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Posted by on Jan 9, 2014 in Atheism, Demographics of religion, Featured, Religion and Society | 54 comments

The terminal decline of Christianity in New Zealand

This is a properly fascinating article (source: On Line Opinion by John Wallace). H/T Tris Stock’s mygodlesslife:

Tui – my favourite NZ beer!

The results of the 2013 New Zealand Census has Christianity down to 47 per cent. Retired scientist, Ken Perrott’s, accompanying graph charts Christianity’s decline in every recent census and projects its decline to just above 20 per cent by 2030 and further, beyond that date. It is, of course, very unlikely to disappear altogether, but, equally, the chances of a major Christian revival in New Zealand are very remote.

Perrott argues that citizens can ‘double dip’ in the Census by being a member of more than one group. He argues there are more responses to the religion question then there are citizens. Given the majority of Census religion question options are Christian, those ticking more than one Christian denomination could be, mathematically, in excess of 100,000. If that is so, Christianity in New Zealand could now be as low as 41.9 per cent.

The New Zealand Catholic noted that there was ‘a stunning rise’ in the number of people declaring ‘no religion’, a total of 1.635 million citizens out of a total population of 4.24 million. They remarked ‘the number of census respondents who identified as ‘no religion’ or who didn’t answer the religious affiliation question was more than the total number who identified as Christian. This is believed to be the first time this has happened in New Zealand census history.

In a major address entitled ‘The Gospel in the Decade Ahead’ published on the website of the New Zealand Christian Network in 2011, but since removed, the national director, Glyn Carpenter, said that the NZCN’s agenda was partly to ‘turn the side of secularism’ and ‘rebuild a marriage culture’.

Three years later their agenda is in tatters with the government legislating for gay marriage on 19 August 2013 and the Census result showing Christianity in a state of steep decline. It goes to the credibility of the NZCN that its website makes no mention of the Census result.

Secularism and secularisation

Like many hardline evangelists Glyn Carpenter confuses ‘secularisation’ with ‘secularism’.

Secularisation refers to the on-going centuries old societal process of the fading away of religion as a part of everyday life. Many Christian writers agree with Max Weber’s location of the origins of secularisation in the 16thC Reformation, the Protestant-Catholic split which ‘allowed the freedom of the believer to think for himself.’

Briefly, it is characterised by the decline of religion as a factor shaping human life; replacement of community by a society-wide, pluralistic, materialistic, rational culture; a reliance on scientific modes of thinking and planning; the gradual diminution of the supernatural as a credible idea.

A Seventh-Day Adventist author wrote in 1987, well before Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris came to prominence, that ‘the threat to religion in [the] modern technopolis does not come in the first place from aggressive atheism or the state or secularism, but from the urban-societal system itself with its underlying principles and attitudes and assumptions.’

Christian critics confuse secularisation with secularism when they claim that secularism is government characterised by ‘the lack of any apparent, overt, visible interest in God, the Bible, religion or spiritual values.’ This misses the key point, recognised by many other Christians, that secular government is characterised rather by separation of church and state, as inferred, they argue, in Jesus’ famous response to ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’

Locating separation of church and state in these words is contestable. Nevertheless, there is the key recognition here that government and religion are better separated. If they are not separated it follows that government is theocratic to a degree. I have argued this is the case in Australia and New Zealand, as many symbolic and financial aspects of government preference religion very advantageously, despite its decline.

Evangelical Christians, like many Muslims and other hardline religious, just don’t understand, or refuse to understand, or reject the principle of, political secularism. They are wedded to a world view that simply cannot countenance any alternative to their own.

That, in fact, is a working definition of the term ‘ideology’: the inability, or total reluctance, to consider that other world views are credible alternatives to one’s own. The notion that government should attempt balanced compromises between all world views, i.e; political secularism, is not on their radar. They do not seem to take the point that their rigid views don’t sit well with democracy and are inherently totalitarian in nature.

Aspects of Christian decline

Sociologically, it seems the party is over for Christianity in New Zealand. While the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists’ radio campaign to encourage citizens to tick ‘no religion’ in the 2013 census may have been successful, it is more likely that long term trends of secularisation and various sexual abuse and financial scandals associated with churches have put them beyond the point of no return; future declines in adherents seems certain well into the future.

