Religion at the AAAS Meeting

Jerry Coyne and P. Z. Myers (here and here respectively) have taken note of a session at the upcoming AAAS Annual Meeting entitled: Evangelicals, Science, and Policy: Toward a Constructive Engagement. They object to this intrusion of religion into a science meeting. In the comments to their posts, Nick Matzke has been gamely trying to defend the session.

These sorts of discussions always remind me of the paleontology conference I attended in 2009. I reported on it here and here. The conference featured two sessions of interest. I was there to participate in a panel discussion on countering creationism, which inevitably involved people discussing the relationship between science and religion. The morning’s session had also featured several talks on the issue, from people like Ken Miller and Genie Scott. I thought all of this was fine. It’s an issue that was clearly of interest to paleontologists and a variety of viewpoints were represented.


Contrast that with another session held that afternoon called “The Nature of Science and Public Science Literacy.” The title sounded good, but the session itself was just full-on Christian apologetics. No discussion, no debate, just a revival tent atmosphere and lots of bashing of atheists for unfairly mixing science and religion (this at a paleontology conference, recall). It was a pretty shameful display, and not at all something that reputable scientific society should have wanted any part of.

So the verdict on this session? A bit mixed. The description sounds fine:

Evangelical Christians constitute approximately 30 percent of the U.S. population, and their influence on public policy is considerable. As a community with major concerns regarding science, ethics, and national priorities, its impact on science policy has been particularly significant, as in the case of stem cell research. Around such controversial issues, communication between science and evangelical Christianity has been hampered by limited appreciation of both the scientific facts and each others’ concerns. On the other hand, new models of positive engagement between these communities around global issues such as climate change is encouraging awareness and leading to science policies that benefit both science and society as a whole. As science progresses in other disciplines, evangelicals will continue to play a significant role, but their positions on many of these issues have not yet been fully formed. The opportunity thus exists to anticipate concerns and to develop a positive understanding that will benefit scientific advancement. One example is neuroscience, which has implications for both policy-making and religious understanding. Speakers will discuss their experiences with stem cell and climate change policy and explore how these experiences can inform engagement between the scientific and evangelical communities to benefit policies relating both to neuroscience and to science more generally.

I have no problem with a session based on this theme, though some of it sounds very naive to me. I don’t think a failure to appreciate each other’s concerns is really a big factor in the tension between science and evangelical Christianity. The tension exists because they are genuinely at odds, and all the talking in the world will not change that. The engagement between scientists and evangelicals on climate change has been interesting, but I suspect its impact has been grossly overstated. And on issues like evolution and stem cell research I wonder if evangelical opinion is quite as pliable as is suggested here. Still, I don’t think this description sounds like an unreasonable mixing of science and religion.

But some red flags go up when we look at the speaker’s abstracts. Here is one, from a talk entitled “Neuroscience and Evangelical Christianity: Anticipating and Alleviating Concerns”

Neuroscience seeks to understand the biological mechanisms underlying behavior, including the most complex aspects of our mental lives. To the extent that this project is successful–and progress has been substantial–fundamental questions arise concerning the nature of personhood, choice, and responsibility for behavior. Are we nothing but the sum of our neurons? Does my brain shape me, or do I shape my brain? Is freedom of choice an illusion? On such issues, resolutely reductionist accounts of behavior will no doubt create conflict with Christianity and other major religious traditions as well. Mainstream Christian thought, for example, postulates the existence of an immortal soul, related to but potentially independent of the physical body, which comprises the most profound essence of personhood. In contrast, Francis Crick’s “astonishing hypothesis” postulates: “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” Is it at all conceivable that these notions can engage constructively? Can another round of conflict between religious and scientific communities be headed off, or at least steered in directions that are open and curious rather than dogmatic and destructive? I hope to suggest ways in which both religious and scientific communities can move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies toward a more nuanced conversation concerning human personhood and related social and policy issues such as criminal responsibility, cognitive enhancement, and end-of-life concerns.

Nuanced conversation? Engage constructively? Move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies? I call foul. This is apologetics, phrased with the standard dog-whistle tropes. To judge from this abstract this talk is going well-beyond fostering communication between science and religion. It sounds like its promoting a particular view of what the science/religion relationship ought to be. I could be wrong, and I’m sorry I will not be able to go to the talk. But that abstract does not inspire confidence.

Another talk is entitled “The Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative: Partnering To Protect the Environment ” Here’s the abstract:

I am occasionally asked to comment on my interactions as a scientist with leaders in the Christian faith and especially the Evangelical Christian community. I must first admit to having been reluctant to engage in such dialogue formally, because of my misperceptions about this community’s likely receptivity to the views of scientists. In part my bias was based upon the public pronouncements of very highly visible spokespersons who seemed unlikely to be open to consider the views of scientists, perhaps especially to those of climate scientists.

