Gem from GK Chesterton

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

From The Everlasting Man

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Science may enrich faith, but not visa versa"?

Recently Science and Religion News posted  a video link of a lecture by Dr. Lawrence Krauss entitled Science and Religion: Two Ships in the Night. This is the money line from an abstract that sent the hamster on my mental wheel running like a banshee: 

At best , science and religion have very little to do with one another. At worst, they are completely incompatible. And what little connection between the two even in the best of cases involves a one-way street. Science may enrich faith, but not vice versa. [emphasis mine].
Being both a Christian and a scientist, this quote not only gave me pause, it wrapped up "pause"  in a nice gift bag with a pretty bow and a little note that said, "To: Brian, Love: Quote".

Let me leave aside the extensive contributions of people of faith to science because I don't believe that is the speaker's intention (though it does play a role in the issue).   To me,  faith makes this chief contribution to science: from faith springs freedom.  And from freedom springs freedom of thought.  And from freedom of thought springs the riches of science.

To bolster my claim I offer these words from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...  And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
I argue that the faith of the founders of the United States planted the unalienable right of liberty into the soil of this country. And from that fertile  ground grew scientific contributions too many to number.   This goes far beyond a "little connection" or two ships passing in the night.   I think that faith has served as a tug which pulled science out of the harbor into the deep waters.  Yes science started before the foundation of America, but the connection of faith and science has a rich history.  

Your thoughts on the connection of faith and science are more than welcome.  I'd also like to pick your brain on the Dr. Krauss lecture in general and in particular his quote, "Science may enrich faith, but not visa versa." 

There's also some interesting overlap with the "One Giant Leap" contributions, which you should see if you haven't already.  (Oh yeah, don't forget to vote there too!)

Updated 1/20/09: Rocket Scientist  is "Joining in the Worm Toss" of this conversation.  Be sure to pick up the thread there too because is has some excellent discourse that merits your time regardless of where you stand on this issue. 
Update 1/21/09: Picture updated.


  1. From faith springs freedom of thought? I would think the exact opposite: Faith inhibts (or at least can inhibit) freedom of thought.

    Now, I agree that there were extensive contributions by people of the faith (i.e. not laypersons) to science, especially in the middle ages. There were also book burnings and surpression of new findings, but that is neither here nor there, and non-religious organisations have been guilty of the same thing.

    If we look at the definition of faith (from the Merriam Webster Online dictionary), we find that faith is:

    2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
    b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust

    Let me direct your attention to 2b: firm belief in something for which there is no proof - how is that conductive to freedom of thought and or science? The very concept of religion demands that you accept some (for the outsider) abritrary set of beliefs for the truth; furthermore that you are only allowed to question them up to a certain point (after which you start to be a non-believer), and that you treasure them above all different abritrary sets of beliefs. How is that conductive to freedom of thought? As a believer, there are by definition some thoughts that are forbidden to you!

    I don't mean to argue that you can't be a scientist and be religious at the same time, or indeed that it is bad to be religious. I am an atheist myself (as you might have guessed), and I regard religion as something that should be intensely private - so private in fact that it should be something between you an your god and your church, without impacting state or the rest of society at all.

    And religion as the tug which pulled science? The scientific method as we know it arguably got started in the 17th century with the Royal Society in England, with their motto "Nullius in Verba" ("On the words of no one") and the idea of rigoruously documented experiments. It was at times harshly opposed by the church (Darwin for example) - in fact, I would rather say that science succeded despite religion, not because of it.

    Oh, and since you quote the US declaration of independence as evidence for your claim: I think the references it makes to religion are mostly common parlance of the time, seeing that two of the "Committee of Five" (John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) were atheists.

    I haven't seen the Dr. Krauss lecture yet (no speakers in my office) and I should get back in the lab anyway, but I'll watch it this evening and get back to you!

