More on Science/Religion Disputes

My post about science/religion disputes has prompted responses from my SciBlings Bora Zivkovic and Mike Dunford (here and here respectively. Since they are among my favorite bloggers, it pains me to have to disagree with them. Alas, disagree I must.

I will begin with Bora, since I fear he has misunderstood my central point. The starting point of my post was my disagreement with this statement from Thomas Dixon:

Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge.

Bora characterizes my objection to this statement as follows:

Jason counters that Galileo affair, as well as the more modern Creationist wars, are primarily and perhaps entirely science vs. religion wars, not political.

I certainly did not deny that the Galileo affair was a political dispute. I wrote this, recall:

In the present case the second part of the sentence does not contradict the first. The Galileo affair was a science/religion dispute that played out in the political arena of rival claims to knowledge and authority.

My position is that the Galileo affair (and the more modern fights over creationism) are political disputes that arise because of underlying differences of opinion about science and religion. I say these fights are “primarily” about science and religion because I regard the motivations and beliefs that lead to the political fighting as more fundamental than the historical minutiae of how those fights played out. I will return to this in a moment.

As an analogy, suppose I said that modern fights over abortion are primarily about differing views on the moral status of the fetus. Would anyone challenge that statement by saying, no, abortion fights are actually political disputes? Is my statement contradicted by the observation that the abortion issue was very much on the back burner until the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which galvanized the anti-abortion side by (in their view) legislating from the bench? Certainly not. The historical details of how abortion fights have played out are important and essential to a thorough understanding of the issue. They just do not change the fact that the cause of all the politicking comes down to different philosophies and worldviews.

The title of Bora’s post is “All Science vs. Religion Conflicts are Essentially and Primarily Political Conflicts.” Why stop at science/religion conflicts? Most of the major human conflicts historians study are political conflicts (as Bora goes on to note later in his post). The word “political” just means that the government is involved in some way. To the extent that people tend to fight about control of land or resources or the authority to make and enforce laws, most major human disputes can ultimately be described as political. That is simply irrelevant to the broader question of whether it was hostility between science and religion that was largely responsible for what happened to Galileo.

The clean distinction Bora is trying to draw between political disputes on the one hand and science/religion disputes on the other is simply not workable. Not in general and not in the specific cases of Galileo or modern creationists. In these disputes the politics and religion are so intertwined that it is effecitvely impossible to separate them. As the saying goes, this is not a case of Either-Or. It is Both-And.

Bora now writes several paragraphs in which he emphasizes that religion is often used as a cynical ploy by ruling elites to rally the masses to fight in causes that are really about political power. This is certainly true, and I agree with much of what Bora says, but in the end he goes overboard with this. For example, he is simply wrong when he writes this:

Creationism is just one of many weapons in a unified anti-reality political platform of the Right. Some Creationists are just indoctrinated, scared folks who provide ground troops in this conflict. Other Creationists are part of the power-hungry elite of the party who use Creationism as a motivator for a particular segments of their ground-troops (other populations are motivated in other ways, with other tools, e.g., greed, or fear of terrorists, etc.). The Science vs. Religion aspect of the conflict is just window-dressing – the essence of the conflict is political: it is all about Power. (Emphasis added).

That bold-face sentence is way, way off. The science/religion angle is manifestly not just window-dressing in this dispute. In fact, this whole paragraph is far too simplistic and overstated. I can only encourage Bora to attend a creationist gathering some time and talk to some of the participants. Most of them do not fit his stereotype.

Yes, of course they want power. But the reason they care so deeply about having power in this area is their sincerely held belief that matters of eternal significance are at stake. If we are talking about young-Earth creationists specifically, then we have a textbook science/religion conflict. The YEC’s genuinely believe that the methods of science are fine for many purposes, but they are employed by fallible humans who need the inerrant authority of the Bible to keep them honest. The Bible, to them, is a source of evidence that trumps anything a scientist might discover. Power is not an end in its own right, at least not for most of them. Power is simply a means to the end of reshaping society in a way more consistent with their perception of God’s will.

Mike makes many of the same points as Bora, so I won’t say as much about his post. He writes:

When you get right down to it, the Galileo affair was almost irreducibly complex. The very real conflict between science and religion over who gets to declare what the physical world was certainly a major factor, but it was only one of many.

Indeed, but it was an exceptionally important factor. The only reason Galileo posed any threat at all to the Church’s authority was his audacity in using his own research to challenge their interpretation of the Bible. That the Church authorities might have been inclined to overlook it had they not been facing political pressures on so many other fronts does not change that fact. That is essentially why I believe the science/religion angle has to be regarded as paramount in understanding what happened. Had the Church not arrogated to itself the right to hold forth on the natural world based on its understanding of scripture, all of the political pressures they faced would have been irrelevant.

I left a comment to his post, and Mike has now replied. The key portion is this:

There have been battles over evolution in the schools, to be sure. But in both Dover and Texas (just to cite two examples), many of the same school board members were looking to transform the curriculum in other subject areas as well. At the same time, members of many of the same religious groups have been (and are) fighting to ensure that their beliefs remain or become law when it comes to issues as diverse as sex ed, abortion, birth control, end of life healthcare, prayer in the schools, religious displays in public buildings, the so-called war on Christmas, homosexuality in general and same sex marriage in particular, Muslims in the military, women in the military, proselytization in the schools, prisons, and military, and public funding for faith-based programs. And that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.

If science were the only – or even the primary – battleground, I think I would be fairly comfortable referring to the creation/evolution struggle as a conflict between science and religion. As it stands now, I am far from convinced that is the case. As far as I can tell, the people fighting on the side of religion don’t think their beliefs are more authoritative than just those of science – I think they believe that their beliefs about absolutely everything are more authoritative than anyone else’s.

Since this includes cases where their beliefs conflict with the religious and/or philosophical beliefs of others, and not just cases where their views collide with our scientifically-based understanding of the world, I think it makes more sense to view the creation/evolution struggle as being one part of a larger battle for political control over secular life than as an isolated case of a science/religion conflict.

I agree with nearly all of this, but, again, I don’t see it as contradicting my argument. It is certainly true that the mindset of Christian fundamentalism comes into conflict with many aspects of secular society, not just science. They want to see profound changes in all of the areas Mike lists and in many other besides, and their views on these matters can mostly be traced back to their idiosyncratic views about the authority of the Bible (to the extent that there is a reasoned argument for them at all). No question about it.

But why should that stop us from focusing on the creation/evolution conflict and noting that the source of that conflict specifically comes down to the different approaches to knowledge encouraged by science and religion? Not all religion obviously, but a particular strain of religion that is numerically very well-represented. The evolution/creation dispute is a fight between science and religion. It is also one front in a broader war between religious fundamentalism and secular society.

Is that so complicated?

