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Religion Running Scared - Comments

JCott24's Avatar Comment 1 by JCott24

Morals from a 2,500 year old book? That seems to be the problem here, Rabbi

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 19:07:06 UTC | #853210

William33's Avatar Comment 2 by William33

Isn't that the same book which god clearly demands innocent mean, woman and children to be murdered?

I wouldn't want to be stuck in the same room as that rabbi.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 19:14:04 UTC | #853213

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 3 by ZenDruid

We could replace the Tanakh with something by de Sade, without the rabbi skipping a beat.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 19:28:09 UTC | #853220

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 4 by Schrodinger's Cat

Religion is running scared from advances in science, particularly brain science such as neurology. Why? Because the brain is the final frontier in uncovering the reasons for belief in superstitions, religion and a higher power. After all, the brain is what interprets everything we see, read, think, do or believe, and also it determines how we react to these things. The brain is the start and the finish of our life experiences, the alpha and omega of any and every action we make in our lives.

Well you'd think so, wouldn't you. The trouble is, the very same people most arguing that point are also those most likely to argue functionalism. Your PC might 'die'.....but the backup you made yesterday is a fully functional copy of whatever was on it. In fact, a functionalist would argue that you could run your own brain on a super-computer....and it would be conscious. That means that 'you' are no more physically your specific brain than this RDF page 'is' your PC.

Don't blame me for that conundrum....I don't support functionalism. But religion won't be running scared......they will simply use precisely the functionalist argument.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 19:30:05 UTC | #853223

Saganic Rites's Avatar Comment 5 by Saganic Rites

If the brain is all there is, then there is no need to explain God, because he inhabits a part of our brain that interprets and controls our wants and needs to believe in a higher power

So as I feel no need of a 'higher power', does that mean that I've managed to control that controlling part of the brain? Alternatively, could the good rabbi argue that one like me (and most others here) have a mental deficiency whereby that part is either underfunctioning (agnostic), or missing altogether (atheist)?

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 20:13:27 UTC | #853236

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 6 by Steve Zara

If the brain is all there is, then there is no need to explain God, because he inhabits a part of our brain that interprets and controls our wants and needs to believe in a higher power, and that our lives are somehow pre-destined toward a particular end.

That is just the start. We can follow that road much further.

But let's be clear first why we are following that road. It is because of centuries of science which have shown us how we can look at the world to see how it works. How it works isn't easy to understand. Some of how it works is forever beyond us, intractable, mathematically impossible to model with precision. But even here we can know what the ingredients are. The weather in a few weeks may forever be a mystery, but we know of the molecules that do weather.

So now we can progress. We know what the ingredients of mind are. We know what builds a brain, and we know that the brain is enough for thoughts, for beliefs, for actions, for dreams. But we still haven't gone far. Let's pick up the pace: Because the brain is enough for thoughts and beliefs, we need nothing more for the source of thoughts and beliefs about the brain.

It's not just that God inhabits a part of a brain, but so do we. We are in there too, along with all the mystery of mind, the puzzles of consciousness, the questions of life and of death. We know where we can look to find these concepts, these thoughts, these mysteries. We know that their container is a few pounds of fat and protein encased in bone. We may never solve the mysteries, but we know what the mysteries are made of, just like we know the substance of weather.

We know that the mysteries of soul aren't made of soul. We know there is nothing but nature making up the belief in the supernatural. We know that there is nothing divine about the belief in God. This is the gift of science to philosophy - the truth of the substance of all beliefs.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 20:44:09 UTC | #853252

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 7 by Peter Grant

Nobody has ever claimed that neuroscience, or science for that matter hold the answers to what is right and wrong. Those are judgement calls, made in the brain, based on other factors which have been interpreted in the brain, and the outcome, which we call morality, also comes from, you guessed it, the brain. (EDIT: I must admit that Sam Harris has said that science can be used as a basis for morality, based upon the assumption that “well being” is a quantifiable and universal fact. I think this is a bit misleading, and has been used to claim that science is, in and of itself, a moral framework.)

Yes religion is running scared and Sam Harris is a significant part of the reason for it. It is quite disappointing that the author does not seem to have read The Moral Landscape.

As Sam Harris has pointed out, morals are relative to where you live and in what culture, under what common set of rules and your own personal upbringing. This is precisely why moral judgements vary from culture to culture, and it disproves any kind of universal morality in one simple statement.

