I don't understand the faith people put in religious texts

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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zamfir » Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:02 am UTC

Noc wrote:If you say "I love this woman," I am going to do the same thing I keep doing in this discussion: ask you to qualify that a bit more, because holy crap does that exclamation not mean anything useful. If it were part of a discussion, I mean. I don't actually feel the need to challenge every questionable claim I hear in the course of my day, but if you're using your apparent love for this individual as part of something it is important for me to understand, I am going to insist on a reasonable level of specificity.

The problem is that "reasonable levels of specificity" will usually detract from the information, not add to it. Love is a highly complicated and diffuse concept, and you will not be able to capture its fulness in a bit of definition. All you would do is introduce a new, more limited concept to the conversation and then discuss that more restricted concept instead. Which is not very useful if people meant to talk about real-life love, not a toybox version of it.

People are quite capable of dealing with fuzzy, ambiguous, complicated concepts in their conversation. They already have a lifetime of experience and a wealth of shared cultural background, of examples and stories and realted knowledge. A word like love is a pointer to places in that complex, and that's often a superior method of communication than trying to pin down a sharper definition. Even if the other side doesn't build up the same mental complex as you intended with the word, you can still say far more than through the simpler concepts that are required by scientific research, for example.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby curtis95112 » Fri Jan 27, 2012 1:35 pm UTC

Of course, but in that case you won't be asking "Am I in love?" and expect a binary answer. Love is much more complicated with all sorts of shades of gray.
So the proposed scenario is ridiculous. No scientific way to check for love will return "No you don't" as an answer. Or rather, if it does, we apply the scientific method and say that the theory is falsified or too simple an approximation to be useful.

And I would contend that it is possible to rigorously define the love we want to know about. It will probably turn out to be a very nuanced definition, and even then we'll have to sift through several definitions to decide which one we're inquiring about every time we ask a question. But it should be possible in principle, and I also contend that with a good definition, it will be subject to empirical analysis. We already do that in a sense, although not rigorously. Whenever someone asks if they're in love, the first thing many people will do is ask what they mean by love. Do they mean the passion common in fresh relationships? Do they mean the stability and comfort of older relationships? etc. They also try to have the questioner describe how they feel. When that's clear, people use their personal anecdotes and things they have heard to try and make conclusions and give advice. It's pretty much empirical analysis, albeit with very little attempt to statistically analyze their data, and so very little certainty about the conclusions.

I don't see why the process couldn't be made rigorous. It's just that there's too much variables to practically analyze. But in principle, why not?
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Jan 27, 2012 3:37 pm UTC

tsperk wrote:Yes, and this is why Jesus said referencing his disciples "They are no part of the world, as I am no part of the world." (John 15:17) I am not defending the political, social, and economic policies of the Christian Right in the United States. I recognize that people have used the Bible (and other Scripture for that matter) to justify great acts of evil throughout human history. I agree with you that "systematic problems exist within particular religious structures", and that this contributes to much strife in the world today.


I'm not sure exactly what you're disputing then. I'm not interested in what the "correct" interpretation of Scripture is, because there is no correct one. I'm interested in how different interpretations affect the real, physical world around us. As I said earlier, if religious scriptures only taught peace and virtue, nobody would have a problem with them. The issue is that scriptures have a whole lot of other garbage in them that can be easily interpreted in ways that cause great harm. The fact that there are a multitude of believers who are prepared to accept these interpretations as true only compounds the problem.

tsperk wrote:I don't mean to preach a sermon here, but a lot of the comments imply a condemnation of the Bible generally, and Christianity in particular, and I feel impelled to defend my beliefs. I especially feel adamant in expressing that the bad behavior of others who claim to be Christians does not have anything to do with my own faith.


I never passed judgment on your personal faith one way or the other. I have confined my discussions largely toward the Bible because it represents the largest and generally best known religion (at least in the Western world). Moreover, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are religions where their respective scriptures are held to have much more importance. This is not a feature that is common to all religions, so, in a discussion about scriptures, it makes sense to focus on those religions for which these things are actually important.

tsperk wrote:As far as arguing religion in general leads to evil acts, that is a very extraordinary claim. And extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (irony intended).


Has someone been making this claim? I certainly haven't.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby tsperk » Fri Jan 27, 2012 4:51 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:Has someone been making this claim? I certainly haven't.


Then it sounds like we are pretty much in agreement :)
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:14 pm UTC

Sorry about the brevity of my previous post; I've had an exhausting past few days.
Zcorp wrote:How about a reasonable one? What is a scientific definition?
...

Not if they are talking about the same concept. If they are talking about different concepts and both using the word 'love' context should allow us to understand the difference in concept between the two usages or one of them is improperly using the word. You can say you 'love' someone but unless you can tell me what you mean by that you are not succeeding at understanding your emotions and communicating them.
Noc wrote:If you say "I love this woman," I am going to do the same thing I keep doing in this discussion: ask you to qualify that a bit more, because holy crap does that exclamation not mean anything useful.
A scientific definition would be (to me) one that is falsifiable. If the definition is scientific, when I say "I love <X>", you can somehow demonstrate to me that I am wrong.

As for the rest, Zamfir explained it a lot more clearly than I could. I'd only add that statements like "I love her" often make perfect sense in context; we usually understand them without any further need for elaboration.
Noc wrote:And, finally, thinking you're in True Love...
Silly ideas are harmless when they encourage us to do harmless things, and bad when they encourage us to do bad things. If and when 'True Love' leads to decisions that negatively impact your happiness and the happiness of those around you, I'd encourage you to adjust your narrative accordingly. People should adopt narratives that best allow them to work, play, and live.
Noc wrote:But letting the narrative drive your decisions directly without empiricism serving as a buffer is dangerous. That's basically what I mean about empiricism being "more valid:" as a primary lens for your decision making, it doesn't make any sense to use anything but empiricism. On the other hand, it's totally okay to let narratives influence you emotionally, provided that "well lets compare that to the way things work in the Real World" step comes into play somewhere.

...

But the validity of a standard or a method is distinct from the strength of its narrative, and the validity of empiricism is far stronger than that of pure narratives.
Empiricism is not set apart from the 'purer narratives'; empiricism--the type we're talking about, anyway--is just another type of narrative. You value empiricism because you value the things it gives you. People value religious narratives because they value the things those narratives give them.
curtis95112 wrote:No. It isn't a choice, and it has nothing to do with emotional satisfaction. I'd much rather believe that the Holocaust never happened. But that doesn't change the fact that I believe it did.
I suspect that as satisfying as you might find erasing the Holocaust to be, you find being empirically right about it to be more fulfilling.

I'm guessing from your points here (and I apologize if I'm completely off) that you don't find unexamined ideas to be particularly satisfying; if that's the case, you've still made a choice, consciously or not. You're still beholden to the same needs that drive others to believe in Gods and Goddesses--intellectual rigor and empiricism satisfy your needs, much like believing in scripture satisfies theirs. That's really the point; you choose empiricism because it satisfies your needs. Others choose Christianity because it satisfies their needs. Maybe they'd be more content as atheists; maybe not. It's hard to say.

All I'm saying is that there might be a time and place where a theological narrative is better equipped to satisfy someone's needs than an empirical one.
curtis95112 wrote:I don't see why the process couldn't be made rigorous. It's just that there's too much variables to practically analyze. But in principle, why not?
Because I am satisfied with "I love my partner"; applying intellectual rigor to this statement would bring me no value. It would not increase my love for my partner, it would not increase my enjoyment of that love, and it would add nothing to our relationship. "I love my partner" is enough.

