Pharyngula

…and that’s exactly why he is a slimy ass-pimple, a child-abusing freak.

Evangelist Ken Ham smiled at the 2,300 elementary students packed into pews, their faces rapt. With dinosaur puppets and silly cartoons, he was training them to reject much of geology, paleontology and evolutionary biology as a sinister tangle of lies.

“Boys and girls,” Ham said. If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, “you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?’ Can you remember that?”

2300 children. 2300 young minds poisoned. Nothing new, I know, and I should just get used to it.

But I can’t.

And here’s how Ken Ham gets away with spreading anti-intellectual idiocy.

The children roared their assent.

“Sometimes people will answer, ‘No, but you weren’t there either,’ ” Ham told them. “Then you say, ‘No, I wasn’t, but I know someone who was, and I have his book about the history of the world.’ ” He waved his Bible in the air.

“Who’s the only one who’s always been there?” Ham asked.

“God!” the boys and girls shouted.

“Who’s the only one who knows everything?”

“God!”

“So who should you always trust, God or the scientists?”

The children answered with a thundering: “God!”

“God.” Once again, I’m going to give good, liberal progressive Christians the vapors and point out that there is the destroyer, the idea that ruins young minds and corrupts education: god. Ham has god on the brain, and he exploits other people who have god on the brain to give him millions of dollars so he can run around the country and put god on the brain of the next generation.

I know. Many of you support science, and you carefully set aside your religious biases when assessing ideas about the world—you’ve managed to find means to cope with this infectious lie. That doesn’t change the ugly fact that it is a lie, a crippling corruption, and that many people don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side.

When I hear Christians make excuses for their religion, it’s like hearing smallpox survivors praising their scars. “It didn’t kill me, and these poxy marks add character to my face! Those deadly cases have nothing to do with my own delightful disease.”

So we do nothing. We let the infection simmer along, encouraging our children to get exposed to it, praising it, howling in anger at those who dare to say the obvious and point out that it’s a poison, a mind-killer, vacuous noise and evil nonsense. We let the absurdity flourish.

We know exactly where the vileness grows, in the cesspool of religion, yet we veer away from confronting the source, draining the contagion, eliminating the vector of ignorance.

We encourage it to thrive and it leads to well-meaning parents pressuring their impressionable kids into gulping down the ignorance-laced koolaid.

Emily Maynard, 12, was also delighted with Ham’s presentation. Home-schooled and voraciously curious, she had recently read an encyclopedia for fun — and caught herself almost believing the entry on evolution. “They were explaining about apes standing up, evolving to man, and I could kind of see that’s how it could happen,” she said.

Ham convinced her otherwise. As her mother beamed, Emily repeated Ham’s mantra: “The Bible is the history book of the universe.”

I’m so sorry, Emily.

Ben Watson wasn’t quite as confident. His father, a pastor in Staten Island, N.Y., had let him skip a day of second grade to attend. Ben went to public school, the Rev. Dave Watson explained, “and I thought it would be good for him to get a different perspective” for an upcoming project on Tyrannosaurus rex.

“You going to put in your report that dinosaurs are millions of years old?” Watson, 46, asked his son.

“No…. ” Ben said. He hesitated. “But that’s what my book says…. “

“It’s a lot to think about,” his dad reassured him. “We’ll do more research.”

I’m sorry, Ben.

We let you all down.

Comments

  1. #1 tacitus
    February 11, 2006

    (PZ, Hope you don’t mind me reposting this comment on this more relevant thread.)

    The sad thing is that millions of people are being preached every week by messages like those given by Ken Ham. And preachers don’t have Q&A sessions after their sermons where they can be challenged on what they said. Not that it would matter, since the more fundamentalist the congregation, the less critical they are of their church leaders.

    What’s even sadder is that the fundamentalist preachers simply ignore the science. They don’t even attempt to refute the evidence. They don’t need to, since no one is going to challenge them. The vast majority of these churches still teach the same YEC nonsense being taught 30, 50, 100 years ago.

    For all the efforts being put in by PZ, Panda’s Thumb and Talk Origins to lay out the scientific evidence in meticulous detail, nothing will change until the fundamentalist doctrine of Biblical literalism is overcome.

    And that’s not going to be easy since, to these people, if you prove that Genesis didn’t happen, then nothing in the Bible is true and you have just destroyed their faith. That’s what they’ve been told every Sunday since they were kids.

  2. #2 tacitus
    February 11, 2006

    I should add that this is not a fair fight. If scientists and/or atheists engaged in the same pep-rally tactics Ken Ham uses, they would be accused of being unprofessional, indoctrinating the children, or worse.

  3. #3 QrazyQat
    February 11, 2006

    How do these kids know what God wants, or that the Bible is true? Were they THERE?

    Seriously, kids are often, at heart, pretty good skeptical thinkers who thirst for information (which leads them to be good targets for disinformation spreaders). Asking one the above can work to open a crack in the wall of ignorance.

  4. #4 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    “God.” Once again, I’m going to give good, liberal progressive Christians the vapors and point out that there is the destroyer, the idea that ruins young minds and corrupts education: god. Ham has god on the brain, and he exploits other people who have god on the brain to give him millions of dollars so he can run around the country and put god on the brain of the next generation.”

    Hear hear!

    by the way, what HTML tags do we use to quote here?

  5. #5 Kristine
    February 11, 2006

    Ken Ham is just sickening and evil.

    You know, how the hell does he know that God “was there?” Was he there? But I know from experience that you just can’t talk to these people. I tried talking to members of my family during the whole “creation science” crap in the late 1970s. Even today I have a sister who proclaims “I didn’t!” whenever the evolution of man is mentioned. It is so painful.

  6. #6 yagwara
    February 11, 2006

    Re: the first kid quoted,

    why, why, WHY is home schooling legal?

  7. #7 Ebonmuse
    February 11, 2006

    It could be worse – at least we know what the YECs’ tactics are and how to fight them. If a student really does challenge a teacher with, “Were you there?”, that would be the perfect cue to launch into an explanation of how science draws conclusions about things we can’t directly observe (atoms, continental plates, criminal acts) by studying the evidence these events leave behind and drawing testable hypotheses. That’s how science works and that’s the message we need to get across.

  8. #8 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    I hear you, Kristine. I have some relatives who think Answers in Genesis is the premier scientific authority. I eventually stopped arguing the matter, because it was hopeless.

  9. #9 Sastra
    February 11, 2006

    It seems to me that one of the most dangerous attitudes in religion is a willingness to blur the distinction between human uncertainty and divine infallibility when it comes to how sure you can be when it comes to knowing about God. Those other people build a God in their own image: YOU simply agree with God. Those other people interpret texts: YOU meekly accept the truth. Those other people think God is on their side: YOU, however, know you’re on God’s side.

    Thus, when Ken Ham tells children they can trust God, what he really means is they can trust Ken Ham. They can trust themselves, and they can trust fundamentalist evangelicals, because they’re the ones who get God right. Doubting that is just like doubting God.

    I find it ironic that atheists get accused of “turning themselves into God.” To me it often looks like the other way around.

  10. #10 G
    February 11, 2006

    For me, this is one of the most difficult knots in applied political philosophy. On the one hand, people should be free to develop and pursue their own conceptions of the good, limited only by the constraint that their pursuit does not harm others. Freedom of religion – and from religion – is rightly taken to be central to that freedom. On the other hand, some forms of religious indoctrination of children – like Ken Ham’s campaign of deliberate misinformation and manipulation – constitute child abuse, warping young minds both emotionally and intellectually.

    It’s fairly easy to identify the problem. Faith itself is an intellectual travesty and moral failing – as I recently argued in a short essay kindly published by Ophelia Benson at Butterflies & Wheels. But figuring out what to do about the problem is altogether more difficult.

  11. #11 Squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    “”God.” Once again, I’m going to give good, liberal progressive Christians the vapors and point out that there is the destroyer, the idea that ruins young minds and corrupts education: god. Ham has god on the brain, and he exploits other people who have god on the brain to give him millions of dollars so he can run around the country and put god on the brain of the next generation.”

    Ham exploits Christians–an accurate assessment, I agree. However, the issue is not with God, it is with extremists like Ken Ham who actively promote their unbending dogma. The fact that “Darwin Sunday” is going to be celebrated in many churches across the country should alert you to the fact that not all Christians buy that pile. It should alert you to the fact that not all Christians can be grouped with the “many people (who) don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side.” I guess it is just easier to stereotype than it is to take the effort to focus in on the fundamentalists who are the real enemies of science. Ken Miller and S. J. Gould wrote nice books, but the results weren’t instantaneous, unfortunately. That doesn’t justify giving up on the theists who support science and who don’t buy into fundamentalist views of our origins.

    Tacitus is right: “And that’s not going to be easy since, to these people, if you prove that Genesis didn’t happen, then nothing in the Bible is true and you have just destroyed their faith. That’s what they’ve been told every Sunday since they were kids.”

    But, there are also many Christians who do not believe that Genesis and evolution are in contradiction. Many scientists who are Christians and who have studied Genesis thoroughly have found this to be true. Many scientists who are Christians actually see our scientific discoveries as illuminations of the scriptural text. We recognize the Hebrew language was very limited in its discriptive ability at that time, as were the scientific experience of those who lived when the book was written. We warrant that a word-for-word interpretation of the text is but a superficial reading of the text. Why should we be grouped among the “many people (who) don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side”? I certainly don’t appreciate being stereotyped with that group, and the entire mentality is emphatically counter productive.

    And what of my devout Muslim colleague who is a chemistry researcher and professor, and who sees no contradiction between his beliefs in God and in evolution or an old earth? Is he also among the “many people (who) don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side”?

    Know thy “enemy”. But also know thy “friends”.

  12. #12 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    Well, you’ve confused the issue by mentioning muslims. PZ cuts them a little extra slack.

  13. #13 squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    But…why? Muslims are theists, too, afterall…

  14. #14 Driftwood
    February 11, 2006

    Oh, but all you fine folks are overlooking a grand opportunity to save billions of dollars that are being wasted on education and billions more on research. Don’t you see that everything is very simple? Everything that matter is there in plain text in the Bible. If it is not in the Bible, then it doesn’t matter. So we can all just go off and put hat pins through our frontal lobes and be happy as clams. Except, of course, we don’t have frontal lobes because they aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Are clams?

  15. #15 Mike Jones
    February 11, 2006

    Why is home schooling legal?

    Well, partly because we’re not a totalitarian state that insists that everyone undergo conditioning. And partly because one size does not fit all.

    Please don’t make the mistake of believing that everyone who homeschools is a religious nut. We have two terrific boys who are homeschooled because, frankly, we think they’d be bored stiff in public school. The seven year old his teaching himself Greek (at his insistence), and I’m teaching the ten-year-old how transistors work. And they’re both getting a serious grounding in real science that they would be hard-pressed to get in public schools.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    I do not cut Muslims any slack. It’s another vile little cult, like Christianity, that ruins minds.

    And yes, Squeaky, there are many nice, sensible Christians (there are also nice, sensible Muslims). There are also many nice cancer victims–that I despise the cancer does not mean I’m kicking the cancer patient when he is down. But geez, am I tired of the Christian who tells me, “Yeah, religion can be bad, but it looks good on me…it’s such a pretty lie!”

  17. #17 squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    “Yeah, religion can be bad, but it looks good on me…it’s such a pretty lie!”
    I have never said that, never will, and I don’t think it is fair for you to put words in my mouth and stereotype me. Why do you think you know me? Why do you think you have any opinion about my history?

  18. #18 coturnix
    February 11, 2006

    I have just read another stunning personal account of anti-science indoctrination of kids in science classes in the US.

  19. #19 G
    February 11, 2006

    Squeaky: You are ignoring the main point that PZ is making. He fully acknowledges that *some* people do sequester their superstitions and cultivate reason. But we do a disservice to our human potential when we use reason for most matters and then wall off a section of our lives for rampant irrational supersitious nonsense – i.e. faith beliefs. Just because some people can manage to live and function quite well while embracing some limited forms of religious dogma – and some can even be successful scientists, such as Ken Miller – doesn’t really make the dogma a good thing. It is the willingness to decide what to believe as a matter of faith – choosing beliefs by will alone, regardless of reason and evidence – that is the core problem. Faith may not be the root of all evil, but we are fooling ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that it’s the root of much, much evil.

    And ignore ‘steve s’ being snarky about Muslims. As he explains clearly here, PZ does NOT cut them any slack with regard to their religion. Some people (steve s apparently among them) just don’t like the fact that PZ and some other liberals are willing to acknowledge that Muslims in Europe are an oppressed minority relegated to second-class citizen status, and that maybe those cartoons published by a right-wing newspaper in Denmark were more about denigrating Muslims than defending free speech principles.

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    You’re making excuses for Christianity. You claim that Ham is only a reflection of the excesses of religion, that that has nothing to do with religion as practiced by people who are good scientists and Christians…and I’m saying that’s the problem. It’s exactly the same thing, and one of our problems is that so many people are in denial about it.

  21. #21 RavenT
    February 11, 2006

    Cutting someone a little slack based on socioeconomic factors isn’t the same as on religious factors, although they can covary. That religion !isomorphic-to skin-color !isomorphic-to culture doesn’t mean they can’t covary in ways that disproportionately affect each other.

    About religion, though–I actually have a case study where I think someone made the right choice turning their back on science to plunge into religion. One young man I mentored had his face blown off all the way up to his eyes in an accident, and after more than 30 surgeries, is still horribly disfigured, although his condition is now stable.

    He has a talent for math and physics, and I was trying to encourage him to become a scientist. He fell in with the fundamentalists, though, and–to my everlasting annoyance–is now an enthusiastic cheerleader for eschatology and creationism. Naturally, I can’t in good faith write him a reco for any serious bio program, but that worked out all right in the end, as he has no intention of studying biology anyway, even though I had been encouraging him in that direction before his conversion.

    But the reason I think that religion was the right choice for him in his case is that I think it’s his best chance of meeting a life partner. If he stayed in science, I can’t give him any guarantees that he would meet someone who could look past his face and be willing to be with him. In the church he has joined, on the other hand, I fully expect someone to find common cause with him in “God’s will” about what happened to him, and who will feel she gets extra points on her “Christian duty” by partnering with him. In other words, I think it’s his best shot at not going through life alone, which is very important to him. I couldn’t promise him that if he stayed in science, he’d meet someone who would be willing to do that, as we don’t have the same overarching metanarrative of “everything is for a purpose”.

    Naturally, I wouldn’t extrapolate to everyone from an n of 1, and it certainly wouldn’t be my own solution–I’d prefer harsh reality, freedom of choice, and being alone to having a relationship on those terms. But given his particular constellation of personality and life events, I actually do think he made the right choice (for himself) of religion over science for himself in this case.

  22. #22 Steve Sutton
    February 11, 2006

    It’s a sad state of affairs. Hopefully, when those kids are older, they’ll start to see things the way they really are, instead of just accepting what’s told to them by uninformed, religious fanatics.

  23. #23 Inoculated Mind
    February 11, 2006

    That will be the day when it is socially acceptable to say to children: “Who do you trust, your imaginary friend or the scientists?” “Scientists!” “What describes reality, religion or science?” “Science!” When you teacher brings up creationism or god, just ask them ‘were you there when they discovered the answer in the lab?’ Can you remember just that?

  24. #24 RavenT
    February 11, 2006

    Mike–my best friend pulled her kids out of public school because of the tormenting the older one was receiving, and the school’s refusal to do anything about it. Although there are a lot of fundies in the home school network, there are also a large network of free-thinkers home-schooling, and her kids thrived there. The oldest is finishing a math degree at Oxford, and just won a highly-competitive post-doc in algebraic topology in France; the younger is looking to succeed brilliantly also.

    Don’t let people’s stereotypes about homeschooling get to you; there are a lot of freethinkers who do so as well.

  25. #25 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    “PZ does NOT cut them any slack with regard to their religion. Some people (steve s apparently among them) just don’t like the fact that PZ and some other liberals are willing to acknowledge that Muslims in Europe are an oppressed minority relegated to second-class citizen status, and that maybe those cartoons published by a right-wing newspaper in Denmark were more about denigrating Muslims than defending free speech principles.”

    Where do you get this idea from? I myself acknowledge that muslims in Europe are an oppressed minority. Don’t know what you’re talking about.

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    I’ve had some excellent students who were homeschooled, but I think there are a lot of absolute disasters that just never stand a chance of getting into a decent university — they’ve been sufficiently brainwashed that at best they end up at the nearest bible college. Homeschooling is afflicted with a large volume of nutcases who tend to swamp out the real successes.

  27. #27 Jeff Keezel
    February 11, 2006

    Don’t worry PZ – any science teacher will set these kids straight right out of the box. All they have to do is ask them where daylight comes from.

    “The Sun.”

    When did God make the daylight?

    “On the first day.”

    When did God make the sun?

    “Um, uh, on the fourth day…”

    Gee, that doesn’t make sense, does it. Maybe there’s another point to that particular story…thekeez

  28. #28 Anonymous
    February 11, 2006

    I am hoping that facial and other behaviour are a reflection of one’s (students) thoughts. The kind of behaviour and in some cases responses I get when I present the argument below makes me optimistic. To be honest, I do get responses and folded hands, but their responses are not in the majority.

    It’s a old and classic argument. But, when presented for the first time and within the context of the authority of logic, it can sometimes do wonders. The argument is an example of begging the question.

    P1. If (Insert favoured scripture here) is the word of god, then god exists.
    P2. (Insert favoured scripture here) is the word of god.
    C. Therefore, god exists.

    My question then to my students is, how can one say that P2 is true? And almost everytime, they agree that we must already accept the conclusion to affirm P2. Some can bite the bullet and say that their belief that god exists is true (revealing their own insanity) but more often than not, most agree that it is a bad argument.

  29. #29 Virendra
    February 11, 2006

    I am hoping that facial and other behaviour are a reflection of one’s (students) thoughts. The kind of behaviour and in some cases responses I get when I present the argument below makes me optimistic. To be honest, I do get responses and folded hands, but their responses are not in the majority.

    It’s a old and classic argument. But, when presented for the first time and within the context of the authority of logic, it can sometimes do wonders. The argument is an example of begging the question.

    P1. If (Insert favoured scripture here) is the word of god, then god exists.
    P2. (Insert favoured scripture here) is the word of god.
    C. Therefore, god exists.

    My question then to my students is, how can one say that P2 is true? And almost everytime, they agree that we must already accept the conclusion to affirm P2. Some can bite the bullet and say that their belief that god exists is true (revealing their own insanity) but more often than not, most agree that it is a bad argument.

  30. #30 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    “Don’t let people’s stereotypes about homeschooling get to you; there are a lot of freethinkers who do so as well.

    Posted by: RavenT | February 11, 2006 03:14 PM”

    Yeah, I know a few of those people, mainly “objectivists”. One such friend told me he was horrified to meet other homeschooling parents, because so often they were religious lunatics.

  31. #31 RavenT
    February 11, 2006

    No, I count the objectivists as religious lunatics, too. I’m talking about genuine secular humanists when I say “freethinkers”.

  32. #32 frostieb
    February 11, 2006

    “Why is homeschooling legal?”

    One of the reasons we chose to homeschool is to make sure that our kids get a solid scientific education. I figure we’re producing the “seed corn” for the next generation. Also, variety is good.

  33. #33 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    While I think the objectivists are nuts, I’ll take them any day over the religious lunatics. I think ‘freethinkers’ applies to anyone who doesn’t submit to a religious authority, including both secular humanists such as myself, or objectivist nuts like my friend.

  34. #34 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    PZM wrote:

    “God.” Once again, I’m going to give good, liberal progressive Christians the vapors and point out that there is the destroyer, the idea that ruins young minds and corrupts education: god. Ham has god on the brain, and he exploits other people who have god on the brain to give him millions of dollars so he can run around the country and put god on the brain of the next generation.

    I know. Many of you support science, and you carefully set aside your religious biases when assessing ideas about the world?you’ve managed to find means to cope with this infectious lie. That doesn’t change the ugly fact that it is a lie, a crippling corruption, and that many people don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side.

    I would say that it is fairly clear that lack of intelligence has no more to do with religiousity than being non-religious has to do with immorality. At a certain fairly important level, I believe the above is stereotyping, painting all Christians with the brush of Fundamentalism. Moreover, I would argue, as I have argued in the past, that just because an individual’s religious beliefs aren’t instance of empirical knowledge, this does not mean that they are simply lies, either, any more than ethical principles are lies, falsehoods, or simply meaningless.

    As I have pointed out previously, approximately 40% of all scientists in the United States are religious. Evidentally, they do not see any conflict between their religious beliefs and their ability to perform science. They recognize some form of separation between science and religion — where religion provides them with a basic integrated view of the world and their place in it, of who they are, their purpose in life, and how they should relate to others, but they fully realize that religion (or for that matter, philosophy) is no substitute for science.

    Allow me to quote from Religion and Science:

    Many scientists (including a good number of evolutionists) are in fact religious — they simply do not let their religious views interfere with the quest for empirical knowledge. (For one example, see the “Science and Religion” interview with Kenneth R. Miller.) Properly, scientists will respect these beliefs of their religious colleagues, realizing they may very well provide those colleagues with the moral guidance which makes them better scientists. The importance of moral guidance, and, more specifically, the moral courage to deal with the ever-present possibility of failure in both the existential and cognitive realms, is not to be underestimated.

    In the existential realm, religion properly provides the individual with the moral courage to act despite the possibility of failure, where failure can sometimes mean the possibility of actual death, and the fear of failure itself can often be experienced as such. Likewise, the fear of being mistaken — where being mistaken may threaten our beliefs about who we are — is at times experienced as a threat much like death itself. Here, too, there is need for moral courage, although of a somewhat different kind. Properly, religion encourages in its own way the view that while recognizing one’s mistakes may be experienced prospectively as a form of death, the act itself brings a form of rebirth and self-transcendence, giving one the courage to revise one’s beliefs when confronted with new evidence.

    When individuals do not properly recognize the division of labor which exists between an individuals personal worldview (whether this consists of their philosophy or there religion), there exists a number of traps which they may fall into. As stated in “Religion and Science”:

    However, when people attempt to mix the realms of religion and science — attempting, for example, to use science to promote a given religious or philosophic view — in the long run, given the very nature of the relationship between religion and science, the results will be the reverse of what is intended, and may end up damaging what in fact they hold most dear.

    Three cases are examined.

    For those who attempt to replace religion with science:

    For example, a proponent of science who believes that faith in God is absurd in the age of Science may end up creating a religious backlash against science itself among those who take a different view. But properly, empirical science cannot speak of the metaphysics of that which lies beyond the empirical realm and the ontology required by its naturalistic explanations.

    For those who might honestly attempt to empirically defend their religious beliefs, I would suggest the following analysis:

    Alternatively, those who attempt to use science to prove the existence of God will end up with a God susceptible to empirical criticism, when belief in God should be a matter of faith. A religious view rooted in science will be grounded in the shifting sands of scientific discourse, placed in constant threat of being uprooted by the newest scientific discoveries. For the better among those who initially accept this substitute for true faith, such a view will at first seem intoxicating, but will soon prove poisonous to their religious beliefs.

    Similarly, in my view, the problem with Ken Ham’s approach is not that he believes in a god, but that he attempts to substitute religion for science. But moreover, he is doing so dishonestly, like nearly all of the leading proponents of intelligent design. For him, I would reserve the following analysis:

    For others, the proper religious stance becomes transformed, and the proper intellectual courage to revise one’s beliefs when confronted with new evidence is transmuted into its polar opposite. Intellectual “courage” becomes the will and the power to challenge, doubt and deny any body of empirical evidence or knowledge whenever it comes into conflict with their religious or political beliefs. At this point, one of the most fundamental ethical virtues — honesty — has itself become undermined, and with it all the virtues which would normally be encouraged and taught through the moral guidance of religion.

    With this in mind, I wrote:

    Properly, religious leaders who understand what is at stake will oppose “empirical” faith both for the contradiction which it embodies and as the antithesis of the true faith they seek to protect and nourish.

    I wrote this back in June of 2004, before having learned of the Clergy Project. At the time, however, I suspected that just this sort of message would resonate with the clergy, and as Zimmerman has shown, it could and it has. Incidentally, I would strongly recommend to anyone who is interested in how the project got started to check this story out:

    Day of Reckoning

    I agree that fundamentalism is a pox upon our society and upon the minds of those who are infected with it. But would go further: any worldview which does not admit of a pluralistic society, and any worldview which is unwilling to admit of the possibility of authentic, civilized dialogue between those who differ in their worldviews, is a pox of the same intolerant nature. When faced with a common threat, civilized people must learn to set aside their differences, recognize what they have in common, and work together in mutual defense.

  35. #35 RavenT
    February 11, 2006

    “I think ‘freethinkers’ applies to anyone who doesn’t submit to a religious authority, including both secular humanists such as myself, or objectivist nuts like my friend.”

    I dunno, a lot of the Ayn Rand worship and the insistence that “the market can do no wrong” in the face of evidence to the contrary, doesn’t strike me as any different than submission to any other religious authority.

  36. #36 Max Udargo
    February 11, 2006

    Don’t worry too much about the kids. I was raised in a very fundamentalist Pentacostal environment, and I remember they tried to indoctrinate me with relentless effort, but they were wasting their time. For one thing, when you’re a kid everything is a game, and you just play along and try to have fun. And besides, no matter how desperately the fundamentalists try, they are going to lose with kids because the forces of science and reason have an unbeatable, unstoppable champion on their side: the dinosaur.

    What are the fundamentalists going to tell a kid about dinosaurs? They coexisted with humans and died in the flood. Wow. That’s enough to occupy about half an afternoon. But when you’re a kid and you’re fascinated with dinosaurs, you want to know everything you can about them. It’s like memorizing baseball stats and collecting cards. Your voracious little brain seeks out everything it can find and it can’t get enough. Every kid in love with dinosaurs is going to end up knowing that the Stegosaurus lived in the Jurassic Period while the Tyrannosaurus lived in the Cretaceous. When you’re a kid, it’s very important to know who fought who and who ate who. He or she is going to learn all about how fossils are formed. A kid is going to be fascinated by the question of how modern birds are related to dinosaurs, and that kid is going to spend a long time staring at that picture of the Archaeopteryx fossil.

    At church they would tell me one thing, but my dinosaur books told me something different. And it was obvious to me that the scientists who had the cool job of digging up dinosaur bones and posing them in museums knew what they were talking about, and that the dummies at my church needed to read more dinosaur books.

    When I was a kid, there was no greater television event than a broadcast of Harryhausen’s One Million Years B.C. I loved watching the stop-motion dinosaurs do battle with the cavemen in their bear-skin skirts. But I took pride in knowing that there were no people alive when dinosaurs existed, and that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, not a million years Before Christ (!).

    I was willing to play along with anything as long as it was fun, but like most kids, I think, I had an innate respect for the factual. The kind of complex self-delusion and cognitive dissonance required to believe in a literal Genesis in the 21st Century is something of which only an adult is capable.

  37. #37 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    The ones I know solidly adhere to a few axioms about what man is, what life is, that kind of stuff. I see how you’d call that a religion, but I don’t.

  38. #38 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    You haven’t been following the news. Ken Ham is opening this big creation “science” museum in Kentucky — and it’s full of dinosaurs. Adam and Eve riding around on pet dinosaurs. Tame T rexes.

    Ham knows they’re popular, and he’s co-opting them.

  39. #39 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    Max, you might be interested to know that Ken Ham understands Dinopower, and is trying to coopt it. Check out the banner on his webpage:

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/

  40. #40 Alon Levy
    February 11, 2006

    Why is home schooling legal?

    Well, partly because we’re not a totalitarian state that insists that everyone undergo conditioning. And partly because one size does not fit all.

    There’s a reason why schooling is compulsory. Homeschooling is simply a backdoor that allows medievalists to perpetuate a cycle of ignorance by shielding their children from modernity. In the US, 72% of all homeschoolers cite religion and morality as reasons for homeschooling. In other words, the school doesn’t properly abuse their children, so they want to do so themselves. But then again, no one should be surprised that this happens in a country where in most states it’s still legal for parents to beat their children.

  41. #41 Alon Levy
    February 11, 2006

    In my above comment, the second paragraph should also be italicized. My own word don’t begin until the third paragraph.

  42. #42 RavenT
    February 11, 2006

    Oh, everyone has axioms, I don’t begrudge anyone that. Like I said about my friend above, if your most important thing in life is not to be alone, then it follows that religion was a better choice for him than science, because that’s where he’s more likely to find what he’s looking for. In his case, it’s a totally logical choice, where it so would not be in mine.

    What I mean by “religious” is the privileging of belief over evidence. Like the objectivists I know who say that giving insurers *more* profit motive will ensure universal coverage of the poor, or that the problem with Somalia is that not *enough* people have guns. Most of the objectivists I’ve known have been much better friends with their beliefs than with reality. If your friend’s not like that, then I wouldn’t call him “religious”.

  43. #43 steve s
    February 11, 2006

    I would probably home or private school kids if I had kids, and the means. Public schools give terrible educations, I think.

  44. #44 Squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    PZ–
    “You’re making excuses for Christianity. You claim that Ham is only a reflection of the excesses of religion, that that has nothing to do with religion as practiced by people who are good scientists and Christians…and I’m saying that’s the problem. It’s exactly the same thing, and one of our problems is that so many people are in denial about it.”

    What are you saying is the problem? Why is it the same thing? I’m really not sure what you are saying here.

    G–“You are ignoring the main point that PZ is making. He fully acknowledges that *some* people do sequester their superstitions and cultivate reason.”

    I’ve only been visiting this blog since early January, so I could have missed it when PZ expressed these views. I haven’t seen it.

    “But we do a disservice to our human potential when we use reason for most matters and then wall off a section of our lives for rampant irrational supersitious nonsense – i.e. faith beliefs.”

    I can’t imagine that you can paint the likes of C.S. Lewis with that brush. And I would emphatically say that you can’t paint me with that brush, either. You are saying that those of us who believe in God and good science somehow have to divorce ourselves from reason. That we have come to the conclusion that since we can’t reconcile the two, we accept both by ignoring the apparent contradictions between them. This is not the case with me. You are saying I haven’t examined my faith thoroughly in the light of science. This is not the case with me. You’re essentially saying those of us who have faith are deliberately deluding ourselves to hold on to emotional security blankets. Again, you don’t know me, you don’t know how and in what ways I have challenged my faith, and you cannot make those claims about me.

  45. #45 speedwell
    February 11, 2006

    If this country was secular, home schooling would be secular, too. So your beef is not with homeschooling, it’s with religion. Surely you can’t be objecting to the right of parents to teach children if they feel they can be more concerned about and effective at seeing that their children’s needs are met than the public school can.

