Pharyngula

It feels good to see the IDist crackpots beaten back a little bit in their bid to control the Kansas school board, and I think it is necessary to keep up the pressure and prevent them from getting a better grip on public school education. However, Paul Nelson actually has a point with his little parable. It’s not the point he thinks he’s making, but it’s important to keep in mind anyway, and I’m going to dash some cold water on any sense of triumphalism on the pro-science side.

Once upon a time, there were a whole bunch of people who thought that what really mattered in thinking hard about design and evolution were state science standards. And school board elections.

Along came a 15 year old kid who loved science, read a lot, thought for herself, and generally saw the adults around her as missing the point. “As if,” she said to the cat sleeping at her feet.

Then she smiled and went back to her web browsing.

The End.

Elections and courts are stop-gaps. They are ways to temporarily block trends from becoming entrenched in our social institutions, but as I tell everyone, all we have to do is lose one and we’re screwed. We are on the losing side as long as our response consists of throwing up more and more sandbags in the face of a rising flood—we need to get to the source of our problems and work there, and if we put all our efforts into these legalisms and desperately close elections, we’re being distracted from the work that’s really essential.

This is a culture war. It’s not being waged in courtrooms and ballot boxes, but in people’s homes and churches and schools, it’s going on in newsletters and editorial pages and web sites—it’s going on in your neighborhood right now, and it’s going on in every small town in Kansas despite the results of their latest election. Nothing has changed except that now creationists will redouble their efforts in the unobtrusive channels at the roots of culture.

Creationists may be scientifically illiterate and dogged with superstition, but they are sociologically cunning, and more closely tuned to community activism than we scientifically savvy folks typically are.

So the part that Nelson is right about is that, in the long term, the elections don’t matter. What counts are the thoughts of 15 year old kids right now, and how their minds are being shaped, and I guarantee you that there are damn few of them who even knew there was a school board election going on. What are they reading? What are they being taught in school? What are their parents telling them, and what will they tell their kids 10-20 years from now? How will they vote when they’re franchised in a few years?

The part that Nelson misses, though, is that these kids may love science, but he is part of an organization actively conspiring to corrupt and mislead them. The Discovery Institute and Nelson himself sow lies and call them ‘science,’ and if the poor girl in his parable is browsing their pseudoscientific fluff while thinking she’s getting a nourishing dollop of good education, she’s in trouble. She’s going to suffer if she tries to take that early love of science to a higher level in college and grad school someday.

Of course, that matters too. The parable is actually making the chilling point that the school board elections don’t matter, because they have other channels to abuse and limit and warp children’s minds. And they are going to use them.

Comments

  1. #1 King Aardvark
    August 2, 2006

    We need to preempt the fundies and get to the little kids before they do. I know it’s going to be hard, since if they have fundie parents, the parents are going to get them first. Even if we get more things like the secular summer camp PZ mentioned, we still have to counteract the church camps that their parents will make them go to.

  2. #2 peter
    August 2, 2006

    I think there is a difference between wisdom and intelligence, what do you think PJ?

  3. #3 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    Along came a 15 year old kid who loved science, read a lot, thought for herself, and generally saw the adults around her as missing the point. “As if,” she said to the cat sleeping at her feet.

    Then she smiled and went back to her web browsing.

    Parents need to be warned about greasy predators on young brains who lurk on the internet and peddle sweet creationist candy. Sal Cordova comes immediately to mind.

  4. #4 Azkyroth
    August 2, 2006

    I’m doing my part *pats Joey*

  5. #5 thwaite
    August 2, 2006

    Looks like television’s no longer the place for broad influence (sorry, David Attenborough). From yesterday’s paper and this web site,

    Generation Y young adults aged 18-26 are plugging into technology at a faster rate than any other generation, but they are doing so instead of spending time in front of a TV, according to a new Forrester Research study.
    The Cambridge, Mass.-based analyst firm’s annual technology-adoption study surveyed 66,707 households in the United States and Canada. It found that young adults spend 12.2 hours online, 28% longer than Generation X’s 27- to 40-year-olds and twice as long as baby boomers aged 51-61.

    –and television watching has dropped to 10.6 hours.

  6. #6 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    Once upon a time, there were a whole bunch of people who thought that what really mattered in science was posing testably hypotheses that did not involve supernatural causation and arguments from ignorance.

    Along came some self-identifying fundie morons who sucked at science, read the Bible a lot, who recited the scripts of ignorant preachers, and generally saw the scientists around them who were working hard and doing research as missing the point. “As if,” they said to the shiny gold crosses clutched in their bloodless fists.

    Then they smiled and went back to designing their web page and crafting anti-science propaganda for turning 15 year old girls into Liars for Jesus.

    The End.

  7. #7 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    PZ

    The parable is actually making the chilling point that the school board elections don’t matter, because they have other channels to abuse and limit and warp children’s minds. And they are going to use them.

    Chilling and disgusting. And transparent in its shamelessness. What a bunch of sick psychos we are forced to deal with. Why can’t these fundies spend all their time attacking architects or typewriter manufacturers?

    Sigh.

  8. #8 Jim Harrison
    August 2, 2006

    Chemically speaking, teaching people about modern biology is energetically unfavorable since it takes work to overcome pre-existing ignorance. Worse, although the Creationists and ID people may not have been able to overtly promote their own ideas in the classroom, they have done very well indeed in hindering the serious teaching of evolution.

  9. #9 moioci
    August 2, 2006

    At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s hard for my generation to relate to this dilemma because, while we were growing up in the 60’s, the scientist was elevated to a godlike level, with his (it was almost always his in those days) authority supported by the extraordinary successes of the space program. These days kids don’t necessarily even acknowledge that success, with the “Apollo hoax” lie continuing to gain traction. Kids seem to have a paradoxical skepticism of anything from an ‘establishment’ source with unwarranted credulity towards any huckster with a website.

    World. Hell. Handbasket. Some assembly required. [/sweeping generalizations]

  10. #10 DAE
    August 2, 2006

    Beg to disagree but court decisions and school board elections are important forums for getting our ideas across to a broader audience. We obviously should never rely on one set of tactics and need to employ a full arsenal of frontal assaultsz on ID. But let’s not minimize or disparage the role that Kitzmiller and the Kansas elections have played in galvanizing opposition to ID and mobilizing pro-science sentiment.

  11. #11 stand
    August 2, 2006

    PZ,

    In what sense are we “screwed” when we lose one? I mean, sure it’s a setback and it’s sad that a potentially large group of people will suffer in ignorance for some time because of a loss, but doesn’t the Truth always win in the end?

    We all know how slowly the scientific process progresses, there are inumerable examples. I would say that even religious superstition has been beaten back over the centuries. We now have separation of church and state. Galileos aren’t imprisoned by the church anymore, leaders no longer rule by divine right, etc. I know counter-examples exist for all these things, but still…

    The movement is never as fast as we progressive thinking types would like, but it does move in the right direction.

    I ask this mainly as a discussion starter. I still think what you and others do is important and necessary, but in the end we are never really screwed, no?

  12. #12 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    I just noticed The Gasbag putting in his 95 cents over at PT:

    And yes, PZ-esque attacks on religion rarely do anything but antagonize those who ought to be cajoled into a more scientific attitude (not that PZ is doing much except preaching to a clique anyhow, but let us hope that his tactics are not used more generally at any time).

    Of course, for a great many of us our skepticism towards religious myths and appreciation for science were inextricably linked as we grew up. So Gasbag’s smears are — once again — lacking foundation.

    Also, perhaps Gasbag and others who whine about the fact that Myers and Dawkins are “unleashed” ought to consider that the victories in Kitzmiller and now Kansas have occurred against the background of perhaps the most widespread publically disseminated anti-fundie “vitriol” that this country has ever observed.

    So much for Gasbag’s theory about “turning off” would-be voters. Perhaps Gasbag isn’t aware that most Americans are not fundie morons who think that the world’s scientists are engaged in an atheist-promoting conspiracy.

    Speak without fear. Our country may be run by irrationational religious idiots, but most of us are not as stupid as George Bush when the facts are put plainly in front of us.

  13. #13 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    DAE

    Beg to disagree but court decisions and school board elections are important forums for getting our ideas across to a broader audience.

    Um, I agree that we should take advantage of the opportunity to talk about our victories in these contests, but it certainly should not be (and is not) our “strategy” to CREATE the conflicts simply to “get our ideas across to a broader audience.” That would be insane.

  14. #14 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    doesn’t the Truth always win in the end?

    Funny thing but there were a lot of people who supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran because they thought that anything was better than the Shah. A lot of those people ended up fleeing Iran immediately to live in other countries, including the United States, and I don’t know many people who are interested in moving back there.

    Most of us don’t live long enough to wait around for “the end.” This unfortunate fact is what prevents the ID peddlers from “wasting their time” trying to do find evidence that would support their theory. Why should a scumbag like Paul Nelson bother with research when pure propaganda can get you just as much press in the newspapers, TV, radio, Internet, etc? There are young girls out there RIGHT NOW who can be enlisted to Lie for Jesus without spending ten years trying to get a paper published in a respectable journal.

  15. #15 stand
    August 2, 2006

    Funny thing but there were a lot of people who supported the Islamic Revolution in Iran because they thought that anything was better than the Shah. A lot of those people ended up fleeing Iran immediately to live in other countries, including the United States, and I don’t know many people who are interested in moving back there.

    Not too many, I’d agree. But I guess I have a fundamental belief that the Islamic regime in Iran cannot last because it is based on ignorant superstition. The fact that it may outlast me wouldn’t deter me from attempting to hasten its fall, if I cared enough about Iran to do something.

    I think it boils down to whether you can be satified with being part of the process or if you absolutely have to see end results. I think science conditions people to enjoy the process. Or maybe science attracts people who enjoy the process. I think many scientists work their entire careers on some aspect of their field that is never “resolved” (whatever that means). I’m thinking about scientists who worked decades on the Mars Observer probe only to see it, at what should have been the pinnacle of their career, crash into the surface of the planet. How does one go on in light of realities like this?

  16. #16 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    I’m thinking about scientists who worked decades on the Mars Observer probe only to see it, at what should have been the pinnacle of their career, crash into the surface of the planet. How does one go on in light of realities like this?

    Surely they learned a few things on the way to “touchdown”. 😉

  17. #17 stand
    August 2, 2006

    GWW, I think that is precisely my point! That’s why I disagree with PZ’s statement that we’re “screwed” when we lose one battle. The battle against ignorance is just friggin’ huge; there’s no way any of us will be alive to see it through. Losses are a part of the process. So why even engage? Most people don’t. You have to enjoy the process.

  18. #18 DAE
    August 2, 2006

    Great White Wonder:

    You should read beyond the first line of my comment. I never said it should be our “strategy” to CREATE the conflicts simply to “get our ideas across to a broader audience.” You made that one up out of whole cloth. Somewhat troll-like in my opinion. What I said was “We obviously should never rely on one set of tactics and need to employ a full arsenal of frontal assaults on ID.” I was making the point that these court decisions and election campaigns are important fronts in the battle and shouldn’t be denigrated.

  19. #19 Caledonian
    August 2, 2006

    Turning to sociological indoctrination techniques sends the message that science isn’t really different from the religious tripe that young people are spoon-fed — it creates the impression that the science doesn’t actually stand on its own merits, but in how effectively it can persuade and influence emotional responses.

    Those techniques actively impair the development of proper thinking skills. Are you really sure that you want to avail yourself of them?

  20. #20 Glen Davidson
    August 2, 2006

    Oh well, one would expect twisting and lies from someone as stupid and vile as GWW. I don’t think that he’s ever written a post that’s worth considering, only writing derivative BS and sucking up to those who prefer flogging atheism to promoting science.

    He can only smear, not write a convincing or literate post. His fundamentalist mindset is an afront to anyone who takes free-thought seriously. And that’s enough response to the one who has understandably been banned from numerous forums for only making personal and group attacks, while having nothing intelligent to add.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  21. #21 Steve LaBonne
    August 2, 2006

    It’s also interesting how that parable point’s up Nelson’s own awareness that his crusade is about brainwashing kids, not about the truth. These people just can’t help letting their masks slip…

  22. #22 CanuckRob
    August 2, 2006

    PZ is right about it being a culture war and about it being fought behind sandbags. The creationists/IDers keep seizing the initiative and the rationalists are always on the defensive. What could turn that around would be some poor fundie kid finally seeing the stupidity and dishonesty of the fundie mind set (and such kids do exist) and deciding to sue the Bibbul College that taught her lies thereby negatively impacting her ability to get a good job. Hit ’em where it hurts them, in their holy wallets.

  23. #23 steve s
    August 2, 2006

    I feel triumphant* but I take your dash of cold water much further–in the end I’m almost certain some compromise position will win. Why? The other side consists of religious fanatics. They don’t know anything about evolution and they don’t want to, and they won’t listen if you try to teach them. At some point, with obscure enough language, obscure enough motives, and a sympathetic judge or two, their compromise will be deemed constitutional. I’d love to live in a completely secular society, but there are too many fanatics for that to be possible. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if a teach-the-controversy type position was the norm nationwide in a few years. And you know what? It’s not going to make a damn bit of difference. 50% of the public already can’t tell you why it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Creationism-lite in public schools isn’t going to unpublish a single paper, undecode a single gene, or unperform a single experiment. Smart people will continue to believe in evolution, and researchers will continue to use it, and zealots will continue to talk smack about it, and the world will keep on spinning. Paul Nelson’s a fuckin Moonie, you could waste the rest of your life arguing with him and all you’d have is a wasted life.

    *I’m not triumphant because I think a decisive victory has been won, but because Casey Luskin and the Discovery Institute once again tried and failed, and I hate those guys.

  24. #24 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    DAE

    What I said was “We obviously should never rely on one set of tactics and need to employ a full arsenal of frontal assaults on ID.”

    Yes but defending the Constitution isn’t really a “tactic” for actively promoting science, is it? That is what you implied when you said that is was a great idea for getting our ideas across.

    Please don’t get me wrong, DAE: I would never suggest that we shouldn’t file lawsuits against creationists who try to teach their crap in schools. But consider that less of a “tactic” or “strategy” than it is simply doing the MINIMUM that is necessary to keep anti-science and illegal preaching out of public schools.

    PZ’s point (I think) is that we need to do much much more that defend ourselves against fundies who are attacking us. Using our victories in those battles as rhetorical weapons to dissuade fundies from further obnoxious activities is common sense.

    But more effort at promoting science and promoting skeptical rational thought generally would be great. How can it be that in 2006 I can still turn on the TV in the morning and see on a morning news show a story about a reincarnated WWII fighter pilot taken seriously?!?!?

    A lawsuit to stop that garbage isn’t going to work, nor is a school board election. But that kind of gargage is a part of the larger problem, I think.

  25. #25 Glen Davidson
    August 2, 2006

    I thought I’d link to what I actually wrote, though GWW did in fact include important caveats that belie his mean-spirited attack, within his quote(as in, I hardly suggested that PZ should shut up, I just don’t see how his tactics would succeed as a general strategy–GWW isn’t a very competent reader):

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/08/in_which_i_part.html#comment-116384

    What I thought about after posting the earlier response is that Dawkins actually writes in a manner that I think agrees largely with my PT post. Here’s Nature‘s paraphrase and quote of Dawkins:

    Dawkins akcnowledges that, particularly in the United States, there might be tactical reasons for trying to get on with religious people. “That is a perfectly reasonable political stance, but it has nothing to do with the truth.” “Genomics luminary weighs in on US faith debate.” Nature v. 422 p. 115 13 July 2006.

    Indeed. Not that I think PZ should censor himself, but has evolution ever won out in as heavily Xian a country as our own via scientists in general attacking religion? Dawkins is doing just fine these days, I believe, acting as atheistic outlier, while the general body of science mostly avoids antagonizing religion. Dawkins recognizes the realities of US politics, too.

    I myself do not hide my own lack of religion, though I typically don’t make a point of it (one problem with linking our presentation of evolution to the public with atheism–it’s hard enough to get the science across to a poorly educated American public, while demonstrating the tendency of science to diminish religion requires a much higher degree of understanding among those pre-disposed to default to religion).

    Not that GWW would be expected to understand nuance, including Dawkins’ nuances. He calls me “Gasbag” because he reviles nuanced discussions of the issues, which he understands about as well as Dembski understands science. Not only does he fail to understand politics among the fundamentalists, he opposes such an understanding, seeing this all in terms of war-like tit-for-tat terms, rather than wishing to learn how to persuade.

    I probably wouldn’t have posted again, but I was able to find the Dawkins’ quote from Nature and thought it would be only proper to show how an intelligent person like Dawkins thinks (I approve of Dawkins’ other comments in the same piece), by contrast with GWW’s senseless attacks against anyone with understanding. Now I likely am out of here, since there’s little point in responding to one who is as reactionary in psychology as GWW is.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  26. #26 Alon Levy
    August 2, 2006

    These days kids don’t necessarily even acknowledge that success, with the “Apollo hoax” lie continuing to gain traction. Kids seem to have a paradoxical skepticism of anything from an ‘establishment’ source with unwarranted credulity towards any huckster with a website.

    Still, polls show that in the US, creationism is correlated directly with age. Harris and People for the American Way both have polls showing that young people are among the most reliably pro-evolution American demographic. I can’t link these polls because the spam filter’s not letting me, so just search evolution poll age on Google; both of these results are on the first page.

  27. #27 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    steve s

    I feel triumphant* but I take your dash of cold water much further–in the end I’m almost certain some compromise position will win. Why? The other side consists of religious fanatics.

    Much is true here. On the other hand, you never know what bizarre turn in history waits around the corner.

    Some fundie nutcase might set off a bomb at the Cold Spring Harbor symposium. I suspect that would put a serious damper on public opinion of “intelligent design” and creation science. It’s these sorts of historical events that tend to shape history in unpredictable ways.

    That is why it is important for scientists — as educated persons with an interest in an educated society — to not shy away from political matters and to speak up when anti-science policies are forming under their feet. I would argue that this is at least important or more important than trying to actually teach scientific facts (especially scientific facts that are conceptually difficult to grasp) to lay people.

  28. #28 Dan S.
    August 2, 2006

    The parable is actually making the chilling point that the school board elections don’t matter, because they have other channels to abuse and limit and warp children’s minds. And they are going to use them.

    Indeed . . . but more, it’s a sour-grapes statement: we tried to inject our beliefs into science class by taking over practical, productive, constructive organizations and processes – school board elections, crafting science standards – but that didn’t work (so far), so poo on it! That stuff doesn’t matter anyway!

    A bit immature.

  29. #29 Alon Levy
    August 2, 2006

    Indeed. Not that I think PZ should censor himself, but has evolution ever won out in as heavily Xian a country as our own via scientists in general attacking religion?

    Has evolution ever won by compromising with religion? I know that 19th century Britain did not have the religious fundamentalists that the US has, and it certainly didn’t have the anti-intellectual elites that the US is so proud of, but it was still a religious nation with an intellectual tradition that favored Lamarck and was hostile to Darwin.