It actually reminds me of that old saying concerning frogs and jokes...
Last edited by The Great Hippo on Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:21 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zamfir » Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:20 pm UTC

curtis, you can do all kinds of scientific studies related to love, or write novels about it, or hold political debates about it, or play love games, start a love-related business, educate people in the ways of love, join in religious ceremonial celebrations of love, or many other human activities, even if we ignore loving itself. Each with their own logic, their own jargon, their own way of looking at things.

The vibe I get from you is that consider science to be the primary way people should deal with things, even when science doesn't seem to say much important about it. Like when you say:
curtis95112 wrote:When that's clear, people use their personal anecdotes and things they have heard to try and make conclusions and give advice. It's pretty much empirical analysis, albeit with very little attempt to statistically analyze their data, and so very little certainty about the conclusions.

Perhaps I am reading too much in this, but it's as if you even criticize people for not dealing with love the way a scientist would deal with lab results.

In the end, science is just a fairly minor human activity. One that looms large to people on this board because they tend to specilize in scientific-oriented careers. Though even for us it's just one corner of our lives, among many. While pretty much everybody has to deal with matters of love, in many shapes and forms. So why not accept love as its own domain of human activity? One that doesn't need to subordinate its practices to those of science, or commerce, or religion, or art, even if those other domains have their dealings with it?

The analogy goes back to the OT. Religion, or ceremonies, or spirituality are their own thing, they aren't failed attempts at science or something. There can be overlap and connections. For those areas it makes sense to discuss which way of practice is best suited, and that's sometimes a scientific approach.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Brutz » Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:48 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:Perhaps I am reading too much in this, but it's as if you even criticize people for not dealing with love the way a scientist would deal with lab results.

I realize I sound naive and childish, but I honestly beli... uh think that if people dealt with everything in their experience, not just love and religion, the way a scientist would deal with lab results, all of humanity's problems would be gone quickly.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:54 pm UTC

Brutz wrote:I realize I sound naive and childish, but I honestly beli... uh think that if people dealt with everything in their experience, not just love and religion, the way a scientist would deal with lab results, all of humanity's problems would be gone quickly.
Well, sure. A uniformity of experience and narrative almost always results in a solid, strong community. You'd probably get similar results if you turned everyone into a Southern Baptist Protestant.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby mister k » Fri Jan 27, 2012 9:46 pm UTC

Science is a method for understanding how things work. By science, I mean gathering evidence to test and falsify hypotheses about an event in the world. Thus far, science has proven to be an effective tool to understanding how things work. It has been consistent, and has provided us with our current life style. This is not a claim faith can make.

When we wish to understand something, then I would argue that the best method if we wish to have an understanding that provides good predictions and appears to match how reality works, we should use science. So if we wish to understand how love works, then science would be our best bet. If we wish to experience love, I'm not sure how science makes things better, because it doesn't apply.

For claims made by religious texts, we can check them using science. If we wish to have an accurate model of whether a religious text is accurate, we would be best to do so.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Jave D » Fri Jan 27, 2012 10:01 pm UTC

mister k wrote:Science is a method for understanding how things work. By science, I mean gathering evidence to test and falsify hypotheses about an event in the world. Thus far, science has proven to be an effective tool to understanding how things work. It has been consistent, and has provided us with our current life style. This is not a claim faith can make.

When we wish to understand something, then I would argue that the best method if we wish to have an understanding that provides good predictions and appears to match how reality works, we should use science. So if we wish to understand how love works, then science would be our best bet. If we wish to experience love, I'm not sure how science makes things better, because it doesn't apply.

For claims made by religious texts, we can check them using science. If we wish to have an accurate model of whether a religious text is accurate, we would be best to do so.


Here's a spiritual claim: "Love your neighbor as yourself." How do you check that by science? How can it even apply? I don't think it does. How does one measure 'accuracy' in such a context?
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Tomo » Fri Jan 27, 2012 10:21 pm UTC

Jave D wrote:Here's a spiritual claim: "Love your neighbor as yourself." How do you check that by science? How can it even apply? I don't think it does. How does one measure 'accuracy' in such a context?


Obtain two populations of people. One is taught to love thy neighbour as themselves, the other is allowed to do anything to their neighbours they want. Observe which produces a happy society and which descends into chaos. In this case, you probably wouldn't need a test, because pretty much everyone can see the result and why it's a good thing, but technically you would do this to check, because that's how science works.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby yurell » Fri Jan 27, 2012 10:28 pm UTC

Jave D wrote:Here's a spiritual claim: "Love your neighbor as yourself." How do you check that by science? How can it even apply? I don't think it does. How does one measure 'accuracy' in such a context?


It depends what it is you're trying to 'check'. Are you saying that's a good principle to live by? How are you defining good? In a utilitarian principle (i.e. increasing the net happiness)? In that case, you now have a testable hypothesis:
"The principle 'love your neighbour as yourself' will increase the happiness in a society in which it is practised."
Presuming you have happiness well-defined and quantifiable (or some measure thereof), you can run out and perform an experiment about it. Or, should such large-scale social engineering be unavailable, you can always debate using what evidence is available to try and establish if such a society would be happier than one who did not practise the principle.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zcorp » Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:40 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:A scientific definition would be (to me) one that is falsifiable. If the definition is scientific, when I say "I love <X>", you can somehow demonstrate to me that I am wrong.
So you don't mean definition you mean hypothesis.

When you say "I love X" I still do not know what you mean by Love. You need to define for me what you concept you mean when you say/write the word.


As for the rest, Zamfir explained it a lot more clearly than I could. I'd only add that statements like "I love her" often make perfect sense in context; we usually understand them without any further need for elaboration.

People do that will all words. They infer the meaning of them and apply them to their perceptions and experiences. Often those are wrong, and because of that we define things to help each other understand the concept we mean.

Zamfir wrote:The problem is that "reasonable levels of specificity" will usually detract from the information, not add to it. Love is a highly complicated and diffuse concept, and you will not be able to capture its fulness in a bit of definition. All you would do is introduce a new, more limited concept to the conversation and then discuss that more restricted concept instead. Which is not very useful if people meant to talk about real-life love, not a toybox version of it.
Capture its fullness? That's crap. Because a concept is complex does not mean we can't discuss it. Saying we can't is just adding to the problem that it isn't defined and perpetuates the failure in discussion to understand and share concepts being discussed.

We can look more concrete concepts and apply multiple of them to the more abstract idea of love. We can also have multiple definitions of love, we can even make new words to relay this concepts to each other or even throw out the world love entirely and use concepts that won't piss people off when we define love and tell them their 'understanding of the word' is wrong.

Are you honestly telling me you don't know what you mean when you use the word love in a specific context? There is a lot to infer and it is often ambiguous but that does not prohibit us from understanding and discussing it.

When I say "I love pizza" you get a different understanding of the word than "I love my girlfriend" correct? Here I'm using the same word to represent a fairly easy to understand concept (liking something a lot) and another concept that might could mean many things. While one could love their girlfriend in the same way the love pizza it is generally clear that the those two phrases are discussing two different concepts but both using the same word.

Love in the case of the girlfriend can mean many different things and does. It could mean I like my girlfriend a lot. It could mean "I care about my girlfriends well-being more than my own." It could mean "I care about my girlfriends well-being more than my own until I reach a point where sacrificing my well-being for there's has a very significant negative effect on my own life," significant being relative to ones own personality. It could mean "My girlfriend makes my life more enjoyable" or even "With out my girlfriend I have no reason to live." These concepts and more, and a multiple of them at a time, are all often attached to the word love. Adding specificity to what is meant when you say the word does nothing to limit conversation nor feeling that is meant by the word.