The impact of civil celebrants, I believe, has also been very important. Over decades they have been conducting marriage, funeral and naming ceremonies as alternatives to church services. The majority of these ceremonies are now civil. I suspect families experiencing a civil ceremony for the first time have found that a meaningful ceremony is possible without religion. At the next occasion they have chosen that option. Churches have been undermined at an important point of interface between themselves and the public.

This decline of religiosity is also global in most western nations. Even in the most religious, the United States, a British Christian theorist was advising his colleagues in 1987 that ‘one of the best means of witnessing to those who do not currently have spiritual interests is at points of personal crisis: divorce, the death of a spouse, the loss of a job, or a serious accident or illness.’ In other words, the mainstream message of Christianity even by then had little impact and the best way to convert citizens was, like compensation lawyers, to chase ambulances. Glyn Carpenter himself has conceded in the speech cited above that that is how he found God.

Despite their vast wealth, in the billions, forever accumulating thanks to their tax-exempt status; despite all the funding they have received for their religious schools; despite their wealthy, independent tax-exempt colleges; despite their schools of theology in universities; despite all the media time through various radio and television programs, either through purchased time or their own media; despite their various campaigns, their bookshops, their churches, their profile in the symbolic activities of government, the Anglican Queen’s tours – despite all this – Christianity in New Zealand is falling in a hole.

By focusing too much on (1) the accumulation of wealth (2) attempts to influence government (3) the pursuit of status and prestige and (4) risible attempts to rationalise all that, Christians have lost the plot. They are supposed to be about spiritual wealth and salvation, that is their raison d’etre, but it is one gig they don’t want to personalise.

They dish it out, but few practice it. They don’t sell off their assets to alleviate poverty in pursuit of the Christian ideal of giving in a truly serious way, preferring to boast, in a self-aggrandising way, about how the sky would fall in if it wasn’t for their charities. This is only partly true, and many of them live quite well, thank you, in comfortable positions running those charities.  [My italics as this is a diamond section! - JP]

It is this double standard that is augmenting their decline as the average citizen cannot see any difference between themselves and how self-confessed Christians live. To be sure, they are caught between a rock and a hard place: ‘How are we Christians going to live in a money-loving world and yet not be of this world?’

That is a question that perhaps understandably could not be properly framed two thousand years ago when Christianity commenced. On the one hand they were told it was easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to get to heaven. On the other they were told their God provided the abundance of the world for them to enjoy. Maybe two thousand years ago in a tiny, simple, illiterate, peasant economy that subtle but all-important contradiction could go unnoticed.

Today, in the high-intensity, market-setting, capitalist economy, it is a near impossible question, a source of confusion, as only extreme ascetics deny all forms of materialism. Because it’s a project that will not be realised as there will never be enough Christian will to do so, Christianity will continue its downward slide. The new Pope, naming himself after the eccentric ascetic, St Francis, is trying to square this circle by cutting down on his Vatican luxuries: a futile gesture from the man who is the sole owner of the never-publicly-audited Vatican Bank.

Conclusion

Just why all taxpayers should continue to subsidise Christianity’s failing mission in New Zealand (and by extension, Australia) through tax exemptions and grants is a question that is now thrown into relief.

There are many secular demands on the budget, alternative ways to allocate taxpayers’ revenue that would help grow the economy. It is not in the public interest for New Zealand to subsidise Christianity’s (and other religions’) failing private projects. It is time for government to move with the soon-to-be majority of the public, and blow the whistle on this game.

[Article by Max Wallace - posted Wednesday, 8 January 2014, originally from here. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

  • LukeBreuer

    Wait a second, which are you arguing:

         (A) the government should side with the majority
         (B) the government should side with what is right

    ? You usually can’t have both. Sometimes the majority want something terrible. Sometimes (often?) the majority doesn’t know what is in its interest.

    • Daniel Dowling

      And sometimes the majority is right about preferring facts over blind faith and supporting indoctrination

      • LukeBreuer

        I don’t support indoctrination either, although the term can be defined in many ways. Dawkins wants mere religious teaching to be considered child abuse. I would argue that scientism is also indoctrination. Anyone who says “you can only know true things this way” is ignorant of Gödel.