What resulted from discussions launched by Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and the National Association of Evangelicals (which represents 45,000 local churches) was a remarkably productive exchange of views about the power of partnership between our communities. Stewardship for the whole of the Creation was clearly a shared goal. Although we approach this topic from different perspectives a mutual respect for these differences allows us to see that we have a great deal in common. We have resolved to deploy jointly, whenever possible, our respective resources to address climate change. This not only includes efforts to reduce the drivers of climate change, but also, and very importantly, the necessary additional efforts to prepare for adaptation, and most especially to assist those without means to do this on their own, within our national borders and beyond.

There are important opportunities to apply this model to other problems, and one of particular urgency relates to the perilous nature of global nuclear security, especially with respect to the enormous arsenals of weapons held by both the USA and Russia.

That sounds a lot more promising. That bit about capitalizing “Creation” is annoying, but that is a detail. I don’t see a mixing of science and religion here, just a clear discussion of a potentially fruitful line of dialogue between scientists and evangelicals.

The third talk is about evangelicals and stem-cell research, but there is no abstract available.

My objection to this sort of thing is simply that the exclusion of voices that see a less chummy relationship between science and religion just seems like a denial of reality. When you attend one of these sessions you get the impression that all the nice sensible people understand that even very conservative forms of religion are compatible with modern science, with just a handful of fanatics arguing anything different. Back on planet earth scientists are overwhelmingly non-religious or hew to very liberal sorts of religions, while majorities of religious voters support anti-science candidates.

They do this, mind you, not because they are confused about the true nature of religion, but because they are correctly perceiving a fundamental conflict between what science is saying and what their religion teaches. It just seems silly to have session after session on this sort of topic while denying that simple truth.

Comments

  1. #1 David D.G.
    February 7, 2011

    Agreed, Jason. It’s one thing for scientists to discuss, say, the functions of various chemicals in the human brain and how they affect consciousness, and quite another for someone to try to insert discussion about “the soul” in the mix as potentially worth discussing on a scientific basis. The brain, the chemicals, and consciousness all objectively exist; the soul, as separate from these things, not so much.

    I also agree with P.Z. Myers that whoever is calling the shots at the AAAS really is going overboard to accommodate evangelical Christians, and in the process is doing the organization’s members a great disservice. Your own suggestions about ways for scientists to dialogue with religious people and organizations sound okay to me (if things should be taken even that far), but the program as it stands sounds too much like pandering for political reasons, though I can’t quite see the point of it.

    Nice to see you blogging again! I look forward to the new book when it comes out, and to your return to an increased output on the blog afterward. Ciao!

    ~David D.G.

  2. #2 TylerD
    February 7, 2011

    Religious or not, there are some ideas out there that are simply devoid of scientific merit. People can believe whatever they wish, but I don’t understand why they think they are entitled to have scientists reaffirm their delusions. It’s even weirder when scientists themselves concede this right.

  3. #3 jere lipps
    February 7, 2011

    I am as disgusted with all the fundamentalism as anyone, and I worry about the role of religion in AAAS of which I am a member, Fellow and Secretary of a Section (E= Geography & Geology). On the other hand, we must “know thy enemy” if we are to deal with them. Yes, all of this should be put under the general topic of Scientific Illiteracy, but don’t condemn AAAS for trying to help us understand the other side–I think.

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 7, 2011

    David –

    Thanks for the encouragement!

    jere –

    I think “condemning the AAAS” is a rather strong interpretation of what I wrote. I just think there are elements of this session that cross the line between educating scientists about important issues related to public policy and religion on the one hand, and endorsing a particular view of how science and religion should interact on the other.

  5. #5 Nick (Matzke)
    February 8, 2011

    Howdy Jason!

    (Hi Jere! We miss you at Berkeley!)

    Jason, thanks for post that is more assessment and less shoot-from-the-hip than that provided by Coyne & PZ.

    In reply to this:

    “Nuanced conversation? Engage constructively? Move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies? I call foul. This is apologetics, phrased with the standard dog-whistle tropes. To judge from this abstract this talk is going well-beyond fostering communication between science and religion. It sounds like its promoting a particular view of what the science/religion relationship ought to be. I could be wrong, and I’m sorry I will not be able to go to the talk. But that abstract does not inspire confidence.”

    To me, all the abstract was saying was that there was more to the neuroscience discussion than soul-talk + Christian theology vs. Crick’s bleak reductionism + souls-are-dumb + atheism.

