Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"All foolish, arrogant mouths, including yours, will, in due time, be shut..."

Regular readers of this blog may remember a little while back when I received an e-mail from a gentlemen who was attempting to convince me that life comes from god. As you can no doubt guess, if you didn't read the post on the subject, I found his arguments rather unimpressive and said as much. What you may not know is that, having responded to his argument, I sent my correspondent an e-mail directing him to my response. It seemed only appropriate under the circumstances.

Well, interestingly enough, my correspondent, a Mr. Paul Cohen of The Path of, not only granted me permission to post his identity, he requested that I post his response to my commentary. I'm always willing to publish responses from those I criticize and this is no exception. So, for your reading enjoyment, please welcome Mr. Cohen and his thoughts on my post. My own response to Mr. Cohen is also included below interspersed with his rather lengthy e-mail so as to enhance readability.

From : Paul Cohen
Reply-To : "Paul Cohen"
Sent : Sunday, July 8, 2007 8:42 PM
To : "Drek the Uninteresting"
Subject : Blog Post: Honesty

Drek, I am thankful you took the time to reply to my letter, and, furthermore, that you were willing to share this with your readers. I hope you will do the same with this reply, only please include my name and website this time.

I was pleased to do so and am happy to publish your identity. I would have done so before, but did not think it appropriate to do so without permission.

What needs to be determined or known is whether the vantage point from which you speak takes in the whole picture and gives an accurate rendering of what is happening, or whether it is narrowly focused, as with the anthropologists that hypothesized an “evolutionary missing link” of humankind based on a pig’s tooth. Let’s see what we have here.

You, of course, refer to "Nebraska man," a supposed pre-human primate that was "discovered" in 1922. The original discovery was found to be erroneous in 1925 and a retraction was published in Science in 1927. A five year span from "discovery" to the correction of error isn't too bad, so I would say Nebraska Man is an example of the scientific process working as it should. Nevertheless, let's see if you can show my Nebraska to be, in fact, a swine.

You assumed you know why I corresponded with you. However, not being omniscient or spiritually-minded, you assumed wrongly. I did not write to you to convince you to abandon evolution so that you might believe in God. Things do not work that way. There are plenty of creationists that do not believe in God (despite what they say or think). There are also those who do believe, withholding judgment and exploring (or not) the matter.

You are absolutely correct- I assumed that you were attempting to convert me. That you are not is rather surprising to me, as I have a difficult time then understanding what the point of your correspondence is, but that is irrelevant. I apologize for my evidently incorrect supposition.

Belief in God is not mere human calculation or reckoning of information. It is not taking someone else’s word for it, or being convinced by an argument. It is a supernatural change of direction of the entire being that looks to, and takes direction from, the Creator. It is the working out of the first commandment that says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). When this occurs, the human mind does not determine, but follows, faith. It does not embrace faith so much as faith embraces it.

If you're saying that religious belief is irrational, I'm not exactly inclined to disagree with you.

The change you need is firstly one of heart and soul, which will come in its time by the preaching of the Word of God. The Word of God, contrary to what many think, particularly the religious, is not simply the Bible. It is the living Spirit of God made manifest in the flesh. Having His Spirit, it is my duty and desire to speak the Word of truth.

But, if preaching the word of god will lead me to the change I "need"... how is that different from attempting to convert me?

God, in His perfect wisdom, has made you as you are, and it is He Who owns you. You are not your own, nor can you determine your destiny. If He wills that you labor in foolishness for the time being, not knowing what you say or do, that is His judgment, and I receive it as the highest possible wisdom. I am thankful for your position and have no need or desire whatsoever to strive to change it, because it serves a mighty and wonderful purpose. How can anything be seen and known without the disparity of opposites, Light and darkness?

