And no religion, too?


I really want to be patient with people. I know how hard it is to let go of a beautiful fantasy, be it about country, child or religion. But, as James Randi observed, no amount of acceptance can turn a belief into a fact.

Why are we even having this conversation in 2012? I totally get it if we were living in the tall grasses of the savanna. Lacking better information, I’d say the notion of forces that transcend the natural world might be downright logical. But come on. How can people in a society riddled with proof of the richness in scientific thought continue to cover their collective eyes and ears?

The common response by most is that the world would be a cold place without a divine purpose. That may or may not be the case, but the utility value of a belief doesn’t support its authenticity.

When I was a kid, my teachers would ask, “if everybody was leaping off a bridge, would you?” That question always made me uncomfortable. Not because the obvious answer was “no.” But because I couldn’t see the distinction between which actions I was supposed to embrace blindly and which ones I was supposed to apply critical thought.

I’m not tempted to leap much these days, off of bridges or into faith.


About SWIRLosopher

The SWIRLosopher is Sean Trapani, a professor emeritus of advertising who - despite a degree in philosophy - has abandoned all reason and is trying to make a living in the wine business.

32 thoughts on “And no religion, too?

  1. Do you have to reject faith to embrace science? Do you have to reject science to embrace faith? I don’t think so. Either extreme is irrational and unwise to say the least. I totally agree with the quote in your pic btw.


    • Not to sound to (Ayn) Randian, Christopher, but I think yes – yes, one has to reject faith in favor of a life based upon evidence-based thought. It’s (warmly, perhaps) self-delusional to assume otherwise. While the notion of non-overlapping magisteria might keep the Hitchens family BBQ from becoming a slug fest, it’s really a cop out. The reasonable person, while not able to witness every truth, must render his verdict based on the best available evidence. The last time that “supernatural” forces was the best evidence to explain, well…anything, was a long time ago.

      • Wow. Really. Was Isaac Newton that stupid all his work was to provve the existence of a God he had absolute faith in. Einstein? There’s another idiot. He stated that scientific inquiry led to the belief in some kind of creator (paraphrase).

        You have fallen into the common trap of placing your faith in science. Unwise my friend. Better place your faith in God. Don’t get me wrong, science is a wonderful discipline and its equally unwise to look to theology for all of lifes aswers. But theology is theology and seeks to further comprhend God. Science is science and seeks to understand creation. Its ridiculous and foolish to reject either.

      • Christopher, you should be aware that Einstein’s god was a deist’s god at the most, and would be better defined as his term for the universe. He most certainly didn’t believe in a personal god. He actually complained about theists taking his statements regarding god out of context, just as you have.

    • An appeal to authority is an example of a fallacy, Christopher. And one does not place “faith” in science, one accepts positions based on the evidence supported for them. You said that you agree with Sagan’s quote. If that’s true, why would one special area of knowledge be immune from what your rational mind tells you? Anyone who asserts a theory assumes the burden of proof, including the claim of the existence of Thor, Ra, Vishnu or any other god.

      • (to add a quick disclaimer, we can certainly examine the logic of Einstein’s (or Sagan’s) words as long as we don’t use their source, in and of themself, as evidence for their validity)

      • No. A scientific assumption or theory demands the rigors of scientific inquiry. A theology demands theological testing of a different sort. For instance, a Christian doctrine must stand the rigor of Biblical evidence. Science and theology are two different schools of thought. Both are valid but both must seek their “proofs” in seperate arenas.

        For a theologian to deny science because it does not reveal God equally misses the point of science for the same reason.

        And for the record, I didn’t say that Einstein turned Christian. But Newton definitely was. And Newto proves my point. Science will never prove the existence of God. But it can reveal a lot about his creation.

      • “For instance, a Christian doctrine must stand the rigor of Biblical evidence.”

        But how does one determine whether the Bible is a measure of the truth of a claim, unless one checks what the Bible says against what we observe In the universe? And when we make that check, we’re doing science: looking for empirical evidence.

        My apologies on apparently misreading your intention, re Einstein. I assumed you were using his name add authority to a theistic, rather than deistic, claim.

      • Daz,

        What we “know” about the univere? That is a philosophical question….
        Now you want to throw yet another discipline into the mix? Seriously though, the short answer is that what we know scientifically has no bearing in theology per se. Just as what we know theologically has no bearing on scientific discovery.

