Tag Archives: theology

Promoting confusion

A great feature of the scientific endeavour is that our ideas, hypotheses and theories are usually tested against reality. In fact we get very worried when we can’t do this. Consequently there has been some philosophical discussion and concern around speculative ideas or hypotheses like string theory (really hypotheses not theories) and the multiple universe ideas.

But, in some areas of philosophy and theology reality can safely be ignored. And here all sorts of weird and wonderful preconceived ideas can get justified  using a logic which basically boils down to mental gymnastics. I have always found debate with post modernists and theologians is a bit like jelly wrestling. Without reality to fall back on anything goes.

The philosopher of science Daniel Dennett gave an interesting talk, “The evolution of Confusion,” on theological justification at the Atheist Alliance International convention last month. Its based on his new project interviewing clergyman who secretly don’t believe anymore. Atheist clergymen are probably far more common than we might think. And all clergymen have problems in their profession which require theological arguments to resolve, or at least to patch up for the moment. This leads to a weird style of logic and argument – hence my feeling of jelly wrestling.

This is a fascinating talk. I understand the research will be published soon. Hopefully it will also be available in a popular format like a book.

Dan Dennett is the author of many excellent books, including “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” and “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea“. He is also featured in the video “The Four Horsemen” along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

‘The Evolution of Confusion’ by Dan Dennett, AAI 2009.
From RichardDawkins.net: ‘Dan Dennett talks about purposely-confusing theology and how it’s used. He also describes his new project interviewing clergyman who secretly don’t believe anymore, and introduces a new term: “Deepity.”‘

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Different ways of knowing?

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roveplatoIn discussions with  religious apologists we often hear the claim that “there are different ways of knowing!” This is often used as a counter to science. It amounts to claiming knowledge which is not based on evidence and not testable against reality.In many cases it’s a defensive argument, a retreat. It’s claiming a logic or justification for the theist belief without allowing the normal checking that should go with knowledge claims. That’s OK –  if it is just personal justification. We all do that from time to time.

However, sometimes religious apologists will go on the offensive with this argument. They use it to justify a knowledge claim that conflicts with scientific knowledge. In fact, they will use it to claim they have access to knowledge which is more reliable than scientific knowledge.

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Quantum Gods

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Book Review: Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness, by Victor Stenger
US$26.98
ISBN-10: 1591027136
Published May 12, 2009
Prometheus Books.

There’s something about modern physics, especially quantum mechanics, which attracts magical thinking. Perhaps this isn’t surprising. Someone once said that because quantum mechanics is so counter-intuitive, because no one really understands it, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using it to “explain” anything else we don’t understand. Consciousness is a prime example.

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Human Morality I: Religious confusion

This is the first in a series of posts on morality. They are aimed at countering the usual religious claims for a god-given morality with current scientific understanding of how the morality of our species arose. Also, they attempt to justify a non-theist objective basis for much of the moral decisions we make. This first post outlines what I think are the basic problems with the attempt by religion and theology to understand human morality.

My recent article With God, anything can be permitted? provoked some predictable reaction. In this series I’ll use Matt’s responses on the New Zealand blog MandM (With God Anything can be Permitted: Another Bad Argument against Theistic Morality and Divine Commands and Intuitions: A Response to Ken Perrott). In my mind the basic problem is that Matt’s response are theological rather than scientific. And the problem with theology is that it bases itself on circular argument rather than empirical evidence. This argument can become quite convoluted and confusing. (Have a look at Matt’s posts on Divine Command Theory here and here). I sometimes wonder if this is purposeful. It reminds me of the philosopher who, when told by a reader that she couldn’t understand anything in his new book, responded with a grateful thanks and a proud smile!

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