I find this perspective to be rather interesting, actually. It seems to me that were there to be an omniscient, omnipotent deity then we would, indeed, do nothing save what he/she/it desired us to do. This is either due to direct action on god's part or because, in creating the universe, god designed things in such a way so as to produce the current outcome. Either way, our lives would necessarily be the result of god's dictates. Perhaps more interestingly, however, such a perspective, while logically consistent, throws the concept of "sin" into question. If one dies a sinner then, logically, it was because god willed one to sin. Is it then logical for god to punish that which he intended to happen? Obviously not. Logically, then, a universe with an omnipotent, omniscient creator god is one in which either there is no sin, or god punishes sins that his creations had no choice about committing. If god is perfect and merciful, as is often claimed, then the latter option would appear to be untenable, leaving us with the conclusion that sin is impossible. Then again, as you claim, religion is not necessarily logical so I suppose there may be some highly irrational third option and, in any case, amateur philosophizing will get us nowhere.

“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and God has chosen the base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not, in order to bring to nothing things that are; so that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 MKJV).

“The wisdom of this world is nonsense in God's sight. That's why Scripture says, ‘God catches the wise in their cleverness.’ Again Scripture says, ‘The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are pointless’” (1 Corinthians 3:19-20 GW).

Sadly, judging by their midterm performance, a number of my students agree that the thoughts of the wise are pointless.

When you do change, it will not be a matter of your wisdom affecting that change, because you “accepted” God by virtue of your intellect judging His (See The False and Misleading Gospel of "Accepting" Jesus Christ). You do not have that power. When change comes, it will be by His initiation, beginning here with the Word spoken to you, and it will be one of recognition of His total worthiness and your total unworthiness. You will confess your name, no longer tongue in cheek, but with earnest and thankful recognition that “drek” is indeed what you are, and what you have been.

What makes you think my name is tongue in cheek? I have as little respect for my own opinions as I have for most others'. I tend to think that it's wise to maintain a healthy disrespect for your own views lest you become too bound by them. I doubt I always succeed in that but, hey, it's worth trying. In all fairness, however, this is hardly the first time I have been exposed to "god's word."

When repentance comes you will be turned to a new and higher nature that trumps, not replaces, human intelligence. Presently you no more know His mind and ways than a dog understands your writings, and far less. To come to this understanding in God is something that happens entirely outside of your control, by His grace, when He will give you to see and receive Him in the Person of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. That will happen when you are humbled to be as a little child in spirit:

“At that time Jesus made answer and said, I give praise to You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have kept these things secret from the wise and the men of learning, and have made them clear to little children” (Matthew 11:25 BBE).

It always makes me nervous when people glorify the wisdom of a group that has to be taught not to eat paste. This is not to insult children, but rather simply to observe that the simple views of children are as often charmingly wrong as they are deeply profound.

Pointing out the foolishness of evolution will not make you a lover of God. If possible, and it is, it will make you resent Him more. However, I also know that the Word of Truth that I speak will accomplish all that He desires. All foolish, arrogant mouths, including yours, will, in due time, be shut, that everyone might learn to reverence God and worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Fair enough. My response to your earlier e-mail was somewhat condescending, so I deserved that. In all seriousness, however, I think it neither foolish nor arrogant to suppose that humans are capable of understanding the world we live in. I'll admit that is a faith position, but it is one that I am comfortable with, and if we are both men of faith, then I suppose that I have faith that humans can while you have faith that humans cannot.

You begin your critique by dividing my statements into three parts. This is another presumption you make, which is wonderfully representative of the problem of evolutionists; they divide what is not divisible. It is not possible, in truth, to talk about disparate parts of creation as though they are functioning in isolation. Life does not work in the way you dissect and analyze it (or as others have done for you). You have taken true elements of creation and have created a fantasy world out of its parts. This fantasy leads to nightmare, because man, disconnected from the wisdom of the whole, is a loose cannon, coming up with insane ideas like GMOs, then congratulating himself on his cleverness while he destroys his environment and himself.

I find your criticism here to be rather odd since, from this point forward, you employ the same tactic on my response. It's really a feature of the English language, if nothing else, as well as rhetoric that arguments be analyzed piece-by-piece. On a related note, modern science has done a fantastic job of showing how everything is interrelated. The deep interactions between chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, sociology, and ecology are increasingly well-known. That we analytically focus on limited domains is, if nothing else, a simple result of our finite ability to learn about multiple fields. It does not mean that scientists genuinely do not think that one branch of science has anything to do with another.

No doubt you will say that I work backwards from an assumption, but the difference between us is that I know the Creator, and base what I say on His Personal Word to me. So I work forwards, if I work at all. It is not necessary for me to prove creation. Creation proves itself.

