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Thread: Can a religion exist without making empirical claims?

  1. #1 Can a religion exist without making empirical claims? 
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    When talking about conflict between science and religion, people often like to claim that there shouldn’t be any conflict because the two address “different domains” or some other such reasoning.

    The problem with this view is that virtually every religion, so far as I know, makes empirical claims of one form or another about the world – and any time you make an empirical claim, there’s a chance that careful scientific investigation will yield a different conclusion. So is it really possible for religion and science to respect each other’s “different domains”? Or will there always be an area of potential conflict between science and religion? Along those same lines, would it even be possible for a religion to exist without making any sort of empirical claims?


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    This question is far to open ended to attempt to answer in its present form.

    What empirical claims about the world are in question? Other than the idea that God made it and controls it, I am not sure of what other empirical claims religions make about the world.

    Scifor will have to be a little more explicit with what he considers a religious empirical claim that runs the risk of being disproved by scientific investigation.


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  4. #3  
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    Quote Originally Posted by daytonturner
    This question is far to open ended to attempt to answer in its present form.

    What empirical claims about the world are in question? Other than the idea that God made it and controls it, I am not sure of what other empirical claims religions make about the world.

    Scifor will have to be a little more explicit with what he considers a religious empirical claim that runs the risk of being disproved by scientific investigation.
    I think the openness is to signify the many different empirical arguements for god. Atempting to make a list that encompasses all of the would be rediculous.
    These delays are not going to make me on time.
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    I have no idea how one defends or advocates for or against an unknown empirical claim. One needs to know what the empirical claim is and how it conflicts with knowledge from another school of study.

    Scifor was actually questioning whether there is a requisite that a religion have some empirical claim(s). I do not know exactly how to comment on the abstract aspect of the question.

    But I have changed my mind about it being an open ended question. The way it is presented, it is more of a yes or no question. As such, I think my answer is now theoretically yes, but technically no.
    Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. -- Albert Einstein

    If God DID do all of this, is He not the greatest scientist of all? -- dt, 2005
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  6. #5 Re: Can a religion exist without making empirical claims? 
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    [quote="Scifor Refugee"]When talking about conflict between science and religion, people often like to claim that there shouldn’t be any conflict because the two address “different domains” or some other such reasoning. [quote]

    As you point out, there is most certainly conflict! However, empericial claims are only the slightest part of it!

    During the last century, it was often stated by important figures that it was not only possible but urgent that science and the old faith be reconciled. Every since the time of August de Compt late in the 19th century, the open battle between Voltiare and the church was over and the idea of reconciling the two and hence producing harmony was rife. The Age of Enlightenment was over.

    But how can you possibly reconcile "miracles" with science? Of course, it cannot be done! We got all kinds of "explanations" for how the Parting of the Red Sea, for example, could be explained by a sudden draining or other natural cause, but it was all rather manufactured. Yet, it sufficed and the mainline churches were able to be filled with people who looked at such "miracles" with skepticism but still believed in a Christ-God spirit and much of what It was supposed to have taught us.

    But not just the faithful were required to compromise themselves! Also, science had to compromise itself in order to reconcile. That was the task of social science theory and social science scholars did a good job of compromising their science to accommodate. The result is SECULAR HUMANISM and is the ideology that now unites the world.

    But the unity of the world seems now to be unraveling! Could it be that people are loosing faith in Secular Humanism---perhaps because when we invade a country to impose "democracy" on it and it reverts to the growing of opium, war lords and Taliban insurgents---or civil war---that "democracy" has diminished as an ideology? What better proof can there be? There IS a solution, but neither Secular Humanism nor the old faiths provide it . . .

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  7. #6 Miracles - Science - Evolution 
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    I think as people we may have stumbled, recovered, and
    rested on our laurel's in our faith.

    Adapting to our world, is the only alternative. We do it everyday, and
    take it for granted. You have heat in your home, by technology:
    Without it you would not survive. We use science to interpret these findings.
    It is my belief that God and Science are infinately connected. Man's evolution
    is a product of knowledge and understanding, obtained from all sources;
    even outer space. The bible is filled with prohecy and information that
    shapes our world today. How and why does new technology become
    utilized? Generally to adapt to our environment. Most scholars use God
    and the bible to find answers to the un-answered questions in the
    universe. A Christian viewpoint is generally used to explain, or refute;
    any aspect of our character. Due diligence in work, can lead to utilization
    for a good purpose. Evolution=Development=Understanding.
    My book looks at technology; and the characters expand their findings
    to to help avert a world ending disaster.

