Pharyngula

I seem to have struck a nerve. I’m getting lots of irate email over this post I made yesterday…not the usual cranky, ungrammatical rants I get from creationists, but literate notes with a hint of desperation. They’re still wrong.

Everyone is mangling the question. It’s not, “What should a scientist think about morals?”, or “Should all scientists be atheists?”, it’s “What should a scientist think about religion?” I’m also not trying to argue that science or atheism is a better way of living your life (not here, at any rate).

If a scientist looks at an idea, like religion, how does he evaluate it? Apply the scientific method to the god hypothesis, if you can: what comes out? Does religion hold up on any logical or evidentiary grounds?

And the answer right now is no. If a scientist applies the same kind of critical thinking she uses in her work to religion, she gets the same answer an atheist does, that religion is a weak, useless hypothesis with no support, or worse, that it is an internally contradictory mish-mash that contradicts existing evidence. I bent over backward to say that she doesn’t have to apply that kind of thinking to every aspect of her life, of course, and none of us do. If she wants to claim she’s happy to be a Presbyterian and accepts it as a matter of simple faith, there is no argument, the case is closed, and she can go about her business unhassled by science.

It reminds me of the lack of faith exhibited by so many creationists. They invent elaborate scenarios to explain Noah’s Ark, for instance, and get all gushy about computer simulations and vapor canopies and models of median animal volumes, all bunk and nonsense, and they get ripped to shreds by people who can easily show that their bogus pseudoscience is badly done. All they need to say, though, is “it was a miracle,” and the argument is over. When you’ve got an omnipotent being running the show, you can always just cut to the chase and say that God said abracadabra. That, though, would show that their ideas are unscientific, and “scientific” is a magic adjective they desperately want to attach to their beliefs.

I’m also not claiming that atheists are right because they think more scientifically. I know lots of atheist idiots, and if the world abandoned religion overnight, we’d still have the same stupid people running things, they’d just be looking for a new set of rationalizations. I am definitely not arguing that atheism makes you smart; I’m going the other way, and saying that if you’re smart and apply the critical thinking tools of science to religion, you will not be likely to accept the dogma.

Most remarkably, I’ve received several heartfelt pleas, telling me that saying these things about religion hurts the cause. After thinking hard about that for several seconds, I have an answer to that.

So?

If it’s true, it’s true. I am not swayed by arguments that “if it’s true, it will make some people unhappy.” When you are willing to cede the facts and evidence that support your case simply because they go against some people’s emotional biases, then you’ve hurt your cause. Evidence and logic are what we’ve got, people, and they are powerful enough to send people to the moon and build world-wide information networks and feed billions…and we should abandon that because some people are deeply wedded to failed superstitions?

The question is far simpler and the answer far plainer than many people are making it. If you apply the processes of the scientific method to the claims of religion, treating them as hypotheses, what do you discover? They don’t hold up. The evidence for Jesus, Son of God, is less convincing than the evidence for Sasquatch, Hairy Ape-Man of the Northwest, and the logic is even more insane. Believe if you want, just realize that your belief doesn’t deserve to be called scientific.

Comments

  1. #1 Alexander Vargas
    June 30, 2006

    Jonathan Badger, evolutionary biologist, said:

    “I’m more interested in defending evolution than I am in attacking religion”

    PZ answered:
    “There is a vast problem in the world today — a huge bloated cancer called religion that has tendrils everywhere. I am very concerned about that rather prominent tumor that’s threatening biology, and it’s that precious science I am personally vested in protecting. I don’t see that my best strategy for protecting science is to focus on that one peripheral outbreak, though, and ignore the threat to society’s major organs.”

    No, PZ. That bloated cancer is not religion. I think you are thinking of wealthy conservative american right wing imperialists, who use religion as a tool, and morevover, want to make that religion look like a scientific conclusion ( “there HAS to be a creator!!!” argument).

    You don’t precisely feel that mean buddhist cancer is just dying to wipe evolution out, huh? Ackowledge once and for all that this is a veeery AMERICAN phenomenon that may have more to do than what you think with the fact the USA is the richest, deadliest country of all.

    Angrily point out how they use hails to religion as the mere tool for sympathy and fulfillment of their selfish, ugly objectives? PLEASE do!!! Expose the ugly confusion of science and religion they love to FORCE us into the herd!! By all means, EVERYDAY!!! Emphasize the honesty of those who do not mix religion with politics? Youbetcha.

    Blame RELIGION for everything and sneer and insult to all people with religious beliefs??? AHA!! You missed the target. You pee out of the potty, PZ. See, like that, THEY are no longer the REAL problem. Its RELIGION.

