Archive for October, 2007

The Mismeasure of Watson

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

It’s Saturday and wife-unit is sick. What are the chances? One in a million? What are the chances of her being sick four Saturdays in a row? Obviously one in two thousand and forty one. I was really good at maths in college.

James Watson and Francis Crick discovered DNA back about six hundred years ago and I was as interested to hear he was still alive and speaking as you are to find that the distance between my navel and my earphones remains relatively the same regardless of whether I am standing or sitting. But then last Sunday in the Times he went all senile and said crazy things. He is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours -- whereas all the testing says not really”.

He is probably going to end up losing his job over these eugenic statements. Initially one might think, “that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”. Racists should be allowed to have jobs too, even high profile jobs as the heads of science research labs. But then I realised that if it is a lab it needs funding and racist bosses definitely would deter me from investing. Also consider the context of Watson’s comments. He didn’t say, “I just plain don’t like black people”. He said he had scientific reasons for discouraging the full involvement of Africans in society. That is as batshit crazy a claim as saying that I have scientific reasons for believing the world was formed in a week six thousand years ago.

No Creation Scientist should head up any research labs and no modern day phrenologist, Nobel Laureate or not, should be appointed the head of any experimental projects.

Zoomtard’s teenaged best friend, Stephen Jay Gould, wrote a masterful critical realist response to the sickly collection of phrenologists, eugenicists and IQ-testers who have burdened our society with the idea that intelligence is a strictly biological function called The Mismeasure of Man. You should read this book. It will clarify your thinking on what evolution actually involves, teach you appropriate scepticism about the cult of scientism (that science can offer all the explanations we need), crash course you in Critical Realism and most importantly, it will salve your wounds for not having a “MENSA IQ”.

Mismeasure of Man is basically a prolonged argument against the idea that biology is destiny. The “Africans” that Watson claims are shown to be less intelligent by “testing” are culturally different, likely to be malnourished and suffering from the sparsest educational system in the world. What are these so called “tests” going to show? The idea that you can chart intelligence by a bell curved number when it is strikingly clear upon visiting any primary school class in the world that it comes in as many shapes and forms as there are people is lunacy of the least scientific kind. Maybe we can just let the great polymath speak:

we must be wary of granting too much power to natural selection by viewing all basic capacities of our brain as direct adaptations. I do not doubt that natural selection acted in building our over sized brains — and I am equally confident that our brains became large as an adaptation for definite roles (probably a complex set of interacting functions). But these assumptions do not lead to the notion, often uncritically embraced by strict Darwinians, that all major capacities of the brain must arise as direct products of natural selection.

If a Christian scientist like say, Francis Collins who mapped the human genome was to make these statements, then it is certain to me that every single article and blog post would mention it. Watson is an atheist of the clearest kind. He is a Dawkins atheist who publicly decries Collins book as “trash” and faith as “crap”. However, in the Times and the Independent and in countless blog posts, you won’t find this mentioned. I think that is curious.

Christianity permits no space for an adherent to claim that biology is destiny. For that matter, it doesn’t leave any room for racism either. If reality is prescribed not by the loving God but by natural selection then there is nothing at all theoretically problematic with us making a ladder of intelligence and forming society around that hierarchy. It might still be a bad strategic idea but there is something implicitly religious in the faith in Genes that Watson is explicitly advancing in the Times article. Forgive me for the desperately crude language game but when he says, “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically”, he is applying a theological principle of New Atheism.

I think this side-order controversy is as good an example as you’ll find of the bias in reporting about matters of faith once “science” is being discussed, so that everything is broken down into the black and white of Creationism and Evolution and all the nuances in between are eliminated. Yet it also shows, for me at least, a clear example of where the doctrines of Dawkins and Dennett and co lead. They do not set us on the path of liberated enlightenment but through their muddied thinking and catastrophic confusion of science and philosophy they are beating a path into new deserts of oppression and tyranny.

Your Correspondent, When he’s at the pearly gates, this will be on his video tape

One Line Review 7: The Kingdom

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Starting with an opening sequence beautiful and informative enough to be worth the entry price, this big star movie wanders off into big-star action before coming back to a conclusion that well, left me nodding my head in total agreement.

Your Correspondent, Probably would become Mormon to marry Jennifer Garner

One Line Review 6: Reign Over Me

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

If my best friend ever went mental, then I think he’d probably be like Adam Sandler’s character in this movie so I figure that is why I really liked it: I don’t want Janovich to go mental.

