# The Problem With Religion Debates

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### #1 AnssiH

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Posted 01 August 2014 - 07:45 AM

I sometimes listen to religion debates because it offers epistemologically interesting material of people explaining and defending the fundamentals of their particular world views. Although a lot of the time it's kind of like watching a train crash, I suppose.

I think there's a really massive problem that the anti-theistic side almost always gets suckered in, and they seem to have no idea how hard they are failing in representing scientific philosophy. I'm quite anti-theistic myself (when it comes to the "we can't think for ourselves we are only humans" ideology), but it seems my defense is quite different from the defense of the so-called "heavy hitters" like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Krauss, to name a few.

There is either a lack of interest, or - more likely - lack of understanding towards some important paradigm misalignments, and effectively both parties of the debate end up only talking about things that only make sense from within their own paradigm. That is exactly why the other party always seems to say the darnest things, and your own party seems to be the rational one. Often both parties think their side won; simply because that was the only party that communicated something that made sense to them. What is the point of having a debate, if you are only interested of talking to people who already agree with you?

What's worse, there is a sense in which the anti-theistic communication does make sense to the theistic side (even from biblical fundamentalist view), but that interpretation is a complete mis-interpretation in a way that it is seen as saying almost exactly the opposite of what the scientific side is supposed to be saying! I have many a face-palm moments when I'm listening to these debates, and often it's because of what the anti-theistic side says.

Actually I should make my position more accurate. I'm not really anti-theistic per-se, but what I'm against is rather the ideology where some kind of "firm belief" is equated with knowledge, which is, quite intentionally, the cornerstone of most theistic world views (certainly the mainstream ones). That is to say, I don't really think there's anything wrong with having a theistic world view, not as long as it is understood that such a view is not explicit knowledge, it really is just a belief, which can be wrong. And people using that view should act accordingly. Unfortunately this attitude is entirely missing from most theistic views, which causes otherwise "good people" to do horrible things to themselves and innocent people around them (and I don't mean just religious terrorism).

The thing that bothers me is that the so-called scientific side also constantly equates firm-belief with knowledge. Dawkins for instance, he might be describing scientific method and what "theory" means in one sentence, just to turn around to say "but evolution is a fact". From scientific view that message is inconsistent, incorrect, and amazingly devastating to the debate. If you are a theist who all your life have equated firm-belief with knowledge, that message is in fact CONSISTENT with your definition of what "knowledge" means! What Dawkins is saying from the theistic perspective is exactly "Evolution is my firm-belief", equating it with any other firm-beliefs.

The meaning of so-called "knowledge" in the face of impossibility of explicit ontological knowledge is exactly what Dawkins should have been communicating. "What we think we know" is a concept that exists in both views, but the words being referred to it are wholly different (and the views towards it are often inconsistent).

So, the most obvious interpretation of this message from the theistic paradigm is that science is just a different set of beliefs. That is why they keep saying so, because Dawkins et.al. keep unintentionally telling them so! Face palm anyone, anyone?

Then the anti-theistic turns around again and does an occasional (piss-poor) job at trying to explain that there is no such thing as knowledge in science, which only prompts a comment that then science is worse ideology, because if you are a theist you actually "do know how things are" [via your beliefs]. Because the idea of "knowing via believing" is so unintelligible from a scientific paradigm, instead of explaining the definition of "knowledge" as a separate concept from firm-belief (and actually staying on the message for once), they just get turn around and once again get suckered in into proclaiming something like the big bang theory as if it's "something we actually know".

I mean, that's another thing, I'm sorry to say but the big bang theory is a modern day creation myth. It seems we just can't handle the epistemological idea of not being able to understand something, and something that exists but doesn't have a beginning is epistemologically undefinable idea. Most people just simply want to place something in there, regardless of if it's possible to know things like that. Big Bang Theory is epistemologically meaningless as an "origin of reality" type of idea. Seeing Krauss trying to explain "something out of nothing" is exactly as embarrassing as the worst biblical apologetics. Even more so because he's the one who was not supposed to be doing this.