A perfectly reasonable assertion if one believes in god. I think it rather obvious that creation does not prove itself, however, as quite a few people do not believe in it.

You write:

“Taking your first point, it is incorrect that evolutionary theory cannot account for "information."...basic physical processes are known to produce outcomes that encode considerable volumes of information.”

You didn’t get this right. I said “program,” which is composed of, but is more than, bits and pieces of information. Life is more than the sum of its physical components. For example, more letters are needed to complete this reply, but only those arranged in recognizable and meaningful patterns will serve the purpose. That is what I, as writer, provide. No writer, no reply. No Creator, no life; for life requires the intelligent and purposeful arranging of raw materials that provide the means and information to accomplish every task that is part of, and supports, the greater system, or whole. Saying chance accomplished this is the greatest of folly and insult to intelligence.

Actually, the meaningful arrangement of letters constitutes information, not a program. That said, it is only information in the proper context (e.g. Chinese characters carry no information for me, someone who does not read Chinese), but I digress. I apologize if I reduced your argument to too fundamental a level. If you insist on using the word "program" then nothing changes- in computer science self-modifying code is commonplace and so-called "genetic programming" harnesses the power of variation and selection to produce software solutions to difficult problems. In essence, this means that we humans have already produced software that effectively has no author- it writes itself. That we specify the end state that it optimizes towards is irrelevant- authorless programs are not only possible, they exist. Doubtless you will object that this does not account for the emergence of self-modifying "code" in natural organisms but this falls under the category of "abiogenesis," rather than evolution. Abiogenesis is not a necessary condition for evolution as both theistic evolutionists and advocates of panspermia would agree. Nevertheless, as I indicated in my last post, the evolution of DNA is an ongoing area in biology. I see little reason to believe that we will not develop an understanding of this issue in time.

Hardware, without software, does squat. You must have both.

Actually, we have a term for hardware without obvious software that still performs computations: "clockwork." Specifically, clockwork has no "software" distinct from the hardware- the two are one and the same. As it happens, this is a much more accurate model for the way that the human brain operates with the exception that, unlike traditional clockwork, the human brain is quite adaptable. Again, however, I digress. My point is that in a universe with consistent physical laws- such as our own universe- physical objects often behave in predictable, consistent ways. The hardware, in essence, "does" something despite the lack of internal direction by "software." Whether you want to regard those physical laws as constituting "software" is up to you, but I personally think that does violence to the concept.

There is One Who has done all the purposing and arranging from far beyond what we can sense with our eyes and ears. This is not news to anyone; I state the obvious. This is not something that must be figured out, or which requires a PhD to understand. It is actually known by all, though many have chosen the delusional path of knowledge outside of true godliness:

Given how much energy is devoted both to religious education, and to arguing with those like myself, I don't think even you believe your above points.

Romans 1:18-23 WNT

(18) For God's anger is being revealed from Heaven against all impiety and against the iniquity of men who through iniquity suppress the truth. God is angry:

(19) because what may be known about Him is plain to their inmost consciousness; for He Himself has made it plain to them.

(20) For, from the very creation of the world, His invisible perfections--namely His eternal power and divine nature--have been rendered intelligible and clearly visible by His works, so that these men are without excuse.

(21) For when they had come to know God, they did not give Him glory as God nor render Him thanks, but they became absorbed in useless discussions, and their senseless minds were darkened.

(22) While boasting of their wisdom they became utter fools,

(23) and, instead of worshipping the imperishable God, they worshipped images resembling perishable man or resembling birds or beasts or reptiles.

How can you argue with that? Of course you will because that is the way of those who prefer, and are given over to, useless discussions. The rest of your letter is a good example of that.

I have no intention of arguing with that- if you believe that anyone who disagrees with you is simply closing their eyes to the obvious truth, and must really know the facts, what possible argument could sway you? You are entitled to your religious beliefs, Mr. Cohen, and I respect that.

For example, you write:

“Secondly, your assertion that evolution cannot account for the harnessing of energy to support life is simply ignorant. What you describe falls under the headings of photosynthesis and digestion. Do you seriously mean to imply that we do not understand how animals derive energy from the matter they consume, or that the ability of plants to manufacture food using sunlight is a mystery?”

