Rationalism vs. Religion August 4, 2010

Rationalism vs. Religion

Oh man, I’m totally re-upping on Rationalism when my subscription is set to expire:

(via Crispian Jago)

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  • Hitch

    Rationalism is more cuddly. Should be advertised as such.

  • Maybe my understanding of epistemology is outdated, but that definition of “Rationalism” is some odd mismatch of what I know of both as empiricism and rationalism.

    The religion column is equally unfair. While most of it is true to a large degree, it fails to recognize entire divisions of religious people who use rationalism (in an epistemological sense) to end up at their ideological standpoint. I’m not saying they have a leg to stand on, but in my opinion, people like Lee Strobel and Thomas Aquinas (as deluded and inaccurate as their ideas are), would not fall into the “blind faith” column.

    Also, that “comparetheideologies.com” page opens up a GoDaddy parking spot for me. Anyone else getting to the site?

  • Mike E

    I actually think that religion does have some of a self corrective mechanism built into it. As society changes and makes moral advances, eventually religion catches up. The best example of this is slavery where Christians were heavily in support of slavery which was supported by many Biblical references. Today, most Christians deny that that position ever existed. Today we saw the beginning of the end of gay bias (I hope), 50 years from now I would expect that religion will catch up as adherents grow up.

  • Sharklauncher: With regard to Strobel, on the contrary, blind faith appears to have had everything to do with his conversion. A common thread throughout his writing is that he only ever listened to people who believed in the things he was “investigating,” and he seems to never have questioned the things they said, let alone considered the evidence/arguments to the contrary. Even if he did, he made a point of not including any such things in his books, because his entire focus is to be an apologist rather than to honestly and fully recount his journey to theism.

    I’m not familiar enough with Aquinas, but from the little I do know of him, I see a man who saw every argument for the possibility of a generic deity as proof of his own presuppositions. He seems to have begun with his conclusion and constructed a syllogism from there, rather than arriving at his beliefs as the result of rationalist inquiry.

    Mike E: It’s true that religion often catches up to society… but that doesn’t mean religion has a self-corrective mechanism. Rather, it seems to me that religion is externally forced to adapt to change, when the alternative is to become irrelevant. Nowadays, religion tends to correct itself to survive in the new social and moral zeitgeist, rather than to be the driving force behind such changes.

  • Hitch

    It’s joke of course, but sometimes there is a tiny bit of truth in jokes.

  • Jon Peterson

    That domain is for sale, and someone with time on their hands should buy it and do this.

    Just sayin’.

  • Nordog

    “I’m not familiar enough with Aquinas, but from the little I do know of him, I see a man who saw every argument for the possibility of a generic deity as proof of his own presuppositions. He seems to have begun with his conclusion and constructed a syllogism from there, rather than arriving at his beliefs as the result of rationalist inquiry.”

    This is not really accurate. I can think of at least one “proof of God” rejected by Aquinas (St. Anselm’s ontological argument; the “That than which nothing greater can be thought” proof).

    Additionally, given Aquinas’ mastery of the work of Aristotle he knew a thing or two about proper syllogisms. Aquinas'”Five Ways” draw heavily on Aristotle.

    Deny his premises if you must, but the form of his arguments are fine.

  • I think the reasoning method for religion should have been CIRCULAR or POSTDICTIVE RATIONALIZATION. For RESEARCH METHOD, PRAYER should have been included with SCRIPTURE STUDY.

  • Deny his premises if you must, but the form of his arguments are fine.

    The problem being that his premises are his conclusions. He began with the assumption that God has specific attributes which just so happened to wedge into the propositions in such a way that they lead to the conclusions. Of course, he had no basis on which to claim that God had those attributes (or in fact that anything did), beyond mere assertion.

    The form of his arguments is circular.

    His Five Ways aren’t really all that great, either.

    1. The argument from motion is defeated by this proposition:
    “Therefore each thing in motion is moved by something else.” (Except God. Fallacy of special pleading.)

    2. The argument from efficient causes is defeated by this proposition:
    “If a previous efficient cause does not exist, neither does the thing that results.” (Again, special pleading – asserting that God is the one thing that has no cause.)

    3. The argument from possibility and necessity is defeated by these propositions:
    “Therefore there could have been a time when no things existed.

