Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The Up-Front Guides: The Weasel Translator

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  • Kracklite,

    To hold an atheist view does not require faith in the same sense that believing in a deity does. I think you’re confusing atheists in general with particular atheists who consider that God has been proven to not exist. At an educated guess, I’d say this is a small subset of atheists. (And even there, I’m not sure that their position is ‘illogical’, just wrong.)

    I think that agnosticism, if one looks at the etymology is faithless - it means "without knowledge", knowledge in this case being a comprehension, feeling, a sense of... um... knowing, not "proof" or certainty.

    The 'event horizon' I referred to was the limit of falsifiability. There may or may not be fairies at the bottom of my garden and if I don't find them, then they may be very good at hiding... but really their existence would be inconsistent with everything else I can prove, I have no reason to believe that there are and so I don't believe in them despite having no proof of their nonexistence - that kind of thing.

    This is versus "There are no fairies!"

    Some may see this as hair-splitting, but I see it as holding a prism up to light and splitting it into its constituent colours.

    (That Karl Popper has a lot to answer for...)

    like saying abstinence is a sexual position.

    Well, using a sufficiently broad definition, it is. :)

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'm pretty much in agreement with Kracklite on God, agnostic if I must be purely logical, atheist for any really practical purposes. But I'm using the words in the same way as him, and there can be dispute about that. Get around the dispute by just elaborating which one you are, and you can continue without arguing about the meaning of a word. I doubt any resolution is likely in a real good faith discussion between people of genuinely opposing viewpoints, though. Mostly because I've never seen it happen, in many such discussions, some of which have been in good faith. Different starting points converge to different solutions - if you start by presuming God exists, and you define God as logic personified, then how can it possibly be disproved? The argument that such definitions are circular only bothers people who haven't starting from presuming the existence. Also, ironically, belief in induction has a similarly circular source, as Hume showed, so scientific realists aren't immune to this criticism themselves. Belief that the future will resemble the past, based on the fact that it always has before, is clearly circular. So the person starting from believing in God might very well see a valid scientific disproof of God as a logical disproof of science.

    Which is why it's generally a scientifically fruitless discussion - I'd think scientists would simply ignore the question as far too vague to bother with, in terms of actually trying for scientific disproof or such. They're likely to have an opinion, as they do on unproven scientific claims too. There were plenty of opinions about the Higgs boson's existence last year. They're now a bit stronger for the "it exists" side. I'd expect scientists, just by the nature of what they do, to mostly be atheists, but I can't see any inherent contradiction if they're not.

    So the idea that "strong atheists" have some aspect of faith about them, isn't too far from the mark, IMHO. "Weak atheists", not so much. The strong atheist is stabbing into the dark about God, just as true believers are. If I was forced to stab, I'd stab the same way as the strong atheist. But I'm not forced to stab, so I consider myself agnostic, or perhaps a weak atheist. Maybe if some scientific Inquisition put me in a cell, demanding to know which way my sentiments ran or face the thumbscrews, I'd say that of course I was with them. It's an informed stab, at least. Given the way that God is often defined circularly, it hardly matters if it exists. Then again, if the scientist performing the Inquisition happened to have a cross around their neck....hmmm. Agnostic. Only safe position.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    My friend who is a head specialist at AK Hospital, commented that many doctors up there are religious. Also another of her colleagues who she is doing trials with, for Diabetes type 1 and 2 is extremely religious. We discussed how we found that a tad confusing, being that her trials are science based.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    The strong atheist is stabbing into the dark about God, just as true believers are.

    I don't think so. Show any atheist actual proof that a god exists, and they would accept it. In the absence of any evidence and given that positing a god has no explanatory power, we think it's more rational to think there is no god.

    But what we accept is contingent on the evidence, this is what separates us from religious believers.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • andin, in reply to Kracklite,

    Faeries hiding at the bottom of your garden you say!
    Bet I could catch one of the little fuckers
    Lemme at 'em
    I can translate as well

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    We discussed how we found that a tad confusing, being that her trials are science based.

    That would only worry me if her trials were of faith healing, or if her faith were somehow negatively impacting her professional performance - Frank Burns in MASH (the film), for example, using his faith to evade personal responsibility. It may well be that her faith is part of what inspires her to a career in medicine, and may therefore boost her performance, by, perhaps, keeping her motivated when she's tired and drained. I dunno.

    I can see the confusion, I think, from an atheist point of view - how could you hold on to faith when you work in science? Faith is so silly and irrational and devoid of evidence to prove it. How can you maintain faith when you work in a field that relies on concrete evidence and reason?

    But I maintain that faith and science speak to different aspects of the human experience and therefore are not inherently contradictory. For religious doctors, science could be the way they go about healing broken bodies while faith answers all those "spiritual" questions - identity, community, belonging, tradition, purpose, meaning, origins, death. Call it a crutch if you will, but we all face those questions. Some find the answers in faith. So long as they keep an open mind, tolerate the different beliefs of others, and update their faith as science, philosophy, art and theology progress, then I don't see a problem.