        One may know experientially what one believes theologically but experiences cannot be measured empically. Not the kind I am speaking of. For instance when a person is healed of a tumor. Scientifically all that can be said is that it was there and now it’s not. The facts are that there was a tumor. People prayed. Now there is no tumor. A person of faith knows that this was a miracle enacted by God through faith. This is experiential evidence which proves a Biblical premise that God heals. Yet this cannot be scientifically proven.

        Like I said science and theology are two seperate schools of thought.

      • Christopher, if you have evidence of people praying tumours away, and that only their prayers could have affected that cure, I’d like to see it, please.

        If you have such evidence, you’re doing science—you’re testing a hypothesis called ‘healing through prayer’. If you don’t have such evidence, then you cannot claim that such healing happened.

      • Daz,

        You missed the point. Miraculos healings can’t be proven scientifically. The empirical evidence is that there was something and then there is nothing. In btween those two observations people prayed, however. Like I said this is an example of experiential evidence of a Biblical premise that God exists. Yet God’s intervention cannot not be scientifically proven.
        Ergo, theology and science are two differnt schools of thought.

        From another angle….let’s take a brief look at the golden calf of science, evolution. You might say that the archeolgical evidence “proves” this theory and therefore creation is a myth. I would counter that the fact that there were lifeforms on earth at one time that no longer exist only proves that there were once lifeforms on earth that no longer exist. That has no affect upon my faith in God or the truth that He created everything. It’s good science to continue looking into this scientific theory, however. We’ve learned a lot through such inquiry.

        Onc again we see that science and theology are seperate. Neither can prove nor disprove the other. Nor should they attempt to do so. That cheapens and distracts from both of them.

      • Sorry, double posting. I meant to continue and got distracted.

        My main point isn’t whether faith healing works or not, it’s that your claim is that religious belief isn’t scientifically testable, but you then go on to make an argument from evidence; that faith healing, you say, works. You yourself are making a scientific, evidence-based argument regarding religious belief.

      • These two sentences are mutually contradictory:

        Like I said this is an example of experiential evidence of a Biblical premise that God exists. Yet God’s intervention cannot not be scientifically proven.

        If you make a claim of evidence, you are making a scientific claim. You are saying, rightly or wrongly that it has been tested and it is so. You cannot then go on to say that such intervention is not testable by science, without contracting yourself.

    • Christopher, is your position really, “my magical knowledge is immune from the analysis of rational thought?” If it is, imagine someone else saying that to you as they try to support their belief in little green men, half eagle/half lions or flying horses? Would you demand a bit more evidence or be satisfied by their response of, “that’s my religion, so it’s not subject to your crude tests of evidence-based knowledge”?

  2. Completely agree, but it was a minor point that made me remember something…

    A schoolmate of mine got detention for being cheeky after replying sarcastically, “If everyone was running out of a burning building, would you?” Silly, but a good point. Some situations require you to follow, some you’d be daft to follow, and in some it’s a matter of taste. Which rather shows up the silliness of the “would you follow them?” question as the thoughtless rhetoric that it is.

    • How would one know the reason why everyone was running out of the building? If the reason was, because they knew the building was burning, then your friend’s escape would be correlative to the crowd, not causal. (cum hoc ergo proctor hoc). Also, remember that utility doesn’t support authenticity. Pascal’s wager might persuade the risk averse, but not the truth seeker.

      • Wow. You went further with it than I intended it to stretch.

        I’d assume the smoke/flames/people yelling ‘fire’ would be how one would know, in the case of a burning building. His point was that following isn’t always the bad choice that the questioner rather sarcastically implies it is.

        I merely meant that “If everyone was … would you follow?” Is a silly question as it’s usually asked, as the answer the person wishes to elicit is ‘of course not’, whereas in actual fact, it would entirely depend on what one wished to put in place of my ellipsis. Running from danger, good; into danger, bad; if danger (or ‘naughtiness’ etc) isn’t involved, then it’s purely a matter of taste.

        It’s one of those things adults say to kids, knowing full well they can accuse the child of being cheeky if the child points out that not all ‘following’ situations lead to bad outcomes like landing at the bottom of the cliff that’s usually asked about—often including whatever it is they’re being hauled up about at the time.

  3. This doesn’t strike me as a well-formed argument. Strictly speaking it’s an unjustified value judgement. Some of us may like the value, but presenting it as a fact which other people simply fail to understand would seem a little disingenuous.

