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Author Topic:   Do science and religion have rights to some "explanatory space"?
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 149 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 3 of 37 (491820)
12-21-2008 3:47 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by bluescat48
12-21-2008 10:12 AM


Religion Has No Unique Explanatory Powers
Since Bluescat has included a line from me in the OP, I feel that I should expand a little on what I think about this issue.
First, here is a link to the original discussion; God Or Science? A Belief In One Weakens Positive Feelings For The Other
The key phrase for me is the punchline from the cartoon I posted; science is limited by its refusal to make stuff up.
The question is whether science and religion have their own distinct explanatory spaces. This is often expressed as "Non-Overlapping Magisteria" or NOMA, a phrase coined by Stephen Jay Gould. His idea in brief;
Anonymous Wiki Person writes:
In his book Rocks of Ages (1999), Gould put forward what he described as "a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to ... the supposed conflict between science and religion."[48] He defines the term magisterium as "a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution"[48] and the NOMA principle is "the magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what the Universe is made of (fact) and why does it work in this way (theory). The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for example, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty)."
From here
I disagree with Gould. I see no special place that religion occupies that has any value. Science on the other hand, does have a valuable explanatory space of its own.
Our questions about the world we live in can be divided into two categories, objective and subjective. Science represents our best attempt at creating answers to the objective questions. "How does a plant photosynthesise?", "What is the shape of the universe?", "Is there such a thing as a soul?"; these are all objective questions about objective realities. There either is or isn't a soul.
There is only one reliable way of answering such questions and I would hope that everyone could agree that science is that way (I'm an optimist ). The scientific method has done more than enough to vindicate itself, providing us with unprecedented levels of knowledge abut our universe.
Science is, however, still limited by its inability (or lack of interest in) more subjective questions, such as "Is murder always wrong?", "What is the meaning of existence?" or pretty much any question that asks "Why...". So is this where religion comes to the fore?
I say no. For starters, religion has never restricted itself to answering subjective questions. Religions across the world have always been eager to provide answers to objective matters such as how the world was created or the origin of life. We now know those answers to be wrong, often spectacularly so. In short, people made those answers up. I see no reason to trust that their answers to subjective questions are any better than their objective answers were.
Morality is another problem. It is specifically mentioned by Gould as being part of religion's magisterium. I can think of no worse topic to cede to religion. The moral accomplishments of religion are, to put it politely, mixed. I don't want to drag the thread into a spat about religiously inspired atrocities or nasty Bible passages, but I think that it is fair to say that religion has not done a universally good job in providing moral instruction. There are better sources of moral instruction.
"Ultimate meaning" is the other area that Gould identifies in the above quote as being part of the religious magisterium. I have no idea what he is talking about. What is ultimate meaning? Does it even exist? And how would you know if it did?
I don't believe in ultimate meaning, but I do feel that meaning does exist; it's just that it is subjective, not ultimate. I also acknowledge that religion does provide meaning for millions of people. I wouldn't want to deny that. A piece of advice like "Judge not, that ye be not judged" is as true today as it ever was. The aesthetic beauty of some aspects of religious thought must be acknowledged as well.
My problem is that religion rarely acknowledges the subjective nature of what truth it has. Too often subjective "truths" (especially moral ones) are presented as though they were absolute objective facts. What's more, the mixture of truths and falsehoods, inventions and history, good and bad in most religious traditions obscures what usefulness they might have. Even if we can usefully decide which bits of a religious text to value and which to ignore, the preponderance of bogus claims made by all religions acts as a barrier to our understanding of what sound advice they offer.
Example; the Genesis account of the Fall of Man. In my opinion, the story contains a symbolic nugget of truth. We humans are capable, in our highest ideals, of imagining a pure and perfect moral world, where no human evil exists. Unfortunately, worldly temptations our own failings corrupt this high-minded ideal and cause us to turn paradise into purgatory. In my view, there is truth in this interpretation, but it is a subjective, symbolic truth. The problem comes when people start to interpret such fables as being actually, literally true, which, frankly, is just silly. It is a kind of mental pit-fall and a barrier to understanding.
Fortunately there are better alternatives. Moral philosophy has come a long way since the Bible or the Quran were written. I think that literature is the best place to find subjective truths. I would challenge anyone who has ever read The Grapes of Wrath to tell me that there is not truth in it. It is not literally true, but there are truths within it. I think that the knowledge that the story is fictional prevents the problem of people trying to take the wrong sort of truth from it. Literature, in being honest about its function, avoids the pit-falls of religion.
In summation, I think that science does have an explanatory space all of its own. It is the only way of providing the most accurate answers to objective questions about existence.
Religion on the other hand, does have value in answering subjective questions, but this value is not unique to religion. Furthermore, religion is a double-edged sword; its explanatory value is countered by its tendency to spew out wrong answers, often to questions that it has no business answering in the first place. Philosophy and literature serve this purpose far better.
At least they acknowledge that they are making it up.
Mutate and Survive