    Religion is diligence and disipline. If we have a dead line to meet,
    only a person's diligence, disipline and hard work can accomplish
    the task. This is the miracle of science. Adapting to a situation
    to bring the best result. Whereby hope and faith come into play -
    "I hope, pray, or have faith that this will work". Concepts that are
    woven together throughout the fabric of our society.

    With all of the modern luxuries that we have, we tend to forget
    how life would be without them, and usually take them for granted.

    Moon Over Key Biscayne is a book that asks the question:

    Are we are ready for the future?

    And a true testiment to our call and response; to the universe.

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  8. #7  
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    everlasting wrote:
    Man's evolution is a product of knowledge and understanding, obtained from all sources;
    even outer space.
    not evolution. it is called progress.
    The bible is filled with prohecy and information that
    shapes our world today.
    Pure nonsense.

    Most scholars use God and the bible to find answers to the un-answered questions in the universe.
    Until men adopted 'scientific method'

    Religion is diligence and disipline. If we have a dead line to meet,
    only a person's diligence, disipline and hard work can accomplish
    the task. This is the miracle of science. Adapting to a situation
    to bring the best result. Whereby hope and faith come into play -
    "I hope, pray, or have faith that this will work". Concepts that are
    woven together throughout the fabric of our society.
    Nonsense again. It works because we use of logical thinking to tackle it.


    Moon Over Key Biscayne is a book that asks the question:

    Are we are ready for the future?
    It should have been called 'a book of nonsenses'
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  9. #8 Re: Can a religion exist without making empirical claims? 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope mitchellmckain's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Can a religion exist without making empirical claims?
    Unlike daytonturner I have no problem with this question at all. The answer is yes. In fact religions do not make empirical claims. Nor do salesmen, lawyers, or politicians. Empirical claims, which I understand to mean claims about objective observations and measurements, is the exclusive purview of science. This is the bread and butter of science. It is part of its method and purpose. Nobody else really has any reason to do this. Certainly salesmen, lawyers and politicians do not, because no matter what they may say, what they really want of the people they talk to, is not objectivity, but to see things their way. Is religion any different? Obviously not.


    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    When talking about conflict between science and religion, people often like to claim that there shouldn’t be any conflict because the two address “different domains” or some other such reasoning.
    Unfortunately there are a lot of people without scientific training who do not really even know the difference between an "empirical claim" and a theological argument. The only people who really recognize and pay any attention to the distinction are scientists.

    Part of the problem here is the difference between what is "objectively observable" and what is "objectively real". The first is what science studies and makes more tangible by means of its methodology and the second is an abstraction that is to various degrees little more than speculation, imagination, rationalization, wishful thinking, and self delusion. Furthermore there really is no way of establishing to what degree any particular persons, "objective reality" is any of these things to any great degree.

    There is the temptation to use science for such a measure, no matter how restrictive its subject matter, how limited its applicability and how tentative its conclusions. But the plain fact of the matter is that, since the failure of the logical positivists, we cannot even establish an objective justification for distinguishing science with such a special status. Proper science (at its purest) does not really make determinations about an objective reality, but merely uses visualizations of its mathematical models as a tool and means to an end, freely swapping one visualization for another depending on convenience and utility.


    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    The problem with this view is that virtually every religion, so far as I know, makes empirical claims of one form or another about the world – and any time you make an empirical claim, there’s a chance that careful scientific investigation will yield a different conclusion.
    Ah.. but you see, what you are calling empirical claims here is not concerning objective observations that science deals in but the more dubious abstraction called "objective reality". Yes everybody wants to make claims about an "objective reality" and hawk their versions of this abstraction like sellers in a market place. And the fanciest, most comprensive of these are the offerings of religion.

    However, with a little scientific/academic training one can learn to swap these different "objective realities" according to convenience and utility much as a scientist does with their visualizations, finding that some fit some circumstances better than others. This includes swapping beween one supported by a major religions and the collection of scientific visualization that can patched into a rough version of an "objective reality", which we can call the scientific world view.


