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Knuth lectures on "God and Computers" Online 318

pq writes "Donald Knuth talks about "God and Computers" as part of the MIT AI lab's 1999 lecture series - a live webcast is available from here, and archived transcripts will also appear there. " Looks like three are finished already, with more coming over the next few weeks. Knuth is always worth listening to.
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Knuth lectures on "God and Computers" Online

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  • arrrrg. I do that consistently (mispell believe).
    Also, ammount, and untill. It's those darned myelin sheaths hardening in my head. Or maybe predestination... :)

    As for pascal's wager, it is oversimplified. Feel free to enumerate all possible events. :)

  • That religious experience is unintelligible proves nothing whatsoever. *All* experience is unintelligible; try explaining 'blue' to a blind man.

    Sure, but we can define "blue" as light with a wavelength from XXX to YYY nanometers. Blue light is both repeatable (every time I turn my blue LED, durned if I don't see blue) and measurable (use your favorite color meter). It's no problem for science. We can't directly sense radio waves or X-rays, yet both are well developed technologies.

    Xtianity and most other western religions view their god(s) as omnipotient, omnipresent, and other omni- words. Those are properties that aren't repeatable (by us) and may not even be measurable (by us). And in any case, such gods aren't noted for dropping by and taking personality tests or altering the laws of physics on request. So, until a god started showing up and working miracles on a regular basis, scientists aren't going to be able to do much with him/her/it/them.

    Speculation: If such a thing did happen, the best, most imaginative and flexible scientists would -- guess what -- start trying to make a science of theology. After all, you can't make supernovas or major earthquakes in the lab, yet we have astrophysics and seismology anyway. See Vernor Vinge's excellent A Fire Upon the Deep for hints of what such an Applied Theology would be like. 8-)

  • "It's not the athiests, it's the damn commies..." == "It's not the Christians, it's the damn Roman Church of the Middle Ages."

    Okay? Please don't miss the point.

    I'm specifically responding to this meme:
    "The crusades were evil, and were conducted in the name of Christianity; therefore Christianity is evil."

    Which, generalized names and events, becomes:
    "If something evil is conducted in the name of a group of people, than that group of people is evil."

    Now, that's crazy.

    But if one does believe that, Christianity is evil because of the crusades, etc., and atheism is also evil, because of what the commies did in the name of atheism.

    So, atheists who argue in this manner condemn themselves as well as Christians - i.e., it's a meaningless argument.

    But you still argue that commies aren't TRUE atheists? Then don't complain when people say the Catholics of that era weren't TRUE Christians.

  • Apparently, Mr. Knuth's being a christian has deeply offended a lot of you.

    Maybe a few...but mostly people with negative reactions seem to be bored, not offended?

    Geeks hate being wrong (I know, I am one). But that's what christianity is, telling you that you're wrong, a sinner, doomed. But you guys are so narrow minded that you can't get past that to find out that it also talks about what to do about it.

    That's possibly a fair characterization of some non-geeks (and probably some geeks as well--geeks are hardly a uniform bunch!). But inasmuch as geeks actually think, and inasmuch as there is a negative reaction, maybe the problem is that they don't believe that they are wrong until it's well documented that they are? Popular opinion doesn't cut it, either. If it did, they wouldn't be geeks. So it seems to me that, if you're trying to change people's minds rather than display support for a specific viewpoint, you've hit the nail squarely on the thumb.

  • Please propose an experiment to test the existence of God, so it can be duly added to the annals of science.

    'The existence of God' is in the realm of philosophy, not science - there is a significant difference.
  • Crusades: Compare to the Islamic Jihads. Probably milder than the Jihads actually.

    Inquisition: It's highly overrated in the popular imagination. But take a look at what Nero did to those who refused to call him God.

    Burning people at stake: Why don't you take a look at what the Germanic cultures did before Christianity came along. It even grossed the Romans out. (The Romans whose preferred method was letting people die of exposure).

    Genocide is really quite common in history. Consider what the atheists in Russia did to the Hebrews. I can't remember all the details, but there were some genocidal activities in East Asia too. Oh, by the way: the Spanish were not really responsible; most of the natives were killed by disease, not the Spaniards.

    In other words, learn some history bubba.
  • Before I get any silly responses to this:

    An experiment requires a hypothesis p->q
    Positive test of q does not prove p, but may support it. Negative test disproves p.

    So in order to scientifically test the existence of God one must first show that the existence of God implies some q. But really, in this case, our only hope for determining some q all agree on are philosophical arguments.

    I don't see how physics can disprove something metaphysical in nature.
  • Well, in order to be recursive, he has to be recursive.
  • ... we can listen to somebody fumble with a microphone for several minutes from our computers! And who says the Internet is over-rated? ;-)
  • Many scientists are knee-jerk atheists, being unable to reconcile Genesis with the overwhelming evidence for something different.

    Every atheist I know, including myself, isn't some reactionary knee-jerker but someone well versed in religous ideology, doctrine, and history. Much more so than most believers and with the added bonus of being informed on more than one religion. I'm sure I come off as typical to your average xtian, not because I'm ignorant but because I've had this conversation SO MANY TIMES before. When the religious start to criticize the non-religious its their job to read up and inform themselves, the same way I'm informed with their systems of beliefs. But this is almost never the case, as books that do criticize their religion are often frowned on by their religious establishment and are emotionaly hard on those who have been deeply indoctrined in this since birth.

    In a perfect world religion is private, but its nature is to spread to keep it alive. History shows us that a lack of zeal = dead religion. And who dares take a dead religion seriously? When was the last time you heard, "That's blasphemous to Zoroaster!"

    Knuth is just another modernizer of the religious myths. Without guys like him, we would be able to see how archaic they truly are. Look at cultures that don't have periodic modernization of myth like the Islamic countries. What is the consensus of the validity of their beliefs from more advanced cultures? Manily, lack of civil liberties and backwards fundie nonsense. Yet, they're at the same stage your religion was at one time. Being dictated from a god, you'd think it would be smart to remain consistant. But it isn't, so we have the Knuths of the world preaching their 'modern intelligent' views. To me its crap, to you it might be enlightenment.

    How the talk of god eventually works its way into a coversation about established religion I'll never know. You can easily talk about the existance or non-existance of a god without dragging religion in the equation. Yet, most people will go from 'is there a god?' to 'is the church a valid social structure' in the same breath. This is a popular way for the religious to back up their claims and win people over with highly flawed arguments. When they argument should stay within the bounds of deism. For the most part the talk about 'god' is just a soft introduction to talk about 'my specific religion.'

    About that 99% mystical part, well thats fiction if I've ever seen any. You may feel that way, but I sure don't. Every lack in someone's life doesn't mean they have bad karma or a sould crying out for freedom, it could be a million different factors and probably ordinary psychology. Your statement is about as provable as 'angels watch over me as I sleep yet no one can see them but i KNOW they're there.'

    Your post really reflects that an intelligent person will do their best to rationalize their emotional beliefs to their intellect. The usual course is like you said, 'private and spiritual.' Which seems very contradictory to the goal of religion in the first place - to find truth.

    I agree that Knuth isn't weak, in any tradition sense, but to me he is emotionally unable to deal with the world without a belief in a mystical supernatural force. To me that is a more of a lack of emotional strength, but not one that seriously affects one's ability to be successful in society. There's a lot to be said on how being religious helps you do better in society as a memeber of an established religion and its social perks. So its kind of a word game whether you can call it weakness. At least he's in good company, the last poll I've seen goes along the lines of 1. Xtian 2. Muslim 3. Non-religious.

  • Way to use the moderator points. I reply to someone who insulted me, and in a civil manner, and lose a point, while they, for the original flame, don't.

    Yet another moderator marks down posts they don't agree with. And they don't even do it right. What the hell does overrated mean in this context? Sheesh.
  • Hmmm, I just checked to see why your post had a +1 moderation and I noticed you had a 45 karma.

    Hmmm. Nothing personal, because most of my karma is based on moderation too, from when I used to moderate, but this is a bit silly... You can get yourself a +1 from just moderating posts.

