…. because your proof of your god is falsified by science. But that is not a problem that science has. It is a problem that you have. It is also not a problem that the Secular Public School System in the US has. Unless you make it so.

This explored in a recent iNewp piece:

As many biblical literalists maintain, evolution says there is no plan (or Planner) for life; it’s random, just one damned thing after another, everything passing and changing (except maybe things like sharks, horseshoe crabs and cockroaches). Nothing’s permanent, nothing is special, including us. They contrast this with the story saying God…

The origin of the God of the Gaps is the disproof of creationism one step at a time, as naturalist (no-religious) explanations are provided for this or that proof of the omnipotent being. So, not only does evolution defy Genesis, but it also defines modern fundamentalism, shaping the tenets of neoChristianity more so than internal discussions seem to. At least Young Earth Creationists stick to their guns.

So, here’s my question as I sit here at the lake contemplating the diversity of life forms congregating on the front porch: Which is more common, physical scientists who retain religious beliefs that may conflict with evolution (such as the origin of life) or life scientists who retain religious beliefs that may conflict with the physical sciences (such as the big bang theory)?

I think the former, and I’m not entirely sure why.

Comments

  1. #1 Mystyk
    July 16, 2010

    Which is more common, physical scientists who retain religious beliefs that may conflict with evolution (such as the origin of life) or life scientists who retain religious beliefs that may conflict with the physical sciences (such as the big bang theory)?

    I would have to agree with you that the former is likely more common. The life sciences represent a direct threat to the position of man relative to a hypothetical creator, and that relation is kind of the point of religion. The life sciences reflect naturalistic explanations for phenomenon that have a very personal feel to them.

    Saying that the big bang was simply god’s vehicle of creating the universe is a lot less uncomfortable than saying evolution was simply god’s vehicle to creating man. The former still leaves a lot of room for a creator to have touched our development personally (and simply saying that we were deliberately placed in a vast, cosmic arena as a testament to god’s majesty). The latter distances us from that supposed divine touch and divine purpose.

    That being said, both the physical sciences and the life sciences are well-enough evidenced that any fair evaluation leaves one having to admit that at most there is an extremely impersonal creator. I think (and studies demonstrate) that scientists of all stripes will be less religious in general than the population.

  2. #2 Hitch
    July 16, 2010

    I consider this speculation to be unhelpful. Let’s do studies and debate on actual data, like this it is more a measure of our own preconceptions than anything else.

  3. #3 Russell
    July 16, 2010

    Conflicts happen. The fact that some finding in an area you have studied conflicts with a finding from some other area, or seems to, is a puzzle on which to reflect, but not a reason for jettisoning wholesale what you have found.

    What makes religious belief irrational isn’t its seeming conflicts with science, but the stupidities that are said by believers when they are asked why they believe.

  4. #4 Russell
    July 16, 2010

    Let me rephrase my last paragraph:

    What makes religious belief irrational isn’t its seeming conflicts with specific findings in the sciences, but the stupidities that are said by believers when they are asked why they believe. The larger conflict with science is that the kinds of argument and explanation offered would be immediately dismissed in any scientific forum.

    The physicist whose religion conflicts with biology isn’t irrational because his religion conflicts with biology. He’s irrational because the explanation he gives for his religion relies on arguments that he would reject if he saw them applied for any other purpose.

  5. #5 The Phytophactor
    July 16, 2010

    Rare is the physical scientist who has a real grasp on the concept of evolution, probably because the curriculum of the physical sciences hardly ever requires biology, while biology always requires the physical sciences. So many of them seem quite sympathetic to ID in particular.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    July 16, 2010

    Mystyk: I would have to agree with you that the former is likely more common. The life sciences represent a direct threat to the position of man relative to a hypothetical creator, and that relation is kind of the point of religion

    I agree with what you say here. However, and strangely, the vast majority of the objections that creationists have brought up with me specifically have been to physics and geology, not biology. (I’m talking primarily about students.)

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    July 16, 2010

    Hitch, this issue and related issues COULD be addressed with some sort of data (though in your laying out the requirement for data it would have been nice to specify what kind of data), but it need not be. We already see the development of interesting arguments from philosophical and structural observations forming.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 16, 2010

    Russell: The larger conflict with science is that the kinds of argument and explanation offered would be immediately dismissed in any scientific forum.

    Yes! But, I’d say that there is a more intermediate (less large) level of argument that could be more important.

    Religious arguments can be, and often are, “dismissed” by being avoided, via the naturalistic boundary condition of science. Science does not do religion or superstition, plain and simple. And I’m as happy as the next educator/science communicator to stick with that position most of the time.

    But lately I’ve noticed that religion is getting away with something that they should not get away with, and that is the scientific falsification of religions hypotheses that in fact can be falsified. There are many many many such hypotheses. Indeed, the rise of scientific (natural) explanations for the diversity and form of life, and for the geological record over religions ones in Western academia is NOT purely a recognition that science does not do religion, but rather, the explicit falsification of religion based hypotheses about why adaptations exist, the age of the earth, the noachian flood, etc.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    July 16, 2010

    The Phytophactor, good point. Also, a physical science major is less likely to encounter science directly conflicting with belief, while a biology major always does so.