    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    So is it really possible for religion and science to respect each other’s “different domains”? Or will there always be an area of potential conflict between science and religion?
    Oh it is possible all right in more ways than one. But I feel that the important key to acheiving such a reconcilliation is to truly understand the nature of scientific inquiry and its limitations.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Along those same lines, would it even be possible for a religion to exist without making any sort of empirical claims?
    Would it be possible for a religion to exist without making claims about objective observations and measurements? Of course. This is most probably true of all of them.

    Would it be possible for a religion to exist without making claims about an "objective reality"? Probably not. But why should they? This is a fundamental tool of human perception and comprehension. BUT there are religions/groups that come rather close. Some Buddhists/Taoist groups or like this Indian philosopher Krishnamurti strive for something like this. But beyond learning a bit of independence from these abstractions and to see beyond them, I don't see the use of such efforts.
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  10. #9 Re: Can a religion exist without making empirical claims? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by mitchellmckain
    Would it be possible for a religion to exist without making claims about objective observations and measurements? Of course. This is most probably true of all of them.
    By "empirical claims" I meant not only claims about objective observations, but also claims about reality that can be effectivly investigated with objective observations.

    For example, a Christian might claim that the earth is only a few thousand years old. While that claim isn't based on any empirical data, it can certainly be investigated with empirical data.

    Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to ask if religion can avoid making claims that might come into conflict with empirical observation.
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    Does anybody here really understand the simplistic meaning of empirical? I know I didn’t. I thought empirical related in some way to an exclusivity of the claim. Then I thought it was the nature of the claim itself. But the important aspect of an empirical claim is the basis of the claim, not the claim itself.

    The essence of an empirical claim is that it is based only on observation and experience. As such I think both Mitchell and Scifor are adding elements that may or may not be present in an empirical claim.

    There is no requisite that an empirical claim be based on an “objective” observation or experience as Mitchell tends to require. Mitchell’s scientific orientation on the idea seems to omit the possibility that an empirical claim could be devoid of any objectivity. But neither does it preclude the possibility that the observation and experiential aspect of the claim could be absolutely objective.

    However, Scifor’s example of someone claiming the earth is only 6,000 years old also tends to ignore the requisite need for observation and/or experience. No one was here to experience the formation of the earth, ergo no one could have been here to observe or experience it. Such a claim could not be empirical, it is merely an unfounded claim. There is no observational facta from which one could formulate that claim.

    An empirical claim would be to view the universe or living organisms and say, “Based on my observation and experience with other complex things in the world, I think there was some purposeful design effort exerted to bring about these existences.”

    Neither is it an empirical claim when we say that if you combine two molecules of hydrogen with one molecule of oxygen, you get one molecule of water. While the claim is partially based on observation and experience, it also has the benefit of scientific proof.

    Adding another element to the empirical process is that it can totally ignore scientific method or theory.

    I have difficulty off the top of my head, finding very many empirical claims made by religion in general or Christianity in particular that are of a scientific nature. And that was (and remains) my original observation of Scifor's question. While I might agree that religion (including Christianity) may make several empirical claims, I do not see many of them as being in direct conflict with science.

    Empirical claims need not be related to a science. One empirical claim of Christianity is that “You must be born again.” This is a claim that is supported both by the personal experience of those who have been born again and also in the observation of changed lives among those who have been “born again.” This is a classical empirical claim, but there is absolutely no counterpart to this claim in the realm of science.

    So, back to my earlier responses, I remain of the opinion that one must discuss whether a claim is empirical on the basis of the actual claim rather than in the abstract of unspecified claims. One must first decide if the claim is actually empirical or if is something that has no experiential or observational basis.

    One would then also need to decide if the suggested empirical claim is actually in the purview of some scientific study area.

    I remain of the opinion that the battlefields upon which religious thought and scientific knowledge can take arms up combat are very few when compared to the entirety of religious thought and scientific knowledge.
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    By "empirical claims" I meant not only claims about objective observations, but also claims about reality that can be effectivly investigated with objective observations.
    I also already addressed this idea of making claims about "objective reality".