    I think if the +20 karma to get a +1 score has to be in effect, it should be only if you have +20 karma from posting alone.

    Just a gripe about the way the system works.
  • The christian bashings I'm referring to are not judgements based on rationality or differences of opinions, or anything like that. What I am referring to is a bigotry based on ignorance or hatred, just like any other bigotry.

    Calling Don Knuth stupid for believing in God is bigotry. Disagreeing with his beliefs is not. There are many posts here calling Don Knuth stupid, but he is anything BUT stupid.

    Recent slashdot examples of bigotry: assuming that the Jesux distribution must be true because it follows the preconceived notions of what christians are like; belittling those who prayed for the earthquake victims of Taiwan, saying it was a complete waste of time, but expending much more energy in the belittling than the prayers did; and when a certain christian newletter recommended Linux, indignation erupted that christians were using that operating system.

    In fact, everytime christianity is mentioned on slashdot, the topic is lost amidst accusations of stupidity, being the prime cause of wars, and inane parodies.

    "What really pissed me off with people like the author I'm responding to, and the trend they are a part of, is that they're trying to get people to stop thinking."

    What really pissed me off about the responder is his knee-jerk bigotry in assuming that since I'm a christian I must be trying to get people to stop thinking.
  • I agree! Forget that FDA approved junk! I suggest you try out Edediah Smiths "Magic Snake-Oil Unguent" to cure all your ailments! Yessiree, made from pure cobra gall bladder extract and blessed by none other than the great preacher, Jerry Falwell himself.

    This'll take care of your cold, rheumatiz, corns, warts, genital herpes, acne, dry-eye, demonic possession and bubonic plague with just a daily application. Buy now and get a bottle Montgomery Finch's "Vitality Tonic", free!

    Blessings comes in both Childrens and Super-Potent strength!

  • Expect to be similarly bored if you attend a lecture by him on the subject of pipe organs, assuming that is also a subject you don't find interesting. I don't realistically expect to find Knuth to be an enchanting lecturer on topics I don't find interesting, but that's subjective. Admirers of Knuth who have an interest in religion (I suspect Larry Wall, for instance, might fit into this category) would likely be interested in these lectures, and admirers of Knuth who have an interest in linguistics (I suspect Larry Wall, for instance, might fit into this category) might be interested in other aspects of this lecture in particular. I suspect Jon Katz might not be so interested, but that's his right, as it is yours. Please, though, don't ask people (especially the likes of Knuth and Hofstadter) to shut up just because you're not interested in what they have to say today. Some of the rest of us are trying to listen.

    Note: I hope I'm not assuming too much by suggesting Larry Wall might be an admirer of Knuth.
  • Sure. And I can accept that.

    I would be a little more critical when reading a paper of yours, especially if it had something to do with a 'hot question', like the big bang, or evolution, but otherwise I don't really care.

    It's not like I have no respect for anyone who is religious, it's that I don't respect particular opinion.

    I can understand 'feeling' something is right. Often hunches are correct, they're good to listen to. And it's not like you can really go wrong, unless you join a church expecting tithes, or strange vows. If you keep it to yourself unless asked, it's no weirder than a nose ring or something... Odd, but just a quirk.
  • Mostly, yes. The organized part of it, and the pushing of that, are quite nasty in general.

    Religious beliefs in general make me question someone's judgement. I don't discount everything they think or say, but it does count into that first impression I get of them.

    And it's right that it should. In the online world all we have to go by is what we say and do. We aren't judged by race, gender, age, looks, or anything else irrelevant, only our actions.
  • It's about Knuth expressing his Christian faith from a computer scientists point of view. He took every 3:16 verse in the bible and researched what various theologians had to say about and then put it in a book. He explains how the process relates to computer science and also touches on other theological and philosophical subjects. I can't wait until 5 and 6 when free will is discussed along with AI. Being a Computer science major (3rd year) and also an amateur theologian, I find this whole thing very interesting.
  • Just a short note to all of those who have posted replies to this story, and the John Katz piece: Thank you. Except for the inevitable few trolls, all have been thought provoking.

    As a person who is evaluating their faith, it is very important to me that I get the opinions of the community of which I consider myself a member. I believe myself to be Christian too. And a free thinker. And a student of science. And vehemently oppose those who would control the minds of others for their personal gain.

    The atheists in the community will ask: OK, dude, if you're a free thinker, and into science, and opposed to mind control, how can you be a Christian? It's all about mind control, isn't it? Aren't your morals and beliefs spoon fed to you? In a word, no. Example: As a student of science, I cannot and will not refute the knowledge that we as a species have won, or simply pass it over because it may conflict with my ethos. There are a few places where it seems to me that science and the Bible align - I don't want waste bandwidth with a long winded proof that isn't really there, because it's based on what I believe to be true. I know you're all saying "Chicken!!!", but I've found something that works for me. My belief, my truth. Of course your mileage will vary - you're not me, are you?

    Some of the Christians here will think: You can't do that, zlotnik. You must comply with the Bible in all points or you aren't a true Christian. Again, not really. Don't forget people, faith is a human thing, not a computer thing. Conflicting points do not a core dump make in my mind. I can rationalize, I can see where science does not fly in the face of Christianity - it was created by God in the first place, wasn't it? Understanding science brings us closer to God, not farther. Any good coder will tell you that you have to test a program under all conditions in order to show that it will not break under stress. Test your faith, open your mind. But bury your head in the sand if you must - I'll be busy watching the wonders of Gods universe unfold before our eyes.

    BTW, to the more, um, judgmental Christians out there, as far as I understand, being a Christian basically means that you love your enemies as well as your brother, and pass judgement on none but yourself. Jesus loves sinners - you should too.

    I begrudge no one their beliefs, and hope no one begrudges me mine. I have accepted my faith with an open and clear mind, and I usually keep all of this to myself. The only reason I'm spouting off like this is because the forum was there, I thought I had some valid points, and I really did want to thank all for the fantastic input. I'll shut my yap now.

    Go in Peace. God bless all.
  • So he oughtta know what he's taking about.
  • Better tell that to the String Theory scientists

    Better also tell scientists who assume the existence of electrons, the mantle of the earth, the proton, the photon, the boson, the positron, the ozone layer, e=mc^2, etc., etc.

    All these things are not observable or provable to the naked eye, but they are explained by science nonetheless.

    Occasionally we hear the bible thumpers claim that evolution is a theory simply because it's not observable directly. Yet, these folks do undertake PET scans (which use positrons, just as flimsy a theory as evolution).

    It's sad that an illiterate crowd that relies on blind belief and has a weak grasp on what science is, struggles to come up with good analogies and consistent "proofs". It's even sadder that they ensure their kids remain illiterate too.


    PS - your example is particularly bad because string theory is not considered proven yet. It's still in the realm of speculation at this point.
  • Yes, that does work. When people see how much you care about God then they become interested. It does help to try to focus on the positive things about God instead of the negative. People hate to be brought down, but they do like to hear the good things that will happen.

    Just a thought.
  • I always wondered whether someone's theism (or
    atheism) would affect coding style.
  • I don't think two conflicting beliefs can be true, I think that your beliefs are just as wrong as you believe those of others to be.

    Every religion thinks that all the others are wrong, and to those of us outside religion, they are all equally wrong. I mean, amongst all possible beliefs, what are the odds of yours happening to be true? I'd rather play the lottery, thanks.

  • That lecture kinda brings new meaning to the phrase "Deus Ex Machina" ;-)
  • One last thing one of the ministers of state is even blind and takes his guide (seeing eye) dog in with him.

    That's nothing. In the US, all of our politicians are blind.

  • fact: it's impossible for karma to go above ten from meta-moderating or being meta-moderated. Once your karma reaches ten, you can only get higher by actually having posts moderated up. So that means someone has to have AT LEAST +10 karma from posts being moderated up to get the bonus, assuming they already got the first ten karma from meta-moderation.

    proof: 1. Rob said so. 2. Try it yourself! I did.
  • Ok, if you think that hell is torture by God you are mistaken. It is complete seperation from God. It is what life would be like without any of God's gifts. Incidentally, you can get out of it for free by accepting Jesus as the Lord of your life.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Didn't any of these guys watch 'The Matrix'? Last thing I need is my damn toaster telling me my shirt doesn't match my shoes!
  • That's nice. But what if you are flawed? I will challenge anyone to produce any evidence whatsoever that mankind is perfect. Yet perfection is exactly what's called for.

