Galactic Interactions

So I’m a Christian. Shoot me.

It’s very irritating to come to my blog and see the advertisement at top for a book proclaiming loudly ” GOD: The Failed Hypothesis. How science shows that God does not exist.” I haven’t clicked on the link, and won’t, because its very title indicates to me that it’s hogwash.

This bugs me on two levels. First, it sets off my bullshit-o-meter in a big way. God is not a scientific concept, and as such science cannot disprove the existence of God. Science has obviated the need for God or gods for many people, and science assuredly has disproven a lot of things people claim in the name of god (e.g. all of the absurdity claimed by creationists), but that’s different from disproving God itself.

On the second level: if you are a scienceblogger regular and you go to a site that may have interesting and enlightening material, but you read at the top “How the Scientific Establishment is Destroying America!!!!” in big letters, what would you think? You’d be turned off to the site from the very beginning, and would approach everything you read there with suspicion. And, perhaps rightly so. But do we really want people who are religious but also interested in and open to the full implications of modern scientific knowledge to be turned off from the get-go when they arrive at this site?

Yes, scienceblogs is a site generally overrun with atheists of one stripe or another; the debate is between the radical atheists who think that anybody religious is soft-headed, ignorant, intellectual dishonest, or confused, vs. the “Neville Chamberlain” atheists who subscribe to a “live and let live” philosophy, and have no problem with people of other religious views as long as they still support good science. So, here’s me, way out on a wing as being actually religious, not just tolerant of people of religion– and, yet, still considering myself a fairly hard-line supporter of good science.

I’m very thankful for the Neville Chamberlain atheists. I’m very grouchy about this “go away religious people, you have to accept atheism into your heart to be approved as a science supporter” attitude that the advertisement showing up at the top of the site right now is supporting.

But if you’re a science blogs regular, perhaps even a PZ sycophant, you may wonder: how the hell can Rob be so deluded as to think that he’s a hard-line science supporter while still being religious?

Well, first, I should point to a post I wrote some time ago at my blog’s former location, and avoid restating all of that. (I won’t be able to avoid restating some of it, of course.) That post is : “On Being a Scientist and Not an Atheist“.

Alas, the term “Christian” has been subverted by the religious right recently, so that when somebody comes out and claims to be Christian, people make all sorts of unfortunate assumptions. So let me get some things out in the open:

  • The whole notion of Biblical literalism is laughably absurd. It always surprises me that people who are intelligent and capable of thinking still manage to cleave to this notion. The Bible contradicts itself, for heaven’s sake. But the fact is that it was written in a pre-scientific age when people didn’t know about things like the roundness of the Earth, the near-Solar center of mass of our Solar System, the age of the Universe, biological Evolution, and so forth. All of the things we have learned make it clear that the creation stories in Genesis are just that– stories. This does not mean that they’re useless; you can find inspiration and enlightenment from reading stories that are fictional or mythological.

    Many people also like to pull out quotations from St. Paul in the New Testament to support one position or another. But St. Paul contradicts himself. Anti-religious types sometimes argue that this invalidates the whole thing, which is just as stupid as thinking that every individual thing that St. Paul writes should be accepted uncritically. What’s really going on is that St. Paul’s own thinking and understanding is evolving. The message one should take away from that is that what he wrote should hardly be considered the last word in theological thought. Start from St. Paul, go through St. Augustine and Martin Luther and others, and it’s clear that the Christian religion is one that has a tradition of people who don’t always just accept the doctrine of the day, but see value in critical thought and intelligent consideration of the issues. It’s too bad that so many who call themselves “Christian” today have eschewed that tradition in favor of jingoistic adherence to obsolete and absurd doctrine.

  • I do not believe that Christians have exclusive access to theological truth. As I said in the previous post, I think that Christians and Wiccans and Hindus and Muslims are all searching after and talking about ultimately the same thing; they are just seeing it in different ways. Too often, religion comes with statements that “you must accept this doctrine or be damned;” you can find quotes from Jesus that are most directly interpreted that way in the Gospel of John. I think that’s a destructive notion, and has led to all the wars and other evil things that have made many today think that religion needs to be rejected altogether.

  • One does not need to be a Christian or otherwise religious to be moral and Good. I’ve known lots of atheists with a clear moral sense. I don’t view “is a Christian” as either an endorsement or a condemnation of anybody. Many Christians, alas, do; Politician X may have flaws, some say, but at least he’s a God-fearing Christian! Foo to that, I say. We should elect politicians and everybody else based on how well we think they’re going to do their job, not based on their own private views on religion.

  • Religion is not for explaining the processes of the natural world. Once upon a time it was. There is a natural drive for humans to be able to explain and understand the world around us; that’s why science is so popular! That’s why there’s value in sciences like astronomy that have no hope of ever producing some “useful” consumer good. In ages past, without the scientific tools to describe very much, people resorted to mythology to explain the natural world. In recent centuries, science has shown to be an amazing tool with a tremendous track record in explaining the processes of the natural world. It has completely supplanted religion in that arena, to the point that people who still try to use religion to explain the natural world (e.g. creationists) are missing the boat by more than a hundred years. Those who say that “science proves God doesn’t exist” are making the mistake of thinking that explaining the natural world is the only purpose of religion, just as assuredly as the religious who reject science based on their doctrine think that religion are making a serious mistake in thinking that religion still has any role to play in explaining the processes of the natural world.

What I just wrote begs a lot of questions. First of all, if religion isn’t for explaining the processes of the natural religion, then what the heck is it for? Why do I still see any value in religion in today, given that I recognize that science has hands down become the method whereby we can understand the natural world? Second, I go and say that I think all religions are talking about the same thing; do I think think that all religions are equally valid? And why do I call myself a Christian if I don’t think Christians have exclusive access to theological truth?

I won’t answer any of those right now; I’ll save them for future posts. I write them here to indicate that, yes, I’m aware that those are unanswered questions. If I didn’t, assuredly some commenter would post those questions with an annoyingly supercilious air as if they had just found a way to take all of the air out of everything that I’m saying. I eagerly look forward to intellectual engagement, but I have little patience for the radical atheists who are so convinced of their own position that they are unable to tell the difference between that and a childish, shallow insult.

Comments

  1. #1 ilya zlatkovsky
    March 11, 2007

    I just read what you wrote and I enjoyed your perspective. I’ve heard all of points you made by both atheists and theists. But I would love to hear why, after knowing there is that there is no exclusive theolocical truth in christianity, you believe in a god. Without starting a flame war, do you think that the scientologists and raeliens have the same type of theological truth that christians and hindus have?

  2. #2 Dave Carlson
    March 11, 2007

    Hey Rob,
    This “Neville Chamberlain” atheist doesn’t much care for that ad either. Of course, I didn’t like the Discovery Channel “Jesus’ Buried Bones Bonanaza” ad either. :)

    It sounds to me like you will add a vert interesting perspective SB mix. I’m glad you’re here!

    Dave

  3. #3 Dave Carlson
    March 11, 2007

    Oops. That should be “add a very interesting perspective to the SB mix.”

  4. #4 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    Start from St. Paul, go through St. Augustine and Martin Luther and others, and it’s clear that the Christian religion is one that has a tradition of people who don’t always just accept the doctrine of the day, but see value in critical thought and intelligent consideration of the issues.

    Would that be the same Martin Luther who said, “But since the devil’s bride, Reason, that pretty whore, comes in and thinks she’s wise, and what she says, what she thinks, is from the Holy Spirit, who can help us, then? Not judges, not doctors, no king or emperor, because [reason] is the Devil’s greatest whore.” ?

    source

    I’ll be looking forward to your explaining why you call yourself a “Christian,” rather than a “theist” or “deist,” when you acknowledge that the Bible is not a reliable source of information, and do not consider Christianity to have an inside track over other faiths. Do you selectively accept some parts of the Bible? Does that include the bits about Jesus working miracles and being God/the son of God? Or do you just consider him to be human, but to have made some moral/philosophical contributions? At your leisure.

  5. #5 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    It’s very irritating to come to my blog and see the advertisement at top for a book proclaiming loudly ” GOD: The Failed Hypothesis. How science shows that God does not exist.” I haven’t clicked on the link, and won’t, because its very title indicates to me that it’s hogwash.

    Maybe this is similar to the feeling I had a week or two ago when I perused Scienceblogs and that “Cameron’s tomb of Jesus” ad was all over the place. Except of course, that I’m just a customer and not proprietor of a Scienceblog.

  6. #6 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    My but Luther was a prolific writer: Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spritual things, but–more frequently than not –struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

  7. #7 Joseph j7uy5
    March 11, 2007

    I’ve long considered myself an agnostic with atheistic tendencies. I happen to believe that it is impossible to prove the existence or nonexistence of god. I also happen to believe that it is impossible to prove or disprove anything beyond mathematics, in which things are true by definition or strict deduction.

    I have observed that religion can be used for good or for evil; for bringing a meal to an elderly shut-in, or justifying a war. I have observed that science can be used for good or for evil; for eradicating smallpox, or developing biological weapons.

    I think it makes sense to find a way to live that takes the good things that religion can do, and put those things into practice; and to find the good things that science can do, and put those things into practice; and to constantly refine one’s ability to distinguish good from bad.

  8. #8 Luke
    March 11, 2007

    Rob – I’m not religious, but I completely agree with your annoyance at the ad. I never thought I’d see the day when the market was flooded with atheistic best-sellers. Considering that, to give two examples, neither the expansion of the universe nor the neutron had been discovered when my father was born, I think it’s premature (at best) for anyone to make definitive statements about the nature of reality.

  9. #9 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    That you are a believer does not really bother me. However, I get annoyed 1) when believers try to push their religious norms onto me (Creationism in the schools, etc.) It sounds like you’re not one of those, which is good. I also don’t like it 2) when believers try to tell me that their belief is somehow rational. That always turns out badly, because they have to ***** reason to make that argument. In extreme cases, you may end up with someone like Alvin Plantinga.

    The position I can respect is someone saying, “I just believe, but I cannot produce any convincing evidence or argument why you should do so.” An example of such a person is Martin Gardner.

  10. #10 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    CR McClain of Deep-Sea News is also a believer of some sort:

    I have a minor in religion. I have enough classes for a major but failed to take the senior comps. Despite the unanswered question of why a god would let really evil things (disease, death, rape, genocide, and any number of other atrocities) happen to good people, I still believe there is one. I am agnostic at best, but never atheist. I despise ignorance, whether it be scientist of religion or of religious of science. I despise fundamentalism of anything. It represents the worst of Christianity when people use a literal translation of the bible to support their own hatred, such as homosexuality is wrong but don’t follow…1 Corinthians 14:34, women should be silent in church; Leviticus 20:9, cursing your parents is punishable by death; Leviticus 11:7, no pork!; Leviticus 19:19, no polyester; etc.

  11. #11 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    I’ll answer a bunch of these questions later, as I said in my post.

    Re: Martin Luther, yeah, you can find lots of nasty stuff he wrote. He said nasty things about Copernicus and Galileo also. But he’s famous for saying that the Catholic Church of his day had been ossified by tradition, and by saying that a re-consideration of present practices was in order. That’s why I list him as one of the people who indicate that thought should be applied to religion — even if you don’t happen to like some of the things you can find that he wrote.

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    March 11, 2007

    Religion is not for explaining the processes of the natural world.

    But if you’re going to claim a traditional theistic God who actively intervenes in the world through prayer, miracles and historical stuff like resurrections and immaculate conceptions, you inevitably make claims about the natural world. Those things are no less empirical than claims about ESP and alternative medicine (whose practioners also often epistemological games to exempt their claims from empirical testing). As well, not all gods are equal. A noninterventional deistic god is less easy to disprove than a traditional theistic one.

  13. #13 Greg Kucharo
    March 11, 2007

    Rob,
    Good piece and a welcome perspective. You definitely should answer those last two questions. I don’t think having those questions takes the air out of the rest, but it certainly seems to leave the rest of it on incomplete ground. Before I even reached that last paragraph, I found myself wondering ‘what makes him a Christian rather than just a moral and ethical person with no supernatural baggage?’.

  14. #14 Crow
    March 11, 2007

    Rob,

    Thanks for bringing a much-needed perspective to SB. The majority of practicing scientists that I work with every day take a position much closer to you than to Dawkins, and it’s good to see that reflected here.

    -Crow

  15. #15 mollishka
    March 11, 2007

    Republican and Christian all in one week? Pace yourself …

    Ilya: the idea of whether or not any one group has exclusive access to theological truth is independent of whether or not there is a god. If there is a god and no one group has all the dips on theological truth, then it just means that no one group has it all figured out yet. (And, of course, if there is no god, then all the theologically inclined modes of thinking are equally valid in how wrong their views are.)

  16. #16 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    By the way, we of the Evil Atheist Conspiracy do not avocate shooting Christians, at least not openly. So how did you find out? Is there a mole?

  17. #17 Koray
    March 11, 2007

    As soon as you declare that there is no one true religion and christians, jews & muslims are essentially both acceptable choices, you are talking about some kind of philosophy, not religion.

    Since you are already comfortable with picking and choosing sentences from the bible, it makes more sense to talk about things that you can’t deny as a christian: that there is an almighty, unequaled being, that we exist because of his intention and there’s afterlife with reward and punishment.

    How did *you* come to know all this? These are all assertions propagated by human beings that lived before us. Scientific reasoning and skepticism *does* come into play to analyze these claims. No, it’s not physics or biology first; it’s perhaps psychology because they do study deceit and self-delusion.

    Do you realize what a fertile ground religion is for fabrication of all kinds of delusions and pursuit of personal goals? You can get away with anything, and when you get caught people find ways to keep believing (e.g. literalism is absurd).

  18. #18 Michael
    March 11, 2007

    But on the other hand…

    Atheists are the target of many childish, shallow insults, in fact much more so than Christians. It is quite bothersome that Christians feel “under attack” when atheists are a vast minority compared to Christians and are constantly under attacked by them.

    So just be aware that in some senses, you are like the white guy complaining about reverse racism. The cards are way stacked on your side and as a Christian you have very little to complain about.

    I thought that ad was pretty bad, too, but I can’t drive down the street without seeing just as inane crap about Jesus, and Christ and how atheists are a bunch of baby killers. So I don’t actually have very much sympathy that you Christians are getting a little of that back.

  19. #19 jason
    March 11, 2007

    You know, I wonder how gays and Muslims and atheists feel when invited to church. Wouldn’t it be better if they weren’t turned off from the get go by all the hateful rhetoric? Wouldn’t they feel better if they were treated with respect both in the building and outside of it?

    I see this as a two-way street. It seems religious people want all the tolerance they can get, but they’re just not willing to give it.

    You’re upset about an advertisement. As a gay man, I’m upset about the anti-marriage amendments and battles over equality. As an atheist, I wonder about the “you’re going to hell” BS and constant badgering about this being a Christian nation (when, in fact, it’s never been any such thing.) I wonder which is more important, and which tells more about its advocates and supporters. Every argument you make is disconcerting because they’re the same arguments we infidels have been screaming for years. Amazing what happens when the shoe’s on the other foot…

  20. #20 ERV
    March 11, 2007

    *shrug* Oh by all means, be offended at a book you havent read yet. Not that I have read it either, I just find your response to be bizarre and your jab at other bloggers here rude.

    If you really find this ad unbearable, get FireFox and download the AdBlockPlus extension. Its great.

  21. #21 Kevembuangga
    March 11, 2007

    There is no need for atheists to go for a “shooting” of Christians, other religionists will do that pretty well.
    This is the only nice point about religions they tend to be self-regulating up to the point that most sects end up in collective suicide (Apocalypse anyone?).
    The atheists only object at being part of this game, as I have put it in another similar thread:

    There is a BIG difference between willing to enforce something on others (religious thought police!) and not willing to have others enforce their nutty fantasies on you.

    May be you, Rob, don’t do that but the majority of religionists, Christian or otherwise, do EXACTLY that :
    An Israeli couple being married in India have found that you may not kiss the bride
    Isn’t that oppression from CRETINS?

  22. #22 QrazyQat
    March 11, 2007

    That’s why I list him as one of the people who indicate that thought should be applied to religion…

    Luther’s words do show that he thought that thought should be applied to religion, but his words also show clearly that he felt this should be thought that is without reason. That’s not a helpful kind of thought, IMO.

  23. #23 Patness
    March 11, 2007

    “So how did you find out? Is there a mole?”

    Yes, I’m on your left cheek and I desperately need surgical removal.

    Rob, if you do not fully accept the dogma of the Church, what do you mean when you say “I am Christian”? I mean, what makes you Christian compared to, say, Pat Robertson or a stoner-philosopher hippie? I tend to think that Christianity in particular is inundated with questions about what Christianity means. I’d like your position, if you are willing.