  30. #30 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    Not only does he fail to understand politics among the fundamentalists, he opposes such an understanding, seeing this all in terms of war-like tit-for-tat terms, rather than wishing to learn how to persuade.

    Very inspiring. If I listen hard enough, I can hear the opening strains of “We Are the World.”

  31. #31 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    Over at PT, Coin wrote:

    I’m not sure more Saganesque pop science is the solution (having a few more Bill Nyes out there would help, but I don’t think we need any more Dawkinses).

    Here’s a question for folks out there who are uncomfortable with the rhetoric of scientists who don’t appreciate the marvelous benefits of mythology to the human condition: do you think that folks like Sagan and Dawkins are substantial CAUSES of fundamentalist lunacy in this country? i.e., do you think that any alleged spreading of fundamentalism in this country is due in substantial part to the rhetoric of folks like Sagan and Dawkins?

    If so, could you provide some evidence to support that view? I’d be interested in seeing some. And no, the fact that atheists — especially popular ones — are continually berated by fundies is not particularly convincing. Nor is some anecdote by a fundie that he became a fundie because he or she read something by Richard Dawkins.

  32. #32 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    CNNOnline

    Proponents of Kansas’ latest standards contend they encourage open discussion.

    “Students need to have an accurate assessment of the state of the facts in regard to Darwin’s theory,” said John West, a vice president for the Center for Science and Culture at the Seattle-based, anti-evolution Discovery Institute.

    A reasonable goal for scientists by the end of 2007 would be to have the Discovery Insitute and all of its relatively high profile employees to be completely discredited as a pack of anti-SCIENCE scumbags, funded by a notorious Christian reconstructionist bigot.

    This is a very reasonable goal but it would require diligence and focus. If scientists had organized and started such a project two years ago, it would probably already have been accomplished. Think about all the time that Ed Brayton wasted wondering if Casey Luskin was really a lying sack of shxt or not before he finally gave up and admitted the truth this year.

  33. #33 Gary Hurd
    August 2, 2006

    I am going to disagree a little with PZ and Paul Nelson, in that elections and court cases do matter- they matter a lot.

    First, elctions reflect the “will of the electorate” (when that is they are not held in Florida, and are not countered by a political Supreme Court). But, in Kansas last night even the right wing backed away from lunacy in enough number to reduce the creationist margin to a “worse case” 6-4. Second, the Dover Pandas trial will exert tremendous influence among judges in all Federal Courts. Jones has marked ID with the flaming CD (creationist dogma), and I think that this will be a very powerful tool.

    However, I can not imagine that this means that “We Won!” The Kansas exteremists are sill on the Board with 4 members. And, when Ken Ham can raise 25 million dollars to open a creationist museum, he can raise another 25 to buy off a lot of politicians. IDC might be a dead rat, but creationist fundamentalism is as alive as ever.

  34. #34 Squeaky
    August 2, 2006

    GWW:

    “do you think that folks like Sagan and Dawkins are substantial CAUSES of fundamentalist lunacy in this country? i.e., do you think that any alleged spreading of fundamentalism in this country is due in substantial part to the rhetoric of folks like Sagan and Dawkins?”

    I don’t have any evidence to support the following statements. However, I wouldn’t say they so much are causes of fundamentalism as they have helped cement the fundamentalist stance on evolution. They speak right into and confirm the fears that fundamentalists have–that the purpose of science is to disprove God. This is the fear and stereotype they hold towards scientists, and so Dawkins only confirms those fears and strengthens their resolve to oppose science. Seems to me if people on this side of the debate would understand what causes the opponent to entrench themselves, they would try a tactic that might not. It’s needless.

    Steve s:
    “50% of the public already can’t tell you why it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Creationism-lite in public schools isn’t going to unpublish a single paper, undecode a single gene, or unperform a single experiment. Smart people will continue to believe in evolution, and researchers will continue to use it, and zealots will continue to talk smack about it, and the world will keep on spinning.”

    This is indeed a major part of the problem–the general public’s ignorance of science. The battle lines here are very active, while (sadly) probably 75% of the population could care less.

    Glen Davidson:
    Thanks for clearing up your tirade towards GWW. Reading your 1st post, all I could think was “What the?” Now that I know you were “gasbag” I understand the bone you were picking with him.

  35. #35 JakeB
    August 2, 2006

    I offer one distressing datapoint. I got a letter last week from _American Scholar_, the Phi Beta Kappa magazine. I was considering subscribing until I read the list of recent topics covered. They mentioned the ‘debate between Darwinism and Creationism’. I recognize that even some well-meaning people don’t know that Darwinism is not the right term. But from a magazine whose whole schtick is that it’s an intellectual thang, that’s ugly.

  36. #36 thwaite
    August 2, 2006

    FWIW, Nelson now has a part 2 to his fable. Something about the girl with scientific interests needing the classroom freedoms to read about pseudogenes, one of which was apparently discovered to have adaptive function after all. (ID-er’s claim that this disproves evolution, since the ‘junk’ status of unadaptive pseudogenes had been an argument for evolution, demonstrating its historical legacies.) Confusing, yes – and written in very obscurantist way.

  37. #37 GH
    August 2, 2006

    However, I wouldn’t say they so much are causes of fundamentalism as they have helped cement the fundamentalist stance on evolution. They speak right into and confirm the fears that fundamentalists have–that the purpose of science is to disprove God. This is the fear and stereotype they hold towards scientists, and so Dawkins only confirms those fears and strengthens their resolve to oppose science.

    This is total BS. The scientists like Dawkins haven’t cemented anything. The fundies had their mind made up long before Dawkins came along. We need more people like Dawkins not less. If more and more people spoke and understood science as he does we wouldn’t have the problems we have.

    What we need are less fundies and I know a few who Dawkins straight tell it like it is style has helped move away from their fundyism in this area.

    Being pussy won’t help anyone.

  38. #38 moioci
    August 2, 2006

    Alon Levy,

    How DARE you rebut my most splendiferous hand-waving (and -wringing) with ACTUAL DATA! That is, like, SO below the friggin belt. Hmmph. Consider yourself admonished.

  39. #39 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    Squeaky

    I don’t have any evidence to support the following statements.

    Don’t worry, you’re not alone. 😉

    Seems to me if people on this side of the debate would understand what causes the opponent to entrench themselves, they would try a tactic that might not.

    Other than lying to fundies to make them believe that science is the best thing that ever happened to their fxcked up religious beliefs, what “tactic” do you propose?

    You might want to consider the possibility that “entrenching themselves” and “religious fundamentalism” go hand in hand, regardless of whether the topic is science, sex, abortion, or whatever other topic the fundy preachers are using to rally their charges.

    The question that you need to ask yourself, Squeaky, is the same as that most Americans should ask themselves. Do you want to live in a society where atheists are allowed to express their opinions and explain the basis for those opinions and do so in places like the internet, in books on TV and on the radio, or do you want to live in a theocracy where religious dogma is given substantial weight in policy decisions?

    Ignoring any issues of false dichotomy for the moment, which of the two alternatives would you prefer? And if you prefer the first, then how do you propose we get there from here without “entrenching” the fundies?

  40. #40 Great White Wonder
    August 2, 2006

    This is indeed a major part of the problem–the general public’s ignorance of science.

    This is too simple. The general public is ignorant of most things. I have a doctorate in molecular biology but I don’t know diddly about geology. Or the history of the Etruscans.

    But I have learned to smell pure bullcrap from a safe distance and most of that learning I taught myself from library books. For example, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, poltergeists, mind reading, telekinesis, UFOs, “miracle healing”, creationism, etc. I don’t remember being taught that stuff was bullcrap in school, nor do I remember my parents teaching me it was bullcrap. I figured it out by reading.

    Now, I had access to a decent library with a selection of books that were the works of cranks and the works of scientists and I somehow figured out how to assess the quality of the claims and arguments. Luckily, I was not brainwashed too heavily by my parents to adopt/forbid certain thoughts for fear of eternal damnation. It was enough for them that I said a prayer when I went to bed and that prayer wasn’t to the devil.

    That was back in the early 1970s and I suspect the situation now is much worse because the propagandists who peddle creationism are much more sophisticated.

    Scientists and educators would really be doing kids a favor by teaching kids passionately and vociferaously facts such as “CREATIONISM IS BULLSHIT” and “PEOPLE WHO CLAIM THE EARTH IS LESS THAN 1,000,000 YEARS OLD ARE LIARS OR NUTS” rather than trying to “educate them” about neutral selection and other details of evolutionary biology. The statements in quotes are indisputable facts. They are easy to remember. They will help kids figure out when a person down the road is credible or not.

    If anyone has an argument against this “tactic” besides “someone’s feelings will get hurt” I’d love to hear it because, frankly, I could care less about how some fundie liar “feels” when I call him/her on his bullshit.

  41. #41 Tim
    August 2, 2006

    PZ wrote:

    Elections and courts are stop-gaps. They are ways to temporarily block trends from becoming entrenched in our social institutions, but as I tell everyone, all we have to do is lose one and we’re screwed. We are on the losing side as long as our response consists of throwing up more and more sandbags in the face of a rising flood–we need to get to the source of our problems and work there, and if we put all our efforts into these legalisms and desperately close elections, we’re being distracted from the work that’s really essential.

    There are some who think that the courts will always be there unaffected by such cultural trends, that somehow they will always make the right choices. I am not one of those people. You are quite right, this is cultural. When we win in the courts, this slows them down – legally. But if they can use it in the long-run as further evidence that modern society is stacked against their willful ignorance. (I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss it as stupidity, mere ignorance or illiteracy – it is a deliberate, self-imposed ignorance which they seek to impose as a matter of law upon the rest of society.)

    *

    As I mentioned not too long ago, Great Britain is facing similar problems. Roger Stanyard has been frequently documenting such nuttiness at his blog:

    http://360.yahoo.com/stanyardroger

    Might be worth checking out. Hard to imagine it is happening over there.

    *

    But, hey, I figure this little victory in Kansas is still worth a toast…

  42. #42 Squeaky
    August 2, 2006

    Well, first off, I would say you don’t frame the debate as religioun vs. science. It certainly would help matters if atheists who happen to be scientists didn’t attack religion on the basis that they believe science disproves God. That is an unscientific argument, and one that should be avoided because you are confirming the exact stereotype that fundamentalists use to “rally the troops”. It’s one thing for an atheist scientist to say they have come to lack of belief in God because of science and quite another for that scientist to say that science disproves God. Religious fundamentalist often make the exact opposite argument–science proves God’s existence (the ID stance). Both are unscientific claims, and both need to be treated as such.

    I don’t care what atheists believe or don’t believe, and they are free to express their views. But don’t frame the non-existance of God as a scientific argument. Likewise, if someone chooses to believe God created everything, fine with me. But again, don’t frame it as a scientific argument.

    “Other than lying to fundies to make them believe that science is the best thing that ever happened to their fxcked up religious beliefs, what “tactic” do you propose?”

    The tactic I would propose is education. Someone else said 50% of Americans don’t know why we have summer and winter. As someone who teaches those concepts in an intro physical geography course at a university, I’d say that number is a bit high, but not by much. Ignorance of science and the scientific method is at the heart of the issue. Why is it so easy for fundamentalists to use pseudo-scientific presentations like Kent Hovind’s to convince people? It’s manipulation to be sure, but it is only because people of all faiths and lack thereofs are completely ignorant of science. Any student paying attention in their intro science courses should be able argue Hovind down with no trouble at all, that’s how basic his science is and how empty his arguments are. The thing is–he SOUNDS scientific with his big scientific words. And his arguments can sound pretty good to those who have little to no scientific background.

    I think it is a mistake to dismiss all the fundamentalists as stupid and so entrenched they won’t listen. I think it is a mistake to not make the effort to recognize exactly what they are afraid of so an approach that doesn’t put them on the defensive might have some success. No, you won’t change everyone’s mind, but there is always someone who is willing to listen. You may not change any of the extremist’s minds, but most people are in the middle, and their minds are far more open and changeable.

    Look, all I can tell you is what worked for me. I was once a young earth creationist. When I really learned the science, I realized it was nothing to fear and that it did not and should not threaten my faith. Because my professors didn’t write me off as just another religious fundamentalist, I was able to come to those understandings. Perhaps if I had been written off and marginalized and stereotyped, I would have gone in the opposite direction.

    I am proposing NOMA. I am proposing supporting those Christians who are ACTUAL scientists to help bring science to the ignorant masses. I suggested that early on in my visits to this site, and PZ argued that people like Kenneth Miller are marginalized by religious fundamentalists and labeled “atheists”. I know this true, but nevertheless, that doesn’t mean my proposal is invalid, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support them–it doesn’t mean you give up on that tactic. I know if I had known of Miller back when I was struggling over the issue, I would have been very interested in what he had to say.

  43. #43 Squeaky
    August 2, 2006

    GWW
    “The question that you need to ask yourself, Squeaky, is the same as that most Americans should ask themselves. Do you want to live in a society where atheists are allowed to express their opinions and explain the basis for those opinions and do so in places like the internet, in books on TV and on the radio, or do you want to live in a theocracy where religious dogma is given substantial weight in policy decisions?

    Ignoring any issues of false dichotomy for the moment, which of the two alternatives would you prefer? And if you prefer the first, then how do you propose we get there from here without “entrenching” the fundies?”

    I, personally, am very chagrined by religion in politics. I suggest Thomas and Dobson’s (not James) book “Blinded by Might”, but the gist of that book is expressed in
    PZ’s “How we can all get along” thread from a few days ago (sorry I’m barely computer literate, so I don’t know how to link). Read the article on the Christian Fundamentalist pastor who refuses to preach politics in church. There is a growing movement (called the Emerging Church Movement) in Christianity that supports the views of this pastor.

  44. #44 Squeaky
    August 2, 2006

    GWW
    “Now, I had access to a decent library with a selection of books that were the works of cranks and the works of scientists and I somehow figured out how to assess the quality of the claims and arguments. Luckily, I was not brainwashed too heavily by my parents to adopt/forbid certain thoughts for fear of eternal damnation. ”

    I just read your second post. I think you assume that everyone has the intellectual curiousity to do what you did. There is also an assumption that people are ignorant because their religious beliefs engourage ignorance. First of all, not everyone who is a theist is ignorant of science. Second of all, not everyone who is ignorant is a theist. Third of all, not everyone has the interest to learn what is bullcrap and what isn’t in this world. I wish they did. And I wish they were more curious. And I wish they cared more about science. A high percentage of the students I teach (I teach intro courses) are not curious about science (or anything, in some cases), don’t care about science or learning, and are literally petrified by science and math–not because of their religious beliefs, but because they think it is too hard for them to understand (Some of my professorial angst is coming through, for which I apologize >=)).

    By the way, exactly why am I still at school? I’m going home.

  45. #45 Rick @ shrimp and grits
    August 2, 2006

    It certainly would help matters if atheists who happen to be scientists didn’t attack religion on the basis that they believe science disproves God.

    That’s not what atheists/scientists actually say, but it is how fundamentalists often percieve what they do say. A scientist (atheist or not) might say that data shows that the Earth is much older than 6000 years. Many a fundamentalist would interpret that statement as “that disproves God”. That’s a real communication barrier.

  46. #46 PZ Myers
    August 3, 2006

    It certainly would help matters if atheists who happen to be scientists didn’t attack religion on the basis that they believe science disproves God. That is an unscientific argument, and one that should be avoided because you are confirming the exact stereotype that fundamentalists use to “rally the troops”.

    If you’re going to complain about unscientific arguments, save it for the religious. The criticism isn’t that science disproves gods, but that religious arguments for gods are worthless, unscientific nonsense.

  47. #47 Scott Hatfield
    August 3, 2006

    PZ:

    I grant the distinction, but it seems to me the use of emotive words like ‘worthless’ or ‘nonsense’ add nothing to the latter argument if those in turn hinge upon whether or not item X is ‘scientific’, or no.

    I think the following formulation may be less emotionally-satisfying, but it would likely be more effective with a wider audience:

    “The conclusion that virtually all scientists have drawn is not that science disproves religion, but that religious claims in and of themselves are of no value to the practice of science.”

    What do you think?

    SH

  48. #48 G. Tingey
    August 3, 2006

    Our battle is not against ignorance – ignorance is curable.
    Stupidity is not curable.
    And deliberate lying for religious/political power, which is what the fundies both in the USA and here are doing….

  49. #49 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 3, 2006

    Glen:
    “those who prefer flogging atheism to promoting science”

    This is a misrepresentation of positions such a s PZ’s and others. They do both equally which shows it is important to them. I think that is the position you can critizise.

    As regards PZ I think he has explicitly abstained from politics, for better or for worse. There are many arguments for or against a political view on positions. But no one strong enough to imply one must go either way. PZ does what he is comfortable with, which in itself is a strong position.

    GWW:
    I didn’t immediately realise who you called “The Gasbag”, so I had to check. LOL! If nothing else, I agree that people who often write long comments (ahem!) tend to come over as pompous. Whatever the style, polarization, and amount of handwaving, I find interesting parts in both Glen’s and your comments, though. Of course, agreeing to disagree is a perfectly sensible outcome, and one doesn’t need to be gentlemanly in the process. On the contrary, it can cut the BS. Continue, by all means! 🙂

    Squeaky:
    “I am proposing NOMA.”

    That would only work well if everyone believed in it, so it isn’t a realistic proposal.

    “I know if I had known of Miller back when I was struggling over the issue, I would have been very interested in what he had to say.”

    If you believe in NOMA, you shouldn’t listen to Miller. He is arguing in books about his view on science and religion from a deistic creationism position using teleological and cosmological arguments. Amiel Rossow concludes: “Miller’s position is not a tacit acceptance of the idea of the two nonoverlapping magisteria” ( http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Yin.cfm ).

    I’m all for publically exposing creationism and its movements as the hurtful enterprizes they are. But I don’t really see how we can go about that without antagonising people such as Miller in the process.

  50. #50 Caledonian
    August 3, 2006

    Logic alone is sufficient to demonstrate that the beings worshipped in most religious cannot exist. I suppose that explains the fundamentalist hostility to basic logic, then.

  51. #51 Paul "the tree" Carpenter
    August 3, 2006

    I can’t say I have any idea who Paul Nelson is, I’ll probably look it up. And I didn’t know about what was happening in Kansas until I heard the results from this guy but that may well be a result of living across the pond although not wanting to make too fine a point of it, your desiese is spreading over here.
    You’re right, winning the battle is not winning the war, especially when the victory is in a courtroom that the children aren’t aware of.
    Keep up the good work, please.

  52. #52 Morgan
    August 3, 2006

    So the part that Nelson is right about is that, in the long term, the elections don’t matter. What counts are the thoughts of 15 year old kids right now, and how their minds are being shaped, and I guarantee you that there are damn few of them who even knew there was a school board election going on. What are they reading? What are they being taught in school? What are their parents telling them, and what will they tell their kids 10-20 years from now? How will they vote when they’re franchised in a few years?

