Good Math, Bad Math

Religion != ID

I debated about whether or not I should write this post. But as you can see, in the
end, I overcame my better judgement, and so he we are.

Over the weekend, PZ wrote a Pharyngula post about the reaction people have had to Mitt
Romney’s statement about evolution
. He was pissed. And I agree with his initial reaction.
What we have is a politician basically saying “Yes, I agree with the facts”. And somehow,
that’s been taken by a seemingly huge number of people as something brave and bold,
something that should impress us. Nope, sorry folks: acknowledging that facts are facts is
not brave. I’m no more impressed with him for saying that evolution is true than
I’d be if he got up and said “I admit it: I believe that 2+2=4.”

But typically, when discussing anything that involves religion, PZ went overboard. And
it ticked me off.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’m a Reconstructionist Jew. Yes, I’m a
theist. My reasons for belief are purely subjective, and I don’t expect them to be convincing to anyone but me. It has nothing to do with some kind of “gaps”. I’m not a
closet IDer: I don’t believe that we’re going to find some miraculous hallmark of design that couldn’t possibly exist without divine intervention. (In fact, for my own belief system, finding such a thing would be damaging to my belief, not supportive.) I don’t believe that there will ever be a proof of the existence of God. I don’t believe that there’s anything about the world that requires God.

But as usual, when PZ gets going on a rant, he lumps together everyone who disagrees with him into one big old strawman, so that he can dismiss the whole thing at once. It’s exactly the same kind of tactic that obnoxious religious people use against
atheists: pick some stupid/obnoxious/evil belief or behavior of some member(s) of the group you want to demonize; assert that all members of the target group are the same as the objectionable individual(s); and use that assertion to justify why all members of your target group are stupid/obnoxious/evil. It’s a bad, sloppy argument when it’s used by someone like Michael Egnor to tar all non-creationists as amoral eugenicists, and it’s a bad, sloppy argument when it’s used by someone like PZ to tar all non-atheists as closet IDers.

PZs argument is framed in terms of the next ID trial. That is, what’s going to happen the next time someone like the DI pumps out some crappy book intended to distort science in order to support their nonsense? If they dilute the religion to the point where you can’t identify it, and you can’t distinguish between the texts written by theistic evolutionists and IDists on the basis of religious content, then how are we going to keep the ID books out of the school?

I think that there’s a remarkably easy answer to that. If you cut out all of the explicit religion, and reduce it all down to two books of science: one of which contains the crappy, sloppy, distorted science of the IDists; and one of which contains solid science, how do you distinguish them? By the science. IDist science is incredibly sloppy stuff – obviously sloppy stuff. The only that makes it credible to anyone is the obvious religious subtext. Take that away – take an argument like Behe’s stupid IC, and completely eliminate any mention of a creator – and it’s pretty damned obvious what a shoddy, empty husk of a theory it is. Take out the facile “goddidit” garbage, and do the IDists have anything that looks remotely credible on a scientific footing?

I think that that’s a description of where we actually want the argument to be. Where the religion is out of the picture, and we can critique them purely on their dreadful science. Take the religion out of the text, and the IDists lose: it’s the only thing they have going for them.

Comments

  1. #1 Rob Knop
    May 14, 2007

    Although my form of theism isn’t exactly the same as yours– although I wouldn’t be surprised if it were much closer than it is to that of a lot of other Christians– I’m with you 100% on all of this.

    -Rob

  2. #2 xebecs
    May 14, 2007

    [...] how do you distinguish them? By the science.

    But who does the distinguishing? What if the school board members (or whoever it is that pick the books) know that one book is from the (wink wink) “good” publisher, and the other one isn’t?

  3. #3 P. Sternberg
    May 14, 2007

    Thank you! What a perfect summary of where the debate should be. The fact is that in attacking ID because of its religious content, one is attacking religion and religious people, a reprehensible act no matter the context. Instead, concentrate on ID’s real dangers: clouding the definition of science and legitimizing sloppy reasoning.

  4. #4 Walker
    May 14, 2007

    Just thought I would voice some support for you on this. I think it is great that someone on Science Blogs is voicing this opinion. I am a professional mathematician and Christian mystic, and I get really annoyed with atheists lumping all religous types together. Methodological naturalism makes it very possible for true scientists to be religious. Claims to the contrary are metaphysical and not scientific.

    I am loathe to bring this up, as you are fighting the good fight on ID, but I think there is a related issue here in how the atheists abuse mathematics (some Bad Math). A lot of them use the word “random” in a way as to have a metaphysical meaning — that somehow random means that God cannot be involved. The use of the word “random” in the science of evolution is very subtle and tricky; quantum mechanics notwithstanding, for all we know we live in a deterministic universe. Now, it would be fine if they were using this notion of random to argue about the meaningingless of God (and this is honest philosophical debate I am willing to have) as opposed to the existence, but I get the impression that they are doing more than that.

  5. #5 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    xebecs:

    But who does the distinguishing? What if the school board members (or whoever it is that pick the books) know that one book is from the (wink wink) “good” publisher, and the other one isn’t?

    The same people who decide on the reading books, the math books, the social studies books…

    Right now, we’ve got a sort of strange situation, where in most school subjects, publishers put out a set of books, and schools evaluate them and select the ones that they think are best. But in science, there’s an undercover scam going on, where people are trying to sneak books in through a different process – rather than just selecting books via quality evaluation, they’re trying to claim that *all* of the evaluated books are wrong, and that there’s this other text that’s different. And when you look at it, it *is* clearly different. The science books all talk about science; the new book talks about science *and* vaguely about religion. It’s not being pushed in as a *better* science book – it’s being pushed in via ideology.

    If we get things to the point where they’re all science books, science will be on the same footing as other subjects, where we select textbooks based on quality. By pushing the religion out of their books, they’re moving their books into the same category as the rest of the science books – and they’ll have to compete on an even footing in the curricula committees. I don’t think they’ll do well.

    If the district overrules the quality evals, they’ll have to justify it – in terms of science. If they justify their choice in any other way, then you’re right back where we are now: they’re explicitly pushing one book because it supports their religion.

  6. #6 Torbjörn Larsson
    May 14, 2007

    PZ ticked off a lot of folks, and he deals with some of them here.

    As I understand it he is specifically targeting theistic evolution, and seems to agree with your assessment.

    Finally, I have to address one particular comment by Chris Ho-Stuart.

    [...]
    Do you want to raise a court case about that one? If not; then what do you expect to be different with books by other Christians who think that natural processes are the means of God’s creative activity?

    That’s completely backwards from my thinking; he couldn’t have reversed my position more if it had been done intentionally.

    I don’t want to raise a court case about Miller and Levine. It’s an excellent book, and I wish more high schools would use it seriously and teach their kids evolutionary biology from it. I have no idea what the religious beliefs of Campbell and Purves and Johnson and Raven and Brooker (to name a few on the shelf in front of me) and so forth were, and they don’t matter as long as the science within their books is competently done.

  7. #7 gg
    May 14, 2007

    MCC wrote: “I don’t believe that we’re going to find some miraculous hallmark of design that couldn’t possibly exist without divine intervention. (In fact, for my own belief system, finding such a thing would be damaging to my belief, not supportive.)”

    In those moments when I muse about what a world would look like in which God exists, I always come back to the conclusion that God couldn’t demonstrate his existence, at least not if he really wanted people to have any semblance of free will. If you knew with certainty that an omnipotent being was constantly looking over your shoulder and judging you, you’d probably behave yourself.

    The use of the strawman argument here is interesting, because PZ last week was essentially using the converse of it to argue why Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron are ‘representative’ members of the fundamentalist community. Posters argued that PZ was choosing the stupidest members of the fundie community to attack, instead of the handful of ‘reasonable’ fundies out there. I think PZ’s point was that the stupidest members are the ones in charge, and the ones people are following, and thus are representative of the group as a whole. The way I defended PZ’s argument then was to point out that just as you can’t use isolated crazy people to demonstrate the craziness of a movement, you can’t use isolated reasonable people to demonstrate how reasonable a movement is – you’ve got to look at the ‘average’ properties of the group, not the outliers.

  8. #8 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 14, 2007

    A lot of them use the word “random” in a way as to have a metaphysical meaning — that somehow random means that God cannot be involved. The use of the word “random” in the science of evolution is very subtle and tricky; quantum mechanics notwithstanding, for all we know we live in a deterministic universe.

    It should really be readily apparent that this strawman, that evolution depends on an unspecified ‘randomness’ and that it would imply that evolution somehow is an atheist conspiracy, is a creationistic invention. Even the narrow original theory of Darwin doesn’t use ‘random’ anywhere.