I don't think Sam has ever said this. Objectivity doesn't require absolutism and just because human experience is subjective doesn't mean that it isn't largely universal. There is no need to collapse into extreme cultural relativism. If you were talking about a different species or extraterrestrials you might have a point.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 20:46:31 UTC | #853254

r503's Avatar Comment 8 by r503

Neuroscience also has huge implications on our concept of free will, completely undermining the dogma of sin. Jerry Coyne has been posting a lot on the subject on his website, whyevolutionistrue.com.

It'd be too easy to counter any argument that agnostics and atheists were lacking mentally just because religion doesn't inspire us. We just find inspiration in different sources. For example, I'm only half way through Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward but I feel like I've learned more about morality and human nature from it than I did from all the years I went to church as a kid.

I'd like the Rabbi to explain why some religions should excite us while others are false. What makes his God better than any of the thousands of others that presumably had the same effects on the brains of their followers?

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 20:54:12 UTC | #853260

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 9 by Neodarwinian

Rabbi. Why would I seek guidance on how to live my life from some 3000 ( perhaps ) year old snore fest? I could seek and find better life guidance on the back of a cereal box.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:05:57 UTC | #853266

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 10 by Alan4discussion

and despite our differences, the great religious traditions largely agree on what our moral foundations are. And in the moral world in which I live, infanticide and wife burning are always, always wrong.

I was just reading over on Cat's witch-burning discussion, that wife burning (+others) was a long-standing Catholic tradition! A tradition the rabbi seems to be including in his religious grouping with "shared moral foundations". I also recall a fairly recent discussion on the killing of child witches by African Churches.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:11:40 UTC | #853269

Mr DArcy's Avatar Comment 11 by Mr DArcy

Our Rabbi is of the opinon:

As a rabbi, I welcome research into neuroscience but believe that as much as we are the products of biology, we also transcend it.

So we "transcend" nature do we Rabbi? To "transcend" nature we would have to enter the supernatural world, ah well that explains it all! It's all unexplainable therefore Goddidit! Sorry mate, I wouldn't buy a second hand car from this Rabbi!

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:15:58 UTC | #853273

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 12 by Stevehill

The rabbi has a fundamental problem in looking for morality in a text in which god-sanctioned infanticide (against e.g. all Canaanites, not to mention judicial killing of wives for "offences" (like adultery) which are not even considered crimes in civilized societies.

And frankly, too many of his co-religionists in the Middle East seem still to regard these holy mandates as work in progress.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:22:10 UTC | #853279

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 13 by Steve Zara

So we "transcend" nature do we Rabbi?

This is one aspect of all of this I find rather wonderful. Transcendence is a scientific matter, and can be easily tested. It isn't like supernaturalism in general, shifted beyond the reach of evidence because of the desires of believers. Transcendence is at the supposed boundary of science and religion, and it is a boundary that we can look for scientifically.

If transcendence is true, then thoughts arise which are the result of more than the activity of the brain.

If thoughts arise which are the result of more than the activity of the brain, then physics is wrong (this was wonderfully described by Sean Carroll in a recent Scientific American article on physics and the survival of death).

It does not matter how mysterious the transcendent part is, it does not matter if it is supposedly beyond our understanding, or beyond the rules of nature. That is of no consequence. Once the transcendence hits the brain, as it must do for us to have thoughts about it, then it is a matter of physics.

This isn't hard physics either - this isn't Large Hadron Collider physics. This is centuries-old physics. It's conservation of energy.

And so, transcendence becomes a simple matter of old physics. There is either something wrong with the physics of brain tissue, or there is not. If there is not, there is no transcendence.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:43:52 UTC | #853291

zarkoff45's Avatar Comment 14 by zarkoff45

We know what the ingredients of mind are. We know what builds a brain,

Neurons. And we have artificial neural nets that do brain-like things.

...and we know that the brain is enough for thoughts, for beliefs, for actions, for dreams.

Theists will still try to challenge that. And they throw all sorts of crap at me about "The Chinese Room" and "The hard problem of consciousness" etc..

It's not just that God inhabits a part of a brain, but so do we. We are in there too, along with all the mystery of mind, the puzzles of consciousness, the questions of life and of death.