  2. Faith gives science its raison d'etre. Without faith, there could be no science. If what I think is simply a result of neurons firing in my head, why should I believe that what they tell me is true? In a materialistic view, consciousness is just a result of a particular arrangement of matter, so whatever you find out through science exists nowhere but in your head.

    Faith gives us a ground for believing that the universe is real, rational, and intelligible -- and that we are capable of figuring it out. Materialism cannot provide the same foundation. If I am a materialist, I cannot even be certain that 2+2=4, much less anything discovered by scientific inquiry, because I have no reason to trust my mind, logic, my investigative methods, or anything at all.

    As for faith being belief in something for which there is no proof, two notes -- first, that not all religions are fideistic. As a Catholic, I believe my faith is compatible with reason but also goes beyond reason. Rationality is not reducible solely to empiricism, in other words. Second, even atheists take some things purely on faith -- for example, as I said, the validity of logic or the scientific method.

  3. Boris, welcome to the site and I'm glad you're jumping into the fray!

    I know only too well the destructive potential for people of faith because I've spent years studying cults and totalist orgnanizations. So I agree about the abuses in the church and appreciate your recognition of the same outside of the church.

    My main point here is not that "from faith springs freedom of thought" as you said, but that "from faith springs freedom"--as in a free society. And within that free society comes freedom of thought and abundant scientific advancement.

    The Declaration is relevant because of the self-evident recognition that liberty is an endowment from the Creator and that this faith, which I think doesn't fall within definition 2b, is what led to the free society of the U.S.

    I'm not arguing that good science can't come from good atheism (or good athiests!). I'm trying to refute Dr. Krauss claim that there is negligible connection and no positive contribution of faith to science.

    I'd like to borrow one of your paragraphs above and replace just a few words. I'll give it back the same way I got it from you, I promise. :)

    "The very concept of atheism demands that you accept some (for the outsider) abritrary set of beliefs for the truth; furthermore that you are only allowed to question them up to a certain point (after which you start to be a believer), and that you treasure them above all different abritrary sets of beliefs. How is that conductive to freedom of thought? As a non-believer, there are by definition some thoughts that are forbidden to you!"

    I do this not to argue, as some have, that atheism is a belief system in and of itself, but to highlight the idea that any conviction (religious or otherwise) is necessarily limiting in thought. And so that you understand what I mean by "freedom of thought". In the same way, if you're married you've limited yourself to other options for spouses (legally!). Absolute freedom of thought is not healthy, it is insanity. Because if I think "A" then I limit myself and cannot simultaneously think "non-A" without hoisting the anchor of mental instability and finding myself afloat. If I am a moral person, I cannot think "it is wrong to torture puppies for fun" while at the same time think that it is fine.

    This is probably getting far afield from my point. Because I just wanted to show one positive contribution that faith made to science. I don't mind letting this discussion wander to other topics (it is a free country after all!) but want to be sure that it is at least tethered somewhat to the Krauss assertion that faith may not enrich science.

    While you look at the video. I'll take a look at Adams and Franklin again.

    Anyway, I'm glad you're here Boris and joining the conversation. I hope to hear more from you.


  4. Just saw the lecture - absolutely brilliant. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

    I thouroughly agree with Krauss in that science and religion have little to do with each other. Science deals with our universe, and constantly questions itself, willing to be disproven. While there may be different opinions about topics new to science, eventually a consensus will emerge and a scientific opinion will form (only to be overthrown later, when a better theory comes along as in Newton's mechanics and the SRT/GRT). Seen like this, there is only one science.

    By contrast, there are a gazillion different religions, and nearly all of them claim to possess "the Truth", and condemn all unbelivers to hell or an equivalent. There is no process of inquiery, no comparison between religions, no new ideas and no doubting the core ideas. This for me is the main reason why religion cannot enrich science: Which religion? Yours? My parents? My neighbours? And why should something that is structured so different from science have any impact on it?