        • spaceman2001

          The scientific method allows you to run experiments for yourself. When someone makes a claim in the scientific community, their claim can be tested using the scientific method. If other scientist can find truth in the claim by replicating the experiment, a claim can develop credibility. If the claim can be shown false using the scientific method it can be shown to be not credible. The scientific method works and it is the reason you’re reading this.

          • LukeBreuer

            Science is fantastic and I love it. But it does not do everything that is important in life, even for atheists.

          • Michael M

            If you are referring to Gödel’s ontological argument, give me a break…it has been debunked and shown to be fallacious, time and time again. Scientists are not ignorant of Gödel, we just deal with facts. Gödel was a brilliant mathematician, but his philosophy does not qualify as science.
            Epicurus was also a great philosopher, but we do not recognize Ataraxia as science either.

            Science IS fantastic, because it works!
            Religion has never cured a disease. Religion has never saved lives by predicting severe weather. Religion has never found new ways to grow food to feed the hungry.
            Religion has done nothing to help humanity…

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            It is such a reasonable and obvvious point: What extra knowledge has religion added to our body of knowledge in the last 1,000 years?

            As epistemologies go, nothing compares to science, both pragmatically and from the point of view of reliability and corrective abilities.

            Thanks for commenting here!

          • LukeBreuer

            Randal Rauser’s Have theologians made a single contribution to knowledge? and Have atheologians made a single contribution to knowledge? are relevant, here. If philosophical exploits—including but not limited to thinking about ethics and morality—are not said to produce ‘knowledge’, then isn’t our definition of ‘knowledge’ a bit… provincial?

            Just consider how countries are governed based on political theories (or ‘systems’, if you’d like to reserve the word ‘theory’), how justice systems are based on ideas of what justice is, etc. To call all this stuff ‘secondary’ to True and Wonderful Science is just plain weird. It’s the privilege of [comparatively] wealthy people to think that science is somehow more important than these things.

          • Michael M

            I am unsure of the point you are trying to make.

            Science has shown that all animals that function in social groups create an expected system of social interaction and expectations that one could consider “morals”. I would assume that wolves, elephants, ants, whales, etc. are quite probably not bible toting Christians, and as far as I know, there aren’t any animal theologians or philosophers, but yet somehow they have developed a system of morality.
            Many animals also enforce their moral policy by punishing, killing or exiling a member of their society that does not abide by the expected behavior. “Justice” of sorts.

            To claim that “morals” are the derivatives of Christianity or theologians, and to compare justice to religion is just plain weird. When one looks at history, one will find that allowing the church to reign supreme creates the exact opposite of justice, oppression.
            Religion reflects the morality of the day when the religion was fabricated. Justice, as defined by any of the Abrahamic religions, has place in our modern day society.

            Should one take the time to actually read the bible, one should quickly understand that the morals in the bible concerning rape, slavery, and subordination of women is absolutely disgusting by modern day moral standards.
            Despite being condoned by the bible, nearly all civilized nations have laws against those behaviors.

          • LukeBreuer

            I am unsure of the point you are trying to make.

            Jonathan asked:

            What extra knowledge has religion added to our body of knowledge in the last 1,000 years?

            Before I can answer, I need to know what he means by ‘knowledge’. If he really means ‘scientific knowledge’, then the answer is necessarily ‘none’. But this is a very odd definition of ‘knowledge’, given the general way that the word ‘knowledge’ is used.

            To claim that “morals” are the derivatives of Christianity or theologians

            I claimed no such thing.

            When one looks at history, one will find that allowing the church to reign supreme creates the exact opposite of justice, oppression.

            Would you mind citing your evidence base for this claim? Or, perhaps you aren’t actually claiming the following counterfactual?

                 (1) Without the church, things would have been better.

            If you aren’t asserting (1), then I can rephrase your statement:

            When one looks at history, one will find that allowing the church people to reign supreme creates the exact opposite of justice, oppression.

            I have no disagreement with this, and neither does Jesus, as my next response indicates.

            Religion reflects the morality of the day when the religion was fabricated.

            Matthew 20:20-28 would beg to differ.

          • Michael M

            Cite evidence of the claim that religious rule creates oppression? Are you serious?
            Look at modern Islamic ruled countries, pick up a history book and read up on the Dark Ages, the end of the Golden Age of Islam, Witch Hunts, Heretic trials, etc.
            Wow…I had no idea that anyone could possibly overlook a period as oppressive and morally corrupt as the Dark Ages, or the fact that the Unites States was founded by people trying to escape religious oppression. I’m really astounded that I had to cite evidence at all…

            A better question perhaps would be “Cite evidence that religious rule DOES NOT create oppression.”