    This fifteen year old, the daughter of a molecular biologist and an electrophysiologist, reads Pharyngula every day, reads at least two newspapers every day, knows all the members of her district’s school board, has learned about evolution and hundreds of other things on her own time, hates public school and MySpace with a passion, and will vote for politicians who will uphold the law and support science.

    That said, I am deeply pessimistic about the future.

  53. #53 Paul W.
    August 3, 2006

    Logic alone is sufficient to demonstrate that the beings worshipped in most religious cannot exist.

    Yes. And I think we can say something a fair bit stronger than this, and show Squeaky wrong.

    Science has shown that almost anything that almost anybody actually means by “god” in normal speech probably doesn’t exist, and that it’s stupid to think it does.

    There are no non-overlapping magisteria because god theories are always grounded (erroneously) in actual experience, and there’s always a theory involved about how the hypothesized god(s) affect something that somebody observed or experienced.

    The only non-falsifiable and irrefutable theories of gods are artificial ones—exercises in theology designed or evolved to evade falsification.

    But actual god theories, i.e., what religious people actually care about when they say “god” as opposed to (say) “mysterious alien,” are not abstract exercises in nearly-vacuous deism.

    I strongly suspect that this is true of Squeaky. When she asserts that science “hasn’t disproven God,” or that it’s “unscientific” to say that science has anything to say about the subject, the onus is on her to show that there is some tenable notion of “god” that is interesting and meaningful to call a god.

    So here’s a few of questions for Squeaky:

    1. What kind of god hasn’t science disproven, or at least debunked, by showing grave problems with the god theory and/or providing better much explanations of everything the god theory was constructed to explain? (E.g., thunder, life, love, morality, etc.)

    2. Is a tenable god different from a powerful alien, i.e., what makes it actually a god? (If you’d accept Q from Star Trek TNG as a god, I’d say sure, science can’t disprove that. There may well be mysterious powerful aliens out there somewhere. So what? Why call that a god, as though there was an important distinction?)

    3. What theoretical work does a tenable god theory do? How is it unlike a theory of phlogiston, the ether, or a vital essence—i.e., not part of a failed paradigm and therefore disproven in the vernacular sense in which we’d say that vitalism has been “disproven” by showing that something else actually does what the vital essence was hypothesized to explain.

    Religious apologists of all sorts get way too much mileage out of saying that you “can’t disprove” God, in order to construct a fallacy of four terms that hinges on the ambiguity of the word “god,” and/or one based on an ambiguity in the word “disproven.”

    (For example, believing that a mysterioius alien might possibly have accidentally constructed our universe does not make it non-stupid to worship Jesus. Likewise, believing that there may be mysterious forces we don’t yet understand does not make it non-stupid to believe in The Force.)

    I say that for any interesting notion of a god, suitable for religious purposes, science can indeed show that it’s not a plausible theory and that it’s stupid to believe in it. Everybody who thinks there’s a god and cares enough about it to use the word “god” (a) believes things about that god that are implausible in light of modern science, if not impossible and (b) believes it based on demonstrably bad reasoning.

    The real issue is not what nearly-vacuous statements can be conclusively disproven; it’s what meantingful statements can be shown to be impossible, incredible or implausible.

    Squeaky, please try to prove me wrong. Show that you’re not doing a bait and switch here, and that what science “can’t disprove” about “god” somehow matters to whether any religous conception of a god is non-stupid in light of modern science.

    If there are non-overlapping magisteria, please show at least one thing that is within the scope of religion and outside the scope of science, and try to make it credible that religion actually says something true or at least credible that science can’t touch.

  54. #54 Gary Hurd
    August 3, 2006

    That said, I am deeply pessimistic about the future.

    Morgan, Rx:cut down to only one newspaper per day.

  55. #55 Squeaky
    August 3, 2006

    The thing is, belief in Christianity is not based on science. Very few Christians say “I believe in God because I believe he makes the sun rise and the rain fall.” Belief that God created everything is part of Christianity, but not the foundation of Christianity.

    I agree–there is no scientific evidence that God exists. Scientific evidence is evidence that is testable and repeatable. You get no argument from me there. Christians who are trying to argue that there is scientific evidence do not understand the scientific method. To propose the hypothesis that the universe exists because God created it is not a scientific hypothesis because there is no way to scientifically test that hypothesis. You can say, “well this has been shown to occur naturally, therefore there is no God.” To which I say (as a theist, not as a scientist), so what? What you have told me is how God did it. You haven’t disproven God.

    Ask many Christians what physical evidence they have for God, and they may relate their personal experiences–feelings, totally impossible ways out of incredibly difficult circumstances, healings that doctors have no explanations for. Try as you might, you cannot argue against someone’s personal experience, no matter what scientific justification you come up with to explain it. And all of those things are anecdotal evidence, none of which can fall into the realm of science. How can you develop a scientific test for someone’s experience, especially if that experience happens to be a healing that doctors cannot scientifically explain? My point is that faith and religious experience are not scientifically testable, and therefore do not fall into the realm of science.

    But be that as it may, again, Christian faith is not based on science. The Bible is not a science book, even though this whole creation vs. evolution argument is based on the incorrect belief that it has much more to say about science than it actually does. So just because we can understand how things work from a totally naturalistic standpoint, does not and should not threaten anyone’s faith, especially when their faith is not and should not be based on a need for a lack of a scientific explanation for everything. Christianity is a religion that is based on faith in Christ, and that is the foundation, not science.

  56. #56 Squeaky
    August 3, 2006

    GWW
    Just one more thing from your post above:

    “Scientists and educators would really be doing kids a favor by teaching kids passionately and vociferaously facts such as “CREATIONISM IS BULLSHIT” and “PEOPLE WHO CLAIM THE EARTH IS LESS THAN 1,000,000 YEARS OLD ARE LIARS OR NUTS” rather than trying to “educate them” about neutral selection and other details of evolutionary biology. The statements in quotes are indisputable facts. They are easy to remember. They will help kids figure out when a person down the road is credible or not.”

    The concern I have with this approach is that you would only be preaching to the choir. Those students who believe in Creationism would be completely turned off and cemented in their beliefs that science is in opposition to their faith. Are you really saying that you cannot present evolution and the age of the earth in a way that 1) does not water down the science to soften things up for theists, and 2) does not trip the alarms in the theist student’s heads and cause them to erect their walls and defenses?

    You need to be far more creative than that if your goal is to win people over to science rather than alienate and marginalize the theists. Your approach tells me that you have already written those kids off.

    But most disturbing is your statement that this tactic should be used “rather than trying to “educate them” about neutral (sic) selection and other details of evolutionary biology.”

    In other words, take a dictatorial approach–pound it in their heads that this is what they must believe, or they are idiots. And they better not dare question your authority. Why should anyone be expected to believe anything anyone tells them without any evidence presented to them? Why would anyone advocate that any student of science should not demand evidence and not foster a curious mind? That statement is one of the most unscientific statements I have ever read in this forum.

  57. #57 Kagehi
    August 3, 2006

    Healings that doctors have no explanations for.

    The irony with this one is that they had something on it recently. Basically, while no specific data exists for “all” cases, these “miracle” healings fall into a handful of categories:

    1. Misdiagnosis. I.e., the lab got the info wrong or the doctor added 2+2 and got 5, so told the patient about something they “thought” they had, when it was something far more benign.

    2. Avoidance of false hope. I.e., the assumption that its better to tell the loved ones about the “worst case”, instead of giving them hope that its the best case, then having it turn out to be the worst.

    3. People coming out of comas.

    In the first two cases, the “miracle” is nothing more than the body healing itself of either the “real” condition, in spite of the failure of the doctors to correctly identify it, or the true scale of how bad it is. In other words, not a ##@$# miracle.

    In the last case, people come out of comas all the time. What you don’t hear, and which is completely glossed over by “everyone” that claims that they witnessed a miracle, in which their loved one woke up, is that they “never” completely recover. If it was a real miracle, and not just the brain finally rewiring some critical connections, to regain consciousness, they wouldn’t lose everything from memories to motor control. Some of the “biggest” miracles of this sort include one nut whose father was in such a state for something like 20+ years. He woke up. But he can’t walk, can’t talk properly, can’t feed himself, doesn’t understand that his kids are grown up or recognize them, etc. Praise Jesus, its bullpucky!

    Congradulations Squeaky, you did exactly what was predicted, you dredged up a common claim about proof of God, that can, is and makes far more sense, when explained by science, then insisted that this qualified as some sort of proof. The reality is, people that believe exagerate “everything” that they can’t easilly explain into some sort of miracle, and most of them don’t know the difference between clothing thread and surgical thread, never mind enough to know why their friends/relatives miraculous recovery “wasn’t”. Doctors unfortunately, usually not being true scientists in any legitimate sense of the word, exacerbate this, by using the same term to refer to every recovery they didn’t diagnose properly or simply by exagerating the actual risk or condition, in the belief that its better to hedge their bets and claim the patient might die, than to instead claim they will live, only to get sued for lying to the relatives when they die anyway.

    For this to be a real justification for belief, you would have to a) get rid of the false pessimism of the doctors, b) completely eliminate human error in diagnostics and c) tape the doctors, and the presses, mouth shut, so they don’t babble, “miracle”, every time something removes a splinter from some patients fingure under vaguely unusual circumstances. If there was any “miracles” left by then, you might have a valid point…

  58. #58 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    Squeaky

    Those students who believe in Creationism would be completely turned off and cemented in their beliefs that science is in opposition to their faith.

    This is bullcrap. I asked you for evidence to support this crap above, Squeaky, and you bailed out. But you keep repeating and repeating and repeating.

    I have been taught many things that were contrary to my previously held beliefs. Hearing new facts didn’t “cement” my old understanding. Am I special? Or are you full of crap?

    Please stop reciting this nonsense. And please stop also stop reciting the nonsense that anytime anybody criticizes fundies it “confirms the stereotype that fundies have about us.” That sort of stuff is just another way of saying, “Why can’t we all get along?” It’s vapid useless commentary.

    Education is not a “tactic.” The issue is WHAT ARE WE GOING TO TEACH. Are we going to teach neutral selection theory to kids? Or are we going to teach kids that creationism is garbage pseudoscience right up there with telekinesis and Bigfoot and people who claim otherwise are cluless or lying?

  59. #59 Kagehi
    August 3, 2006

    Sigh.. I really need to proof read things before I post them. Got to be at least a half dozen errors in that last paragraph alone. lol

  60. #60 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    Squeaky

    You need to be far more creative than that if your goal is to win people over to science rather than alienate and marginalize the theists.

    What the fuck are you talking about? Who said anything about theists?

    I’m talking about fundie idiots who believe that there is a controvery about whether the earth is closer to 6,000 years old or 4.5 billion. Those people are already marginalized and alienated which is WHY they are FUNDIES.

    Kids of fundies need to be told the truth about the scripts their parents are reciting and urging them to recite. Why would you want to hide the truth from kids?

  61. #61 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    Squeaky

    Because my professors didn’t write me off as just another religious fundamentalist, I was able to come to those understandings. Perhaps if I had been written off and marginalized and stereotyped, I would have gone in the opposite direction.

    Your professors? I’m talking about kids in high school.

    As for “writing you off” and “marginalizing you” and “stereotyping you”, you are arguing with strawmen.

    And if you “went in the opposite direction” you could hardly blame your professors who told you that creationism was bullshit science and the people who peddle it are deluded or lying.

    What I’m hearing from you, Squeaky, is a plea that scientists coddle fundies and spoonfeed them the facts about science with oh-so-tender care so as not to offend their sensibilities. Sounds like an expensive proposition to me and not really worth it.

    Imagine if we had a Republican President who came right out and said, “Creation science is bullcrap. Everyone knows that, even schoolkids. It’s just a ploy to get religion taught in science classrooms, as our Federal Courts have determined over and over again.” Imagine he says that several times a year, in various press conferences as he pushes to improve public education.

    Would you consider such statements by the President to be a GOOD THING or a BAD THING, Squeaky?

  62. #62 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    Squeaky

    Why should anyone be expected to believe anything anyone tells them without any evidence presented to them?

    Because I’m not a fucking liar like the Discovery Institute scumbags and I have the world’s scientists behind me. Are you saying that is not good enough, Squeaky?

    If so, then what the fuck are we supposed to do? Give kids their own carbon dating equipment so they can prove every fucking scientific fact to themselves?

    Get real.

  63. #63 Squeaky
    August 3, 2006

    GWW
    I think what we have here is a failuh to communicate. I’m saying if your tactic is to introduce evolution and the age of the earth by blatantly insulting someone’s held beliefs, you will immediately turn them off. Are you telling me that you actually listen to someone who starts off a conversation by insulting your intelligence? If someone says to you, “I think you are an idiot and everything you believe in is stupid. Now listen to everything I have to say and believe it is true,” are you really going to listen to what they have to say, or are you going to shut them out? If the former is the case, you are made of stronger stuff than the majority of human population. All I’m saying is you can teach evolution and the age of the earth without doing that. I have done it. I haven’t compromised the science, and it really isn’t that hard. Why is this suggestion so offensive to you?

    As for evidence, I don’t see anywhere where you actually asked me for evidence to defend my proposed tactic above. It is, however, common sense that you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. It is, however, human nature to shut someone out who only insults your intelligence. No one likes to be called stupid. And the one data point I do have to offer is my own experience–If my professors had called me stupid when I was a creationist, I wouldn’t be a scientist.

    By the way–I don’t believe I said anything to you that should have elicited such a vitriolic response from you. I try to maintain a polite tone, and if I attacked you in a personal way, please let me know what I said.

  64. #64 Squeaky
    August 3, 2006

    GWW,
    I don’t think you are even trying to understand what I am saying.

    “I’m talking about fundie idiots who believe that there is a controvery about whether the earth is closer to 6,000 years old or 4.5 billion. Those people are already marginalized and alienated which is WHY they are FUNDIES.”

    So just write them off. No way they’ll listen. I listened. Maybe most won’t, but I did, and I can’t believe I am the only person who would.

    “What I’m hearing from you, Squeaky, is a plea that scientists coddle fundies and spoonfeed them the facts about science with oh-so-tender care so as not to offend their sensibilities. Sounds like an expensive proposition to me and not really worth it.”

    Which is not at ALL what I said. Please re-read my posts and tell me where I said that.

    “Because I’m not a fucking liar like the Discovery Institute scumbags and I have the world’s scientists behind me. Are you saying that is not good enough, Squeaky?”

    Actually, I’m saying exactly that. There is plenty of evidence to present, and you are advocating NOT presenting it. You are advocating that students should NEVER question what you say. How does science progress if students just took everything their teachers said as Gospel?

  65. #65 Redshift
    August 3, 2006

    For me, the triumph is that we have strategies that are winning the battles, not that we’ve “won” and don’t have to fight any more. I don’t think we’re ever going to have a repeat of the fight against YEC, where it got pretty well smacked down and most people thought it was over.

    As for the fifteen-year-old on the web, I’d be happy to have the battle move to that arena. Most kids love dinosaurs, and love space, and all sorts of cool science stuff. I think they’re much more likely to say “whatever!” to someone insisting “Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs to church and you don’t need to know anything more” than to someone saying “this is how we think we think things happened, and here’s all sorts of stuff to look at.”

    We still need to be vigilant and prepared to fight, but if the battle moves from the schools, where authority figures are the major factor, to the web, where coolness is the major factor, I think we’re on friendlier ground.

  66. #66 entlord
    August 3, 2006

    In the educational realm of creationists, I guess when an English teacher begins to lecture on Macbeth and a student says “My Aunt Tildy says aliens really wrote all those plays”. Discussing possible alternative authors would have a place with some of the plays but this one is pegged down historically. To spend the rest of the semester trying to refute Aunt Tildy is a waste of time but this is what is expected of science teachers at times.
    If ID has to be taught as a serious science, a quick Google search shows that there is also a “nontheistic ID” (code for aliens did it) and also a Hindu ID and even a Muslim ID. I have to wonder if any of the proponents of traditional ID can prove it is any more plausible or likely than any of its competitors?

  67. #67 Paul W.
    August 3, 2006

    Squeaky,

    Sorry if I’m misunderstanding you, but you seem to be missing or evading my point, and maybe waffling between incompatible positions.

    You said you advocate NOMA. Unfortunately, there are no nonoverlapping magisteria. Religion and science are in chronic and systematic conflict.

    If you’re going to advocate NOMA as a political ploy based on a falsehood, that’s one thing, but you seem to believe in NOMA; that’s another.

    I’m asking you to defend NOMA. Explain what the nonoverlapping domains are, and where the line is between science and religion, such that we can have an actual peaceful truce between science and religion, rather than an arbitrary demilitarized zone and a cold war.

    You are mistaken to think that personal experiences are not open to scientific criticism.

    Here’s an example. My new-agey sister has experienced a feeling of being held down and immobilized while in bed but awake, which she used to interpret as an experience of something otherworldly—something like a ghost, or more likely an alien, disabling her and maybe scanning her.

    I explained to her that there’s basicallly a switch in the back of your neck that paralyzes you when you sleep, so you won’t thrash around when you dream about walking, running, etc. Sometimes this switch malfunctions, so that you’re paralyzed when you’re awake—typically when you’re in bed, shortly before you’d normally fall asleep. It’s easy to interpret this form of near-sleep paralysis as something else, if you don’t know what it actually is. (E.g., a simple inability to move may be wrongly interpreted as being held immobile by an outside agent.)

    This was a revelation to my sister, who drastically downgraded her subjective probability that this was a confirmation of otherworldly influences in her life.

    And I think that’s representative of most religious “experiences.” Religious experiences are based on theories, however vague, of how the universe and the mind work. To my sister, with little understanding of neurophysiology and a fair bit of credulousness about the otherworldly, ghosts and aliens were an easily available explanation, with no obvious competitors.

    One reason that people find religious explanations so believable is that they have a naive understanding of how their own minds work—they don’t understand how fallible their own perceptions and interpretations are until they actually understand the alternative explanations. That’s why basically sane but fallible people end up being effectively crazy under the influence of religion.

    I happen to think that religious “experiences” are mostly of this sort—people interpreting ambiguous events in terms of the schemas they have available, resulting in things like hallucinations. That doesn’t mean that the people in question are personally batshit insane, just that they’re brainwashed into systematically misinterpreting things, especially based on hearsay.

    Whether I’m right or wrong about that, there are no nonoverlapping magisteria there. If my sister actually “experienced” a supernatural visitation or being scanned by a UFO, I want to know about it as a scientist. (And as a scientist from a psych background, I want to know about it if she’s wrong, too—why do people interpret things in such ways? Are all religous experiences more or less like that, or not?)

    Either way, at least one of us was wrong. This isn’t a case of a religioius experience being outside the scope of science, in principle, and I don’t know of any cases that are. Not one.

