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 Shygetz
    June 30, 2006

    There are logical grounds for advancing a religious hypothesis; however, these are by nature “God of the gaps” arguments, which people find unsatisfying (although I don’t think they are technically a logical fallacy).

    Of all of your posts on disbelief, this is one of my favorites. Very measured and well-supported. Bravo.

  2. #2 stevie_nyc
    June 30, 2006

    I really don’t understand why people should expect atheists to just sit down and shut up.

    People are free to believe whatever sky god/goddess they want. Just don’t expect me to
    not state my view in fear of offending you. It’s unavoidable. You’re not going to like it. It’s not my problem.

    When it comes to government all I wish is a true separation of church and state.
    I don’t think churches should get tax exempt status and I don’t think any “faith based iniatives” should get one cent of taxpayer’s money. That’s why they pass the basket around every sunday.

  3. #3 sjforti
    June 30, 2006

    Fantastic post. Just had to say that.

  4. #4 Nymphalidae
    June 30, 2006

    I really liked this post, and I also liked the last one that made everybody angry. So there 🙂

  5. #5 Liberal doses of Dirk
    June 30, 2006

    People should realise that if they get their answers in life from little voices in their head or make their decisions based on random occurances in their lives which they then determine to be a sign from the bearded sky fairy, those decisions will most likely be wrong.

    I live in South Africa, and I am a closet Atheist. Why? It is not because I lack the courage of my convictions, it is simply that I do not wish to suffer additional economic disadvantage.

    Congratulations on a well written post, Professor Myers

  6. #6 Alex
    June 30, 2006

    Great post. It’s refreshing to hear that being said…..finally.

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    June 30, 2006

    Most the mail I’ve gotten hasn’t been angry. Confused, disappointed, and desperate are better adjectives to use.

    Another interesting thing to note: many of the responses try to turn the argument around to demand that I defend atheism. Call me slow, but I’m just now realizing this…that the kneejerk response to any criticism of religion is to scramble and deflect and try to turn it into an argument about atheism. It’s really, really, really easy to criticize religion, if you think about it. It’s why you can have a lot of atheists who aren’t very bright. I’m beginning to see a pattern to responses to critiques of religion–they almost always involve frantic attempts to get the discussion away from any specifics of religious dogma, and back onto “hey, those atheists sure are evil, huh?”

  8. #8 Johnny Vector
    June 30, 2006

    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.

    This is a point I think is very significant. Despite all the fuzzy-thinking non-logical people out there, as far as being The Correct Worldview, science has won. The fundamentalists do not, in general, subscribe to non-overlapping magisteria; they go to great lengths to prove that their religion is scientifically correct.

    Which of course makes them look like dolts, but the point remains that huge effort goes into producing (generating, fabricating) evidence. “Scientific” is a Good Thing to pret-near everyone, even if they can’t distinguish real science from Shinola.

  9. #9 Jonathan Badger
    June 30, 2006

    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.

    I think you are confusing two different issues. Yes, you shouldn’t *change* your opinion simply because it may hurt other people’s feelings, but that’s different from asking yourself if it is *strategic* to express all of your opinions to others, particularly if your main goal is to convince them of another point. I’m an atheist and an evolutionary biologist too, but I’m more interested in defending evolution than I am in attacking religion — aren’t you?

  10. #10 Stwriley
    June 30, 2006

    You’re quite right, PZ. Too many theists insist that any criticism of religion must defend atheism, as though this were a coherent, competing system of though rather than a singular position on one question. While I am a metaphysical naturalist and utilitarian by philosophy (and thus necessarily an atheist) I don’t ever feel the need to defend atheism per say, just my own philosophical arguments and justifications. Atheism itself is simply the negative left when theistic hypotheses are shown to be logically and evidentially false. It does not require defending by the normal standards, that is the problem of positive assertions. One would think that scientists (and anyone else claiming a higher education) would grasp this, but apparently some do not. To fall back explicitly on faith is fine, as PZ rightly notes, as long as you know what your doing by that, but the counter-argument of demanding “proof” of atheism is like demanding that one “prove” that ghosts don’t exist. Either one is a tactic to avoid the logical holes in the original proposition.

  11. #11 HPLC_Sean
    June 30, 2006

    No religion can stand unbruised against cold, calculating, Euclidian logic. What you’ve failed to address however is the way in which humans naturally agglomerate along spousal, family, community, and tribal lines. There is a strong pull toward establishing arrangements of this kind. Besides, Natural Selection has arguably shown that when we co-operate by establishing such institutions, the species has a tendancy toward survival and development. Tribes that cultivate, gather, build and destroy together get ahead. Religions, countries, and corporations are built on this principle.
    If we justifiably extrapolate tribal lines to religious lines, then we can see that humans have a strong attraction to religion for the simple sense of belonging and comfort the tribe brings each individual. Laypeople find no such comfort in science because religious doctrine speaks a language that is attractive and comparatively easy to understand. A great many scientists find no comfort in science because the relentless nature of proposing, refuting, and proving hypotheses is competitive rather than co-operative. An entire field of scientists could be behind your idea one minute and then turn its back on you the next as your work gets proved and disproved.
    Country – via its constitution – and religion – via its doctrine – provide people with a sense of tribal membership that science and logic cannot emulate for laypeople. Don’t be surprised if scientists hold onto their religious vices, its a product of Natural Selection after all.

  12. #12 woofsterNY
    June 30, 2006

    Wow. Fabulous.

    You’re really gettin’ into some juicy meat now, PZ.

    It’s about time for the book. 😀

  13. #13 Betty Cocker
    June 30, 2006

    When you consider the dreadful attitudes the public in the USA has towards atheists, it is clear that atheists need to speak out much more often, and publicly, so people can get to see they are real, do not have fangs, and don’t abduct babies (at least not any more than an other group). There is obviously an extreme level of ignorance among the general population about this subject, which can only be improved with continued exposure. I don’t think you would find the same in Europe.
    I agree with PJ about almost any form of theism we know as being a dud scientific concept. On the other hand, there will probably always be mysteries we cannot fathom by science, (pre big bang for example) though it is fairly amazing how much we have discovered. Given such unknown, I think many people find comfort in the idea of a creator. We cannot say for certain they are wrong, though there is absolutely no reason to suppose they are right (the unknown is just that, a mystery). For this reason I prefer the term non-theist to atheist, as the latter has often implied an absolute and dogmatic belief there is no god, rather than a skeptical open mind.

  14. #14 HP
    June 30, 2006

    The evidence for Jesus, Son of God, is less convincing than the evidence for Sasquatch, Hairy Ape-Man of the Northwest

    Oh, man, wait ’til I tell Loren Coleman. I can see the headlines now: “Sasquatch ‘Bigger than Jesus,’ Says Noted Biologist!” 🙂

  15. #15 PZ Myers
    June 30, 2006

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

    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.

  16. #16 G. Tingey
    June 30, 2006

    Reposting, with extra comments at the end ….

    People have been talking about defining the conflict between science and religion – ok.
    And some, at least have been suggesting (apart from the definition of “Faith” as belief without evidence) that religion is somehow outside science’s remit, and that religion cannot be examined scientifically.

    Well, here we go again …

    Here are some falisfyable, testable propositions concerning religion and religious belief.
    I have yet to see any “believer” take any notice – probably because they know they would lose.

    Of course, until falsified, the propositions may be taken to be true (as usual) …

    Here we go:

    1. No “god” is detectable (even if that “god” exists)
    2. All religions have been made by men.
    3. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    Corollary: 3a ] There is no such thing as “Psi”.
    4. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    Corollary: 4a ] Marxism is a religion.
    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
    Corollary: 5a ] The bigots are the true believers.

    (Copyright to me, but freely available, if acknowledged. )

    Of course, technically, this makes me a militant agnostic, though for all practical purposes, I’m an atheist.

    I suggest some of the people who put a lot of effort into their postings to the previous part of this ongoing thread read what I’ve just said, and try to act on it.
    I am, unfortunately, in no position to try to start a world-wide essay of establishing the principles I have hypothesised, above.

    Ad, yes, thanks PZ, and everyone – it was a good discussion – so far.

    Now, will any of the ID iods ou there listen?

    Last thought – an alternative strategy would be to try for the Templeton Prize, and when you’ve won it, denounce the whole thing as a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys – rather like the Sokal hoax …..

  17. #17 J-Dog
    June 30, 2006

    I say a hearty “F*** You!” to all those that have a problem with your post, or views. Well done Prof Myers!

  18. #18 garth
    June 30, 2006

    bravo prof. that’s some nice stuff.

    i think a big part of people’s tolerance for religion, and their unwillingness to call it out for the bullshit it is, comes from family sympathies. mentally, say, your mom, that paragon of bravery, patience, endurance and near-god-like perception would end up being that dope who believes fairy tales from illiterate shepherds in the middle of the stinking desert. that causes your brain to go “shproiiinngggg!” and you say “Let’s just talk about something else now.” You don’t want to think of your mom as an idiot, or your grandma or father or whoever. so you just dodge it.

  19. #19 George
    June 30, 2006

    PZ said: I’m beginning to see a pattern to responses to critiques of religion–they almost always involve frantic attempts to get the discussion away from any specifics of religious dogma, and back onto “hey, those atheists sure are evil, huh?

    This professor at Oxford wants us to believe that atheism is what happens when religion is in need of renewal:

    “Atheism was once new, exciting, and liberating, and for those reasons held to be devoid of the vices of the faiths it displaced. With time, it turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. Many have now concluded that these personality types are endemic to all human groups, rather than being the peculiar preserve of religious folks. With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively.”

    “Paradoxically, the future of atheism will be determined by its religious rivals. Those atheists looking for a surefire way to increase their appeal need only to hope for harsh, vindictive, and unthinking forms of religion to arise in the West.”

    From: The Twilight of Atheism, by Alister McGrath
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/003/21.36.html

    Atheism as a kind of necessary evil to be gotten through before the next wonderful religious revival can take place.

  20. #20 Carlie
    June 30, 2006

    I think this is the best post I’ve seen yet, as well as the most cogent explanation of the non-overlap between science and religion.

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    June 30, 2006

    For the record, my mom is a nice liberal Lutheran who rarely attends church or talks about religion, and SHE IS NOT AN IDIOT.

    I just think religion needs a heavy dose of humility — it explains the universe poorly, and ought to celebrate science as a human tool to better understand the world instead of treating it as evil because it contradicts their dogma.

    We can leave the arrogance to scientists. We specialize in it, you know.

  22. #22 Kristine
    June 30, 2006

    Frankly, if atheists keep quiet and try to be “religion-friendly” in everything we say, I am going to lose my mind, and anyway believers will recognize such insincerity a mile away. Then they’ll hit back with a “but you don’t really believe that, do you?” to show us up as a bunch of double-talking frauds. Forget it. Everyone just be honest.

    What is the “cause” that we are supposedly hurting anyway, if honesty is not the best policy?

    “Are you speaking as an atheist?” I love that one–it’s rather like “Are you speaking as a woman or as a person?” What a stupid question. Duh, yes, I’m always speaking as an atheist, but because atheism doesn’t involve the rigidity of having a set ideology that never changes, or never has open-ended questions, it’s not the same as when someone says, “As a Christian, I believe so-and-so,” or “As a Whatever, such-and-such offends me.” I just see myself as a person. Atheism is about just being a person, being naturally oneself, and not joining this or that religious clique, and (hopefully) not asking that experience conform to one’s prejudices, and not holding the same suppositions throughout life in the face of changing reality, and not having a net of certainty thrown over everything. That’s what people don’t understand, that atheists deal with life’s uncertainty and moral ambiguity. And yes, that’s why we must speak out.

  23. #23 garth
    June 30, 2006

    PZ, I wasn’t making fun of your mom. Just trying to describe a possible process that leads so many otherwise normal-seeming people to go all nutty when they hear “religion is a giant load.” and find themselves partial to agreeing.

  24. #24 PaulC
    June 30, 2006

    I’m by no means a militant atheist, but I’m not sure what PZ wrote that got such a reaction. It seemed to me to be a pretty balanced view. My answer to the original question is that all a scientist must think about religion is that it is not an adequate justification for claims they wish to present as science. Anything else they want to think or say might affect perceptions of their credibility, but need not affect the quality of their scientific output.

    The scientific method is a process with built-in error-correction capability and can thus be used by imperfectly rational agents to derive rationally justified results. That’s good news, because none of us is perfectly rational. I didn’t read PZ’s long post all that carefully, but it seemed to convey this point and certainly did not insist that a scientist must reject religion. I also accept his view that scientific thinking erodes faith–“no one can serve two masters”, right?

    In practice, I’m probably an adaptationist unlike PZ. Religion appears to serve a social function. A minority of people are inclined to eschew religious belief, but many others hold onto it. I accept that these people “get something out of it” the way I might get something out of trying to grow a vegetable garden even though a rational accounting for all costs (including my labor and the local water utility) would probably make these more expensive than what I could buy at the most expensive gourmet grocers.

    In short, people have the discretion to do what they want to do and believe what they want to believe as long as it does not interfere with others’ rights. They also have the fundamental right of pursuit of happiness, which can include the attempt to establish a scientific career. If they are capable of doing science, that science has to be judged on its own merits and not ruled out by applying a litmus test to the person doing the work.

  25. #25 carlman23
    June 30, 2006

    To quote Nietzsche:

    “For this is the way religions are won’t to die out: under the stern intelligent eyes of orthodox dogmatism, the mythical premises of a religion are systematized as a sum total of historical events; one begins apprehensively to defend the credibility of myths, while at the same time one opposes any continuation of their natural vitality and growth; the feeling for myth perishes, and its place is taken by the claim of religion to historical foundations.”

    -The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Section 10

    The argument for the divorce of religion from science (or society in general) has been going on for a long time now, and yet look how little has changed. Kudos to those who have the integrity to stand out and speak up!

  26. #26 quork
    June 30, 2006

    This professor at Oxford wants us to believe that atheism is what happens when religion is in need of renewal:
    .
    “Atheism was once new, exciting, and liberating, and for those reasons held to be devoid of the vices of the faiths it displaced.

    Atheism hasn’t been new for at least 2600 years, and probably longer. And Alister McGrath is a doodoo-head.

  27. #27 Frost
    June 30, 2006

    “Religion appears to serve a social function. A minority of people are inclined to eschew religious belief, but many others hold onto it.”

    Serving a social function is not a value of itself nor does it justify an exemption from criticism – think of nationalism. I’m not saying you implied this, but a lot of theists seem to do.

  28. #28 ryanb
    June 30, 2006

    *claps*

    It’s nice to see I’m not the only one on earth who sees things like this. Given the attitude of 99% of people I come into contact with on a daily basis, I often feel alone.

  29. #29 Memo from Turner
    June 30, 2006

    PZ

    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?

    Indeed. I saw some folks raising this “hurt the cause” argument and I really had to wonder: what in heck are they talking about? What “cause”? The “cause” to fight fundamentalist nonsense but protect the non-fundamentalist nonsense at all cost?

