A Question For Supernaturalists

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Calilasseia's picture
A Question For Supernaturalists

Several of us here have repeatedly observed the phenomenon, of supernaturalists treating their various choices of mythology as not merely containing scientific and historical fact, but as the product of a fantastically gifted entity (invariably the entity in question being asserted to exist in the self same mythologies) purportedly responsible for fabricating an entire universe and its contents.

For those supernaturalists who wonder why we regard this treatment of mythology as fact with deep suspicion, you might want to ponder the following.

The mythologies you adhere to, contain assertions about the natural world and its contents, that are not merely wrong in the light of modern scientific knowledge, but fatuous and absurd in that light. As a corollary, not only is the provenance of those mythologies as a purported source of genuine "knowledge" extremely suspect, but so is the assertion that said mythologies were in any way connected to any genuinely existing fantastically gifted entity.

First, if supernaturalists were presented with any other body of text, purporting to contain genuine knowledge about the universe and its contents, but which was found upon close examination to contain elementary and ridiculous errors, the same supernaturalists would dismiss any claims from that text in an instant. Yet they manifestly do not apply the same judgement to their chosen mythologies. Apart from being a brazen double standard, and a direct violation of any proper approach to discourse, this dichotomy is itself manifestly absurd.

Second, do supernaturalists really think, that any genuinely existing fantastically gifted entity, would allow manifest errors of this sort to appear in any "sacred" work attributed to it? Because if they do, they are not only amplifying the absurdity already cited, they are, by their own standard, cheapening their gods.

Third, and worse still, in the case of fantastic entities asserted to be "omniscient", and in particular, to possess perfect foreknowledge of the future, an entity of this sort would know in advance that allowing such errors to appear in any "sacred" work attributed thereto, would be subject to later dissection by the scientists that said entity must surely have known would arise. Such an entity would know in advance, that errors of this sort would be discovered and exposed in the future.

One cannot even resort to the excuse, that these erroneous assertions constituted purported "simplifications" of relevant concepts aimed at an audience with limited understanding, and in need of accessible analogies. Because genuine analogies do not present within them assertions that are plain, flat, wrong, at least not if constructed competently. Given that scientists in the modern era have been able to make difficult concepts, such as, for example, Calabi-Yau manifolds, accessible to a public with only an elementary level of education, surely it was not beyond the remit of any genuinely existing god-type entity to do the same, and in the process, perform at least an elementary proofreading of whichever mythology is attributed thereto?

The fact that said proofreading and elimination of manifest, absurd error observably did not take place in the requisite mythologies, on its own renders several supernaturalist assertions null and void. This appearance of manifest error, renders null and void any assertion that the mythologies in question are repositories of genuine, substantive knowledge about the universe and its contents. It renders null and void any assertion that the mythologies in question were the product of a fantastically gifted entity, with an intellect far surpassing that of even our greatest scientists.

Indeed, the whole idea that a god type entity would need to communicate via mythology, on its own is suspect. Why not simply arrange for the requisite information to be presented in a straightforward work of non-fiction, one that could be cross-checked and verified with respect to its concordance with observational reality? One that, furthermore, provides instructions on how to bootstrap the scientific endeavour from scratch, and determine for ourselves that the contents of this work are indeed something special?

I have yet to see any supernaturalist address this issue with anything other than the usual apologetic fabrications and rhetorical spells. Consequently, any amongst that ilk who think they can do so, are advised to toss said fabrications and spells into the bin before posting, because their appearance here will be treated by many with well-deserved scorn and derision.

Now, can any supernaturalist come here and address this embarrassing issue?

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Algebe's picture
I think the existence of the

I think the existence of the pseudo discipline called "theology" is itself glaring evidence of the fallacy of superstition. An omnipotent, omniscient god of pure intellect would surely have made its message absolutely clear and unmistakable to every one of its creatures, regardless of their language or intellectual capacity. Yet we have generations of priests and monks poring over ancient scrawls and arguing and prosing on about how many angels can stand on a pinhead.

But reason and science are such hard work, and mythology is so easy.

Sheldon's picture
"reason and science are such

"reason and science are such hard work, and mythology is so easy."

Now that's the absolute truth. The often dry and hard slog of scientific rigour is never going to impress the uneducated hoi polloi as much a damn good yarn involving magic.

Cognostic's picture
@Calilasseia, I'm betting

@Calilasseia, I'm betting you are a killer conversationalist at a dinner party. My science professor would have loved me had I the scholarly command to write as succinctly while maintaining a well read, thought out and scholastic air. I would hate to be the fool to challenge you on anything having to do with the written language. I might be able to help you loosen up a bit at a party though? Then again, you just might be a wild man and I am simply responding to a forum persona. Regardless, keep up the great posts. They are always a pleasure to read.

Tin-Man's picture
@Cali

@Cali

Yeah, what Cog said. Also, while it is rather difficult to follow up on your posts sometimes because of how incredibly thorough and precise you are, I find myself always looking forward to your masterfully crafted prose. While I may not always be able to add to them, I at least have the satisfaction of being able to learn from them.

doG's picture
@ cal

@ cal

You da shiznit...working C-space cogently into THE key sentence of your post...makes you a god. Pun intended.
I love reading your posts...big fan.

I think that, from an observational view alone, a general lack of theists knowledge base and ignorance of basic concepts, leads to repeated failure in reason. I am not as eloquent as you cal, but stupidity breeds stupidity.

LogicFTW's picture
@Calilasseia OP

@Calilasseia OP

Great post, well written.

Unfortunately I suspect this level of writing will fly right over the head of most all supernaturalist that visit these boards. These people cannot even understand that true omniscience = no free will. Even after multiple attempts and examples by us to explain this simple concept.