"The Bible is like a person, and if you torture it long enough, you can get it to say almost anything you'd like it to say." -- Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade

This message is a reply to:
 Message 1 by bluescat48, posted 12-21-2008 10:12 AM bluescat48 has not replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 149 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 18 of 37 (491885)
12-23-2008 2:23 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by erikp
12-23-2008 5:29 AM


A Serious Misunderstanding of the Scientific Method
Hi erikp and welcome to the forum,
quote:
Science and religion do not overlap and may not overlap.
That would be nice, I agree. Unfortunately, religion has always delved into matters that are better left to the scientific method and it continues to do so.
quote:
Only observations from reality have the status: proven true.
I disagree somewhat. How do we know that the observer is doing his job properly? Nonetheless, I would say that observations are as close as we can ever practically get to "proven true", so this is a very small point. Once something has been reliably and repeatedly observed, it is reasonable to say that it is proven true.
quote:
If a scientific theorem has the status "proven", it means that it does not cover any possible future observations. That would simply make the scientific theorem useless for any practical purpose.
I agree with the first sentence, but it does not describe the scientific method as it is practised. The second sentence is just plain wrong.
No scientific theory is ever considered "proven". One might describe an observation as proven, but not the theory that underlies it. Science holds all theories as tentative explanations, pending potential future correction. This is precisely because of the problems that you describe; potential for future falsification.
To suggest that a theory must be tentative is only sensible. To then suggest that because of this, no theory can ever be of practical use is absurd. The Theory of General Relativity is open to future falsification, yet it is used very successfully in Global Positioning Systems. In what way is this not practical? The germ theory of disease is subject to falsification, yet it has saved millions of lives and improved standards of living worldwide. In what way is this not practical?
quote:
Popper and Gdel also demonstrate that every scientific theorem that is applicable to an unending stream of future observations, will eventually prove to be false. There are --always-- observations possible that will sooner or later contradict the theorem. The status of every scientific theorem currently in use is simply: false (but hard to prove so).
(Emphasis mine.)
First of all, all theories are subject to future falsification, every last one of them, including ones we haven't thought of yet. No scientific theory is considered "case closed" or "proven". Thus, the phrase "every scientific theorem that is applicable to an unending stream of future observations" can be effectively shortened to "every scientific theorem".
Throughout your exchange with PaulK, you have repeatedly claimed that your argument is directly taken from Popper and Gdel. Now, I admit to being only marginally familiar with Popper's work and I am pretty much unfamiliar with Gdel. I am nonetheless sceptical that they really say quite what you seem to think they do.
Perhaps you could cite cases where they make the argument you claim they do, especially with regard to the bolded sections above.
quote:
The only theorems that can be true, are theorems for which it is impossible to make observations.
Look, I'm assuming that neither of us is a solipsist, so we can both agree that there is an objective reality that exists regardless of our attempts to understand it, right? A theory that accurately describes reality would be correct. Scientific theories attempt to describe observed reality as accurately as is possible, whilst still acknowledging the possibility that they are wrong or incomplete (tentativity). Observation is the foundation of this approach.
A theory for which no observation can be made is not a theory. It is, at best, just an idle notion.
quote:
The status of such theorem would be: unproven true.
Why? You don't say, you merely assert that this is the case. Given that it is, by definition, unprovable, I would say that it is impossible to justify calling it true. How would you know?
By your logic the following statement is true; "We are being watched by the invisible and undetectable eyes of the machine elves from the other side."
You can't observe the machine elves, so they can't be proved. Thus, machine elf theory is true.
Do you see how silly this is?
quote:
Science is therefore false, but hard to prove so; but sooner or later every scientific statement will turn out to be an error [Popper, Gdel].
Again, I would be very interested to see exactly where Messrs Popper and Gdel claim this.
quote:
Religion, however, is true, but impossible to prove so.
Two contradictory unprovable statements could not both be true. To regard two such statements as both being true is to embrace absurdity. In the real world, two mutually contradictory statements cannot, by definition, both be true. In your world, they both have to be considered be true.
Seriously, do you not see how silly this is?
Be honest. Do you actually possess the ability to consciously believe two mutually contradictory statements at once? I sure don't, nor would I want to.
quote:
In my impression, both the Bible and the Koran, manage to stay clear of making unproven false statements (that is, scientific statements) by staying clear of phrasing statements that could be contradicted by future observations.
Oh really? From Matthew 13;
13:31 Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
13:32 Which indeed is the least of all seeds
The mustard seed is not the smallest seed. It's just not. There are poppy seeds in my kitchen that are smaller. The smallest seeds are, I believe, those of orchids, which cannot be seen with the naked eye. This is a falsifiable claim and it has been falsified. By your standards, that means that Jesus' parable was not religious.
Of course the parable is religious , as is the source, the New Testament.
quote:
Religion may only contain proven true (facts, observations) and unproven/unprovable true statements (religious imperatives).
Unfortunately, religion stubbornly hangs on to falsified notions. They litter the Bible. One need read no further than Genesis 1:2 to find an entirely falsified notion, yet Genesis must be considered religious under any sensible definition.
I think that you have slightly misunderstood how science and especially tentativity work. You have taken this misunderstanding and run with it, far in the wrong direction and it has led you to some rather strange conclusions.
I think a good start for you in pursuing this would be to provide evidence that Popper and Gdel really say what you think they do. Personally, I have my doubts.
Mutate and Survive.