The point isn't the limit the word love to something more concrete the point is the understand what the individual is feeling.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Falling » Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:41 pm UTC

Jave D wrote:Here's a spiritual claim: "Love your neighbor as yourself." How do you check that by science? How can it even apply? I don't think it does. How does one measure 'accuracy' in such a context?


The previous replies have alluded to this, but you haven't actually made a claim.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Noc » Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:51 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Silly ideas are harmless when they encourage us to do harmless things, and bad when they encourage us to do bad things. If and when 'True Love' leads to decisions that negatively impact your happiness and the happiness of those around you, I'd encourage you to adjust your narrative accordingly. People should adopt narratives that best allow them to work, play, and live.

And how do you determine the effect your narratives are having on yourself and the world around you? You use empiricism.
Falling wrote:The previous replies have alluded to this, but you haven't actually made a claim.

Well, it becomes a claim if you prepend a "You should..." to it.

It's still not necessarily a spiritual claim. "You should do this because Jesus said so, and as the Bible shows, he is a divine source and thus extremely credible" is a spiritual claim. "You should do this because it's how you get into Heaven" is a spiritual claim. "You should do this because it has a positive effect on everything around you, including yourself" is an empirical claim. It may not be a very good empirical claim, without some rigor and evidence behind it (and it's not as though dodgy theological claims aren't a thing, either), but it's still one based on cause-and-effect vis-a-vis the observable world.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby curtis95112 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 12:41 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:curtis, you can do all kinds of scientific studies related to love, or write novels about it, or hold political debates about it, or play love games, start a love-related business, educate people in the ways of love, join in religious ceremonial celebrations of love, or many other human activities, even if we ignore loving itself. Each with their own logic, their own jargon, their own way of looking at things.

The vibe I get from you is that consider science to be the primary way people should deal with things, even when science doesn't seem to say much important about it. Like when you say:
curtis95112 wrote:When that's clear, people use their personal anecdotes and things they have heard to try and make conclusions and give advice. It's pretty much empirical analysis, albeit with very little attempt to statistically analyze their data, and so very little certainty about the conclusions.

Perhaps I am reading too much in this, but it's as if you even criticize people for not dealing with love the way a scientist would deal with lab results.

I'm didn't mean to criticize, I was just describing the similarities and differences between how people deal with love and how people deal with lab results. And I wasn't claiming science should be how people deal with love. I was claiming it is, in principle, a valid if impractical method to deal with love. I'm doing this because The Great Hippo seems to suggest there are some things for which science isn't valid method of study, even in principle.

In the end, science is just a fairly minor human activity. One that looms large to people on this board because they tend to specilize in scientific-oriented careers. Though even for us it's just one corner of our lives, among many. While pretty much everybody has to deal with matters of love, in many shapes and forms. So why not accept love as its own domain of human activity? One that doesn't need to subordinate its practices to those of science, or commerce, or religion, or art, even if those other domains have their dealings with it?

The analogy goes back to the OT. Religion, or ceremonies, or spirituality are their own thing, they aren't failed attempts at science or something. There can be overlap and connections. For those areas it makes sense to discuss which way of practice is best suited, and that's sometimes a scientific approach.


Why do you think anything should have a separate domain? Considering how effective science has been at tackling problems, we should have a very compelling argument as to why science won't work before quarantining certain subjects from science.

The Great Hippo wrote:
curtis95112 wrote:No. It isn't a choice, and it has nothing to do with emotional satisfaction. I'd much rather believe that the Holocaust never happened. But that doesn't change the fact that I believe it did.
I suspect that as satisfying as you might find erasing the Holocaust to be, you find being empirically right about it to be more fulfilling.

I'm guessing from your points here (and I apologize if I'm completely off) that you don't find unexamined ideas to be particularly satisfying; if that's the case, you've still made a choice, consciously or not. You're still beholden to the same needs that drive others to believe in Gods and Goddesses--intellectual rigor and empiricism satisfy your needs, much like believing in scripture satisfies theirs. That's really the point; you choose empiricism because it satisfies your needs. Others choose Christianity because it satisfies their needs. Maybe they'd be more content as atheists; maybe not. It's hard to say.

All I'm saying is that there might be a time and place where a theological narrative is better equipped to satisfy someone's needs than an empirical one.

No, it's not because I find fulfillment in being correct that I believe in the Holocaust. If I could make the horrible deaths of enormous amounts of people to have never happened by causing myself some discomfort (or even death), I'd be morally compelled to do so.
curtis95112 wrote:I don't see why the process couldn't be made rigorous. It's just that there's too much variables to practically analyze. But in principle, why not?
Because I am satisfied with "I love my partner"; applying intellectual rigor to this statement would bring me no value. It would not increase my love for my partner, it would not increase my enjoyment of that love, and it would add nothing to our relationship. "I love my partner" is enough.

It actually reminds me of that old saying concerning frogs and jokes...


You're not answering my question. You're just explaining why it's not practical to do so. I'll ask again, "In principle, why not?".

@Everyone: I think a big reason for this argument is a misunderstanding of empiricism. Some people here don't seem to understand just how general empiricism is. If you evaluate the present/future based on the past, you're using empirical methods. If you think "She said she loved me and generally acts as if she did love me. I think she loves me", or "I felt like I was in love when I saw him, I think I'm in love", then you're using empiricism. The whole of science is repeated applications of that process and developing more sophisticated versions of that process. Science isn't some sort of artificial process fundamentally different from the rest of what we do. It's our most natural instinct that was just developed into a gargantuan field of study, because it turned out to be incredibly useful.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Noc » Sat Jan 28, 2012 1:19 am UTC

Zamfir wrote:The problem is that "reasonable levels of specificity" will usually detract from the information, not add to it. Love is a highly complicated and diffuse concept, and you will not be able to capture its fulness in a bit of definition. All you would do is introduce a new, more limited concept to the conversation and then discuss that more restricted concept instead. Which is not very useful if people meant to talk about real-life love, not a toybox version of it.

People are quite capable of dealing with fuzzy, ambiguous, complicated concepts in their conversation. They already have a lifetime of experience and a wealth of shared cultural background, of examples and stories and realted knowledge. A word like love is a pointer to places in that complex, and that's often a superior method of communication than trying to pin down a sharper definition. Even if the other side doesn't build up the same mental complex as you intended with the word, you can still say far more than through the simpler concepts that are required by scientific research, for example.

Oops! A belated response, but:

I'm not sure if I agree! Yes, people are perfectly capable of conversationally dealing with vague and ambiguous concepts, but I contest the idea that such ambiguity is a "superior method of communication." Such a thing does convey information a more specific variant might not -- namely, how they believe their particular case fits into the cultural narrative. But the thing is that in real-life decision making (as opposed to storybook decision making), all those complexities you're glossing over are kind of vitally important. In a narrative, being "in love" is generally enough . . . but in real life it isn't, exactly because the matter is so complex. In the narrative, if you're "in love," once you get together with someone you live out your lives Happily Ever After; in real life, this is rarely the case (and is almost never the case without some work) and dealing with the complexities of real life kind of require that greater level of specificity and rigor.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby curtis95112 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 2:38 am UTC

In fact, I'd argue that humans are good conversationists precisely because we can cut through the ambiguity to centre on the definition that's being used. We know, from context, exactly what the other person means (or close enough). A big obstacle in programming chatterbots is getting them to do just that. Just because a word can mean many different things doesn't mean it means all those things at the same time.
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Роберт wrote:Sure, but at least they hit the intended target that time.

Well, if you shoot enough people, you're bound to get the right one eventually.

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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Jan 28, 2012 3:07 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:When you say "I love X" I still do not know what you mean by Love. You need to define for me what you concept you mean when you say/write the word.
Okay, I love my wife. What does this mean?