If supernaturalist understood the concepts you presented truly, I don't think they would be supernaturalist anymore, or at the very least not ascribe to any religion.

 
 

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Jo's picture
@ Calilasseia

@ Calilasseia

I guess I am a glutton for punishment, but I am going to try and address the embarrassing issue you mentioned. I am sure I will not be as eloquent and concise as you, but I am going to give it a try.

I think one of the main issues is a misunderstanding of the intent of the Bible. The first couple of chapters in Genesis are not trying to correct, explain, or educate the audience on cosmology. On the surface it may seem that way, but that is forcing something on the text that is not there. I could say that Genesis gets a surprising amount right and even has some knowledge that was not known until modern science. Such as the universe having a beginning and there being light in the universe before the sun was formed. But I would be making the same mistake by trying to shape it into a scientific document.

The Bible is not intended as a document to explain or educate us in science, history, or geography. It may contain some information on those subjects, but that is not its purpose. So if you judge it based on the assumption that it is a document about those subjects, you will be misjudging it.

It had to be able to be comprehended, remembered, and easily passed on. So it was more of a poem with meter and rhyme and other literary devices. It is also very short. When you take out all the words that are not part of the actual details of the story, you are left with only about 100 words covering about 14 billion years. So there was not a lot of words dedicated to how it all happened. I guess God could have explained the big bang, or evolution, but his purpose was not to teach science. It is more about the reason and purpose. More about the why than the how.

It is more like the following scenario than a scientific treatise. If your great Grandfather built you a magnificent place to live, but was not around to explain everything to you, he might leave you some notes. If he only had 100 words to leave you, and the information had to be easily remembered and passed on. If you had no knowledge of engineering and architecture, and were illiterate. He wouldn't waste words trying to explain precisely when each part was built, how it was built, and what it is made out of. He would focus the information he provides you with, on the purpose and significance. He would not waste words trying to educate or correct any misunderstanding you have about architecture. His notes might say, "this room is the kitchen, to be used to prepare food." He would not waste words explaining with what and how the kithcen was made. Especially if its construction was every complicated and lengthy.

I know this only addresses some of the issues you brought up, but I will try to address more of them in the near future.

Calilasseia's picture
It's time to launch another

It's time to launch another sortie, methinks ...

I think one of the main issues is a misunderstanding of the intent of the Bible.

I assure you, I have no misunderstanding of the intent of the authors of its various parts. Their intent, clearly and explicitly, was for readers of their output to treat all of the assertions contained therein as fact. Which happens to be the intent of every author of mythological texts. I'm also aware of a critique that Nietzsche applied to contemporary philosophers, that is also applicable here, but I'll ask you to be patient for a moment.

The first couple of chapters in Genesis are not trying to correct, explain, or educate the audience on cosmology.

No, those chapters simply assert that the universe and its contents appeared in the manner described in those passages. Which, of course, is the entire problem with mythologies. Mythologies are replete with assertions, but precious little support for those assertions is present.

The second problem you have, is that numerous supernaturalists regard these passages as scientific and historical fact. This phenomenon is most floridly observable among polemical creationists, of the sort that have a habit of turning up on rationalist forums, intent on trying to tell those of us who paid attention in class, that the world's most educated scientists got it wrong, and that a bunch of piss-stained nomads 3,000 years ago somehow magically got it right. You have this observable data set to address.

On the surface it may seem that way, but that is forcing something on the text that is not there.

And now, it's time to pull back the curtain, and reveal the Nietzsche connection I alluded to above. In his work Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche included a scathing castigation of those philosophers who imposed a metaphysic upon the world, in order to usher in an ethic via the back door, regardless of whether or not reality agreed with the idea that it purportedly contained any intrinsic ethic (a matter on which I've written much elsewhere). The relevant passage from Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil reads as follows:

It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy has hitherto been: a confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir; moreover, that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy have every time constituted the real germ of life out of which the entire plant has grown. To explain how a philosopher's most remote metaphysical assertions have actually been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to ask oneself first: what morality does this (does he - ) aim at? I accordingly do not believe a 'drive to knowledge' to be the father of philosophy, but that another drive has, here as elsewhere, only employed knowledge (and false knowledge) as a tool.

I commented elsewhere that this, of course, is one of the reasons that the fundies find science so disturbing, because - gasp! - it does not even try to impose an ethic upon the world. How dare it not do that, and even more, how dare it not impose their ethic upon the world, would seem to be their position from the standpoint of a genuinely Nietzschean analysis.

Of course, it's worse than this: the whole scientific enterprise appears to demonstrate pretty conclusively that imposing a metaphysic in order to impose an ethic, has zero utility value when it comes to actually understanding how the real world works. Conversely, not bothering to impose a metaphysic (and therefore not bothering to impose an ethic) is spectacularly successful. If you're committed ideologically to a doctrine of the sort that the fundies are committed to, that is about as subversive as it gets.

In the introduction to my copy of the book in question, the translator provides this insight, which is additionally illuminative to the point I am making:

Nietzsche is not claiming that we do, or should, embrace judgements that we know to be false - it is not even clear that such a suggestion makes sense. His point is rather that many of the judgements to which we subscribe most firmly may in fact be false, but that it is better that we should not discover this, or that it may be better. We should, that is, be very careful about where our philosophers are leading us. Actually, he would have made his point more effectively if he had spoken of scientists rather than philosophers, for the latter have not been notably successful in uncovering any concrete truths, palatable or the reverse, at any stage in the history of the subject. But the search for truth at any cost, though it is inspired by a philosopher, has been carried through with terrifying success by scientists; admittedly more so in the century since Nietzsche than in all preceding times.

