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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cumulus shaped spirituality

This comment by Eric MacDonald deserves to be spread around.

Sample:

One of the things that bothers me more than anything in the absurd assumption that is being made when people talk about the compatibility of religion and science is the sheer diversity, and, so often, perversity, of religious belief. Religions come in so many different shapes and sizes, that the claim that religion is consistent with science is almost certainly false for most religions and for most religious beliefs. If the claim is being made that practicing a kind of cumulus shaped spirituality, without any clear ontological commitments, is consistent with doing science, then, of course the answer is, yes, there is no problem. You can even do it and take an interest in collecting match boxes. But if the religious belief happens to be that someone, somewhere, has authority to speak in the name of a transcendent being for which there is no evidence, that this transcendent being speaks to and communes with, human beings, that it has made an appearance in various guises in the world, that it causes miracles to happen and bodies to rise, or brings luck and good fortune to the favoured, punishes the wicked (for any given religious definition of what that word mean ins its various religious iterations) and authorises outrageous immoralities and injustices in its name, then it is not compatible, and it fatuous to suggest otherwise.

Yes, a cumulus-shaped spirituality with no clear ontology to be seen is consistent with science, or it can be. But of course, that's not something the anti-accommodationist crew have ever denied. Eric makes the point well.

We're not saying that there can never be any logical consistency between science and a sufficiently thinned out (or amorphously shaped) sort of religion. As we've explained so often, that was never the point.

But most real-world religion has plenty of ontology in its diet, and a lot more substance than a cloud. You can't move from the sort-of acceptability of certain kinds of ontologically starved or fuzzy or nice religion (or the kindness and niceness of your local Anglican or Lutheran minister) to a stark claim that: "Religion and science are compatible." That's a pious hope or a marketing slogan. It's the fairyhouse of wishes, baby, not a truth about the world.

37 comments:

DM said...

you stupid fucker...

you need a GOOD KICK IN YOUR HEAD...

A Drunken Man said...

These little rants that show up in your comments are slightly amusing, you must admit.

I imagine DM like a snarling Chihuahua. Sure its barks are aggressive, and it may want to bite your head off. But when you see it jumping around down there, you cant help but smile at the absurdity.

Matt C said...

That is exactly right. It seems that the accommodationist are all so busy accomodating that i haven't heard any of them comment on this simple fact that has been repeated again and again. Yes religion and science can be compatible, IF, the religion is so watered down that it is nothing but meaningless words and thoughts about there being a feeling that there is something more to life/etc.

Exactly as you said, science is one way of knowing/operating, unlike religion which means something different to every single person you ask.

Have you seen any accomodationist responses to this argument?

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DM said...

drunken man...


Just to show you how serious we are, you are going to be EXECUTED AS WELL...

Necandum said...

@Drunken Man
I'm sure you're shaking in your boots.

@Topic

I like the cloud analogy. You can wave a chainsaw in there all you like, it ain't going to do much. On the other hand, if it was a big leg of (putrefied) ham you had in front of you...splat.

Brian said...

Another great comment by Eric. He's got a gift. I'm sure it's not so much a gift, as the result of hard study and reflection, but that's how the expression goes.

I freely admit to envy when reading some of his, yours or any number of Ophelia's crews choice offering.

Matt C said...

@ Necandum

That's it isn't it. I think the thing I find most frustrating is that I don't think there is actually a disagreement between accomadationists and "New Athiests" (if that is such a thing). Its just that the New Athiests are actually willing to admit that some religions are NOT compatible with science, namely christianity, islam etc. Where as it seems accomadationists never have anything more meaningful to say than "no but SOME types of religious thought is compatible with science" without ever mentioning the type that is. And more importantly the type that isn't.

Sean the Blogonaut F.C.D. said...

A good spot Russell, and a very eloquent comment from Eric, worthy perhaps of being printed out and stuck on one's wall.

Eric said...

At last! At last! Finally! Someone who acknowledges that ultimately, when push comes to shove, a decision would have to be made between science and religion. It just cannot be both. Until then people such as scientists who claim religion can be compatible are just shuffling along the tightrope. Sites such as 'Your Not Helping' need to pay attention to this.

Can you close up your spacing a bit DM, it takes too long to scroll down the page.

Necandum said...

@Eric
I recommend using the collapse comments thingy at the top. Makes it easier to skip the crazyee.

As for Eric-of-comment-fame, I'd love to have his vernacular...

Russell Blackford said...

Don't feed the troll, please. I leave some of its smaller bits of spore around just as a sort of reminder ...

GTChristie said...

I think "the troll" has crossed the line into illegal territory and I would rather see no spores ... in fact, not even "comment deleted" ... no trace. IMHO.

