Scientists and Atheists Should be Moral Absolutists

  • #101
selfAdjoint
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I hate to be a nitpicker, but atheist is spelled A-THE-IST; A means "not" in Greek, THE is from theos, meaning "god". and IST means believer, so an a-the-ist is one who does not believe in (any) god.
 
  • #102
russ_watters
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ecolitan said:
This is a misrepresentation of the position of scientists. While I accept that some scientists might believe that there are absolute physical laws, this generalisation cannot be applied to all scientists. The goal of science is to provide as accurately as possible, a description of our physical reality which is able to be falsifiable by experiment. Scientists make use of the scientific method when acquiring new knowledge, whereby we postulate hypotheses to explain natural phenomena and design experimental studies to test the predictions for accuracy.

The end result of the scientific method is never an absolute physical law. The best a scientist can believe in is a testable description which has not been disproved.
You're misunderstanding what I said. I did not say that the end result of the scientific method is an absolute set of laws. Indeed, the scientific process is endless. Another way of saying that the universe operates according to fixed laws is to say simply that the universe operates in a consistent manner. By this, I mean an experiment performed tomorrow will yield the same results as an absolutely identical experiment performed today.

If scientists didn't believe that the universe operated according to fixed laws, then there would be no point to the pursuit of science because no theory could ever be expected to be useful. Something discovered today would not necessarily hold true tomorrow.
 
  • #103
Evo
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Pythagorean said:
yes, even as a weak athiest, I've come to the conclusion that God exists.... in the minds of men. Millions of men. He is powerful indeed, regardless of whether he created us, or man created him.
You're not an atheist then, you're agnostic, someone that believes there is a possibilty that a god could exist. Are you trying to say that you personally don't believe in a god but realize that others do? If so, that has nothing to do with being an atheist, agnostic, or theist.

See the definition of weak and strong atheism, you are not, by what you said a weak atheist.

It is common to distinguish between two different kinds of atheism.

Weak atheism or negative atheism — a lack of belief in the existence of gods or deities.

Strong atheism or positive atheism — a positive belief that no such entities as gods or deities exist

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism
 
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  • #104
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Pythagorean said:
my bias: I'm a weak athiest, i can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a god/gods. I'm also training to be (or am?) a scientist. I don't believe in absolute laws.
Do you believe in the existence of regularities in nature?
If your answer is "yes", then human (natural/physical) laws are nothing more nor less than a human attempt to describe these regularities. If we are then to ask whether these regularities are "absolute" (as opposed to being contingent) is (it seems to me) not a question that can be answered (and is thus not a scientific question).
If your answer is "no" then you'll have a hard time doing any science.

Pythagorean said:
I'm curious about this. Why is faith so important to God?
Good question. If God were around to answer the question then this would contradict the assumption that God wishes us to have faith rather than have His/Her existence proven to us. Sort of Catch-22. Nice way for a theist to avoid the requirement of proving anything though. And if God does not in fact exist, the assumption that God wishes us to have faith rather than have His/Her existence proven to us would be consistent with the absence of any evidence of His/Her existence.

Best Regards
 
  • #105
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Pythagorean said:
yes, even as a weak athiest, I've come to the conclusion that God exists.... in the minds of men. Millions of men. He is powerful indeed, regardless of whether he created us, or man created him.
Does this make God a meme? Perhaps one of the most powerful and successful memes of all time.

Best Regards
 
  • #106
Pythagorean
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Evo said:
You're not an atheist then, you're agnostic, someone that believes there is a possibilty that a god could exist. Are you trying to say that you personally don't believe in a god but realize that others do? If so, that has nothing to do with being an atheist, agnostic, or theist.

See the definition of weak and strong atheism, you are not, by what you said a weak atheist.

It is common to distinguish between two different kinds of atheism.

Weak atheism or negative atheism — a lack of belief in the existence of gods or deities.

Strong atheism or positive atheism — a positive belief that no such entities as gods or deities exist

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism
Weak atheism (also called negative atheism) is the lack of belief in the existence of deities, without a commitment to the necessary non-existence of deities. Weak atheism contrasts with strong atheism, which is the belief that no deities exist, and theism, which asserts that there is at least one deity.
This is my 'belief', which is under weak athiesm in Wikipedia. Yes, I am a weak athiest. I don't know whether dieties actually exist as a physically real thing, and I don't claim either way.