And, in the process of performing the above task, science has also been devastatingly destructive to mythological assertions. But I digress. Nietzsche continues in the same vein, as follows:

What makes one regard philosophers half mistrustfully and half mockingly is not that one again and again detects how innocent they are - how often and how easily they fall into error and go astray, in short their childishness and childlikeness - but that they display altogether insufficient honesty, while making a mighty and virtuous noise as soon as the problem of truthfulness is even remotely touched on. They pose as having discovered and attained their real opinions through the self-evolution of a cold, pure, divinely unperturbed dialectic (in contrast to the mystics of every rank, who are more honest and more stupid than they - these speak of 'inspiration'): while what happens at bottom is that a prejudice, a notion, an 'inspiration', generally a desire of the heart sifted and made abstract, is defended by them with reasons sought after the event - they are one and all advocates who do not want to be regarded as such, and for the most part no better than cunning pleaders for their prejudices, which they baptise 'truths' - and very far from possessing the courage of the conscience which admits this fact to itself, very far from possessing the good taste of the courage which publishes this fact, whether to warn a foe or a friend or out of high spirits and in order to mock itself. The tartuffery, as stiff as it is virtuous, of old Kant as he lures us along the dialectical bypaths which lead, more correctly, mislead, to his 'categorical imperative' - this spectacle makes us smile, we who are fastidious and find no little amusement in observing the subtle tricks of old moralists and moral-preachers. Not to speak of that hocus-pocus of mathematical form in which, as if of iron, Spinoza encased and masked his philosophy - 'the love of his wisdom', to render that word fairly and squarely - so as to strike terror into the heart of any assailant who should dare to glance at this invincible maiden and Pallas Athene - how much personal timidity and vulnerability this masquerade of a sick recluse betrays!

In short, Nietzsche is not only castigating the mutation of philosophy, in certain hands, into an assertionist process, but the peddling of apologetics. His prose is somewhat florid, but the point is duly made.

Now, about that connection. Quite simply, mythologies are never written in a vacuum, and if they are to be something other than a stream of consciousness exercise, conducted on a level of abstraction that would quickly become tiresome to even the most esoteric of literary tastes, they have to exhibit at least some attempt at forging a connection, however tenuous, with the real, observable world. The best fiction is the best, precisely because it integrates known fact with the products of the imagination, in a manner that results in a compelling narrative - enough fantasy to be entertaining, enough reality to avoid being risible. As a corollary, anyone seeking to write a mythology, and who intends for that mythology to be something other than obvious fantasy, has to include in that narrative something that at the very least resembles history. Creation myths are pretty much an essential tool in the literary toolbox for this purpose, and the near-ubiquity thereof in human mythologies is wonderfully educational here. But, a modified version of Nitezsche's critique applies here: namely, that in many cases, a creation myth and an accompanying metaphysics, was erected for the purpose of imposing an ethic upon the universe and its contents, and implanting in the mind of the reader, that said ethic was an intrinsic part of the fabric of the universe.

At this point, I need only make some elementary observations, in order to render this exercise futile. Namely, that the existence of an ethic only makes sense, when there exist entities capable of the requisite thought. The idea of an ethic being an intrinsic part of the fabric of the universe makes no sense, when one understands that in the past, the universe was hostile even to the existence of neutral atoms, let alone any more complex compound entities. What's the point of having an ethic embedded into the fabric of the universe, if nothing capable of abiding by that ethic will exist for 13.4 billion years? Another of those elementary concepts I find frequently to be beyond the understanding of many supernaturalists.

But there are two issues here. One, that a creation myth was included, albeit with an ulterior motive other than that of scientific education, as I have explicitly recognised above, and two, that creation myth was intended to be treated as factual, precisely because the ethic that was the primary motive of the author thereof, depended upon this creation myth being true, in order for that ethic to be disseminated successfully. That second issue strikes to the heart of the matter here, namely that assertions about the physical world and its operation were erected not as an attempt to understand observational reality, but to prop up a set of rules for controlling human behaviour, regardless of whether those assertions about the physical world were actually correct.

The big problem with this approach being, of course, that the moment said assertions about the physical world are demonstrated not to be correct, the entire edifice collapses. Which is the real reason religious fundamentalists in particular are so zealously motivated to oppose any science that falsifies even peripheral assertions of their mythologies. That falsification is devastating to their entire enterprise. The moment modern scientific theories gain wide public acceptance, religions dependent upon a metaphysic at variance with those scientific theories to support their ethics, have an earthquake bomb detonated under their foundations.

Choosing this route to give longevity and hegemony to one's mythology is seductive, but dangerous to the very mythological enterprise that is being conducted, because failure to be diligent with respect to the creation myth, destroys your work wholesale the moment science finds out your assertions are wrong.

I could say that Genesis gets a surprising amount right

No it doesn't. Anyone who has paid attention in a science class, is well placed to know that the assertions in Genesis are frankly ludicrous. The entire order of events is ass-backwards with respect to the findings of modern science. Such as Earth being purportedly "created" before the Sun existed, except that oops, modern astrophysicists not only know that planetary accretion requires a star to be present first, they now have direct observational evidence of the process underway. Likewise, asserting that plants were purportedly "created" before there existed a light source to power photosynthesis, is an elementary error discoverable by reasonably astute 11 year olds today. The whole business with the rib-woman is likewise risible for several reasons.

and even has some knowledge that was not known until modern science.

Oh really?

Such as the universe having a beginning

This was merely asserted. The assorted authors of this mythology had NO way of genuinely knowing if this assertion was something other than the product of their rectal passages. Additionally, the very concept of the universe having a "beginning", is itself one that needs to be treated with care, in the light of modern cosmology. Not least because whilst the observable universe we see today may have had a "beginning" in its current form, there are numerous cosmological hypotheses in existence that involve eternally existing entities.

and there being light in the universe before the sun was formed.