    I think that's what many new-ager types miss: we aren't called to 51% good. We're called to be perfect. To err is human, but it is not divine. That's why we need His help.

    It's not about guilt. I don't really acknowledge guilt (here I differ from many Chrisitans). It's about Christ's power to make me better than I am so that I can do good.

  • "That religious experience is unintelligible
    proves nothing whatsoever. *All* experience is
    unintelligible; try explaining 'blue' to a blind man."

    "Sure, but we can define "blue" as light with a wavelength from XXX to YYY nanometers. Blue light is both repeatable (every time I turn my blue LED, durned if I don't see blue) and measurable (use your favorite color meter). It's no problem for science."

    The problem with your assertion is that is it in some sense backwards. Blue light was first identified by its color--then its wavelength was found. The only reason one can say that light is blue because its wavelength is so many nanometers is because someone measured the range of wavelengths associated with light that was already perceived as blue beforehand. That puts you back where you started. How did one perceive that the light was blue in the first place?

  • by washort ( 6555 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @11:52AM (#1582720) Homepage
    Knuth is such a great guy. i'm listening to lecture #1 right now. :) JonKatz (and other assorted trolls) ought to listen to this - not all Christians are crazy, stupid, or preachy. SOme actually do have a clue. :)

    I've read Knuth's "3:16 - Scripture Verses Illuminated" as well, it's a beautiful book. Good insight into the verses presented as well. (It would take a computer scientist to invent a scheme such as this :)

  • (not because people of other faiths are right: universalism is an absurdity, but because I can respect them as other peoples attempts to pursue God even when they are wrong).

    Oh, thank you, thank you so much. Your generosity and openness of mind moves me. It really does. Please continue praying for the poor benighted souls who Are Wrong.

    Or, alternatively, FOAD. If there is something more annoying than a fire-and-brimstone Christian is a sweet-talking one. Bleh.
  • Lordy! :)

    Where to take that subject? We are gods, the machines our creations? The machine is god (or will be) and we are subject? God is a machine?
  • Well if they were milder than the crusades then no problem. (??!) I'd like to see your "mildness scale" for wars of religious conquest. What the what is that?

    Inquisition highly overrated eh? Spanish not at fault either? Very very interesting.

    Let's see centuries of Christian persecution can be ovelooked because other groups did "bad things" too?

    I don't think anyone *reasonable* has ever claimed that Christians are the only source of nastiness in world history but just because there have been other oppressors too doesn't magically relieve Christianity of its heavy burden. I don't think there are any *reasonable* Christian thinkers who claim otherwise.

    Your post smacks of gross bias and a smidgen of unobjectivity. Sorry to say.
  • sorry.. had to be done :)

  • Man then proves that white is black and black is white and gets run over at the next zebra crossing.

    - I said it was pointless
  • For the purpose of argument, suppose that there is a God, and that he is the only God, and that he made all the rules. The only way to get to heaven is to obey all these rules. *

    If everyone came up with a system of beliefs on their own, what is the probability that any would come up with the correct set, and therefore know the correct way to live in order to get to heaven? If this God loves the people, and wants them to get to heaven, wouldn't it make sense for him to find/invent ways to get more people to believe in him? Religion naturally has a tendancy to spread from one person to the next and to organize itself so that its message can be more effeciently spread. eg: I am quite sure I know the one Truth, and so naturally I am going to tell everyone I know (especially the ones I care about) that truth so that they can get to heaven. An organized religion is just one that a large group of people believe in.

    However, I do believe that things can be carried to far. One person can gain too much power within the group, and begin to use that power for his own good, and not for the spreading of the religion to other people. ** A major example of this happened in the middle ages. The Catholics of the day were really into selling petitions (I'm not sure that is what they called them, though) that would get your loved ones out of pergatory. You paid some money to the priest, and he would give you a piece of paper that said the person you were petitioning for was forgiven of a specific sin, and could leave pergatory. This is not a concept that is in the Bible anywhere, but never the less, the religious leaders of the time duped nearly everyone into believing it. Only those who could read latin could read the Bible (because they said it was a sin to read the Bible in other languages) to find out that the Bible said nothing of these petitions. This is one of the points the Martin Luther's 99 thesis brought up.

    Organized religion is not bad, but it can be corrupted just like any other organization. Yes, there are people who just blindly follow the religion that they were taught, and it's really sad. If they profess to be Christians, then I feel sorry for them because they don't know what they are missing, and they won't really benefit from it. The Bible says that they are as good as dead, essentially. (notice that there is a distinction between someone who is not a Christian and says that they are, and someone who is a Christian but doesn't say they are. I feel sorry for both, but the latter will go to heaven, the former will not.)

    *: note that this is not actually what the Bible teaches! The Bible teaches that there is one God who created every thing, and that you get to heaven by _faith_, not just by following all the rules.

    **: (ok, yea, in one sense religion is like a virus in that they both try to spread themselves, however religion can only spread if the person it is spreading to accepts it: religious beliefs can not really be forced on someone as a virus can, so it isn't really a virus.)

  • If the premise is that we'll wake up in a lake of fire and going with the assumption that Joyce is not immortal either then I'm forced to conclude that rejoycing is more likely to happen than rejoicing.

    But you're right. It was a typo. Anyway, I hadn't intended to turn it into a programming problem, merely to put things into perspective.

    After all, determining deity-space is easier said then done. E.g. what about buddhism and reincarnation in general? Three rebirths and you're out (into the pool of fire)?

    What about pagean beliefs? E.g. all the bible, release 1.0, has is an arch-angel that quit. Whereas wodanistic/odinistic beliefs do have a hel (single l), but that wasn't such a bad place at all. Sure, no valkieries and eternal fighting followed with great banquets and free mead for all, but otherwise much like home.

    Now, if there has indeed been mutual influence of holy writ, and the bible has the right of it then that can only lead to the conclusion that the pagean beliefs were true as well. For if they were not, thus imaginary, then surely they could not have had any influence on the one true text.

    Since it is hardly likely that merely parts of them were right and thus existed/exist, all must of necessity have been right. Guess what that does to Pascal's little wager?

  • Nope, no piddly questions for me. *grin*

    I would go with your answer of personal choice and freedom if it weren't for a few things... God has, according to the stories, taken it upon Himself to have a direct hand in the actions of mankind in the past, and that's what I can't reconcile. For example, Moses' stone tablets, and indeed that entire quest in which God not only assisted Moses in leading his followers out of that land, but in which, on several occasions, God gave Moses the power to perform supernatural acts in the process (the parting of the Red Sea, et al). The Great Flood. Soddom and Gamorrha (sp?).

    That's what I can't fit into it.. if the answer for God's _physical_ departure from the lives of people today (and in the last thousand years or so) is that God wants to give us complete free will to do as we will choose, then why did He at one time have a direct hand in the actions of His Children?
  • You missed the point (or the important point, anyway). He stated, correctly, the religious experience is proof to the person who experiences it. Whether it can be proof to others is not at issue: it can't be, at least not directly.

    Oh how I wish the faithful would leave it at this. Unfortunately many religions see fit to condemn those who do not share their beliefs and experiences. They seek to either convert people to their beliefs or impose their beliefs on others in the form of laws based on their morality or their beliefs in what their god tells them should be done. Perhaps if more religious people would acknowledge that not everyone shares their beliefs and experiences, we'd have a lot less war, violence, hate, etc., in this world. Maybe not. But at those things would be for a different reason, and probably one that's a bit easier to address than religious beliefs that are held on the basis of a personal experience that cannot be verified or duplicated by anyone else.

  • OK, I can't comment broadly about creation stories in any religion except my own, so I'll stick to that.