    Religion may have its place in answering questions that science cannot (and has no business to) answer: The meaning of life, morality, etc - everything that by the nature of the question cannot be dissected and investigated. But it remains wholly seperate from science, and has to listen to science if science contradicts it's statements (the whole creationism debate, etc.).

  5. No argument from me that there are separate domains where each discipline is more prominent. I just don't see the reason to set up an impenetrable wall between the domains. Allowing no spill over between the twain.

    My experience within the church is that there can be very healthy dialogue and debate. And that theology/doctrine today is much different than the theology/doctrine of 100 years ago, or a few thousand years ago. If we look at the tomb of academic theology and discourse within seminaries and institutions of higher learning it would be quite clear that faith is not monolithic, nor devoid of room for highly intellectual engagement. If you haven't seen it already, I think that you would be surprised to see the highly technical, scholarly and intense debates that swirl around matters of faith. It makes my head spin no less the technical discussions of quantum mechanics or string theory.

    Again I'd like to stay attached to the tether of Dr. Krauss' assertion that "faith may not enrich science". It might be cutting a hair too finely, but this issue centers on the concept of faith generally (a reasoned belief in a higher power) and not religion (the organization and social orders built around faith).

    Perhaps your experience has been with the wrong group where intellect wasn't yoked together with faith (I don't know, I might be wrong). But I'm in agreement with Michael above that a well reasoned faith leads to an acknowledgment of a reasoned/rational world that merits our scientific inquiry. I hazard to say that religious organizations are populated with their share of idiots. But that is not a condemnation of people of faith, but people, period. Myself included from time to time.


  6. Oops! I meant to say "tome", not "tomb" above. I hope you hit that softball out of the park. It is just waiting for a well-deserved, funny comeback!!

  7. You know I love ya, Brian, but I'm with Boris on this one, not because I think faith and science are incompatible - I see no reason why someone can't understand and appreciate science and be religious - but because I don't see what connection they have or need.

    The reasons why are long and I'll probably write (at least one) blog about it, starting today, but I wanted to explain here that I see a distinct difference. Faith, by definition (that Boris thoughtfully provided), requires no proof or even any indication. In fact, proof or evidence almost negates faith as it is no longer faith but basically seeing is believing.

    And that's the key difference. Faith is independent of data (though, ideally, it doesn't negate the evidence available). Science is entirely dependent of data. Without data, it's not science; it's pure speculation. Sure, we can speculate about what happens far beyond the realm we can measure, but it's speculative and isn't anything more than that until it has data to support it. The more and incontrovertible the data, the stronger the science.

    One can have both, surely. I do myself as I have a very definite belief system (unusual, but that's another story), and I have no conflict with my sciency side. But I don't confuse science and belief and, if information comes through that clearly indicates a belief I have is false, I'll stop believing that particular thing. Many, of course, would not.

    I do have to challenge two statements made though. First is yours: "from faith springs freedom." Freedom from what? What exactly enslaves someone without faith? I can't bend my mind around that statement.

    The other is Michael's: "Faith gives us a ground for believing that the universe is real, rational, and intelligible" It sure sounds good but what is it's basis? Says who (besides Michael of course)? Why is faith required for believing the universe is real, rational and intelligible? I think it is but I don't see it in any relation at all to my faith which actually springs into action with those things I can't explain. He says later that materialism doesn't have the same basis. Who says materialism is the only alternative to faith?

    My point is not that faith is inherently bad, it's that asserting that it is the basis of freedom seems counterintuitive to me. Faith (and faith doesn't have to be in a god, by the way) has done far more bad than good in my opinion, but I don't blame the concept, just the execution.

    And I don't find a compelling argument that shows the correlation between faith and science. I see many assertions, but no justification for them. As a scientist, I have to say, where's the data?

  8. Michelle-

    Good questions. A few thoughts: you ask what enslaves someone without faith. Yet the Gospels and epistles repeatedly talk about Christ's salvation as setting believers free from slavery to sin and the powers of the world, so for Christians at least faith is something eminently freeing.