    What Darwin proposed was that there is hereditary variation that selection can act on. The only requirement on that variation, however it comes about, is sufficient independence from the selection processes. I think it speaks volumes of Darwin’s meticulousness and genius that he could state his theory in a minimal form.

    This doesn’t mean that stochasticity doesn’t enter evolutionary theory. Darwin could observe this variation, but could only speculate about its sources. Today population genetics and quantitative genetics describes some of this from different angles, and indeed finds that stochastic distributions can model such processes as mutations, drift and migration. ( http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2007/03/population_vs_quantitative_gen.php )

    And QM combines a deterministic development of states with a stochastic description of interactions (measurements). So it seems rather meaningless to discuss if it is either or, when nature is both.

  9. #9 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    Quoth MarkCC:

    By pushing the religion out of their books, they’re moving their books into the same category as the rest of the science books – and they’ll have to compete on an even footing in the curricula committees. I don’t think they’ll do well.

    That was my first thought (and I’d certainly like to be optimistic about the situation). However, something is nagging at me, which I’ll try to express as best I can.

    I’ve noticed that intellectuals, whether professional or amateur, tend to focus on the words we see printed on the page. Does the book mention X? No? Well, then, it’s not about X, even though the author may spend a lot of time thinking about X, and he wants to sell the book to other people interested in X.

    This way of thinking can get you in a perplexing situation. For example, between alpha and omega the Bible goes through a whole lot of violence, misogyny, slavery, genocide and what-have-you. This has caused many people — both religious and not — to ask, “You want that to be your foundation of morality? You have to have a moral standard just to pick out the decent parts from the rest!” Other people, somehow, see the whole book as “a message of love,” and interpret every verse they find in that context. They’re not faithful to the book, but rather to the invisible force field emanating from it — a force field against which the phasers of reason are useless.

    Why do I bring up this subject in a discussion about science textbooks? Well, my theory is that every book spat out by the Discovery Institute will have that same kind of force field. Does it matter that the book specifically mentions irreducible complexity, the Universal Probability Bound, Hoyle’s 747 or Jehovah’s pointing finger? No, not really. As long as it represents evolutionary biology poorly enough, ideologically motivated people will want to use it. What — does anyone think the school boards which want to use creationist books right now are going to go away? Furthermore, a bad science book does make it easier to teach bad science.

    I guess I just can’t sustain the optimism.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    May 14, 2007

    “It’s a bad, sloppy argument when it’s used by someone like Michael Egnor to tar all non-creationists as amoral eugenicists, and it’s a bad, sloppy argument when it’s used by someone like PZ to tar all non-atheists as closet IDers.”

    As far as I know, the theistic evolution people like you talk about is simply being a theist in addition to accepting the reality of evolution. That is fine and dandy with me, and I agree that we shouldn’t lump TE-ers like yourself into the ID camp simply because you may (or may not) hold a similar position on the the god question. I think I’m often misinterpreted as saying the opposite for some reason.

  11. #11 John H
    May 14, 2007

    IDist science is incredibly sloppy stuff – obviously sloppy stuff. The only that makes it credible to anyone is the obvious religious subtext.

    Absolutely right. But the other point to add is that it is also pretty sloppy theology. It ignores centuries of theological reflection on how multiple levels of explanation can exist for the same event.

  12. #12 SLC
    May 14, 2007

    I will repeat a comment made on Rosenhouses’ blog which is relevant to the discussion. As I see it, there are three groups in the pro-evolution camp.

    1. Methodological Naturalists who insist that philosophical naturalism is science, i.e. science == atheism. Examples are Dawkins, Moran, and Myers.

    2. Methodological Naturalists who are also philosophical naturalists but do not insist that philosophical naturalism is science. Examples are Scott, Wilson, Forrest, and Tyson. This group is sometimes referred to as Chamberlainists by the folks in Group 1.

    3. Methodological Naturalists who are also philosophical theists. Examples are Miller, Conway Morris, Chu Carroll, Gardner and Collins.

    Prof. Myers’ problem is that he is contemptuous of the folks in Groups 2 and 3.

  13. #13 xebecs
    May 14, 2007

    MarkCC said:The same people who decide on the reading books, the math books, the social studies books…

    Thank you for your response, but I think you missed my main point. Whereas the people who choose the books have no agenda to choose bad math books (unless there is money under the table, for example), some of them may have religious reasons to choose the bad science books. The scenario I alluded to is one where the chooser knows that one of the versions is “Bible-friendly”, and chooses that one in spite of its poor science.

    Is that clearer?

  14. #14 Chris' Wills
    May 14, 2007

    Nice sensible post.

    SLC,
    Perhaps a fourth group could be added, those who accept that methodological naturalism == science and are neither philosphical theists nor philosphical naturalists. They also don’t believe that philosophical naturalism is science and so don’t equate atheism and science.

    I guess that Dr Myers would be contemptuous of them also.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    xebecs:

    Whereas the people who choose the books have no agenda to choose bad math books (unless there is money under the table, for example), some of them may have religious reasons to choose the bad science books. The scenario I alluded to is one where the chooser knows that one of the versions is “Bible-friendly”, and chooses that one in spite of its poor science.

    It looks like we’re thinking along similar lines.

    Tyler DiPietro:

    As far as I know, the theistic evolution people like you talk about is simply being a theist in addition to accepting the reality of evolution. That is fine and dandy with me, and I agree that we shouldn’t lump TE-ers like yourself into the ID camp simply because you may (or may not) hold a similar position on the the god question. I think I’m often misinterpreted as saying the opposite for some reason.

    This issue keeps boggling me! I think “theistic evolution” is an ill-defined term; or rather, if a rigorous definition exists in a philosophy book somewhere, many of the people who bandy the term around the Network don’t follow that definition. There’s a big gap between people like MarkCC (“theist + evolution”) and people like Francis Collins, who accept that bacteria can evolve a flagellum but say, essentially, that human morality is irreducibly complex. If the latter is “theistic evolution,” I don’t like it, and I think it’s only an accident of recent history that people who advocate it are on the same side as the Myersians and the Chu-Carrollites. If the former is “theistic evolution,” I don’t have a particular problem with it, but I think the term is being applied too broadly. It doesn’t sound like the Chu-Carrollian view on evolution is theistic at all; that kind of theism has nothing to do with biology.

    What MarkCC thinks about gods is far less important to me than what he thinks about Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

  16. #16 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    xebecs:

    If you think that only science is being attacked by fundies who want to sneak dishonest crap books into the curriculum, you’re being very naive.

    The same people who’ve been trying to sneak ID into the science curriculum have also been trying to sneak in whitewashed history books that portray white christians as saintly explorers; they’ve been trying to sneak bible stories into reading textbooks; etc. People need to be vigilant in protecting their schools curricula from religious zealots not just in science, but in nearly all subject areas.

    The only difference with science is that groups like the DI have been trying to sneak it in hiding behind a lie: when someone tries to sneak bible stories into the reading book, it’s obvious that they’re doing that; the DI tries to pretend that it’s real science. Their science books are *horrible*, but they pretend that there’s some kind of big scientific conflict (“the controversy”) and that their books are just teaching the “other side”. But if you strip out all of the religion, then what you have left are *obvious* bad science books – it becomes as bald-faced an effort as the crop that people like Lynne Cheney pull with trying to force whitewashed history books into the schools – and they way to fight them becomes exactly the same: by fighting bad books.

  17. #17 speedwell
    May 14, 2007

    The fact is that in attacking ID because of its religious content, one is attacking religion and religious people, a reprehensible act no matter the context.

    With all due respect, I fail to see what’s so “reprehensible” about it. If religion can’t stand criticism, it isn’t worth much, is it?

  18. #18 trrll
    May 14, 2007

    This doesn’t mean that stochasticity doesn’t enter evolutionary theory. Darwin could observe this variation, but could only speculate about its sources.

    I’ve noticed that many creationist/ID zealots “random” seems to be regarded as barely a step away from “satanic.” I’ve never quite understood why they have such a horror of randomness. Randomness is not, for example, in any way inconsistent with purpose. If I decide to play the lottery, and want to minimize my chance of having to share the jackpot if I am fortunate enough to win by choosing my numbers randomly. Here my purpose is clear–to maximize my potential winnings–and random numbers are just a tool to that end. Casino slot machines do much the same thing with a considerably more reliable outcome.

    Moreover, it doesn’t look like evolution actually requires randomness. Genetic algorithms seem to work just fine with pseudorandom numbers, which of course aren’t random at all, just distributed in a way that is more or less similar to genuine random numbers. Would it be considered “directed evolution” if God seeded the cosmological pseudorandom number generator?