Weak agnosticism, or empirical agnosticism (also negative agnosticism), is the belief that the existence or nonexistence of deities is currently unknown, but is not necessarily unknowable, therefore one will withhold judgment until more evidence is available.
I don't think there will be any physical evidence ever. Maybe when you die, you're consciousness experiences a brief flash in the physical world, but to you it seems like an eternity, and there you will have a different experience (just conjecturing one of millions of possibilities. In the end, I wouldn't be suprised if there was just nothing after you died).

This may not appear to have to do with dieties to you, but this is where that point comes in. If there's an after death experience, then that's where'd you be most likely to find if dieties exist or not. Not really evidence in the practical sense once you're already dead. And if there's nothing after you die, than you won't be around to be disapointed by the lack of dieties. (But then, I guess, who's to say there's dieties but no afterlife? Either way, I think it's unprovable. Forever safe.)
 
  • #107
Pythagorean
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selfAdjoint said:
I hate to be a nitpicker, but atheist is spelled A-THE-IST; A means "not" in Greek, THE is from theos, meaning "god". and IST means believer, so an a-the-ist is one who does not believe in (any) god.
HA! No worries, it's actually not ignorance, it's habit. Everytime I enter it into google, I have to click on the proper suggestion of the spelling.
 
  • #108
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moving finger said:
Do you believe in the existence of regularities in nature?
If your answer is "yes", then human (natural/physical) laws are nothing more nor less than a human attempt to describe these regularities. If we are then to ask whether these regularities are "absolute" (as opposed to being contingent) is (it seems to me) not a question that can be answered (and is thus not a scientific question).
If your answer is "no" then you'll have a hard time doing any science.
If I'm understanding the semantics of regularities, sure. Do I think the physical 'laws' (some professors prefer to call them principles to avoid that deterministic connotatin) are bound forever? No. I don't think they'll change in my lifetime, or my great great great grandkids (not to say that our perception of them won't.)

No, the question can't be answered scientifically. It's an opinion, and probably at the root one's scientific method in some ways. Newton, was all about absolutes, and he made a lot of ground. Einstein appeared more lucid, and still made a lot of ground.

Good question. If God were around to answer the question then this would contradict the assumption that God wishes us to have faith rather than have His/Her existence proven to us. Sort of Catch-22. Nice way for a theist to avoid the requirement of proving anything though. And if God does not in fact exist, the assumption that God wishes us to have faith rather than have His/Her existence proven to us would be consistent with the absence of any evidence of His/Her existence.

Best Regards
Yeah, it's +1 -1, like a political speech. It don't add up to nothing.

Does this make God a meme? Perhaps one of the most powerful and successful memes of all time.
I don't know. I think memes are supposed to be kind of cute and humanitarian. The existance of Gods in men's minds has caused massacres, genocide, and imprisonment. Kind of a scarier beast, to me.
 
  • #109
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Pythagorean said:
If I'm understanding the semantics of regularities, sure. Do I think the physical 'laws' (some professors prefer to call them principles to avoid that deterministic connotatin) are bound forever? No. I don't think they'll change in my lifetime, or my great great great grandkids (not to say that our perception of them won't.)
That some so-called laws of nature may not be absolute is already scientifically accepted (witness the credible scientific literature on the possibility of a variable speed of light), but the important thing is that this does NOT show there is nothing absolute, it simply shows that there may be more subtlety in the laws of nature than we first thought. If we eventually replace c (the constant speed of light) with a variable c then this will not mean the speed of light is abitrary, it will simply mean the speed of light is not fixed and is a function of some other parameters of the universe.

Pythagorean said:
Newton, was all about absolutes, and he made a lot of ground. Einstein appeared more lucid, and still made a lot of ground.
Newton's notion of an absolute frame of reference has indeed been supplanted by Einstein's relativity - but again this does not mean there are no absolute regularities in nature, it simply means that Newton's approach was an approximate and incorrect description of these regularities. Einstein's view may be correct, or it may in turn be that Einstein's ideas of relativity are also simply approximate descriptions of reality. None of this means there is no absolute reality or absolute laws, it simply means the laws are more subtle than our naive early mechanistic ideas suggested, and we may not know those laws for certain when we do find them.

Pythagorean said:
I think memes are supposed to be kind of cute and humanitarian. The existance of Gods in men's minds has caused massacres, genocide, and imprisonment. Kind of a scarier beast, to me.
Dawkins' ideas of memes (to my knowledge) did not imply they are cute and humanitarian (any more than genes are). They are simply vehicles for propagating successful ideas. "cute and humnanitarian" is a value-judgement that humans place on ideas - an idea does not necessarily need to accord to any particular human value-judgement in order to be successful. Scary beast ideas can be very successful.