    For example, there is every chance that emergent phenomenon are important in neuroscience, that everything can’t be reduced to chemistry in any meaningful way, that consciousness has some meaningful reality on its own organizational level whether or not you believe in souls, etc. I bet the speaker will point out that, if the discussion included points like this, it would provoke a lot less opposition from evangelicals.

  6. #6 Katharine
    February 8, 2011

    Meh, most of what I read from this nonsense about catering to the factually-impaired seems to be an attitude of ‘Oh FSM there are a lot of these idiots, better make it so they don’t beat us up’.

    It’s like a recapitulation of the archetypal the-moron-bullies-the-smart-kid scenario.

  7. #7 Katharine
    February 8, 2011

    We in science need to learn how to play dirty with the stupid.

  8. #8 eric
    February 8, 2011

    I assume that like any other science meeting, the AAAS symposia topics have been out there for a while and that there was an opportunity for researchers to submit talks. So, do you know if any folks from the (lets call it the) PZ/Coyne camp submitted talks?

    If AAAS is only selecting talks which represent one view, that’s blameworthy. Have at them and let loose the dogs of war! :) If, however, no-one with a different view submitted a talk, then I can’t really fault AAAS for the resulting lop-sidedness. If people holding one position don’t submit talks for discussion, there are completely mundane and non-nefarious reasons why their position won’t be represented.

  9. #9 Rob Evans ,B.Sc.,M.Sc.
    February 8, 2011

    Dear Evolutionblog:
    My education is in the Sciences. When I asked a “Teacher” one day what her primary teaching objective goal are she could give no answer. I mentioned such things as the ability to think critically and not without investigation as well as to try to instill a life-long love of learning. I received no response. I raised my son that way. He does not attend Church as Religion “Teaches you what THEY want you to learn without any critical thinking on your own”. I tend towards “Spirituality” where I have an open mind and am free to believe whatever I WANT.. When I ask Religuous friends why religion always operates on an “All or None Basis” they have no answer. Parts of the Bible are good but I do not have to obey all of it. Science has given my son his CD and DVD player, his I-pod, his cell phone, etc. and he both knows this and appreciates it. These “Wonders of the Modern World”
    did not come from the “Garden of Eden”!

  10. #10 SLC
    February 8, 2011

    Re eric @ #8

    I can’t say for sure but I would be willing to bet that the talks at this particular symposium were invited talks, in which case the speakers were chosen by the sponsors.

  11. #11 eric
    February 9, 2011

    SLC: I can’t say for sure but I would be willing to bet that the talks at this particular symposium were invited talks, in which case the speakers were chosen by the sponsors.

    The symposia topics themselves are submitted. See here and here (in the second link, search for “For theme statement and proposal submission guidelines”). I couldn’t find any record of how talks within an approved symposia are selected. But the PZ/Coyne camp could certainly have submitted a symposium topic if they thought past coverage of this issue was lop-sided.

    My guess is that AAAS will again call for symposia submissions – for the 2012 meeting – in March or April of this year. I’m happy to reserve judgement this year, but now that I know symposia can be submitted by members, I’m not going to have a lot of sympathy for the ‘incompatibilists’ if they voice the same complaint about the 2012 meeting. I’d personally love to see more representation of the incompatible side at formal conferences. But its not up to AAAS to make it happen, its up to them.

  12. #12 Michael Fugate
    February 9, 2011

    So every symposium idea that is submitted is or should be accepted?

    If you read what Myers and Coyne have written about this issue, then you would realize that an incompatibilist symposium is not their goal.

  13. #13 eric
    February 9, 2011

    So every symposium idea that is submitted is or should be accepted?

    Hmm…I don’t think I said that. Or anything like it.

    If you read what Myers and Coyne have written about this issue, then you would realize that an incompatibilist symposium is not their goal.

    I agree!

    Jason voiced concern about what looks like the exclusion (from symposia of this type) of voices that see a less chummy relationship. I responded by pointing out that the apparent exclusion could have the very mundane explanation that – back in March 2010 when they had to sign up for it – none of the ‘less chummy’ crowd chose to formally participate. And I also pointed out that whatever the reason for this absence, it can be corrected in the future. That’s it. Anything there you want to disagree with?

  14. #14 Lenoxuss
    February 12, 2011

    I hope to suggest ways in which both religious and scientific communities can move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies

    This wasn’t too bad until that point.

    Once again, someone is acting like “compromise” is an important priority in scientific discussions. That’s extremely silly. If reductionism is “fundamentalist”, so be it. To quote Apocryphal Galileo, it still moves.