    Moreover, with your generalized attack on religion (which is conceptuallly wrong, by the way) you fulfill their sweetest desires. Evolution is not just a fact independent from religion in general. You make it look like a mere tool for atheists to spread godlessness.

    Alas, paperback writers like Dawkins, heat up their readers imaginations and have this nefarious effect of creating this army of dawkobots in line and ready to march off to war against religion at the slap on the butt.

  2. #2 Sastra
    June 30, 2006

    When it comes to defending the spiritual realm, the relationship between science and religion tends to be one of “heads I win; tails don’t count.”

    First, the sophisticated will argue that existence of God is just not a science theory, or anything like one. It’s more like morals or meaning or matters of taste. It’s group therapy. It’s personal therapy. It’s finding stories which “work” by putting things in a “framework.” Whatever.

    So when all the things God was supposed to do grow smaller, when the evidence for disembodied souls or pure mental and life forces is subsumed under other theories — no problem. Makes no difference. Religion isn’t something which is impacted by scientific findings.

    Yet, as Russell just pointed out,

    I can think of a large variety of ways in which the gods, if they existed, could prove themselves to us.

    And that includes scientific proof. “God exists” is not like “chocolate tastes better than vanilla.” You could never discover anything through science which would show that people who preferred vanilla were WRONG. But, in theory, scientific findings could show atheists they were wrong. The only reason they haven’t is because — they haven’t.

    Secular humanists like PZ do science all the way down. They don’t stop at some arbitrary point and claim there is some sort of virtue in doing so. And I say good to call the bluff of those who do. That’s not arrogance. It’s honest consistency.

    Saying “shhh…okay, but keep it down, the vast majority of people can’t handle that kind of idea, they’re not like us” — I think that is arrogant.

  3. #3 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    You may want to read some of Einstein’s views on how physics has developed, caledonian. It wouldn’t hurt reading somehing else than the Dawkins book you keep under your pillow (hahaha)

  4. #4 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2006

    “God exists” is a hypothesis…and as I was saying, obviously a very bad one. So bad it’s not even wrong, it’s just useless.

    I’m not sure why you bring up Barbara Forrest. Her testimony at Dover was almost entirely aimed at showing that ID was synonymous with creationism, and that the founders of the DI had a religious motivation. She did mention that “methodological naturalism coincides with the world view of secular humanism,” and disagreed with Dawkins’ disparagement of faith, but that’s about all I know of that was relevant.

  5. #5 Alexander Vargas
    July 3, 2006

    well yeah of course its fairy tales. Treating it like science is silly. It’s like gettig all pissed at a movie with the parts that require you to “suspend reason”. If you obsses with that inaccuracy you can’t really follow the plot and won’t understand the tear jerking ending. See if you;d actually given into the movie, you could have even taken some nice thoughts home.
    Religion is not intended to describe the mechansismof how nature works, but not because of that it is lame, stupid or whatever. To think it “jut so” is well… quite stupid. I take an anthropological interest in religion and their stories. I am interested by rituals and what do they simbolize. I do not stand by the side looking down my nose at religious processions like Dawkins does. No, I do not barf at buddhist monks in mediation-prayer, I do not shake my head with pity at the mexican day of the dead.

  6. #6 True Believer
    March 27, 2008

    On the speciic issue: Is there more evidence of sasquatch than Jesus. I would recommend the book “The Historical Reliability of the Gospels” by Craig Blombeg, Chair of Greek and NT at the Denver Seminary. It is a careful critical examination of the historic evidence from a conservative christian scholar.

  7. #7 Qwerty
    August 1, 2008

    post #97 from Vargas:

    What a pile of crap.

  8. #8 Qwerty
    August 1, 2008

    After reading about 120 posts, I think I understand it now.

    Science is a rational attempt at explaining the world. Also, if incorrect, it can correct itself with refinement, rejection, and/or modification of previous explanations.

    Religion is an irrational attempt at explaining the world.

    Lightning is caused by Thor, the god of storms.

    Dionysus enters our bodies when we drink wine and causes us to feel good until we pass out or vomit.

    Genesis tells that God made Adam and Eve; so homosexuality doesn’t exist. (Yes, I’ve heard this one on the radio.)

    The Bible and/or any other religion’s manifesto cannot be modified and/or changed without changing the religion which would be heretical. So, religion is unchanging.

  9. #9 Bruce Gee
    October 10, 2008

    I do think there’s another scientific approach to religion: not whether or not it is a true hypothesis, but whether it is culturally useful.

  10. #10 Ichthyic
    October 10, 2008

    I do think there’s another scientific approach to religion: not whether or not it is a true hypothesis, but whether it is culturally useful.

    been there, done that.

    answer:

    no.

    why?

    substitute any secular organization that also employs social bonding rituals to achieve same effect.

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