Actually, any photons that existed for the first 300,000 years didn't travel very far. Radiation wasn't decoupled from matter until that time. Furthermore, in the earliest epochs, that radiation wouldn't have been in the visible spectrum, but somewhere at the high end of the X-ray/gamma ray part of the spectrum.

But I would be making the same mistake by trying to shape it into a scientific document.

So don't even go there. :)

But, my essential point remains intact. Namely, that a genuinely existing fantastically gifted entity, one capable of fabricating an entire universe and its contents, would surely possess the power to ensure that any "message" it sought to disseminate to us, would not contain manifest and discoverable errors?

LogicFTW's picture
@Calilasseia

@Calilasseia
Another excellent post Calilasseia.

The best fiction is the best, precisely because it integrates known fact with the products of the imagination, in a manner that results in a compelling narrative - enough fantasy to be entertaining, enough reality to avoid being risible.

I realized something reading that. I have noticed for the last 10 years or so I increasingly analyze everything I read and watch, even fictional stories. Worse it oftentimes ruins the movie/book for me. Some glaring reason or logic flaw or contradiction, I thought I was just growing older and these books/movies were written for people in their 20's or younger when people simply did not investigate as much, in a sense I thought I grew out of lots of books and movies even if they were intended for adults, just young adults. Now I realize as my critical mind sharpens, the balance, the equation for me is different then it is for many other folks, I demand much more reality in a fiction book so it does not become risible. I still do try to enjoy the books/movies.

One easy example for me is the well known game of thrones books/tv series. In the books written by George R. R. Martin and the earlier seasons that stuck to the books closely, while there was magical flying dragons, people immune to fire etc everything else made sense, why people did things made sense. George took the time to write a book that despite it fantasy origin everything in a sense had its place and purpose, it much closer matched reality even if it was a fictional magical world. As the TV series progressed it moved away from the books and much of the purpose and reasoning and reality started to crumble. I would shout at the screen and say something like: "that makes no sense! Why would it happen X way when Y way is much easier, more reliable and far more likely outcome?? I can then trace it to the screen writers trying to move the plot forward in the direction they want to take it, they are manipulating reality to tell a story and my mind rejects it as improbable, too much fantasy and essentially, lying.

Don't get me wrong though I still watch the latest episode of game of thrones the day it comes out, even if the story is not as good, (and more predictable to me,) the sets, the special effects, the costumes, make up etc are all still top notch.

What's the point of having an ethic embedded into the fabric of the universe, if nothing capable of abiding by that ethic will exist for 13.4 billion years? Another of those elementary concepts I find frequently to be beyond the understanding of many supernaturalists.

Very well stated. This too is one of the most powerful reasons why I am so utterly confident that the various god ideas are pure works of fiction by humans. An entity that cares greatly about humans but waits 13.4 BILLION years to do anything, then briefly reveals it self but in a way that cannot be verified later? It is little wonder some religions go the route of "no the universe is really only thousands of years old not billions." Even if the evidence is badly stacked against such a statement.
 
 

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Please include @LogicFTW for responses to me
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rat spit's picture
@Cali

@Cali

“I commented elsewhere that this, of course, is one of the reasons that the fundies find science so disturbing, because - gasp! - it does not even try to impose an ethic upon the world. How dare it not do that, and even more, how dare it not impose their ethic upon the world, would seem to be their position from the standpoint of a genuinely Nietzschean analysis.”

Hmm. But what about my fellow Englishman, Sheldon? He is adamant that good and bad, right and wrong, fall out of the process of evolution. If this is the case then science has woven an ethics into the Universe.

Calilasseia's picture
Hmm. But what about my fellow

Hmm. But what about my fellow Englishman, Sheldon? He is adamant that good and bad, right and wrong, fall out of the process of evolution. If this is the case then science has woven an ethics into the Universe.

This is completely wrong. Science hasn't imposed an ethic on the universe, instead, it has provided a body of evidence to the effect that [1] our capacity for ethical thought, and the motivation to act thereupon, has an evolutionary and biological basis, and [2] that whatever ethical principles emerge from that thought, are the product of the need to maintain social cohesion in species with social structures. Once again, science is descriptive here, not prescriptive. Failure to notice this essential difference is an elementary error that many commit. Scientific findings in this vein do not involve an "ought", rather an "is".

rat spit's picture
@Cali

@Cali

Precisely as I thought. Sheldon was wrong.

Some clarification? I’ll presume the answer is no, but I’ll ask anyway. Do you hold that good and bad are absolute structures beyond animal conception?

Do you hold that good and bad are relative social or cultural concepts? And if so, do they arise on a genetic basis through evolution? Or do they arise on a philosophical basis?

Also, are we to assume that philosophical thought is rooted in our evolution? And if so, is there a large gap of understanding between the way that man thinks and ponders - and how this might be rooted in our genetics? Or has that question been answered sufficiently?

Thanks

Cognostic's picture
Good and bad are labels we

Good and bad are labels we apply to actions and activities. Absolute structures? WTF? Relative social constructs? "Many times but not always." Genetic Basis? "All animals have a sense of appropriate and inappropriate behavior. The higher the cognitive function the more complex the interpretation of behavior. The actual application of labeling things good and bad seems to belong to the human species."

Genetics and philosophy. The brain evolved, philosophy evolved, Monkeys do not sit about contemplating the color of bananas and then write books about their discoveries.

rat spit's picture
@Cog

@Cog

They don’t? What about that documentary “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

https://youtu.be/cHWs3c3YNs4

Clearly this is where are morality is derived from. Not genetics. Not evolution. But merely the environment. The sun and the moon. Night and day. Good and evil. Light and Darkness. A big black rectangle in the desert. Let’s not forget about the environment altogether. Am I right?

