Thursday, May 14, 2009

When does faith become lies?

At what point in a public person's discourse does an obviously stupid (and wrong) faith based belief become so stubbornly entrenched because of the dogma of religion that it's expression simply becomes a lie, is there such a thing as lying for Jesus?

I think the answer to this question is yes and here is the man to prove it Cormack Murphy-O'Conner, this sterling example of Catholic buffoonery claiming today that Atheists are not fully human, as a thought experiment just change the word "Atheist" to "Muslim" and play it back, I wonder if the Cardinal would have the guts to say something like that? logically in his mind it must be true?

Some part of me feels sorry for this old virgin, it must be hard work clinging onto the vestiges of power in the 21st century, and trying desperately to rationalize his delusions in the face of advancing rationalism and secularism. Then again screw him he's going to be dead long before me and only then will he find out if he has wasted his whole life believing that the point of life is to adhere to a particular bronze age myth (and not having sex).

For more detail and a video the story is here and there is also an on-line petition that is attempting to stop this man becoming a peer here, yes our pathetically apologetic government is actually considering rewarding this man by giving him real secular power, simply because he believes in ghosts; please, let's not lower the IQ of our parliament any further, it's about time free thinking rational people stood up to clowns like this and more importantly the privilege that his perverse organisation enjoys courtesy of HM Gov.


Elizabeth said...

I really enjoyed this post. You made a comment on my blog about this & I'm going to put it up as a post as it deserves wider viewing!

Thanks for all your efforts.

Steve Borthwick said...

Thanks for the name check E.

I must admit this story really made me angry, just goes to show how religion has had a free pass to say and do whatever it likes, what kind of warped morality is this - its high time things changed IMO.

Oranjepan said...

On a slightly tangential line, I'd be interested in your scientists desconstruction of Ascension (which it is today).

Is it possible to be reunderstood in rationalist terms?

I like the linguistic argument that 'christ' and 'messiah' have precise temporal meanings which are often lost on believers today, which creates part of the confusion between actual and mythologised history.

Steve Borthwick said...

The origins of religious thought and how they can be accounted for in evolutionary terms is an area of research I'm very interested in. Why is it that most people (certainly in recorded history) are religious, even putting to one side the undoubted power of childhood indoctrination, why do (most)humans seem to need to frame themselves in mythology in this way; an emergent property of consciousness perhaps?

The ascension, to be honest I haven't really thought about it in those terms much, nor is there a great deal of research as far as I'm aware, I seem to remember reading Stephen Pinker on the subject. My own view is in agreement with what people like Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett say, that it is essentially a "feel-good" story derived from an evolutionary heritage centred around our fear of death and our desire to live, this "life" response is clearly hard-wired into us as it is in most species. Interestingly of all animals we are probably the only species to realise that death is inevitable, if you put these things together into big brains then perhaps you can’t avoid religion. Many, if not most, religious narratives seem to have “conquering death” as a plot line, Christianity majors on it as does Islam there are plenty of other examples too, even recent things like Scientology seem to incorporate this idea.

Steve Borthwick said...

O - I'm not familiar with the linguistic argument you mention, care to elaborate?

Oranjepan said...

...along the lines of the 'dictionary definitions' conception of language that meanings are not precisely defined which we had over at Elizabeth's blog - meanings are defined by usage and and thereby are subject to change.

'Christ' for example comes from the Greek for 'annointed one' which may refer to his baptism by John, or alternatively to his legal recognition as heir to the house of David.

Seen in this light 'Messiah' takes on connotations of a military commander and political leader.

Equally different readings of key biblical passages and phrases lead to a completely alternate history. Through multiple translations the loss or change of emphasis from, say, 'this' to 'not' in 'my Kingdom is not of this world' would create the impression of a political grievance instead of a mystical spiritual pleading.

The problem is in layering additional meanings on words which may not have been intended.

Even in the title of this post such a problem is apparent, as the word 'lies' suggests a deliberate attempt to misguide which would infer malice. Something I think it's difficult to ascribe to most practicing adherents to religions.

Steve Borthwick said...

O - Thanks for clarifying.

I agree our language is pretty ambiguous, coincidentally I do research into semantics and it's tough for the reason you outline, i.e. "usage" varies and context is required to extract true meaning, unfortunately context is often not explicit either.

I think you strike the nail on the head in terms of problems with biblical interpretation, i.e. it's such a large collection of distinct works written over such a long period of time and borrows so much from what went before that trying to "interpret" it into one narrative is fairly arbitrary IMO. The danger comes when you try to base your whole legal and moral system on it as some would like to do, then you invite a whole world of pain and injustice (see the dark ages). Most Christians I know don’t actually treat the bible as a narrative at all, they seem to use it as a source of “quote mining”, i.e. they pick small fragments out and use them to reinforce or make points. Often they know nothing of the contradictory and blatantly incorrect parts, not to mention the barbaric and immoral concepts in it, I am often presented with disbelief when I point them out.

You are right, the post title could be taken a number of ways, I meant it to mean "dishonest" but not necessarily dishonest in an outward facing way. I think most religious people lie to themselves quite a lot, but because of this system of thinking called “faith” it is conjured away, i.e. contradictory evidence for something is re-labelled "testing ones faith". This little mental trick seems to be designed to enable someone to speak with conviction about something and not consider it lying in a deliberate sense, they may not even be conscious of the switch. Although for me it starts to wear a little thin when you have seriously educated people like the Archbishops in question here, I have less confidence that they are not simply preserving layers of vested interest by perpetuating lies that they know full well are lies because they can be logically refuted so easily.

