[ExI] extropy-chat Digest, Vol 199, Issue 86

Ben Zaiboc ben at zaiboc.net
Sat Apr 25 10:06:49 UTC 2020

Ben: "The problem is, the very nature of religion is about control, not 
figuring things out."

Jason: "I would say that depends on the religion. What about Bahai 
Faith, Unitarian Universalism, the Universal Life Church, and countless 

Almost all religions forbid (sometimes with severe penalties), or at 
least strongly discourage, homosexuality.
Even Sikhism, which is one of the least offensive religions I know of, 
prohibits a bunch of silly things like getting your hair cut, having sex 
with the wrong person, drinking, etc. And of course there's no need to 
even mention the Judaeo-Christian religions, we all know what they're 
like. The Bahai faith forbids homosexuality and gambling. Hinduism has 
various food rules, taboos concerning women and feet, and of course the 
'sex with the wrong person' thing that just about every religion has 
(question: do you know of /any/ contemporary religion that doesn't have 
this? Why do religions arrogate to themselves the right to tell you who 
you can and can't have sex with? Why do they even think it's any of 
their business?)

Notice I'm not talking about things like a ban on murder, theft or 
extortion (in fact, some of those things are even encouraged in some 
religions, under some circumstances), but things that are either 
literally harmless or a matter of opinion. This is symptomatic of 
systems that have control as one of their goals. "No, you can't do 
that". "Why not, it's not hurting anyone?". "Because I (or this book, or 
that imaginary man in the sky) say so, that's why not. Just do as you're 
told". Or some pathetic attempt to disguise 'because I said so' such as 
"Because it makes baby jesus cry".

Some of the major prohibitions:

Haircuts: Cutting or removing hair from any body part is strictly forbidden

Intoxication: Consumption of drugs, Alcohol and tobacco, and other 
intoxicants is not allowed for Amritdhari Sikhs and Keshdhari Sikhs. 
Drugs and tobacco are forbidden for all.

Strict prohibition on eating meat killed in a ritualistic manner (such 
as halal or kosher)

Having extramarital sexual relations


Just about everything, including leaving Islam

Homosexuality, a ton of other things

Jason: "In my view, both religion and science are about believing"

Science is manifestly not about believing. It's about observing, 
theorising, testing and revising. Belief is about holding something to 
be true, no matter what. Belief is static. You can believe something 
that is true, but you can just as easily believe something that is 
false. There is no difference between the two in a belief. A difference 
in the real-world consequences, yes, but not in the belief itself. 
Science is fluid, responsive, and is always getting closer to the truth, 
while never quite getting there. Belief already has 'The Truth' (in the 
minds of believers, at least), so there's no need to investigate 
further. In fact, it's usually discouraged.

Ben: "In science, evidence is king. In religion, evidence is the enemy"

Jason: 'Again, this is highly dependent on the particular religion. Take 
these words, from the son of the founder of the Bahai Faith:

     "If religion were contrary to logical reason then it would cease to 
be a religion and be merely a tradition. Religion and science are the 
two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights, with 
which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one 
wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he 
would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the 
other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no 
progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism."'

Religion, in general is contrary to logical reason. That's one of the 
things that usuallly characterise it. Otherwise, we'd call it 'logical 

"the despairing slough of materialism" is a revealing phrase. Why call 
it that? I'm a card-carrying, dyed-in-the-wool hard-core materialist. 
Odd, then, that I'm not wallowing in a slough of despair, is it not? In 
fact, my attitude to life is very far from despair. About as far as you 
can get (although I sometimes despair of /people/. Usually religious 
people). So just what does that phrase reveal? Personally, I think it 
reveals fear. Fear that magic might not be true. Existential angst. Fear 
that Kierkegaard might have been right. Perhaps even fear of the 
personal responsibility that's implied by relinquishing supernatural 
fantasies and embracing materialism. After all, if you can't rely on a 
god to guide and look after you, you're on your own, and that can be 
scary. I remember being scared like that, as a kid, and not wanting to 
grow up and have to look after myself. Then I grew up, and started to 
look after myself.

In my opinion, religion and science are not like two wings, but two 
propellers, one pointing forwards, and one pointing backwards.