  19. #19 xebecs
    May 14, 2007

    MarkCC:

    If you think that only science is being attacked by fundies who want to sneak dishonest crap books into the curriculum, you’re being very naive.

    I knew about the other bad textbooks — I suffered through some awful ones 30 years ago. But perhaps it has become worse than I knew.

    You may be right in your general premise, but I still think you are a bit hard on PZ. If these lousy science books are stripped of theism, we will no longer be able to use the courts to block their use — we will have lost one of our tools. Saying that it’s no worse than the current situation with non-science books really doesn’t make me feel better.

  20. #20 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    speedwell:

    Think of how well your argument would work coming out of the mouth of someone like Vox Day responding to people arguing that his attacks on atheists are reprehensible. Couldn’t he just respond exactly the way that you did, but substituting the word “atheism” for “religion”?

    Would you agree that when Michael Egnor argues that “all scientists who accept the fact of evolution are equivalent to eugenicists”, that it’s reprehensible? How about when someone like Vox Day argues that all atheists are amoral? Is that reprehensible?

    I’d argue that it’s reprehensible because it’s exactly the kind of strawman argument that we consider reprehensible when it’s directed at atheists, or at scientists, or at people with the wrong skin color.

    Why is it wrong for people like Egnor at the DI to tar all scientists who support evolution as being equivalent wiht eugenicists? Because it’s a dishonest strawman that tries to tar an entire group of people with the flaws of a small subgroup.

    The attacks against ID are primarily focused on the fact that they’re dishonest: they want to force their religion on students everywhere by presenting arguments that they know are invalid as part of a strategy to break down the wall between religion and science.

    The attacks by PZ on religious people of all stripes come down to “All of those theists are the same”, and therefore all theists are as bad as the liars of the DI. It’s the same old scam: the subgroup is bad, so we’ll tar the entire group with the criticisms against the subgroup. The DI is bad, the DI are theists, therefore all theists are bad.

    It’s just as much sloppy logic forming an insulting argument when it’s aimed against theists by atheists as it is when it’s aimed against atheists by theists.

  21. #21 Colugo
    May 14, 2007

    I’ve been reading Pharyngula for years. Has anyone else noticed that PZ has steadily become more militant in his atheism since Dover? At this point he is a self-parodying zealot. (For example, PZ’s hyperventilation about Al Gore’s lighthearted reference to Adam and Eve.)

    Of course PZ is representative of the larger New Atheist movement in this echo chamber-driven process of radicalization. Earlier there was the purist-minded railing against the so-called Chamberlain/appeaser atheists. More recently there is the equation of theistic evolutionists – who were crucial to the Dover victory – with IDists and creationists.

    PZ’s premise about the next Dover is bogus because theistic evolutionists are not trying to teach theism in classrooms and textbooks.

    Here is how the next Dover might go down if atheists and the larger scientific community don’t wise up: Religious conservatives claim that atheistic scientists are trying to indoctrinate American schoolchildren into atheism. As evidence, they cite statements by New Atheists rubbishing the distinction between methodological and metaphysical naturalism and asserting that accepting science is equivalent to, and necessitates, atheism. This, religious conservatives will claim, is a violation of the Establishment Clause. And religious conservatives win a major victory.

  22. #22 Tyler DiPietro
    May 14, 2007

    Colugo,

    “This, religious conservatives will claim, is a violation of the Establishment Clause.”

    That could very well happen if the religious conservatives have some clever tricks up their sleeve (like being able to distract enough attention from the vapidity of the so-called “science” to make such a case). But anyway, I think that you would be misinterpreting things a bit. I can’t speak for everyone in my intellectual camp, but I’m certainly not that atheism be taught as some sort of official doctrine in science classrooms. I’d regard that as just as reprehensible as teaching a supernatualist view. I think our discussions here are being too closely tied to what happens in high school biology classes.

    And in response to Blake Stacey above, I’d have to wholeheartedly agree. “Theistic evolution” is misapplied term. There is no such thing as “theistic chemical periodicity” or a “theistic Laplace transform”. One can be a consistently be a theist in addition to accepting these things, but when theism modifies the essential content it becomes an unnecessary supernaturalist infringement. That is why I don’t regard people like Tipler and Collins in the same intellectual field as I do Mark Chu-Carroll.

  23. #23 eye-of-horus
    May 14, 2007

    There’s no need to to agree with theists or deists that gods’ non-existence can not be established. When you refer to god(s) to what (if anything) are you referring?

    That is, the statement ‘the god X does not exist’ can be shown to be true. It’s up to claimants to specify just what concept of god they’re playing with. (Dealing with an irrationalist or a mystic requires different approaches not discussed here.)

    Some concepts are simply inconsistent. For example is the concept of god X just like the concept of the round-square? “The” round-square does not exist because its (supposed) concept is incoherent.

    In the Middle Ages an attempt was made to explicate “the” concept of God’s omnipresence by recourse to an analogy drawn from plane geometry. God is like . . . a circle whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. Clever stuff.

    But there can be no such circle. Among closed plane figures, the circle shares the property of always being finite. The analogy backfires — well if God’s omnipresence is like that; then, there can be no omnipresent God.

    A different approach to showing conceptual limits of any concept of God also comes from the Middle Ages. “Can an omnipotent God create a stone too big for Him to lift?” To say either yes or no immediately implies that God is not omnipotent.

    Language here is being misused. Absolutes are always relative to some context. A context free absolute adjective describes nothing. Stretching language past it limits is a commonplace in discourse about gods.

    Obviously, most theists or deists won’t immediately offer up lucid concepts of god. Though the panto-divinity: all powerful, all knowing, all merciful, will often make His (Her, Its) appearance.

    Can a “negative” be proved. Sure. Sometimes.

    eye-of-horus
    copyright asserted 2007

  24. #24 Corkscrew
    May 14, 2007

    Methodological naturalism makes it very possible for true scientists to be religious. Claims to the contrary are metaphysical and not scientific.

    I’d argue that these claims are only metaphysical insofar as claims like “the universe wasn’t created in 6000BC” are metaphysical. In both case, methodological naturalism points to one and only one answer; the only question is whether the scientific method itself is valid in this context.

  25. #25 Alex Hammer
    May 14, 2007

    See also:
    Romney’s chicks
    “Mitt’s kind of women”
    http://hammer2006.blogspot.com/2007/05/romneys-chicks-phoenix-excerpt-mitts.html

  26. #26 Nat Whilk
    May 14, 2007

    xebecs wrote: “Whereas the people who choose the books have no agenda to choose bad math books

    Google “Math Wars”.

  27. #27 SLC
    May 14, 2007

    Re Chris’ Wills

    Agreed. Possibly Ed Brayton falls into that camp.

  28. #28 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    Following Nat Whilk’s suggestion, I Googled “math wars”, and on the first page of the hit parade, I found an article which said the following:

    Yes, precisely, say the reformers. The old ways of teaching mathematics have failed. Too many children are scared of mathematics for life. Let’s teach them mathematical thinking, not routine skills. Understanding is the key, not computations.

    (Wilfried Schmid, “New Battles in the Math Wars”, Harvard Crimson 4 May 2000.)

    Cue the Tom Lehrer — “The important thing is to understand what you’re doing, rather than to get the right answer. . . .”

    All of which makes me feel a little snarky. Oh, so suddenly science education is only going to be as bad as math, history, literature, grammar and foreign languages? I’m so relieved.

  29. #29 Chris' Wills
    May 14, 2007

    Re Chris’ Wills
    Agreed. Possibly Ed Brayton falls into that camp.
    Posted by: SLC | May 14

    Well I was thinking of the Dali Lama :o)
    But Ed Brayton is probably a better example.

  30. #30 brtkrbzhnv
    May 14, 2007

    Colugo wrote:

    This, religious conservatives will claim, is a violation of the Establishment Clause. And religious conservatives win a major victory.

    The EC says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. It says nothing about disrespecting a religion; and since American public schools are already teaching the (scientific) falsity of many claims made by various religions, I’d very much appreciate it if someone would put forth an argument as to why the claim that there is a god would, in this respect, be different from all of these other claims (apart from the current lack of a consensus in the scientific community).

  31. #31 usagi
    May 14, 2007

    Right now, we’ve got a sort of strange situation, where in most school subjects, publishers put out a set of books, and schools evaluate them and select the ones that they think are best.

    Mark, this statement could scarcely be more incorrect. Schools as individual entities have virtually no say over the books they select to purchase using state funds. Publishers produce K-12 texts for two markets: California & Texas. Because of the size of the markets, those two states effectively drive all K-12 textbook publishing and dictate what the rest of the country has access to. The bullying of the selection process in Texas is legendary.

