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Further reflections on discrimination - Comments

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 1 by jameshogg

If I may, I wish to speculate on the idea of cognitive dissonance.

Putting the issue simply, how is it that a person can believe that the sky is blue and believe that the sky is green simultaneously? It seems to be absurd, and not even possible. However, if this person had some kind of underlying secondary belief that made them both fit, it could make much more sense. "I believe the sky is blue and also green because God tells me it can be any colour I want it to be."

The age of the world/universe might fit here. "Evidence tells me it's billions but my faith tells me it's thousands: my lifestyle can fit with both because science and religion are compatible." (or similar)

So it might be, Richard, that when they tell you of these contradictions you might not be getting the full story. There could probably be an underlying belief, that will no doubt be irrational, that "fixes" the contradiction and makes it work: something they haven't told you.

It isn't at all unlikely. When we become confused, we naturally seek to resolve the confusion one way or another. But instead of saying "one of these arguments could be wrong" we sometimes have a tendancy to say "there has to be something I am missing because I know that both of these arguments are correct."

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 18:46:47 UTC | #586033

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 2 by AtheistEgbert

"But my main purpose today is to move on and raise – though not necessarily answer – some further issues raised by this whole discussion, which I think are genuinely interesting. To start with, there is the intriguing psychological question of the extent to which the human mind is capable of compartmentalising itself. A good example is the astronomer who publishes respectable work, involving calculations assuming that the universe is billions of years old, while privately holding the contradictory belief that it is only thousands of years old. If such split-mindedness is a real psychological phenomenon, that is a fascinating fact about the human brain, well worth studying in its own right. How closely intertwined are the mutually contradictory beliefs? Are they literally held simultaneously, or does the victim believe one of them on some days and the other one on other days, so that he is never literally in a state of believing a contradiction? Is this related to the well-attested multiple personality syndrome? Are there any limits to the degree of contradiction that one mind is capable of tolerating inside itself? Should the simultaneous holding of mutually contradictory factual beliefs be regarded as evidence of insanity? Do we all from time to time, in a mild way, accommodate mutually contradictory beliefs inside our heads?"

I also accept this as explaining why intelligent educated people can hold absurd, stupid or immoral beliefs.

If we all look inside ourselves and examine our core beliefs, what we hold most precious and dear, then perhaps we all might be somewhat embarrassed that those apparently beliefs or assumptions are not grounded on anything.

Perhaps the best place to begin is reality. From reality we determine we are real and that our senses and subsequently our language is reliable enough from which to develop knowledge.

And so that's about where we atheists (or most of us) begin. We throw out everything and begin from scratch, determine reality is the only way to make any coherent sense of anything and from there construct our knowledge and only then our arguments.

But those with beliefs do not go through this somewhat nihilistic process of starting from scratch and examining all their beliefs and opinions. They don't fit knowledge into a kind of ever growing network of categories and subcategories and further divisions into their logical parts. Rather, their brain is organized in a chaotic and sporadic way with incoherent parts all blocked off from each other. When that person 'switches' between those parts, they are almost like a different personality.

And so that is why it is essential that we all at some point in our lives begin from a position of doubting and questioning everything. And many people are simply not psychologically built for doing this.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 19:44:21 UTC | #586051

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 3 by Steve Zara

This is a really valuable post. I'll just make a brief comment now on the matter of incompatible beliefs.

I'm reading some V.S. Ramachandran at the moment. He's a great writer - telling revealing stories with passion and enthusiasm. What his work does highlight is how the brain really is pretty messed up, and it can hold all kinds of incompatible beliefs. Gary Marcus says the same thing in a wonderful short book Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind. Having incompatible contradictory beliefs seems to be perfectly normal. It's rarely to do with multiple personalities or mental disorder.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 19:56:48 UTC | #586056

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 4 by Stevehill

Richard - I think you have set out "the problem(s)" admirably. But it's far too sophisticated an analysis for (a) legislators, and (b) voters.

What they want to know is whether a flat-earther is capable of parking his superstition at the school gates and going on to teach a class why the world is round.

And millions of teachers around the world succeed in doing pretty much just that. Every day, in lots of disciplines.