    People often think that “emotional” experiences are outside the realm of science, as if science had no handle on the nature of emotions, and couldn’t have one.

    That’s just not true. We know a lot about emotions. One thing we know is that there’s no Spock/Kirk dichotomy between the “rational” and the “emotional,” as many religious people think there is. Emotions seem to mainly be regulatory states of heuristic reasoning and planning systems; they are necessary to control attention, focus planning, etc. They have functions, and operate according to principles that allow us to identify malfunctions and errors.

    Emotions are very much intertwined with beliefs, so that in most cases you can say that an emotion, like a belief, can be mistaken—it hinges on a belief, which may be explicit or tacit. (And typically the emotion wouldn’t even be the particular emotion it is if the right sort of belief wasn’t there.)

    I think that religious “experiences” typically hinge on beliefs that are mistaken—e.g., my sister’s interpretation of her immobility, and people’s credulousness toward such secondhand experiences, and certain schemas they have about things like “gods.”

    People typically don’t know how to articulate the tacit theories that their emotions depend on, and the unconscious theories that lead to apparent “perceptions”—but that doesn’t mean that the theories aren’t there, or that they’re not a crucial component of those experiences. Or that they’re not mistaken, scientifically speaking.

    There can be no NOMA when it comes to these things; scientists like me are either right or wrong that such things are scientifically understandable, in ways that strongly indicate systematic errors in religious beliefs.

    There’s no way to draw a line between science and religion here, without begging the whole question. If religions are systematically fallible and typically false because they work according to such naturalistic principles, religion is a fair subject for science—as is the falsity of much religious belief and the mistakes implicit in many religious attitudes.

    If you think there are nonoverlapping magisteria, please explain to me how we can draw a line in a principled, non-question-begging way, and say which religious claims are fair game for scientific criticism, and which aren’t.

    For example, if I say that I think that most transcendent mystical experiences are due to malfunctions of the Orientation Association Area—as appears likely—and are therefore recognizably hallucinations, am I crossing a line into non-science? If so, exactly how so?

    And if I explain religion naturalistically as a systematic kind of erroneous belief fixation, based on things like that, am I crossing a line?

    I don’t see how that can be true; if I’m right, then religion is a natural phenomenon entirely within the scope of science. You can only say that it’s off-limits to such explanation if you beg exactly that question by asserting that it’s not a natural phenomenon, and therefore unanalyzable in such terms. If anything would be unscientific, I think that would have to count.

    I’d say that’s entirely alien to the nature and spirit of science. Science explains whatever it can, without regard to what religions say about the phenomena in question, and there’s no reason to think that the entire subject of religion isn’t squarely within the purview of science.

  68. #68 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    Squeaky

    Are you telling me that you actually listen to someone who starts off a conversation by insulting your intelligence?

    Why is it insulting to someone’s intelligence to say that creationism is bullshit? It’s a fact. How can reciting a fact be “insulting” to someone’s intelligence?

    Answer the questions, Squeaky. Please.

    Frankly, Squeaky, much of what you’ve written here has insulted my intelligence. You’ve consistently managed to argue with strawmen instead of answering my simple questions. And yet I still listened to you. I’ve read your posts quite carefully. I didn’t “write you off” but I’m very close to doing that now, let me assure you.

    It is, however, common sense that you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

    It’s not common sense, it’s an aphorism, a pithy little verse that folks who have no evidence for their weird claims can recite to “prove” their point. Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter are but two of many high profile examples which show that your “common sense” is just … bullshit.

    There is plenty of evidence to present, and you are advocating NOT presenting it.

    Close but no cigar. I’m advocating teaching high school kids about the existence of pseudoscientific bullshit and charlatans instead of trying to get them to understand neutral selection theory. And I’ve explained very clearly why I am advocating this. If you can’t figure it out, Sqeaky, well, you may be clueless. Is that my problem?

    I see you managed to run away from another simple question, Squeaky:

    Imagine if we had a Republican President who came right out and said, “Creation science is bullcrap. Everyone knows that, even schoolkids. It’s just a ploy to get religion taught in science classrooms, as our Federal Courts have determined over and over again.” Imagine he says that several times a year, in various press conferences as he pushes to improve public education. Would you consider such statements by the President to be a GOOD THING or a BAD THING, Squeaky?

    Try answering it this time, Squeaky. Or I will write you off.

  69. #69 Great White Wonder
    August 3, 2006

    Paul

    Sorry if I’m misunderstanding you, but you seem to be missing or evading my point, and maybe waffling between incompatible positions.

    It’s a little of both, Paul. It’s not just you.

  70. #70 truth machine
    August 4, 2006

    doesn’t the Truth always win in the end?

    No, entropy wins in the end.

  71. #71 truth machine
    August 4, 2006

    I have a fundamental belief

    Well, that’s your problem.

    I think it boils down to whether you can be satified with being part of the process or if you absolutely have to see end results.

    No, it boils down to whether to you are satisfied with pollyannish capitalized blather like “the Truth always wins in the end”.

  72. #72 Scott Hatfield
    August 4, 2006

    GWW:

    I’m just wondering if you have ever taught in the public schools. I’m trying to visualize justifying the strong language you recommend to my site administrator. For that matter, I’m trying to justify the entire notion that an outright attack on this or that religious group would be a fruitful instructional strategy, with or without vulgarity.

    You’re overwrought if you think so; kids who are in the fundy churches would feel further alienated and I would be legitimizing the false sense of persecution their sects encourage. The kids who don’t have a fundy background are also unlikely to view such remarks in the appropriate context and most would likely be puzzled, if not offended.

    Further, the fundamentalists, whom you characterize as ‘marginalized’, make up a far larger percentage of the population than skeptics, far too large to be considered marginal. You’re not going to be able to whistle them away like a pink elephant, much less verbally abuse them into submission. If you wish to be effective, you will have to engage their young people as if they were worthy of being engaged.

    Finally, the aphorism about honey and vinegar still has the ring of truth. Sure, Coulter and Limbaugh have their fan clubs who mindlessly lap up their spew, but they are a minority, albeit an often-vocal one. Most Americans are like my students: they will respond much better if they are treated civilly. You don’t, of course, owe me any courtesy in this forum but I hope you will consider the use of ‘honey’ at other places, especially the public schools.

    Sincerely…Scott

  73. #73 truth machine
    August 4, 2006

    totally impossible ways out of incredibly difficult circumstances

    If one got out of an incredibly difficult circumstance, then it wasn’t impossible. Basic logic for people who aren’t stupid.

    healings that doctors have no explanations for

    The day that theists stop employing argumentum ad ignorantiam is the day that there are no longer theists. Paul W. is right, that all belief in gods is based on stupidity and ignorance.

    Try as you might, you cannot argue against someone’s personal experience

    Of course you can; what a stupid thing to say. One can, for instance, demonstrate to people that they didn’t see what they thought they saw, didn’t remember what they think they remember, that their interpretations of their experience are mistaken due to lack of knowledge. Penn and Teller, for instance, are famous for invalidating people’s experiences by showing them how a trick that seemed “impossible” was in fact possible. One can radically undermine people’s personal experience by exposing them to “change blindness” scenarios, such as the one where people fail to see a gorilla in plain sight on a basketball court when tasked with counting how many times the ball is passed (demonstrating limitations on the brain’s heuristics that are contrary to people’s intuitions of their capabilities). One can argue against someone’s personal experience if that person doesn’t stupidly consider their experience to be inherently veridical.

    Are you telling me that you actually listen to someone who starts off a conversation by insulting your intelligence?

    I go out of my way not to engage in the sorts of stupid practices mentioned, such as using argumentum ad ignorantiam or assuming that my experiences are veridical, but that doesn’t entirely keep me from stupid practices, and since I would rather avoid them I’m always open to anyone who demonstrates that I’m being stupid, and it’s happened on quite a few occasions. As a matter of my occupation as a software developer, I have to be open to demonstrations of my stupidity. It doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s presented as “Excuse me, but I think there’s a race condition in your code; let me demonstrate …” or “You dumb git, there’s a race condition in your code; look: …”, because my goal is to have the code work correctly, not to defend my ego. Usually it’s I myself who, after missing some bug 40 times over, says to myself “how could you be so effing stupid”. Of course, I know how; it has to do with human fallibility, and the “insult” is intended to keep me in mind of that and remain humble and thus cautious about the conclusions I reach — or leap to. In my experience, people who accept that they make mistakes and would prefer to know and correct their mistakes are able to listen to criticism whether it is presented offensively or not, and those who don’t will not change their views no matter how politely and carefully the criticism is laid out. And I find that there’s a strong correlation between theistic belief and insecurity about being shown wrong. The religious talk about humility — before God, but God is their own projection, and it’s everyone else’s humility that they arrogantly demand in service of their own baseless beliefs.

  74. #74 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    GWW–
    Exactly why are you so hostile to me? I have said nothing to you that is hostile. I don’t care if you disagree with me. I see no justification for your rudeness.
    Scott Hatfield explained my position very eloquently, and you might also note, without attacking you or anyone else. Please read his post.
    In sum: How is it better to present creationism this way:

    Creationism is complete crap. All you youngster fundies are delusional idiots.

    as opposed to

    Creationism is not at all supported by science. Here’s why…(evidence, evidence, evidence).

    I guess you think the latter is pandering. I call it respectful, and quite frankly, in my experience having taught the age of the earth countless times, very effective.

    As to your questions about whether I think it would be a good thing if a Republican called creationism crap. I’d think he was a bumbling oaf with the vocabulary of a 5-year old if he put it in those terms. If, however, he put it in the respectful but firm and forceful terms I outlined above, I would be very happy and I would probably even cheer.

    As for Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coultier–they attract lots of flies, but the flies were already in their camp, and their words are honey to those ears. Do you know any liberals who have been won over by their hostile and disrespectful banter? You are advocating taking a Limbaugh/Coultier approach in refuting creationism. I guess that is fine if your goal is to further solidify the views of those who already agree with you. If the goal is to win over new recruits, good luck to you.

  75. #75 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    Paul W.

    GWW is wrong–I’m not intentionally waffling or being evasive. And I thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt and writing so respectfully. Would that everyone on this forum made that kind of effort.

    I don’t want to write a hugely long response, but I’ll try to sum up my opinion in a short statement…as if that’s possible…First off, I agree with much of what you have to say, and I think you are probably right that I am oversimplifying things. It is more complex than I make it out to be, especially amongst those who are firmly entrenched in the extreme positions. Those who are not, however, may find my position more palatable.

    I’ve said this before, but it all revolves around the scientific method. And the line I would propose is the overarching big question–can God be proven or disproven scientifically? Ultimately, No. I think most scientists would agree with that. I have no problem with atheists who say “because the physical world can be explained through naturalistic means, I don’t believe in God.” I have no problem with Christians who say “because the universe is so complex and appears to be ordered, I believe in God.” This is personal opinion and interpretation of scientific evidence, but is not a scientific interpretation. The line is crossed if an atheist says “because the physical world can be explained through naturalistic means, science disproves God” or if a Christian says “because the universe is so complex and appears to be ordered, science proves God.” Neither position is scientific. I understand this is simplistic. I understand people won’t go for it, especially those who hold extremist views. I also believe Creationists are less likely to agree with those statements than scientists are.

    (I defer to Rick Shrimp’s point: “That’s not what atheists/scientists actually say, but it is how fundamentalists often percieve what they do say. A scientist (atheist or not) might say that data shows that the Earth is much older than 6000 years. Many a fundamentalist would interpret that statement as “that disproves God”. That’s a real communication barrier.”
    (I acknowledge that barrier–my question is how can we overcome it. GWW’s advocates the sledgehammer approach. I think we can be more sensitive than that while still being honest)

    You present many examples of religious experiences that can be explained away by natural phenomenon. I don’t really have a quarrel with you on that. In fact, I concede the point. I don’t draw the line with those experiences and say science is not allowed to investigate here. I firmly believe that the second one offers the explanation “God did it” it shuts down scientific inquiry.

    It may be science has answers for religious experiences. But, repeating myself, that in and of itself should not threaten a Christian’s faith. Christian faith is not based on personal experience with miracles or warm fuzzy feelings. It’s not based on a scientific proof of God’s existance. It’s based on belief in Christ. I’m trying to make the point that the Creationist stance is fundamentally flawed not only from a scientific standpoint, but a Christian standpoint as well.

  76. #76 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    Scott Hatfield

    I’m trying to justify the entire notion that an outright attack on this or that religious group

    I’m not attacking religion. I’m attacking the SCIENTIFIC CLAIM that there is good evidence that the earth is 6,000 years old. Some people make that claim. That they happen to be religious is not my problem.

    kids who are in the fundy churches would feel further alienated and I would be legitimizing the false sense of persecution their sects encourage

    Let’s get this straight: according to you, by teaching certain facts about the world, you are legitimizing a “false sense of persecution.” How about this, Scott: after you teach the fact, make it clear that you are not “persecuting anyone.” Is that really so hard?

    If your armchair psychology is correct, then it seems equally likely that coddling the fundies and failing to point out that the SCIENTIFIC CLAIMS of creationists are bogus merely LEGITIMIZES their belief that those claims are NOT bogus.

    It sounds like you prefer this latter strategy. I think it’s stupid, for all the reasons I outlined above.

    If you wish to be effective, you will have to engage their young people as if they were worthy of being engaged.

    How is teaching kids that creationists are full of crap not treating them as “worth of being engaged”? Answer: it’s not. Try again.

    Most Americans are like my students: they will respond much better if they are treated civilly.

    Another strawman. Who said anything about treating kids uncivilly!? You must be mistaking my statements for Retardo-Squeaky’s bullshit characterizations of my statements.

    Finally, the aphorism about honey and vinegar still has the ring of truth. Sure, Coulter and Limbaugh have their fan clubs who mindlessly lap up their spew, but they are a minority, albeit an often-vocal one.

    Are they a minority or are do they “make up a far larger percentage of the population than skeptics, far too large to be considered marginal”? Seems that all the numbers work out perfectly for you, Scott, whenever you want them to. Curious.

    By the way, Scott, please answer my question about the President Bush hypothetical. I’d like to hear what you think.

  77. #77 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    Squeaky

    GWW is wrong–I’m not intentionally waffling or being evasive.

    Then why do you refuse to answer direct questions put to you in plain English, fuckwit?

  78. #78 j
    August 4, 2006

    Why must we be so hateful?

  79. #79 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    GWW–

    What direct questions did I refuse to answer? Be specific please. Or is it that you just don’t like the answer I gave you?

    Here’s a direct question for you, which I have asked before and you have refused to answer: Why do you feel the need to be so vitriolic? Are you incapable of having a civil discussion without resorting to rude, school-yard bully comments?

  80. #80 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 4, 2006

    Squeaky:

    “I think most scientists would agree with that.”

    I have discussed why using NOMA is a failed idea, Paul W has discussed why NOMA itself is failed. You studiously avoid answering these questions.

    The question you continue to raise instead, the status of the god idea, has several answers.

    The claim you make about scientists views on it is best answered by using Arthur C. Clarke’s first law of prediction: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

    One answer is the one Paul gives, that “there’s no reason to think that the entire subject of religion isn’t squarely within the purview of science”. By looking at things such as meaningful statements and belief fixation, the god hypothesis disappears.

    One answer is the one I use to give, that what we increasingly know of nature constrains alternative explanations and makes theories on the existence of them possible, theories that may be observationally justifiable beyond reasonable doubt. We know for example how much unnatural effects on EM fields are done within the universe by looking on the fine structure constant in spectra from distant objects.

    One answer is to look at the use and failures of dualisms such as the question implies. They have one by one been “shown to be impossible, incredible or implausible” to use Paul’s words. If this dualism is different one must motivate that. To say “God did it” doesn’t work any more than saying “souls did it”.

  81. #81 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    Hi Torbjorn,

    I believe what you are saying is that if God exists, we should be able to detect his supernatural effects on natural phenomenon. Your hypothesis is investigatable–if God exists, we would be able to detect his supernatural effects on the natural. Since we can’t detect that, the interpretation of the evidence is that there is no God. Even if there were effects on these natural phenomenon, one couldn’t simply say “God did it” because there could be a perfectly good natural explanation for that as well. And, really, is “God did it” ever a real scientific interpretation? And if it isn’t, how can you ever develop a test for the God hypothesis when the conclusion “God did it” is an unscientific conclusion?
    If this were the only possible test or hypothesis for God’s existance, maybe you could use science to disprove God. But, unless we knew everything there is to know about the universe, we can’t come to that conclusion.
    An alternative hypothesis is that God established and operates through the natural laws. But then again, I have just invoked God–which is not a scientific hypothesis. If God established and operates through natural laws, he presumably wouldn’t be detectable, and therefore not investigatable in a scientific sense. But if it were testable, how does one test it? IDists would say one test is whether or not there is order in the universe. But others would interpret the data as also explainable by natural processes. Again, the conclusion “God did it” is not a scientific conclusion as science looks only to the natural world.

    We go in circles on this, although I think in many ways we are saying the same thing. We seem to be coming to different conclusions, however.

    I don’t know how understandable any of that is. I’m sure I will have justified yet another attack by GWW.

    We’ve had this discussion before. The dance continues…=)

  82. #82 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    Squeaky

    What direct questions did I refuse to answer? Be specific please.

    Um … suck it, please?

    See this, Squeaky: ?

    It’s a question mark. Go back and read my comments and look for the ? marks. Then slog through your hand-waving self-contradictory wankery and identify which of those questions you answered and which ones you didn’t. Shit, I asked you some of the questions TWICE, you fucking retard.

  83. #83 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    GWW,
    How old are you?

  84. #84 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    GWW,
    How old are you?

    Funny, that isn’t an answer to any of the questions I asked you. This isn’t “Jeopardy”, Squeaky. Your answers will end in “periods” and should begin with a “yes” or “no.”

    Now, scroll up and try again. Show us you know how, Squeaky.

  85. #85 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    GWW,

    Why should I answer any of your questions when your behavior is so deplorable? You have treated me contemptuously, and I have only given you a respectful tone. Don’t talk to me anymore unless you can show you are capable of being respectful. I’m done.

  86. #86 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    Why should I answer any of your questions when your behavior is so deplorable?

    Hilarious.

    Are you “writing me off” Squeaky? Maybe if you had answered my questions instead of ignoring them I wouldn’t have become so “entrenched.” What a fucking hypocrite.

  87. #87 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    You know what? I did go back and look. And I did answer your questions. Go back and look yourself and find one I didn’t answer. Sometimes I answered your questions more than once. It’s your hypothesis that I didn’t answer your questions. Give me the evidence. Produce just one question I didn’t answer. It isn’t that I didn’t answer it, it is that you didn’t like my answer.

  88. #88 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    Imagine if we had a Republican President who came right out and said, “Creation science is bullcrap. Everyone knows that, even schoolkids. It’s just a ploy to get religion taught in science classrooms, as our Federal Courts have determined over and over again.” Imagine he says that several times a year, in various press conferences as he pushes to improve public education.