            Yes, Religion reflects the morality of the day when the religion was fabricated.
            Perhaps you shouldn’t cherry pick your book of mythology. Evidence of the 4th century morality is evidenced by:
            Timothy 2:11-15
            Peter 3:1
            Ephesians 5:22-24
            Corinthians 14:34-35
            Titus 2:4-9
            (Just to name a few)

            One can only assume either you haven’t read the New Testament, or you have a 4th Century value system in which women and “lesser” humans are assumed to be your property.

          • LukeBreuer

            Cite evidence of the claim that religious rule creates oppression? Are you serious?

            There is a different between anecdotal evidence-gathering and systematic evidence-gathering. This is why I asked for an “evidence base”. If I told you that I got my ‘evidence’ from Fox News, you would be rightfully suspect. If you said you read a single article somewhere and a chapter in a textbook on the Inquisition, I would be suspect that you have anything close to a balanced idea on how the Roman Catholic Church impacted history. Atheists and skeptics tend to hang out with people like them, who reinforce the general memes which are popular among them. The same with any group. If you haven’t really tried to challenge the ideas that are often bandied about without such challenging, then you’re not really any better than the people you appear to love to criticize.

            Look at modern Islamic ruled countries

            Look at countries by economic stats and you’ll see roughly the same pattern. Correlation ≠ causation.

            Witch Hunts

            And these compare to Stalin’s purges, how? Humans are really good at killing humans and they’ll use just about any excuse that’s handy. Have you read about Africa, lately?

            I’m really astounded that I had to cite evidence at all…

            This speaks for itself.

            A better question perhaps would be “Cite evidence that religious rule DOES NOT create oppression.”

            Take a look at the history of the Quakers; for example: “by 1756 only 10% of Quakers owned slaves”. You could take a look at Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great about Christianity. But your agenda is quite clear: you have never looked for evidence to refute your position. If you had, you’d have answered my question about your evidence base. It’s not a hard question.

            Furthermore, you didn’t address my (1). This is probably because humans are oppressive in general. I doubt you know whether or not religion makes people more or less impressive. Do you? If so, please cite your sources.

            Dark Ages

            The very fact that you’re using that term shows a great deal of ignorance. See Wikipedia’s Dark Ages (historiography):

            This definition is still found in popular use, but increased recognition of the accomplishments of the Middle Ages has led to the label being restricted in application. [...] However, many modern scholars who study the era tend to avoid the term altogether for its negative connotations, finding it misleading and inaccurate for any part of the Middle Ages.

            One can only assume either you haven’t read the New Testament, or you have a 4th Century value system in which women and “lesser” humans are assumed to be your property.

            Or I realize that the New Testament was but a data point in the improvement of morality. You appear to adhere to the idea that if God only provided the Perfect System of Morality, people would have snapped to it like dogs to food. This is not how people work.

          • LukeBreuer

            Nope, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. No recursively enumerable set of axioms can prove any and all true statements. And yet the scientism-ist wants to say that ‘science’—defined by an RE-set of axioms—can discover any and all true statements.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Strawman (and also a misrepresentation of the incompleteness theorems).

          • LukeBreuer

            Please elaborate. How am I misrepresenting them? I’ve had quite a few discussions about Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and I rarely see an objection to my current understanding.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Re strawman – no one on this planet subscribes to the position you describe.
            Re misrepresenting – the incompleteness theorems apply to mathematical logic, and nothing else.

          • LukeBreuer

            The person who says that ‘science’ is the only way to gain knowledge, and who subscribes to the idea that reality is rational, makes his/her position open to critique by the incompleteness theorems. What does ‘rational’ mean, other than “describable by a formal system”? And what does ‘science’ mean, but a definition containing one or more axioms?

            Now, ‘naturalism’ can be defined such that it really doesn’t exclude anything; see Randal Rauser’s Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism.

          • Andy_Schueler

            The person who says that ‘science’ is the only way to gain knowledge

            That´s not what you said, you said “And yet the scientism-ist wants to say that ‘science’—defined by an RE-set of axioms—can discover any and all true statements.”
            So which one is it?
            Also, please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.

            makes his/her position open to critique by the incompleteness theorems.