Please, there is no reason - apart from emotions - to present this theory as a fact; it is a theory, like every other. Even if all of the observable universe can be traced to a singularity (which hinges on an unbelievable number of undefendable assumptions, you all understand right?), it is an epistemological suicide to consider it to be the beginning of REALITY. The idea of "beginning of everything" is simply not rationally definable, you just get tangled up to your own definitions no matter which way you put it (which in itself is an important fact, btw)

Could it be that the reason why this kind of scientific realism is the dominant message across the entire atheistic camp is that it can be accepted with the least bit of effort. That is to say, the largest masses of people easily agree with it, because they think they understand it with almost zero thought necessary. Is that not the very thing we should be against if we really use scientific philosophy here? Since when did it become scientific to say "this is too complicated for you, just believe it because I say so".

If you are interested of debating these issues, there are much better ways to talk about the real-world problems of theistic ideologies than what people always try. It is almost laughably trivial to point out the naivetes of mainstream theistic views with little bit of humanistic history. The "holy scriptures" themselves are their own worst enemy by far, and I have quite a few things to point out here, but maybe I'll continue from here later.

Anyone else sees this thing the way I see it?
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### #2 AnssiH

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Posted 31 August 2014 - 12:37 PM

No replies?

Am I the only one who is bothered by these problems?

Or does everyone here see it the same way?
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### #3 Eclogite

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 12:28 AM

Point 1 - I am no fan of Dawkins.

Point 2 -

The thing that bothers me is that the so-called scientific side also constantly equates firm-belief with knowledge. Dawkins for instance, he might be describing scientific method and what "theory" means in one sentence, just to turn around to say "but evolution is a fact". From scientific view that message is inconsistent, incorrect, and amazingly devastating to the debate. If you are a theist who all your life have equated firm-belief with knowledge, that message is in fact CONSISTENT with your definition of what "knowledge" means! What Dawkins is saying from the theistic perspective is exactly "Evolution is my firm-belief", equating it with any other firm-beliefs

Evolution is a fact. We have observed it. Unless we wish to declare all observations ever made insufficient grounds for aiding in the identification of facts, then that must be accepted.

Of course, not all aspects of the theory of evolution as it currently exists are as well established. But then we come to the next level, described quite well by Sagan, I think. I can only paraphrase it here: there are some things where the evidence is so overwhelming that to refuse to call it a fact is just plain silly.

Dawkins et al neither distinguish between these two positions, nor make the subtle caveat clear in the second.

I mean, that's another thing, I'm sorry to say but the big bang theory is a modern day creation myth.

My provisional conclusions is that you confuse popular notions of BBT with what it actually is. It certainly isn't a theory that explains the origin of the universe. It bears the same relationship to that as evolution does to abiogenesis.

Please, there is no reason - apart from emotions - to present this theory as a fact; it is a theory, like every other.

Background: I oppose the BBT on philosophical grounds. However, I have no problem at all presenting it as a fact since it explains far more effectively than any other idea what we actually observe. If it is not true, then its falsity is very well concealed.

The idea of "beginning of everything" is simply not rationally definable

Which is, perhaps, one of the reasons the BBT theory has absolutely nothing to say about the beginning of everything.

Since when did it become scientific to say "this is too complicated for you, just believe it because I say so".

Clearly our auditory perceptions are different. I hear "This is really quite complex. It would take a post-graduate course to fully understand it. However, you appear to be familiar with the scientific method and have satisfied yourself as to its efficacy. Thousands of scientists have used this method to arrive at this provisional conclusion. Unless you want to spend a lifetime independently confirming what they have already determined, you could save your self some effort by provisionally accepting it too."

### #4 AnssiH

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 07:42 AM

Hey, thanks for the response. I really like your tag "An open mind is more about accepting nothing, than about accepting everything."

On that note, I think there are few very important adjustments that should be made to the way these things are usually communicated, as those subtle problems lead exactly to the problems I am addressing in the OP.

For one;

Evolution is a fact. We have observed it. Unless we wish to declare all observations ever made insufficient grounds for aiding in the identification of facts, then that must be accepted.

