Respectful Insolence

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Sigh.

He’s baaack. Yes, that dualism-loving Energizer Bunny of antievolution nonsense, that “intelligent design” apologist neurosurgeon whose nonsense has driven me time and time again to contemplate hiding my head in a paper bag or even a Doctor Doom mask because of the shame of knowing that he is also a surgeon, that physician who denies that an understanding of evolution is important to medicine and who just doesn’t know when to quit, Dr. Michael Egnor, is back to embarrass me yet again. It’s been a long time–months, actually–and, quite frankly I found the break from his specious arguments, straw men, and misunderstandings of science to be most refreshing. Only David Kirby moving on to other pastures of woo than antivaccinationism might make me happier than Dr. Egnor’s recent sojourn into mangling neuroscience instead of evolutionary biology (a truly frightening thought, given that we would really, really hope that a neurosurgeon, of all people, should have a solid understanding of neuroscience), which left the field wide open to Steve Novella to deal with.

But you knew he just couldn’t stay away for long, and, worse, he’s muscled into my territory. That’s right, he’s blundered into the field of cancer research. In response to a call for more funding for cancer research by P.Z. Myers, whose sister-in-law died of melanoma several years ago, Dr. Egnor is in essence claiming that religion is mostly responsible for the advances in cancer treatment that P.Z. mentioned in his post.

Now I have to admit that I’ve become a bit weary of P.Z.’s anti-religion tirades. I’m not a flame-throwing, take-no-prisoners athiest, as he is. I’m not even sure I’m an agnostic. One might even say I’m confused about religion or just plain lazy and apathetic. Whatever the case, whether I’m in fact an atheist but won’t admit it to myself yet (as P.Z. once told me I was) or a closet apologist for religion just waiting for the chance to find Jesus again, I tend to call myself a “lapsed Catholic.” These days, when I see the word “atheist” or “religion” in the title or preview of a post on Pharyngula, I usually don’t bother to read the rest of it anymore. That being said, if there’s one thing that I’m totally on board with P.Z. about when it comes to flame-throwing attacks on religion, it’s when people rely on wishful thinking, superstition, and prayer rather than scientific medicine. When I find out about such cases, as my regular readers well know, I’m liable to go off on a tirade, sometimes even approaching the level of of a Pharyngu-rant. Just look up my posts on Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing blood transfusions (especially when children are involved), fundamentalist religious kooks substituting prayer for treating their diabetic daughter with insulin and thereby causing her death, patients deluding themselves that prayer is growing back a traumatically amputed limb, or physicians injecting religion into their medical practice if you don’t believe me. (Or if you really don’t believe me, read this post.) With that in mind, though, the post by P.Z. that drew Dr. Egnor’s ire was actually quite mild by Pharyngula standards. In fact, it wasn’t even specifically about religion, and there isn’t even one mention of the word “religion” in the post, although relying on prayer instead of medicine is mentioned. Instead, P.Z. pointed out how in childhood cancers survival rates today are far better than they were 30 years ago and quite correctly pointed out that this improvement is because science- and evidence-based medicine works, while alternative medicine, shamanism, pseudoscientific woo, and prayer do not. (If they did, I like to ask, wouldn’t we have always done this well against cancer?) See what I mean:

You will sometimes hear people claim that the answer is found in the natural healing power of the body, and that doctors don’t really do anything but let nature do all the work (or worse, that treatments for cancer poison people and hinder nature’s healing power). They may also say that children are just especially tough and healthy, so pediatric cancers are relatively easy…but look at the data. When doctors don’t have effective treatments and don’t intervene, we get those yellow lines from the 1960s. We get 90%+ survival when doctors can exercise their hard-earned knowledge.

[…]

It’s not just children’s cancers, either. If we want to cure adult cancers, like the melanoma that killed Karen, don’t look to magic, or wishful thinking, or ancient shamanistic wisdom, or prayer — we’ve had those for millennia, and they do nothing. What we need is more research, more doctors, more clinical trials, and more money.

Preach it, brother!

He’s exactly right in lumping together shamism, prayer, and faith healing along with the non-science-based woo, the skeptical and science-based discussion of which is one of the overarching themes of this blog and has been since the beginning, as he does here:

We must push our politicians to invest in science, and to do so sensibly. It seems that the news nowadays is full of politicians wasting their efforts on naturopathy, homeopathy, “alternative” medicine, creationism, and other pointless exercises in pandering to useless ideological feel-good nonsense.