            No.

          • LukeBreuer

            That´s not what you said, you said “And yet the scientism-ist wants to say that ‘science’—defined by an RE-set of axioms—can discover any and all true statements.

            So which one is it?

            I wasn’t under the impression that there was a difference. Surely you don’t just mean that I’m excluding math from the ‘true statements’ thing? Please note what difference you see between “knowledge” and “any and all true statements”. Is the former a strict subset of the latter?

            Also, please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.

            I would say that much of the world’s literature contains ‘knowledge’ about ‘human thriving’, and also ‘human nature’. But you could put ‘human thriving’ in something other than “knowledge about the natural world”; do you think that meaning and moral values are ‘real’ or ‘illusion’? I was recently pointed to Sean Carroll’s Free Will Is as Real as Baseball—something many atheists and skeptics would criticize.

            Surely you wouldn’t want to assert that improvement in the organization of societies in history has exclusively come from ‘science’? Or perhaps you would?

            No.

            If one is not willing to make statements which are rigorous enough to be targeted by philosophical rigor (this means the laws of logic, from which Gödel derived his incompleteness theorems), then fine. But one ought not to try to make exclusive claims, then. One ought to merely say that “science works really well, and better than anything else in some domains”. I wouldn’t object to such a statement.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I wasn’t under the impression that there was a difference.

            “x is the only method to gain knowledge about the world” and “x is able to verify all true statements about the world” are two completely different claims (and neither one has any proponents). So, make up your mind, which one is it (and who allegedly proposes it?)

            Surely you wouldn’t want to assert that improvement in the organization of societies in history has exclusively come from ‘science’?

            My challenge was “please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.” – I don´t care what knowledge it is, if you think that we have discovered knowledge about the “improvement in the organization of societies” that was NOT based on “reasoned logic applied to physical evidence”, then give examples.

            If one is not willing to make statements which are rigorous enough to be targeted by philosophical rigor (this means the laws of logic, from which Gödel derived his incompleteness theorems), then fine.

            No one forces us to use just one set of axioms for mathematics (and we in fact don´t do that) – the incompleteness theorems are completely irrelevant.

          • LukeBreuer

            “x is the only method to gain knowledge about the world” and “x is able to verify all true statements about the world” are two completely different claims (and neither one has any proponents). So, make up your mind, which one is it (and who allegedly proposes it?)

            Many atheists and skeptics I have encountered believe that science, or something like science, is the only way to know true things that aren’t math. This often goes under the label of ‘methodological naturalism’. Physicalism, which used to go by ‘materialism’, is similar.

            What’s the difference between the following?

                 (1) X is the only method to gain knowledge about the world.
                 (2) X is able to verify all true statements about the world.

            You say these are “two completely different claims”; I see them as extremely similar. Let’s restrict (2) accordingly:

                 (3) X is able to verify all true statements about the world which humans could ever know.

            I see virtually no difference between (1) and (3). X is usually populated with ‘science’ or ‘the scientific method’. If you see (1) and (3) as “completely different”, then I think we’ll just have to kill off this tangent.

            My challenge was “please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.”

            Does all the world’s literature, which can possibly be said to have influenced the betterment of society and how one human treats another, fall under the category of “reasoned logic applied to physical evidence”? I mean, the authors obviously observed how humans interact before they wrote what they wrote.

            How does philosophy fit into your paradigm? For example, consider Democritus’ Atomism. Did that “produce knowledge about the natural world”—or play some important role in producing said knowledge? A lot of philosophy turned into science; I think it’s important to value both the philosophy stage as well as the science stage, instead of pretending one is more important than the other.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Many atheists and skeptics I have encountered believe that science, or something like science, is the only way to know true things that aren’t math. This often goes under the label of ‘methodological naturalism’. Physicalism, which used to go by ‘materialism’, is similar.

            Why do you have to make it so complicated? I asked :”So, make up your mind, which one is it (and who allegedly proposes it?)” And you could have answered “The former, and the people who propose that are some random dudes I found online.”
            Also, re “methodological naturalism” / physicalism – this is such a confused mess…
            “Physicalism” is an ontological position, methodological naturalism is an epistemological position.