You might wonder at this point why I am making such an issue of this. We all seem to agree that the Chuch’s rather extreme response to Galileo was the result not just of a conflict between science and religion but also of a variety of political considerations that left Pope Urban VIII feeling he had to come down on Galileo to preserve his authority. And we agree that the evolution/creation dispute is one front in a broader fight between rival worldviews that encompass more than just a dispute between science and religion.

The reason is that underlying the Galileo affair, the evolution/creation issue, and countless other places where science and religion have come into conflict, is a very bad idea that continues to have great force in our society. Specifically, that religious revelation is a reliable source of information about the world. Sadly, it is not, and to the extent that large numbers of people think that it is it nearly always leads to negative consequences. Since revelation plays a central role in the numerically most prevalent forms of religion in the world, I think it is fair to say simply that religion is largely based on a very bad idea. It does not lead necessarily to harmful consequences, but it does so with sufficient frequency as to be worth commenting on.

The trouble is that so many people, including many academics, seem determined to absolve religion of the frequent harm it has caused to society. To pretend that the Galileo affair was primarily a complex political dispute in which the science/religion angle recedes to irrelevance is to ignore one of the central lessons the incident teaches us. Likewise, emphasizing the political aspects of creationism at the expense of the religious dimension is also to ignore something of great importance. The same bad idea runs through these and so many other incidents.

We should not be working too hard to preserve a role for this way of thinking in modern society. To me it looks like so many of the academics who write in this area are doing precisely that. These disputes can not always be about something else. Sometimes you have to be willing to say that the fight was the result of the poor ways of thinking encouraged by religion.

Comments

  1. #1 Robocop
    December 30, 2009

    The reason is that underlying the Galileo affair, the evolution/creation issue, and countless other places where science and religion have come into conflict, is a very bad idea that continues to have great force in our society. Specifically, that religious revelation is a reliable source of information about the world. Sadly, it is not, and to the extent that large numbers of people think that it is it nearly always leads to negative consequences. Since revelation plays a central role in the numerically most prevalent forms of religion in the world, I think it is fair to say simply that religion is largely based on a very bad idea. It does not lead necessarily to harmful consequences, but it does so with sufficient frequency as to be worth commenting on.

    Since there is no dispositive (reliable) way to answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc., it looks to me like you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwatwer. Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions. Science provides a mechanism for evaluating certain data points which may factor into the examination of these kinds of questions, but offers no means for answering them.

  2. #2 Pierce R. Butler
    December 30, 2009

    … suppose I said that modern fights over abortion are primarily about differing views on the moral status of the fetus.

    Differing views on the moral status of women might be closer to the bullseye…

  3. #3 Professor Pedant
    December 30, 2009

    a very bad idea that continues to have great force in our society. Specifically, that religious revelation is a reliable source of information about the world. Sadly, it is not,

    In other words, making stuff up doesn’t work very well.

    But then we see this self-contradictory assertion: “Since there is no dispositive (reliable) way to answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc., [snip] Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions.

    How is it, and why is it, that even when ‘pro-theists’ acknowledge the limits of their knowledge they still persist in thinking that simply making something up is a useful approach? Basic logic, if you assert that there is no system that enables you to “answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc.” you cannot assert in the next sentence that religion enables you to “[answer] these types of questions“.

    Please, if you believe that you were created by God – use the brain that God gave you! To do otherwise is deeply disrespectful of the Creator of the Universe, and an utter waste as well.

  4. #4 Galen Evans
    December 30, 2009

    Since there is no dispositive (reliable) way to answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc., it looks to me like you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwatwer. Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions. Science provides a mechanism for evaluating certain data points which may factor into the examination of these kinds of questions, but offers no means for answering them.

    What framework does religion offer to satisfy these questions? how does a secular philosophy fail to answer these questions? I do not think that secularists always go to Science to answer all questions, but instead we rely on science and the scientific method to tell us about the way the universe acts.

    For example, here is a few completely secular framework for examining and answering the questions you pose.

    Ethics: Does (this action) use my authority or position in a way to gain favors that others cannot gain due to their lack of the authority or position I hold? Am I treating people in a consistent and fair matter aligned with a way I desire to be treated if our roles were reversed?

    Morals: Are my actions leading to a world that i would enjoy inhabiting more should these actions be consistent throughout the population? Would widespread use of those things/actions I consider ‘immoral’ lead to a world I would not want to inhabit?

    Politics: Does the government work in a way that benefits the majority of the society in which it governs? Does the government give a true and amiable representation to the governed?

    Aesthetics: Does the work stir some important memory or emotion in me? Does the composition of the work appeal to me?

    Economics: well, I don’t see how religion offers any way to discuss economic theory, but nonetheless, Am I Acting in a way that perseveres my self interest without causing undue harm on others?

    Justice: Are people rewarded for their good behavior and held accountable for their bad behavior? Is this system of justice and jurisprudence blind? are all people equal before it?

    Beauty: Beauty is a personal preference, every person has a different metric of beauty and only they can tell you what they find beautiful.

    Love: Love is something that again, no one can answer any question about it but the person(s) involved to think otherwise is folly, sure, science can offer no answers about it, but neither can religion.

    To say we need religion as a framework to answer these questions strikes me as lazy. instead of relying on old books and fairy tales to answer these questions, perhaps instead we should ask them and grapple with them rather than trusting some mumbo-jumbo to come out and reveal all to us.

    And not to think I am just a religion hating nabob, I often find many aesthetic wonders from religious institutions, I love stained glass, pipe-organ music, high-church services, cathedrals, communion and many more. I just don’t trust anyone saying they can answer any questions carte-blanche, science on the other hand, gives you the ability to test their answers to questions to determine for yourself if they are right or wrong. you don’t trust a scientists findings? run the experiment yourself and see what results you get.

  5. #5 zachvoch
    December 30, 2009

    Robocop@1:

    Since there is no dispositive (reliable) way to answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc., it looks to me like you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwatwer. Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions. Science provides a mechanism for evaluating certain data points which may factor into the examination of these kinds of questions, but offers no means for answering them.

    I’m not certain that `religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions’ at all, certainly not beyond conjecture. If I interpret your next sentence correctly, you claim that science gives us the `is’ in order to inform the `ought’, but not the `ought’ itself. I would agree, but I would also add that the `ought’ can be provided in a secular framework of ethics just as well without the baggage and problems inherent in systems based on revelation. This point seems to have already been addressed in the comments (kudos to Galen Evans@4), so I won’t go into detail. You seem to have treated science as though it were the entirety of a secular worldview, which is a mistake.

    If I misinterpret your post, forgive me, but I’m taking the latter part to mean that religion is necessary for the answering of these questions to the exclusion of secular systems, though it is quite possible that you meant that religion is just `one way’ of going about it. For the former case:

    I am always bothered by this type of comment, given that it implies a basic inability for humans to discover ethics or appreciate beauty without an associated religious belief. Firstly, the claim is factually false, but further still, it belittles humanity to sub-bestial idiocy and hopelessness. As Hitchens would say, `it attacks our deepest integrity.’ Further, unless you claim that a given religion is true, you have already admitted the capacity of man to create answers to such questions, presumably satisfactory ones by your reckoning. Then, we need only trim the religiosity off and preserve the ethics, that is, `break the chain and cull the living flower’. Else, we have non-answers or false answers. This type of argument only holds if a given religious worldview is true, only then are correct answers separate from any secular system attainable.