Does it mean I'm physically attracted to her? That's a property of my love, but it isn't dependent; I'd still love her if I wasn't. Does it mean I want to spend the rest of my life with her? Again, that's a property, but it's not dependent; if for some reason I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with her, I still would probably love her (and hey, I want to spend the rest of my life with my lungs, but I don't love them). Does it mean I have a strong emotional attachment to her? That's maybe the closest--but it still remains too vague. I mean, I have a strong emotional attachment to my car. I don't love my car like I love my wife. And yet when I say--"I love my wife"--in this context you instantly know I don't love her the same way that I love my car (unless you're just really bad at language and context).

Do you see the problem? I can give you some properties, but most of them can be subtracted without losing the concept. This is an idea that's so experience and context dependent that it's rendered impossible to convey without the proper experience.
Zcorp wrote:Capture its fullness? That's crap. Because a concept is complex does not mean we can't discuss it. Saying we can't is just adding to the problem that it isn't defined and perpetuates the failure in discussion to understand and share concepts being discussed.
Did you read Zamfir's reply to curtis? We're free to discuss it all we like, and we do. There's a difference between discussing the properties of a concept and trying to apply a definition to it. The latter is the point.
Noc wrote:And how do you determine the effect your narratives are having on yourself and the world around you? You use empiricism.
Yes, as I've said several times, a healthy dose of empiricism is probably a good approach.
curtis95112 wrote:No, it's not because I find fulfillment in being correct that I believe in the Holocaust. If I could make the horrible deaths of enormous amounts of people to have never happened by causing myself some discomfort (or even death), I'd be morally compelled to do so.
Wait, what? You wouldn't actually erase the Holocaust, you'd just basically decide 'the Holocaust never happened' and go off whistling dixie, pretending so. I'm saying that you wouldn't find that a satisfactory approach, because you probably value empiricism and science. You're saying my claim is that you have the power to magically make the Holocaust actually never happen?

I think we're suffering from some sort of serious miscommunication, here. I don't think you have the power to decide whether or not the Holocaust ever happened. I think you have the power to decide how you're going to perceive the Holocaust, and you prefer the perception that involves applying empirical thought.
curtis95112 wrote:You're not answering my question. You're just explaining why it's not practical to do so. I'll ask again, "In principle, why not?".
Why is this important for me to acknowledge? Yes, in principle, you could apply science to love; it's not practical and the results are going to be (for me, at least) meaningless. I don't think science would be able to get at the core of what I mean when I say "I love my partner" anyway, because it's not a scientific or falsifiable claim.

For us to apply scientific rigor to love, we need to accept a definition for love; for us to have a definition of love, we need to create qualifications ("It's only love if it has property X, Y, and Z"). I'm not comfortable with those qualifiers, because love is very much a context-dependent thing. It's like trying to create qualifiers for art.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby curtis95112 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 3:58 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Zcorp wrote:When you say "I love X" I still do not know what you mean by Love. You need to define for me what you concept you mean when you say/write the word.
Okay, I love my wife. What does this mean?

Do you see the problem? I can give you some properties, but most of them can be subtracted without losing the concept. This is an idea that's so experience and context dependent that it's rendered impossible to convey without the proper experience.

And you can take a grain of sand off the heap and it'll still be a heap. It's not rendered impossible, just extremely complex.
curtis95112 wrote:No, it's not because I find fulfillment in being correct that I believe in the Holocaust. If I could make the horrible deaths of enormous amounts of people to have never happened by causing myself some discomfort (or even death), I'd be morally compelled to do so.
Wait, what? You wouldn't actually erase the Holocaust, you'd just basically decide 'the Holocaust never happened' and go off whistling dixie, pretending so. I'm saying that you wouldn't find that a satisfactory approach, because you probably value empiricism and science. You're saying my claim is that you have the power to magically make the Holocaust actually never happen?

I think we're suffering from some sort of serious miscommunication, here. I don't think you have the power to decide whether or not the Holocaust ever happened. I think you have the power to decide how you're going to perceive the Holocaust, and you prefer the perception that involves applying empirical thought.


There is no miscommunication. It seems to me you're assuming that I should still have knowledge of objective reality even when I sincerely believe that there was no Holocaust. Suffice it to say I have no capability to consciously doublethink.
OTOH, this line of reasoning does bother me. In particular I don't think I'm properly treating my state at the time I make the decision. I think we should drop the morally compelled bit. I'll restate my argument.
Belief is not a choice. If it was, I should believe that the Holocaust never happened. The fact that I value empirical correctness does not matter because I would believe I was empirically correct and feel just as satisfied. In fact, I would feel even more satisfied, since I would believe I was one of the few to know this.
curtis95112 wrote:You're not answering my question. You're just explaining why it's not practical to do so. I'll ask again, "In principle, why not?".


Why is this important for me to acknowledge? Yes, in principle, you could apply science to love; it's not practical and the results are going to be (for me, at least) meaningless. I don't think science would be able to get at the core of what I mean when I say "I love my partner" anyway, because it's not a scientific or falsifiable claim.

For us to apply scientific rigor to love, we need to accept a definition for love; for us to have a definition of love, we need to create qualifications ("It's only love if it has property X, Y, and Z"). I'm not comfortable with those qualifiers, because love is very much a context-dependent thing. It's like trying to create qualifiers for art.


"I love my partner" is a falsifiable claim. Of course, third-parties can't falsify it because they don't know how you feel. But you can easily falsify it, if it is false. If we we certain you wouldn't lie, then third parties could also falsify it.
Context-dependence merely means you have to include how context affects the definition in the definition, it doesn't mean it's ineffable.
Anyway, I'm not suggesting love should be rigorously analyzed. That's a completely different question. I'm saying that we already analyze love empirically, there is nothing that shouldn't be subject to empirical analysis, and going way back in the thread, it's not good to take things on faith.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Jan 28, 2012 4:10 am UTC

curtis95112 wrote:And you can take a grain of sand off the heap and it'll still be a heap. It's not rendered impossible, just extremely complex.
I agree that the heap problem is one of language, just like love. The difference is, there's nothing serious at stake when we decide what constitutes a heap and what doesn't. There's lots at stake when we decide what constitutes love and what doesn't.
curtis95112 wrote:There is no miscommunication. It seems to me you're assuming that I should still have knowledge of objective reality even when I sincerely believe that there was no Holocaust.
If that's what you think I'm assuming, then yes, there is miscommunication.
curtis95112 wrote:OTOH, this line of reasoning does bother me. In particular I don't think I'm properly treating my state at the time I make the decision. I think we should drop the morally compelled bit. I'll restate my argument.
Belief is not a choice. If it was, I should believe that the Holocaust never happened. The fact that I value empirical correctness does not matter because I would believe I was empirically correct and feel just as satisfied. In fact, I would feel even more satisfied, since I would believe I was one of the few to know this.
I keep qualifying the word 'choice' with 'conscious or unconscious', and you keep ignoring that qualifier. It's a very important one.

