Re: The Nature of Belief

I'm not a real doofus, but I play one at a national laboratory. (
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 1:22:09 -0500

> I am doing this because I value the opinions of people on this list,
> and I am curious what your reactions will be. I am also an optimist,
> and believe that as a community, FoRK may actually be able to discuss
> these subjects without descending into a flame war.

Cool beyond belief. A bit like E-rasmus's Godly Feast.

> This will also publicly archive my current thinking, so that I can
> potentially deeply regret this post later.

Well, of course, if the Christian concept of a Final Judgment before the
throne of God is correct, we'll all eventually be in the same boat, as
far as having things we deeply regret publicly displayed. They're just
not searchable yet via AltaVista. You're ahead of your time, Dan!

> what is the most important thing that humankind has
> learned over the last 15,000 or so years?
> My answer is not a specific piece of knowledge, but instead knowledge
> about how to generate new knowledge: the scientific method.

A stellar piece of work, to be sure. I'd argue (leaving aside the
specifically Christian question of how one comes to God) that the Golden
Rule, whether in its Do Unto Others, Kant's Categorical Imperative, the
Realist philosophical, or the liberal (as the term was used in the last
few centuries) political form, ranks above even that. What good is it
to gain the world of science, if I forfeit my soul to tyranny?

> concludes with, "In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries A. D.,
> Aristotle's works came to be accepted as absolute truths, a fact which
> served to effectively stifle original and experiment-based scientific
> progress for centuries."

An assessment shared by many modern folks. Leon Lederman, in _The God
makes the argument that it wasn't so much Aristotle who was
at fault but those philosophers and acolytes who uncritically bowed
down at his temple for 2000 years. The moral for us is, IMHO, don't
believe everything you read. Galileo blew up Aristotle by meticulous
experimentation and thought. Newton went even further. And it seemed
for a couple of centuries that the new Science and Rationalism would
answer all of our questions. Einstein (and WWI) changed that. Again.
Won't be the last time.

> When someone is burned at the stake for not
> agreeing that Pi=3 (as the bible is interpreted as saying), you begin to
> see the advantages of using the scientific method to settle disputes.

At least where the disputes touch on such simple matters as mathematical
relations. It's not so good at people problems (although Solomon's "cut
the baby in two" comes close ;-). As regards Pi=3, it's not a bad
approximation for a language without decimals (without written vowels,
for crying out loud!).

As regards the history of idiocy within the Church, this reminds me of a
section in Lewis's _Mere Christianity, at the end of Chapter 2,
where he says,

For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in
England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the
Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" But surely the reason we
don't execute witches is that we do not believe there are such
things. If we did -- if we really thought that there were people
going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received
supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers
to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather,
surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty,
then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral
principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It
may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there
is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they
are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set
mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in
the house.

But I don't recall any commandments for punishing Pi disbelief. Back
to the freedom/tyranny problem again.

> (One idea that sticks in my mind is from
> neo-Darwinist Charles Dawkins: Explaining complexity [the world] with
> complexity [God] is not intellectually satisfying compared to explaining
> complexity with simplicity [natural selection]. Or phrased differently,
> if the watchmaker made the watch, who made the watchmaker?)

Seiko made the watch. The question is, Who made time?

Whether God represents complexity or simplicity is purely philosophical.
Christian theolology holds that God, though perhaps appearing complex to
us, is simple, in that all of His attributes exist necessarily and
without conflict. We may see His mercy, wrath, justice and love as
distinct, because of our (fallen) condition and psychology, but these
are in complete harmony in God. Contrariwise, natural selection is
hardly the simple, completely explanatory system implied here. In
fact, without complications like "punctuated equilibrium", it doesn't
go very far in explaining species, as I understand the matter.

> If there were no God, and the world is a confusing and often unhappy
> place, would you not expect to have hundreds of competing and mutually
> exclusive religions around the world, each arguing that they represent
> the absolute truth?

If there is no God, it won't matter.

> BTW, I am enough of a connoisseur of irony to find it fascinating that
> Newton always believed in God.

:-) He wasn't alone either.

> For me, a lot of what gives life meaning is communication. The only
> word that adequately describes my feelings toward the interaction of
> individuals, our coming together, is holy. Communication separates us
> from the apes, and it makes the vast loneliness of our universe livable.

I agree. I envision Heaven as being the logical extreme of all the
goods we have as humans -- of which what we now have as communication,
understanding, sex are but a poor shadow. In short, we become simpler,
more intense, more like the One who made us.

Well, there's lots more to say, but not before some shuteye.


From: glen mccready <>
Forwarded-by: Nev Dull <>
Forwarded-by: Rob Mayoff <>
Forwarded-by: Curt Finch <>

Seems that this guy goes into confession and tells the priest,
"Father, I'm eighty years old, happily married, and I have four
kids and eleven grandchildren. But last night I had an affair
and I made love to two eighteen year old girls. At the same time.

"Well, my son," the priest replied, "when was your last confession?"

"Never, Father," the man said, "I'm Jewish."

"I don't understand," the priest asked. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I'm telling *everybody*."