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Wow, Stanley Fish misses the point in critically contrasting religion and science with such poetic and elegant verbosity it transcends being just cloying philosophical navel-gazing and becomes something else entirely.

Indeed, the article linked above, while complex like finely crafted clockwork, nonetheless strikes me as presented as a part of an even larger, and even more pointless and self-indulgent commentary. It has to: the two "articles" on their own say so little (yet with so many words!) that it must be part of a larger continuity (but what preceded Part 1?) It is almost awe-inspiring.

So, yet another "intellectual" mistakes religion for some sort of philosophy. Sure, religion alludes to philosophy, but is so stuffed full of superstition that to say it has any real relevance to modern philosophy is laughable.

Fish also touches on (and by touches on, I mean meanders through multiple paragraphs on) the fact that human endeavors like science and philosophy exist within a context, outside of which they have no purpose or meaning! Well shit, with all my reason and logic, I had just arrived at the conclusion that my existence and the existence of all other thinking organisms was pointless, and I risked being paralyzed from the frontal lobes down, doomed to be left drooling in a mental hospital! Thanks for saving me, Mr. Fish!

I guess Fish munificently assumes the vast majority of religious people are as smart as he is, and have similar reasons for valuing "faith"... a word, already vague, now reduced by Fish into utter meaninglessness by his fantastically and self-evidently counterproductive intellectual masturbation.

...Sadly, I have doubts that reading this post will be as much fun as it was to write; this being part of my point.

Frenetic said this:

"Sure, religion alludes to philosophy, but is so stuffed full of superstition that to say it has any real relevance to modern philosophy is laughable."

I'm not sure what is meant by this. Religion has been quite relevant to many modern philosophers. Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben to name two.

But my real question to folks around here is: What does philosophy have to do with anything if one thinks that the scientific method is best method of understanding?

I also am skeptical of 80% of "philosophy" that's out there, even such established schools as the existentials. They are OK, but what they claim to "know" must be taken with a grain of salt. Philosophy has helped science in the past, and probably still helps, but only when taking evidence into account.

I haven't read Derrida, but from what I remember he's one of the postmodernists Sokal took down in his book.

I meant the existentialists, but you guys knew that.

Andyo -

It seems as if you think that the task of philosophy should be to help science. What do you mean by that?

If you can call the speculative part of science "philosophy" (and I don't see why not), then yes, of course it helps, as long as it's grounded in evidence and reality.

But philosophers also often abuse science, as it was shown in the postmodernists' case.

I'm not sure what is meant by this. Religion has been quite relevant to many modern philosophers. Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben to name two.

The "philospher's God", the God believed in when the Bible was written, and the God most Western people currently believe in, are three drastically different things. Nobody with a grasp of reason and logic would take the latter two concepts seriously, and the former concept is not strictly religion.

But my real question to folks around here is: What does philosophy have to do with anything if one thinks that the scientific method is best method of understanding?

Good question.

But my real question to folks around here is: What does philosophy have to do with anything if one thinks that the scientific method is best method of understanding?

Good question.

Science Is the best method of understanding scientific questions and is useful to inform other questions.

If I ask you what the scientific method is and how it work and you venture an answer you'll be doing philosophy. If I ask how to apply the scientific method to moral questions and you posit an explanation once again you'll be doing philosophy.

Norm, you said :

"Science Is the best method of understanding scientific questions and is useful to inform other questions."

That's a philosophical statement already, though, no? Upon what is it grounded? If its pure pragmatism (and there's nothing wrong with pragmatism!) then I don't see how a critique of religion is possible.

It is not a philosophical statement. It is a statement based on results. No other method of discovery has yielded even remotely the results that science has done. In any given year, science discovers and makes useful more information of the universe than all religions have ever done in human history. I would say any given day, but I don't wanna seem hyperbolic.

Well, no it is a philosophical position: you have decided that the value of a particular mode of inquiry is expressed in the quantity of "useful information" it yields. There's nothing necessarily wrong with this position, but we shouldn't pretend that it is not there, or that there are not alternatives to that view. For example: We don't dismiss literature on the grounds that it hasn't yielded any useful information.

Care to cite some of the "alternatives"? I don't know what you're trying to get at. It seems to me that you might be of a relativistic slant.

Just in case. I'm assuming that we're talking about ways to get useful and truthful information about reality. That science is the best method (by far) for it is not a mere philosophical position (even if it is, the fact that it is doesn't really matter), it is a fact based on results.

Andyo, I suppose I'm relativistic in that I believe different things are different things. The thing that people consistently misunderstand in these discussions between science and religion is this: people who are religious are not religious because their religion accounts for facts about the world. Creationists do not affirm their belief in God BECAUSE they think that he created the world in seven days. They are faithful for other, much more complicated reasons. It is their particular (and odd) theological commitment to understanding the Bible as the inerrant word of God that leads to their convictions about the age of the earth, and so on. But they did not start from there.