    Firstly, I think that you're mischaracterizing the Genesis debate within Christianity (unsurprising, the "Genesis as scientific proof" side gets most of the press time). But (as far as my limited knowledge goes), writers in the Patristic period (early few centuries of Christianity) understood quite well that (1) our knowlegdge of the physical world is provisional at best, and (2) texts such as Genesis have a moral purpose, are were not meant as treatises on "natural philosophy." A quote from that period is that "the Scriptures are meant to tell us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go." Since this was more than a thousand years before Darwin, I don't think this counts as "backtracking."

    My point is, if you want to engage seriously whether and how science does or doesn't impinge on the truth claims of a religion, you have to understand what those truth claims are and how they are held within that religion.

  • Sure, but we can define "blue" as light with a wavelength from XXX to YYY nanometers.

    True, with the caveat (which I needed as well for my own post) that we don't see light at all; at best, blue is a pattern of activation in the brain, often, but not always, triggered by light of x wavelength striking the retina.

    More problematic is experience itself, which was the subject of post. You *can't* explain experience in terms of anything else; it's atomic and cannot be reduced. You can explain the physical (re)actions that accompany experience, but that tells you nothing about the experience itself. Saying that blue light is x nanometers tells me a lot about light and gives me a working definition of 'blue', but tells me nothing about the experience of blueness. This is the dreaded qualia problem that philosophy has thoughtfully dropped on our heads just as we were getting a handle on neurology.

    The problem is that at this point we have a lot of people who've had religious experiences, but no physical correlate to those experiences, and no objective evidence that God exists. Objectively speaking, we can't say God exists; subjectively, those who have had such experiences have all the evidence they need. It's very possible that this will all be explained in the coming decades (I'm not foolish enough to say years), but it is also possible that it will not. Should that happen, we would be faced with the possibility that God exists, but is only accessable through direct experience and beyond the reach of science as traditionally formulated.
  • I lose respect for someone who believes in god. It indicates a lack of judgement.

    This is a sensible statement if and only if God doesn't exist. If on the other hand, God exists, then the people who believe in Him, actually demonstrate better judgement than those who, wrongly, claimed he didn't exist.

    Now, of course, you can't prove that God exists. You also can't prove that He doesn't exist. If you accept the latter statement, then people who believe that God doesn't exist, hold this belief on faith - at least in part. If you claim that such a belief is not held on any faith at all, then kindly produce your proof of His non-existence.

    There are only 3 positions that you can have w.r.t. belief in God. You either believe He exists, believe that He doesn't exist, or you don't know. I'm guessing, from your statement, that you believe that God doesn't exist. Certainly you wouldn't make that statement if you believed in God. If you didn't know, then you'd have to hold out the possibility of belief in God being accurate, and thus the possibilty that the people who believe in God being worthy of respect. Thus I'm concluding that you believe that God doesn't exist.

    If that's true, then you're in a somewhat difficult position. You are neccessarily saying that faith is insufficient for holding a belief. You thus put yourself in the position of believing that faith is not enough, and yet claim that God doesn't exist - a statement made without proof. This means that by your own standards, you must prove your belief that God doesn't exist, or cease to hold it because holding it on faith is not sufficient.

    Personally, I can respect people who believe in God. I understand people who say they don't know. But I have a very difficult time with people who claim that God definately does not exist. That is such a difficult proposition to logically justify. And if that person can't see the difficulty... well that calls into question that person's judgement.

    - Mark

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The poster is also suggesting that we all take a person's decisions/judgements/achievements on a completely independant field with a bit more salt if that person is religious. Therfore he is implying that religion corrupts people more-so than other activities. This would be like saying well, if a person wears jeans to work he must be an idiot. Or anyone sexually promiscous must not have anythign important tos ay. Connect to unrelated topics is idiotic. That is what the poster (who I replied to) is suggesting. "The guy is making a judgement on something that is completely certain, that being someone's belief in religion" When I said certian, I meant it is uncertain wheter god does or does not exist, perhaps you should reread my comment. The original poster just sugar-coated the basic idea that all religous people are idiots. What I'm saying is that all religous people aren't idiots. I know quite a few religious people. He is asserting they are all idiots, that appears to be his opinion. Mine is, they aren't, I expressed that in my comment, perhaps you should be the one rereading comments. To counter his opinion, I provided examples of people who contributed something most of us consider useful. Thus mathematically, his assertion -- theorem -- doesn't hold true because their are cases that break the rule. Note: I'm not saying being atheist is wrong in any way shape or form. I'm just saying being religious is not a sign of idiocy as the original poster suggests it is.
  • I understand that explanation, too; but, my point was that a being of truly superior morality (if that moral system resembled in any way the one that is in place among the people, and if it resembled the commandments given to Moses) would be compelled to intercede in some way. To simply observe acts of violence and suffering, especially those acts committed in His name, is...well, morally questionable.

    Put another way, how would God respond to a mother's question, "Why did you let me die? Why did you let those people, your Christians, murder me in your name? Couldn't you have prevented the stake from burning? Couldn't you have at least changed their minds?"

    That the people committing those acts were wrong I don't disagree with. What I am curious about is how a morally perfect deity fits into this? According to the stories in the Bible, and the actions observed today, God is neither passive nor active in the affairs of humans; He's been both, and I can't find an appropriate pattern to those times when He has been one or the other.

    Keep in mind, I'm not attacking Christianity.. I would be truly delighted if someone could provide an answer or explanation that I understood.
  • Actually, many very serious philosophers on both sides have reached the conclusion that objective truth *requires* the existence of God - that is, that nothing can be certain without God.

    This has led those that believe in God to recognize that there can be no truth apart from that which He reveals to us, and at the same time, has led many of the modern postmodern philosophers to the nihilistic conclusion that nothing matters or can matter because nothing can be objectively true in a world where one begins with the premise that God cannot exist.

    Ultimately, you have two choices: A world with God, in which things are knowable and objective truth exists, or a world without God, where nothing is knowable and nothing can have any meaning whatsoever.

    The bleak nihilism that is the hallmark of postmodern thought is not simply a trendy blackness - it's the inevitable conclusion of a logical train of thought that begins with denying the existence of God - and even the most atheistic of philosophers freely admit this.

    Finally, some are trying to draw a distinction between theology and science. Theology *is* a science - in fact, until this century, everyone would have been exposed to "the queen of the sciences" as theology was known then. (You can learn a lot by reading old books! Do so, and you'll discover how rare real critical thinking has become in our society, how few of us are prepared to do any at all, and how wrong much of what you may have been taught truly is...)

  • Two points, one of which is a direct grappling with your argument, and another which sidesteps it.


    You could indeed tell me that God personally appeared to you and told you that you are Christ reborn. However, in accordance with what I described above, I'd expect you to outline for me some way I could have a personal experience which would verify the truth of what you were saying. That the Bible and some other religious texts do this is part of the point I was trying to express.

    Of course, you could give me some crack and/or a tape of subliminal messages and stick me in a sensory deprivation tank and who knows what I might personally experience and end up beleiving. I wouldn't find such a proposition reasonable, but that's going to vary from person to person -- and does. Which is, of course, one reason why matters of faith don't lack for variation.


    The ideas I posted aren't really meant to provide a watertight argument (I'm not sure that watertight arguments truly exist, except perhaps where you can narrow your assumptions, a la axiomatic mathematics. Other than that, there may only be good models). They're really meant to suggest a principle and/or outline a path one can choose to pursue in search of quality of existence. Viewed as objective arguments (intellectual objects) to be held at an arms length, they'll hold little impact on anyone. Which may be what some people want. But when they're lived in a way that seems "good" and/or "right" to the person in question, that's when they're really tested.

  • Well, I don't actually think that miracles have ceased since the times you mention, but they certainly aren't as public and spectacular as the ones Moses worked ...

    There are two very good little volumes by C. S. Lewis on just this subject -- Miracles [] and The Problem of Pain []. He works through a number of arguments on just this topic. If you don't want to fund my web habit via Amazon, I'm sure a paper library near you should be able to find them. :^)

    And that's all I'm going to say on Slashdot about this. This has been a good discussion; thanks.