    I am one of those hard-lining atheists, and I think the problem is faith. Entirely too often we apply faith, a very particular form of non-reason, as a doctrine, into realms where faith simply does not belong (faith in leadership, for example). Faith finds its place when we need action but are insufficiently wise. I promote the pursuit of wisdom through reason, and resorting to faith hampers this process. Reason and faith are at odds. For that matter, proof is not in the realm of faith, as God is.

    Is it irrational? It might be considered irrational to believe to be true something which is not shown to be true. But really, it’s clear human beings are anything but rational creatures.

  24. #24 Kevembuangga
    March 11, 2007

    I have purposefully chosen an innocuous and non Abrahamic exemple to emphasize the point that the problem with religions is rejection of rational evidence a.k.a. STUPIDITY!

  25. #25 Jeff Knapp
    March 11, 2007

    Rob, Thank you for writing that.

    I am an atheist and do not believe there is or ever was any sort of supernatural influence in the universe. With that said, I also very strongly believe that every person should be free to follow their own conscience in what they chose to believe or not believe.

    I found what you wrote to be very refreshing; a religious person who does understand the role of science – to understand and explain the natural world. If most religious people in the world thought like you do, I don’t think there would be any problem with science and religion coexisting. There would be no Taliban, no “Religious Right,” no large-scale attempts to force religious myths on people over scientific knowledge.

    Thank you for being an example of how it could (and should) be.

  26. #26 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    it makes more sense to talk about things that you can’t deny as a christian: that there is an almighty, unequaled being, that we exist because of his intention and there’s afterlife with reward and punishment.

    I don’t uncritically accept that entire laundry list, and yet still manage to call myself a Christian.

    If you don’t like that, be aware that I don’t recognize your authority to define what “Christian” means….

    Like I say in the post, I will write more on it later. I hoped to avoid a lot of the “trying to superciliously trip Rob up with the obvious questions” responses, but of course I’m seeing some….

    -Rob

  27. #27 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    I see this as a two-way street. It seems religious people want all the tolerance they can get, but they’re just not willing to give it.

    Please go back and read my post again.

    You may recognize in there me (a) claiming to be religious, and (b) being willing to allow that people who disagree with me on philosophy may be tolerated.

    It does happen sometimes.

    Please, folks, try to avoid the classic anti-religion straw-man attacks.

    -Rob

  28. #28 Roy
    March 11, 2007

    If I believe there are twelve gods living in crystal palaces on Mount Olympus, you would be within your rights to Google Earth the mountain top and ask me point point out those residences. If I say they are therw but are invisible, you’d be right to scoff — or to invite me to join you on a trip to the summit, where you will swing a hammer everywhere, and should eventually shatter one of the crystal palaces. If I then insist that the gods and their palaces don’t exist in our four dimensions but instead are in some other dimensions, they you can point out that I’m admitting they don’t exist in the world of physics, which is the world you and I live in. And you’d be right.

    Kindly explain to me how you can see any sense to my arguments.

  29. #29 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    So I’m a Christian. Shoot me.

    Wouldn’t ‘So I’m a Christian. Crucify me.’ be more eloquent?

  30. #30 jason
    March 11, 2007

    Straw man? Hardly. I see the religious blinders come with the label.

  31. #31 llewelly
    March 11, 2007

    It seems religious people want all the tolerance they can get, but they’re just not willing to give it.

    Actually, many religious people, maybe even the majority, give tolerance – but, unfortunately, turn a blind eye to the reprehensible activities of far more vocal and influential members of their religion, who relentlessly oppose tolerance. Beyond that, what most atheists seem to want is acceptance, which is a unit above tolerance and a unit below equal rights.

  32. #32 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    If you don’t like that, be aware that I don’t recognize your authority to define what “Christian” means….

    On the other hand, if every person redefines words to suit his/her purpose, discourse becomes impossible, or at least pointless. This frequently happens in discussions of “free will”, for example. I trust that in that future post in which you explain whether you believe that Jesus is magic, or whether he is simply tremendously insightful for repeating platitudes in the few Bible verses you cherry-pick, that you will also give us the definition of “Christian” which you assert yourself to meet.

  33. #33 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    Since you have acknowledged that the Bible is not a reliable source of information, this brings to attention the thorough lack of extra-Biblical documentation of the existence, let alone the activity, of Jesus H. Christ.

    At any rate, the post-counter will be spinning wildly by morning.

  34. #34 Lab Lemming
    March 11, 2007

    Rob:
    You’ve taken Bly’s 12 pieces of silver, so what standing do you have to complain about his adverts? If you don’t like them, what’s stopping you from going back to your university server?

  35. #35 The Ridger
    March 11, 2007

    You don’t have to say you haven’t read the book, your categorization of it proves that.

    I’m sorry you’re offended by the ad for it, but when you move to a commercial site these things come along with it.

  36. #36 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    You’ve taken Bly’s 12 pieces of silver, so what standing do you have to complain about his adverts?

    You pay taxes. Do you like everything that your government does? If not, why haven’t you emigrated?

  37. #37 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    You don’t have to say you haven’t read the book, your categorization of it proves that.

    If that’s the case, then the book is seriously mis-titled and mis-advertised.

    On the other hand, if every person redefines words to suit his/her purpose, discourse becomes impossible, or at least pointless.

    True, but you can hardly expect me to accept the definition of somebody who wants to attack me for being Christian! On the other hand, I really do not accept the definition of the religious right fundamentalists. I would just about be willing to accept the definition of “Christian” as “somebody who wants to call himself a Christian” — it sounds silly, but if you stop and think about it, it’s not to terrible a definition. It’s not too far from “followers of Jesus Christ,” but carries even less inferred baggage. (I deliberately say “inferred” rather than “implied”.)

    Beyond that, what most atheists seem to want is acceptance, which is a unit above tolerance and a unit below equal rights.

    I thought they wanted, and think that they should get, equal rights. And, yes, I recognize that in today’s America, being labeled an “atheist” can add challenges in many areas. Not on scienceblogs, though, which is where we are; on scienceblogs, the religious are the persecuted minority, which is why I get all defensive, and which is why accusations that it’s out of place to defend religion against attacks by atheists are off base.

  38. #38 ilya
    March 11, 2007

    mollishka- of course they’re independent, i didn’t think i was stating that they’re not.

    but… lots of christians (and folks of other religions) act as if they’re version is the true version. i see this the most with judaism/christianty because they’re prominent in my area and they have the “there is no god but me” commandment.

    people have touched on this already, but what i wish rob would explain is why he, and all the people who have a similar viewpoint to his, follow some of the teachings of jesus instead of some of the teachings of a different religious figurehead. why not all? why not at all?

    rob- don’t explain yourself now if you don’t want to, but i would like to read why you consider yourself christian.

  39. #39 SLC
    March 11, 2007

    It is rather unfortunate that Prof Knop mentioned Martin Luther who was the second worst antisemite (second only to Hitler) in the history of the world. Attached is a link from a thread on Braytons’ blog with a quotation from him.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2007/02/berkowitz_on_kennedy_darwin_an.php

  40. #40 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    rob- don’t explain yourself now if you don’t want to, but i would like to read why you consider yourself christian.

    Stay tuned. It will come.

    Re: Martin Luther, of course he had all sorts of backwards attitudes. So did everybody else on that list I gave. But if you all want to demonize him, than drop him from my list; that specific name isn’t specifically relevant. The point is that unless you’ve got really, really, really thick anti-Christian blinders on, you have to admit there have been a host of deep thinkers and thoughtful writers in the Christian tradition over the centuries– and I think it too bad that the fundamentalists of today are rejecting that part of the Christian tradition wholesale in favor of less savory parts of the tradition.

  41. #41 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    Not on scienceblogs, though, which is where we are; on scienceblogs, the religious are the persecuted minority,..

    I am, as you should expect, a doubting Thomas. Show us the nail holes and the lash marks of this persecution.
    ;)

  42. #42 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 11, 2007

    The point is that unless you’ve got really, really, really thick anti-Christian blinders on, you have to admit there have been a host of deep thinkers and thoughtful writers in the Christian tradition over the centuries–

    Sure. Hume wrote about that:

    And here we may observe, continued he (Cleanthes), turning himself towards Demea, a pretty curious circumstance in the history of the sciences. After the union of philosophy with the popular religion, upon the first establishment of Christianity, nothing was more usual, among all religious teachers, than declamations against reason, against the senses, against every principle derived merely from human research and enquiry. All the topics of the ancient Academics were adopted by the fathers; and thence propagated for several ages in every school and pulpit throughout Christendom. The Reformers embraced the same principles of reasoning, or rather declamation; and all panegyrics on the excellency of faith, were sure to be interlarded with some severe strokes of satire against natural reason. A celebrated prelate too, of the Romish communion, a man of the most extensive learning, who wrote a demonstration of Christianity, has also composed a treatise, which contains all the cavils of the boldest and most determined Pyrrhonism…

    Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume

  43. #43 Leni
    March 11, 2007

    Rob wrote:

    True, but you can hardly expect me to accept the definition of somebody who wants to attack me for being Christian!

    In the interest of fairness and, I think, rationality, it shouldn’t matter who the definition comes from. The laundry list was a pretty apt description of what most mainstream Christians think. If you aren’t in the mainstream, fine. That doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian, but it also doesn’t mean that the description was bad. I don’t think it is part of some sinister plot to “attack” you :)

    I understand that you feel defensive, but I do think you’re over-reacting a bit. No one is “attacking” you. They are attempting to engage you in a verbal argument over a philosophical topic. There might be a tone you don’t like, but it is not an attack and framing it that way is not helpful.

    Also, a word on your defintion of a christian as being “someone who calls himself one”. I see the appeal of it’s simplicity, and while I know you aren’t seriously suggesting it, it clearly wouldn’t work. I mean, it says absolutely nothing about what a christian actually is. If you didn’t know what a christian was before you read it, this definition would do precisely nothing to enlighten you.

  44. #44 CR McClain
    March 11, 2007

    I see that Mustafa has already outed me. I enjoyed the post and found it refreshing here at Sb. I not too crazy about the ad but felt it was beyond the scope of my website to comment.

  45. #45 reboho
    March 11, 2007

    If you don’t like that, be aware that I don’t recognize your authority to define what “Christian” means….

    But that doesn’t give the authority either. There are a lot of Christians who would read through your post and say that you are not a Christian. Not trying to make you mad but there are some requirements, as defined in various creeds, in the book that you do need to align with, otherwise why have the book?

    You sound like someone who enjoys the experience of the church, perhaps the ritual. Lots of Jews and Catholics that feel that the ritual is what unlocks the experience of god. Daniel Dennett and Robert Price both enjoy religious services but also don’t believe in any god.

    I think the demographics of this site would tend to favor the PZ sycophants and thus the advertisement appears. Being about half way through the book myself, from what you posted above you may not have as big a disagreement with the author as you might suppose.

    Neville Chamberlain atheists and moderate Christians may not cause much of a stir but they implicitly give cover to the fundamentalists. If moderates don’t speak up, it’s assumed that you agree the fundamentalists. You agree because you let them frame the argument, you let them define Christianity whether you like it or not. The PZ sycophants are speaking up to try to get a different perspective in front of the masses, but I think you picking an argument with people who are more sympathetic towards you than you realize.

  46. #46 Ed Minchau
    March 11, 2007

    “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”
    — Isaac Newton

    Anyone want to take a crack at the greatest scientific genius the world has ever known? Who was by the way, a devout Christian.

  47. #47 decrepitoldfool
    March 11, 2007

    I suggested at a certain biologist’s blog that there was nothing to be gained by scorning common ground with believers and, well, I’m officially unwelcome there now. But conflict sells; I bet he is half the SB traffic all by himself.

    It sounds corny but believers and unbelievers breathe the same air; we need each other’s community. World’s getting too small for hurling epithets. And I know too many counterexamples to that “believers are fools” meme. I guess that makes me a Neville Chamberlain atheist.

    So briefly, Rob, good one.

  48. #48 Dave Carlson
    March 11, 2007

    Neville Chamberlain atheists and moderate Christians may not cause much of a stir but they implicitly give cover to the fundamentalists.

    As a Neville Chamberlain atheis, I take offense at your comment. I most certainly do not give cover–whether implicit or explicit–to fundamentalists. In fact, I criticize their idiocy quite frequently. Believe me, just because I don’t see the need to criticize the ideas of everyone who classifies themselves as Christians (even if I do disagree with many of those ideas) that doesn’t mean I loathe guys like Dobson, Robertson, Kennedy, etc. any less than you do.

  49. #49 Tyler
    March 11, 2007

    We need to, I think, be very accurate when we engage in conversations like these- conversations between atheists, of which I am one, and religious believers. We need to separate beliefs from values: we learn values before we learn beliefs, and as we pick up personal beliefs (some say in our adolescence) we choose those, religious and otherwise, that conform to our set values. Both Hitler and Galilleo were Catholic, but one would stretch credibility lumping them together as “religious types.”

    I look forward to hearing your personal feelings on what “Christian” means to you, Rob. I’m an atheist, but to crowd “religious types” under one heading is being VERY uncritical, and I see WAY too many atheists make this unfortunate mistake.

  50. #50 PZ Myers
    March 11, 2007

    My “sycophants,” if there are any, will be relieved to hear that your opinion of them is not a “childish, shallow insult.”

    Say, dof, who is this certain biologist? Last time I looked, I had something less than a third of sb’s total traffic, and I don’t think anyone else was very close, but at the same time, I’ve never made you officially unwelcome. You must not be talking about me, then.

    Oh, but hey, if conflict sells, that must be why Rob here disparages readers of my site.

  51. #51 Rob Knop
    March 11, 2007

    If moderates don’t speak up, it’s assumed that you agree the fundamentalists.

    But I do speak up. Read back on my blog a bit. Indeed, I was more unforgiving than most about whatshisname the geologist who wrote a PhD thesis that needed to implicitly assume an old earth while all the while not believing any of it.

    As for everything else : yipers, the commenting rate is going to get too high for me to be able to keep up with this thread. So, if I don’t respond to everything, please forgive.

    Rest assured that I WILL have more blog posts on all of this in the future. After all, if I’m going to maintain that one can be a good scientist and not an atheist all at the same time, I suppose it’s up to me to try and describe what the heck I’m talking about.

    -Rob

  52. #52 Dirk
    March 11, 2007

    I like scienceblogs.com and visit every day, but the fierce and proselytizing atheism is…surprising. More puzzling is the notion that many now appear to have that religion is actually bad for human society and that they are doing charity work by ridiculing it.

  53. #53 decrepitoldfool
    March 11, 2007

    PZ, one-third of SB’s traffic ain’t too shabby. You may not remember telling me “please go away” and calling me a hypocrite. But I am no troll and I can take a hint.

    You keep your brass knuckles – maybe in the end that’ll turn out to be the right way but I think it’s counterproductive.

  54. #54 rebo
    March 11, 2007

    As a Neville Chamberlain atheist, I take offense at your comment. I most certainly do not give cover–whether implicit or explicit–to fundamentalists. In fact, I criticize their idiocy quite frequently. Believe me, just because I don’t see the need to criticize the ideas of everyone who classifies themselves as Christians (even if I do disagree with many of those ideas) that doesn’t mean I loathe guys like Dobson, Robertson, Kennedy, etc. any less than you do.

    But this isn’t a battle for your mind or my mind, it is a battle for the minds of the masses. Controversial titles and outrageous statements are getting the attention. No matter your god, belief or lack there of, we have to call bullshit when the claims are made. If moderate Christianity is worth having, a case has to be made. If atheism fits, a case has to be made because it’s the fundies that have the power and the masses agreeing with them now, so silence is complicity.

    Rob, I will go back and read your blog, I owe you that. You can see the results a controversial title received for your blog and the same can be said for the title for the book author.

    I only want to point out that you don’t have that much of a bone to pick with the author or me, but your faith and my lack thereof is in danger unless we stand up to these fundie thugs. They have an agenda and it will swallow all of us if we don’t stand up to them. School boards are just a small part of the overall goal to turn this country into a theocracy. I’m not saying you have to speak up but you will have to choose at some point.

  55. #55 mollishka
    March 11, 2007

    I totally need my own flock of sycophants. … they come in flocks, right?

  56. #56 Monado
    March 11, 2007

    Mollishka, I think you need to get the 1-day-old hatchlings and raise them yourself. :-)

  57. #57 JimV
    March 11, 2007

    Good post, and even better comments (IMHO).

