conceive morality as maximizing net happiness. We can prove it promotes survival of the species, which works if you already think that matters. We can prove it comports with our innate sense of morality, which works with people who share it. We can appeal to empathy, which works for people who have empathy, but some 4% of humans don’t.

    ALL such arguments, valuable as they are, are subjective in nature. This is not really open for debate; it’s simply a fact.

    You can appeal to the “will of society”, BTW, but that’s the least interesting of all. Yes, I’ll go to jail if enough people agree to prohibit X, but a survey of all human societies throughout human history quickly demonstrates that we don’t want to equate that with morality.

  18. alkisvonidas says

    Ooops! I noticed now, robro, that you were talking about the 2nd paragraph, where Aristotle dismisses the idea of natural selection. So, what you’re asking is whether some later scribe could have added that refutation, where originally there was just the suggestion of the idea, is that right?

    Even so, I find it difficult to believe, because most of suspected textual interpolations are rather small in extent, a few words or phrases. It is generally difficult to fabricate extended passages, because you have to imitate the style of the original author and preserve the flow of the text (in fact, this is how forgery is usually detected, disonance of the excerpt with its context). If you follow the link I give, the refutation goes on for a few more paragraphs. It is unlikely that all this was concocted out of thin air.

  19. says

    @21
    A Masked Avenger

    Did you read my response in Thunderdome? I hope it will help.

    It is impossible to empirically support an ought.

    I JUST showed that this is completely wrong with my wikipedia link in post 5.

  20. A Masked Avenger says

    The precision of a mathematical proof within a defined formal system is a wonderful thing, except that it seems to prompt, in some people, the delusion that we might solve the Schrodinger equation for all of life…

    I’m less enamored of mathematics than you, because my PhD is in it. I understand that ALL theorems are merely corollaries of the axioms, and ALL mathematical “truths” are entailed by assumptions we made at the outset. I love math quite well, but understand better than most why it need not produce any truthful information about the real world at all. That it’s useful for modeling reality at all, is purely a result of choosing axioms well–but any of those axioms is subject to revision. Two are still debated. And more will certainly be added. Indeed, more than one set of axioms exist, and it’s possible for two useful models to depend on different, mutually exclusive, sets of axioms.

    Which is precisely what I said about ethics: you can’t reason mathematically about ethics, unless you first assume at least one ethical axiom. At which point you’re reasoning in a circle, whether you realize it or not. And you can’t study ethics empirically AT ALL, because no ethical proposition can be formulated in such a way that it produces testable predictions.

    Folks who think otherwise are invoking consequentialism, whether they realize it or not. But “murder has X consequence” is not the same as, “murder is wrong.” Consequentialism can persuade people to adopt your morality, but it can never actually demonstrate it’s correctness.

  21. A Masked Avenger says

    Brianpansky,

    I JUST showed that this is completely wrong with my wikipedia link in post 5.

    I already explained why you were wrong. Did you have trouble understanding something? You’re confusing empirical verification of a fact, with a persuasive argument that makes me adopt an opinion.

    “Murder is wrong,” is not an empirically verifiable fact. There are lots of argents that will persuade me to oppose murder, of course. None of them involve objective evidence supporting the assertion, “murder is wrong.” Objective evidence is impossible to produce in the first place, because the assertion is inherently subjective.

  22. consciousness razor says

    You CAN construct a mathematical argument that murder is immoral. However, you can only do that if you have at least one axiom that asserts the immorality of SOMETHING. It necessarily follows that you will have effectively assumed what you set out to prove.

    How could mathematics have anything to say about the morality or immorality of something? It deals in numbers or logic itself. But logic itself isn’t telling us what anyone thinks or feels or wants. Those are empirical facts, not a bunch of a priori axioms you just pulled out of a hat. If you’ve decided ahead of time that “ethics” can’t be about humanity or sentient beings generally, then you’ve decided you’re not actually talking about ethics. These are facts about sentient beings, because they are physical objects. They don’t exist in mathematical space or logical space. They exist in actual space. And of course they are subjects. That is a completely trivial point. They can have a perspective, they can have a sense of ownership of their bodies and thoughts, they can be aware of themselves and other things, they can be agents with goal-directed behavior. And these subjects are not all identical to one another, and are not always in identical situations. So the fuck what?