    Or conversely, one might say that the dualism-vs-materialism question isn’t a scientific one, a view I tentatively respect. In that case, “moving beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies” is simply irrelevant; there’s no engagement to be had.

    Either way, adjusting a hypothesis to be closer to the center of the Overton window is not a step of the scientific method.

  15. #15 R O'Brien
    February 12, 2011

    Meh, most of what I read from this nonsense about catering to the factually-impaired seems to be an attitude of ‘Oh FSM there are a lot of these idiots, better make it so they don’t beat us up’.

    It’s like a recapitulation of the archetypal the-moron-bullies-the-smart-kid scenario.

    We in science need to learn how to play dirty with the stupid.

    What do you mean “we”? As I recall from your blog, you are a cognitive science undergrad, and not necessarily an exemplary one. (Although, cognitive science is mostly unsubstantiated fluff, so I’m not sure it matters.)

    I see you treading the same path of irrelevancy and unwarranted self-importance as “mathematician” Zeno.

  16. #16 Tia
    February 19, 2011

    It’s really amazing to see scientists act like they know everything, and credit everybody, who does not rely on their outlook in explaining the world around them, as ignorant, despite the fact that scientists themselves are constantly making mistakes, revise, update and replace their unstable theories.

    Not to mention, they always forget that what they really try to explain is the detectable, either by means of technology or without it, material phenomena.

  17. #17 IBur
    February 19, 2011

    The fossils used to support the validity of the theory of evolution do not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that biological evolution is a more real phenomenon than creationism. The method of deduction and inference that scientists use to substantiate it, can also support the idea of the creation of all, unbelievably complexly organized, life through some form of divine intervention.

    When Charles Darwin first observed and came to the realization that living creatures are subject to evolution, he did not have a great amount of evidence. The evidence that’s currently available has been uncovered since the moment of his death and present. His objectification was based on the observation of the growth progression and differences among species. Whatever little evidence he discovered at the time, was enough for him to INFER that the evolutionary process must be at work.

    The evolutionary process is just as unseeable as God would be, provided that either or both of these are real or true. There is no person on the planet, who has witnessed a species split and evolve into several other species right in front of their eyes. One can only connect the dots between uncovered fossilized remains, and deduce that the structural differences between them were the result of evolution.

    Similarly, one might INFER, even without any blind faith, from the amazingly sophisticated design of the existing species, particularly DNA, that they are the product of creativity or a set-up by some obscure entity(s). The inexplicable force behind evolution might as well be the undetectable by the human eye CONSCIOUS force that shapes living things into what they are.

  18. #18 SLC
    February 20, 2011

    Re Ibur @ #17

    Unfortunately for Mr. Ibur, the genetic evidence that has become available through the technology that allows decoding of the genome has enhanced the evidence for common descent, which is what evolution is. As a for instance, one who supports creationism is required to explain why the structure of DNA and the close relationship of it in various species supports common descent.

    For instance, the fact the human chromosome 2 can be identified as the fusion of chimp chromosomes 12 and 13 strongly suggests a common ancestor for those two species.

    For instance the fact that ERVs are found at similar locations in the genomes of all mammals, including humans, strongly suggests common ancestry.

    The only explanation that creationists can come up with is that that’s the way the designer (god) did it. This is an explanation with no predictive value and is unfalsifiable, hence is useless to science.

    Re Tia @ #16

    It’s really amazing to see scientists act like they know everything, and credit everybody, who does not rely on their outlook in explaining the world around them, as ignorant, despite the fact that scientists themselves are constantly making mistakes, revise, update and replace their unstable theories.

    This statement shows that Mr. Tia is totally ignorant of how science works and how scientists operate. Any scientist worth his salt, when proposing a new theory or a modification to an existing theory, has to, by necessity, consider what it would take to prove him/her wrong. As a matter of fact, the first edition of Darwins’ book, “Origin of Species,” is an excellent example of such considerations. Darwin went to great lengths to provide examples of what sorts of findings would prove his theory wrong and then, as best he could given the technology available at the time, provided explanations as to why such findings would not be seen.

    A particular example of this was the computation by Lord Kelvin of the age of the earth, based on the dissipation of heat from the earths core. Kelvin calculated that, given the knowledge of the earths core that existed at the time, it could be at most 100 million years old. Darwin stated that, if Kelvin was correct, his theory of evolution by natural selection would absolutely collapse as 100 million years was not enough time. However, the discovery of radioactivity in the first decade of the 20th century provided a mechanism for replenishing the heat in the earths’ core, thus invalidating Kelvins’ calculations. Unlike the creationists, Kelvin was scientist enough to admit that he was wrong.