Ben: "You can say that the word 'god' can mean a lot of different 
things. Fine. Sell that to the religious folks, see how far you get"

Jason: "I don't need to. All of those examples of different concepts of 
God I provided are core elements of existing religions"

Yes, you can cherry-pick whatever you like, to be compatible with 
whatever argument you like. For example, I've heard people use 
Einstein's remark about god not playing dice with the universe to be 
proof that he believed in god. We can play that game all day, it doesn't 
resolve anything.

Give that Hilda Phoebe Hudson to your average christian, what do you 
think they'll make of it?

Also, of course every religion claims 'truth' for itself. The problem 
is, they're very often conflicting 'truths'.

For most believers, their god is not some abstract concept like Truth or 
Consciousness, but an all-powerful nosy and vindictive being that 
watches your every move, and punishes you for disobeying your priest. If 
you're very lucky (and obedient), you might get rewarded with some 
ill-defined paradise. After you're dead.

Core elements of religions tend to be things like the baffling holy 
trinity, the obnoxious concept of original sin, the insecurity of the 
god in question, it's interest in our sex lives, punishments and rewards 
for obeying or not, the imperative to convert non-believers, a ton of 
rules about things you can't do, or must do, great detail about the 
horrors that await the naughty, much vaguer ideas about the rewards that 
await the compliant, and lots and lots of stories, most of which are 
irrelevant to modern life, baffling to most people, and hence in need of 
interpretation by the priests.

"There are sets of beliefs compatible with science"
Only if you redefine the word 'beliefs'. Science requires evidence. 
Belief does not.

I suppose you could claim that the belief that the sun will rise 
tomorrow is compatible with the scientific observations that lead to the 
same conclusion. But they are different things. One does not need 
evidence, the other does. One doesn't have to be explained, the other 
does. Maybe not such a problem with things like the sunrise, but a big, 
big problem when it comes to things like whether or not you should eat 
peanut butter on the second thursday of the month. Or the existence of a 
soul. Or the age of the earth.

So if you confine your 'beliefs' to things that can be demonstrated to 
be true using the scientific method, yes, there are beliefs that are 
compatible with science. But can you really call them 'beliefs'? We need 
to distinguish between things that are held to be true because we can 
show evidence or a good logical argument, and things that are held to be 
true just because. Which usually means some emotional investment in an idea.

"I agree with you that a static belief system is not as good as one that 
can adapt in response to new evidence and understanding. I am not 
arguing for a static belief system, only pointing out that there are 
frameworks of belief (what you might call religious systems) that 
transcend the definition of religion that you provide"

What I'm saying is that a 'belief system that can adapt in response to 
new evidence' is not a belief system at all, it's science. If you are 
not arguing for a static belief system, you're arguing for science.

And if you say Science is a religion, again we have a problem with 
words. If you say that whales are fish, you've lost the ability to 
distinguish the real differences between them. You have to start using 
qualifiers such as 'milk-producing fish', which just leads back to 
needing different words for the two different things.

If you want a word that encompasses both, then I'd suggest 'world-view'. 
This seems to fit, as a scientific world-view and a religious one are 
both ways of trying to understand the world, taking different approaches.
If you say "Ah, but this religion takes the same approach as science", 
then it's no longer a religion, it's science.

Jason: "Interesting thought: Is Sagan's definition of science itself a 
static belief? How could it ever change?"

No, his definition is not a static belief. Because it's not based on 
dogma. It's based on observation. "Science works" is not an unsupported 
belief, it's an observation. To say that Sagan had a belief in science 
is not correct. Everything in your quote is subject to falsification and 
if necessary, revision. You can't say that about any 'holy gospels' 
which are held to be eternally true, inviolable, infallible. Which of 
course is utter nonsense.

How could it ever change? Through observation of conflicting evidence. 
If, for example, we observed that how we wish things to be, consistently 
and reliably changed reality, then the statement "We must understand the 
Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be" 
would be falsified. I can't speak for Sagan, and neither can anyone else 
now that he's dead, but I would certainly change my own opinions if the 
example above came to pass. And anyone who wouldn't, couldn't say that 
they have a scientific world-view.

Ben Zaiboc

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