Of course, not all aspects of the theory of evolution as it currently exists are as well established. But then we come to the next level, described quite well by Sagan, I think. I can only paraphrase it here: there are some things where the evidence is so overwhelming that to refuse to call it a fact is just plain silly.

Dawkins et al neither distinguish between these two positions, nor make the subtle caveat clear in the second.

It is exactly the terminology used in that phrase "Evolution is a fact", which leads to a massive and very unfortunate misunderstanding in these debates.

I mean let's just take a step back, and step into the mind of a typical religionist, who does not have an understanding of what scientific method is supposed to mean. Here he is looking at all the different cultures having all the different beliefs about how the world works. Every belief system may appear internally consistent, and every one is representing itself as factual. And every one thinks that examining alternatives is not only ridiculous, but also dangerous because people might get "wrong ideas". Yet, not all of them can be factual. How do you choose?

A lot of people at that junction just choose whatever feels most like the truth. Typically that would be the version they've been hearing all their life inside their culture. That is what makes a religion.

But some people don't accept the arbitrary choosing, and that is what sparked the idea called "scientific method". It is supposed to be a method of creating theories that are falsifiable. If a theory or a concept is not falsifiable, it is just a belief among others, and falls outside of science. It was never ever supposed to just establish a new belief system.

In the context of scientific method, the word "fact" came to be used in the sloppy way you seem to recognize perfectly well. But look at this sloppy use from the mind of a religionist who does not understand scientific method. Dawkin's message reads exactly the way that any alternative religion reads; he appears to be merely representing his belief system, under the belief that his beliefs are facts, just like everybody else. Observe carefully the reactions of the theistic side on the debates at this junction, and you should be able to clearly spot how they just respond "it takes me more faith to believe your story than it does to believe mine". Or sometimes they express that to them it is just arbitrary which belief system they would believe in, and they choose the religion because it feels better somehow spiritually.

If you understand how they view "facts" and "beliefs" philosophically, and how they do not have an understanding of what scientific philosophy is actually supposed to mean, you can understand exactly why their arguments are rational statements from their perspective. And do you see how damaging this sloppy language is, because it ends up representing exactly the OPPOSITE of scientific method when viewed from within their paradigm? The irony is really thick there, I think.

So that is why I think the important thing to do in these debates would be to express clearly the philosophy of scientific method. I would express it something like this;

The important part of scientific philosophy is that you do not choose to believe into something in such a way as to close the doors to future developments. It is naive and ridiculous to think that at any moment in time, the current set of mainstream theories are the final word in our understanding of the world. Any theory is falsifiable by definition, and sometimes progress does not occur as a small addition to pre-existing theories, but as completely new way of thinking about something. In that sense, it is important to not equate theories with facts, no matter how hard you believe they are factual. For when you do so, it just represents a method of closing doors from future developments; exactly the opposite of what scientific method is meant to be.

A common complaint from a religious view is "but then science doesn't believe in anything", and that is precisely what open mindedness means. Theories are useful, without the need to view them as firm beliefs. There really does exist a philosophies within scientific methods, that do not make ontological assumptions.

Another important aspect of this communication is that, the problem with religious philosophies is exactly the fact that they are about viewing firm beliefs as facts, and thus closing doors from progress. That is the problem I have with religions, and that is what actually makes it so easy to point out various ridiculous aspects of any religions. You know, when a scientific philosophy states "we do not know and we cannot know the answer to this question", that statement doesn't make the religious narcissism and childishness any less ridiculous. That is the issue people should get to. And that is very easy argument to make, if you just stick to the message and don't represent the scientific side from equally narcissistic and childish angle.

Would you agree with that? Do you not get face-palm moments continuously when listening to these debates?

My provisional conclusions is that you confuse popular notions of BBT with what it actually is.

Not me actually, but my complaint was that a lot of people do. Your response...

It certainly isn't a theory that explains the origin of the universe. It bears the same relationship to that as evolution does to abiogenesis.