"The Bible is like a person, and if you torture it long enough, you can get it to say almost anything you'd like it to say." -- Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade

This message is a reply to:
 Message 8 by erikp, posted 12-23-2008 5:29 AM erikp has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 24 by erikp, posted 12-24-2008 9:04 AM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 149 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 27 of 37 (491959)
12-24-2008 7:40 PM
Reply to: Message 24 by erikp
12-24-2008 9:04 AM


Re: A Serious Misunderstanding of the Scientific Method
I'm finding it hard it believe that you're not winding us up. Surely you can't be serious?
quote:
By defining "true" as "can impossibly be contradicted by facts" (past or future), a thesis and its antithesis can both be true at the same time.
That would quite obviously be a logical contradiction. It's incredible that you could type that last sentence without realising what nonsense you're talking. It's no more possible than a square circle or one equalling two. If you are going to base your argument upon absurdities, you have no argument.
I agree with Bluejay; you need to provide an example of both thesis and antithesis being true. Of course, if you find one, you will have proved your theory, which would make it false...
quote:
A theory cannot accurately describe reality. If it does, it just means that we haven't been diligent enough in making contradicting observations.
This appears to be where your misunderstanding lies. Theory can accurately describe reality. The only difficulty (apart from creating the theory in the first place) is in knowing how completely you have succeeded in the attempt. Even if a theory is perfect, there is no magic way of knowing this with total confidence for all future circumstances. That is why theories are held tentatively. It does not mean that no theory can be completely correct nor, even more absurdly, that it must be false. It just means that we should keep an open mind regarding observations that might not be in line with theory and be ready to improve theory accordingly.
I think you need to read Hopper again, because you appear to have badly missed his points.
Speaking of whom, were you going to back up your claim that Hopper and Godel agree with you, or are you just going to keep bluffing?
quote:
"eyes", "machine", "elves", however, come dangerously close to something that can be falsified.
But then again, as long as your elaboration of the theory stays clear from becoming falsifiable, both your theory and the antithesis for your theory remain: unproven true.
The terms "machine elves" and even "eyes" are mere place-holders for concepts far beyond our comprehension. If we came close to understanding the reality of the mighty machine elves, they would transform into something even more bizarre and incomprehensible (Douglas Adams fans might suggest that this has already happened).
Is that unprovable enough for you? Are you ready to make a prize prat of yourself by admitting that your theory defines the machine elves real?
Oh and hey, merry Christmas! Except that the antithesis must be true as well, so I hope that you have a really lousy Christmas as well, just to be on the safe side.
Mutate and Survive/Stagnate and Die Out