    Even on a purely intellectual level, G. K. Chesterton (whom Brian and I discovered we both like in the post on reading above) points out that the materialist's is narrower than the believers in one way at least: he cannot admit the existence of supernatural phenomena. The believer may believe everything that the materialist believes, and admit every natural fact, but he is also free to believe in even more. The materialist is confined to a much smaller arena.

    You also say that faith is independent of data. I also disagree with this. Faith is based on data from both the natural level (science, history, philosophy, personal experience, authority) plus data believed to be from God, or revelation, and then finally trust in the God whom all that evidence leads you to believe in. Saint Paul tells believers to be able to explain the "reasons for their belief", and a belief that was entirely independent of reasons wouldn't be worth believing, for why would the believer stake their very being on something they had no reason to believe was true?

    Finally, you ask why materialists can't believe that the universe is real, rational, and intelligible. They certainly can, but if they do, they must take it on faith. They have no reason to believe that it is, contrary to the believer who does have a reason -- namely, the universe is the product of a rational God, and man has a non-material mind which is able to evaluate the separate material universe.

    In other words, if the materialist is correct, his "scientific thoughts" about the universe are nothing more than a particular arrangement of atoms in his head. And if that particular arrangement of atoms is merely the product of various natural laws, as the materialist believes it is, how can it be said that this arrangement of atoms is a true reflection of reality? That's why I say the materialist has no rational reason for believing science "works". He's certainly free to believe so nevertheless, of course, but then he would have to take it on faith.

  9. Actually, I didn't ask "Finally, you ask why materialists can't believe that the universe is real, rational, and intelligible." I asked who decided that the only alternative to faith be materialism. I don't think those are the only two alternatives.

    And I never said one didn't have reasons for faith, I said you didn't need data or evidence. (See definition 2 Boris provided above - faith, by definition, has no proof).

    Nor, do I agree that being "faithless" leaves one a slave to sin. My own lack of sin stems from my internal moral code which in turn determines my faith - not the other way around. Though I AM weird.

    I wonder if your assumptions about what people who aren't "of faith" think and are limited to is really all encompassing. Your arguments seem largely rooted in characterizations of people who see things differently that aren't in my experience, any more accurate than they'd be for many a religious individual.

    As for this, "And if that particular arrangement of atoms is merely the product of various natural laws, as the materialist believes it is, how can it be said that this arrangement of atoms is a true reflection of reality?" The logic behind that entirely escapes me. Are you saying that reality isn't composed of atoms arranged by nature? I mean, if it's not reality, what is it? Perhaps you are confusing scientists with philosophers.

  10. First I heartily appreciate the tenor and vigor of this discussion. Honestly I've found too many people who would've stormed off with nostril steam after the first exchange. So Michael, Stephanie and Boris I would like to thank your for this discussion, with which I've had a difficult time engaging in "real" life.

    From my perspective, part of the disagreement that we have concerns the definition of the term "faith". To me, faith _necessarily_ entails trust based on rationality and sound reasoning. The closest analogy I can find is in rock climbing, which I did a bit of in my frolicking youth (not that I don't still frolic* from time to time, mind you.) When I was climbing, I had an inherent trust in the gear I was using. Literally my life depended on the ropes, harness, protection, and climbing partner belaying me. I had not independently tested and verified each item, but the gear came from a source that was trust worthy. Each time I put on a harness and got off the ground, I had faith in the rope, that if I fell it would keep me from the big splat. And my faith was proved when I did fall and all the gear worked. Faith in God is like this trust than mere belief. To me, faith entails a huge element of reasoned, rational trust. The reasons for my trust/faith in God are for a different discussion, because otherwise I'm sure I would exceed my 0.0019% preachy-ness that I vowed not to go over in my FAQ. And since I'm bumping up against that limit now, I'll bid adieu and hope the conversation continues.

