A question for the believers

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bockedy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by bockedy » Sun May 17, 2009 11:17 pm

smiffy wrote:However, there are plenty of areas of philosophical inquiry which cannot, by definition, be 'overtaken' by scientific discovery in the sense you suggest above - ethics, for one - although that's not to say that scientific advancements cannot inform such philosophical reflections.
Dunno about that. Ethics for one can be studied scientifically and as far as I am aware has been (e.g. why do most people do the same thing in response to certain ethical dilemmas). I'm no expert on philosophy by a very long shot, but a lot of the subject areas where philosophy is traditionally concerned with are increasingly the subject of fruitful scientific inquiry, and I'm thinking big subjects like theory of mind, language, and even existence. I'm struggling to think of a philosophical subject matter that simultaneously science will have nothing to say about and which could be seriously applied to an argument about existence of god or gods.
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dj357
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by dj357 » Mon May 18, 2009 2:22 am

UDS, this may sound a wee daft, just a little, but surely, since science is the study of the natural world, and as of yet there is not a drop of evidence to indicate anything SUPERnatural in the universe, then surely there is no area of the world and, by extension, the universe, that science CANNOT comment on....?


as such, if we can rationally explain the natural world through natural scientific means, which for the most part we have so far, then surely science can comment on the existence, or lack thereof, of a god...? as such, science DOES refute a god(s)....?
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smiffy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by smiffy » Mon May 18, 2009 1:52 pm

bockedy wrote:Dunno about that. Ethics for one can be studied scientifically and as far as I am aware has been (e.g. why do most people do the same thing in response to certain ethical dilemmas). I'm no expert on philosophy by a very long shot, but a lot of the subject areas where philosophy is traditionally concerned with are increasingly the subject of fruitful scientific inquiry, and I'm thinking big subjects like theory of mind, language, and even existence. I'm struggling to think of a philosophical subject matter that simultaneously science will have nothing to say about and which could be seriously applied to an argument about existence of god or gods.
Only to a point, which is why I stated up front that science can inform philosophical reflection. On the ethics point, however, the question you put "why do most people do the same thing in response to certain ethical dilemmas" certainly can be looked at "scientifically" (if you want to call it that), e.g. by examining the evolutionary basis for altruism and codes of ethics in different societies. However, isn't really the central philosophical question when it comes to ethics and morality. Rather, the key question is what should one do when faced with a particular ethical dilemma. That's a question which, ultimately, cannot be answered by evidence-based science.

You can make similar points about something like metaphysics. While 'science' can, and will continue to, reveal the nature of reality, it cannot deal with the more fundamental questions of Being itself (which is not a criticism of 'science' per se - I don't know anyone who ever suggested that such questions could be tackled in that way - maybe the logical positivists in the last century).
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bockedy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by bockedy » Mon May 18, 2009 3:45 pm

smiffy wrote:However, isn't really the central philosophical question when it comes to ethics and morality. Rather, the key question is what should one do when faced with a particular ethical dilemma. That's a question which, ultimately, cannot be answered by evidence-based science.
Again I can't see why not (in general), it really depends on the precise question being asked by philosophers, and if you can't answer it scientifically, you have to ask why not. And of course, do any philosophical questions or their answers relate in any way to meaningful/rational/scientific arguments for or against the existence of god?
smiffy wrote:You can make similar points about something like metaphysics. While 'science' can, and will continue to, reveal the nature of reality, it cannot deal with the more fundamental questions of Being itself (which is not a criticism of 'science' per se - I don't know anyone who ever suggested that such questions could be tackled in that way - maybe the logical positivists in the last century).
The term "Being" sounds woolly to me ...why should we even care what philosophy would have to say about it (or indeed anything else) unless it can be tested as a scientific theory?
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smiffy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by smiffy » Mon May 18, 2009 4:47 pm

bockedy wrote:Again I can't see why not (in general), it really depends on the precise question being asked by philosophers, and if you can't answer it scientifically, you have to ask why not.
Well, how might you go about answering the question 'Why should you act in an ethical rather than unethical way' scientifically (even leaving aside the question of what constitutes an ethical action)?
And of course, do any philosophical questions or their answers relate in any way to meaningful/rational/scientific arguments for or against the existence of god?
Well, that's a pretty loaded question, isn't it? Surely it depends on one's conception (if any) of God. You're presupposing that 'God' is just another 'thing' in the universe, the existence of which is the same as the existence of a chair, house whatever. Now, I don't say any of this as a theist, or as someone with any kind of religious faith. But there is a strong tendency to characterise religion as a whole in atheist terms - to see it as something which starts from a position of certainty: the premise that God exists, and that everything else flows from that.

