virus: Science and Religion

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 25 Sep 1996 13:04:25 -0400

>From: Ken Pantheists <>
>Date: Tue, 24 Sep 1996 02:15:12 +0000

>> Oh Boy! My turn to rant! Stephen, this isn't intended to be directly
>> toward you, but...
>I assume it was directed toward my meme. :)

I added this as an afterthought to the original post (qualification memes
in operation?). Since I'm reading these in digest form, I was actually
responding to a couple days worth of posts. I was agitated and got lazy,
so I didn't respond to each in kind but instead made a vague general
response. Bad form; my fault.

You know that, with some significant exceptions, we more or less agree.
You recognize also how difficult it is to retain a formal dispassionate
stance. A lot of the discussions this group has deal more with concepts of
significance than truth. I'm an evangelical scientist and a rabid athiest.
I try to maintain a somewhat objective viewpoint, but I don't kid myself.

Anyway, you were the undeserving target of my ambigious frustration. I
hate perceiving in myself the very weaknesses I most criticize in others.
It's archived, too...kind of like a public diary. Yum.

>Post modern thinking (as I understand it, and there are a million
>definitions.) explores the frailty of Truth. It is contingent upon many
>slippery and layered factors such as context, perception and medium--
>not WHAT is true and what is false.


What is the difference between the universe in which there is no absolute
truth and the universe in which there is absolute truth, but it is
impossible to perceive objectively and with any certainty? Said another
way: What is the differece between inherent ambiguity and "as if"

I would argue that they are identical becuase one could never test which
kind of universe one was it. This is where I think science parts company
with a lot of philosophy and religion. It is possible to argue about
states of the universe/reality/life which are imponderable or
non-falsifiable. Often these question seem deceptively signifant and seem
to center around argument from purpose.

I argue (and I'm not the first) that such questions are DECEPTIVELY
significant. What is the purpose of the universe? That seems pretty
important to me. Does God exist? Is there "life" after "death"? Does our
universe of perception correlate with the universe as it exists indepently?
Does the universe exist indepently of us? How does one discover the
absolute objective truth, the "right" answer?

Some of these questions, like the first, are imponderable. Can you
conceive of a satisfying answer to "what is the purpose of..." anything?
What is the purpose of this computer? What is the purpose of my big toe?

Before anyone jumps back with a funny rejoinder: differentiate purpose
(implying intent and design) from function. You are welcome to believe
that a system or object's purpose is it's function. I often do. As long
as we all recognize that often we look for meaning in things independent of
the mechanism of their operation.

In this vien we have been talking about "Why?" questions and weather or not
they can be answered through scientific methodology. For instance: "Why
does this rock float?" I'll agree that it is possible to understand, in
whatever level of detail one finds satisfying, the mechanism explaining how
rocks float and still not be satisfied. "Yes, yes, one can say...I
understand how, I can predict which rocks will float...but why does this
rock float?"

Such questions are imponderable. To argue that science cannot answer such
questions implies that some other mode of thinking (religious or otherwise)
can. The difference is that scientists recognize the question as
meaningless, in the sense that one can never posit a satisfactory
hypothesis. But "to reflect the greater glory of God" (aside from the neat
consonace) is not an answer to such a question; It's a non-sequitor. It
may be my lack perception, but that statement appears to contain no meaning
whatsoever. can someone paraphrase or unpack it? Start by defining "God"
then describe how "reflect" is intented to be understood. After that
"greater glory" should be easy...

>Yes. That's why I decided to change the way I read this list. I have
>decided to look at memes only-- not their content--- and work from

This is an interesting idea. It sound a bit like deconstructionism. Could
you give an example of how you distill this out? You're welcome to use me
as an example (ug, kind of like being psychoanalyzed by your girlfriend) if
you try an use one of my lucid posts.

>> If you don't live in this world then I understand how
>> these things seem insignficant. Perhaps you even know someone who has
>> claimed to have traveled to the Moon via astral projection of something
>> similar. Maybe you believe them.
>Well, now you've just created a straw man of me and burned it. I don't
>recall ever saying anything that would make anyone believe that about

Mea culpa. As I said, this wasn't all directed at you. Actually, one of
my roommates apprenticed herself (I forget the proper term) to a Tibetan
monk who claimed to have visited the Moon. He was very matter-of-fact
(according to her) about this, so much so that she believed it...and now
struggles daily trying to integrate this with the rest of her perception.
Very cool, very strange. Who am I to say he didn't visit the Moon?