  19. #19 IBur
    February 20, 2011

    @ #18

    “Unfortunately for Mr. Ibur, the genetic evidence that has become available through the technology that allows decoding of the genome has enhanced the evidence for common descent, which is what evolution is. As a for instance, one who supports creationism is required to explain why the structure of DNA and the close relationship of it in various species supports common descent.”

    Mr.or Ms.Super intelligent Non-ignorant whatever,

    If you can learn how to read properly and between the lines, and actually understand what you’re reading, you will understand that in my comment I DID NOT discredit the validity of the theory of evolution. I DID NOT dispute common ancestry in any way.
    All I did was support the idea that evolution could be the means by which some obscure (I would not call it intelligent because it’s quite disputable)force shapes biological matter into what it is. There has to be some type of force behind evolution, which many scientists cannot explain, and it’s possible that this force has consciousness.

    If evolution is only internally driven, then by simply wanting to evolve and by putting yourself under the necessary environmental pressure, you can evolve into anything you want, right? You can evolve an enormous brain and store tons of useless information or develop amazing abilitities and different types of intelligence, right? Even evolve wings and learn how to fly, perhaps. (In this case you have the power to easily drive oil, car and airplane industries out of business. Just a suggestion.)

    The fact that scientists constantly revise their theories is a wonderful thing. You don’t want to be stuck on something blindly when it’s not serving you any kind of purpose, unless it actually does. However, when science proves to be incapable of getting straight to the truth of things with all their highly sophisticated technolgy and knowledge, it makes it quite unreliable, and makes scientists look quite fatuous.

    For instance, some scientists believe that synthetic vitamins are great for you, because the number of vitamins that you absorb from food is insufficient, and therefore you should take them. Some scientists, however, believe that vitamins can inhibit your body’s natural ability to extract vitamins from food, therefore they recommend the opposite. So who are you supposed to turn for advise or truth to?

  20. #20 Tia
    February 20, 2011

    “For instance, some scientists believe that synthetic vitamins are great for you, because the number of vitamins that you absorb from food is insufficient, and therefore you should take them. Some scientists, however, believe that synthetic vitamins can inhibit your body’s natural ability to extract natural vitamins from the food you consume, therefore they recommend the opposite. So who are you supposed to turn to for advise or the truth?”.

    Tomorrow, scientists might propose a theory that the only healthy food should be a pill containing only all the necessary nutrients designed specially for each person and calculated with respect to their body size, enegry loss due to daily activity, and other factors that will eliminate the need to consume food entirely and excrete waste in order to conserve natural resources. This theory is very easy to substantiate.

    All they need to do is use someone as ignorant as IBur about how amazingly intelligent scientists are and what they are capable of, and use IBur as an experimental subject, and see what the outcome might be. IBur, as a result, might outevolve their digestive system entirely, and their stomach will shrink to the size of a peanut. Also, according to the expected outcome, their weight will be absolutely perfect – no body fat and perfectly firm muscules.

    Surely, nobody gives a damn about what will happen to IBur, in case the experiment fails and their health gets completely ruined, because people need to experiment on somebody in order to get the benefits for themselves, and everybody will be pointing fingures at IBur for being a scary biological mutant delusional about the existence of divine power that could’ve potentially stopped these scientists from perpetrating these atrocities.

    So long live science! I hope you have enough of human flesh to prove and put your insane ideas in use! All I can personally do is make sure that your kind stays away from me as far away as possible.

  21. #21 eric
    February 22, 2011

    Returning to the original topic…I went to the session. I wasn’t planning on going. I was originally expecting to go the Security session next door, but another guy from my work was covering it. So, for what it’s worth, my extremely brief and IMO summary:

    Childress’ talk: bland pap. “A broad exchange of religious and secular views is needed.”

    McCarthy’s talk: bland pap. “There are some areas of concern where, if we partner [science and religion], we will be much more successful.

    Newsome’s talk: very interesting. Discussed how neuroscience is developing concepts of the self, causal efficacy (i.e. free will) that are grounded in the biology of the brain but which avoid the strong reductionism and determinism that typically hangs some people (both religous and non-religious) up.

    Cizek’s discussion: worse than bland pap, he just rambled. It was so bad that he couldn’t even deliver a fairly well-known joke without completely screwing it up. (Guy in SUV to shepherd: if I tell you how many sheep you have…) He was supposed to be the discussant and talk about the other presentations in context, but he only tangentionally mentioned them at all.

  22. #22 J
    February 22, 2011

    “This statement shows that Mr. Tia is totally ignorant of how science works and how scientists operate. Any scientist worth his salt, when proposing a new theory or a modification to an existing theory, has to, by necessity, consider what it would take to prove him/her wrong.”