    As for Newton being a devout Christian, it again depends on your definition. Here’s a quote from Freeman Dyson’s book, “The Scientist As A Rebel”:

    From a review of James Gleick�s biography of Newton:

    He [Newton] saw clearly that there is no firm basis in scripture for the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Trinity. He was a Unitarian, deducing from the evidence of scripture that God the Father reigns alone. There is one God and not three. Jesus is his son and the Holy Spirit is his mouthpiece, but neither of them is his equal. All through his life, Newton was searching for truth in ancient writings as well as in the study of nature. He considered his Unitarian theology to be as firmly based as his mathematical physics.

    That was my conclusion also, from verses such as, “But not my will, but thy will, be done” – separate wills, separate entities. Showing again that great and smaller minds sometimes think alike.

    In the main though, I think neither Newton nor I nor anyone else is rational about everything. (Newton also wasted a lot of time on alchemy.) Reason is not what drives us, it is a tool which we use to rationalize the emotions that drive us.

    I look forward to your answers to the questions posed above, and good luck – I think you’ll need it.

  58. #58 cephyn
    March 11, 2007

    Write a book about your experiences. Write a book about your philosophies of reconciling religion and science. I’d read it. And I’m sure sciblogs would advertise it.

  59. #59 MaxPolun
    March 11, 2007

    interesting, I am looking forward to future installments to see what you actually believe.

    However I think you are arguing with a straw-atheist somewhat. Most atheists were once religious, and even if not, most of the people they know (just by statistics) are religious, and most have no problems with religiosity of a type such as yours.

    As for the book, I haven’t read it either, but I did read the blurb on the front cover, and it seemed to be saying that it was an attempt to answer all those “science proves god exists” books that come out from time to time. I also tend to think that the existence of god is something that science can provide evidence for or against (not prove) and that would be a legitimate thing to write a book about. Of course it’s completely reasonable for you to not want to advertise for a book you disagree with.

    In any case, I’m looking forward to more on this, and am especially interested in why you believe in god despite not believing that religion describes the natural world.

  60. #60 Dr Vector
    March 11, 2007

    Woo-hooo! Go, Rob. Just a quick word of thanks from a deist paleontologist who always found the assertion that I can’t be a good deist and a good scientist pretty laughable. When deists or Chamberlain atheists (LOVE that term!) ask “Why not?”, the best the hardliners seem to be able to come up with is, “Uh, because your mind is divided against itself, eventually your mental partitions will shatter and your science will become contaminated with mysticism, blah blah grumble grumble.” To which my first response is, “You can keep saying that, but it won’t be any more true.”

    And my second response is (usually), “Go do some science of your own, you lonely net-addicted poser, and let me get back to publishing on evolution.”

    Anyway, don’t let the smug assholes get you down.

  61. #61 cbutterb
    March 11, 2007

    Hi Rob! I’m a sun-worshipper. I don’t actually think the sun is a fiery chariot carrying a god or anything, I just think it’s pretty. But I’m totally a sun worshipper, because it makes me feel good to say so.

    Also, I share daily rituals and values with the sun-worshipping community. For example, I go outside in the daytime. Further, sometimes I think about how nice infrared radiation feels. This is a sentiment that I share with the global fellowship of sun-worshippers. I find that calling myself a sun-worshipper makes me look totally deep and philosophical, because it’s a word that makes people think stuff. Also, then I get to say that I’m persecuted, because mean people say being a sun worshipper is, like, teh lame.

    Seriously, that’s what you sound like. It’s pusillanimous hand-wringing. If you’re only a theist, say so. Don’t lie.

  62. #62 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 11, 2007

    Unfortunately the perspective this post brings to the table is easily seen to be prejudiced, by such statements as

    PZ sycophant

    or by complaining about advertisements for other beliefs. The later is also what other beliefs have to put up with from christians all the time, so it seems a bit hypocritical.

    God is not a scientific concept, and as such science cannot disprove the existence of God.

    Funny enough, this is what sets of my> bullshit-o-meter. This is equivalent of saying that an object of study is not available to us to empirically measure, experiment with, and model.

    Of course, we have no means to predict exactly what empiricism can or can not do, since we lack good models of useful methods and have few ideas of how to predict their results. There are three viable projects currently pursued that constrains the claims of religions including on their gods, by studying them directly (Dennett et al), by studying the claims of practiced religion (Dawkins et al), and by constraining the gaps of science. Any selfconsistent models of cosmology and fundamental physics would seriously put even the blodless non-interventionist gods of philosophy in question.

    “go away religious people, you have to accept atheism into your heart to be approved as a science supporter” attitude

    Classic projection. You could as well accuse the bible for a “go away non-christian people, you have to accept christianity into your heart to be approved as a moral individual” attitude.

    I have little patience for the radical atheists who are so convinced of their own position that they are unable to tell the difference between that and a childish, shallow insult.

    It is telling that lies beyond the first apologist defense (courtier – ‘not discussing religion’), and the second (scorched earth – ‘can’t discuss religion’), is the insult that a relevant analysis of for example practiced religion is childish and shallow.

    But if we accept for a moment your suggestion that your own analysis is not going to be childish and shallow, I welcome your future efforts. It seems even books proclaiming loudly “GOD: The Failed Hypothesis. How science shows that God does not exist.” has their uses.

  63. #63 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 11, 2007

    Vector, assuming you are serious, how is “Go do some science of your own, you lonely net-addicted poser, and let me get back to publishing on evolution.” when posed on the net anything but smug?

  64. #64 Signout
    March 11, 2007

    The best Christians I know define their practice as “being Christ-like.” They don’t do a lot of taking the Bible literally, and they don’t do a lot of arguing why they’re right–they just try to follow the example set forth by someone they see as having been the best kind of person anyone can be.

    I don’t think they owe it to anyone to explain why their practice works for them, and I don’t think, Rob, that you owe it to anyone to explain why your thing, whatever it is, works for you.

    I’m a little taken aback by the ridicule of faith in these parts. I’m more than a little taken aback by the size of the egos that make themselves apparent in some parts of this community. There’s an ugly combination of rage and insecurity in much of the God-related discussions here, the likes of which I haven’t seen since similar conversations in high school. You’re brave to even get into the discussion, and both wise and strong to maintain an even temper when being attacked.

    To sum up, WORD.

  65. #65 Barron
    March 11, 2007

    I always get frustrated with the language in these debates. “God” and “religious” are terms that can encompass a HUGE range. My feeling is that when they are used they are personal ideas, not ones that apply to others (at least not without a lot more description). For example, I would imagine you’d agree that your God and religion are radically unlike that of the dominionist YEC’s. Unfortunately our language really doesn’t allow a short hand approach to these things. So when someone argues against the “God” the YECs adore it’s hard for more sensible believers to NOT hear that as an attack on them.

    I haven’t read Stenger’s book (but I have read two of his previous ones on more counter-New Age topics), but I’d guess that his target is the literal, historical God required by the literalists. Like the God “proven” by the argument from design or one of the cosmological argument or YEC fantasies. As you say, and I agree, God is not a scientific concept. But the Creationists, literalists and others, have defined their God _as_ something amenable to science. Worse, they often argue themselves into an all or nothing belief that any flaw in their arguments destroy their faith in toto (“if the Bible has any flaw then it cannot be trusted at all” sort of logic). When science tests their claims and finds them wanting science is cast as the enemy. So, yes, science _can_ disprove “God”, but only when believers first make testable claims in the realm of science. But this “God” is not God in a general sense. The fact that literalists are wrong doesn’t mean your faith is flawed. I imagine it’s hard for a believer _not_ to hear it as general though. And that sucks.

    I’m sort of an outsider to this. I’m a strong atheist, but have no problem with religion. I have huge issues with specific ideologies that claim a religious mantle, but I can distinguish faith from what I would consider abuses of it. In fact, the richness of faith makes those abuses all the more distasteful in my eyes. I can rip on the ID crowd or the theocratic right and still have genuine respect and affection for faith. Probably one of the reasons I suck in these debates.

    As for being religious and a scientist… Ok. I don’t see a problem. Martin Gardner, grandaddy of the skeptic movement, is a theist. My grad school research partner was an evangelical Christian and a damned fine physicist. IMHO people who see faith and science as in opposition are playing into the hands of the fundamentalist, anti-science narrative. It’s shallow thinking and reeks of a quest for ideological purity.

  66. #66 PZ Myers
    March 11, 2007

    Guess what? Nobody is planning to shoot you.

    No one has said “go away religious people, you have to accept atheism into your heart to be approved as a science supporter”…except for you, of course.

    You’re going to have to work on this persecution complex a little harder, O Member of the Dominant Religious Culture Who Is Completely Oblivious to the Default Discrimination Against Non-Church-Goers. Go all the way. Try to match my favorite characterization of all time: “PZ has endorsed the idea of concentration camps and forced sterilization for religious believers.” Work up a little more indignation and you too can imagine me with a horsewhip prodding you along on the Judeo-Christian Trail of Tears. You know you want to.

    It’s pretty much the standard Christian whine. No one is going to fire you or shoot you or banish you from civilized discourse for being Christian; no one has even threatened to do so, not Dawkins, not me. We haven’t even said that it’s impossible for a Christian to be a good scientist. We have pointed out that you believe in one truly stupid idea, this whole obsolete, silly notion of gods. That’s all. We have said that this idea is incompatible with science; you even agree, I suspect, and are careful to leave the supernatural behind in the lab. The Stenger book you object to says that god is a “failed hypothesis”, and so it is — that hypothesis explains nothing, has no particular virtue, and is clung to out of a sense of tradition and as an awkward-to-escape pattern of indoctrination. That the world was created by and is being manipulated by a super-powerful intelligence certainly is a kind of hypothesis, one that ought to be testable if it weren’t so badly mangled by theists (intentionally!) to be utterly useless. It’s not atheist’s fault that you believe in a version of Sagan’s invisible dragon, and have retreated to worshipping a supreme being who is operationally indistinguishable from a vacuum.

    But please…stop this absurd and rather cowardly blustering that having someone point out the foolishness of god-belief is like being threatened with a gun. That claim is your fault and your invention.

    Or perhaps you think that when we tell you that believing in Jesus sure is a silly and unscientific bit of nonsensical pap, it hurts as badly as getting shot. That, of course, is your problem. Learn to live with it. You’ll still find that all your elected representatives, you know, the people with any power in your community, still profess a belief in your magic sky-fairy, and that your churches are still all tax-exempt no matter how much they influence the secular management of your town, and that you still get to indoctrinate your children into the most ridiculous nonsense, and that being in the right church is still the number one criterion for getting elected to the school board. Some imaginary stings from some imaginary bullets from your imaginary enemies in that tiny atheist community seem like a small price to pay for all that.

  67. #67 Dave Carlson
    March 12, 2007

    PZ,
    Whoa, I just read some of the comments from that TT thread you linked to. Where exactly are they getting the “PZ endorse concentration camps and forced sterilization for religious believers” nonsense from?

  68. #68 Tyler DiPietro
    March 12, 2007

    Vector, assuming you are serious, how is “Go do some science of your own, you lonely net-addicted poser, and let me get back to publishing on evolution.” when posed on the net anything but smug?

    Man, thanks for getting to that before me. After reading Vector’s comment my irony-meters explosion was so huge that I still have shrapnel stuck in me from the blast.

    I’d say his accusation of “smugness” is just good old fashioned projection, but it’s really more like ray-tracing (hardcore graphics geeks will get the humor in that).

  69. #69 Colugo
    March 12, 2007

    On the “Shoot me”: Come on now, it’s called hyperbole. Like “steel-toed boots and brass knuckles” or “Somebody shoot me now.” (Feb 19).

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/02/the_dumbening_of_america_conti.php

    Hey, it’s just an expression.

    Hasn’t all of this ‘theist & appeaser vs hardliner’ rancor gone too far? Can’t we all just get along?

  70. #70 Elliott Day
    March 12, 2007

    PZ:
    When Rob said “don’t shoot me,” I think the shooting to which he referred was the destructively pejorative language people use when they talk about this. You and Dawkins just aren’t helping. The aggressive atheism wins some supporters and pisses of people of more moderate temperance. This is not productive.

    When he goes to the trouble of raising your objections for you, phrases like “believing in Jesus sure is a silly and unscientific bit of nonsensical pap” don’t really help anybody. They serve no purpose other than to turn some people off of an important conversation and foment rabid spewing of insults.

    -An atheist

  71. #71 PZ Myers
    March 12, 2007

    Where exactly are they getting the “PZ endorse concentration camps and forced sterilization for religious believers” nonsense from?

    Don’t you know? Daring to mock religion, that sacred cow, means one is gearing up to do ghastly things to all believers. It’s a very familiar reaction. Rob is responding in the same way, to a less extravagant degree, right here.

  72. #72 Colugo
    March 12, 2007

    “Anyone want to take a crack at the greatest scientific genius the world has ever known? Who was by the way, a devout Christian.”

    Devout though Newton was, he was hardly a typical Christian. Most notably, he was anti-Trinitarian. In fact, many modern Christians would deny that Newton was one.

    http://www.galilean-library.org/snobelen.html

    http://www.newtonproject.sussex.ac.uk/prism.php?id=76

  73. #73 Tyler DiPietro
    March 12, 2007

    The aggressive atheism wins some supporters and pisses of people of more moderate temperance. This is not productive.

    I’m getting pretty sick of “moderate” being used as a euphemism for hypersensitivity to rational criticism of sacred cows. That some people go bonkers over a few intellectually honest books making the NYT bestsellers isn’t our problem. People should stop pretending it is.

  74. #74 PZ Myers
    March 12, 2007

    think the shooting to which he referred was the destructively pejorative language people use when they talk about this.

    Unfortunately, I know from experience that there is no language, no matter how polite, that will both express disbelief in the superstition of religion and not piss people off. Note the reaction to the statement that “god is a failed hypothesis” here.

    And yes, my phrasing is helpful. It’s clear, unambiguous, and does not leave any room for others to think that I’m supportive in any way of religiosity of any kind. Somehow, in these discussions, someone always thinks “compromise” means the atheist should be nice to religious foolishness, rather than merely tolerating everyone’s right to believe in whatever foolishness they choose.

  75. #75 Da
    March 12, 2007

    Don’t you know? Daring to mock religion, that sacred cow, means one is gearing up to do ghastly things to all believers. It’s a very familiar reaction. Rob is responding in the same way, to a less extravagant degree, right here.

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. Was there a specific quote of yours that the person who said that was distorting? Either way, it’s inexcusable, I’m just curious because I think I’ve read most everything you’ve written here, and I can’t think of anything that, even with a good ol’ helping of distortion, could be construed in the way that person claimed.

  76. #76 Dave Carlson
    March 12, 2007

    Argh! I really mangled that last one. Here’s what I meant to say:

    Don’t you know? Daring to mock religion, that sacred cow, means one is gearing up to do ghastly things to all believers. It’s a very familiar reaction. Rob is responding in the same way, to a less extravagant degree, right here.

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. Was there a specific quote of yours that the person who said that was distorting? Either way, it’s inexcusable, I’m just curious because I think I’ve read most everything you’ve written here, and I can’t think of anything that, even with a good ol’ helping of distortion, could be construed in the way that person claimed.

  77. #77 Koray
    March 12, 2007

    RK: I certainly have no “authority” to define the laundry list, nor do I know who would have it. However, if your definition is different than the common understanding, then perhaps you ought to state it beforehand so that we know what you are talking about.

    Btw, if you didn’t notice, no part of my argument is based on *what actually* is in the laundry list. You can exclude afterlife if you want, and include belief in angels, or whatever you think is right. The crux of the matter is that everything that can be included is expressed by another human being that lived before you and that none of it is falsifiable.

    I forgot to say this before: you do realize that The Bible has been the ultimate bestseller, right? How you are so bothered by the recent success of a few atheist books escapes me unfortunately.

  78. #78 MartinC
    March 12, 2007

    I see no problem with someone talking about science in scientific language or metaphysical beliefs (even those of a theistic rather than deistic nature) in terms of metaphorical language. What I do have a problem with is the attempt to explain religious teachings using scientific reasoning.
    This is probably best illustrated by the likes of Kenneth Miller and his acceptance of the various miracles attributed to Jesus. Speaking on evolution Miller is fantastic, an examplar of the use of evidence and reason to improve our, scientific understanding of the world. When he starts to talk about his religious beliefs, however, that is another story. As a scientist I look at the world in a uniformitarian manner. What is true today regarding how matter behaves should also be true two thousand years ago. In that case I don’t accept the idea of biblical miracles as being real events. If I would accept these miracles, in the absence of evidence, what is there to prevent me from explaining an anomalous experimental result as simply another miracle ?
    I heard an interview with Francis Collins a few months back where he laughed at the idea that God would interfere with scientific experiments (having two colonies of bacteria grow instead of one, for instance), yet if you accept miracles then why wouldn’t God do this? We’ve evolved the same length of time as E.coli, how do we know that ‘God’ isn’t saving them as well (or instead) of us?