  10. #10 Mystyk
    July 16, 2010

    However, and strangely, the vast majority of the objections that creationists have brought up with me specifically have been to physics and geology, not biology.

    Students or not, you have just (perhaps unwittingly) shifted your terms. For someone who makes a point of distinguishing the implications of the word “from” in phrases like “humans evolved from [xyz]…” I must say that is highly uncharacteristic. Who are you and what have you done with Greg? ;)

    But to the point, you went from talking about scientists in the original post to talking about creationists in the blockquote portion of this comment. The overlap between those groups, while certainly not nonexistant, is notably small. Further, the latter has a reason to explicitly deny nearly all of science in order to hold up a much more distinct religious view that, say, someone who just really bought in to the Intelligent Design BS doesn’t have to worry about.

  11. #11 Russell
    July 16, 2010

    Greg Laden:

    Religious arguments can be, and often are, “dismissed” by being avoided, via the naturalistic boundary condition of science. Science does not do religion or superstition, plain and simple.

    I think that is a mistake. First, there’s no operational definition of “natural” that allows us to identify what should be withheld from critical inspection. If the gods, why not also chupacabras and homeopathy? Maybe homeopathy works by some “supernatural force” that science is unable to suss out. And so, like angels, we should exempt it from critical examination. That’s nonsense, of course. But how do you counter it, once you set the kind of “naturalistic” boundary?

    Second, and what this points out, is that bad reasoning is bad reasoning, no matter the subject to which it is applied.

    The notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” strikes me as convenient nonsense. It’s convenient to the religious, who want to protect their faith, and to the “compatibilists,” who want to pretend that the practice of science isn’t a risk to faith. If, teaching a science class, some student were to ask about gods or demons, I would answer honestly that the course is focused on a particular topic, but that students should be abstracting from the kinds of evidence and methods discussed how to evaluate evidence and methods more generally.

  12. #12 Monado, FCD
    July 18, 2010

    Physics can be accepted and laid to rest. Biology is more variable.

    Biology takes more studying? While the ramifications of physics may be literally infinite and while the basic fact of evolution is a mathematical certainty, the details of how variability occurs, genes translate into traits, and natural selection occurs are highly particular and often unique to one location. It may take more work to extract the lesson of evolution from all of its particulars. So, unless you’ve studied it and seen at least a little of how it manifests itself, it’s easier to dismiss out of sheer ignorance.

    For example, it’s easy to see the spots of wild guppies as random decoration rather than the camouflage it is (see last chapter of The Beak of the Finch). Furthermore, it takes study of the species in its native habitat to prove that the spots work as camouflage: funding, grad students, seasons are expended. And you’ve proven one small point about one critter in one place.

  13. #13 DuWayne
    July 18, 2010

    Greg -

    However, and strangely, the vast majority of the objections that creationists have brought up with me specifically have been to physics and geology, not biology.

    I would wonder if that has as much to do with going after you with something that is not your specialty and which ultimately may then infringe on evobio.

    Russel –

    I think that is a mistake. First, there’s no operational definition of “natural” that allows us to identify what should be withheld from critical inspection. If the gods, why not also chupacabras and homeopathy? Maybe homeopathy works by some “supernatural force” that science is unable to suss out. And so, like angels, we should exempt it from critical examination. That’s nonsense, of course. But how do you counter it, once you set the kind of “naturalistic” boundary?

    The problem with that, is that it is not generally atheists who are setting up a naturalistic boundary. I sincerely doubt that Greg is trying to argue for naturalistic boundaries, rather I think he is recognizing an extremely common pattern that is of course wrought with the very logical fallacy you are describing. But that it is an inherent logical fallacy doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

    Note I am not saying it makes critiquing ideas that are dependent on that fallacy problematic, just that it makes actual persuasion problematic.

    At the same time, I think it does leave a reasonable opening as well. When I was still religious, I believed that if my religious beliefs were correct then they were potentially falsifiable. I picked that up when I was eleven and had the opportunity to meet Carl Sagan after a lecture in Ann Arbor that my dad took me to. Sagan was very kind to me, but also challenging – he simply asked me that if my religious beliefs were true, then what difference would there be between those beliefs and any other aspect of the natural world.

    This is a discussion that I had many times over the years, with very positive results. Though I am sure that my own religious beliefs made a difference, when you couch it in those terms it is rather difficult to argue. I have continued to have some positive results with this position and while it is definitely not the last nail in the coffin of a person’s faith (mine took twenty some years to finally lose out), it is a significant milestone on the road to accepting science as a preferable explanation of the universe, than religion.

  14. #14 Virility EX
    July 20, 2010

    Ok, religion can never conflict with science

  15. #15 Pat de Caprariis
    July 25, 2010

    I saw a video recently in which Neil DeGrasse Tyson said that the interesting question is not why 85% (or some other large number) of members of the NAS are not religious. The interesting question is why 15% ARE religious.