I'm a scientist. When I start to ask for evidence, corroboration,
reproducability, falsification again I am parting company with many. But
if I don't ask these questions then of what use is my belief or lack
thereof in his experience?

>Perhaps you are referring to my defense of religion (all religion) when
>people all but call it the product ignorance and imagination. I have
>only said that it works as a social and cultural organizer as well.
>If there wasn't a need for memes like that, how do you explain the
>behaviour of gazillions of people who organize their lives around *some*
>kind of spiritual focus---

I never ever ever ever (well, only in moments of weakness) make arguments
like that. I have tried very hard to differentate many subjective
experiences each of us has which we do (and probably should) find
significant from religion. I defend the sublime (though I still don't
quite understand it, maybe that's the point) the subjective, and the
trancendent. I think people should gather to share these experiences,
since we all have them. But religions (well, Western ones, anyway) attempt
to declare one vision "the truth". One imponderable answer is THE answer.

Not only do such institutions hamstring the ability to understand to
objective consensual world, they further limit fantasy, imagination, and
and breadth of possible subjective experience. Wouldn't the world be a
more interesting place if each one of us had the opportunity to make up our
own personal cosmogony? Wouldn't it be better to validate each of our
dreams as equally opposed to elevating one cannon of

I'm all for sharing subjective experience. But Religions are viruses of
the mind. They are parasites that are good at occuping peoples brains and
they limit the diversity of this same subjective experience I think we both
want to see valued.

>How do you explain your purchase of cards and runes?

Becuase they're neat. I'm also a big collector of role-playing books. Now
there is diverse cosmogony! In the context of fantasy people weave all
kinds of beautiful stories about "how things came to be" reflecting
perceptions in this world along with their own flights of fancy. I like
Star Trek to.

But why is Star Trek less significant than Catholicsim? Why is a
Role-playing convention a collection of odd-balls but a church service some
morally weighty event? If I go to church on Sunday is that less frivolous
than playing Civilization?

[about Tarot, runes, and divination]

>You mean you don't? Of course you do. That's what divination is-- it
>organizes your thoughts around a bunch of symbols so you can figure out
>possible futures. The symbols help manage information that is
>potentially overwhelmingin its detail.

No, I have to say I collect and work with them more to understand the
archetypes, the system of representation, and the process/methodology.
I've tried to practice them, but never found them accurately predictive.
Even so, for instance, I have always found Tarot very intersesting becuase
it's such a rich and complicated representational system. I don't belive
it corresponds much with reality...but it's still...enchanting I guess, the
same way Civilization is a cool game becuase it is such a rich and
complicated system. Neither is real.

Don't confuse the true with the real, or the fun from the functional.

>> I'm so tired of "you guys are soooo arrogant", "you guys can't explain THIS
>> observation, can you?", "you guys have all these conflicting models, can't
>> you come up with something better than that?"
>I think you are misinterpreting the point of attack.

Not directed at you.

>Look at all the "truths" you've created about me while just trying to
>get your point across.

Again, you're the undeserving target. I was writing a general response.

>Science works great in the biosphere. Yeah, you can create some pretty
>rock solid truths. But how can you hope to do that in the ideosphere??
>It's like saying you're a black belt in Karate and then attempting to
>fight your next bout underwater.

Um, sure. But if I say "memes are like genes" that's an analogy.
Hopefully my understanding in one area is useful in at least this way
elsewhere in my experience. I bet a black belt learns to swim faster and
better than the identical untrained person. There is a problem with
analogies, of course, in that you can never tell exactly how far to extend
them. But it's better than nothing...a structure to work off of.

>But back on track-- someone posted a quote from Stephen Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, author of "The Selfish Gene"?

>a number
>of days ago where he says that the memetic model gives us the power to
>select memes, specifically religious memes, from adifferent
>standpoint--- from outside the possible abuses of religious memes.
>(genital mutilation, opression of women, minority groups)-- situations
>that arise from what I see as an abuse of power more than from the core
>memes of the religion.

OK, I seek to eliminate the meme: "There is one subjective truth".
Therefore I'm against churches and institutional religion in every form I
have encountered it. I'm absoutely not against spiritual experience...I
just want my delusions to have equal weight with the Pope's. After all, I
have as much proof.

------------------Reed Konsler