    Uh, no thanks.

    I’ve said it before and I’l say it again: scientists who are theists who do not like what atheists are saying about religion need to a better job of teaching their leaders to speak out against fundie shitheads and their followers.

    When that happens, I’ll theistic scientists some slack. Until then, they can take their whining about bad old atheists and shove it.

  30. #30 Memo from Turner
    June 30, 2006

    Religion appears to serve a social function. A minority of people are inclined to eschew religious belief, but many others hold onto it. I accept that these people “get something out of it” the way I might get something out of trying to grow a vegetable garden

    Exactly. It’s personal psychotherapy BUT if you are a member of one of the more popular cults you get the bonus of having political power in addition.

    That is religion. Nothing more. Nothing less. Anyone who claims otherwise is confused or lying and the inability of many religious people to admit their confusion or dishonesty is a huge part of the problem.

    That’s why we’re not so supposed to talk about religion. It’s the same reason we’re not supposed to talk about the medication your co-worker takes to keep him or her from coming to the office with a gun and blowing your brains out. It’s not “politically correct.”

  31. #31 Jonathan Badger
    June 30, 2006

    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

    If convincing people of the errors/evils of religion were as simple as convincing them of the fact of evolution this strategy would also be pretty attractive to me too. After all, you’d think that producing atheists/agnostics would make teaching science easier. But the fact is I’ve *never* seen (or even heard of) a theist say (non-sarcastically) “Gee, you’re right. You convinced me now that religion is a false cancer” – have you? Instead, they just get angry and unreceptive to anything you have to say about evolution or anything else.

    On the other hand, convincing doubters of evolution that evolution is a fact is quite possible — I’ve done it myself.

  32. #32 colination
    June 30, 2006

    This has to be the most level headed and intellegent posts on atheism and science that I’ve read lately. Nicely writ — and it does a better job getting your point across than yesterday’s post.

    On a side note, HPLC_Sean’s comment mistakenly uses the incorrect concept of group selection to show why religion exists:
    “Besides, Natural Selection has arguably shown that when we co-operate by establishing such institutions, the species has a tendancy toward survival and development.”

    Natural selection does not work on the species level. We may gravitate toward groups as individuals because it helps us survive better than if we were alone. The result is similiar but it is important to keep in mind the principles of evolutionary thinking when making arguements for evolved behaviors.

    Additionally, there are several theories besides the survival value of groups for why humans are prone to religious beliefs but that’s a post for another time.

  33. #33 paleotn
    June 30, 2006

    Alister McGrath wrote, via George…

    “Atheism was once new, exciting, and liberating, and for those reasons held to be devoid of the vices of the faiths it displaced.”

    Huh? All human endeavors are full of vices from the start. It’s simply the way we operate as a species. Didn’t read the full article, but I get the sneaking suspicion that he views atheism / agnosticism as just another religious viewpoint. “sigh” Will that gross misconception ever die?

    “With time, it turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. Many have now concluded that these personality types are endemic to all human groups, rather than being the peculiar preserve of religious folks.”

    I’m surprised that that seems to surprise him. People are people, whether they believe in god, allah, shiva, zeus, oden or no god at all. Whoever said atheists / agnostics were perfect and their worldview was without its charlatans? That’s certainly not a rational view.

    “Paradoxically, the future of atheism will be determined by its religious rivals. Those atheists looking for a surefire way to increase their appeal need only to hope for harsh, vindictive, and unthinking forms of religion to arise in the West.”

    We already have harsh, vindictive, unthinking forms of religion in the West. Its largest branch seems to be evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity. Having grown up immersed in it, trust me, it’s as harsh, vindictive and unthinking as Islam ever claimed to be. It’s simply that here in the West we are conditioned not to think of fundamentalist Christianity in those terms, true though they may be. Similarly, Muslims don’t think their religion can be equally as violent and harsh as they view Christianity to be. I guess whatever religion one subscribes to, when one turns off the rational side of your brain one can end up believing all kinds of bizarre even dangerous things.

  34. #34 James Killus
    June 30, 2006

    I once invented a religion for the purposes of a science fiction story, or maybe it was the other way around. It wasn’t a theistic religion; it was based on the Everett Interpretation of quantum mechanics (usually called the “many worlds” interpretation).

    The difference between the Everett interpretation and the Copenhagen interpretation has no (at least for now) obserservable consequences, so any interpretation is more or less a matter of “faith.” There are certainly other things in human experience that are similar, in that there is no way to test them in any way that makes scientific sense. Yet sometimes different views of these things seems to make a difference in how people feel, think, and act.

    I’m not sure how exactly this connects to religion and atheism, but it seems like it ought to, doesn’t it?

  35. #35 Martin Rundkvist
    June 30, 2006

    “Bogus pseudoscience”? PZ, our problem is with real pseudoscience! (-;

  36. #36 Russell
    June 30, 2006

    James Killus writes, “The difference between the Everett interpretation and the Copenhagen interpretation has no (at least for now) obserservable consequences, so any interpretation is more or less a matter of ‘faith.'”

    David Deutsch has proposed experimental differentiation between the two. The experiment depends partly on what one considers an observer, and has a limit because of that. One extreme form of the Copenhagen interpretation is that only I am immune from quantum entanglement. But not you. 😉

  37. #37 Julia
    June 30, 2006

    PZ, maybe sometime you could post on the difference (if any) between atheist and agnostic.

    I keep reading that science can’t prove a negative, and that the ID people are illogical when they say that the present lack of scientific explanation for the development of some specific biological structure must mean that the structure is a special creation by the designer/god. Both those ideas make sense to me in that the lack of proof for one explanation isn’t in itself proof of another explanation.

    Using the same reasoning, I can follow when Betty Crocker says, “I agree with PZ about almost any form of theism we know as being a dud scientific concept. On the other hand, there will probably always be mysteries we cannot fathom by science, (pre big bang for example) though it is fairly amazing how much we have discovered. Given such unknown, I think many people find comfort in the idea of a creator. We cannot say for certain they are wrong, though there is absolutely no reason to suppose they are right (the unknown is just that, a mystery). For this reason I prefer the term non-theist to atheist, as the latter has often implied an absolute and dogmatic belief there is no god, rather than a skeptical open mind.”

    But this leaves me not following the argument in statements like that by Stwriley: “Atheism itself is simply the negative left when theistic hypotheses are shown to be logically and evidentially false. It does not require defending by the normal standards, that is the problem of positive assertions.”

    I’ve been thinking that atheism is a positive claim that no god exists, something more than just a statement that there is no proof for the positive claim that God does exist. No, I’m not trying to defend the “dogmatic” in Betty Crocker’s post, but I am having trouble seeing how the lack of scientific evidence for any god leads directly to atheism rather than agnosticism.

    Or maybe I’m just not understanding the terminology.

  38. #38 stevie_nyc
    June 30, 2006

    Let me see if I can over simplify it…

    Agnostic= there is no proof of god
    Atheist= there is no god

    I may be wrong.

  39. #39 Betty Cocker
    June 30, 2006

    Julia,

    I don’t know whether the definition below from Wikipedia helps.
    I do think that there are historical negative connotations to the word atheist, which might be absent from word non-theist.

    from wikipedia
    Atheism, in its broadest sense, is the absence of theism (the belief in the existence of deities). This encompasses both people who assert that there are no gods, and those who make no claim about whether gods exist or not. Narrower definitions of atheism, however, typically label as atheists only those people who affirmatively assert the nonexistence of gods, and classify other nonbelievers as agnostics or simply non-theists.

    Many people who self-identify as atheists do tend to share common skeptical concerns regarding the evidence (or lack of evidence) of the world’s many deities and creation stories as well as questioning the goodness and morality of religions that have brought us such things as holy wars and inquisitions. Yet while some adhere to philosophies such as humanism, naturalism and materialism, there is no single ideology that all atheists share, nor does atheism have any institutionalized rituals or behaviors. Indeed, atheism is inspired by many rationales, encompassing personal, scientific, social, philosophical, and historical reasoning.

    Although atheism is commonly equated with irreligion in Western culture, some religious beliefs (such as some forms of Buddhism), though not often so identified by the adherents, have been described as atheistic.

  40. #40 Russell
    June 30, 2006

    Julia, different people use the terms differently. “Atheist” can mean either someone who claims there are no gods, or someone who merely doesn’t believe in any gods. I suspect the latter is what you mean by a non-theist.

    The term agnostic is even more variable. Huxley, who coined it, seemed to use it much the sense of your non-theist. But it also can mean someone who holds that the existence or non-existence of gods is unprovable. Note that that is not a disclaimer of belief, but instead is a positive assertion, about the provability of certain kinds of claims. To that agnostic claim, I would ask: How do you know? More, I can think of a large variety of ways in which the gods, if they existed, could prove themselves to us. From Athena to Jehovah, most gods are depicted of showing themselves to people, as well as we can to each other. Asserting that their existence is non-provable seems to me pretty much nonsense on its face.

    There is no necessary tie between agnosticism, in the sense of asserting non-provability of various theological statements, and actual belief. The typical picture of the agnostic is someone who isn’t religious. But there are any number of Christians, and I suspect believers in other religions, who begin with the agnostic assertion — “you cannot prove or disprove the existence of the gods” — and leap from there to belief — “so I choose to believe in this one.” They still are agnostic. They aren’t claiming that having believed, they now have proof. They merely believe both assertions about non-provability and existence, as far as I can tell, both as a matter of faith.

  41. #41 Fred J
    June 30, 2006

    Julia,
    While you are waiting for an intelligent answer, allow me to offer in my words how I think about science, atheism and belief in a god.

    Science has “nothing to say” on the supernatural period.
    Some atheist just do not believe in a supernatural father or son or ghost.
    Some atheist(acting non scientifically) claim there is no god. These hard atheist are just as correct in this claim as the religious are in their claim of belief.

  42. #42 stevie_nyc
    June 30, 2006

    Well… I don’t think that’s the intelligent answer she was looking for.

    Non-scientifically?

  43. #43 PZ Myers
    June 30, 2006

    Did you read the article, Fred?

    Atheists and many scientists, looking at the evidence and reasoning, conclude that there is no support for the god hypothesis. That’s the issue. Not whether there are these “hard atheists” or “fundie atheists” or whatever pejorative term people choose to apply to the godless to belittle them, but whether there are grounds to accept the claims of the believers.

    I’ll say it again. The first tactic to avoid addressing the hard question of the validity of religious belief is to reply with a criticism of those who don’t believe. Don’t fall for it.

  44. #44 stevie_nyc
    June 30, 2006

    I’m a hard atheist damn it!

    There is no tooth fairy.

    Hardcore!

  45. #45 cm
    June 30, 2006

    Russsell and Julia, take a hit off Bertrand Russell’s pipe:

    I think that in philosophical strictness at the level where one doubts the existence of material objects and holds that the world may have existed for only five minutes, I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptic orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.I think that in philosophical strictness at the level where one doubts the existence of material objects and holds that the world may have existed for only five minutes, I ought to call myself an agnostic; but, for all practical purposes, I am an atheist. I do not think the existence of the Christian God any more probable than the existence of the Gods of Olympus or Valhalla. To take another illustration: nobody can prove that there is not between Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptic orbit, but nobody thinks this sufficiently likely to be taken into account in practice. I think the Christian God just as unlikely.

  46. #46 cm
    June 30, 2006

    (sorry for the double paste; BR was not that pedantic)

  47. #47 Kagehi
    June 30, 2006

    I am not that great at photoshoping, but I had this nuts idea while reading this:

    http://www.geocities.com/shadowfyr2/Junk/More_like_Science.png

    Feel free to steal it for your own use. lol

  48. #48 Eric Wallace
    June 30, 2006

    I’ll write down a sure to be controversial equation and see what people think of it:

    (a) there is no proof of god
    +
    (b) there is no reason for god
    =
    (c) there is no god

    In my experience, the biggest factor in distinguishing someone who self-identifies as an atheist versus an agnostic is whether or not they agree with (b).

    Atheists, confronted with an agnostic’s ambivalence about proof, invariably pull out Santa, invisible unicorns, or, in Russell’s case, china teapots. It’s easy to make unproven beliefs seem ridiculous when the unproven thing serves absolutely no purpose.

    Agnostics I’ve met generally are at least a little bothered by questions like, “why are all these intelligent, seemingly free-willed beings here, anyway?”. Enough so that they don’t make the leap to (c). To them, there are some things that need explaining that could, at least plausibly, be explained by a god.

    For the record, I consider myself an atheist.

  49. #49 Russell
    June 30, 2006

    Well, see, cm, I was pointing out how gods are like Bertrand Russell’s teapot. It’s kind of silly to assert that the existence of either is unprovable. If anything, if gods are around, they should be a bit more easily encountered than a tiny teapot lost in the depths of space.

  50. #50 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.

  51. #51 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.

  52. #52 stevie_nyc
    June 30, 2006

    There’s genocide and murder in poor countries based on religious fundamentalism.

    Religion isn’t just a problem in the U.S. It’s actually much worse abroad.

    The U.S.’s problems due to religion are actually mild when compared to other regions.

  53. #53 Alexander Vargas
    June 30, 2006

    I would say that very rarely do countries or groups in deadly conflict, rich or poor, do not use religion as a tool. And quite a useful one it can be.
    The US problem with religious fanatism is not mild. Internally, sure, it does not produce TOO MUCH death and violence (although not none wahtsover, mind you). The USA just EXPORTS most of its death as the results of the decisions of political leaders who make strong appeals to religion to keep their christian votes. They are sympathetic to the view evolution is BS to explain “miraculous” life, so that the creator is “the only reasonable conclusion” . They know this can lead people to continue on their side and be condescending with their religious frameworking of the facts.

  54. #54 PZ Myers
    June 30, 2006

    Alexander, you’re doing it too. You’re avoiding the issues. The appeal to consequences is a fallacy, you know.

    You’re trying to defend religion by resorting to unaddressably vague platitudes. Get specific. What’s defensible? The trinity? 72 virgins as a reward for martyrdom? God itself? Please don’t go wandering off into that “but most religious people are nice!” pablum. I know that. Most people, period, I think, will do good things, and it’s independent of religious belief.

    Go ahead, tell me a believable, credible, objectively interpretable virtue of religion.

  55. #55 Kagehi
    June 30, 2006

    I just realized.. I forgot one the labels for the “Diet Religion” can. There should be one that says, “Contents sold seperately.” on there.

  56. #56 Betty Cocker
    June 30, 2006

    Stevie said:
    “I’ll write down a sure to be controversial equation and see what people think of it:

    (a) there is no proof of god
    +
    (b) there is no reason for god
    =
    (c) there is no god”

    Does not follow. A few years ago you could say the same thing about there being many dimensions over 4. But the evidence seemed to have turned up. Any god that is going to of any use is going to have to have some measurable dimensions. This has not happend yet, and probably wont. but you cannot say at this point it absolutely wont, just as those dimensions apparently turned out to have to be there for the math to work.