    Therefore at that time there would have been nothing to bring the currently existing contingent beings into existence.” (Special pleading once again… assert that “God” is partly defined as “a being that could not possibly exist at one time but not another.”)

    4. The argument from gradation of being is defeated by these propositions:
    “Predications of degree require reference to the “uttermost” case (e.g., a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest).”
    Obviously not the case.

    “The maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus.”
    I’m rather certain there’s absolutely no way to demonstrate this. Another flat assertion. Not to mention that the maximum of any genus could well be the Platonic ideal of the concept, rather than something that actually exists.
    “Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.”
    Why must there be one thing that embodies all these attributes? Another assertion.

    5. The argument from design is based on the idea that nothing happens by chance, which has rather thoroughly been undermined. Not to mention:
    “Most natural things lack knowledge.

    But as an arrow reaches its target because it is directed by an archer, what lacks intelligence achieves goals by being directed by something intelligence.

    Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.”

    He jumps from “most natural things lack knowledge” to “all natural things are directed by God.” Somehow we’re supposed to ignore the jump from ‘most’ to ‘all.’ Not to mention that this implies there are no accidents; if a car tire kicks up a rock that breaks the window of the car behind it, the rock was directed by an intelligence?

    In an attempt to shape arguments that give his conclusions a semblance of rationality, Aquinas makes several baseless assertions and hasty generalizations, assuming that his reader will simply accept them because they’re of a like mindset. I don’t think he was prepared to defend them against someone who didn’t simply accept them as given.

  • Hitch

    I’m sorry but I just have to say it, the heavy and idolicing following of Aristotle did a lot of damage to our culture of inquiry.

    We have excluded the middle, created false binary opposites, and relied on ill-formed axioms way too much.

    I do credit Aquinus, because at his time reintroducing Greek thought was really revolutionary and helped lift European culture out of the dark ages.

    But that doesn’t mean that the long-standing blind following of Aristotle as being the beacon of having set up the right framework is good. It’s not.

    Oh and defending Aquinus’ syllogisms without citing any is idle. I do encourage people to read Aquinus. It’s almost unreadable with all the piety mixed in with the arguments, and he will cut corners when it serves his devotion. So to just state that his syllogisms are impeccable is at best misleading, at worst wrong, and likely just uninformed.

  • Cute.

  • Brian Macker

    Actually, peer review is highly overrated and similar to religious baloney. The real scientific spirit is as Feynman points out anyone review. We don’t need a scientific priesthood.

  • Brian Macker

    I’m a rationalist and scientific theories are not my central tenets. I do so because that it the result of my central tenants, which are philosophical.

    If a scientific theory is in conflict with my central tenants (which include philosophical notions like falsification, openness, sharing of data, proper use of mathematics, non-self contradiction, etc) then I drop it like a hot potato.

  • Hitch

    Brian, I think you are in the wrong thread 😛

    But alas, we need peer review exactly because there is so much drivel and superstition submitted to legitimate journals to give them false authority.

    Has nothing to do with whatever “scientific priesthood” is supposed to mean.

    Peer review is only overrated among those who do not understand it and so is superstition.

    It is a sensibly good lower bound. If someone who claims to talk about the early seconds of the big bang cannot get into a sensibly good journal it does mean something. It does not mean everything, but alas, we do not want to suffocate exchange just because loons try to pollute it.

  • Hitch

    Brian, as someone who likes philosophy you should understand that “source of knowledge” means epistemology, which is exactly the things you list, which in turn is exactly what sound scientific method means.

    But there is this weird attempt to divide out science from rational discourse. It’s flawed.

    It’s as flawed as believing that our current-day philosophy of science is complete. To believe that is to believe in superstition.

  • Brian Macker

    On peer review. In the climate sciences the process of peer review had become a rubber stamp method for bad methodology. It’s purpose is no longer the correction of error but the prevention of the publication of valid critical articles. Criticism is at the heart of science but they are using peer review to maintain what has become a religious dogma.

    In economics the peer review process (and governmental funding) has entrenched ridiculous theories that are self contradictory like Keynesianism. Guys like Paul Krugman should be laughed at for their lack of understanding not granted Nobel Prizes.

    Funny how the scientific process tends to fall apart where there is lots of government money and ideological backing for increasing the power of government. Keynesianism was all about expanding government power, and now to climate “change”.