    Only books approved for purchase at the state level may be purchased by Texas schools, usually at the district level. Guess who actually shows up and participates start to finish in the Texas selection process? (hint: they’re not scientists)

  32. #32 Brian Jaress
    May 14, 2007

    I looked up “Reconstructionist Jew,” and there didn’t seem to be a single set of beliefs. If you don’t mind, what is it you believe?

  33. #33 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    blake:

    I don’t mean to suggest that we’re talking about something easy. A lot of our educational system is a wreck – caused by all sorts of bizzare pressures.

    But right now, the science curriculum suffers from all of the problems of any other curriculum – plus the attempt to sneak religion into science classes as part of an effort to discredit the entire idea of science. What we’re talking about is getting science onto the same footing as any other part of the curriculum. That’s not enough for us to declare success in creating a good science curriculum. But it’s at least a start – getting science from being in an even worse situation than the rest of the curriculum to getting science into the *same* situation as the rest of the curriculum.

  34. #34 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    Brian:

    Sorry, but exactly what my religious beliefs are is just not really something I feel comfortable talking about in detail in a public forum, particularly not on my math blog. Short version? Mix together a lot of Mordechai Kaplan’s writings, a bit of Buber, and some Art Greene, and you’ll get some flavor of what I think.

  35. #35 ColoRambler
    May 14, 2007

    I think “theistic evolution” is an ill-defined term; or rather, if a rigorous definition exists in a philosophy book somewhere, many of the people who bandy the term around the Network don’t follow that definition.

    I’m not sure there is a precise definition, but the sense I have always understood is that a “theistic evolutionist” is someone who (a) accepts the scientific reality of modern biology, including evolution, but (b) believes that to some extent a supernatural entity is somehow involved in the process.

    As an atheist, I don’t agree with (b), but so what? For the purposes of evaluating scientific research and creating science policy, only (a) matters. Personal opinions about (b) don’t matter until they start slopping over into the actual science (as in ID and similar stupidities). I’m glad to see people like Rob Knop and Mark Chu-Carroll posting on topics like this, even though I’ve come to different conclusions about what supernatural phenomena to believe in.

    There may be some “theistic evolutionists” who believe that biological evolution happens (and happened) as biologists describe, but that the divine intervention is actually required, and that biological evolution would not or could not have occurred without it. This is a significantly different position, violating (a), since modern science never requires a non-natural explanation for any event.

  36. #36 Marilyn
    May 14, 2007

    Published in “Did Man Get Here By Evolution or Creation?”

    Sir Isaac Newton

    A conversation he had with an infidel friend is related in the “MINNESOTA TECHNOLOG”
    “One day, as Newton sat reading in his study with his mechanism on a large table near him, his infidel friend stepped in. Scientist that he was he recognized at a glance what was before him. Stepping up to it, he slowly turned the crank, and with undisguised admiration watched the heavenly bodies all move in their relative speed in their orbits. Standing off a few feet he exclaimed, ‘My! What an exquisite thing this is! Who made it?’ Without looking up from his book, Newton answered, ‘Nobody!’

    “Quickly turning to Newton, the infidel said, ‘Evidently you did not understand my question. I asked who made this?’ Looking up now, Newton solemnly assured him that nobody made it, but that the aggregation of matter so much admired had just happened to assume the form it was in. But the astonished infidel replied with some heat, ‘you must think I am a fool! Of course somebody made it, and he is a genius,
    “Laying his book aside, Newton arose and laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. and I’d like to know who he is.’
    ‘This is but a puny imitation of a much grander system whose laws you know, and I am not able to convince you that this mere toy is without a designer and maker; yet you profess to believe that the great original from which the design is taken has come into being without either designer or maker! Now tell me by what sort of reasoning do you reach such an incongruous conclusion?'”

    Newton convinced his friend that whatever is made requires a maker.

  37. #37 PZ Myers
    May 14, 2007

    The attacks by PZ on religious people of all stripes come down to “All of those theists are the same”, and therefore all theists are as bad as the liars of the DI. It’s the same old scam: the subgroup is bad, so we’ll tar the entire group with the criticisms against the subgroup. The DI is bad, the DI are theists, therefore all theists are bad.

    It’s just as much sloppy logic forming an insulting argument when it’s aimed against theists by atheists as it is when it’s aimed against atheists by theists.

    Doing a reductio is only useful when you are personally aware that it is a reductio. When you analyze my ideas and distill them down into an absurdity like “all theists are the same,” or “all theists are bad,” beliefs I simply do not hold, you should stop and think that maybe, just maybe, your analysis is invalid. Maybe you’ve made some critical error in interpretation.

    There’s a sneaky conflation you’re performing here, one that is very common to defenders of religion. I do admit that I openly attack religion; I despise it, and I consider it irrational and foolish. Rather than addressing that, however, what you do instead is twist it: PZ Myers attacks all religious people, he despises every believer, he thinks every person of faith is bad. You pulled exactly the same contemptible stunt on Speedwell: she asks, “If religion can’t stand criticism, it isn’t worth much, is it?”, and you respond by accusing her of being just like Vox Day or Egnor, accusing all scientists or atheists of being amoral.

    Nice dodge of the question, wasn’t it? It’s easy to dance away from questions of the validity of faith when you can just turn around and accuse the questioner of being some kind of oppressive storm trooper.

  38. #38 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    MarkCC:

    What we’re talking about is getting science onto the same footing as any other part of the curriculum. That’s not enough for us to declare success in creating a good science curriculum. But it’s at least a start – getting science from being in an even worse situation than the rest of the curriculum to getting science into the *same* situation as the rest of the curriculum.

    That would, indeed, be a laudable achievement! Perhaps “less bad” can be a viable step on the way to “good”.

    However — and this was the point of my “invisible force field” comment — I’m not so sure the DI’s change of buzzwords represents a real movement from “bad” to “less bad”. It’s old vinegar in new bottles (the wine went sour about a hundred fifty years ago). You can get the Biblical fundamentalism out of the book, but you can’t get it out of the school board or the basketball coaches they’ve got teaching biology.

    I guess I just can’t shake the feeling that things are going to get worse before they get better.

  39. #39 PZ Myers
    May 14, 2007

    I also made a comment at Wesley’s that is appropriate here, on the argument over the books. Here it is:

    There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about that hypothetical grilling at a trial. I am not proposing that all textbooks authored by Christians must be pulled from the schools. I am not suggesting that all science authored by Christians is “compromised”. I am pointing out that the trials to date have all won out on the ability to make a sharp distinction between the religious creationist stuff and the non-religious textbooks, regardless of their authorship, because the creationists have been awfully sloppy about hiding the religious antecedents of their books.

    Now we’re in a situation where that distinction is blurred. We’ve got all these prominent theists emphasizing the compatibility of their science with religion, and the new DI book (you must have seen it already) has very thoroughly stripped out all references to god or design, and instead focuses entirely on purported “flaws” in evolution. If you had a case right now that was fighting over that book, you’d have a tough time doing it on the basis of separation of church and state. It doesn’t matter that your theists have refrained from inserting any religion into the books; their theists have now also refrained from inserting any religion into their books. Given that restraint on the part of the DI, I look at the two of you and I don’t see any difference, except that their book has totally crappy science and our books try to accurately reflect the state of science.

    That lazy reliance on the church/state argument isn’t going to help in an argument about the quality of the books.

    I’m happy to see that the debate will have to be about science, but I do see two big problems: our past experience has relied almost entirely on using the “they said goddidit!” argument, and that’s not going to work the next time around. Also, there are no constitutional rules about teaching bad science. It’s probably perfectly legal to sell a school district bad science books, sad to say.

    Personally, I’m also concerned about what some of you happy theists are going to do in response. Obviously, we’re going to hear, we have to win the hearts and minds of the school boards and church-going public to support evolution, and obviously the way to do that is to play up the religious-compatibility angle (which is a lie) on our side. I predict that there will be a strong push by the defenders and lecturers on evolution to be more goddidit than thou in the next few years—that piety will become one of the selling points of the New Theistic Evolutionists. And all the people who now claim that we have to avoid alienating the bible-thumpin’ public will be perfectly OK with that.

  40. #40 Nat Whilk
    May 14, 2007

    PZ Myers wrote: “the way to do that is to play up the religious-compatibility angle (which is a lie)

    Could you elaborate? It sounds like you’re saying that the people in category 3 in Post #12 are liars.

  41. #41 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    Chasing back to post #12. . .