That’s just what I’ve been saying over and over again over the last three and a half years on this blog and long before that on Usenet. Indeed, I didn’t interpret the post so much as an attack on religion (except peripherally); rather, I interpreted it as an attack on irrational and non-science-based approaches to medicine in general, with prayer as only a side issue. Not surprisingly, as is his wont, Dr. Egnor zeroes in on religion like a laser beam to the exclusion of all else. He also takes a special case and tries to generalize it to all Christianity:

But, leaving aside his dubious tactic of using the death of a relative to advance his ideology, I take exception to his claim that prayer and religious faith had nothing to do with the improvements in the treatment of cancer.

The remarkable progress in the treatment of cancer in the past several decades had a lot to do with faith and prayer. Myers misunderstands the origins of modern medical science and the history and nature of cancer treatment.

Advances in science and cancer treatment emerged, not from science in isolation, but from a culture that made science possible and that directed the fruits of scientific work toward good and compassionate goals. The culture from which science has emerged is Judeo-Christian culture, and modern science has arisen only in Judeo-Christian culture. Why has science been so closely linked to this specific culture?

The scientific investigation of nature using the scientific method depends on the metaphysical view that nature is rational and that natural laws can be discovered and used by human beings. The Judeo-Christian understanding of God and of man’s relationship to God accords with these preconditions for successful science. The application of science to care for the sick presupposes the view that we have an ethical obligation to help the weakest among us. The atheist view of metaphysics — that the universe has no purpose and no designer and no transcendent ethical code — provides no impetus to scientific inquiry or to the compassionate application of scientific knowledge. Modern science arose in Judeo-Christian culture — a milieu of faith and prayer. It arose from Judeo-Christian culture — and nowhere else — for a reason.

I’m guessing that the ancient Greeks might have something to say about that “nowhere else” part. Or even the ancient Egyptians or the Babylonians or the ancient Indians or Chinese, pre-Christian societies all. Science began long before there ever were Christians and arguably even before Judaism. True, that’s not “modern” science, but it laid the groundwork for science. Without it, modern science would likely have developed much later. Modern science, of course, began in what is often called the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. But what also happened in that same time period? It wasn’t an increase in piety. Rather, it was the the age of Galileo, whose discoveries earned him punishment, not praise, from the Catholic Church.

Indeed, modern science didn’t truly kick into high gear until the Enlightenment, which, not so coincidentally, was a time of unprecedented questioning of religion and the time of the development of the concept of universal rights that did not depend on religion and that church and state should be separate. Religion may not always be hostile to science, but history certainly argues that it has been so often enough and over a long enough time that more often than not religion tends to hinder scientific development. Science is all about questioning and requiring evidence before accepting a statement as true; religion is about acceptance on faith because authorities teach us that a supernatural being tells us it’s true. When religion holds sway and any science that suggests that a teaching of the dominant religion is incorrect, religion tends not to meekly acquiesce. Rather, it tends to try to deny or suppress the science. We see this phenomenon to this very day with the manner in which such a well-supported theory as evolution is routinely denied and denigrated by fundamentalists espousing a literal interpretation of their holy book. Given the scope of history, it’s sure hard to argue that religion promotes scientific progress, as Dr. Egnor does. He even goes so far as to say at one point:

The scientific investigation of nature using the scientific method depends on the metaphysical view that nature is rational and that natural laws can be discovered and used by human beings. The Judeo-Christian understanding of God and of man’s relationship to God accords with these preconditions for successful science.

Actually, science does not depend on the metaphysical view that nature is rational; it depends on the metaphysical view that there is order and consistency in nature and that nature’s order can be deduced. It doesn’t really matter if one believes that God made the universe orderly or that the universe is orderly for another reason (or for no apparent reason at all). All that matters is that there be order and predictability. If there is, science is possible. If, for example, the gravitational constant changed in a totally random fashion at an unpredictable rate, Newton could never have worked out the Laws of Motion. But it doesn’t; so he could.