  • Brian Macker


    On philosophy. I’m not a foundationalist and therefore I do not believe in a source from which knowledge flows. I’m a pan-critical rationalist so I do not believe that our current day philosophy of science is necessarily complete. All knowledge is tentative and open to criticism.

    I do believe however that it was side tracked into an erroneous dead end by Kuhn. Kuhn was popular in the social sciences, and the liberal arts precisely because he undermined science in a way that made for less rationality. An example of Kuhn being disproven by a counterexample was “The Great Devonian Controversy”. He was disproven before he even wrote his hypothesis.

    The point of my objection was that peer review is not the primary error correction method. The peer review process is actually pretty bogus, and other error correction methods like replication are much more important. Some peer reviewers don’t even bother to verify that the backing data and math are correct, and when obvious mistakes are pointed out use politics to move the paper forward instead of acting as critics. They act as cheerleaders not skeptics.

  • Brian Macker

    To give you a specific instance the claims about Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035 in the “peer reviewed” by 2000 scientists IPPC AR4 report. Also the claims surrounding it like the idea that melting was causing problems with water supply.

    All these related claims were so obviously wrong with the tiniest grain of skepticism that it doesn’t even require much math or science to realize the error. All you need is some simple math, knowledge of what the word melt means, and some information on the surface areas, population, flows, and volumes involved.

    None of this was actually caught by peer review. Criticisms were all external and had to be pursued for years before the errors were exposed, with much resistance provided by the peer review process itself.

    Peer review in climate science is a laughing stock.

    What is even funnier is that the people running around screaming like chicken little with his head cut off about how glaciers act as a reservoir for water, are also promoting the destruction of actual reservoirs via dam busting. That despite the fact that glaciers themselves do not actually behave like reservoirs (storing water during wet periods and providing controlled release of water during dry). It’s actually snow pack that provides that feature and you don’t need a glacier for that.

  • Brian Macker

    Also Hitch what the heck was this about:

    “Brian, I think you are in the wrong thread. :)”

    The list made it sound like peer review (a fairly recent method) was somehow primary to the rational thinkers “correction method”. That is total baloney, ridiculous, and is not in the spirit of rational thought.

    Individual rationalists are not practicing peer review in their though processes. Peer review is a formalized journalistic practice and is quite prone to capture by authoritarian dogma. In fact the whole idea that individual rationalists should depend on some committee as the sole source for error detection is authoritarian.

    Rationalists cannot control the thought processes of non-rationalists. Getting frustrated with that fact and then using peer review as some kind of hammer to try to pound them straight is a mistake. If we put peer review on a pedestal as the primary error reduction method in an attempt to bend irrationalists straight on the issue of evolution then the risk is run that errors caused by the politics inherent in peer review will distort science.

    Yet another reason for my dislike of PZ Myers, besides the fact that he is a Marxist sympathizing bigot.

  • Brian Macker

    If and when the global warming hypothesis (called a theory by some) fails that will be a very bad day politically for the well established theory of evolution. Myers, thanks for tying evolutions boat to climate changes anchor. Do I think evolution will sink because of bad climate science? No, not for rationalists, but it isn’t going to help having another Piltdown man, or Drake equation.

  • Brian Macker

    BTW I don’t think there is a web site comparetheideology.com

  • Hitch

    Brian, I see, so you are a climategatist. Shame that science has to go through these kind of politicized battles that completely misconstrue what is really going on, and sad that you perpetuate it. And you dislike Krugman for political reasons too.

    But politics and dramatizing media does not define good science nor does it motivate people to understand the process before judging it.

  • Hitch

    Brian, for the third time, comparetheideology.com is obviously fake and a joke 😛

  • Brian Macker


    Exactly how do you know why I dislike Krugman? Is this your Alansky attempt to blame the other of what you are guilty of?

    For the first time, you cannot read my mind nor do you know what I know, or have read. I didn’t read any of the other comments so I wouldn’t know if this was the first or last time someone pointed out, like me that it was fake.

    I hope I don’t have to point out to you in the future that you do not know what I know, and cannot know that until a conversation brings it out.

    I can fully support the claim that Krugman is hopelessly mistaken about a great many things economic.

  • Brian Macker


    So exactly what do dispute about the fact that the Himalayan glacier claims were totally bogus? You are name calling which I don’t mind if you can support your claims. Unfortunately for you they have already admitted that they screwed up. Which puts you in a bad position.

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