    And if one day science does rule one way or another on god/s, then we've all come to a happy compromise - well, assuming everybody accepts that ruling.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    In the absence of any evidence and given that positing a god has no explanatory power, we think it's more rational to think there is no god.

    I know. But "it's more rational to think x" is not the same as "x is true". It might not be true. If you're predisposed to conflate the two, and I suggest that scientists usually are (they believe that the truth is the ultimate aim of science, rather than just a good story), then you'll consider atheism a no-brainer. But that's not the only possible attitude that's consistent with the rational pursuit of science. And "scientific" is certainly not the only way to interpret the term "rational".

    Perhaps I could give an example of another disputed truth, just to make it clear what I mean. In my own science, it's currently not know if P=NP. Probably, it isn't, because no one has found a poly time solution to one of the NP problems, ever, and a hell of a lot of people have been working on it for a long time, including a lot of computers. But absent an actual proof, the status of the question is "unknown". That's the rational position, even though current sentiment is that the likelihood is that P is not equal to NP. That's what most computer scientists think. But they don't go so far as to claim that it's known to be not equal. Maybe it is, and if it is, it would be frikken awesome. Maybe the algorithm is just really cunning and complex, lying just beyond our current abilities to discover.

    However, in solving real problems, it's rational to treat them as not equal, simply to avoid the misery of trying to solve an NP complete problem and tying up your computer forever.

    So in this example, it's rational to believe something that is not known to be true, just seems likely. I suggest believing in God is akin to thinking P=NP, and being an atheist is akin to believing that is false. Agnostics simply say "we don't know". Can you see that even though the likelihood is that P=NP is false, it's still a stab in the dark?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    if one day science does rule one way or another on god/s, then we’ve all come to a happy compromise – well, assuming everybody accepts that ruling.

    How can science rule on god any more than it rules on fairies at the bottom of the garden, or giant spaghetti monsters in space? If there were any evidence for any of these things, scientists could examine and test it. But there isn't.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    Can you see that even though the likelihood is that P=NP is false, it’s still a stab in the dark?

    No, I can't. It's a contingent belief . As is all scientific knowledge. It's the best we know at this time. That's not at all the same as a blind guess.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to Lilith __,

    If there were any evidence for any of these things, scientists could examine and test it. But there isn’t.

    I guess that's why it's called a faith.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 802 posts Report Reply

  • andin,

    all those “spiritual” questions – identity, community, belonging, tradition, purpose, meaning, origins, death. Call it a crutch if you will,

    Yep the walking wounded. To mention a few.
    That is, when they walk.

    simply to avoid the misery

    We're all trying to do that

    raglan • Since Mar 2007 • 1890 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    That's not at all the same as a blind guess

    ...

    It's the best we know at this time.

    Which can be almost nothing. The two ideas are not incompatible. Even if we have searched a lot, if the space left to search is still much bigger (in the case of algorithms, it's practically infinite), we don't really have any way of quantifying how far into the search we've got. We can't put put any rigorous level of certainty on it at all.

    How can science rule on god any more than it rules on fairies at the bottom of the garden, or giant spaghetti monsters in space? If there were any evidence for any of these things, scientists could examine and test it. But there isn't.

    This, I agree with.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    That’s not at all the same as a blind guess

    It’s the best we know at this time.

    Which can be almost nothing. The two ideas are not incompatible. Even if we have searched a lot, if the space left to search is still much bigger (in the case of algorithms, it’s practically infinite), we don’t really have any way of quantifying how far into the search we’ve got. We can’t put put any rigorous level of certainty on it at all.

    But even if that's true, my point is that scientific knowledge is continually challenged, refined and updated in the light of the evidence. Faith isn't.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX, in reply to Lilith __,

    But even if that's true, my point is that scientific knowledge is continually challenged, refined and updated in the light of the evidence. Faith isn't.

    Everything evolves.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1224 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    Faith isn't.

    I've heard of people having their faith rocked, many a time. Faith is something that's only irrational once there's actually evidence against. Until then, it's just one choice amongst unknowns. It can be a useful attitude, giving you determination to follow a course that seems hopeless.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to DexterX,

    Everything evolves.

    Yes, but that's not the point : with science challenge and change is integral to the process. I think I've said this enough times in enough ways. You're free to disagree.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    Faith is something that’s only irrational once there’s actually evidence against. Until then, it’s just one choice amongst unknowns.

    No, it isn't. The rational thing is to believe what is most probably true, not to pick something at random to believe in. Rational belief is justified by evidence .

    Of course, aside from cosmology, religious faith can give emotional comfort and build community. It can also justify inequity, oppression, war and genocide.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Lilith __,

    But there isn’t.

    Yes, I know. I really shouldn't have added that, it distracted from my main point, which is that for some of us there is no contradiction between faith and science.

    But if I may defend my glibness, and borrow from Ben

    we don’t really have any way of quantifying how far into the search we’ve got

    This doesn't just apply to algorithms, but all of human knowledge. Or, DexterX:

    Everything evolves.

    In other words... maybe one day.... <wistful sigh>

    But:

    But even if that’s true, my point is that scientific knowledge is continually challenged, refined and updated in the light of the evidence. Faith isn’t.