Cognostic's picture
@rat spit: Not one book.

@rat spit: Not one book. Not one banana. Derived from? It derived from the mental capacity to problem solve. Genetics - mental capacity. Problem solving - environmental. Were it simply environmental, aardvarks would have built the first rockets and beat us to the moon.

YOU WERE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING MORE LIKE THIS.....

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rat spit's picture
@Cog

@Cog

Lol. WTF? That’s pretty creative. I have a feeling you made that your self. Anyway. I can see I’m clearly beat here. So I’ll resign.

One question though. Is there a little parasite that lives in the seed of the banana? My wife told me there is and now I don’t eat that part but I think she was fucking with me.

By the way. Eastern European bananas are far more tasty than North American bananas. The same goes for tomatoes - BY A LONG SHOT!

Cognostic's picture
FUCKING BANANA PARASITES!

FUCKING BANANA PARASITES!

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rat spit's picture
@Cog

@Cog

LMAO - you’ve got some crazy photoshop skills there!!!

Jo's picture
@ Calilasseia

@ Calilasseia

Sorry, just getting back to you your comments. I may not understand everything you are saying. So my next questions and comments should be understood to be preceded by the statement, "if I understand you correctly". I am not trying to do a straw man argument or anything like that.

If I am a supernaturalist, do you consider atheists to be naturalists?

Are you saying that Genesis 1 is using the current understanding of cosmology to state or illustrate and ethic?
The goal is not to teach science, but teach ethics?
What are the "errors" you are referring to in regards to the "message"? Because it gets the science wrong?
Why are fundies doctrines subversive?

Calilasseia's picture
Item one. A supernaturalist,

Item one. A supernaturalist, at bottom, is anyone who thinks that magic entities of some sort are required to provide an explanation for the universe and its contents. Not all supernaturalists are 'conventionally' religious, in the sense of adhering to one of the major popular mythologies, or any of the doctrines arising therefrom. Instead, some of them are attracted to New Age woo, or the recently recrudescent variants of neo-paganism.

The New Age types tend to be the sort of people whose supernaturalism takes a generic and abstract form, with little or nothing in the arena of specifics attached thereto: many of them will harbour a liking for the idealism attached to religion, whilst simultaneously being repelled by the observed malignancies associated therewith. Many of them will also possess an attraction to ritual, though the serious lovers of ritual are more likely to be found among the neo-pagans, especially the ones that like their 'spiritual' affairs heavily coupled to physical sexuality - not for nothing has revival of pagan beliefs been regarded in certain cynical quarters, as little more than an excuse to get pretty young girls naked in the woods. Even if we leave that clichéd aspect of neo-paganism aside, however, one important idea to bear in mind, is that the typical neo-pagan isn't in the least bit dismissive of natural processes, indeed, such an individual will embrace them with far more willingness than you'll ever see among the typical, say, Southern Baptist. Instead, what happens with neo-pagans is that they want to put the magic back into nature, as the first pagans did, though they're honest enough to admit that much of the magic in question is, in effect, the attribution of sentience to natural forces.

Consequently, whilst every adherent of a conventional religion is a supernaturalist, not every supernaturalist as an adherent of a recognised religion. As a corollary, some people who describe themselves as atheists could fall into the supernaturalist category, if they're New Age or neo-pagan.

Item two. Genesis has nothing to do with modern cosmology, which of course didn't exist when this part of the requisite mythology was written. The cosmology in Genesis is, not to put too fine a point on it, infantile even by the standards of the era in which it was formulated. Other civilisations exhibited much better imagination, and had the advantage that for them, their cosmologies were an end unto themselves. The Greeks, with their singular talent for compartmentalising knowledge, regarded ethics as completely separate from cosmology, and didn't try and pretend that their cosmology was a means to an ethical end. Instead, their cosmology was intended to be nothing more than an account of how the universe - and the gods of their pantheon - came into being. It's worth covering the Greek approach to mythology as an illustrative comparison, which I shall now do.

Indeed, one of the interesting features of the Greek cosmological view, is that their gods were products of that cosmology, not the drivers thereof. In the beginning, according to the Greek view, was chaos, which can best be thought of as a 'turbulent void', from which the first divine entites arose, leading to the emergence of the Titans, followed by the later gods of the pantheon. The Greeks also had their gods sharing lives with mortals in the earliest days, complete with some fairly juicy tales of lustful couplings resulting in interesting offspring. Additionally, the Greeks never bothered with a quantified timeline for all of the requisite events and personages, even for the mythical Trojan War that led, in their mythology, to the foundation of Greece itself.

The Greeks intended their mythology to be a 'world history', even though the world in question was centred upon Greece, and did not bother assigning any ethical prescriptives to that narrative. Indeed, they frequently exhibited a certain sophistication, with respect to the matter of presenting their gods as larger than life versions of themselves, complete with the idiosyncrasies and weaknesses that Greek writers were so adept at documenting among their mortal selves. The Greek gods were not presented as being better than the people who fabricated them in the requisite myths, they were more amplified reflections of those people, and those talented Greek writers are to be commended for being far more candid about this aspect of their gods, than any of the various anonymous Middle Eastern authors of Old Testament fulminations. Likewise, the Greeks didn't present their mythology as a justification of their society, merely as describing the antecedents thereto, warts and all.

That's the essential difference. The Greeks treated their mythology initially as brute fact, later as a target for critique once philosophy was launched in Greek society, and didn't consider that mythology to be ethically prescriptive in a major way. Ethics, for the Greeks, was a separate subject of study, independent from their mythology. The result was a more imaginative and colourful mythology, attended to by writers of literary sophistication.