Actually, let's just drop the word 'choice', because I think that's making this harder. Choice does imply a conscious decision. The point is that the reason you believe the Holocaust happened is because you applied some degree of intellectual rigor to the question ("Did the Holocaust happen?"). The reason you did this is because applying intellectual rigor to things satisfies your particular needs, emotional or otherwise. My point is only that other people might have different needs, and depending on the context, applying intellectual rigor might not be the best move.
curtis95112 wrote:"I love my partner" is a falsifiable claim. Of course, third-parties can't falsify it because they don't know how you feel. But you can easily falsify it, if it is false. If we we certain you wouldn't lie, then third parties could also falsify it.
It's not falsifiable in a way that allows others to disprove it, and that was my only point.
curtis95112 wrote:Context-dependence merely means you have to include how context affects the definition in the definition, it doesn't mean it's ineffable.
Again, a definition of love means creating various qualifiers, and creating qualifies means there are things that wouldn't qualify. Again, this strikes me as the same as trying to create a definition of art--it's more about you getting to say what doesn't qualify than actually producing any real utility. What use would a definition of art have? What use would a definition of love have? These are fields that do not require scientific analysis for me to participate in them. In some cases, some degree of scientific analysis may enhance them--in other cases, it might actually detract from them. To pull it back to the OP, the same thing seems to be the case when it comes to scripture and religion. Scientific rigor should only be applied when it results in gains, and it doesn't always result in gains.

Anyway, you're claiming that everything should be subject to empirical analysis. I'm saying that my love for my wife is something I have no interest in subjecting to empirical analysis. Are you going to try to convince me otherwise?
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zcorp » Sat Jan 28, 2012 5:04 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:
Zcorp wrote:When you say "I love X" I still do not know what you mean by Love. You need to define for me what you concept you mean when you say/write the word.
Okay, I love my wife. What does this mean?
Thats what I'm asking you. You say you love your wife, what do you mean when you say that?

Does it mean I'm physically attracted to her? That's a property of my love, but it isn't dependent; I'd still love her if I wasn't. Does it mean I want to spend the rest of my life with her? Again, that's a property, but it's not dependent; if for some reason I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with her, I still would probably love her (and hey, I want to spend the rest of my life with my lungs, but I don't love them).

Great so we can eliminate those from the definition. Attraction and a desire to spend the rest of your life from someone are common feelings that are associated with love but are not love.

Does it mean I have a strong emotional attachment to her? That's maybe the closest--but it still remains too vague. I mean, I have a strong emotional attachment to my car. I don't love my car like I love my wife. And yet when I say--"I love my wife"--in this context you instantly know I don't love her the same way that I love my car (unless you're just really bad at language and context).
Right...so what kind of emotional attachment. It boggles my mind a bit that you have never tried to understand what you mean by love. Or what you are feeling when you say love.

Do you see the problem? I can give you some properties, but most of them can be subtracted without losing the concept. This is an idea that's so experience and context dependent that it's rendered impossible to convey without the proper experience.
I do not see a problem, just you dodging the question, seemingly in an attempt to not admit we can define love. Which makes no sense. Are you truly unaware of what you are feeling when you say you love someone or something? What kind of emotions you are experiencing? What changes are there in your actions? How does your physiology change? How about your thinking?
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Jan 28, 2012 5:20 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:Right...so what kind of emotional attachment. It boggles my mind a bit that you have never tried to understand what you mean by love. Or what you are feeling when you say love.
Please try to refrain from making assumptions about me and what I've done. I have understood it; I do know what I'm feeling when I say 'love'. I just can't describe it to you with words. Any definition I come up with is unsatisfactory, for a variety of reasons.

Language is not magical. There are certain things it's not very good at; describing emotional states is one of them. We all know what 'love' is, but that's only because we've experienced it. Same goes for 'anger', 'joy', or 'sorrow'.

EDIT: Actually, let's talk about a different emotion, because I know I'm going to get really irritable if we continue to discuss this one and people keep making assumptions about how I treat, experience, and feel love. So let's talk about 'sorrow'. Can you define sorrow? Describe it? Explain what it is? Or is it something you only 'get' once you've experienced it, or emotions like it?
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby curtis95112 » Sat Jan 28, 2012 7:37 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Language is not magical. There are certain things it's not very good at; describing emotional states is one of them. We all know what 'love' is, but that's only because we've experienced it. Same goes for 'anger', 'joy', or 'sorrow'.

No, it just means you're not good enough at language*. Language has had phenomenal success at describing an enormous variety of things. If you wish to claim that sorrow cannot be described by language, you should tell us why emotions are fundamentally different to everything else in the world. I see a difference of degree and of degree only. Emotions are difficult to describe because they are complex. Much like it is difficult to describe the Standard model with everyday language. That doesn't mean it's impossible.

Again, a definition of love means creating various qualifiers, and creating qualifies means there are things that wouldn't qualify. Again, this strikes me as the same as trying to create a definition of art--it's more about you getting to say what doesn't qualify than actually producing any real utility. What use would a definition of art have? What use would a definition of love have? These are fields that do not require scientific analysis for me to participate in them. In some cases, some degree of scientific analysis may enhance them--in other cases, it might actually detract from them. To pull it back to the OP, the same thing seems to be the case when it comes to scripture and religion. Scientific rigor should only be applied when it results in gains, and it doesn't always result in gains.

Anyway, you're claiming that everything should be subject to empirical analysis. I'm saying that my love for my wife is something I have no interest in subjecting to empirical analysis. Are you going to try to convince me otherwise?


Please explain to me how the proper application of scientific analysis can detract.
You are already subjecting your emotions to empirical analysis. Don't tell me you do nothing but feel sad in a state of sorrow, people often try to cope. They try to think about other things, do some activities, talk to people. Why? Because they know from experience, their's or not, that it helps. If that's not empirical analysis I don't know what is.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby mister k » Sat Jan 28, 2012 10:41 am UTC

Man we are so far off topic we can hardly see the topic. If the scientists in this thread were to admit that love was impervious to scientific analysis, I don't really see that this stops us assessing religious texts!

The reason it is difficult to define love is that it is a poorly defined concept. Its basically a collection of different variables gathered together. Still, we can make distinctions and predictions. For instance, I would suggest that the main difference between love between a romantic partner and a very close friend would be physical attraction for most people, otherwise called "chemistry". I would predict that as physical attraction lessens, the odds of a romantic relationship failing increases. Thats just a very crude model, but is actually not that badly predictive in practice- couples who have less sex tend to break up. So I can make predictions about how people in love will act, what will keep people in love together, and I can build the model over time.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby morriswalters » Sun Jan 29, 2012 7:48 pm UTC

The further you remove from repeatable, testable events the further you move from science.

The biggest problem with language is that allows us to lie, it's also internalized, individually. Thus true meaning is only available to the person using it. Thus a common definition of love is not doable.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zcorp » Sun Jan 29, 2012 7:56 pm UTC

morriswalters wrote:The biggest problem with language is that allows us to lie, it's also internalized, individually. Thus true meaning is only available to the person using it. Thus a common definition of love is not doable.

A common definition of love is entirely doable, just difficult and mostly because so many people want it to mean what they think it should mean. The word love is so ambiguous, and many people like it that way, that creating a common definition is likely going to piss a lot of people off. This would be the much more difficult part of creating a definition than understand what we could mean when we say the world love. Common definitions are a social agreement to attach a concept to a word. Once that has been done and some arbitrary authority has declared a meaning of the word people then use it wrong according to that authority. Often the authority is the field in which uses the word. Love is of course difficult as it is a bit broad and creating a technical term for it now is a bit difficult. We can also invent or use other terms that are aspects of love to assist us in defining love.