  46. #46 Max Udargo
    February 11, 2006

    “You haven’t been following the news. Ken Ham is opening this big creation “science” museum in Kentucky — and it’s full of dinosaurs. Adam and Eve riding around on pet dinosaurs. Tame T rexes.

    Ham knows they’re popular, and he’s co-opting them.”

    But you see, it won’t work. Because they’ve got nothing to say about dinosaurs. They don’t know anything about dinosaurs and CAN’T know anything about dinosaurs, because everything to be known about dinosaurs contradicts what they believe. They’re never going to be able to satisfy a child’s curiosity with a few stories about dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden.

    The fact he sees the need to co-opt them shows how much he fears them. But he’ll never be able to tame them and bend them to his purposes. I have faith in dinosaurs. They’re not going to let the creationists push them around. And I have faith in the special relationship between kids and dinosaurs. It’s what saved me from a life of perpetual spiritual dorkiness.

  47. #47 Daniel O.
    February 11, 2006

    Now we understand, what the jews have always known: Ham isn’t kosher!

  48. #48 David McCabe
    February 11, 2006

    There is still hope for these kids! I was raised on the likes of Ken Ham, but I rejected the faith at the age of 13 or 14. What we must figure out is how to reach and restore the ones who are already poisoned. My parents got careless and let me use the Internet. For the ones whose parents are more careful, we must find some way to bring the world of intellect to them.

  49. #49 Flex
    February 11, 2006

    The homeschooling/public school debate comes up at work on occasion.

    Not having children, I’m not too familiar with the materials available for homeschooling. I know there are some good materials available because I worked for a couple years in the warehouse for Aristoplay, a creator of children’s educational games largely used by homeschoolers. There was little religious content in them aside from some historical facts.

    However, what disturbs me a little about my co-worker’s interest in homeschooling is that you can get different reactions from them by asking them different questions.

    First, if you ask them why they think they should be homeschooling their children, the answer is often along the line of, “Because when talking to my child, I don’t think s/he knows what I think they should know.” In other words, they have real doubts about the quality of the education provided by public schools.

    Yet, when you ask them, “What makes you think you are better qualified to teach, and can do a better job of teaching, than those people who are certified by our society through teaching certificates and degrees?” They usually stop and think a bit.

    This is not to say that there aren’t situtations where homeschooling is appropriate. There are likely also teachers who do not deserve the credentials they have been given.

    I am satisfied with the education I received in a public school. I suspect, if I had children, that when they reached the teen years I would expect them to have learned more than they probably would have. I can’t explain it, but I tend to feel that when I see a person nearing physical adulthood, I expect them to have much of the knowledge that I have. It’s a silly perception, and I often find that my interests in literature are not even translated to adults, but I have that feeling regardless.

    Now I better get back to my homework myself. I have a mid-term on Monday in operations management.

    Cheers,

    -Flex

  50. #50 Buridan
    February 11, 2006

    I think the point here is the reverse of the one bad apple axiom. One good apple doesn’t sweeten the bunch. Indeed, the prudent thing to do is toss the whole barrel. Why waste time, energy and potential infection looking for that occasional good apple? Sorry but the rot festers in your barrel not ours.

  51. #51 Pattanowski
    February 11, 2006

    Hey folks! (I’m an microbiologist and have read this blog for about a year or so, yet this is my first time commenting….I’m usually just an observer)
    Once just for kicks I attended an AIG conference which was being held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and at the local “Bible Baptist Church”. It was the craziest spectacle of nonsense that I had ever seen! After one of the church talks which featured some misinformation about the impossibility of evolving a single-celled organism, I asked Mr. Ham whether he had ever heard of endosymbiosis or the fact that chloroplasts and mitochondria have genetic remnants of their former free-living days as green algae and purple bacteria. He told me that he had never heard of such “ideas”.
    Later, after one of the talks at the university, several of the students and professors and I talked back and forth with Ham, Menton, and that freako maniac “scriptural geologist” whose name I have repressed. After discussing accretion rates of marine foraminifera, brain size in ancient hominids, stratigraphy, lateral genetic transfer, quote-mining, and many other things, some of the home-schooled youngsters from the back-country started to become quite troubled at the obvious lack of answers possessed by AIG. I remember a couple of 11-13 year olds who were crying. Luckily, a few of them stayed on and talked with us challengers in the audience and seemed to leave with a sense of how AIG’s dishonesty did not mean that they had to give up their faith in Jesus. Exactly how we got this point across to them I don’t remember. It’s a bit mind-numbing to try to formulate an argument of that sort.
    Anyway, this whole business is so sad and sickening to me when it comes to the indoctrination of the young. My two-and-a-half year old daughter just loves the organisms and rocks that we seek out in our pursuits of curiosities. The natural world seems to already be her foundation and peace. It takes really tough conditions to get her spirits down when we’re in the wild. The worst thing I can think of is to misrepresent the only thing in many children’s lives that doesn’t urge them to do something meaningless and stupid.
    That Alaska conference really ended badly for AIG and the local creationist goofballs. Aren’t there enough reasonable people in this country to point out the fallacies spewed out at these affairs? Or is it just too true that it only takes a second to vomit all over a nice sweater but hours to clean it off properly?

  52. #52 tacitus
    February 11, 2006

    Well, if dinosaurs are really the evolutionist’s friend, we must be going about educating our kids about them the wrong way. Dinosaurs fossils have been know to be millions of years old for at least 100 years and yet around 50% of the US population still believes the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    The problem is indoctrination. Sure, for some kids it doesn’t stick and they escape from it, but for every one that gets away, there are many others who don’t. Escape from fundamentalism can be a long and lonely road, especially if you still love and respect your parents. Fear of Hell and eternal damnation is enough to keep many kids in line and in the faith.

    I personally don’t see more the more liberal strands of Christianity as a big problem. I think we should focus our efforts in defeating the fundamentalists and authoritarians in the faith. That is where the threat to science, and our very society, comes from–Biblical literalists and conservative Catholicism (the latter not for evolution, but for their shamefully wicked doctrines opposing birth control).

  53. #53 Squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    PZ–On a completly unrelated topic: I hope you were able to get tickets to Garrison Keillor–I’m listening to the live broadcast from UMM right now!

  54. #54 peon
    February 11, 2006

    Speaking as a parent of homeschooled children, one of whom is a working on her PHD in (horrors) Evolutionary Biology, please don’t put us all in the fundie bag. Sadly I admit that ten or fifteen years ago the religious wackos hijacked homeschooling, along with America I might add.
    Many of us don’t even call ourselves “homeschoolers” preferring the term home-educators, or unschoolers. We do it for lots of reasons: a kid who doesn’t fit into the mass produced kid box, a bright kid being labeled ADD or hyperactive and drugs being pushed at him, living in remote rural areas and wanting to avoid fundamentalist public schools. Others have unconventional lifestyles that don’t fit with rigid school systems. Some just see too much time wasted in the conventional school and want their children to have a fuller educational experience.
    Thankfully we don’t live in a fearful totalitarian state that reaches into our private lives and makes us conform.
    There are many of us that deplore the bad name being given to home educating by the bible thumpers, but as I noted earlier this phenomenon is not unique to us. The religious nuts are everywhere, in science, in government, in the military, in medicine, at your local pharmacy. Don’t blame unschoolers, we are as appalled as you are.

  55. #55 Max Udargo
    February 11, 2006

    Does anybody know historical statistics on the popularity of evolution versus the Biblical account? Has it been changing?

    My point certainly isn’t that fundamentalists like this Ham guy shouldn’t be challenged when the opportunity arises (as in the way Pattanowski describes), but we can’t do anything about churches inviting these guys to speak to children. They have the right to do that, and we can’t stop them. I’m only suggesting we take solace in knowing these guys and the churches that feed them aren’t going to have as profound an impact as they think they’re having. I guess my point was that the article isn’t as depressing as it appears at first blush, unless we give these guys more credit than they’re due, and children less credit than they’re due.

  56. #56 Dr. Free-Ride
    February 11, 2006

    why, why, WHY is home schooling legal?

    I have friends who homeschooled because the public schools where they lived were WAAY too religious. And the “morality” approved by the teachers and parents was pretty darned scary. I wonder if my friends would be counted in the 72% who homeschool for reasons of religion/morals instruction …

  57. #57 God
    February 11, 2006

    “Boys and girls,” Ham said, “If a preacher so much as mentions Jesus, or the Garden of Eden, or an era when people lived for hundreds of years, you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?’ Can you remember that?”

  58. #58 Bernardo
    February 11, 2006

    PZ, I wandered into your site after you got linked on /. It’s been daily reading ever since. As a resident of Cincinnati, I’m all to aware that Ken Ham is building his YEC museum just south of here in Northern Kentucy. Thanks for your spot-on commentary. Perhaps we can find an answer in geology that will result in Mr. Ham and his museum being swallowed up by a sinkhole…

  59. #59 G
    February 11, 2006

    Squeaky: Why are you taking my position as a personal attack?

    I am not talking about your faith in any personal way, or still less C.S. Lewis’ faith. (Aside: Why did you bring Lewis up at all? Am I supposed to find him too intellectually respectable to disagree with him? Please. I disagree quite vehemently with intellectually respectable people all the time, and I bet you do too.)

    I don’t know what particular things you believe as a matter of faith, nor do I care. My position is simply that faith beliefs, no matter what they are or who has them, are a bad thing. Beliefs which are based on the desire to believe or will to believe rather than being based on evidence and reason are disconnected from the whole process of justification, and justification is the only access to truth we have.

    I am also saying that to the extent a person believes in the existence of God – or divinity of Christ, or the perfection of the Koran as the word of Allah, or any other religious dogma – that person is suspending reason: No matter how rigorously one may apply reason elsewhere, one has to suspend reason with regard to core religious beliefs because there simply is no legitimate evidence supporting those beliefs. Religious belief is not about evidence, and never has been. All of the traditional arguments for the existence of God are laughably bad, and only those who are already inclined to believe them in advance find them plausible.

    That is my position. There’s more to it than that (some of which you can read about in more detail if you’re interested), but what I’m really interested in is your reaction to my position. Why do you take my statement of my opinions and arguments as an assault on and insult to you, personally? So you disagree with me, maybe even vehemently. I don’t take our disagreement as a personal insult. Why do you? And since you clearly do disagree and this is an open forum, you are free to tell me why you think I’m wrong. But instead, you have chosen to take offense at the very idea that I think faith is bad. Rather than argue with my position that all faith beliefs are irrational and superstitious nonsense, you have gotten angry at me just for expressing the opinion forthrightly and without qualification. Why?

    Your taking offense does not constitute an argument against my positions. But it does indicate to me that, at the very least, you are somewhat discomfited by the idea that someone thinks you’re irrational. Well get used to it. Pretty much every freethinker thinks religious believers are irrational to the extent that they are religious: “Faith” is belief in the absence of justification, and the profound conviction that it’s important to justify one’s beliefs about the world is one of the biggest factors that leads us to be freethinkers in the first place.

  60. #60 Pete
    February 11, 2006

    Squeaky:
    ” Again, you don’t know me, you don’t know how and in what ways I have challenged my faith, and you cannot make those claims about me.”

    I do not know you, but I am willing to bet that in the course of reconciling your belief in god with science, you have done one of these things: downgraded the meaning of the word “god” by defining god to be something that we already have good words for (like “the laws of physics” or “kindness”), placed undue credence in something unreliable such as “personal experience”, or came up with something that looks like a reconciliation but in fact is not. The fact that I do not know you personally doesn’t hamper my ability to make such claims. It would be very informative to me and others here if you were to provide some more details on your reconciliation.

  61. #61 poke
    February 11, 2006

    Excellent post. I find the audacity of liberal Christians simply appalling. Wake up, Christians, the pressing urge you feel to incessantly bludgeon society with what is at best a minor and highly suspicious epistemic point (i.e., “you can’t absolutely, positively prove I’m wrong, so I’m going to go right on believing what little remnant of my tradition I still can, nyah nyah!”) is causing a great deal of harm. Yes, yes – you’re not fundamentalists (I heard the first time) – but surely it’s not difficult to see that the intellectual bullying you engage in at every instant, the sheer weight of incredulity society must burden itself with in order for you to retain your little beliefs, is in some way, you know, responsible for some of the problems in the world, just maybe? Surely you noticed that in none of the other arguments you get into on a daily basis you can get away with appealing to non-causal spiritual realms or non-overlapping magisteria or throwing your arms up and declaring “you don’t know me!” (I mean, unless you’re 14 years old)? Did it never occur to you that all this is maybe a little… adolescent? And that, perhaps, in order for society to practise the necessary amount of deferred incredulity for you to get away with basing your beliefs on what amounts to playground taunts might imply that you’re abusing a position that might in some way be harmful? And then didn’t you think, maybe, that it wasn’t worth it?

  62. #62 Meng Glmen
    February 11, 2006

    “education of children”, unfortunately, is an issue taken far less seriously than it should be.

    when you come to think about it, this happens everywhere around the world. not only among christians but muslims, jews, everyone.

    the child learns something, a new concept, “god” or “religion” or “heaven” or “hell” and asks about it to the “ultimate authority” of his/her life: the parents.

    and the reply, is often the trigger to the creation of an unchangeable foundation for the child’s perspective.

    when the child asks “is the god really there daddy?”, if the answer’s “we don’t know for sure but we believe it is there.” the child may be perplexed for the moment, but eventually will keep up asking questions.

    however, if the answer is “of course! how dare you ask!” the game is over. it’s really really hard to make the kid ask questions about it later.

    and since the mindset of any person is -one way or another- set at childhood, to change it later is a really difficult challenge, even if he wants to change it.

    i know a good deal of people, who were exposed to religious data in their early childhoods, and then grown up to the “internet society”, started questioning and finding some answers.

    they start “losing their faith” but still, they’re deranged because they feel like the “Great Watcher” is still watching them, and by questioning him, they’re actually sinning.

    well of course these are political games, political power sources creating “foundations” to feed their power in the long run and we can do nothing about it.

    the guys “are not accepting” the evolution. i mean, is that something to accept? i just wish we were above these petty worthless power-games and actually trying to “do something useful” but, we still live in a rather dull world, there are people out there who think they’re doing a really important job fumbling with excel spreadsheets in a company and think that the people who can write macros are geniuses 🙂

    hopefully, it will pass 🙂

  63. #63 jack*
    February 11, 2006

    Good lord. If you so-called liberal Christians spent even one tenth as much effort denoucing the fundamentalists in your ranks as you do demanding deference from atheist bloggers — well, you’d be getting a lot more respect from atheist bloggers. Instead anytime you whiff anything that fails to grovel sufficiently to your preferred epistemology you whine like spoiled children.

    Dr Myer’s outrage is justified — you should feel it too! Look what’s being done in the name of your precious God! Are you angry? Yes — but at the messenger, not the message. You say we need to be nicer to you and not dare insult your cherished beliefs, for risk of losing an ally. But you’re NOT allies, precisely because you divorce yourselves in your own mind from these people, and take offense if anyone suggests a connection. The connection, dear theists, is your insistance on special treatment, special deference, because of your religion. You are not helping the situation, you ARE the situation.

    Are any of you concerned that perhaps it’s HAM who’s giving your religion a bad name, not minor freethinking bloggers? Did any of you write of your own outrage? Can you reprint for us all the letters to the editor you have written castigating Christian fundamentalism? If you love and support science so much, where are the collalitions, the congresses, the cooperatives of enlightened churches coming together to defeat the forces that darken our public discourse, and sow confusion in our schools? If any such organizations exist, and they sure as hell haven’t made their voices heard, I’m sure that they wouldn’t be crying about how PZ hurt their feelings. They’d be saying “Amen, brother.”

  64. #64 Brook
    February 11, 2006

    Vermont’s a pretty laid back state, so both Sterling, who turned 7yo last November, and I were amazed by the following encounter at the local ski mountain.

    It’s an excerpt from an email I sent family. Sterling and Kent are my youngest kids, Sam and his sister – whose name I never learned – visitors to the area from PA.

    “As we sat at the table, Sterling and Kent eating lunch, Sam and his sister waiting for their parents the kids were talking. At one point sister said that she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up, Sam said he wanted to be a detective, Kent said he was happy being a baby warthog, and Sterling – marking his place in the “Cartoon Guide to Chemistry” with his finger – looked up and said that he wanted to be a scientist.

    Sam promptly replied that scientists weren’t that smart, why some of them thought the earth was really old when everybody knew it couldn’t be more than 900 years old.

    Sterling’s eyes got big, he turned to me and in a tone usually reserved for the spotting of some rare species said “Mom, he’s a christian mythologist.” then he looked at Sam and said “What about ancient egyptians, they were around like three thousand years ago, or Mesopotamia and Sumer and China and the indus valley, they’re all really old civilizations way older than 900 years. Humans have been around for about ten thousand years. (Mama note: Now he knows that we’ve actually been around for a couple million years). And the world’s been around for lots longer than that. I don’t know exactly when the earth was formed but the universe came into being about 13 billion years ago.”

    Sam said “Well alright it’s older than 900 years but it’s not that old because that’s what I learned in church. And they put dinosaurs together wrong.”

    Sterling “Well, that’s what science is all about. You ask a question, You try things out to see if they work, of course you’ll make mistakes, science is all about learning new things.” (Sterling was quite calm about all this. Mom was getting a little twitchy.) Then little sister recited some verse about accepting Jesus as your savior and Sterling looked at her in the same way most of us would look at somebody describing an alien abduction and said “Wow. That is really fascinating.” To me again he repeat “Christian mythologists mom. amazing.”

    Fortunately dad showed up before the theology got too intense. The ski instructor – not having heard any of the kids exchange – brightly said “Oh Brook these folks homeschool too.” Somehow I don’t think that would be a bond.

    After the kids left Sterling shook his head. “Sometimes religion can make you believe wacky stuff.” Then he went off to ski Green Beret and through more trees.”

    I can’t imagine why anybody would deny the joys and amazement of reality for a mistranslated document and such a narrow intolerant life

  65. #65 Pattanowski
    February 11, 2006

    Certainly “home-educating” can be a wonderful thing if done properly. It was not the objective of my previous post to say anything bad about it at all. Some of the Alaskan kids who were homeschooled had a great grasp of how the world works and were in no obvious way depraved.
    Theoretically, with proper effort and resources, it should be quite the ultimate method. Difficult, yet admirable for sure.
    Good ol’ Garrison….why are there no Walmarts in Afghanistan?……because they’re all Targets. The joke show!

  66. #66 Julie Stahlhut
    February 11, 2006

    I’m trying to imagine the public outrage that would occur if this tactic was used by Holocaust deniers, or by the idiots who think that slavery couldn’t have been all that bad. (“Were you there?”) Or, maybe, by AIDS/HIV deniers. (“Did you see the virus?”)

    And in the meantime, 2300 kids — some of them “voraciously curious”, and all of them at an age when they should be developing a sense of civility — are being taught to shout down their teachers, disrupt the education of their classmates, recoil from the wonderful adventure that is the study of natural science, and thoroughly disrespect both learning and the work that it requires.

    This man isn’t just misguided — he’s an evil, egotistical, obstructionist ignoramus. And teachers don’t get paid enough to have to endure this crap.

  67. #67 peon
    February 11, 2006

    Here is example of what I mean when I say that religious crackpotism is not unique to home educators. My children were never subjected to “religious censors” in their educational pursuits. Sadly the same cannot be said for many children attending public schools in small towns in America.
    It also illustrates that for some home education offers an alternative to the religious fundamentalism of the local public school. This is a story from NYTimes:

    In Small Town, ‘Grease’ Ignites a Culture War
    By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

    FULTON, Mo. � When Wendy DeVore, the drama teacher at Fulton High here, staged the musical “Grease,” about high school students in the 1950’s, she carefully changed the script to avoid causing offense in this small town.

    She softened the language, substituting slang for profanity in places. Instead of smoking “weed,” the teenagers duck out for a cigarette. She rated the production PG-13, advising parents it was not suitable for small children.

    But a month after the performances in November, three letters arrived on the desk of Mark Enderle, Fulton’s superintendent of schools. Although the letters did not say so, the three writers were members of a small group linked by e-mail, all members of the same congregation, Callaway Christian Church.

    Each criticized the show, complaining that scenes of drinking, smoking and a couple kissing went too far, and glorified conduct that the community tries to discourage. One letter, from someone who had not seen the show but only heard about it, criticized “immoral behavior veiled behind the excuse of acting out a play.”

    Dr. Enderle watched a video of the play, ultimately agreeing that “Grease” was unsuitable for the high school, despite his having approved it beforehand, without looking at the script. Hoping to avoid similar complaints in the future, he decided to ban the scheduled spring play, “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.

    “That was me in my worst Joe McCarthy moment, to some,” Dr. Enderle said.

    He called “The Crucible” “a fine play,” but said he dropped it to keep the school from being “mired in controversy” all spring.

    To many, the term “culture war” evokes national battles over new frontiers in taste and decency, over violence in video games, or profanity in music or on television. But such battles are also fought in small corners of the country like Fulton, a conservative town of about 10,000, where it can take only a few objections about library books or high school plays to shift quietly the cultural borderlines of an entire community.

    full article at:
    ytimes.com/2006/02/11/national/11fulton.html?ei=5090&en=69f393f73f12ba55&ex=1297314000&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=print

  68. #68 Dr. Free-Ride
    February 11, 2006

    why, why, WHY is home schooling legal?

    I have friends who homeschooled because the public schools where they lived were WAAY too religious. And the “morality” approved by the teachers and parents was pretty darned scary. I wonder if my friends would be counted in the 72% who homeschool for reasons of religion/morals instruction …

  69. #69 Corkscrew
    February 11, 2006

    Squeaky:

    You are saying I haven’t examined my faith thoroughly in the light of science. This is not the case with me.

    I believe that what’s freaking PZ out here isn’t just the cognitive dissonance or rejection of reality that the extremists engage it; it’s the very idea that accepting something as true based on faith alone is something that people aren’t ashamed to admit to.

    If you have scientific evidence that the things you believe in are true, then that’s a different matter of course. However, since I’m not aware of any scientific research demonstrating God’s existence, I’d be a little surprised if this were the case.

    Personally, I have no problem with the whole non-overlapping magisteria concept. I can, however, see where PZ is coming from. The only obvious “third way” out of the dilemma is to state that not all evidence is necessarily scientific, and given the range of ways in which people are capable of deluding themselves with unscientific evidence I can see why this freaks PZ out. Heck, the Jonestown mob presumably thought they had good yet unscientific evidence. Is this a meme we really want passed on?

  70. #70 Squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    G–it’s not an attack on you, nor do I take offense that you disagree with me. That’s fine. The point I was trying to make is that not all Christians are blind believers. When you said “But we do a disservice to our human potential when we use reason for most matters and then wall off a section of our lives for rampant irrational supersitious nonsense – i.e. faith beliefs” and when PZ said “many people don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side” I read that as a sweeping generalization that Christians don’t challenge their faith and believe because they are blind or deluded or don’t think. I brought up the C.S. Lewis reference because whether you agree with him or not, I don’t think you can deny that he is an example of a Christian who thoroughly thought and wrestled with the idea of God. The point I am trying to make is that stereotypes are harmful. It wasn’t intended as a personal attack but a response to and an attempt to address the stereotypes that seem to be often blanketed over all Christians. I admit I perhaps misunderstood the point you were trying to make, for which I apologize.

    Pete–“I do not know you, but I am willing to bet that in the course of reconciling your belief in god with science, you have done one of these things: downgraded the meaning of the word “god” by defining god to be something that we already have good words for (like “the laws of physics” or “kindness”)placed undue credence in something unreliable such as “personal experience”, or came up with something that looks like a reconciliation but in fact is not. The fact that I do not know you personally doesn’t hamper my ability to make such claims. It would be very informative to me and others here if you were to provide some more details on your reconciliation.”

    Well, that’s a very long story. It’s something I struggled with as an undergraduate and couldn’t resolve. I finally took the tactic of ignoring the issue for a number of years. The reconciliation came when someone encouraged me to re-read the Genesis account of creation so that I could understand that a young earth is the only interpretation possible. I was told I just need to trust God on this one. So I did, and I found that the story could not be understood with just a reading of the “plain text”. I believe I did a pretty deep study of the Bible in regards to this issue, but my conclusions were that the Bible supports an old earth, not a young earth. I know people will say I am biased, but I am not the only scientist-Christian who came to that conclusion. For me, the more I know about science, the more I am amazed by the complexity of the universe and the world we live in, and the more my faith increases. Timothy Chase up in the middle of the string referenced an article on “Science and Religion” that contained an interview with Ken Miller. I read the interview, and found that he expresses many of my own sentiments, so I will let you read that if you are interested.

  71. #71 Shyster
    February 11, 2006

    Please don’t think that you can argue with these sad and dangerous people. Religion is, almost by definition, the strong and unbending belief in the impossible and unprovable. Their faith is all they have and they feel that they must share that misery with the rest of the world.
    I had a neighbor who swore that infants who died in childbirth would go to hell because the baby had not taken Jesus as its personal saviour. The neighbor was very sad that it had to happen that way, but that was just the way it was. We moved.
    To Ken Ham and others of his ilk try, I feel like a Philistine in the book of Judges in the Bible in that I have been attacked with the jawbone of an ass.

  72. #72 Squeaky
    February 11, 2006

    Corkscrew–the thing is, there can’t be scientific evidence for God because supernatural entities cannot be proven or disproven via scientific methods. That isn’t to say that a theist and an atheist can’t look at the same scientific evidence and the same scientific interpretations of that evidence and come to different conclusions. But neither of those conclusions belong in the realm of science and nor should they be promoted as scientific evidence as proof or disproof of God’s existence. In other words, the very things I would point to as scientific evidence as God’s existence would be the very arguments others would use as scientific evidence against God’s existence.

  73. #73 Ray
    February 11, 2006

    Hey PZ,
    I wonder if you got so many hits while you were gone because many others did what I did and kept checking back through the day to see if there was anything new. This site is addictive(in a good way). Thanks!

  74. #74 Samnell
    February 11, 2006

    “I brought up the C.S. Lewis reference because whether you agree with him or not, I don’t think you can deny that he is an example of a Christian who thoroughly thought and wrestled with the idea of God.”

    He’s never seemed that way to me. Just another tired and wrong-headed apologist, who wrote appalling children’s literature on the side.

  75. #75 Dawn
    February 11, 2006

    PZ, you’ve done it again. Scared the heck out of me. I guess I never figured AIG was that scary (somehow, I missed it was linked to Ham, who DOES scare me a lot). I thought about homeschooling my children at one time, because they were having a lot of issues at school with bullying and they were bored since they learned quickly. We were unable to homeschool so we moved to a another school district. I had a good friend who homeschooled for the same reason.

    I worry about what my children’s children will face what they will (or won’t)learn about science, evolution, and how to do research into unknown areas, and I worry about the direction of our country. We are losing in the sciences, we are often the laughing stock of the world because a minority imposes their issues and beliefs on other people and other countries. Sometimes, I wonder what the future will look like…..

  76. #76 Ray
    February 11, 2006

    Oops, my last comment was posted in the wrong place! (smacks open hand into forehead repeatedly) Sorry.

  77. #77 Violet Socks
    February 11, 2006

    What’s with the deference to C.S. Lewis? He wrote fluently, but his arguments were sloppy at best or dishonest at worst. “Liar, lunatic, or lord” my foot. And yet Christians still cite that as if it made sense.

  78. #78 blamanj
    February 11, 2006

    I have his book.
    If you want to get them thinking again, try pushing back on some of those assertions.

    Did God actually get a pen and write the Bible? Who did write? Did the same men write every book? Who chose what books got into the Bible? There were books that other people thought should be in the Bible, why were those people persecuted?

    It’s quite surprising (and scary) how little many of those Bible-thumpers actually know about that book they’re thumping.

  79. #79 C. Schuyler
    February 11, 2006

    Well, you’ve gone and insulted slimy ass-pimples. I hope you’re happy with yourself!

  80. #80 Anonymous
    February 11, 2006

    Yes, this is one of the worst and most cruel things religious-literalism can do to a young learning mind: tear them between the wonder and beauty of the real world as revealed by freely-available scientific evidence, and the history implied by their Holy Book. These parents, especially the last guy, sound sincere and curious about the world and its history. They want to protect their children and give them (what they consider is) the best education they can get. Unfortuneately this includes taking Jewish mythology seriously. They are surely just too bamboozled to realize the difference between allegory and evidence.

    As a child, I remember slight confusion when Christian stories clashed with evolution and the big bang. So much the worse for the religious stories – I simply remoulded the religious ideas to fit the real world. God was made less anthropomophic, more in tune with reality.

    So these fundamentalists are the ones committing blasphemy, since they are shivelling the kids’ conception of God to conform to daft, outdated literal ideas. In the future, the kids surely won’t thank their elders for posioning their intellects

  81. #81 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    G wrote:

    I am also saying that to the extent a person believes in the existence of God – or divinity of Christ, or the perfection of the Koran as the word of Allah, or any other religious dogma – that person is suspending reason: No matter how rigorously one may apply reason elsewhere, one has to suspend reason with regard to core religious beliefs because there simply is no legitimate evidence supporting those beliefs. Religious belief is not about evidence, and never has been. All of the traditional arguments for the existence of God are laughably bad, and only those who are already inclined to believe them in advance find them plausible.

    G — I certainly don’t mean to single you out. This is simply a very good expression of the kind of argument I see from militant atheists (i.e., those who insist that everyone else give up their religious beliefs) all the time. And as I am not singling you out, I welcome anyone to respond who believes that they can do so.

    Here are a few questions:
    1. What would you replace an individual’s religious beliefs with?
    2. Would it provide them with any sort of integrated worldview, acting as a basic framework through which to understand reality, themselves, others, and the relationships which exist between these things?
    3. Would it tell them how to relate to others?
    4. Do you have an integrated ethical system of any sort?
    5. Is this ethical system scientific? Is it something which you can test? Is it an objective, scientific theory or something else?
    6. Do you have any political beliefs? Can you justify them scientifically?
    7. In the case of those ethical or political beliefs which you do have and which you regard as scientific, empirical claims, is there any sort of general consensus among all pro-science atheists that these claims are all scientific and relatively well justified?

    Now the next one is important:

    8. When you tell someone to give up their religious beliefs, can you, within the span of your conversation, explain to them what alternative ethical vision the should adopt as an alternative to that which they find in their religion?
    9. How long would it take you to provide them with an alternative ethical vision of themselves and how they should relate to others?
    10. How comprehensive would it be?
    11. Would you be able to justify it scientifically within the span of your conversation?
    12. Would you be able to justify it rationally within the span of your conversation?
    13. Can you present that comprehensive, integrated, scientifically-justified ethical vision now?
    14. Once you had explained this ethical vision and presented the case for it, would they know how to apply it to their own lives, and would it provide them with sufficient motivation for doing so?