Your Correspondent, Going crazy to a Springsteen soundtrack

13 Things To Do In 12 Months

Friday, October 12th, 2007

A few of my good friends are off on IFES Ireland RELAY programs. These are one year programs where they get real world experience of Christian ministry in the context of universities. It’s a pretty cool way to spend a year. But they want me, in my never ending wisdom to draw up a list of things they should do. So, very late and in honour of Cork’s finest wine trader, here is my RELAY advice.

    1. Read lots of C.S. Lewis
    The man is the king. So take this year and don’t let it get away without having read Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Four Loves and The Great Divide. At least. His essays are good too. Amazingly important.

    2. Watch lots of movies
    It’s the theatre of the masses. If you want to understand the way the people around you understand, then you should watch movies with your brain turned on.

    3. Turn off your phone
    Don’t just silence it. Students will call you at crazy hours and the texts will keep coming and you’ll never get any peace. Plus it will save what little money you have! (I don’t do this yet)

    4. Take up a hobby you always wanted
    I don’t do this one either but you need a good many things that you are interested in if you are going to do a job as interesting as this one. See, it’s so much fun when it’s going well that you can’t stop it. So take up hobbies unashamedly.

    5. At the end of every day, go to your home
    To your parents or to your apartment or wherever you can make it so that your job doesn’t follow you in past the front door. Make your home into your sanctuary and revel in it.

    6. Eat a kiwi
    You work on a budget with people who work on a budget but pizzas and Big Macs don’t actually feed you right. So eat right. Your brain works better that way.

    7. Get up on Sunday mornings
    Although you spend your week working on Bible studies and praying and watching movies with a smart head on you, you still need to be a member of a church community who will love and care for you and give you perspective and a reality check.

    8. Buy bisodol in bulk
    You drink a lot of tea and coffee in your job. That burning feeling in your stomach isn’t the Holy Spirit, it’s acid reflux. Sexy.

    9. Bring your camera
    Some of these events you organise and facilitate rock and nothing captures it as good as a photo. It means that supporters like me can understand what you are doing and how cool it is.

    10. Write down the things that happen
    Whether it’s public on a website like this or private in a journal or something in between, you’ve got to verbalise your experiences so you can process this stuff over the long journey.

    11. Don’t hit on your students
    They are young and soft and pretty and they think you are such a giant but DO NOT THINK ABOUT IT. Zoomy will open a can of whoop-ass on you.

    12. Be honest with your boss
    Your Staff Worker or whatever they are called in your part of the world is probably your best friend. You are probably intimidated by him or her. But tell the truth in those 1-1 times. Be honest. Man is never quite as alone as when we are alone with our sins.

    13. Eat the Book
    Aim for 25 chapters a week. Don’t worry about not meeting it but just make sure you are eating that Bible of yours.

Your Correspondent, He’s bringing the Pathos to the party

A Debate About The Integrity Of Faith IV

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

So we come to the end. It was incomprehensible for everyone who wasn’t me.

It’s eloquent, but Shamus Pubic in the street is still saying… what are you going on about? The ‘Jesus preformed miracles because he is god, and he’s god because he performs miracles’ doesn’t work – but deep down you know that -- and your answer is faith.

I think you spend your time dancing in the ‘that which we don’t yet know’ and that uncertainty is basically were all religion has always existed. It answered the ‘how did we get here’ with the creation myth, it answered the ‘how did we get languages’ with the Babel myth, its kept society in check with the you’ll go to hell myth etc.

I guess you’ve just been blessed with faith. I think I am actually happy for you. I have not been thus blessed.

I did write out 4 more massive paragraphs in answer to your post above -- but I read it and deemed it boring -- and I already heard your answer in my head -- and didn’t think I was saying anything you hadn’t heard before… and we were heading to your afore mentioned 5000 posts.

So -- I’ll leave it at that. With respect. I enjoy you’re writing. Admire your intellect. Think you are misguided and are on the wrong road. But worry that I could be also. Feel free to throw some grenades at the QMonkey site, and I will return the favour.

I’ll finish too. You think science is a modern word for truth. I think truth is a much more glorious and full blooded thing than just that one ingredient. You think I withdraw into the territory of “that which we don’t know” but what I’ve actually done is attacked into the territory of “that which science cannot know” (but that philosophy and art and theology can and does). I think I’ve raised things you have just passed over (for example, who blessed me with faith!?) but that’s cool. It’s an internet debate. We were both bound to look like idiots.