  79. #79 David Williamson
    March 12, 2007

    Oh dear, I believe you’ve poked the den of the True Believers (of many sorts and on all sides) with a very large stick.

    Thanks for the sane and balanced post, and good luck at keeping up with the comments. I think this is a great topic for a rational discussion – but it’s also a topic that almost certainly cannot allow rationality.

  80. #80 Sonya
    March 12, 2007

    Sometimes I truly think the problem with atheists like Dawkins and his ilk is that they need to drop acid.

    Seriously now, you militant atheists keep harping on the Bible, and Creators of Everything, and Jesus’s Face in the Tortilla and lumping all theists and nonmaterialists in with them. It’s silly. If there is a spiritual world, then science can’t address it. Just leave it alone. Let people believe in nonmaterial things. It doesn’t mean they can’t think scientifically about material things. Not a single argument in The God Delusion addressed spirituality. It addressed only Christian Fundamentalism. And I can totally understand why Christian Non-Fundies and Spiritual/Nonmaterialists are continuously getting pissed off about being lumped in with them. It makes me mad, as an atheist.

    For crying out loud Dawkins defended the Catholic Church in his book about how unfair it was that it was subject to hysteria over child molestation. (He even went as far as saying that child molestation wasn’t always as traumatic as the mental cruelty religous indoctrination inflicted — which I do generally agree with, but was still shocked he stuck his neck out to say so.) I find it bizarre that he would bring up his distate for unfairness in this context, but then continuously dole out his own form of unfairness in lumping anyone who believes in a nonmaterial aspect to life as a stupid Bible literalist.

  81. #81 raj
    March 12, 2007

    Alas, the term “Christian” has been subverted by the religious right recently, so that when somebody comes out and claims to be Christian, people make all sorts of unfortunate assumptions.

    Rob, I hate to tell you, but the sad fact is that people like you (and Kenneth Miller, a brilliant advocate against creationism despite being a devout Christian) have a Public Relations problem. The sad fact that you have is that people who want to be religious have allowed the religious right to dominate the discussion. And that is one reason why people like PZ–whose acerbic writing I like very well–are so acerbic. It is up to people like you to change the discussion from the religious point of view. PZ isn’t going to be able to do it–the religious will reject what he writes out of hand. It is up to you religious people to do it. The sad fact is, that you (not you personally, but those on your side) aren’t doing it.

    I dropped out of religion when I was 10 years old in 1960, when my American Baptist minister exhibited anti-Catholic bigotry. This was during the election involving JFK. Even at 10, the bigotry was to me perverse, and I never went back. It was obvious to me that establishments of religion were intended to divide. Nothing more, nothing less.

  82. #82 Orac
    March 12, 2007

    I’ve weighed in on the whole “Neville Chamberlain atheist” thing before; you’ll see that I”m not a fan of those who use that term with a sneer to dismiss people as not being hardline enough.

  83. #83 Caledonian
    March 12, 2007

    God is not a scientific concept, and as such science cannot disprove the existence of God.

    If ‘God’ is not a scientific concept, then ‘God’ doesn’t exist.

    I think you should have thought about the implications of that argument a little longer.

  84. #84 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    No one has said “go away religious people, you have to accept atheism into your heart to be approved as a science supporter”…except for you, of course.

    Oh the irony, because moments later:

    Or perhaps you think that when we tell you that believing in Jesus sure is a silly and unscientific bit of nonsensical pap, it hurts as badly as getting shot.

    Never mind the fact that you are clearly, clearly, clearly intelligent enough to understand that “Shoot me” is hardly literal. I mean, c’mon, give me a break here.

    But there are LOADS of examples of people like you and Larry Moran accusing folks who aren’t atheists of being intellectual lessers — like, say, this very quote right here.

    Your own mind is the big problem, not mine — you think you aren’t as amazingly offensive and narrow-minded as you are! You’re just as absolutely convinced that you have the One True Truth as the fundies that you think there’s nothing antisocial at all about issuing blanket insults and/or condemnations against entire classes of people.

  85. #85 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    The aggressive atheism wins some supporters and pisses of people of more moderate temperance. This is not productive.

    This to me is the most important thing.

    The fact is that at least in the USA, a reasonable majority of people are religious.

    I also believe that despite the fact that roughly 50% of the people voted for Bush in the last two elections, 50% of the people are NOT insanely wacky like he is; read some of my previous posts on coming out as a former Republican for more justification for that statement.

    However, when somebody votes for candidate X, more often than not it’s because they’re voting AGAINST candidate Y, and candidate X is the only viable alternative. But then there’s this thing called cognitive dissonance. If you’ve become a supporter of candidate X, there is pressure for you to adjust your attitudes more in the direction of candidate X. The moderates then get dragged more towards being convinced that they should agree with the extremists.

    If the pro-science crowd is covered with banners saying “WE THINK RELIGION IS STUPID!”, you’re going to be a priori pushing away potential pro-science recruits– because nobody likes to walk through a door that starts with them being insulted.

    It’s terrible tactics. If you happen to believe that being a good scientist requires rejecting religion, then, well, there’s no choice. (And, yes, PZ has indeed said that to me before.) I am making the argument that being a good scientist does NOT require rejecting religion. Go ahead and argue against religion — but the prominence of the “WE HATE ALL RELIGION” on the scienceblogs site right now is, I believe, destructive to the cause of trying to bring the masses more around in the direction of understanding and supporting good science.

    -Rob

  86. #86 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    I forgot to say this before: you do realize that The Bible has been the ultimate bestseller, right? How you are so bothered by the recent success of a few atheist books escapes me unfortunately.

    I’m pretty sure I’ve said this at least seventy times.

    Yes, in the culture as a whole, there’s no assault of atheism on religion that should have anybody religious worried. I know the Religious Right likes to prattle on that there is, but that’s bullshit.

    But — AND PLEASE PAY ATTENTION THIS TIME — we are not in the culture at large here, we are on scienceblogs. The general ethic of scienceblogs is very different. Read the comment thread here– and given the fact that some “non-religion hating sycophants” have come out of the woodwork here (much as I might be one on a thread like this somewhere else). What’s more, a lot of science blogging is more about outreach than it is about sharing research.

    It makes for an ineffective outreach platform if many of your potential audience see a big “YOU, HEY YOU, YEAH, YOU, SPECIFICALLY, ARE STUPID” sign before they even read anything. Again, read the beginning of my post.

    That’s the main reason I care.

    The second reason I care is that those who claim that science has disproven god are just as full of it as folks like the DI who claim that science has proven god. Again, read what I wrote. Science has obviated the need for god for many people, but that’s different from disproving. As such, I think “science has disproven god” is an incorrect statement, and I argue against that.

    -Rob

  87. #87 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    It is up to people like you to change the discussion from the religious point of view.

    I’m trying. Read this post. Read earlier posts on my blog.

    There’s only so much I can do. I’m an unregarded nobody of an assistant professor who’s in danger of not getting tenure because it’s very hard to get funding for astronomy research. Hell, I’m not even the most popular science blogger like our acerbic friend, and that doesn’t count for a whole lot compared to the Soundbyte Brigage of popular culture.

    Besides, it plays *much* better when you “hit the rails” and rant on an extreme position. Ann Coulter gets far more press than some voice even approximating reason. Richard Dawkins gets far more press than any softspoken Neville Chamberlain ever will.

    -Rob

  88. #88 J. J. Ramsey
    March 12, 2007

    “I’m getting pretty sick of ‘moderate’ being used as a euphemism for hypersensitivity to rational criticism of sacred cows. That some people go bonkers over a few intellectually honest books making the NYT bestsellers isn’t our problem. People should stop pretending it is.”

    I should be studying about now, so I’ll try to make this quick.

    Calling a book intellectually honest when it

    * mocks the Trinity with a false assertion followed by an either false or badly-written assertion followed by an appeal to Thomas Jefferson’s authority to bolster a statement that might otherwise be treated with suspicion,

    * using an unvetted article from the magazine Free Inquiry whose errors screech out to even a layman who’s done some decent research,

    * and makes a vague argument that attempts to do a judo move on arguments from design but relies too much on intuition and unstated premises, and then calls this argument unanswerable,

    is questionable.

    There is also more going on than just rational criticism of sacred cows. There is nothing rational about using rhetoric to lump IDers in with the so-called “appeasers”, especially when the “appeasers” have been on the front lines against the IDers. What’s curious is that there is no logic in the rhetorical connection; it works much the same way as when Bush suggested a connection between 9/11 and Iraq without ever actually explicitly saying so. There is nothing rational about saying of Ken Miller, “Thanks, Dr Ken! I know what side you’re on, now�it’s you and the creationists, best friends 4ever! Did they promise to let you strike the match at the atheist-burning?”

    I don’t claim to be purely rational myself. I can and have done some stupid things, and PZ Myers can catalog quite a few. (Or perhaps I should say “ctlg qt fw.”) I at least try to be on the side of rationality, instead of confusing being against superstition with being for rationalism, and acting as if irrationality was a beast that we didn’t all have to deal with, instead of just something that the other guy does.

  89. #89 Caledonian
    March 12, 2007

    you think there’s nothing antisocial at all about issuing blanket insults and/or condemnations against entire classes of people.

    Um… assuming that the insults and/or condemnations are founded on the properties that the class of people share, there isn’t anything necessarily antisocial about it.

    Given that you’re speaking in a context that’s all about the promulgation of science, the fact that you misrepresent the nature of science in order to reconcile your faith with the demands of reason is not only relevant, but of deep importance – and failing to condemn you would be a compounding of the error you’ve made.

  90. #90 Caledonian
    March 12, 2007

    Besides, it plays *much* better when you “hit the rails” and rant on an extreme position.

    Since when are Dawkins’ ideas “extreme”?

    More to the point, when did it become acceptable to critique arguments by comparing their relative positions, rather than addressing their content? That’s fallacious reasoning.

  91. #91 Madcap
    March 12, 2007

    I understand you might have been taken aback by the title, but aren’t you in a way guilty of exactly what you’re railing against? You’ve prejudged the book admittedly without even investigating it.

    You’re starting from the assumption that science couldn’t possibly be used to disprove God, and then immediately discarding without review anything which might claim otherwise. If you’d read the synopsis of the book, you’d see that it is mostly about disproving exactly what you say you don’t believe: specific archaic claims of God’s presence and work.

    There’s more to it which you may find fault with, but you wouldn’t know because you failed to look into it.

  92. #92 Leni
    March 12, 2007

    Sonya wrote:

    Sometimes I truly think the problem with atheists like Dawkins and his ilk is that they need to drop acid.

    I’ve done it. Several dozen times. Although I now know that feather dusters are indeed incredibly funny, I unfortunately still qualify as a militant atheist.

    Seriously now, you militant atheists keep harping on the Bible, and Creators of Everything, and Jesus’s Face in the Tortilla and lumping all theists and nonmaterialists in with them. It’s silly. If there is a spiritual world, then science can’t address it.

    What’s silly, Sonya, is that last sentence. It makes absolutely no sense. If there is a “spiritual world” (whatever that is) and even one of us knows about it, then we can address it emprically.

    And if there are ‘woo’ effects, then you better believe that science can address it. In fact it is often the only way we can address spurious claims of the supernatural variety. Like “magnets can magically cure your back problems”, etc etc.

    Just leave it alone. Let people believe in nonmaterial things. It doesn’t mean they can’t think scientifically about material things.

    The point isn’t that people can’t believe in non-material things. It’s that vast numbers of people uncritically accept a lot of stupid crap and we all end up the worse for it. Religious ideas about women and reproduction for example. Birth control, AIDS prevention, gay marriage.

    It is specifically detrimental to large numbers of people and it is hugely important. So yes, if religious belief were always a benign entity that rarely interferred with our lives I’d agree with you. But it isn’t. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if it were. There’s a problem, yes, but it ain’t Dawkins.

    Nonsense. Not a single argument in The God Delusion addressed spirituality. It addressed only Christian Fundamentalism. And I can totally understand why Christian Non-Fundies and Spiritual/Nonmaterialists are continuously getting pissed off about being lumped in with them. It makes me mad, as an atheist.

    Why on earth should it make you mad? Especially if it specifically addresses Christian fundamentalism?

    I suspect you will answer that some beliefs are worse than others and that we shouldn’t lump people who believe harmless things in with those that believe harmful things, and I certainly won’t argue argue with that. But in terms of their rational underpinnings they are all equal. They don’t have any. The liberal christian isn’t any more justified in their belief than the hardline and nearly psychoticly religious Muslim terrorist.

    I know liberal Christians don’t like to hear that. It insults them because they aren’t out to harm anyone. But of course, saying that both beliefs are equally irrational is not the same thing as saying both beliefs are equal.

  93. #93 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    If the pro-science crowd is covered with banners saying “WE THINK RELIGION IS STUPID!”, you’re going to be a priori pushing away potential pro-science recruits– because nobody likes to walk through a door that starts with them being insulted.

    Well thats a shame that pro-science recruits are turned off, but its probably for the better. Part of walking through that door into the hallowed halls of science (or SB or whatever) is that each and every opinion you bring through that door is open to scrutiny. I’m not buying this Non-Overlapping magisteria junk. If you’re saying a god-like entity exists in reality, then your claim is opened up to scientific scrutiny. If you’re saying that this god-like entity exists outside of reality, then it may not be under scientific perview, but it is no less subject to scrutiny any more than whatever other opinion one might choose to throw out. If you can’t deal with your opinion being held up to this scrutiny without getting hurt, then maybe you shouldn’t have walked through those doors. You can disagree all you want and think we’re just as wrong, thats the point after all, but to think that anyone actually gives a damn that your feelings are hurt doesn’t matter two cents. Science is about having your ideas weighed and measured to exacting standards by your peers, and your metaphysical safety blanket doesn’t get a free pass just because you say so.

    I am making the argument that being a good scientist does NOT require rejecting religion. Go ahead and argue against religion — but the prominence of the “WE HATE ALL RELIGION” on the scienceblogs site right now is, I believe, destructive to the cause of trying to bring the masses more around in the direction of understanding and supporting good science.

    If the masses can’t come around to the fact that they could be wrong about something rather than just adamantly saying “It just ain’t so!” then I don’t see how much they can support good science anyway. This isn’t saying that they are wrong and that the otherside is right or vice versa, but if you can’t even take a whiff of someone disagreeing without going into apoplexy about how your views deserve some special untouchable status, then its a hopeless venture anyway.

  94. #94 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”
    — Isaac Newton

    Anyone want to take a crack at the greatest scientific genius the world has ever known? Who was by the way, a devout Christian.

    A couple people have commented on Newton’s unorthodox religion, but I’ll take a crack at his science. Let’s start with the above quote. (Gravity) cannot explain who sets the planets in motion. Newton’s religious belief is interfering with his science, to the point of making him frame the question stupidly. Note “who” instead of “how” or “what.” Perhaps Newton was smarter than me, but I have the benefit of several additional centuries of accumulated knowledge. I know, for example, about the nebular hypothesis developed by the likes of Kant and LaPlace, which explains how a solar system could develop without supernatural intervention. I also know about things Newton did not imagine, such as Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, and the existence of other galaxies. Newton chose his gap, and that gap has already been closed by science.

  95. #95 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    BTW, informing you that your stupid ideas are stupid does not constitute “persecution.” That appears to be another word you have redefined. I’m hoping that you eventually plan to supply something more substantial than habitual redefinition.

  96. #96 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    I also just wanted to add that this.

    Besides, it plays *much* better when you “hit the rails” and rant on an extreme position. Ann Coulter gets far more press than some voice even approximating reason. Richard Dawkins gets far more press than any softspoken Neville Chamberlain ever will.

    Is a fairly absurd equivalency fallacy.

    Ann Coulter gets a lot of press because shes spews Fox News talking points that are often enough flat out wrong if not merely misinformed, writes ridiculous falsehoods in her books not to mention her other standard game of just being a bigot.

    Richard Dawkins gets a lot of press because he wrote a book that hurts the mainstream’s feelings.

    Whispering those two names in the same breath just feels silly.

  97. #97 PZ Myers
    March 12, 2007

    As such, I think “science has disproven god” is an incorrect statement, and I argue against that.

    It’s only incorrect in the sense that the god hypothesis is so bad, so malformed, so incompetently supported, that it is not even wrong.

    That’s part of science, too, that we are supposed to be able to judge the quality of a proposal, and make assessments on the basis of its coherence, logic, and supporting evidence. Yes, you can say that science has not disproven god. But you can also say that science has not disproven the existence of cosmic invisible pink unicorns, too—we can reject the premise as nonsense.

    Which doesn’t mean, of course, that someone couldn’t make a rational, defensible statement about a supreme being. I’m still waiting to hear one from the proponents of the god hypothesis, but all I get is galloping retreats away from any verifiable ideas. It’s rotten science all the way through, which is why you get quizzical looks from people when you claim you are a scientist and a Christian; there’s clearly one domain where you throw away any pretense of scientific thought.