    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    For example, a Christian might claim that the earth is only a few thousand years old. While that claim isn't based on any empirical data, it can certainly be investigated with empirical data.
    I can certainly appreciate why you choose such an example. What could be more simple and definite. If there is an objective reality then surely it must be a particular age. This insistence by fundamentalist Christians that the earth or the universe is only six thousand years old based on their interpretation of scriptures alone seems particularly unreasonable when we have perfectly good means of seeking an objective answer to that question based on observational data.

    I think that part of the problem is the fundamentally conservative nature of religion, and the fact that the major religions find their roots in a past which did not make the distinctions between the endeavors of science, religion and entertainment. It is not essential for religions to make claims that are in conflict with science and in fact new religions which are not reactionary in nature are more careful not to do so. All the mythologies which are the basis of religious claims about the age the earth or the universe are from long ago.


    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    Perhaps a better way of putting it would be to ask if religion can avoid making claims that might come into conflict with empirical observation.
    Any endeavor, whether scientific, religious or otherwise, is likely to make claims that need to be clarified or modified in the future as we learn more about the world and ourselves, or even as we change the way we think about things or the way we express ourselves. Your hope, therefore, of seeking some basis of claiming that religion is an illegitimate endeavor altogether is unfounded and only reveals a "self-righteousness" and "prejudice" that is as deeply seated as any fundamentalist Christian.



    Quote Originally Posted by daytonturner
    There is no requisite that an empirical claim be based on an “objective” observation or experience as Mitchell tends to require. Mitchell’s scientific orientation on the idea seems to omit the possibility that an empirical claim could be devoid of any objectivity. But neither does it preclude the possibility that the observation and experiential aspect of the claim could be absolutely objective.
    Some people like keeping the waters muddy so they can hide the inadequacies of their thinking in the shadows. It is a measure of the status the science has a acheive that so many want to emulate the appearance of being scientific while avoiding its fundamental nature.

    I do not deny that certain aspects (characterizations actually) of the methods of science can be applied to non-scientific endeavors. Indeed the origin of my ideas of the nature of faith can be found in the writings of Charles Sanders Pierce which compares the belief in God to the investigation of a scientific hypothesis.

    Nevertheless I think it is clear that in Scifor's question there is the rather obvious implication that he is talking about what distinguishes the methods of science and not about any non-scientific applications of the term "empirical claims" that you can dream up.
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    Not sure I quite agree with Mitchell’s characterization of Scifor’s question. Starting with just a literal understanding of his words, Scifor was concerned with empirical claims made by religion as they relate to the world. (In the context of his post, I assumed this to mean issues of a scientific nature.)

    I thought Scifor was suggesting that religious claims about the world must be considered highly suspect because they are empirical. I am not sure he goes all the way to suggesting they must be rejected on their face because of that, but for sure, they must remain under suspicion until they have been subjected to a scientific validating process.

    He then asked if it was possible or religion to exist without empirical claims. In this question it was not clear if he was still talking specifically about empirical claims related to the world or if he had expanded to the question of empirical claims in general. (Since religion is experiential, it would seem that religion would be fraught with empirical claims in general.)

    My position is that the Bible, at least, does not make very many empirical claims about the world that would fall into the purview of science. I cannot speak for other religious writings nor am I privy to what claims seem to have come under Scifor’s scrutiny.

    The difference I think is that when science makes an empirical claim, it does so more in the form of an hypothesis which is then to be proved or validated or not. I am not convinced that science makes very many empirical claims that are relevant to religion. In contrast, religious empirical claims are conclusions for which scientific proof is unnecessary to the believer, rather agreement or disagreement.

    I think it would be helpful to know more specifically what Scifor has in mind when he says “[religion] makes empirical claims of one form or another about the world.”

    So far, the only specific potential conflict Scifor mentioned was the age of earth about which he, himself, said the 6 to 10-thousand year position was without empirical basis. Somehow, Scifor himself, seems to removed this question from the scrutiny of his original question about empirical claims. It is not, as I suggested earlier, an empirical claim. Rather it is a hypothesis that lacks either empirical or scientific support although it may, as Scifor contends, have some relevant scientific data collected.