    I'm also a bit frazzled after taking my son to the hospital. We were boffing ( with foam swords and I clocked him pretty good in the tender vittles. Poor guy had a rough night and I feel like a worm. It was accidental, but you never want to take your kid to the hospital on your account.

    *"Frolic" is one of those words that gets weirder and weirder when you say it repeatedly. But don't try this at home.

  11. Michelle--

    I think Brian is right and we are having difficulties with terminology. I'm not sure how having "reasons" is different than having "data or evidence." The two seem the same to me, but not all data or evidence is "scientific", of course. Also, the definition of faith you cite is not the only definition. I use the term more like Brian did in his post above -- something for which there is reasonable evidence, but which goes beyond that evidence. The only alternative to materialism (or naturalism) I can see is some form of belief in something supernatural, which would seem to imply at least some degree of faith, so that's why I posited them as opposites.

    I'd love to discuss the slavery/sin issue, but I don't want to take Brian's post off topic, so I'll stick to the science. I don't think I'm confusing science and philosophy, but I do think the two are related. The ability to do science implicitly relies on belief that the universe is rational and our minds can decipher it. Let me explain my "atoms in the head" a little more clearly:

    Of course all material reality is the arrangement of physical material, like atoms. A rock is an arrangement of atoms, so is my brain. But I know things about the universe, the rock does not. Why? It's difficult to see how one arrangement of atoms, my brain, could be able to generate something non-material (knowledge), while another arrangement, the rock, cannot. Yet we must implicitly assume that it can, or else how could we do science?

    Or think of it this way. I used the example of believing 2+2=4. If I couldn't believe basic math and logic, I couldn't do science. But if the idea of "2" is just a pattern of neurons in my brain, and "adding together" is just another pattern of neurons, and when they fire together they stimulate another pattern of neurons that is called "4", why do I have any reason to believe that those reactions represents a real relationship that exists "out there" in the universe, instead of just a relationship between neurons in my head? And if I can't believe that it does represent reality, how, again, do I do science?

    I hope that makes it clearer. I look forward to your thoughts. At least I think I do. It could just be my neurons, though.

  12. Oops. Stephanie, not Michelle. Apologies.

  13. I've never met anyone who was truly materialistic in the sense you mean, Michael, though I'm sure there are people who are.

    However, I can readily see someone who doesn't have faith that there are things beyond the material realm, but doesn't automatically disbelieve it. See, too often people are listed as one extreme or the other: you have religion or you are an atheist, whereas, to me, I know many more agnostics than I know atheists, but they call themselves atheists because it saves them inconvenience. Materialism (according to the on-line M-W) is ": a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter." That implies a refusal to believe in anything other than the physical.

    There is a far cry from not accepting a belief in other and refusing to believe there is anything other.

    As for your definition of faith, the problem with using a word with defined parameters outside its nominal meaning is that it hampers communication and can effectively mean a carte blanche. If I told you that an atheist encompasses all those that (a) are materialists, (b) believe there is no higher power but accept the possibility other spirituality without necessarily believing it themselves, (c) those that do believe in spirituality and other nonphysical things but believe there is no god (or that he/she/it/that is/are dead), (d) don't believe there is or isn't a God and/or spiritual/nonphysical things but don't discount the possibilities and (e)believe in something that doesn't fit neatly into a "common" religion, you'd tell me (rightly) that I was wrong, even though many described (and self-described) as atheists fit these categories.

    Technically, only a, b and c are true of atheists, but all three, a, b, and c are true. And, when I am discussing it with like-minded and non-like-minded people, I will use atheist as it is defined, even that I know people like myself (who is more in the d & e category) are uncategorically lumped in the atheist pot by people on either side of the divide. By ascribing to an established definition, I can ensure that my communication is valid and can have both sides meaning the same thing by the same language.