  57. #57 Ed Darrell
    June 30, 2006

    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.

    Right. Amen.

    (Maybe if I keep the comments shorter, people won’t get so upset at my agreeing with you.)

  58. #58 PZ Myers
    June 30, 2006

    Christians do have to have a thick skin around here.

    Don’t worry, Ed, I know what side you’re on.

  59. #59 Kagehi
    June 30, 2006

    Still not quite what I wanted, but I am tired of fighting the stupid path tool (and the small size of the can I am working with). lol

    http://www.geocities.com/shadowfyr2/Junk/More_like_Science

  60. #60 Kagehi
    June 30, 2006

    Dang it.. That should be

    More_like_Science2.png

    Stupid posting system clipped the name, but something Geocities still “guessed” the URL, only it guesses the “old” one. 🙁

  61. #61 Alexander Vargas
    June 30, 2006

    Well I wonder just how really important your point is. I think that to justify your attitudes, you should be working hard on demonstrating that religion, and only religion, is specifically evil.
    Of course religion CAN have many positive aspects, you know commnunity care, unity as society, wise old teachings on dealing with human interactions, but I undestand they are not necessarily religion-specific, much like the bad things are hardly religion-specific either.
    However something religion-specific DOES immediately come to my mind that seems positive, though you may not agree, hahaha.

    That there is plenty of room for the irrational, along with the rational. Religion cannot be too judgemental with irrational beliefs, can it?

    And humans and their reality are more irrational than they like to think. So this can turn in handy. Where an atheist that believes he is rational may be wrong, the religious person may be right, even if he cannot explain himself. Even if he is right for the wrong reason. When the skeptic has mistakenly thought something impossible, someone less “rational” may still keep it in mind.

    I dont tell people that they HAVE to be an atheist like me, or otherwise, they are “being irrational”. Some scientists do, unfortunately. Good religion is not like that. Actually, BAD religion is like that, those who maintain that god’s existence is “rational” and “scientific” and that you MUST acknowledge that. They are so worried of looking scientific, they have forgotten about faith.
    Let them be the ones trying to FORCE people into religion, and not us trying to force them into atheism. That way, we can point them out and disarticulate the mechanisms by which they wrongly trying to impose theism into american society.

  62. #62 typekey pseudonym
    June 30, 2006

    May I infer, since you don’t mention it, that you don’t think that “The evidence for Jesus, Son of God, is less convincing than the evidence for” the FLYING SPAGHETTI MONSTER? If so, why do you hold this belief?

  63. #63 older and better
    June 30, 2006

    Russell said: “different people use the terms differently. “Atheist” can mean either someone who claims there are no gods, or someone who merely doesn’t believe in any gods. I suspect the latter is what you mean by a non-theist.”

    But aren’t these essentially the same? How can a person who claims there are no gods believe in any? And how can a person who believes in no gods claim there are any?

  64. #64 squeaky
    June 30, 2006

    PZ says: “Most people, period, I think, will do good things, and it’s independent of religious belief.”

    Conversely, most people, period, will do bad things, and it’s independent of religious belief.

    I get the sense that many posting here believe that if we wiped religion from the face of the earth, all our troubles would be over. It is, afterall, religion’s fault we have war and suffering. Is it, really? Take away religion and what you will have left are the exact same humans with their exact same materialistic, selfish, power- and wealth-hungry, bigoted attitudes that you had before. The only difference is people would no longer use god to justify their atrocities. Just as many horrible atrocities have been performed in countries that have attempted the god-less model (eg. China, former Soviet Union) as in those that have adhered to religion. Clearly, the solution isn’t nearly as simple as wiping out religion. Humans are capable of horrible acts for much deeper reasons than a belief in the supernatural. Religion is only the justification for those horrible acts. Without it, people would find some other justification.

  65. #65 Caledonian
    June 30, 2006

    Where an atheist that believes he is rational may be wrong, the religious person may be right, even if he cannot explain himself.

    Well, duh. Any conclusion, no matter how well-supported and internally coherent, might somehow be wrong. That is why we don’t judge conclusions by whether they are correct or not (which is ultimately something we cannot be certain about) but by the quality of the reasoning and evidence leading to them. When the evidence changes, the conclusion that we must regard as correct may change. But the process of evaluation does not.

    Even if he is right for the wrong reason. When the skeptic has mistakenly thought something impossible, someone less “rational” may still keep it in mind.

    If a rational person thought something was impossible, then he must have had good reason to do so. The irrational person, in contrast, rejected this thesis despite good reasons not to do so. How exactly is it better to be irrational than rational, again?

    You are a fool, Mr. Vargas.

  66. #66 Raindog
    June 30, 2006

    I fully agree with PZ and the other posters when they say that it is important for us to speak up publicly about atheism. Most people think atheism means you are sure there is no god. That is the first misconception that we can correct – we just don’t see any reason to believe in God. If a good scinetically testable reason to believe came along, I’d be fine with there being a god and I think that is true for most of us. We can never correct these misconceptions if we stay “in the closet” as most would have us do.

    Many movements started out being unpopular – women’s suffrage, civil rights, gay rights, etc, but as time passed people’s views changed. This was only because of the people who fought publicly for what is right.

    I presonally would like to see churches sued for racketeering and fraud as well as having their tax exempt status removed. I think there is a case there.

  67. #67 Russell
    June 30, 2006

    older and better asks, “But aren’t these essentially the same? How can a person who claims there are no gods believe in any? And how can a person who believes in no gods claim there are any?”

    There is an important difference between not claiming X, and claiming that X isn’t. To the believer, it may not seem much difference. Those who believe in extaterrestrial abductions don’t see much difference between the skeptic who criticizes the evidence, and the Christian fundamentalist who ‘knows’ that demons are fooling those who believe in such abductions.

    But there is a difference.

  68. #68 Alexander Vargas
    June 30, 2006

    “If a rational person thought something was impossible, then he must have had good reason to do so. The irrational person, in contrast, rejected this thesis despite good reasons not to do so. How exactly is it better to be irrational than rational, again?”

    Most people, including religious people, can tell that what at a given moment is the most rational conclusion at the next isn’t anymore. Reality can be very humbling to our aspirations of “rationality”. You may say “I don’t care, what was rational was rational, even if later it turns out to be wrong!!” . I think that attitude is a little silly, and a good recipe for embarassment if you’re a scientist. Boy have I seen the bloated corpses of the arrogant floating down the river!!!

    “You are a fool, Mr. Vargas”
    Well, there is my point. “Rationalist”can’t understand how just wanting to be rational does not always work. If you disagree with them, they are incapable of writing absolutely anything without labeling you as a fool (irrational) or the like, because they belive, of course, they are being “merely rational”. Indeed!

  69. #69 wolfa
    June 30, 2006

    It’s funny, when I read here, because I am both an atheist and a Jew, so on the one hand I agree with you, and on the other hand I disagree with you, a bit.

    I don’t think religion is inherently good or bad. It’s a tool which can be used to justify good or bad things — a set of myths. Myths give you alternate ways of looking at things (like fiction in general, religion is just a larger and maybe more coherent fiction). These ways aren’t always correct, but I think it’s important to consider things from other views, even just to say “no, it’s not a good way to live or look at things”. I admit I have a very different view of religion from the majority, though.

    (I also have a lot of nice family associations.)

  70. #70 Caledonian
    June 30, 2006

    Most people, including religious people, can tell that what at a given moment is the most rational conclusion at the next isn’t anymore.

    That’s life for you.

    Reality can be very humbling to our aspirations of “rationality”.

    No, it can be very humbling to our aspirations of being right. Being rational is something we can guarantee, quite easily, and nothing reality does can make us any bit more or less rational — our actions do that.

    There was a time when it would have been utterly rational to believe that the world was flat, and utterly irrational to believe it was spherical. The nature of the evidence available to us has made it rational to believe it’s spherical and irrational to believe it’s flat. That does not mean that we should second-guess our conclusion of sphericity.

    You may say “I don’t care, what was rational was rational, even if later it turns out to be wrong!!” .

    That’s a trivial truth… but not so trivial that it proves to be beyond your comprehension.

    You are a fool, Mr. Vargas.

  71. #71 Caledonian
    June 30, 2006

    It’s a tool which can be used to justify good or bad things — a set of myths.

    It’s a tool that can be used to justify anything. As a way of seeking truth, or even reasonable confidence, it sucks.

    Quit worrying about whether conclusions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and start worrying about what’s true and untrue.

  72. #72 Christian
    June 30, 2006

    PZ, I may be late to the bandwagon, but I must say that this was a concise, and on point posting. Still going through the comments to weed out all the crap, but once again, your concise pointed logic hones in to the nub…

  73. #73 Alexander Vargas
    June 30, 2006

    “The nature of the evidence available to us has made it rational to believe it’s spherical and irrational to believe it’s flat”
    “Being rational is something we can guarantee, quite easily”

    Lemme see… so the leap from aristotelian physics to galileo was just a matter of exposing a rational human being to the right evidence. Just all those fine rational people in between didn’t hapen to be exposed to the right evidence. Same thing for newtonian physics. So maybe you can detail for us what this supor evidence was…oh, but please do consider that falling rocks WERE known all the time.

  74. #74 wolfa
    June 30, 2006

    It’s a tool that can be used to justify anything.

    Any tool can be used to justify anything. People are amazingly good at rationalising things.

    Quit worrying about whether conclusions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and start worrying about what’s true and untrue.

    I somehow doubt you only look at truth at all points, and never ethics.

  75. #75 Caledonian
    June 30, 2006

    Any tool can be used to justify anything.

    Wrong. First, you’re incorrect in stating that any tool can justify anything. Secondly, you’re incorrect in that rational thinking, by definition, can never be used to ‘rationalize’ a belief.

    I somehow doubt you only look at truth at all points, and never ethics.

    I’m just fascinated by how you removed ethics from the domain of truth.

    No, actually I’m stultifying bored. That argument was shown to be false centuries ago. Not surprising, considering the quality of your other arguments.

  76. #76 Rhys Weatherley
    June 30, 2006

    “An agnostic is an atheist who lies about who they are to avoid being being burnt at the stake by bible-thumping idiots”. Copyright me.

    On a day to day basis, the only practical difference between an agnostic and an atheist is how religious believers view that person.

    An agnostic, who is open to the possibility of god (at least from the believer’s point of view), is theoretically still “savable” by future witnessing and what-not. An atheist (again from the believer’s point of view) has rejected the possibility of ever being “saved”, and is therefore damned. And if they are damned, then they are by definition evil.

    True story: I once described myself as an atheist in front of my Anglican priest father. His reply: “Agnostic, Please!”. He could handle a son who was a liar, but not one who told the truth, because the lie was more comfortable to his own world view.

    That’s the hurdle atheists have to get over: agnostic is the politicially correct label we use to avoid the stupid misconceptions of the religious.

  77. #77 Russell
    June 30, 2006

    Caledonian wrote, “The nature of the evidence available to us has made it rational to believe it’s spherical and irrational to believe it’s flat.”

    Alexander Vargas wrote, “Lemme see… so the leap from aristotelian physics to galileo was just a matter of exposing a rational human being to the right evidence.”

    Sure. How else do you think the view that the earth orbits the sun came to prevail?

    Of course, the change from Aristotelian to Galilean cosmology didn’t change what people thought about the shape of the earth. It had been known to be a sphere from the time of the ancient Greeks. What Galileo did was to provide evidence about the nature of the planets, with their own geography and moons, and thus shift cosmology from a geocentric to heliocentric model of the solar system. He wasn’t the first to develop a scientific, heliocentric view. That credit also goes to the ancient Greeks, Aristarchus in particular. But medieval Europe settled on the Ptolemaic system, and until science was again practiced, in the renaissance, there wasn’t more investigation (evidence!) or much consideration of alternatives.

  78. #78 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Thats OK Russel, just keep in mind I was not refering to the shape of the earth. Of course I knew the greeks knew about that… I was using the study of falling objects as just another example. Then talking about the shape of the earth, Caledonian may be surprised that it did not take exposur to new evidence for a greek to realize that a round earth and a heliocentric system were perfectly possible too. First, he simply conceived it. THEN he gathered some evidence to prove it (he just did some shadow experiments, didn’t he measure the diameter of the earth lie that?). Maybe caledonian was thinking that Maguellain going round the world was “the nature of the evidence” and deciding that was NOT a miracle, the “guaranteed rationality” hahaha.

    But of course these changes were NOT a mere result of exposure to the “nature of the evidence” plus “guaranteed rationality”. It was mostly a change in the point of view that lead to a different way of observing just the same old world. In fact, Galileo had to willingly ignore ‘reality” to do what he did. For how were others supposed to accept that in emptiness and with no force applied an object will move at constant speed, in a straight line? Where on earth could such a thing be witnessed?

    Galileo himself was explicit and said something like”by art of my mind I conceive an object moving through emptiness…”

  79. #79 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)

  80. #80 stevie_nyc
    July 1, 2006

    Vargas.

    Conceiving a new concept, a new way at looking at the world around you does not require one to ignore reality. A deeper understanding of how the world works requires one to conceive of how this reality would be different with certain variables changed or removed. A deeper understanding of it not ignoring it.

  81. #81 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Stevie, at least you realize that the key is to use imagination on the same evidece. “Guaranteed rationality” (HA!) will not spew scientific revolution out one side by simply feeding in “the nature of the evidence” through the other.
    Want to discuss some pathetic mistakes from nobel prize winners? or how about Gregor Mendel, as for removing variables?
    So much for the power of “guaranteed rationality”. Pretty naïve stuff. The joke stub for historians of science, guys

  82. #82 Jay Denari
    July 1, 2006

    1. No “god” is detectable (even if that “god” exists)
    If something exists, it must be detectable in some way, potentially with technology we don’t yet possess. But in practice, you’re probably right.

    2. All religions have been made by men.
    Agreed entirely.

    3. Prayer has no effect on third parties.
    That depends on what effect you mean. Does it help heal others? Probably not. Is there a god that answers prayers? Not likely. But religious behavior included in prayer and other rituals DOES effect the behavior of others observing the person performing the ritual under some circumstances. That’s often where we see mass hypnosis & similar groupthink, but it can also induce a sense of community (for good or ill) for those who need that kind of community.

    Almost all religions formed as tribal faiths as a means to keep the tribe together and encourage sharing of resources during tough times. Usually, that started by extolling the tribe’s uniqueness as the “real humans,” and by impressing upon the members their interrelatedness by way of shared ancestors (real or mythical).

    Some specific religions, however, expanded so far beyond their original tribal milieu that their myths developed huge contradictions, often sparked by followers forgetting WHY they had certain practices. Under those conditions, the “true believers” came to believe that the only way to maintain what they saw as “their people” was to demonize others (especially those who pointed out the continuity problems, because they almost always came from inside & were therefore traitors aka heretics).