    A very large part of the reason why people who have religious beliefs tend to continue to believe in them is because their religious beliefs provide them with an integrated ethical vision with which to guide their lives. It provides them with a framework through which they understand themselves and others, how they should live, and how they should relate to others. It may not fit some abstract, idealized vision of what sort of worldview they should live their lives by from the perspective of other individuals, but from their own perspective, it is certainly the best they’ve got. And chances are, they can’t simply put their lives on hold while they arrive at what you consider a rational framework for living their lives — any more than a passenger airliner can stop in midflight and wait for someone to completely re-engineer it.

    However, when the more militant atheists call for people to give up their religious beliefs, I rarely see them offer something to put in its place, anything at all. It is almost as if they aren’t even trying to get others to actually give up their religious beliefs, but are simply trying to cause offense.

  82. #82 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    1. Why would it need to be replaced with anything? When you cut out a tumor, do you think you need to tuck in some other crap to compensate?
    2, 3, 4, 5. You assume religion provides an integrated worldview. It does not. It provides an incoherent framework of loose excuses that can get twisted any way the believer wants.
    6,7. This is another theistic shell-game. Try to find a position an atheist holds that is not adequately backed up by science, and then say “A-ha! Just like religion!” No, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to justify stupidity and horror by finding a tepid irrelevance somewhere else.
    8. Religion isn’t ethical. They aren’t being asked to give up ethics, which are independent of religious beliefs.
    9-14. More of the same nonsense based on a false premise.

    This is the same bias we see more crudely put when some theist wonders why atheists don’t wander around raping and murdering people. But it’s still the same offensive bigotry.

    Your religion is not your sense of rightful action. It’s your foolish superstitions, the stupid baggage you carry around that makes it easier for the unethical to manipulate you.

  83. #83 haliaeetus
    February 11, 2006

    Try this one Timothy:

    http://www.reasoned.org/index.html

  84. #84 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    Only a little earlier, I provided a list of fourteen questions for those who would have the religious give up their religious beliefs. Certainly there could be more — they were simply something I more or less together on the spot. However, if anyone has difficulty answering these questions, consider this:

    Would you ever attempt to redesign society from the ground up? Would you ever try to rethink your entire personal worldview from the ground up? How long would either of these take?

    Being people who are at least vaguely familiar with evolution, no doubt most of us are familiar with instances of bad design (see Evidence for Jury-Rigged Design in Nature) in how organisms are put together. This, afterall, is often taken as fairly strong evidence for the process of evolution in the first place. Evolution is a tinkerer, not an engineer. It makes small changes. I would suggest that, as students of evolution, we learn from this example.

    Rather than asking people to throw-out their religious beliefs and all other parts of their worldview which depend upon those beliefs, we should let those who would show them how to modify those beliefs so that they can accept science to do so. This does not require that they give up their entire worldview and start over from scratch. All it requires is a little tinkering — largely in acknowledging a role for allegory in their interpretation of stories of creation. As for other elements of their religious views which may or may not come into conflict with scientific knowledge, I would simply suggest some patience. This, I believe, would be the rational approach — although I am always open to considering others.

  85. #85 FishyFred
    February 11, 2006

    Would you ever attempt to redesign society from the ground up? Would you ever try to rethink your entire personal worldview from the ground up? How long would either of these take?

    I’m sure several posters in this topic have already had to do #2, having been raised in devout Christian families. However, I’m sure every one of them would say that the time they put into it was worth it. If I’m understanding this and the rest of your post correctly, you’re saying that what we have is fine for now and that it would take a heck of a lot of time and effort to change the world, so we should just give it time.

    I’m pretty sure that if we gave religion more time, the way things are going, it would just keep producing people like Ken Ham.

  86. #86 Corkscrew
    February 11, 2006

    the thing is, there can’t be scientific evidence for God because supernatural entities cannot be proven or disproven via scientific methods.

    Why not? If there’s an infinitely powerful entity floating around out there, why can’t we detect Him? Why should we allow that He exists when we can provide no solid evidence in support of that contention? Why should Occam’s razor be suspended in just this one particular case?

  87. #87 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    PZM wrote in response to my fourteen questions:

    1. Why would it need to be replaced with anything? When you cut out a tumor, do you think you need to tuck in some other crap to compensate?

    Because even in the case of a fundamentalist, their religious views serve a function, albeit very poorly. It provides them with an ethical framework of sorts, and a form of courage with which to approach the world, albeit a greatly perverted one.

    (For more on this, please see my earlier post on this thread.)

    2, 3, 4, 5. You assume religion provides an integrated worldview. It does not. It provides an incoherent framework of loose excuses that can get twisted any way the believer wants.

    This depends. If we are talking about a fundamentalist, their religious views can be used to rationalize a great many things. However, in the case of a less literalistic (perhaps liberal) Christian, it does provide them with a framework, reasons why they should be honest, reasons why they should treat others justly, reasons why, when in a fit of depression, they shouldn’t simply give up and end their lives, but should instead perservier — and try to change things.

    It tells them that they should be moral, and typically involves stories which illustrate the moral life — to greater or lesser degrees, not simply telling them how act, but showing them how to act, and creating the kind of emotional resonance which may provide them with motivation to do so. But it is neither scientific (in the sense of being empirical) nor rigorous (in the sense that a systematic philosophy might be).

    6,7. This is another theistic shell-game. Try to find a position an atheist holds that is not adequately backed up by science, and then say “A-ha! Just like religion!” No, sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get to justify stupidity and horror by finding a tepid irrelevance somewhere else.

    No, this isn’t a shell-game. My point is here is simply to illustrate the fact that anyone who is on this list has a great many background assumptions which form part of the framework with which they live their daily lives, and at any given time, there are only so many assumptions or beliefs which one can critically examine. We all have worldviews, and they are more art and philosophy than empirical science. It is part of being human.

    8. Religion isn’t ethical. They aren’t being asked to give up ethics, which are independent of religious beliefs.

    From the perspective of someone who is religious, at least at first, their being ethical is fundamentally a part of their being religious. It takes time and considerable thought to grow beyond that. Of course, non-confrontational interaction with people who do not share their religious beliefs but who are nevertheless moral, might help. But people who simply accuse them of being irrational because they have religious beliefs will probably have the opposite effect.

    9-14. More of the same nonsense based on a false premise.

    This is the same bias we see more crudely put when some theist wonders why atheists don’t wander around raping and murdering people. But it’s still the same offensive bigotry.

    Hardly. I fully expect you or any other non-religious individual to be in the possession of some sort of worldview. Humans require such things, even if they aren’t entirely able to see why at any given moment. But these views are largely non-scientific. They are more a matter of philosophy — or religion. Either a personal philosophy or a religion is capable of providing an individual with an ethical vision. But for most, it seems, religion works better.

    Your religion is not your sense of rightful action. It’s your foolish superstitions, the stupid baggage you carry around…

    Then why has it existed since the dawn of humanity? Why has it been so successful in persisting? Why is it so difficult to argue someone out of their religious beliefs? And, if we look upon religious belief metaphorically as some form of life, what exactly has it been doing all this time?

    … that makes it easier for the unethical to manipulate you.

    In some cases, yes.

  88. #88 Corkscrew
    February 11, 2006

    [quote]Then why has it existed since the dawn of humanity? Why has it been so successful in persisting? Why is it so difficult to argue someone out of their religious beliefs?[/quote]

    Because the function of religion is to stop people asking “why”. I’m fairly sure that this is, at least in part, because that stops people asking “why are we giving priests free food?”

  89. #89 Pete
    February 11, 2006

    Timothy, it seems to me that you’re arguing for tactical restraint: ”it would overwhelm the theists to rip away their security blanket too forcibly; let’s unravel it gradually” or something like this. Well, I do not claim to know what tactics are best in the larger struggle for a more educated, less religious public. But I don’t think patience is the rational approach to deal with fundamentalist religion – and I am increasingly sharing Sam Harris’s opinion that moderate religion is part of the problem, by acting as an enabler for fundamentalism. Additionally, you are placing an undeserved burden on atheists. If you take what you think is a priceless painting to an art appraiser only to be told it’s a worthless fake, the art appraiser is under no burden to give you alternative investment tips!

    Squeaky, you didn’t get my question. I’m not asking how you reconcile a text like Genesis with modern scientific understanding, but how you reconcile your belief in an evidence-free proposition like “god exists” with the scientific principle that evidence is paramount in determining what is true and what is not. I’m not asking why science has not actively removed your faith, but why your faith is there in the first place. To put it simply: there is zero evidence for a deity, yet you believe in one. Why?

  90. #90 HP
    February 11, 2006

    1. What would you replace an individual’s religious beliefs with?
    2. Would it provide them with any sort of integrated worldview, acting as a basic framework through which to understand reality, themselves, others, and the relationships which exist between these things?
    3. Would it tell them how to relate to others?
    4. Do you have an integrated ethical system of any sort?
    5. Is this ethical system scientific? Is it something which you can test? Is it an objective, scientific theory or something else?

    Answers:

    1. This. It’s a little old and rusty, but still plenty serviceable.

    2. Yes.

    3. Yes.

    4. Yes.

    5. Yes. It needs an update, though.

  91. #91 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    Corkscrew wrote:

    Because the function of religion is to stop people asking “why”. I’m fairly sure that this is, at least in part, because that stops people asking “why are we giving priests free food?”

    Humor. Not bad.

    But it is certainly capable of much more. This particular passage has a great deal of emotional resonance for many:

    Properly, religion encourages in its own way the view that while recognizing one’s mistakes may be experienced prospectively as a form of death, the act itself brings a form of rebirth and self-transcendence, giving one the courage to revise one’s beliefs when confronted with new evidence.

    Can you see any function that this might serve, for instance, among religious scientists?

  92. #92 Karl
    February 11, 2006

    As a devout Evolutionist I say that you have all gotten off point. The point is not ID vs Evolution. The point is that the IDers are trying to hijack the public education system into being a branch of their church.
    It is: one of the central tenets of this nation – separation of church and state – is being attacked.
    What you can do is exert as much time and energy into communicating with the lesser educated public, instead of with just this little group of apparently intelligent, well-educated people to get them to recognize the threat and motivate them to action – to communicating with their legislators not to allow the Wedge coup.
    You cannot stop the great mass of people from being religious. As has been pointed out many times, even a large percentage of respectable scientists are religious. Dawkins, and many of you may be correct, but that is irrelevant. It is a question of tactics. Our concern should be, at this time, with defending the Constitution, (I know, that’s corny. But that is THE issue).
    What is needed, more and more, is exposure of DI’s attempts. They are following their script. They are attacking more and more states. They are now in Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio – soon in your State.
    Instead of arguing here about words, about “how many angels fit on the head of a pin”, spend time writing letters to editors, writing op-ed pieces. If a local paper gets enough letters of that type, they will occasionally print one, some one who wasn’t already aware of the threat will be made aware.
    Don’t bother responding to this by saying that you already do that. I am sure that some, or maybe many of you already do. But how about the rest of you? Please help.

  93. #93 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    Because even in the case of a fundamentalist, their religious views serve a function, albeit very poorly. It provides them with an ethical framework of sorts, and a form of courage with which to approach the world, albeit a greatly perverted one.

    I assert that it does not. Religious people are not more ethical than non-religious people. Your entire argument is completely bogus, based as it is on a false premise.

  94. #94 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    Timothy, it seems to me that you’re arguing for tactical restraint: ”it would overwhelm the theists to rip away their security blanket too forcibly; let’s unravel it gradually” or something like this. Well, I do not claim to know what tactics are best in the larger struggle for a more educated, less religious public.

    Agreed. This is a very large part of what I am looking for is patience and the ability to work with people who do not necessarily share all of your beliefs, for example, liberal Christians.

    But I don’t think patience is the rational approach to deal with fundamentalist religion…

    Neither would I. In my view, however, a very large part of the initial response to fundamentalists has to be performed by those who are religious, yet who accept evolution. Particularly in a country which is so predominantly religious. It is the religious individuals who accept evolution who must show that it is possible to consider the scientific case for evolution without abandoning one’s religious beliefs. Once they have opened up that door, once they have removed the anxiety, then it is possible to present the scientific evidence for evolution to a given individual. But before that, someone who is religious and regards their religious beliefs as being entirely at odds with evolution will be deaf to all your arguments.

    – and I am increasingly sharing Sam Harris’s opinion that moderate religion is part of the problem, by acting as an enabler for fundamentalism.

    It would seem to me that the Clergy Project and its 10,000+ ministers are doing quite the opposite. They are opposing the fundamentalists, and they are performing a service which those who are not religious cannot themselves perform.

    Additionally, you are placing an undeserved burden on atheists. If you take what you think is a priceless painting to an art appraiser only to be told it’s a worthless fake, the art appraiser is under no burden to give you alternative investment tips!

    That is something of a problem for me as well. But given today’s climate, I think some diplomacy is in order, and likewise, that we treat “providing people with a more rational philosophy” separately from “the defense of evolutionary biology.” To do otherwise is to play into the hands of those who play on the religiousity of the good majority of americans by equating the acceptance of evolution with atheism — and then use this equation to shut down the minds of those who we might otherwise present with the scientific case for evolution.

    Squeaky, you didn’t get my question. I’m not asking how you reconcile a text like Genesis with modern scientific understanding, but how you reconcile your belief in an evidence-free proposition like “god exists” with the scientific principle that evidence is paramount in determining what is true and what is not. I’m not asking why science has not actively removed your faith, but why your faith is there in the first place. To put it simply: there is zero evidence for a deity, yet you believe in one. Why?

    I’m not Squeaky and I am not religious, but hopefully you won’t mind if I take a stab at this.

    First, in accordance with Karl Popper’s Principle of Falsifiability, he realizes that falsifiability is a criterion for scientific knowledge, not for ethical, philosophical or (in his case) religious knowledge.

    Second, he realizes that that insofar as his religious views are religious and do not come into conflict with empirical science, no empirical evidence can ever count against those views. (Whether or not rational argumentation may is another matter.)

    Third, he undoubtedly regards his belief in a god as being central to his ethical vision and its personal, emotional reality. To abandon his belief in his god would throw a very large part of his worldview and his view of himself into question.

    Be careful of that first step…

  95. #95 Ed Darrell
    February 11, 2006

    Ham is a carbuncle on the face of Christianity, no doubt about it. He descends into deviltry when he tells kids to deny reality — he asks them to alter reality, in effect to act intoxicated.

    When I am approached by creationists who ask me, of Big Bang, “were you there,” I tell them that I wasn’t there, but I have seen the photographs. I point out to them that Wilson and Penzias got the Nobel for finding the audio that disproved Steady State and left Big Bang standing as the reigning explanation. I ask them if they have seen the photographs, and if they say no, I urge them to see them before they deny them.

    You can see them, too — go to NASA’s COBE project site, and see them there.

    Ham is a propagandist. His tale cannot withstand actual photographs and actual sound recordings. Hold his feet to the fire.

  96. #96 Fire Ant
    February 11, 2006

    I’ve always thought that an organized religious system of beliefs and rituals could be beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint…..think about how superstitions and common rituals could have bonded primitive tribes together, which might increase the chances of their survival down the road. Religion: the evolutionary advantage!

  97. #97 Dark Matter
    February 11, 2006

    Posted by: Corkscrew

    Personally, I have no problem with the whole non-overlapping magisteria concept.

    As it stands now the nonoverlapping magisterium thing=”fair and balanced”.
    Ken Ham and his ilk will not be happy until they have it all. The “Christian
    Scientists” that are telling Dr. Myers that “you need to find common ground
    with the Ken Hams” are fooling themselves.

  98. #98 HP
    February 11, 2006

    Back to the original post — IANAScientist, but isn’t the correct answer to “Were you there?,” “Yes, and not only that, I’m there right now. And so are you. The past is all around us, all the time. All we need to do is to pay attention to what the past is telling us.”

  99. #99 Timothy Chase
    February 11, 2006

    PZM quote me:

    Because even in the case of a fundamentalist, their religious views serve a function, albeit very poorly. It provides them with an ethical framework of sorts, and a form of courage with which to approach the world, albeit a greatly perverted one.

    PZM then responded:

    I assert that it does not. Religious people are not more ethical than non-religious people. Your entire argument is completely bogus, based as it is on a false premise.

    I believe it does provide them with an ethical framework of sorts, but then again, I also believe that even a serial killer has an ethical framework of sorts, even if it is only one in which to rationalize their actions and thus live with themselves. I am under no delusions as to how immoral fundamentalism can make people. I am quite well aware of the Dominionists, for example, many of whom would seek the extermination of the religious and non-religious alike if they were to ever come to power. We need to learn how to cooperate with those who are religious in order to prevent that sort of thing from happening.

    Likewise, I fully accept the fact that someone who is non-religious may be as ethical as any religious inidividual — but in that case, their ethical views flow from a secular worldview, most likely a philosophy, which may be well-articulated, but much of which is likely to remain personal and tacit.

  100. #100 cm
    February 11, 2006

    Timothy Chase, have you listened to any of Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God”? It’s not very intellectually rigorous or taxing, but still cogent, damn honest, and I think gives a wonderful account of how one might jettison one’s irrational religious beliefs and still finds one wakes up the next day a moral person, perhaps a bit muddling through, but growing in strength and a new set of appreciations the bright light of coherence can bring.

    Another “replacer” for the ethical framework of religious beliefs may be found in the humanist’s manifesto.

    There are many other examples. You don’t believe the nonreligious don’t have many good answers to your 14 questions, do you?

  101. #101 Ick of the East
    February 11, 2006

    The reconciliation came when someone encouraged me to re-read the Genesis account of creation so that I could understand that a young earth is (not) the only interpretation possible.

    Why Genesis? Why not one of a thousand and one other creation myths? I hope it’s not simply because you were born in a time and place where Genesis was a popular myth. That would be highly irrational.

  102. #102 Samnell
    February 11, 2006

    “Why Genesis?”

    As fairy stories go, there are certainly more entertaining specimens.

  103. #103 PZ Myers
    February 11, 2006

    Lawks a-mercy, Timothy, if you take away a fellow’s cigarettes, how will he ever manage to bake a cake?

    You keep bringing up this non sequitur…but it’s an extremely common one, widely held by the religious. Religion has nothing to do with ethics. Never has, never will. Take away a fellow’s religion, and it doesn’t change his feelings about what is right and wrong at all.

    I know exactly what it is like to let go of religion, and a sudden urge to pillage and rape isn’t part of it. It’s more of a “Huh. Well. That wasn’t such a big deal after all.” If someone is afraid they’ll become immoral if they abandon their god, then that’s another argument against religion: it has crippled that person’s moral sensibilities.

    Your 14 questions are utterly irrelevant and completely miss the point, I’m afraid.

  104. #104 tacitus
    February 11, 2006

    PZ, the only problem I see with your desire to see all religion vanish from the face of the Earth, is that it’s not realistic. Even if we manage to cut off the parent-child conduit, people will always have mystical experiences–things that they can’t explain–and they will seek out and believe some supernatural rationalization. That’s just the way of the world. Perhaps New Age mysticism is preferable to organized religion, I don’t know, but either way you will always have people in positions of power who prey on the weak.

    In any case, I would prefer to see the battle against religion focused on where it can do the most good–i.e. against fundamentalists of all stripes. Having lived in Britain most of my life, I’ve seen first hand a country where Christian fundamentalism has long since lost the battle, leaving its moderate-to-liberal Protestant population sliding slowly towards secularism. (The rise of Muslim fundamentalism is a more recent phenomenon in the UK, and one they will have to deal with head on at some point).

    The point is that if there is one thing that scares the fundamentalist leadership the most its the loss of followers to the more tolerant, moderate, secular, mainstream Christianity. It scares them because they would lose their stranglehold on their followers, their power base. Once religious people are free to make up their own minds again, and my hope is that they will drift away from irrational faith towards a more beneficial world view for all.

    Today Western Europe is probably at the forefront of this transformation (which might still fail, btw) but many of the Muslim nations appear to be stuck in the 16th century. As for the USA? I would say that regarding the progressiveness of religious thought, this country is about 50-70 years behind the UK, and heading in the wrong direction. The damage is not irreparable yet, but give the neo-cons another couple of terms in office then it might be. (Sorry Republicans, but I just don’t see the moderates regaining control of the Republican party without a couple of heavy defeats at the polls).

  105. #105 FishyFred
    February 11, 2006

    This is a very large part of what I am looking for is patience and the ability to work with people who do not necessarily share all of your beliefs, for example, liberal Christians.

    Fundamentalists have already shown their willingness to cut themselves off from others in order to maintain their beliefs and their way of life. Every time one of them says that Ken Miller “is not a real Christian” because he supports evolution, that’s what they’re doing. If we could build a wall around Kansas, the fundies would kick and scream, but as soon as we put the last brick in place, they’d convince themselves that, assuming they can get food and water and all the basic needs, that they’ll be better off without us sinners.

  106. #106 Timothy Chase
    February 12, 2006

    PZM wrote:

    You keep bringing up this non sequitur…but it’s an extremely common one, widely held by the religious. Religion has nothing to do with ethics. Never has, never will. Take away a fellow’s religion, and it doesn’t change his feelings about what is right and wrong at all.

    I do not believe that religion is necessary for an individual to have an ethical system, and I may very well believe that a secular philosophy can offer a better ethical system, but I am also well aware of the fact that an individual’s worldview determines a great deal regarding the ethical system which they accept. Probably not that much in terms of the raping and pillaging stuff but there is certainly a great deal more to ethics than simply thou shalt not “rape or pillage.”

    I would assume that most of us have spent some time pondering various ethical issues. But why ponder them — if what you believe has little or nothing to do with your “feelings about right and wrong”? Our sense of right and wrong is not innate. If it were, there would undoubtedly have been a great deal less mass murder in the name of various religions or ideologies. For better or worse, an individuals religious or philosophical views influence their sense of what is right or wrong.

  107. #107 Timothy Chase
    February 12, 2006

    cm wrote:

    Timothy Chase, have you listened to any of Julia Sweeney’s “Letting Go of God”? It’s not very intellectually rigorous or taxing, but still cogent, damn honest, and I think gives a wonderful account of how one might jettison one’s irrational religious beliefs and still finds one wakes up the next day a moral person, perhaps a bit muddling through, but growing in strength and a new set of appreciations the bright light of coherence can bring.

    I haven’t had the pleasure as of yet — but I will try and check it out. Oddly, I really didn’t really experience much in the way of muddling through myself, but then again, I was only thirteen at the time that I gave up belief in any personal god.

    No doubt it would work for some individuals, but probably not for others.

    Another “replacer” for the ethical framework of religious beliefs may be found in the humanist’s manifesto.

    My own approach is essentially a form of neo-Aristotleanism — with a fair amount of emphasis upon the “neo.” But at the same time, I have always been more interested in epistemology than ethics. In terms of technical philosophy, I would like to think if you put in a fair amount of work into epistemology, you are much more likely to do a good job in ethics. Additionally, I believe that the normativity found in epistemology is more fundamental than any found in ethics, but given the state of philosophy today, no doubt there would be a fair number who would disagree with me on that matter.

    There are many other examples.

    There most certainly are, and many good ones. That is really part of the problem — not that we haven’t any answers, but that we have too many different and conflicting ones.

    You don’t believe the nonreligious don’t have many good answers to your 14 questions, do you?

    I certainly do believe that the nonreligious have good answers to many of the questions I posed — I simply do not believe that they or anyone else has found answers to the problems of ethics in empirical science. Even though I believe Karl Popper and the Principle of Falsifiability are a bit dated, I suspect that they are still a fairly good guide in this department. In his view, this principle stood as a line of demarcation between empirical science on the one hand (which according to this view is falsifiable by reference to empirical evidence) and other areas of human knowledge which are not falsifiable by reference to empirical evidence, for example, metaphysics, ethics, esthetics, or religion.

  108. #108 Poster
    February 12, 2006

    If fundamentalists are condemned for knee-jerk reactions, inability to reason, group mentality, so on and so forth, and the answer is to forcibly stamp out ideas which are incorrect, I can think of no better way to do this than through a concerted effort to control. Control the press. Control the government. Control the educational system. But that would be only the beginning of a totalitarianism that would pale next to the Soviets or the Third Reich. Yet even the Soviets were incapable of eliminating religion from the citizenry. So would even a kind of totalitarian control be in the end, effective? No. So then what lies behind a desire to control if not success?

    For when all the arguments are done, the question goes back to one of rights. Who has the right to force anyone to believe, trust in, adhere to, accept, anything? If we do not trust individuals to do so on their own, then it’s all about force — whether that force is some feared Jim Jones cult or the jackboot of the state. Hitler and Stalin despised each other, yet their methods were uncannily similar. If you hate anything forcefully enough, you find yourself taking up the same argumentation tactics and the same methods as your enemy. In that case, rationality goes straight out the window, for blind hate has substituted for it.

    So while some may preach all day for the “tumor of religion” to be removed, they argue only with the same blind, slavering obedience to a destructive ideal (“my way or punishment”) that those they condemn possess. They are as cultish, as violent, and as tyrannical as any theocracy has ever been — if not more so.

  109. #109 Sergio
    February 12, 2006

    The next time you come across a believer, ask him if he would believe in god if there wasnt a promise of a reward for his belief, or the promise of punishment for non-belief. Religion is no more than the old carrot and stick mentality taken to its most sinister extremes, for the consequences are, they believe, eternal. What’s most appalling of all is thay they don’t see their own contradiction in believing in a loving pixie who would damn billions for eternity for simply being reasonable enough to demand proof. But of course, if you ask for proof they would quote the story of Thomas demanding to see Jesuswounds. It’s a vicious tautology and Dawkins’ description of religion as a mind virus is perfect.

  110. #110 Timothy Chase
    February 12, 2006

    I had written:

    This is a very large part of what I am looking for is patience and the ability to work with people who do not necessarily share all of your beliefs, for example, liberal Christians.

    tacitus responded:

    Fundamentalists have already shown their willingness to cut themselves off from others in order to maintain their beliefs and their way of life. Every time one of them says that Ken Miller “is not a real Christian” because he supports evolution, that’s what they’re doing. If we could build a wall around Kansas, the fundies would kick and scream, but as soon as we put the last brick in place, they’d convince themselves that, assuming they can get food and water and all the basic needs, that they’ll be better off without us sinners.

    I doubt we will have much luck with the Fundamentalists. Indeed, there are some Fundamentalists (the Dominionists, for example) who believe that if you are not a member of their particular circle, then you are not a true Christian, and that once they take power, you must be eliminated to make way for the rule of the messiah. Nice bunch.

    But the good majority of americans are not fundamentalists in this sense, even if they are fairly sympathetic towards creationism. Most americans believe that a woman has the right to have an abortion. I strongly suspect that these people aren’t fundamentalists. These are people who either liberal Christians or ourselves could reach, but I believe liberal Christians will do better on the first shot.

  111. #111 Timothy Chase
    February 12, 2006

    Poster wrote:

    If you hate anything forcefully enough, you find yourself taking up the same argumentation tactics and the same methods as your enemy. In that case, rationality goes straight out the window, for blind hate has substituted for it.

    There was much in your post that I agreed with. I liked the emphasis upon rights, for example, and the above passage reminded me of what Commander Sheridan said in Babylon 5: “If you hate the enemy long enough, you become the enemy.” That quote means a great deal to me.

    However, the following was a bit much:

    So while some may preach all day for the “tumor of religion” to be removed, they argue only with the same blind, slavering obedience to a destructive ideal (“my way or punishment”) that those they condemn possess. They are as cultish, as violent, and as tyrannical as any theocracy has ever been — if not more so.

    While the phrasing “tumor of religion” was both extreme and unfortunate, I certainly do not believe that PZM would seriously consider removing the “tumor of religion” at the cost of anyone’s life. This was meant to be figurative, and I believe you are as aware of this as I am. In PZM’s view and undoubtedly in the view of many of the others on this blog, religion is presumably something to be eliminated through rational argument. (Of course I am not entirely sure how they think this would work, but that is a different matter.) Taking it literally might call their attention to their use of language, but it could just as easily invite further complementary schismogenesis, and this is precisely the sort of thing that has lead us to this point in the first place.

    In any case, might be a good idea to have a break. We all have Evolution Sunday or at least Darwin’s birthday to celibrate — and I understand it is already that time in Minnesota.

  112. #112 Timothy Chase
    February 12, 2006

    A Quick Apology: Two posts ago I responded to someone and refered to him as tacitus, however, I should have said FishyFred.

    … and a Quick Note: Although I disagree with PZ somewhat strongly on a few points and feel that there may have been some misunderstandings on other matters, I greatly appreciate all the time and effort he puts into this, and all the discoveries which he shares with us.

    Thank you, PZ. If you feel only one obligation today, make sure that it is to have a good time.

    Take care and good night.

  113. #113 Samnell
    February 12, 2006

    “You keep bringing up this non sequitur…but it’s an extremely common one, widely held by the religious. Religion has nothing to do with ethics. Never has, never will. Take away a fellow’s religion, and it doesn’t change his feelings about what is right and wrong at all.”

    Gotta disagree, PZ. Taking away religion is bound to improve one’s sensibilities of right and wrong. I’ve yet to encoutner (and I’ve looked) a genuine secular reason to think homosexuality is morally wrong, or to support abstinence-only education.

  114. #114 Leon Brooks
    February 12, 2006

    PZM, you forgot the <rant> tags, as if it’s not obvious from the content.

    I can’t see any substantive difference in quality between said content and a rant from an uninformed bible-thumpin’ redneck. Other than quoting the report, your post is up to the eyeballs in opinion and pretty much content-free. In terms of utility, a simple hyperlink would have been enough.

    If you’re going to camp on the moral high ground, how about a bit of constructive, informative content to back it up instead of a revival pitch: “Ah got that ol’ tahm irreligion…”

  115. #115 Dixon
    February 12, 2006

    Oh the joys of brainwashing children.

    I’ve long thought that if you want to reject science in such a whole hearted way. Then stop using it’s products. If you want to live by the bible (or any other religious text) then do so. But I don’t see any mention of antibiotics in there. Watch those life expectancies fall…

  116. #116 Zarquon
    February 12, 2006

    I can’t see any substantive difference in quality between said content and a rant from an uninformed bible-thumpin� redneck.

    Well there’s you’re problem. If you can’t tell the difference between PZ and liars and frauds like Ken Ham then there’s no hope for you.

  117. #117 Corkscrew
    February 12, 2006

    Gotta disagree, PZ. Taking away religion is bound to improve one’s sensibilities of right and wrong. I’ve yet to encoutner (and I’ve looked) a genuine secular reason to think homosexuality is morally wrong, or to support abstinence-only education.