  23. A Masked Avenger says

    Imagine trying to prove that murder is wrong to a sociopath, if that helps. I can prove that red exists to a colorblind person, even if his entire society were also colorblind, and disbelieved in “red.” Can you prove an ethical proposition to someone born without empathy? Hint: our morality is ultimately rooted in our empathy. It’s an opinion we hold precisely because we’re capable of putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Try to find any argument that works on someone with no empathy. If it were OBJECTIVELY true, it could be proven to someone else’s satisfaction without requiring then to be in a particular, receptive mental state.

  24. consciousness razor says

    There are lots of argents [arguments] that will persuade me to oppose murder, of course. None of them involve objective evidence supporting the assertion, “murder is wrong.”

    So you tell us you’ll be convinced with something or other, and it has nothing to do with the objective evidence, like the facts that people experience suffering and that murder causes suffering. Tell me these “mathematical” axioms which supposedly convince you. Let me offer an example: 2+2=4. Is that the sort of reason why you oppose murder?

  25. consciousness razor says

    Imagine trying to prove that murder is wrong to a sociopath, if that helps.

    I’m not trying to “prove” things to “sociopaths.”

    If that helps.

  26. A Masked Avenger says

    Consciousness razor,

    I have to go now. But you ask, “How could mathematics have anything to say about the morality or immorality of something? It deals in numbers or logic itself.”

    Since I have to go, I don’t have time to explain, but basically you don’t know what mathematics is. That’s not an insult; few do, including people who use it (as opposed to mathematicians, who create it).

    The nutshell is; morality is ultimately nothing but an opinion. If you already see that to be true, then there’s nothing for us to argue about. If you don’t recognize this to be true, then I’ll just say that it IS true, and I’ve sketched the proof in this thread. I can explain it more thoroughly another time, if any part of it is unclear.

  27. says

    @25
    A Masked Avenger

    I already explained why you were wrong. Did you have trouble understanding something?

    no I didn’t have trouble understanding it, I had trouble finding it. Where did you explain this?

    You’re confusing empirical verification of a fact, with a persuasive argument that makes me adopt an opinion.

    I’m talking about the former. But you wander into the latter when you say:

    Imagine trying to prove that murder is wrong to a sociopath

    so were you only talking about persuasion all along?

    Can you prove an ethical proposition to someone born without empathy? Hint: our morality is ultimately rooted in our empathy.

    Wrong. My wikipedia link rooted it in goals/desires.

  28. A Masked Avenger says

    So you tell us you’ll be convinced with something or other, and it has nothing to do with the objective evidence, like the facts that people experience suffering and that murder causes suffering.

    It causes suffering. THAT’S objectively true. But that doesn’t make it immoral, unless I already believe that causing suffering is immoral. Not only that: I also must believe that the suffering causes by murder outweighs my perceived suffering if I don’t murder; I need to believe that sufferings are equal whether they’re mine, a stranger’s, an enemy’s, a minority’s, etc. You can’t rephrase it in any way to eliminate the part where I will only adopt your moral proposition IF I already believe some other moral proposition. You can’t eliminate the subjective component. The most you can do is move the lump under the carpet.

  29. consciousness razor says

    If you don’t recognize this to be true, then I’ll just say that it IS true, and I’ve sketched the proof in this thread.

    It’s more like you smeared your assertions in poop all over the thread. Sketching a proof is a somewhat different process. I’d prefer this not be derailed more than it already is, so please take it to the thunderdome, if you come back.

  30. says

    If it were OBJECTIVELY true, it could be proven to someone else’s satisfaction without requiring then to be in a particular, receptive mental state.

    try saying that about any fact, such as evolution, which people passionately deny.