Background: I oppose the BBT on philosophical grounds. However, I have no problem at all presenting it as a fact since it explains far more effectively than any other idea what we actually observe. If it is not true, then its falsity is very well concealed.

Which is, perhaps, one of the reasons the BBT theory has absolutely nothing to say about the beginning of everything.

...represents closely how I view it too. And my problem is that almost without fail, especially in religion debates, Big Bang theory comes up in the context of origins. I'm fully aware that a lot of people working intimately with the theory do not view it as an origins question at all, but at the same time, a lot of common people do. And that is very unfortunate. Talk with common people about this, and mention that the big bang theory has got nothing to do with the question of origins, and most likely you will just get rolled eyes as response. Hence big bang theory has become "a modern day creation myth".

I think it comes from some kind of psychological need to believe into something. Most people seem to have it. I don't. I'm like your tagline.

Note that Lawrence Krauss has still very recently been very vocal about the Big Bang Theory in the context of religious question of origins. He has got this "something out of nothing" thing he keeps talking about, causing more damage to the debate than doing any good (by exactly the same mechanism of misrepresenting scientific philosophy). And he is commonly heralded as one of the best experts on the matter.

So, the first person to respond to this thread has a more neutral (more scientific) view of the matter than the established expert on the field, and you were able to express it quite clearly in couple of very succinct paragraphs.

That does bother me. Does it not bother you?

Clearly our auditory perceptions are different. I hear "This is really quite complex. It would take a post-graduate course to fully understand it. However, you appear to be familiar with the scientific method and have satisfied yourself as to its efficacy. Thousands of scientists have used this method to arrive at this provisional conclusion. Unless you want to spend a lifetime independently confirming what they have already determined, you could save your self some effort by provisionally accepting it too."

Yeah that is probably quite accurate to how many people think.

In my mind it leads into behaviour patterns that is little bit too close-minded to progress. I'm fully aware of the practical impossibility of thinking everything through by yourself, but it really is possible to maintain the attitude that everything you know about the world, you just think you know. And it is possible to identify certain fundamental assumptions that everything else hinges on. And it is possible to use a completely pure scientific philosophy where every ontological idea is simply hinging on the theory that defines it. In my mind it is close to general semantics type of ideology, which really is just a more neutral way to think about the world, and most importantly it closes as few doors from future progress as possible.

And that is exactly what the "scientific" side of any of these debates should be representing. Not a "present day belief system" as they usually do.

Am-I-rite?

### #5 Racoon

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Posted 01 September 2014 - 08:36 PM

I'm surprised that there aren't any Religious Leaders saying that God created Natural Selection.

It would make sense on several levels.