I never said that photosynthesis or other processes were a mystery. So how could I be implying that we do not understand these things? We are well aware of them, except that men’s understanding is not nearly as deep as they think. (Can you reproduce these processes in working models? Can you even make one cell? Take the smallest or any particle of existence and make a genuine copy. While you have something to copy, still you are at an utter loss, while He created it all in wisdom, knowing what He was (and is) doing. So how is it you presume to know so much about life? Isn’t that ignorance?) What I said had nothing to do with the straw man you just set up and knocked down.

Well, what you originally said was: "Evolution has no answer or explanation for the presence of either [a program and the ability of organisms to store and convert incoming energy to sustain life], the development of which contravenes the second law of thermodynamics." You're right, you never actually said we didn't understand digestion, so I apologize for that misinterpretation. I was most likely misled by your assertion that they are both made impossible by thermodynamics, though I suppose it is unclear from the sentence whether you mean that those two things are impossible, or rather only that their evolution is impossible. Either way not only do we understand both processes, as you concede, but I presented a small sampling of the available research on the evolution of both systems. Simply put: I presented just a small piece of the answer and explanation that researchers have uncovered. It is, therefore, inaccurate to say that "evolution" has no answer. You may not like the answer, but it is an answer all the same. As for your contention about "duplicating" cells- I rather doubt that you are capable of duplicating the computer you are presently working on. You have, after all, a working example; what's so difficult about duplicating an integrated circuit? Does your present inability to duplicate your computer mean that the capability to do so is forever beyond your grasp? Of course not- it simply means you are presently incapable of it. There was a time when a human technician would have been unable to duplicate a steel axle, even given a lifetime to study it. Today, duplicating a steel axle is fully within our abilities. Similarly, we learn more every day about the biological sciences- what we are unable to do now, we may not be unable to do forever. Given advances in biotechnology and even research into artificial photosynthesis it seems likely that all that is necessary for your requested copies is patience.

What I did say was that there is no viable mechanism to explain the evolution of these processes, which cannot be isolated from the two other elements I mentioned, a program and an open system. Neither can these two things be taken for granted. Where does the matter and energy come from? You have no answer, only mythologies to cover your lack of one; which you clothe in scientific jargon with a multitude of words to obfuscate the fact. Now that is ignorance, and of the highest order, because it denies the Highest Order. Furthermore, it is arrogance, because speaking as though you know when you don’t.

I don't see what your point is about isolating evolution from either thermodynamics or the "program." The evolution of DNA (i.e. the "program") is an area of study, as I indicated in my last post. Likewise, thermodynamic processes are taken into account in the study of photosynthesis and organic chemistry. Finally, open systems are not taken for granted but, given the long-term presence of the sun, are known to have existed for a long, long time. Do I propose to know where matter and energy come from? No, I will not claim to know either at the fundamental level you wish me to answer at. At the same time, I am comfortable admitting that I don't know. Do you know where "god" comes from? If he/she/it can be eternal by your fiat, why then cannot physical processes?

As for your implication that I was not honest in quoting Dr. Prigogine’s words, you remain consistent in making wrong assumptions and proceeding to wrong conclusions.

Respectfully, I did not imply that you were dishonest in your quoting of Dr. Prigogine- I said so outright. I continue to say so- your use of the quote is misleading and dishonest.

Whether or not Ilya believes in evolution is not pertinent to the words he spoke. I did not say he was a believer in God or that he acknowledged His creation of life as recorded in the Bible. I did not twist his words, as you accuse, but agreed with their plain meaning. If the author wants to hypothesize beyond that meaning, to justify his belief in evolution, that does not change the truth of what he said.