    YOU are the one confusing persuasion of the fact with the fact itself.

  31. consciousness razor says

    You can’t rephrase it in any way to eliminate the part where I will only adopt your moral proposition IF I already believe some other moral proposition.

    You should value consistency. I’ll grant that much. That’s a value you “need” to have. But that’s not saying much. You don’t really “need” to be consistent, and neither does a sociopath or an irrational person. Nobody really “needs” to believe scientific facts. No physical laws prohibit it, no god or any other person can prevent it with their actions, the universe doesn’t somehow conspire to make it possible but have a probability of zero, and logical abstractions themselves are causally inert. So it is possible to be wrong about things. Again, who the fuck cares? That doesn’t make logic itself or science itself subjective. People are subjective and capable of being wrong. The thing is, we already knew that, and it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

  32. says

    Goal-directed arguments like the one in the wikipedia article result in objective truths such as “if you want to kill the baby you should use the chainsaw”. Well, that’s an “ought” from an “is” literally but that doesn’t make a moral argument. I’m not going to say Hume misspoke but the formulation of the is/ought gap can be attacked without addressing its substance, namely that it’s hard to distinguish moral arguments from statements of opinion or statements of opinion about opinions.

  33. Sastra says

    A Masked Avenger #4 wrote:

    But it’s perfectly possible to be a scientist who considers certain questions off limits, as long as they’re inaccessible to science in the first place….These are defensible ethical positions, but the are not empirically verifiable, because they are not even objective claims in the first place.

    This is a perfectly reasonable point and it helps highlight the fundamental Bait ‘n Switch of religious faith. Empirical fact claims about objective reality — such as “God exists” — are confused with assertions which involve values, morals, preferences, math, or anything else which is either inherently subjective or abstract. This is category error elevated to an art form and it’s a brilliant immunizing strategy because it successfully fools so many believers.

    Theological language is one of deepities. What does “spiritual” mean? The true but trivial interpretation involves awe, wonder, appreciation of nature, art, human love and so forth and so on. Not “trivial” in the sense of unimportant, but trivial in that it doesn’t conflict with science.

    Now go to the bookstore and see what sort of things you find on the “Spirituality” shelf. Supernatural claims which DO conflict with science. The extraordinary but false — which is blithely and regularly supposed to mean the same thing as the reasonable interpretation as soon as it is challenged. Fool yourself that nothing much has been done here and you’ll never be worried about that so-called “conflict” between science and religion.

    It’s a tactic. Believing in God is presumed to be like believing in Love, or believing in human rights, or like believing that a sunset is beautiful. God is the explanation for those things — a reasonable conclusion from the evidence and an objective claim — AND it’s also to be thought of as being in the same category as the subjective.

    Ta da! It’s become a hypothesis which is inaccessible to science! Behold the magic of religion.

    Objective evidence is impossible to produce in the first place, because the assertion is inherently subjective.

    This is why “faith” harps so much on the idea of choice and commitment. If belief in ‘sacred truths’ is inherently subjective because it’s impelled by personal moral and aesthetic desires, then somehow these truth claims are supposed to get the same treatment and be deemed not ‘unscientific,’ but NONscientific. Conflict gone.

    One little clue that this is an immunizing strategy and not inherent to the nature of the claim is that it is in theory possible for God to provide scientific evidence of its existence. If God was really like believing “human life is valuable” then this would not even be theoretically possible.

  34. Sastra says

    The argument re morality may be off topic here, but I think Masked Avenger pointed out something critical to Saeed’s argument (and theism in general.) The religious pretend to see no conflict between science and religion because they are taking the supernatural claims and trying to lump them in with moral arguments, statements of opinion, mathematical axioms, self-evident tautologies, and anything and everything which will shift the debate away from scientific ground.