    My thinking from the beginning was that there is some need to look at a specific suggested empirical claims 1. to make sure it is actually empirical and 2. to make sure it is of a worldly nature and 3. to determine if it actually conflicting.

    I continue to maintain my position that when it comes to “science” in its broadest sense of meaning, there are very few areas wherein there is conflict with religion. Plus, much of what conflict does seem to exist is based on the misunderstandings of people relating to what the other side says or believes.
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    [quote="prasit"]everlasting wrote:
    Man's evolution is a product of knowledge and understanding, obtained from all sources.
    How do you feel about the topic of history. Do you think that
    people learn from their previous experiences?

    Just as the natural laws are documented, and are a part of history,
    so to is the history of religion and faith. The laws of religion and
    faith are clearly founded before any of the natural laws; that man has
    witnessed. People don't tend to forget their history: just because
    they are moving forward into the future.

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    [quote="Everlasting"]
    Quote Originally Posted by prasit
    everlasting wrote:
    Man's evolution is a product of knowledge and understanding, obtained from all sources.
    How do you feel about the topic of history. Do you think that
    people learn from their previous experiences?

    Just as the natural laws are documented, and are a part of history,
    so to is the history of religion and faith. The laws of religion and
    faith are clearly founded before any of the natural laws; that man has
    witnessed. People don't tend to forget their history: just because
    they are moving forward into the future.

    8)
    Indeed, both social tradition and science have their blind sides that people should understand and acknowlege. I have mentioned this before. Tradition has the advantage of hindsight and the blindness (of stubborn-ness?), while science has the advantage of discovery and an inability to see long term effects.
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    Everlasting wrote:
    How do you feel about the topic of history. Do you think that people learn from their previous experiences?
    Yes, I do. But we do learn from religion history differently from science history. The difference between religion and science is that the former has the belief that it is absolutely right from the start but the latter anticipates new theories that either refine or supersede the current ones.


    The laws of religion and faith are clearly founded before any of the natural laws;
    Not sure about this. Men learned about fire before the dawn of civilization. This can be viewed as the discovery of natural law.

    mitch wrote:
    I have mentioned this before. Tradition has the advantage of hindsight and the blindness (of stubborn-ness?), while science has the advantage of discovery and an inability to see long term effects.
    But Tradition does not have the ability to see long term effects either, does it?
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by prasit
    I have mentioned this before. Tradition has the advantage of hindsight and the blindness (of stubborn-ness?), while science has the advantage of discovery and an inability to see long term effects.
    But Tradition does not have the ability to see long term effects either, does it?
    Of course I am not refering to the process of starting a new tradition. Obviously there is no way to see the long term effects of such a thing. But in general when we talk about tradition we mean things that we have been doing for a long time. There may be no scientific reasoning behind such traditions but it may be unwise to abandon them anyway because again the advantage of those very old traditions is a very clear picture of their long term effects, whereas no one can really predict what would be the long term results of abandoning them.

    Natural selection does not just operate on species and their genetic materials. It operates just as much on societies/civilizations and upon the means of inheritance by which the form/structures of these are passed on to later generations (such as our oldest traditions). Some of the results of evolution are purely creative and arbitrary but others are essential to survival. Therefore, being the result of an evolutionary process, it would be wise to at least hesitate before abandoning our traditions too quickly.
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  18. #17 Re: Can a religion exist without making empirical claims? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scifor Refugee
    When talking about conflict between science and religion, ...would it even be possible for a religion to exist without making any sort of empirical claims?
    Conceptually, it is possible, but i would posit that such would be very unlikely. This is because any religion must in some manner address "the world", which is the biogeophysical percieved thing of us and around us. Otherwise, it will be gibberish, and devoid of any meaning literally, to both the spiritually inclined and not.

    A claim may be made in a non-empirical way (faith, argument from authority, etc), which will, as empirical knowledge improves, give rise to difficulties. Many if not all scriptures from around the world, were first developed thousands of years ago, when the oral traditions then writings reflect the understanding of the world, that has, as far as observation/experiment, etc. been superceded a number of times over.

    This is complicated by the modern idea, that if a writing says something exact about the world, it must be descriptive in fact. That is not assumption that can be made of writers/readers in ancient times.