  98. #98 Herb West
    March 12, 2007

    Rob,

    Do you want the banner changed? Would you like to select your own banners? Are you going to host your blog elsewhere with less silly banner advertisements?

    You seem to think that Scienceblogs is about outreach and teaching. It’s not about any such thing.

    About Scienceblogs.com: “Our mission is to build a community of like-minded individuals who are passionate about science and its place in our culture, and give them a place to meet.”

    As you know like-minded means atheist and liberal progressive and academic. Far from teaching and outreach, Internet forums like Scienceblogs are for catharsis and exhibitionism (e.g. PZ’s name calling and ranting). Scienceblogs is somewhat unique in that it wraps up the rants in a thin veneer of science talk.

  99. #99 S. Rivlin
    March 12, 2007

    Clearly, the topic is a hot one, judging by the sheer number of responses. It is getting even hotter when a scientist makes certain claims that allow him/her to exclude science from considering matters of faith.

    Also, the notion that, lately, there are too many atheistic publications is the product of the long tradition of persecution of atheists everywhere. The www, at last, allows the millions of us to speak out more forcefully and expose not just this continuing persecution, but more importantly, the nonsensical, unscientific basis of religion.

  100. #100 Sonya
    March 12, 2007

    Quote Leni: Why on earth should it make you mad? Especially if it specifically addresses Christian fundamentalism?

    Because addressing Christian fundamentalism and then saying this applies to all religious thinking is unfair, illogical, and inconsistant. There is no comparison in my mind between, “I think this written document is the word of God” and more squishy (emotionally and factually) concepts like “we’re all one being” or “god is the highest part of us all” or “everything happens for a reason.”

    Dawkins says it himself — there are degrees of plausibility. Not everything unknown is equally likely to be true or untrue. It is tremendously unlikely that a written document is the word of a Deity, or that a complex Deity existed before anything else did. As all the new atheist books are pointing out these things are proveable as false. You all have said, many times, and quite convincingly that you can scientificially prove that the Fundamentalist Christian God does not exist and I agree. I’ve agreed with this since I was five years old for two reasons — no one could tell me who made God, and no one could convince me that the Bible wasn’t just written by a human being and said God told him to write it.

    However, to jump from there to all matters life in life are material and can be investigated scientifically doesn’t make sense to me. On the scale Dawkins describes in his book, I’m definitely a level 7 atheist — no Creator/Judge/Heavenly Father/Satan/Hell exists, cased closed. On nonmaterial aspects to life, I’m much more like a 4 or 5. The fact that the hardass atheists can’t seperate these two beliefs (theism and nonmaterialism) frustrates me greatly.

    I can’t use the scientific method 24/7. Human minds don’t work that way to begin with. If I had to conduct a scientific experiment to prove to myself that augementin is in fact that an antibiotic, and it’s what the pharmacist actually placed in the bottle, and actually does kill bacteria, I’d be dead by the time I decided to take it. I do have to work on the general concept of faith.

    Another inconsistency was Dawkins saying he absolutely condemns all supernatural thinking, and then on the next page says he’s ok with Buddhism — I suppose he meant the neo-Western Zen form that sticks mainly to “mindfullness meditation”, since I can’t imagine he’s ok with the Tibetans who check astrology charts to confirm the birth of reincarnated lamas. It was just one of many examples that he doesn’t even know what different religions believe or practice.

    But of course, saying that both beliefs are equally irrational is not the same thing as saying both beliefs are equal.

    I understand what you’re saying here, and I do think it’s a good point. There are violent ideals supported by irrationalism and loving ideals supported by irrationalism, and they are still both irrational. But that hasn’t been how I’ve interpreted the recent banter on this. “Equally irrational” has been equated with equally harmful, equally mentally ill, and equally worthy of disgust. I can’t agree with that.

  101. #101 MartinM
    March 12, 2007

    On nonmaterial aspects to life

    What does that even mean?

  102. #102 Sonya
    March 12, 2007

    I have to say, I find the arguments here as to who qualifies as a Christian and who is authorized to define it quite interesting. Personally, I don’t think that atheists have any say in the matter.

    Here’s two definitions I hear most often.
    1) You must belief Jesus was the Son of God, performed miracles, died for our sins, ascended to Heaven and will be back on Judgement Day. If you believe this, your sins will be forgiven and you will go to Heaven when you die. Otherwise, you’re going to Hell. (With optional add on: God hates homosexuals.) We go to Church to hang out with other pious folks, and for the free coffee and cookies.

    2) A Christian believes that Jesus was an Enlightened dude (just like Buddha) targetted by both religious and political leaders of his day, and executed for being too outspoken both about what Judaism should change and how the Romans should end their occupation. We should all aspire to be like Jesus, a kind man who spoke out against oppression and bigotry even though it got him whacked. We go to church to hang out with other like-minded folks, and for the singles events.

    I know a lot of Christians who fall into the second category. No one I know and would call a close friend falls into the former category. And as I was saying, I don’t see how the irrationality of the first group can be applied to the second.

  103. #103 Jeff
    March 12, 2007

    It sounds to me like Rob wants to be able to call himself a Christian, and perhaps somehow gain a non-existent salvation, without having to carry the baggage or catholicism, protestantism, fundamentalism, etc. Seems the lazy way out to me, and rather pointless.

  104. #104 J. J. Ramsey
    March 12, 2007

    Rob Knop: “Besides, it plays *much* better when you “hit the rails” and rant on an extreme position. Ann Coulter gets far more press than some voice even approximating reason. Richard Dawkins gets far more press than any softspoken Neville Chamberlain ever will.”

    Brad: “[This i]s a fairly absurd equivalency fallacy.”

    Only if one wants to say that Dawkins is as bad as Coulter. While Dawkins is far more sane than Coulter, they both get airtime for being transgressive. The difference is that Coulter transgresses by consistently spouting BS, while Dawkins transgresses for two wildly different reasons that all too often get conflated: He is blunt about calling religion wrong, and he promotes the whole “thiests are stoopid” meme.

  105. #105 raj
    March 12, 2007

    Rob Knop | March 12, 2007 08:30 AM

    I wrote It is up to people like you to change the discussion from the religious point of view.

    You wrote I’m trying. Read this post. Read earlier posts on my blog.
    There’s only so much I can do.

    No doubt. But until people like you start standing up to the rabid political religious right, you’re going to get push-back from people like PZ.

    It’s unfortunate that liberal religionists–of which I presume you are one–were asleep while the rabid right took over public religionism. But that’s what it has come to. I tend to deride religionism, largely because I’m gay and liberal religionists have allowed right wing religionists to make all of religionism appear to be anti-gay.

    But I can’t correct it, and neither can PZ. Other religionists won’t listen to us. It’s up to you and people like you. But unless you and people like you make an effort to correct the issue, I’ll just tell you that your complaint on this topic really does fall on deaf ears. That’s the long and the short of it.

    Nice blog, by the way. I really mean that. Posts on physics would not fall on deaf ears.

  106. #106 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    2) A Christian believes that Jesus was an Enlightened dude (just like Buddha) targetted by both religious and political leaders of his day, and executed for being too outspoken both about what Judaism should change and how the Romans should end their occupation. We should all aspire to be like Jesus, a kind man who spoke out against oppression and bigotry even though it got him whacked. We go to church to hang out with other like-minded folks, and for the singles events.

    This is something like me. I’ll write more on this later.

    Re: “the God hypothesis,” the very term misses the point. Yes, the God hypothesis has failed! That’s what I mean when I say in the original post that religion has been completely replaced by science when it comes to explaining the processes of the natural world. Any God that is left is not a hypothesis, is not something out there as an idea for explaining how the natural world works. Consequently, saying that “the God hypothesis has failed” is very different from saying “science proves God doesn’t exist”, but many assume that the former is exactly the latter. Militant atheists seem to make exactly the same mistake as militant fundies in thinking that without a God directing every bit of the natural world, there is no point in God.

    Finally, re: Coulter and Dawkins : clearly I gored a scared cow by comparing the two. And, yet, I maintain that the two are comparable. Why? Because both have a fairly hard-line position at one edge of the range of popular opinion on one or more issues, and both write unequivocally that those who disagree with their position are Wrong and Bad. And both get a lot of attention because they stir up a lot of strong feelings by supporters and opponents alike.

    I think you have to be not an atheist to recognize the Coulter-like characteristics in Dawkins, just as you probably have to be not an extreme right-winger to recognize that Coulter is a completely and utter idiotic blowhard.

    -Rob

  107. #107 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    It sounds to me like Rob wants to be able to call himself a Christian, and perhaps somehow gain a non-existent salvation, without having to carry the baggage or catholicism, protestantism, fundamentalism, etc. Seems the lazy way out to me, and rather pointless.

    Dude, leave the interpretation of people’s motives from a short list of things that assuredly don’t tell you enough to Chris over at Mixing Memory. ‘Cause, frankly, you suck at it.

  108. #108 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    As you know like-minded means atheist and liberal progressive and academic.

    Herb, you’re wrong.

    Like-minded at scienceblogs means sharing a passion for science, a fundamental curiosity about how the world works, and a passion for writing about and sharing that science.

    I’m trying to convince the world that those things don’t also necessarily include an abhorrence of religion. And I’m not the only one here who holds that position.

    -Rob

  109. #109 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    Sonya,

    So you seriously think, do you, that all a person needs to believe to qualify as a Christian–a true, authentic, honest-to-goodness Christian–is just that Jesus was a cool dude with an admirable message? That’s it, is it? All the stuff about Jesus being the Son of God, Lord and Saviour, the way to salvation, etc., is all just an optional extra that a Christian may choose to reject, in your view, is it?

    I think your conception of Christianity is dishonest and absurd. It’s for people whose true committment is merely to the idea of Christianity, to the label “Christian,” rather than to the substance of the religion. It is certainly not Christianity as that religion has always been understood and practised by the vast majority of its adherents.

  110. #110 etbnc
    March 12, 2007

    Be careful! Watch out for the iceberg ahea…

    Oops, too late.

  111. #111 John
    March 12, 2007

    Jason wrote:
    “You know, I wonder how gays and Muslims and atheists feel when invited to church. Wouldn’t it be better if they weren’t turned off from the get go by all the hateful rhetoric? Wouldn’t they feel better if they were treated with respect both in the building and outside of it?”

    Aren’t there Christians who do this?

    http://ucc.org/lgbt/ona.htm

    I don’t know why you’d lump gays in with Muslims and atheists, though.

    “I see this as a two-way street. It seems religious people want all the tolerance they can get, but they’re just not willing to give it.”

    Many religious people are very tolerant. Why was the civil rights movement full of Christians?

  112. #112 Herb
    March 12, 2007

    Fatastic post, and vigilant comment responding! As an NC atheist, I have pretty much ignored the above banner with the silly title, but now I share your concern.

  113. #113 Kevembuangga
    March 12, 2007

    Sonya : On nonmaterial aspects to life, I’m much more like a 4 or 5. The fact that the hardass atheists can’t seperate these two beliefs (theism and nonmaterialism) frustrates me greatly.

    I’ll be curious to know how you differentiate between material and nonmaterial aspects to life

  114. #114 Kevin
    March 12, 2007

    I don’t know, all this seems like another instance of The Courtier’s Reply. “Oh sure, that religion is stupid…but mine isn’t! I won’t tell you what it is right now, but believe me, mine is rational”.

    We’ve heard it all before. We’re just missing the explanation on why your religion is so much more rational then the one that you agree is just utterly ridiculous. I also have to take issue with one of your replys to PZ:

    “No one has said “go away religious people, you have to accept atheism into your heart to be approved as a science supporter”…except for you, of course.

    Oh the irony, because moments later:

    Or perhaps you think that when we tell you that believing in Jesus sure is a silly and unscientific bit of nonsensical pap, it hurts as badly as getting shot.”

    I don’t see him saying in the second quote what you seem to imply he is saying (ie, that he is somehow saying the exact opposite of the first quote).

    The position is quite simple and logical. You can in fact be a science supporter and be religious. But PZ and others aren’t going to hold their tongue and not criticize religion in general just because some religious people are on their side.

    There is nothing wrong with PZ or Dawkins saying that Collins work on the human genome project is valuable and brilliant, but then saying that his conversion story (ie, that he was convinced about the Trinity by a freakin’ frozen waterfall) is beyond stupid and irrational, and dare I say, delusional.

  115. #115 decrepitoldfool
    March 12, 2007

    Ah, well here’s exactly what Rob was talking about. I just linked to an article by Chris Mooney profiling James Hansen. I think it might be important for some of my right-wing readers (surprisingly I do have quite a few) to read that profile but the first thing they’ll see on the top of the screen is “GOD, the failed hypothesis”. Scratch any chance they’ll be interested in the politics/climate-change article that follows.

    The existence of God, or not, is a religious question. To the extent that (as with James Hansen) it impinges on science, it’s a church-and-state question that should be settled on constitutional grounds. It is separate from, for example, climate science. Dominionists drop both into a blender and hit “frappe” but does that mean we have to do the same?

  116. #116 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    Militant atheists seem to make exactly the same mistake as militant fundies in thinking that without a God directing every bit of the natural world, there is no point in God.

    You’re getting ahead of yourself. You have yet to explain to use what point you think there is in God for someone who values science.

    Like-minded at scienceblogs means sharing a passion for science, a fundamental curiosity about how the world works, and a passion for writing about and sharing that science.
    .
    I’m trying to convince the world that those things don’t also necessarily include an abhorrence of religion. And I’m not the only one here who holds that position.

    Thus eroding your own claim that you are persecuted here.

    Many religious people are very tolerant. Why was the civil rights movement full of Christians?

    It was also full of freethinkers. I recommend that you read Freethinkers by Susan Jacoby for more on this. The Christians that were in the abolitionist, women’s rights and civil rights movements were there because they replaced their Christian doctrine of submission to authority with Enlightenment humanist values.

  117. #117 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    The existence of God, or not, is a religious question.

    What does that mean? Almost all religions make claims about the natural world. Many/most of these claims have been shown to be wrong. Once the bathwater is discarded, you insist that a baby remains, but the existence of this baby has never been established.

    Religions also make moral claims. Why those claims should be taken seriously has also never been established, and most attempts to do so amount to appeals to popularity or tradition. If the epistemological claims of religion are false, then it has no basis for the moral claims that it makes.

  118. #118 decrepitoldfool
    March 12, 2007

    You’re preaching to the choir, Mustafa; I don’t believe that stuff either. But how far do we expect anyone to leap in a single bound? Must every question of our day be subjugated to that of epistemology?

    When I say it’s a “religious” question, I mean it belongs to faith. True, faith isn’t my bag and someday I’ll have it out with the the religious person over the value, or lack of value, of faith. In the meantime, we both face certain issues.

    Say a particular religious person writes; “God instructed us to replenish the planet; we need to make our lifestyle more environmentally friendly.” OK, fine – we share an important value even if we don’t share epistemology. Maybe both of us could write to our congresscritter asking that incandescent bulbs be banned in favor of more efficient lighting. Do I have to get the religious person to abandon his religion before we can have the more practical discussion?

    I don’t like it when religious people begin every conversation with their religion. It’s a safe guess they won’t like it if I begin every conversation with my lack of religion. Do as you would be done by…

  119. #119 Boy Scientist
    March 12, 2007

    I like science precisely because it’s just like the boys’ locker room in junior high school, except I get to feel strong and confident and look down on other guys for a change. That, and the towel-snapping involves words with four syllables instead of four letters.

    This stuff makes me really uncomfortable. Rob, you’re not honoring the sacred rules of science debate! You’re being irrational! And by “irrational” I mean, you don’t say exactly what’s written on my script, you don’t behave according to my rigid expectations of the scientist role, and you don’t restrict conversation to the concepts I currently find most convenient to bolster my self-image.

    You’d better stop, right now, or I’ll snap you with a towel, you confusingly inscrutable spiritual Scienceblogger!

  120. #120 Kristjan Wager
    March 12, 2007

    Finally, re: Coulter and Dawkins : clearly I gored a scared cow by comparing the two. And, yet, I maintain that the two are comparable. Why? Because both have a fairly hard-line position at one edge of the range of popular opinion on one or more issues, and both write unequivocally that those who disagree with their position are Wrong and Bad. And both get a lot of attention because they stir up a lot of strong feelings by supporters and opponents alike.

    I think you have to be not an atheist to recognize the Coulter-like characteristics in Dawkins, just as you probably have to be not an extreme right-winger to recognize that Coulter is a completely and utter idiotic blowhard.