  35. robro says

    alkisvonidas #20 & 22

    Yes, I was referring to the second paragraph. Interesting arguments. There’s a gap in your chronology in the 3rd one…the Arabs got the works from somebody and that means Greeks/Romans and potentially early Christians. The fact that most interpolations are short doesn’t mean there couldn’t be longer ones. Also, some interpolations may not have been Christian or even Muslim…there’s a long history here. Yes, I’m aware that the works of Aristotle we have are considered lecture notes which only increases the questions of authorship, though we might assume “Aristotle” as just a place holder for all those redactors in his school. Anyway, it would be interesting to read someone’s analysis of the works.

  36. says

    @39
    Sastra

    ya, and I even see more liberal believers that are guilty of doing that. So many say “you can’t tell someone that their religion is wrong!” and “it’s all a choice!” and stuff like that.

    Though I disagree that morality is actually “away from scientific ground” or whatever. Except in the sense that it is not an established formal science, just “informal” I guess right now. But I’ll keep discussion of that over at TD.

  37. Forbidden Snowflake says

    That was a great comment, Sastra. Thank you.
    It may also have been the first time I ever saw a commenter RE-rail a thread.

  38. Scientismist says

    I wrote another long post, but A Masked Avenger said he had to go, and brianpansky is right, this probably belongs at ThunderDome. But he keeps using that word, and I don’t think.. Oh never mind.

  39. says

    Is there any religion that does not depend on a “soul”??
    Its rather obvious absence puts every religion in conflict with science in the most important way possible.

  40. says

    @44

    ya, that’s another thing.

    Subtance dualism is one hypothesis. Idealism is another hypothesis.

    But the mountains of available evidence, all of scientific findings, supports materialism, instead of those options. Dualism and idealism are falsified by our own investigations of our brains. Unfortunately I suspect that even the liberal believers would probably want to “teach the controversy” about that in science class.

  41. consciousness razor says

    Is there any religion that does not depend on a “soul”??
    Its rather obvious absence puts every religion in conflict with science in the most important way possible.

    In theory, Buddhism doesn’t need it. There is no self — a very central, clear-cut, unambiguous empirical claim that you might think would be applied consistently. In practice, yeah, Buddhists of whatever flavor do tend to believe in souls, implicitly if nothing else. Also, I suppose Raelians don’t need to believe in souls, but I honestly couldn’t tell you how that typically plays out (maybe they’re more like a cult of conspiracy theorists, not so much a religion). I can’t think of any other candidates.

    But that’s basically what religions are: supernaturalism, the claim that there are souls (or just one soul, and it’s a god). Of course, if you wanted to consider a statement like “Stalinism is a religion” or “Raelism is a religion,” it’s not always clear whether you ought to be evaluating its ontology, the contents of some of the beliefs, or how people get to those beliefs or the practices which result from them.

  42. A Masked Avenger says

    Nobody really “needs” to believe scientific facts.

    Well, true, but that misses the point. Reality is that which doesn’t go away when you disbelieve it. You can deny gravity, but if you act on that disbelief your life expectancy is low. You can deny evolution, but only by refusing to look at the evidence at all, or by abandoning rationality completely.

    Morality has a different quality: it is inherently subjective. It is impossible to demonstrate by any rational means that murder is immoral, because morality is a value judgment. It is precisely analogous to attempting to prove that sushi is tasty.

    You can objectively prove that murder kills people, and that death makes loved ones grieve, and that most killers suffer PTSD as a result of their own actions. And plenty of people, myself included, will find that adequately persuasive. None of them prove that it’s immoral, though. They only persuade me to adopt the convention that it should be deemed immoral. I believe it is immoral not only without proof, but fully realizing that it is utterly impossible to prove. AND I deem anyone who’d call it moral to be right royally fucked in the head.

    But as for sociopaths, it’s ableist bullshit to disregard them. They’re about 4% of the population, and they’re as fuly human as the rest of us. They are not “evil” simply because they were born without empathy. If we can’t convince them of the validity of our morality (and we can’t), it’s not because they are evil or subhuman. It’s because our “proofs” all rest on appeals to empathy.