That said, the point of language is not to tell someone "no you're not in love because you don't me X, Y and Z criteria" but instead to communicate concepts to your audience allowing them to understand the concepts you are speaking about. Even if we don't have a technical definition of love, when someone internalizes the word and uses it to represent their state of being toward something do they not know what the word represents for themselves?
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Jan 29, 2012 8:25 pm UTC

mister k wrote:Man we are so far off topic we can hardly see the topic. If the scientists in this thread were to admit that love was impervious to scientific analysis, I don't really see that this stops us assessing religious texts!
If it pleases the court to grant me some additional leeway, I am certain that I can demonstrate the relevance.
curtis95112 wrote:No, it just means you're not good enough at language*. Language has had phenomenal success at describing an enormous variety of things. If you wish to claim that sorrow cannot be described by language, you should tell us why emotions are fundamentally different to everything else in the world. I see a difference of degree and of degree only. Emotions are difficult to describe because they are complex. Much like it is difficult to describe the Standard model with everyday language. That doesn't mean it's impossible.
Pretend I'm a robot that's never experienced emotion. Define 'sorrow' to me, using no references to other feelings ("Sorrow is an intense feeling of sadness", "Sorrow is an intense feeling of distress").

You can't use language to describe to blind people what it's like to see--or explain to people who have never dropped DMT what the machine elves are about. Language is purely referential; it can only point to experiences we've already had--it does not manufacture new ones. There are some types of knowledge you cannot acquire outside of experience. You only understand sorrow because you've felt sad; you only understand love because you've experienced love. I cannot describe these concepts to you; you either 'get' them or you don't. That's why we sum it up with a word.

The reason I've gone off on this tangent is because I want you to understand that you value science and intellectual rigor1 not because they are innately superior, but because your experiences have lead you to value what they offer. Alternatively, someone who values religious scripture has a set of experiences that lead them to value what it had to offer. Both of you are following your noses, subscribing to models that satisfy your needs. Love is a good example where a scientific approach wouldn't work well for everyone (it certainly wouldn't enrich my experience of the emotion).

Maybe the religious dude's model leads to terribleness. Maybe their book that tells them to worship the Bee God also tells them to drop infidels into vats of boiling honey. Well, that's a problem; we should address that. But the problem isn't that there's no Bee God to begin with; being incongruent with science isn't the problem--boiling people alive is the problem. The fact that their model is not the same as your model is not what's bad; the consequences of their model is what's bad.

So when someone says "Why do people believe in scripture when it's so clearly unscientific?!", my response is "Maybe they're not being scientists?".
curtis95112 wrote:You are already subjecting your emotions to empirical analysis. Don't tell me you do nothing but feel sad in a state of sorrow, people often try to cope. They try to think about other things, do some activities, talk to people. Why? Because they know from experience, their's or not, that it helps. If that's not empirical analysis I don't know what is.
Okay, if I've been using 'empirical analysis' too broadly, I apologize. The important aspect here is that not everyone applies scientific rigor--a model by which anyone can test and reproduce results for themselves, therefore verifying a falsifiable claim--to their daily lives. Not everyone finds that an emotionally satisfying response. And I don't think that's a very terrible thing.
Zcorp wrote:That said, the point of language is not to tell someone "no you're not in love because you don't me X, Y and Z criteria" but instead to communicate concepts to your audience allowing them to understand the concepts you are speaking about.
It might not be the point, but it's certainly often the intent of those who push for clearer definitions. See discussions about what constitutes 'art'; they're more about what doesn't qualify than what does. But I otherwise agree.

1 If you don't actually value these things, I apologize for the assumption, but I think at this point it's a fairly safe bet that you do.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby c_programmer » Sun Jan 29, 2012 9:26 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:You can't use language to describe to blind people what it's like to see--or explain to people who have never dropped DMT what the machine elves are about. Language is purely referential; it can only point to experiences we've already had--it does not manufacture new ones. There are some types of knowledge you cannot acquire outside of experience. You only understand sorrow because you've felt sad; you only understand love because you've experienced love. I cannot describe these concepts to you; you either 'get' them or you don't. That's why we sum it up with a word.

That is because these emotions are extremely complex subsets of chemical reactions. We do not have full control over our minds so we are not aware of everything that is going on inside them. For this reason we can not sum up emotions in words without referencing other emotions that the listener has experienced. Scientists, however, have done research on what the brain does when it is sad. While we can not perceive our own chemical reactions, imaging computers can. See this study that goes into the chemical reactions in postpartum depression, I'm sure that's a feeling that only someone who has experienced it can know yet there is still a scientific basis. My point is that these complex reactions are not magic.

The Great Hippo wrote:The reason I've gone off on this tangent is because I want you to understand that you value science and intellectual rigor1 not because they are innately superior, but because your experiences have lead you to value what they offer. Alternatively, someone who values religious scripture has a set of experiences that lead them to value what it had to offer. Both of you are following your noses, subscribing to models that satisfy your needs.

You seem to treat empirical thought as a set of facts, it is not. Empirical thought is a blanket description that describes any way of conclusion that is based off of what we've seen (or other conclusions that were based off of seen things). On the other hand religious texts are set in stone, for instance the Bible says that "In the beginning God created the heaves and the earth" and that's that. Empirical research is not, theories are made, tested and then a conclusion is drawn. The two are not the same: religion defines a conclusion while science defines a starting point. Science will often reach a conclusion but it is based off of real observations and events, wanting to believe it has nothing to do with the matter.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Jan 29, 2012 11:11 pm UTC

c_programmer wrote:That is because these emotions are extremely complex subsets of chemical reactions. We do not have full control over our minds so we are not aware of everything that is going on inside them. For this reason we can not sum up emotions in words without referencing other emotions that the listener has experienced. Scientists, however, have done research on what the brain does when it is sad. While we can not perceive our own chemical reactions, imaging computers can. See this study that goes into the chemical reactions in postpartum depression, I'm sure that's a feeling that only someone who has experienced it can know yet there is still a scientific basis. My point is that these complex reactions are not magic.
Of course they're not magic. But humans are not computers. We cannot take a mathematical description of chemical reactions and extrapolate the experience of an emotional state any more than we can read sheet music and derive the experience of its sound. Similarly, you cannot describe the experience of hearing music to a lifelong deaf person regardless of how much musical theory you teach them.

Human consciousness exists somewhere in the middle between reality as it truly is and the abstractions we project into it. We are hostages of our senses and experiences, unable to escape from the trap of our own heads. We can never know the true shape an atom takes--only the iconography our senses feed us when we 'look' at one. In a way, scientists are just modern storytellers; they're telling us stories about the atoms, and the stars, and the body--their stories are just a lot more systematic and reasonable than the ones we're familiar with.
c_programmer wrote:You seem to treat empirical thought as a set of facts, it is not. Empirical thought is a blanket description that describes any way of conclusion that is based off of what we've seen (or other conclusions that were based off of seen things). On the other hand religious texts are set in stone, for instance the Bible says that "In the beginning God created the heaves and the earth" and that's that. Empirical research is not, theories are made, tested and then a conclusion is drawn. The two are not the same: religion defines a conclusion while science defines a starting point. Science will often reach a conclusion but it is based off of real observations and events, wanting to believe it has nothing to do with the matter.
I'm treating empirical thought (or, since 'empirical' might be a loaded term, let's use 'scientific thought') as a way of understanding the universe, and I'm trying to convince others that the reason they prefer it isn't because scientific thought is inherently superior, but because their experiences have lead them to prefer the values scientific thought demands (i.e., intellectual rigor, falsifiable claims, repeatable experimentation).

I see this as a big hurdle in any dialogue between the scientific and the unscientific; scientists naturally assume that the superiority of these values (again, intellectual rigor, falsifiable claims, repeatable experimentation) are self-evident--but they actually aren't. These things aren't inherently superior; they're just things that some people value. They're better for some tasks, but not better for every task.

Basically: Being right doesn't always make you relevant.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby c_programmer » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:02 am UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Of course they're not magic. But humans are not computers. We cannot take a mathematical description of chemical reactions and extrapolate the experience of an emotional state

If we could at some point gain a strong enough understanding of our brain we could in fact generate these emotions by altering the chemicals in the brain. This is what depression medications do, just the other way around (and at a much simpler level).