    3. Methodological Naturalists who are also philosophical theists. Examples are Miller, Conway Morris, Chu Carroll, Gardner and Collins.

    What a horribly demarcated category! Listen to what MarkCC said in the post which started this very thread.

    My reasons for belief are purely subjective, and I don’t expect them to be convincing to anyone but me. It has nothing to do with some kind of “gaps”. I’m not a closet IDer: I don’t believe that we’re going to find some miraculous hallmark of design that couldn’t possibly exist without divine intervention. (In fact, for my own belief system, finding such a thing would be damaging to my belief, not supportive.) I don’t believe that there will ever be a proof of the existence of God. I don’t believe that there’s anything about the world that requires God.

    Whereas Francis Collins has specifically stated that the “Moral Law” of humanity cannot be explained through natural mechanisms. Look, look, it’s a giant flagellum!

  42. #42 Blake Stacey
    May 14, 2007

    A point I forgot to make:

    How common are people whose religious beliefs are a mixture of Mordechai Kaplan and Martin Buber? How many people, possessed of a devout and sincere religious belief, say that nothing of the world requires a god, or that finding phenomena which couldn’t exist without divine intervention would damage their faith? I don’t want to imply that beliefs of this sort are stupid, or anything like that — I just want to note that I’m pretty sure they’re uncommon. Furthermore, I have little doubt that many people would find “converting” to such a belief as shocking as abandoning religion altogether.

    Look, if every preacher were Moses Maimonides, we wouldn’t be having all these problems!

  43. #43 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 14, 2007

    1. Methodological Naturalists who insist that philosophical naturalism is science, i.e. science == atheism. Examples are Dawkins, Moran, and Myers.

    I would love to read Dawkins book, since he supposedly concludes that gods are improbable. If that is based on observation or theory, it is hardly “philosophical” naturalism, but probabilistic inference of bayesian type (FWIW, i.e. probably not so much).

    [I checked Wikipedia, and for some reason they include such observational based models in "metaphysical naturalism", unfortunately without specific reference. Safe to say, I don't agree that probabilistic inference is entirely philosophical in nature, as it is used for example in cladistics.]

    Randomness is not, for example, in any way inconsistent with purpose.

    With respect to variation, for example with pseudorandomness, I agree fully. Thanks for making it clearer.

    The problem with “randomness” is that it must be specifically defined.

    – For creationists, it means purposeless.
    – For laity, it means equi-probability.
    – In science, it can be stochasticity, contingency, noise, chaos, unpredictability, …

    One may also ponder the differences between purpose (teleology) and causality vs determinism. Causality is that a cause has an effect, determinism is that a specific cause has a specific effect; causality doesn’t imply determinism, determinism implies causality.

    So for example, QM is causal but not deterministic since it has finegrained (inherent) randomness , while chaos is deterministic but with coarsegrained randomness from unpredictability (rapidly diverging states in phase space). In no instance is randomness ‘total’, non-causal.

    And while some evolutionary effects outside selection is stochastic (mutations and drift), selection can be modeled as deterministic. And of course, observing adaptation by evolution doesn’t make it a teleological theory.

  44. #44 PZ Myers
    May 14, 2007

    You know, so many sensitive nellies are getting irate about those two posts of mine (here and here) that I figured I’d go back and look them over to see what could have everybody so worked up.

    I don’t see it.

    I didn’t say anything even close to “all theists are bad”. I didn’t go into an angry rant that lumps every Christian and Jew in the universe into one seething lump of evil. I specifically pointed out the details of Romney’s claim that were contrary to science, and cussed out those people who are calling his political babble “pro-science”. I pointed out that this lack of rigor in what we accept as “pro-science” is going to cause us trouble down the road — we’re blithely accepting statements like “God designed the universe” as putting Romney on our side when it doesn’t, and doing that just as the DI is gearing up a new push that purges their books of even oblique god references. I didn’t accuse anyone of being “stupid/obnoxious/evil”. My conclusion was that arguments based on separation of church and state were going to be increasingly untenable…which, by golly, seems to be how you conclude your article here, although I disagree that that is going to be an easy distinction.

    In fact, your unhinged tirade has so little correspondence to what I actually said, I’m just going to charitably assume it was not driven by any comprehension of what I wrote, but was perhaps an outburst prompted by an acute hemorrhoidal flareup. (Postulating unevidenced agents behind events is, of course, a perfectly reasonable strategy to a theist, so you shouldn’t object.)

  45. #45 rmp
    May 14, 2007

    I’m conflicted here. I’ve been slowly moving from a creationist position, to a theist evolutionist to a …. Fill in the blank.

    Smart money says in a year or so I’m a militant atheist. That being said, it seems that PZ thinks we are being apologists when we even tolerate theist evolutionists. Admittedly, the fact that they are willing to keep religion out of the classroom seems enough to most people to say, ‘let it go’. If they want to believe that God(s) metaphorically clapping of hands is what created the big bang and started the whole process, then fine. It doesn’t interfere with our teaching of science and it let’s them (wishful thinking though it may be) keep their God. In all honesty, that is how I feel (usually). However, ….

    In my opinion it really matters who we are having this conversation with. If it’s one of your close friends and you feel comfortable pushing the boundaries of that friendship with some thoughtful/good natured discussion, I think that’s great. If you’re not running for public office and you want to bring the issue to the forefront, I’m ok with that as well.

    BUT, I don’t think it is realistic to ask people who are running for office to come out and say that religion is bogus. The phrase ‘dead right’ comes to mind.

    On the flip side, as a business owner, I’ve come to find that from time to time you need an attorney. You find yourself in a conflict that can’t be settled over a couple of beers. In that situation, I want an attorney that will aggressively make the best argument and win. I’m not terribly concerned if I hurt anyones feelings. What is, important is winning not trying to win the congeniality award.

    my .02

  46. #46 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    PZ:

    You’re being disingenuous at best – avoiding the actual point of arguments by throwing hissyfits at little pieces pulled out.

    One of the classic things that I’ve seen *you* criticize extremely well is the tendency among creationists to play games with arguments – to avoid actual criticisms of their arguments by weaseling around, ignoring things, and finding phony things to take offense at.

    That’s exactly what you’re doing here.

    Just for example: I did *not* say Speedwell was the same as Vox Day – I *did* say that she was using one the same rhetorical tricks that I’ve seen him use repeatedly. The reason I mentioned Vox is because he’s the first one who came to mind who I specifically recall using that form of argument multiple times.

    The argument goes “Vox says some outrageous idiotic thing about atheists. Atheist respond that it’s outrageous and idiotic. Vox replies ‘if atheism can’t stand criticism, it’s not worth much, is it?’.”

    Now – take away the reference to the justly despised Vox from that, and tell me just how the basic argument actually differs?

    In both cases, “If X can’t stand criticism, then it’s not worth much” is a non-sequitur. It’s not a real argument that there’s anything wrong with X. It’s a response to the claim that a particular criticism of X was invalid, which avoids actually addressing the question of whether the criticism was or was not valid.

    And the entire point of the “Vox” reference was just to point out that we’re in agreement that that’s a invalid content-free tactic when it’s applied to atheism – and that it’s *equally* an invalid content-free tactic when it’s applied to theism.

  47. #47 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    Blake:

    How common are people whose religious beliefs are a mixture of Mordechai Kaplan and Martin Buber? How many people, possessed of a devout and sincere religious belief, say that nothing of the world requires a god, or that finding phenomena which couldn’t exist without divine intervention would damage their faith? I don’t want to imply that beliefs of this sort are stupid, or anything like that — I just want to note that I’m pretty sure they’re uncommon. Furthermore, I have little doubt that many people would find “converting” to such a belief as shocking as abandoning religion altogether.

    I can only come at a question like that from my own background. In Judaism, it’s not at all uncommon.

    There’s a lot of tradition in Judaism which is actually very strongly anti-miracle. The idea is that if you adopt the traditional “omniscient, omnipotent God” form of belief, then miracles – places where God needed to step outside of the system of nature, would be unmistakable proofs that God had screwed up – and that therefore, while they might be proof that there was something which could cause miracles, it wouldn’t be what we call God.

    I don’t come from the “omniscient omnipotent old man with a beard” school of belief. But that basic argument – that the universe is a system defined by a set of fundamental rules, and that if God broke the rules then that means that beliefs about the nature of God are all wrong – still carries a lot of weight for me, and in my experience, for many Jews.

  48. #48 Xyz
    May 14, 2007

    …somehow, that’s been taken by a seemingly huge number of people as something brave and bold, something that should impress us. Nope, sorry folks: acknowledging that facts are facts is not brave. I’m no more impressed with him for saying that evolution is true than I’d be if he got up and said “I admit it: I believe that 2+2=4.”