    Would you consider such statements by the President to be a GOOD THING or a BAD THING, Squeaky?

    Yes or no, Squeaky. Your last chance.

  89. #89 Squeaky
    August 4, 2006

    At 11:15 this morning, I answered that in this way:

    “I’d think he was a bumbling oaf with the vocabulary of a 5-year old if he put it in those terms. If, however, he put it in the respectful but firm and forceful terms I outlined above, I would be very happy and I would probably even cheer.”

    It isn’t what you say, it is how you say it. I would say if he said it the way you propose, his methods are BAD. His message, however, is GOOD.

    What exactly do you want me to say? I agree that Creation science shouldn’t be taught in school. What do you think I don’t agree with you on?

  90. #90 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    It isn’t what you say, it is how you say it.

    Another pithy pile of garbage. Spare me the Readers Digest crapola, okay?

    I would say if he said it the way you propose, his methods are BAD. His message, however, is GOOD.

    And that’s not answering the question.

    Shall we try it a fourth time, Squeaky? Overall, is it a GOOD THING or a BAD THING for a President to recite the facts about creationism in the way I described at several press conferences over the course of a speaking tour promoting public education?

    I’m not interested in your bullshit lectures about manners (either is the President, by the way). Just answer the fucking question. Yes or no.

    I agree that Creation science shouldn’t be taught in school.

    We don’t agree. My position is that teachers should teach kids that “creation science” is BULLSHIT peddled by liars or deeply confused people for purposes that have nothing to do with understanding the natural world. How many times do I have to repeat THAT to you, Squeaky?

  91. #91 JC
    August 4, 2006

    Fortunately, it is unconstitutional for a teacher in a facility that receives tax payer support to promote a religious view.

    It is also unconstitutional to deliberately denigrate a religious view as you propose, Great White Wonder, so in fairness I would say you are fucked on that one!

    Hahahahahahaha!

  92. #92 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    JC

    It is also unconstitutional to deliberately denigrate a religious view as you propose

    JC, please show me the Supreme Court case which says that I cannot teach kids a fact (i.e., that the claims of “creation science” are bullshit, right up there with the claims of telekinetics and psychics) in a public school science class. I’m really curious to see your reasoning here.

  93. #93 Great White Wonder
    August 4, 2006

    Hey, Squeaky and Scotty, did you two write your letter to Tom Toles yet angrily accusing him of drawing cartoons that will “entrench” the fundies?

    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/08/tom_toles_nails.html

    Boo hoo hoo hoo hoo!!!! He’s mocking them! Squeaky, please protect us from the fundy backlash! Woe is us.

  94. #94 Scott Hatfield
    August 5, 2006

    GWW:

    This is going to be a long post and probably not of much interest to others, but you raise so many posts that I feel obligated to reply.

    First of all, if I misread your strong language earlier, I beg your indulgence, but I certainly did receive the impression that you were advocating an approach that won’t be successful with high school students. If that’s a misunderstanding or a ‘straw man’, and not your real views, then I certainly stand corrected. However, your original post went as follows:

    “”Scientists and educators would really be doing kids a favor by teaching kids passionately and vociferaously facts such as “CREATIONISM IS BULLSHIT” and “PEOPLE WHO CLAIM THE EARTH IS LESS THAN 1,000,000 YEARS OLD ARE LIARS OR NUTS”.

    I don’t see these, as presented, as ‘facts’ on the order of, say, the helical structure of DNA. They are interpretive claims. You ask how teaching kids that ‘creationists are full of crap’ is not treating them appropriately. The answer to that is simple. Many of them already think of themselves as creationists or sympathize with the creationist viewpoint, and will interpret that approach as a personal attack.

    Now (OF COURSE) I grant, in some sense, that special creation, Flood geology, a young Earth, etc. are not supported by the evidence. I tell my students that, and I tell them that the evidence does contradict certain literal understandings held by believers.

    But I don’t say that it’s ‘bullshit’ or use any sort of pejorative tone. Perhaps you wouldn’t, either; fine. You can see from your post, however, why I might’ve received that impression. Further, I would never propose the false dichotomy that those who hold YEC are lying or nuts. There is a third possibility, which is that YEC have cultivated a specialized form of ignorance that passes as knowledge, and are reluctant to abandon their position due to its linkage with other, cherished beliefs. I doubt that most believers have the education or temperament to debate their beliefs with you, but in no way does that render them necessarily dishonest or insane.

    Further, even if we discounted the third option I just proposed, your claim is not a ‘fact’ in any meaningful sense, just hyperbolic language. And, in responding to criticism of same, I’m sorry, but from the standpoint of the law it simply isn’t credible to dismiss the relevance of ‘tone’ or ‘manners’ as so much ‘Readers Digest crapola.’ You blur an important distinction that when in place provides me with protection under the Bill of Rights, but when not present exposes me to the Separation Clause. And if I proposed them in those terms, I would definitely find myself in hot water with an administrator, if not needing a lawyer.

    For more on THAT topic, I would recommend this collection:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0262121018/sr=1-7/qid=1154753876/ref=sr_1_7/103-4852278-1607853?ie=UTF8&s=books

    I might add that I spend nearly a quarter of my school year focusing on evolution and invoke its explanatory power throughout the course. I am fiercely proud of this, because in my experience most teachers essentially give it lip service for two weeks, then avoid mentioning it the rest of the time. Not me, and I don’t shy from the controversial stuff connecting the dots between evolution and the origin of man and human nature. At the end of my course, I require students to write an original paper, sourced APA-style on a topic from evolutionary theory. Every student has to do it to pass the course.

    And you know what? I’ve NEVER had a problem, while many of the teachers who cover it in a quick two-week unit and try to make it disappear the rest of the year have horror stories. They’re afraid, and I’m not. Why? Because, GWW, I actually know HOW to teach this stuff, and even cover it in depth, while treating student’s personal beliefs with respect. So you’ll forgive a little pride, because I know what I’m talking about here.

    Now you asked some specific questions and I’ll try to answer them directly:

    1) Regarding the Bush hypothetical, I think it would be wonderful if politicians everywhere followed the example of New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, as found here:

    http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2006/NY/960_nyc_mayor_criticizes_intellig_5_26_2006.asp

    2) I’ve got no problem with Tom Toles attacking fundies on the Panda’s Thumb or you or PZ Myers or anyone else attacking religion here or anywhere else in the blogosphere. I’m a big boy and it doesn’t bother me; in fact, I enjoy reading some of that stuff. My post to you was not an objection to your views or attempting to stifle free expression here. My point had to do with a very different forum, the public school classroom.

    3) While I’m sympathetic to Squeaky’s point of view, I don’t endorse NOMA. With Torjborn, I regard it as inadequate. Since the boundary between the two alleged “magisteria” is poorly-defined, we should be able to approach that boundary as close as possible, and in that context the only claims of religion of interest to science are those that can be tested. From the point of view of science, the claims that can’t are neither real or unreal; they are without value. That, at least, is my position.

    I wish you much honey and less vinegar in your personal life. Unless, of course, you’ve cultivated a preference for the latter.

    Cheerfully. . .Scott

  95. #95 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 5, 2006

    Squeaky:

    “But, unless we knew everything there is to know about the universe, we can’t come to that conclusion.”

    It would be a perfectly acceptable scientific theory (though perhaps not very interesting), and like any theory justified to a firm confidence limit beyond reasonable doubt. That is, it relies on a finite number of measurement and allow a remaining uncertainty. So a scientist could say that the theory shows that supernaturals doesn’t exists within reasonable doubt, while theists could raise unreasonable doubt and say that there is a remaining uncertainty.

    “If God established and operates through natural laws, he presumably wouldn’t be detectable, and therefore not investigatable in a scientific sense.”

    That isn’t good theory since natural laws succeeds in explaination without dualism or other extraneous assumptions. And constraining doesn’t work in that direction, a supernatural assumption has no constraints to keep it from being detectable. You are attempting to personify and characterise your assumption, but you have no observations that allow you to do that.

    “We’ve had this discussion before. The dance continues…=)”

    I would rather have had you answering Paul’s questions than mine specifically, especially on the failures of NOMA, since those ideas seems to be a current position for some philosophers and perhaps neuroscientists, and he made very good comments. It seems you like to dance.

  96. #96 Squeaky
    August 5, 2006

    Torbjorn,

    “I would rather have had you answering Paul’s questions than mine specifically, especially on the failures of NOMA, since those ideas seems to be a current position for some philosophers and perhaps neuroscientists, and he made very good comments. It seems you like to dance.”

    I guess I thought I had responded to his points. I did, afterall, concede him the point. I said I wouldn’t draw a boundary there. I’m not saying science can’t investigate religious experiences if they in fact can demonstrate that they can actually be investigated scientifically. And I did say what I thought the boundary should be, while simultaneously saying I thought I was probably oversimplifying the matter. So if I dance, I don’t dance intentionally. Honestly, I’m not fond of dancing. I’m a drummer. I’d rather play in the band.

    Maybe the real point I am trying to make is that I don’t believe that neither science nor religion should threaten each other in that science, properly understood, is no real threat towards religion at all, unless someone is hanging on to an interpretation of the Bible that tells them it is. That is the gist I get from NOMA, and I believe the gist of Gould’s position on the matter. I agree the boundary is fuzzy in that some religious claims can be investigated scientifically. I obviously don’t agree with your insistence that the ultimate question over the existance of God can be investigated scientifically.

    I appreciate Scott Hatfield’s point:

    “While I’m sympathetic to Squeaky’s point of view, I don’t endorse NOMA. With Torjborn, I regard it as inadequate. Since the boundary between the two alleged “magisteria” is poorly-defined, we should be able to approach that boundary as close as possible, and in that context the only claims of religion of interest to science are those that can be tested. From the point of view of science, the claims that can’t are neither real or unreal; they are without value.”

    Scott,
    Thank you for your very reasoned response. I appreciate what you have to say. I can only imagine you must be a spectacular science teacher, and I appreciate the sensitivity and thoroughness with which you teach evolution. I think the fact that you never have problems with students objecting to it is a testimony that you are doing a great job. I wish all students could have a teacher like you.

    GWW–wow. I sincerely hope you are not as angry and as bitter as your posts would indicate. I’m with Scott in wishing you more honey in your life.

  97. #97 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 5, 2006

    Squeaky:

    “I did, afterall, concede him the point.”

    As I said in my last comment I can’t see that you answered him on NOMA. In this comment you say “Maybe the real point I am trying to make is that I don’t believe that neither science nor religion should threaten each other in that science, properly understood, is no real threat towards religion at all, unless someone is hanging on to an interpretation of the Bible that tells them it is. That is the gist I get from NOMA, and I believe the gist of Gould’s position on the matter.” which doesn’t seem to concede Paul’s claim that NOMA is failed. Instead you continue to discuss the idea of a god, which isn’t what NOMA is about.

    “So if I dance, I don’t dance intentionally. Honestly, I’m not fond of dancing. I’m a drummer. I’d rather play in the band.”

    Each to its own. I rather dance myself.

  98. #98 Paul W.
    August 6, 2006

    Squeaky,

    I think you’re missing my main points.

    1. NOMA is a myth based on the profoundest misunderstandings of science and/or religion.

    2. Science and religion are competing forms of belief fixation, and they typically disagree.

    3. To claim that they can be compatible does serious violence to either science or religion.

    There are three ways that people typically manage to avoid seeing this basic conflict.

    1. By misunderstanding science as being limited in ways that it’s actually not, thinking that it can’t study such things as alleged “supernatural” events, or emotions, or morality. People often say that science “can’t study the supernatural,” or that “science is about beliefs, not attitudes,” or “science is about facts, not morality,” etc.

    2. By misunderstanding religion as not being about belief fixation. People often think that attitudes are separate from beliefs; in general they are not. To have a certain attitude almost invariably requires a certain kind of belief about the subject, even if that belief is not consciously articulated.

    3. By making a false dichotomy between scientific knowledge and religious Truth, which is unsustainable on close inspection and typically hinges on 1 or 2.

    All of this comes up whenever the topic is “god.”

    To worship a god generally requires that people

    1. think the god is real, and
    2. think that it is worthy of worship.

    These things, in turn, generally require further beliefs, all of which are either demonstrably false or not reasonably tenable in light of modern science.

    The whole notion of a “god” ultimately falls apart without a kind of simplistic dualism. This is why I asked you—if you are going to defend belief in god as non-stupid in light of modern science—to tell us what you mean by “God.” In particular, I asked what the difference is between a god and a powerful alien such as Q from Star Trek: TNG.

    Most people think that gods are worthy of worship or some special kind of attitude, but merely powerful superintelligent aliens are not—it seems natural to worship a god, but weird to worship an alien. They generally can’t articulate the difference between a god and an alien, but there obviously is a crucial one that has to be teased out in order to make any sense of the subject.

    I actually have a theory about the difference between a god and an alien—not just a personal God, but any god that anybody actually worships or religiously reveres, such as New Agers’ ideas about vibrations or energies that resemble The Force. I think I have a handle on what makes a god a god, whether it’s an omnipotent person or just an a invisible blue glow that you can “tune in to” and be defter or luckier. And I think I can show that’s not possible, scientifically. Belief in such things is anti-scientific.

    But I want to know what you think a God is, or could be, such that it makes any sense whatsoever for you to worship a god while also taking science seriously, and to tell us that your belief in god does not conflict with your belief in science.

    I suspect you don’t know the right science, and don’t understand its implications.

    If you don’t want to talk about your specific beliefs, that makes things harder. You have to articulate things about religion in a general way, and defend your thesis that religion more generally does not conflict with science. I don’t think that you are capable of that, because you don’t seem to have any clear ideas about religion or gods. I think that you can only fail to see the conflicts because your ideas are profoundly muddled and you avoid making any clear claim at all.

    I think you do a lot of violence to the concept of God, and to religion in general.

    Religion, in its natural form, is obviously and centrally about belief fixation. It is not centrally about untestable theses out of reach of science, or about attitudes unmoored in beliefs, or about beliefs about things in a wholly separate domain from what science studies.

    All of these things are myths propounded by people who are desperately trying to avoid acknowledging the profound conflicts between science and religion.

    You have argued that science and religion don’t conflict because religion is about untestable theses, and science is about testable ones.

    The seeming reasonableness of that claim is belied by thousands of years worth of religious beliefs that have now been scientifically debunked. There’s no Thor who makes thunder, there’s no life force, and there’s no souls worthy of the name—souls that make us alive, or make us intelligent, or make us feel emotions. Thought is information processing, and emotions turn out to be an aspect of information processing by evolved meat machines. That’s all pretty clear now, in light of the relevant sciences.

    Religion is not generally about untestable theses, except to the extent that at any given moment it thrives on people’s inability or unwillingness to clearly disprove its theses at that moment.

    And that’s a problem. Your generalizations about religion being compatible with science exclude almost every specifically religious tenet of every religion that ever existed and was actually believed by anyone. More fundamentally, it excludes the characteristic patterns of belief fixation that traditionally constitute “religion.”

    I think this means that you don’t understand religion, and are picking a bad example of “religion” when you say that “religion” (or your religion) is compatible with science.

    Science has already disproven or debunked almost every specifically religious thesis—about cosmology, life, history, language, thought, emotions, dreams, morality, and even religious “experiences”. This doesn’t leave god or religion with much to do, and horribly constrains the religious ideas that could count as tenable in light of modern science—i.e., maybe unscientific but not stupidly anti-scientific.

    All that’s left is a kind of nearly-vacuous Deism, in which there’s some kind of creator “god”—but you can’t or won’t even say what would count as a “god” in such an impoverished kind of “religion.” (As opposed, say, to an alien.)

    You seem to think that our alleged inability to “disprove God” licenses being a Christian as not-stupid in light of modern science.

    This is just false. The fact that we can’t disprove nearly-vacuous deism to a mathematical certainty does not mean that faith in Jesus is at all reasonable.

    It’s like the teapot in orbit around Mars. No, we can’t “disprove” it in your sense of mathematical certainty; it’s theoretically possible—for very large values of “theoretical”—that there is a teapot there. Nonetheless, if you believe it’s there, you’re nuts. There is zero evidence for it, and more importantly, we now understand teapots, orbits, and Mars well enough to be pretty sure that there’s no teapot in orbit around Mars—or that if there is, you have no way of knowing that and your belief in it is unreasonable, even you luck out and are right.

    By some extraordinary combination of circumstances, some sort of alien might have left some sort of thing there that would count as a teapot—sure, that’s possible—but if you think you have evidence for it, we have to guess that you have made a very serious reasoning error somewhere.

    Similarly, we understand the traditional and central subject matter of religion well enough to be pretty sure that every religion that ever existed was systematically wrong, and was wrong for scientifically understandable, systematic reasons. Religions thrive on invalid patterns of belief fixation.

    Like many apologists for liberal theology, you seem to equate our inability to disprove something with reasonableness of belief in it.

    That’s just wrong. I can’t prove that there’s no substance emitted by both living things and fires, but that doesn’t mean there is such a thing as phlogiston, or that it’s reasonable to guess that there is. (In fact, there is a substance emitted by both, namely carbon dioxide, and it isn’t phlogiston.) If you say that you’ve found phlogiston, we’ll think you made a grave error. If you argue that we “can’t disprove” phlogiston, or just that it’s reasonable for you to believe in phlogiston, the first thing we’ll do is ask you what you mean by “phlogiston.”

    Similarly, we “can’t disprove” your “god” to a mathematical certainty, especially if you won’t be specific, but we don’t have to. We can just debunk it—giving a clearly better explanation with clearly better evidence, which contradicts your general story.

    Please address that issue. How is it reasonable to believe in God if everything the hypothetical god was supposed to explain is better explained by something else? (Or is inexplicable in light of god theory, too, e.g., existence itself.) How are gods different from phlogiston or the aether?

    I’m going to ask some questions, some of which I’ve asked before and you haven’t really answered them.

    1. When you say “science can’t disprove God,” what do you mean by “disprove”? Are you asking for mathematical certainty? If so, we can’t “disprove” much in science, but we can sure debunk a whole lot of things; why not God?

    2. When you say “science can’t disprove God,” what do you mean by “God”? Are you just talking about a powerful alien? If so, so what? What does the possibility of an alien—even one that created our universe—have to do with religion and worshipping such a thing as a god? (Is your god a person? If not, what is it?)

    3. What theoretical work does any tenable god theory do? I.e., if we’ve excluded all the gods and kinds of gods that are untenable in light of modern science, what’s left, and what does it explain that science can’t?

    4. Is it reasonable to believe in things that simply aren’t disprovable? If so, what’s the difference between believing in Jesus Christ and believing in a teapot in orbit around Mars? Isn’t that special pleading based on some assumed dualism, or some mythical NOMA? If so, you need to defend dualism, or NOMA, or whatever it is that licenses this special pleading.