The Great Hippo wrote:any more than we can read sheet music and derive the experience of its sound.

Back when I was forced to practice music 1hr a day I could read music and know its sound. This was, of course, me referencing what I knew the notes to sound like.

The Great Hippo wrote:Similarly, you cannot describe the experience of hearing music to a lifelong deaf person regardless of how much musical theory you teach them.

One sense can not be described using another, this is nothing new. Depending on how their deafness works you could in theory inject electrical sequences to make a deaf person hear something. This has been done on a very basic level with sight.

The Great Hippo wrote:Human consciousness exists somewhere in the middle between reality as it truly is and the abstractions we project into it.

How does something exist in the middle between reality? A series of electrical and chemical reactions, no matter how complex, is completely real.

The Great Hippo wrote:We are hostages of our senses and experiences, unable to escape from the trap of our own heads. We can never know the true shape an atom takes--only the iconography our senses feed us when we 'look' at one. In a way, scientists are just modern storytellers; they're telling us stories about the atoms, and the stars, and the body--their stories are just a lot more systematic and reasonable than the ones we're familiar with.

If you're driving on the highway and you see a truck coming towards you in your lane you are going to move. While perhaps the photons are only hitting your eye 100% of the time you will take that as a very certain proof of a mass actually being there.


The Great Hippo wrote:I'm treating empirical thought (or, since 'empirical' might be a loaded term, let's use 'scientific thought') as a way of understanding the universe, and I'm trying to convince others that the reason they prefer it isn't because scientific thought is inherently superior, but because their experiences have lead them to prefer the values scientific thought demands (i.e., intellectual rigor, falsifiable claims, repeatable experimentation).

I see this as a big hurdle in any dialogue between the scientific and the unscientific; scientists naturally assume that the superiority of these values (again, intellectual rigor, falsifiable claims, repeatable experimentation) are self-evident--but they actually aren't. These things aren't inherently superior; they're just things that some people value. They're better for some tasks, but not better for every task.

Basically: Being right doesn't always make you relevant.


I think we have reached the crux of the disagreement on this tangent, I understand where you are coming from but I disagree with you. I find scientific thought to be superior, period. We're probably going to have to agree to disagree.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby curtis95112 » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:28 am UTC

I see where you're coming from, but I still don't agree with you.

Scientific thought is inherently superior in the way truth is inherently superior to falsehood.

The crux of your argument seems to be that people don't always want to be right, and that's why people put faith in religious texts. I can't agree with this, if only because I've seen religious fundamentalists claim that the science supports their facts when preaching to the choir. They put great value in being empirically correct, and they sincerely believe that they are. Even the non-fundamentalist casual church-goers care a great deal about having empirically correct beliefs. That's why we have so much of the "Oh, Genesis is just a metaphor" type arguments. People like to have beliefs that agree with how the world actually is, and for good reason.

If you were right, we should have believers saying "Oh there's no such thing as original sin, and I'm not sure if Jesus even actually existed, but I sincerely believe there is and that he did.", much in the way you said a few pages back that you can simultaneously believe that the Earth was created in seven days and that it was created over a million years. But we don't really have many people claiming that. Some do, of course, but such drastic compartmentalization is hardly the main method of belief.
Last edited by curtis95112 on Mon Jan 30, 2012 10:37 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby morriswalters » Mon Jan 30, 2012 12:42 am UTC

Nueroscience speaks of auditioning speech, trying to say what you mean. The more concrete the concept the more likely that it will be understood by the greatest number of people, the less concrete the more likely that you will have different meanings for different people. Trying to get people to have exactly the same understanding of the texts is the problem with Religion, they mean what people think they mean. Babel.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby mister k » Mon Jan 30, 2012 9:48 am UTC

Curtis has taken the words from my mouth.



You are totally correct that if your concern is not to be correct (and by correct, I mean having a model which has a greater probability of making accurate predictions about the world) then the scientific method is not necessarily superior. But most people do want to be correct. If we were having an argument about the beauty of religious texts then I'd agree, but we're having an argument about their veracity, and people having faith in that. I've yet to encounter someone who believes in something without evidence. Typically they believe in something because they think that they do have evidence, usually via personal revelation, and they are not able to approach the problem in a scientific manner.

So I'm willing to believe that you truly are happy to be blissfully wrong about religious claims, but not that everyone else is.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:45 am UTC

c_programmer wrote:If we could at some point gain a strong enough understanding of our brain we could in fact generate these emotions by altering the chemicals in the brain. This is what depression medications do, just the other way around (and at a much simpler level).

...

One sense can not be described using another, this is nothing new. Depending on how their deafness works you could in theory inject electrical sequences to make a deaf person hear something. This has been done on a very basic level with sight.
Yes, creating new experiences--either through brute chemical manipulation or use of certain types of stimulation--leads to (surprise!) new experiences. My point was that you can't merely use language to describe experience if we don't have the experience in the first place; experience is a necessary component to communicate ideas. People don't 'get' these things until they've experienced something relatable for themselves.
c_programmer wrote:Back when I was forced to practice music 1hr a day I could read music and know its sound. This was, of course, me referencing what I knew the notes to sound like.
During this period, would you have rather sat down and read sheet music than listen to it on the radio? Is there a fundamental difference there?
c_programmer wrote:How does something exist in the middle between reality? A series of electrical and chemical reactions, no matter how complex, is completely real.

...

If you're driving on the highway and you see a truck coming towards you in your lane you are going to move. While perhaps the photons are only hitting your eye 100% of the time you will take that as a very certain proof of a mass actually being there.
This is the problem with trying to discuss this; when I say things like 'we exist between reality and abstractions', I don't mean human thought exists in a magical place outside reality; I mean that we abstract reality itself--again, we have no concept of what an atom actually looks like, only the iconography that our brains have fed us. We have no idea of the actual reality of that oncoming truck--only the iconography that our eyes tell us.

This is also what I mean when I describe scientists as story-tellers; because that's really the only thing we (humans) understand--stories. Icons that reference experiences we've already had. This is a limitation we have. We cannot get past it. It's a limitation that's so integral to who we are that, nine times out of ten, we don't even recognize it's there. We confuse our icons for reality as it actually is. We're stuck in the GUI, and we can never see the code. Science just makes guesses about the code based on how things work.
c_programmer wrote:I think we have reached the crux of the disagreement on this tangent, I understand where you are coming from but I disagree with you. I find scientific thought to be superior, period. We're probably going to have to agree to disagree.
How is this any different from "I find the Bible to be superior, period. We're probably going to have to agree to disagree"?
curtis95112 wrote:Scientific thought is inherently superior in the way truth is inherently superior to falsehood.
What does 'inherently superior' even mean, anyway? Without some sort of qualifier, it's a meaningless phrase. Inherently superior at what? Being untrue? Is truth inherently superior at being untrue than falsehoods?

Scientific thought is superior at predictions about the future. That's of incredible importance. But that isn't 'inherently superior to everything, period'. That's just sloppy, magical thinking. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that assuming scientific thought is inherently superior is an example of non-rigorous, unscientific thought!

You value critical thinking, right? Approach your own values concerning science critically, then. Why is it so self-evident that science is "superior"?
curtis95112 wrote:The crux of your argument seems to be that people don't always want to be right, and that's why people put faith in religious texts. I can't agree with this, if only because I've seen religious fundamentalists claim that the science supports their facts when preaching to the choir. They put great value in being empirically correct, and they sincerely believe that they are. Even the non-fundamentalist casual church-goers care a great deal about having empirically correct beliefs. That's why we have so much of the "Oh, Genesis is just a metaphor" type arguments. People like to have beliefs that agree with how the world actually is, and for good reason.