    However, if I chose to use the extended definition, I can negate every one of your points against those without faith with examples because they don't apply, because I have adapted the definition to suit my purposes; what's more, now that I have dispensed with the inconvenience of meeting the established definition of the word, I can change it however I will, and at random, with no repercussions. I'm not comfortable with that methodology.

    So, I'll just say, you can think of faith as whatever you choose, but unless you are using the same definition as Dr. Krauss is using, you can't negate his statement. You are, of course, free to make any statements you choose, but they won't address his point unless you take his meaning of faith as the same one you're arguing. Boris and I, I think, are also using the same definition of faith.

    And I assumed calling me Michelle was just an error. No harm done. Lord knows I've been called worse.

  14. OK, I wrote this comment earlier but the site wouldn't let me put it in. I also sent it to Brian to post, but he hasn't yet, so I'll do so now.

    “I love the word frolic. I don’t think I use it enough. I should probably fix that.

    I think a big part of the disconnect between Michael & Brian, vs. Boris and myself is that Boris and I are using the actual definition of the word faith, which I’ll repost so everyone doesn’t have to keep scrolling up for it:

    2 a (1): belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2): belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
    b (1): firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2): complete trust

    Instead of arguing the word faith using the actual definition, you and Michael have redefined it to mean something based on fact, which is contrary to the actual definition and then claim we have mischaracterized it.

    From my viewpoint, evidence transforms faith into something different. If I have no evidence for say, fairies, yet believe in them anyway, that’s faith. If I am surrounded by bees, it’s not faith that they exist that lets them sting me, it’s reality. As I told Davida (whose response on my blog I heartily endorse as through-provoking and brilliant, even though I disagreed with it), faith in something with evidence isn’t faith any more for it defies its very definition. Using your example, for instance, you say you had faith in your gear, but you didn’t. If you were doing blind faith, you’d have tried climbing with a ball of twine you found in the glove compartment. Instead, you used gear obtained from a source you trusted. If you had used twine (based on faith), would your faith have kept it from failing if taken beyond its capabilities? No. The twine will do what it’s capable of doing and no more. Ditto your ropes and harnesses. At most, what you had faith in was the source of this equipment, that they were knowledgeable (knew what was needed for safety and what equipment could meet those requirements) and honest (and didn’t tell you equipment that could not meet those necessities actually could). But you added that they were trustworthy, which probably means that they had either a very good reputation (which, hopefully came from a good track record, aka data) and or were recommended by other people you trust to have your best interests at heart (which is evidence of some form). Which means that even saying you had faith in the source of your equipment is probably missing the definition of faith by the definition we have. After all, even if you had complete trust in the source, what if you found out that someone you knew died from bad rope obtained there? Would you still trust them?

    Trusting a rope you stumbled across at the top of the mountain to carry your weight involves more faith, but then there is still the data that whoever used it made it to the top of the mountain and your own ability to look it over for wear or damage and that it looks to be about the right parameters.

    By the way, sorry to hear about your son’s injury. I heartily sympathize. I have long hair and, when my eldest as a baby, one of my long hairs made it into a baby sock in the laundry and then wrapped dangerously around a baby toe. There was no permanent injury, but I felt like the world’s biggest villain when I first saw that purple toe. Almost chopped all the hair off and I did, with near religious fervor, French braid my hair daily for three years after that.”

  15. Accepting your definition of faith -- that it is belief in something without evidence for it -- it's my turn to ask: perhaps there are people who believe that, but I've never met anyone who truly has faith in that sense. In which case Dr. Krauss' question becomes academic.

    I took Dr. Krauss to mean, in a real-world historical sense, what does faith have to do with science? He then assumed, incorrectly, that historical, real-world faiths are accepted in an absence of evidence. I dispute that narrative, and posit that what Dr. Krauss calls "faith" in the real-world is not only based on evidence, but also provides the grounding without which science could not done with any intellectual consistency.