    5. It seems that you’re backing off of NOMA, but not acknowledging the implications, so I ask you: if there is no NOMA line, why should we not consider belief in God or Jesus as akin to belief in Thor, or in a teapot in orbit around Mars? How are these not just crackpot theories with the weight of tradition behind them? (And isn’t progress in science heavily dependent on discounting traditional answers in search of the truth? Wouldn’t that put science in chronic conflict with religion, which typically weaves a bunch of traditional answers together into a bogus cosmology?)

    6. You seem to acknowledge that traditional religions (e.g., ancient scriptural accounts of creation) do conflict with modern science, but you say that “religion” doesn’t. I assume this means that there’s a core of religion—or maybe just your religion—that’s right or at least not in conflict with science. What is this core of religion that’s the non-bad kind, and is even credible, much less right?

    7. In that vein, what do you think proper religion is properly about, and how is that not systematically debunked by scientific understandings of weather, life, emotions, morality, etc.? Please name a single truth of religion; you don’t have to prove that truth—maybe that’s not possible—but please tell us what kinds of things you think religion is about, that suggest that religion offers something other than an inferior method of belief fixation, relative to a secular, scientific worldview. If you can’t name a truth, at least take a shot at naming a subject matter of religion.

    8. Likewise, please name a single piece of evidence for religion that’s actually credible in light of modern science—i.e., not better explained as an illusion, hallucination, or popular delusion of the sort that we know people are quite prone to. (As I’ve explained, typical religious “experiences” are easily explained in light of the known fallibility of our belief-fixation systems. And as others have explained, typical “miracles” are nothing of the sort. Is there any reason to think they’re not all mistakes like that? And then there’s the obvious fact that the religious method—introspection, prophecy, mystical insight etc.—tends to yield contradictory “perceptions” or “insights,” throwing the whole schmear into grave, grave doubt.)

    You seem to think you’ve addressed most of the issues I’ve raised; like Torbjorn, I don’t. A brief, vague answer really isn’t enough, because my problem is with the vagueness—I think that every one of your arguments hinges on a fallacy of four terms, hinging on vagueness in terms like “god,” “religion,” “prove,” “testable,” “scientific,” etc.

    In particular, you seem to argue that:

    1. I can’t disprove the possibility of a creator alien to a mathematical certainty, so it’s not crackpottery for you to worship Jesus and accept a ton of presuppositions when doing so

    2. Accepting such non-scientific theories is not anti-scientific, because there’s no conflict between this sort of non-scientific fixation of untestable beliefs and science. (If so, what about the teapot? Isn’t accepting crackpot theories generally unscientific in a bad way? If so, why not when it comes to religion? What distinguishes religion from crackpottery of the sort that scientists commonly debunk?)

    3. Scientists who speak as scientists against religion are therefore out of line.

    I think these things are false.

    Sometimes you say things to the effect that none of this matters much, because the standards of science aren’t the standards of religion—religion isn’t about scientific proof, or even evidence that would count as evidence to scientists. You seem to think that this gets religion off the hook, somehow.

    That’s only true if you let us say as scientists that religion is crackpottery. Science does in general debunk theories that don’t accord with science, even if it can’t disprove them, strictly speaking. Nobody ever disproved alchemy, but chemists will indeed tell you as chemists that it was a load of crap.

    Of course, it would be rude and literally false for a chemist to refer to alchemy as a steaming pile of feces, but you know he’d be right on the obvious interpretation.

    Likewise, if PZ says that religion is stupid nonsense, he might be rude, but he’s not really wrong.

    Science does not in general respect divergent views. It requests evidence of a sort that matters to science. (Science isn’t centrally about testable hypotheses; it’s centrally about tenable explanations. Clearly testable hypotheses are specific sanity checks relevant to the tenability of more general hypotheses, which are often not directly and decisively testable in themselves. That’s why we have to talk about failed paradigms.)

    Why should religion get a free pass, when other divergent theories don’t? Why should your religion get a free pass, when other religions don’t?

    Thor is nonsense, right? We know better now. There’s no god of thunder, is there?

    Why not Jesus? Don’t we know better about that, now, too?

    We know more about the Bible, in important respects, than any of the people who wrote it—we have historical, archaeological, and linguistic evidence that the individual writers of the Bible did not have when they wrote their parts. We have context they didn’t have. There is no evidence that their religion was actually divinely inspired, as there should be if their story is true. There is no credible evidence of even single supernatural event. And there are much better explanations of why people believed that stuff, in light of late-20th-century cognitive and social psychology.

    And that falsifies Christianity. No, it doesn’t strictly disprove it—for that, you need some basic philosophical analysis—but it does heavily disconfirm it. If not for the mythical NOMA and the bogus political detente between science and religion, scientists would say, as scientists, that anything resembling orthodox Christianity is pretty clearly false. We know why people believe such things, and it generally isn’t because they’re true; it’s because they’re prone to certain kinds of false beliefs.

    The people who came up with your religion did NOT think that religion was only about untestable hypotheses. They thought it was about truth, and about explaining everything. Who are you to say that they were wrong, and redefine that religion, and religion more generally?

    Personally, I think that’s disrespectful of religion. Modern liberal theology discounts what religion is and always has been centrally about, in order to defend it from scientific disproof or debunking. Science has irrevocably taken over the major function of religion—explaining stuff—and there’s not much left for religion to do, but theologians keep ignoring the elephant in the room.

    And I think that’s sad. The people who, for thousands of years, evolved those sincere beliefs deserve a fair hearing. It is better—more respectful—to say that they were understandably but systematically mistaken than to redefine the whole subject matter so that you can play you-can’t-catch-me and they can’t be wrong.

    In effect, you have gutted religion, and made it into a fringe subject defined negatively by the 900-pound gorilla of science.

    If you do that, and don’t acknowledge that religion is a failed paradigm, it’s incumbent on you to explain how religion nonetheless has something true to say, rather than being the kind of tissue of errors—crackpottery—that science generally debunks.

    If religion gets something right, such that it’s a salvageable paradigm, it’s time to tell us what it is.

  99. #99 Scott Hatfield
    August 6, 2006

    Paul:

    Your comments are so thoughtful, so detailed and so forceful that I’m copying to my hard drive for further study.

    I certainly agree that liberal theology tends to appeal to a ‘god of the gaps’ in order to avoid disconfirmation, while more conventional believers seek a confirming ‘Truth’, and that it does a disservice to religion to not take its claims seriously in that regard.

    I am not persuaded, however, that you have demonstrated that it is a disservice to science. Science as practiced does not, it seem to me, evince a desire to make claims about every sort of domain, to function as an all-embracing ‘belief fixation’. Science as practiced seems to confine itself to the pursuit of natural explanations which ideally lead to testable predictions. I regard this limit as a strength, rather than a weakness in science. I am at great pains to say that I accept the fact of evolution and the plausibility of evolutionary theory as an explanatory paradigm, but emphasize that I do NOT ‘believe’ in evolution. It seems to me that I do a much greater disservice to science by ascribing to it characteristics of belief.

    Your example of Thor is intriguing, but (again) if one wishes to avoid doing a disservice to religion, it seems to me that the primary goal of believing in Thor was not explaining the existence of thunder. Believers do not do experiments in church, nor mull over whether the sermon represents a ‘failed paradigm.’ Similarly, when Maxwell developed his equations, his primary motive was surely not to disconfirm this or that aspect of Norse mythology.

    Why, then, did people believe in the Thunder God? I would suggest that they did so because he was part of a pantheon of gods in a belief system that conferred upon its adherents community, a source of values and the promise of personal immortality (Valhalla), an immortality that will restore the brokenness of creation.

    Science, as a rival to religious belief, does somewhat well as providing the first two but the last item doesn’t seem too promising. It’s not a ‘Truth’ that’s in our scientific toolkit. In that last respect, it really comes down to meeting a human need or, if you like, wish fulfillment. It isn’t rational, but it is very human, and (speaking only personally) satisfying.

    Sincerely…Scott

  100. #100 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    Paul, Scott:

    Wow! The reason I’m currently concentrating on the problems of dualisms is that I find the claims that we can’t study supernaturalistic claims specifically or generally and that theories can’t disprove things *in its usual restricted sense* (tentatively, resulting from the theory, justified with a finite number of measurements, et cetera) much as provoking and illfounded as the claim of NOMA. But other dualisms such as vitalism or souls have been debunked, so it is nice to see an excellent discussion on the established approach. I will probably have to use this material in the future.

    I think I have seen the term “belief fixation” before, but I haven’t understood the correspondence properly. To answer Scott’s commentary somewhat, I too think that there is a difference between science and religion here. But it is a qualitative difference. Justification by testing (sanity checking) and interconnections between theories makes the claims of science firmer than the unjustified and mostly isolated claims of religion, though still provisional. I would feel more comfortable calling this “claim fixation”, with facts and theories fixated in science and beliefs fixated in religion. But the point that is made that it is essentially the same structure and process is important, and clears up a lot of muddled thinking on my behalf. (Call it “term fixation” if you will, but proper naming and analogy or correspondence works miracles. 🙂

    “If religion gets something right, such that it’s a salvageable paradigm, it’s time to tell us what it is.”

    Excellent as the discussion is and forcefully as it ends here, I will nevertheless take the risk of diminishing it slightly by criticizing some points as I see it. (Unfortunately it is always easier to be destructive than constructive.)

    When Paul discuss religion, it isn’t entirely clear to me that deism would remain after debunking specifically religious claims. As I understand it cosmological and teleological arguments, and perhaps claims on immortality and souls, are used by deists. With all of creationism and dualism gone I don’t really see what basis remains, outside of theistic traditions and other social context.

    The orbiting teapot analogy has its place in properly describing the special pleading of religion. I note however that a closer analogy may be a first teapot that started the bigbang by cracking. Also, it would delineate the crackpottery in those theories. 😉

  101. #101 Scott Hatfield
    August 7, 2006

    Torjborn wrote:

    “I too think that there is a difference between science and religion here. But it is a qualitative difference.”

    Yes, I agree–otherwise, the boundary between science and religion would not be fuzzy.

    And: “Justification by testing (sanity checking) and interconnections between theories makes the claims of science firmer than the unjustified and mostly isolated claims of religion, though still provisional.”

    I agree, but I want to add a digression that might explain why believers often feel their faith claims are “justified.” Theology represents an attempt to unify isolated claims, or at least render them more coherent, providing some sort of justification; in a sense, the mainstream/orthodox view that emerges has a certain gravitas due to the antiquity and ubitquity of the conclusion in question, and this allows a believer (like myself) to conclude that the item is questioned IS justified, but only within the context of the belief system.

    It is amazing, frankly, to consider the detail with which certain claims have been ‘worked out’ or allegedly harmonized. Those deeply immersed, therefore, often come (understandably) to the false conclusion that they are in the possession of some sort of objective truth, though of course such conclusions are personal, subjective and have no standing in science.

    And: “I would feel more comfortable calling this “claim fixation”, with facts and theories fixated in science and beliefs fixated in religion. But the point that is made that it is essentially the same structure and process is important, and clears up a lot of muddled thinking on my behalf..”

    I agree that we tend to BEHAVE as if science and religion are making similar sorts of claims, but I don’t believe the structure and process you are alluding to is inherent to science, but rather proceeds from the way our minds are organized.

    Natural selection has tended to reward tribalism not just in terms of personal kinship, but in terms of the beliefs held by this or that group, rendering them as ‘truths’ to be contrasted with the falsehoods of outgroups. It meets our NEED TO BELIEVE to frame propositions as beliefs; it’s this sort of thing that leads Conway-Morris to caricature Dawkins as “England’s most pious atheist.” The strength of science, I think, lies elsewhere. By all means, let us examine the similarity in the ways claims are made and held both within science and religion, but let’s not blur the distinctions which are needed to keep science from becoming a belief system, if not a religion.

    And: “(Call it “term fixation” if you will, but proper naming and analogy or correspondence works miracles. :-)”

    OK, I laughed, you caught me off-guard, that was truly funny. I enjoy this correpondence and hope it will continue.

    Sincerely,

    Scott

  102. #102 Paul W.
    August 7, 2006

    I am not persuaded, however, that you have demonstrated that it is a disservice to science. Science as practiced does not, it seem to me, evince a desire to make claims about every sort of domain, to function as an all-embracing ‘belief fixation’.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this. While any particular scientist may be interested in some things and not others, science overall is “interested in” everything that is or might be real, from the origin and nature of the universe to the origin and nature of minds and morality.

    Everything that is interesting to people in general is also of interest to science.

    Science as practiced seems to confine itself to the pursuit of natural explanations which ideally lead to testable predictions.

    I’m not sure what this means. “Natural” in the sense of the scope of science is very, very broad—basically anything with any observable effects, including such things as thought, emotions, social commitments, morality or even (potentially) ghosts or astrology or mysterious powerful creator beings.

    The main reason that few real scientists study such things as ghosts and ID isn’t that there’s some constraint on science that precludes it, but because they’re failed paradigms. If there was any good reason to believe in ghosts or astrology or ID, you can bet that scientists would be studying them, as they do actual things like strings, the origin of life, thought, emotions, and morality.

    It seems to me that science is “interested” in everything humans are interested in, except those that show little promise because they’re pretty clearly unreal or untrue.

    Science is a very general system acquiring knowledge, i.e., justified true beliefs. It’s fallible, of course, but that’s the goal. The only reason for the focus on testability is because that is the goal—it’s a means to the end of ensuring that our beliefs are at least justified, such that they’re more likely to be true.

    I regard this limit as a strength, rather than a weakness in science.

    I’m trying to figure out what you think this “limit” really is. It sounds like maybe you think there are some topics that are fundamentally off-limits to science for some reason other than their not making sense, or it not making sense to take them seriously.

    In particular, I am still wondering what subject matter is supposed to be within the scope of religion, but not within the scope of science.

    I realize that you’ve said you don’t believe in NOMA because you can’t draw a line, but it sounds like maybe you believe something resembling NOMA, but with an overlap. (POMA? Partially Overlapping MAgisteria?) I don’t believe in anything resembling NOMA.

    I think the proper scope of science is everything real, whether it’s “natural” in the vernacular sense or not—so long as it’s not some poorly-motivated crazy mess designed precisely to evade study.

    That’s why I asked Squeaky about the difference between a religious belief and a crackpot theory. I don’t think there is one that science “cares” about. There’s no fundamental rule about religion being off-limits to science; there are just general principles that exclude crackpot theories.

    I am at great pains to say that I accept the fact of evolution and the plausibility of evolutionary theory as an explanatory paradigm, but emphasize that I do NOT ‘believe’ in evolution.

    Really? You don’ t think it’s true that we evolved from other kinds of animals? It’s just an “adequate” explanation?

    If so, you are very unlike any scientist I’ve ever met, or even know of. I don’t know of a single scientist who doesn’t think in terms of the truth of theories, and use explanatory adequacy as a first cut in a search for true explanations.

    I doubt many scientists would bother to be scientists if they didn’t think of it in terms of truth. Nobody really cares about testable predictions in themselves, and merely adequate models are far less interesting than finding out which theories are true or false. (Fallibly and provisionally, sure, but the point of being careful about those things is to avoid getting stuck being wrong.)

    In this respect, I think that most scientists are like most religious non-scientists; they do care very much about plain old truth—and they’d care very much about whether their own beliefs were true if they really grasped good reasons for thinking that they weren’t.

    Most people can more or less accept both science and religion only because they don’t know enough about either to see the profound and systematic conflicts between them.

    People who do really understand both science and religion and can accept both because they’re really not concerned about the truths of science and/or religion are… very unusual. (And I have to suspect that in most cases there’s some kind of confusion or self-kidding going on there.)

    It seems to me that I do a much greater disservice to science by ascribing to it characteristics of belief.

    That strikes me as bizarre. Science is centrally a system for acquiring knowledge, i.e., justified true beliefs. It’s not centrally a gadget for generating predictions; it’s not about that, even if it constantly uses that; predictive modesl are means to the end of determining which theories are likely true, i.e., how things actually are.

    Unfortunately, religious people have screwed up perfectly good words like “truth” and “belief,” with their nonsense about faith-based “Truth” and “Belief,” as though the latter were just as good as plain old knowledge, or even better.

    Scientists shouldn’t have to dance around this nonsense. Science conflicts with religion, and when it does, religion is generally profoundly wrong. Not just about particular propositions like the age of the Earth or the existence of the soul, but about what it means to know something, or why you should or shouldn’t believe something.

    Your example of Thor is intriguing, but (again) if one wishes to avoid doing a disservice to religion, it seems to me that the primary goal of believing in Thor was not explaining the existence of thunder.

    I think there’s a false dichotomy here, and maybe that’s my fault because I oversimplified.

    We have to distinguish between the content of a religious belief and its broader psychological and social uses and functions.

    If somebody thinks it’s important to be a Christian because Jesus actually died to substitutionally atone for their sins, the content matters. Sure, they may actually go to church largely because they enjoy socializing, or because its a handy outlet for some other desire, but it generally matters whether they think Christianity is basically true.

    If most people stopped believing in Jesus as something other than an itenerant mediocre philosopher of the warmed-over-Stoicism school, most would eventually stop going to Christian churches and listening to Christian sermons; they’d find other outlets for their drives and energies.

    In general, the first function of religious beliefs is to be believed; only then can those beliefs serve the other functions.

    (Sure, a very theologically liberal Christian might think there’s a bunch of errors in the Bible, and even that Jesus wasn’t literally god incarnate, but if they think the Bible’s basically a load of dangerous crap and Jesus wasn’t even a particularly good philosopher, they’re likely to have problems maintaining their religiously Christian identity.)

    Believers do not do experiments in church, nor mull over whether the sermon represents a ‘failed paradigm.’

    Most scientists don’t spend much time worrying about whether they’re working within a failed paradigm either; rightly or wrongly, justifiably or unjustifiably, they proceed within a paradigm that seems to be working because it embodies some basic truths.

    Religious people do the same thing; the difference is that they’re generally unjustified in doing so. Science is designed and evolved to call failing paradigms into question; religion is designed and evolved to avoid exactly that. It succeeds largely by suppressing disturbing questions and providing pseudo-answers. (That’s largely what bogus “evidence” and faith are about—if the bogus evidence doesn’t cut it, you claim an exemption from any need for evidence.)

    This only works because most people have been conned into thinking that “faith,” and “evidence” like “religious experiences” it don’t systematically lead them into falsehood.

    That’s one reason I think it’s useful for scientists to say, as scientists, that it’s a con.

    Unfortunately, most people listen to arguments from authority, e.g., to preachers and a few scientists like Gould who tell them that they can have their cake and eat it, too. Other scientists should speak up and say “No, in fact, you can’t—religion and science are systematically at odds, and they can’t both yield truth. Start questioning.

    Similarly, when Maxwell developed his equations, his primary motive was surely not to disconfirm this or that aspect of Norse mythology.

    The way you put it, of course not; Norse mythology was pretty dead by then anyway.

