Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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God in the Age of Alien Earths

Rick Searle

February 17, 2013

Four hundred and thirteen years ago to the day, on February, 17 1600, the mystic philosopher, and some would argue,scientist, Giordano Bruno, was handed over by the Catholic Church to the civil authorities in Rome and burned to death in the Campo de’ Fiori. Burning at the stake was a punishment that aimed at the annihilation of the person. The scattering of a body’s ashes, like Bruno’s ashes were scattered into the Tiber river, was not as many now look on similar rituals, a way of connecting a person forever into the fabric of a place they find for whatever reason sacred, but a way to cast a person out from the human world from which they came. It was the way “soulless” creatures such as animals were treated in death.


Complete entry


Posted by SHaGGGz  on  02/18  at  01:18 AM

“No religion should use the findings of science to back their theological claims, which in the end amount to a claim to exclusive say over the universal human questions of cosmological meaning.”

I disagree. Religions make universal claims anyway; it’s when such claims are made and defended irrespective of and contrary to observable reality when we run into problems. To encourage divorcing the theological from the empirical is to sever this tenuous cord that tethers religion to our world. Even creationism is a step in the right direction as it at least implicitly acknowledges science’s imprimatur. The Dalai Lama has the right idea in saying that Buddhism should change in the case of contrary scientific findings.

Posted by Rick Searle  on  02/18  at  08:49 AM


My phrasing may have been a little sharp, but I think my meaning remains valid. Religions are typically based on an existential and ethical stance that remains valid whether or not the view of the Universe or nature they hold is scientifically verifiable or not. Take the Buddhist view that the problem of the world is suffering. Such a stance has validity for adherents who live within the tradition whatever their idea of the cosmos arrived at long before the arrival of modern science.

While I am EXTREMELY glad that science has validated at least some of the claims that lie at the root of much of the ethics we find in religion-for instance the idea that human kind are somehow all kin and emerge from the same source-science should not have been compelled to reach this conclusion by having its inquiry into the question limited by ethical concerns.  In this vein, had science arrived at a different conclusion to stick with the example, that polygenism was true regarding humanity, then religion would have STILL be justified in basing its ethics on the what would have been the scientifically false claim that human being and had a common origin which would amount to a requirement that we act as if this were true.

The Dali Lama is a fascinating figure who I have a great deal of respect for, but I think we always need to remember he is a political as much as a religious figure and that the stances he takes need to be seen in light of the Western and largely secular audience upon whom he people’s well being in part depends.

Posted by SHaGGGz  on  02/18  at  07:33 PM

The Buddhist stance on suffering is fine if all it purports to be is a personal choice that doesn’t logically depend on wider discredited ontological claims, such as the age of the Earth or God’s supposed favouring of a particular ethnicity etc. If an ethical stance such as the universal kinship of man, from which universal magnanimity should stem, can be justified on rational ethical grounds (as rational as such matters can get) then they should resort to such methods as opposed to words that are written on a book whose imprimatur is highly questionable

All religious figures, especially the higher profile ones, are political ones too. Not sure how this is relevant to the point I was making.

Posted by Rick Searle  on  02/18  at  08:27 PM


One of the ideas I’ve been kicking around lately has to do with the way science and religion often arrive at similar concepts through wholly different routes. The example I am thinking of now is how the Jains were the first to hit upon the idea of the atom, which they reached from an ethical starting point and used as a basis for their famous universal ethics. You know, don’t swallow a fly and all that.

I don’t think there is anything particularly mystical that explains this, but that it is probably a consequence of the fact that science and religion look at the world from a perspective “outside” of it and generally look for principles that unite seemingly disparate phenomena.

The difference between science and religion is that science is not predetermined to find uniting principles, its primary goal is finding the TRUTH. Thus, it is just as likely to discover differences as discover common characteristics, at least until some more encompassing idea is found that will explain seemingly different things. I think this has some implications for whether scientific or religious thought is the better starting point for ethics and I have an example.

Much of the theory behind the racists Nazi regime was based not, as many of us are inclined to believe, pseudo-science but on the very best theories of evolution, inheritance, and social development AT THAT TIME. Science would have to wait for the discovery of DNA to show that these scientific ideas regarding human differences were false.

For someone to have based their ethical or political position on the moving target of the best science available at the time would have had WORSE ethical results than someone who believed that the earth was 6,000 years old, but held firm to ethical conclusions on the fundamental unity of human kind that were developed over 2 thousand years.

Posted by SHaGGGz  on  02/18  at  09:02 PM

It’s true that Nazis drew from then-credible archaeology and evolutionary theory, though they also significantly embellished onto that with tales of Nordic Aryan godmen from Atlantis, various occult nonsense, blood libel myths etc. but I take your point. Ethical considerations must take precedence. For instance, we can take the ethical principle of equality to inform our decision to charge the same insurance rates for men and women regardless of differential actuarial statistics, to take an example from a more familiar context. Anchoring ethics to the moving target of the best currently available science is the basest form of the naturalistic fallacy. The other extreme would be to fit science to preconceived dogmatic notions, as in creationism. Neither extreme is desirable.

Posted by Rick Searle  on  02/18  at  09:20 PM

In complete agreement with that!

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/07  at  08:17 AM

But you haven’t mentioned Aristarchus?

“Aristarchus (Ἀρίσταρχος, Aristarkhos, 310 BCE – ca. 230 BCE) of Samos was an ancient Greek astronomer and mathematician who presented the first known model that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe with the Earth revolving around it (see Solar system). He was influenced by Philolaus of Croton, but he identified the “central fire” with the Sun, and put the other planets in their correct order of distance around the Sun.[1] His astronomical ideas were often rejected in favor of the geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy.”

Posted by Rick Searle  on  03/07  at  05:16 PM


Oh yes, we can never underestimate the influence of these ancient Pythagoreans on the modern scientific revolution that we are still living in:

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/08  at  05:49 AM

Pythagoras indeed. He also advised seekers to visit the East and to sample the culture and philosophical wisdom. Plato too followed this advise, and me thinks this has root in his ideas of reincarnation and philosophical caste?

Regarding this “sapientia antique”, my persuasion is that this notion of progress, (social, philosophical), is overrated and so too this notion of “original ideas” which prompts me to “look back”. Creativity yes, yet we all stand of the shoulders of giants. And good points regarding Aristotle, the downside to veneration and hubris is that we can become susceptible to stagnation, “closed minded” and stuck upright in mud?

This inner tension concerning “utopia-dystopia”, agreed we Humans each of us struggle with aspirations to lofty ideals whilst wrestling with our perpetual predicament, and argue! Perhaps you may see the connection also in my last comment on the David Pearce article?

Thanks for the link!

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