    I take your point about the "in-betweeners" between those with faith and those who are pure, strict materialists. But in order to operate in the day to day world, we have to act as if some assumptions were true. But honestly I've never met an atheist, or an agnostic, for that matter, who lived out the logical consequences of their beliefs. They all act as if reason were valid, but they can't explain why. And who can blame them? As Peter Kreeft says, everybody has a philosophy, even if they don't know it.

  16. Michael, I wonder if there we have grounds for agreement among all of us on the basis of your last post. Might we say that faith "devoid" of reason has nothing to do with science. But faith grounded in reason enriches science? Then it becomes a matter of assessing whether one's faith is grounded in rationality and reason.

    I'm also curious if Dr. Krauss would allow at all the possibility that some faith may be grounded in reason. If not, then, as you said Michael, his argument may be strictly academic. I'll grant that there is a flavor of faith that exists which is entirely devoid of reason and has no evidence as its basis. But will the others accept that a different creature exists, and that is a rational and reasoned-base faith? We could just flat out adopt the MW 2b definition of faith and not allow any other. But then what term should be applied to that which Michael and I are supporting? You know, this could be a golden opportunity for me. I haven't coined any phrases for a while! (Bwahahahahahaha!)

    I hope to some day dip this opened can of worms in bronze and hang it from my car's rear-view mirror. It is certainly worth preserving.

  17. The definition of faith comes from the dictionary. The problem of redefining it is one needs an unequivocal definition and, then, it would only be valid amongst ourselves. The faith definition isn't Krauss'; it's an established definition. We can't fault Dr. Krauss and his assertion if he is using an established definition and our arguments against his statements mean nothing if we take it upon ourselves to change the very meaning of the words.

    My argument isn't that there isn't something as you and Michael describe; I'd just prefer a word that more closely matches the meaning you're going for.

  18. You are correct Stephanie. Isn't it interesting that people often say, "That's just semantics" as a throw-away line in order to stop quibbling. But really, the meaning of words is immensely important. Semantics should open up a conversation, rather than shut it down. Thank you for keeping to this point because it is certainly important.

    It also leaves open an opportunity for some phrase coining!!!! Ahhh... the simple pleasures in life. I wish I was born centuries ago when there was a vast wilderness of uncoined phrases, just waiting to be explored and discovered.

    Now if we'd like to open a fresher can of worms, I'd be curious to know if the number of potential future phrases is diminished by the phrases already coined. I'm thinking of a form of infinity (which you touched on in another post) where the number of remaining items in an infinite set isn't diminished by counting a subset.

    Well? Can opener anyone?

  19. Hi guys -
    I've skimmed the comments above but I may have missed a few points. I agree that one should clarify exactly how each debater is using words like "faith" etc. The references to religion tend to be oriented to Christianity so let's stick with that for now. Christian faith is a faith in a personal God. Scientists also require faith - but their faith has to be in a rational universe where universal laws hold. Science can only flourish with a reasonable level of personal freedom of thought and action. Historically, this has been endangered at times by organized religion, by organized political systems and occasionally by organized science itself. As for the word "materialist," I could easily call myself an atheist materialist, because I do believe that human consciousness has arisen as an emergent property of a purely physical system. But I might also consider myself a deist, because the purely physical universe has the attribute of a non-personal deity for me. I find the Cartesian duality between matter and spirit logically completely unsatisfying. If a spiritual essence is able to interact with the material world, why can I not extend the definition of matter to incorporate this other stuff? Surely the designation "spiritual" simply allows us to refer to things we don't understand, but if they can causally connect to the material world, how can they be non-material?

  20. Hey, NewtonsOcean, good to see you. I tend to agree. As a scientist, I'm completely cool with the notion that there exist real things I can't explain and don't understand and a number of other potential things that may or may not be real (like, for instance, psychic power) that I also can't currently explain. I don't think that they don't have a scientific explanation, just that we (or at least I) don't know what it is. I'm not sure what that makes me, but, hey, I'm cool with it.