    • Thanks for commenting, Daniel. I’m simply (trying) to say that those who believe that one aspect of reality should transcend evidence-based explanations and have its own, separate rules, have failed to meet the burden of proof to support that position. Both sides of the argument are making value judgements, no? But which side has better evidence to support their position? Which side’s set of evidence is growing and which is shrinking? The 21st century naturalist or the Bronze Age soothsayer?

      • So, is your argument limited to particular forms of transcendentalism? If so, then it is considerably narrower than the implications of the Sagan quote. But seriously, this argument is constructed in such broad brush strokes, it seems bound to fail just on scope alone. Why would someone who maintains a value higher than evidence have to meet a burden of proof? What form would that evidence even take?

        The notion that your imagined opponents have made other value judgements doesn’t really solve the problem. You and the Sagan of this quote are both asserting the superiority of your own value judgement. That assertion has in the present instance little other than circular arguments to support it.

        Adding unilinear evolutionary themes does not seem to help much.

      • “Higher value than evidence” is a false distinction. I may possess, in my mind or hard drive, an encylopedia’s worth of information about the far-off land of Xtopia – but without evidence, I don’t have knowledge. I have fantasy. I’m not asserting superiority – I’m assserting mutually exclusive entities. Knowledge comes from evidence. Everything else is faith.

      • (To be fair, a storyteller can have knowledge about their own stories – but the leap occurs when the storyteller attempts to link their storytelling with the physical world.)

    • The real problem, seems to me, is that once there is an exception to the rules of logic, what rules now govern those exceptions? (hint: the historical method has been war) At least with a logic-based system, we can all look at the same body of evidence and focus our disagreements through a consistant and demonstrable system of non-contradiction. If shamans claim the power to transcend that, all bets are off. How is the Bible superior to “Mein Kampf”? All Mr. Hitler need do is claim a revelation from Zeus and he’s off the races. Maybe I’m cynical, but people who appeal to an unprovable, unknowable, unreproducable and non-demonstrable proposition are not being “spiritual”. They are trying to get away with something.

      • What rules govern exceptions to logic? those of a joke, a poem, and a variety of narrative conventions, or even burden of proof arguments, just to name a few. War is a complete non-sequitor, as are shamans, but none of this is precisely to the point. I’m not suggesting that we need to make exceptions to logic. What I object to is the presentation of a value judgement (that we should not) as though it were an empirical proposition which some people simply fail to understand. It is not.

        Your consequentialist arguments work fine for me, provided they are understood to be such. The Sagan quote above fails that test.

      • That’s an interesting way to frame it, Daniel. I’m curious as to how a person would ever get up from a chair if we we so broadly apply Hume’s guillotine. Certainly two people’s goals might be different, which would create two potentially equal value judgements. But that’s looking forward, not looking back. Some “outhts

      • ….sometimes an “ought” comes from the observation of what is, such as the observation of A=A. If beliefs are built upon these self-evident, testable foundations, I think they are very different from the prescriptive value judgements you suggest.

      • Literary methods are not a critique of logic. One does not critique math by pointing out that it can be represented using different ink colors. The tool or technique used to describe a concept has nothing to do with the substance of the concept. And those methods are powerless to evaluate its truth or its consistence with other concepts. That’s what logic is for. I am not (necessarily) making a consequentialist argument. Nor am I suggesting that value judgments cannot or should not be made. I am suggesting that valid judgments cannot rely upon (or be forced upon others based on) the unprovable visions of others. My point about war was not a nonsequitor but you make a good point that I didn’t articulate the point well. My point was that, if one wishes to pattern their life around the unprovable and un-reproducible assertions of others, they are free to do so. But if they ask me to do so, they must come armed with either lots of evidence, or a gun. History shows which is more likely.

  4. Sean, Sometimes an ought is …not a value judgement. This is doublespeak. Leaving self-evidence aside, that’s one Hell of a pretzel you’ve cooked yourself there.

    Pol: You initial arguments against the exceptions to logic were indeed based on the consequences thereof. You are yourself making value judgements; they are not proven in any meaningful sense of the word, and you have used neither war nor logic to establish them. That you make value judgements is not the problem, nor is it the particular judgements you have made. That you seem to confuse them with factually verified claims is more than a little odd..

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