Best Regards
 
  • #110
selfAdjoint
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moving finger said:
Dawkins' ideas of memes (to my knowledge) did not imply they are cute and humanitarian (any more than genes are). They are simply vehicles for propagating successful ideas. "cute and humnanitarian" is a value-judgement that humans place on ideas - an idea does not necessarily need to accord to any particular human value-judgement in order to be successful. Scary beast ideas can be very successful.
Dawkins' great example of a successful meme was and is religion. And religion revolts Dawkins. Are ethnic cleansing and the Inquisition cute and humanitarian?
 
  • #111
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Pythagorean said:
The existance of Gods in men's minds has caused massacres, genocide, and imprisonment. Kind of a scarier beast, to me.
It has indeed, but also, in its way and in its time, the idea of God has been a force for order, stability, peace and control. Yes, wars have been waged in the name of God, but the fear of God (and the church) has also maintained (at one time) a certain level of order and discipline and stability on human society. I am not religious, but I do recognise the (on balance) stabilising influence that religion has played in the development of civilisation in past times. But I also feel that homo sapiens should now be "grown up" enough to throw off the mantle of religion, and I fear for the effect of the negative extremist and intolerant aspects of some of today's religions which are threatening to de-stabilise, rather than stabilise, society. This is indeed the "scarier beast".

Best Regards
 
  • #112
Pythagorean
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moving finger said:
That some so-called laws of nature may not be absolute is already scientifically accepted (witness the credible scientific literature on the possibility of a variable speed of light), but the important thing is that this does NOT show there is nothing absolute, it simply shows that there may be more subtlety in the laws of nature than we first thought. If we eventually replace c (the constant speed of light) with a variable c then this will not mean the speed of light is abitrary, it will simply mean the speed of light is not fixed and is a function of some other parameters of the universe.
That's what I was talking about when I said 'our perception of the laws will change'. That we'll see some new place under which light behaves this way or that way; In this case, we'd be extending our understanding, and wouldn't have to change it, because the universe hasn't changed anything.

But, I was also saying that I can't see why the laws of physics couldn't change. My natural assumption is that they won't, and that the most descriptive computer program of all (the universe) has to complete it's routines (everything has to reach equilibrium or its equivalent desired state) and then it may just return to before the big bang, but this is playful conjecture. I see no evidence either way.


Newton's notion of an absolute frame of reference has indeed been supplanted by Einstein's relativity - but again this does not mean there are no absolute regularities in nature, it simply means that Newton's approach was an approximate and incorrect description of these regularities. Einstein's view may be correct, or it may in turn be that Einstein's ideas of relativity are also simply approximate descriptions of reality. None of this means there is no absolute reality or absolute laws, it simply means the laws are more subtle than our naive early mechanistic ideas suggested, and we may not know those laws for certain when we do find them.
Firstly, I didn't say that Einstein trumped Newton. My point was that they had opposing opinions on an absoluteness of the universe yet they still both made much scientific progress. My point was that whether the so-called 'laws' of the universe are absolute or not is an irrelevent point. I haven't tried to show that their is no absolute reality or laws. As a physics major, I accept the laws that I'm taught, and may or may not try to discover or find ways to better define the laws. I have a ways to go before I can start letting the respectables know that I think for myself. (don't take me too seriously here)

Dawkins' ideas of memes (to my knowledge) did not imply they are cute and humanitarian (any more than genes are). They are simply vehicles for propagating successful ideas. "cute and humnanitarian" is a value-judgement that humans place on ideas - an idea does not necessarily need to accord to any particular human value-judgement in order to be successful. Scary beast ideas can be very successful.

Best Regards
I must say, I'm ignorant to the actual history and origin of memes. I thought "YOU THE MAN NOW, DOG!" (a phrase from some Sean Connery movie) was the original meme.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YTMND
YTMND features many memes relying on intertextuality; one YTMND frequently makes a reference to another. Series of these similar YTMNDs are referred to as "fads". The popular fads change frequently and a list is maintained at the YTMND wiki.[19]
here's where the problem was. It's actually YTMND, which is called a meme in the wikipedia article, so I was recalling from memory without realizing the connection. My apologies.