  • I suppose I have a more cussed view of things. I believe in God, because I believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead. I won't get into the details of why I find that to be the case, but I'll point you to a couple books which get into fair detail: Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict" and Clark Pinnock's "Reason Enough." I treat faith as going beyond the evidence, but not per se against it. If the Resurrection happened, then whether I believe it happened or whether you believe it happened doesn't make it any less a part of the fabric of reality. "Everyone needs to determine for themselves what they believe in," may be true, but only if one acknowledges that what one determines for oneself is not arbitrary, but may very well be wrong.

  • I will listen to your complaint as soon as you show me how two conflicting beliefs can both be true. You don't want tolerance, you want me to conceed that any belief is equally true. That is superficially and obviously false. The closest you can come is that all beliefs are false, but I don't buy that.

    DO I refuse you your right to believe them? No. God gave you the right to believe them, who am I to take it away? But I will never, ever agree to a lie to assuage your notions of politeness. You, sir, are the one who is trying to make me give up my faith.

  • "3). Has there been a female president?
    Well, obviously not, but I don't think you can blame the Christians on this one."

    I wasn't mentioning gays, buddhists, and women in order to point out that Christians repress them (although that too is questionable)... but instead to make comparisons to truly persecuted groups.

  • I stand corrected. Sorry...

    Thank you

  • I agree that some people feel the need to preach at times and in places that are entirely inappropriate. Likewise, I agree that there seem to be scientists and Christians alike who seem unable to reconcile the Bible with science. (I'm not sure all the scientists are atheists, though.)

    However, I would like disagree with some of your implications. One is that a belief in Christianity is something can should (or even can) be an entirely private affair. It is not appropriate to talk explicitly about one's faith everywhere all the time. Christian faith entails a relationship with God that is very private. But what you believe in has consequences in your actions, whether that is Christianity, or sportsmanship, fairness, compassion, justice, etc. Your belief or disbeleif in Christianity, whether stated or not, will affect your decisions about politics, education, etc. and there is nothing wrong with that.

    As to whether it's real or not is imporant, I believe that what is true about the world is important and has consequences. If, for example, there is an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God who sacrificed his Son so that people who weren't worthy could be redeemed, I think that is an important thing. I can well understand and respect that many people don't believe that that is in fact the case, but it seems to me that it's an important question.
  • Shame he's infected with that Christian meme, though... B-) (ducks objects thrown from /.'s Xian section, dons asbestos longjohns)

    Nah. Nerf(tm) objects maybe, nothing more. No flamethrowers required. :^)

  • "Science cannnot deal with God, the supernatural, or anything else non-observable."

    ... neither can anything else

    I believe (or hope) he meant 'non-observable' in the objective sense: colors are 'non-observable' because objectively there are only wavelengths of light or neural activation patterns. Nevertheless, color exists. If God's existence is purely subjective (e.g., 'God' is a feeling instead of being) then he is non-observable in this sense. Of course, he's not really much of a God then, but it's never bothered psychologists, so who am I to complain....

    God is irrelevant because it is unknowable. Even if you claim to "know god", your experience is unintelligible to me (and everyone else).

    (1) You can't argue that God is unknowable without knowing that he is unknowable. See the problem? Logical silliness aside, if those who 'know god' actually know anything (a big 'if', but one that is rather difficult to disprove) then god isn't unknowable. Either way your statement is incorrect.

    (2) That religious experience is unintelligible proves nothing whatsoever. *All* experience is unintelligible; try explaining 'blue' to a blind man. While this makes it an increadible pain in the ass to study, you can't just dismiss it, as the behaviorists learned a few decades ago.
  • a ridiculously long troll thread, now made longer by pointing it out. DON'T FEED THE TROLLS!!
  • 2) Abraham Lincoln,

    I will give you that one... I had forgotten all about good ol' Ave.

    3)Non-US "Christian" nations have had female leaders.

    Well, I guess I didn't specifically mention that I was primarily refering to the US. There are many nations in the world where Christianity isn't quite the bane of humanity's existence and where Christians ARE really persecuted and where they don't care if you are queer, one-eyed, obese, a worshiper or satan, or are female. The US, however, is not one of those places.


  • Basically every group has some history of it, so don't attribute innocence of your group (or apply a martyr attitude) by ignoring past crimes against personal beliefs.

    I didn't. In fact, my point was the same as yours: every group is unfairly persecuted at one time or another, some more than others.


  • Good points.

    My answer to this is that it takes a certain level of proof for us to believe in something. If we would believe anything because it's possible, we'd be wandering around thinking we're brains in jars hooked up to some interesting VR equipment, etc.

    I'm familiar with the arguments, like that you can't prove something doesn't exist just by looking in 99.99% of the places it could be...

    But, this means that there's as much chance that Elvis WAS taken by Aliens, as that there is a Xian God, as that there is a ... God, and so on.

    There isn't any proof for these. And these are all things that seem fairly unlikely. It would be a safe bet to say that in a large forest, a tree probably fell over in the last week, because that's the nature of dead trees and forest contain trees. That's something you can, without direct evidence for this time, form an opinion about based on other evidence.

    To apply this standard to the existence of the Xian god, it is very unlikely that a god exists. It's not like there was ever a time that gods roamed the Earth performing miracles for humans to document properly. So this isn't just the extension of a known trait, like some trees fall, therefor another tree could fall. This is something completely without precedent or support.

    The only 'evidence' of a god are the words of people who have a vested interest in believing, and want to validate their beliefs. The bible contains very few instances of actual manifestations of god, and these aren't written by the people who saw them. And if they were, they still weren't witnessed by independent third parties who collaborated their testimony.

    That falls far short of establishing enough (any) proof for me to believe in something that contradicts my experiences.

    There is some ammount of 'faith' involved in disbelieving something. But I count myself more as an agnostic/athiest than a complete disbeliever. I just thing it's silly to believe without proof, and that's what my argument on /. has been. "If you believe in something unlikely, with no proof, then it displays a certain lack of judgement."

    If I asked you if you thought that bananas were intelligent, and the secret rules of earth, would you say that they might be, and you could form no opinion, or would you say that it was very unlikely? Ditto on the god thing. We can't know for sure, because nobody has defined what a god is. If we found 'the Q', would they count? And we also can't prove something doesn't exist just by not finding (Maybe it's shy.) All we can do it point out flaws in the arguments and 'proof' that it does exist and state that it's fairly unlikely.

    I think the burden of proof is on the side of those trying to get you to believe in their omnipotent diety that created and controls the world, yet deliberately created evidence that contradicts the proof of it's existence, yet allows people to carry out holy wars in its name, and have contradictory religions all based on supposedly accurate logs of its actions, but at the same time requires their prayers, etc.

    Then there's the whole problem of all the religions. If one religion is right, then the rest are wrong. So even if there was a god, it could be one of twenty or so different gods or pantheons, which are mutually exclusive (Our god is omnipotent, and he exists, therefore yours doesn't...) So, even if there is a god, it's a losing bet that it's the Xian god.

    I don't think it's unreasonable to say that ALL evidence points to there not being a god, and NO evidence points to there being a god.
  • Don't forget Paul's letter to Philemon about his runaway slave Onesimus. He sends Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter now in our Bible and the powerful reminder that he should forgive Onesimus and treat him as a brother in Christ, just as he would treat Paul himself. To hammer it home he reminds Philemon that he owes his life to Paul.

    That's a pretty powerful message about slavery, and one that sets a pretty high bar for Christian owners of Christian slaves.

    Go read Philemon. It's real short, and you might even learn something. If you're not up to something even that long, try one of the letters to Timothy, as they are full of good advice.
  • You're right. But that was the point I was trying to make. Unfortunately, religious belief is often abused for sociological and political purposes.

  • 1). Would George Bush have ever been elected president if he had been Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist dare I suggest... GAY?

    Possibly, if he hid it or maintained the pretense of hiding it. Being a hypocrite is a bigger requirement than being a christian, credibility-wise. GB Jr has raised so much dough by bringing the Republican party up to modern standards of hypocrisy.

    2). Has there ever been a president who has been of a religion other than a Christian-based one?