How many de facto atheists are leading British kids in a compulsory act of Christian worship every day? Should we fire them if they are found out?

Gaskell had a (very) respectable CV. Nobody could allege he was not qualified to teach his subject - he had already done so very successfully in other universities.

Leave religion out of it. Suppose a married couple of primary school teachers choose to spend their leisure hours indulging in group sex, swingers' parties etc. Is it any business of the law, the local authority, or the head teacher what they do in private as consenting adults? Provided they don't bring it through the school gates, I say it is not.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 20:03:17 UTC | #586061

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 5 by jonny5509

Most people would agree that this forum is populated with rational, reasonable people that are probably slightly skewed from the norm, in that they are almost all atheists and with backgrounds (I would guess) biased towards the scientific or technical end of the spectrum.

Also, you made it quite clear that you used the word 'discrimination' without its (relatively recently acquired) negative connotations - personally, I can happily use the word without feeling it implies bigotry of any sort, and I'd hope the majority of people on here could see that this was the case in your earlier post. Admittedly, you might have a tougher time using that word in the States, but I don't think the word is a significant contributing factor in the rejection of your first baseline (that any outlandish belief may be discriminated against - religious or not).

My feeling is that if you pose a question which is founded upon an assumed common view, (in this case, the storkism/flat-earther example) to a group of people that are skewed toward the rational, reasonable, scientific and secular end of the spectrum, and a significant proportion of them reject the 'common view' without even reaching the question, then there is probably something wrong with the view.

If I felt we should discriminate against bizarre belief that directly conflicts with evidence, then of course 'religious belief' shouldn't get a free pass. However, I echo SteveHill in that as long as they do not teach their weird beliefs to our kids, and as long as it does not affect their performance, or harm anyone in any way - then what does it matter? The world has offered them the evidence and they rejected it. They are allowed to do so, and can do that for their whole lives provided they don't try to 'mis-educate' anyone else with them.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 21:39:48 UTC | #586082

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 6 by Richard Dawkins

Reply to Jonny5509. Actually, the people who refused to discriminate against flat-earthers and storkers were mostly commenters on the Boing Boing version of my original article.

Richard

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 22:25:51 UTC | #586097

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 7 by jonny5509

Comment 6 by Richard Dawkins :

Reply to Jonny5509. Actually, the people who refused to discriminate against flat-earthers and storkers were mostly commenters on the Boing Boing version of my original article.

Richard

Yes I followed that discussion. Still, it seemed to rage away to some extent on here too, I think to the point where clarification of the 'common view' was needed in your second post in order to move on to your fourth question.

If you were to hypothesise a situation where unrealistic personal beliefs directly impacted the performance of the person with the belief, or they were in a position to mis-educate the young or cause harm with that belief, then I think we would have moved on to the fourth question with very little argument. Storkist ophthalmologists don't fall into that category though.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 22:42:32 UTC | #586099

zengardener's Avatar Comment 8 by zengardener

There is something about people who would teach things that they do not believe. I don't really trust such a person.

Nor would I find it ethical to hire someone to teach what they don't believe. I don't want to contribute to their self deception, internal conflict, contradiction, or compartmentalization. One should never enable or encourage unhealthy behavior.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 23:13:27 UTC | #586105

Alan Dente's Avatar Comment 9 by Alan Dente

Comment Removed by Author

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 23:20:31 UTC | #586107

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 10 by Cartomancer

I don't know whether this is naivety on my part, but I find it very difficult to see how any rational human being could say that simply slapping the label "religious" on a belief should qualify it for special treatment. To my mind that isn't even a question worth asking, except as part of a Socratic attempt to get people to reconsider their prejudices and inconsistencies. Oh, wait...

On the broader issue, however, it seems to me that refusing to hire an unrepentantly creationist astronomer or an unrepentantly flat-earth geographer for an academic position is legitimate, because to do so would be to undermine the important principle of intellectual integrity at the heart of what academia is. An academic scientist is not merely someone who does experiments and writes them up - he is someone who pursues the truth wherever it leads and, professionally at least, supports the use of the scientific method. The idea that one can selectively apply the scientific method depending on whether it conflicts with personal prejudices is utterly alien to the integrity of academia. In academia why you believe what you believe actually matters.