    In the latter case, that religion is but `one way’ and not `the only way’, we should ask if religion is the `best way.’ Again, such a claim would require the truth of the religion, else, we need only the ethical virtues and may safely discard the rest of the religion. But here, our evaluation is entirely secular and the religion becomes, yet again, unnecessary decor.

    Point being, we’ve already taken the baby out of the bathwater.

  6. #6 zachvoch
    December 30, 2009

    One addition to my last post:

    Robocop, I’m also surprised by your apparent demand that an answer for everything be provided in a given framework. This is the poor sort of thinking that prefers a bad answer to none at all, which is hardly an improvement but rather an impediment to discovering correct answers. I think that `I don’t know’ is to some extent an essential part of living, given our non-omniscience, and to pretend otherwise is an act inherently dishonest and certainly neither desirable nor admirable. I do not think we should measure the utility or value of a worldview by the quantity or type of answers provided, but rather by its production of correct and verifiable answers, answers which lead to reliable predictions and further discovery. Or in the ethical case, moral propositions which have to tentatively stand on their own virtue, not upon authority or tradition. In these respects, the secular and naturalistic worldview is by far superior to theistic models.

    Lastly, recent ethical progress within religious systems is the outcome of the efforts of freethinkers, some religious and some not. Why has Hell steadily disappeared from many denominations of Christianity? Was that the result of scripture reading or perhaps the result of challenging the morality of old beliefs?

  7. #7 Aero
    December 30, 2009

    I’ve long thought that most creationists and religious zealots subconsciously do not actually believe their religious dogma. I think deep down they don’t believe their beliefs but crave the power and recognition they get from holding to their supernatural claims and getting all martyrly from displaying suffering. It is much easier to do that religious junk than to actually do the work it takes to understand and use science at a level of proficiency high enough to garner that hero level of attention from their re4ligious redneck peers.

  8. #8 Thomas Dixon
    December 31, 2009

    I’m delighted to discover that this extremely interesting discussion has been sparked by Jason Rosenhouse’s criticism of some statements I make in my book – ‘Science and Religion: A Very Short Introduction’.

    Perhaps I could offer some very brief thoughts in response (even briefer than those in my short book)…

    1. Overall motivation. I share Jason’s suspicion that some academic complexification of science-religion issues has been motivated by a desire to defend religion. I tried to avoid that approach in my book. I did not write it to defend, or to attack religion, and was very keen to avoid any of the sweeping polemic found on all sides of this debate. My aim in complexifying and politicising the issues was to try to persuade people to step back from their tribal allegiances and look, historically and politically, at how certain beliefs have come to be associated with particular religious, cultural and political identities.

    2. Galileo. It is not satisfactory to call the Galileo affair a conflict between science and religion, since both sides were in favour of science and both sides were in favour of Christian religion (specifically Catholicism). Realising this allows us to see that what was at stake was how to define the nature of scientific and religious knowledge, and who had the right to produce and disseminate that knowledge.

    3. Creationism. Again, it is a distortion to reduce this to a conflict between science and religion. Again, both sides aspire to be scientific and many take the view that belief in Darwinian evolution is compatible with belief in Christianity. Creationism and ID are strategies by which certain Christian groupings have tried to regain greater control over the apparatus of the state (in this case, through education). Religion, law and politics are all fundamental in this case – including the history of the interpretation of the First Amendment. Science is, in this case, surely of secondary importance compared to the question of the role of the federal government in protecting, promoting, or detaching itself from religion.

    4. Overall, then, I do not view these incidents as particular historical expressions of a timeless conflict between two different ways of thinking (since science and religion can, in any case, not be reduced to fixed ways of thinking), but rather as local political conflicts which have sometimes drawn on, and been interpreted in terms of, rhetoric about science and religion.

  9. #9 david
    December 31, 2009

    @ Dixon

    You repeat yourself. You assert. But it’s not persuasive. Complexifying? You are joking, in an academic way, I guess. Problem is, the conflict between science and religion has an existence outside of academia, assertions, and supposed niceties. Academia has its drawbacks and you illustrate.

    As you repeat, you miss the point again.

    Hopefully the pope will show you the instruments of torture and put you under house arrest and you can make your point that it is “surely” political and the pope really loves science, and will continue to do so for almost five hundred years.

    This blogger has nailed you, book or no book, and you don’t even know it. Then again, how could you?

  10. #10 Matt Penfold
    December 31, 2009

    The idea that the creationism/evolution issue is about power does not stand up to scrutiny when you look at countries other than the US.

    Here in the UK creationists do not have positions of power. The media, when it covers the issues, tends to portray creationists as being deluded. There is no important politician who is openly a creationist. The creationists have no power here.

  11. #11 Richard Wein
    December 31, 2009

    Robocop wrote: “Since there is no dispositive (reliable) way to answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc., it looks to me like you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwatwer. Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions.”

    You’re failing to clearly distinguish between matters of fact and matters of value judgement. Sure, science is in the business of establishing facts, not making value judgements. But we don’t need religion to make value judgements either. We make judgements relative to our own values, even if some of those values happen to come from a religion.

    Now, maybe you don’t accept the fact/value dichotomy, and you think that values are matters of fact. In that case, why should we accept a religion’s claims about those facts? If those claims can be justified, then we don’t need to rely on religious revelation; we can confirm the facts for ourselves. If the claims can’t be justified, then we can just as well accept any other unjustified claims about those facts, including our own personal values.

  12. #12 atheismisdead
    December 31, 2009

    Looks like your website is under attack from supernatural forces…

    isgodimaginary.com/forum/index.php/topic,40909.0.html

    you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

    Atheist:

    have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?

    do you think you are RIGHT and they are all WRONG?

    WRONG

    now listen to this arrogant puffed up son of a bitch….

    youtube.com/watch?v=ilWM7jIEN_k

    little scientist geek who would try to usurp God Himself!!!

  13. #13 Frank Cornish
    December 31, 2009

    If it is true that underlying the religion/science debate is political, we can also examine whether or not there is a economics component. For one thing, “truth” is a scarce resource and perhaps the scarcest of all. The idea that ethics and morals can only be derived from an absolutist basis, gives the moral absolutists the tightest control over access to such knowledge. They “know” and the rest of the world guesses, and because of this they wield such power to get the rest of us in line. In science, we see no absolutes anywhere in nature except as concepts. Even Absolute Zero is a concept that is physically unobtainable because of the nature of energy. It is approachable and physicists have come very close to it, but still can never come more than a nano-hair’s whisker from it.