Of course, Dr. Egnor concentrates on the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic. I even went to a Catholic high school, and I know that the Catholic Church is actually not so bad when it comes to science in some ways. The Church has been very good in some areas of science and pretty bad in others. For example, there was no pseudoscientific “questioning” of evolution when I was in high school. Priests taught biology and evolution straight up with no mention of God–and they taught it better than the vast majority of public schools in the area. Ditto pretty much every other science. If it weren’t for the mandatory religion classes and the weekly mass that we attended, there would have been nothing to distinguish what my high school taught from any public school. Indeed, applied science (like medicine) rarely results in many objections from the Church. One huge exception, of course, is when medical science bumps up against Catholic teachings. Think embryonic stem cell research. Then suddenly the Catholic Church isn’t so accommodating to science anymore. Like nearly all religions, when science bumps up against dogma, the Church defends dogma.

Dr. Egnor points out that the Catholic Church has long supported hospitals and caring for the sick. That’s good, and it is a long-standing tradition in the Church driven by its teachings. (Indeed, caring for the sick and poor is arguably the best aspect of the Church.) He then takes that ball and runs with it far out of bounds by trying to generalize that the Church’s teaching of “love your neighbor” was somehow responsible for the very development of science in general and the increase in cancer survival in particular. He seems to think it some great, devastating blow to P.Z. that the graphs of survival data for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia showing just how much better we’re doing treating this cancer now than we did 40 years ago came from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He tries to make hay out of this by pointing out that St. Jude’s will take care of any patient regardless of ability to pay.

Of course, no one’s claiming that St. Jude’s isn’t a fantastic place that has contributed mightily to improving the medical care of children. It is; it’s one of the very best. But however great St. Jude’s is, its progress in treating cancer was more due to the way the Catholic Church pretty much stays out of the science–at least where the science does not conflict with Catholic dogma. I’ve found this to be true at most Catholic institutions where I have colleagues and collaborators. Indeed, not long ago I considered a job at Loyola, a Jesuit-run medical center. More than once, researchers whom I met there told me that they couldn’t do anything that involved embryonic stem cells there but that there were no other restrictions. If the cure for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, or any other disease depends on embryonic stem cells, it certainly isn’t going to be discovered at a Catholic institution, and if such a cure is developed elsewhere it almost certainly won’t be offered to patients at Catholic hospitals.

Egnor then goes off the deep end:

When science is explanted from Christian culture and is idolized–consider evolutionary psychology and eugenics–it becomes banal and even evil.

Dr. Egnor appears to be channeling Ben Stein here. He’s just one step away from Ben Stein’s statement that science leads inevitably to killing people. I bet it’s coming in a future post.

Medical science inspired by Judeo-Christian values has given us St. Jude’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Hospital (at the Mayo Clinic), Presbyterian Hospital (at Columbia, my alma mater), and thousands of other hospitals with names like St. Joseph’s, St. Vincent’s, St. Luke’s, St. John’s, St. Agnes, St. Anthony, St. Barnabas, St. Catherine, St. Clares, St. Charles, St. Elizabeth, St. Francis, St. James, St. Jerome, St. Peter, St. Margaret, Mary Immaculate, Our Lady Of Lourdes, Our Lady Of Mercy, Sisters Of Charity, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Mt. Sinai, Maimonides, Beth Israel, Jewish Memorial, Holy Cross, Scared Heart, Mercy, and Good Samaritan. Where are the hospitals founded on Myers’ atheist principles? What medical advances has hatred for Judeo-Christian values given mankind?

Talk about a false dilemma! To Egnor, apparently, it’s either religion or hatred of religion. Science is either Judeo-Christian or it’s his overblown parody of religion-hating “militant” atheism, with no middle ground. In any case, altruism and caring for each other are almost certainly hard-wired into our biology; religion is simply one post hoc explanation and justification for this natural tendency of humans. Dr. Egnor’s question is the wrong question anyway. In fact, I’d answer Dr. Egnor’s question with a question after noting that all the religious-affiliated hospitals and medical centers that he mentions above are all, as far as I know, associated with moderate religions. So, I’d ask Dr. Egnor, instead: What medical advances has fundamentalist religion ever given mankind? I’ll wait. The very success of the religious hospitals listed above is because, for the most part, they do not interfere with the scientific research or the science of taking care of patients. The religion is there for comforting patients and trying to provide medical care for them regardless of whether they can pay or not, which is as it should be. If all religious organizations were like the hospitals listed above, there’d be very little reason to have a problem with them. In any case, the religious aspect of the above hospitals is not there to inform the science, and when it does even address the science at all it’s more likely to suppress any science that conflicts with religion, such as the use of embryonic stem cells.