The storkist ophthalmologist could be considered in the same way, but medical doctors in practice occupy a somewhat ambiguous place between academics and skilled technicians in our society. We do not generally expect or require skilled technicians to have a coherent intellectual understanding of what they do, as long as they do the job properly. I doubt many of us would be too bothered by an industrial engineer who believes that electricity runs on magic, if he consistently produces working designs that do the job, or an architect who believes that gravity only works if people believe it does, but since everyone does believe it works he produces only buildings that conform to the laws of physics. If an ophthalmologist is a skilled technical job then he is probably in this category. If we think that they are, even nominally, a part of the academy, he does not.

Which, of course, raises an interesting question about theologians and historians of religion. Should a professing christian be legitimately barred from a job as an academic historian of early christianity? If I, as an historian of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, wrote a paper claiming that the Albigensian Crusade really was caused by divine intervention, rather than human intolerance and political maneuvering by bishops, popes and kings, then I would probably be considered unfit for academic history positions (well, more unfit, since nobody seems to want me for one anyway, but that's beside the point). Historians simply do not argue that "it was a miracle" and get away with it.

Presumably, though, a christian must, of necessity, believe that certain historical events really were miraculous in origin (to wit, the origins of his own religion, plus whichever of the miracle stories he believes). A professing catholic certainly must. Now, if an historian of the twelfth century believes in real miracles from the 1st century AD, that's probably a similar case to the Gaskell one. If he's an historian of the 1st century, however, then surely he is blatantly unsuitable because he believes, without evidence, that certain events in his own field of specialism were of miraculous origin. Which makes one wonder why there are so many religious historians, particularly in theology faculties.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 23:25:28 UTC | #586109

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 11 by jonny5509

Comment 8 by zengardener :

There is something about people who would teach things that they do not believe. I don't really trust such a person.

Nor would I find it ethical to hire someone to teach what they don't believe. I don't want to contribute to their self deception, internal conflict, contradiction, or compartmentalization. One should never enable or encourage unhealthy behavior.

If that's the case, then an educator can never have an opinion that differs from the consensus.

It would be of more interest to limit the discussion to people that 'teach the controversy' as they put it, on subjects such as evolution and YEC, in which case we can validly discuss the question of whether religious affirmation of their beliefs should be taken into consideration.

A discussion on cognitive dissonance would be interesting in itself, without the need to establish questionable baselines.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 23:34:00 UTC | #586112

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 12 by jonny5509

Comment 10 by Cartomancer :

On the broader issue, however, it seems to me that refusing to hire an unrepentantly creationist astronomer or an unrepentantly flat-earth geographer for an academic position is legitimate, because to do so would be to undermine the important principle of intellectual integrity at the heart of what academia is. An academic scientist is not merely someone who does experiments and writes them up - he is someone who pursues the truth wherever it leads and, professionally at least, supports the use of the scientific method. The idea that one can selectively apply the scientific method depending on whether it conflicts with personal prejudices is utterly alien to the integrity of academia. In academia why you believe what you believe actually matters.

Would you hire an astronomer that believed in extra-terrestrial life?

There is zero evidence for it. We only have evidence for terrestrial life, despite scanning the skies for any sign at all since we were capable of doing so. If the existence of extra-terrestrial life was put to the test scientifically, we would have to conclude that it didn't exist, as there was not one shred of evidence to suggest it does, in many ways similar to the argument against deism. If you wouldn't hire an astronomer that believed in extra-terrestrial life, then that's Hawkins on the dole. To hire him, you would have to accept the fact that he believed in something without any evidence whatsoever.

Sun, 30 Jan 2011 23:59:41 UTC | #586120

Layla's Avatar Comment 13 by Layla

I agree with the principle advocated in the article. That we should be willing to discriminate and that religious beliefs shouldn't get a free pass. The only question for me is: does that belief indicate something about the person which would affect their suitability?

Does it reflect on their intelligence, level of educational, critical thinking skills or integrity? These are relevant to many or most jobs.