    Seconded. Not having religious beliefs to cling to means that you’re forced to actually provide justifications for your prejudices. Which means that you’re open to having them knocked down. Which is a good thing.

    This is yet another example of why “just having faith” is ultimately harmful.

  118. #118 Raindog
    February 12, 2006

    I couldn’t agree more with you on this PZ. Religion is a virus. I get in arguments with my wife about this. I say God is not real, it’s a made up concept to explain what was once unexplainable and she says things like, “but to religious people, God is real.” And I say, but the truth is that God is not real” and she gets angry with me at that point. She sees this in a relative way where I view it empirically. She get angry with me and embarassed when I bring this up with friends. I think she sees it as telling a 5 year old that there is no Santa Claus. In fact, many people do. That is why you almost never hear a well-spoken athiest on television in the United States.

    I too see it as one of the biggest problems facing our country. I am not sure what to do about it though. The second you say you are an atheist, theists’s receivers turn off. They cannot hear or process rational discussion of faith and religion.

  119. #119 kcb
    February 12, 2006

    Delurking to get on my home-educator high horse. We’re free-range learners. Yes, it makes us sound like poultry but that’s better than sounding like I trap the kids in the house all day. We free-range because the alternative is to send our sons to Texas public schools.

    DH and I are both graduates of Texas public school “gifted” programs and even fifteen-twenty years ago we had to put up with fatuous religious crap from our teachers. I studied the New Testament as a “literary work” in my g/t English class with no other religious texts included. DH says that on the *one day* they discussed evolution in his little East Texas high school–in history class, mind you–he was the only student who didn’t bring a bible to class. My elementary school principal led a prayer to Jesus every morning, and this was well after the issue had been ‘settled’ by the courts.

    Private schools here are prohibitively expensive and/or religious. We’re giving our kids the best education we can, including a thorough study of evolution, the scientific method, and critical thinking skills. Are there a lot of fundie homeschoolers here? You bet. But there are so many fundie public-schoolers here that they perverted the system long ago.

    FWIW, I am mildly religious, but my take is that religion is a little basket where we put our irrational impulses and wishful thinking so they don’t interfere with our reasoned understanding of the world around us. I realize this is exactly what PZ refers to when he talks about Christians making excuses, but it works for me and I’m not trying to get anyone else to buy it.

  120. #120 Caledonian
    February 12, 2006

    Here’s a better idea: instead of waiting for those who reject scientific reasoning to distance themselves from the fruits of science, let’s deny the fruits of science to them.

  121. #121 Keith Douglas
    February 12, 2006

    G: The answer is, though with difficulty in detail, answered in your own post. People have the right to pursue their own good without harming others. So, in particular, they are not allowed to do just any old thing to their children. How much freedom they have to teach them what they want, I don’t know, but I think in general home schooling should be very carefully investigated.

    All: One question for the religiously liberal – how do you change your views about the facts of your religion? For instance, if you’re a Christian, what would make become a Jew or a Muslim? (Warning, this is a Socratic question. :))

  122. #122 Morse
    February 12, 2006

    Great post. I too, have particular contempt for Answers in Genesis.

    Ham’s use of puppets and other props to simply degrade the theory of evolution, as well as his smart ass taunting of biology teachers, renders his argument frivolous. Turning scientific theory into a cartoon universe, may be instructive as a teaching aid, but not when one fails to back it up with scientific evidence. Instead, Ham resorts to offering a mythological belief system in place of reasoned discourse, ultimately demonstrating just how groundless his position is. Trivializing a theory such as evolution, which has a vast amount of evidence supporting it, is just absurd.

    http://medianeedle.blogspot.com/2006/02/biotheology.html

  123. #123 Alon Levy
    February 12, 2006

    I wonder if my friends would be counted in the 72% who homeschool for reasons of religion/morals instruction …

    I think not, unless they were members of a minority religion. I don’t know that atheists anywhere say that their actions have religious causes, and in countries where fundamentalists are a strong political force, the buzzword “morals” is associated with theocracy.

  124. #124 Paul W.
    February 12, 2006

    Ham exploits Christians–an accurate assessment, I agree. However, the issue is not with God, it is with extremists like Ken Ham who actively promote their unbending dogma.

    The root problem is God. It is hard to believe in the kind of ineffectual, unclear God that liberal Christians believe in—the kind of God who would divinely inspire a Bible full of malarkey and evil, or come to earth as our “Savior” without making it clear what that even means. It takes a lot of compartmentalization and rationalization.

    Because of that, Christianity is dangerous, with a strong tendency toward fundamentalism that must always be continually opposed through careful education and, I’d say, bad arguments. The fundamentalists are right when they say that the theologically liberal Christians are sellouts. They are. The only reason to be a Christian is the Bible, and as the Fundamentalists do demonstrate, the Bible is full of shit. It’s not all bad, but it’s largely bad, and there is no rational ground for saying that something so bad is “divinely inspired” and has a message we should listen to.

    Fundamentalism is endemic to Christianity because fundamentalism makes sense in a basic way that liberal Christianity simply does not. Liberal Christianity exhibits a fundamentally anti-scientific attitude, which is less intellectually respectable than fundamentalism. It’s an obvious attempt to salvage a bad theory by innumerable explainings-away of clear evidence. It’s a rats’ nest of epicycles on epicycles, to avoid seeing obvious contradictions.

    there are also many Christians who do not believe that Genesis and evolution are in contradiction.

    The deep problem is that they are clearly wrong; the fundamentalists are right about that. Genesis is simply a falsehood, not just “metaphorical.”

    And Genesis is terribly important to Christianity. Without a Fall of Man that causes the evil in the world, we have the Problem of Evil, full-force—why would a competent, well-meaning God create a universe like this, in which three out of four species are parasites, a quarter of all women who ever lived died in childbirth, genocide happens, etc.

    We don’t need no steenkin’ Savior, because our problems are not of a kind that can be fixed with a blood sacrifice.

    There is no original sin for Jesus to wash away. Evil was here before humans, and if that’s anybody’s fault, it’s God’s, not ours. So God’s a loser, the Salvation story makes no sense, and the absolutely central story of the Crucifixion is worse than pointless—it’s just sick. Jesus is reduced to some philosopher who does neat tricks with loaves and fishes, and gets nailed to a cross to satisfy his father’s incoherent demand for vengeance.

    God is not our Father, but Dr. Moreau, and Jesus is just another victim of the messed-up situation he created.

    Theologically liberal “Christians” have to work very, very hard to avoid such conclusions, if they still worship Jesus and are thankful for his dying on the cross “for us.”

    The Young Earth literalists are right that without Genesis, Jesus doesn’t matter much.
    They’re not just literalists because they’re stupid literal-minded people. They’re literalists because they understand what’s theologically important to the Jesus story. Liberal Christians do generally give away the store, by admitting that Genesis isn’t true. They don’t just give away the absolute authority of the Bible, but key theological points. Theologically liberal Christianity is a house built on sand.

    Many scientists who are Christians and who have studied Genesis thoroughly have found this to be true. Many scientists who are Christians actually see our scientific discoveries as illuminations of the scriptural text.

    That is flatly insane. The most important scriptural stories are unsalvageable crap, written by backward and wrongheaded poeple—and to read science as an “illumination” of such bullshit is just paranoid lunacy.

    I doubt there are many scientists who have this attitude and actually understand what secular scholars know about how Genesis came to be written.

    We recognize the Hebrew language was very limited in its discriptive ability at that time, as were the scientific experience of those who lived when the book was written. We warrant that a word-for-word interpretation of the text is but a superficial reading of the text.

    No. This isn’t a matter of people taking a superficial, literalist reading of something that was metaphorical and deeply true. It’s about the fact that the people who wrote Genesis had no idea what they were talking about, and were just people making up stories. (Many with reprehensible morals.) Sure, some were meant metaphorically at the time, but that doesn’t change the basic situation—those people had no special or divine insight into what they were talking about.

    There is nothing in Genesis that gives any hint whatsoever of divine inspiration pointing to deep truth, or ancient wisdom, or any special goodness. To denigrate science by calling it an “illumination” of such myths and political screeds is about as insulting to science as anything could be. Science isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than that.

    Sure, it’s interesting to read Genesis in ancient Hebrew, and try to figure out exactly what it actually meant then. I know people who do that, and it’s interesting stuff. But it’s paranoid to assume that the ancient Hebrews were saying some divinely inspired truth, and try to ferret that deep truth out. They were just people, and their myths have no special claim to truth.

    Why should we be grouped among the “many people (who) don’t even try to sequester their superstitions and cultivate their rational side”?

    You shouldn’t, quite. But here you seem to be among the people who does a poor job of sequestering their superstitions, when you talk about Genesis not being in conflict with scientific truth. It simply is, and you are exhibiting a bias toward preserving a theory that has been thoroughly refuted. That’s handing the Fundies a weapon—it grants their thesis that there are useful Answers in Genesis. There are not.

    And the Young Earth literalists are right that without Genesis, Jesus doesn’t matter much.

    They’re not just literalists because they’re stupid literal-minded people. They’re literalists because they understand what’s theologically important to the Jesus story.

    Know thy “enemy”. But also know thy “friends”.

    Unfortunately, the friend of my enemy is my enemy, to some extent.

    Liberal Christians do hand fundamentalists weapons, or refuse to wrest them away. They’re part of the same system of making “Christianity” sound like it’s intellectually respectable and a good thing, which should guide important decisions.

    Many liberal Christians are “part of the solution,” in many respects. But many of the very same people are part of the problem, in other respects. They cultivate respect for religion, and specifically Christianity, which makes it harder to marginalize the fundamentalists. If the Bible is highly respected, and there are “legitimate differences of opinion” over what lessons to learn from it, that’s a big problem in itself.

  125. #125 G. Tingey
    February 12, 2006

    What happens if someone stands up in the middle of all this shit, and telss Ken Ham (or whoever) …
    “you are lying” … ?

    Because they are.

  126. #126 Squeaky
    February 12, 2006

    Corkscrew–“Because the function of religion is to stop people asking “why”. I’m fairly sure that this is, at least in part, because that stops people asking “why are we giving priests free food?”

    That’s an interesting point, especially given that in the history of science the earliest and most influential scientists (Newton, for example) were also devout and active theists. Clearly, religion didn’t stop them from asking “why” and I would posit the reason they asked “why” was to learn more about their God’s creation.

  127. #127 Squeaky
    February 12, 2006

    Pete
    “Squeaky, you didn’t get my question. I’m not asking how you reconcile a text like Genesis with modern scientific understanding, but how you reconcile your belief in an evidence-free proposition like “god exists” with the scientific principle that evidence is paramount in determining what is true and what is not. I’m not asking why science has not actively removed your faith, but why your faith is there in the first place. To put it simply: there is zero evidence for a deity, yet you believe in one. Why?”

    I don’t think there is zero scientific evidence for a deity. I think the evidence exists in the complexity of the world we live in, within the order of the periodic table, within the order found within mathematics and how that order is found within the universe, in E=mc2, in the complexity of the human body, in the balance of the spheres that work together on this planet (if we humans allow it to be balanced), in the geometric symmetry of a mineral crystal, In the ability of an organism to adapt to changes within its environment so that the organism is not wiped out by those changes. But the thing is, many here would tell me I can’t look at this evidence and draw the conclusion that all these things exist because of a creator. But neither, then, can or should atheists come to the opposite conclusion based on the same evidence. Both conclusions are unscientific conclusions and do not belong in the realm of science.

  128. #128 Kapitano
    February 12, 2006

    Evangelist: The Bible is the word of God!
    Student: Excuse me, were you there when he wrote it?

  129. #129 Ken Cope
    February 12, 2006

    Squeaky,I can describe your behavior without having to address the question you beg when you constellate meaning and Personal Agency upon the world. You’re indulging in simple magical thinking, a game played by deciding to believe that everything around you is evidence for your belief.

    The other day I listened to an otherwise very rational Catholic, a liberal democrat who dedicates hours of his program to bashing ID as thoroughly as anybody around here does. The way he’d teach the bible in a public school classroom would be opposed by fundies as vehemently as they’d oppose PZ, because he’d dump the literalism and teach students to recognize poetry, metaphor and allegory. But in the middle of all this, he starts talking about how the “holy spirit” brought him closer to his son by attending his sports activities more often. Because of “guidance” like this where “the holy spirit talks to him,” he’s reassured of the existence of god. When he slacks, is it because of the urging of an unholy demon? I don’t need supernatural agencies to convince me it’s good to participate in my son’s life while I’m still around to do so.

    And please don’t use the equivalent of Einstein’s subscription to “Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in an orderly and understandable universe.” First of all, does he use the term “god” for its metaphoric impact, or does he really believe in god? Who cares? All he can deal with is an orderly universe that appears to be understandable. If it was designed, one of the design criteria would seem to be the appearance of its not having been designed.

  130. #130 jackrabbit
    February 12, 2006

    “Boys and girls,” Ham said. “If a teacher so much as mentions evolution, or the Big Bang, or an era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?'”

    If I had been the next speaker up, it would have been:

    “Boys and girls, if a preacher so much as mentions the resurrection, or the flood, or an prophesied era when jeebus rules the Earth, you put your hand up and you say, ‘Excuse me, were you there?'”

    And no, reading an ancient book about it doesn’t count as being there.

  131. #131 arc_legion
    February 12, 2006

    Squeaky, I have to disagree. To say that something must exist, regardless of whether it is supernatural or not, is entirely different to refusing to assume that it exists.

    If you rememeber reading up on the debate between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, you might remember Einstein arguing his side as an argument against Quantum Mechanics; QM being incomplete because it could not explain a process behind why it worked the way it did. Einstein claimed that QM was more of a statistical inference than any explanation of what was going on. Bohr, by contrast, insisted that such explanations as Einstein demanded did not seem to exist. Bohr walked away from that debate the victor, and although the assumption Bohr made was something closely parallelling that in Irreducible Complexity today, Bohr’s arguments continued to be backed by evidence.

    Evolution as we know it today does not purport the existence of God. However, it would be foolhardy to introduce a God where none is scientifically implicated. Refusing to believe in the existence of God, or any other deity, where no evidence is provided for that existence, has every place in science. That’s just taking the evidence at it’s face value. Saying that you disagree with this notion because the universe is a complex place, you’ll need to show that God exists through the evidence. That would make it science and not pseudo-philosophy, which is what you’ve given us right now.

    Again, saying God does not exist and refusing to say that God does exist are two different things as far as the scientific method is concerned. Practically speaking, however, they are the same, and atheists make decisions as people on the former, while evaluating it at the scientific level as the latter.

  132. #132 Pete
    February 12, 2006

    Squeaky, if you acknowledge that your conclusion is unscientific, then you cannot claim to have reconciled it with science. That’s precisely what “unscientific” means! The conclusion “god exists” just does not follow from any of the things you mentioned. Your “evidence” is not evidence at all, and I think you must realize that.

    Real evidence works like this: you come home and see your TV is gone and the window is broken; the missing TV and broken window are evidence that you were robbed, you confidently conclude this because of the vast array of background knowledge you have (TVs don’t just disappear; your door was locked; robbers often break into houses through the window, etc). I need not remind you that in the case of deities, despite thousands of years of human belief in them, there has been no knowledge produced about them. Isn’t it much more likely that you are simply committed to believing in a god, for whatever reason, and have seized upon the periodic table etc. as ad hoc bridges between your scientific worldview and your commitment to your religion? If not, I am sure that you must be able to explain how the periodic table points specifically to the existence of a god.

    Timothy, I think you’re mistaken to refer to religion as one of the “areas of human knowledge which are not falsifiable by reference to empirical evidence”. The great majority of religious claims are as empirical as it gets. When people assert “a deity exists”, they are making a claim about the world that is either true or false. It is not somehow exempt from normal standards of evidence or falsifiability. We have a longstanding social tradition of treating these claims as exempt, but this tradition is only there to preserve people’s feelings from being hurt; to avoid giving offense to “the X community”. It is my opinion that this sensitivity should stop (though I am open to debate about how to proceed tactically).

    I agree that ethical claims are different: e.g., if one person believes in quick forgiveness, another in holding grudges, there are no empirical facts that bear on who is right and who is wrong. I’m not saying that every single assertion people make must be falsifiable scientifically. But most religious claims have the form of empirical assertions. When you’ve taken out all the empirical claims from religion, what do you have left that is specifically “religious”?

  133. #133 Paul W.
    February 12, 2006

    Corkscrew: Because the function of religion is to stop people asking “why”. I’m fairly sure that this is, at least in part, because that stops people asking “why are we giving priests free food?

    Squeaky: That’s an interesting point, especially given that in the history of science the earliest and most influential scientists (Newton, for example) were also devout and active theists. Clearly, religion didn’t stop them from asking “why” and I would posit the reason they asked “why” was to learn more about their God’s creation.

    That’s a tremendously selective interpretation of the evidence. It overlooks the fact that for a thousand years mostly-Christian culture had discouraged scientific investigation or technological or political optimism. The Renaissance was largely driven by the rediscovery of ancient pagan cultures (especially the Athenians), which opened some people’s eyes to the facts of the Dark Ages and the subsequent disaster of the church’s domination of Western culture.

    So, sure, Newton did the absolutely standard thing of casting his own intellectual curiosity in terms of trying to figure out God’s Laws.

    The elephant in the room is that theistic thinking generally kept people from doing that for a thousand years.

    The rediscovery of ancient Athens showed many people that not everything they need to know is in the Bible—that the Bible is in fact a very poor guide to worldly knowledge, and that separating theology from Natural Philosophy is essential.

    Theism has been a disaster for intellectual inquiry, and a few “counterexamples” like Newton don’t change that fact. Given Christian dominance, of course many of the best intellects of Newton’s time were Christians—practically everybody was—but that is not anything like a controlled experiment. It’s history being written by the winners.

    Looking at scientists now, an interesting pattern emerges. A significant minority of scientists believes in god, but among outstanding scientists, the percentage is much, much smaller. Only a tiny minority of outstanding scientists believes in God—especially in fields where you get your nose rubbed in the relevant facts continually, such as cosmology or evolutionary biology. (The same is true of professional philosophers; they’re overwhelmingly atheists.)

    This just doesn’t look like a universe made by a God. (At least, not the sort of “god” it makes sense to worship—possibly a powerful and profoundly alien alien, but not really a “god.”)

    Sure, Newton was a theist, but that was centuries ago, before Darwin and most of the later discoveries that those two men enabled. Theism and Christianity really are a whole lot less intellectually respectable now than they were then, for good reasons. The conflicts between science and religion have become steadily clearer, in many ways. There’s a lot of converging evidence that theism and specifically Christianity are just bunk.

  134. #134 SJN
    February 12, 2006

    Gentle readers,
    I have been reading this blog for a while (love it). My training is in history with some ecology on the side. ANYONE who thinks that religion routinely produces a higher order of ethical framework has clearly not studied history to any depth. Quite the opposite. And I find the application of philosophical ethics to be more reliable in producing decent behavior than revealed commandment. So much for the need for religion to better society. That said, it is possible to beleive in an underlying unity in the universe without believing in some version of a celestial Sumerian king.

  135. #135 Christopher
    February 12, 2006

    “Corkscrew–the thing is, there can’t be scientific evidence for God because supernatural entities cannot be proven or disproven via scientific methods.”

    Wrong, but thank you for playing. Supernatural is a nonsense term, really.

    Why wouldn’t a supernatural thing be open to science? Science is the art of learning about a thing’s properties via observation.

    The only way a thing would not be open to science is if it could not be observed or had no distinct properties.

    Now, my contention is that if a thing can’t be observed or has no distinct characteristics, you can’t talk about it in a meaningful way. If you know a way to do this, then please tell me.

    Religion is a troubling thing because it’s a mishmash of empirical and ethical statements. A statement like “You should give to the poor” is indeed outside the realms of science. However, any statement of existence, such as “God exists” is open to science, and, really, can only be made after sceintific inquiry.

    One of the reasons religion is so bad is that it conflates these two very different kinds of statements, and esentially asks us to evaluate empirical questions thesame way we evaluate moral ones.

    Having said that, I would now like to take a moment to bash liberal Christianity.

    In some ways, I’m starting to dislike liberal Christianity more then the fundamentalist stripe. The reason for this is that it makes very little sense, and yet because the liberals share my beliefs I’m expected to be silent and not bring up the many problems with the religion. I’m starting to get to a breaking point.

    Okay, first the bible. What allegorical purpose does Genesis serve? What does it tell us that god created light before the sun? If it’s allegorical, why doesn’t it say so in the text? Did god not know how much pain and suffering religious literalism would cause? Was he powerless to stop it? Did he simply not care?

    If the answer to the last three questions is that he didn’t know or care or couldn’t stop it, doesn’t that throw the bible’s accuracy into question, since it posits a loving god who often intervenes with humanity?

    Why the first commandment? Is it because there really is only one god? If so, why did the one god let belief in other gods flourish? If not, why would he say there was only one? Either way, why did he make the statement that there was only one, knowing that it would lead to so much death and destruction?

    If belief in Christ is necesary to be saved, then why did god let so many people live and die without that belief? On the other hand, if it is not necessary, why introduce Christianity or even Judaism in the first place?

    Considering that all these policy descisions on god’s part ended up causing untold amounts of death and destruction, I’d really like to know the answers.

    Until I find somebody who can even begin to answer these questions, I have very little respect for the religion.

  136. #136 arc_legion
    February 12, 2006

    Christopher, I agree with virtually everything you’ve said, excelt the following:

    “Wrong, but thank you for playing. Supernatural is a nonsense term, really.

    Why wouldn’t a supernatural thing be open to science? Science is the art of learning about a thing’s properties via observation.”

    You’re missing the part where it requires natural explanation, as a matter of definition. That said, to observe something and assume that you can make sense of it in a systematic framework, where reproducibility is possible, assumes that it obeys laws. To reproduce an effect in this world binds it to the natural laws of this world. Supernatural entities could indeed obey their own laws, but for that reason they would fail to explain anything about the natural world, which is the focus of science.

  137. #137 jack*
    February 12, 2006

    Supernatural entities could indeed obey their own laws, but for that reason they would fail to explain anything about the natural world, which is the focus of science.

    No, Christopher is right — a “supernatural entity” is an oxymoron. In very abbreviated form, science is the study of the observable and measurable. Anything which has any observable effect on any part of the natural world is itself part of the natural world, and thus a subject of science. Therefore the supernatural, defined as being outside or beyond the natural, cannot have observable or measurable effects. And yet this is exactly what we mean by “entities.” It is amost completely nonsensical to talk about things that have can have no possible effect on anything.

  138. #138 arc_legion
    February 12, 2006

    Gah, Jack bags me. I made my own point against me 🙂

  139. #139 Daryl McCullough
    February 12, 2006

    I find all this bashing of liberal Christianity to be completely misguided and baffling. You find their beliefs incoherent or inconsistent? So what? Who cares? Why does it matter to you what other people believe? What is important is actions. When it comes down to what really matters, the liberal Christians are on the right side. What matters in civil society is not personal beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality. Jews, Christians, atheists, Buddhists, Moslems all disagree about those things, and yet they are all welcome in a modern secular society. As long as we agree on certain civic virtues of tolerance, the rule of law, etc. we can get along regardless of our divergences of opinions about God, reincarnation, Heaven, Hell, etc.

    Tolerance is an intellectually incoherent virtue, I suppose, but it is the virtue that made freedom possible, and yes, it is what made it possible for there to be people who are publicly atheist.

    You guys are lumping liberal Christians (and liberal Jews, Moslems, etc.) in with the fundamentalists. That’s a serious mistake. You need to judge people by their actions, not their professed beliefs. Do the liberal Christians support scientific research, even in the “controversial” areas of evolution, cosmology, etc.? Yes, they do. Do they support the rights of atheists? Yes, they do. Do they believe that law should reflect religious truths? No, they don’t.

    What are you guys complaining about? Complain if the liberal Christians persecute atheists. Complain if the liberal Christians interfere with the teaching of evolution or the Big Bang theory. But it isn’t clear to me that attacking liberal Christians makes any sense in this stage of the Culture Wars. At best, 25% of the US population is atheist; I don’t see how it makes sense to lump the other 75% together as “the enemy”.

  140. #140 PZ Myers
    February 12, 2006

    I do judge liberal christians by their actions.

    They perpetuate the idea that nonsense is reasonable.

    They enable the insertion of garbage into political discourse.

    It isn’t a matter of making 75% of the country “the enemy” — that’s not the idea at all. What I want is this god crap out of politics and out of the schools altogether. When liberal christians agree with that, we’re fine and happy. What we find instead, though, is the introduction of benign ideas with the untenable support of religion; for instance, the idea that we should try to help the poor because that’s what Jesus would do.

    Screw Jesus.

    We should do it because it is right, because the poor are our brothers and sisters. What I see too often from liberal Christians is pious sanctimony, arguments about doing the right things for all the wrong reasons.

    Get used to it. Nobody’s talking about persecuting Christians — I’m saying some of us are going to be rational and continue to point out the theological follies of all Christians.

  141. #141 Daryl McCullough
    February 12, 2006

    I do judge liberal christians by their actions. They perpetuate the idea that nonsense is reasonable.

    I’m talking about actions such as: throwing people in jail, trying to get evolution taken out of the textbooks, burning people as witches, persecuting homosexuals, etc. What actions are you talking about?

    We should do it because it is right, because the poor are our brothers and sisters.

    That’s a religious idea, as far as I’m concerned. There is nothing rational about desiring to help the poor.

    I’m saying some of us are going to be rational and continue to point out the theological follies of all Christians.

    I don’t see how it’s rational to do so.

  142. #142 John C. Randolph
    February 12, 2006

    At times like these, I like to refer back to the very wise words of the Sage of Baltimore, Henry Louis Mencken:

    “The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. ”

    and

    “The meaning of religious freedom, I fear, is sometimes greatly misapprehended. It is taken to be a sort of immunity, not merely from governmental control but also from public opinion. A dunderhead gets himself a long-tailed coat, rises behind the sacred desk, and emits such bilge as would gag a Hottentot. Is it to pass unchallenged? If so, then what we have is not religious freedom at all, but the most intolerable and outrageous variety of religious despotism. Any fool, once he is admitted to holy orders, becomes infallible. Any half-wit, by the simple device of ascribing his delusions to revelation, takes on an authority that is denied to all the rest of us. ”

    As for Ham’s “were you there?” line of BS, it’s just as easy to ask him the very same question about Jesus of Nazareth: “Do you know he ever existed? WHERE YOU THERE?”

    Hey, I wasn’t around when Columbus landed on his first Caribbean island, but I’m pretty confident that it happened.

    -jcr

  143. #143 PZ Myers
    February 12, 2006

    Ah, but think about it: you are judging me for criticizing Christians. Have I suggest that they should be burned or thrown in jail?

    The fact that you see charity as a religious idea is precisely the problem. I’m an atheist, one with a deep dislike of religion, yet I believe in helping people. I have this human trait called empathy that exists in the complete absence of religious feeling. That should make you pause and question whether religion has anything to do with it…but no. You just insist in the face of the obvious that it is a religious idea.

    That’s a problem with liberal Christians. The “Christian” part keeps getting in the way of recognizing simple humanity.

  144. #144 ferfuracious
    February 12, 2006

    I usually explain the differences between the ways religion is practised in the US and Australia by pointing out that only Britain’s criminals were shipped to Australia; her religious lunatics went to America.

    For example, some of our less conservative politicians wore shirts saying “Get your rosaries of my ovaries” during a parliamentary debate over an abortion pill with little public backlash.

    Having been born in Queensland, Ken Ham completely destroys any theory I might have held that Australia is safe from christian fundamentalism. Unfortunately Brisbane seems to be AiG’s foothold in Australia.

  145. #145 John C. Randolph
    February 12, 2006

    PZ,

    I wonder if you’ve come across the ideas that some of the Memetics crowd have floated, about god in an evolutionary context: that the “god” meme actually held some survival value for people in an ancestral environment with hostile neighbors.

    By invoking the supernatural, a leader could get people to act in concert, attacking their neighbors, or preventing them from utterly despairing in the event of a defeat. It also comes in handy for prohibiting anti-social behavior when people aren’t able to develop a more sophisticated basis for not robbing each other than “god says don’t do that.”

    -jcr

  146. #146 The Rev. Schmitt.
    February 12, 2006

    Ham convinced her otherwise. As her mother beamed, Emily repeated Ham’s mantra: “The Bible is the history book of the universe.”

    Jesus. That’s heart breaking.

  147. #147 Paul W.
    February 12, 2006

    PZ: We should do it because it is right, because the poor are our brothers and sisters.

    Daryl: That’s a religious idea, as far as I’m concerned. There is nothing rational about desiring to help the poor.

    Daryl, I’m not sure what you’re implying here. Are you implying that it is rational to be purely selfish, and irrational to be altruistic—or merely that basic drives are a different thing from means-end analyses? Or something else?

    I don’t think PZ is suggesting that a lack of religion will make people more basically altruistic at root—just that it won’t make them any less altruistic, either, and will make it easier to manifest altruism in sane, effective ways. (E.g., worrying more about basic social justice than about which orifices it’s acceptable to insert a penis into, assuming blastocysts have souls that make them persons, etc.)

    PZ: I’m saying some of us are going to be rational and continue to point out the theological follies of all Christians.

    Daryl: I don’t see how it’s rational to do so.

    Again, I don’t know what you mean. Do you mean that theological follies are not matters of rationality vs. irrationality, or that it’s not strategically wise to pick that battle, or what?

  148. #148 Paul W.
    February 12, 2006

    John,

    You may be interested in Pascal Boyer’s book Religion Explained. Boyer’s position is that religion is not primarily adaptive and selected-for, but a by-product of cognitive biases that are strongly selected-for, for other reasons. There’s a short article in the Skeptical Inquirer archive: http://www.csicop.org/si/2004-03/religion.html

    Like Boyer, I think that most of the overly adaptationist stories about religion are wrong; there may be some truth to them, but the main story of religion is about failures modes of cognitive heuristics and biases that are there for other, more basic reasons.

    For example, people are a bit paranoid and tend to attribute conscious agency to events more often than is rationally warranted. This makes evolutionary sense, because it’s usually better to guess wrongly that a conscious agent is involved in a mysterious event than to guess wrongly that one is not—the cost of a mistake is much higher if you overlook a person or other animal who is out to get you than if you mistakenly suspect that and there isn’t one.

    Religion thrives in the failure modes of such biases—e.g., when you suspect an agency, such as an angry being making thunder and lightning, and can’t falsify the hypothesis.

    You might also be interested in the work of Paul Bloom, who explains that we seem to be hardwired to have dualist intuitions. http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/bloom04/bloom04_index.html

    That makes sense, because evolution didn’t have a deep knowledge of psychology to wire into us, so that we could understand how minds are the working of incredibly complex machines; a rough-cut division between inanimate, animate, and conscious entities goes a long way toward a useful categorization of things in the world.