t has indeed, but also, in its way and in its time, the idea of God has been a force for order, stability, peace and control. Yes, wars have been waged in the name of God, but the fear of God (and the church) has also maintained (at one time) a certain level of order and discipline and stability on human society. I am not religious, but I do recognise the (on balance) stabilising influence that religion has played in the development of civilisation in past times. But I also feel that homo sapiens should now be "grown up" enough to throw off the mantle of religion, and I fear for the effect of the negative extremist and intolerant aspects of some of today's religions which are threatening to de-stabilise, rather than stabilise, society. This is indeed the "scarier beast".
This is why I try not to knock religion, because for some people, it has made a positive impact on their lives, so who am I to judge? I have a sort of respect for it, I could even say that I'm still somewhat of a Taoist and perhaps a Buddhist (but not to an extreme). I've pretty much lost all identity with religions that branched from the expectations of the second coming of Yamweh (Christianity, Muslims, Mormons, etc) though. I was a raised Protestant.


Evo said:
Are you trying to say that you personally don't believe in a god but realize that others do? If so, that has nothing to do with being an atheist, agnostic, or theist.
sorry, I never answered this particular question. I can see why you said it, since I lead off my statement with "Even as a weak athiest". I guess my point was that in the end, I AM a weak athiest, but the impacts of people's beliefs are so prevalent that you might as well say God exists as long as so many people believe he does. So much is done in his name, so much physical manifestation has resulted.

It's not so cut and dry for me. In fact, I don't think anyone is wholly a 'weak athiest' or a 'strong athiest' or a 'complete believer'. We label people by what they appear to be most. This doesn't mean they're always that person, exactly ver batem to the description.

So, yes, for the most part, I'm a weak athiest. Sometimes I wonder though, if poeple believing in something so strongly (whether *I* do or don't) causes it to exist in some fashion.

If you look at a huge skyscraper, you can touch it, you can ride its elevators.... It exists. But at one time, it was just a thought, an imagination, and eventually it was 'manifested' into the physical realm. Churches and crusades are some of the manifestations of God. The line is not so clear to me.
 
  • #113
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Pythagorean said:
That's what I was talking about when I said 'our perception of the laws will change'. That we'll see some new place under which light behaves this way or that way; In this case, we'd be extending our understanding, and wouldn't have to change it, because the universe hasn't changed anything.

But, I was also saying that I can't see why the laws of physics couldn't change. My natural assumption is that they won't, and that the most descriptive computer program of all (the universe) has to complete it's routines (everything has to reach equilibrium or its equivalent desired state) and then it may just return to before the big bang, but this is playful conjecture. I see no evidence either way.
It comes down to how does one define a "law". If you mean human attempts at describing nature's laws (such as the law of gravity), then I agree these may change. But if you mean the underlying law itself (of which our imperfect human description is exactly that - an imperfect description), then by definition this cannot change (if it changes then its not a law after all, is it?). It also depends on the "boundaries" within which this law is judged to operate (eg if there are multiple worlds, then the laws may be different in different worlds; this does not mean the laws "change" on going from one world to another, it just means that laws applicable in one world are not necessarily applicable in another).

Pythagorean said:
Firstly, I didn't say that Einstein trumped Newton. My point was that they had opposing opinions on an absoluteness of the universe yet they still both made much scientific progress. My point was that whether the so-called 'laws' of the universe are absolute or not is an irrelevent point. I haven't tried to show that their is no absolute reality or laws. As a physics major, I accept the laws that I'm taught, and may or may not try to discover or find ways to better define the laws. I have a ways to go before I can start letting the respectables know that I think for myself. (don't take me too seriously here)
But what you are taught is simply mankind's description of the laws, which may or may not be accurate. To "accept' them as true and accurate therefore entails a leap of faith (exemplified by the fact that Newton's laws are an approximation, and Einstein's may also be).

Pythagorean said:
It's not so cut and dry for me. In fact, I don't think anyone is wholly a 'weak athiest' or a 'strong athiest' or a 'complete believer'. We label people by what they appear to be most. This doesn't mean they're always that person, exactly ver batem to the description.
I don't believe we should label other people - because categorising other people often results in mistakes in judgement. But if people want to categorise themselves, I have no problem with that.

Pythagorean said:
If you look at a huge skyscraper, you can touch it, you can ride its elevators.... It exists. But at one time, it was just a thought, an imagination, and eventually it was 'manifested' into the physical realm. Churches and crusades are some of the manifestations of God. The line is not so clear to me.
To me, churches and crusades are simply some of the manifestations of human ideas about God - but have no necessarily direct connection with God. In the same way, our "laws" of nature and physics are manifestations of human ideas about nature's laws, but do not necessarily have a direct connection with the real laws of nature.