    Claims such as Robocop’s, that we need to have religion to guide moral choices are based on ceding access to that resource without accepting that they don’t actually have it, but they think about it a lot. So, if they think about it a lot they must be on to something. In reality, religions have an empty treasure box that they don’t want anyone to open, to see that it is empty. But they will hold up the treasure box as something of value in itself, a scarce resource, if you will.

    They use it to approach societal issues, and use it is a hammer to threaten us with and in the case of educational policy in general and evolution, sex education, American history (as is happening in Texas right now,) and other fields of study demand that we look at the box if not into it or they will send the hammer down on the rest of us.

    In science, even though individual scientists will state that there are absolute answers on questions of “truth” we realize that the absolutes are still relative and related to degrees of probability, but the probabilities that we are wrong on such answers such as the cosmology of the Big Bang and the fact of evolution, there is an invitation to open the treasure box and continually testing the different combinations to the lock. It may never be opened, but at least there are ways to try.

    There is a completely different conceptual framework working in science compared to the one used in religion, and there is likely where the problem lies.

  14. #14 Frank Cornish
    December 31, 2009

    I should edit that comment, but I think I will do a post on it instead.

  15. #15 Skeptico
    December 31, 2009

    Robocop wrote:

    Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions.

    What way would that be, exactly?

  16. #16 tomh
    December 31, 2009

    Thomas Dixon wrote:
    3. Creationism. Again, it is a distortion to reduce this to a conflict between science and religion. Again, both sides aspire to be scientific…

    If you think that creationism aspires to be scientific then you haven’t been paying attention. When creationists deny all facts and evidence, and cling to ancient fables to explain the world, what part of that is “aspiring to be scientific”? It makes no sense.

  17. #17 Jonathan Lubin
    December 31, 2009

    Creationism aspires to be scientific to the extent that creationists want to wrap themselves in the cloak of respectability that Science provides.

  18. #18 David D.G.
    December 31, 2009

    Yes, of course they want power. But the reason they care so deeply about having power in this area is their sincerely held belief that matters of eternal significance are at stake. If we are talking about young-Earth creationists specifically, then we have a textbook science/religion conflict.

    Or, in Texas, we have a religious science textbook conflict.

    :^/

    ~David D.G.

  19. #19 Blake Stacey
    December 31, 2009

    Creationists aspire to appear scientific while aiming to overthrow the scientific enterprise.

  20. #20 abb3w
    December 31, 2009

    Robocop: Science provides a mechanism for evaluating certain data points which may factor into the examination of these kinds of questions, but offers no means for answering them.

    As philosophical discipline, Science doesn’t provide answers to questions; it measures the answers descriptions about “is” questions, to decide which “is” closest to correct.

    As for the types of question you point to, they mostly presuppose a bridge across the “is-ought” divide. Given acceptance of an arbitrary bridge providing some universally applicable metric function for “good”, all the problems reduce to questions of engineering.

    Of course, there is no current consensus as to the nature of such an ultimate bridge. The question of such, however, might not be beyond the potential of science to study….

  21. #21 abb3w
    December 31, 2009

    Skeptico: What way would that be, exactly?

    Providing some arbitrary bridge.

  22. #22 BaldApe
    December 31, 2009

    Robocop said:

    Religion offers a framework an unjustifiable bias for examining and answering these types of questions.

    There, fixed it for you.

    Snarkiness notwithstanding, that’s the problem, not the solution. Don’t forget that it was that kind of moral absolutism that motivated people to fly airplanes into office buildings.

  23. #23 chris
    December 31, 2009

    BaldApe said, “Religion offers an unjustifiable bias for examining and answering these types of questions”

    Is this statement absolutely true?

    BaldApe also said, “Snarkiness notwithstanding, that’s the problem, not the solution. Don’t forget that it was that kind of moral absolutism that motivated people to fly airplanes into office buildings.”

    Could it be that, under your worldview, there is nothing absolutely wrong with flying “airplanes into office buildings” since you seem to have a problem with “moral absolutism”? Is this an absolute condenmation of people who would do such things?

  24. #24 toby
    December 31, 2009

    Just finished reading “Summer of the the Gods” about the Scope Trial, teh first great Evolution vs Creationism contest in the US.

    That was a conflict of authority … Bryan, the one pushing anti-Evolution laws then, would have been happy to have it taught as a theory, a “heuristic” to explain the fossils, but not “real”. Similarly, the Pope at the time was willing to work with the Copernican solar system, as long as Church authority was not challenged … the new system was just like Ptolemy’s epicycles, a piece of math to get the planetary positions right, but not corresponding to reality.

    This is unacceptable to science. However, I cannot accept that behind these conflicts there is some sort of “real” conflict going on like a Marxist insists that all political disputes are really class warfare.

  25. #25 Explicit Atheist
    December 31, 2009

    Posted by: toby | December 31, 2009 5:09 PM

    “This is unacceptable to science. However, I cannot accept that behind these conflicts there is some sort of “real” conflict going on like a Marxist insists that all political disputes are really class warfare.”

    Political disputes can have many different sources. Some political disputes are science versus religion, some are affluent and impoverished, some are majority religions versus minority religions, etc. This notion that political disputes have no underlying real conflict is crazy, it defies common sense.

  26. #26 david
    December 31, 2009

    @ toby

    There is a real conflict going on between science and religion. Why you can’t accept that is up to you. I doubt it’s an antithesis as well. Conflict nevertheless.

    Not having read ‘Summer of the Gods,’ odd title to be about the Scopes trial, I don’t know what you read. But I like your comment and would recommend to you an original source, ‘The Preacher and I’ by Charles F. Potter who attended the Scopes trial and delivered some of the opening prayers. He attended as a potential witness for Scopes and Clarence Darrow. The conflicts are set out very clearly, and by an honest man you will conclude, and Potter will later found, with others, the American humanist society.

    The book you read should have made clear that creationism is an oral tradition, that it was isolationist and anti-imperialistic then unlike now, or maybe not, and that Hunter’s Civic Biology, Scopes’ text, was racist in its evolution part. However, I have read stuff on the Scopes trial where all is missed except the cross-examination, as in the movie.

    Potter can tell you that the kids never made it to that evolution chapter, he can introduce you to the mining superintendent who was offended by the stupid funeral for a young boy, set all in motion, and tell you how the whole thing went down as he saw it beginning in the drugstore in Dayton.

    Scopes himself wrote a book, The Center of the Storm.

    And to be well-informed and up-to-date, a current book should mention that today in Dayton, Tennessee exists the (William Jennings) Bryan college, that it is fundamentalist-evangelical, and that its biology faculty did include Dr. Kurt Wise, PhD in geology from Harvard under Stephen Jay Gould, now a consultant to all things creationist including answers in Genesis and a creation museum and based at the creation research center at Truett-McConnell college in Georgia.

    You are right that we in the US need not look back to Galileo centuries ago and twist his story as is our wont, when we have a raging conflict here that has a long enough history.