People discriminate against job candidates on much more flimsy grounds all the time. If having a beard is considered sufficient evidence about a person's suitability to lose them a job then a professed belief in the ridiculous doesn't seem an unreasonable basis.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:05:22 UTC | #586122

Layla's Avatar Comment 14 by Layla

Comment 10 by Cartomancer : I doubt many of us would be too bothered by an industrial engineer who believes that electricity runs on magic, if he consistently produces working designs that do the job, or an architect who believes that gravity only works if people believe it does, but since everyone does believe it works he produces only buildings that conform to the laws of physics.

I definately would. I wouldn't be able to trust that that person did their job properly if I knew they believed those things.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:09:20 UTC | #586123

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 15 by Cartomancer

Would you hire an astronomer that believed in extra-terrestrial life?

It depends on the extent and nature of that belief. If he was utterly convinced that there simply had to be extraterrestrial life, utterly unwilling to even consider the possibility there is not, and insisted on going into great detail about precisely what this life was like, with absolutely no evidence, that would count strongly against his intellectual integrity.

If, on the other hand, such belief was of the nature "given what we know of how rapidly life came about here, the chemical composition of distant planetary systems, and the vast size of the universe, it seems almost a mathematical certainty that it happened somewhere else too", then that's a legitimate and acceptable point which accords with both the scientific method and intellectual integrity.

The difference between extraterrestrials and creationism is that creationism HAS been thoroughly disproved, whereas for extraterrestrials we simply don't know, and must go on probabilities and best guesses. The scientific consensus on extraterrestrials is not "they don't exist" but "the jury is still out". There is an important difference.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:11:20 UTC | #586124

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 16 by jonny5509

Comment 14 by Layla :

Comment 10 by Cartomancer : I doubt many of us would be too bothered by an industrial engineer who believes that electricity runs on magic, if he consistently produces working designs that do the job, or an architect who believes that gravity only works if people believe it does, but since everyone does believe it works he produces only buildings that conform to the laws of physics.

I definately would. I wouldn't be able to trust that that person did their job properly if I knew they believed those things.

So if he 'consistently produces working designs that do the job', his record is completely clean, and has never shown any sign that his belief in magic electricity has impacted his work - you still wouldn't trust him and wouldn't give him a job? How is that not prejudice?

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:14:44 UTC | #586126

Layla's Avatar Comment 17 by Layla

Comment 12 by jonny5509 : Would you hire an astronomer that believed in extra-terrestrial life?

There is zero evidence for it. We only have evidence for terrestrial life, despite scanning the skies for any sign at all since we were capable of doing so. If the existence of extra-terrestrial life was put to the test scientifically, we would have to conclude that it didn't exist, as there was not one shred of evidence to suggest it does,

We don't have evidence for the existence of it but it would be wrong to conclude that it doesn't exist. Think about the size of the universe and how little of it we actually know about. You wouldn't conclude that there were no whales having only looked at a tiny fraction of the ocean.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:23:51 UTC | #586127

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 18 by jonny5509

Comment 15 by Cartomancer :

Would you hire an astronomer that believed in extra-terrestrial life?

It depends on the extent and nature of that belief. If he was utterly convinced that there simply had to be extraterrestrial life, utterly unwilling to even consider the possibility there is not, and insisted on going into great detail about precisely what this life was like, with absolutely no evidence, that would count strongly against his intellectual integrity.

If, on the other hand, such belief was of the nature "given what we know of how rapidly life came about here, the chemical composition of distant planetary systems, and the vast size of the universe, it seems almost a mathematical certainty that it happened somewhere else too", then that's a legitimate and acceptable point which accords with both the scientific method and intellectual integrity.

The difference between extraterrestrials and creationism is that creationism HAS been thoroughly disproved, whereas for extraterrestrials we simply don't know, and must go on probabilities and best guesses. The scientific consensus on extraterrestrials is not "they don't exist" but "the jury is still out". There is an important difference.

It is a difference I agree - still, if we were to look for evidence in the oceans for mermaids, knowing that terrestrial mammals have returned to the seas in the past and that all the necessary environmental ingredients were there to support them. Then having sampled and scanned the oceans for decades, we come up with no evidence and we would have to conclude that there are no mermaids. You are suggesting we cant do this - we would have to look in every hidden corner and crevice of the oceans until we were sure there were no mermaids - and until that time, its reasonable for a marine zoologist to believe that there are.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:25:21 UTC | #586128

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 19 by jonny5509

Comment 17 by Layla :

Comment 12 by jonny5509 : Would you hire an astronomer that believed in extra-terrestrial life?