Oranjepan said...

Hmm yes, I particularly enjoy the way the concept of 'God' changes throughout the bible so that it means the diametric opposite at the end from what was clear at the beginning.

I don't know why but I seem to attract Mormons, JW's and other evangelicals in the street - it's pure comedy - they ask "do you believe in God?" and I say "Tell me what you mean by 'God' and I'll tell you whether I can agree with that."
It's extremely rare that you'll find one who actually knows what they believe and can communicate it - normally they only know they want to believe in something and what it is is usually irrelevant. Twice this month I've stepped back as the two enthusiastic young proselytisers have started arguing amongst themselves over what their religion actually means...

Going off on another tangent... I want to draw a line between what 'logic' is and what logic is perceived to be.

I have respect for religious folk who are capable of answering the aforesaid question, because it quickly becomes apparent that they are arguing metaphysics, rather than just plain physics.

Where logic can be applied equally and consistently to both I see no problem in arguing there is no contradiction - I mean, just because you can't see something and you can't feel it, does it mean that it's not there?

Absence of proof is not proof of absence...

Steve Borthwick said...

LOL; every time I walk down Broad St. these days I think of your comments, perhaps I should lend you my Richard Dawkins Foundation Tee-shirt, that'll scare em off!

I really wish I had the time to study more philosophy; being unavoidably rational about it I find myself lead to the conclusion that just because you can think something it doesn’t mean its either true or real. To provide a counterfoil to your truism you could also say that “the trouble with the invisible and the non-existent is that they look so alike.”

Having said that though, I also have great respect for people that can convincingly “reason” about metaphysics, it’s a very sophisticated capability of our brains and very impressive when looked at from the point of view neuroscience and computing etc., the physical mechanisms that facilitate it are a real challenge for us to figure out, I did some work on artificial intelligence a few years ago and its clear we are only in the infancy of our understanding.

I am with Popper on this when he said that metaphysical statements aren’t meaningless but also aren’t testable or provable, so, the key question for me is one of utility; I concede that reasoning about metaphysics is brain food for humans i.e. it provides intellectual stimulation and tangible interest, and so has a rightful place in the domain of ideas, but, is it real enough to live your life by, and does that even matter?

I (perhaps naively) see metaphysical statements as the poor cousins of scientific statements simply because they are not able to be instantiated; I am not a total materialist though, I can appreciate them from a pure logic standpoint much like I appreciate a moving piece of music or a thrilling football match and yet concede that such things are of little practical purpose to most of humanity. I do have a problem with metaphysical statements and reasoning that, a priori, assume God exists and extrapolate from there; those kinds of thoughts seem pointless to me.

I used to always chat with JW's etc. when they came to the door; although I have noticed a reluctance on their part these days to get drawn into debate, their hearts don't seem to be in it and the people that knocked on my door recently didn't seem to know much about anything. They seemed limited to repeating verbatim what their little leaflet said about how "eyes are too complex to have evolved by chance"; sadly this is a rather simple argument that was dispensed with quickly, at which point they scuttled off next door.

Oranjepan said...

No way, no RDF T's - I need all the entertainment I can get!!!

My biggest problem with JW's is their refusal to vote - why they don't set up a LDS party, I don't know!

Anyway, I like Popper, but my criticism of science is similar to his of philosophy - science doesn't tell us what we don't know, it only confirms what we do know or had already guessed.

All of which rather leaves us with a problem because we can't depend completely on either and have to judge things on their merits as they arise.

This creates the confounding or amusing (at least from my p-o-v) paradox that the truth is found where fact and faith overlap and are not mutually incompatible.

Err, and hopefully that'll satisfactorily annoy each side equally.

The argument from utility is good because not knowing something can also be beneficial - as the spur to discovery!

Steve Borthwick said...

O, you could always do a superman, i.e. if the conversation gets too convoluted then rip off your shirt to reveal your RDF kryptonite T underneath ;-)

I’m not sure I can let you get away with saying science doesn’t tell us what we don’t know, probably a pedantic point, but surely sometimes it does? The example of wobbling stars telling us that there are exo-planets lurking in orbit springs to mind? Or perhaps the no-show of a Higgs Boson at the LHC would tell us that there’s something we don’t know about gravity etc.

Utility is a good motivation certainly, but I’m with Dawkins when he says that science can be equally inspirational as music or poetry (or indeed religion) can be etc.

Oranjepan said...

You haven't seen me - I'm definitely more Clark Kent than Superman!!!!!

I'll accept that science can sometimes tell us something we hadn't previously accepted, but I dispute it tells us something completely new and previously unconsidered.

The Higgs Boson is interesting because it has been predicted logically, but until it is found we won't know whether the prediction is accurate, or how accurate the prediction is. That it remains to be found suggests some inaccuracies.

The reductive proof has a dual role in advancing science, because it not only confirms the accuracy of previous calculations, but it also indicates further areas of investigation.

The problem with predictions is the relative level of public acclaim in which they are held - often the most significant advances languish in obscurity and the full implications are not seen for whatever reason.

Exo-planets must be so blindingly obvious in retrospect that it is hard not to believe some 12-yr-old in Omaha didn't consider the possibility in 1951 (or somesuch), but does that mean sufficient recognition and weight was given to his deductive reasoning and hypothesis or should we dismiss it as a 'lucky guess'?

Anyway, getting round to it, don't we always start with hypotheticals?