    Corollary: 3a ] There is no such thing as “Psi”.
    In the sense you mean — of ESP, mediumship, etc — that’s probably true. But there are undeniably people out there who seem to have a better subconscious grasp of human behavior, empathy, body language subtleties, and other innate talents we all share to some degree.

    4. All religions are blackmail, and are based on fear and superstition.
    They are often used that way, no doubt about that. But, as I said above, that wasn’t usually their original intent. It’s a side effect of being outdated and growing beyond their natural group, place and time. ANY belief system stretched to cover all of humanity is an obscenity.

    Corollary: 4a ] Marxism is a religion.
    I agree. So was Nazism to a great extent. And what we today call the “science” of economics.

    5. All religions kill, or enslave, or torture.
    That’s a VERY blanket statement. There have been thousands of religions on this planet, many of them gone before we could study them. It’s probably safe to say that FOLLOWERS of every religion have done these things at some time.

    Corollary: 5a ] The bigots are the true believers.
    Actually, they often DEFINE themselves as the “true believers,” and exclude many other people who claim the same religion and believe strongly but aren’t bigoted about it.

  83. #83 Jay Denari
    July 1, 2006

    Conceiving a new concept, a new way at looking at the world around you does not require one to ignore reality.

    I agree, but I think you and Vargas are saying somewhat the same thing in different ways. He seems to be saying that cultural circumstances (“reality”) can create such huge blindspots that things we now take for granted as fact would never take root, regardless of how much objective evidence was available. Some times and places are simply not ready for some ideas.

  84. #84 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    “Guaranteed rationality” (HA!) will not spew scientific revolution out one side by simply feeding in “the nature of the evidence” through the other.

    Whyever not? That’s how Galileo demonstrated the flaws in Aristotelian physics. After observing that a pendulumn always takes the same amount of time to trace out its arc, he develops more sophisticated timing methods than were otherwise available. He applies these methods to experiments involving objects rolling down inclined planes, and notes that contrary to tradition heavier objects did not fall faster than lighter ones. Voila! A scientific revolution in which old ideas about physics were abolished.

    I don’t know what you think is so irrational about the human imagination… but considering how little you know about the history of science compared with how much you’re willing to say about it, I don’t know that I care.

  85. #85 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Just consider recent events in science. The triumphalist hardening of the modern synthesis soon after world war II, in contrast with the now incredibly succesful return of developmental evolutionary biology. To study bodies rather than populations was once chuckled at as “typological” thinking. Goldschmidt was simply demonized. Epigenetic variation was mere “noise” (well, we’re still pulling through THAT one, hahaha) and so on. The unfortunate biases imposed by the dogmatic hardening of the synthesis make for a long, long list.

  86. #86 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    What really worries me is that, surely enough, people like Caledonian readily plunge into simplistic opinions like “religion is the root of all evil” and claim them to be “merely rational”!!!
    Not to mention other nonsense they sure believe to be the pure illumination of reason…

  87. #87 PeteK
    July 1, 2006

    What exactly IS the “god hypothesis”? An old man in the sky with a white beard? Or something more sophisicated? People define god or gods millions of different ways, anyway.

    Religions are man-made “memeplexes”, culturally-created and sustained, and so unsurprisingly carry the baggage of human fraility: e.g. we’re social creatures, and look to powerful “alphas”, usually males, for the ultimate answers..so perhaps the first gods were simply extensions of primtive monarchies…(e.g. Egyptian Pharoahs were thought to actually BECOME the Sun-god at one point…)

    If, as is obvious to all thinking persons, we don’t need god(s) and religions for moral/ethical guidance, or for explaining the universe’s contents and evolution, then what could an intellectual use it for? It reduces to the deistic physicists’ god, which is NOT incompatible with science, since science by definition only deals with the universe and the evolution of its contents. If you define god(s) less within the narrow confines of culture-specific anthropomorphism, as supernatural being(s) beyond reality, “outside of the box” then science is mute on the point. Science may explain everything WITHIN the universe, but can science explain ITSELF? (i.e. why ANY universe exists at all for it to describe, and why THIS universe exists, and not another?)

    Of course, one could also, equally apply such questions to a god/s: “If god(s) don’t require creator, why should the universe require one? It’s an infinite regress!”

    And that leads to complicated arguments about whether the universe is “necessary” or “contingent”, and whether only a necessary god can “actualise” a contingent universe, whether, god or gods could be both necessary and contingent simultaneously.

    So, y’know…. a lot of it is far from “plain” and “simple”. A lot of it is pretty confusing, to be honest.

  88. #88 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    So galileo was not looking for a way to measure time, he just *happened* to be watching a pendulum and like any other rational person exposed to that experience, a better way to measure time just became evident to him… now what do we do with this? hmmm hmmmm…. He had no idea what he was doing when he timed two falling objects of different weights. He was, you know, just goofing around with his new invention. But the data, it just laid it out for him!! A whole new physics just speeeewed right out the other side of Galileo’s brain.

    Of course I am quite certain that galileo narrates nothing like this, as he emphasized creative spirit in science; and mind you, I will take a few minutes to look up and remeber his own words.

    Now, evidently Galileo was imagining things and acting according to his inspiration. And it so happens that though most human beings have the necessary circuitry to be “rational”, and every scientist makes his very best to be as rational as possible…this “inspiration” thing (not mere exposure to data) is what makes the difference between the mediocre, intrascending scientist of the bunch who thinks everything has already been figured out according to “reason and evidence”, and the challenging, restless personality that makes for true scientific genius.

  89. #89 sdanielmorgan
    July 1, 2006

    Your comment about the lack of trust creationists display in the evidence and observable mechanisms of evolution by natural selection, whilst maintaining it is more rational to put faith in “poof”/”abracadabra” really resonates with me. We have been discussing, over at the Debunking Christianity blog, how it is a sort of play on Ockham’s Razor for them to attempt to minimize miracles.

    It’s like they say, “Sure, God brought all the animals on earth to Noah,” as if this isn’t a miraculous and stupendous feat, then they claim, “Noah was a master animal trainer,” or the like in order to explain how he got rid of all that piss and shit.

    Instead of saying that God made it “poof”/”abracadabra” away, they appeal to a natural mechanism here. Why? Instead of saying that after the flood, God magically transported all the animals instantaneously to their natural habitats [the ones we observe today, I should say], they invent ridiculous theories of how land bridges existed, exponential evolutionary rates occurred, etc.

    They do all these things, and more, to avoid superfluous “poofs”/”abracadabras” at all costs. Why?

    If you’re going to violate human experience and logic once, what is the real difference in violating it numerous times? Why do “creation scientists” even attempt to use science at all?

    The answer is that they also know the power of natural explanations over supernatural non-explanations. They know that human experience, and induction, are far more powerful than imcomprehensibility and blind faith. They know that human credulity can only be strained SO FAR before it snaps. It’s sad, and at the same time, it gives me hope, because they’ve had to abandon more and more of their tenuous pseudoscience, and they’ve tried more and more to make religion rational…which tells me that if the trend continues, their “failed superstitions” will become unfalsifiable empty hypotheses (as you described Deism).

  90. #90 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    So galileo was not looking for a way to measure time, he just *happened* to be watching a pendulum

    Yep. He was idly observing the chandelier in the cathedral at Pisa. He first timed it with his heartbeat, then began to experiment with pendulums. His work formed the basis for all pendulum clocks and advanced timekeeping of all kinds.

    Of course, you already knew this, being an expert on the history of science.

  91. #91 Russell
    July 1, 2006

    I think there’s some confusion here between the work and vision to construct a theory and gather the evidence for it, and the rationality required to evaluate it. Darwin traveled half-way around the world at a time when that as a more difficult task than today it is, he did extensive field work, and he spent years weaving into a book his theory along with the evidence that supports it. There is quite a lot that distinguishes him, and makes him one of the two or three most important scientists in history.

    But I didn’t think we were talking about what makes a Darwin, a Galileo, a Newton, or an Einstein. I thought we were talking about how the theory of evolution became successful and evolved, vs. what sustains the belief in and practice of Christianity. The answer there is what it long has been: evolution appeals to reason, Christianity appeals to faith. Someone today who wants to understand evolution doesn’t have to imagine the theory and marshall the evidence. That largely has been done for them. They need merely to study biology. Admittedly, that is a difficult task in its own right. But far different from what Darwin did. Similarly, someone who wants to understand relativity need only study math and physics.

    Becoming Christian today involves what it always has: getting lured in by other Christians, making an emotional commitment, and then weaving the practice into one’s life.

  92. #92 bernarda
    July 1, 2006

    In response to the post about “debunking”. From answers.com

    “WORD HISTORY One can readily see that debunk is constructed from the prefix de-, meaning “to remove,” and the word bunk. But what is the origin of the word bunk, denoting the nonsense that is to be removed? Bunk came from a place where much bunk has originated, the United States Congress. During the 16th Congress (1819-1821) Felix Walker, a representative from western North Carolina whose district included Buncombe County, carried on with a dull speech in the face of protests by his colleagues. Walker later explained he had felt obligated “to make a speech for Buncombe.” Such a masterful symbol for empty talk could not be ignored by the speakers of the language, and Buncombe, spelled Bunkum in its first recorded appearance in 1828 and later shortened to bunk, became synonymous with claptrap. The response to all this bunk seems to have been delayed, for debunk is not recorded until 1923.”

    A quite appropriate origin.

  93. #93 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Well isn’t it amazing. All those people with their guranteed rationalities that observed that chandelier, endowed with heart beats too.. and somehow the data did not make them do what Galileo did. Now why could that be? Could it be, caledonian, that Galileo had time on his mind?
    Caledonian, you deluded yourself into thinking ‘the nature of the evidence” is all it takes since rationality is “just guaranteed” Your take home reflection ,then, is that you thought this simplistic view was “merely rational”.

    You may further delude yourself if you think your view of science is somehow strengthened if I happen not to know this or that circulating detail of Galileo’s life, be it true, or totally false (It is well-known that bad books just make up several such anecdotes of “casual observation leading to scientific progress”).

  94. #94 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    All those people with their guranteed rationalities

    It was in the middle of a cathedral, you wetbrained twit. Rationality is all but guaranteed NOT to exist there. It’s a minor miracle that a fledgling rationalist managed to develop in such a backward and passionate culture in the first place.

    I’m through with your trolling.

  95. #95 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Wanna talk about Mendel, caledonian? Just getting all pissed and insulting ony makes your claims of rationalilty all the more pathetically false…

  96. #96 thwaite
    July 1, 2006

    Rational argument is generally deductive, inductive or abductive. Abduction (seeking observations in support of a thesis) is a recent realization articulated by the US philosopher Charles Pierce (1870’s). Pierce asserted that abduction is the only way to produce new knowledge (i.e. knowledge that is not strictly derived from existing observations or generalizations).

    Seems to me Vargas’ ‘rationality’ is abductive, emphasizing the psychology of the scientist, while Caledonian seems to focus on induction and deduction. Correct me if I’m wrong (this is likely a superfluous request…)

    A quick Google on ‘Darwin induction abduction’ returns several discussions which elaborate on Darwin’s actual reasoning via abduction, contrary to his own assertions of reliance entirely on induction and simple deduction. The first hit is for Elliot Sober’s syllabus for his course on the Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology – too bad the course contents aren’t online (?) since Sober is always worth reading.

  97. #97 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Russel, I agree it is surprisingly more easy to become a christian than to understand evolution. This and other things make it a fact that we live alongside a majority of believers. Which has always been the situation, almost everywhere as far as I can tell.

    Now the point is, do we care?

    Believers do not always get in the way of science, and people who get in the way of science are not always believers. Since a majority of religious people is ALWAYS present, we need to look for OTHER reasons why at some moments in history they cause trouble to science, while at others, they don’t.

    If you look carefully, the TRUE underlying factor is social revolution, and the monolithic, dogmatic societies that may then ensue as a result… until they themselves are in turn revolutionized.

    At this point, there is a segment of American society that believes America needs a truly radical and revolutionary swing, and christianity is providing the glue and the momentum. The reasons why it is working fairly (though not completeley) well is because their is true discontent with the current situation in the US, and no one else is providing an alternative revolution with a true mindset.

    In any discontent society that feels this need for revolution, there is a “prevailing system” that is judged unsatisfactory and that is juts “standing in the way” of revolution.
    If science seems to be part of this roadblock to revolution, revolution will start giving problems to scientists.

    I do not have a clear solution to this situation in the US. It depends on the source of discontent that feeds this need for revolution. I think one of the things is that common people feel marginalized from all sophisticated intellectual edifices. In this country, there is too marked a stygma of classifying people as either “losers” and “winners” depending for instance on their jobs, and intellectual merit is one of the sharp edges that is continuosly shoved into people’s faces. Christianity, however, provides a way of erasing at least these intellectual stygmatizations. Common christians readily accept the inviation of those more wealthier and powerful to unity under the truly more equal condtions of mutual respect and dignity offered by the common creed of christianity. They will joyfully join the idea of a “revolution” and “taking it up another notch”.

  98. #98 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Thwaite, sure, I do emphasize the psychology of the scientist, and I certainly do not think that mere exposure to “the nature of the evidence” leads to scientific revolution. Looking for information in support of a thesis certaiinly sounds more reasonable, and having an idea with not much information to start with, and then looking for it, is certainly not a “guaranteed” of rational human brain cicuitry. Inspiration, psychological and social context is key .Maybe that makes me an abductionists, provided no little green men are included.

  99. #99 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Thwaite, sure, I do emphasize the psychology of the scientist, and I certainly do not think that mere exposure to “the nature of the evidence” leads to scientific revolution. Looking for information in support of a thesis certaiinly sounds more reasonable, and having an idea with not much information to start with, and then looking for it, is certainly not a “guaranteed” of rational human brain cicuitry. Inspiration, psychological and social context is key .Maybe that makes me an abductionists, provided no little green men are included.

  100. #100 Russell
    July 1, 2006

    Alexander Vargas writes, “If science seems to be part of this roadblock to revolution, revolution will start giving problems to scientists.”

    I think there is some merit to that analysis. It’s not that science in particular is offensive to the religious right, but science as part of the whole edifice of western liberalism. The religious right also wants the state to sanction their brand of religion in the courthouse and the public schoolroom, wants a more authoritarian legal system to punish gays and women who have abortions and publishers whose works they deem “pornographic,” and wants the adoption of their social mores regarding dress, holy days, etc.

    The unique thing about this backlash in the US is that this nation is so clearly founded on liberal principles that most of the religious right has to pay them lip service, even as they fight against them. I don’t know how the typical new conservative survives the cognitive dissonance from simultaneously claiming to support individual liberty, while pushing for a social agenda whose every plank is a restriction of that. PZ was sharp to pick up on Gary North as an exception to this rule. It is refreshing to see a member of the religious right who realizes that the Constitution is a fundamental roadblock to Christianist political goals.