    To say that it is not brave of Romney to say that he believes Man to be the product of a long evolution is indeed unfair. I’m not up to date on how fundamentalist the Mormons are, but if his church and party colleagues are all standing around denying the facts, then it certainly takes a lot of guts to come out and say that he thinks otherwise.

    Consider a similar case. If we accept the facts of science, then we also accept the fact that we can’t prove that a god exists, and that its pretty darned (“damned” seeming to have no more meaning) likely that there isn’t one. PZ himself pointed out earlier this week the kind of derision that people may face when they come out about having accepted that there is no god. See Nicole Smalkowski, Proud Atheist. Here’s a girl who had to leave school and dash her hopes of an athletic scholarship; something that could seriously impact her academic career. Political careers aren’t bulletproof either.

    Yes, 2+2=4, but don’t tell me it doesn’t take courage to admit it when those who have the power to run you into the ground say that 2+2=5. 1984, anyone?

  49. #49 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 14, 2007

    I still completely don’t get the “next book” argument. I don’t see how being pointlessly and gratuitously anti-religion can possibly make any difference.

    The point is: the creationists are getting smarter. They are going to eventually get to the point where they’ve got some crappy textbook which omits any explicit religious subtext. They’re going to do that whether we like it or not. They’re not going to keep making the same arguments that get shot down by the first amendment. The next big battle over textbooks is going to come down to a debate over bad science versus good science.

    I don’t see how disavowing any tolerance of religious supporters of science is going to help that.

    I’m not saying that science should be soft-pedaled and sold by pushing how wonderfully compatible it is with religion. I think that any question of religion is just irrelevant: the battle is going to come down to good science versus bad science. And it’s going to be a really tough battle – they’ve got a lot of resources to throw at the battle. Going out of our way to pointlessly alienate people is, well, pointless.

    The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of good scientists who are theists. They are plenty of good scientists who are atheists. There are also plenty of lousy scientists who are theists, and lousy scientists who are atheists. What we’re going to need to win when it comes to the next book battles is *all* of the good scientists, whether they’re atheists or monotheists or neo-pagans or toenail-fungus worshippers – if it’s not directly relevant to the subject of differentiating good science from bad science, why does it matter in a battle between good science books and bad science books?

  50. #50 Brian Jaress
    May 14, 2007

    MarkCC: Getting back to the actual substance of the argument is a good idea.

    As I read it, the original post by PZ Myers was saying that science shouldn’t be judged by religious criteria, even if it passes that judgment. “Science is great because it agrees with my religion” isn’t much better than “science is bad because it disagrees with my religion.”

    PZ thinks we shouldn’t have any religion at all, but I don’t think that’s the point he was making here.

  51. #51 LeoC
    May 14, 2007

    P. Sternberg wrote:

    The fact is that in attacking ID because of its religious content, one is attacking religion and religious people, a reprehensible act no matter the context.

    While I agree more with MarkCC than PZ on this subject, the quote above is, unless I’m seriously misunderstanding it, too silly to let stand.

    While some of Dawkins’ stridency quite irritates me, I emphatically agree with him that religion is not entitled to any sort of special dispensation from criticism. A foolish notion is a foolish notion, whether it wears a jester’s bells or a bishop’s mitre.

  52. #52 PZ Myers
    May 14, 2007

    Errm, no. I’m not plucking out bits and pieces — you are. I’m saying your whole argument is built on distortions and falsehoods. I did not say that all theists are bad, for instance — and it wasn’t just me being cautious about hiding my fascist views, I didn’t imply that, and I don’t even think that. And yet your whole rant against me completely ignores what I actually said in that article to claim I was arguing that all Christians are stupid/obnoxious/evil.

    Speedwell’s question was not analogous to whatever you’ve heard from Vox Day. It was claimed that attacking religion is “reprehensible”, a bald assertion with no reason given; I think it’s fair to question that assumption. In fact, that may be a significant point of dissent here — the unreasonable demand that religion is exempt from criticism. It ain’t. And if you want to claim it’s analogous, you’re going to have to find some example of atheists arguing that atheism is comparably exempted from any argument, and that it’s reprehensible for you to even dissent from it.

  53. #53 SLC
    May 14, 2007

    Re Torbjörn Larsson

    Being totally incompetent to make philosophical arguments, I am relying on the Dover testimony of Barbara Forrest who is a professional philosopher relative to the notion that philosophical naturalism (or metaphysical naturalism, a term some are using) is not science. Based on several presentations I have downloaded, this also appears to be the position of Michael Ruse, also a professional philosopher. The point is that this position is at odds with the position taken by the individuals in catagory 1. I have also heard this point made by Ken Miller in some presentations which I have downloaded, for which he was heavily criticized by Myers several months ago.

  54. #54 PZ Myers
    May 14, 2007

    I’m not being pointlessly and gratuitously anti-religion. There are good reasons to be anti-religion.

    But about the book issue — I don’t even get what your complaint is about. My article was chewing out all those people who looked at Romney’s blatantly religious statement — he was saying God created humans, for Jebus’ sake — and called it pro-science. It was Sunday School apologetics, and apparently everyone’s standards have so diminished that they mistook it for sensible science. And the irony is that the DI’s new efforts are busy scrubbing out every mention of god, while people who are claiming to be on our side are rushing to insert more god-wallopin’.

    Seriously, get some perspective. Imagine if Romney’s statements had been in one of the DI textbooks. We’d have a field day! We’d rip that book to pieces and make it impossible for any school district to adopt it! So why, suddenly, does it become a net plus for real biology to get that kind of endorsement?

  55. #55 Colugo
    May 14, 2007

    SLC: “…the Dover testimony of Barbara Forrest who is a professional philosopher relative to the notion that philosophical naturalism (or metaphysical naturalism, a term some are using) is not science. … this also appears to be the position of Michael Ruse, also a professional philosopher.”

    Massimo Pigliucci, an evolutionary biologist, also holds that view. Back in 1998, however, Pigliucci sounded a lot like PZ Myers, Moran, Stenger, Dawkins etc. But he came around to the correct position, without ever compromising his atheism. Pigliucci is still a “Bright.”

  56. #56 zydborg
    May 14, 2007

    How many people, possessed of a devout and sincere religious belief, say that nothing of the world requires a god,

    Lots of them, I would think.

    But then, I come from a Roman Catholic background, so the type of “God” I was always exposed to was of the “I can’t help but notice the God you describe is not too much different from no God at all” kind.

    And then there’s the Anglicans: same thing, but even moreso.

    But then, I understand typical evalengical Christians wouldn’t regard Roman Catholics as being “possessed of a devout and sincere religious belief”.

  57. #57 SLC
    May 14, 2007

    Re zydborg

    Many Evangelical Protestants don’t consider Roman Catholics to be Christians at all.

    Re Colugo

    Prof. Pigliucci may still be a bright but if he now appears in category 2, he would be considered a Chamberlainist by Moran, et al.

  58. #58 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    May 15, 2007

    SLC:

    I am relying on the Dover testimony of Barbara Forrest who is a professional philosopher

    Mm, philosophers in general and Forrest in particular seems to conclude that it is a philosophical position. (Which, incidentally, Forrest thinks is the correct one to take. I have forgotten which paper she claims that in, but I’m sure it is still googleable.)

    As you understand from my earlier comment, I have some problems with that since some of methods we can use here to make conclusions from observation are currently used elsewhere in science proper. And I think demarcation of science is difficult, and is best done by scientists. In other words, I would here rely more on for example Dawkins than Forrest – but perhaps he simply concludes that his results are purely philosophical in spite of the alleged “improbability”. (I still haven’t read his book. Mea culpa.)

    In general I like the idea of philosophy as a thin skin on science, based on current and sound knowledge from observations and theory, prospectively looking into the future. Theology isn’t really like that. ;-) But OTOH, who am I to tell philosophers what philosophy should be? :-)

  59. #59 Nat Whilk
    May 15, 2007

    Xycc wrote: “If we accept the facts of science, then we also accept the fact that . . .its pretty darned . . . likely that there isn’t [a god].

    So you’re saying that no theist scientist accepts the facts of science?

  60. #60 Nat Whilk
    May 15, 2007

    Xycc wrote: “I’m not up to date on how fundamentalist the Mormons are

    See http://inbio.byu.edu/home/page/evolbio.aspx.

  61. #61 Blake Stacey, OM
    May 15, 2007

    Torbjörn Larsson, OM:

    I still haven’t read his book. Mea culpa.