DM said...

you do nothing but confuse and provoke, russell...


and it cost you:

YOUR LIFE....

Zachary Voch said...

At this point, it is very difficult to feel patience with the ever-repeated straw men and misrepresentations of New Atheist positions. Yes, we understand many scientists are religious. Yes, we understand that not all things-called-religion are logically incompatible with science. You've repeated this many times, Jason Rosenhouse has repeated this many times, Ophelia Benson has repeated this many times, PZ Myers... Dawkins... Coyne...

...who says otherwise?

The incessant repetition...

And here is the center ring at this kitsch philosophy circus, these watery deisms and God-as-symbols and cumulus shaped spiritualities are presented to the New Atheist as his indestructible obstacle, the annihilator of his position, the sound counterexample which renders his frothing, misdirected rage hollow and impotent, leaving nothing but effluvial sputtering to his disposal. Thus the ringmasters carry on, rationalizing the booing noises away as a fundamental inability or willing blindness to understand their elevation, their poetic art, their clever circumvention of apparent obstacles.

And all the while, the religion of substance actually in question works its way steadily inward. Omphalism arrives on accommodationist sites. Churches claim authority on the ethics of science, and therefore, how science is conducted. Critics are ignored to applause.

On an unrelated note, my e-meter detects increasing levels of crazy from DM.

Anonymous said...

DM, I understand where you're coming from. My roommate is schizophrenic. She's responding well to Risperdal though. You should check it out.

Good luck!

DM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wowbagger said...

it is comments like these why you are going to be EXTERMINATED...

DM is a Dalek? That would explain a lot.

Russell Blackford said...

Again, please don't feed the troll. I delete most of its comments without even a record that they were deleted. If you respond to the comments it just provokes further comments and generates confusion.

Wowbagger said...

I've come to the conlcusion that the the tangibility of a religious believer's god is inversely proportional to the number of atheists in the believer's vicinity when the topic is being discussed.

Basically, they worship a hands-off, outside-of-science, inpirational Armstrongesque god when debating atheists online or in person; however, when amongst their fellow believers the same god undergoes a sudden transformation into a prayer-answering (if it's the right prayer), healing (as long as it's not limb-regrowing) and take-you-up-to-heaven-to-be-with-him-when-you-die (if you're the right religion and denomination) god that they (otherwise) so vociferously demand they don't worship.

It's probably a similar situation to what occurs during interfaith dialogues.

Sigmund said...

Wowbagger that sounds like Schrödinger's cat - except with God in the box (and the annoying point that every time the atheists lift the lid, the box appears completely empty.) The only way to keep God alive is to stop the atheists from looking inside.

Wowbagger said...

Sigmund wrote: Wowbagger that sounds like Schrödinger's cat - except with God in the box (and the annoying point that every time the atheists lift the lid, the box appears completely empty.) The only way to keep God alive is to stop the atheists from looking inside.

That's a good point. I've been searching for a more pithy way of expressing the duality of belief in that regard; perhaps from now on I'll describe faith/science compatibility as a 'Schrödinger's religion'.

Robert N Stephenson said...

I work with reason and compassion in my life - and after a month of research I still find that both these qualities can be lacking in what has been termed 'The New Atheist'

Though the position stated has much logic it fails to interpret what I would call a reasonable position - it is an atheist position - or an exclusive position. Anything that disagrees with the position is somehow wrong.

Whether it is liked or not, religion is with us and it stand to reason to find a way to get along rather than fight.

An Atheist came to the church I was cleaning today (my church) - she brought with her about 20 school kids - we offered to give them a place to have lunch out of the cold and even made them all FREE hot chocolates. All very reasonable acts of kindness for children.

Yet:

The Atheist teacher hurried the kids, made the get a move on so she could escape the evilness of the building. Am I the only one that see this as being a forcing of some beliefs on others without explanation?

The subject here is science of course and if you ask religion to give you a breakdown of the atmosphere it would fail; it can't do it, but science can.

But if you ask science to examine and breakdown the functionality of a family is crisis it can't, it is not equipped to deal with what can often be intangible understandings of life. Aspects of religion can help here and often does. Christianity governing drive is to love thy neighbour as you would yourself. Philosophically quite a sound position - unless of course you hate yourself.

Science is only one school of though dealing with particular problems and creating answers and solutions for one range of problems.

Religion is not science and it is simply wrong to compare them actually. It to is only one school of thought based more around social issues or even personal issues - not the only school of thought, but one of any number of understandings.

Rupert said...

Robert N Stephenson, maybe she was trying to avoid the 'conversion' factor.

'But if you ask science to examine and breakdown the functionality of a family is crisis it can't' - actually it can. The sciences of psychology, psychiatry etc. can determine the root cause of behavioral interactions and map ways to alleviate the situation.