  101. #101 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Yup. This is not just “faith attacking reason”, the problems with evolution are the side the effect of a social revolution in the making where christianity has become the banner. Most of these christians are not motivated by the evolution-creation debate. They want revolution, and as you point out, the separation of church and state is explicitly ackowledged as a roadblock.
    I agree that America has good buffers for this, morevoer, though religious people on the right (white, BTW) can manage to get a friendly president elected, they still do not have enough power to back up their revolution. Even so, we must be veeery careful. Things CAN get worse, it HAS been pretty hectic. I am pretty convinced that finger-pointing and more intellectual stygmatization is not the solution. Rather, we must directly address the sources of discontent that are the lifeblood amounting to a revolution. Problems for people to find dignity and feel equality, I think, are at the root of the problem.

  102. #102 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    Seems to me Vargas’ ‘rationality’ is abductive, emphasizing the psychology of the scientist, while Caledonian seems to focus on induction and deduction. Correct me if I’m wrong (this is likely a superfluous request…)

    I don’t disagree with you, exactly, but I see abduction as a process composed of induction and deduction. Both of those processes are themselves composed of basic associational structures.

  103. #103 Kagehi
    July 1, 2006

    I get the sense that many posting here believe that if we wiped religion from the face of the earth, all our troubles would be over.

    Hmm. Ok, lets put things like this. Imagine reality as a boat, imagine there are some holes in inconvenient places in it. A lot of concerned people spend lots of time bailing water out of the bottom of the boat. Other smarter people think, “Why not just plug the holes?”, so they do. Only a few of the fools bailing water out scream, “What would I do with myself if you plugged the hole I am standing over! I wouldn’t have any purpose then!”. Your stance seems to be that a) a few holes aren’t a big deal and b) some of them are above the water line, so who cares. No, it wouldn’t solve all the world’s problems. But it would plug a mighty big freaking hole that tends in many cases to sink many a rational attempt to improve the situation.

  104. #104 Andy Groves
    July 1, 2006

    If you apply the processes of the scientific method to the claims of religion, treating them as hypotheses, what do you discover?

    I’m coming to this discussion late, so apologies if this point has been made above and I missed it.

    How does one apply the scientific method to a supernatural phenomenon? Didn’t Barbara Forrest spend hours in a Dover courtroom explaining why this is wrong-headed?

  105. #105 Andy Groves
    July 1, 2006

    …and what are the claims of religion phrased in terms of hypotheses that you were thinking of?

  106. #106 thwaite
    July 1, 2006

    Caledonian: I don’t disagree with you, exactly …

    Well, gee, Vargas didn’t disagree with abduction either … once he’s understood it doesn’t involve little green ‘men’- or the amber-alert system.

    Abduction in logic is at best subtle and I doubt I understand it adequately. It’s certainly composed of induction and deduction – but this won’t preclude emergent properties such as the wetness of water that neither hydrogen nor oxygen individually possess.
    Abduction appeals to designers of “artificial intelligence” because of those emergent properties and insights which they hope their mechanized abduction systems will thus share, but I think Peirce would limit them to human psychologies employing abduction, somewhat as ‘wetness’ is apparent to human sensory systems but not to a gas chromatograph anyalysing the same water. (It’s Peirce, btw, I goofed above with “Pierce”.)

    Peirce probably considered in detail the basic associational structures underlying reasoning (he was a philosophical psychologist and pragmatist) , but his own writing is often turgid, and modern analyses share this trait unduly, e.g. this teutonic gem from some random googling: ABDUCTION AND THE TOPOLOGY OF HUMAN COGNITION”. Anybody know of more lucid expositions? The wikipedia articles are very brief and focused on formal properties, I seem to recall John Holland at U. Mich. wrote clearly in his book on induction & related notions.

  107. #107 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.

  108. #108 Alexander Vargas
    July 1, 2006

    Well I didn’t guess that abduction meant somehow bargaining with emergent properties and sensory “givens” such as wetness or, for that matter, simply “seeing”, haha. These things surely enough demand thinking about the natural limits to our “rationalizations”.
    I was merely stating that it is false that “rationality” is guaranteed such that mere exposition to evidence will lead to scientific innovation. In this sense what you said about having a thesis and then searching for the data is more realistic with the nature of science as a creative endeavour.
    Interestingly enough, both religious and scientific dogmatism is frequently haevily loaded with frivolous invocations to reason. It is actually an excellent indicator I recommend. The better science, an the more open minded religions, spend much less time hailing to reason.

  109. #109 Paul S
    July 1, 2006

    What should a scientist think of religion? Not much of anything, really – if he or she is truly thinking as a scientist. PZ, your answer to that question looked more like the answer to “What should an atheistic scientist with a philosophical axe to grind think about religion?”

    If a scientist looks at religion dispassionately and objectively, as a scientist should, then the very first thing that ought to leap out is that the fundamental hypotheses of religion are non-testable. That means they are non-falsifiable, and hence science can’t say very much about them at all. At that point the scientist can either shrug and move on to something that interests him, or take off his scientist hat and begin considering religion with different tools.

  110. #110 PZ Myers
    July 1, 2006

    The hypotheses of religion are non-testable, unsupported by evidence or reason, and rather deranged — so yes, they should be dismissed. Similarly, if someone proposed that microtubules were used as climbing structures by teeny-tiny invisible cytoplasmic monkeys, we’d give the idea no more than a moments consideration before throwing it out. We might bring it up again as something good for a laugh at the bar later that night.

    Unlike the cytoplasmic monkey hypothesis, though, the god hypothesis is taken seriously by a great many people — people who will die before giving up on it. People who will even more readily kill for it. Yeah, it would be nice to kick it to the curb as something negligible. We’re ignoring reality to do so, though.

    These “different tools”…what are they? Do they work? Do you have a way to evaluate whether they work?

  111. #111 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    If a scientist looks at religion dispassionately and objectively, as a scientist should, then the very first thing that ought to leap out is that the fundamental hypotheses of religion are non-testable. That means they are non-falsifiable, and hence science can’t say very much about them at all.

    — Paul S, trying to salvage his faith.

    If a hypothesis is non-testable, not only in practice but in theory, then there are no consequences of the hypothesis’ being true that are not also consequences of the hypothesis’ being false, and vice versa. What we name as two different states are in fact one and the same — which means the hypothesis is equivalent to a null statement.

    Anyone with even a smidgen of intellectual capacity should recognize immediately that asserting a null statement is a total and complete waste of time.

    The problem is not that PZ is working from the viewpoint of an atheistic scientist with an axe to grind. The problem is that you, Paul S, and countless millions of people like you, are extraordinarily incompetent at rudimentary philosophy.

  112. #112 Paul S
    July 1, 2006

    The hypotheses of religion are non-testable, unsupported by evidence or reason, and rather deranged — so yes, they should be dismissed.

    If you had stopped at that first comma, you would have been making a scientific statement, PZ. As it is, you’re just editorializing. You are not speaking “scientifically.” I think if you look at that sentence objectively you’ll see that. All you’re doing is emphasizing and re-emphasizing your lack of objectivity on this issue.

    Once something is noted to be untestable – which religion certainly is – that ends the scientific discussion. Science can’t say anything for or against an untestable hypothesis. Such things simply aren’t within its purview.

    Your default assumption is that testable is always and everywhere superior to non-testable, but that says more about what you use tools for than it says about the tools themselves.

  113. #113 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    If you had stopped at that first comma, you would have been making a scientific statement, PZ. As it is, you’re just editorializing. You are not speaking “scientifically.”

    Incorrect. The first clause implies the others that follow. The hypothesis cannot be tested? Then there cannot be evidence for it, whether ’empirical’ or ‘abstract’. If there cannot be evidence for it of any kind, belief in the hypothesis cannot be rational — in fact, it’s irrational. That leads directly to ‘deranged’, as people holding an irrational belief insist that it’s perfectly reasonable.

    Everything PZ said is true, and quite obviously true. Your reasoning is in abeyance.

  114. #114 Paul S
    July 1, 2006

    If a hypothesis is non-testable, not only in practice but in theory, then there are no consequences of the hypothesis’ being true that are not also consequences of the hypothesis’ being false, and vice versa.

    Nonsense.

    Hypothesis: Your mother loves you.

    Devise a scientific test that can objectively falsify that hypothesis. Bear in mind that in order to do so such a test must control for and rule out any other competing hypothesis (such as “Your mother wishes you to believe she loves you because she doesn’t actively dislike you and has no wish to hurt your feelings.”)

    Would you say that whether the hypothesis is true or false is inconsequential to you?

    By the way, just as a point of curiosity, what do you think “my faith” is? And how would you test your hypothesis?

  115. #115 386sx
    July 1, 2006

    If a scientist looks at religion dispassionately and objectively, as a scientist should, then the very first thing that ought to leap out is that the fundamental hypotheses of religion are non-testable.

    That doesn’t sound very dispassionate and objective. I mean, what if a scientist happens to run across a religion with some fundamental hypotheses that are testable. Ooops, I guess that wouldn’t be a religion! Whoooops! Never mind.

  116. #116 Paul S
    July 1, 2006

    Incorrect. The first clause implies the others that follow.<

    I’m afraid you’re mistaken again. The idea that “untestable” automatically implies “unsupported by evidence or reason, and rather deranged” is supportable only if you assume the last two as part of the definition of the first. You’ll find no dictionary that does that, though I invite you to look.

    “Untestable” in a scientific context simply means “non-falsifiable by objective methods,” since objective methods are what science deals with. There are any number of such proposals that are made and used by perfectly rational people. For example: “That is a beautiful sunset.” Can that hypothesis be falsified?

    The hypothesis cannot be tested? Then there cannot be evidence for it, whether ’empirical’ or ‘abstract’. If there cannot be evidence for it of any kind, belief in the hypothesis cannot be rational — in fact, it’s irrational.

    Except, as noted above, that’s not what “untestable” means in science.

    For example, “I am thinking of the color blue.” I can test that hypothesis as it applies to me, by examining my own thoughts. You, however, cannot. It is “untestable” in any scientific sense. However that does not mean that it’s irrational.

  117. #117 Caledonian
    July 1, 2006

    Devise a scientific test that can objectively falsify that hypothesis.

    Easy. All that needs to be done is learn how to decode human neural structures and their activation patterns. Then I can simply determine what emotional responses the concept of ‘me’ is linked to in my mother’s mind.

    There are simpler ways, of course, such as observing my mother’s behavior. Such tests are subject to the same uncertainty factors as any other test, of course, but that hardly disqualifies them as scientific.

    (Reality check: no test ever truly rules out all competing hypotheses. Even accepting that the results are free of error, there are always an infinite number of configurations that can give rise to any pattern of data. Science, and the rational thought that underlies it, have ways of coping.)

    I can determine that there is at least one idea that you’re holding on blind faith, Paul S: the idea that you’re competent at discussing this subject intelligently. You desperately need to be disabused of this notion, as your statements thus far so clearly demonstrate.

  118. #118 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    Except, as noted above, that’s not what “untestable” means in science.

    Except that it IS what it means in science.

    The issue of whether a seven-layer chocolate cake is floating in orbit around Alpha Centauri is beyond the current ability of our technology to examine. It is not, however, beyond the philosophical limits of science.

    We have been discussing the philosophical limits of science, not the practical. Religious statements that are meaningful are within those limits — those that are not, are not. Your non-testable hypotheses have no meaning.

    You’re just wrong. And the sad thing is that you likely will never be able to see it.

  119. #119 Paul S
    July 2, 2006

    Easy. All that needs to be done is learn how to decode human neural structures and their activation patterns. Then I can simply determine what emotional responses the concept of ‘me’ is linked to in my mother’s mind.

    No, no, no. Any test proposal that begins “first we figure out how to test this” is invalid. It presupposes that it’s possible to test it, you see. You’re proposing a circular argument here. Let’s try again.

    There are simpler ways, of course, such as observing my mother’s behavior. Such tests are subject to the same uncertainty factors as any other test, of course, but that hardly disqualifies them as scientific.

    No, that won’t work either. You can test her external behavior this way, but you can’t test her internal reality. Nor can you assume that the two correlate, since the existence of con artists and actors clearly shows that they don’t.

    You still don’t have a scientific test for the hypothesis that your mother loves you.

    I can determine that there is at least one idea that you’re holding on blind faith, Paul S: the idea that you’re competent at discussing this subject intelligently.

    Personal attacks? Tsk. If you’re really reduced to this then you might as well tip over your king and surrender.

    I ask again: What faith am I defending? And how can you test your hypothesis?

  120. #120 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    I’m afraid you’re mistaken again. The idea that “untestable” automatically implies “unsupported by evidence or reason, and rather deranged” is supportable only if you assume the last two as part of the definition of the first.

    Wrong!

    It can also be the case if the last two follow logically from the first concept. The definition of a word or an idea does not need to encompass every consequence of the interaction of that word or idea and every other.

    You’re bad at this, Paul S. You’re really bad at this. Do you want to keep demonstrating your lack of competence, or will you cut your losses? Remember: it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.

  121. #121 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    You can test her external behavior this way, but you can’t test her internal reality.

    Ah, so you’re a Mysterian. Why am I not surprised? It’s completely in character with your general philosophical incompetence.

    Brains are information-processing devices. Their “internal realities” are part of reality just like everything else. Our practical ability to interface with them may be limited, but they’re still very much real — and within the bounds of scientific investigation.

    Will you continue? Better to remain silent…

  122. #122 Paul S
    July 2, 2006
    Except, as noted above, that’s not what “untestable” means in science.

    Except that it IS what it means in science.

    Wrong again, Caledonian. But don’t take my word for it:

    “Testability: a property applying to an empirical hypothesis, involves two components: (1) the logical property that is variously described as contingency, defeasibility, or falsifiability, which means that counterexamples to the hypothesis are not logically impossible, and (2) the practical feasibility of observing a reproducible series of such counterexamples if they do exist. In short, a hypothesis is testable if there is some real hope of deciding whether it is true or false of real experience. Upon this property of its constituent hypotheses rests the ability to decide whether a theory can be confirmed or falsified by the data of actual experience.”

    Source: Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testability

    So, using the actual definition of testability, as opposed to the ones you make up to suit your purposes, please test at least one of the hypotheses that I’ve proposed to you. If you cannot, then please demonstrate why believing that they are true is irrational.

  123. #123 Paul S
    July 2, 2006

    It can also be the case if the last two follow logically from the first concept.

    It can be? You mean it might possibly be? I’m sorry, I thought you were saying that it necessarily was the case. Were you just offering a possible scenario?

    The definition of a word or an idea does not need to encompass every consequence of the interaction of that word or idea and every other.

    No, I’m afraid it pretty much does, if you want to use it in a syllogism, as you did. You have to be able to make the case:

    This idea is untestable.
    All untestable ideas are irrational.
    Therefore, this idea is irrational.

    You can’t demonstrate the second premise except by definition from the first. If I’m mistaken, please show me how.