    In the classical hellenistic world, (Mediterranian, Mid-East), It was a common view that there were two ways of "knowing", those being reason and mythos. Empiricism grows from reason. But to them, mythic thought, was another knowing, not part of empiricism. They were not initially in conflict. Mythos was the stories of gods, meaning and morality. Myth did not mean "false", to them.

    You can see this even in early Christianity. The key claim, enshrined as dogma in 325 A.D. (Nicea Council) was the divinty of Jesus, and his rising from the dead. That is a claim about one event in the world. But no one then, that we know of, claimed that scripture (which was edited to present "books" in 375 Council of Carthage) was to be held literal. In fact, St. Augustine and other early writers, considered such sinful and an act of pride (ie, claiming to know the mind of God...). In the early days of Christianity, other than the core claim, scripture was metaphorical, ie, mythos.
    At times in the history of the group of sects and schools called Christianity, literalism has reared its head. For instance, during some parts of the Inquisition, and of course, following the Niagara conference in the late 1800's, birthing American fundamentalism. But those periods are normally reactions to various social/cutural pressures.

    A claim about the world can be very simple, and probably not give rise to controversy with empirical thought. For instance the core concept of Buddhism, "transiency", meaning EVERYTHING is in a state of change.

    But that claim, may run afoul of other religions, such as the Abrahamic ones, that posit an eternal god and/or self (soul) concept. But the latter can probably not run afoul of empiricism, since their characteristics are not subject to either observation or experiment, not being "real", in the biogeophysical sense.
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    Quote Originally Posted by daytonturner
    Does anybody here really understand the simplistic meaning of empirical? I know I didn’t. I thought empirical related in some way to an exclusivity of the claim. Then I thought it was the nature of the claim itself. But the important aspect of an empirical claim is the basis of the claim, not the claim itself.

    The essence of an empirical claim is that it is based only on observation and experience. As such I think both Mitchell and Scifor are adding elements that may or may not be present in an empirical claim.

    There is no requisite that an empirical claim be based on an “objective” observation or experience as Mitchell tends to require. Mitchell’s scientific orientation on the idea seems to omit the possibility that an empirical claim could be devoid of any objectivity. But neither does it preclude the possibility that the observation and experiential aspect of the claim could be absolutely objective.
    Be careful getting too caught up in the specific definition of a word itself, because all languages have some degree of flaw to them, and there will always be some concepts that are absolutely, perfectly, impossible to accurately express without misusing words or abusing the rules of the language to some degree.

    I get the impression that the original poster was referring to claims that are scientific in nature, but which science may not have a good theory for yet (or didn't when the claim was made).

    Personally, I think it may be possible for a religion to get by without making any material claims about the universe, but it's more appealing to potential followers if you claim to have as many answers as possible.
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  20. #19  
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    Woops...I started this thread, then completely forgot about it. I should probably explain a little more about what I was talking about in my opening post. When I started the thread I had read a book by Ian. G. Barbour called "When Science Meets Religion." The book suggested that science and religion shouldn't be in conflict because they address "different domains"; science answered questions about our physical world, while religion answers questions about how we should behave, the meaning of life, etc. Since science doesn't attempt to address those sorts of questions, there should never be conflict.

    This seems sort of clever, but the problem with it (in my opinion) is that while religion can certainly provide answers to philosophical questions that science does not attempt to address, it's seems to invariably also make claims that science can address. If it's impossible for a religion to exist without making claims that can be hypothetically investigated by science, that sort of "compartmentalization" approach seems doomed to failure before it can even start.
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  21. #20  
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    I think the problem is that all existing religions served both purposes at one time, but science replaced or at least drastically altered the empirical part, so religions had to retreat to the domain of morality. While a religion could theoretically only address morality and no questions of creation or other things in the physical world, who is going to believe in a religion somebody just made up on the spot to meet those criteria?
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  22. #21  
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    Maybe it goes to the old saying "A good plan today is better than a great plan tommorrow." A false assumption or mere guess was better than having no answer at all, and putting things nobody could know (or in the present, things nobody can know still) in the hands of an "all powerful" being tends to be a quick and easy way of settling disputes, so people fight less about petty things and can cooperate more easily (so long as they're of the same religion.)
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