Mr. Cohen, you are not agreeing with Dr. Prigogine's plain meaning. You employed the quote as part of an argument that evolution is inconsistent with thermodynamics. The article you quoted from was arguing precisely the opposite point. Your actions are colloquially referred to as "quote mining" and I have discussed the practice at length elsewhere. If I might illustrate the problem a bit more vividly, your colleague Victor Hafichuk in his treatise on evolution remarks, "He [a critic of creationism] speaks of 'anxiety' among religious people, and that their sad condition leads to reactions contrary to those things they find a threat. He is right." Were I to quote merely that section of Mr. Hafichuk's work, it would appear that he agrees whole-heartedly with the critic of creationism. I might use this quote to "show" to others that even creationists acknowledge that their faith brings them no joy, and that they strike out at others because of fear. However, your colleague follows his statement with: "But I know in Whom I have believed, and know that He will keep me regardless of the darkness and foolishness of this world. So it is with all those who have not dead religion, but true, living faith." These additional passages are key to understanding Mr. Hafichuk's argument and honesty requires that they be included. Likewise, in order to understand Dr. Prigogine's work you must present the full quote, not simply those sections that appear to agree with your own perspective.

We are in apparent agreement that the formation of ice crystals does not explain the formation of biological structures.

Correct: it simply explains the existence of ice crystals.

That is all I said. I cannot help it if he is right in his statement of documented fact, but wrong in what he speculates beyond that regarding evolution, which is undocumented and unproven. The theories presented to explain away the plain meaning and implications of his statement do nothing to change its validity.

The man received a nobel prize for producing considerable empirical support for his theories. There is no question in the scientific community that evolution is fully consistent with thermodynamics. You are simply cherry picking those portions of his statements that seem to agree with you.

My claim that the second law of thermodynamics does not allow for evolution is in no way consistent with your conclusion that such a position is tantamount to preventing all life from existing. It is precisely your theories that do that, because you deny and discard the Creator, by Whose grace we were made and do exist. You do not acknowledge the Power, Who, because He created and sustains it, transcends the physical realm you think to comprehend. That Power is the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is God, the Holy Spirit. You know nothing of Him or the spiritual realm. How can you, then, comprehend His creation?

An interesting argument. Are you suggesting that god sustains all life moment-to-moment? In any case, there is nothing in thermodynamics that makes life impossible- it is only your incorrect interpretation of the theory that would have that result.

“Through faith we understand that the worlds came into being, and still exist, at the command of God, so that what is seen does not owe its existence to that which is visible” (Hebrews 11:3 WNT).

The Bible, written by men of God (and sealed in many cases with the earnestness of their blood (unlike your careless case), long foretold the inevitable outcome of entropy, which we see and experience all around us, even now with the breakdown of life systems and planet earth in exponential overdrive:

So the bible was written by men, not by god? Just checking. I think it inaccurate, by the way, to suggest that men and women have not died for science- they have and continue to do so. I could say that this is because they believe the learning is worth the price but, as likely as not, it's frequently just because scientists are too curious not to poke puzzles with a stick. Every cause has its martyrs, Mr. Cohen, including human learning.

“Before time You founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They shall perish, but You shall endure; yea, all of them shall wear out like a garment; You shall change them like clothing, and they shall be changed. But You are the same, and Your years shall not be ended” (Psalms 102:25-27 LITV).

So what is holding things together? From where does the power of life come?

“If He made His Spirit come back to Him, taking His breath into Himself again, All flesh would come to an end together, and man would go back to the dust” (Job 34:14-15 BBE).

The second law of thermodynamics is not greater than God. It is part of the inexorable process of decay that was initiated with sin. But God is above sin; He is Life. He is not subject to thermodynamics. He is the Reason that we and everything else are here, and not only here, but able to do, and doing, whatever it is each of us is engaged in at this precise moment. There is no other explanation.

So, thermodynamics were initiated with sin (We'll ignore for the time being that digestion in the garden of eden presumably demanded the same thermodynamic processes utilized today) but, as we've previously discussed, sin cannot have been anything but a consequence of god. Therefore he isn't above sin. Except he is, because he's perfect. Except that we do whatever it is that god intends for us to do and, therefore, sin because we're meant to. And... yes... the logical inconsistency just made my brain bleed.