    Scientists operate by 2 very simple principles:
    1. They come up with a theory, and try to pursuade everybody that it’s a fact.
    2. They find something or evidence, then pull an idea out of their a**es and try to make everybody believe that the evidence they discovered has a direct connection to their theory.

    Here is my theory on what science should be: you look at something or, in other words, evidence, and without theorizing, you use your knowledge and intelligence to figure out exactly what it is, provided scientists actually have absolute certainty that the objective truth exists.

    As you would look at life and matter, and infer correctly where it came from. Isn’t cracking that supposed to be the most basic fundamental thing? Sorry, but ignorant is as ignorant does.

  23. #23 UIOo
    February 27, 2011

    “I hope to suggest ways in which both religious and scientific communities can move beyond their own “fundamentalist” tendencies..”

    At this point in time, religion and science are insufficient to adequately and completely explain absolutely everything, and they may never be able to evolve to that level. A dead end might be inevitable. Some people forget that science, like math, for instance, is a human invention, and not something inherently or naturally existing throughout the universe, unless it was given to humans by God or gods, or some entity that actually knows exactly what is what. (I am sure scientists will find this idea preposterous. So much for open-mindedness).

    Human inventions are usually flawed, therefore by trying to create or explain something natural to the highest degree of perfection and accuracy using science is absolutely ridiculous.

    However, it would be interesting to know how a human being, who was never exposed to both science and religion since birth, and not soaked by their bias, would explain their own condition, whereabouts and everything they come in contact with.

  24. #24 SLC
    February 27, 2011

    Re J @ #22

    1. They come up with a theory, and try to pursuade everybody that it’s a fact.
    2. They find something or evidence, then pull an idea out of their a**es and try to make everybody believe that the evidence they discovered has a direct connection to their theory.

    Actually, neither of these assertions has any basis in fact. Most scientific hypotheses, as least for the last 400 years, come about as a result of observations that are not explained by existing theories. A few examples will illustrate this.

    1. Issac Newton didn’t develop his laws a motion and the inverse square law of gravity ex nihlio. He developed them as an attempt to explain why the planets revolved around the sun in elliptical orbits, as the observations of Kepler indicated. Subsequent observations and experiments confirmed the validity of his theories.

    2. Charles Darwin didn’t develop his theory of evolution ex nihlio. He developed it as an attempt to explain his observations, particularly relative to his findings in South America during his voyage on the Beagle. As a matter of fact, the notion of common descent had been around for several decades before the publication of, “On the Origin of Species,” in 1859. Subsequent observations and experiments confirmed the validity of his hypotheses.

    3. Albert Einstein didn’t develop his special theory of relativity ex nihlio. It was developed as an attempt to explain certain discrepancies between Newtonian Mechanics and Maxwells’ theory of Electrodynamics, particularly the result of the Michelson/Morley experiment. Subsequent observations and experiments confirmed the validity of his hypotheses.

    4. Astrophysicists a couple of decades ago didn’t propose dark matter and dark energy ex nihlio. They were put forward as an attempt to explain certain observations such as gravitational lensing and the apparent acceleration of the expansion of the universe.

  25. #25 lkld
    February 27, 2011

    “However, it would be interesting to know how a human being, who was never exposed to both science and religion since birth, and not soaked by their bias, would explain their own condition, whereabouts and everything they come in contact with.”

    Modern humans acquire skills and knowledge from their parents or the people, who raise them and the ones they grow up with. Based on what they were/are taught, they develop their world outlook and perception of surroundings.

    Hypothetically, if a newly born baby is not taught absolutely anything from birth, neither language or any types of skills, and not given any kind of knowledge, and allowed to explore their environment, and make sense of it and figure it out on their own, and then later, let’s say, at the age of 20, taught a language, and asked to share their experience and perception of the world, it would be interesting to find out if their explanation of natural phenomena and everything else would involve an approximation of supernatural, religious or scientific outlook, or possibly something completely different and new, depending on the intelligence type of a child.

    What would be a possible outcome – a completely retarded individual by the age of 20 or highly intelligent and completely different species. By then again, to “normally” developed people, “retarded” may simply mean different or “different” may simply mean retarded.

    The only problem is, who should this child be exposed to since the moment of birth, in order to avoid the influence and exposure to the accumulated by humanity knowledge, experience and explanations.

  26. #26 slkfldk
    February 27, 2011

    #25 Continued…

    Would this child become animal-like, even without the exposure to animals? But then again, according to evolutionary biologists, humans have the largest and supposedly the most complex brain, which makes them more intelligent than all other species. If you add the enhanced sense of curiousity to that, could all these aspects alone sustain and direct this child’s development and riddling their environment and state?