    I'll name two: Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Both were Deists, a viewpoint which is historically related to Christianity, but is clearly different from it(for example it reject divine inspiration for the Bible, holds knowledge to be gained through rational inquiry, rejects the divinity of Jesus, etc.) Interestingly, they were in opposite political parties with very different views on government.

    This kind of thing was more or less in the air in 18th c America. I've been recently reading Ben Franklin's autobiography (highly recommended: he truly was the geek's geek), and he definitely thought like a Deist.

    3). Has there been a female president?

    Well, obviously not, but I don't think you can blame the Christians on this one. Its only a matter of female candidates moving up through the ranks now. Even a state like New Hampshire has all of its top posts held by women, and they don't think it is any big deal. The real question is when the double standard for behavior for female presidential candidates will be relaxed. These days we expect, and even require male candidates to be able to project traditionally feminine qualities (empathy, crying etc.), but its a sure bet that the first female president will be a ball-busting harpy.
  • The Babelfish (a small fish you put in your ear that allows you to understand every species in the universe by devouring the audible noise and excreting the meaning) disproved the Theory of God because having creating something so incredibly useful to the galaxy that can only come from god, violated teh first rule of Godhood, No Physical Proof. I believe the quote goes something like this "And God disappeared in a puff of logic."

  • You missed the point (or the important point, anyway). He stated, correctly, the religious experience is proof to the person who experiences it. Whether it can be proof to others is not at issue: it can't be, at least not directly. Your example points out one reason why. But since that was never in question, it is irrelevant.
  • Why do you assume that Christianity is not based in reality and results? There are many, many people with changed lives to disagree with you.

    And, I'm sorry to say this but I must, you don't understand Christianity. If you can say, for an instant, that God is "just can't wait to throw you into hell" then you don't understand it.

    Look at it this way: Hell is the natural consequence of your actions. Seriously: separation from God is totally natural to something that is sinful. How could a sinful man handle a perfect God? But God went to great lengths (he died under torture according to Christians) so that you might be saved from sin.

    Analogous to what God did would be if I saved your life, losing my own, after you held me up at gun point and raped my wife and child. That's God's love revealed, and thats why any Christian belief that denies the resurrection Just Doesn't Get It.

    Sin is really its own punishment, believe it or not.

  • I didn't say that people of christian culture were to be excused. Read what I said and try again.

    I said that the depredations suffered under regimes of Christian cultures were no worse and might be a bit better than those seen under other religious systems. I mean, there are religious systems out there that practice human sacrifice! Today!

    Jeesh. Please answer what I said, not your own foolish nonsense.

  • While its true the Knuth seems to stay true to his intention of discussing his views on god (or rather on Christianity), the title of lecture series "God and Computers" is a little misleading in this respect. I was expecting some sort of tie in between his experiences with working with controlled, deterministic computers, and his views of the universe, meaning, and god as a whole.

    Not an approach for random study of the Christian bible...

    /. is like a steer's horns, a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.
  • by Laitnedurp ( 87135 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @12:03PM (#1582824)
    The MIT student newspaper had an interview with Knuth about these lectures, and gives some insight. 1/knuthtlin.51f.html []. Basically just Knuth expressing his religious views.
  • If I see one more post here about how geeks are victimized, or how Christians are victimized, or any other self-proclaimed martyrdom, I hereby make an insanity plea in advance, because I will not be responsible for my actions.

    GET OVER IT EVERYBODY. You are not a victim. Yes, you - the person staring at a screen reading this post right now. The world is not against you. There is no mass conspiracy to wipe out/shun your particular group. So stop defining yourself by the wrongs inflicted against you. If you consider yourself a part of a particular group and you feel that the other group is "profiling" you or abusing you, I suggest you look more closely at the other group, and see what they are really about.

    I think you will find there is plenty of room in this world for both groups, and that they are not mutually exclusive.

    That is all.

  • Jefferson didn't really create his own translation, he just cut'n'pasted the parts of the Gospels he liked into his own book....
    Knuth just made an effort to provide an idiomatic translation of each verse mentioned in 3:16, not the whole Bible. Which is a good strategy, IMO.
  • Read my original post. My point is that anywhere you look, regardless of religious context, these kinds of atrocities happen.

    His counter-argument was what about "all the usual suspects" (crusades, etc.), with an assertion that these somehow showed that Christians were worse than others. I replied with counter-examples of equal atrocities in just about every area of the world.

    The point is that people suck. And I cannot regard a "politicized" Christianity as Christianity at all. But insofar as those committing these atrocities were the result of a Christian culture, they were no worse than atrocities found in other parts of the world.

    Oh yeah... You or someone took issue with me not holding the spaniards responsible for wiping out whole tribes of Indians (by disease). Repeast after me: Louis Pasteur didn't come along till the 19th century!
  • Quoth the Anonymous Coward

    you are mistaken. thats just fucking stupid

    That's Christianity. You don't have to like it, or agree. But that is the basic gospel message.

    That God, after humanity spent thousands of years denying him, killing and abusing his prophets, and killing him (as Jesus Christ) saved us from death. You can say its "Just fucking stupid", but I guess you are the same AC who claims to understand Christianity? If you don't understand that, you don't understand Christianity.

    And if you are that particular AC, what right do you as a non-believer have to tell me what I believe? How the hell do you know? In fact, judging by your language, I can say with some comfort that you are probably not a Christian. So, I ask again: what right do you have to tell me what I believe?

    People around here need to stop reacting to what their addled brains have led them to think Christians beleive and start reacting to what we actually believe.

  • That's a legitimate point. But you see, I have evidence that my beliefs are true. Just not objective or irrefutable evidence.

    For whatever reason, God wants us to freely worship him. He wants us to follow his ways out of love, not fear. And the felt prescense of God in anything but the most mitigated way would overwhealm us.

    A lot of otherwise rational people believe in God. And I think you will find that the ones who take God very seriously at all are all judeo-islamo-christian. Really, the only differences between these systems theodicy is the approach to atonement.

    Besides, believing in God makes me happy. Why shouldn't I? Remember, I do not try to force you to believe, I just ask that you give me the freedom to believe without slandering or harrassing me.

  • Knuth is the author of the Art of Computer Programming books, which are required textbooks in many CD programs. He created the groundbreaking computer typesetting system TeX. His work with a text/code system called the Web (no, not the WWW) basicly started the "literate programming" movement. And he seems to be an all around smart and articulate guy.

    So when Donald Knuth talks, people listen. Shame he's infected with that Christian meme, though... B-) (ducks objects thrown from /.'s Xian section, dons asbestos longjohns)

  • I rather hope that there will be some form of these lectures available in non-"Webcast" form, as that is a uniquely ephermal form.

    Doubtless Knuth will be able to turn it into an engaging book; a followup of sorts to 3:16 would be a very nice thing to see; I'm sure I'll acquire it once available...

    Although I still have to say that I'd put higher priority on at least a preprint Vol. 5/6 of TAOCP. That would provide at least draft form for all of the series, what with The Stanford Graphbase [] at least providing the flavor of Vol. 4.

  • Yeah, what Khalid and MrSippery said. Plus he's done (and is doing) a lot more including non-computer related stuff. Check out his WWW site:


  • Let me preface this by saying it is merely a what-if exercise, since I have not studied studied theology in seminary. I did read a few philosophy books, though.

    I would rephrase the first assumption of your point in the opposite direction: our moral system resembles God's character. That may be important. If we accept the idea that God did create the universe and the idea that creation reflects His nature, we come to the idea that physical laws (like gravity) and moral laws (like those against murder) are similar.

    One might as well ask, "Why do I fall when I step off of my roof?", but that doesn't really help.

    Another piece to consider is the concept of divine justice and mercy. If you believe that God is all-knowing and all-loving (presupposed here, supported and explained in another argument), His view of justice and mercy is greater (as in, not limited by a certain amount of time or in scope to only a certain amount of people). I hate to use the word 'ineffable', but I think we bump up against human limitations quickly when attempting to understand Someone purported to be much greater than we are.