There is zero evidence for it. We only have evidence for terrestrial life, despite scanning the skies for any sign at all since we were capable of doing so. If the existence of extra-terrestrial life was put to the test scientifically, we would have to conclude that it didn't exist, as there was not one shred of evidence to suggest it does,

We don't have evidence for the existence of it but it would be wrong to conclude that it doesn't exist. Think about the size of the universe and how little of it we actually know about. You wouldn't conclude that there were no whales having only looked at a tiny fraction of the ocean.

There is no evidence for an non-interventionist God - yet we conclude that he doesnt exist.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:26:28 UTC | #586129

Benjamin Hogan's Avatar Comment 20 by Benjamin Hogan

I think that the controversy of the idea of discrimination based on belief sprouts from the fact that people often struggle to see the real effects of belief. Most people, however, can easily see the effects of discrimination.

A juxtaposition of our success in educating our social flaws and our failure to educate in reason.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:32:25 UTC | #586131

Layla's Avatar Comment 21 by Layla

Comment 16 by jonny5509 : So if he 'consistently produces working designs that do the job', his record is completely clean, and has never shown any sign that his belief in magic electricity has impacted his work - you still wouldn't trust him and wouldn't give him a job? How is that not prejudice?

I don't think it's possible that you can properly understand your subject and still believe something like that. It's too contradictory. In reality, their good track record would have to be a fluke.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:33:27 UTC | #586132

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 22 by jonny5509

Comment 21 by Layla :

Comment 16 by jonny5509 : So if he 'consistently produces working designs that do the job', his record is completely clean, and has never shown any sign that his belief in magic electricity has impacted his work - you still wouldn't trust him and wouldn't give him a job? How is that not prejudice?

I don't think it's possible that you can properly understand your subject and still believe something like that. It's too contradictory. In reality, their good track record would have to be a fluke.

Thats the nature of cognitive dissonance. They appear perfectly capable of believing both things, without any detriment to their profession. It has nothing to do with luck.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:37:11 UTC | #586134

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 23 by Anaximander

RD: Are there any limits to the degree of contradiction that one mind is capable of tolerating inside itself?

Yes. No.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:38:26 UTC | #586135

Layla's Avatar Comment 24 by Layla

Comment 19 by jonny5509 : There is no evidence for an non-interventionist God - yet we conclude that he doesnt exist.

But there's plenty of evidence of life in the universe, on our planet. Why couldn't there be life on another planet elsewhere?

Life, unlike god, is not some made up concept for something we've never seen except in our imagination.

If we had gods sauntering around on earth in plain view throwing lightning bolts or whatever we could speculate that there may be gods elsewhere in the universe.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:40:03 UTC | #586137

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 25 by Steve Zara

If the existence of extra-terrestrial life was put to the test scientifically, we would have to conclude that it didn't exist, as there was not one shred of evidence to suggest it does, in many ways similar to the argument against deism.

No, it's nothing at all like the argument against deism. There is evidence in support of the existence of extra-terrestrial life. It's the existence of life on Earth. Combine that with the principle of mediocrity, the belief that the Earth is not a special place in the universe, and the existence of life elsewhere is not an outrageous view. It's nothing more than a "more of the same" view. Deism is anything but a "more of the same" view.

If that's the case, then an educator can never have an opinion that differs from the consensus.

This matter also isn't to do with having an opinion that differs from the consensus.

What I believe this is all about is the way one knows about what's real.

Religious methods of knowing about reality are fundamentally different from, and in conflict with, scientific methods of knowing about reality.

It doesn't matter if the believer is a moderate Anglican or a biblical literalist, they still accept that there are ways of knowing about what is real that reject science.

The religious ways of knowing about reality are the words of holy books, the teachings of preachers and personal revelation.

There is a really fascinating conflict here, because science is about going where the evidence leads and no further, but that isn't culturally normal in many societies, where in can be considered entirely reasonable to believe that a man turned water into wine and walked on water.