When you make it to Dublin, let me and Jimlad take you for a pint!

Your Correspondent, So bored of all these little gods

A Debate About The Integrity Of Faith III

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

So post number 1 can be found here and post number 2. It is starting to get unruly because QMonkey obviously uses the Northern Irish counting system where anything more than 3 consists of “MANY”. In this system, our notional 150 word limit simply becomes “Any amount more than 3”. I have done my best to represent his views in the following quote:

I think you’ve been pedantic with my use of the word impossible. We’ll substitute it for improbable if you like, or maybe physically impossible. It’s improbable that if I jump of a tall building I’ll be able to fly, and my faith in my ability to do won’t change whether or not it occurs… no matter how much you argue that its NOT impossible. agree?

The water to wine thing? If you tell me that Jesus turned water to wine in the same way you’ve described nature doing it, then ok. But you’re not saying that, so it’s invalid to say…. it’s not impossible because it happens in nature all the time. That’s like saying a salamander can grow back a limb, therefore so can I if I pray hard enough. Maybe you are saying that? Have you ever prayed for something physically impossible and have it happen?

(You’ll at least admit, that the meaning of the word fundamentalist is understood in different ways, therefore not usually helpful, other than as a general insult… my understanding is that it stems from the American puritans who had a list of five fundamentals of the bible which they believed etc . I think you mean it to describe someone who claims to know 100% that god doesn’t exists, and for that mater Zeus, Ganesh and all the rest. I’m not an atheist; I don’t define myself as the negative of any view point. I’m not a gentile either, or an infidel. I may, if anything be a militant agnostic, as I am beginning to think that ‘supra’ rational faith might hold back the progress of mankind, at this stage of our history)

When you ask ‘why’ things happen, then that presupposes a reason. There is no evidence to suppose reason. There is that which we don’t know, and you may say that you already have this extra-scientific knowledge about higher power at work on earth, but for me, that assumption is a hindrance rather than a help. Look at the ‘creation scientists’, then look in a mirror.

What is faith? I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the one selling something. Pretend I’m a member of the Penan Tribe (BBC2 9pm) in Borneo, who has never seen a book, then tell me why I should have FAITH that the supra-physical events happened 2000 years ago in a land far away i.e. outside my forest. Then tell me what that faith means, and why I should have it? And what it will add to my life, and that of my family and tribe. …

I feel that in this limited debate, it would help to define some terms in order that I understand you more, and facilitate my enlightenment a little better.

I need to understand what you mean by ‘impossible’, if you accept that it is a word, but not applicable in the sense that I used it.

If say, you were walking along Grafton Street, and you met David Blaine, and he levitated in front of you. You would maybe say… whooaaaa thats class! But you would probably still assume it’s a clever trick. Because what he has just done is Impossible. But what word would you use in place of impossible, and then I will use it instead.

You don’t want to linger on miracles, but I’m afraid, if you are trying to convince me, then supra-physical acts, are the whole shooting match. If I believe that, then I’ll be popping off to my local alpha course as quick as you can say hallelujah.

(If it were me, I’d make an assumption that David Blaine didn’t actually levitate, until I had some rock solid proof, but that’s just me…. I know you are open to such things)

Also the definition of faith would be helpful. If you believe that you need faith to believe and to understand the nature of god, and maybe to be ‘saved’, then it feels to me like people are chosen by god to have faith. It’s not something you can fake to yourself. I could pretend to you that I have faith, but I would still be pretending. If I don’t believe, then I don’t believe, it’s not a conscious decision… and that’s not my fault, there’s nothing that I can do about it --if, as you say it’s not something which can be attained by investigation of facts alone….

I mean human progress in simple terms… increased life expectancy, social order, laws, taxes, magna carta, development and advancement of human rights, welfare for the poor and sick, scientific investigation into disease and the formulation of germ theory leading to combative drugs, mass communications and ever quicker travel to experience more of the earth and beyond, economic progress at least in the west -- no need for everyone to farm to survive, great literature and art, music etc etc

No more than that… just good stuff that’s happened since we came out of the caves and started to use stone, iron, bronze etc etc stuff that’s been discovered and is still being investigated and developed to make like more comfortable, longer and more just.