            You say these are “two completely different claims”; I see them as extremely similar. Let’s restrict (2) accordingly:

            You don´t see them as extremely similar, you make them similar by pulling this restriction out of your nether regions.

            Does all the world’s literature, which can possibly be said to have influenced the betterment

            My challenge was “please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.” – I don´t care what knowledge it is, if you think that we have discovered KNOWLEDGE about the “improvement in the organization of societies” that was NOT based on “reasoned logic applied to physical evidence”, then give examples.

          • LukeBreuer

            You don´t see them as extremely similar, you make them similar by pulling this restriction out of your nether regions.

            Ummm, if A is a subset of B, then saying that A and B are “two completely different claims” is false. It’s just false.

            My challenge was “please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.” – I don´t care what knowledge it is, if you think that we have discovered KNOWLEDGE about the “improvement in the organization of societies” that was NOT based on “reasoned logic applied to physical evidence”, then give examples.

            Shakespeare. He enriched many lives by imagining up compelling stories which dig into the human condition. Are you going to say that all of his stories were exclusively derived from “reasoned logic applied to physical evidence”? If so, I wonder what doesn’t apply, for surely even religious texts would qualify.

          • Andy_Schueler

            Again:
            “My challenge was “please list all the methods you are aware of besides science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence) that have produced knowledge about the natural world.” – I don´t care what knowledge it is, if you think that we have discovered KNOWLEDGE about the “improvement in the organization of societies” that was NOT based on “reasoned logic applied to physical evidence”, then give examples.”

            “Shakespeare” is not an answer. Give examples of knowledge that was gained about the natural world without applying reasoned logic to physical evidence.

          • LukeBreuer

            You’ve excluded an extremely important domain: that which enhances human life. Apparently “knowledge about the natural world” excludes part of that which enhances human life.

            So perhaps I cannot give you any such examples, because of how you’ve set up the categories. Life is about more than the natural world. The natural world is a crucial component, but it is not all that there is.

          • Andy_Schueler

            I didn´t exclude anything.
            How have you gained knowledge about “enhancing human life” without applying reasoned logic to physical evidence and which knowledge have you obtained in this way?

          • LukeBreuer

            It’s really hard for me to think of anything that has ZERO connection to “applying reasoned logic to physical evidence”. Unicorns are largely derived from horses, so even they are connected. I’m really not sure what isn’t. Can the human mind even conceive of anything which doesn’t ultimately reference observation? So I’m afraid I cannot conceive of anything which doesn’t fit into your category.

            What point are you attempting to make?

          • Andy_Schueler

            The concept of unicorns is the result of reasoned logic applied to physical evidence because horses exist? Seriously?
            Fill in the gap:
            Horses exist [insert reasoned logic] ergo unicorns.

            What point are you attempting to make?

            1. “Scientism” doesn´t exist, never did, and never will. It´s a ridiculous strawman propagated by people that should know better (e.g. Rauser).
            2. There might be “other ways of knowing”, this cannot be refuted, no one has shown any other “way of knowing” except for the scientific approach when it comes to claims about the real world though.
            And that´s what annoys me about people bringing up this “other ways of knowing” crap – of course there might be, that is trivially true – but if you have not actually discovered an “other way of knowing”, then don´t talk as if you did.

          • LukeBreuer

            I was under the impression that scientism was more restrictive than your “science defined in the broadest way (reasoned logic applied to physical evidence)”. I think you have well-demonstrated that I need to be more careful in how I use the term, if I end up using it.

            It’s awfully unclear what we’re even arguing about at this point. It’s trivial to declare that information is only ‘knowledge’ once it’s been tested within particles and fields. And then, divine revelation becomes ‘knowledge’ through the communication being acted out and found to be good/correct/whatever.

            I am still interested in where you think Democritus’ Atomism lies (this comment) in your scheme.

            Even morality is ultimately tested by being applied and seeing who benefits and who suffers under what conditions. Until it is tested, all it can ever be is a mathematical model based on approximations of human beings which may or may not hold up in reality.

            Understanding what ‘the good’ is ultimately has to be tested in reality as well. And so talk about it does not graduate to being ‘knowledge’ until and if it is seen to be ‘good’ by… enough people or something.