    And surely, it is also possible to suppose that the ability to survive without the entire human knowledge and long-term dependence on the parent, as it is in the case of non-humans, could be qualified as intrinsic intelligence, and not just an instinct.

    If human knowledge was indeed crucial to survival, then many highly intelligent and educated people shouldn’t be having extremely hard time surviving or even fitting in the society that imposed all that knowledge on them. Unless survival is not important. But wouldn’t that defeat the whole idea of evolution?

  27. #27 386sx
    February 27, 2011

    If human knowledge was indeed crucial to survival,

    Obviously it isn’t, since many birds, goats, and flowers and stuff are doing an okay job of surviving for a while.

  28. #28 Liuof
    February 27, 2011

    Scientists that look down upon Christianity and deem Christians ignorant or unintelligent do not realize that whoever created religion was a quite intelligent
    individual or entity. As a scientifically-minded person, if you read Holy Scriptures, you will notice that despite what seems to be a silly fairy-tale type of explanation of the origin of the world and man, religion employs highly sophisticated methods of making people believe in it. Whether there is some basis to the content or not, is a different matter.

    Some converted people are former atheists or agnostics, who grew up with the evolutionary perspective of the world.
    Some might ask “How was it possible for someone, seemingly intelligent, to fall for this nonsense?”

    Some of these approaches, among many others, such as coersion in the midst of ambiguity and vulnerability, through intimidation and scare tactic, involve deep and thorough knowledge of the intricacies of human psychology.
    Repetition is another way to make information sink in and create an illusion of being logical and coherent.

  29. #29 J
    February 27, 2011

    @24 “Actually, neither of these assertions has any basis in fact. Most scientific hypotheses, as least for the last 400 years, come about as a result of observations that are not explained by existing theories. A few examples will illustrate this.”

    Some observations or, on other words, interpretations of a particular phenomenon, could be extremely subjective and skewed. For instance, Kepler’s observations suggested that planets in the solar system revolve around the sun in a slightly different manner. He proposed a theory that the 9 planets, and now it’s 8, were not positioned in the same plane. See wikipedia. These days, the evidence collected by the satelite technology, supports a totally different theory.

    This means that statement #2 has some basis to it.

  30. #30 J
    February 27, 2011

    “He proposed a theory that the 9 planets, and now it’s 8, were not positioned in the same plane.”

    Self-correction:

    According to Kepler, the earth and the sun were not positioned in the same plane.

  31. #31 Sue
    February 27, 2011

    If the main purpose of scientifically inclined people is to
    use their intelligence to dominate and debase other people’s intelligence by calling them ignorant, then I’d say, it’s quite a deviation from what their main purpose should be, which is the pursuit of truth. Why don’t they just focus on that?

  32. #32 SLC
    February 28, 2011

    Re J @ #29

    1. Not to be pedantic about it but Kepler and everybody else at the time was totally ignorant of the existence of Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and the Kuiper belt objects.

    2. I fail to see how the fact that the planetary orbits don’t lie in exactly the same plane has anything to do with the fact that the orbits are elliptical. Deviations from the elliptical orbits are entirely due to the inter-planetary interactions and relativistic corrections and are small enough so that, in first order perturbation theory, one can describe the orbits as ellipses, the major axes of which precess in space.

  33. #33 formula 21
    February 28, 2011

    Would this child become animal-like, even without the exposure to animals? But then again, according to evolutionary biologists, humans have the largest and supposedly the most complex brain, which makes them more intelligent than all other species. If you add the enhanced sense of curiousity to that, could all these aspects alone sustain and direct this child’s development and riddling their environment and state?

    And surely, it is also possible to suppose that the ability to survive without the entire human knowledge and long-term dependence on the parent, as it is in the case of non-humans, could be qualified as intrinsic intelligence, and not just an instinct.

    If human knowledge was indeed crucial to survival, then many highly intelligent and educated people shouldn’t be having extremely hard time surviving or even fitting in the society that imposed all that knowledge on them. Unless survival is not important. But wouldn’t that defeat the whole idea of evolution?

  34. #34 J
    February 28, 2011

    @32
    “I fail to see how the fact that the planetary orbits don’t lie in exactly the same plane has anything to do with the fact that the orbits are elliptical.”

    When I cited the example of one of Kepler’s theories “the planetary orbits don’t lie in exactly the same plane”, I just wanted to point out how observations in general could be skewed and corrected later. That’s all.

  35. #35 IBur
    February 28, 2011

    @19
    “As a for instance, one who supports creationism is required to explain why the structure of DNA and the close relationship of it in various species supports common descent.”