It's not just you and God in there, most of what people take to be the world they live in is in there also. The world we think about is a model we constructed in our brains to make sense of a confusing and kaleidoscopic barrage of filtered sensory information.

We may never solve the mysteries, but we know what the mysteries are made of, just like we know the substance of weather.

We know that the mysteries of soul aren't made of soul. We know there is nothing but nature making up the belief in the supernatural. We know that there is nothing divine about the belief in God. This is the gift of science to philosophy - the truth of the substance of all beliefs.

I like the way you said that last part. I will probably be paraphrasing it in my series:

http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2010/02/war-on-neuroscience.html

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 21:55:00 UTC | #853293

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 15 by Peter Grant

Comment 8 by r503

Neuroscience also has huge implications on our concept of free will, completely undermining the dogma of sin. Jerry Coyne has been posting a lot on the subject on his website, whyevolutionistrue.com.

Glad to see Jerry is also coming round now. "Free will" has nothing to do with freedom or choice, it's all about guilt and blame.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 22:03:57 UTC | #853295

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 16 by Steve Zara

Theists will still try to challenge that. And they throw all sorts of crap at me about "The Chinese Room" and "The hard problem of consciousness" etc..

The wonderful thing about neuroscience, as this article shows, is that none of that matters. The most exciting thing about neuroscience to me is that unless physics is wrong, the answers to the "Chinese Room" question and the "hard problem of consciousness" are somewhere within the brain.

I think that simple fact, for unless physics is seriously wrong it is a fact, is one the most amazing things that science has ever discovered, and I really don't think it is widely enough understood:

We have found the boundaries of all questions about mind. All questions. In the brain, in the ever-changing carpet of neurons that is the cortex, is the answer to the questions of why we find mind a mystery, and why we think consciousness hard. It's in there. In the grey matter are the reasons for our beliefs, for our questions.

That we know where we must look tells us about what the answers must be like. It also tell us what the answers are not like.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 22:35:07 UTC | #853303

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 17 by Schrodinger's Cat

Steve......you say 'we know...' a sufficient number of times that it reminds me of an old Oscar Wilde quote :-

" I wish I were as certain of anything as he seems to be about everything "

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 22:51:15 UTC | #853307

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 18 by Steve Zara

Comment 17 by Schrodinger's Cat

I'm as certain as I can be that physics works and that the atoms in brains do the same physics as atoms anywhere else. That's all that's needed. If anyone is not certain of those things, then I'd really love to hear an alternative view.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 23:04:24 UTC | #853311

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 19 by Peter Grant

Comment 4 by Schrodinger's Cat

In fact, a functionalist would argue that you could run your own brain on a super-computer....and it would be conscious. That means that 'you' are no more physically your specific brain than this RDF page 'is' your PC.

I think it would probably be conscious, but I can't see in what sense it would be me. What's that called? I seem to remember this coming up in the last "free will" debate.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 23:10:13 UTC | #853313

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 20 by Steve Zara

Comment 17 by Schrodinger's Cat

Incidentally, you don't believe in free will. That's a perfectly respectable position to hold. I disagree, but that's another matter.

Why don't you believe in free will? I assume it's because you believe that the universe runs on physics, with no extra 'magic'. That lack of anything extra means that there is not the kind of free will that many religious people believe exists.

However, if you don't believe in free will because of physics, then your beliefs about your mind must be because of physics.

If you aren't allowing any wiggle-room in physics to allow for free will, then you can't allow for any wiggle-room in physics to allow for anything other than a purely physical mind.

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 23:26:55 UTC | #853316

Anonymous's Avatar Comment 21 by Anonymous

Comment Removed by Moderator

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 23:42:51 UTC | #853319

Robert Howard's Avatar Comment 22 by Robert Howard

Aawww, they sound cute. Where can I get one?

Sat, 23 Jul 2011 23:49:09 UTC | #853320

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 23 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 18 by Steve Zara

I'm as certain as I can be that physics works and that the atoms in brains do the same physics as atoms anywhere else.

That's not the same as 'we know' everything about physics. As you don't know everything about physics, then what you don't know about physics is equally what you don't know about the physics of the brain.