God proved that He was greater than the physical world in His coming in the flesh as Jesus Christ. As a man, subject to the same laws that we are, Jesus did miracles transcending those laws, turning water into wine, multiplying food, walking on water, and raising the dead. Finally, He raised His own body from the dead after three days and three nights in the grave. These are all physical impossibilities by the known and observed laws of physics and nature, just as is creation itself. How is this explained then? It is explained by, and in, Jesus Christ:

I explain it the same way you explain Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, the faith of the ancient Greeks and other faiths: the miracles of Jesus are fictitious. Remember, Mr. Cohen, you and I are both atheists: it's simply that I doubt the existence of just one more god than you do. This is not to say that the teachings of Jesus are foolish or useless- some of them are quite wise- but only that I strongly doubt the purported miracles of Jesus in much the same way that you likely doubt the existence of Sasquatch.*

“Who being the shining splendor of His glory, and the express image of His essence, and upholding all things by the Word of His power, having made purification of our sins through Himself, He sat down on the right of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:2-3 LITV).

The same power that upholds all living things and the universe itself that contains them is the power by which Jesus Christ raised Himself from the dead. They are one and the same power. You are here, as is everyone and everything else, by virtue of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, Who is God. Your very life depends on Him, even as you deny Him and seek out witty inventions to do so. He owns you:

I generally don't think of myself as witty. Thank you!

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because by Him all things were created, those in the heavens and those on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things are held together” (Colossians 1:15-17 EMTV).

He proved this by the resurrection from the dead:

“Who was declared Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4 EMTV).

This is no theory or hypothesis, but was a documented event that had many eyewitnesses who were willing to, and did, shed their own blood for the honor of being identified with the Lord Jesus Christ, Who was with them, and they testified of His sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, in love, truth, and power.

If I'm not mistaken, you refer obliquely to Paul's account of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 where he states that somewhere in the area of 500 people witnessed the resurrection of Christ. Specifically:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Five hundred eye witnesses might impress me** but what we actually have is one man claiming that 500 people witnessed the resurrection. That's a slightly different story. This, of course, ignores that there is reason to believe that the books of the bible were not composed until considerably after the death of Jesus and that the bible has been subject to a certain amount of revision over the years. In short, the documentation you refer to is, at best, suspect.

Are you willing and able to do the same for your theories? Will your theories do that for you? Of what value are they, then?

Will my theories raise me from the dead? I actually hope not- that's not really what they're intended to do. Leaving aside the issue of whether I'm willing to die in order to advance the "cause" of science, I will simply point out that a number of people were quite willing to sacrifice their lives for their religion with rather tragic results. A willingness to die for one's cause, I am sure you will agree, should not be taken as the ultimate proof of that cause's legitimacy. I am willing to devote my life to the scientific enterprise and I am willing to discuss matters with you in the hope that you, or others, may be swayed to the position that faith and science need not be in conflict. If that isn't enough to satisfy you, it is at present enough for me. If you want to continue using the bible to trump scientific discovery, as others do, then I suppose that is your right, but I have no intention of following your example.


Been good talking to you.

So, dear readers, think about Mr. Cohen's arguments and decide as you will.

* As it happens, I doubt Sasquatch as well, but that isn't the point.

** Actually, I know a little too much about the reliability of testimony and mass behavior to necessarily be swayed by the sheer number of witnesses.

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Blogger TDEC said...

I really respect the way you conduct this debate, and I am glad to see some courteous discussion. I was thinking about some recent indications that religion makes people happier. It reminds me of my anger management reading asking me whether I would rather be happy, or right. It seems like a helpful thought - many religious people seem to choose happiness over being right, since they believe that this is a choice they have to make. The debate about science is a facade only - it confuses people just enough to make it possible to convert them. Frankly, I can't blame anyone for being happy, rather than right. I look at the religious communities around me, and I see the support and cohesion in those networks - no wonder they're happier. Who doesn't feel better when they feel safe? I do, and I envy those few people who manage to be both happy and right, those who see no contradiction between science and religion. Not that there aren't any other ways to be happy - marriage is apparently one, and one you might appreciate - but finding a balance between being happy and being right is pretty crucial in a marriage; religion is perhaps not so different. I think I will stick to being married though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 1:34:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...


I appreciate your praise but, in all honesty, I think you would have to admit that my first response to Mr. Cohen was somewhat rude and my second is flippant in spots.

Secondly, I'm curious about the indications you refer to. I've seen research that suggests that religious people report being happier but correlation seldom equals causation. It could be that happy people tend to adopt religion more readily (i.e. the causation works in reverse) or even that religious people feel pressure to claim happiness even when they don't feel it. This isn't to say I find a causal relationship impossible to believe, it's just that as a social scientist I know that the claim you're referring to is a big one.