    (Boyer talks about similar issues in his book—how we are apparently hardwired with special-purpose abilities to understand different basic types of things in different ways—plain inanimate objects, tools, living things, animals, and people. We are not naturally endowed with a scientific understanding of these basic categories, which leads to systematic reasoning errors that religion exploits.)

  149. #149 Christopher
    February 12, 2006

    “I do judge liberal christians by their actions. They perpetuate the idea that nonsense is reasonable.

    I’m talking about actions such as: throwing people in jail, trying to get evolution taken out of the textbooks, burning people as witches, persecuting homosexuals, etc. What actions are you talking about?”

    Well, what you do right here. You say that we can’t criticise philosophy because it doesn’t matter. This lack of questioning is exactly what gives people like Ken Ham a foothold.

    Now, frankly, I don’t care if you have nonsense beliefs; If I met a Christian who said “I realise the religion is nonsense but I like the way it makes me feel” I’d stop arguing with them right there.

    The problem is that even liberal theists tend to act as though their ideas make perfect sense, while at the same time stifling criticism of those ideas. And an environment where some ideas are immune to criticism is incredibly toxic. It has few benefits and numerous drawbacks, and I just plain don’t like it.

    And, specifically to Christinity, the religion has an incredibly strong authoritarian streak. Although many Christians respect other religions, it takes some incredible mental gymnastics to explain why they should have that respect. The bible has nothing but scorn for other religions.

    And this goes for other concepts like Democracy or capitalism. It’s hard to find biblical support for these ideas.

    When you have a violent authoritarian philosphy that is considered to be the underpinning of all morality and philosophy, it’s very hard to believe that it’s not at least a little bit dangerous.

  150. #150 yagwara
    February 13, 2006

    Waaayy at the top of this thread, I asked “why, why, WHY is homeschooling legal?”, prompting some defenses of homeschooling. As a university professor, I’m well aware of the mediocre level of education at many public (and private) schools, and I’ve known home-schooled students whose parents have done a great job.

    But.

    As a home schooled student,
    1. You are getting almost all instruction from, or filtered through, one or maybe two people. It doesn’t matter if you make an effort to seek out many opinions and points of view. It’s all being framed by ONE individual.
    2. You are opting out of engaging with the society. Nobody (well, nobody reasonable) wants a totalitarian society where everyone is forcefully indoctrinated, catchy as some of those “Chairman Mao is wise” tunes are. But public school is not totalitarianism; it is accepting the fact that we live in a society and that we have to deal with each other. An adult can make the choice to opt out, but children should be given the opportunity to choose.

    Of course, not being an American, I overlooked the possibility that the entire public school might be run by batshit psychos…

  151. #151 yagwara
    February 13, 2006

    I should have added the most important reason against homeschooling,

    3. Protecting children against homeschool indoctrination is, I think, ethically more important than allowing some children its successes.

    But I think PZ or someone may have said this already above.

  152. #152 Timothy Chase
    February 13, 2006

    PZ wrote:

    What I want is this god crap out of politics and out of the schools altogether. When liberal christians agree with that, we’re fine and happy. What we find instead, though, is the introduction of benign ideas with the untenable support of religion; for instance, the idea that we should try to help the poor because that’s what Jesus would do.

    We should do it because it is right, because the poor are our brothers and sisters….

    This is something I strongly agree with. There has to be the Separation of State and Church, and religion should be kept separate from politics. I suppose the way that I would put this is in terms of the humanity which we share and the good of humanity.

    For example, if one argues for helping the poor or reducing trade barriers or canceling debts with third world countries, in political discourse, this needs to be phrased and understood principally in terms of our common humanity. The poor are people, they are members of humanity, and given this, we should seek to help them.

    Likewise, when we argue that environmental concerns are important, that we must reduce global warming, for example, it is natural for liberal christians to argue for this on the basis that the world is a precious gift which God entrusted to us, but expects us to take care of. I can understand the sentiment. However, in the context of political discourse, this needs to be phrased and understood principally in terms of humanity itself — if we permit global warming to take place, it may shut-down the thermohaline, result in the extinction of species upon which we depend, result in cascading failures of ecological systems, greatly reduce the food which is available with which we feed humanity, and cause diseases which are currently limited to the tropics to move northward so that they even threaten our more advanced nations.

    In a similar vein, one can argue that the poverty of third world nations reduces their ability to cope with outbreaks of various diseases, makes it more likely that those diseases will acquire resistance to the drugs we have available, and will likewise threaten even our most advanced nations. As such, third world poverty is a problem which we should be concerned with because of the fact that the poor share our humanity, but it is also a problem which we should be concerned with because, in various ways, its existence threatens all of humanity.

    However, given the fact that liberal christians are probably going to be around for a while and the fact that they will continue to ultimately frame moral issues in religious terms (after all, why is it right to help the poor? in their view, because one should “love thy neighbor as thyself,” because one should “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), I would expect them to continue to think of issues first within a religious and moral context and then in a secular and political context.

    But why would they wish to keep the two separate? I can think of a number of reasons. First, to defend the Separation of Church and State. They can see as well as we can the threat which is posed by the Religious Right, the threat of a theocracy organized along Old Testament lines. To the extent that they allow the boundary between religion and politics to become blurred, they will help to facilitate moves by the Religious Right to do the same. Second, because when an organization is secular, it can uphold values shared by all, regardless of their religious or philosophical beliefs. Such organizations can appeal essentially to everyone, christian, muslim, buddhist, humanist, or atheist. Secular organizations can bring people together, stressing the unity of humanity, and at the same time, due to their broad appeal and broad base, achieve greater economies and be more efficient.

    Now note that I am not suggesting any endorsement of or support for the views of liberal christians. Their views, which they will hold whether we are here or not, will largely remain their views. However, I believe that despite the differences which we have with them, cooperation is possible without compromising anyone’s principles if done the right way. It is largely a matter of how you carve things, a division of labor, if you wish. (As in many human endeavors, it is not simply a question of what you do, but how you do it that matters.)

    In any case, I have been working on a piece which I will be posting either tomorrow or the day after. I believe that in some ways we may have been talking past one-another and I think that a somewhat longer essay will get across more fully what we have in common and why I take a somewhat different view of religious belief. Since it is longer, I will be breaking it up into pieces and posting it on my own blog. You will of course be welcome and invited to comment, but I want you to feel under no obligation to do so. I have in mind a number of ideas for the essay, of how it may function, and even if you decide to pass it up, I believe it will still be worth writing.

    Take care.

  153. #153 Terrible Tommy Murray
    February 13, 2006

    Once again, thank the GODS, I’m a Pagan! WE think G*D is a girl and made the ultimate artwork, evolution. The more I know of evolution, the more I believe in G*D as a benevolent mother and the LESS I believe Christianity.
    Anyway, kindred, the forces motivating this enfecalation of the Creationist Crusade are localized in two men and one sort-of man:
    Anti-pope Jack Thomas the First, comic-maven JT Chick, called the Brown Pope and St. Jack the Tripper. To view his mass insanity, go to http://www.chick.com.
    Grand Inquisitor “Dr.” Kent Hovind, emperor of Creationist claims. He’s at http://www.drdino.com. An excellent website about his Protestant Inquisition is at http://www.kent-hovind.com/.
    The third, not the most notable or notorious, but the very essence of the mind-disease, Protestant Fundamentalist Christianity, is The Prophet St. Steven Van Nattan, located at http://www.blessedquietness.com. NOTE: “Blessed Quietness” is to, well, blessed quietness, as creation science is to science. I STRONGLY recommend hitting your mute button, unless you REALLY groove on trite Protestant hymns played on those damnable “plingety-pling” fake piano patches: Every single page thrusts them upon you!
    Lastly, I cannot recommend highly enough an excellent site on Satanic Panic, the focus of these eminently-fatal clowns not many years ago, found at English, http://users.cybercity.dk/~ccc44406/smwane/English.htm#People. Also check out some excellent articles by Kerr Cuhulain, located at http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=cabc&c=whs&id=5020.
    Blessed Bea, Andy, Opie and Barney. But NOT Gomer; he’s GAY!

  154. #154 Keith Douglas
    February 13, 2006

    BTW, about the guys involved in the scientific revolution. It is true that almost all of them were theists. Were they all Christian? Probably not, at least if their views had been public and the social sanctioning aspect of Christianity had been in play. That is, almost all of them would have been formally heretics. (This doesn’t say science and Christianity are compatible anymore than a physician smoking makes for an argument for the safety or healthiness of smoking.)

  155. #155 Paul W.
    February 13, 2006

    BTW, about the guys involved in the scientific revolution. It is true that almost all of them were theists. Were they all Christian? Probably not, at least if their views had been public and the social sanctioning aspect of Christianity had been in play. That is, almost all of them would have been formally heretics.

    Newton, in particular, was a heretic. He didn’t believe in the Trinity, and was way too involved in alchemy.

    I suspect his success as a scientist is no more attributable to his Christian beliefs than to his alchemical ones. He succeeded despite such backward magical thinking, not because of it—and it limited the scope of his successes. There were only certain domains in which Newton was willing to imagine what we’d call Newtonian explanations. For example, he vehemently disagreed with Leibniz about the mind being mechanical, too, and labeled Leibniz a heretic for suggesting it.

    On that and several other theologically loaded points—e.g., the possibility of a relativistic theory of mechanics that would work at least as well as Newton’s “God’s Eye” absolute space—Leibniz was later vindicated.

    Newton’s taking alchemy seriously, and wasting an enormous amount of time on it, was probably not unrelated to his being a Christian, as opposed to an agnostic or atheist.

    If I recall correctly, Newton wrote several times as much about alchemy as about what we’d regard as “real” science; most of it came to nothing and was never published. It was all downhill after the Principia, because Newton let theology and alchemy get the better of his rationalism—as several of his contemporaries opined at the time, urging him to go back to doing the good stuff. What a waste of one of the greatest minds of all time.

    (If it weren’t for that, maybe Newton would have come up with a theory of evolution by natural selection, too!)

  156. #156 GH
    February 13, 2006

    It’s funny you can insult someones momma and nobody beats an eyelash, say someones supernatural views are BS and get 135 posts.

    Second, he realizes that that insofar as his religious views are religious and do not come into conflict with empirical science, no empirical evidence can ever count against those views.

    This is a totally ignorant claim. It may be true of Deism but the majority of the worlds religions make empirical claims.

    Secondly it’s just funny how one prior poster said he did an ‘exhaustive’ bible study and found it to be ‘old earth’. The bible, if one is honest, is clearly young Earth. And thats fine.

    The bigger question and the root of the problem is WHY OH WHY do people feel the need to make this book match up with the world to the point that one will lie and twist very obvious meaning found in Genesis?

  157. #157 Julie
    February 13, 2006

    Timothy said-“There has to be the Separation of State and Church, and religion should be kept separate from politics.”

    How do you separate religion from politics? Do you do it the same way you separate religious views from scientific evidence?

    As long as religion exists it will be part of politics. There will always be people who vote in particular ways because their church/deity tells them that is how it should be. To divorce one’s religious views from one’s political views or scientific views is to create cognitive dissonance.

    Why do you think it is possible to remove god from politics? If god is the foundation of your worldview and god will punish you for doing bad things, such as supporting people who ore bad, then you must vote for candidates who are moral within your framework i.e. Christians.

    Just as an aside to the Christians who don’t try to force their beliefs on others.
    If you are Christian (I mean you really believe in Christ as the lord and savior) and you believe everyone else has a right to their own worldview and you make no effort to convert atheists, pagans and other assorted heathens to Christianity, then you are commiting a horrifying crime within your worldview. All those heathens you let go about their lives are condemned to Hell for all eternity. As a Christian, you must believe this. Why are you not trying to convert all of the atheists on this blog? If you don’t believe non-Christians are going to Hell, then you’re not really Christian.

  158. #158 Julie
    February 13, 2006

    That post sounds a little more incendiary than I meant it to be. My real point at the end is how do you make your religious views agree with a doctrine of tolerance?

  159. #159 Tara Mobley
    February 13, 2006

    Christopher Said:

    Now, frankly, I don’t care if you have nonsense beliefs; If I met a Christian who said “I realise the religion is nonsense but I like the way it makes me feel” I’d stop arguing with them right there.

    I’m a liberal Christian who thinks that most, if not all, religious texts are a combination of myths, legends, and falsified history (I only say “most” because sometimes it’s a different mix, but it’s all still stories) and I follow my faith, or at least the rituals of it, because of the comfort and feeling of connection to the past it gives me. This is probably why my husband says I’m really an agnostic.

  160. #160 bitchphd
    February 13, 2006

    My excuse for Christianity:

    The problem isn’t “god,” or even religion. The problem is people’s inability to distinguish between metaphoric thinking and literal thinking. To be fair, PZ, I think you’re doing it yourself in this post: the truth of science doesn’t depend on a refusal of metaphor (science itself uses metaphors all the time). Reason and metaphor are simply two different modes of thought. Religion is a metaphorical mode of thinking, one that many people find very powerful and important (as metaphorical thinking is–e.g. literature). The problem comes when people think that the one has to cancel out the other.

    Now, I’ll have to think myself on the question of whether capital-G “God” is, itself, a metaphor for the idea that metaphors must be and are literal. If this is the case, then I agree with your post. But I think that the divide between Christian apologists and Christian fundies lies there: does one see God as an assertion of the literalness of metaphor (to be fair, it’s Jesus as Son of God that’s really the culprit there), or does one see God as a metaphor, without the need to make the metaphor literal by asserting that metaphors are the *only* kind of truth?

  161. #161 Ocellated
    February 13, 2006

    PZ, I share your pain, but I don’t agree with your conclusions. Yeah, I’m one of those stupid Christians who can’t cure my “disease” as you refer to it.

    Did you ever think the problem wasn’t religion but perhaps Ken Ham? (It’s a rhetorical question. I know how you’d answer).

    Is science and stem cell research a problem that needs “fixing”? Or was Hwang Woo Suk the real problem?

    You can’t point to Ken Ham and lunacy like this to say all religion is evil. No, Ken Ham and those like him are the problem.

  162. #162 Paul W.
    February 13, 2006

    bitchphd,

    I think the problem with viewing this stuff as metaphor is that it’s generally not clear or agreed what it’s a metaphor for, or how that could make rational or moral sense at all.

    So, for example, the Jesus myth is just irreducibly a mess; the whole Sacrifice and Salvation concept is just incoherent or some worse kind of crazy.

    A metaphor can’t be “true” unless it fullfills three requirements. There has to be (1) a concrete domain that’s understood, (2) a mapping between that domain and the target domain that’s supposed to be illuminated, and (3) a lesson that makes sense, on that mapping, in the target domain.

    Failing that, you don’t really have a metaphor that works well enough to be anything like “true”—what you have is a metaphor that’s more or less wrong, or misleading, or just hopelessly ambigous and contradictory.

    That makes the non-literal interpretation of scripture into a projective test—more like interpreting a Rorschach inkblot, without any rules as to what it really means.

    Being “non-literal” or “metaphorical” doesn’t get scripture off the hook for being wrong or at least profoundly and dangerously messed up.

    The “metaphorical” interpretation of scripture is no less messed up than the literal interpretation—just harder to discuss because most people don’t have a vocabulary for discussing metaphor, or don’t really apply that carefully to scripture. There’s a lot of scripture that simply doesn’t have any sane or true interpretation that isn’t just freely making stuff up.

    Calling scripture “metaphorical” is often just metaphorical; it ends up being a way to get profoundly messed-up scripture off the hook, by refusing to see the very real contradictions and errors.

  163. #163 Timothy Chase
    February 13, 2006

    GH wrote:

    Timothy said-“There has to be the Separation of State and Church, and religion should be kept separate from politics.”

    How do you separate religion from politics?…

    As long as religion exists it will be part of politics. There will always be people who vote in particular ways because their church/deity tells them that is how it should be. To divorce one’s religious views from one’s political views or scientific views is to create cognitive dissonance.

    Why do you think it is possible to remove god from politics? If god is the foundation of your worldview and god will punish you for doing bad things, such as supporting people who ore bad, then you must vote for candidates who are moral within your framework i.e. Christians….

    As I see it, the Religious Right with their authoritarian model (which incidentally, has been a considerable political force since Ronald Reagan was first elected) are the ones who are primarily concerned with attaining political power. It is more or less necessitated by their worldview and tends to lean towards the Old Testament.

    As for the religious left, they haven’t been much of a political force (other than the Catholic Church, which seems to be more of a mixed case, such as on the issues of abortion, euthenasia, and stem cell research) other than through organizations which are primary secular, such as Americans United for the Separation of Chruch and State (founded by Reverend Barry Lynn) and the ACLU. Even in the case of Evolution Sundary, the problem they were addressing was cultural which they addressed by cultural means. They were trying to keep religion out of politics and out of the schools. A large part of the reason why they haven’t been such a political force trying to achieve political power has a great deal to do with their general worldview. First, they view religion as primarily personal, second, there is the emphasis upon community, and third, there is the emphasis upon helping people, which involves a fair amount of emphasis upon the unity of humanity, of seeing past the differences.

    However, seeing the success of the Religious Right, the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly inclined towards the creation of a Religious Left as a political force as a kind of counterbalance to the Religious Right. Largely fearing the consequences of the extreme right remaining in power, the appeal of this is increasing over time for liberal christians.

    But if a broader, essentially secular approach (such as what a briefly suggested) which fully recognizes the Separation of Church and State, I suspect it will be more consonant with the values of liberal christians, have broader appeal, be better able to cooperate at an international level with other organizations. It can be based upon secular values which are broadly accepted, even if liberal christians view such values as ultimately derivative of values which they regard as more fundamental and rooted in their religious views. By remaining secular at the political level, it will not blur the Separation of Church and State, and will therefore in no way facilitate the eradication of this distinction — which would otherwise work to the advantage of those who are trying to establish a theocracy.

    Oh, and in case you haven’t noticed, liberal christians have never really been all that big on punishment or hell and damnation. That is much more a part of the worldview of the Religious Right.

    As for keeping religion and science separate, I have some concerns there as well, but I will address that later.

  164. #164 GH
    February 13, 2006

    But I think that the divide between Christian apologists and Christian fundies lies there:

    You can’t point to Ken Ham and lunacy like this to say all religion is evil. No, Ken Ham and those like him are the problem.

    On this issue maybe but there are many more.

  165. #165 Timothy Chase
    February 13, 2006

    Sorry — I did it again

    I was responding to Julie, not GH in my post two posts up.

  166. #166 Dan
    February 13, 2006

    Max Udargo, way the hell up there ^:

    And besides, no matter how desperately the fundamentalists try, they are going to lose with kids because the forces of science and reason have an unbeatable, unstoppable champion on their side: the dinosaur.

    For me it wasn’t dinosaurs, but cosmology and astronomy, that convinced me of the unassailability of science and reason. Thank $deity for public schools.

  167. #167 Timothy Chase
    February 13, 2006

    Julie wrote:

    That post sounds a little more incendiary than I meant it to be. My real point at the end is how do you make your religious views agree with a doctrine of tolerance?

    Honestly, this is a very good question.

    There exists a tension in nearly all religions where they tend to emphasize the unity of humanity and some form of the golden rule, but there also exists a real tendency to view the world as being divided into us vs. them, those who adhere to the religion, and those who do not. A fairly conventional anthropological view would regard the latter as a relic of religion’s roots in tribal phenomena. Liberal christians will emphasize the unity of humanity and the golden rule, whereas those on the religious right will tend to emphasize the division of humanity into us vs. them. The Right insists upon a more literalistic interpretation of the bible, the left insists upon a more allegorical interpretation. I suspect that liberal christians have a number of strategies for resolving this tension, in general, partly rooted in their more allegorical approach. But in any case, I believe this conflict is theirs to resolve.

  168. #168 Great White Wonder
    February 13, 2006

    PZ

    So we do nothing. We let the infection simmer along, encouraging our children to get exposed to it, praising it, howling in anger at those who dare to say the obvious and point out that it’s a poison, a mind-killer, vacuous noise and evil nonsense. We let the absurdity flourish.

    And then when some folks like the Honest Science Education supporters in Wisconsin propose a bill to keep religious crap out of science classes, PZ takes a crap on it, runs away, and pretends it doesn’t exist.

    So much for “doing something.”

    You’ve ranted yourself into a spotlight of sorts, PZ. Now what are you going to do? Just keep ranting?

    Seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

  169. #169 Anonymous
    February 13, 2006

    Timothy wrote:

    “… “I am also saying that to the extent a person believes in the existence of God – or divinity of Christ, or the perfection of the Koran as the word of Allah, or any other religious dogma – that person is suspending reason” …

    This is simply a very good expression of the kind of argument I see from militant atheists (i.e., those who insist that everyone else give up their religious beliefs) all the time.”

    I find this disingenuous.

    First since saying that a religious person suspends reason doesn’t mean to say that person isn’t free to make up his mind. It must be tolerated that criticism is levered at religion as well as other human activities.

    Second, since as Julie and Timothy says, religion itself is conflicted in this question, so religious people has to explicitly show their tolerance.

    On the topic of suspension of reason, I’m currently trying to explore the question of separation of science and religion. It’s often said that they “occupy different magistreria”.

    Is that selfevident?

    – The method of science says that it’s based on facts, but not what questions it can explore. Only by using the method will we learn what quations it can answer.
    – Historically there has been a conflict between science and religion, and it isn’t obvious that it’s over.

    I’m trying to list the ways science can say stuff about religion:

    A. If we take religion for granted.

    1. Science is based on observational facts on nature which has trumped religious ideas on nature. Religion has backed off from making statements on nature, instead deals with supernatural statements.

    2. Science says supernatural statements can’t be base for a scientific theory, since there are no observations to base such a theory on. Religion has backed off from making statements on science, instead deals with faith statements.

    3. Science observes plausible theories need to be wetted by observations, otherwise the theory structure tends to be bad. Religion has backed off from claiming wellstructured idea.

    4. Science says best theory without supernatural observations is that natural phenomena is enough to explain observations and theories on them, ie ‘what is’. It’s Occams razor, however the theory can’t be proved by using theories on supernaturals. Religion has backed off from claiming plausible idea.

    B. If we don’t take religion for granted.
    5. Science says we should not make theories without observations. Religion has backed off from claiming sane idea.

    6. Science observes that all natural phenomena satisfies simple rules like energy (or probability) conservation.

    (((The first follows generally from Noether’s theorem on symplectic manifolds (smooth manifolds with 2-forms, for example from Hamiltonian formulation of classical mechanics): energy is conserved iff the physical laws are invariant under time translations (if their form does not depend on time).)))

    So we can single out anatural phenomena as observations of exceptions from usual natural behaviour where energy appears or disappears from nature. Such anatural phenomena incorporates any realistic idea of supernaturals interaction with nature, without describing supernaturals as such.

    Since Popper we know that falsifiability and provisional theories based on decreasing probability of uncertainty is still scientific. Physics is satisfied with 5-sigma proofs.

    (((By observations of actions of fundamental longrange forces like EM fields and gravity anaturals can be proved nonexisting with any accuracy wanted. For example by probing some simple gravitational experiments and lots of different chemical ones, around the world and over time. By isotropy (and since religion insists Earth is privilegied) the scientific theory would be that anaturals don’t exist.)))

    Scientific could perhaps say that religion has to back off from claiming truthful idea.

    The list was fun to do but stops here currently, but there is perhaps no point to continue. If 6 is correct, it’s time to start the observations instead. Is the idea of letting effects of anaturals incorporate supernaturals plausible? I don’t see why not.

  170. #170 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 13, 2006

    Uuups, some mistakes:

    – It’s mine post.

    “what quations it can answer” – what questions it can answer

    “(and since religion insists Earth is privilegied)” – (but religion insists Earth is privilegied anyway)

  171. #171 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 13, 2006

    More mistakes:

    “5. Science says we should not make theories without observations. Religion has backed off from claiming sane idea.” – Religion _should_ back off …

    “Scientific could perhaps say” – Science could perhaps say

    Obviously long past bedtime again…

  172. #172 bitchphd
    February 13, 2006

    I think the problem with viewing this stuff as metaphor is that it’s generally not clear or agreed what it’s a metaphor for, or how that could make rational or moral sense at all.

    So, for example, the Jesus myth is just irreducibly a mess; the whole Sacrifice and Salvation concept is just incoherent or some worse kind of crazy.

    I think you’re mistaking metaphor for allegory. A metaphor isn’t, and doesn’t have to be logical to make sense: the entire point of metaphor is that it eludes clear, rational translation. That’s why there is no definitive reading of any half-decent literary text. And that’s why I say that metaphorical thinking is not a subset of rationality, but an entirely different mode of thought (which we all have, by the way). Something can make sense metaphorically without making sense rationally: I’d say the experience of reading a novel or poem and saying it “just feels true” is an expression of that. You can then go on to try to explain why, to try to analyze the thing, and you can get pretty far with that if you know how to do it well. But no analysis is going to capture the essence of the thing, because analysis requires shifting over to a more logical kind of thinking.

  173. #173 Paul W.
    February 14, 2006

    Me: I think the problem with viewing this stuff as metaphor is that it’s generally not clear or agreed what it’s a metaphor for, or how that could make rational or moral sense at all.

    So, for example, the Jesus myth is just irreducibly a mess; the whole Sacrifice and Salvation concept is just incoherent or some worse kind of crazy.

    bitchphd: I think you’re mistaking metaphor for allegory.

    No, I’m talking about metaphor, and I’m not mistaking it for allegory. I’m talking about literary metaphor in the straightforward sense, and the more general cognitive mechanisms of metaphor. (Which George Lakoff talks about in his books Metaphors we Live By and Women, Fire and Dangerous Things.)

    Here’s a simple metaphor: “My girlfriend was stung by a remark I made about her cooking.”

    She wasn’t literally, physically stung, as by a hard slap or a bee injecting venom. The metaphor conveys something truthful, though—she reacted viscerally as though stung: she felt a sudden, intense, negative emotion, likely making her feel attacked without warning, etc.

    That’s a good metaphor, under the appropriate circumstances, because it is fairly clear what it means and what it does not mean. (It does not mean that I physically hit or injected anybody.)

    A metaphor isn’t, and doesn’t have to be logical to make sense: the entire point of metaphor is that it eludes clear, rational translation.

    I disagree. A good metaphor generally efficiently, vividly and clearly conveys something that does make rational sense, or something very much like it. Metaphor and rationality are not generally opposed; if they are, something is wrong.

    That’s why there is no definitive reading of any half-decent literary text. And that’s why I say that metaphorical thinking is not a subset of rationality, but an entirely different mode of thought (which we all have, by the way).

    I think you are mostly mistaken there. We do all have a metaphorical mode of thought, but it isn’t divorced from rationality; the interplay of metaphorical thought and more obviously logical thought is part of our overall rationality. Good metaphors make sense, making meaning clear; bad ones bring in red herrings, evoke inappropriate responses, and obscure more than they reveal.

    Something can make sense metaphorically without making sense rationally: I’d say the experience of reading a novel or poem and saying it “just feels true” is an expression of that. You can then go on to try to explain why, to try to analyze the thing, and you can get pretty far with that if you know how to do it well. But no analysis is going to capture the essence of the thing, because analysis requires shifting over to a more logical kind of thinking.

    I think I disagree, mostly, for the present purposes. Certainly it is very difficult to explicate all of the implications of a metaphor, and many metaphors have a certain degree of ambiguity—different readers will process them in somewhat different ways.

    But I wouldn’t say that you can’t analytically capture the essence of a good metaphor—I’d say that the essence is what you can capture, even if you miss some of the subtleties and nuances, which you might call the rich “texture.”

    In other words, if metaphors are used well, to convey actual truth, you may not be able to analytically translate all of the subtle artistry that brings a point home with emotive force—but you should be able to get the point. You should understand what’s been said, rather than simply being taken for an emotional ride.

    So when it comes to scripture, I’d say that no, you can’t write out the beauty and artistry of scripture in analytical language, with any precision, but you should be able to translate what the scripture is attempting to convey as truth.

    If you can’t, it may be great art with evocative imagery that evokes rich and subtle responses, which vary from reader to reader, but it’s bad scripture—it’s not good at communicating important truths to its audience.

    In my view, the Bible is full of bad metaphors that evoke certain responses, e.g., an attitude toward God as a father, or Jesus’s sacrifice as a payment for a debt incurred by somebody in the family and inherited by their survivors. These metaphors generally conceal more than they convey, such as the injustice of substitutional punishment for “sins” inherited by people who didn’t commit them in the first place. And that’s no accident; one function of such metaphors is to conceal the basic flaw at the heart of Judeo-Christian theology—the Problem of Evil.

    Many of the metaphors in the Bible are systematically used to evoke certain emotional responses and attitudes—responses and attitudes that are not actually appropriate, if you understand what’s being talked about. In that sense, the Bible is full of very bad metaphors, of the kind of metaphors that you see in evil propaganda. (e.g., “Jews are Vermin” in Nazi propaganda.)

    The fact that scriptural language is often metaphorical doesn’t get scripture off the hook for meaning something in particular, and being right about it. For example, when talking about sin and punishment, it should convey a theory of justice that makes some kind of sense that doesn’t evaporate on rational reflection.

    The Bible is pretty clear on a number of crucial points that are flatly contradictory. There’s no excusing that by saying that it’s “metaphorical” and escapes rational analysis. It tries to escape rational analysis, but is clearly committed to important points that are simply false.

  174. #174 Timothy Chase
    February 14, 2006

    I had written:

    I certainly don’t mean to single you out. This is simply a very good expression of the kind of argument I see from militant atheists (i.e., those who insist that everyone else give up their religious beliefs) all the time. And as I am not singling you out, I welcome anyone to respond who believes that they can do so.

    [Then I proceded to put forward some questions — principally to call attention to some issues, although at a fairly informal level. Time constraints. Blah!]

    anonymous wrote:

    I find this disingenuous.

    What I have particular difficulty with is with those who expect all knowledge to be like empirical science. Whether or not religious beliefs qualify as a form of knowledge is actually a somewhat different matter, but to discount these beliefs simply because it does not fit the model of empirical science is a mistake — in much the same way as discounting ethics as a matter of principle simply because ethical statements are not subject to any empirical demonstration would be.

    Consider the relationship between ends and means. Once one has chosen certain ends, one can argue empirically about the means of achieving those ends, but the choice of ends is not subject of empirical demonstration — except insofar as those ends serve as the means to other ends. And as means have value only insofar as they are means to ends which already have value, an infinite regress is not possible since no value would be confered to any given means in the first place. Thus for values to exist, something must have value in itself (that is, not as a means to an end), but its value cannot be susceptible to empirical demonstration, and the choice of one end in itself over another or of their relative weights cannot be regarded as the proper subject matter of empirical science.