You really keep missing the point. Quit with the 'supernatural' straw man.....of course there is no supernatural. But there is still plenty of unknown natural.......and I reject prognostications of the 'we now know everything' sort, as they are precisely the sort of thing that ends up with dark energy and 'totally unexpected acceleration' egg on scientific faces.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 00:21:50 UTC | #853324

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 24 by Steve Zara

That's not the same as 'we know' everything about physics. As you don't know everything about physics, then what you don't know about physics is equally what you don't know about the physics of the brain.

You really keep missing the point. Quit with the 'supernatural' straw man.....of course there is no supernatural. But there is still plenty of unknown natural.......and I reject prognostications of the 'we now know everything' sort, as they are precisely the sort of thing that ends up with dark energy and 'totally unexpected acceleration' egg on scientific faces.

This is a common argument used by those who want there to be more than known physics, including supernaturalism.

What we don't know about the physics of the brain has got nothing to do with mind, or consciousness. We know this because we know that the brain (and the mind) are the results of evolution. Evolution works on and with the everyday physics of the world around us. It doesn't work on anything but usual atoms doing usual things. That is we won't find why we believe in qualia by looking at the results of the LHC.

We do know about the physics of the brain. If there is no wiggle room there for any funny free will, then there is no wiggle room there for anything funny to do with consciousness.

What we find there will be a result of quantum electrodynamics, as that is the physics of our everyday world.

If you, or anyone else, wants to suggest what there is extra about the behaviour of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur and electrons, which are basically what makes up the brain, that goes beyond normal physics then please do so. But no matter what your internal experience of being a mind is, you are the one who has to make the case that there is anything more, contradicting centuries of science.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 00:35:56 UTC | #853327

zarkoff45's Avatar Comment 25 by zarkoff45

For Steve Zara

I think that simple fact, for unless physics is seriously wrong it is a fact, is one the most amazing things that science has ever discovered, and I really don't think it is widely enough understood:

We have found the boundaries of all questions about mind. All questions. In the brain, in the ever-changing carpet of neurons that is the cortex, is the answer to the questions of why we find mind a mystery, and why we think consciousness hard. It's in there. In the grey matter are the reasons for our beliefs, for our questions.

That we know where we must look tells us about what the answers must be like. It also tell us what the answers are not like.

I would agree, but every time I post a video on the subject I get these incomprehensible objections from people who don't even seem to understand their own arguments and sources.

For example, in this video: http://youtu.be/oSjRRp_3SSI

JohananRaatz started pushing some version of quantum mysticism in my comments section trying to convince me that the quantum physics would explain consciousness.

I'm not interested enough to even argue with him, but if anyone here wants to take him him on, be my guest.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 01:35:52 UTC | #853332

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 26 by Steve Zara

JohananRaatz started pushing some version of quantum mysticism in my comments section trying to convince me that the quantum physics would explain consciousness.

That's a common position. For a while, many years ago, I thought it might have some merit.

A relationship between quantum physics and consciousness is one of many ways that the mysteries of consciousness are supposed to be solved. But, of course, all such solutions have the same flaw:

If there is a hard problem of consciousness because we can't conceive of any way to reduce conscious experience to the everyday physics of nerve cells doing there stuff, then there is a hard problem no matter what it is suggested that conscious experience is reduced to. The supposed hard problem of consciousness isn't that consciousness doesn't seem to be like physics, the hard problem is that consciousness doesn't seem to be like anything. Bringing in quantum mechanics doesn't help with the problem at all, because bringing in anything at all doesn't help.

But then we can turn the hard problem back to front: why should what things seem like have any indication as to what things are actually like? Conscious experience gives us no clue as to what it may be actually a result of. Because of this, there is no reason to reject that it is a result of brain cell activity, because we don't know what it would be like for our experience to either be a result of brain cell activity, or not be a result of brain cell activity.

Therefore, the supposed Hard Problem of Consciousness is anything but a reason to reject physicalism and go for dualism. The Hard Problem of Consciousness is not evidence for anything but what may be an inevitable lack of knowledge.

That conscious experience is mysterious means that the nature of conscious experience cannot be evidence for what does or does not generate consciousness. The only way we can get any idea of what results in consciousness is through empirical observations.

Put more briefly; it's no use trying to suggest that consciousness is due to quantum mechanics unless one can point out how the thought that quantum mechanics is involved could in any way have arisen from any physical consequences of quantum mechanics. How could quantum mechanics wiggle brain cells so that we think "hmm! That felt quantum-like!"?