'Aspects of religion can help here and often does.' - the difference being that you believe it is the word of god. I believe it is an amalgam of social mores and structures of successful, cooperative societies which predated the bible. So basically it is a useful 'handbook guide' of debated origins.

Wowbagger said...

Whether it is liked or not, religion is with us and it stand to reason to find a way to get along rather than fight.

That's a very poor reason not to oppose an irrational concept; it didn't work for those who supported gender inequality or slavery - and isn't working for those opposing equal rights for same-sex couples or regarding other GLBT issues.

The Atheist teacher hurried the kids, made the get a move on so she could escape the evilness of the building. Am I the only one that see this as being a forcing of some beliefs on others without explanation?

Did the 'atheist teacher' use those words, or are you just assuming that's what the reason must have been?

Science is only one school of though dealing with particular problems and creating answers and solutions for one range of problems.

It's one school of thought that actually provide answers that can be differentiated from stuff that's just made up. Philosophy can be used for that which science can't deal with - so there's no need for religion, which is essentially stories people made up and ascribed meaning to, whatsoever.

Robert N Stephenson said...

The Aheists teacher made it clear she didn't want to be there - but it was cold outside ans the kids did need a place to each their lunch.

Now for science and religion, they work together and have done for a long time - only recently (50 years perhaps) the Atheist insists they don't. Maybe this is why the Atheist when confronted with religion shows great amounts of fear, anger and even irrational abusiveness. This is a fear society doesn't need and we on the other side oppose greatly.

The greatest break throughs in science have usually been followed by great violence - either physically, emotional or in cases reactionally.

Philosophy cannot deal with sociology and in most cases, as it does today, stands against social positions that have not been formed by their philosophical view.

In all my discussions with Atheists (New Atheist is just as dictatorial as the old) all have failed in the basics of human understanding and even in the basics of humanity...

Science is starting to catch up some in this humanity sphere but still believe it has sole right over the future.

Philosophy is for intellectuals to play with - real world applications are often beyond their high opinions of themselves.

The greatest frustration to a religious person today is this: What is wrong with feeding a starving person, or giving shelter to the homeless? What is wrong with helping a family who have fallen on hard times? All the philosophy and science in the world is doing nothing for these people and our secular government bodies are doing even less.

Consider this - how many lives will the atheist sacrifice just to be right. The Christian sacrifices no one even though they do know what they believe in personally may be wrong.

And spare me the analogy quips - I have dealt with wealthy people telling the poor to suck it up;

Without life experience much of what you want people to believe is rhetoric, unexperienced guesses at what things are like.

Wowbagger said...

The Aheists teacher made it clear she didn't want to be there - but it was cold outside ans the kids did need a place to each their lunch.

I should have pointed this out before, but I didn't; however, I will now: this story makes no sense. Why was a teacher with a group of students outside of school if the weather was bad in the first place?

Now for science and religion, they work together and have done for a long time - only recently (50 years perhaps) the Atheist insists they don't.

They have never worked 'together'. Science has been eroding the claims of religion for centuries, but because religion had political power, scientists who wanted to keep their jobs (or their lives) had to keep their more anti-religious findings to themselves - much like dissenters in Islamic nations do today.

Look up Galileo or Giordano Bruno to see how well the church 'worked with' science when it ruled the world and had the power to silence those who dared to disagree.

The greatest break throughs in science have usually been followed by great violence - either physically, emotional or in cases reactionally.

Two problems with this: 1) you've provided no examples of this ever happening; and 2) if if it were true, that has absolutely zero impact of the truth of the findings - read the article on Appeal to consequences to see why this kind of argument is invalid.

(Philosophy) Religion cannot deal with sociology and in most cases, as it does today, stands against social positions that have not been formed by their (philosophical) religious view.

Fixed it for you.

In all my discussions with Atheists (New Atheist is just as dictatorial as the old) all have failed in the basics of human understanding and even in the basics of humanity...

If there's no difference, why do you bother using the term 'new atheists'?

Not to mention that entire premise is stupid beyond belief. No humanity? Do the names Bill Gates and Warren Buffet mean anything to you? They're both atheists and each has given more to charity than any other single person in the history of the world.

Philosophy is for intellectuals to play with - real world applications are often beyond their high opinions of themselves.

Tripe.

The greatest frustration to a religious person today is this: What is wrong with feeding a starving person, or giving shelter to the homeless? What is wrong with helping a family who have fallen on hard times? All the philosophy and science in the world is doing nothing for these people and our secular government bodies are doing even less.

Incoherent nonsense.