Returning to Genesis (which is rather like returning to an arid desert after the lush, well-tended gardens of Greece) ... the authors thereof (presumably remaining anonymous to this day to protect the guilty) invented a cosmology and a metaphysics to go with it, and did so with an ethical ulterior motive in mind, as I stated earlier. Trouble being of course, as I also stated earlier, reliance upon the validity of that cosmology becomes fatal to the ethical enterprise, the moment physicists discover that said cosmology is physically unreal. Quite simply, if your ethical project requires a certain physics and metaphysics, that project is flushed down the toilet hard the moment the physics is found to be wrong, even before questions are asked about the metaphysics. Genesis suffers from that fatal flaw, as well as being woefully bereft of imagination and, as it unfolds, replete with plot holes.

Item three. The entire Old Testament is, at bottom, a gigantic exercise in prescriptive ethics. It is, in effect, a huge manual of do's and don'ts. It was constructed specifically to be thus by its authors - or, more correctly, the parts were constructed to be thus, but without much attention paid to the matter of consistent integration of those parts. This is another reason why assertions about its purportedly "divine" provenance are hideously suspect - the component parts themselves sometimes bear hallmarks of multiple authorship, in some instances to a schizophrenic extent, and their integration into a consistent whole is deeply troubled. Furthermore, large tracts of this work are little more than post hoc attempts to justify not only blatant wars of territorial conquest on the part of the victors, but all manner of horrors thereafter that have since become indictable crimes against humanity in modern international courts. It's not a particularly gross exaggeration, to characterise the endless wars and collection of booty in Exodus, Numbers, the two Samuels etc., as a Bronze Age account of Lebensraum in action.

Item four. You are indeed correct, that the presence of demonstrably laughable scientific error, is the first item I point to as indication that this body of text is a long way removed from being the product of a fantastically gifted magic entity. The idea that an entity responsible for fabricating an entire universe, would then disseminate discoverable scientific absurdities, after an exercise that would require consummate command of physics alone, is simply untenable.

But, the whole Bronze Age Lebensraum business above provides another reason to dismiss claims of "divine" provenance for this mythology. Why did these people spend so much time documenting numerous bloody wars and abundant instances of post-conquest atrocities, in some cases alongside purported exhortations from their magic man, to treat "thou shalt not kill" as a purported "commandment"? Few contradictions are as glaring as that one.

Genesis contains much that is absurd as far as science is concerned, but the remaining sections contain even more that is absurd, even if you accept the assertion that this work is a treatise on ethics. The entire mythology is sufficiently unhinged in this respect, to make one wonder sometimes at the sanity of the authors. Quite simply, incompetence plus absence of even the most elementary substantive knowledge is only one issue to address here - the whole business of a treatise on ethics including within its pages justification for viciously exterminative wars of territorial conquest, and subsequent treatment of, for example, underage girls as sexual conquest booty, frankly beggars the imagination.

Hopefully this should cover the relevant bases before I catch some sleep.

Tin-Man's picture
@Cali Re: Genesis smackdown

@Cali Re: Genesis smackdown

Damn, that was a pleasure to read... Bravo!... Bravo!... *clap-clap-clap-clap*...

Jo's picture
@ Calilasseia

@ Calilasseia

If atheists who are neo- pagan or New age are supernaturalists. Are the rest naturalists?

If the writer of Genesis was not trying to teach cosmology, but was instead trying to teach ethics using the audiences knowledge of cosmology. Would it still be evidence against the ethic? If the writer was trying to meet them at their level of understanding, isn't that reasonable.

When an adult teaches a young child about complicated things, the child may have difficulty grasping the lesson if the emphasis in on scientific accuracy. So the adult is right to speak to the child at there level of understanding. When teaching a 3 year old why they should stay away from electrical outlets, you are not concerned with the child having an accurate understanding of science. If the child understand he should not touch an electrical outlet because it is "hot" or "will bite him", the adult would agree. If the child has a misunderstanding of the science, but the message of safety is understood, than the goal of the story is accomplished. The child does not have to understand electrons and positive electrical charges, when the goal is to have the child understand that electrical outlets should not be touched. While the parent is guilty of not teaching science accurately, they have kept the child safe from electrocuting themselves. Which was the goal of the story all along.

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Jo

@ Jo

If the writer of Genesis was not trying to teach cosmology, but was instead trying to teach ethics using the audiences knowledge of cosmology. Would it still be evidence against the ethic? If the writer was trying to meet them at their level of understanding, isn't that reasonable.

Ethical? *sound of explosive laughter* Been through this nonsense.

Jo's picture
@ Old man shouts

@ Old man shouts

I used the term "ethics" because that is what Cali called it.

Old man shouts at clouds's picture
@ Jo

@ Jo

Ethics and morals are contrary to many of the biblical stories. Genesis in particular.

NewSkeptic's picture
@Jo

@Jo

This analogy fails in so many ways:

1. Grown men and women are not children, they are capable of understanding
2. You are referring to the Christian God, by definition omnipotent and omniscient. There is no logical reason this being cannot make these people He is dealing with cognizant about the true nature of the universe.
3. The writer is supposed to be inspired by this omniscient being and yet can't get basic cosmological facts correct, and in fact even in their simplified form gets them demonstrably wrong. Some inspiration.

Maybe someday you will open your mind enough to reject to mental gymnastics you have to perform in order be a believer.

Jo's picture
@ NewSkeptic

@ NewSkeptic

1. If you talked to a 3 year old about the universe, or a 33 year old with a PhD in astrophysics, your description and discussion of the universe would be exactly the same?