    Another idea is much simpler. Does God make anyone do anything? (This is different from the question "Can God make anyone do anything?") It comes back to the free will argument again. (Standard Christian reasoning goes that God did not want a race of robots who love and obey Him because they were 'programmed' to do so -- He would rather some chose to do so, knowing that some would not.)

    The previous poster's mention of God's purpose may help explain the pattern you bring up. The question there is, "What is God's purpose in acting in the world? Is it to enforce a standard of morality or is it to find a way to bring humanity back into relationship with him?" Christianity chooses the latter as His primary purpose.

    What would I pick as an acceptable answer out of these? I would say that God allows moral choice (knowing that some will choose to do evil) and allows the consequences of these actions. If you are to believe Christianity, one day all wrongs will be righted and justice will prevail (tempered with great mercy, if you also accept their anthropology).

    QDMerge [] 0.4!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @01:22PM (#1582892)

    You see, the hypocritical secular humanist atheist liberals (and members of false "religions" like Buddhism and Judiasm) are persecuting us Christians, and violating our right to freedom of religion every day of their lives!

    How so, you ask? Easy!

    They refuse to take orders from us. Our religion requires us to give them orders, and it requires them to obey. The free and unimpeded practice of our religion requires us to interfere in their private lives by means of legislation. We are required to force their children to pray to our God, we are required to send police officers into their bedrooms to put a stop to their immoral conduct, and the list goes on. But they keep trying not to let us do these things! It's true that we've had a lot of success in many areas, but as long as we're not entirely free to practice our religion, we are (in principle) not at all free to practice our religion. And as the saying goes, "if one man is not free, then none are free". Therefore, if our freedom of religion has been abrogated in this manner, than so has everybody else's freedom of religion. What that means, in simple terms, is that as long as a Buddhist is not forced to practice Christianity -- in fact, as long as he is even allowed to practice Buddhism -- he is being denied the freedom to practice his own religion (Buddhism)! It's an all-or-nothing proposition.

    I hope this clarifies the bizarre persecution complex evinced by members of a religion which has totally dominated this country for more than 200 years. Name me a presidential candidate who hasn't professed conventional faith in the Christian God. Name me a self-described "born-again" Republican front-runner who has lost any significant support due to his religious views. Heh. Christian fundamentalists (as starkly opposed to sincere practicing Christians) have political power wildly out of proportion to their numbers. Nevertheless, they continually and quite hysterically paint themselves as "victims" of ill-defined persecution, in order to get sympathy and grab even more power.

    Enough is enough. The "help-me-I'm-a-victim" game is annoying but understandable when played by somebody who really has gotten the shitty end of the stick[1], but an enormously powerful and wealthy political force like Christian fundamentalism is another matter entirely. Coming from them, it's just plain disgusting.

    [1] My sympathy for some "victims" probably seems offensive to the fundies, and I don't blame them. After all, they feel equally offended by all of Christ's teachings, including his explicit prohibition of divorce.

  • It is irrelevant whether you can find verses to condemn slavery. People have great fun condemning Christians based on behaviours undertaken by a few who called themselves Christians, even though their actions were not at all biblical.

    It is an historic fact that the abolition movement was lead by Christians, specifically Quakers. Read up and learn. If we are to be held responsible for wickedness done in the name of Christianity even though it was not Biblically based, should we not get the credit for good done in the name of Christianity even though it was not Biblically based?

    I really, really, really wish that those who try to criticize Christianity on the basis of its history would learn some history first.
  • by ajs ( 35943 ) < minus berry> on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @01:40PM (#1582900) Homepage Journal
    Looks like three are finished already, with more coming

    Haven't I heard this about Knuth's work before?

  • by mcjulio ( 68237 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @01:47PM (#1582904)
    In these talks, Knuth makes the extremely important point that is missing from so much of what we perceive about Christianity in the Western world today - religion is a private thing, as personal as a lover and just as sacred. In the first talk, he speaks of teaching at Stanford, and refusing to answer students' questions about God and politics. Could this possibly be because he's weak and unable to discuss the subject, or is it more likely that he recognizes what the Religious Right refuses to, namely that God's (however you define him/her) place is not in politics or education or courtrooms, but in the hearts of those who find him/her real?

    Is it real? Will it save your life? Is it even Christianity if you don't smear it in your friend's faces? The overwhelming feeling from a scientist who cannot help but feel a reverence for the tradition and the mystery that is human existence is: who cares? What matters is not whether or not you dip or sprinkle, but whether or not you need it to feed your soul.

    Many scientists are knee-jerk atheists, being unable to reconcile Genesis with the overwhelming evidence for something different. However, maintaining a spiritual life is not about adhering to the tenants of a specific doctrine. Having not done the research, it nevertheless seems safe to say that Knuth, as a man of scientific mind, cannot reconcile some of the tenants of his faith to what he knows to be true, and has yet found a way to embrace it as a valued and necessary part of his life.

    There's a lesson here. Whatever brought us here, whatever keeps us cranking along in life, be it evolution, creation, or something else, there is a piece in 99% of us that is mystical, that asks for some outlet. Accepting Christianity as an outlet does not mean succumbing to the stupidities that are fraught within it, just as they are fraught within every other religion, in varying ways. It does mean acknowledging one's own need for the unknown, and a way to interact with it.
  • by sketchy ( 86211 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @02:00PM (#1582907)
    Actually, I just came back from Knuth's 3rd
    lecture (well...had dinner first). It was on
    translating Bible verses without knowledge of
    Hebrew or Greek. Yes, I came in saying to everyone
    around that "Knuth is God", etc. But the lecture
    was horrible. least it was extremely
    uninteresting, IMHO. Maybe some of the other
    lectures in the series will be better (maybe first two were), but
    that looks doubtful. Art of CP, TeX, good math are all well and supernatural, but
    3:16 (what he talked about today) is not. He sounded more like a preacher and less like a diety; that and he can't really give a presentation. Well...I'm going to go back to my altar now...
  • Saying that religious people are the cause of bloodshed is simply idiocy. More wars have been waged for political reasons that religous reasons. Even the often used example of the Crusades is incorrect because it began for purely political reasons. It just so happened that the Pope backed it and recruited armies based on a false religious context.

    Also, athiests have never truly been in power during history, so you cant blame religion for wars at all. Russia and China are the only non-religious run countries that I can think of, and they arent exactly utopias. It is the people in power that cause the problems in society, not religion.

    Oh, and by the way. I am an athiest, not a religious zealot. I just dont agree with blaming religon for all of the world's problems simply because our leaders happen to be religious.
  • "When your in the lake of fire screaming for mercy,"

    Shouldn't that read... "When you're in the lake of fire screaming for grammar ,"?

    Just wonderin'.

  • I agree with :-

    but whether or not you need it to feed your soul.

    however, personally I do it by making the world a better place, not by some devotion to an unknown and unknowable force, I feel that just makes me weak to say I cant have an impact, thats its all some divine will. Maybe if we all got off our knees to some idol and actually did something positive that we might find the religion meme disappears, and we might make humanity that bit better. As for :-

    It does mean acknowledging one's own need for the unknown, and a way to interact with it.

    yes I agree there is the unknown, I see it as just randomness, but that is more difficult to live with than some mystical force that has our interests at heart, but if you need that emmotionally to get though the day then thats fine, just realise what you are doing, and what you are giving up.
  • It sounds as if you're trying to turn science into a religion. You are making it an article of your faith that stuff outside of science is "dumb".

    Science cannnot deal with God, the supernatural, or anything else non-observable. It can't. It wasn't designed to. But neither does it deny the existance outside of observation, it merely states that such knowledge is outside of it's domain. Trying to use science to disprove the existance of God is like trying to use a hammer to saw wood.
  • Any old atheist who actually wakes up after (s)he's died is going to rejoyce. But what is a believer (whatever the god(s)) going to do when (s)he stays dead? Complain? Ask ones money back? Denounce retroactively?

    Before you try to scare people you should consider what scares them. Promising a hell to someone who believes in no afterlife whatsoever is hardly a threat, now is it. Consider the alternative... It is what scared most believers so much they took religious insurance to try and ward it off. Your hell is actually an atheists heaven. Yet an atheists reality is your worst nightmare.