Im hope im not falling into a well set trap 🙂 because I think human progress is quite self-evident. My, possibly more controversial view is that these ‘good’ things didn’t come from god looking down… and after millions had died from plague saying… ah ok here’s a vaccine…. it came about through scientific inquiry – not through prayer and faith (though im sure some bizzarly thanked god, or allah or whoever. weird)….

sometimes there are too many issues being discussed to ever get anywhere near the bottom. It’s regretable. For the record i dont have a stance as an athiest – im just not convinced re: the evidence of your god… and if he does exist, and requires ‘faith’ then he hasnt blessed me with it.

~

There was once a man who was infamous as an impious magician. The children of the town used to scare each other with stories of how he would sacrifice rats and birds to the Dark One and the women of the town would turn their faces when he passed them by. The priests scorned him because he was never seen at Evensong or Eucharist. After many years on his own on his estate, this certain magician appeared at market one day. He set up a stall and began to sell a magic potion, a liquid that would make crops grow. Now although the pillars of the community opposed such witchcraft, the farmers flocked to buy, hoping to benefit from his dark arts. At the end of the day the magician packed up his stall and empty handed but with full pockets he left the town.

A year passed and the Duke summoned the magician to the palace. He sat on top of the bumper tax yielded by a huge harvest and as the much loved ruler of a people who were suddenly and quite surprisingly prosperous. The Duke wanted to examine the magician and the means by which his potion worked such wonders. The magician entered his rooms and the Duke welcomed him before asking, “This, this strange fecundaliser that you have brought among us encourages the soil to offer up twice what it has given us in the past. What is it- isit the product of your dark learning or the work of God?”

The magician looked the Duke straight in the eyes and answered, “My liege, it must be both”.

~

When Zoomtard had finished his amateur parablising Jimlad looked up to him and said, “But Zoomy, what in the name of Quarks do you mean?” And so he began to explain to Jimlad and Greymalkin all the very basic things he had put in the little story even a small child could understand: Our perceptions of human action in the world changes so that sorcerers become scientists and magic becomes empiricism (and religious know-it-alls will be with us ’till the very end of the age) but as much as our perspectives change, we don’t get to negotiate with reality. There is no conflict at all between the active God who created the Universe and the laws he has put in place to govern it, except a conflict created by our muddied minds.

As far as I can see there aren’t any scientific results that are incompatible with miracles. Nor has any thinker, ancient or modern, provided reasons why intelligent persons can’t believe in them. Scientific laws state the way in which God ordinarily treats the stuff he’s made. That doesn’t mean he always has to treat it the same way. Especially in an era of quantum mechanics, science doesn’t preclude someone’s rising from the dead or turning water into wine. These things are very unlikely, but of course the original witnesses already knew that. People didn’t first realise that dead people don’t normally come back to life in the 17th Century! In fact, highly improbable events happen all the time.

You say I am being pedantic about the word impossible but I say that the space between impossible and improbable is where all of existence sits.

You say I’ve never prayed and seen a limb grown back and you are right. Although I am like Jesus in some ways- a touch overweight, not the prettiest boy in the class, handy with a saw and good at making up stories, I am not like Jesus in the most important way- I am not the Creator of the Universe. Of course the evidence might not convince you of its historicity but philosophically there is nothing at all problematic about me saying that He who set fermentation running, might ferment on the spot at a wedding in Cana.

(By the way, the Fundamentals that you reference are 13 pamphlets published by Princeton scholars, not uneducated chaps. Today, men like BB Warfield would certainly not be described as fundamentalists.)

What evidence do you have to say there is no reason to suppose a “why” for things that happen? In a future Enlightenment eschaton when all such faith based “Why” questioned are discarded in place of hard scientific “How” questions, won’t the children of this bright civilisation still say, “But why is there no why?” Of course they will. You can’t strike out metaphysics without using the metaphysical.

There is that which we don’t know, and you may say that you already have this scientific knowledge about the lack of purpose for the universe, but you somehow can’t share that “knowledge” with us. Is it not a faith? Look at the ‘creation scientists’, then look in a mirror. You both make the mistake of thinking that scientific truth is the only kind of truth and then warp science to make it stretch.