    Neither have I, as it happens. The only one of DDH&H that I’ve read is Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, of which my impression was that Dennett bent so far backward to be fair that he endangered his spine. (I think somebody else used that phrase to describe the book, but I can’t remember where.)

    But OTOH, who am I to tell philosophers what philosophy should be? :-)

    Who are philosophers to tell us what science should be? (-:

    PZ Myers:

    My article was chewing out all those people who looked at Romney’s blatantly religious statement — he was saying God created humans, for Jebus’ sake — and called it pro-science.

    He also thinks that “marriage = one man + one woman” is writ into our fundamental copyright-by-God design.

    MarkCC:

    There’s a lot of tradition in Judaism which is actually very strongly anti-miracle. The idea is that if you adopt the traditional “omniscient, omnipotent God” form of belief, then miracles – places where God needed to step outside of the system of nature, would be unmistakable proofs that God had screwed up – and that therefore, while they might be proof that there was something which could cause miracles, it wouldn’t be what we call God.

    This tallies with my personal impressions and book-reading. My Jewish friends have described this approach, which I find very interesting and actually rather admirable. I suppose if I had grown up in different circles, this would be my view of what religion is (whether I personally had any or not).

    The next big battle over textbooks is going to come down to a debate over bad science versus good science.

    Why would anyone choose bad science over good?

    Well, a classic reason is ideology (think Lysenko). And in modern America, ideologies — particularly the authoritarian kind — have strong religious components. Whatever the specific words in the book are, people will adopt it for religious reasons. Whether or not good science conflicts with religion in general — and we can argue that till doomsday — specific findings of science certainly do conflict with certain doctrinaire faith-based beliefs; otherwise, we wouldn’t be here arguing about the problem.

    The next round won’t just be “good science versus bad,” it’ll be “good science versus bad science propped up to support the agenda of a particular religion.” I don’t know if a damn-the-torpedoes attack on religious culture in general does more good than harm on this specific short-term issue; that’s ultimately an empirical, falsifiable statement which cannot be conclusively decided by philosophy alone. What I can say with some confidence is that we’re going to see bad science promoted for the same reasons that we’ve seen non-science advocated.

    I hate to bring up the F-word, but wasn’t the whole point of that convoluted affair that people outside science don’t judge science to be good or bad the same way that scientists do? We insiders care about the evidence, first and foremost, but others have their own fr*me: to them, the notions of “morally acceptable” and “factually correct” are mingled, if not completely blended. Suddenly, despite all our brave talk about fr*ming, it’s all about demarcating good science from bad?

    And, of course, while we’re busy making sure the Discovery Institute really is re-engineering itself into obsolescence, Answers in Genesis is still out there, arrogant light-years deeper into self-satisfied ignorance.

    I’ve noticed that when people have specific “action items” to debate, they often exhibit more agreement and more productive disagreement. This is, I think, a general weakness of blog discussions. Unfortunately, in our current situation we don’t really have specific action proposals to focus upon.

    While I was riding the Green Line home last night, I had an idea. Why not stage a mock trial? Pretend it’s 2008 and parents are suing a school board for adopting a Paleyist biology textbook which makes no specific mentions of Christianity or Intelligent Design. Orac and Ed Brayton can be the justices, PZ Myers can represent the parents, Mooney and Nisbet can play the mass media, and somebody with a streak of evil (Torbjörn?) can play the DI’s attorney.

  62. #62 nerdwithabow
    May 15, 2007

    Mark C. Chu-Carroll – Post #47: Right on!
    PZ Myers – Post #50: You constantly insult theists. It’s really not helpful in a world full of theists when you need them to support, accept, and use “good” science. Don’t make the uniformed chose between their beliefs and an unfamiliar set of ideas called science. Instead, inform them! It is more than possible to hold any number of beliefs and accept the reality of what science can tell us. Many people do it. Many scientists do it. If you can’t, at least don’t sabotage the “cause” and play into the hands of the religious right. This isn’t about being “right” or “truth”. Everyone’s “truth” is different.

  63. #63 Ithika
    May 15, 2007

    You constantly insult theists. It’s really not helpful in a world full of theists when you need them to support, accept, and use “good” science. Don’t make the uniformed chose between their beliefs and an unfamiliar set of ideas called science. Instead, inform them!

    No, it is you (and MarkCC) who are confusing religious people with religion. It’s really not a difficult concept. Why, it’s supposedly a big part of Christian theology, the difference between sin and sinner. Don’t go pretending that because someone has a dumb idea that they are dumb.

    This isn’t about being “right” or “truth”. Everyone’s “truth” is different.

    Need I even say “I refute it thus”? Really, it’s telling that postmodernism has never made much inroads in science. Having your own set of truths is a good way to get smacked in the mouth by Messrs Hume or Johnson.

  64. #64 Thony C.
    May 15, 2007

    Who are philosophers to tell us what science should be?

    If they are philosophers of science just people doing their job;)

  65. #65 nerdwithabow
    May 15, 2007

    I suggest you go back and read PZ’s many posts on the subject at his biog. He doesn’t just insult religion, he insults religious people.

    So you have the truth? The problem is, so do the people on the other side. Just ask them!

  66. #66 Blake Stacey
    May 15, 2007

    I suggest you go back and read PZ’s many posts on the subject at his biog. He doesn’t just insult religion, he insults religious people.

    So have Orac, Ed Brayton and all of the other “usual suspects” one would name in constructing a contra-Myers wing of the skeptical blogosphere. Were Ray Mummert and Deepak Chopra not religious? Is Fred Phelps now an agnostic? What about Paskiewicz, or DaveScot, or Dembski, or Behe?

  67. #67 Jason Rosenhouse
    May 15, 2007

    Nope, sorry folks: acknowledging that facts are facts is not brave. I’m no more impressed with him for saying that evolution is true than I’d be if he got up and said “I admit it: I believe that 2+2=4.”

    If you’re surrounded by people who are denying the facts, then not denying them can be very brave indeed. It is all the more brave when the fact-deniers (i.e. the Republican primary voters) have some power over you.

  68. #69 Caledonian
    May 15, 2007

    My reasons for belief are purely subjective, and I don’t expect them to be convincing to anyone but me.

    If the preceding statement were made by someone else in regards to mathematics, you’d immediately call out the person making them. You’re a mathematician – you understand just how important rigorous and systematic arguments are to forming valid conclusions.

    Valid arguments are convincing to everyone who applies reason to them. You’re implicitly recognizing that you can’t defend your beliefs, so you don’t even bother – you just don’t test them at all. You know what that kind of behavior would lead to in mathematics – why do you permit it in the most important subject of your life?

  69. #70 Greg
    May 15, 2007

    I guess my belief is way too simple. God is more complex than a human can understand (God works in mysterious ways) so organized religious leaders can’t understand God’s design (or intent). I believe the only thing that matters is life and I can certainly understand that miricle. Now all I need to do is to define life.

  70. #71 Greg
    May 15, 2007

    How about Life>0

  71. #72 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 16, 2007

    Caledonian:

    You’re right that if someone made a statement about subjective beliefs about math, I’d jump all over them. But not everything is math. There are multiple domains of reasoning in the real world: some of them are as rigorous as math, some not.

    No scientific “proof” has the rigour of mathematical proof. Science is all about observation and inference from observation, and we can never be sure that any scientific theory, no matter how much evidence we’ve accumulated, is really true, not in the way that we can be sure that a mathematical theorem is true. But I don’t reject scientific theories for their weaknesses compared to mathematical proofs.

    There are also realms where you’re dealing with completely subjective experiences: emotions, personal experiences. I don’t think that anyone can honestly reject subjectivity in all things. I can’t prove in a mathematically rigorous way that I love my wife. But I know that I do. I can’t prove that I have free will – but I believe that I do. I can’t even prove that I think duck is the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted. But I know that it is. I don’t think that these things are any less true or less valid for being subjective.

  72. #73 Jud
    May 16, 2007

    Mark CC said: “No scientific ‘proof’ has the rigour of mathematical proof.”

    –and we are very, very far from a scientific proof of the non-existence of godlike beings.

    Re a being who is to be worshipped, who troubles him/her/itself about goings-on here on Earth, yes, I’d agree we have sufficient knowledge to say the doubts are overwhelming, perhaps even that there’s what we’d consider scientific proof. But re a being or beings creating our Universe and natural laws, there is plenty of current scientific discussion about how universes and physical laws may arise, and what it would take to create one or more universes *intentionally*. Intentional creation is fully consistent with current cutting-edge physics and cosmology.