    So who is scaring whoom here?

  • No, because what was said doesn't involve taking anything on faith.

    We see many examples of people who believe things without proof. That is faith. We see them do stupid things because of their belief in that faith. That is the proof that faith is bad.

    It's not that without faith, nothing is ever bad, but if you base your beliefs on rationality, you're more likely to change your beliefs when they aren't representative of the world.

    If you believe what you're told, for example "God exists" without demanding evidence (and i don't mean the ambiguous and self-contradictory Bible), you're not cool - you're just plain dumb.

    That is true. Maybe a bit harsh, but true. Especially the part about "without demanding evidence."

    People can be lied to, or be wrong. If you look for evidence and find faked evidence, or a liar offering to teach you, that doesn't make you stupid. What makes you stupid is to not look for evidence, and reject it when you find it.

    Almost everyone on /. would laugh at someone who believed company benchmarks without demanding to try the product himself. Especially with companies like MindCraft around who do everything possible to distort the truth. Why should we be less critical of someone who believes, with less evidence, in the existence of a god?

    It doesn't make them a bad person, but it doesn't indicate a very critical mind.

  • I didn't assume he was Christian. Why do you? :-/
    Because I've read his book (3:16 Illuminated). Have you?

  • He's one of those slimey Christian types: he'll probably try to repress you!

    I'm sorry, but Katz's repeated slams of Christians have really annoyed me pretty badly. Expect bitterness for a while.

  • by Arandir ( 19206 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @02:54PM (#1582948) Homepage Journal
    Apparently, Mr. Knuth's being a christian has deeply offended a lot of you. My guess would be that you're much, much more intolerant of other people than any imagined intolerance on christianity's part.

    Geeks hate being wrong (I know, I am one). But that's what christianity is, telling you that you're wrong, a sinner, doomed. But you guys are so narrow minded that you can't get past that to find out that it also talks about what to do about it.

    I could of course mention the fact that it was geeks killing christians at Columbine, but that's grossly unfair. Just as unfair as all these posts here blaming religion for all the atrocities in the world.

    Christian bashing is the last refuge of the bigot in this era of political correctness.
  • Hmm...that sounded kind of harsh. I don't want to come off as bashing Knuth in any way. For one thing, he could probably come up with a better way to get a nicely typeset message using lynx. I guess my problem with the lecture was that I came in expecting to see a fearless code warrior(tm) but instead heard a pretty old guy say things like (don't hold me to wording) "I recommend [doing group translations of bible verses]. It's very educational" and "Working on 3:16 was great because I learned so many new things about the Bible."

    Knuth's lecture series is subtitled (something like) "Things that a Computer Scientist doesn't talk about." I think that's the problem. When people try to go out of their field, they usually end up sounding unprofessional. I got the same impression from reading some of Douglas Hofstadter's new book, Le Ton Bon de Marot, which is also about translation. I didn't read the whole book, so maybe my opinion is worthless, but the first few chapters weren't that great and gave a really amateurish impression.

    The moral: computer scientists should give talks about computer science. Go ahead and study the Bible, read French poetry, smoke pot, etc., on your own free time. But don't tell us about it.

  • "We see many examples of people who believe things without proof. That is faith. We see them do stupid things because of their belief in that faith. That is the proof that faith is bad."

    You are mischaracterizing faith. It is much more than blindly accepting what someone else is telling you. It is accepting something because you *know* it to be true.

    Every person with faith has strong and compelling evidence for that faith. But just because that evidence is not scientific, or is meaningless to you, does not make it any less evidence. I agree that "blind faith" is not very smart, but a faith bolstered by evidence, scientific or otherwise, is certainly not stupid.

    "It doesn't make them a bad person, but it doesn't indicate a very critical mind."

    I could go on and on about the great critical minds in history who were people of faith. But I won't, look them up in your own history books.
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @03:12PM (#1582962) Homepage
    It has been up-moderated twice. Down-moderate three times. So, which is it? OffTopic? Flamebait? Troll? Overrated? Underrated? Interesting?

    The fool below who claims that Christians enjoy no persecution in our society has been moderated directly up.

    Oh yeah. For all you who whine about the evils of the religious right: THEY ARE NOT THE MAINBODY OF CHRISTIANITY! And stop your whining: have you people any idea what has been done to Christians in the past and in other countries? Our religious started out with its founder executed. As far as I know, at least 5 of the original twelve apostles were killed by the government of the time.

    Why? Because people suck and power corrupts! And whatever group is in power will abuse it. So, you have gross abuse of power by atheists (think Stalin), including abuse of Christians. The Jews are documented to have done some pretty unpleasant things to their enemies (looked in Israel lately and the way they treat the palestinian Christians). Even Eastern faiths are not immune: look at the ethnic conflicts in India/Pakistan sometime. Or consider that the pacific half of WWII was caused by Shinto (the Japanese national religion) racism in addition to its obvious, secular causes. And you have gross abuse of power by putative Christians throughout history, but its probably nothing to compare to what has been done by non-Christians.

    I can't speak for any other faith system, but calling yourself a Christian does not make you a Christian! Christ himself said so:

    "Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

    Mark 7:23

    Of course, the trick is telling who is and who isn't a "real" Christian. The answer is that you can't. But if you devote yourself first to God then, like numerous Christians who stood up against injustice from the church (notably Dietrich Bonhoeffer in WWII, but also many, many others) you will know what God is calling you to do. Or, as the verse above continues:
    "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.

    matt 7:24

    But, I guess I'm speaking to people who won't listen.

    Listen people: I don't slam you. I have in fact walked out of churches when they became to vehement in condemning people of other faiths (not because people of other faiths are right: universalism is an absurdity, but because I can respect them as other peoples attempts to pursue God even when they are wrong). All I ask is that you exercise some care to get your facts straight before you slander me and my brothers.

    Oh yeah: for being such repressers, I find it interesting that Christian sentiment was what led most abolitionists to want to abolish slavery.

  • by WNight ( 23683 ) on Wednesday October 27, 1999 @04:02PM (#1582966) Homepage
    Sure. I'll say that I'm less impressed with Knuth now that I know he's religious. No Xian, just religious at all.

    I think eventually we'll see religious belief as the same sort of indicator we now see messages about perpetual motion machines. As a sign of someone a little unclear of the whole concept.

    Christian bashing is the last refuge of the bigot in this era of political correctness.

    Perhaps. But if you're not free to judge somebody based on their opinions, then how the hell are you supposed to form an opinion about anything?

    Judging someone on personal grounds by race is wrong. Ethics/Morals aside, it's wrong simply because it skin color doesn't indicate personality. Judging possible skin-cancer victims by race makes sense. Intelligence or creativity have NOT be shown to correspond to skin color, and as such, are stupid things to judge by race.

    But, someone's opinions ARE an indicator of their mental processes. Would YOU pick up a neo-nazi hitchhiker? Their behaviour and opinions would tend to indicate violent hatred. Would you go to a doctor who believed in the healing power of engergized crystals? Their opinion would seem to indicate a certain lack of critical thinking.

    Similarly, I lose respect for someone who believes in god. It indicates a lack of judgement.

    I'm not saying he's a bad person, or that he has nothing valuable to say, but I'll certainly be more critical of what he says, to sort out the good stuff from the religious babble.

    On a side note... What really pissed me off with people like the author I'm responding to, and the trend they are a part of, is that they're trying to get people to stop thinking. We're not even allowed to judge people on what they say anymore. Where does this stupidity end?

  • God IS real.

    Unless declared an integer.

    (unfortunately not mine, although I don't know where I got it)
  • The trouble with Pascal's wager is that it sees the space as binary.

    I'll agree that the first choice is God Exists or not. If you follow the "not" branch the tree ends, otherwise you then have a huge choice, some (but not all) are mutually exclusive, believe in God "A" and are wrong you might burn in God "B"'s hell.

    As an athiest, I'll admit I'm biased, but I think Pascal had his money on the wrong horse.

    I always prefered Ockham's Razor to Pascals wager in any case.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!