    Watch for Potter to attend a glossolia meeting and hear him tell of Mencken and a southern belle and hookworm. Potter debated evolution questions in New York City. Interesting. Appeared in 51 so the library would be a good source.

  27. #27 Robert O'Brien
    December 31, 2009

    Don’t forget that it was that kind of moral absolutism that motivated people to fly airplanes into office buildings.

    Writing that religion offers a framework is equivalent to “that kind of moral absolutism that motivated people to fly airplanes into office buildings?” Your analogy is powerful dumb.

  28. #28 Jason Rosenhouse
    December 31, 2009

    Thomas -

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry the discussion was sparked by a criticism I had of your book, since for the most part I liked your book very much. I would, however, like to respond briefly to the issues you raise. You write:

    Galileo. It is not satisfactory to call the Galileo affair a conflict between science and religion, since both sides were in favour of science and both sides were in favour of Christian religion (specifically Catholicism). Realising this allows us to see that what was at stake was how to define the nature of scientific and religious knowledge, and who had the right to produce and disseminate that knowledge.

    I would strongly disagree that the Catholic Church of Galileo’s day could fairly be described as being in favor of science. Science is primarily a method for investigating claims and is based on an open-minded approach to evidence. The Catholic Church, by contrast, arrogated to itself the right to pass final judgment on which theories were correct and which were incorrect based on its own belief that it was uniquely able to interpret the scriptures. That is a profoundly anti-science attitude. This was an organization that maintained a list of banned literature, and well before putting him on trial presumed to tell Galileo precisely how and to what extent he could discuss his theories. These are not the attributes of a pro-science organization.

    From the other side, that Galileo was personally religious is simply irrelevant. The claim here is not that every form of religion is hostile to everything about science. Rather, the claim is that an approach to knowledge that was distinctively religious, represented by the Catholic church, came into conflict with an approach to knowledge that was distinctively scientific, represented by Galileo. This difference of approach is precisely why there was any conflict at all, and it is why it is fair to describe what happened as a dispute between science and religion. You write that this was a dispute over what constitutes knowledge and who gets to disseminate it. Indeed. But that is a confirmation, not a contradiction of the idea that this was a dispute between science and religion.

    You also write:

    Creationism. Again, it is a distortion to reduce this to a conflict between science and religion. Again, both sides aspire to be scientific and many take the view that belief in Darwinian evolution is compatible with belief in Christianity. Creationism and ID are strategies by which certain Christian groupings have tried to regain greater control over the apparatus of the state (in this case, through education). Religion, law and politics are all fundamental in this case – including the history of the interpretation of the First Amendment. Science is, in this case, surely of secondary importance compared to the question of the role of the federal government in protecting, promoting, or detaching itself from religion.

    I think I may have located the main source of our disagreement. You and others point to the various political forces at work in situations like the Galilieo affair and modern fights over creationism and use them as an argument for claiming these disputes are primarily about something other than science and religion. My view is that the political fights are the result of underlying philosophical differences about science and religion, and therefore that these situations can fairly be described as conflicts between those two camps.

    When you write that creationism and ID are strategies used by certain Christian groups to increase their political power, you make it sound as if they are just cynical ploys used to rally the masses. I can assure you from long experience that that is not the case. You have things backward, in fact. It is not that certain Christian groupings crave power and then seize on the evolution issue as a means toward that end. There is an element of that, but it should not be viewed as central. It is that, in their view, the theory of evolution undermines Christian faith, thereby imperiling the souls of their children, and that they had better obtain some political power to put a stop to such things. The philosophical differences are the reason for the politicking, not the other way around.

    Creationists believe that human reason is inherently faulty as the result of the fall, and it is especially faulty in those areas of science relating to the nature of humanity, since our sinful natures lead us to want to deny God (and therefore to support theories that make it easier to reject God). Thus, science needs to be kept in line by adherence to a plain reading (again, in their view) of the infallible word of God, the Bible. Once again we have a textbook case of scientific approaches to knowledge coming into conflict with religious approaches to knowledge. ID could more fairly be described as a cynical political strategy, but many of the same philosophical issues reside at its core.

    Religion, law and politics are, indeed, essential to understanding creationism. That does not imply, however, that there is not a science and religion conflict at the heart of it all.

    Overall, then, I do not view these incidents as particular historical expressions of a timeless conflict between two different ways of thinking (since science and religion can, in any case, not be reduced to fixed ways of thinking), but rather as local political conflicts which have sometimes drawn on, and been interpreted in terms of, rhetoric about science and religion.

    As I said in a comment to my other post on this subject, there is nothing that is universal to every human institution encompassed by the term “religion.” Furthermore, even the most dogmatic and doctrinaire religions are happy to accept much of, perhaps most of, what science is telling us about the world. Given that, it will always be the case that in such conflicts as arise, it is always certain forms of religion that are coming into conflict with certain aspects of science. It also goes without saying that local political considerations are always going to effect how these things play out in practice.

    The fact remains, however, that there is indeed an eternal conflict between the ideas that knowledge of the natural world can be reliably obtained from religious revelation and that such knowledge can only be obtained via meticulous evidence gathering and evidence collection. Sometimes these approaches lead to direct conflicts (YEC’s say the Earth is thousands of years old, science says it’s billions). Other times it leads to more indirect conflicts, where ideas that are not flatly contradictory are nonetheless hard to hold simultaneously (Christianity says we are made in the image of a loving God, science says we are an incidental side product of a bloody and cruel evolutionary process). Many religions abjure revelation, and many adherents of more traditional faiths are content to sequester revelation and science, so that the former is applied to issues of salvation and eternity, while the latter addresses questions about the natural world. But many other people are not content with such a partition.

    In other words, the question isn’t whether science and religion can be reconciled. Instead, the question is what sort of religion can be reconciled with science.

    Anyway, I hope that at least clarifies my views on the matter.

    Happy New Year!

  29. #29 SLC
    January 1, 2010

    Re David

    Relative to William Jennings Bryan, a few things should be clarified.

    1. Bryan was an old earth creationist whose views would not be acceptable to someone like Kurt Wise.

    2. Bryans’ anti-evolutionary views were strongly based on his experiences as Secretary of State in meeting with German politicians who were strongly influenced by the theory of Social Darwinism. Bryan failed to distinguish between the biological theory of evolution and Social Darwinism which he considered an anathema.

  30. #30 Robocop
    January 1, 2010

    For those of you who criticized my post (#1) as allegedly denying the possibility of secular approaches for examining the questions science cannot, you attack an argument I did not and would not make. Moreover, they spectacularly (if unsurprisingly) miss the point. Since both secular and religious approaches to these questions are not amenable to dispositive answers, all such questions fall outside of “science” and are therefore to be rejected by the approach (at least) implied by Professor Rosenhouse. That’s why he has thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

  31. #31 Kevin (NYC)
    January 1, 2010

    “Could it be that, under your worldview, there is nothing absolutely wrong with flying “airplanes into office buildings”

    actually, yes. there is nothing absolutely wrong about that. there is something “relatively” wrong about that because, say, my “relatives” are in those buildings and get killed.