    It would be a lot easier to get a broader perspective on life, if the theory of evolution was not subdivided in to different categories, but showed the progression of the entire evolution of non-organic and consequently organic matter from the VERY beginning, or the smallest constituent(s) of matter and beyond. May be in this case answering your question would be like cracking nuts.

    It’s possible that non-organic matter originated from a single atom, then split into various atoms releasing tremendous amounts of energy that condensed in a similar fashion to form matter, and everything else evolved and progressed from there. It’s ironic that “atom” and “Adam” (the first man created by God) have the same pronunciation, but, of course to scientists it is just a mere coincidence or pure stupidity. Sometimes rationality is extremely annoying, and seems even more idiotic than rationality.

    The atom could have been potentially created, and even split by some conscious, intelligent or other type of force that could’ve come into existence by accident. If it was created by God, then questions don’t stop there, of course. Many people would want to know where God came from, and who or what created it. Perhaps, it evolved from a common ancestor with lower God. May be the theory of evolution should be reversed, starting from modern species/creatures and moving back in time until the beginning of everything, provided there is a beginning.

    Proving me wrong in this case might be difficult, because this statement kind of makes sense. Though the real truth might be completely irrational or rational above the level of perfection or extremity.

  36. #36 skd
    March 1, 2011

    People can call you stupid also when they do not or refuse to understand you. But isn’t it their own stupidity, and not yours? It’s amazing how dumn some scientists are despite their overly evolved brains.

  37. #37 IBur
    March 1, 2011

    If you compare the structural differences of the brains of simple and complex organisms, you’ll notice that the brains of simple organisms lack some features present in the brains of complex organisms. Supposedly, these features were added to the brains of complex organisms later in order to enable complex species to perform certain functions such as using tools, communicating by means of complex linguagistic systems, and developing forethought that became possible with the emergence of the prefrontal cortex.

    Taking in to account all the observed mechanisms that supposedly drive evolution, i.e. natural selection and random mutation under the appropriate environmental conditions, the addition of the extra brain features occurred in the following manner:

    A primitive organism figured out how to use stone in order to cut wood, and started applying this skill.

    This realization and task produced a change in the organism’s brain.

    This change was recorded in its DNA, and was passed on to the next generation. The offspring that was born off this organism had this change in its brain.
    Would this be considered random genetic mutation, and if not, could it be qualified as FORCED genetic mutation?

    The offspring will be taught the skill by its mother, and will have a higher success to be selected by a mate for sexual reproduction, therefore producing an offspring with this change in the brain, and the predisposition for utilization of stone tools.

    The mechanism of necessity, that the theory of evolution does not include, can also drive evolution. For instance, humans do not need tails in order to survive in their habitat, therefore, they outevolved them. Bipedalism was more beneficial to them instead of tree climbimg with the help of clinging tails, therefore they evolved it.

    The question is – was it the random genetic mutation that changed species or was it the environmental pressure that caused the change to happen, which consequently changed their DNA. Or could it be 2 different but equally possible mechanisms?

  38. #38 kjh
    March 2, 2011

    “Neuroscience seeks to understand the biological mechanisms underlying behavior, including the most complex aspects of our mental lives…Are we nothing but the sum of our neurons? Does my brain shape me, or do I shape my brain? Is freedom of choice an illusion?

    Giving credit or placing blame only on one aspect that shapes human behavior usually leads to innaccurate or deficient conclusions!

    Each human being definitely posesses a genetic predisposition towards certain actions and talents. However, the environmental influence and outer shaping should not be underestimated. It is the outside stimulus that brings out or triggers the expression of an orientation or proclivity.

    In many cases, behavior can be easily modified to fit a particular setting, for example, a poorly disciplined teenager, after joining the army may find it difficult to exhibit their usual behavioral tendencies due to/because of forced habituation to strict rules and requirements.

    Will power is also important in behavioral adjustment and sculpting the brain, intelligence, manners, etc. especially when in combination with the appropriate external conditions that do not generate initiation of an unwanted abberancy.

    An individual has the freedom to choose to become whatever they want to be, only if the society allows them such opportunity. If a person has a low natural predisposition to a certain trait, such as mathematical ability, for instance, they could put more effort into mastering it through extra studying, which might give this person an advantage to apply their acquired skill.

    However, if a short, over-weight woman with an unattractive face (unattractive according to the modern commonly accepted beauty standards)decides to become a model, she may not be able to stand the competition or will simply be excluded. In this case, the freedom of choice is restricted not only by societal standards and the idea of what a model should be, but also her genetics and the number of choices she can make, unless the society changes their perception of beauty.

    The dilemma, surely, is whether such behavioral and intellectual modifications are necessary at all.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!