    But that conceals the real issue. Certainly when Maxwell developed his equations, he presumably knew that if he could demonstrate their rightness—or some very close approximation to rightness—he could exclude all kinds of inferior theories, ranging from primitive religious beliefs about electricity to shoddy scientific theories of the time, or which might otherwise come later from less-capable scientists muddling about.

    No, he probably was not thinking specifically about Thor, but I’d bet he was well aware that he was going to coming up with the best, truest theory he could, and that it would immediately demolish a whole lot of competing theories, many of which nobody would actually bother to construct if he decisively got it right. (As well as enabling further wonderful theories that would leverage his elegant work, and simultaneously exclude many bad further theories.)

    I don’t know anything about Maxwell’s religious beliefs, but scientists of Maxwell’s time were well aware that they were lifting the world out of thousands of years of primitive unscientific muddle, blazing trails for true and dramatic intellectual progress—and that was still a new and very exciting thing.

    No, Thor specifically wouldn’t have been his primary concern, but it would be an excellent example of his basic concerns—the decisive sweeping away of falsehoods that beget falsehoods, and their replacement with truths that lead to further truths. That’s why being a great scientist rocks; presumably Maxwell was hip to that.

    Why, then, did people believe in the Thunder God? I would suggest that they did so because he was part of a pantheon of gods in a belief system that conferred upon its adherents community, a source of values and the promise of personal immortality (Valhalla), an immortality that will restore the brokenness of creation.

    Sure, religion can serve social functions that motivate people; that doesn’t mean that they don’t crucially care about the truth of the religious content (beliefs).

    By analogy, I might be driven as a scientist largely by desires for status, esteem and/or money. Those things might be crucial in my deciding whether to actually be a scientist. But if I think I’ll end up doing lucrative attention-getting bullshit, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I care too much about truth, and only want to be a scientist if I think I do more good than harm in the quest for truth.

    In general, there’s a basic and important distinction between motivation and justification. I might write postings like these because I’m an arrogant, insecure asshole or something—shit, maybe I am—but I only go ahead and write them because I (rightly or wrongly) think I’m justified. I feel obligated to make a serious effort to say true things, and wouldn’t be very happy with myself if I knew or suspected that I was just bullshitting.

    Likewise, most people couldn’t be religious if they didn’t think that their religion was fundamentally true on some important level. They might be fundamentalists, or extremely theologically liberal, but they need to think that there’s at least a significant core of knowledge in there somewhere.

    At least a core belief or two must seem true and important. A small minority can settle for an attitude or two that seems morally “right”—but usually even that generally hinges on an underlying belief that hasn’t been articulated, and is likely false.
    My impression is that once people get those things, they stop being recognizably religious and are likely to be recognizably irreligious.

    I think Squeaky is quite wrong when she says that Christianity is not based on “scientific evidence,” as though that were different from actual evidence, and when she says that it is based on faith in Jesus, as thought the latter were a serviceable substitute for the former.

    Most people can only maintain a religious belief as long as they think it’s reasonable—they are not able to maintain beliefs that they realize have no evidence for and substantial evidence against.

    Most people can do the faith thing, up to a point, but they can’t do the blind faith thing.

    If Squeaky can, she’s an outlier, and not representative of what actually makes Christianity or any religion tick.

    Most people can’t actually make a big leap of faith, so a crucial part of the con is to make it sound like the belief is reasonable, so that the leap of faith isn’t a huge blind-faith leap away from reasonableness.

    That’s why it’s important for apologists to do what Squeaky does:

    1. make incredible evidence sound credible, and if that doesn’t work,

    2. make it sound like absence of evidence doesn’t indicate evidence of absence, and if that doesn’t work,

    3. make it sound like absence of evidence not mattering doesn’t indicate contentlessness, and if that doesn’t work,

    4. switching to talk about “faith” as though it were a good thing, or not a bad one—just non-rational rather than irrational crackpottery… and somehow a respectable and reasonable thing to use in belief fixation when other things would otherwise indicate either falsity or contentless bullshitting.

    This is intellectual Calvinball, pure and simple. Science is very much anti-Calvinball, and that’s why it systematically conflicts with religion. Scientific practice embodies the knowledge that these kinds of irrational moves systematically lead to falsity.

    Religious apologists often make it sound like religion operates in a separate domain from science—if not a non-overlapping magisterium, an only-partially-overlapping one. Nope.

    Religious apologists also often make it sound as though religion (or non-bad religion) mostly operates in a sphere where science is incompetent or at least somehow hobbled by conservatism—and (their) religion only makes reasonable jumps, or non-stupid ones, where science is somehow constrained to be very, very careful.

    That’s bunk, too. There’s such a thing as scientifically reasonable speculation, beyond what can be scientifically tested, and it’s different from the kind of crackpot leaps of faith that religion uses. Not because science is hobbled or limited by strict testability, but because science is constrained to be reasonable and religious leaps of faith are unreasonable crackpottery.

    Science doesn’t avoid treading on religion’s turf out of any respect for religion. Science can go wherever it’s reasonable to go, and leaves the unreasonable crap for religion.

    Science either goes ahead and treads on religion’s “turf,” if that’s reasonable, or only avoids doing so because it would be stupid to follow religion into lunacy.

    Scientists generally ignore theology for the same reason they ignore Velikovskian catastrophism and Time Cube—not because religion is respectable, but because it’s beneath contempt.

  103. #103 Squeaky
    August 7, 2006

    I apologize that I can’t give you the post you are looking for–I’m afraid I don’t have time to adequately address all of your excellent points. More importantly, I don’t have time to fully think about each of those points and then put up a response in a short enough period of time that you (or anyone else) would even still be checking in on this thread. I’ve written this very quickly, and I can see upon rereading it, repetitively. I’m not going to take the time to edit it. I have little doubt you will think I am waffling or not addressing things as thoroughly as you would like, or even as your detailed post requires. Hopefully, I will at least be marginally understood. Like Scott, I will save your post to my computer for further mulling. I appreciate the challenges you have brought to my faith, and I know I will grow from them. I would also like to express my appreciation that you have maintained a thoroughly respectful tone. You seem to be a thoughtful person.

    I maintain I am not waffling, but these are points I haven’t considered thoroughly before, and so forgive me if my answers aren’t as clear as you would like.

    You do make several very good points. I think though, and I think Scott touched on this, that we have a fundamental disagreement on what religion is and its purpose. The purpose of religion is not to explain the natural world. This is the same error I believe creationists fall victim to. They put too much stock in a belief that the Bible explains the natural origins of the universe and the Earth. Basically all the Bible does is say, “God did it.” What follows in Genesis is a summary of how, and I emphasize the word summary. Other than to periodically break some natural laws to perform a few miracles like parting the Red Sea and changing water into wine, God keeps his hands off the natural world and lets it run the way he set it up to run. Is that the clockmaker analogy? I suppose it is, but I don’t see anywhere in the Bible (I should say I don’t recall, as I admittedly need to recheck those verses), other than giving God credit for creating the natural world, and other than him suspending natural laws to cause a miracle, that would suggest that God has a direct hand in the causes of natural phenomenon. The verses about creation that I am thinking of, refer to God’s creation, but it is creation in the past sense–it is not an ongoing action, which from a Biblical standpoint, makes sense as he rested from his creative acts on the 7th day. If anything, I see that as more compatible with science as it doesn’t argue for a God who is actively causing thunder, but rather set up the natural means for thunder to be possible, as opposed to Thor, who presumably was the active cause of thunder.

    As I said, I haven’t rechecked my Bible on this, but unlike many other religions, other than to say “God did it”, Christianity is not a religion that was set up specifically to explain the natural world. The God I believe in gave humans a lot of ability and intelligence to determine how God did it and how to use the resources he gave us in ways that benefit us while still preserving his creation. Perhaps this is simplistic, but ultimately, the question in my mind is not whether God created but how, and since I believe in a God who created the natural world and all the balance and interconnectedness of the universe, I see no contradiction when scientists explain the “how” of that creation.

    I haven’t read “Rocks of Ages” in a about a year, but I will re-read it with an eye to your points and Tjorborn’s to see what Gould had to say and how well it passes muster to your scrutiny. The understanding I got from the book, however, was the nutshell thesis he presents in the introduction–sciences study the age of the rocks while religion studies the rock of ages. Or–scientists study how the heavens go while religion studies how to go to heaven. In this sense, what he is saying is that religion and science study different things. In my mind, the problem is not so much when science debunks specific religious claims, but when religion (specifically Christianity) tries to move into the realm of science. The Bible isn’t a science book. Christianity’s purpose is not to explain the origins of the universe, but the origins of sin and how to find righteousness in the eyes of God.

    This is what Christianity is, and the reason I don’t think science is in conflict with it is that it isn’t about science. My understanding of NOMA is that Gould understood this as well, and that was the understanding he was trying to present.

    I will make a couple of, undoubtedly incomplete, attempts at responding to your questions.

    “1. When you say “science can’t disprove God,” what do you mean by “disprove”? Are you asking for mathematical certainty? If so, we can’t “disprove” much in science, but we can sure debunk a whole lot of things; why not God?”
    2. When you say “science can’t disprove God,” what do you mean by “God”? Are you just talking about a powerful alien? If so, so what? What does the possibility of an alien—even one that created our universe—have to do with religion and worshipping such a thing as a god? (Is your god a person? If not, what is it?)”

    You are right–it does come down to what I think God is. And since every religion and even every person has a different opinion about that, doesn’t that make it fundamentally difficult to disprove God? The gods of Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology certainly have been disproven by science. But other’s religions have a different concept of God. So in order to set out to disprove God as a whole, one must first define that term.

    The God I believe in created the universe and all that is in it. He established the natural laws and set them in motion. How does science disprove that God established those natural laws? How do you use natural laws to disprove the one who created the natural laws? It’s like the teapot saying “if I’m not blue, I am not a product of a God.” That’s one possibility–the other is that God prefered a purple teapot.

    “3. What theoretical work does any tenable god theory do? I.e., if we’ve excluded all the gods and kinds of gods that are untenable in light of modern science, what’s left, and what does it explain that science can’t?”
    The God that’s left is the God who set up natural laws and works within those natural laws. It’s the God who allows the universe to run according to the laws He set up.
    “4. Is it reasonable to believe in things that simply aren’t disprovable? If so, what’s the difference between believing in Jesus Christ and believing in a teapot in orbit around Mars? Isn’t that special pleading based on some assumed dualism, or some mythical NOMA? If so, you need to defend dualism, or NOMA, or whatever it is that licenses this special pleading.”

    Unlike the teapot in orbit around Mars, Christ is an historical figure. There is proof of his existance and some very good arguments that Christianity has staying power because of the truth of that. Ultimately, though, it comes down to faith, or as you probably put it, belief fixation.
    “5. It seems that you’re backing off of NOMA, but not acknowledging the implications, so I ask you: if there is no NOMA line, why should we not consider belief in God or Jesus as akin to belief in Thor, or in a teapot in orbit around Mars? How are these not just crackpot theories with the weight of tradition behind them? (And isn’t progress in science heavily dependent on discounting traditional answers in search of the truth? Wouldn’t that put science in chronic conflict with religion, which typically weaves a bunch of traditional answers together into a bogus cosmology?)
    6. You seem to acknowledge that traditional religions (e.g., ancient scriptural accounts of creation) do conflict with modern science, but you say that “religion” doesn’t. I assume this means that there’s a core of religion—or maybe just your religion—that’s right or at least not in conflict with science. What is this core of religion that’s the non-bad kind, and is even credible, much less right?”
    My discussion above addresses these two points. Essentially I’m saying my religion doesn’t specifically address the how of the universe, but allows humans the ability and freedom to learn that. Creationism gives lip-service to this, but only within the narrow sense of what they believe Genesis says.
    “7. In that vein, what do you think proper religion is properly about, and how is that not systematically debunked by scientific understandings of weather, life, emotions, morality, etc.? Please name a single truth of religion; you don’t have to prove that truth—maybe that’s not possible—but please tell us what kinds of things you think religion is about, that suggest that religion offers something other than an inferior method of belief fixation, relative to a secular, scientific worldview. If you can’t name a truth, at least take a shot at naming a subject matter of religion.”
    The truth of religion, the core of Christianity, is that no human is perfect, all fail in the light of a perfect God, and no imperfection can exist in God’s presense. Many religions acknowledge this, but they offer means that humans can reach this perfection. Christianity acknowledges there is no way humans can attain perfection without help. Christ is God who came to Earth to experience the death that imperfection experiences in God’s presense. If we believe in Him, our imperfections are voided, and we can exist in a perfect God’s presense. This is the truth of Christianity. This has nothing to do with science–not from a Christian standpoint.

    “8. Likewise, please name a single piece of evidence for religion that’s actually credible in light of modern science—i.e., not better explained as an illusion, hallucination, or popular delusion of the sort that we know people are quite prone to. (As I’ve explained, typical religious “experiences” are easily explained in light of the known fallibility of our belief-fixation systems. And as others have explained, typical “miracles” are nothing of the sort. Is there any reason to think they’re not all mistakes like that? And then there’s the obvious fact that the religious method—introspection, prophecy, mystical insight etc.—tends to yield contradictory “perceptions” or “insights,” throwing the whole schmear into grave, grave doubt.)”

    You’ve caught me in a time when I am becoming increasingly cynical about such religious experiences. Even in light of the miracles Christ performed, the interesting thing is that people at that time by and large didn’t come to faith because of them. Even those that did often recanted their faith, especially when faced with the actual truth of what He was really saying (see the feeding of the 5000 in John). Miracles and religious experience are not the Christian’s foundation for faith. Belief in Christ as Saviour is. I characterise the majority of religious experience as “sensationalism” that is essentially “me-focused.” So, the discounting of those experiences by science doesn’t necessarily upset me, especially if I understand my faith isn’t based on them. It is Christ who must be discounted for a Christian’s faith to fail.

    Again, I apologize if I once again failed to make myself clear or adequately address your points. I suspect we have a fundamental communication gap that is only exacerbated by the nature of this forum. And you do bring up points that require a much more thoughtful response than I have given you in the past, and that I have time to give you now.

    Thanks.

  104. #104 Paul W.
    August 7, 2006

    When Paul discuss religion, it isn’t entirely clear to me that deism would remain after debunking specifically religious claims. As I understand it cosmological and teleological arguments, and perhaps claims on immortality and souls, are used by deists.

    I agree that common forms of Deism can be debunked; I was only meant to say that nearly-vacuous Deism can’t. By nearly-vacuous deism I mean something like:

    “I think some kind of creator being made our universe, either on purpose or as a byproduct of doing something else, and you might choose to call that being God.”

    So far as I know, this can’t really be debunked because we don’t know the chances of there being advanced beings in other universes who can create universes—by creating inflaton fields that expand into universes like ours, by creating black holes whose insides are universes like ours, or by creating universes by simulation in a universal quantum computer.

    It might be that such artificial “daughter universes” are more common than naturally-occurring universes, and you’re more likely to find yourself inside one of those than inside a natural universe. Or they may not be doable by any being in any universe, or they might be quite rare, such that you’d be unlikely to find yourself in one.

    I don’t know how to assign a meaningful probability to this, or even suggest a reasonable range of probabilities.

    Of course, that doesn’t make it reasonable to guess that it’s true, or to take a leap of faith and assume it’s true.

    It also doesn’t mean that if it’s true, the creator being is something you should actually call a god. We have a better word than “god” for such a powerful and apparently indifferent alien, now—it’s an alien—and it would be crazy to assume or even guess that its worthy of worship.

  105. #105 Scott Hatfield
    August 7, 2006

    PaulW: Good post. Don’t have time to comment at length, but just a few points:

    You wrote: “There’s no fundamental rule about religion being off-limits to science; there are just general principles that exclude crackpot theories.”

    I agree with the former, but for the latter I would simply substitute ‘non-falsifiable’, rather than ‘religious’ or ‘crackpot’. There are non-religious claims which are non-falsifiable, and I think we exclude all such claims not because the individual claims are failed paradigms, but because the investigation of such claims is simply incompatible with science. For example, I don’t think science can study my subjective experience other than indirectly; with Nagel, I think there are categories of knowledge that aren’t accessible to science.

    I earlier wrote that I do NOT ‘believe’ in evolution, and you remarked: “Really? You don’ t think it’s true that we evolved from other kinds of animals? It’s just an “adequate” explanation?”

    Actually, I think it’s true, but in such a way that I don’t have to take the claim on faith. I don’t have to ‘believe’ in evolution; I KNOW evolution is happening right now, I KNOW evolution has happened in the past and I KNOW that I connected to past populations of all manner of living things by common descent. I don’t take any of those on faith.

    I would say that much of the rest of your post, however, does seem to contain some ‘belief’ statements. You seem to be wrestling with or trying out a different series of formulations that allow you to demarcate science from religion in a way that appeals to some universal principle of rationality that you can place your trust in. I don’t have that problem, because I don’t have ‘faith’ in science as such a principle; I KNOW that science, by confining itself to natural explanations, is the best tool we human beings have developed to solve problems and I accept that it is a strength (rather than a weakness) that science considers certain propositions neither true, nor false, but of no value to the conduct of science.

    This thread is exhaustive, so if you want to correspond further, I can be reached at:

    epigene13@hotmail.com

    Peace…Scott

  106. #106 Ken Cope
    August 7, 2006

    Nothing’s exhaustive!

    Scott, when I read your posts I’m reminded of Martin Gardner’s fideism. I’d be surprised if you didn’t know that the father of modern skepticism claims no rational basis whatsoever for his religious faith other than that it comforts him; he bloody well feels like it. Fideism strikes me as an eminently rational attitude to take, if religion was such a disproportionately large part of your upbringing and immediate circle of friends/family/culture that you can’t do without the comfort brought by faith.

    The big problem with fideism as I see it practiced by MG, is the demand for rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty, a specific example being mysterianism, the idea that the nature of consciousness is in principle composed of unexplainium. That strikes me as a perilously ephemeral gap in which some wish to stash a god concept. In Gardner’s case, it leads him to support his friend Roger Penrose in his screeds against the notion that consciousness will ever be a property of a machine, in which he is ultimately forced to stash consciousness into quantum microtubules.

    Another extreme is John C. Lilly, the dolphin communicating LSD and ketamine drip in a sensory deprivation tank human biocomputer guy, upon whom the movies Day of the Dolphin and Altered States were loosely based. To him, consciousness is all simulation. His aphorism: In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits. These limits are to be found experimentally and experientially. When so found these limits turn out to be further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits. However, in the province of the body there are definite limits not to be transcended. To Lilly, the brain is a computer that makes compelling simulations, especially when navigating about in what the brain does in the absence of physical stimulation. For the most of the rest of us, swimming about day to day in unaltered neurochemistry, it doesn’t take much to suspend disbelief in nearly anything, as any familiarity with woo woo output shows us.

    So, mysterianism seems to me to erect a barrier to understanding, something of a NOMA zone that discretely lets others cling to those implications, a philosophical position assailable by observation and experiment. Lilly’s infinite belief simulator tends to reduce questions about religious belief to literary criticism. Politely, in matters of personal taste, there can be no dispute.

