Posted! Because I've been watching too many "atheist responds to apologist" videos. :)

Straw God, Steel God

Yeah, that's fair. I don't know what I think is the main effect of its being in the world. Certainly its most obvious effect is the more intolerant / bigoted / ignorant one, at least in the US lately. I don't know to what extent there is a quieter benign effect, and how large that is.

I think you're right that the fundamentalist position (including the odious consequences of it) are supported implicitly by the probably larger population of mysterians who don't explicitly reject them.

I do think it's a very interesting question, whether we could have institutions that perform the same functions (the useful ones) without the silly truth-claims and all that that implies.

There was some odious right-winger whose name I can't remember who argued that we need the little people to believe in religion in order to keep them in line, aside from whether it's true. And ew. :)


Hm, that's a novel suggestion! I'm not sure what fraction of religion's function is performed by humanities departments on university campuses; I should look him up and read those things.

I tend to disagree with Sam Harris about many things, including his ideas about science getting us from "is" to "ought". On the other hand I do agree that weird old stories have no special authority in that area either. :)


Yeah, this is exactly the kind of argument Harris makes that I don't buy. :)

There is no particular thing that tells us that what is "unhealthy" is also "immoral" (or contrapositively). Science can't tell us that, we just have to agree (or not).

In general there's no particular consensus on even this simple case as a general principle; I would be healthier if I exercised more (science can tell me that), but that doesn't necessarily have any moral consequences at all.

Science can tell us that a certain concentration of heavy metals in the environment is likely to cause certain effects on people. The extent to which this means that any particular action by anyone is immoral is outside the field of science.

Sure, no objection there. Science can tell us all sorts of facts about what is, it just can't tell us what the moral consequences of those facts are, and Harris sometimes / often seems to deny that, and appears to claim that science can tell us what we ought to do. I think that's a mistake.

I also think he's wrong about free will :) per and about various other things. And that's fine, really.

(I'm less comfortable with his saying bad things about say Islam that he for whatever reason doesn't say, or doesn't say as often, about Christianity, and about his association with Rogans and Petersons and such, but that's wandering from the subject a bit.)

On second thought, "well-being" is a rather freighted term, and I don't think science can actually tell us much about it. Is there more well-being in an active physical life, a more sedentary scholarly life, or something in between? Science can tell us simple facts like life expectancies, things about disease and probable pain and so on, but I don't think it can answer a question like this in terms of well-being per se. Fwiw... :)


I don't think we disagree on anything significant here; it's just that I (and perhaps we) disagree with Harris. :)

"Well-being" is a reasonably well-defined word; whether it "exists" isn't imho a very interesting question. Harris tries to sneak in the assumption that everyone is really a utilitarian, by using words like that, but it's cheating.

Does "well-being" have an objective referent that science can tell us about? Probably not; if you and I disagree about whether some particular objectively-described state constitutes well-being, science isn't going to tell us which of us is right.

On the other hand if we agree that a particular objectively-described state constitutes well-being (or misery), but we disagree on how likely a given action is to lead to that state, science can in many cases help us figure out who is more likely to be right.

Scientific knowledge can help us make choices toward particular objectively-described states. It cannot tell us which states correspond to "well-being".

Which is I think what both of us are saying :) but the language can be ambiguous.

I admit I haven't found Wilber's framings all that useful, but then I'm more a synthesizer in style than a categorizer. :) "The It frame is the science frame. But doesn't exist apart from the I and We.": I mean, sure, in a way? But that doesn't really tell me anything. I should probably read him again; it's been literally decades.


Sure, that's fine. It's just that there's no objective / scientific way to conclude anything moral, or even unconditionally imperative, from any of that.

"This would contribute to your well-being, according to a criterion that many human cultures apply under different names" is not going to interest the deontologist who says "okay, but it's still morally wrong" and/or "okay, but still I shouldn't do it".


When *anyone* learns that CFCs are destroying the ozone and concludes that we should stop using them, that moral conviction co-arises with the knowledge; there is nothing special about scientists here. Which is the heart of the matter: in making the moral determination the scientist is not doing it *as* a scientist.

Which, again, is something that I think we agree on.


I'm not sure that science can, strictly speaking, tell us what constitutes "harm".

There are certainly senses of the word that are subjective (harms to integrity, or the soul, or whatever). I think in general "harm" is not a word that strictly speaking has an objective meaning, even though admittedly there are senses on which there is so much intersubjective consensus that it might seem that way.

I don't really agree that there are cases where science tells us "this will harm you", and we cannot help but respond in the subjective frame. Science can tell me that (say) drinking a glass of wine with dinner every night might slightly lessen my life expectancy, and someone might describe that as "harm"; but that does not force any moral response from me, nor does it mean that "science tells us we shouldn't drink alcohol".


Yes, science can definitely tell us about non-subjective effects that will cause our organs and tissues to fail more or less quickly.

Science cannot tell us anything about the moral or categorical-imperative consequences of those effects.

"But all such information is known within minds embedded in socio-cultural contexts."

Sure, I don't think I've said anything that would conflict with that.


Sure. I would state this just as "often finding out a new fact changes what we think we ought to do" which is easier to spell :) but I think synonymous.


Certainly these things tend to be mixed together complexly in our minds; I think that's uncontroversial. But the important point is that that doesn't at all imply that there is something objective or "scientific" about the moral part of the reasoning.


Again, for sure; once we've agreed on a set of "good" states, science can tell us how to make it more likely that they occur; depending on the particular states and how advanced the science is, it can do a more or less good job of that.

The problem with Harris is that, depending on how you interpret him, he either thinks that science can help with that first part too (agreeing on the good states), or that everyone already agrees on it because it's obvious, or common sense, or part of the definition of "well-being" or whatever.

And none of that is true.


'If Christianity were only the tenet "Love thy neighbor," I could get behind it.'

For sure. :)

No problem at all! Good discussion, and now I'm going to read some Wilber. :)

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