$$### #6 JGomes JGomes Curious • Members • 3 posts Posted 02 September 2014 - 01:20 AM Hi this is my first time posting here but what im about to post will blow your minds. For those of you who believe in god im sorry but wat im about to say will completely disprove his existence. We all know the Big Bang theory but have u every thought of how this Big Bang occured? We all know there are black holes in the solar system that breakdown all matter through extreme gravitation force and absorbs the energy from this process. Now think wat would happen if these black holes broke down every bit of matter and absorbed it? They would increase in mass greatly and begin to start destroying the other black holes that are smaller in mass and absorb their energy as well. Now wat would happen if all that was left was two giant black holes of equal size and mass? These two black hole would have the same gravitational force and would eventual drift toward each other because of their gravitational pull. Now as these two black holes got closer to each other they would increase in velocity which would cause them to collide into each other at tremendous force. Due to the fact that their size and mass is equal that would make it so one couldnt breakdown the other which would result in a large collision that would shatter them making all their energy dispersed outward. Now think if this does happen wat does it mean? It would mean that the existence of black holes is a way for the universe to recycle itself and that would make the universe eternal meaning that it creates itself by its own means. ### #7 Eclogite Eclogite Creating • Moderators • 1477 posts Posted 02 September 2014 - 04:48 AM @AnnssiH, your post contains several distinct ideas, each meriting a comprehensive response. I may not be able to visit all of them, but I shall respond after further reflection. @JGomes, welcome to the forum. I do hope it is not too much of a disappoinment for you, but regretably my mind was not blown by your post. I was encouraged to see you thinking imaginatively - not enough of us do that often enough. On the other hand I think your suggestion needs some modification, some knocking into shape. Here are some specific thoughts that may help you do that. 1. We do not know of any black holes in the solar system. The nearest black hole is several hundred light years away. 2. In order for a black hole to absorb another they have to be on a collision course. Black holes do not suck matter in indiscriminately. For example, imagine if the sun were suddenly to turn into a black hole, the Earth would continue to orbit it, just as it does now. Since the universe is expanding there is no reason to think that all the black holes would collide with each other. 3. Since the whole point of a black hole is that the gravitational attraction is so great that not even light (i.e. energy) can escape then what you propose would not actually occur. 4. Your argument does not disprove the existence of God. If your idea was true then a god could still have started the first universe, which then recycled as you propose. Since, this doesn't really relate to the thread topic, if you wish to reply I shall probably move this into its own thread. ### #8 JGomes JGomes Curious • Members • 3 posts Posted 02 September 2014 - 05:52 AM @Eclogite to correct u on the fact there is a black hole in the center of every galaxy which pulls in matter to create the stars that orbit within each galaxy and there are studies showing galaxies moving closer together. ### #9 JGomes JGomes Curious • Members • 3 posts Posted 02 September 2014 - 05:59 AM And it is possible that the sun could turn into a black hole but if that were to happen the earth would be destroyed a long with the rest of the planets in our solar system. The only reason the planets orbit is becuz the suns gravity is only strong enough to gently pull while each planet is able to use its own gravitational force to push away which is why we have a north and south pole. ### #10 arissa arissa Questioning • Members • 104 posts Posted 02 September 2014 - 06:50 AM When it comes to debates about religion, many people just don't do their homework. You can spout off just about anything and while you may think you are right, most of the time you are not backing up what you say with any proof. Another thing I notice is most of these debates end up being very passionate, which is great, but you gotta bring the facts too. ### #11 Eclogite Eclogite Creating • Moderators • 1477 posts Posted 03 September 2014 - 03:19 AM @Eclogite to correct u on the fact there is a black hole in the center of every galaxy which pulls in matter to create the stars that orbit within each galaxy and there are studies showing galaxies moving closer together. Yes, there is a black hole at the centre of the galaxy, however you incorrectly stated that there were black holes in the solar system. I am sure it was just an oversight on your part, but others less familiar with this material may take it as a fact. You seem to imply that the central black holes would ultimately pull in all matter in their galaxies. This is simply not the case. Yes, some galaxies are moving closer together. Our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years. But the general tendency is for galaxies to move apart. This would prevent the mechanism you have suggested from occuring. ### #12 Eclogite Eclogite Creating • Moderators • 1477 posts Posted 03 September 2014 - 03:21 AM When it comes to debates about religion, many people just don't do their homework. You can spout off just about anything and while you may think you are right, most of the time you are not backing up what you say with any proof. Another thing I notice is most of these debates end up being very passionate, which is great, but you gotta bring the facts too. Part ot the difficulty, I think, is that the means of acquiring knowledge in science and religion are quite different. In science this is trhough observation, hypothecation, experiment, etc; in religion it is via received dogma and personal revelation. Therefore what constitutes facts are different for the two groupings. Failure to recognise this generates much of the emotion. ### #13 AnssiH AnssiH Understanding • Members • 829 posts Posted 03 September 2014 - 12:26 PM I'm surprised that there aren't any Religious Leaders saying that God created Natural Selection. It would make sense on several levels. Well to be fair, a lot of religious leaders around the globe do view it that way. Creationism is mostly American phenomenon, and I think often there are all kinds of political reasons behind pro-creationism arguments. Seems to me there are a lot of people who think society works better if people just believe in God whether or not its true, and it seems to me they see Evolution as one of the biggest problems for biblical literalism. In many European countries, certainly in my own, fundamentalist religious views have basically zero political power. Those views are seen as little childish. Atheism is generally seen as a rational position, and personal "spirituality" is mostly just seen as a personality trait. And we have a state church. It's kind of silly.$$