I also wonder if you aren't merging two senses of the word "right." There's "right" in the sense of accurate and "right" in the sense of "winning an argument." You're absolutely correct that, in the latter sense of right, being "happy" is frequently at odds with being "right." I've remarked to my Sainted Fiancee from time to time that when arguing with a loved one, the point is not to win, but to resolve the conflict. In proving yourself to be "right" you may end up losing in the end.

At the same time, however, being "right" in the sense of "accurate" may often be conducive to happiness. In interpersonal relationships you can't resolve a conflict until you actually figure out what is causing it. On a larger level, I don't think we are usually harmed by learning the truth about the world. It may be disconcerting at first, but it usually works out better in the long run.

And speaking personally, I find "accuracy" to be deeply comforting. I like understanding how the world works. I like understanding things and so I don't see that we usually have to make a choice between being "right" and being "happy."

Just my (admittedly poorly developed) thoughts on the matter. Thanks for yours!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 4:36:00 PM  
Blogger SARA said...

This was a wonderful discussion. Thank you for posting it. I enjoyed the way you set it up, in fact it was brilliant..near to the end the thought that crossed my mind was turning this into a 2 actor play, each on opposite sides of a dark lit room. I'm quite serious. It would be conducive to a great debate.

This statement bothered me "If He wills that you labor in foolishness for the time being, not knowing what you say or do, that is His judgment,"

sounds a little harsh since we're all entitled to our own opionions-It's in questioning (be it religion or science) that we grow to a deeper understanding.

I have argued/debated in the past with a Jesuit friend the notion of FREE WILL...I still have a problem with it...if GOD gave us free will to choose and yet in the same token He knows what we're going to do before we even do it, then how can it be free will, it's HIS will , is it not? The answer I received was that I was trying to justify my own sins and not take responsibility for them...I argued that God knew my sin before I committed it , thus it must have been ok if he knew I was going to committ the sin. ohhh how we struggle in our faith! *smile*

The "best" line in the entire dialogue was:
" I am willing to discuss matters with you in the hope that you, or others, may be swayed to the position that faith and science need not be in conflict. If that isn't enough to satisfy you, it is at present enough for me."

Great closing...lights go out, curtain closes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007 9:49:00 PM  
Blogger TDEC said...


I agree that you are flippant; but compared to the usual shouting matches and floods of abuse this looks pretty civilised to me.

As for the research about the correlation between happiness and religion, again, I agree that there is not necessarily a causal link there; my anecdotal experience is that religious people are, esp. in the US, part of a more cohesive community than those who are not. They have a support network the rest of us can't count on. It is not hard to imagine that better support makes it easier for people to be happy. This does not mean that no other such networks are available to those of us who are not religious - but it may take longer to build or find. Anyway, I should have explained where the research ends and my waffling begins yesterday, but I was typing in a hurry.

Finally, about merging the two senses of right, oh absolutely. I don't think it is always easy to distinguish the two, particularly in a religious context. Or for that matter in a relationship. Having an accurate, correct memory (even evidence!) of the cause of some argument may help you win the argument; by the same token sometimes it is better to put what you know to be accurate aside in order to resolve a conflict - in a relationship at least. My point here is that I am not sure it is always possible to separate what is accurate from what will make you win an argument, and that the two become more entangled as people get more emotionally involved.

Finally - I already used finally, but what the hell - I don't believe that a better knowledge of the world makes us happier. I wish I did, but I have yet to see any evidence for it. Clarity in relationships is certainly often very helpful, but I have a hard time seeing the same positive effect when it comes to factual knowledge about the world in general. In some cases knowledge may spur us into action, may make us do something to better the world (on a good day); but does that make us happier? I doubt it. Does that mean I believe that ignorance is a good thing? By no means - but I guess I do believe that facts are often too hard to be comfortable, and too complex to be helpful. Maybe it makes you a better person, a more aware person; but it takes a special sort of person to find happiness in the state of the world. Anyways, as always I appreciate the feedback - I am a tad muddled, I know.

Thursday, July 12, 2007 6:25:00 AM  

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