If you were right, we should have believers saying "Oh there's no such thing as original sin, and I'm not sure if Jesus even actually existed, but I sincerely believe there is and that he did.", much in the way you said a few pages back that you can simultaneously believe that the Earth was created in seven days and that it was created over a million years. But we don't really have many people claiming that. Some do, of course, but such drastic compartmentalization is hardly the main method of belief.
I used the 7-days versus million years example to illustrate how someone who thinks about this a lot can reconcile the two concepts; however, I don't think most people think about this a lot.

The thing you have to keep in mind for most Western believers--most of the time, they're not thinking scientifically. But they live in a culture that's benefited enormously from science; science is such an integral trait of our lives that to be detached from it comes off as ignorant and wrong. So assume I'm a non-scientist, with unscientific beliefs, unscientific values--but I want those beliefs and values to remain relevant and credible. What am I going to do?

I'm going to try to convince the world that my beliefs are scientifically credible. I'm going to argue and preach--using my unscientific values--of the scientific validity of God, the Bible, of Creationism, etc. I'm going to take these values and insert them into a sphere where they don't belong, and I'm going to get pissed as hell when people approach those values with the type of rigor we expect from actual science. Because even though I'm a non-scientist, I've been raised to believe that science is a route to credibility; and since I consider myself credible, I must be a scientist1.

I'm not trying to convince you that your values are wrong or inferior. I'm only trying to get you to stop extoling the virtues of your values for a minute--long enough to step back and understand the geography of this ongoing conflict. When someone says something like "Man, why do religious people believe in scripture, there's no scientific proof for them!", we are experiencing a miscommunication so fucking fundamental that we might as well be speaking different languages.

You cannot use scientific values to argue against people who aren't interested in scientific values. They believe because they want to believe. It satisfies a need of theirs. If they argue for the science behind scripture, they're either really bad scientists or just hungry for the cultural credibility science provides--because an aspect of Western culture is that unscientific beliefs are bad.

Look, if you really want to make us question our beliefs, you need to understand why we believe the things we believe. As long as you assume your values are superior and ours are inferior, you're not even speaking the language. You need to step back and try to understand why we value these things. And no, 'because you're ignorant' isn't a reasonable answer.

1So much energy in Christian fundamentalism--in Young Earth studies--is tied up in aping the appearance of science while ignoring the values of science. Universities that teach Creationism, museums that show men and dinosaurs walking side-by-side, pastors who think the Piltdown Man is the silver bullet for the fossil record--these are people desperate to validate their values with the cultural credibility of science. Arguing the science with them isn't going to change anything, because they don't value science to begin with. If we're actually going to change people's behaviors, it is critical that we understand their values. And if we're going to understand their values, we need to understand and respect the reasons they have them.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:21 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:I'm going to try to convince the world that my beliefs are scientifically credible.

That's one option, yeah. Though I guess a lot of people don't care much for either science or theology (and right they are). If they pick sides at all in creationist's debates, it's as spectators rooting for the home team, not as people discussing the Deep Truths of the World.

And a lot of people have no problem at all conciling their religion with science. The catholic church for example seems to find little problem with "scientists tell us how god made the world", and lots of scientists seem to work with something similar.

Some 10 years ago, one of best-known scientists around here (a nanophysicist working on cells) said that he took intelligent design serious. he didn;t claim much that contradicted established science, but he participated in debates as a representative of his church, helped publish an evolution-skeptic book, etc. He clearly chose sides, which surely must have cost him a lot of prestige in his field.

As a result a lot of people in the evangelical community trusted him, including a director and presentor of the evangelical boradcasting station, the public face of creationism around here. And voer time, they have moved to a very moderate viewpoint. The universe is old, god can work through evolution, there's little evidence for interference by god in the evolutionary proces, intelligent-design proponents are not presenting hard evidence for their views on the earliest creation of life.

Not everyone is following them, far from it. Still, this movement did probably more to stave off US-style science fights than any amount of "showing the evidence"

EDIT: someone still opened a live-size Noah's Ark here, with live animals.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:34 pm UTC

Oh, absolutely, and I beg pardon if I've implied that all religious people are anti-science, or that precious few are pro-science; it is perfectly reasonable to reconcile science and religion in the space available between a single pair of ears. For every person who attempts to hijack the credibility of science to lend their values extra weight, I'm sure there's someone who values both science and religion and has found a route that allows them to respect and cherish both.

The example you're talking about also goes to some lengths to demonstrate the sort of solutions I'm interested in; when these discussions contain statements like "Your values are inferior to mine!", we end up with a lot of shouting. When these discussions contain statements like "What are your values, and how can we reconcile them with ours?", you end up in a much, much better place.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:26 pm UTC

I did simplify that story, of course.

One probelm is that values aren't necessarily reconcilable. Sexual norms are a good example, and presumably one of the main reasons why traditionalist religious communities tend to act so defensive, as if they are a minority under threat. Christianity in its various guises had a pretty strong prescriptive model of sexuality and families (like most traditions I guess, religious or not), and secularization in the west came together with an enormous change in that. AFAICT, that bothers people a lot more than the age of the earth.

A lot of support for creationsism appears to come from such real value clashes. Sometimes people are pretty explicit about it: they think Darwin undermined the most in-your-face evidence for god, so people came to doubt god, made them less willing to follow the proper moral tradtition. So now we have people screwing each other 5 ways from sunday without making babies, in a way that can only collapse civilization in a few generations more.

That's too simple of course, but I think there's some truth in there. You hardly ever find people on two sides of a creationism debate who agree on most things, expect for creationism. Usually, they also disagree on lots of other things, many of them completely outside of the scientific realm. And the side that wins doesn't just want their views on evolution taught in schools, but also on a range of other issues.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:41 pm UTC

I agree that there are irreconcilable values, and there are such things as values that ultimately lead to harmful behavior--and we should encourage people to abandon or change these values. One big problem for me is that the method we use to drive this encouragement is often ineffective; we state your values are inferior to ours, and then we use our values to demonstrate why your values are inferior. If we want to do this effectively, we need to find the values we share--the experiences that bind us--and start our work from there.

The other big problem for me is that in the process, we seem to blind ourselves to where our values come from and why we adopt them. We don't think scientifically just because 'science is awesome'; 'science is awesome' is a statement of value, not a reason for value. We think scientifically because we adopted scientific values, and we adopted scientific values because our experiences lead us to value a scientific approach. Religious people have experiences that lead them to value a religious approach. Forgetting this leads to people assuming science is the 'default'; that it somehow represents reality as it truly is. But science is something we constructed to interpret sensory input. Religion is something else we constructed to interpret sensory input. One of these things is not 'superior' to the other; science is better at specific tasks than religion, but that's all.

Forgetting this, I think, leads to the first problem I mentioned--if you fail to understand how religion can be a valid interpretation of the universe around you--if you can't understand and relate to this experience--it becomes so hard to convince a religious person that their values are screwed up. As far as they're concerned, you're speaking Swahili.
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Re: I don't understand the faith people put in religious tex

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jan 30, 2012 2:58 pm UTC

No disagreements there, though I wouldn't put it in such "know thy enemy" terms. It's one thing to oppose certain values, to wish that the people near you don;t have them, that your kids don't get them. it's another step to want to encourage people to change them. Especially because encouragement easily slides into something more oppressive, even if only at the subtle level of social exclusion.

There are points where there's little choice, spheres of interaction where you can't tolerate some ideas without deeply corroding your own. But if I can avoid those, I am Ok with quite some live-and-let-live.
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