    Ah, so you’re a Mysterian. Why am I not surprised? It’s completely in character with your general philosophical incompetence.

    Still stuck on that personal attack kick, eh? Well, if that’s what your ego needs, so be it. We’ll move on to something more substantial.

    Brains are information-processing devices. Their “internal realities” are part of reality just like everything else. Our practical ability to interface with them may be limited, but they’re still very much real — and within the bounds of scientific investigation.

    Let’s run over the important part of that again: “Our practical ability to interface with them may be limited, but they’re still…within the bounds of scientific investigation.”

    So, our practical ability to investigate them is limited, but they’re still within the bounds of investigation. I see.

    There seems to be some inconsistency here, but if it makes you happy, go with it.

    So, let’s go back to the actual definition of testability, and come up with some way to test the hypothesis that your mother loves you. And please, no more handwaving: devise an actual, specific set of observations that anyone could make reproducibly that will conclusively test the hypothesis.

  124. #124 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Caledonian may run his test and conclude he has proven scientifically his mother loves him. That’s all fine, but was it really unnecessary? He probably already knew that, and did not spend much time wondering to the contrary.
    Say the test turns out negative, but no sign of her behaviour was ever non-loving. Knowing caledonian, he definitely SHOULD turn his back on mom.But would he be right? HMMMM…

    See, not all scientifically untested ideas are stupid, lame or useless like cytoplasmic monkeys or orbiting teapots. They can actually be RATIONAL.

    Every old religion has a set of wise teachings which are true discoveries and achievements in handling the complexities of human interactions. Old accomplishments in rationality made despite what we could now call conditions of poor scientific progress and great obscurity. If we throw away all the intellectual baggage of religions to the trash as worthless superstition, we would actually go back several steps in discovering these achievements of reason. Several things upheld by religions simply DO make sense. However not many enlightening achievements of this kind have come from dedicated creationists or religion-bashers. They are too busy fighting each other, I guess.

    Sure someone may kill with religious motivations, but religion can also stop someone from killing. The whole killing issue is veeery situation-specific, so don’t decieve yourselves with easy talk, you know better.

  125. #125 PZ Myers
    July 2, 2006

    Oy. We’ve got mother love and sunsets…can someone please use a little more imagination?

    First of all, both of those are material phenomena. We can identify the agents, we can record and measure behaviors or colors, we have repeated instances. We can see that mothers make sacrifices for their children, and we can see that many people hang pictures of sunsets on their walls, so apparently they find them esthetically pleasing.

    Secondly, I’m not saying that you have to believe something because it is scientific, or that science is the be-all and end-all of human experience. I rather explicitly spelled that out.

    What I am saying is that you don’t get to claim that sunset is beautiful because you have scientific proof. You don’t get to claim that the sunset from your point of view is more beautiful than the sunset from your neighbor’s point of view, and if he says otherwise you are justified in killing him. Believe in the beauty of sunsets all you want, but that is not a legitimate foundation for making sensible policy decisions in your government.

    And in the case of gods, we don’t even have any evidence of their existence at all, unlike sunsets and mothers. Yet people believe this nonexistent pixie fluff should be the basis of government, and will kill and be killed over it. Fighting for mother love I could almost understand, even if it is a counterproductive tactic; fighting for god’s love is utterly insane.

  126. #126 ConcernedJoe
    July 2, 2006

    Wow! PZ, I’d hate to see the responses when you are NOT spot-on!!!

    What do I think? (Oh, did someone ask for my opinion? How nice of them!) Here’s a continuum, then I’ll make my point:

    Class W Rational Believers (not very dangerous):

    Rational people who do the church thing and who claim they believe.

    What “makes” them do the irrational?

    I say for most part it is not their fear of death and/or the judgment really. It is not their overwhelming belief in god. It is their fear of losing a social base, social standing, and of being an outsider. They fear being classified automatically as immoral, disappointing and embarrassing mommy and daddy, and losing traditions that bring family and friends together.

    In short they are in it for SOCIAL reasons.

    And though sometimes their religion has an influence on the way they live life (as any thing might), when it comes to important personal stuff they rationally think through things and make their own decisions based on the merits of the situation. They may talk like they are more “influenced” and “pray” BUT really they do their own thing. They have no real desire to spread their “faith” beyond an attempt at spreading it to their children in some exterior way.

    Class C Irrational Believers (dangerous)

    People who really think they do not have to really think!! They actually really believe that the insanity is sane. They still are in it for the social stuff, BUT religion DOES profoundly influence the way they live and what is even worse is they think it should influence all other people too.

    Class B are Class C believers who will take extreme actions to influence the world (Very Dangerous)

    Class A Leaders of Classes B & C – Criminally Dangerous

    That is my spectrum. You can fill in the gaps.

    My Point: I do NOT see how a true scientist or a true rational person in general can get past Class W. It would be so contrary to their normal thought process it seems impossible to me, or INSANE, or a con of some sort. Yes some do. But cons and brain defects do happen I guess.

  127. #127 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    We can talk about the internal states of a computer despite our inability to directly measure those states while a computer is operational. Brains are the same — they’re just a lot more complex. A lot more.

    Someday it may well be within our capabilities that we could determine which of two people finds a sunset more appealing. The fact that we cannot presently do it does not mean it cannot be done.

    Frankly, the people arguing for the Mysterian position don’t even seem to be able to parse basic English. Or they’re grasping at straws and reacting to anything they think looks similar enough to a weakness to pass muster. Heaven forbid they actually analyze the arguments and find actual weaknesses.

    Arguing with an irrational person is a waste of time, so I’ll depart for the nonce.

  128. #128 Keith Douglas
    July 2, 2006

    thwaite: You mention that abduction is subtle. That’s a massive understatement – understanding the creation of hypotheses is not an easy matter. Let me know if you figure anything out, because frankly nobody else has much of any idea either.

    Paul S: A statement with no testable consequences whatsoever (which is hard to come by – some statements are confirmable but not refutable) has no utility anywhere as (by definition) it has no consequence to how you feel or anything else. If you mean no consequences outside your limbic cortex, that’s something else. Maybe then we can test to see how it makes you feel.

    The mysterians, Caledonian, are almost certainly to a man (and woman) tacit dualists who don’t want to admit it.

  129. #129 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    You don’t have to be a dualist, to recognize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even if you were to capture a complete snapshot of an individual’s brain, and analyze its state down to the atom, so that you could predict with perfect accuracy what that individual at that time would label “beautiful,” that would not (a) allow you to know what the next person so label, or (b) allow you to know what that same individual would so label, after a few years more experience, which experience is not much more predictable than the trajectory of the universe as a whole.

    You might try to go at it another way around, and just look for the state in some part of the brain that is the response to beauty, ignoring all the preprocessing up front that leads to that. But that just ducks the hard issue. We already know that people have a “beauty reaction.”

    If “beauty” were the kind of notion that were capable of objective definition, I suspect we would now have it, or at least be working toward it. The use of subjective language doesn’t imply any kind of dualism with regard to the mind. “X is beautiful” is a different kind of statement than “X exists.” It inherently reflects on the speaker in a way that the latter does not, and the latter reflects on the world outside the speaker, in a way that the former does not. The fact that language provides a way to speak about subjective experience provides no escape for theism, unless they want to confess that their theological claims are entirely about their own subjective experience.

  130. #130 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    I don’t think it’s quite true that we can’t say anything objective about beauty. There are very good reasons why people find burning hot irons to be unpleasant, and even though there might be a person who wouldn’t find it so, we could reasonably say such a person was an aberration.

    We can understand these ‘subjective’ emotions and responses in terms of their functions — what they cause us to do, and what advantages we accrue as a result. I see no reason to presume that beauty must somehow be different.

  131. #131 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Attacking pixie fluff is easy , it can also make you feel you are doing something, but in eality you are useless as to stopping the Christian revolution? Mind you, there is more to it than pixie fluff.

    You guys may continue thinking that the problem with evolution education in America will be solved by untangling your epistemological labyrynths. I’m thinking about the social and historical context of America. HELLO? History, social sciences, can explain things in their own terms, but no one around here is trying. All I see is lab bench or zoological-like explanations that are fun but bottom line, totally speculative and unscientific. More importanlty, totally useless as to solving our situation with the Christian revolution.

    It is interesting that “rationaloids” are always quick to divide people into rational and irrational and discard the irrational (a parallel to the “infidel”). An interesting question for them is what do they think makes a person rational or irrational. Do the “irrational” have some kind of neural malfunction? Are their brains heavily contaminated by memeplexes? All I can do is chuckle at these pseudoscientific views. Please do tell us what is really going on.

    You see, just declaring religion the root of all evil and waging war on it does not make you smarter, more rational, or a better scientist. Sorry to dissapoint. However you can always search for others of the dawkobot flock and rub shoulders assuring yourselves it DOES make you smarter, and that you ARE a meaningful something, you know “rationalists” out to save the world, fighting the good fight. Exactly the same Christians may feel by adhering to Christianity. You can just give into this communitary reassurance to avoid thinking much about any argument to the contrary. Since no one is really thinking on their own they can all together just insult criticism away and feel great about it.
    You may refute any of PZ’s old antireligous chestnuts today. All he has to do is to repeat it the exact same way tomorrow to find a choir of many compelled into shouting “amen”. Maybe he loves it that way and does not want to change. Maybe he cares more for the cries of approval of this kind of crowd, than what he cares about thinking things out on his own.

  132. #132 rationalman
    July 2, 2006

    A number of comments have been along the lines that god-fearing countries are no less likely to commit atrocities than officially atheist countries. The common examples are russia and china. However break down the distinctions a little further to see the truth. An officially atheist country, one that bans religious belief outright, always has to substitute a nationalistic cult to replace the absence of religion. So people end up replacing one set of forced beliefs based upon propaganda with another. A fairer comparison is to look at the highly educated liberal democracies of the world where belief in god is fairly low (these include much of western europe, canada, australia and japan). Such countries actually do not engage in war and also have very low rates of domestic violence as well. Religion or a communist cult of personality are just two sides of the same coin. They depend on the ignorance and the manipulation of the masses. True democratic states inevitably drift towards atheism, tolerance and science. The US stands alone in the western world in this regard because we are a poorly educated, highly indoctrinated, and thus easily manipulated people.

  133. #133 rationalman
    July 2, 2006

    I’ll amend my own post. Clearly, the two other anglo countries did join the US in our war in Iraq. But they did this without the consent of their populations. In australia’s case, the parliament actually censured their PM and, in any event, sent only a tiny contingent of about 1000 men, none of which has been involved in any of the daily atrocities there (they actually have not lost a single soldier yet). As for England, well Blair has insured his own demise as PM and his motivation to join in the fray was no doubt motivated by the fact (surprise, surprise) that he is the rare politician in western europe who actually IS a born again christian.

  134. #134 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Didn’t the dutch also send troops? Last time I looked they were typically “progressive europeans”
    You say ignorance and manipulation but you ignore the gorilla in the room: the need to form economic and millitary allainces. Integral blocks of power.

  135. #135 squeaky
    July 2, 2006

    I wish presidential debates took Caledonian’s rules of discourse as a model: Make a decent comment that potentially adds to the debate. Then end with some kind of rude insult. I would have loved to hear Kerry say “Bush, you ignorant slut” just once! Ratings would soar. Can we get Jerry Springer to moderate?

    My hypothesis about you, Caledonian, and about anyone who has to resort to cheap shots and insults, is that you are not at all secure in your views. If you were, you wouldn’t feel the need to resort to emotion-laden, logic-devoid jabs at your “opponent”. You undermine every point you make, whether valid or not, with such behavior. You give the impression that you are backed into a corner and the best you can come up with is “your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries!”

    Alexander–applause to you on your assessment of PZ’s tactics. I couldn’t have said it better. As someone who has weaned myself off of fundamentalism, I’m pretty familiar with the rhetoric on that side. The irony is, although the words themselves are different on this side, the style of the rhetoric and the “us/them” mentality is exactly the same.

    PZ, you rightly say:

    “The hypotheses of religion are non-testable, unsupported by evidence or reason, and rather deranged — so yes, they should be dismissed.”

    Correct–if God is by nature supernatural, how can any natural tests we devise prove or disprove God’s existence? The question is totally outside the realm of science, and should be treated as such by believer and unbeliever alike. You get no argument from me.

    You also say:
    “And in the case of gods, we don’t even have any evidence of their existence at all”

    Christians would argue that there is plenty of evidence–but it is not physical evidence (of course, creationists would disagree). Much of it is personal experience. You can’t debate an individual’s experience. Whether it seems like it to you or not, there are rationalities behind every believer’s belief, just as there are rationalities behind your lack of belief. Whatever those rationalities are, it all boils down to faith–and there is no scientific test for faith or even lack of faith.

    Of course faith is irrational to you–you didn’t find any rational basis for it, and you don’t understand how anyone else can. Your search came up empty–and you can’t understand how anyone else’s search would have any different result. But, that is YOUR experience. Not everyone in the world is going to have your experience. You imply that if anyone’s experience led them to different conclusions, they must be irrational in their thinking. Just because you don’t understand someone’s choice to believe doesn’t mean you have the right to judge it. You would need to understand a person’s life and experience to truly do that, and that is something none of us can do.

  136. #136 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    Squeaky writes, “Christians would argue that there is plenty of evidence–but it is not physical evidence.. Much of it is personal experience. .. Of course faith is irrational to you–you didn’t find any rational basis for it, and you don’t understand how anyone else can. Your search came up empty–and you can’t understand how anyone else’s search would have any different result. But, that is YOUR experience. Not everyone in the world is going to have your experience. You imply that if anyone’s experience led them to different conclusions, they must be irrational in their thinking.”

    That kind of defense is plausible only for the Christian who says something like, “I can’t really explain why I believe, but I had an experience that left me no choice but to do so.” That kind of mysticism does exists in the Christian tradition, but most is fairly rare. Most Christians believe for reasons they think can be explained, and many are wont to explain at great lengths. Explaining belief, even advocating it, is a large part of Christian literature. You could fill a library with books on the topic, even if you restricted yourself just to authors alphabetically listed from Lewis to McDowell.

    And whenever explanation is offered, it can be examined for its rationality. And it is those defenses that are irrational. We know that in the same way that we know anything is irrational: by virtue of the irrational things that are said or written.

  137. #137 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Squeaker, you are right about the intransferrability of personal life histories. This is why I am not judgemental about any person’s beliefs. I think one of the problems is the inability of religion bashers and creationists to fully acknowledge their opponents as human beings. They just consider them as stupid and irrational, or black-hearted and amoral, and thus never have any empathy in their approach. But a capacity for empathy is what you really need to correctly understand the human foundations of the conflict.