“I think human progress is quite self-evident… just good stuff that’s happened… developed to make life more comfortable, longer and more just.” All of which is lovely and it is self evident but only to your self. You have assessed the world through your lens and made a value decision. It isn’t in any way scientific and the conclusions aren’t universal. An anarchist living in the slums of Quito wouldn’t agree with you about the progress. She would have looked at the same evidence and seen only regression. You are forced to either disregard the anarchists and the Luddites and the Communists and all the other people who disagree with you (can you find a scientific reason to do that?) or you’ll have to admit that your view of human progress is formed by baseline assumptions you make about concepts like “good”, “beautiful” and “just”. They are utterly non-scientific, which doesn’t in any way make them less important.

And here we come to what I see faith is. Faith is a stronger word for trust. Faith is the action of trusting certain axiomatic statements that serve as the foundations for how we view the world. No one can acknowledge reality without a lens through which they look and that lens is made out of unproven and unproveable assumptions. These are basic beliefs, in philosophical terms. A basic belief that you and I share is that the world didn’t just pop into existence five minutes ago. We can’t prove beyond all doubt, without recourse to faith (which is your own personal standard) that this is the case and yet you don’t hassle me about the lack of integrity in my belief that the world is as it appears, 14 billion years old.

The improvements that you consider to constitute human progress are I believe very noble things, as well as being very non-scientific things. They didn’t “come about” through science. Justice and social order and laws and taxes and human rights and welfare for the poor; as often as these things involve science they involve each other. Society is a fabulously complex entity. Science in its strictest form consists of some validated hypotheses on a piece of paper in a lab. To administer the applied benefits you need inter-related societies that distribute the AIDS vaccines and legal systems that protect the patents and the ethical consensus that agrees that human life is sacrosanct. The primary factors here is not science itself but culture- ethics, arts, law. These are beyond the realm of science and very much concerned with the “Why?” questions you think we have no need for. Your argument eats itself. “Science” itself as a method only arose in one context- a European culture that fostered knowledge as a supreme good and the universe as ordered and intelligible because of its Creator. Science itself sits on top of non-scientific historic sociological factors.

I don’t want to turn this into a debate where I win points so don’t feel a need to take these points on board. But how do humans choose to interact in such complex ways that can generate such fine and intricate systems as biochemistry labs and legal codes? What drives humans to interact with each other? Is the reductionist answer that I can give as good as anyone- altruism as a component of gene prorogation sufficient? There. That trap is set. 🙂

I have done my best to make a response on the major issues you have raised. Impossibility and improbability, the nature of miracles, the definition of faith, the ideas of human progress. I wonder if Jaybercrow has even lifted his head up from his ghey spiritual theology to notice us two genii dancing like this? He’s probably busy spending time with his children or something equally incomprehensible.

By the way, I don’t have any Colonist stations like BBC 2.

Your Correspondent, He doesn’t define himself as the negative of any view point, except that one

One Line Review 5: Michael Clayton

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Surely this very fine one that has George Clooney in it will end the long stream of movies about evil big business, and finally we’ll see Michael Douglas come back for Wall Street II: The Profiting.

Your Correspondent, Wants to grow up like George.

A Debate About The Integrity Of Faith II

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

QMonkey rapidly responded to my astoundingly elegant points yesterday evening so I am going to stun and amaze him by answering back with a witty retort before breakfast is over. Remember, this post is all the more stunning because I am writing it while drinking tea and removing a lost cat from a big tree.

QMonkey:

We can certainly find common ground in the notion that internet debates on these issues just leaves both parties looking like boring non thinking idiots who copy and paste other debating points to infinity, and no one’s mind is actually changed. It’s a fact, but it’s a fact that disappoints me. I have engaged you, only because I think you are an interesting writer, I don’t engage the lunatic fringe -- you at least come across as someone who understands why people don’t believe. May I say, I understand, to a point, why you do.

I like to think that I debate so I can refine my position and opinions by testing them against greater minds (and zoomtards 😉 ), and also to try and expose the holes in other peoples arguments, to confirm my doubts. There is of course the tendency to want to win, if either of us want that, then we have lost (someone probably said that once).

If we’re limiting ourselves to 5 posts, then let’s leave the boring debates which we’ve both heard I’m sure. Obviously I think the the term fundamentalist atheist is anoxymoron – buts its a boring debate. And it’s irrelevant that i once belived and now don’t, and that you do now but once didn’t.

You may admit that the difficultly in debating with believers is that you don’t know what kind of believer you are dealing with. I read a concourse between Rick Warren and Sam Harris in Newsweek, and you might have found yourself agreeing more with Harris than Warren… and you might say Warren is deluded to believe in a 6000 year old earth, as I might say you are to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. I digress.