Consider this - how many lives will the atheist sacrifice just to be right. The Christian sacrifices no one even though they do know what they believe in personally may be wrong.

Do you even read over what you write before you post? This makes no sense whatsoever.

And spare me the analogy quips - I have dealt with wealthy people telling the poor to suck it up;

What are you talking about?

Without life experience much of what you want people to believe is rhetoric, unexperienced guesses at what things are like.

More incoherent nonsense. Really, you're not doing yourself any favours here.

Robert N Stephenson said...

Wowbagger - you do me justice indeed. You see, I know your position, I know the narrowness of your view and I could even hazard a guess at what type of person you are. I am just thankful your type do not control the future of the species and in now way, despite the rantings, will you ever hold a position to affect others lives.

You, as with most atheists in this modern age simply lack the humility conviction brings.

Am I better than you for what I believe? I wouldn't say so, though some might, but I wouldn't support the case.

Are you better than me based on how and what you believe - I would only be guessing the answer, so it best not be said...

What you call nonsense is a position that is not yours, nothing more than this. Incoherency is based on reading levels and the ability to think in any lateral form. Most men suffer in the latter, so I can accept this in you easily enough.

For all your hard facts, and I assume the internet is in existence where you live, is to google anything you like and examine sociology away from the non-science of philosophy. Good tool google - if you haven't heard of it yet. Or, are you a Yahoo?

Robert N Stephenson said...

http://www.amazon.com/Uttuku-Book-Darkness-ebook/dp/B003RISMT8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=A24IB90LPZJ0BS&s=books&qid=1277427861&sr=1-1


Humble Christian does write books that have nothing to do with faith - cheap on kindle this week.

Sorry Russell - I have an interest in whether people do view individuals through the beliefs or via the person who holds them.

I don't view you (Rus) and lesser because I disagree with you...

also a crazy plug was bound to happen

Wowbagger said...

Wowbagger - you do me justice indeed.

One of us has to. You're certainly not doing yourself any with post after post of meaningless, content-free word salad.

For all your hard facts, and I assume the internet is in existence where you live...

That during a discussion on an internet blog you reveal you are unsure whether or not I have access to the internet is evidence enough that you've some serious mental impairment - which makes me realise that I'm wasting my time trying to engage with you.

Maybe you should come back when the meds have kicked in and try again.

Robert N Stephenson said...

wowbagger -- I was sure I knew what type of person you were... I am rarely wrong in that regard. You have just proved me right, though the opportunity was there to do otherwise.

Thank you for your vitriol, it was expected natuarlly

Wowbagger said...

I am rarely wrong in that regard.

Let's see - you post inane drivel instead of a reasonable, well-though-out rationale for holding a position, and someone calls you out for it; you claim to have predicted that.

Wow, what prescience. Care to tell us who's going to win the World Cup and by what margin?

You have just proved me right, though the opportunity was there to do otherwise.

No, I had no opportunity to do anything else; your nonsense was impenetrable and the only reasonable response was disdain.

Of course I could have just ignored your blather - but that's SIWOTI for you.

Thank you for your vitriol, it was expected natuarlly

You should really obtain a dictionary - or consult an online one - to check the meanings of words you're unfamiliar with. You'll look less - though not much less in your case - foolish.

me of course said...

You people make me laugh quite regularly -- far more righteous than any religious zealot I have encountered.

Rationality is beyond most of you because you actually believe it fits into some kind of metaphysical box which can be measured.

I might be called a fool - but idiots are a plenty here

GTChristie said...

One man knows there is a hell, the next one knows there isn't; one man knows high tariff is right, the next man knows it isn't; one man knows monarchy is best, the next one knows it isn't.... Why do we respect the opinions of any man or any microbe that ever lived? I swear [I] don't know.

Why do I respect my own? Well -- that is different.


- Mark Twain: "Three Thousand Years among the Microbes"

Ergun Çoruh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ergun Çoruh said...

>> Yes, a cumulus-shaped spirituality with no clear ontology to be seen is consistent with science, or it can be.

But how? I don't see compatibility here either.

How can science deal with ‘no clear ontology’? To start with science does not deal with ‘ontology’ yet alone ‘unclear’ category of it. Ontology is in the domain of philosophy.

I can see Russell had a similar concern by adding ”..or it can be” at the end.

Now please describe me “how it can be”.

Robert N Stephenson said...

In this argument the atheist will not see compatibility, not based on any real solid evidence presented.

Likewise the religious person will fall under the same position.

This is like black wanting to be white and white wanting to be black.

I could present equally examples of compatibility and incompatibility across scientific fields but unless you are open minded you really won't see them - and I have show examples elsewhere and still blindness prevails.

Just because you cannot see a thing does not mean the thing is not there. You just can't see it and that is all.