    You know what, I don’t really care if you are a Christian, and I don’t hold the same kind of hard definitions of what a Christian is as most of the other (US?) commenters seems to do.

    However, I am going to take issue with your comparision of Dawkins and Coulter. Coulter has attacked people verbally and repreatedly called for/joked about the killing of people (bombing of the NY Time office, assassination of Clinton etc.), while Dawkins have tried to make people think about the basic premise behind their faith. You might not think that this is worthwhile, or that he executed it well, but to compare those two is absurb.

    Oh, and you probably failed to realize it, but Dawkins frequently admit it when he is wrong (he might not always agree with you on when he is wrong, though), while Coulter doesn’t do that at all. Doesn’t that at least indicate some fundamental difference between them?

  121. #121 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    I can’t wait for your actual substantial posts on this, Mr. Knop. Right now a lot of responses are speculative because they don’t have any details to respond to yet. I’m hoping for a full report, so please remember to comment on whether you also believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Invisible Pink Unicorns and orbiting teapots.

  122. #122 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    When I say it’s a “religious” question, I mean it belongs to faith.

    No, it doesn’t “belong” to faith. Faith is not a trump card that immunizes beliefs and claims of truth from rational scrutiny. Believing through faith in the existence of God is no more rational or justified than believing anything else through faith. That includes believing through faith that the Bible is the word of God (literal or otherwise) and, for that matter, believing through faith that God wants you to hijack passenger jets and fly them into tall buildings.

  123. #123 Jorg
    March 12, 2007

    Ah, but since you wrote: “I haven’t clicked on the link, and won’t, because its very title indicates to me that it’s hogwash.”, that leads me to believe that your belief may not, after all, be open to modification. Stenger makes a persuasive point that a god with specific attributes has been disallowed by the scientific evidence. He says nothing about a deistic creator, only the (standard) Judeo-Christian conception of such deity. In any case, the book is highly recommended: if you disagree with it, at least you can tell us why.;)

    See, it is one of my deep convictions that the opposing point of view has to be studied in order to be refuted (or agreed with…;)) I have read Mein Kampf, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even Ghadafi’s Green Book, drivel by Gish and Johnson, and, more interestingly, Tillich, McGrath and Haught: at best, they failed to convince me, but at least I did not prejudge their arguments…

  124. #124 decrepitoldfool
    March 12, 2007

    Yes, god-belief-or-not “belongs” to faith. You can’t prove god doesn’t exist and the believer can’t believe he does. This puts god-belief squarely outside the realm of scientific inquiry. I’m pretty darn sure there isn’t a god, and some people are pretty darn sure there is.

    What does it mean when unbelievers lump all religious experience together? It’s as compelling as when some believers lump all scientific experience together. To choose a tangential example, it is as if someone said “artists” were all frauds; never mind representational vs. abstract, painting vs. photography, sculpture vs. performance.

    Religion may die out someday, but I’m not holding my breath. Specifically I’m not letting more practical questions wait until society finally answers the religion question to my satisfaction. And the assertion that the end of religion will herald a better day for humanity is far from proven to me.

  125. #125 decrepitoldfool
    March 12, 2007

    Whoops, that should be “the believer can’t prove he does”

    And I even previewed the comment. Sorry.

  126. #126 J. J. Ramsey
    March 12, 2007

    Jorg: “Ah, but since you wrote: ‘I haven’t clicked on the link, and won’t, because its very title indicates to me that it’s hogwash.’, that leads me to believe that your belief may not, after all, be open to modification.”

    Would you have the same opinion if the banner read, “Spirit Power: How Quantum Consciousness Can Change Your Life”? That hypothetical title contains obvious BS, no? You would have dismissed that without a second thought. The real subtitle “How science shows that God does not exist” is likewise as much obvious BS. God with a capital “G” is as much of a dog to disprove as the Homeric gods or Bertrand Russell’s orbiting teapot. Whoever thought of the title was apparently aiming for punch and sensationalism, not accuracy.

    Kristjan Wager: “Oh, and you probably failed to realize it, but Dawkins frequently admit it when he is wrong (he might not always agree with you on when he is wrong, though), while Coulter doesn’t do that at all. Doesn’t that at least indicate some fundamental difference between them?”

    Yes, it does, but that does not mean that Dawkins and Coulter aren’t both provocateurs. I can think of another fundamental difference, but it isn’t as kind. Coulter is loud and blatently obnoxious. Dawkins, on the other hand, is good at being inflammatory without being bombastic. Just look at how he snuck in the nonsense about “appeasers.” It’s nothing but an argumentum ad Naziium, and its content is something like what Coulter herself might use. Yet he rolls that hand grenade in, most politely, most politely.

  127. #127 Colugo
    March 12, 2007

    PZ Myers: “there’s clearly one domain where you throw away any pretense of scientific thought.”

    I’ve pointed this out before: Are any of us, even the most hardline atheists among us, human paragons of science? Do we have idiosyncratic views, biases, and beliefs with rationales and origins we cannot even fully explain to ourselves and which are not entirely rational – much less amenable to scientific testing?

    If we practice science, does this mean that we also obligated to embody science? I would hope not, because who could meet that standard?

  128. #128 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    J.J.Ramsey,

    The real subtitle “How science shows that God does not exist” is likewise as much obvious BS. God with a capital “G” is as much of a dog to disprove as the Homeric gods or Bertrand Russell’s orbiting teapot.

    Really? Define “God with a capital G” and then explain how you know this is the God Stenger is referring to in his book.

    Whether science can show that God does not exist depends on how God is defined. Traditional forms of theism postulate a God that is involved in the natural world, and that God is certainly subject to analysis using the methods of science.

  129. #129 Lab Lemming
    March 12, 2007

    Rob says:
    You pay taxes. Do you like everything that your government does? If not, why haven’t you emigrated?

    Funny you should ask that on the day before the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Australia…

  130. #130 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    Right now a lot of responses are speculative because they don’t have any details to respond to yet. I’m hoping for a full report, so please remember to comment on whether you also believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Invisible Pink Unicorns and orbiting teapots.

    Since I am, right now, responding to a troll, I suppose some people might think I’ll respond to all of the rest of that….

    Would you have the same opinion if the banner read, “Spirit Power: How Quantum Consciousness Can Change Your Life”? That hypothetical title contains obvious BS, no? You would have dismissed that without a second thought.

    That title, too, would piss me off seriously as something at the top of scienceblogs.com.

    However, in that case, it would piss off almost every single science blogger, so there would be less of a reason for me to say it outright.

    Re: Coulter vs. Dawkins : Kristjan and others still completely miss my point. Of course Dawkins is smarter than, more thoughtful than, and more tractable to debate than Coulter. But he is a polarizing person who has taken an extremely hard-line position that causes strong emotions both in his supporters and in victims of his ire. The notion that giving religious training to children is tantamount to child abuse is an extreme position, people, even if you happen to share that position.

  131. #131 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    Funny you should ask that on the day before the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Australia…

    So you fully support and approve of absolutely everything that the Austrailian government does?

  132. #132 Greg
    March 12, 2007

    Hi, Rob. Nice to see you. I hadn’t known you were blogging here.

    Don’t take this shit personally.

    If you step back and imagine it addressed to somebody else, you will see that, whether religious or areligious, it is mostly the same stuff : good-ole American, maybe Anglo, zenophobia. Not religion. Fear and intolerance.

  133. #133 Jorg
    March 12, 2007

    J.J.Ramsey:

    Ah, but the title of the hypothetical QM-woo tells me everything I want to know: since QM is a well-defined theory (with which I have more than a passing acquaintance), I need go no further. The “God hypothesis” on the other hand is full of claims, counterclaims, proofs, disproofs and such, and, quite clearly, certain claims about God are empirical and as such, amenable to scientific method. We know that the Universe is older than 6000 years and was not created in 6 days: the knowledge rules out a God who would have done that. Stenger’s book proceeds in that way: by taking specific empirical claims about reality and then proceeding to show that a God that satisfies such claims does not exist. He says, in the Foreword, that the book does not disprove the existence of any possible god, but, rather, the specific God of Judeo-Christian mythology (of the literalist-leaning variety). I have something to add, however: the question of the existence of God is, after all, largely predicated on the finite past history of this universe, and since modern physics is–at the very least!–on the verge of giving up that idea, the idea of god-creator seems to also be obsolete.

    But I rant.;) Have you read the book in question?

  134. #134 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    The notion that giving religious training to children is tantamount to child abuse …

    Dawkins didn’t say that.

    Dawkins position is that the religion’s basic factual claims are unjustified and most likely false, and that its real-world effect is generally harmful. I have no idea why you think this position can fairly by characterized as “extremely hard-line.”

  135. #135 Jorg
    March 12, 2007

    Rob:

    You write that Dawkins “has taken on an extremely hard-line position”. Well, at a risk of being pigeon-holed, I must admit that his position seems hardly hard-line to me…;)…much less so, anyway, than the recurring religious claims to execute or, at best, exile, all atheists from “this great country”.

  136. #136 J. J. Ramsey
    March 12, 2007

    Jason: “Really? Define ‘God with a capital G’ and then explain how you know this is the God Stenger is referring to in his book.”

    The long history of theology and atheology is enough to let me know that. Even the God of the Bible is just about impossible to disprove, since one can explain away evidence as God “testing” us. That’s an eye-rolling ad hoc rationalization, but disproving it would put you down the same road as disproving the Homeric gods. If you pick the God of more moderate theists like Rob Knop, disproof is even harder. Myers had it pretty close to right when he wrote, “It’s only incorrect in the sense that the god hypothesis is so bad, so malformed, so incompetently supported, that it is not even wrong.” Any definition of “God” that is of more than academic interest is technically unfalsifiable, and there isn’t a thing Stenger can do about it. The best he can do is wield Occam’s Razor–which is quite a powerful thing, but not the same as disproof.

    Now to be fair to Stenger, what I’ve actually gleaned online about the book seems to indicate that he wields the Razor very well. However, if this is the case, it would mean that he did the rough equivalent of writing a good book on quantum physics, only to slap a label on it to make it look like woo that could be rejected out of hand. That’s a failure of communication on his part, not a failure of misreading on Knop’s part.

  137. #137 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    The long history of theology and atheology is enough to let me know that.

    “The long history of theology and atheology” doesn’t tell you anything about the type of God Stenger is referring to in his book.

    Even the God of the Bible is just about impossible to disprove, since one can explain away evidence as God “testing” us. That’s an eye-rolling ad hoc rationalization,

    Yes, of course it is. By that absurd definition of “disprove” science cannot disprove any religious claim, including the claims of Young Earth Creationism. A YEC believer could just assert that, for reasons he has decided not to reveal to us, God planted false evidence to make the Earth appear much older than it really is. Voila! The scientific disproof of a young earth is eviscerated! You’re not saying anything meaningful about the relationship between science and religious claims of truth by using “disprove” in such a restrictive sense.

    In fact, the definition of God doesn’t even need to be particularly specific before obvious conflicts with science and reason arise. Any creator God postulated to be benevolent and omnipotent (or even just very powerful) is inconsistent with central features of the world we observe and experience, most obviously the presence of so much suffering. Christians themselves recognize this as a problem for their religion. That’s why they call it the problem of evil.

  138. #138 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    But he is a polarizing person who has taken an extremely hard-line position that causes strong emotions both in his supporters and in victims of his ire. The notion that giving religious training to children is tantamount to child abuse is an extreme position, people, even if you happen to share that position.

    This is still a retarded equivalency fallacy. The fact that they’re both polarizing isn’t a meaningless phrase to describe or compare them as people, as polarizing is dependant on the people it polarizes not those who do it. Just because they both polarize groups of people doesn’t mean anything, because they do so for different reasons, and so to compare them simply on the fact that they polarize is fallacious thinking. Depending on the circle I’m in, my opinions on music are very polarizing, but I wouldn’t think you could compare me to Ann Coulter just because someone else just isn’t having my opinion.

  139. #139 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 12, 2007

    Since I am, right now, responding to a troll, I suppose some people might think I’ll respond to all of the rest of that….

    “That book is hogwash, I don’t have to read it to know.” “This poster is a troll for asking questions it would be uncomfortable for me to answer.” Are we seeing a trend here?

  140. #140 Ed Minchau
    March 12, 2007

    If ‘God’ is not a scientific concept, then ‘God’ doesn’t exist.

    I think you should have thought about the implications of that argument a little longer.

    I eagerly await Caledonian’s scientific proof of the existence of love. Because if it can’t be proven scientifically, then it doesn’t exist, right?

  141. #141 Ed Minchau
    March 12, 2007

    Whoops, both the first two lines should have been italicized there, sorry for the confusion.

  142. #142 PZ Myers
    March 12, 2007

    Other great polarizers: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

    This seems to be a case where you’ll lump together as wicked anyone who takes a stand for any cause. You know, some people face fierce opposition even though they’re right.

    This rejection as a “polarizer” of anyone who rocks the boat and says the status quo is rotten is exactly why so many liberal Christians are regarded as part of the problem by some of us. You refuse to even acknowledge that there is a problem that demands change, and you demonize those who lobby for change.

  143. #143 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    Yes. When people say extreme and ridiculous things that support the preconceptions of Mustafa Mond, FCD, said Mustafa Mond, FCD doesn’t approve when I wiff them aside as stupid on the face of them.

    A clear pattern. And, no, I don’t ever expect you will approve of me.

    And, yeah, perhaps the book isn’t about what the ad is about– but the ad says how science disproves God, and I’ve heard enough about that on scienceblogs to know that the people who say that miss the point of God. (See my latest blog entry.)

  144. #144 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    I eagerly await Caledonian’s scientific proof of the existence of love. Because if it can’t be proven scientifically, then it doesn’t exist, right?

    Your abstract notion of love or the biochemical and neural state that is commonly associated with love? One of them exists, I can’t guarantee on both though.

  145. #145 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    This rejection as a “polarizer” of anyone who rocks the boat and says the status quo is rotten is exactly why so many liberal Christians are regarded as part of the problem by some of us. You refuse to even acknowledge that there is a problem that demands change, and you demonize those who lobby for change.

    PZ, you remain full of it.

    I’m not condemning Dawkins for being a polarizer. I called him a polarizer and compared him to Coulter in the first place because it is positions like theirs that get the attention, never positions of those in the middle.

    Hell, if this thread tells you anything, around here *I’m* a polarizer.

    I do recognize the problem, I do demand that htere is change, and I do not demonize those who work for that change. You are CONSTANTLY accusing me of supporting the religious fanatics, evidently because you only bother to read my blog when I say something mean about you, and not when I’m writing anything else. And, yes, I **DO** demonize you and Dawkins, because the crap that you guys are doing is MAKING THAT CHANGE HARDER.

    -Rob

  146. #146 PZ Myers
    March 12, 2007

    Oh, no. The Love Excuse. I think we need to call this the Myers Law: any discussion of the existence of god will eventually devolve to some theist equating love with the supernatural and claiming that it cannot be demonstrated in any natural, material way.

    The effects of love can be measured, tested, and observed. It is in no way similar to your favorite intangible, immeasurable, invisible, inconsequential magical entity.

  147. #147 PZ Myers
    March 12, 2007

    When we live in a state of injustice, the “positions in the middle” that you endorse are wrong — they perpetuate the injustice.

    Dawkins and I and others are working for change. You are working for the status quo. Yes, we will continue to make it harder for you to ignore the problems our culture faces. The foolishness of religion is one of our major problems, and you want to support it — you’ll have to understand that I want to make it harder for you to persist in it.

  148. #148 Ed Minchau
    March 12, 2007

    OK PZ, I’ll try another tack. Prove that time exists. If you can, Julian Barbour will be very interested to hear from you, and the two of you can split a Nobel prize.

  149. #149 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    You are working for the status quo.

    Bullshit. You keep saying that, but you are utterly full of it.

    Granted, you are not working for the same change I am. I want to defeat anti-science. You want to defeat all of religion. You are incapable of seeing there’s a difference. Your incapability of seeing that, and your being so loud about it, is making it difficult for those of us who live in a world full of the faithful to really fight against bad science.

    What’s more, you’re the worst sort of fanatic; those who don’t share your extreme, take-no-prisoners, make-no-excuses hard-line approach are “supporting the status quo.”

    -Rob

  150. #150 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    Rob, you seem more full of it than PZ.

    I’m not condemning Dawkins for being a polarizer. I called him a polarizer and compared him to Coulter in the first place because it is positions like theirs that get the attention, never positions of those in the middle.

    You know you’re absolutely right. I wonder why silence and acquiescence to the “Moral Majority” hasn’t done more to change things in the past. Damn you Dawkins for talking about this in full public view! The real way to get things changed is behind the scenes, where people can’t see you and don’t have to listen to you!

    You are CONSTANTLY accusing me of supporting the religious fanatics, evidently because you only bother to read my blog when I say something mean about you, and not when I’m writing anything else.