You say: “We don’t claim Jesus is magic” “Christianity claims that Easter is supra-physics”

Now now, come on. You can’t be happy with that answer. One man’s Supra-physics, is pretty much everybody else’s magic. Can I ask if you have every witnessed a supra-physical event?

Would you not say that it’s reasonable to assume that Mohammad wasn’t personally visited by the angel Gabriel on a mountain top? Or that Joseph Smith received tablets from God or that a statue of the Virgin Mary near Lourdes shed real tears once or indeed that anything Supra-physical happens, without pretty good evidence?

If I assume that you don’t accept a 6 day creation because you don’t think the bible isn’t a history book and you accept the proven science (or whatever is the line you take).But scientists are increasingly massing around the view that it’s impossible to change water to wine or rise from the dead as well. I’m thinking you don’t accept the Jonah or Noah stories as historical… but that Pentecost and Pauls dramatic conversion probably happened. If so what’s your criteria? Is it just that the Noah and Jonah stories seem a smidge more ridiculous?

Fundamentalist + atheist = oxymoron? I’ll tell you what’s an oxymoron, MORON! Oh yes I will. (Fundamentalist + atheist = oxymoron)==Oxymoron. Booh yah! 😉

Fundamentalist doesn’t mean Christian who takes it all very seriously. There is nothing intrinsically difficult with the idea of a fundamentalist atheist. In fact, while I’m on a rant, the worldview of atheism is more prone to fundamentalism than my Christianity. It’s the grand epistemic irony of the inflexibility of relativism against the adaptability of objectionist views of the world.

To the substance of my argument. Tell me more about the fact that “scientists are increasingly massing around the view that it’s impossible to” do anything at all. The one thing that would be impossible for a scientist would be to prove something impossible. My main suggestion to you is that you have placed far too much weight on the empirical method and here we see it collapse. Science is very good at figuring out how things happen but it is uninterested and unable to comment on why things happen, whether they are good or bad or ugly and most pressingly, it can’t comment on things that don’t happen. How are scientists able to deduce something is impossible without stepping outside empiricism and into the land you call faith? I feel that your points thus far have been faith based.

Of all the things scientists will never claim impossible, water turning into wine is a chief one. On every vineyard in the world, this is exactly what happens, season after season, decade after decade and I thank God for that fact. There is nothing whatsoever philosophically incoherent about the Cana Wedding. Water beheld its Creator and did what it should do- blush. Wah-lah! We have 500 litres of the finest red wine!

It’s not going to be interesting if we just engage in a debate where you list a series of “miracles” that you are unable to believe because of the faith based assumptions of your worldview. I have a witty retort for everyone. I’ll end up looking dashing and charming and everyone except you will become a Christian if only because they hope to have my baby. “Can’t we all agree that this is funny and not at all credible” is not an argument.

So let me finish by boring you with with Paxman-lite questions: how do you define faith?

Your Correspondent, They decided in advance to disbelieve the supra-physical things that have happened to him.

A Debate About The Integrity Of Faith I

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

So plucky Northerner QMonkey is really serious about debating with me, a born and bred Republic of Ireland citizen about the intellectual credibility of faith. I am of course honoured that we would look down from his high tower of the North and offer the hand of dialogue to me. I am much more used to hearing the word “heretic!” from Ulster than engaged discussion.

You can read my opening salvo in this debate here. He made his response that looks something like this when translated out of Northernese and back into languages that can be written down:

First off all we’re thrown by the curve ball of ZT lowering expectations by alluding to being a dim poseur then using words like ’empirical’ which QMonkey had to look up on Google!

Let’s state first what I’m not going to say. I’m not going to say religion is the root of all evil; I’m not going to say it poisons everything; I’m not going to say that wars and conflicts which have been justified by religion wouldn’t have happened anyway because of other reasons; I’m not going to say that religion and people of faith haven’t made a positive contribution to humanity; I’m not even going to say there’s no god
… only that I am no more convinced that the universe sits atop a giant magical tortoise, than I am that the god of the bible breathed it in to existence. I search for truth, and I think the search for truth is diminished by believing that the course of history was changed and fulcrumed on some physics defying events two thousand years ago, without water-tight iron-clad evidence (not requiring faith). Why am I wrong?

It’s hardly a Paxman-esque question and one which I know you will answer with aplomb, as I think I would have five years ago, but it will maybe help get to the kernel of the nut!