This brings me to Lemaître:

None of us, certainly not I, would rule out Georges Lemaître when employing a physics professor, on the grounds that he was a Catholic priest. But there could be beliefs, which might happen to have their origins in religion, but which some people might otherwise have considered grounds for rejecting a candidate under Question 2. We are not talking about discriminating against religion per se but against a counterfactual belief that happens to come from religion, and this leads me to Question 4:

I have to confess[sic] that I would have a real problem with employing a Catholic priest as a physics professor. That he was a Catholic priest means that he already has counterfactual beliefs, and wants to promote them. But that's not the problem really, not for me. It's this: religion tells people they can be experts on scientific matters without doing any science. Whether or not the universe was created is a scientific matter.

The only difference I can see between Lemaître and a creationist is that their assumption of religious-based expertise covers different areas of science.

I am deeply conflicted.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:40:44 UTC | #586138

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 26 by jonny5509

Comment 23 by Anaximander :

RD: Are there any limits to the degree of contradiction that one mind is capable of tolerating inside itself?

Yes. No.

I recently watched a documentary on rural Peruvian people - staunch catholics that still revere the fertility goddess Pachamama. I'd say the human mind is adept at believing contradictory concepts and wouldn't be surprised if there are evolutionary reasons for it to do so.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:50:51 UTC | #586140

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 27 by jonny5509

Comment 24 by Layla :

Comment 19 by jonny5509 : There is no evidence for an non-interventionist God - yet we conclude that he doesnt exist.

But there's plenty of evidence of life in the universe, on our planet. Why couldn't there be life on another planet elsewhere?

Life, unlike god, is not some made up concept for something we've never seen except in our imagination.

If we had gods sauntering around on earth in plain view throwing lightning bolts or whatever we could speculate that there may be gods elsewhere in the universe.

But there is no evidence for extra-terrestrial life, which is why I said 'extra-terrestrial'.

I'm suggesting that, as atheists, we generally do not believe in deist gods, because there is no evidence for them at all, and they are an unnecessary complicating factor. We are willing to concede that there is a possibility that they exist, but their existence is unnecessary.

If I were a teacher of astronomy, and I believed that some sort of god created the universe and then let it evolve, I fall into your category of having a mad belief and wouldn't get a job.

Ok, so there is zero evidence for life that is not Earth-based. It is an unnecessary complicating factor in our understanding of the universe. Yet an astronomer that confessed a belief in the existence of aliens would be happily accepted in the scientific community.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 00:59:04 UTC | #586142

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 28 by Cartomancer

It is a difference I agree - still, if we were to look for evidence in the oceans for mermaids, knowing that terrestrial mammals have returned to the seas in the past and that all the necessary environmental ingredients were there to support them. Then having sampled and scanned the oceans for decades, we come up with no evidence and we would have to conclude that there are no mermaids. You are suggesting we cant do this - we would have to look in every hidden corner and crevice of the oceans until we were sure there were no mermaids - and until that time, its reasonable for a marine zoologist to believe that there are.

The two are not comparable. "Mermaids" are a very specific and culturally-derived trope. "Extraterrestrial life" is an incredibly broad category. For a realistic comparison we would have to put the marine biologist who believes in mermaids next to the astronomer who believes in Klingons. Not just any kind of extraterrestrials - Klingons. One specific, well-defined type of extraterrestrials derived from a human cultural source. I would not employ an astronomer who believed in Klingons.

Alternatively we would put the astronomer who thinks that there probably is some possible kind of extraterrestrial life somewhere next to the marine biologist who believes that there probably are as-yet undiscovered species lurking in our terrestrial oceans. I would not consider either of these beliefs at all ridiculous.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 01:01:53 UTC | #586143

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 29 by jonny5509

Comment 25 by Steve Zara :

If the existence of extra-terrestrial life was put to the test scientifically, we would have to conclude that it didn't exist, as there was not one shred of evidence to suggest it does, in many ways similar to the argument against deism.