    But what if the buildings were filled with a thousand Hitlers all plotting to plunge the world into war where tens of millions of people will be killed… and no one else was around, and no firemen would try and save them. would you kill a thousand Hitlers to save 35,000,000 million people? one? how about one Hitler for 18.5 mill?

    so would YOU condemn that pilot? what if the target was facist american hegemonists? who bomb and kill your women and children and tell you its for your own good?

    I understand why they hate us. its not our “freedoms” its our constant interference in their lives. OTOH I sometimes fall into the trap that if we just kill a few more of the bad guys THEN we can stop killing and go home.

    in saner moments I don’t think that will work.

  32. #32 Explicit Atheist
    January 1, 2010

    Thomas Dixon, do you dispute this simple fact as Jason Rosenhouse relates? “The fact remains, however, that there is indeed an eternal conflict between the ideas that knowledge of the natural world can be reliably obtained from religious revelation and that such knowledge can only be obtained via meticulous evidence gathering and evidence collection. Sometimes these approaches lead to direct conflicts (YEC’s say the Earth is thousands of years old, science says it’s billions). Other times it leads to more indirect conflicts, where ideas that are not flatly contradictory are nonetheless hard to hold simultaneously (Christianity says we are made in the image of a loving God, science says we are an incidental side product of a bloody and cruel evolutionary process).”

    You say “1. Overall motivation. I share Jason’s suspicion that some academic complexification of science-religion issues has been motivated by a desire to defend religion” and then in paragrphs 2, 3, and 4, you did what you just agreed in paragraph 1 shouldn’t be done.

  33. #33 Divalent
    January 1, 2010

    For pretty good illustration of the *fact* that evolution is perceived as a religous issue in the political arena, see the post at Jerry Coynes blog regarding the responses of the nine candidates for the governor of Illinois to the the simple question “Do you accept the theory of evolution? Please explain.”

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/01/01/illinois-gubernatorial-candidates-on-evolution/

    All seven republicans, and 1 of two democrats, immediately linked it to religion. Imagine how unusual that linkage would appear if the question regarded heliocentricity, the germ theory of infectious disease, our modern theory of atomic structure, the existance of sasquatch, or the link drunken driving and auto fatalities.

  34. #34 Marshall
    January 1, 2010

    Political power is all about negotiation among groups, and religion is one way of getting group coherence, one among many forms of political organization (tribes, parties, guilds, schools,…) . All such are organized around some more or less empirically unsupportable philosophy or doctrine. The idea that ethical doctrines can be sorted into “value-based” and “faith-based” cannot be made precise, and doesn’t add anything to the discussion.

    If you’re talking about politics, then religious groups are valid as political parties. If you’re talking about philosophy, then yes, there is (in the 20th century) an unresolved duality between religion and science. But unresolved dualities are everywhere; there’s even one between Democrats and Republicans.

    Accomodationism may or may not be the right strategy at any given time, but anti-accomodationism is always wrong.

  35. #35 Robert O'Brien
    January 1, 2010

    …science says we are an incidental side product of a bloody and cruel evolutionary process…

    No, it doesn’t. Science has nothing to say about humans being “an incidental side product,” nor does it have anything to say about the process being “bloody and cruel.” Those are philosophical statements, not scientific statements.

  36. #36 Explicit Atheist
    January 2, 2010

    Posted by: Marshall | January 1, 2010 1:47 PM

    “Accomodationism may or may not be the right strategy at any given time, but anti-accomodationism is always wrong.”

    That is simply false, strategy is always about context and values and it should be obvious that anti-accomodationism was the better approach historically in many cases such as with respect to dealing with Nazi Germany. More generally, anti-accomodationism is generally the correct approach with respect to bigotry. The argument that atheists should stop arguing that evolution is true and favors atheism because those people over there are bigoted against atheists so that hurts the cause is appeasement of bigotry. Atheists shouldn’t appease anti-atheist bigotry, such bigotry is bad for everyone, including the bigots, and its bad for the cause for the evolution.

  37. #37 pzisdead
    January 2, 2010

    Looks like your website is under attack from supernatural forces…

    isgodimaginary.com/forum/index.php/topic,40909.0.html

    you really need to add comment moderation to your blasphemy…

    Atheist:

    have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?

    do you think you are RIGHT and they are all WRONG?

    WRONG

    now listen to this arrogant puffed up son of a bitch….

    youtube.com/watch?v=ilWM7jIEN_k

    little scientist geek who would try to usurp God Himself!!!

  38. #38 Michael
    January 2, 2010

    No time to comment on all of this. But it seems to me to speak of a “science-religion conflict” in the case of Galileo is precisely to oversimplify, and also to engage in anachronism.

    First of all, there was simply no such recognized thing as “science,” as we now understand it, in Galileo’s day. There were mathematicians, natural philosophers, but no “scientists.” The very idea of knowledge (“scientia” in Latin) was being contested and our contemporary understanding of scientific method was being worked out.

    Second, “religion” should not be equated with “church,” as you (Jason) often seem to above. The actions of the institutional church do not define the stance of religion. At the time leading up to the Galileo affair, through the Reformation and the Counter-reformation, a dispute was ongoing within the Christian religion about the authority of the institutional Church. The very idea of religious authority was also being contested and modern understandings of individual conscience and so on were being worked out.

    Third, the Galileo affair involved disputes *within* both the scientific (using this word to refer to the precursors of modern science) community and the Church. Galileo had to deal with opposition from people who studied astronomy and physics, who saw there own authority under threat from his discoveries and views, and who appealed to religious authority to support their own scientific views. And Galileo also had his supporters within the Church, who, unfortunately, lost out in the internal political struggle.

    For all these reasons to insist that the Galileo affair was a science-religion conflict in any simple sense is to oversimplify and misrepresent — even if you add that it was also a political conflict, or an economic conflict, or what have you.

  39. #39 Explicit Atheist
    January 2, 2010

    Michael:

    ‘First of all, there was simply no such recognized thing as “science,” as we now understand it, in Galileo’s day. There were mathematicians, natural philosophers, but no “scientists.” The very idea of knowledge (“scientia” in Latin) was being contested and our contemporary understanding of scientific method was being worked out.’

    Not really. Its true that we must place history in the context of the time of the events to understand them properly. However, we have no obligation to limit ourselves to the vocabulary of the people from the past when we discuss those events today.

    ‘Second, “religion” should not be equated with “church,” as you (Jason) often seem to above. The actions of the institutional church do not define the stance of religion. At the time leading up to the Galileo affair, through the Reformation and the Counter-reformation, a dispute was ongoing within the Christian religion about the authority of the institutional Church. The very idea of religious authority was also being contested and modern understandings of individual conscience and so on were being worked out.’