    By a strange coincidence, Brian, without reading your last response, I wrote my blog today specifically on specifics.

    Scared yet?

  21. NewtonsOcean, I'm glad you popped in. I had one philosophy class in college and nearly wanted to change my major from geology to philosophy*. That is the extent of my background and I'm the poster child in this arena for "A little knowledge is dangerous."

    I loved the class though. And a good portion of it was spent on the mind/brain problem, or as you put it the connection of non-material to material. I'm very interested in your thoughts on the emergence of consciousness from physical matter. I haven't thought too deeply on this and I'm curious what your take is and if you have your finger on the current pulse of this subject.

    As I told you before Stephanie, I've decided not to be startled by the range of topics you've written on because I know that you're prolific. Same reason that I won't be startled to open a box of crayons and find "Spring Green" or "Burnt Sienna". :)

  22. It wasn't the topic, Brian, it's that just as you're saying "But really, the meaning of words is immensely important. Semantics should open up a conversation, rather than shut it down," I'm writing a blog post called "Anyone up for semantics?" (which by the way is also a movie quote reference - but do you know which one?)

  23. Hey Brian, after reading your comments over at Stephanie's, I think I understand a little better what you wanted to say with your original post.

    Disregarding the maze of twisty little passages the (very interesting) discussion has lead us down, I think - and correct me if I am wrong - that you asserted that it was the faith of the founding fathers which lead to the establishment of the US as a free country, in which science flourished.
    Well, I still disagree :), but much less forcefully. Indeed, I will step most carefully, because my knowledge of American history is limited.
    But I remember vaguely that the importance of faith in the declaration of independence was often overstated, wasn't it mostly a question of taxes and representation? "No taxation without representation!" was the rallying cry, nothing about faith here. And as I said in my first comment, two out of five of the "Committee of Five" were atheists.

    Furthermore, as far as I know the preponderance of American science only really took off after the World Wars, before that the most productive centers of scientific thought were Great Britain, Germany and France. At least in Physics and Chemistry I am pretty sure about that.

    But again, I am a physicist and not a historian, so I might be totally off the bat!

  24. Boris you're a physicist and a medical expert! Thanks again for the catch on my other post.

    Taxes and representation was certainly a driving issue and probably the practical force behind independence. But the philosophical underpinning to the complaint against the Crown, I believe, was that people had an unalienable right to liberty. I think that taxes is a matter of "what", and liberty is a matter of "why". Of course, I'm not a historian either. At least the history I'm accustomed to occurs over millions and billions of years, not hundreds!

  25. I'm not a historian, but my sister and my mother both are. My mother's specialty: American Revolution.

    Boiled down:

    In short, the Brits had sent money and troops to fight the French and Indian war in the colonies as they were fighting the French in Europe. The colonies had demanded the support, but weren't happy about paying the taxes for it. Colonists were, however, allowed to vote as British citizens so they had no voice or choice in (a) what England chose to do and (b) how they taxed for it. That's it in a nutshell.

    If the British system had been so horrific, they wouldn't have designed a system built largely on the Magna Carta and the two parliamentary system. Truth to tell, the number of truly "new" concepts we had in our Revolution and subsequent (6 years later) Constitution were minimal. But we sure had some effective writers.

    Religious freedom was a side effect of the religious persecution that was a big factor in many of the original colonies getting started. That was one of the key elements added ipso facto to the Constitution. As was the right to bear arms with the express intention of being able to have the means to overthrow the government as need be.

  26. I'm triple tickled that this discussion is hitting all three of the tag lines for the Blog header! Excellent! Everything is working according to the master plan (bwahahahahahah!)

    [Rubbing my hands together, now petting a hairless cat in my over-sized rotating chair, now rubbing the scar that cuts across my face from my last encounter with the League of Justice.]


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