    I personally would find random instantiation of the Universe(s) and fixed physical laws (rather than the anthropic version of the “landscape” theories – i.e., that there are many possible universes, and we’re in this one because it’s the one that has the proper conditions for us to exist) more satisfactory, but that is a personal philosophical position (similar to religion in that way, perhaps;), not scientically established fact.

  73. #74 Caledonian
    May 17, 2007

    There are also realms where you’re dealing with completely subjective experiences: emotions, personal experiences.

    Those things aren’t “completely subjective”. There’s no such thing.

    Your claims wouldn’t just be rejected in very rigorous disciplines, but in any field in which people claim justified knowledge. “I feel it’s the case” is not a valid argument, and you know why it’s not a valid argument. I’m pretty sure you don’t respect people promulgating various types of woo because they claim their feelings show them to be true – why do you expect others to respect you for doing precisely the same thing?

    What makes your religious beliefs more worthy of respect than the beliefs of a person who thinks they were abducted by aliens, can bend spoons with their minds, and are the reincarnation of an Atlantean priest named Ooglundravim?

  74. #75 Mark C. Chu-Carroll
    May 17, 2007

    Caledonian:

    I think you’re deliberately missing my point. Some things in life are subjective. And you’re just skipping over the specific examples which I gave.

    Do I love my wife? Is there any objective way of answering that question? Or is my experience of emotions
    about my wife something subjective?

    My father is dying a horribe death by antibiotic resistant pneumonia. This is incredibly painful for me; watching it happen is the most difficult experience of my life so far. Can you objectively verify that? Or is it just subjective?

    “Was I abducted by and experimented on by aliens?” isn’t a subjective question. “Do I love my wife?” is.

  75. #76 Daryl McCullough
    May 18, 2007

    PZ writes: I’m not being pointlessly and gratuitously anti-religion. There are good reasons to be anti-religion.

    Perhaps so, but I think that your personal animosity towards religion gets in the way of your ability to actually think rationally about it. I remember, back when I used to read your blog regularly, a time when you said “I don’t see the reminder to be compassionate in religion at all.”

    It was clear to me at that moment that your opposition to religion was not rational, and was not “reality-based”.

  76. #77 Caledonian
    May 18, 2007

    If ‘love’ is a real thing, it’s objective. We can look at your behavior. We can look at your brain states. It’s one thing to acknowledge that your emotional responses aren’t readily available to other people, and quite another to say that only you can say anything about them.

    How remarkable that a mathematician, a person who studies complex abstract phenomena in his own mind, denies that ‘abstract’ states have an objective existence! Do you permit other people to generate their own personal mathematics, too?

  77. #78 nerdwithabow
    May 18, 2007

    If ‘love’ is a real thing, it’s objective. We can look at your behavior. We can look at your brain states. It’s one thing to acknowledge that your emotional responses aren’t readily available to other people, and quite another to say that only you can say anything about them.

    You’re kidding, right?

  78. #79 Dustin
    May 18, 2007

    Do you permit other people to generate their own personal mathematics, too?

    [b]Yes[/b]. Remember back on Pharyngula where I mentioned:

    Consensus isn’t the criteria for truth or falsehood. Neither does it even make sense to speak of the truth or falsehood of a mathematical axiom. At best, we can speak of independence and relative consistency. Godel and Cohen were able to show both for the Axiom of Choice. Mathematicians are at complete liberty to accept or reject the Axiom and do their own mathematics accordingly. That, by itself, shows that the Axiom of Choice has very little to do with the real world. It most certainly isn’t physics.

    You might not, since you were busy making the case that “zomg! Poetry and Venus de Milo IS Physics!”.

  79. #80 Dustin
    May 18, 2007

    Oh. My. God. Caledonian is accusing me of Platonism, and then he says:

    a person who studies complex abstract phenomena in his own mind, denies that ‘abstract’ states have an objective existence.

    Why don’t you go soak your head, Cal?

  80. #81 Caledonian
    May 18, 2007

    People who believe that a thing is real do not resort to subjectivity arguments.

    You claim to be a theist, yet you talk about your personal perspective as if it’s what mattered. Formally, there is no ‘subjective’, and in the everyday sense, something that exists only subjectively is a delusion.

    Unless you have some startling new evidence to reveal to us all, it is not currently possible to be a rationalist and a theist at the same time. Which are you again, MarkCC?

  81. #82 Dustin
    May 19, 2007

    We’re only allowed to be rationalists or theists now? What happend to empiricism? Or do you think that empiricism is rationalism? Are you even aware that there’s a distinction? Didn’t you say you were a philosopher? Or was that just trollshit?

    Anyway, failing to distinguish the two would go a long way towards explaining why you think mathematics and physics are the same thing. I’m not sure how your new found false-dichotomy approach explains your position that poetry is a science, though.

    Hehe, I’m going to put a Caledonian killfile on my machine. Now every time you type something, it’s just going to show up on my screen as:

    Poetry IS Science!
    Mathematics IS Physics!
    Rationalism IS Empiricism!
    No gay people in the IHOP!
    FAP FAP FAP

    That way, I won’t be ignoring you completely, since I’ll have the essence of your comment right in front of me. Toodles, Cal.

  82. #83 Norm Breyfogle
    May 19, 2007

    “Formally, there is no ‘subjective.'”

    LOL

    Cal, you are hilarious.

  83. #84 Caledonian
    May 19, 2007

    Hey, if you can offer an example of a thing that exists only in the private perceptions of a single human being, go right ahead.

  84. #85 Science Avenger
    May 19, 2007

    Is not what we have here a conflation of the theoretically impossible and the practically impossible? Caledonian’s argument seems that all subjective experience should be, in principle, expressible in objective observational terms just like everything else. However, this is in principle only: at the current moment we lack the ability to do so because our knowledge of brain function is too limited. Still, whatever we experience in our subjectivity, it is still just a product of brain function, not some ghost in the machine. So why can’t, in principle, that function be observed by a doctor with sufficient equipment and knowledge?

    Let’s not make the “I can’t explain it therefore it is unexplainable” mistake. The odds don’t seem too outrageous that 500 years from now discussions like these will seem quaint, the same way Darwin’s conjectures about what does the job that we know now DNA does, seem now.

  85. #86 Norm Breyfogle
    May 19, 2007

    Cal, observing a brain state is not the same thing as actually BEING the observed brain state. If you could observe your own brain state objectively on a monitor screen your subjective experience would inevitably be more complex, rich, and subjective than the monitor could ever possibly show because the map (formal principals) can never perfectly equal the territory without actually *becoming* the territory. This is precisely why truly unpredictible chaos (and subjectivity) exists.

    Yes, I’m saying that the subjective aspect of reality is an objective and even definitional and mathematical fact.

    The reason I laughed at your formalism argument is because Mark CC wasn’t offering a formal argument for the existence of his version of God, but only an informal argument for the deep personal meaning of his spiritual views, views which lie OUTSIDE of the sphere of formal science (which he made perfectly clear), so your point about formalism was entirely moot, amounting to denying the existence of a living tree simply because it wasn’t drawn on your formal map of the countryside.

  86. #87 Caledonian
    May 19, 2007

    Cal, observing a brain state is not the same thing as actually BEING the observed brain state.

    Which entirely misses the point, aside from being woefully incomplete.

    Mark CC wasn’t offering a formal argument for the existence of his version of God, but only an informal argument for the deep personal meaning of his spiritual views

    If that’s all he has, then he already knows his views are nonsense. Any garbage can have “deep personal meaning” – the emotional significance of an assertion is not grounds for considering it to be true.

  87. #88 Norm Breyfogle
    May 19, 2007

    Again you’re conflating two entirely separate spheres: that of the strictly rational, objective, and formal, and that of everything else.

    Formal objective truth isn’t all there is to truth, meaning, sense, or validity, else you’d be nothing more than what I could see on your brainstate and other scans. In fact, if I use your reasoning, your personal thoughts and the delicately personal quality of your own inner feelings (your subjective experience) simply doesn’t exist, since I can’t access it directly. So why am I arguing with a non-entity? lol

    The map is not the territory, therefore the subjective necessarily exists; not formally, but in actuality.

    Since you didn’t understand this the first time, I doubt you’ll get it this time.

  88. #89 Caledonian
    May 19, 2007

    What you’re calling ‘subjective’ IS a map. The territory is reality. All maps are also part of that territory. There is no such thing as a map that isn’t.

  89. #90 Norm Breyfogle
    May 20, 2007

    lol

    You’re hopeless. When you show any signs at all of even *trying* to grasp the meaning of my posts, I’ll add more substance to this discussion. Until then, I’ll just continue chuckling at your self-proclaimed nonexistence.

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