That's no doubt the case with much religious belief, particularly institutionalised religion. However, the more I've read on the subject recently, the more I've come to appreciate that such an approach is completely alien to any kind of sophisticated understanding of religion, or of faith. In other words, religious faith shouldn't necessarily be seen as a set of propositions which explain the way the world is but, instead, as an activity, or practice, closer to art than science.

This discussion with Karen Armstrong on the subject touches on these kind of issues and I think is quite useful in explaining what I'm trying to get at:

http://fora.tv/2008/02/27/Karen_Armstro ... Alan_Jones
The term "Being" sounds woolly to me ...why should we even care what philosophy would have to say about it (or indeed anything else) unless it can be tested as a scientific theory?
Do you really only care about things that can be 'tested as a scientific theory'? It doesn't sound like a particularly fun or interesting life, to be honest.

What do you think a scientific answer to the question "What is existence" might look like? I'm not asking you to tell us the answer, of course, but rather to explain how, in your understanding of 'science', it might go about approaching such a subject.
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adamd164
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by adamd164 » Mon May 18, 2009 4:54 pm

smiffy wrote:In other words, religious faith shouldn't necessarily be seen as a set of propositions which explain the way the world is but, instead, as an activity, or practice, closer to art than science.
Except that religion (or monotheistic religion, at least) makes scientifically-relevant claims.
smiffy wrote:What do you think a scientific answer to the question "What is existence" might look like? I'm not asking you to tell us the answer, of course, but rather to explain how, in your understanding of 'science', it might go about approaching such a subject.
Sorry to butt in on the question, I know it was directed at bockedy, but you assume that such a question has meaning. It's possible to ask questions that have a superficial sense to them but in reality no underlying substance.
Last edited by adamd164 on Mon May 18, 2009 4:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
smiffy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by smiffy » Mon May 18, 2009 4:56 pm

adamd164 wrote:
smiffy wrote:In other words, religious faith shouldn't necessarily be seen as a set of propositions which explain the way the world is but, instead, as an activity, or practice, closer to art than science.
Except that religion (or monotheistic religion, at least) makes scientifically-relevant claims.
You may wish to read the two sentences preceding the one you've quoted.
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adamd164
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by adamd164 » Mon May 18, 2009 5:05 pm

smiffy wrote:
adamd164 wrote:
smiffy wrote:In other words, religious faith shouldn't necessarily be seen as a set of propositions which explain the way the world is but, instead, as an activity, or practice, closer to art than science.
Except that religion (or monotheistic religion, at least) makes scientifically-relevant claims.
You may wish to read the two sentences preceding the one you've quoted.
I don't think that "religion" can be disentangled from "institutionalised religion" per se; the concept is alien to most. In my experience, if someone doesn't abide by structured doctrine, they're far more likely to just refer to themselves as "spiritual" than religious... does the term even retain a sense of meaning if it's going to applied so broadly? For instance, Wikipedia (superlatively accurate source that it is, I know!) defines religion as being inherently organised.
smiffy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by smiffy » Mon May 18, 2009 5:22 pm

adamd164 wrote:I don't think that "religion" can be disentangled from "institutionalised religion" per se; the concept is alien to most. In my experience, if someone doesn't abide by structured doctrine, they're far more likely to just refer to themselves as "spiritual" than religious... does the term even retain a sense of meaning if it's going to applied so broadly? For instance, Wikipedia (superlatively accurate source that it is, I know!) defines religion as being inherently organised.
I was probably a bit clumsy in how I phrased it. The point I was making was not against 'institutionalised religion' itself but, rather, contrasting the general understanding of what religious belief entails (i.e. a definite explanation of what the universe and God are) with a more sophisticated (some might even say academic) understanding of faith.
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smiffy
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Re: A question for the believers

Post by smiffy » Mon May 18, 2009 5:27 pm

adamd164 wrote:Sorry to butt in on the question, I know it was directed at bockedy, but you assume that such a question has meaning. It's possible to ask questions that have a superficial sense to them but in reality no underlying substance.
True, and that's certainly a position which certain philosophers have taken. However, you would have to demonstrate that the question I put is such a question (not to mention explaining what it means to state that something has meaning or not). Is this something of which 'science', as bockedy understands it, is capable?

Actually, it might be useful to have some sort of rough definition of what is meant in this context by 'science'. It's a bit PatrickFowkian to talk about meaningful/rational/scientific arguments, as if all three terms were interchangeable.
Atheism is a religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby - Scott Adams
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