The same failing applies to all suggestions of emergence. They are useless as explanations for consciousness unless it can be shown how our thoughts that there is emergence result directly from some physical consequences of that emergence.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 02:15:00 UTC | #853340

Greyman's Avatar Comment 27 by Greyman

Comment 19 by Peter Grant :

Comment 4 by Schrodinger's Cat In fact, a functionalist would argue that you could run your own brain on a super-computer....and it would be conscious. That means that 'you' are no more physically your specific brain than this RDF page 'is' your PC.

I think it would probably be conscious, but I can't see in what sense it would be me. What's that called? I seem to remember this coming up in the last "free will" debate.

Wikipedia: Mind Uploading and maybe TVTropes: Cloning Blues.

You've just been hit by lightning, but luckily you had a backup made—and a clone is uploaded with all your memories.  Is it you?

But wait, my mistake, paramedics have managed to rescusitate your body after all—although there is a bit of brain damage and total amnessia.  So…now who is you?

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 02:37:53 UTC | #853345

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 28 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 24 by Steve Zara

What we don't know about the physics of the brain has got nothing to do with mind, or consciousness.

And your scientific evidence for this assertion is ? Journal and reference please.

We know this because we know that the brain (and the mind) are the results of evolution.

'We' do seem to keep 'knowing' things.....or rather you do. If you 'know' so much about brains, lets test you on a simple one and tell me exactly what a bat experiences when it uses echo location.

I find quite preposterous the assertion that evolution can ONLY have used whatever physics you personally happen to 'know'. Why can't evolution only have used what physics a wombat knows, or a house fly ? I can't think of anything more logical than that evolution has the full range of physics at its disposal......including the stuff you don't know.

If you, or anyone else, wants to suggest what there is extra about the behaviour of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulphur and electrons, which are basically what makes up the brain, that goes beyond normal physics then please do so.

All physics is normal physics. Not all physics is known physics.

contradicting centuries of science.

Lol. Gamma ray bursts, techtonic plates, the expansion of the universe, dark matter, dark energy, volcanoes on Io, and even quantum theory, relativity, and evolution......all contradicted centuries of science.

I just have a healthy ( in my opinion ) gut reaction to any statement that starts 'we know.....' when explaining any not fully explained phenomenon.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 02:40:29 UTC | #853347

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 29 by Steve Zara

And your scientific evidence for this assertion is ? Journal and reference please.

I would go to Feynman's original papers on quantum electrodynamics.

I can't think of anything more logical than that evolution has the full range of physics at its disposal......including the stuff you don't know.

No, it doesn't, because the full range of physics simply doesn't operate on the scale of the world at which evolution happens. Enzymes don't interact with neutrinos, for example.

'We' do seem to keep 'knowing' things.....or rather you do. If you 'know' so much about brains, lets test you on a simple one and tell me exactly what a bat experiences when it uses echo location.

That's not simple, because we haven't reverse-engineered even a simple brain yet. But we can say that a bat brain does not involve any interactions with Top Quarks.

Lol. Gamma ray bursts, techtonic plates, the expansion of the universe, dark matter, dark energy, volcanoes on Io, and even quantum theory, relativity, and evolution......all contradicted centuries of science.

Well, if you think Gamma ray bursts and dark energy have anything to do with the brain...

The centuries of physics are matters of thermodynamics and conservation of energy.

It really is up to you to say on what basis you think that the everyday physics of atoms in the brain is wrong.

No matter how complex the weather is, you aren't going to get anywhere with physicists by insisting that the understanding of weather requires some new sub-atomic particle.

No matter how complex consciousness is, you aren't going to get anywhere with physicists by insisting that there is something extra other than the physics of the simple organic elements that make up a brain.

As Sean Carroll has written in a recent Scientific American article - we know the physics of life. Denying this physics today is pretty much on a par with insisting that the Earth does not orbit the Sun.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 02:59:00 UTC | #853350

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 30 by Alovrin

I just have a healthy ( in my opinion ) gut reaction to any statement that starts 'we know.....' when explaining any not fully explained phenomenon.

Yeah Steve doesnt have the common touch. Thats why I like him.

Sun, 24 Jul 2011 03:03:01 UTC | #853352