No, it's nothing at all like the argument against deism. There is evidence in support of the existence of extra-terrestrial life. It's the existence of life on Earth. Combine that with the principle of mediocrity, the belief that the Earth is not a special place in the universe, and the existence of life elsewhere is not an outrageous view. It's nothing more than a "more of the same" view. Deism is anything but a "more of the same" view.

Then you cannot accept the concept of a singularity. If it has happened once, it must have happened again somewhere else. Even if there is no evidence, and despite the fact we've been actively looking for it for decades.

If you have a sample population of one, any conclusions you draw from that must be treated with extreme caution.

The deist argument could be given as 'God created the universe - we have a sample of one (the universe) - the evidence is the universe.

If that's the case, then an educator can never have an opinion that differs from the consensus.

This matter also isn't to do with having an opinion that differs from the consensus.

What I believe this is all about is the way one knows about what's real.

Religious methods of knowing about reality are fundamentally different from, and in conflict with, scientific methods of knowing about reality.

It doesn't matter if the believer is a moderate Anglican or a biblical literalist, they still accept that there are ways of knowing about what is real that reject science.

The religious ways of knowing about reality are the words of holy books, the teachings of preachers and personal revelation.

There is a really fascinating conflict here, because science is about going where the evidence leads and no further, but that isn't culturally normal in many societies, where in can be considered entirely reasonable to believe that a man turned water into wine and walked on water.

This brings me to Lemaître:

None of us, certainly not I, would rule out Georges Lemaître when employing a physics professor, on the grounds that he was a Catholic priest. But there could be beliefs, which might happen to have their origins in religion, but which some people might otherwise have considered grounds for rejecting a candidate under Question 2. We are not talking about discriminating against religion per se but against a counterfactual belief that happens to come from religion, and this leads me to Question 4:

I have to confess[sic] that I would have a real problem with employing a Catholic priest as a physics professor. That he was a Catholic priest means that he already has counterfactual beliefs, and wants to promote them. But that's not the problem really, not for me. It's this: religion tells people they can be experts on scientific matters without doing any science. Whether or not the universe was created is a scientific matter.

The only difference I can see between Lemaître and a creationist is that their assumption of religious-based expertise covers different areas of science.

I am deeply conflicted.

This hasnt got anything to do with religion - not yet. We haven't even got past the premise that its ok to have non-conformist beliefs and hold a professional position.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 01:07:14 UTC | #586147

jonny5509's Avatar Comment 30 by jonny5509

Comment 28 by Cartomancer :

It is a difference I agree - still, if we were to look for evidence in the oceans for mermaids, knowing that terrestrial mammals have returned to the seas in the past and that all the necessary environmental ingredients were there to support them. Then having sampled and scanned the oceans for decades, we come up with no evidence and we would have to conclude that there are no mermaids. You are suggesting we cant do this - we would have to look in every hidden corner and crevice of the oceans until we were sure there were no mermaids - and until that time, its reasonable for a marine zoologist to believe that there are.

The two are not comparable. "Mermaids" are a very specific and culturally-derived trope. "Extraterrestrial life" is an incredibly broad category.

Broad category in what sense? I'd say it was one very specific thing. A self-replicating 'organism'.

For a realistic comparison we would have to put the marine biologist who believes in mermaids next to the astronomer who believes in Klingons. Not just any kind of extraterrestrials - Klingons. One specific, well-defined type of extraterrestrials derived from a human cultural source. I would not employ an astronomer who believed in Klingons.

Alternatively we would put the astronomer who thinks that there probably is some possible kind of extraterrestrial life somewhere next to the marine biologist who believes that there probably are as-yet undiscovered species lurking in our terrestrial oceans. I would not consider either of these beliefs at all ridiculous.

Your argument for extra terrestrial life is that all the ingredients are there to produce it and the universe is enormous. In whatever form it may take - be it silicon-based of gaseous - it has to be a self-replicating 'organism' or it isnt alive - its a very specific category, not a broad category. A mermaid is also a very specific thing - all the ingredients are there to produce it, and the oceans are vast enough for it to still remain hidden from us - yet a belief in the existence of the former is fine, a belief in the existence of the latter would prevent someone from getting a job as a marine zoologist, if we are to follow the sentiments of the OP.

Mon, 31 Jan 2011 01:15:28 UTC | #586149