    Faith can be so tested. Not for all believers, sure, there are still those who cling stubbornly to mediaeval nonsense. But some do put their faith to these tests and do update it.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    Faith can be so tested. Not for all believers, sure, there are still those who cling stubbornly to mediaeval nonsense. But some do put their faith to these tests and do update it.

    Can you give an example?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite,

    Just to add to the confusion, we're looking at proof and believe as if they were all of the same kind and operated at the same level.

    Dante, in a letter to his patron on the Divine Comedy , explained that it should be read as having (as he called it) a ‘polysemous’ layering of meaning: ‘for we obtain one meaning from the letter of it, and another from that which the letter signifies’. In the case of the Divine Comedy one reads first the literal narrative and then interprets the allegorical meaning of the text, its moral instruction and then its anagogic or transcendent mystical meaning.

    Empirical versus spiritual knowledge, FWIW and all that.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX, in reply to Lilith __,

    Can you give an example?

    Faith or lack of is held and expressed personally – all things that are personal, be it a theist or atheist perspective is defined by the realm of the person’s existence and will evolve. If you can think you can evolve – if you can’t evolve you are more than likely dead.

    I can’t be bothered with the God / No God scenarios - the arguments on the existence or non existence of “God” advanced by theists and atheists are nauseating to me – The positions expressed in support of each are a parody – the more extreme and deeply held each of the arguments the closer they tend to become to each other in being meaningless and righteous. The more fervently expressed the position the better the circular parody.

    The people that I have met who spend their life’s works studying these things are pretty boring and to my mind joy germs.

    Live your life in the world you live and change the things that need to be changed – and that includes recognizing that fundamental human rights should not be denied to anyone on the basis of race, gender, age, belief and sexuality.

    Often many people who profess to hold views in support of “social issues” are pseudo intellectuals who are selective in airing that support in real terms in their real life.

    These are my observations and they haven’t been subjected to the scientific method – not everything has to or is suitable to be posed as hypotheses and tested empirically.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1224 posts Report Reply

  • DexterX,

    Classic nausea:

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1224 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to Kracklite,

    The ‘event horizon’ I referred to was the limit of falsifiability. There may or may not be fairies at the bottom of my garden and if I don’t find them, then they may be very good at hiding… but really their existence would be inconsistent with everything else I can prove, I have no reason to believe that there are and so I don’t believe in them despite having no proof of their nonexistence

    Exactly, you don’t believe in them. If fairies were deities, you’d be a non-believer in those deities, i.e. an atheist.

    Etymology is interesting and all, but it doesn’t govern how we use words today, and it seems to me that ‘agnostic’ is used mostly to indicate an ‘undecided’, roughly 50/50 position; a political agnostic, for example.

    There are literally an infinite number of things that might be true, in the sense that you imply with the garden fairy example (many of them probably contradictory). The Judeo-Christian God, Ahura Mazda, the Norse gods, the tooth fairy, Osiris, Vishnu, Hine-nui-te-pō, Zeus, leprechauns, Nyame, Mister Mxyzptlk, an invisible garage-dwelling dragon, Cthulhu, Vampire Slayers….. all could possibly exist. You can’t prove with absolute ontological certainty that these, or an endless number of other fanciful beings, don’t exist.

    To me, it seems strange to insist on being “agnostic” on the existence of Mr Mxyzptlk.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1164 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    I can see the confusion, I think, from an atheist point of view – how could you hold on to faith when you work in science?

    That was it, in a nutshell. Nothing more , nothing less. I'm not prepared to express or want my view to be put upon others but all I feel basically is I believe in a collective consciousness, but that is because I believe we live on the one planet and thus consciousness is inevitable. With my friend, science is the ultimate proof for succeeding with the profession because she has done the research and there is evidence recorded and experienced.That's all. No biggy :)

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Kracklite, in reply to Steve Parks,

    To me, it seems strange to insist on being “agnostic” on the existence of Mr Mxyzptlk.

    Hmmm, maybe a sliding scale of probabilities, with a threshold perhaps? (Semi-joke). You know of Pascal's Wager? Essentially it's "There are two variables - I believe in God or not and there is a God or not, but, but the risk of not believing in God when God actually exists and therefore facing eternal damnation (trapped forever in a burning lake of sulphur while Rebecca Black and Justin Bieber perform duets at me and Keanu Reeves reads from Hamlet ), any sensible risk analysis makes belief in God preferable, no matter how silly it may seem."

    That's simplistic, of course. "Sorry, the Jews were right" as Rowan Atkinson put it in his Satan sketch rather complicates the calculation. How can I be sure, after reading Pascal, that I'm believing in the right God? Hopefully this hypothetical entity is willing to acknowledge that it's the thought that counts.

    Still, Mr Mxyzptlk, I think falls below the threshold of reasonable belief. There is a probability that he might exist, but it's so vanishingly small that Pascal would probably say, Soprano-style, fuggedaboutit.

    The Library of Babel • Since Nov 2007 • 982 posts Report Reply

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