2. What if the purpose of the writer was something completely different than correct cosmological facts?

3. What if trying to get them to understand correct cosmological facts hindered the primary intent of the author?

4. What if the standards you are requiring of the text are not valid? Could that make you misjudge the text?

NewSkeptic's picture
@ Jo.

@ Jo.

1. Complete Fail.
2. An even more complete Fail
3. A Fail beyond comprehension.

You are being intentionally obtuse and willfully ignorant.

LogicFTW's picture
@Jo

@Jo

If the writer of Genesis was not trying to teach cosmology, but was instead trying to teach ethics using the audiences knowledge of cosmology.

Who is trying to teach ethics? God or the people that wrote/translated/edited/updated the bible?

If god, why cannot a supposed all powerful all knowing god employ much MUCH better tactics available to him to teach ethics then by telling lies to "try" and teach ethics through stories, only to have humans as human knowledge advances and spreads find out later that the cosmology (or really anything) to be quite... well hilariously wrong?

If people, how can we possibly trust these people? We do know of a very real possibility of an agenda of people that stand to gain enormously from having people believe what they write. Just think about the various religions/god ideas you don't believe in, you obviously do not trust the people that wrote their version of a holy text, that they had an agenda, that they are wrong even despite a "book" that says they are "right."

the child may have difficulty grasping the lesson if the emphasis in on scientific accuracy.

Uh, no they dont. Teaching a 3yr old child that electrical outlets can = ouch is a valid scientific statement. They may be too young to understand the details of this, but it is very valid scientific approach to say electrical outlet can = ouch to us humans. No "bending" of the truth required. No storytelling etc required. If the child was bright enough to challenge this statement, you can then proceed to show them evidence of it. Have them briefly touch a low power electric fence they will get the idea really fast due to the readily available "hard" evidence.

========================
A major problem with a 2000+ year old idea is a bit like story telling it self. Ever notice how books or say a tv series with a large overarching complex storyline tend to fizzle out and come to an end? The longer the series goes, the more likely it is to "paint it self into a corner." Especially if careful writing is not done. This has happened to just about all religious ideas and texts. The longer the series goes the more ridiculous it has to get to make it "work."

Picking on abrahamic based religions as I know them best, they got themselves in a lose lose situation. Access to a different opinion, to knowledge, to fact, to study has grown exponentially, especially in the last few decades. They could "cover over" the glaring flaws in their religious text and words for centuries because the average person did not have access to anything else other then carefully curated religious sermon. With preselected passages that they go over on sunday (or other days) where the religious leader tells people how to interpret these select passages.

This plus creating a large community that encompasses this process completely, making anyone that is not part of this group an "isolated" outsider that is scorned by the community as a whole for not thinking like they do is a powerfully effective tool even if the base material is "garbage" with so many huge factual, logical, reasoning holes that even a child would reject the entire concept if the presentation of the concept was not presented to them by their parents and just about everyone else as an absolute truth that cannot be challenged by anything including fact and evidence.

Now we have the internet, now anyone with access to the internet can spend 2 seconds googling and finding other opinions, find the flaws in the various religions. The religious leaders would love to go back and edit the written record on what they got so obviously and hilariously wrong. But they cant. They stated the religious text and even the "sermons" are "god" inspired. So they had to go the shaky road of "you must interpret right" and ofcourse the "right way" to interpret is THEIR way. It is a flawed route that further complicates everything, but it is essentially the only route they have left to them and obviously it still works, even if abrahamic religion is in serious decline the last few centuries. (They even hide the fact the abrahamic religions in serious decline, even when it is fairly obvious if you crack open a history book.)

However, since they already have millions of people that firmly believe any and everything they say with little to no challenge, and those people in turn teaching their kids, it still "works," sort, of. Why do you think so many religious leaders (and thus followers,) are trying so hard to push religions back into schools and control education in general? So that the next generation can be caught early, before they learn to think critically for themselves, to NOT think critically upon their religion at all. To get them so committed to an idea that they can utilize the human's brain tendency to stick with an idea even if it is obviously not correct, for people to reinforce these problematic/false ideas with confirmation bias. To suffer cognitive dissonance as soon as they try to stray from an idea they held since childhood etc.

 
 

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Calilasseia's picture
If atheists who are neo-

If atheists who are neo- pagan or New age are supernaturalists. Are the rest naturalists?

Item number one. At this point it is necessary to distinguish between methodological naturalism, as found in the empirical sciences, and philosophical naturalism. it's best to deal with these in reverse order, as this will make the distinction clear in a succinct manner.

A philosophical naturalist regards as universally true, the assertion that the only processes operating in the observable universe (and possibly beyond) are natural processes, involving physical entities and interactions of the sort that have been the stock in trade of science for 300 years. On the other hand, a methodological naturalist only treats this assertion as a working rule for the conduct of observation and experiment, without regarding the assertion as universally true, and is prepared, upon the emergence of the requisite data pointing to the necessity of doing so, to reject this assertion.

Those atheists who paid proper attention in science classes tend to be methodological naturalists. There are, however, atheists who are philosophical naturalists, and who reject the existence of the supernatural full stop.

The view I take is mostly methodological, but with an added twist, courtesy of the fact that the moment testable natural processes are determined to be sufficient to explain a given class of entities and interactions, then supernatural processes (however these may be defined) become superfluous to requirements and irrelevant. Recognising that basic fact leads to the conclusion that the unanswered questions permitting a potential supernatural explanation have become fewer and fewer over time, and this precedent shows no sign of being reversed. Of course, I'm prepared to accept that at some point in the future, the observable universe could throw us all a massive curve ball, and present us with data requiring a supernatural explanation, but thus far, this has manifestly not happened, otherwise it would have been headline news around the world and a massive topic of discussion in scientific journals.

