What Jed said.
(Note that "Taoist theology" gets 64 hits on Google, while "Taoist philosophy" gets 20,800.)
Hmm. Good point.
It's possible that my use of the term "religious" is pretty idiosyncratic. And I'll also admit that my original comment intentionally used "religious group" in a way that was consciously provocative -- if not polemical.
So if I said:
"There's also the issue Spinrad's talking about, which I think is essentially the issue of SF as the popular art of a particular cultural and ideological group holding strong metaphysical beliefs for nonrational reasons -- materialist-rationalists who believe (for what I think are, at bottom, reasons having to do with profound emotional intuitions about nondisprovable, non-evidentiary, but meaningful assertions) that the world is a beautiful, coherent machine, with an absolute, inviolable reality existing beyond any particular consciousness, following simple, regular rules which can be discovered through experiment"
would you buy that, Ted?
I didn't intend to sidetrack us into a discussion of religions without gods
You're talking about deep skepticism, which cannot be practiced in a meaningful way.
Oops. And I didn't mean my poorly chosen example of the Matrix to sidetrack us into a discussion of deep skepticism, which is absolutely not what I am intending to talk about, except as kind of a limit case.
What makes you say that the idea of "natural law" is useful? Because it has proven useful in the past?
That would be relying on induction, which is not proof. (You can't even say that induction has demonstrated its usefulness in the past, because that, too, relies on induction.)
Correct on both counts; I'm tempted to say "my point exactly". We make almost all of our decisions based on heuristics, not formal reasoning. And, in fact, formal reasoning is only applicable inside of a framework we've chosen for intuitive, heuristic reasons. There's always a whole lot of "let's say for the sake of argument that..." or "as every right-thinking person knows..." before you get to your syllogisms.
One could say that your reliance on induction is based on faith. And yet I would not say you are being religious.
Hmm. I don't think I would either, in this instance. It's only if I said "natural law is *inevitably* useful, because it is the Truth" that I would suspect the assertion of being religious -- or if you prefer, "grounded in profound nonrational metaphysical intuition".
I'm talking about ultimate, final claims being religious -- not working assumptions.
Ultimately, we *all* believe in things that are -- under sufficiently stringent standards -- unfalsifiable. But if we call this religious behavior, then there is no (or very little) behavior that is not religious, and the term is no longer useful.
Hmm. It depends on what you mean by "believe". If you restrict "believe" here not to "operational belief", like "I'm going to go in the kitchen for a sandwich because I believe there's some tuna left", or even "I believe that what I experience is really happening, so it's worth it to go into the kitchen for a tuna sandwich", then I'm with you.
If, though, you do in fact mean "we all firmly believe *nontrivial* things about the ultimate nature of reality, which we have a passionate attachment to even though they are neither provable nor disprovable", then yeah, that's what I want to use the term "religious" for, and I think it's quite useful.
It's not useful if you want to use "religion" to divide people into the categories "religious" and "nonreligious" -- but for a variety of reasons, I'm uninterested in the world "religion" as a tool for that job. I think the practice of so dividing people is more misleading than constructive.
It is, however, useful if you want to use "religious" to describe a general capacity of all human beings, and general domain of thought and action -- to use it as a term like "aesthetic", "cultural", "affective", "social", "moral", or "economic", as a term describing a set of behaviors or cognitions which all humans participate in.
(Actually, I'm fine with both usages, the way that "culture" is sometimes narrowly used to refer only to opera, museums, and Shakespeare, or "society" to polite and refined society, in addition to more inclusive usages of these terms. But it's the inclusive usage of "religion" that I'm interested in here).
I assert that there are more useful definitions of "religious," one of which involves belief despite a lack of evidence, or despite evidence to the contrary.
In the sense I am using the term, you cannot have evidence to the contrary. But yes, belief despite a lack of evidence; about things about which one cannot have evidence. I suspect, though I am not 100% certain, that everyone has stong beliefs about such things. And I mean nontrivial beliefs, not just like "I'm really here, this isn't the Matrix."
I don't deny that there are people whose belief in natural law qualifies as religious, but the more common idea that the universe operates according to natural laws is not religious in this sense.
The *idea* that the universe operates according to natural laws, in the sense of "hey, I've got a wacky idea -- let's act like the universe behaves according to natural laws, and see where that gets us!" is not religious. The *firmly held conviction*, despite an (intrinsic) lack of evidence, that the universe *really does* operate according to natural law... I think this is almost always religious in the sense I mean (or "grounded in a profoundly held nonrational metaphysical intuition" if you prefer).
It may seem odd for me to say that there's no evidence that the universe operates according to natural laws, since it's such a commonplace idea in our society that there is. But really, the idea of "natural laws" is highly bizarre when you think about it. Why should the universe be homogenous and describable?
And while a lot of scientists are passionately committed to the reality of such laws, another lot of scientists do perfectly good science while holding Mach's epistemological position -- regarding the "laws" as a convenient and elegant shorthand way of summarizing patterns of events that we have run into so far, but not expecting them to have any underlying reality.
Far from expecting, like Weinberg, that we are *this close* to a Final Theory, Machians assume that the findings of science are wrong and will always be wrong -- in terms of an exact description of reality. They are predictively useful approximations, but then South Pacific Islander's idea of airplanes as divine birds who dropped cargo when properly propitiated was also a predictively useful approximation.
My Dad (a physicist and a Machian) says that the reason Creationism doesn't belong in science classrooms is not that it's wrong -- because, after all, science is wrong. It's that it can't be shown to be wrong; they aren't playing the game. The minute Creationists offer testable hypotheses, beliefs which they are willing to give up if experiments they propose don't work out, they can be science.
[The set of people whose "scientific worldview" makes claims about the existence of God are precisely the set who I am calling a religious group]...[materialist-rationalists who believe...that the world is a beautiful, coherent machine]...These seem to me to be two distinct groups. The latter group is not described as making any claims about the (non)existence of God. It is this latter group that I would not call "religious."
Okay, you caught me -- the word "precisely" was in error. Replace "precisely" with "a subset of".
Materialist-rationalists profoundly emotionally committed to the idea that the world *truly is* a beautiful machine hold what I would call -- in the generic sense -- a religious conviction, whether or not they hold any beliefs about God one way or the other.
I'm willing to accept that my use of the term "religious" is nonstandard and innovative. But I don't think it's so broad as to be useless. On the contrary, I think it's very interesting to explore how a large number of human beings who don't think of themselves as religious make nonrational leaps of faith and commit themselves to metaphysical ideas about the world.
And I think talking about "religion" as "a stubbornly held nonrational set of nontrivial metaphysical beliefs only certain groups hold -- and only certain such beliefs", while it can also be semantically useful, ultimately has some of the same problems as using "culture" to mean high culture or "society" as proper society.
As for deep skepticism, I would submit that while no one can stay in deep skepticism very long, there isn't an "obvious" alternative that everyone returns to. Not in the sense that "when you get tired of playing around with deep skepticism, there's a single, commonsensical practical worldview that everyone not being pedantic really holds" -- except about trivial things like "we're here, so it's worth going into the kitchen".
When you return from a moment of deep skepticism to your arbitrary but practical position about the world, that position isn't quite the same as everyone else's. I'm interested in the process by which that position gets chosen.
(One final side note: some of the helpless paralysis we feel when we think about deep skepticism is really just a symptom of having an impoverished set of cultural tools to deal with it. Hindus managed for centuries to grow up, to get married, fight wars, make money, build temples, and so on, all the while believing that the world is a dream. Just because the world is a dream -- once you get used to the idea, that is -- is that any reason not to go into the kitchen to get a tuna sandwich?)