And so here's what I'm trying to get at. I am not disputing your claim that science is the best method to get useful information about the world. I am saying that religious activity is not necessarily directed towards a factical representation of the world. To denounce it for failing in this regard is reductive and silly - sort of like criticizing a fantastical novel for not representing reality accurately enough.

Now, of course, there are religious people who make it a point to contest certain scientific accounts of the world. This is because they do believe that an increasingly "scientific" world poses a threat to their religious convictions. This is true, and their brand of religiosity will probably become more marginal. The most telling sign of this trend is their forays into pseudoscience. They themselves assent to the statement which began this conversation - that science is the best way to understand the world - when they try to duplicate the outward appearance of scientific activity.

Frenetic, you said:

"Nobody with a grasp of reason and logic would take the latter two concepts seriously, and the former concept is not strictly religion."

What I'm trying to understand is what precisely it is that makes the former concept ("the philosophers god") not "strictly religion". Taking a historical view, it is relatively easy to trace (what we would now call) theological currents (and correspondences) in all sorts of thought that isn't explicitly religious.

To lay my cards on the table: I don't buy the up-from-irrationalism narrative. It is probably not accurate to describe religious activity or thought as superstition: not because it sometimes appears "philosophical" (whatever that means) but because it has been, and continues to be implicated in many of the positions/unreflective understandings that even the non-religious hold.

What I'm trying to understand is what precisely it is that makes the former concept ("the philosophers god") not "strictly religion". Taking a historical view, it is relatively easy to trace (what we would now call) theological currents (and correspondences) in all sorts of thought that isn't explicitly religious.

My issue with Fish's article isn't that he operates under the assumption that philosophy and religious thought have a little bit in common, it's that, among other errors, he uses that detail as an excuse to make grossly invalid generalizations in order to claim to "have elevated Christianity above Scientology or sun worship", as Tim put it.

Even if you manage to tweak the semantics so that 1% of "religion" can be considered to be based on fully realized philosophies (and even this concept strikes me as very dubious), 99% of religion is still people who basically believe in a magical sky bully who grants wishes (or the intergalactic overlord Xenu, who wants you to give all your money to Tom Cruise, or whatever).

I believe there is a line. On one side is philosophy and metaphorical stories and JRR Tolkien fans, and on the other is religion and American evangelicals and the Taliban.

"I believe there is a line."

What is it? Can you identify it without resorting to your own tastes?

All that I am suggesting is that there is an awful lot of history that gets chucked out the window during these kinds of conversations. Christianity is not just belief in things that may or may not be ridiculous: it also describes a cultural phenomenon that has had and continues to have effects on the human imagination. Christianity may not be BETTER than Scientology or Sun-Worship (whatever that means) but it is different, and requires a different kind of treatment for the sake of honesty. Scientology was not the religion of the Holy Roman Empire.

It seems reductive to me to pit "religion" and "science" against each other, as if these were abstractions that did not appear in the complex circuits of actual human activity and history.

I'll reply to you in parallel to prevent the nested posts from getting too crazy.

it also describes a cultural phenomenon

Guess which side of that line "culture" is on?

I've got nothing against Christian "culture". I celebrate Christmas, after all; I can appreciate the theme without actually believing in a magical baby. Along the same lines, I've got no problem with kids dressing up in Superman capes and running around the yard, as long as they realize it is make-believe and don't try jumping off the roof thinking they can fly.

This should really just be common sense. 2000 years ago common sense said that the Earth was flat, the sky was some sort of dome, and sickness was the result of evil spirits or divine punishment for an unknown sin. Things have moved on, time for everyone to catch up.

I'm not so good at managing these discussion boards. I must have responded to the wrong item, so this is showing up twice. Apologies for that!

This is why these conversations don't go so well. When I say "culture", I don't mean the Christmas holiday. I mean things like: moral beliefs, political philosophies, human relationships. Like it or not, a good deal of the assumptions that underlie Western Civilization are religious/metaphysical/whatever. Until this is not the case, I don't see how it is honest, or productive, to dismiss religion as mere superstition. We are necessarily implicated in it whether or not we believe in a God or not.

And to your other point: isn't a deferral to "common sense" a weak argument? Especially when it appears that a belief in a God is definitionally more "common sense" than atheism?

I also want to add that all of the valid points you could make about Christianity would apply equally to Ancient Greek myths and superstitions, etc.

Yet nobody (Mr. Fish included) is defending "faith" in Zeus or claiming such beliefs have philosophical relevance[1]. Thus, contrary to the statements at issue, faith in the Judeo-Christian God cannot be exceptional, and thus that faith is not rationally defensible using philosophical arguments (or any kind of valid argument at all).

Once again, I'm not arguing that religion isn't "relevant" in certain neutral academic (or cultural) contexts. The "history" of it all shouldn't be "chucked out the window" in those cases! But in the case of my original argument, I don't see how you could logically think "history" was relevant.

Anyways, if everyone was merely pondering "philosopher's Gods" instead of forcing their One True Faith down everyone's throat, I doubt we'd have found ourselves having this conversation.

[1] If you feel the need to bring up Plato or Socrates... well, I said "Ancient Greek myths", not "philosophers", obviously. I'm talking about faith and religion versus philosophy here.