    We do not equate religion with church. We reasonably and sensibly label as “religion” the notion of divine revelation, and in this case the notion that an important and reliable source of our knowledge about how the world works is divine revelation. This quintessentially religious notion is common to Protestants and other religions, its certainly not a notion particular to the Catholic church, and it is the primary source of opposition to science throughout history, including today. Here we are labeling “science” as the notion that the ONLY trustworthy source of knowledge about how the world works is empirically verifiable evidence.

    ‘Third, the Galileo affair involved disputes *within* both the scientific (using this word to refer to the precursors of modern science) community and the Church. Galileo had to deal with opposition from people who studied astronomy and physics, who saw there own authority under threat from his discoveries and views, and who appealed to religious authority to support their own scientific views. And Galileo also had his supporters within the Church, who, unfortunately, lost out in the internal political struggle.’

    And if we look at the arguments of the two sides I think we will find that the argument against Galileo was that he contradicted divine revelation and by dissenting from an essential Catholic dogma about how the world functions committed a serious crime. It doesn’t matter who makes that argument, its an inherently religious argument. That is an argument that only people who accept the dogma of Christianity, or some other religion that makes similar claims, via divine revelation, about how the work functions could possibly make. So the science, and Galileo derived and defended his views based on empirical evidence here, this wasn’t just some arbitrary opinion or dogma, conflicted with religious dogma, in this particular case it was the dogma of the Catholic Church. Thus it was a conflict between religion and early science. That was the CONTENT of the conflict, it was the SOURCE of the conflict, it was the BASIS of the conflict, it was the FOUNDATION of the conflict, and religion remains all of those things vis-a-vis science to this day.

  40. #40 Explicit Atheist
    January 2, 2010

    Posted by: pzisdead | January 2, 2010 1:54 AM

    ‘have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?’

    Do you understand the difference between holding a belief that conflicts with the beliefs of 98% of other americans and “Adopting a position against 98% of the human race”? Beliefs are not the same as “human race”. We discuss and debate beliefs based on the merits of those beliefs. The comparative merit of beliefs are measured by the supporting and opposing evidence, not by a poll.

  41. #41 Explicit Atheist
    January 2, 2010

    Anyone who seriously thinks that the huge, wealthy, powerful Catholic church was confronted by an equally powerful rival in the person of Galileo that resulted in a political struggle between two rivals for political power and influence and authority is nuts. This was a conflict about how we obtain knowledge, while politically Galileo’s fate was fully in the hands of the Catholic church. Regardless of the politics and who wielded the power and authority (obviously, the Catholic church had a monopoly on power and authority here), the conflict itself was over the religious method of divine revelation as the most trustworthy source of knowledge regarding how the world works versus the conflicting non-religious method of empirical evidence as the most reliable source of knowledge regarding how the world works.

  42. #42 Explicit Atheist
    January 2, 2010

    Furthermore, the conflicts today between creationism/ID and evolution is the same conflict over the religious method of divine revelation versus the non-religious scientific method of evidence as the source of our knowledge. Just like the Catholic Church in the time of Galileo, the creationists/IDer’s of today are advocates of the wrong method, there method of knowledge is indistinguishable form ignorance and while they claim to advocate on behalf of knowledge they are actually advocating against knowledge.

  43. #43 Doug
    January 2, 2010

    Explicit Atheist is 100% right.

    The creationists cling to their literal interpretation of the Genesis account so tightly precisely because they see anything else a denigration of the power of revelation. If we allow for the first chapter of the book to be wrong, how can we be sure about anything else in it? This is why they focus so much on the connections between biological evolution and social Darwinism – they perceive the acceptance of the science as a challenge to the authority of the Bible, and look for evidence of the “evil” such a challenger would necessarily be a force for.

    To me, this is why the most important thing for atheists to do is demonstrate positive ethical values while loudly proclaiming that we do not need to deny reality to find motivation for doing such.

    Galileo I would say was more of a political power struggle than the creationism fights today, since the creationists do not have the same kind of centralized power structure the Church does. Though the source of the conflict was a dispute between science and religion, in Galileo’s case the motivation on the Church’s part to react as strongly as they did also derived from them wanting to defend their political power which was tied to their religious power. The people directly pushing for creationism are in general not the most politically powerful evangelicals.

  44. #44 Collin Brendemuehl
    January 2, 2010

    Indeed, but it was an exceptionally important factor. The only reason Galileo posed any threat at all to the Church’s authority was his audacity in using his own research to challenge their interpretation of the Bible.
    Really? I thought it was the church’s authority along with its use of Aristotelean cosmology.

  45. #45 Explicit Atheist
    January 2, 2010

    Aristotle would probably not have agreed with the method of the Catholic of church for claiming knowledge if he were alive at the time of Galileo. The method of the Catholic church, which was not Aristotelean (note that the source of knowledge was, and according to some Catholics still is, deemed by the Catholic Church to be “the Sacred Deposit of Faith handed down by Christ and the Apostles” and the infallible declarations of Vatican Councils), went like this (See http://www.scripturecatholic.com/geocentrism.html):

    In 1564, the Council of Trent (Session IV, April 8) infallibly declared that that no one could “in matters of faith and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine…interpret the sacred Scriptures…even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.”

    This infallible declaration was restated by the First Vatican Council: “In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers” (On Revelation, April 24, 1870, chapter 2, no. 9).

    Pope Leo XIII explained why we are required to hold to the interpretation of the Fathers when they are unanimous: “the Holy Fathers, We say, are of supreme authority, whenever they all interpret in one and the same manner any text of the Bible, as pertaining to the doctrine of faith or morals; for their unanimity clearly evinces that such interpretation has come down from the Apostles as a matter of Catholic faith” (Providentissimus Deus, 1893, no. 14).

    In other words, when the Fathers are unanimous about an interpretation of Scripture, their understanding comes from the Sacred Deposit of Faith handed down by Christ and the Apostles. The Fathers unanimously interpreted the Scriptures to support a geocentric cosmology. According to Trent and Vatican I (two dogmatic ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church), we are not permitted to depart from their interpretation of the Scriptures, because their interpretation is deemed to have come from the Apostles. Those who reject geocentrism must explain why they do not submit to this rule of biblical interpretation set forth by two infallible councils.

    With that, let us look at some of the quotes from the Fathers.

    Things to consider when reading the Fathers regarding the earth and sun:

    1) The Fathers never say the earth moves, except at the end of time.
    2) The Fathers always say the earth is at rest at the center of the universe.
    3) The Fathers never say the sun is the center of the universe.
    4) The Fathers never say the sun does not move around the earth, even in their scientific analysis of the cosmos.
    5) The Fathers always say the earth is the center of the universe.
    6) The Fathers always say the sun moves as the moon moves.
    7) The Fathers recognize that some of the Greeks held that the earth moves and rotates, but they do not accept that teaching.
    8) The Fathers accept the Chaldean, Egyptian and Greek teaching that the earth is at the center of the universe and does not move.
    9) The Fathers hold that the earth was created first, by itself, and only afterward the sun, moon and stars.
    10) The Fathers hold that light was created after the earth, but that this light preceded the light of the sun and stars.