    First since saying that a religious person suspends reason doesn’t mean to say that person isn’t free to make up his mind. It must be tolerated that criticism is levered at religion as well as other human activities.

    As someone who is not religious, I would say that if the non-religious expect tolerance, they should show tolerance. I can understand criticism per se. But it sometimes gets rather shrill and seems misdirected, particularly in the case of those who would create stereotypes based upon the behavior of fundamentalists and automatically apply them to far more enlightened religious individuals and organizations. I see this as particularly unfortunate when it is applied to people who are doing their best in the performance of a service which helps to preserve the Separation of Church and State and thereby prevent a theocracy when those who are not religious cannot themselves perform the same service for themselves.

    Second, since as Julie and Timothy says, religion itself is conflicted in this question, so religious people has to explicitly show their tolerance.

    Which religious people? Fundamentalists or liberal christians? I certainly wouldn’t want to lump together Reverend Barry Lynn (who founded Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) and Ken Miller with the Dominionists — many of whom look forward to the extermination of even other fundamentalists if they are not Dominionists. From what I have seen, liberal christians are fairly tolerant. If someone were to equivocate between religious extremists and tolerant religious people, then in all likelihood that individual would forefeit the right to have any of their claims regarding ethics taken seriously. Wouldn’t you agree?

    On the topic of suspension of reason, I’m currently trying to explore the question of separation of science and religion. It’s often said that they “occupy different magistreria”.

    Is that self-evident?

    As someone who majored in philosophy and devoted considerable time to epistemology, I would argue that very little if anything is self-evident. However, I would argue that the different magisteria approach is fairly solid, and in one form or another, has been so since the time of David Hume. Whether this gives religion some sort of a free pass is quite a different matter. I would argue that the claims of religion (so long as these claims are not empirical in nature) cannot be addressed by science, but may very well be something that can be addressed by philosophy, and moreover, if they are to be addressed, this is where they should be addressed. But in any case, it is always possible to remain civil.

    – The method of science says that it’s based on facts, but not what questions it can explore. Only by using the method will we learn what quations it can answer.

    If all logical analysis were irrelevant, I suppose so. But I certainly wouldn’t attempt to answer a problem of arithematic by means of either empirical induction or Bayesian analysis, or if I had a problem which was susceptible to mathematical induction, I wouldn’t see any point in treating it as if it were falsifiable — particularly once it was proven.

    1. Science is based on observational facts on nature which has trumped religious ideas on nature. Religion has backed off from making statements on nature, instead deals with supernatural statements.

    Supernatural? I suppose. Alternatively, rather than making empirical propositions, it might relegate itself to metaphysical propositions of one form or another, or alternatively, make use ethical propositions. None of these would be susceptible to empirical demonstration, but at least with regard to ethical statements, nearly anyone would consider them meaningful (although in early twentieth century empiricism, even this was brought into question), and broadly regarded as quite indispensible. Likewise, one could argue that empirical statements are themselves meaningless in the absence of meaningful metaphysical statements, but that any set of empirical statements will leave one’s most fundamental metaphysical statements underdetermined.

    2. Science says supernatural statements can’t be base for a scientific theory, since there are no observations to base such a theory on. Religion has backed off from making statements on science, instead deals with faith statements.

    Not science. Methodological naturalism — which is a basic methodological position which is presumably presupposed by empirical science — would eliminate the explanation of observable phenomena by reference to supernatural causes. (But this point is arguable: I myself strongly suspect that any theory based upon supernatural causes which is subject to repeated use of the hypothetico-deductive method will result in the transformation of its supernatural causes into a natural causes, and that as such, even the assumption of methodological naturalism is unnecessary.) In any case, the rest of your critique assumes that those who are religious give up methodological naturalism, and this certainly needn’t be the case. They would, however, have to give up metaphysical naturalism simply in order to be religious. At the same time, I will touch upon a couple of issues since they might be of interest to you.

    4. Science says best theory without supernatural observations is that natural phenomena is enough to explain observations and theories on them, ie ‘what is’. It’s Occams razor, however the theory can’t be proved by using theories on supernaturals. Religion has backed off from claiming plausible idea.

    Occam’s razor — when two theories explain the same phenomena, choose the simplest.

    6. Science observes that all natural phenomena satisfies simple rules like energy (or probability) conservation.

    (((The first follows generally from Noether’s theorem on symplectic manifolds (smooth manifolds with 2-forms, for example from Hamiltonian formulation of classical mechanics): energy is conserved iff the physical laws are invariant under time translations (if their form does not depend on time).))

    Sounds good to me. Where you have symmetry, you have conservation. The rate of change in a quantity as measured over a volume plus the integral of the corresponding flux over a closed surface which defines the volume equals zero.

    Of course, if the topology of spacetime were non-trivial (e.g., like a Mobius strip), things could get decidedly more complicated. If spacetime were twisted so that space lacked orientability, then magnetic charge would not be conserved. For a different twist, one might try a spacetime which lacked temporal orientability, in which case electric charge would not be conserved.

    Alternatively, one could argue that even in spacetime where the topology is trivial that momentum and energy are not conserved, at least over suitably short distances and durations — simply as a result of Heisenberg’s uncertainty priniciple. Likewise, one might ask exactly how to define a closed surface where the topological structure of spacetime is no longer well-defined, such as at the Planck-Wheeler level.

    But all of this is fairly esoteric, not really something to worry about, although topology does in fact play an important role in some physical theories.

    Since Popper we know that falsifiability and provisional theories based on decreasing probability of uncertainty is still scientific. Physics is satisfied with 5-sigma proofs.

    This isn’t really relevant to criticizing Popper, at least with respect to interpreting the principle of falsifiability as a line of demarcation. The essential question is whether evidence could count against a given statement to any degree, not simply within so many standard deviations, etc. In the case of metaphysical or ethical statements, it would appear that evidence cannot.

    Nevertheless, we would want to regard ethical (and most likely metaphysical) statements as meaningful, and in many cases as true. Statements like, “Life is valuable.” However, there would seem to be problems with Popper’s approach — due to coherentialist elements in our scientific knowledge which exist between different scientific theories. We can probably get into that a little later.

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind the fact that I didn’t deal with everything in as much detail, but I thought some points were more a little more central than others. Take care of them, and the more derivative issues tend to fall into place.

  175. #175 Paul W.
    February 14, 2006

    What I have particular difficulty with is with those who expect all knowledge to be like empirical science.

    I’m not sure who you’re talking about here. I, for one, don’t make a big distinction between science and philosophy, and I don’t think that’s tenable in the way many people do. I don’t believe in nonoverlapping magisteria for science and philosophy, or between either of those and religion.

    I don’t believe in the common dividing line most people assume between philosophy and science. Philosophy and science are largely overlapping parts of the same endeavor to actually understand stuff. They can’t be separated.

    Many people believe that science is primarily about testable hypotheses. It’s not; it’s about actual explanations, and the criteria for judging explanations are basically philosophical, not empirical. Empirical tests are one important way of testing hypotheses, but there are others that are equally important.

    The first test of a hypothesis or theory is does it actually explain what it is meant to explain? The second is is it coherent?, i.e., consistent with itself and not so vague as to be meaningless?

    Science and philosophy do not conflict; done right, they inform each other because they’re really all part of the same process of evaluating explanations.

    Science and religion do fundamentally conflict, because religion is bad philosophy.

    Whether or not religious beliefs qualify as a form of knowledge is actually a somewhat different matter, but to discount these beliefs simply because it does not fit the model of empirical science is a mistake — in much the same way as discounting ethics as a matter of principle simply because ethical statements are not subject to any empirical demonstration would be.

    Depending on what you actually mean by “empirical science,” I think this is either mostly true or mostly false.

    For example, people tend to think that ethics is just subjective—i.e., that there are no rational rules for deciding what’s right or wrong, and no empirical evidence that bears on such questions.

    Neither of those assumptions is true. Moral reasoning is primarily reasoning, and subject to the same kinds of errors as other reasoning. Such errors can be caught and eliminated.

    If somebody says the “gay sex is wrong because God says so,” this displays two kinds of basic errors.

    One is a failure to understand what makes something right or wrong, and that you can’t simply make an argument from authority like that. (As Plato’s Socrates showed with the Euthyphro dilemma over 2000 years ago.) If we allow such reasoning, it turns out that “God is Good” is a vacuous tautology, and even Christians don’t want that.

    The other error is that there is no God who said such a thing. The historical facts of who wrote the Bible, and why they wrote what they wrote, are tremendously relevant.

    People often think that science is value-free, which is mostly true in the obvious sense, and that science has nothing to say about values, which is just false.

    In particular, science has a lot to say about what morality is, and how it works; it therefore has a lot to say about what counts as morality—as opposed, say, to an arbitrary aesthetic preference.

    Morality is an evolved function of the human mind, as metabolism is an evolved function of living cells. Science can go a log way toward identifying failures of the moral system. (Sociopaths, for example, often have organic dysfunctions of their brains that make their minds work differently from normal, moral people’s minds.)

    I’m not saying you can go “from is to ought” in the sense of making a rational argument that will convince a deeply amoral person to be moral. I am saying that there are rational standards of judgement of moral claims within a basic shared moral framework that most people are evolved to have.

    And that means religion is dangerous bunk. Religion is something that has evolved to inhibit and disable moral critique. (Mostly memetically; I don’t mean that religion is mostly something “we’re evolved for.”)

    That is why I am a “militant atheist,” i.e., anti-religion in general. I think that one of the functions of religion is precisely to confuse people about morality, and to co-opt morality for amoral ends.

    This makes it hard for me to really respect people like Ken Miller. Sure, he may be a fine biologist within his area of specialization, but he’s a crappy scientist in this basic sense. He can’t see the fairly obvious fact that science and religion conflict, because science and philosophy go together, and religion is bad philosophy.

    For many scientists, this is a non-issue, because even most scientists don’t recognize that morality is amenable to scientific investigation. They don’t understand that they’re giving away the store when they assume that science and philosophy are different things—and cede the ground of philosophy to religion.

    For me, it’s a huge issue. One of the most important areas of science-and-philosophy is the human mind, and especially moral reasoning. Nothing could be more important to humans. To treat religious explanations of the mind and morality as valid is apalling. How can we expect humans to understand each other, or do what’s right, when we treat the philosophy of mind and ethics as just “a matter of opinion”?

    I’d rather give away evolutionary biology and cosmology to the religious kooks, and keep religion out of psychology and ethics.

    Not that we have that choice. A big reason that the religious kooks are trying to undermine naturalism general is precisely because they want to preserve a certain theory of the mind (dualism with simplistic “free will”), and a certain theory of morality (Divine Command Theory).

    It is very easy for scientists to lose sight of the big picture. This is not mostly a fight about science.

    It’s a fight about morality—do scientists and philosophers have the right to point out that religious metaphysics and religious morality are false, and that secular humanism is the only valid intellectual and moral framework?

    Most of the time, everybody on both sides wants to ignore that underlying issue. So “our side” got a bunch of “religious” folks to go to Dover and say that there’s no basic conflict between science and religion.

    But there is, especially when it comes to the nature of the mind and morality, and that’s exactly what the culture war is about.

  176. #176 bitchphd
    February 14, 2006

    Paul W., thanks for clarification w/r/t the metaphor issue. However, I still think that you’re using the word in a sense that implies that a metaphor has a 1:1 relationship with a thing signified, whereas I’m using it in a sense that it doesn’t.

    A couple of specific points:

    So when it comes to scripture, I’d say that no, you can’t write out the beauty and artistry of scripture in analytical language, with any precision, but you should be able to translate what the scripture is attempting to convey as truth.

    See, whereas I would say that in fact, one can translate these things (and years of biblical exegesis do so) in ways that are meaningful and valid. Broadly speaking, I think scripture works very well in conveying a lot of things that seem, to me, to be “true”; and that the longevity of most religious texts have something to do with the fact that they work as “truth” for the people who believe them (even taking into account that obviously, like any text, what survives and doesn’t obviously also has a lot to do with power issues, canon formation, etc.)

    In my view, the Bible is full of bad metaphors that evoke certain responses, e.g., an attitude toward God as a father, or Jesus’s sacrifice as a payment for a debt incurred by somebody in the family and inherited by their survivors.

    These are good examples, as they save me having to come up with my own. I have some problems with the attitude of God as father, obviously; but on the other hand, I think it makes sense that, broadly speaking, people would find it “true” to discuss “that which we think of as good–including creation, memory, justice, etc.” as “God,” and to think of “God” as a father figure rather than a mother figure, inasmuch as “fatherhood” (in a patriarchal society, which is what the societies that have accepted the bible are–and I think, by the way, that this fact is both an effect *and* a cause of the power of this particular metaphor) conveys caring, but at a bit of a remove; a sense of having to “live up to” something; the idea of “that which is good” but also, perhaps, “hard to achieve,” etc. etc. In other words, “God the father” rings true as metaphor because it expresses certain similarities between our expectations of “father” and our sense of the “truth” of “justice, goodness, a distant creator,” etc.

    Re. Jesus’ sacrifice as debt: I agree, again, that the simple interpretation of that–that it’s some kind of prescriptive expectation of how things should work–is lame. But again, I think the “truth” implicit in that metaphor is quite meaningful: for better or for worse, the fact is that children *do* end up paying for their parent’s “sins”; that we do, by and large, benefit as a society and as individuals from the sacrifices of certain people who are highly dedicated to a cause (e.g., MLK); that martyrdom enables a kind of “eternal life” and “ascension” in the collective conscious; etc. etc.

  177. #177 bitchphd
    February 14, 2006

    In other words, that the metaphorical truth in complex texts can be (and probably usually is) descriptive, rather than prescriptive–which means that internal contradictions and inconsistencies are, in fact, part of what makes them true.

  178. #178 Paul W.
    February 14, 2006

    In other words, that the metaphorical truth in complex texts can be (and probably usually is) descriptive, rather than prescriptive–which means that internal contradictions and inconsistencies are, in fact, part of what makes them true.

    I think it’s misleading to talk about these texts being true; they may have elements of truth, or aspects of truth, but that’s very different from them being true.
    In general, something that is internally contradictory is false, not true, even if it has elements of truth squirrelled away in there.

    That’s important when discussing the Bible, and discussing how people discuss the Bible in philosophical and political contexts. We need to make it clear that the Bible is no more true than Shakespeare—in fact, it’s more wrong.

    The “truth” of the Bible is like the truth of Mein Kampf. You shouldn’t casually quote the Bible, or even allude to it in a way that makes it sound like you respect that book and its authors. Hitler was a smart man and a clever propagandist, who wove a lot of truths into his work. That doesn’t make Mein Kampf true.

    Likewise the truths in the Bible can’t make up for the fact that it’s systematically fucked up in fundamental ways.

    The Bible was written by a bunch of crazy, dangerous people. Most of them were several of the following: genocidal, pro-slavery, sexist, homophobic, racist, power-mad, and/or floridly psychotic—or just sucking up to people and/or mythical beings like that.

    The Bible isn’t a coherent or good work of art, even though it has some pretty good artistic bits. It is a mishmash of art, fundamentally bad philosophy, and pious political axe-grinding. It’s not true, or good; quite the reverse.

    Of course, if you are an atheist, that shouldn’t be surprising. Myths and screeds are like that—they’re myths and screeds. The authors of the Bible were mostly barbarians and/or axe-grinding wrongheaded propagandists. Most of the good things that the Bible does have to say are systematically subverted by the bad things, so on the whole, the Bible is worse than useless. All of the major stories in the Bible have their good and/or true messages subverted by sheer falsehood, poisonous presuppositions, and/or a nasty bottom line.

    That includes the four biggest stories in the Old and New testaments: the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the giving of the Holy Land to the (righeously genocidal) Jews, and the sacrifice of Jesus. All of these things are predicated on false and sick philosophy, and used in support of false and sick conclusions, even if some aspects of the stories metaphorically illuminate some useful truths.

    By the kind of standard needed to “justify” the Bible, you can easily justify Mein Kampf; If we just ignore Hitler’s false presuppositions and his evil conclusions, we can find a lot of things that are “true” or beautiful in between, such as his vision of a better world with better people in it, overcoming adversity and opposition, and doing bigger and better things. There’s plenty of human drama there, and some real truths along the way, but the overall pattern has to be more important.

    The Bible’s very much like that.

  179. #179 Alon Levy
    February 14, 2006

    And, specifically to Christinity, the religion has an incredibly strong authoritarian streak.

    Every religion has an incredibly strong authoritarian streak.

  180. #180 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 14, 2006

    Timothy,

    “anonymous wrote:”

    That was me. Thank you for your interesting answers, I would have loved to dive into them directly. But I’m totally wrecked by overdoing todays gym training and desperately need some sleep. Stupid me. I will try to answer tomorrow.

  181. #181 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    I had written:

    What I have particular difficulty with is with those who expect all knowledge to be like empirical science.

    Paul W. wrote:

    I’m not sure who you’re talking about here. I, for one, don’t make a big distinction between science and philosophy, and I don’t think that’s tenable in the way many people do. I don’t believe in nonoverlapping magisteria for science and philosophy, or between either of those and religion.

    At one level, I would argue that you really shouldn’t see that big of a distinction. What the individual should strive for in terms of their own understanding of the world is a fully integrated, unified understand of it. Of course, in stating this, I however don’t mean to eliminate the distinction between philosophy and science by any means, or for that matter, the need for the individual to keep track of the distinction. It is largely a matter of a cognitive division of labor between subjects which in certain important respects differ in terms of their methodology. Moreover, philosophy, insofar as it is concerned with the achievement of an integrated, unified view of the world, that is, insofar as it is systematic, differs in a fairly crucial way from most empirical science, which tends to be particularly specialized, and continues to create new areas of specialization.

    (There is, however, an important exception of sorts: multi-disciplinary areas of study, where several different branches must be brought to bear on the same problem. One good instance of this is Evo Devo, that is, evolutionary development, which is the marriage of embryology and evolutionary biology. But it is quite possible that such exceptions will become their own areas of specialization, sharing an problems at interfaces with their parent disciplines, but with each discipline having its own set of problems.)

    Now it should be fairly clear why areas of specialization are necessary: one individual cannot be an expert in all things however hard they might try. Each area of specialization requires a certain level of familiarity with its methods, contents, applications, controversies and unanswered questions. And typically, such familiarity will require considerable personal investment of time and effort. Nevertheless, if such a division of cognitive labor is to avoid descent into a cacophony, where no one from one speciality is able to communicate with a specialist in another discipline, it will be necessary to insure that there are interfaces between those disciplines, that where they overlap, they have a common vocabulary and framework for the purpose of communication so that they can share the results of their inquiries and cooperate on problems which require some of the skills and knowledge of each.

    There are a few other points that I could touch on at this moment, but I think they can perhaps best be addressed a little later in this response.

    Paul W. wrote:

    I don’t believe in the common dividing line most people assume between philosophy and science. Philosophy and science are largely overlapping parts of the same endeavor to actually understand stuff. They can’t be separated.

    Well, they certainly shouldn’t be divided in the sense of being treated as if they were unrelated — for the individual, at least in my view. There should be integration. However, to the extent that philosophy deals with certain fundamental problems of human existence and yet has its own controversies, one should not expect a broad consensus within society as a whole where those controversies exist. Moreover, this actually greatly understates the sort of diversity which one should expect in a modern society where pluralism and independent thought are broadly recognized principles, or for that matter, should exist in a modern society.

    Given the broad integrative nature of philosophy, it deals principally with that which remains the same in any age, being grounded in common human experience. The reason for this is two-fold: first, so that it has the ability to speak to anyone regardless of their area of specialization; and second, so that it does not expose itself to falsification by the discoveries of modern science. To the extent that it does expose itself in this manner, its practitioners aren’t actually practicing philosophy but a form of rationalism in a discipline that they are unqualified for. Moreover, their work is necessarily missing the timeless element which general philosophy should always aspire to in order to remain relevant and be able to speak to any generation.

    But we should also realize that there is a degree of art in any discipline which requires independent thought, innovation or creativity. And it would seem that given some perennial controversies in philosophy, it is as much an art as a discipline. In large part, this is no doubt due to various interdependencies which exist between various problems where it is difficult to determine the order in which they should or must be resolved. Another aspect may be due to what is simply an apparent conflict between opposing viewpoints, where the actual content of the viewpoints is more or less the same, but the form in which those viewpoints are presented differs so much that it appears as if there is substantive disagreement. Additionally, even given attempt to aspire towards relevance for any generation, one should expect authors of philosophy to aim for special relevance for their own. And given the richness of both human nature and human experience, there is a great deal of material for such authors to work with and broad connections for them to make.

    Paul W. wrote:

    Many people believe that science is primarily about testable hypotheses. It’s not; it’s about actual explanations, and the criteria for judging explanations are basically philosophical, not empirical. Empirical tests are one important way of testing hypotheses, but there are others that are equally important.

    The first test of a hypothesis or theory is does it actually explain what it is meant to explain? The second is is it coherent?, i.e., consistent with itself and not so vague as to be meaningless?

    Well, I would list coherence first. If a theory is internally incoherent (i.e., contradicts itself), then it is already out of the game. Second, I would list correspondence. Does the theory actually fit the evidence which is available? If not, it should be abandoned or modified. Third, I would list testability — where the more “risk” a scientific theory exposes itself to in terms of experiments the better. Fourth, I would say simplicity or alternatively, parsimony. There are two reasons for this. The first apparent reason would be utility — the more complex the theory, the more difficult it will be to apply. However, the second would be that the simpler the theory is, the more likely it is to correspond to the phenomena it is meant to explain — because there are fewer alternatives of equal simplicity. Moreover, the more complex the theory is, the more elements there are that are in need of justification. Fifth, I would list explanatory power. Sixth, fruitfulness, by which I mean that the theory suggests new questions or puzzles to be solved. Seventh, I would suggest cooperativeness, by which I mean that, in combination with other theories, it achieves greater explanatory power for our scientific knowledge as a whole. Eighth, I would suggest endurance. How has it stood the test of time? Now there may be some disagreement with respect to the order of criteria. Alternatively, there may be other criteria which some would add, but which at least in part overlap with criteria which I have already included. But I believe it is a good working list.

    Paul W. wrote:

    Science and philosophy do not conflict; done right, they inform each other because they’re really all part of the same process of evaluating explanations.

    To some extent, surely. Particularly when we are speaking of science and the philosophy of science, but at that point we are no longer dealing with general philosophy. In terms of general philosophy, there is also a sense in which they will tend to inform one-another as well. For example, psychology may receive some inspiration form Aristotle’s ethics — but to the extent that psychology is an empirical science (and it is heavily empirical at this point) it is up to psychology to come up with testable theories. Similarly, the task of identifying the scientific method or showing how it applies to a given branch of science at least formally rests with the philosophy of science. Then there is a kind of a negative role for science where as science renders more areas of human existence subject to the empirical method, it may tend to claim territory from philosophy. Likewise, philosophy should certainly avoid contradicting established empirical science and should avoid attempting to compete with it. But if it limits itself to its proper evidentiary base, it should not expose itself to falsification — which will largely eliminate the extent to which at least general philosophy can be informed by science in a positive, productive manner. But at the same time, it should be remembered philosophy itself is the branch of knowledge that defines the nature of philosophy and the constraints which it is subject to.

    Paul W. wrote:

    Science and religion do fundamentally conflict, because religion is bad philosophy.

    If I may address your latter point first, surely one could also argue that philosophy is bad religion. Technical philosophy aims at being rigorous, but by being rigorous, it tends to be very dry, although this needn’t necessarily be the case. (I wrote a paper on the problem of universals which had my in-laws in stitches!) But since it tends to be dry, its audience is oftentimes much more limited. Philosophy certainly isn’t for everyone. Many will find it much less inspiring and far less relevant to their lives. Moreover, religions have typically stood the test of time, typically a great deal more time than “current” philosophy. And given the rigorous nature of philosophy, it is much more visibly subject to criticism, change, and varying interpretations. In religion, people seek inspiration (particularly in the form of inspiring stories which they can relate to) and a proven timelessness which offers a place of stability in a changing and uncertain world. Philosophy tends to be far more articulated, explicitly identifying its principles, whereas religion tends to rely a great deal more upon the tacit, where an individual will have a sense of a moral person would act in their context because they have been shown what a moral person is. Moreover, in as much as religion is the product of a very long evolutionary process, it has no doubt evolved in a way that answers a great many human needs in such a way that is difficult for an author of philosophy to achieve by engineering a worldview from the top-down as the product of a single mind. As for whether religion comes into conflict with science, the first point that I would consider is whether its interpretation embraces methodological naturalism, then I would consider the psychological implications of its approach to ethics, at least as they are expounded by its interpretation.

    I wrote:

    Whether or not religious beliefs qualify as a form of knowledge is actually a somewhat different matter, but to discount these beliefs simply because it does not fit the model of empirical science is a mistake — in much the same way as discounting ethics as a matter of principle simply because ethical statements are not subject to any empirical demonstration would be.

    Paul W. wrote:

    Depending on what you actually mean by “empirical science,” I think this is either mostly true or mostly false.

    I hope that I have provided you with more material by means of which to determine your answer.

    Paul W. wrote:

    For example, people tend to think that ethics is just subjective—i.e., that there are no rational rules for deciding what’s right or wrong, and no empirical evidence that bears on such questions.

    Neither of those assumptions is true. Moral reasoning is primarily reasoning, and subject to the same kinds of errors as other reasoning. Such errors can be caught and eliminated.

    Ethics at the level of philosophy is concerned with the identification of those rules, but given their broad, abstract nature, the complexity of human nature and human experience (every age and individual is unique), they are not the sort of thing which is likely any time in the foreseeable future to result from specialized branches of science. Just as importantly, there is a fair amount of variation in approaches to ethics even today, so even though each is a product of reason, typically a given view is largely the product of only a few minds — and competes with other views of ethics which are oftentimes quite different in their approach.

    Paul W. wrote:

    If somebody says the “gay sex is wrong because God says so,” this displays two kinds of basic errors.

    One is a failure to understand what makes something right or wrong, and that you can’t simply make an argument from authority like that. (As Plato’s Socrates showed with the Euthyphro dilemma over 2000 years ago.) If we allow such reasoning, it turns out that “God is Good” is a vacuous tautology, and even Christians don’t want that.

    The other error is that there is no God who said such a thing. The historical facts of who wrote the Bible, and why they wrote what they wrote, are tremendously relevant.

    I have no disagreement with you there, but then again, among liberal christian ministers, the view that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality is fairly common as well. Interestingly, the prohibition against homosexuality is mentioned within virtually the same breath as the prohibition against pork — in Leviticus.

    Paul W. wrote:

    People often think that science is value-free, which is mostly true in the obvious sense, and that science has nothing to say about values, which is just false.

    In particular, science has a lot to say about what morality is, and how it works; it therefore has a lot to say about what counts as morality—as opposed, say, to an arbitrary aesthetic preference.

    Morality is an evolved function of the human mind, as metabolism is an evolved function of living cells. Science can go a log way toward identifying failures of the moral system. (Sociopaths, for example, often have organic dysfunctions of their brains that make their minds work differently from normal, moral people’s minds.)

    I wouldn’t say that esthetic preferences are entirely arbitrary, either, and of course I recognize the existence of organic dysfunctions. However, if morality is like an organism’s metabolism, does this mean that it is automatic? If so, why do we find it necessary to think about it? Shouldn’t our moral behavior simply result from being healthy? Why do we need to identify moral principles? To go a little deeper, why do we need criteria for identifying which scientific theory is better than another? Shouldn’t we just automatically pick the right theory given the evidence and no organic dysfunction? Surely human cognition is the result of a process of evolution.

    Paul W. wrote:

    I’m not saying you can go “from is to ought” in the sense of making a rational argument that will convince a deeply amoral person to be moral.

    Agreed, although there does seem to be an inbuilt capacity for empathy — from what I understand. Mirror neurons are involved in this, and it has been suggested that they are also involved in language-acquisition. At the same time, there is a great deal of plasticity, which means that the environment is largely responsible for much of the wiring which eventually gets layed down. The basic structure of birdsong is genetically programmed while the details and nuances are learned. Same thing with mousesong. At the neurological level, at least among mammals, I understand that during our development an overabundance of neurons are produced, apparently due to the presence of a particular retrotransposon. Those which make the right connections simply as part of a discovery process (similar to the process of evolution itself) survive, whereas those which do not make the right connections are programmed to die.

    At the same time, one could also ask, “What is the most important aspect of the environment for the process of cognition? What part of the environment most greatly influences what I will be thinking while following a given train of thought or a given argument — at least in relation to the world as I experience it?”

    Paul W. wrote:

    I am saying that there are rational standards of judgement of moral claims within a basic shared moral framework that most people are evolved to have.

    How could we have evolved for an environment like modern society? Most of human evolution took place, presumably, while we were hunter-gatherers in a fairly primitive environment — assuming my mind isn’t organically dysfunctional. Then again, we know that there are organs which at one time performed a given function but which are now useless. Now what if the human mind and cognition were like that? Perhaps at one point they performed their proper function, whatever that was, but they have long since ceased to have any function. If they were like this, would our so-called theories correspond to anything? Would it even make sense to distinguish between functional and disfunctional minds? If there weren’t any such distinction, would the word “evolution” correspond to anything other than a sound we happen to utter — assuming we actually utter anything? How would we know?

    Morpheus said:

    What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be pulling a Morpheus on you. Well, actually I do, but kind of for the same reason.

    There is a solution that I am aware of to the problem I posed, but I am going to give it a day before I post it. We shall see if anyone has any ideas. Hopefully no one has seen my act before. Some probably have, in one form or another, elsewhere. I will post a couple of clues a little later, though. But in the meantime this will be a good breaking point. Ethics should wait.

  182. #182 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    Torbjorn Larsson wrote:

    Timothy,

    “anonymous wrote:”

    That was me. Thank you for your interesting answers, I would have loved to dive into them directly. But I’m totally wrecked by overdoing todays gym training and desperately need some sleep. Stupid me. I will try to answer tomorrow.

    “Time is always against us.” I understand. I really need to work on my sleep, too. Join in when you can.

    Take care.

  183. #183 Paul W.
    February 15, 2006

    Timothy, I think we’ve kinda lost focus here, and our comments are getting way too long—which may be my fault for saying too many things about too many things that lead to long discussions.

    Let me respond to just a couple of things you said, for now.

    The other error is that there is no God who said such a thing. The historical facts of who wrote the Bible, and why they wrote what they wrote, are tremendously relevant.

    I have no disagreement with you there, but then again, among liberal christian ministers, the view that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality is fairly common as well. Interestingly, the prohibition against homosexuality is mentioned within virtually the same breath as the prohibition against pork — in Leviticus.