            In all this, there is yet something to be discussed: the appropriate and inappropriate ways of thinking about what exists, prior to coming up with proposed courses of action. That is, rules for the thought-realm. In my experience, both atheists and theists want to come up with rules in it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about in this paragraph though, I think I’d rather bring the idea up again when you say something that provides a good segue.

          • LukeBreuer

            Would you say that Democritus’ Atomism resulted from “applying reasoned logic to physical evidence”?

          • LukeBreuer

            In addition to Atomism, how about chicken sexing? It demonstrably works, but would you say that those who can do it have knowledge, or something else? If knowledge, was it gained through “applying reasoned logic to physical evidence”?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            Actually, that is pretty simple – subconscious bayesian calculation on observation and prior evidence etc.

          • LukeBreuer

            Andy would probably disagree with the ‘bayesian’ bit, IIRC. :-p

            So this leaves Atomism. It seems in an precarious position. It’s not knowledge really (I don’t think), and yet it was probably very helpful to the development of the atomic theory. Atomism seems to deserve different treatment than just any old random idea that pops into someone’s head.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            But these would also qualify under that definition:

            brain
            calculator
            food

            etc

            and anything else which has been useful in finding knowledge.

          • LukeBreuer

            This just looks like you’re attempting to dilute my point to nothingness (the homeopathic fallacy?). The philosophy of Atomism is surely different from ‘brain’, ‘calculator’ and ‘food’ in some ways that are reasonable to talk about?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            How?

            Just because they have the commonality of being abstract?

            Does a myth which enabled us to understand, I don’t know, gravity, count as knowledge?

            perhaps, even, the meme that an apple fell on Newton’s head? We know this didn’t happen, but it enabled many people to know gravity, or helped Newton, perhaps, himself come to understand it (by imagining it etc?).

          • LukeBreuer

            It seems to me that if Atomism were quite helpful for the development of Atomic Theory (I really need to read up on this), then we ought to seek to repeat that success. (I am assuming we all wish to understand reality better.) Your comment about brains/food/calculators doesn’t seem to have any relevance to the building of philosophical systems which are sufficiently likely to aid scientific endeavor.

            If it is possible to do philosophy such that it is sufficiently likely to be useful to science, then the ‘how’ to doing this would be very different from people merely imagining random things. It would be a hint that metaphysics isn’t so useless as people like to think.

            Something that is almost never discussed when theists and atheists/skeptics talk is how the bleeding edge of scientific work is done. There, ‘the evidence’ rarely argues to be interpreted in only one way. So which way is chosen? It almost seems necessary that some sort of non-scientific—in the sense of not being exclusively predicated upon “applying reasoned logic to physical evidence”—input be provided.

            Underlying all of this, of course, is the normative statements that atheists and skeptics like to say about what one ought to do with what is ‘real’/’true’/etc., and what one ought to do or not do with what is ‘illusion’.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            What you are espousing, of course, is a form of pragmatism – http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatism/

          • LukeBreuer

            The sociologist studying my wife’s lab is trying to get me into pragmatism. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve been mostly a pragmatist for most of my life. I was forced to learn very early in life that there isn’t just one right way to think about things.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I find it important to differentiate truth from knowledge. I think truth can only exist with minds who make propositions. It is a value ascribed to a proposition – the value of how well the proposition refers to objective reality, outside of the conceivers’ heads.

            Which means we can NEVER know indubitably whether truth claims are correct, especially since in a Kantian sense, we cannot know things in themselves.

          • LukeBreuer

            All we can really do, though, is show which formal systems are consistent and well-match reality, as I describe on Phil.SE. And the ultimate measure of whether something well-describes reality is the extent to which it can be built upon. This is why citations of a scientific paper are so important: did that paper lead anywhere? If not, then it probably wasn’t knowledge. Maybe it was years ahead of its time, but clearly not enough people with money or ability to get money were convinced that it might be.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            That is what intuition is.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            I think this is the key statement:

            A) “The natural world is a crucial component, but it is not all that there is.”

            Of course, it is a mere assertion. You are claiming that you have knowledge that there exists more than just the natural world (what else is there, then?). You are claiming that science cannot be used as a method to access or verify this domain. So…

            1) How do you KNOW A)?
            2) How is that method for knowing A) verifiable or falsifiable etc?