In addition, secular science has produced many, many medical advances, and the vast majority of medical schools were not founded by a religion at all. Some examples include the University Hospitals of Cleveland, the University of Michigan, and the University of Chicago, all institutions where I trained at one point and none of them founded by clergy or a church. There are many others, such as the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard, UCSF, Stanford, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the National Institutes of Health, George Washington University, and many others. Then there are institutions that were originally formed as religious but have since–I can’t resist–evolved to be completely secular. Yale University comes to mind. The bottom line is that there is nothing inherent in a “religious culture” that leads to science–and much in a religious culture that holds science back, as science is frequently threatening to religion, particularly fundamentalist religion, to which science is most threatening of all. In actuality, medical science thrives in a secular environment. No religion is necessary, just a desire to help one’s fellow human being and a commitment to the scientific method.

Now where was that Doctor Doom mask again?

In the meantime while I’m looking for that mask, if Dr. Egnor wants a real anti-religion rant to get upset about he should read P.Z.’s response to his nonsense.

Comments

  1. #1 yttrai
    June 26, 2008

    You did a spendid job of sublimating your frustration into a great piece of writing. I’m absolutely saving this for later reflection, and sharing with my non-SB-reading friends and family.

    Well thought out and reasoned essays are going to win us much more ground than passionate rants, in my humble opinion. Thank you for standing up for the side we believe in :)

  2. #2 MartinM
    June 26, 2008

    The scientific investigation of nature using the scientific method depends on the metaphysical view that nature is rational and that natural laws can be discovered and used by human beings.

    A view utterly inconsistent with the belief that such laws can be suspended on the whim of an ineffable being, which is precisely what Myers was criticising in the first place.

    Where are the hospitals founded on Myers’ atheist principles?

    This line of ‘reasoning’ really irritates me – especially because I’ve heard it not just from loons like Egnor, but also from otherwise reasonable people. Where are all the atheist hospitals? Maybe we just don’t use our charitable acts as a fucking advertisment for our beliefs. I suppose that’s too radical a concept for the likes of Egnor, whose moral development clearly hasn’t passed the punishment/reward stage.

  3. #3 Felstatsu
    June 26, 2008

    Just a comment as someone who has recently started walking the path of a shaman. There’s not really any thought that what we do provides actual physical healing, and all the people I have learned from view us more as a sort of secondary treatment for psychological things for people who believe that we can help them. If there are real problems an actual psychologist is where someone should go first, then if the person believes working with a shaman will help in addition to their current treatment, a shaman will do what they can to help. If there aren’t real problems, and the person thinks a shaman can still help them, then it’s not like what the shaman does can harm them. At it’s most basic working with a shaman, leaving out the spiritual aspects, is just meditation and then talking with someone who is empathetic to your situation, not much woo there, more like a 1 on 1 support group were the other person may or may not have gone through what you have but is at least working to understand the events in your life. Looks kind of like some treatment systems in use today that don’t have accusations of woo if you ignore the spiritual aspect of it for a few seconds, so there’s no reason for it to suddenly become woo just because the people participating share a belief that the practices help heal the soul as well. Part of the reason I even considered looking at being a shaman was because I recognized that it works even without the spiritual part and contains treatment ideas that had been covered in the psychology class I had recently taken.

    As for a shaman making serious physical healing claims, they are not a real shaman, and should be viewed as a crazy person not representative of the rest of us.

    This isn’t me looking for an apology or anything though, I’m just hoping that you learn the difference, since the shamans that say they can heal physical stuff are to us like the YEC’s are to Christianity. A vocal minority that tends to make the rest of us look bad.

  4. #4 Bourgeois_Rage
    June 26, 2008

    Great read as usual. Thank you, Orac.

  5. #5 Hank
    June 26, 2008

    Searing, burning egnorance as we’ve all learned to expect from the dear doctor.

    How a neurosurgeon, of all people, can maintain that there is a brain/mind duality just goes to show the power of compartmentalization.

  6. #6 Calli Arcale
    June 26, 2008

    Good grief. Where are we to find hospitals founded on PZ’s principles? All over the place. Medical ethics require that practitioners remain neutral on the subject of religion, but respect the patient’s religious feelings. You need to treat a Satanist the same as a Catholic. For those with theological restrictions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, you need to tread carefully around those restrictions, but apart from that, they’re just like anyone else. In theory, at least. Nobody’s totally objective, but it’s something to strive for.