  46. #46 Stan Pak
    January 3, 2010

    Robocop@1 wrote:

    Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions. Science provides a mechanism for evaluating certain data points which may factor into the examination of these kinds of questions, but offers no means for answering them.

    How frequently I hear this fallacy again and again? Where the religion offers any reliable answers on any human questions RELIABLY? Sure it provides many “answers” which are just simply conjectures without no evidence whatsoever that would make them more reliable than babbling of the insane man in asylum. First Robocop@1 provide any evidence that would warrant that region indeed provides reliable way of knowing about anything before you start to compare it to anything else (or science in this case) and then drawing any conclusions of the same vacuous quality. Your claim is just nothing more than the language construct.

  47. #47 atheismisdead
    January 3, 2010

    badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=13976&start=0

    to see how this so-called *NEW ATHEISM* has been completely crushed

    Atheist:

    have you for but a moment considered that you have adopted a position against 98% of the human race, both past and present?

    do you think you are RIGHT and they are all WRONG?

    WRONG

    now listen to this arrogant puffed up son of a bitch….

    youtube.com/watch?v=ilWM7jIEN_k

    little scientist geek who would try to usurp God Himself!!!

    the atheist sins not only against God, but also against man…

  48. #48 Robocop
    January 4, 2010

    46: Where the religion offers any reliable answers on any human questions RELIABLY?

    Stan — My point was that we have no means for obtaining dispositive (reliable) answers to these types of questions (morals, ethics, politics, etc.). If we are somehow limited to “reliable” means of analysis, we simply cannot discuss those subjects. Is that what you’re after?

  49. #49 eric
    January 4, 2010

    Jason @26: You [Dixon] and others point to the various political forces at work in situations like the Galilieo affair and modern fights over creationism and use them as an argument for claiming these disputes are primarily about something other than science and religion. My view is that the political fights are the result of underlying philosophical differences about science and religion, and therefore that these situations can fairly be described as conflicts between those two camps.

    Fortunately we can collect empirical evidence to resolve this issue. If creationism is merely a tool used to gain power, then you should see elected officials flip-flop over it when and where it becomes unpopular. If they don’t flip-flop even when a stated belief in creationism hurts their chances at political power, then its fair to say that (at least for that individual) there is an underlying philosophical difference.

    Kansas school board (2005): lost election without changing beliefs.
    Dover school board (2005): lost election without changing beliefs.
    Santorum (2006): lost election without changing belief.
    Texas school board (now): hard to say whether the creationist faction will be voted out or not at this point, but McElroy has certainly lost power due to his creationist stance and the others also seem to be sticking to their beliefs despite multiple years of bad press about them.

    So at least superficially, IMO Jason appears to be correct. No politicians are acting like creationism is a political tool they use to gain and keep power; they’re acting like its an important belief which they maintain even when maintaining it turns out to be political suicide.

  50. #50 Lyle
    January 6, 2010

    RE #42 you have the source of the dispute right, but putting it another way is there supernatural intervention in the physical world? Or do the laws of physics and chemistry apply the same in the past as now and anywere in the universe? This fundamental postulate of science does work, but needs to be recognized as a postulate, that can not be proven, because if one says there was a supernatural intervention, perhaps it was staged in a stealth way so that we could not see it. If it was done by stealth, then one could not detect it by scientific means, so one is left with Occams razor and the laws of logic to decide.
    The solution to the issue is to state that we are going to use this postulate just like we use the one that says there is one and only one line thru a point parallel to a given line (all three answers to that question are correct).
    Then we view science as a logic system that makes predictions and evaluate it based upon its predictions, but don’t push science into metaphysics of why.

  51. #51 eric
    January 6, 2010

    Lyle @50: Or do the laws of physics and chemistry apply the same in the past as now and anywere in the universe? This fundamental postulate of science does work, but needs to be recognized as a postulate, that can not be proven

    This is at least partially wrong, and may be wholly wrong. The problem is that we humans do not always see deductive/logical connections where they exist. It may be possible that the laws of physics necessarily apply to all places and all times, and we just can’t mentally understand why.

    Farfetched? Not at all; in fact we already have evidence that what Lyle sees as an unprovable postulate is in fact just human ignorance in the case of some physical laws. In Six Not So Easy Pieces Feynman (post-humously) makes the case that our conservation laws are necessarily true given some simple observations about the universe. Conservation of momentum, for instance, is logically required in any universe where energy is quantized and you can move in space in a path that returns where it started. We don’t need to go millions of light years away to know if momentum is conserved there; the facts that energy is quantized and you can move through space to return where you started means it must be.

    Do I see the connection? Can I explain it? Not really. But yes Virginia, we can discover whether the laws of physics are necessary (given what we observe about the universe) or merely contingent. And at least some of the most important ones appear to be necessary.

  52. #52 Oracle Training Pakistan
    January 6, 2010

    Well religion and Science shud be dealt seperately thts wht i think

  53. #53 abb3w
    January 7, 2010

    eric: It may be possible that the laws of physics necessarily apply to all places and all times, and we just can’t mentally understand why.

    Actually, it’s fairly simply why. If the occurrence of event A would contradict rule B, then either A never happens in any place or time, or rule B is not the actual Law but merely some imperfect approximation to it.

    For example, suppose my coffee mug decides to rise up and levitate three inches above the surface of my desk for a minute. This would contradict the “rules” we generally understand such as the theory of gravity. This might be because the actual law is “g=Gm1m2r-2… except for a few minutes this Thursday over here”. This sort of inelegant hack would really piss off a lot of physicists, but would not be an insurmountable obstacle for science as a philosophical discipline.

    Lyle: This fundamental postulate of science does work, but needs to be recognized as a postulate, that can not be proven

    Actually, it can be made a definition: the Laws of the universe are whatever the rules are that describe the exact pattern of what happens. The “law of gravity” may only be an approximation, not the actual Law. The question then remains, what is the nature of that set of laws/pattern?

    That nature is taken as an inference.

  54. #54 TGT
    January 21, 2010

    Late to the party, but in case Robocop pops back in…

    Your analogy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater implies (and your following statment flat out states) that religion provides a way for us to answer questions about beauty and morality.

    Everyone else is saying that’s flat bull. Noone is saying science can answer those questions, just religion can’t either. The whole basis of it’s authority is nonexistent. If you start from false premises, you’re not going to end up anywhere good.

    A more accurate metaphor would be throwing the bathwater out with the toxic waste. What religion says about science is toxic. What religion says about morality is just useless.

  55. #55 rogshop
    http://www.rogshop.com/
    June 29, 2012

    Hello! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the great work!

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.