On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
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16-04-2013, 10:54 AM (This post was last modified: 16-04-2013 11:19 AM by mitchelljames87.)
On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’

In response to a seminar given by a Church of England Minister in a Cambridge University affiliated school. He argued that religion and science do not conflict in asking “why do I exist?”, as they ask different questions about the nature of things. The Minister inferred that it is only religion that can tell us why we exist. He said that “religion is able to ask questions of value, where science can do no such thing”.

That is, science asks: 'how do we exist?' whereas religion asks: 'why do we exist?'


This is a linguistic error and the argument is invalid.

1. Science, as he rightly describes, offers a ‘mechanical’ and ‘causational’ concept of the way things are. (Mechanical - meaning the physical construct of physical things, and causational - meaning how these physical things came to be). He continues to argue that science has nothing however to say about the value of things, and that value can only be found externally from scientific explanation, to which you infer religion and/or God.
He is confused however of the principle that science and religion ask questions about the nature of things. They don’t at all, they offer answers. It is we, the moral agent, who ask questions; and it is only through empirical research (acting scientifically), that we can find answers. I.e., we can only find out the truth as to why the sky is blue by first asking the question ‘how is it that the sky is blue?’

Try answering the question, ‘why is the sky blue?’
You will inevitably answer the question ‘how is the sky blue?’ due to the way in which we empirically evidence our rationale.
This is because, without having the prior knowledge ‘the sky is blue because the waves of visible light are scattered, and the colour blue in light is scattered in shorter, smaller waves etc…’ we couldn't go on answering the question, ‘why?’
This shows that the argument that religion asks different questions to religion is invalid: because neither of them asks questions at all, rather, they offer answers. More-so, when asking questions about the nature of something; ‘why’ questions fall into ‘how’ questions, which demand empirical data; of which religious belief has none worthy of note. As David Hume argues, miracles aren't evidence of God's existence, nor are 'personal', subjective encounters or experiences.

2. Furthermore, in asking the question, ‘why do I exist?’ with a religious connotation, you ultimately ask a subjective question, of which there is no ground for proof. Your belief in God is not an objective answer to ‘how do I exist?’ rather, it is an emotional response to the subjective question, ‘why do I exist?’ (The reason I highlight ‘ultimately’ is because, as I have discussed in point 1, ‘why’ questions collapse into ‘how’ questions, except for when talking about faith. This is because faith doesn't seem to require the same sort of empirical evidence that everything else does, which, too, identifies a terribly weak position.)

Subjective questions or statements are very weak, as they leave no room for testing. We can not test, for example, whether or not Sally is right in saying ‘strawberries are disgusting’, as this is not true to anyone else but Sally. If this is only true to Sally, then it can not be said to be an ultimate truth in reality. Furthermore, even if lots of people do dislike the taste of strawberries, this does not in any way make strawberries taste disgusting in their nature.
One can argue therefore that just because you have a belief in God through subjective questioning, doesn't make it true (God cannot exist only on the pretence that you believe it to be so) Furthermore, just because many people believe in God through the same process, does not make it an ultimate truth. Many people believe that Margret Thatcher was a poor prime minister, but this subjective believe does not prove it to be so.

Finally, since subjective beliefs can not be tested, your belief in God can not be proven to be true in the way that everyone understands things to be true: through empirical evidence.
This is why religion doesn't offer ‘value’. Both science and religion offer answers to the true nature of things, but only science offers itself up for testing, and delivers results. This is the true meaning of ‘value’.

Note: This response never reached the speaker. Can you find any fault in my reasoning? Please leave a comment if so. Good philosophy is tested philosophy.
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21-05-2013, 07:53 PM
RE: On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
I might have my definitions wrong, but aren't all beliefs subjectively created but some beliefs are able to be objectively measured?
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21-05-2013, 08:51 PM
RE: On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
Value is subjective, so if you're attempting to argue that only science provides value, your thesis fails.

Other than that, it's well reasoned.

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. - Chinese Proverb
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22-05-2013, 12:39 AM (This post was last modified: 22-05-2013 12:45 AM by PoolBoyG.)
RE: On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
1. The "religious" question is a leading question. "Why" means they're going on the premise that there was a conscious reasoning (god(s) in their case), and that they're asking what was that conscious reasoning. The proper question is "Was there a reason for my existence?"

2. Values are not subjective. Values are rational judgements. Just because there are "grey" areas, or that people make poor judgements doesn't mean the nature or idea of values can be discarded.

"It's just as good, and rational, -or- indifferent, and meaningless to press one button that just slaughters six million people, instead of pushing the second button that just gives said six million people puppies and balloons." The state of a sentients provides very real value. Positive state -or- negative state, which do you choose? There's no justification of a negative state (unless it promises greater positive states otherwise).
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22-05-2013, 01:43 AM
RE: On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
(22-05-2013 12:39 AM)PoolBoyG Wrote:  1. The "religious" question is a leading question. "Why" means they're going on the premise that there was a conscious reasoning (god(s) in their case), and that they're asking what was that conscious reasoning. The proper question is "Was there a reason for my existence?"

2. Values are not subjective. Values are rational judgements. Just because there are "grey" areas, or that people make poor judgements doesn't mean the nature or idea of values can be discarded.

"It's just as good, and rational, -or- indifferent, and meaningless to press one button that just slaughters six million people, instead of pushing the second button that just gives said six million people puppies and balloons." The state of a sentients provides very real value. Positive state -or- negative state, which do you choose? There's no justification of a negative state (unless it promises greater positive states otherwise).

On 2, not all values are objective as you suggest. eg I like (place value on) cheddar, I dislike (do not place value in) moldy and/or runny cheese. This is a subjective view, it is not a poor judgement as it would need to be if your point held water it is a value judgement based on my subjective taste. At its base my preference is based on the rational view that you ought not to eat moldy or rotting food stuffs. However, I know that moldy/runny cheese is not harmful so what has a rational basis, isnt really, its really only that find these cheeses revolting.

Values are things in which we invest worth, they are not objective standards.

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22-05-2013, 01:50 AM
RE: On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
Meaning is subjective, there's no point in trying to find a unified meaning for the entire human race. Each of us has to find our own meaning.
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22-05-2013, 08:54 AM
RE: On religion and science asking the question ‘why do I exist?’
(22-05-2013 12:39 AM)PoolBoyG Wrote:  2. Values are not subjective. Values are rational judgements. Just because there are "grey" areas, or that people make poor judgements doesn't mean the nature or idea of values can be discarded.

A man with stage four lung cancer may place very little value on life but that doesn't mean a perfectly healthy man shouldn't or can't highly value life. And vice versa.

Value is a purely subjective and personal assessment, the rationality (or irrationality) of which is irrelevant.

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names. - Chinese Proverb
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