"The Bible is like a person, and if you torture it long enough, you can get it to say almost anything you'd like it to say." -- Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade

This message is a reply to:
 Message 24 by erikp, posted 12-24-2008 9:04 AM erikp has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 28 by erikp, posted 01-13-2009 6:41 AM Granny Magda has replied

  
Granny Magda
Member (Idle past 149 days)
Posts: 2462
From: UK
Joined: 11-12-2007


Message 30 of 37 (494044)
01-13-2009 7:06 AM
Reply to: Message 28 by erikp
01-13-2009 6:41 AM


Re: A Serious Misunderstanding of the Scientific Method
You again...
quote:
A theory is false, if at least one observation contradicts it.
A theory is true, if all possible observations concur with it.
Almost. What if the the observation required to falsify a theory is a practical impossibility? You are forgetting that it is not possible to make any absolute statement on what observations are potentially possible, as opposed to those which happen to be possible at a particular point in time. We have no idea what might be potentially possible in the future, so your definitions are completely meaningless and a total waste of time.
quote:
If it is not possible to make any observations for the theory, all possible observations necessarily concur with it, and therefore, the theory must be considered to be true.
Cobblers. A theory with no observations to back it up is not a theory; it is merely a hypothesis. What's more, you are attempting to define truth as being characterised by a total lack of evidence, a clear nonsense.
quote:
If it is not possible to make any observations for the theory, it is not possible to make them for the antithesis too.
This in no way follows. It might be perfectly possible to make observations for the antithesis, even if none were available for the thesis itself.
quote:
Consequently, the antithesis is also true.
Self-indulgent crap. The thesis and antithesis cannot be simultaneously true. This is a simple piece of basic logic. Your argument defies logic. Thus your argument is wrong. this should be easy to grasp, yet it seems to elude you. You are out of your depth and wasting your time on illogical nonsense.
quote:
I admit that this is a borderline case, but it concurs with the definitions stated. So, in this borderline case, both the thesis as the antithesis are true.
It is not a borderline case. It is a very clear case of you founding your argument upon a logical fallacy. Stop wasting your time on this pathetic sophistry, no-one is convinced. Oh, by the way, have you dug out the sources that back up your claims about Popper and Godel? Thought not.
quote:
Science if full of strange results in borderline cases. What's so new about that?
Care to cite a case where both thesis and antithesis are simultaneously true? You know, just to demonstrate that this piffle has some merit outside of your imagination.
quote:
The remainder of your answer lacks scientific rigor.
Of course it does! It's your bloody argument! Your tortured and twisted parody of logic, when taken to its conclusion, means that the machine elves from the other side must be considered real. And not real. At the same time. Of course this is not scientific, that is what me and everyone else on this thread have been trying to tell you.
Unless you can come up with a concrete example of a thesis and antithesis being concurrently true, you are wasting my time. Please include such an example in your next post or don't bother replying.
Mutate and Survive

"The Bible is like a person, and if you torture it long enough, you can get it to say almost anything you'd like it to say." -- Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade

This message is a reply to:
 Message 28 by erikp, posted 01-13-2009 6:41 AM erikp has not replied

  
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