    I’m friends with a couple of very theologically liberal minisers from mainline denominations, and I find them interesting. They both went to seminary and studied what’s known about the history of the Bible, and came to the conclusion that the Bible is a bag of myths. They became pretty-much-agnostics who think “these are the stories our people tell,” and they preach a pick-and-choose gospel within that framework.

    Unfortunately, many of the people they preach to do not understand that. These ministers don’t emphasize that the Bible has no real authority. They don’t trumpet the fact that their morality is essentially secular humanism, and that they believe the Bible to be dangerously morally corrupt where it goes beyond and against basic human morality.

    That makes these ministers part of the problem. Many of their congregants are not nearly as theologically liberal as they are, because they’re “not ready” to give up the belief in a personal God who personally loves them, and who inspired a holy book that can guide them fairly reliably.

    Liberal Christianity isn’t a particular worldview; it’s a zoo. Liberal Christians range from being fairly theologically conservative (but politically liberal) to being secular humanist atheists who “work within the traditional structure” of Christian churches. (Like Bishop Spong.) I think that diversity is inevitable, because there is no coherent conceptual core of Christianity that can be defended. There isn’t a sane theory there that people can converge to and defend. (As there is in science.)

    I have no problem with my liberal Christian minister friends, or Bishop Spong, per se. I respect them, and like them a lot, and will work with them on social justice issues. (Like going on the radio with them to discuss the morality of gay rights and criticize the religious right.)

    But to some extent, they are part of the problem. By being “Christians” and preaching something they call “Christianity,” with scripture quotes and rituals all, they reinforce the common conceptions that there is something particularly good about Christianity, and something particularly good about the Bible, and something rather magical about rituals. The medium is the message. Many of their congregants believe that Jesus was literally God incarnate, and that the Bible is literally divinely inspired, even if people messed things up a bit along the way.

    That’s dangerous; those people are not well-immmunized against fundamentalism. They’re like Reform Nazis whose own philosophy isn’t basically racist, but who can’t come out and say Mein Kampf is a bad book, overall. They can’t object to quoting from a bad book, because they do it too, when and where it suits them.

    In my view, Christianity cannot ever be thoroughly reformed and remain Christianity. The only things that are right about it are really bits of secular humanism. I don’t agree with Spong that we can “rescue the Bible from fundamentalists,” it’s their kind of book, not ours.

    When Christians become so theologically liberal that they can be reasonable, they are arguably no longer Christians. The religious right is right about that; I like and respect liberal ministers to the extent that they’re not clearly Christians.

    One of my liberal minister friends told me that he likes and respects atheists more than fundamentalists. At least atheists have a shot at thinking clearly and being truly moral; fundamentalists don’t, because they’re confused by a whole lot of stuff that clearly isn’t true, which they wrongly take to be relevant to moral judgements.

    Unfortunately, he isn’t going to say that on the radio, or even to his own congregation. He isn’t going to come out and alienate a lot of moderate Christians, by saying that Christians are generally no better than atheists, or that the Bible is full of stuff that corrupts people’s moral judgement. He’s a reformer, not a radical, so he has to pull his punches, and more gently push people “in the right direction.”

    But if he doesn’t say it, full-strength, they’re mostly not going to get the message. Most liberal Christians buy into the “average” American view that “Christianity is good” (even if some Christians are loony) and “there’s something wrong with atheists.” This defuses a lot of the criticism of the religious right. The religious left isn’t in a good position to argue, so it all boils down to force of numbers and political pressures rather than compelling arguments for defensible positions.

    There’s a huge dilemma here, of the usual reform-vs.-revolution sort.

    Reformers like theologically-very-liberal Christians are often mostly sellouts; they go along to get along, and often end up empowering the flawed system more than they change it. They effectively get co-opted; they’re sincerely trying to reform a system from within, but the system is just too corrupt.

    On the other hand, revolutionaries generally just get creamed and often generate more backlash than anything else.

    That leads to some differences of opinion about strategy. I can respect liberal Christians’ attempts at reform-from-within, even if I’m skeptical about how much good they can really do. (Because they must pull their punches so much, and because of the flaws at the root of Christianity.)

    On the other hand, I feel compelled to speak out and criticize what I see as the real problem: the beliefs that the Bible is more than a bag of myths and screeds, and that Jesus was more than a human being, or that either has something particularly important to do with morality.

    I think there are much better arguments that Christianity is just false than that fundamentalist theology is “more false” than liberal theology. Liberal Christian theology is a doomed, intellectually corrupt attempt to make a silk purse out of a morally corrupt sow’s ear.

  184. #184 Donn C.
    February 15, 2006

    There’s a difference between transcendant experience and codified folk superstitions. The former is simply not the domain of science, whereas the latter can be conclusively disproven.

    Religious people piss me off as much as the next guy, and I confess I’ve been moved to insulting rhetoric sometimes when venting my ire. But you need to aim your bullets squarely at Ham and his ignorant ilk, not carpet-bomb an entire class of people — lest you become a bigot yourself. Not to mention an ignorant one.

    Jesus, hasn’t anybody on this thread ever gotten hold of some good mushrooms? Commenting on other people’s spiritual lives is about as useful as commenting on their sex lives. And some of PZ’s posts are like listening to a virgin’s “worldly thoughts” on such matters. I’d recommend you score some acid post haste, but I strongly suspect you’re unwilling to challenge your own assumptions on an epistemological level.

    The universe wasn’t set in motion to flatter your sense of rationality, PZ. So sorry.

  185. #185 Paul W.
    February 15, 2006

    There’s a difference between transcendant experience and codified folk superstitions. The former is simply not the domain of science,

    I think you’re wrong. Have you read Newberg and D’Aquili’s book, Why God Won’t Go Away, or reports on their work and others in understanding the neurophysiology of mystical states?

    Science does have a lot to say about transcendent experiences. For example, it’s becoming much clearer that classic mystical experiences are brainfarts. (Functional MRI’s are wonderful.)

    Recreational brainfarts are one thing; basing philosophy directly on brainfarts is quite another.

    But you need to aim your bullets squarely at Ham and his ignorant ilk, not carpet-bomb an entire class of people — lest you become a bigot yourself.

    It is not bigoted to point out that a religion doesn’t make sense, or that some people’s religion makes it harder for them to oppose others’.

    I’ve given reasons that I think liberal Christianity is not true, is a non-solution to the problems of Christianity, and why it is part of the problem of fundamentalism. You’ve simply ignored all of that.

    Jesus, hasn’t anybody on this thread ever gotten hold of some good mushrooms?

    Sure. Why on Earth would you think otherwise? What kind of people do you think you’re talking to? Little prissy virgins, I suppose. Wrong.

    You seem to be a bit of a simplistic bigot yourself, who jumps to conclusions about people who disagree with religious interpretations of “transcendent” subjective experiences.

    It isn’t because we haven’t had them. It’s just because we don’t think they actually get us in touch with the Grand Mystical Juju of the Universe.

    If you wanna argue about that, go ahead; it could be interesting. But don’t just charge in accusing people of being “virgins” who’ve never experienced the kinds of things you’re talking about, or “ignorant” people who’ve never seriously studied or thought about this stuff.

    Commenting on other people’s spiritual lives is about as useful as commenting on their sex lives.

    Both can be fun, and either can be enlightening, sometimes, if done right.

    And some of PZ’s posts are like listening to a virgin’s “worldly thoughts” on such matters. I’d recommend you score some acid post haste, but I strongly suspect you’re unwilling to challenge your own assumptions on an epistemological level.

    I strongly suspect you misunderstand where people like PZ are coming from, and have a few unwarranted assumptions about acid and epistemology.

    Speaking only for myself, but… sneeringly recommending acid is one thing; politely offering it is different. 🙂

    The universe wasn’t set in motion to flatter your sense of rationality, PZ. So sorry.

    Do you think it was set in motion to facilitate your brainfarts, or to make the subjective experiences you have on drugs magically true? Do you think a real connection to a real God comes from a fungus on cow shit? (Thanks for the nuggets of wisdom, Don Juan, but maybe you should just cut the crap and pass the peyote.)

    It seems to me more plausible that the universe was set up to flatter PZ’s sense of rationality. The universe is a pretty understandable place, in rational terms, even if it’s very complicated. Too few people understand that.

    There’s not much evidence that cow turd fungi are relevant to what PZ says about religion, except in support, by illustrating the biological bases of “spiritual” states, and the problem of people who misunderstand that and talk about mostly fictional limits of science and rationality.

    Nothing against mushrooms, of course. Got any? 🙂

  186. #186 Donn C.
    February 15, 2006

    Your faith in reason isn’t tribalistic and injurious like the faith of religious zealots, granted — it’s in fact a useful tool — but in many ways it is just as limiting when it comes to teasing meaning out of the universe (which is what we’re all endeavoring to do here).

    At all events, I’m curious. How do researchers define a “mystical state” to begin with? Does the subject claim to be having one? What is the subject’s medical history? Is the subject a Christian? Muslim? Agnostic? Bovine mycologist? And what specific neurological activity is defined as a “brainfart”? Is that really Latin? Who is conducting this research and under what aegis?

    Turning points in the history of science, by the way — many of them, anyway — have been characterized by individual intuitive leaps not unlike artistic inspiration, which is, in turn, not unlike a mystical state. Thank God (or Pythagoras, or fill-in-the-blank), then, I say, for brainfarts. And that’s what I meant by the first sentence of this post. Interested readers are referred to the nearest Einstein quote on the nearest coffee mug at the nearest gift shop.

    I happen to agree, in the broad strokes, with your opinion/analysis of religion. But to muggingly dismiss all human mysical experience with a wave of the hand reeks of an unseemly hubris. Even Mr. Spock would disapprove of that.

  187. #187 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    Paul W. wrote:

    Timothy, I think we’ve kinda lost focus here, and our comments are getting way too long—which may be my fault for saying too many things about too many things that lead to long discussions.

    I agree that the posts have gotten a little long. I am not sure to what extent people will be able to take the time to fully follow the arguments.

    So at this point, I am going to brief. First, I am going to quickly address at least temporarily a few of the points in your most recent post. Second, I am going to give three clues to resolving a problem I posed near the end of my most recent post. Then third, I am going to briefly indicate the direction (namely, “dialogue,” which was important in schools of both Plato and Aristotle) that I would take as opposed to “militancy” on the issue of religion, although honestly the direction I am suggesting is much wider than simply the issue of religion itself.

    This post will be devoted to the first of these.

    First, addressing your points on religion.

    Paul W. wrote:

    In my view, Christianity cannot ever be thoroughly reformed and remain Christianity.

    I am of course aware of the fact that some liberal christian ministers are inclined towards agnosticism, and that many read the bible more as a literary work than as some sort of history. Personally, I am not sure how well this will work in the long-run.

    From my own perspective, as I see things, it may very well be the case that the future of christianity is in question, at least in the west, and perhaps eventually as such. This is difficult to say. (I understand, for example, that some psychologists have been recommending techniques and approaches inspired by buddhism, which has its more agnostic approaches, and find it to be in certain ways more conducive to psychological health.) But in any case, the future has yet to be created, and those involved in its creation will not belong to any one school, sect or religion.

    For the time being, the important thing is the conflict over evolution and creationism. If creationism loses only politically, fundamentalism may still become more entrenched culturally such that in the long-run it may become an even greater danger. However, to some extent, the political losses of creationism are resulting in cultural losses as well. In the short-term, our best allies in ensuring that these political losses translate into cultural losses will be the ministers who are inclined towards allegory, those who can show others how to view at least Genesis as allegory.

    If and when such allegorical interpretation becomes more entrenched in our culture, fundamentalism will be much less of a threat. Whether this ultimately means that christianity loses its coherence as a worldview is difficult to say. No doubt this will in part depend upon the quality of the minds which it is able to attract as its exponents. To some extent, it may be able to borrow from some of its own or related traditions, such as gnostic christianity, greek orthodox or rabbinic judaism, at least among protestant branches. Despite its conservative elements, catholicism may stand a better chance in the long-run due to its intellectual traditions. Alternatively, some form of renewal may result from the more conservative churches after they undergo some form of reformation, perhaps in part as a consequence of the political losses creationism is currently suffering and in part due to a continuing dialogue between liberal and conservative clergy. However, the more christian theologians try to borrow from eastern religions, the more likely christianity will entirely lose its coherence and ultimately cease to exist. In any case, the future has yet to be created, and those involved in its creation will not belong to any one school, sect or religion.

    Paul W:

    … there is no coherent conceptual core of Christianity that can be defended. There isn’t a sane theory there that people can converge to and defend. (As there is in science.)

    … On the other hand, I feel compelled to speak out and criticize what I see as the real problem: the beliefs that the Bible is more than a bag of myths and screeds, and that Jesus was more than a human being, or that either has something particularly important to do with morality.

    Religion isn’t science, and all religion is subject to splintering interpretations of one form or another, although at least with eastern religion, there tends to be more melding. In any case, the diversity of views within the christian or any religious community is one of its strengths, at least up to a point. The diversity of views is what makes the evolutionary adaptation of religion to changing cultural contexts possible. As for the miraculous elements in christianity, you will find miraculous elements in any religion, although at least in eastern religion, they are much more easily interpreted allegorically. An allegorical interpretation of Genesis would be an important step down this path.

    With respect to your friendship with the liberal ministers and your discussions with them on radio regarding issues of social justice, I certainly think this is of value. I might consider extending it to the issue of evolution vs. creationism so long as this does not in any way violate your own principles. I can also see that you appreciate the difficult position that they are in. Both reform and revolution have their problems. However, a “revolutionary” approach which “pulls no punches” is very likely to simply result in anxiety and the feeling of being attacked on the individual level, resulting in the so-called revolutionaries being broadly interpreted within the christian community as the enemy, and particularly at this time, to the extent that such revolutionaries acquire prominence, result in the swelling of the fundamentalist ranks.

    Finally, I do believe that more enlightened views are becoming more widely accepted within the christian community, at least outside of the more fundamentalist traditions. The following passage expresses in a fairly essentialized manner a view which already seems fairly prevalent, at least in a vague form:

    Comment #11641

    Many scientists (including a good number of evolutionists) are in fact religious — they simply do not let their religious views interfere with the quest for empirical knowledge. (For one example, see the “Science and Religion” interview with Kenneth R. Miller.) Properly, scientists will respect these beliefs of their religious colleagues, realizing they may very well provide those colleagues with the moral guidance which makes them better scientists. The importance of moral guidance, and, more specifically, the moral courage to deal with the ever-present possibility of failure in both the existential and cognitive realms, is not to be underestimated.

    In the existential realm, religion properly provides the individual with the moral courage to act despite the possibility of failure, where failure can sometimes mean the possibility of actual death, and the fear of failure itself can often be experienced as such. Likewise, the fear of being mistaken — where being mistaken may threaten our beliefs about who we are — is at times experienced as a threat much like death itself. Here, too, there is need for moral courage, although of a somewhat different kind. Properly, religion encourages in its own way the view that while recognizing one’s mistakes may be experienced prospectively as a form of death, the act itself brings a form of rebirth and self-transcendence, giving one the courage to revise one’s beliefs when confronted with new evidence.

  188. #188 Donn C.
    February 15, 2006

    Oh, and as far as misundertsanding where PZ is coming from — he’s apparently coming from a place where he feels comfortable dismissing 90% of humanity as purveyors & practitioners of “vile little cults” (his words). The man’s entitled to his opinion, and he’s clearly an intelligent enough sort, though statements like that make one wonder what good it does him. Humility doesn’t make for very lively blog entries, it’s true, but that’s beyond the pale.

  189. #189 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    My apologies: There is one duplicated sentence in the above post, last sentence, second and fourth paragraphs. I was reorganizing the material as it was written, and I guess I really liked the sentence.

    😉

  190. #190 GH
    February 15, 2006

    I can’t believe this thread is still going:-)

    the diversity of views within the christian or any religious community is one of its strengths, at least up to a point

    An allegorical interpretation of Genesis would be an important step down this path.

    But it’s wrong. Just because modern Christians revise the intent to match science doesn’t make them correct. Can anyone really believe that the 7 days of Genesis was meant allegoricaly except to rescue one’s childhood belief in the bible and it’s 100% correctness? It is what the church taught for 1000’s of years because that is what it says. The fellow in the cave or tent viewed the world this way. I don’t think we should dishonor THAT individual for being msitaken by pretending he meant something he obviously didn’t.

  191. #191 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    GH:

    I can’t believe this thread is still going:-)

    What can I say? There are some good minds here, interesting, thought-provoking topics, and thoughtful posts. Keeps me interested.

  192. #192 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    Sorry — the following was in blockquotes, so I thought it was just something you were quoting…

    GH wrote:

    Can anyone really believe that the 7 days of Genesis was meant allegoricaly except to rescue one’s childhood belief in the bible and it’s 100% correctness? It is what the church taught for 1000’s of years because that is what it says. The fellow in the cave or tent viewed the world this way. I don’t think we should dishonor THAT individual for being msitaken by pretending he meant something he obviously didn’t.

    First of all, there wasn’t one individual who wrote Genesis. At least two different stories were written by two individuals, then later combined. This much we know from higher criticism. Second, christianity had a fairly healthy, more literary and allegorical tradition in the gnostics. The kind of literalism which you are seeing is actually a rather recent innovation from the early 1900s. Third, I believe early people had a much better handle, particularly given the oral traditions, that what they were telling wasn’t a purely historical account than those who followed them centuries later. In understanding the material allegorically, paradoxically enough, later christians may in fact get closer to the original intent.

  193. #193 Chance
    February 15, 2006

    First of all, there wasn’t one individual who wrote Genesis. At least two different stories were written by two individuals, then later combined. This much we know from higher criticism.

    Your correct about that, but it doesn’t change my point. @ guys sitting around in a cave:-)

    The kind of literalism which you are seeing is actually a rather recent innovation from the early 1900s

    In some areas yes I would again agree, but not with Genesis. You don’t have to look hard to find literal references to the origin story in early Christianity.

    Third, I believe early people had a much better handle, particularly given the oral traditions, that what they were telling wasn’t a purely historical account than those who followed them centuries later

    I think your queston begging a little here. Why would they have thought Genesis non literal? I could see the other aspects of the bible but not the origin story. They didn’t have a viable alternative. It was THEIR creation myth.

  194. #194 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    I wrote:

    The kind of literalism which you are seeing is actually a rather recent innovation from the early 1900s.

    Chance wrote:

    In some areas yes I would again agree, but not with Genesis. You don’t have to look hard to find literal references to the origin story in early Christianity.

    You may very well be right, particularly in the context of early christianity, although this is hardly when the stories behind Genesis was “originally” told or later written.

    I think your queston begging a little here. Why would they have thought Genesis non literal? I could see the other aspects of the bible but not the origin story. They didn’t have a viable alternative. It was THEIR creation myth.

    For one thing, because there wasn’t one original creation story, but in fact two, from two different civilizations. For another, because the stories themselves were developed and added to much like the Homeric epics (songs, actually) both prior to and after Homer. Originally, it was most likely religiously-inspired art which got retold and improved upon, depending upon how audiences reacted. Each of the two creation stories weren’t so much the product of a single mind, but rather the product of two traditions, and each was the result of modification and descent through the process of being retold.

    From what I understand, this is very common in early mythologies. This is part of the reason why they are so rich in possibilities for allegorical interpretation, part of the reason why they can speak to so many different audiences and ages — even if later generations make the mistake of taking them literally.

  195. #195 Paul W.
    February 15, 2006

    Oh, and as far as misundertsanding where PZ is coming from — he’s apparently coming from a place where he feels comfortable dismissing 90% of humanity as purveyors & practitioners of “vile little cults” (his words). […] Humility doesn’t make for very lively blog entries, it’s true, but that’s beyond the pale.

    I honestly don’t know quite what your objection is. Are you saying that PZ is wrong, or just that he’s rude, or that he’s justifiably rude but it’s counterproductive to be so honest?

    I think it’s useful to raise people’s awareness that religion isn’t “a good thing,” as almost everybody in our culture seems to think.

    Why is it not “beyond the pale” that the billion-strong Catholic church thinks the only good condom is one with holes in it, in a world headed toward massive overpopulation? Why is it not “beyond the pale” that a billion people follow a Pope who talks about “natural theology” to justify homophobia in wanton disregard of natural fact as understood by naturalistic science? (While meanwhile engaging in a very widespread coverup of pedophilic abuse by priests.)

    Why is it not “beyond the pale” that female genital mutilation is common in Muslim societies? (It’s not required by Islam per se, but it is a de facto part of “Muslim culture” that is tacitly endorsed by the religious establishment. What’s wrong with that picture? What’s wrong with a religion that can’t come out in opposition to such a practice?)

    Why is it not “beyond the pale” that tens of millions of Americans oppose the teaching of evolution, and think that a world war starting in the Middle East over our unswerving support for Israel would likely be a good thing, in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy? Why is it not beyond the pale that these people have a decisive power over who is the leader of the world’s one and only superpower?

    Or if these things are beyond the pale, as I think they clearly are, why is it wrong to say so and describe any of these religions as “a vile little cult”?

    Of course that’s not literally true. They’re not little. And because they’ve coevolved with political power structures, they’re no longer cults, strictly speaking. On one hand, that’s “better” because in some ways they’ve toned down some of the insanity. On the other hand, it’s much worse because they have a whole lot of power and insinuate their insanity through many aspects of cultures; they are so successful that they can make the unacceptable acceptable by sheer force of numbers.

    In light of the above, what is your problem with dismissing something like Islam as something like a vile cult? It clearly is the kind of thing that if it were small would be regarded by most people as a vile cult.

    Is your problem that it’s not true? If so, please explain.

    Or is it just that it offends delicate sensibilities to hear something that is widely respected described in such disrespectful terms?

    And if so, isn’t it about time we did something about that?

    Or are your concerns just strategic—yes, it is true, but no, this is not a good time and place to say it? If not now, when? If not here, where?

    Please be clear. What exactly is your point?

    Here’s mine: Yeah, PZ’s kinda rude. Problem is, he’s right.

    And no, I’m not saying that religions are “all bad.” Nothing as big and complicated and influential as a major religion could fail to have a good side, especially since I don’t think that people are generally bad. One reason I don’t like religion is that inhibits people from developing as people, and I like people.

    But that’s true in vile little cults, too. If you look at the average vile little cult, the people in it aren’t so bad; they’re just follow the wrong leaders, are misguided in certain crucial ways, etc. But they’re not bad people, without redeeming qualities. The problem is mainly they’re members of vile little cults.

    Just like most of the people in the world, who are adherents of Major Religions. It’s not so different, really.

    Maybe you find a comparison of religious people to cult members “unfair” because you’re too hard on “cult” members. They’re really not all that different.

  196. #196 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    Going back a bit…

    I had some questions in response to something Paul had written.

    Paul W. wrote:

    I am saying that there are rational standards of judgement of moral claims within a basic shared moral framework that most people are evolved to have.

    I responded:

    How could we have evolved for an environment like modern society? Most of human evolution took place, presumably, while we were hunter-gatherers in a fairly primitive environment — assuming my mind isn’t organically dysfunctional. Then again, we know that there are organs which at one time performed a given function but which are now useless. Now what if the human mind and cognition were like that? Perhaps at one point they performed their proper function, whatever that was, but they have long since ceased to have any function. If they were like this, would our so-called theories correspond to anything? Would it even make sense to distinguish between functional and disfunctional minds? If there weren’t any such distinction, would the word “evolution” correspond to anything other than a sound we happen to utter — assuming we actually utter anything? How would we know?

    Paul — do you have any solution to this?

    I then said:

    There is a solution that I am aware of to the problem I posed, but I am going to give it a day before I post it. We shall see if anyone has any ideas. Hopefully no one has seen my act before. Some probably have, in one form or another, elsewhere. I will post a couple of clues a little later, though. But in the meantime this will be a good breaking point. Ethics should wait.

    (I will post the clues shortly — anything which comes in between now and then I will respond to later.)

  197. #197 Paul W.
    February 15, 2006

    How could we have evolved for an environment like modern society? Most of human evolution took place, presumably, while we were hunter-gatherers in a fairly primitive environment — assuming my mind isn’t organically dysfunctional.

    I think the right basic story is that we are evolved to be social animals, and while the difference between more-or-less competing bands of 40 to 80 hunter-gatherers and and more-or-less competing nations of millions are important, there are actually many ways in which life is much the same. There are basic facts of game theory that apply across many orders of magnitude of scale, and they are reflected in our social instincts, which are evolved to promote morality.

    For example, humans have a basic capacity for empathy, which societies must channel and especially limit.

    We have a more or less instinctive regard for others who are “like us,” as opposed to others who are not like us. Societies evolve to channel empathy largely by restricting who we empathize with—e.g., with convenient fictions about people who it’s okay to exploit based on myths about how they’re different and inferior.

    You see this in all cultures, so far as I know. If you have a caste system, for example, it must be “justified” by an ideology and a theology that explains how people deserve to be exploited.

    So in Hinduism, for example, you get a story about Karma, which explains why people are born into certain castes and deserve the treatment society allots to that caste—they did something wrong in a past life, and it’s an important developmental experience for them—and anyway that’s just how Karma works, so who are you to buck the system?

    (I particularely enjoyed the Dalia Lama’s story about Katrina. He agrees with Pat Robertson that the people of New Orleans were asking for it… he just has a different rationalization. Whee. Vile little cults, if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Dalai Lama, but the guy’s nuts and gets way more respect than he deserves; there’s definitely something vile and cultlike going on there.)

    Likewise if foreigners or people of a different “race” are enslaved or otherwise exploited, there’s generally a cultural story as to why that’s ok. E.g., black people are only fit to be slaves, wouldn’t know what to do with freedom if they had it, etc.

    The fact that these rationalizations are widespread, even universal, suggests that there is an instinctive generality to empathy that must be overcome memetically, as a society evolves to survive by exploitation.

    Moral progress is largely the recognizing of the rationalizations for what they are—convenient falsehoods—so that more general empathy can come into play. (Peter Singer refers to this as “the expanding circle.”)

    I’m not saying that this is a simple matter of instinctive empathy. The development of a moral sense is more complicated than that. In particular, it involves a particular ability to abstract over simple empathy, and reason about justice in fairly general terms—even if you don’t really empathize with an individual, you may see that it’s unjust to exploit them, and care about justice in a way that goes beyond your personal feelings. (You can see that you should empathize, and are obligated to fake it, or something very roughly like that.)

    I’m also not saying that it had to be that way, in evolutionary terms. It’s very convenient that human morality seems empirically to have that property—fairly general empathy coupled with limiting rationalizations. This is one of the things that makes moral progress possible—if we can factually refute the rationalizations that limit empathy, we can “make people more moral” by showing them their errors.

    For example, most people don’t think that outright, blatant racism or sexism is justifiable. This is not mostly because people’s basic sense of empathy or justice has changed. It’s because they now understand the non-moral facts that black people and women are not in general weak-minded, and not immune to the kind of suffering that white men would feel given similar treatment.

    This is one of the reasons I’m anti-religion. Many people think religion is necessary because it promotes morality. I think that morality comes from the game-theoretic facts of being a social animal, and from particular ways humans evolved a moral sense. Moreover, religion largely coevolves with political power structures to limit empathy and justice, in favor of exploitation that serves the status quo.

    Religion, which presents itself as the source of morality, is more often a tool of exploitation, casting things in a way that obscures the actual moral issues and works in favor of the powerful. (For example, the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and the Corporate Right in the U.S…. Fundies are such tools.)

  198. #198 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    Seeing as Paul responded (well, sort of) and that particular post was meant mostly for him, I will go ahead and comment on his response prior to the clues.

    His response was to the first two sentences of the first paragraph in my response (well, more like the first sentence and a half), so I will go ahead and repeat the rest of the paragraph which he apparently missed…

    I had asked:

    Then again, we know that there are organs which at one time performed a given function but which are now useless. Now what if the human mind and cognition were like that? Perhaps at one point they performed their proper function, whatever that was, but they have long since ceased to have any function. If they were like this, would our so-called theories correspond to anything? Would it even make sense to distinguish between functional and disfunctional minds? If there weren’t any such distinction, would the word “evolution” correspond to anything other than a sound we happen to utter — assuming we actually utter anything? How would we know?

    As such, the question wasn’t about empathy, power structures, morals, religion, racism, sexism, castes or cultures. The central question is contained in the very last four words: “How would we know?”

    In fact, “How do you know?” might be a good question for people to keep in mind whenever making assertions…

  199. #199 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 15, 2006

    Timothy,

    As several say, the length of comments and the number of questions they spawn makes it hard to follow and comment. I find it hard to deviate from this style now. But I will separate issues into different comments.

    “What I have particular difficulty with is with those who expect all knowledge to be like empirical science. Whether or not religious beliefs qualify as a form of knowledge is actually a somewhat different matter, but to discount these beliefs simply because it does not fit the model of empirical science is a mistake”

    Since this will affect both the question about militancy in atheists and theists and the question about what science can say on religion, I will discuss this first.

    Your background seems to be philosophy. Mine is experimental solid state physics earlier, knowledge in christian religion, no studies in philosophy but a general interest.

    While I had no use of science foundations, it so happened that part of the problems in my area of work could have been cleared out by a philosopher in science, as I see it. Many proposed to explain a particular problems with different ad hocs instead of from basic theory. The problem was that those ad hocs were assuming the feature they wanted to show. Our group didn’t like those models, and managed to find a simple model based on basic theory instead.

    Perhaps the problem was reasoning by tautology of sorts. My own analysis when I heard about Popper was that problem of falsifying such theories made them wrong. That attempt of explanation of a method problem woke my appetite for philosophy of science.

    I find it interesting that you, Paul and I have different ideas about philosophy. My own position entering from science and philosophy of science is that I am suspicious of it. I’m sure you, as a philosopher, will tell me what it’s really about.

    Methods like logic, mathematics and frequentist probability, with connections to both philosophy and science, seems to be rooted in some basic observations of nature. More or less formal theories and interactions with applications in science makes them believable usable.

    Other stuff doesn’t seem to do more than trying to codify areas of thoughts, systematize and remove contradictions it sees. I have several problems with this.

    We doesn’t seem to find truth, especially solely by reasoning. We know of one method to guarantee facts and theories connecting them, but they are contextual (facts) and provisional (theories).

    We don’t know if those other stuff are meaningful. Ie when you discuss ends and means I’m not sure that those declarations correspond to something that exists and/or will result in something that does.

    – It can be a pure mindgame. Fun, but not going anywhere.

    – It can be an attempt to model of how intelligent systems (animals, computers) work with goals and activities (is’s and ought’s) but still be wrong. Your discussion of infinite regress may be a reflection of this. It may be that the question and definitions are inadequate.

    Perhaps you find my ideas a reflection of the very thing you see as a wrong expectation. But I think it’s reasonable to expect some sort of interaction or contact with reality for our mind models.