    You’re not supporting them directly, but you are tacitly by claiming that the concept of god is completely outside the realm of criticism. Its not, no matter how much that stings. How else are we supposed to criticize them?

    Us: “Hey guys, your views aren’t very nice, please change them.”

    Far Right: “Oh what grounds should we change our views? We don’t answer to you! We answer to a higher authority!!”

    Us: “Well, actually, about that higher authority…”

    Rob: “Whoa whoa whoa! Careful about criticizing that particular, someones feelings may get hurt. Even though we can all agree that the rights views are by and large repulsive, we can’t chip away at the linchpin holding all of those views up because for many other people that linchpin is holding up cottonballs that make them feel better! Wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for everyone now would you?”

    Absurd.

  151. #151 Colugo
    March 12, 2007

    Gentlemen, please. This thread is starting to remind me of Mike from Mixing Memory vs Larry Moran or PZ vs Ed Brayton. Is such unpleasantness truly necessary on either side?

    Here’s a question for all sides to ponder: Would these arguments even be going on had Kansas gone the other way – or would everyone have bigger fish to fry?

  152. #152 Colugo
    March 12, 2007

    Correction: I meant “Ladies and gentlemen.” That sounded horribly sexist.

  153. #153 J. J. Ramsey
    March 12, 2007

    Jason: “‘The long history of theology and atheology’ doesn’t tell you anything about the type of God Stenger is referring to in his book.”

    Did you miss what I wrote about, “Any definition of ‘God’ that is of more than academic interest is technically unfalsifiable, and there isn’t a thing Stenger can do about it”? That’s what “the long history of theology and atheology” has to say on the matter. If Stenger is dealing with any common definition of God, the subtitle is misleading.

    “By that absurd definition of ‘disprove’ …”

    That “absurd definition” is the one Bertrand Russell uses in the article “Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?”, and it is a common one when talking about arguments for or against God’s existence. Even Dawkins in The God Delusion entitled Chapter 4, “Why There Almost Certainly Is No God.” Like it or not, in arguments about God, the word “proof” tends to take on a very strong meaning.

  154. #154 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    Ron Knop,

    If you encourage people to think they are justified in holding strong convictions about what is objectively true on the basis of faith, revelation, mystical experience, and other religious sources of belief, then you are most definitely part of the problem. Science and reason produce knowledge. Religion merely produces belief. Much of that belief is demonstrably false, or harmful, or both. None of it is justified.

  155. #155 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    Doubtful Colugo. The most recent oscillation of Kansas from ID dominated School Board back to teaching evolution isn’t the first time that happened. Its wobbled back and forth before as one side gets complacent and the other side gets energized. This whole hullabullo isn’t the cause of one school board decision in Kansas but, in my opinion, is symptomatic of much larger issues and movements.

  156. #156 jb
    March 12, 2007

    I am a regular reader of the variety of ScienceBlogs. I usually skip the brass knuckles, name-calling and most other entries best classified under “Culture Wars,” but I couldn’t resist this.

    I must say that seeing the heavyweight champ himself deign to drop by and set the tone with all the intellectual finesse of a challenged alpha ape is… interesting. In a schoolyard fight sort of way.

    When should we expect ScienceBlogs to begin enforcing ideological purity on the insistence of its major stockholder (the one who brags about owning ~30%)?

  157. #157 J. J. Ramsey
    March 12, 2007

    PZ Myers: “Other great polarizers: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

    Interesting that you brought up Martin Luther King. A blogger by the name of Jim Lazarus used him to bring up a point opposite to yours:

    “What if Martin Luther King, Jr. got up on the podium to give his speech, and instead of delivering the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, he delivered a speech entitled, “All Crackers Belong in Mental Institutions”? The former speech would inevitably offend his critics. The latter one is a different type of ‘offensive’, though. It’s unnecessarily insulting, juvenile, and dumb.”

    From http://consolatione.blogspot.com/2007/02/chris-hallquist-follow-up-post.html

  158. #158 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    J.J.Ramsey

    Neither Dawkins nor Russell equate “disproved” with “shown to be logically impossible.” Dawkins argues against belief in the existence of God on the basis of evidence from science and reason. Whether one concludes that that evidence rises to the level of “disproof,” the point is that science clearly addresses the question. The idea that the question of the existence of God, as described by any traditional form of theism, is somehow walled off from all rational and empirical scrutiny is just absurd.

  159. #159 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    Would these arguments even be going on had Kansas gone the other way?

    Yes, of course. They’ll be going on as long as people continue to defend religious nonsense, whether of the “conservative” or “liberal” variety.

  160. #160 Visitor
    March 12, 2007

    Ok, ok, ok.

    Imagine if PZ Myers and the likes won their battle against religion, especially the fundamentalist and extreme type. Imagine the victory of atheism — militant atheism — in the world. What would things be like?

    Tell me, would society be better? Would it be Utopian? Would everybody live in peace and harmony with each other? Would there be diversity and *tolerance* of diversity?

    (I know it would a paradise for atheists)

    But what about everybody else? What about people who enjoy romanticizing and philosophizing, and those who are molded by specific life experiences that are unique to them only?

    One of the reasons there is so much diversity in the way human beings think and interpret the world is because of their experiences. For instance, some people say they’ve seen ghosts, or something they’ve interpreted as being a “ghost”. I’ve personally never seen anything like it; however, who am I to dictate the nonexistence of “ghosts” just because I personally haven’t experienced it? And just because science has not been able to prove the existence of “ghosts” does not mean they don’t exist.

    Anyway, back to the atheistic Utopian society.

    Imagine how a person experiencing something outside of the explained natural phenomena would be seen and treated by the ruling militant atheists…

  161. #161 Tyler
    March 12, 2007

    If ‘God’ is not a scientific concept, then ‘God’ doesn’t exist. I think you should have thought about the implications of that argument a little longer.

    If ‘love’ is not a scientific concept, then ‘love’ doesn’t exist. I think you should have thought about the implications of that argument a little longer.

    I’m sick of this “you’re with us, or with the terrorists” attitude I am increasingly bumping into on science-related blogs. Some nameless moron somehow got on national t.v. in 2001 and said those words. It does not make atheists look good to use the same tactics.

    Why is there such an avoidance of the uncertain aspects of experience in this discussion? Like for instance, falling in love? How in blue blazes does rationality help you with that eventuality? This discussion is becoming a “Prove it! Prove it!” shouting match. There is a definite fetish for certainty around here. Fetishism. You know, like a cult. Don’t even try to tell me this isn’t true. Atheists have exactly the same blind spots as theists. It’s just human nature. Belief in a god or what have you is secondary to the existence of these blind spots.

    -Tyler, Public Relations Officer of the Neville Chamberlain Appease-a-palooza Division of Atheists For Jebus

  162. #162 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    Visitor,

    Tell me, would society be better? Would it be Utopian? Would everybody live in peace and harmony with each other? Would there be diversity and *tolerance* of diversity?

    Yes, society would be better. No, it would not be utopian (if “utopian” is intended to mean something like “perfect.”)

    But what about everybody else? What about people who enjoy romanticizing and philosophizing, and those who are molded by specific life experiences that are unique to them only?

    I’m not sure why you think a world without religion would be a world without romance, philosophy or unique life experiences.

    I’ve personally never seen anything like it; however, who am I to dictate the nonexistence of “ghosts” just because I personally haven’t experienced it?

    You can’t “dictate the non-existence of ghosts.” Either ghosts exist or they don’t. You can explain to people that there’s no good reason to believe ghosts exist.

  163. #163 Jason
    March 12, 2007

    Why is there such an avoidance of the uncertain aspects of experience in this discussion? Like for instance, falling in love? How in blue blazes does rationality help you with that eventuality?

    Here we go again. Like PZ, I roll my eyes whenever defenders of religion/theism invoke “love” or “falling in love,” as if it somehow lends credence to their supernatural fantasies.

    Here’s the deal: Love is an emotion. Emotion is a feature of the mind. Other features of the mind include cognition, perception and memory. All of these mental features can be, and are being, studied using the methods of science.

  164. #164 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    If ‘love’ is not a scientific concept, then ‘love’ doesn’t exist. I think you should have thought about the implications of that argument a little longer.

    Love is a scientific concept, it has measurable and predictable correlates in the brain. But don’t let the stop you from searching for another insane example.


    I’m sick of this “you’re with us, or with the terrorists” attitude I am increasingly bumping into on science-related blogs. Some nameless moron somehow got on national t.v. in 2001 and said those words. It does not make atheists look good to use the same tactics.

    Equivalency and poisoning the well.

    There is a definite fetish for certainty around here. Fetishism. You know, like a cult. Don’t even try to tell me this isn’t true. Atheists have exactly the same blind spots as theists. It’s just human nature. Belief in a god or what have you is secondary to the existence of these blind spots.

    Oh yay more equivalency. All people have the same blindspots, theists and atheists alike, yes this is true. However atheists like to try and check for these blindspots using science by subjecting their ideas, observations and subjective experience to objective review and reverification.

    Tell me, how do you reverify a one-time subjective experience or feeling like “Belief in whatever”?

  165. #165 Brad
    March 12, 2007

    My link for poisoning the well didn’t work.

    http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/poisoning-the-well.html

    They really need to add a form so people can edit their comments.

  166. #166 Orac
    March 12, 2007

    Gentlemen, please. This thread is starting to remind me of Mike from Mixing Memory vs Larry Moran or PZ vs Ed Brayton. Is such unpleasantness truly necessary on either side?

    Sadly, the answer appears to be yes. Once these debates get going around here, it’s virtually inevitable that they will degenerate to this level. I got fed up with it a few months ago, which was the last time this sort of acrimony erupted.

  167. #167 Astroprof
    March 12, 2007

    Well said. Thanks.

  168. #168 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    Absurd.

    Brad — yes, because you left out the part where I talk about how it’s stupid to insist that you have to believe wrong things in order to maintain your faith in that higher authority. You leave out the part where I say that even as a person of faith you don’t have to deny evolution. You leave out the part where I say that Biblical literalism is laughably absurd.

    That’s the whole point of a lot of what I’m writing here, indeed.

    What you characterize as the discussion is not the discussion at all.

    -Rob

  169. #169 Rob Knop
    March 12, 2007

    I got fed up with it a few months ago, which was the last time this sort of acrimony erupted.

    Oops. Sorry. :/

    Re: the Utopian society : one thing I am firmly convinced of is that people need enemies, people need people to hate. It’s one of the very most tragic things about the psychological makeup of humans, but it seems to be a constant throughout human history. If it isn’t religion we’re hating and killing each other over, it will be land, or political philosophy, or even lack of philosophy (as in the attack on the nihilists in “The Big Lebowski”).

    We don’t have the commies to hate any more, which is why we need a terrorist under every bed. If the terrorist threat goes away, it will be something else. Every subgroup is always going to have enemies. It’s a crying shame, but I don’t see any way out of it other than Huxley’s solution in “Brave New World.”

    -Rob

  170. #170 Greg
    March 12, 2007

    Or we could stop putting so much effort into teaching our children to hate.

  171. #171 mollishka
    March 12, 2007

    You know, Rob, you’re going to take away a lot of their fun if you keep insisting that they pay attention to what you’ve actually written …

  172. #172 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Love is a scientific concept, it has measurable and predictable correlates in the brain. But don’t let the stop you from searching for another insane example.

    None of this explanation richens the experience of being in love; in fact, it makes beling in love more like a science project and less like a wonderful state of being. There’s a lot that science can say about a poem, but it can say nothing about the subjective experience of poetry, at least as far as poetry matters to the reader.

    What continues to amaze me is the absolutist stand that so many atheists, while waving the flag of their unassailable reason, assert when they sneeringly reduce the notion of god to the status of “a silly and unscientific bit of nonsensical pap.” How can you be so sure?

    Even Russell’s orbiting teapot, being outside the realm of observable nature, cannot be said definitively to not exist. Is it silly to postulate its existence? Of course it is. But no one’s life has ever been transformed by their belief an orbiting teapot. Many, many people have been transformed by their belief in god. Perhaps there’s a logical, measurable, material reason for this, but should that reason ever be found and proven beyond all doubt it, like the measures of love or poetry, would say very little to the person actually undergoing the experience.

    Which is all to say that no, religion is not science. It’s something else entirely, and it’s entirely separable from scientific inquiry if the scientist is honest enough about those differences.

  173. #174 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Ugh. Apologies for not closing the html tag.

  174. #175 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    . I want to defeat anti-science. You want to defeat all of religion.

    What you are refusing to grasp is that religion is a subset of anti-science. Not all rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles.

    Religion is inherently incompatible with scientific thought – it mandates what science forbids, and vice versa. You don’t want to defeat anti-science. You just want the subsets of anti-science that you don’t like to go away, while you pretend the anti-science you like is really compatible with science. You then proceed to make the necessary claims to rationalize the outcome you want, and you’re ignoring the ludicrousness of those claims in the process.

  175. #176 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    If ‘love’ is not a scientific concept, then ‘love’ doesn’t exist.

    Precisely. The ‘love’ that actually exists is a scientific concept. The ‘love’ that you define as being outside science has no referent.

    I think you should have thought about the implications of that argument a little longer.

    Oh, irony.

  176. #177 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    One more for the night:

    Even Russell’s orbiting teapot, being outside the realm of observable nature, cannot be said definitively to not exist.

    Wrong. Just because I cannot observe something does not mean that no one else can. Just because humanity lacks the technological capacity to observe something does not mean that the thing is unobservable – even if humanity is incapable of ever observing it, it doesn’t follow that it cannot be observed.

    Russel’s teapot is within nature and potentially observable.

  177. #178 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Caledonian,

    What you are refusing to grasp is that religion is a subset of anti-science. Not all rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles.

    Even if this statement were true (the many examples of religious believers who also happen to be good scientists, e.g., Newton, Planck, Planck, Einstein, Dobzhansky, et al. shows it to be problematic) you seem to be refusing to grasp that they operate in different spheres. Science does not answer existential questions to the satisfaction of many, many people. Many very intelligent and reasonable people are among that group. For them, religion does answer those questions. This is not “anti-science,” it’s the accommodation of two different spheres of thought.

    You also fail to grasp that the very fundamentalism that so turns you off to religion is exhibited in your insistence that all scientists behave and believe exactly as you and your cohort do. Fundamentalism is a greater root of evil than tolerance, yet you continue to throw the baby of religiously-informed tolerance out with the bathwater of what you have concluded is truth. (Which, as noted above, is not a matter of teleological certainty.)

    You confuse the fight against the bad, anti-science ideology, with the insistence on perfection, the end of religion. Sorry, but your black and white world is in principle no more representative of the world as it is (something to which you ought to pay closer attention if you are going to speak on behalf of science) than the black and white world of Pat Robertson. Why can’t you be happy that there are people with whom you disagree on particulars who are with you for the far more important 99% of the fight? Fighting for science seems a task that is Sisyphean enough without the demand for ideological purity.

  178. #179 Richard Crawford
    March 13, 2007

    Wow. Thank you very much for posting this; it’s nice to know that there are Christians out there who are hard-core science supporters.

    The biggest challenge that Christianity faces these days is recovering its relevance and value among thinking people; most of what passes for Christianity in the popular culture today — espoused by the likes of Pat Robertson, William Dembski, Andres Schlafly, and others — is a mindless parody of Christianity at best, lacking in moral substance or theological interest.

    Christianity is not a way to explain the world; that’s the job of science. Christianity is a way to live in the world, specifically with the people who share the world with us.

  179. #180 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    RE: Russell’s Teapot:

    “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

    Russell took pains to note that “the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes,” which I think we can take to mean that it cannot be revealed by even our most powerful instruments. Russell’s point is that the teapot could not be proven to either exist or not exist, therefore positive belief in it is irrational.

    I take your claim that “even if humanity is incapable of ever observing it, it doesn’t follow that it cannot be observed” to mean that it falls outside the realm of material observation. What, then, do you propose as the scientific means by which it might be observed? Science deals with observation of the material world. Ipso facto, science is unsuited by definition to the task of saying anything about an orbiting teapot.

    Unless you are suggesting that some sort of space alien might be able to observe it. This is hypothetically true, but that alien’s inability to observe it would only diminish the (already vanishingly low) probablility that it exists. It would not prove its non-existence beyond all doubt.

    But to get back to the human element, what does a person’s belief in a teapot matter to you if they are otherwise unopposed to scientific inquiry? If they can separate their Teapotism from the rest of their intellectual life?

    Suppose the “Church of Teapotism” took as one of its fundamental tenets the absolute fealty to science, because that’s what the Teapot demands? Would that one bit of irrationality cause you to reject all “Teapotists” out of hand? If so, why would you deny “Teapotists” the comfort of their beliefs?