  138. #138 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    PZ, we have long ago agreed that nobody can push their religious views as if they were scientific. You are welcome to fervorously attack this kind of practice. We need to get the message out there that evolution is the only scientific way of understanding the history of life on earth. But, as I have already said (yawn) picking up the flag of rationality to launch a full scale attack on religion is a simplistic and misleading practice that waters down your better efforts. To think that atheism is a scientific conclusion is conceptually wrong, as if there COULD be scientific evidence of god, but just “so far there isn’t”. Moreover, if you try pushing this onto people you can’t say that you are any better than the creationist who says that the scientific and rational evidence for god is already at hand. Actually you both follow the same logic.

  139. #139 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    Alexander Vargas writes, “To think that atheism is a scientific conclusion is conceptually wrong, as if there COULD be scientific evidence of god.”

    Say what?! Scientific evidence of god is easy to imagine. A god could appear in a burning bush in each person’s backyard, predicting each morning the last digit of the next day’s Dow Jones close. A god could have written his scripture in ASCII in regions of junk DNA. A god could speak to each person directly and literally. Or send his angels to wrestle, as he did to Joseph. Or to relay messages engraved on golden plates, as he did to Joseph Smith. Or magically pop in and out, like Q in Star Trek.

    There are any number of ways that any gods that exist, assuming even modest powers typically attributed to them, could have revealed themselves. Directly. Literally. Testably. There is no conceptual problem with that whatsoever. Indeed, that such revelation HAS occurred, and will occur again, is a core belief of most Christian sects.

    It seems to me that you are the one giving credence to a common apologetic mistake, to excuse the absence of gods by conjuring up some philosophical objection. But its nonsense. There any number of ways gods, angels, demiurges, and other fabled beings could show themselves. That they don’t is a very real problem for those who want to believe in them.

  140. #140 PZ Myers
    July 2, 2006

    Alexander, I’ve simply found your responses tedious, irrelevant, and wrong. For example, atheism may be the only reasonable scientific conclusion (we tend not to accept hypotheses that are such obvious bunk as those proposed by religion), but I’ve said over and over again — you don’t need to be an atheist to be a good scientist.

    You seem incapable of recognizing the distinction. Even the most fervent Christian discards his belief in the intervention of gods when he sits down to do science.

  141. #141 Andy Groves
    July 2, 2006

    I’m not sure why you bring up Barbara Forrest.

    I misspoke. I meant Robert Pennock. He said, for example:

    “What one expects in science is that one is going to be testing hypotheses against the natural world, and what methodological naturalism does is say we can’t cheat. We can’t just call for quick assistance to some supernatural power. It would certainly make science very easy if we could do that. We’re forced to restrain ourselves to looking for natural regularities. That’s part of what it means to be able to give evidence for something. You’ve undermined that notion of empirical evidence if you start to introduce the supernatural.”

    So I ask again – why would anyone think it is appropriate to apply the scientific method to the question of something that is outside the scientific method? You are actually arguing in a similar way to Johnson, Dembski and the others (but from the opposite direction) if you think that supernatural claims can be examined by science.

    “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.

    It’s a hypothesis, but it’s not a scientific hypothesis. A supernatural being exists? How would science know one way or the other?

    One could try and test the hypothesis that someone called Jesus lived 2000 years ago and was executed by the Romans. It’s more of a historical enquiry than science, but it’s still testable. You can’t scientifically test the hypothesis that Jesus was the son of God. In a way, it’s almost a category error.

    In the end of your article you wrote:
    Believe if you want, just realize that your belief doesn’t deserve to be called scientific.

    Do you honestly think that anyone – even scientists with religious belief – care whether their belief is scientific or not?

  142. #142 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    Andy Groves ask, “So I ask again – why would anyone think it is appropriate to apply the scientific method to the question of something that is outside the scientific method?”

    Because Roger Pennock was wrong. Because there is no defensible distinction between natural and supernatural. If fairies or ghosts exist, they are not beyond study merely because their behavior is different from octopuses and leptons. It just means they are different.

    What makes it impossible to study ghosts and fairies is simply that they don’t show up when we look for them. And that is not a distinction that can be glossed over by saying, “oh, they’re supernatural.”

  143. #143 PZ Myers
    July 2, 2006

    The word “supernatural” is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. If someone claims it is possible for someone to be the son of a god, I think the sensible thing to do is to demand that they define their terms (what is a god?) and give the evidence for it — if they believe it, surely they must have some reason, right? And it is precisely my point that those claims they make can’t be examined scientifically. They can’t even be examined critically.

    In case you haven’t noticed, there are these things called Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design that are all about plastering a ‘scientific’ veneer on religious belief.

  144. #144 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Gee, Russell. what an eclectic chap you are. You better reach out for a stool if you are HONESTLY thinking that kind of evidence could show up, hahaha.
    I’m going to let you guys into a little secret. Science is NEVER going to prove or disprove god, NNNEEEVAH, man.
    You guys may think there is no true distinction between natural and supernatural. Hey, if I have a flaming dow jones bush in my garden, it immediatley becomes part of my natural world. I can, you know, measure, it describe it, fry my bacon on it. See the supernatural thing is not a “can do” or “can’t do” distinction of thing that actually already ARE in our natural world. Its a completley conceptual thing. SUPER-natural, get it??? For instance, someone can say that when you die, you continue in the realm of the “super-natural”, with God, of course. Any ideas to scientifically prove or disprove this? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

    To make this distinction is important. Many creationists point to the development of the embryo. Take sperm and egg and in 9 months you have the beautiful little baby. That, mind you, is a pretty darn impressivething. Many describe it as ‘a miracle”. But is it supernatural? Nope. babies are born every day. It is an everyday fact of our lifes. We can describe it, study it…
    Take dreaming, for instance. If none of us dreamt, and then I have a dream, and tell you guys, you know, that I somehow had all these amazing experiences while my body was motionless and asleep, that I flied, slew dinosaurs blablabla, you guys would tell me to **** off. But it so happens that dreams, however wonderful, are a rutinary human experience.

  145. #145 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    But the really interesting part is, well, let’s say I want to know how did the first cell come to be. OK, someone tells methat some extrateerrestrial called, err, “God” put together the first cell. That’s just fine. Super cool. But just HOW did he put the cells together? Did he carefully followed a recipe? Juts stating there was a superpowerful extraterrestrial involved helps us really little in actually understanding how life came to be. The recipe would be the interesting thing since it would reveal the conditions under which life comes to be, in good old physicochemical, mechanistic terms.
    This is why, superntaural or not, any invocation to superpowerful beings is quite relibely ging to prove to be scientifically useless. Other than stating they could have been there, no detail or heuristic principles on mechanism are provided. It doesn’t need to be supernatural to be scientifically vacuous, though we can KNOW that if it IS supernatural, it WILL BE, for SURE, scientifically vacuos.

    It can be just, colorful bad ideas that are unscientific. You know, they may not be supernatural, and even interesting and appealing but they may be just scientifically useless, guys. Like Meme theory is worthless for studying any REAL historic process, for example (hehehe yeah I know it hurts but its true )

  146. #146 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    PZ, of course, you will find my sober answers tedious and lame, cause all you want is a hot war against religious baddies.

  147. #147 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    Alexander Vargas writes, “Hey, if I have a flaming dow jones bush in my garden, it immediatley becomes part of my natural world. I can, you know, measure it, describe it, fry my bacon on it. See the supernatural thing is not a ‘can do’ or ‘can’t do’ distinction of thing that actually already ARE in our natural world. Its a completley conceptual thing.”

    You have just defined Jesus as natural. Jehovah, too. And Moroni, Athena, and Allah. None of them had any problem presenting themselves. Most religions that teach some kind of god tell of those gods interacting with people. About the only god who (that?) fits your definition of supernatural is the abstract and stand-offish god of Deism.

    See, the thing is, gods who don’t interact with people at all aren’t very interesting. It’s hard to build a religion around that notion, and impossible for any prophet or priest to claim specific knowledge of such god. The most austere Deism is the most you can get that way. It’s unsurprising there are few Deists today. The gods who attract believers come down here and do things: they appear to prophets, raise the dead, deliver tablets of stone or gold, send their angels, reprimand their followers, etc. Their adherents think they know something about these gods. Specific things. Which knowledge assumes interaction. Somehow. Someway.

    And that’s the problem, with drawing a line between natural and supernatural. If you draw it where it forbids scientific thought about the gods, it also makes impossible saying anything about those gods, except that they are conceptually remote. Draw it any wider, wide enough to encompass the kinds of gods who actually have adherents, and it no longer serves the purpose of holding off scientific thought on them.

  148. #148 PZ Myers
    July 2, 2006

    I find you tedious and lame because you keep railing against stuff like “Science is NEVER going to prove or disprove god,” as if anyone has claimed that it will.

    I don’t think it is possible to disprove god, because the god hypothesis is badly formed and intentionally fabricated to evade testing. It is a bad hypothesis.

  149. #149 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Suuuure, I realize that most religions hold very dearly that, you know, “every now and then” thpough not too often, mind you, you have you know, miracles, full blown interventions in the natural world, walk on water, angel gabriel in the flesh, yeah. They certainly maintain that god CAN go natural. But they don’t hold that he IS “merely natural”, flesh and bone dude though, huh? Its still an ultimately scientifically untestable thing, specially if its only a special ocaasions thing, we cannot reproduce at will in the lab, right?
    But then , Russel didn’t you read my other paragraph? Proposals of “natural” occurences may be scientifically vacuous. “Miracles” are certainly proposed to occur in the natural world, but no religion is trying to make anything SCIENTIFIC out of them, you know, a new hydraulics for the cleaving of the red sea, a new thermodynamics for burning bushes. So what do I care? They may be held to occur in the natural world, doesn’t mean they are scientifically intended, you know. They are actually perfectly scientifically vacuous.

  150. #150 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Well, PZ, looks like the message has not gone through to most, huh? It is a bad SCIENTIFIC “hypothesis” , no doubt. But see, religion is NOT about science. OK?

  151. #151 Russell
    July 2, 2006

    Alexander Vargas responds, “I realize that most religions hold very dearly that, you know, ‘every now and then’ thpough not too often, mind you, you have you know, miracles, full blown interventions in the natural world, walk on water, angel gabriel in the flesh, yeah. They certainly maintain that god CAN go natural.”

    Then such gods can prove their existence. And for such gods, it’s just nonsense to say argue of their existence is conceptually unprovable. Such a god might choose to remain hidden, or mostly hidden. But that’s a practical and theological issue, not a philosophical fence. And if such a god is the hypothesis, then the kind of reasoning a scientist might make about such hypothesis is perfectly legitimate.

    “But they don’t hold that he IS ‘merely natural,’ flesh and bone dude though, huh?”

    Yeah, yeah. Nothing like leptons or octopuses.

    “Its still an ultimately scientifically untestable thing, specially if its only a special ocaasions thing, we cannot reproduce at will in the lab, right?”

    Earthquakes and novas are “special occasion things, we cannot reproduce at will in the lab.” Does that remove them from the usual kind of rational consideration and study?

    “‘Miracles’ are certainly proposed to occur in the natural world, but no religion is trying to make anything SCIENTIFIC out of them.”

    Is that because of the difficulty of rationally studying them? Or because the believers in them are unwilling to rationally study them?

  152. #152 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    No, Russel, good grief. Its becasue they are not forwarded as mechansims for scientific of any natural phenomenon. Its just miracles. Its so silly that you guys get all serious about these religious myths…sorry “hypotheses” (hahaha)
    Well if you still dont get I guess I’ll leave you to swing on your wooden horse.

  153. #153 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    complete phrase is “these miracles are not forwarded as mechanisms for scientific explanation of any natural phenomenon”

  154. #154 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    We don’t need to resort to science to disprove the existence of deities (at least, as they are generally understood): logic alone suffices for that.

    Traditional conceptions of gods are grossly incoherent. They usually involve omnipotence, which is logically impossible. They involve assertions of supernaturality, which reason can easily show is invalid.

    That alone is enough to do the idea in. When you add in the fact that no evidence supporting any of the various gods has ever been found… well, science’s contribution is redundant.

  155. #155 ConcernedJoe
    July 2, 2006

    To all god apologists — those approaching Class C, B or A religionists (see my post above) — I have a simple question for you all:

    Why don’t you give up your health insurance, modern medicine, and any other SECULAR and/or SCIENTIFIC thing for which you pay good $$ to protect, treat, or comfort you and your loved ones?

    Why not just rely on your all-LOVING, all-KNOWING sky-daddy to protect you and your loved ones? Hey it is his will anyway right? And many times your fables say some version of “ask and you shall receive.” Look at how you’d give glory to his name, and consider all the $$ you’ll save that you can give to your church or something.

    Oh! you’re hesitating – uncomfortable! Oh, you say he doesn’t work that way?!?!?

    Well I say what bloody thing can you count on from this arbitrary, condescending, egotistical bully? What is your faith in? Vaporware it sounds like to me. Don’t argue with me — I’m not the one you have to convince that your god is great — convince yourself that he’ll never leave your side — AND JUST DO IT — abandon the secular and go with your god ONLY!!! I DARE YOU.

    And when you actually go “commando” (god ONLY) — and you weather the storms without help from the likes of PZ — then you can at least have “moral” standing in saying god is as important to man as science, etc.

    Oh — in case you missed the implication… science, rationality, good civics, etc. work quite well without faith — they stand on their merits and improve as we learn more. They function all the time consistently REGARDLESS of the religion, or the god, or the NO god of the recipient. We can count on them. Sure we know science fails sometimes, but it is not some unfathomable, arbitrary, condescending, egotistical bully. And we bet on it all the time and we win way beyond the odds of mere chance.

  156. #156 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    No one here is doing god apologetics. I’m an atheist. But if you say science refutes god, then you mean it can confirm god, Joe. See, its silly. You give in to creationist tyoe thinking.

  157. #157 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    now wait, caledonian. You can adorn even the wackiest thing with logic and math. If not check out some bible coding math, hahaha.
    Proving or disproving god is not about “logic” either. Like if logic COULD prove god.
    What a mess you got here, guys

  158. #158 PZ Myers
    July 2, 2006

    Are you going to start defending creationism now? After all, if their claims are sufficiently illogical, then we must deny science any role in debunking them.

  159. #159 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Gosh PZ. You sound like if you found yourself wrong on a single point, you would feel like you have to run to church and pray for forgiveness.
    Creationists attempt scientific proof of the supernatural. By denying common descent , they want to create an unexisting void to appeal to “non explicit mechanism” as the only possibility. Twisted, huh? Not scientific at all.
    In fact, no approach to the history of life on earth will be able to be scientific without common descent. Any doubts about this, PZ?

  160. #160 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Creationists just provide no HOW. Descent with modification provides HOW. Beautifully!! Totally satisfactory, 100 % neat scientific explanation. Yeah!!

    Science is all about HOW. Creationists want us to think that saying “there can be no way HOW” is scientific!! HA!!

  161. #161 Caledonian
    July 2, 2006

    Before taking part in this discussion again, I’d like to make a suggestion to everyone reading this thread. Take a few minutes to review Vargas’ contributions, then ask yourself these questions:

    How many of the points he brings up are actually correct?