    In examination of these sorts of questions over time, I quite lost whatever comfort theism once held for me, especially once I set out to reduce my ignorance of science and its method.

    Obviously, YMMV.

  107. #107 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    Paul:

    “It might be that such artificial “daughter universes” are more common than naturally-occurring universes, and you’re more likely to find yourself inside one of those than inside a natural universe. Or they may not be doable by any being in any universe, or they might be quite rare, such that you’d be unlikely to find yourself in one.

    I don’t know how to assign a meaningful probability to this, or even suggest a reasonable range of probabilities.”

    Okay, now I understand. I haven’t considered such a scenario before. Since the only way I know of that complicates Last Thursdayism (or solipsism or simulation) is that it is razed by Ockham, my immediate reaction is the same here. It adds elements to, and in this case detracts symmetry of, the simple naturalistic explanation. (And the Cosmic Cheater scenario has moral implications too, if we discuss gods.)

    And as you suggest perhaps in an endless inflation scenario analogous to the one you discuss we will eventually model and somehow confirm spawn rates, so the artificial scenario also becomes unlikely.

    “Of course, that doesn’t make it reasonable to guess that it’s true, or to take a leap of faith and assume it’s true.”

    Agreed.

    “Nobody really cares about testable predictions in themselves, and merely adequate models are far less interesting than finding out which theories are true or false. (Fallibly and provisionally, sure, but the point of being careful about those things is to avoid getting stuck being wrong.)”

    This is besides the point, but I’m muddling around with this for several reasons. Our models and theories aren’t the same as reality, so there are several potentially conflated methods here. Also, the existence of mathematical and physical dualities and effective theories shows that we must take care about what is real.

    In an established formal model, statements are true or false.

    But before that we study observational facts and makes theories. Typically and schematically for theories, first we don’t know the question, then we don’t know the answer, then we know provisionally but tending beyond reasonable doubt if the theory is wrong or correct.

    Corresponding to that we see that some objects are persistent, such as atoms or fields. They exist as distinguable objects when studied in either dual, or when annealing symmetry breakage by heating the system and go from effective to “true” theories.

    Being the common realist at bottom I tend to see observational facts, all our correct theories, and persistent objects and their properties as true within each own domain. For example, emergent spacetime is true as an observed property, as a property of relativity, but not as a persistent object or property. As I said, I’m still muddling around with this.

    Ken:
    “In Gardner’s case, it leads him to support his friend Roger Penrose in his screeds against the notion that consciousness will ever be a property of a machine, in which he is ultimately forced to stash consciousness into quantum microtubules.”

    As far as I have come in studying computer science it seems then they have a problem with it. It seems algorithmic systems of any kind, deterministic or probabilistic or quantum or biological, are forced to be at most turing complete or destroy gödel incompleteness. All effective computation systems are the same. (But some things are easier to do on some systems than others.)

  108. #108 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 7, 2006

    “Since the only way I know of that complicates Last Thursdayism (or solipsism or simulation) is that it is razed by Ockham, my immediate reaction is the same here. It adds elements to, and in this case detracts symmetry of, the simple naturalistic explanation.”

    Another complication is perhaps that all these ideas, including artificial universes, are of the class “can potentially do anything, so can potentially explain anything, so are explaining nothing”.

  109. #109 Scott Hatfield
    August 7, 2006

    Hey, Ken. I offer my email address (prior post) to you as well if you want to continue this discussion.

    I don’t have a commitment to a “rigidly defined boundary” of any sort. Quite the opposite. I argue that the boundary is fuzzy and that it may, contrary to NOMA, overlap. Clearly, science has constrained previously untestable claims in the past, and will continue to constrain more such claims in the future. But we can’t know the full extent of that constraint, the complete dimensions of the boundary, without rendering a test on every possible testable claim, which is likely impossible. Therefore, the boundary will always be a little ‘fuzzy’.

    However, even if the boundary was rigidly defined, as with the limit in calculus, we should be able to approach the boundary infinitely closely with naturalistic assumptions. We can’t rule out ghosts, but we can rule out increasingly detailed claims about the action of ghosts. At some point we might conclude we don’t need to investigate those sort of claims any more. We will also likely conclude that these sorts of claims are not real without testing them, and (even if we admit the possibility that they might be real) simply profess that these claims have no value in science.

    Now, it follows that if the boundary is fuzzy, then any
    claims I make about the possible inaccessibility of certain knowledge are equally fuzzy. This knowledge could always become accessible at a future date. Therefore, my position is not the sort of ‘mysterianism’ which is a ‘science stopper.’ By all means, let those of us on the science side approach the boundary to religion as close as we may for as long as the particular area of research is fruitful. And, let those who are believers either with or without NOMA recognize that in the domain of science, facts trump belief.

    Scott

  110. #110 Scott Hatfield
    August 7, 2006

    Torjborn:

    “Another complication is perhaps that all these ideas, including artificial universes, are of the class “can potentially do anything, so can potentially explain anything, so are explaining nothing”.”

    And that, in a nutshell, is why I have a bone to pick with string theory. As an aside, as an evolutionary biologist I often get the same sort of argument directed at me, when it is alleged (sometimes by creationists, sometimes by crypto-Marxists) that the largely-untestable historical scenarios that are floated by evolutionary theorists are “Just-So-Stories”. The difference is that the theory of evolution as a whole does not rely on such accounts, and further that well-developed ideas lead to testable conclusions. String theory, on the other hand, completely relies upon the fact that it contains a subset (albeit a very large subset) of values that allow for the unification of forces. It has no independent corroborating evidence other than the tantalizing possibility that it can bring gravity in line, and at present no way of either telling which version is correct, or of even testing any individual version of the theory.

    Always a pleasure…Scott

  111. #111 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 8, 2006

    Scott:

    “And that, in a nutshell, is why I have a bone to pick with string theory. As an aside, as an evolutionary biologist I often get the same sort of argument directed at me,”

    I can see that.

    The difference I observe is that natural universes, evolution and string theories have general constraints, which supernatural artificial universes don’t have in principle. The step from potentially explaining anything to effectively explaining nothing isn’t there if there are constraints. I don’t see that discussing if our universe may be an artificial universe, which implies constraints in a specific case, detracts from the general observation and its logic.

  112. #112 Paul W.
    August 9, 2006

    Squeaky:

    You do make several very good points. I think though, and I think Scott touched on this, that we have a fundamental disagreement on what religion is and its purpose. The purpose of religion is not to explain the natural world.

    I think there’s a couple of crucial false dichotomies here; please see my earlier comments about purposes vs. functions of religion and religious belief, and about crucial ambiguities in the word “natural.”

    A major function of religion has always been to explain the natural world, at least to the extent necessary to get people to think that the religion offers guidance. And that’s not discardable; it’s part of what makes religion tick.

    So, for example, whether you see the Bible more as a science book, a history book, a guidebook for living, or whatever else, it crucially does have to explain things convincingly enough that people think it makes sense to follow the religion, produce more Bibles, etc.

    The Bible is clearly meant to function largely as a history book, and a highly interpretive history book at that—it embodies theories of why the alleged events happened, what basic facts are revealed or supported by those events, and how knowledge of those facts should guide people’s lives. To that extent, at least, it is necessarily also partly a “science book” in the relevant sense. If its “science” knowledge is systematically wrong, that suggests very bad things about the rest in two ways.

    First, it debunks the claim that that the Bible is a generally reliable guide—unless and until you explain how the ancients were so unreliable about some things and yet reliable about others, it has to be regarded as an assemblage of likely-crackpot stories and theories. (Which is exactly what I think it is, through and through.)

    Second, the “sciencish” aspects are there in service to the “historical” aspects and the ontological ones. The “historical” events are there largely to provide examples of principles—what kinds of things there are, and how they work.

    For example—and this is a huge one—the Genesis story is largely there to establish a framework for understanding the natural order, and to support a particular ontology and interrelated moral theory. It’s a setup, establishing a bunch of beliefs about choice and responsibility, good and evil, and in particular, moral indebtedness at the outset. So-called “sin” is cast as a debt to God.

    Other OT stories and directives establish the importance of atonement, useless sacrifice to repay this mythical “debt” to the mythical holder/enforcer of all of the IOU’s, collective punishment, and substitutional sacrifice.

    The New Testament leverages this primitive and barbaric moral theory with an equally primitive barbaric theory of redemption.

    The game is rigged so that all humans are born in debt and none can avoid incurring further debts—like working in the worst sort of company town. (Think 16 Tons… “and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt”.)

    We can only be “forgiven” this “debt” through the sacrifice of an innocent. And the only innocent worthy enough to make this destructive sacrifice count is a perfect being, whose value is infinitely greater than our own.

    Here’s the really weird bit. This was all set up by God. God sacrifices his son, who is also himself and a completely innocent party, to himself so that he can forgive somebody else.

    There is something profoundly and incredibly perversely wrong with this picture, and science has a whole lot to say about it, none of it good.

    We can now understand the concepts of intention, commitment, cheating, debt, and morality in terms of internal (cognitive) and distributed (social) information processing. And we can understand the emergence of these phenomena in terms of evolution and multilevel game theory.

    And guess what? God is irrelevant, at best, to an actual understanding of these very real phenomena, which are now clearly natural phenomena.

    God didn’t do it; we know that now. Not only that, but the mythical God got it wrong.

    I’m not saying that there aren’t a some good moral points in the Bible, or a few bits of valid moral reasoning; in a book that big and varied, written by people who weren’t all assholes, of course there are.

    What I’m saying is that if you want to understand morality, especially on a deeper or truer level than what’s just common sense in every culture, regardless of the Bible, the Bible is one of the last places you should look.

    This is something that far too few people realize, and it’s what makes NOMA or anything like it a huge and hugely important falsehood. The Bible isn’t just wrong about obviously “natural” phenomena like the weather—it’s profoundly wrong about what most educated people still think makes it nonetheless important and true, like right and wrong.

    It’s not just wrong about the specifics, like endorsing slavery and genocide, or even the more general things, like endorsing collective punishment, substitutional punishment and involuntarily incurred debt, but about the most fundamental principles, like what actually makes right right and wrong wrong. The Bible is mistaken on the most important stuff, top to bottom, start to finish. Its moral theory is unsalvageable. It’s a very bad book.

    I’ll agree that the Bible isn’t a good science book, but it is a “science” book in the original sense of “science”, as opposed to the modern one. It’s a book of purported general knowledge of various kinds—knowledge of cosmology, history, and especially what we now call ontology, moral theory, and psychology. Throughout, it’s about supposed knowledge of all sorts of things—i.e., allegedly justified, true beliefs.

    It’s largely about what humans are, what the universe is like, and humans’ role in the universe, and how humans should therefore act toward one another.

    And none of those things are correctly described by the Bible, except on a few mid-level commonsense points for which religion is at best unnecessary.

    All of these things are natural phenomena, and are studied vastly better by modern science.

    If anything interesting in the Bible is true, I want to know about it, as a scientist who’s very interested in things like evolutionary game theory, moral psychology, moral theory, psychology of religion, etc.

    I think I can handily beat the Bible at its own game. I understand the universe in general, human mind, human societies, and humans’ place in the universe far better than any of the people who wrote the Bible. Not because I personally am all that smart, but because we know better now. I can kick the Bible’s ass on its own turf in the same way I can kick Galileo’s.

    I might be mistaken, but I am pretty sure that there are no nonoverlapping or even only-partially-overlapping magisteria. I am interested, as a scientist, in everything that the Bible is about, and in how people understand or misunderstand it. All of those things are within my areas of scientific interest.

    I do think that there are things that are beyond the reach of science. (In light of Godel’s theorem, there apparently have to be.) But those things are even further beyond the reach of religion; religion knows nothing like that. What religion is and always has been about—what makes it religion—is well within the scope of science, and science already beats religion on every point within its own supposed domain of expertise.

    (All this, in itself, doesn’ t mean that religion isn’t emotionally satisfying to some people for some reason that won’t go away. It doesn’t mean that religion doesn’t serve some useful social function, despite its systematic falisity. But you have to wonder—is it really good for people to base something as important as how they treat each other on such a web of profound falsehoods?)

  113. #113 Paul W.
    August 9, 2006

    Torbjorn:

    Okay, now I understand. I haven’t considered such a scenario before. Since the only way I know of that complicates Last Thursdayism (or solipsism or simulation) is that it is razed by Ockham, my immediate reaction is the same here. It adds elements to, and in this case detracts symmetry of, the simple naturalistic explanation.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying, partly because of a problem parsing the 2nd sentence here, but I don’t think that Occam’s razor cuts as much ice here as with Last Thursdayism or plain simulationism. (To coin a term, if it’s not one already.)

    The scenario I’m talking about isn’t just a random can’t-rule-it-out kind of theoretical possibility. There’s a positive argument for it:

    1. We’ve observed at least one instance of a high-tech culture that’s exponentially increasing its control over weird shit. (E.g., tools, flight, nuclear power, computer simulation, maybe AI…)

    2. We don’t know how to guess what the limits of such development are, because such things are unpredictable for deep reasons—we can’t model technologies or psychologies far in advance of our own with our minds and tools, and we don’t know what the limiting factors are. So we have at least a potential and credible “singularity” beyond which we just profoundly don’t know.

    3. Some members of the one moderately advanced “high-tech” culture we know would create universes if they could. (E.g., in a small way, a-lifers are doing it already.)

    So you can get something like the Drake equation out of this, where you plug in seemingly reasonable probabilities, and you can get any probability you want out of it. And so far as I know, there’s nothing corresponding to the Fermi paradox to even halfway-kinda-maybe constrain it. It’s a great big WTF.

    Spawn rates of inflaton or black hole universes might constrain those version of it, if it’s shown that universe creation is maxed out in some sense. But if there’s any possibility of intentionally making universe creation more efficient, I think that mostly goes out the window. (E.g., on Smolin’s theory, black hole universe creation is already “maxed out” in the sense of being locally optimized by natural parameter tweaking; but if I understand the issues, it might not be globally optimized.)

    So far as I know, the simulation version is wide open; if the universe isn’t designed for us to know how it works, at bottom, it’s likely we can’t know. We’ll hit a final theory which is a virtual machine we can’t break, and the Final Theory of physics would be the virtual machine specification.

    As I said, I don’t know how to assign a meaningful probability to any of the important terms. Nonetheless, I have to conclude that if there’s anything vaguely resembling anything like a god, it’s most likely a virtual machine designer, like myself.

    The song ‘What if God Was One of Us?’ has special meaning for me.

  114. #114 Torbjörn Larsson
    August 9, 2006

    Paul:

    “I’m not sure exactly what you’re saying, partly because of a problem parsing the 2nd sentence here”

    Sorry. I was assuming that we didn’t assume if the artificial universe were either supernatural or natural created. I was also claiming that the assumption of some artificial universes makes the universal assumption of natural universes less universal, or symmetry broken as it were.

    First, about simulation scenarios. I think they add unnecessary objects (the simulator, the simulation template/machine, global simultaneity to break QM no hidden variable requirement) that the natural explanation doesn’t have, so for me they are razed.

    Second, on the scenario you raise. I don’t think I have a satisfying resolution, so I will probably have to consider this again later. But I have one argument about these naturally created artificial universes.

    When we make an estimate to “get something like the Drake equation out of this” we aren’t discussing probabilities. I recently had a long discussion ( http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2006/07/yet_another_crappy_bayesian_ar.php ) with some bayesians where I said:

    “The idea of incompatibility with physics is not mine. I took it from a string physicist who is an active blogger:

    “It is often said that there are two basic interpretations of probability: frequency probability (the ratio of events in a repeated experiment) and Bayesian probability (the amount of belief that a statement is correct). I am, much like an overwhelming majority of physicists, statisticians, and probability theorists (see the Wikipage about the frequency probability to verify my statement) convinced that it is only the frequency probability that has a well-defined quantitative meaning that can be studied by conventional scientific methods.”

    “The Bayesian probability cannot be even defined without vague words like “belief”, “plausibility”, and so forth. It’s just not a well-defined quantitative concept because it cannot be determined or measured with ever higher degree of accuracy. Such a kind of probability is not predicted by meaningful physical theories of physics either. The predictions of quantum mechanics are always about the frequentist probabilities.” ( http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/01/bayesian-probability-ii.html )

    “Also, when we predict the death of the Universe or any other event that will only occur once, we are outside science as far as the experimental tests go. We won’t have a large enough dataset to make quantitative conclusions. The only requirement that the experiment puts on our theories is that the currently observed reality should not be extremely unlikely according to the theory.”

    “While the text above makes it clear that I only consider the frequentist probabilities to be a subject of the scientific method including all of its sub-methods, it is equally clear that perfect enough theories may allow us to predict the probabilities whose values cannot be measured too accurately (or cannot be measured at all) by experiments. It is no contradiction. Such predictions are still “scientific predictions” but they cannot really be “scientifically verified”. Only some features of the scientific method apply in such cases.” ( http://motls.blogspot.com/2005/12/bayesian-probability.html )”

    “And contrary to my referenced physicist I think constraining sparse events can be useful. For example, in the SETI Drake equation estimates constrain the expected number of communicative civilisations and types of likely systems, which guides search.”

    One difference here is that Drakes equation is about a phenomena we know exist, and we can and have already constrained some of the estimated parameters.

    Here we are discussing modelling phenomena that isn’t observed and we have no theory or observations to rely on about the possibilities to create universes outside cosmological theories. We can’t constrain that parameter at all.

    I feel perfectly confident in discussing the constraints nature, as already existing, puts on supernatural phenomena. I feel less confident in discussing hypotetical natural scenarios that will remain unconstrained at the current level of understanding.

    To be perfectly honest I will put this scenario and its implications away as being of the circling teapot type. When someone shows me such a teapot and/or a likely theory how it is put there I will think it is a viable idea about nature. Until then AFAIK I will have to dismiss it as I have to dismiss other interesting but unsubstantiated “what-if”‘ ‘s.

  115. #115 AndyS
    August 13, 2006

    Uber,

    I just don’t know what religions your talking about though seeing how pages and pages of blogs can be filled with this group or thats insane and irrational actions daily.

    — which implies you are drawing sweeping conclusions from what gets posted on blogs!

    Russell,

    Thanks for granting me “two partial points.” Maybe we are talking past each other a bit. To your point about monotheist religions:

    I don’t think I’m unique among atheists in having no problem with other people believing in God. Only when they use their particular notion of God to justify public policy (like going to war or what to teach in science class) do I push back. Scientists can not disprove the existence of God anymore than theologians can prove it. And most people (both religious and otherwise) are not interested in proofs one way or the other.

    The notion of God is not a fit study for science — pretty much by definition — just like physics doesn’t belong in the realm in religion which was the point I was making about religion and science being two completely different things.

  116. #116 AndyS
    August 13, 2006

    whoops, right comment, wrong topic, sorry

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