    As far as prayer goes, I’m a Christian, and I do pray for friends who need healing. Healing happens at its own time and pace. Doctors will do what they can, but a fair bit of it is always up to the patient’s body and whatever it is that is ailing them. Prayer doesn’t change that. I do not think you can use prayer to change the physical laws of the universe, and that means that if somebody is hurt, no matter how unfair it may seem, prayer will not reverse that hurt. The reason I pray anyway is twofold: to ask God to give those affected strength to endure (thought whether or not He does is not something that can be tested, nor any of my business — it would be between them and Him), but mostly to be able to talk about it with someone whom I believe (but cannot know) to be listening. It does help to talk about it with someone. And I think it helps people to know that you are praying for them; in essence, you’re telling them that you are thinking about them a lot and really, really, really wish they could be better. And it can be a comfort sometimes to know that other people care.

    The real power of prayer, and the real power of Christ, in my opinion does not take the form of miracles. It takes the form of people doing good things for one another. Some of them are doing it because they believe in Christ; others just because they feel it’s the right thing to do. The reason is not important, though. Not really. Either way, it’s the right thing to do. Prayer fits into this by helping people focus their minds on the problem and examine their hearts for ways they might be able to help. Sometimes all the more they can do is give comfort, but sometimes that is enough. So I find intercessionary prayer to be a little silly. I do it anyway, though. When you see a need but cannot fill it, somehow it feels better to ask God for it even knowing that the prayer doesn’t change anything in a material way. It lets you express that emotion, and sometimes that can help. It’s a bit like saying “I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all better.” You won’t get your wish, but people say stuff like that all the time. It can be a relief to admit to wanting something impossible, because it expresses the pain one is feeling.

    Some will say that God guides the hand of the surgeon. I’d rather believe that God guides the *heart* of the surgeon. I don’t know whether or not it’s true, of course. But I like the latter better than the former.

  7. #7 Marilyn Mann
    June 26, 2008

    Orac,

    I don’t know if this will interest you, but I got a call last night from someone doing a survey for the CDC. They were asking about whether kids under age 4 in our household had been vaccinated.

    Marilyn

  8. #8 Cooper
    June 26, 2008

    For me the issue with the whole “we’re the religion that gave birth to X” line is its sheer irrelevance to, well, anything. Alchemy gave rise to chemistry; astronomy came from astrology (both enterprises the Church met with disapproval). That doesn’t mean we’re being arrogant ingrates when we discuss alchemy as a relic of a bygone age.

    And for that matter, what about drugs like aspirin, cocaine, and quinine, which were discovered by decidedly unchristian societies? Do we have to acknowledge the role of Pacha Kamaq every time we apply topical anesthetics?

  9. #9 Dangerous Bacon
    June 26, 2008

    “As for a shaman making serious physical healing claims, they are not a real shaman”

    A sham-shaman?

    Maybe we could recruit a shaman, or better yet an exorcist to work his healing powers on Dr. Egnor.

    “The power of Christ compels you to stop babbling like a moron!”

  10. #10 Karl withakay
    June 26, 2008

    >>>”As far as prayer goes, I’m a Christian, and I do pray for friends who need healing. Healing happens at its own time and pace. Doctors will do what they can, but a fair bit of it is always up to the patient’s body and whatever it is that is ailing them. Prayer doesn’t change that.”

    True, prayer doesn’t change that, but your statement can be construed to imply a minimized role for doctors, as if they are mostly supportive, which would be inacurate. A patient’s body will not remove an inflamed appendix that is hours away from rupturing.

    >>>”I do not think you can use prayer to change the physical laws of the universe, and that means that if somebody is hurt, no matter how unfair it may seem, prayer will not reverse that hurt. The reason I pray anyway is twofold: to ask God to give those affected strength to endure (thought whether or not He does is not something that can be tested, nor any of my business — it would be between them and Him), ”

    How would God giving someone strength to endure not be changing the physical laws of the universe? God altering the physical and chemical processes in the brain to give someone “strength to endure” would be God stirring the pot just a little bit. You must be talking about a metaphysical soul independant of the brain.