    What is the case he’s attemtping to build out of those points?

    If a person shows absolutely no interest in making a coherent argument or responding coherently to others’ arguments, but shows great interest in saying things that require others to make inferences regarding their meaning and that openly invite rebuttal, what precisely distinguishes this behavior from the ancient ‘Net ritual known as ‘trolling’?

  162. #162 Alexander Vargas
    July 2, 2006

    Pffff caledonian, I was actually wondering if you could give an answer that would make me think. A slight disappointment there.

  163. #163 Alexander Vargas
    July 3, 2006

    You don’t want me to bring up what I looked up about about galileo, caledonian. I simply have no interest in refuting you. I just keep it to myself

  164. #164 Alexander Vargas
    July 3, 2006

    Hey russel, I realize I was not careful about experimental reproducibility in the lab, of course things that happen every once in a while can be studied scientifically but you must acknowledge that earthquakes and supernovas dont stand precisely at level with “single time” miracles where the word of a few “eyewitnesses” lost in time is truly all there is as “evidence” goes. i did not meanto defend a narrow, lab-bench experimentalism that creationsist love. We all know the hypothetical deductive method is truly no different in the comparative and historical sciences.

    But the real point is that just shouting “miracle” even if something very weird has indeed occurred, is scientifically vacuous as an explanation of the phenomenon. It has nothing to do with science.

    Now, as a scientist I’m quite willing to say no human can resurrect after been crucified and staying three days dead in a cave. But the religious person would just thank us for pointing that out. Because of course, if it could be scientifically explained, there would be no “miracle”. Some scientists think they have to conceive some extremely implausible scientific explanations, or others say that they don’t accept only because they did not see it in person. But the first thing makes us look ris a contorion anyone can be skeptic about and turn into a laughstock, while the second abdicates from all previous knowledge and explanations of mechanism just to look “very empirical”. It’s simplistic and ultimately dishonest.

    So the miracle becomes a perfect invention in religion for those who chose to demonstrate their faith. Alas, we only reforce it by angrily pointing out its scientific absurdity. All we can do is make them agree that we are all clear that what they hold is UNSCIENTIFIC. They will be happy to do that, however.

    But now take that the “miracle” is the origin of humans. Creationism is something that requires us to ignore descent with modification, creating a false “scientific gap”, and substituting it for a supernatural and scientifically vacuous invocation of sudden appeareance by special creation. This is quite silly even from a religious point of view, because they start out by ignoring the origin of humans is known to science with extensive documentaion of detail and descent with modification is simply not in question. Which of course is much more than what we would be able to say if the phenomenon to explain is an alleged eyewitnessing of the resurrection of a crucified 3 day-old corpse. Worse yet, creationists hold they are being merely SCIENTIFIC. This is the opposite of those who hold that miracles are true, who actually NEED them to be unscientific. Yeah, its an ugly mess.

    Basically, you make up a good miracle story by stating something occurred that was not reliably documented and that is totally outrageous in a way such that you can feel pretty sure that science would not be able to explain it …NOT so by taking a readily visible phenomenon and declaring it the result of a miracle, by denying the well documented scientific explanation of this phenomenon.

  165. #165 Alexander Vargas
    July 3, 2006

    Hey russel, I realize I was not careful about experimental reproducibility in the lab, of course things that happen every once in a while can be studied scientifically but you must acknowledge that earthquakes and supernovas dont stand precisely at level with “single time” miracles where the word of a few “eyewitnesses” lost in time is truly all there is as “evidence” goes. i did not meanto defend a narrow, lab-bench experimentalism that creationsist love. We all know the hypothetical deductive method is truly no different in the comparative and historical sciences.

    But the real point is that just shouting “miracle” even if something very weird has indeed occurred, is scientifically vacuous as an explanation of the phenomenon. It has nothing to do with science.

    Now, as a scientist I’m quite willing to say no human can resurrect after been crucified and staying three days dead in a cave. But the religious person would just thank us for pointing that out. Because of course, if it could be scientifically explained, there would be no “miracle”. Some scientists think they have to conceive some extremely implausible scientific explanations, or others say that they don’t accept only because they did not see it in person. But the first thing makes us look ris a contorion anyone can be skeptic about and turn into a laughstock, while the second abdicates from all previous knowledge and explanations of mechanism just to look “very empirical”. It’s simplistic and ultimately dishonest.

    So the miracle becomes a perfect invention in religion for those who chose to demonstrate their faith. Alas, we only reforce it by angrily pointing out its scientific absurdity. All we can do is make them agree that we are all clear that what they hold is UNSCIENTIFIC. They will be happy to do that, however.

    But now take that the “miracle” is the origin of humans. Creationism is something that requires us to ignore descent with modification, creating a false “scientific gap”, and substituting it for a supernatural and scientifically vacuous invocation of sudden appeareance by special creation. This is quite silly even from a religious point of view, because they start out by ignoring the origin of humans is known to science with extensive documentaion of detail and descent with modification is simply not in question. Which of course is much more than what we would be able to say if the phenomenon to explain is an alleged eyewitnessing of the resurrection of a crucified 3 day-old corpse. Worse yet, creationists hold they are being merely SCIENTIFIC. This is the opposite of those who hold that miracles are true, who actually NEED them to be unscientific. Yeah, its an ugly mess.

    Basically, you make up a good miracle story by stating something occurred that was not reliably documented and that is totally outrageous in a way such that you can feel pretty sure that science would not be able to explain it …NOT so by taking a readily visible phenomenon and declaring it the result of a miracle, by denying the well documented scientific explanation of this phenomenon.

  166. #166 ConcernedJoe
    July 3, 2006

    Sorry if I did not convey my points previously. I intended to be on topic but perhaps my words they were too much.

    To Alexander Vargas who replied : “.. if you say science refutes god, then you mean it can confirm god, Joe. See, its silly.,” let me say I absolutely did NOT intend to say any such thing!

    My points were these:

    1st post, a true scientist or true rational person can only go so far (say around my Class W) with god belief and religion for god’s sake. To move up the scale would require thinking so foreign to their intellectual nature (barring mental illness) that it seems implausible.

    2nd post, the results of science can serve us quite well without belief in god. But more to the point: no sane person with adequate knowledge and intellect would chose god over science when the rubber hits the road. So what does god belief really mean to a sane and rational person? If they test their god belief they’ll find it rather shallow I would bet.

    None of these posts had to do with proving or disproving god scientifically. Just that it is NOT rational to believe in and act on something that fails any rational application applied to it.

  167. #167 Russell
    July 3, 2006

    The most basic fact about miracles is that once they were common, and have become rare as monopoles, since rational thought and more careful methods of observation have become the ways people were more wont to study them. As Alexander Vargas points out, singular miracles that are passed down through fable and religious literature are evidence of nothing, except of how religions work.

    The point I’m pressing is that there is nothing that prevents such a god who is allegedly behind such miracles from revealing himself to one and all. Here. There. Today. Every day. The complete absence of such revelation — observable, shared, testable — is the most salient empirical fact about the Christian’s cosmology. It is a fact they cannot reconcile. And it is a fact that cannot be waved away by saying that it is conceptually impossible. It is fully within the empiricist’s domain to point out that religions such as Islam and Christianity rely on a notion of secret revelation and on philosophical special pleading around this, in a fashion their own religious understanding cannot allow. And more, that adherents in these religions believe irrationally.

  168. #168 Andy Groves
    July 3, 2006


    In case you haven’t noticed, there are these things called Scientific Creationism and Intelligent Design that are all about plastering a ‘scientific’ veneer on religious belief.

    Right. And they are both scientifically and philosophically wrong, IMO. Claiming that the Earth is 6000 years old is not a supernatural claim. It’s a natural claim that can be tested. And it is wrong. Claiming that God made the Earth 6000 years ago cannot be tested as a whole, although we can deal with the 6000 year old bit. That was the mistake that Paul Nelson got into a month or two back when he claimed that scientists test supernatural claims all the time.

    The ID/Sci-cre people want the supernatural to be admitted into science. As I said before, your statement:

    “If you apply the processes of the scientific method to the claims of religion, treating them as hypotheses, what do you discover? ”

    starts off on the wrong assumption form the word go.

    Invoking the “supernatural” is not a “get out of jail free card”. It’s a two edged sword. Yes, you can believe in God all you want, yes your God is immune from scientific standards of evidence, but at the same time, you cannot claim scientific legitimacy for your fairy story, which (as you point out) is what the ID/Sci-Cre crowd want.

    You and I both think religion is a fairy story. The difference is that you seem to be saying its inferiority can be demonstrated by showing it has no scientific basis. I think there are better ways to criticize religion.

  169. #169 PZ Myers
    July 3, 2006

    The religious do claim scientific and historical legitimacy for their fairy story, and they also claim that their beliefs are founded on reason — apologetics is a big business, you know.

    If you look at the second paragraph of what I’ve written above, I explicitly disavow making value judgements about the worth of religion vs. science (here, anyway — it’s a different argument). It’s not a matter of demonstrating its inferiority yet…it’s a step in removing one set of justifications from it. You and I both know there is no kind of scientific support for religion, and as you would admit, I’m sure, the religious will say it’s a matter of faith and a criticism of its lack of scientific validity won’t matter at all. So, let’s remove that prop — no one will object, surely? — and be completely unambiguous about the foundations of religion.

    I have no illusions that this will make religion crumble away and disappear, but at least we can be open and honest on our side of the debate.

  170. #170 PZ Myers
    July 3, 2006

    Oh, and what are those better ways to criticize religion? I welcome all additions to my arsenal.

  171. #171 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.

  172. #172 Andy Groves
    July 3, 2006

    The religious do claim scientific and historical legitimacy for their fairy story, and they also claim that their beliefs are founded on reason — apologetics is a big business, you know.

    Well, some religious people (The Sci-Cres and IDists) claim scientific legitimacy for their beliefs, and I dealt with that in my last message. You and I both know that conventional Christian apologetics almost never use science to support religion.

    It doesn’t matter whether religious people prefer faith to material evidence or not. My point is that trying to test explicitly non-material claims using the scientific method is a category error. So far you haven’t said how you would even try to do it – you ‘ve just said that the hypotheses are bad and have left it at that. So come up with a better hypothesis. I think if you try, you’ll see the point I was trying to make……..

    Oh, and what are those better ways to criticize religion?

    Almost every other argument you have ever made against religion in this blog is better than saying that religion fails the tests of methodological naturalism! For what it’s worth, I think many of those criticisms can also be leveled at social systems that are either not specifically religious or are openly atheistic (like Stalinism).

  173. #173 Kagehi
    July 3, 2006

    It doesn’t matter whether religious people prefer faith to material evidence or not. My point is that trying to test explicitly non-material claims using the scientific method is a category error.

    Tell that to Parapsychologists, IDists, the nut that tried to prove cells talk to each other using light by seeing if the clown from Talking To The Dead was recieving signals from his victim’s (sorry… customer’s) cells, and a whole heaping load of other BS. When they stop playing in in our sandbox and telling us that we just are not looking hard enough for the imaginary unicorns prancing across it, we will stop telling them that their views are complete BS and that they should go play somewhere else. They are the ones coming up with idiotic “explainations” that can be taken appart by grade school students (assuming a decent education in the grade school student). Why is it our fault that we then feel the need to critically examine all the rest.

    And just to the point, to list “some” miracles that supposedly lie outside science, there is the experiment indicating that certain natural conditions “could” part the Red Sea, evidence that it might not have even “been” the Red Sea, acheological evidence that several famous events can be traced to the geology and quakes, not trumpets. There is even some indication that they found several cities, two of which may have been Saddom and Gammora (though of course the names are not the same… Damn people renaming stuff all the time..). While no specific explaination for their destruction exists yet (mostly because the people that found them where Christian archeologists, who tend to not bother asking inconvenient questions beyond, “Was this place real?”, you can scrape enough brimstone (which they burned like lamp oil in the region) out of the rocks there to fill a trash barrel in less than an hour. Its not hard to imagine some idiot building the cities on the top of the biggest deposit of the stuff in the area and someone else dropping a buring piece into a hole, not unlike some coal mines that have been burning for the last 50+ years, from similar accidents. The only “miracles” that can’t be “tested” and explained are those purely subjective ones from personal experience. If we where talking about “anything” other than religion though, the default assumption would be that they imagined it and need psychological help. Why? Because, every screwing idea of the sort possible someone has probably had and empirical tests have shown that such people are usually, though not always, dangerous, prone to do irrational things based on their delusions and often detrimental to society as a whole, though more often only themselves. So, while that may be a qualitative judgement, rather than a 100% empirical one, it is “still” grounded in the principle of, “The last 50 people who came through that believed that tried to kill someone, maybe we ought to do something about it…” Its not quite double blind laboratory based empiricism, but it still tends to be way better than what the believers are using.

  174. #174 Alexander Vargas
    July 13, 2006

    M Petersen
    I guess the big bang does not convince you either, huh?
    See science is all about HOW. HOW did the universe come to be?
    And the fact is that the entire universe is moving and expanding from what seems to have been nothing less than the starting point of some huge explosion.
    I think that is super cool.
    Even a child can ask who made god and it is no silly question. Scientists used to think the question of the origin of the universe is pointless since philosophically, even a “beggining” would have originated from something preexistent
    However the big bang has led philosopers to reflect on whether there could actually be something as a true starting point, a true origin without precursors…a fair question, I’d say.

    You still have a deep confusion about what science is about. And you still believe you can justify your beliefs by means other than faith. Basically, you have placed science under suspicion. You don’t believe man can figure things out. Therefore you have postponed diligently and honestly considering its evidence, and you’d rather read more and more religious texts that, of course, also preach distrust from “man and his knowledge’

    You should know better. I’m letting you know that you wrongly believe that what is fact is speculation, and that man cannot figure out thingsthat he can.

    Anyway, M petersen, I know you are preaching unto us and thus fulfilling the mission god has given you. By all means, be happy with yourself. But you delude yourself if you think you are being effective by avoiding the science topic. You suspect evolution to be untrue. You will never win our hearts since you cannot hide the unfairness unto yourself with which you have underanalized this topic.

    Other religions know better. The catholic curch has accepted common descent and said “truth cannot contradict truth”. They are smarter. Period.

    And much less will you get us to belive in the rapture. M Petersen, we have a looong, long time to go here together on earth, the end of times has ALWAYS been near, if you know what I mean. And we must learn to truly understand how other people thinks, and learn to get along. Bringing into question weel established and mighty cool scientific knowledge does not help anyone. You have not tried to understand how we think, to walk in our shoes. You are preaching, “delivering the message” cause that is what you are supposed to do; But until you show some greater responsibilty with knowing this crowd, you will truly be preaching in the desert.

  175. #175 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.

  176. #176 Qwerty
    August 1, 2008

    post #97 from Vargas:

    What a pile of crap.

  177. #177 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.

  178. #178 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.

  179. #179 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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