Of course, there also exists the little matter of how one defines "supernatural" in a rigorous manner. Any process that is observable, measurable, and behaves in accordance with well-defined rules in a reliably repeatable manner, is a natural process by definition, which rather leaves any attempt to define "supernatural" somewhat out on a limb. If it is not observable, then how can we know that it is present? If it is not measurable, how can be possibly learn anything substantive about its operation? If it does not behave in accordance with well-defined rules, again, how can we possibly learn anything substantive about its operation? If it is not reliably repeatable, again, how can we possibly learn anything substantive about its operation? As a corollary, until some means other than the above arises allowing us to distinguish between the two, supernaturalism has a big problem on its hands.

I'll leave aside for the moment the separate question of pantheists, who in essence regard the natural and the supernatural as one and the same, and don't recognise any substantive distinction between the two.

Moving on ...

When an adult teaches a young child about complicated things, the child may have difficulty grasping the lesson if the emphasis in on scientific accuracy. So the adult is right to speak to the child at there [sic] level of understanding.

Item number two. Even an elementary student of pedagogy, recognises the difference between the cognitive development of an infant and an adult. The mythology in question is aimed at adults. As a corollary, it should be far easier to disseminate relevant concepts thereto. I shall demonstrate this with an example.

You have probably never encountered the wonderful world of tensors, which are specific, well-defined entities in mathematics. I shall now embark upon teaching you about them. To start with, I shall introduce you to the concept of a coordinate system A coordinate system is, at its simplest, a means of labelling points in space. Of course, there is more to a coordinate system than that. Among the requirements for a coordinate system, are:

[1] Distinct points in space must have distinct labels, so that they are identifiable via those labels without ambiguity;

[2] Those labels must provide a means of representing distance between points.

Now, there are many ways of achieving the above aims, of which the Cartesian coordinate system (x, y, z in three dimensions) is merely one. There exist other choices of coordinate system, such as (again, in three dimensions), cylindrical polar coordinates, spherical polar coordinates, oblate and prolate spheroidal coordinates, ellipsoidal coordinates, etc., and any suitable mathematics textbook will introduce you to the detailed formulation of each. That is not necessary for what follows. What is necessary, however, is to understand that it is possible to define relationships between different coordinate systems, known as coordinate transformations These allow you to move from one system to another, and convert measurements in one system to measurements in another.

Now, at this point, we notice a key concept in action. It doesn't matter what choice of coordinate system one adopts, when measuring the length of a rod, say, that rod maintains the same length in all our choices of coordinate system. The only difference arising from our choice of coordinate system, is the actual set of numbers we obtain when performing the measurement. And, upon transforming from one coordinate system to the other, we should find that the numbers we extract in one coordinate system, map exactly onto the numbers we extract in the other coordinate system, when we perform that transformation. Physical quantities are independent of our choice of coordinate system. The same is true for masses, areas, volumes, forces, etc.

Now, the question arises, as to how we represent that independence of physical quantities from our choice of coordinate system. Welcome to tensors.

A tensor is any mathematical entity that is independent of the choice of coordinate system. In order to be thus, it has to obey certain transformation laws, when moving from one coordinate system to another. Again, the details can be found in appropriate textbooks, but I warn you that the symbolism chosen is dense, and packs a lot of information into a small number of symbols. Without knowing the conventions involved, the symbolism will not be informative to you at this stage.

One of the discoveries made by mathematicians when investigating tensors, is that you can have tensors of differing complexity for different quantities. Furthermore, the components that a tensor is comprised of, may be coupled to one of two possible sets of basis vectors - which are the vectors that define the coordinate system in question. Every coordinate system can have two sets of basis vectors - the tangents to coordinate curves, or the normals (perpendiculars) to coordinate surfaces. In the general case, these basis vectors are different, but the "odd man out" is the simplest coordinate system, the Cartesian coordinate system, which enjoys the happy situation of the two sets of basis vectors being identical. Only when we move to other coordinate systems does the difference become apparent. A tensor can have components that are defined in terms of either set, and these components are known as contravariant or covariant components, depending upon which set of basis vectors they are coupled to.

Most of the quantities of classical physics are either scalars (e.g., mass) or vectors (e.g., velocity). In three dimensions, a scalar has 3^0 = 1 component, and is a tensor of rank zero. A vector in the same space has 3^1 = 3 components, and is a tensor of rank 1. But there exist some physical quantities that require more complicated tensors. Stress in solid beams is represented by a tensor of rank 2, with 3^2 = 9 components in three dimensions. In General Relativity, gravity is a rank 2 tensor, which accounts for the intimidating mathematics endemic to that discipline, and some quantities in General Relativity are rank 4 tensors - needless to say, it takes a lot of care to work with these. Furthermore, since General Relativity operates in a four-dimensional space-time, the rank 2 tensor for gravity has 4^2 = 16 components, and the rank 4 tensors have 4^4 = 256 components!

However, while the symbolism sometimes ties a tensor to a particular coordinate system when written down, that symbolism is understood as not merely representing that tensor in a given coordinate system, but in all possible coordinate systems for that space. As a corollary, tensors are ferociously powerful mathematical tools - if you can represent your physical system as an equation involving tensors, then that equation is valid for ALL possible coordinate systems in that space the moment you succeed in this endeavour. That's a fantastically powerful result, and means you never have to worry about a particular coordinate system ever again - it's guaranteed to work for ALL of them.

Now, if you've managed to understand even 50% of the above exposition, I've succeeded in imparting to you a powerful and complex concept, without having to dumb down the concept or treat you as a child. If I have thus succeeded, why couldn't a god do the same?

I rest my case.

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