          • LukeBreuer

            Is the subjective realm (e.g. what people consider ‘the good’) merely part of “the natural world”? What exactly one means by “the natural world” can be awfully muddy, as Randal Rauser describes in Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            So are you saying the only knowledge not accessible by science is the hard problem of consciousness?

            I think it is one thing to have a philosophical argument in theory, quite another to establish actual things.

            ie naturalism (ergo science in a simplistic sort of way) is all there is / is not all we can know. Science can / cannot be the only reasonable epistemology.

            AND

            Well, what else DO you actually know? What other knowledge is there to be had? And can this ACTUALLY be explained scientifically anyway (or eliminated)?

          • LukeBreuer

            So are you saying the only knowledge not accessible by science is the hard problem of consciousness?

            If science is somehow able to sufficiently access our introspective senses like it accesses our extrospective senses, then I don’t expect anything to be inaccessible by it ultimately. The bleeding edge of science may be helped by a dose of philosophy—I took a philosophy of neuroscience course in college that was fascinating—but as enough evidence is gathered, I’m guessing it’ll be possible to make models for just about everything.

            A provocative question in my mind is whether philosophy like Democritus’ Atomism was helpful to science, and if so, whether it can be repeated. For example, there are currently many interpretations of quantum mechanics. Might the very act of considering those interpretations end up help spurring the next phase of science? If so, then saying that science is all that is needed might actually be wrong.

            Or consider whether thinking about how an omni-god would act, but constrained to many of the observations we’ve made about reality. Who is to say that thinking thusly could not help us learn to treat other people better and better? This kind of thinking would serve in kind of the hypothesis-forming stage, which is prior to the “it’s now knowledge” stage.

            An upshot of this would be a possible reframing of how we think of religion. Instead of it being necessarily bad, it could easily help us develop new possible ways to think and act. Those ways would need to be tested of course, and that would lie in the domain of science. The act of hypothesis formation, though, may never be fully understood. With my computer science background, I see it as one of the most mysterious aspects of human beings.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            You are confusing being useful for finding knowledge with BEING knowledge itself.

          • LukeBreuer

            I presaged your comment an hour before. :-p And is the line of demarcation between knowledge and leads-to-knowledge generally agreed upon by philosophers? It seems like it could be quite fuzzy. The more reliably a bit X leads to finding knowledge, the closer to knowledge X gets.

          • crimsonking

            Using fables to explain things we don’t understand isn’t an important part of life, that’s for sure. Teaching children that these fables are real is indoctrination, and it is wrong. Science is perfect for studying things we don’t understand. That’s all science is trying to do. What else do we need that only religion can provide?

            A secular, reason-based morality is far superior to arbitrary or xenophobic religious dogma. There is nothing that these religions offer that people need or cannot get elsewhere. Belief in primitive superstition only holds people back, allows lazy thinking, and promotes division, tribal hatred and conflict, and a totalitarian point of view.

          • LukeBreuer

            Using fables to explain things we don’t understand isn’t an important part of life, that’s for sure.

            I’m really amused by this, because I repeatedly run across atheists and agnostics who accept evolutionary psychology work that has not made a single, testable, tested prediction, as if it is ‘science’. And yet such work is on the fable-level. I agree with you that fables ought not be taught as science. Scientific knowledge is a very certain kind of knowledge and we ought not pollute it; by standing off from other kinds of knowledge it achieves some excellent things.

            There is nothing that these religions offer that people need or cannot get elsewhere.

            Suppose I accept this for the time being. So what? Do you have empirical evidence that being an atheist is better than being a Christian? If so, I’d like to see it. I’ve made it a habit of challenging atheists and skeptics to show that Christians make worse scientists than atheists, based on ‘sufficient evidence’; curiously, nobody has ever tried. Perhaps you’d like to be the first?

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            What else should it do, lab?

          • LukeBreuer

            I never said it should do any more than it does. I just said that it does not do all there is that societies and people within societies need to do. I’m not a hammer-only kind of person.

  • John W

    It would not only be the decent thing to credit the author of this article, but it is also a stipulation of the CC license of the original article (If supplied, you must provide the name of the creator and attribution parties, a copyright notice, a license notice, a disclaimer notice, and a link to the material.) The author is Max Wallace . And information about the use of the material, which you should have provided a link to, is here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      Thanks for that. I had linked it at the beginning, but have now added name at the end etc. Cheers.

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