    >>>but mostly to be able to talk about it with someone whom I believe (but cannot know) to be listening. It does help to talk about it with someone.”

    Try writing in diary instead. If God’s there he/she will know what you are writing; if not, it should be nearly as cathartic.

  11. #11 Karl Withakay
    June 26, 2008

    Please ignore the various typos/ dumb spelling errors.

  12. #12 Liesl
    June 26, 2008

    I really appreciate the lack of invective toward faith in other things, Orac. That’s the one thing I can’t abide in the skeptic movement and the thing that kept me out of it for so long; ironic, considering my agnosticism. Dogmatic thinking is dogmatic thinking and it does the movement more harm than any outsider who seeks to supplant science with religion. Either way, they both claim to know something that can’t be proven. Anyway, thanks for another great post, Orac.

  13. #13 RickD
    June 26, 2008

    Excellent post.

  14. #14 RickD
    June 26, 2008

    Excuse the double.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    June 26, 2008

    Liesl:

    Dogmatic thinking is dogmatic thinking and it does the movement more harm than any outsider who seeks to supplant science with religion.

    The question “Does science conflict with religion?” is too big and vague to be given a good answer. It presumes that both are monolithic entities, for a start. However, pointing out that certain well-established scientific discoveries steamroll right into some particular religious beliefs valued by many people is no more dogmatic than making any other statement backed by a large quantity of empirical evidence.

    Orac:

    Science began long before there ever were Christians and arguably even before Judaism.

    Indeed. Judaism as we would recognize it today, with rigorous monotheism, an established set of scriptures and all that didn’t get codified until the Babylonian Exile during the 500s BCE. When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple, Thales of Miletos was already forty years old, and would soon quite possibly be predicting a solar eclipse.

  16. #16 Liesl
    June 26, 2008

    Blake:

    How does singularity make the question of science and religion one that is too vague? Is there something that is science, but only sort of science? Or religion, but only sort of religion? If religion is based on faith and science is based on method and demonstration and proof, we have ample purpose in comparing the two as monolithic entities. No one would claim that the Catholic church practices their faith in the same way as any other form of religion, but they are certainly based on the same principle of faith rather than proof.

    There’s a huge difference between pointing out the differences and antipathies between religion and science and in asserting that something that cannot be proven or is based solely on faith is true. What I see more often than anything else in discussions of these things is the belief that the other side, no matter which side, is faithful to the wrong idea. I wasn’t addressing anyone who is simply pointing out the difference in religion and science; rather, I was addressing the plunge into derision of someone else’s faith simply because it does not agree with your faith that their idea doesn’t exist.

  17. #17 natural cynic
    June 26, 2008

    egnor: Where are the hospitals founded on Myers’ atheist principles? What medical advances has hatred for Judeo-Christian values given mankind?

    Uh, Dr. Mikey, look under your feet. You “teach” at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

    Hatred of Judeo-Christian values. I think that PZ shares some values with that tradition, which are also shared with other religious and secular traditions, it’s the dogma that he despises.

  18. #18 Dan
    June 26, 2008

    Orac congratulations on a well written article. You never cease to amaze me by the quality and amount of writing you do. Writing is not my strong suit, though I do research and write scientific papers for a living. However, when writing papers I am lucky if I can get one or two well written paragraphs out in a day. So what you seemingly write in a day might take me one to two weeks. I somethings wonder how you do it between your lab, surgery, family, etc.

  19. #19 dave
    June 26, 2008

    Orac: “I’m not a flame-throwing, take-no-prisoners athiest, as he is. I’m not even sure I’m an agnostic. One might even say I’m confused about religion or just plain lazy and apathetic.”
    I think the word you’re looking for may be “apatheist”.

    Also, one of the nice things about most (at least most modern) Catholics is that even where they do oppose science, a Catholic is a lot more likely to have reasons for doing so that are principled, well thought out, and consistently based on a coherent worldview than the average fundamentalist.

  20. #20 Blake Stacey
    June 26, 2008

    Is there something that is science, but only sort of science?

    Well, I can think of at least four different ways the word “science” can be used, so maybe. We’ve got (1) science as a method, or collection of methods; (2) the body of scientific knowledge discovered via those methods; (3) the community of scientists; and (4) applied science, or technology. Then, too, it’s possible for a person — even a practicing scientist — to be knowledgeable in one field and ignorant of others. A molecular biologist can feel that their science and their faith are in perfect accord, because all the fingerprints of God are over there in cosmology or neuroscience, see. So, members of the scientific community (#3) can encounter fewer problems than one might see on an abstract, philosophical level when considering the sum total of scientific knowledge (#2).