I am proposing a modification to the rules which is to put a cap of five responses a piece so that this doesn’t drag out forever. I used to waste a lot of time moderating an internet discussion forum about Christianity where a debate began between retarded fundamentalist “Creation Scientists” and dull-witted fundamentalist atheists that is currently 7,335 responses long. It just proves the old adage about debating on the web true; it doesn’t matter if you win, you still end up looking mentally challenged. So to avoid the same thing happening to us, let us cap this discussion. Agreed?

Now to my response:
I don’t think that religion is the root of all evil either and I think wars actually caused by religion are rare enough to be very fascinating and I do think that religion offers many positive contributions to humanity but on the whole I really am not convinced organised religion is a good thing. For me, this discussion centres around what is true and what is not. If there is a religious system that is in some sense true then it is valuable. If not, well…

Philosophically, there is a world of difference between the idea that the world sits on top of a giant tortoise and the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Creation. You know this. If you are on a “search for truth” you have to deal with the fact that one determinedly ignores metaphysics and the other is a profound and satisfying and multi-faceted philosophical proposition that is impossible to just discard because you can compare it to other less serious religious principles. A perfect corrollary to this is your claim that the Resurrection defies the laws of physics. Actually, it does no such thing.

Someone coming back from the afterlife only defies the law of physics if you assume (on faith) certain extra-physic details; such as say, a materialist or deistic universe. Christianity claims that Easter is supra-physics which is, I hope you’ll agree, a much more interesting proposition. Put another way, contrary to Sarah Silverman says, we don’t claim Jesus is magic.

As I understand it, there is no such thing as “water-tight iron-clad evidence” about any event that removes the need for “faith”. Your use of the word faith really needs to be defined.

That’s hardly a Paxman-esque request and one which I know you will answer with aplomb, as I think I would have five years ago, but it will maybe help get to the kernel of the nut!

Now where is Jaybercrow?

Your Correspondent, I’m not convinced by anything I say

The Provisional Return Of The Intrepid Zoomer

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Someone or some group of people gathered together under a misleading moniker, QMonkey, have been hassling my review of Lars Von Trier’s controversial film Dancer In The Dark with comments about suffering and doubt and CS Lewis and Mother Theresa and the intellectual integrity of faith. Some would say that in beginning a blogging throw-down with super-brains like me and Jaybercrow, one should be careful to comment on the correct post but maybe these QMonkey people have seen through our impressive facade and realised that we are in fact posers, faux intellectuals and actually a bit dim.

Regardless, the throw-down takes this form:

The proposition is that in the context of the history of human knowledge and progress that the best method of answering questions about what we see around us is exclusively evidence based enquiry.
Any claims or assertions of knowledge beyond science should be respected, but ultimately treated with scepticism until they can evidence that their claim is at least probable. Although given the paradigm shift which would be required to believe that say, a man walked on water, it’s not unreasonable, in fact very necessary to demand stronger proof than just probability. Therefore there is no longer a valid place for religious faith in the progress of mankind.
I argue that pre-Darwin it was difficult, intellectually to hold a non theist position as human knowledge at not yet reached a point where it was possible to at least conceptually grasp the origins of existence, and the ‘magic man in the sky did it’ theory was still the best way to satisfy and placate us.

Am i wrong?

I have 150 words to respond, which I am going to exceed so let me begin:

In the recent history of human knowledge a stunning development has occurred with a way of answering questions that we can call empirical enquiry.

Any claims or assertions of knowledge outside empirical knowledge (all questions beginning with “Why”) should be respected, but ultimately treated with a similar scepticism to empirical explanations (all questions beginning with “How”). Although given the paradigm shift that has recently occurred, making it uncommon to disbelieve that say, a man walked on water, it’s not unreasonable to ask for more serious consideration of what we mean by “knowledge”, “evidence”, “reason” and ultimately, “reality”.

Lots of people say there is no longer a valid place for religious faith in the progress of mankind. Other people point out that talking about the “progress of mankind” is implicitly religious.

I argue that post-Darwin it is difficult for some to hold a theist position as human knowledge has not yet reached a point where it is wise. It is possible to at least conceptually grasp the origins of existence without realising the implications of existence in the first place, and they resort to dismissing Christianity as ideas about a ‘magic man in the sky’ as the best way to satisfy and placate themselves.

Am I wrong?

Your Correspondent, I insist that Neuro update her blog