    You may ask where ethics and other areas go, which may be supposed to end up as mind models, for example on behaviour. I believe it’s reasonable to say that usable models are those that end up in interactions with reality in our actions and their results.

    It’s interesting that you, Paul, and I, each has different ideas about science and philosophy. You purposely withdraw falsification. Paul insists philosophy and science can’t be separated. My experience so far is that parts of it, directly falsifiably or not, seems to be useful (often formal) models that are used in science and so has contact with and are vetted by reality.

    Remaining stuff may be faith beliefs akin to religion – how should we know? One obvious example is objectivist philosophy, but I’m sure others will propose themselves.

  200. #200 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 15, 2006

    “Remaining stuff may be faith beliefs akin to religion – how should we know?”

    Um, perhaps I’m to cautius here. If we don’t know, they ought to be faith beliefs.

  201. #201 Paul W.
    February 15, 2006

    Timothy writes: I had asked:

    Then again, we know that there are organs which at one time performed a given function but which are now useless. Now what if the human mind and cognition were like that? Perhaps at one point they performed their proper function, whatever that was, but they have long since ceased to have any function. If they were like this, would our so-called theories correspond to anything? Would it even make sense to distinguish between functional and disfunctional minds? If there weren’t any such distinction, would the word “evolution” correspond to anything other than a sound we happen to utter — assuming we actually utter anything? How would we know?

    As such, the question wasn’t about empathy, power structures, morals, religion, racism, sexism, castes or cultures. The central question is contained in the very last four words: “How would we know?”

    I’m really unsure what you’re asking about here. Are we talking about basic epistemology and radical Skepticism, or about how (barring radical Skepticism) we know any evolutionary story is true—e.g., what counts as a vestigal organ?

    Or within the generally more-or-less-accepted framework of evolutionary science, are we talking about how we’d know if a moral instinct was vestigal, or maladaptive, or… what?

    I’m not sure I’m up for a huge discussion of basic epistemology, and I’m really not sure this is the right place for it. We could go on forever talking about Hume and whatnot, and I’m not at all sure anybody else would be interested.

    Barring that sort of discussion, I’d say we can talk about functional and dysfunctional minds in pretty much the same ways we talk about functional and dysfunctional biological function in general. It’s not simple, but mostly for the same reasons such things are not simple when discussing non-mental functions. (E.g., multiple units of selection, change and multiplicity of function, and interactions between them.)

    So, for example, a sociopathic evolutionary biologist could talk about the evolutionary function of morality just fine, even if he didn’t himself experience it, subjectively. It would still be complicated, talking about the selection pressures on individuals, the selection pressures on groups, and the selection pressures on memes—and how those all interact, e.g., with social mechanisms evolved to change the fitness landscape for individuals.

    If you’re really interested in this stuff, _Unto_Others_ is a very interesting book on the nature and evolution of morality at several levels. (It’s by the philosopher of science Elliot Sober and the evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson.)

    But by and large, I don’t think there are any basic features of current human morality that have “ceased to have any function.” Morality a hundred thousand years ago and morality now are structurally very similar, for basic game-theoretic reasons. (Morality being essentially about conflicts of interest between individuals and groups, or secondarily between groups and other groups. The groups change, but the basic strategies for managing conflict stay the same.)

  202. #202 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 15, 2006

    Timothy,

    About militancy in atheists and theists.

    ” “First since saying that a religious person suspends reason doesn’t mean to say that person isn’t free to make up his mind. It must be tolerated that criticism is levered at religion as well as other human activities.”

    As someone who is not religious, I would say that if the non-religious expect tolerance, they should show tolerance.
    I can understand criticism per se. But it sometimes gets rather shrill and seems misdirected,”

    Agreed. But I’m saying it goes both ways, and that non-religious people (can) have a clear stance that tolerance is good.

    ” “Second, since as Julie and Timothy says, religion itself is conflicted in this question, so religious people has to explicitly show their tolerance.”

    Which religious people?”

    Those who expects tolerance back. Not only goes tolerance both ways, but as I believe you yourself says, religion’s stance is not only not clear, but suspect. You say:

    “Julie wrote:

    “That post sounds a little more incendiary than I meant it to be. My real point at the end is how do you make your religious views agree with a doctrine of tolerance?”

    Honestly, this is a very good question.”

    So it seems to me that you are saying that atheists may clearly support tolerance but doesn’t always show it in practise, but that theists are unclear on tolerance but doesn’t have to show it in practise to be believed.

    It still seems unfair to me. I would say that atheists may go overboard, while still trying to use the principle, and that theists really have to show tolerance clearly since they have no clear principle about it.

    “If someone were to equivocate between religious extremists and tolerant religious people, then in all likelihood that individual would forefeit the right to have any of their claims regarding ethics taken seriously. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    If we are discussing tolerance as expressed by behaviour, a posteriori, and they have first shown tolerance, we can’t equivocate.

    But we can’t assume tolerance as discussed above. If we are discussing tolerance as expressed by theory (their religion), a priori, we must equivocate.

  203. #203 Timothy Chase
    February 15, 2006

    Radical Skepticism

    Paul, Torbjorn and all,

    My apologies for the delay. A few things to attend to, including spending time with my wife.

    Yes — radical skepticism. And no, not a mindgame. Not particularly interested in those — except in the case of creationist trolls, and that is only after they have been difficult. What I like to focus on primarily is my own understanding. Interacting with others helps in a good number of ways. Insights, problems, perspectives, connections. That sort of thing. But if I can throw a little light on things for others, I certainly won’t complain.

    Ok. I will post the clues that I have been promising, but include the answer as a link since I can see people are getting impatient. However, this way someone can solve it if they want, then look at the answer — without having to worry about seeing the answer first. Don’t like doing it that way, but…

    First, I have already mentioned the difference between that which is articulated and that which is simply tacit. This plays an important role.

    Second, the problem I posed was with respect to “doubt,” but as in the case of solving integrals, some problems are easier than others, and some problems are solved more easily if you are able to reduce those problems to more basic ones.

    Third, “doubt” is a real possibility only so long as both “affirmation” and “denial” are real possibilities.

    Note: the basic idea could probably be expressed within a half a page or less, but this is a little longer…

    Now the answer, which starts after a small response to a friend, beginning with the line “Something Revolutionary: A Critique of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism.” Basically, its two sections to a longer paper.

    Anyway, hope you won’t mind if I take a little break. Some of the writing the I did the past couple of days was a bit exhausting — although worth it in terms of the insights. I will try and get back a little later tonight or tomorrow morning, Seattle time.

    PS There are additional details (which basically require responses to counter-arguments), but if you can get as far as the answer I have given, you are doing pretty good. Incidentally, what the principle I elaborate one is a bit more powerful than simply eliminating global types of skepticism. For example, with very few assumptions, you can demonstrate the need for corrigible knowledge — and thus of a fallibilistic approach to knowledge.

    (Oh — and as an additional problem for anyone who is interested, you might want to see if you can elaborate upon the relationship between this and the prohibition against circular reasoning…)

    In case anyone is worried, I will try to make this my last bit regarding epistemology for a few days (at the very least).

    Take care.

  204. #204 Timothy Chase
    February 16, 2006

    Self-insight, Paul?

    Paul W. wrote:

    We have a more or less instinctive regard for others who are “like us,” as opposed to others who are not like us. Societies evolve to channel empathy largely by restricting who we empathize with—e.g., with convenient fictions about people who it’s okay to exploit based on myths about how they’re different and inferior.

    The fact that these rationalizations are widespread, even universal, suggests that there is an instinctive generality to empathy that must be overcome memetically, as a society evolves to survive by exploitation.

    Moral progress is largely the recognizing of the rationalizations for what they are—convenient falsehoods—so that more general empathy can come into play. (Peter Singer refers to this as “the expanding circle.”)

    … This is one of the reasons I’m anti-religion. Many people think religion is necessary because it promotes morality. I think that morality comes from the game-theoretic facts of being a social animal, and from particular ways humans evolved a moral sense. Moreover, religion largely coevolves with political power structures to limit empathy and justice, in favor of exploitation that serves the status quo.

    #13372

    No doubt we will talk again later, but at this point, I believe you are right: we have lost our focus, or perhaps more accurately, we have been and still are focused on different things.

    Take care.

  205. #205 Paul W.
    February 16, 2006

    Timothy writes: Self-insight, Paul?

    I hope you’re not equating rigorous critique of ideas with intolerance of people.

    I don’t think religious bad ideas should get a free pass just because there’s religious.

    An excess of tolerance for religious bad ideas amounts to intolerance of good ideas; good arguments generally are not religious, don’t get the free pass, and are at a disadvantage. That’s no way to run a society.

    That’s my problem with liberal Christians—they give the fundies too much of a free pass, because they’re afraid to even clearly defend even their own theology.

    When fundies say that the Bible is anti-gay, for example, they are right. It is. The appropriate response is to clearly say “So what? The Bible’s wrong about a lot of things, and that’s one of them.”

    After that, of course, you can talk about how there’s some great stuff in the Bible, too, and the Bible isn’t consistent, so you have to be careful… but that basic point should be made every time, right off the bat; it is the right rebuttal to the Fundies main argument.

    I just think it’s sad that liberal Christians leave it up to atheists like me to defend that essential point, which is their point, too—it’s what makes them tolerant liberal Christians, as opposed to intolerant fundamentalists.

    When the fundamentalists stop oppressing people in concrete ways, or the liberals stop letting them do it because they’re afraid to publicly disagree with what they know to be falsehoods, I’ll be more tolerant of religious “differences of opinion.”

    Until then I have to point out that the Liberal Christians are part of the problem, by caving to the fundamentalists on important points, to avoid the central issue of taking a critical stance toward the Holy Bible.

  206. #206 Paul W.
    February 16, 2006

    At all events, I’m curious. How do researchers define a “mystical state” to begin with? Does the subject claim to be having one? What is the subject’s medical history? Is the subject a Christian? Muslim? Agnostic? Bovine mycologist?

    The best-studied examples are meditating Buddhist monks and praying Catholic nuns.
    There’s also similar but less detailed evidence about sufi dancers, yogis, and—this is interesting—people listening to loud, repetitive music and/or having protracted, intense sex.

    A number of reasearchers have observed that there’s a lot of commonality in the most common kinds of mystical or transcendent states, across many cultures. This suggests that however different the interpretations of those events are, there’s some basic similarity of the underlying brain state and the visceral experience.

    Typically, you have a setup where rhythmic motion or stimulation is important. (Psychological expectations matter a lot, too—in whatever way, it helps to be open to the experience, and “let go.” Drugs can help, of course.)

    Common symptoms are a feeling of floatiness followed by a feeling of boundarylessness or oneness with the external world—e.g., becoming “one with the universe,” being the music, or flowing together as one with your lover. Another common symptom, when going into our out of that state, is clumsiness and weakness, e.g., being weak in the knees, uncoordinated, etc.

    D’Aquili and Newberg seem to have identified the brain regions involved in this. There’s a brain region that processes rhythmic information, connected to a brain region that integrates various kinds of information about where the body is, relative to things in the world.

    That region essentially keeps track of the body boundary and nearby objects, integrating information about objects roughly within arms’ reach with information about stuff further away. (Unconsciously, the brain tracks the body and things within arms reach in different ways than further-away objects. That special processing makes it easier to grab things, avoid hitting things, etc.)

    What seems to happen in these transcendant states is that the rhythm-management center eventually overloads, and stops sending its usual signal to the region that integrates bodily, proximal, and distal spatial information. That region needs that input, and when it stops getting it, it just shuts down.

    At that point, your brain stops keeping track of the usual boundaries and relations between the physical self and the rest of the universe. The rest of the brain may interpret that as oneness with the universe, loss of a sense of self, or maybe an out-of-body experience.

    My gloss on that is that it’s the usual sort of thing that happens with many hallucinations; sensory deprivation of a certain sort leads to hallucinations, when the brain “fills in” or misinterprets the missing information.

    And what specific neurological activity is defined as a “brainfart”?

    If D’Aquili and Newberg are right, it’s the shutting down of the brain region that normally integrates positional information about the body, nearby objects, and the rest of the world. (The “Orientation Association Area” or something like that.)

    Is that really Latin?

    I suspect not.

    Who is conducting this research and under what aegis?

    The stuff I’m most familiar with is D’Aquili and Newberg’s, in their book Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. They’re a couple of university research MD’s; I believe that D’Aquili started as a neuro guy, and Newberg as a nuclear medicine guy, at Pennsylvania.

    I do have some reservations about those guys. (For one thing, D’Aquili’s dead now.)

    The first half of their book is seems good. The last third just sucks, because having explained how all this stuff happens by the shutting down of a crucial brain region, they then try to salvage a “religious” interpretation by casting as maybe a form of veridical perception. That part makes no sense whatsoever–you have to guess that an intelligent designer put this failure mode in there on purpose, in just such a way that it yields true information about the Grand Ju Ju of the universe, without actually processing any information from the outside—it just makes stuff up, but maybe that stuff is right. I think that’s just silly; what we’re talking about is a failure mode of a perceptual system, not an alternative mode that yields veridical perceptions.

    In other words, the researchers in question seem to have some stupid religious ideas, but mostly compartmentalize them well enough to do some pretty good science before they have to resort to absurdities to accommodate their own scientific conclusions.

    There’s a number of other people doing related work on “neurotheology,” but I’m not really competent to give recommendations; I haven’t been keeping up.

  207. #207 Timothy Chase
    February 16, 2006

    Paul W. wrote:

    I hope you’re not equating rigorous critique of ideas with intolerance of people.

    I certainly don’t… when I see them.

    Paul W. wrote:

    When the fundamentalists stop oppressing people in concrete ways, or the liberals stop letting them do it because they’re afraid to publicly disagree with what they know to be falsehoods, I’ll be more tolerant of religious “differences of opinion.”

    Great Ceasar’s Ghost! What do think we’ve been talking about?

    An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science

    (Over 10,000 clergy see supporting the recognition of evolution, and they have signed a document saying so)

    We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as ‘one theory among others’ is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.

    … and there was that Evolution Sunday. Just last week.

    Take care.

  208. #208 Paul W.
    February 16, 2006

    Great Ceasar’s Ghost! What do think we’ve been talking about?

    Where, in what you quoted, does it say that the Bible says things that are not true?

    Where, in what you quoted, does it actually rebut the fundamentalists’ core argument?

    I see stuff about the “timeless truths of the Bible” but not a peep about the falsehoods.

    I see stuff about “God’s loving plan” for humanity, but nothing about how that shows that some other things in the Bible must be false, because they’re inconsistent with the good message.

    The only way that the “timeless truths” of the Bible can coexist with scientific knowledge is by discarding the falsehoods. That’s what liberal theology is all about, and most of these people know it full well, but they will not admit that’s what they’re advocating.

    That is the elephant in the room, and the fight they’re not willing to actually fight. They are so afraid to be seen as attacking God’s Word that they will not defend the central and distinctive features of their own theology.

    If these guys are going to be liberal Christians, and pick and choose from the Bible, they should admit it and explain why that’s necessary and right. Anything else is letting the fundies frame the debate, and usually win. That’s exactly what’s been going on in this country for over 25 years, and especially the last few years. The fundies play the Bible card, and the liberals mostly fold.

    The common conception of liberal theology is that it’s watered down fundamentalism. And that’s substantially true, at least in the pews; it’s about nice people picking and choosing the nice bits of the Bible, mostly based on gut feelings of niceness, with little concern for truth or falsity. This leaves the liberals wide open to criticisms from fundamentalists, who portray themselves as willing to take a stand and face the harsh truth. The only defense against that is to point out that many of their harsh “truths” are not true.

    Liberal Christians are the only demographic big enough to counter the religious right; it is incumbent upon them to fight that fight, because it’s their fight too. When fundies play the Bible card, they are directly attacking liberal theology. Liberals should not give away the store and leave the rest of us twisiting in the wind on that point.

    The fact is that almost nobody in our society is willing to come out and say that the Bible is just wrong about some important stuff—including the majority of people who believe exactly that, and for whom it’s a key part of their worldview.

    Given that, it’s no wonder the fundies are so powerful. They have the trump card, and their opponents let them keep playing it.

    Is my point really so hard to understand?

    I’m just saying that you can’t rescue the Bible or Christianity from fundamentalists if you won’t face the harsh truth that the Bible contains important falsehoods. Trying to gloss over that fact makes you look stupid, or unforgivably sloppy, or just dishonest, or like a mush-headed “bleeding heart liberal” without the brains and spine to do what’s right and necessary.

    Failing to rebut your opponent’s main point makes you look like you don’t have an answer for that. That failure on the part of liberals is why fundamentalism is so powerful; you can’t marginalize the religious crazies if you’re unwilling to take a stand and refute their arguments.

    Liberal Christians generally make counterarguments, but not rebuttals. Fundies do both. That gives the fundies an edge we can’t afford for them to have; the liberals are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, and we all lose.

  209. #209 Timothy Chase
    February 16, 2006

    Paul W. wrote in his first sentence:

    Where, in what you quoted, does it say that the Bible says things that are not true?

    Switching arguments in midstream again?

    Do be careful of that red herring… Too late!

    One paragraph earlier, same link:

    Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be authoritative in matters of faith and practice, the overwhelming majority do not read the Bible literally, as they would a science textbook. Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts.

    An Open Letter Concerning Religion and Science
    (Over 10,000 clergy sign document in defense of evolution)

    Paul C. wrote:

    Liberal Christians are the only demographic big enough to counter the religious right.

    This as well has been one of my central points. You need them because they are, “big enough to counter the religious right.” Thank you for making it for me.

    I am sure this could go on for a while…

    Enough.

    I have a life even if you do not.

  210. #210 Paul W.
    February 16, 2006

    Timothy,

    You are right that I missed some of the better bits of what you linked to. Still, it falls short. It doesn’t talk about outright falsehoods, just non-literal timeless truths. It’s one of the better things that the liberal Christians have come up with—I acknowledge that—but it’s still true that this sort of thing is too rare, and doesn’t go far enough, in glossing over the issue of Biblical falsehoods.

    For example, where the Bible says that two men having sex is an abomination, and that they should be killed for it, it’s not a metaphor. It means it, literally. That needs to be recognized—and soundly condemned.

    And I disagree about Genesis being metaphorical. As somebody else commented, it’s mythical, but that’s not the same thing as metaphorical. But that would be a long discussion, so we shouldn’t try to settle it.

    Enough.
    I have a life even if you do not.

    Given that you have a worse case of logorrhea than me, I guess my response is this:

    Yes, please, by all means, let’s let this thread die. And no, I’m not interested in your thoughts on things like radical skepticism and basic epistemology; not even a little bit—my life leaves me way too little time for that.

  211. #211 Anonymous
    February 16, 2006

    Phew–I’m so glad!

  212. #212 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 16, 2006

    Timothy,

    “Anyway, hope you won’t mind if I take a little break. … In case anyone is worried, I will try to make this my last bit regarding epistemology for a few days (at the very least).”

    Not at all. In fact, My main interest was about the question of what science says on religion. I will make a brief comment here. I will let you and Paul discuss on militancy and morality amongst religious and non-religious. And I will answer your comment on science vs religion, whether or not we continue, since it was helpful.

    “Yes — radical skepticism. And no, not a mindgame.”

    This seems to indicate you are commenting on my current understanding of philosophy. It figures it has a tag – philosophy is, what, 3000 years old?

    http://www.philosophy.stir.ac.uk/staff/duncan-pritchard/documents/RecentWorkonSkepticism.PDF :
    “In particular, this article focuses on the radical versions of these skeptical arguments, arguments which purport to show that knowledge is, for the most part, impossible, rather than just that we lack knowledge in a particular discourse. … For example, a skeptical argument which employed the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis might well run as follows: (S1*) I do not know that I am not a brainin-
    a-vat. (S2*) If I do not know that I am not a brainin-
    a-vat, then I do not know O. Hence: (SC*) I do not know O.”

    This is not what I’m saying. I’m not at all denying the possibility of knowledge. What I’m saying is that what I can trust is based on the method of science. Whether a fact is established to 99.9997 or 100 % makes no difference to science (or me). Maybe a philosopher has problems with this.

    If you need a tag, I think it is “Scientific skepticism or rational skepticism … sometimes referred to as skeptical inquiry, is a scientific, or practical, epistemological position (or paradigm) in which one questions the veracity of claims unless they can be empirically tested.” (Wikipedia.)

    If the rest of the post touches on that, which it vaguely seems, it makes no sense to me, sorry to say, especially since the link provided seems to be wrong.

  213. #213 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 16, 2006

    Maybe I should add that the position of radical skepticism, though I don’t understand it, seems to be one of those mindgames or inadequate formulations I was discussing.

  214. #214 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 16, 2006

    Timothy,

    On science vs religion.

    “I would argue that the different magisteria approach is fairly solid, and in one form or another, has been so since the time of David Hume.”

    I know little of Hume. But http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1134/is_6_112/ai_105371468/pg_2 say: “Morality and religion–two concepts Gould often runs together–seem to belong to one domain and science to another (Gould calls these domains Magisteria). … Several times in The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox Gould makes approving reference to the philosopher David Hume’s division of things into matters of fact and matters of obligation: “I have this,” as opposed to, “It is right and proper that I have this.” Gould also agrees with Hume’s assertion that, logically, there is no way to get from one to the other.”

    So going to Wikipedia I find Hume treated the “is-ought problem” between descriptive (positive) and prescriptive (normative) statements. If these are the basis for the domain concept, I have several problems with this. (What else? 😉

    First about those two domains; I will have to think about this (seems like I have 300 years of philosophy to catch up on) much more, but my initial reaction I have already stated in my comment on philosophy in our discussion of means and ends. This particular concept may be empty or inadequate, and your example of problems support this.

    I can also come up with counterexamples. We ‘ought’ to use markets to distribute resources, because they work best. Which of course can be measured.

    Second it isn’t obvious to me that those two domains map to science and religion. Again, as science is a method it would be far from me to describe what results it will have. And religion isn’t confined to ‘ought’ statement, at least initially in my list.

    ” “- The method of science says that it’s based on facts, but not what questions it can explore. Only by using the method will we learn what quations it can answer.”

    If all logical analysis were irrelevant, I suppose so. But I certainly wouldn’t attempt to answer a problem of arithematic by means of either empirical induction or Bayesian analysis, or if I had a problem which was susceptible to mathematical induction, I wouldn’t see any point in treating it as if it were falsifiable — particularly once it was proven.”

    I fail to see the relevancy of this. What logic entails outside science doesn’t affect science. And logic and mathematics are methods used in science.

    “Alternatively, rather than making empirical propositions, it might relegate itself to metaphysical propositions of one form or another, or alternatively, make use ethical propositions.”

    I thought it was clear that I was only treating the part of religion which is about supernatural phenomena such as gods (or miracles). This is what the proposed method may falsify.

    (((Incidentally, it is also the defining element of most religions – if it can be falsified by some method what remains are a set of bad metaphysics like souls and questionable ethics.)))

    “Not science. Methodological naturalism — which is a basic methodological position which is presumably presupposed by empirical science — would eliminate the explanation of observable phenomena by reference to supernatural causes.”

    I thought it was clear that I was discussing the method of science, ie methodological naturalism.

    “In any case, the rest of your critique assumes that those who are religious give up methodological naturalism, and this certainly needn’t be the case.”

    I mean here that some of them have (deists) in order to stop being falsified by scientific facts.

    “They would, however, have to give up metaphysical naturalism simply in order to be religious.”

    Perhaps you mean succumb to metaphysical naturalism? But it isn’t used since we make observations to conclude the absence of any breaks in naturality. I prefer to see it that observations may make the metaphysical assumption observatinally true, or encapsulated into methodological naturalism.

    From my own post: “Religion has backed off from claiming wellstructured idea.”

    This should probably be “Religion should back off…” since the absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence. On the other hand, even the deist position doesn’t look to wellstructured…

    “The rate of change in a quantity as measured over a volume plus the integral of the corresponding flux over a closed surface which defines the volume equals zero.”

    In the absence of sources and sinks. But Noether’s theorem isn’t proved in that way, and is really concerned about phase space.

    “If spacetime were twisted so that space lacked orientability, then magnetic charge would not be conserved.”

    Interesting idea! Actually I think your argument says that those charges doesn’t appear at all.

    “Alternatively, one could argue that even in spacetime where the topology is trivial that momentum and energy are not conserved, at least over suitably short distances and durations — simply as a result of Heisenberg’s uncertainty priniciple.”

    There is a quantum version of Noether’s theorem, the Ward-Takahashi identities.

    “Likewise, one might ask exactly how to define a closed surface where the topological structure of spacetime is no longer well-defined, such as at the Planck-Wheeler level.”

    We have to wait for string theory or whatever will be the correct quantum gravity theory to explain this (if it isn’t already done). Since the theorem exists both in the calssical and quantum regime, it would be surprising (but not impossible, of course) if a similar principle wouldn’t exist here.

    “But all of this is fairly esoteric”

    Agreed. Actually Noether’s theorem seems to do well without emerging spacetime, with only the ubiquitous time parameter.

    “The essential question is whether evidence could count against a given statement to any degree”

    I’m glad you think so.

    “In the case of metaphysical or ethical statements, it would appear that evidence cannot.”

    But here you lost me. You seem to say so based on some faith principle instead of looking at what was just done.

    I’m arguing that increasing evidence makes a theory overwhelmingly (if provisionally) correct. If observations confirm that natural processes is all we see, that will make the simplest theory the correct one. Supernatural phenomena will be included in those processes we then don’t see (no conservation of energy).

    Enough counterevidence to break the 5-sigma limit will falsify that theory, and conversely gives us a handle on any gods or miracles acting out into, or in, this world of ours.

    “Take care of them, and the more derivative issues tend to fall into place.”

    Ever the optimist! 😉 Well, I have certainly learned a lot, and perhaps clarified my thinking on science vs religion, good vs bad, and means vs ends.

  215. #215 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 16, 2006

    I forgot. If I’m really serious about this new pet project of mine, I need to investigate problems with the theory and try to falsify it offhand. (Before asking about for money to set up initial experiments – any takers? 🙂

    I think the usual (well, new, but used a lot) method is to issue a web challenge.

    Do anyone see a reason why we can’t stop taking metaphysical naturalism for granted and instead make an honest and verifiable scientific theory of all of it, or much of it, along the proposed lines? A reward in the form of much appreciation will be awarded.

  216. #216 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 16, 2006

    The obligatory error list. Sigh!

    “Perhaps you mean succumb to metaphysical naturalism?” No, I read wrong. But the rest was correct anyway.

    “even in spacetime where the topology is trivial” Pauls mistake; a topological space with the trivial topology is one where the only open sets are the empty set and the entire space. It isn’t metrizable.

    A nice spacetime in some senses are Minkowski spacetime. Global Minkowski spacetime is flat.

  217. #217 Arliss
    February 19, 2006

    I would counter his bullshit line with “God didn’t write the Bible” and if he claims he did then tell him to prove that the Bible was written by God.
    I’d like to see him try to prove God wrote the Bible.

  218. #218 Lisa
    February 19, 2006

    I home school, but we’re liberal progressives!

    We realize a lot of religious fanatics are home schooling (brainwashing) their children, but please understand that home schooling is a growing phenomenon within the liberal community. In our tiny district, the right-wing idealogues have invaded the public schools. The curriculum is so watered down, it’s insipid. We have school board members (elected and appointed when seats are vacated) who openly subscribe to the “Intelligent Design” theory. There’s a “meet me at the flag pole” prayer group! There are parents who threaten to sue the school because their “Winter Holiday” concerts aren’t including Christ! Did I mention that I live in the Northeast!!! We are an hour from Philly and 90 minutes from NYC. This year, my 8 year old son learned about the Middle Ages, the Italian Renaissance, The Crusades and Islam so far. AT HOME!!!

  219. #219 greeseyparrot
    February 19, 2006

    P Z Meyer,
    I was enjoying this discussion immensely and thought all your responses apt until your inapropriate reply to Max Udargo, you seemed to miss his point almost entirely, and yet what he had to say wasn’t at all difficult to follow, so I find nearly impossible to believe you did anything more than glance at it.
    Respectfully, please take a break if you’re too tired or bored to track.

  220. #220 Chris
    February 19, 2006

    I honestly hadn’t considered the notion of progressive home schooling before. I was home schooled. I learned creation “science” from specially designed curriculums. Religion was one or my mother’s main motivations to home school. She is a former hippie and liberal who lived in San Francisco in the 1970s and worked in the shipyards (a self proclaimed women’s libber). Sometime in the late 70s to early 80s she found Christianity after searching some eastern religions. My older brother always attended public school and enjoyed it – maybe too much (not enough academic focus). For that reason, along with the religion one I was kept at home from day one. Sure, there were field trips (we were part of a home school group), but there was always a friendly biblical inerrist guide to interpret the natural habitat. When we did go to real nature centers, the guides were tongue-lashed by our nice little Baptist home school group leader into keeping quiet on the subject. I never considered evolution as a valid theory (or even the connotations of the word “theory” in science) until I got curious after “high school” and started studying the subject on my own. After a few months of study, I was finally convinced that everything I had learned [in science] up till then was simply wrong. It’s a bad feeling. I am convinced of the reality of Evolution. There is an incredible amount of information out there (in addition to even more misinformation), and I appreciate the fact that it’s a complex subject that’s not necessarily easy to grasp. However, it’s very possible to ascertain the truth and come to a valid conclusion regarding origins without spending a lifetime in research. I have given my mini bio and said all that I have basically to say that maybe we are focusing on the wrong problem. While it may be easy to blame the Ken Hams of the world for societal evils, I think our focus should be elsewhere. The question we should be asking is why does a significant part of the population believe in junk science when real science is readily available? Yes, it’s good to focus on message and to communicate real scientific knowledge to the public, but why don’t people want to find out for themselves? Where is the interest in science? How can we foster real curiosity in the subject? The politicized version of science that is now ID is accepted by people as some sort of warped validation of their beliefs. We (the people, not just the scientific community) need to be interested in truth and in science because finding the truth is what science is about. Why are we not?

  221. #221 cia
    February 19, 2006

    If a minister can hold up the bible and denounce science in a church, why did the professor who held up a bible in a college level neuroscience course and made note that it was not a science book get so much grief? Why not start in Pre-k? Show a science book with pictures of fossils and state ‘this is a science book based on logical conclusion as observed in the real world.’ Hold up a bible and state this is a book about God and not about science. Why is ok for religious instructors to denounce science as taught in the public schools but no ok to state that the bible is not science in public schools?

  222. #222 ab
    March 18, 2006

    This is what happen when you give idiots the vote.

    Polling places should be made “mysterious”, so that only the smart people can find it and vote.

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