Best Regards
 
  • #114
Pythagorean
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I don't really disagree with most of your reply. I still don't think laws are required to be absolute though. I assume they are, like you. But I don't know.

You say it couldn't be a law, because of the definition of law, if it were to change, but that's semantics, it's not any sort of proof that our 'laws' or 'general guidelines' (the actual underlying ones, not the human entepretations) can't change.

moving finger said:
To me, churches and crusades are simply some of the manifestations of human ideas about God - but have no necessarily direct connection with God. In the same way, our "laws" of nature and physics are manifestations of human ideas about nature's laws, but do not necessarily have a direct connection with the real laws of nature.
yeah, I actually worded that funny so it may have sounded like I was saying God created the churches and crusades. I meant to imply that God is the ideal in people's brains, and the churches and the crusades are the manifestations of that idea in their brain. I didn't mean to imply that God was actually a separate entity with his own will (though if so many people believe in him, he, as a concept, might have developed his own will which is the collective will of his creators/believers).
 
  • #115
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Pythagorean said:
I don't really disagree with most of your reply. I still don't think laws are required to be absolute though. I assume they are, like you. But I don't know.

You say it couldn't be a law, because of the definition of law, if it were to change, but that's semantics, it's not any sort of proof that our 'laws' or 'general guidelines' (the actual underlying ones, not the human entepretations) can't change.
If we define "natural law" as something that is true at all times and in all places, then a "law" is not a natural law if it changes at any time or any place - by definition. Call that semantics if you wish, but at the end of the day, everything we discuss comes down to definitions and meanings of the words we use - so one could say that all is semantics.

Pythagorean said:
yeah, I actually worded that funny so it may have sounded like I was saying God created the churches and crusades. I meant to imply that God is the ideal in people's brains, and the churches and the crusades are the manifestations of that idea in their brain. I didn't mean to imply that God was actually a separate entity with his own will (though if so many people believe in him, he, as a concept, might have developed his own will which is the collective will of his creators/believers).
sounds too supernatural for me. :wink:

Best Regards
 
  • #116
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moving finger said:
If we define "natural law" as something that is true at all times and in all places, then a "law" is not a natural law if it changes at any time or any place - by definition. Call that semantics if you wish, but at the end of the day, everything we discuss comes down to definitions and meanings of the words we use - so one could say that all is semantics.
very well. Then I would say I'm not so sure all laws are natural laws. I believe in laws, but our lifetime as a species is so short in the universe and our knowledge so thin. To start putting absolutes on things seems foolish to me. We can 'assume natural laws' to work out problems, but we don't want to throw out the case where we 'assume no natural laws'.

sounds too supernatural for me.
I'm guessing you meant this as a joke, but just in case you didn't:

One person that talks to ghosts and preaches about the apololypse is a madman and a fool.

Ten people worshipping a God and commiting sacrificial acts in his name is kind of scary.

Millions of people dictating morale law (based on 'divine visions' or the writings thereof) and integrating it into the enforced law of the land is the way it really is, no matter how foolish or scary, it's there. In a sense, their God does exist, because they act through him (which is more likely them acting through their imagination). And regardless of his physical existence, he does exist, even if created as an image or an icon. Think of how much influence this idea of God has through the U.S.

But this God can easily become a puppet, that a politician or an evangelist dangles in front of the audience, and speaks out the corner of his mouth

"support us, so you can live in heaven after you die."

"Kil in my name, George W., we will defeat the evil-doers!!! Every God fearing American must know, I have chosen W. for this holy crusade"

I didn't mean to imply that he was an omnipotent God. But he is more powerful than any one one man, because he is millions of men.

(he = he/she, man = human)
 
  • #117
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Pythagorean said:
Millions of people dictating morale law (based on 'divine visions' or the writings thereof) and integrating it into the enforced law of the land is the way it really is, no matter how foolish or scary, it's there. In a sense, their God does exist, because they act through him (which is more likely them acting through their imagination). And regardless of his physical existence, he does exist, even if created as an image or an icon. Think of how much influence this idea of God has through the U.S.
Yes, but we've discussed this already. To my mind, it is not the god which is having any influence, it is the idea of the god. I agree that ideas can be very powerful forces for good and for evil. But god does not need to exist in order for the idea of god to be a powerful force.

Pythagorean said:
I didn't mean to imply that he was an omnipotent God. But he is more powerful than any one one man, because he is millions of men.

(he = he/she, man = human)
Agreed. But again, it is not "He" which is powerful, it is the idea which has the power.

Semantics I suppose.

Best Regards
 

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