And to your other point: isn't a deferral to "common sense" a weak argument?

I should have qualified that with "in my opinion"; it was an aside regarding the preceding argument not an argument in itself.

I would not hesitate to say that the mythology of the Ancient Greeks has insights into contemporary civilization; and I don't think Fish or anyone of his ilk would have a problem assenting to that either.

I am just extremely doubtful that it is possible to distinguish so simply religious thinking on the one hand and philosophy on the other. I don't see how one could even coherently formulate a "faith and religion vs. philosophy". Even Plato (sorry, but I do need to bring him up) - a philosopher! - is very obviously informed by Pythagorean mysticism. Even more to the point: his Socrates is continually invoking myth and religion in his argumentation - the finale of the Republic is a good example.

And Plato and Aristotle, of course, are the bread and butter for Medieval scholastic "philosophy" , Aquinas, Augustine, etc.

I suppose we just don't mean the same thing when we say "philosophy". And then maybe it is unfair to indict Fish for an "intellectual sleight of hand" (not your words I know, but good ones from Tim).

I don't see how it is honest, or productive, to dismiss religion as mere superstition.

When I speak of religion's irrelevance, I mean religion as practised by the average person; as in, people who are not philosophers or academics.

I would hope it is obvious that the current beliefs of average people -- particularly Judeo-Christianity -- are overwhelmingly composed of nonsense. This blog is chock full of nigh comical examples of this. So I see no problem with dismissing the average American's faith as mere superstition.

I do not mean to disparage "the average person"; I just see many people with a rigid and simplistic worldview that is based on religion, and I am compelled to try and change this.

As for the direction I think you're coming from: Collectively, yes, humanity's religions flavor our modern philosophy and culture. Their contributions on a whole are just as elegant as most people's interpretations of them are not.

Indeed, a full appreciation for the contributions of various religions to our culture would be impossible if we assumed one of them were the absolute truth.

So what's wrong with saying they are fundamentally outmoded (most of all in their absolutism)? Obviously that doesn't mean they will ever be wiped from our collective consciousness entirely, any more than we've forgotten about Bacchus or Hercules.

I don't know enough about the religion of average people to know whether or not its composed of nonsense. I would certainly agree that the type of stuff that gets posted here strikes me as loony, but I don't accept that it is representative of normative religious activity. I would guess that for the average person (if he or she exists) religion is equivalent to church-going, which is a type of behavior that is not itself irrational - a church, after all, is not just a set of beliefs, but a community as well.

But that aside:

If we now agree that Fish was speaking to the "academic" expressions of religiosity in his column (which is no surprise, as he is an academic himself) but religiosity nonetheless, why should any of the points he is making be dismissed?

I was a little dismayed to see an article from the Torygraph on the blog to end all blogs. I'd offer criticism, but thankfully the readership has already done so. Of all the ways the American political system is better than the British one (it's a Republic, there are fixed terms of office, there is a proper separation of powers, there is judicial oversight, there's a written constitution) political corruption ain't one of them.

So a bunch of MPs bought DVD players at the tax payers expense: is that really as bad as a system which requires one to be a multi-millionare to run for office and then be the paid for adherent to a half dozen or more special interest lobby groups? I ain't buying it, and neither you nor the Torygraph ought to be selling it.

Norm stopped posting those daily logical fallacies, didn't he.

I was a little dismayed to see an article from the Torygraph on the blog to end all blogs.

I can agree with something someone says without agreeing with that person's general views.

So a bunch of MPs bought DVD players at the tax payers expense: is that really as bad as a system which requires one to be a multi-millionare to run for office and then be the paid for adherent to a half dozen or more special interest lobby groups?

Can't both things be a problem?

Fish's article is an exercise in magnificent intellectual sleight-of-hand. First comes a disgusting foray into postmodern bullshit - but not to worry, he assures us that "I am not affirming this view,..." - he just brought it up to anesthetize his readers into accepting his premise that religion can't boxed into these pedestrian things called, ahem, hypotheses. (Never mind all the absurd truth claims that every religious text serves up in abundance.) Having flopped that dishonest fish on the table - voilá, we're back to St. Augustine and St. Paul - though nothing in his preceding remarks have elevated Christianity above Scientology or sun worship. But it all sounds so intelligent!

"Smart people are very good at justifying things they've come to believe for non-smart reasons" (or something to that effect)
-- Michael Shermer on P&T's BullShit (The Bible episode)

This is why these conversations don't go so well. When I say "culture", I don't mean the Christmas holiday. I mean things like: moral beliefs, political philosophies, human relationships. Like it or not, a good deal of the assumptions that underlie Western Civilization are religious/metaphysical/whatever. Until this is not the case, I don't see how it is honest, or productive, to dismiss religion as mere superstition. We are necessarily implicated in it whether or not we believe in a God or not.

And to your other point: isn't a deferral to "common sense" a weak argument? Especially when it appears that a belief in a God is definitionally more "common sense" than atheism?

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