    If religion is based on faith and science is based on method and demonstration and proof, we have ample purpose in comparing the two as monolithic entities. No one would claim that the Catholic church practices their faith in the same way as any other form of religion, but they are certainly based on the same principle of faith rather than proof.

    Perhaps all religions include faith as a foundational principle; we might even take that as a definition. However, religions can differ on the extent to which that principle reaches and the areas of life they deem under its control. In addition, while all religions involve a “leap of faith”, after taking that leap they land in different places. Don’t these differences matter? Empirically speaking, don’t we see some groups taking a more directly confrontational stance against scientific discoveries than others? Aren’t these distinctions worthy of investigation, in as rigorous a way as we are capable? Acting otherwise is, to me, rather like ignoring the science-policy differences between Democrats and Republicans because they both show up to the voting booth on the same day. Furthermore, the supposed unity of faith has historically been a poor bond of brotherhood. To state the matter in an admittedly inflammatory way: You can treat religion as a monolithic phenomenon, if you ignore everything which has made different creeds drown the Earth in blood for thousands of years.

    I wasn’t addressing anyone who is simply pointing out the difference in religion and science; rather, I was addressing the plunge into derision of someone else’s faith simply because it does not agree with your faith that their idea doesn’t exist.

    I have never before succeeded in convincing anyone that an atheist’s statement that gods are not necessary to explain the observable data of Nature is not a statement of faith; nor have I ever successfully articulated the idea that the path of minimum faith is the one which gives the least weight to the products of human mythology invented in our ages of ignorance. So, I won’t try now.

    Nobody ever wants to talk about the Tunnel of Samos. It’s odd.

  21. #21 DLC
    June 26, 2008

    Well Said, Orac.
    Fortunately for me I’m not a medical professional, or even a surgeon, so I don’t need a Doctor Doom mask. although I might want one just for the coolness factor.

  22. #22 Jud
    June 27, 2008

    Orac wrote: Science is all about questioning and requiring evidence before accepting a statement as true; religion is about acceptance on faith because authorities tell us a supernatural being tells us it’s true.

    Ya know, PZ may not have been too far off with that “atheist, but won’t admit it to yourself” thing. ;-)

  23. #23 Jud
    June 27, 2008

    Blake Stacey wrote: I have never before succeeded in convincing anyone that an atheist’s statement that gods are not necessary to explain the observable data of Nature is not a statement of faith….

    Yeah, it’s gonna be either no convincing needed or no convincing possible.

    Nobody ever wants to talk about the Tunnel of Samos.

    Heh, what about it? :-) (BTW, thanks for the reference – what little I’ve just read looks fascinating.)

  24. #24 Liesl
    June 27, 2008

    Blake:

    I think you’re making the science argument one of semantics. The nature of science is the nature of science, right? It isn’t one thing today and then something else tomorrow. The findings may differ, the particulars may differ, but the thing itself does not.

    As for religions differing: of course they do. It does not matter, though, when discussing the idea itself. It doesn’t matter which path a person’s faith takes when we ridicule someone else for that path; the dogmatic nature of faith in itself is the thing that I was attempting to get at, not the particulars of the expression of faith. It is no more intolerant to blast someone for being a heathen for not believing in Jesus than it is to blast someone for being mindless for not being an atheist. Both of those platforms from which and toward which we leap are exclusive in nature. Whether or not one of them adheres to science more than the other isn’t relevant. Faith and science are simply two different things and should not ever be confused. When they are confused, people start trying to teach intelligent design in schools while burning crosses on kids’ legs. (There’s a very different direction this topic could go that involves flies and honey, but that is a topic for another time.)

    I, too, would love to be able to convince people that agnosticism is the only path to the mental heavy lifting necessary for a considered life. However, the old adage is true: you just can’t argue with faith. I must cut this short; you’re lucky I have to scoot to class; I can be ridiculously long winded and pedantic.

  25. #25 Orac
    June 28, 2008

    Ya know, PZ may not have been too far off with that “atheist, but won’t admit it to yourself” thing. ;-)

    Maybe, but I’ll never admit it.

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