Yeah, that. Isn't it amazing how expensive it is to believe. When I unregisted from the church myself (because it never meant anything to me, and I did not want to pay them money because I don't think it's a good use of money to use it to spread religion), it cost me some 1500e because I erroneously thought I would be able to unregister instantly and thus did not do it in a hurry. When I finally got around to it, turns out there's a mandatory 1 year regret period for me to "examine my feelings" or something, just in case. One more year, which cost me 1500e to stay registered, which was mandatory. I examined a lot of my feelings that year. All 1500 euros' worth.

### #14 AnssiH

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 12:36 PM

Part ot the difficulty, I think, is that the means of acquiring knowledge in science and religion are quite different. In science this is trhough observation, hypothecation, experiment, etc; in religion it is via received dogma and personal revelation. Therefore what constitutes facts are different for the two groupings. Failure to recognise this generates much of the emotion.

Yeah that. It's really important to recognize that at least everyone who has made it a career to debate for religion, has probably also created a very complex and elaborate world view around religion. From their point of view, what they see as "facts are" are exactly those things that they feel would be ridiculous to deny; they explain so many things.

Well "they explain so many things" means they have elaborate connections elsewhere in their world view, which as far as they can figure out, is internally coherent view.

The situation is very similar in scientific view, and I think the only meaningful difference is the attitude with which theories are handled; the mechanisms that allow progress.

So much so that I don't think it's very useful at all to present what are the things seen as facts in scientific view. I would love to see a debate where the scientific view is simply focusing on dissectingfundamentalist biblical view with the philosophical attitude of scientific method, and exposing exactly how childish and unethical it becomes when you consider "you may be wrong".

None of it has got anything to do with any supposed proofs or to what extent something appears to be factual considering such and such postulates. It's all just about rational philosophy and considering the possibility of being wrong. It's just important that both parties remember to handle that possibility gracefully.

### #15 HydrogenBond

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 01:59 PM

If evolution is a fact, why is it still called evolutionary theory, and not evolutionary law? A law in science is higher than a theory, in terms of being closer to an undisputed fact in its area. There a very few laws of science but theories are dime a dozen. Laws of science do not change but theories are constantly updated as new facts appear.

Evolution is only a law/fact in the sense of politics and legal type laws. The first law of thermodynamics was not taken to lawyers and argued by politicians to make it law of the land in school. It was able to do this by staying only in science without spin and lawyers. That is the difference. Once science recruits the least trusted professions, think in terms of skipping steps to the top of science.

Relative to religious debate, like it or not religion is a specialty topic, with its own area of expertise. One can get a phD in religious studies at major universities. If you wish to argue about religion, saying you hate it or it is is dumb, is a meaningless argument to someone who knows religion as an expert.It may be state of the art for atheists but this is freshman religion not phD.

This common negative and hostile reaction does not bring anything to the table to further the discussion. If the religious person begins to quote scriptures, like a scientists would quote journal articles, this is prohibited. The analogy is trying to argue science to first graders who will panic if you quote journals. One is handcuffed and that is called a victory by the first graders.

I used to live in the southern USA in the heart of the bible belt. To have good debates, I was told I needed to argue like someone who knew the subject, but backing my opinions with bible quotes. Although alien to religious debates in science forums, this is the same procedure that one uses in any area of study with only the text books changing.

If you look deep enough you might find bible quote support for evolution. It is not in Genesis but there are no rules that say that is the only place one can quote the bible. Such a discovery is is how the debate progresses in terms of dealing with experts of religion. They will not be able to resist or refute in good conscious if this is in their textbook. Science is the same way.

### #16 Turtle

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 03:02 PM

If evolution is a fact, why is it still called evolutionary theory, and not evolutionary law? ...

Piss off with your anti-science bullshit HBond. It is no more welcome now than when you last posted.

### #17 HydrogenBond

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 03:41 PM

Do these forums have a bullying, stocking and harassment standard?