    None of this makes religion not bullshit. It’s just one illustration that not only can one be a scientist while believing things that aren’t empirically provable, but in fact all scientists believe some things that can’t be empirically proven.

    Another easy illustration: Dawkins. His misogyny is not empirically supportable; he believes women inferior and disbelieves in privilege, which not only can’t be proven, but in fact can be empirically disproven. His belief in falsehoods doesn’t prevent him from doing science.

  43. brett says

    Salon is usually pretty interesting stuff coming from a more left-leaning POV, but occasionally they do the same thing as Slate and publish an article that’s pretty bad for “oh the controversy and pageview!” reason. There’s even the joke about them being called “#SalonPitch” articles.

    Well, then, that means you don’t accept evolution. There is no good reason to single out humans as exceptional — the science says one thing, religion defies the evidence, and Saeed accepts the religion.

    Agreed, and this particularly annoys me because I’ve seen this kind of relativism from some devout Muslims I met on campus when I was still at college. They’ve basically forced themselves into the same type of division that evangelical creationists have – where it’s either no evolution or some horribly circumscribed evolution, or “God doesn’t exist and doesn’t love me!” – but they’re trying to defend it as if it’s just some random cultural belief that we’ll have to agree to disagree upon. Which it isn’t unless you fundamentally decide that you’re going to place your interpretation of scripture above empirical evidence, which few of them will just outright say.

    This isn’t a debate over whether or not there’s a heaven and hell after death, or a human soul. It’s like, as Dawkins pointed out in one of his books, like having someone deny the existence of the Roman Empire, and insist that you humor their beliefs.

  44. consciousness razor says

    My mistake. I wasn’t aware of this weird cloning stuff, and I wanted to see what wiki might have to say on the subject:

    Susan J. Palmer, a social scholar who had long contacts with Raëlians, associated epiphenomenalism[16]:p. 23 with the belief in Raëlism that mind transfer coupled with human cloning can implant mind and personality into a new and disease free body.[11]:p. 167 Raëlians publicly deny the existence of the ethereal soul and a supernatural god,[92] but they believe that humanity for many generations past will be resurrected, albeit in a scientific way.

    So they claim not to believe in souls, but they actually do. Same kind of shit with Buddhists.

  45. consciousness razor says

    Reality is that which doesn’t go away when you disbelieve it.

    Human suffering is that which doesn’t go away when you disbelieve it.

    Now, for fuck’s sake, take it to the ‘Dome.

  46. brett says

    @A Masked Avenger

    Another easy illustration: Dawkins. His misogyny is not empirically supportable; he believes women inferior and disbelieves in privilege, which not only can’t be proven, but in fact can be empirically disproven. His belief in falsehoods doesn’t prevent him from doing science.

    That’s true – there are plenty of scientists who have managed to do science by compartmentalizing their religious and scientific beliefs in their mind, and blocking the two from mixing. But Sana Saaed isn’t doing that, or doing a normative argument that isn’t open to empirical investigation. She’s explicitly talking about stuff that we can verify empirically, like proof for human-ape common ancestors and even the validity of a centuries-old Islamic creationist belief that includes evolutionary elements.

  47. gussnarp says

    They’ll just publish anything on Salon, won’t they? I mean, I could just take a shit on my computer and they’d fall over themselves to put it online.

  48. praestans says

    Yes, the Qur’an, the revelation from Allah

    “It is He who has made fire for you out of the green tree…” 36th Su:rah call’d yaa seen.

    why green tree? why green…could it be…oxygen?!

    Here’re the ‘classics’

    The Qur’an and modern science / by Maurice Bucaille
    Bucaille, Maurice

    Verses from the glorious Koran and the facts of science / Haluk Nurbaki ; translated by Metin Beynam
    Nurbaki, Haluk

    And here’s something more sensible:

    http://edis.sites.truman.edu/quran-science-scientific-miracles-from-the-7th-century/