  180. #181 Kevembuangga
    March 13, 2007

    Rob : …you left out the part where I talk about how it’s stupid to insist that you have to believe wrong things in order to maintain your faith in that higher authority.

    Yeah! This is it!
    Religionists are longing for “higher authority” and “purpose”!
    This is an emotional demand which has NOTHING to do with any epistemologically sound investigation of reality.
    Out of anguish you posit a comforting but INSANE hypothesis, there is an omnipotent agent who oversee the whole universe.
    Though you may nevertheless do some “good science” whenever you are not encumbered by clashes between the detailed hypotheses of YOUR PECULIAR choice of “God” and experimental evidences this cast a doubt on ALL your research.
    This is blatantly what happens to the YEC crowd, you are just claiming you have “lesser crazyness”.

  181. #182 Mike the Mad Biologist
    March 13, 2007

    Rob,

    thank you for voicing this opinion. I hope you last longer (i.e., get less frustrated) in discussing religion than I did…

  182. #183 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    you seem to be refusing to grasp that they operate in different spheres.

    Precisely my point. We use science to describe the world that exists, and we use religion to describe fantasies that we don’t even care whether they’re real.

    All this “non-overlapping magisteria” nonsense is just a way of saying that religions are no more meaningful than folktales.

    (And I find it hilarious that you lump Einstein, who explicitly denied the concept of a personal deity, with Newton, whose scientific accomplishments ceased when he went to work on alchemy.)

    Einstein was not a religious man. He was a Spinozist.

  183. #184 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    We use science to describe the world that exists, and we use religion to describe fantasies that we don’t even care whether they’re real.

    No, you don’t care. Many others do, and they find it meaningful. I think this is compatible with science because it operates in a different sphere. Where you get the phrase “non-overlapping magisteria” is beyond me. Is this a term you’ve invented? Why not conduct the dispute based on terms already in use and at leat roughly agreed upon?

    Oh, that’s why: you’ve now attempted to shift the discussion to a “personal God,” as opposed to simple belief in the divine, which you have lumped in with all forms of anti-science. Sorry, but I’m not taking the bait. Spinoza’s God, existing outside the material realm yet one with it, is as irrational as any other by a purely materialistic yardstick.

    But let’s let Einstein speak for himself (here I go, quoting the source again):

    “For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capabIe, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.

    The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations.”

    I can hardly see how this makes Einstein irreligious. Dawkins wouldn’t be caught dead saying that.

  184. #185 John B
    March 13, 2007

    Good luck Rob,

    I haven’t had any luck with the suggestion that people who believe in a god, or are religious, may not be insane fantasy-dwellers, perhaps your approach will open one or two people to the dangers of certainty. If so, you will have accomplished more than most.

    The real trick will be getting people to address the issue as themselves: people who learn over time, make mistakes, reject ideas they used to find plausible, etc… If you find yourself arguing with the a-personal Representative of Science, History or Philosophy, you’re probably out of luck. There will be too much at stake, in terms of their own beliefs, to allow anyone else’s difference to be held on the same level as their own.

    If you can keep things on the level of personal learning, sometimes a few people can recognise that, despite the rhetoric, both atheist and theist individuals have to explore things for themselves, for personal reasons that don’t always respond to a solid rational argument ‘for or against’ particular propositions.

  185. #186 MHC
    March 13, 2007

    Rob, I know I’m late coming to this thread, but wanted time to consider my thoughts on this. I’m an atheist, recovering Catholic; that said, I respect your decision to “come out” as a christian on this site, and wish you the best. I take exception to the “PZ sycophants” line, but understand where you’re coming from. I decided to wait and see what kinds of posts you wrote after this one, and make up my mind then.

    I’ll continue to subscribe to both your and PZ’s blog, as you both can be very insightful when you’re not caught up with religion (on either side).

    Finally, I urge you to reconsider your “christian persecution” complex, as it’s been called here. I come from a sheltered, homeschooled (till I demanded to be able to go to public high school), religious background, and I too once held a strong “secular America is anti-Christian/Catholic” attitude. That was the first thing to go on my road to atheism, but I don’t think it’s something only atheists should be aware of. I have to agree with the consensus, that 1) saying you’re wrong is not an attack (if the speech is neutral), and 2) Christians are told they’re wrong a lot more than other religions in western society simply because they are the majority.

    Hope that makes sense. Hope you aren’t discouraged by the environment here at scienceblogs and continue to blog.

  186. #187 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 13, 2007

    Where you get the phrase “non-overlapping magisteria” is beyond me. Is this a term you’ve invented? Why not conduct the dispute based on terms already in use and at leat roughly agreed upon?

    Is that supposed to be funny? “NOMA” is the invention of biologist Stephen Jay Gould to be “a blessedly simple and entirely conventional resolution to … the supposed conflict between science and religion” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria#Non-Overlapping_Magisteria_.28NOMA.29 )

    It failed.

  187. #188 Decline and Fall
    March 13, 2007

    Sorry, I wasn’t aware of the reference. You don’t have to be jerk about it. But if your proof that “it failed” is Dawkins’ argument against it, you’ve simply cited one more example of arrogance and talking at cross-purposes that was the subject of Rob’s post. Many examples of both can be found in this discussion thread. “NOMA” seems, from my limited research, to not only still be alive as a concept, but to be the generally held opinion of scientists and the more scholarly theologians. “It failed” is demonstrably not a way to describe it.

  188. #189 Rob Knop
    March 13, 2007

    <nerd>
    …but in the year of the Shadow War, NOMA became something greater: our last, best hope for victory.
    </nerd>

  189. #190 Ed Brayton
    March 13, 2007

    Rob-

    As the unelected and unofficial leader of the Beloved Union of Neville Chamberlain Science Lovers, let me say that not only do I think you’re welcome here but that I wish there were more like you. I know, I know, that makes me a spineless, weak-minded fence sitter who is just too wimpy to break out the brass knuckles and steel-toed boots, but what can I say? I gotta be me.

  190. #191 Leni
    March 13, 2007

    I have to say that I don’t think the acrimony here is that terrible.

    What I see is a lively discussion initiated, I might add, by the blog owner.

    I really don’t get what all these “You can take the heat man!” kind of posts are for. What heat? Where? No one has been particularly, as far as I can tell, antagonistic, mean, nasty or flamy. In fact, there is a whole crapload of atheists in here offering that same support. Every one else is just making various tangential philosophical points. Not *exactly* a big scary mob attack, unless you are afraid of nerds. PZ was a little bitchy but not any bitchier than usual and certainly not any bitchier than Rob. Who wasn’t all that bitchy either. Well ok, maybe a little but he feels all defensive so I’m cutting him some slack.

    I don’t know. It’s generated discussion and I’ve seen some posts, inlcuding Rob’s latest one (IIRC.. I only glanced… I mean to go back after this), characterizing this business as a lot worse than it actually is. I mean, it’s a lot of posts. Not scary, not harmful, no one is attacking anyone else. Most of the responses are pretty rational. Why is that such a bad thing?

    The whole thing just seems so harmless to me.

    Great. See? Now I feel like Ferris Beuler.

  191. #192 Kevin
    March 13, 2007

    People get wierd when you tell them you’re an atheist.

    So I just tell them I’m a Pagan and I worship the Sun and the Moon. We had a great ceremony the other weekend when we had a lunar eclipse.

    Roast Duck, bonfire, tequilla…

    also remember the wood spirits and the wind gods (all four of them)

  192. #193 Caledonian
    March 13, 2007

    No, you don’t care. Many others do, and they find it meaningful.

    There’s that argument again: a group of people feel a certain way, therefore their opinion is a valid argument and should be respected.

    The non-overlapping magisteria thing isn’t even wrong. It would have to rise significantly in worth before it could attain the status of wrongness. It’s nonsense.

    Science deals with the testable. A thing is testable if its affirmation results in a different set of implications from its negation. If you define “religion” so that it cannot conflict with science, you must limit it to the untestable. That means that its assertions have no meaning, because there’s no distinguishing between their truth and falsehood.

  193. #194 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    Let’s diagram your argument:

    Premise: Science deqals with the testable. (true)
    Premise: If you define “religion” so that it cannot be science, you must limit it to the untestable. (I’ve said something like this, so I’ll call it true for the sake of argument)
    Conclusion: Religions assertions have no meaning, because there’s no distinguishing between their truth and falsehood.

    The conclusion would follow from the premises if the assumption was true that the only way of establishing truth from falsehood was testing things. That may be the best means, but it’s not the only means. Deduction, for instance, tells us the truth about a given syllogism, such as this one.

    But this begs the question: why do you insist on drawing a parallel between science and religion in terms of the things they do? That was the point of the original post, it’s breen repeated more times than I care to count on these boards, and it’s the basis of my new $.20 word of the day, “non-overlapping magisteria.” No wonder you dismiss it out of hand–you are completely unwilling to engage with it on any level, except that of snide derision. (Another topic of the original post that has gone ignored in roughly the same proportion to it being proven by the contents of this deiscussion.)

  194. #195 Julia
    March 14, 2007

    Sorry to be so late to comment, but wanted to say thank you. As a Christian myself, I agree with pretty much everything in your post.

  195. #196 Uber
    March 14, 2007

    Rob-

    I am a man of faith as well but I think your post is pretty wrongheaded. Dawkins is certainly not like Coulter and frankly comparing the two makes me loose more than a little respect for your thinking. Likewise PZ Myers has every right to speak his mind and frankly I welcome his good sense on most issues. If pastors by the 1000’s can bang away with their mostly back ass thoughts on every media in this nation PZ and his ilk should be speaking loud and proud.

    They are not making it tougher for good science but rather letting it be known that the underlying reasoning to the attacks on science are the problem.

    And lastly for the sake of our faith stop with the persecution complex. If you have faith, say why. If it’s an unprovable asserionand just makes you feel better thats all that needs to be said. But stop whining about your view not being popular among scientists. It isn’t. Either show evidence why it should be or accept the fact that many don’t find religion convincing, many find it dangerous, and a great many have self deluded themselves. It’s about honesty.

  196. #197 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    The conclusion would follow from the premises if the assumption was true that the only way of establishing truth from falsehood was testing things. That may be the best means, but it’s not the only means. Deduction, for instance, tells us the truth about a given syllogism, such as this one.

    And how do we determine what deduction produces? By observing physical systems – specifically, we let parts of our brains perform computations and see what the result it. That’s a test.

    But you’ve missed the point – the only way a thing can be non-testable in principle is if it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s true or false. That means that it can’t imply anything, and is just a semantically empty collection of words, equivalent to the null sentence.

  197. #198 Decline and Fall
    March 14, 2007

    Funny, I would have thought “that which cannot be tested” would be a definition of the non-testable, not “that which it does not matter whether it is true or false.”

    Someone brought up the point on Jason’s post about Justice being an example of non-scientific knowledge. Is it testable? Only within a closed system–the argument is inherently circular. Does it matter whether it’s true or false? Socrates, Galileo and John Scopes would certainly say yes.

    Most people believe in justice. So do you, for all I know. But it’s not an observable thing. It’s only “testable” in that it refers back to itself–the entire thing is a construct of the human mind, which has been agreed to by a bunch of other human minds.

    What it’s clearly not is a “semantically empty collection of words, equivalent to the null sentence.” So too with religion. If nothing else, it’s a human construct that is as valid a source of non-scientific knowledge as the pondering of justice or love or art.

    (Just to be clear on this, science itself depends on a certain number of leaps of faith, such as the correspondence between perception and reality and Kuhn’s paradigms, so science is also self-referential. So is geometry and, for that matter, the rest of math. This is not to say that science and math are no better than circular arguments–they’re much, much more than that. But they are also circular, which is something scientists ought to be more aware of.)

  198. #199 Caledonian
    March 14, 2007

    Funny, I would have thought “that which cannot be tested” would be a definition of the non-testable, not “that which it does not matter whether it is true or false.”

    Those statements are equivalent.

  199. #200 Enigman
    March 15, 2007

    I agree with Rob: others’ advertising can be extremely irritating, especially when it’s effective; to invite it as part of getting a louder voice can therefore seem like dealing with the Devil (and evolutionary theory predicts that it will take over the world, via the spread of democratic freedom :)

  200. #201 Brandon
    March 15, 2007

    Rob Knop – Thank you so much for joining Scienceblogs. You’re saying what I’ve been trying to say in comments, except much more eloquently than I ever could. You’re getting RSSed.

  201. #202 csrster
    March 15, 2007

    I think we need some new categories that go beyond “militant atheist” and “Neville Chamberlain atheist”! What I mean is that there are people like me who are broadly in agreement with the intellectual position of someone like PZ but still find a stridently combative tone to be objectionable, and in some cases downright boorish.

    Yes, I disgree with Rob. _But_ I want to listen to what he has to say and try to understand a) what he thinks and b) why he thinks it. In doing so I hope to learn something useful – I hope to learn more about how other people think.

    So far we’ve heard a great deal more about what Rob _doesn’t_ believe in than in what he does. I’m looking forward to his great and promised “What Jesus Means To Me” post with bated breath. Frankly I’ve never really understood Jesus’ appeal (to those who _don’t_ accept his status as divine). So far as I can see, while what he says may be both interesting and original, the interesting parts tend not to be original and the original parts tend not to be interesting. I also think his followers (both ancient and contemporary) have often overplayed his radicalness, and it’s interesting to see how modern scholarship tends to portray him as acting largely within the mainstream of pharisaic judaism as practised at the time. Still, perhaps Rob has some new perspectives on that with which to enlighten us.

    It’s certainly got to be more interesting than an exchange of persecution complexes with PZ.

  202. #203 rednex
    March 15, 2007

    I like to get off the internet, and mingle with real people out in the real world who don’t discuss religion too much. it’s boring. period.

    today, I was driving home, and saw flashing lights approaching on the road/ it was an emergency medical paramedic. pulled back on the road and here came another, a fire engine and both headed toward the highway. “There’s been a bad accident” I thought to myself, and I don’t know what came over me, it came out of nowhere, I felt compelled to start pouring tears “There’s so much pain in the world.” and it just hurt so badly… I was pouring tears as I turned the corner, heading home. I’ve read all those arguments on the internet for/against God who is/not there. But as the emergency vehicles had passed, and I got to driving the sound of the sirens were still ringing through my mind, and memories of reading so many atheists saying God doesn’t exist, I’m a deist… I have my own beliefs about that.

    Christians and Wiccans and Hindus and Muslims are all searching after and talking about ultimately the same thing; they are just seeing it in different ways.

    I believe God is there and very few have a true grasp on who and what God is and God touches our lives daily. I believe as Gandhi did …God is even the atheism in the atheist.

    it seems the things people are fighting over so zealously about have really nothing to do with God(TM) at all except in name only.

    ha, scriptures say people would stand before judgment “Depart I knew you not.” but I think the opposite is true, they all realize God was witness to their entire lives and well involved more than they ever knew, and told instead “it was you who never knew me.”

  203. #204 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 16, 2007

    You don’t have to be jerk about it.

    I’m sorry if it seemed that way, but it looked like a failed attempt of a joke, since it is such a common term in these discussions. (And easy to check, btw.)

    if your proof that “it failed” is Dawkins’ argument against it, you’ve simply cited one more example of arrogance and talking at cross-purposes

    Why? His argument shows both directly and indirectly why it is failed. Religion as practiced by most people is in conflict with science, for example creationism of various kinds.

    our last, best hope for victory.

    The last ga(s)p for incompetent worldviews, maybe.

  204. #205 Rob Plop
    March 18, 2007

    Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop. Okay got that out of my system… People who agree with Shelly Bats and Rob Knop that religion is OKAY, this is for you, so you can better understand why religion must be stamped out…

    Deuteronomy 22: 28 If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. 29 Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her

    Deuteronomy 7:1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. 2 Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

    Leviticus 21: 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire.

    Shelly, I would like to buy into this Bible stuff like you do, but it seems too violent for modern society. Here is how a moderate Christian defends abortion…

    “The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life.”

    That is the kind of stuff that Christians like Shelley are fine letting others believe. Here is another example…

    “By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG – AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.”

    Seems like that Christian has actually arrived at the right destination (one of the few who has), AMAZING! I guess the only problem remaining here is the compass (RELIGION), which can be unreliable and is easily misinterpreted.

    http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/

    Leviticus 20: 27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

    Cheers to PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and myself), who can see the danger in sadistic “fairy tales”.

  205. #206 Leni
    March 18, 2007

    Ok. Now that’s just rude.

    I’ve been in at least 3 threads today with this exact same post.

    Mr. Plop. it’s like not flushing. It get’s old quick and it’s kinda gross.

  206. #207 Leni
    March 18, 2007

    Except that “old quick” doesn’t belong to get :)

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