Pharyngula

Ken Miller, creationist

Red State Rabble has an account of Ken Miller’s talk at the University of Kansas.

“Creationists,” biologist Ken Miller, told a large, receptive audience at the University of Kansas last night, “are shooting at the wrong target.”

Showing a slide of the cover art of “The Lie,” an anti-evolution tract by Ken Ham, that prominently features a serpent tempting us with a poisoned apple labeled evolution, Miller said creationists mistakenly take aim at Darwin’s theory because they believe science to be anti-religious.

Evolution isn’t anti-religious, said Miller. Rather, it’s the non-scientific philosophical interpretations some humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, draw from the evidence that challenges the role of religion.

If that account is accurate (I trust Pat Hayes to be accurate, and I also have independent confirmation*), then that was a shot at the majority of biologists, and a declaration of common cause with creationists. They are “shooting at the wrong target,” but who is the right target? Why, those humanists, people like Richard Dawkins and anyone who challenges the role of religion. Go get ‘em, Kansans! Hound those wicked atheists—they aren’t the real scientists, after all. Real scientists believe in God and spirits and magic and etheric essences infused into souls by a phantasmal hominid, just like you do.

Thanks, Dr Ken! I know what side you’re on, now…it’s you and the creationists, best friends 4ever! Did they promise to let you strike the match at the atheist-burning?

Some of those who take a materialist world view assert that science alone can lead us regarding the nature of existence, or that scientific knowledge is the only kind worth having, said Miller. In doing so, these skeptics ignore the limitations of science, just as the creationists ignore the limits of theology.

In fact, many scientists, said Miller, a practicing Catholic, draw the opposite conclusion from the evidence for evolution.

“Faith and reason are both gifts from God,” said Miller. “It is faith that gives scientists a reason to pursue science.”

So all those atheist scientists who have no faith, who actively deny gods…what reason do they have for pursuing science? Hmmm? Why should we believe this immaterial god of yours gives any kind of “gift” at all? There is a non sequitur there: while many scientists do believe in some god or gods, he cannot claim that they draw that conclusion from the evidence—there is no evidence supporting the existence of any deities. Miller should know this.

Neither the philosophical or theological interpretations of the nature of existence, its purpose, meaning, or lack of it, are scientific, said Miller, because they are not testable.

Claims that a god operates in the natural world are not testable. They lack evidence in support. They make no predictions. They guide no hypotheses. They add nothing to any explanations of the natural world. They are contradicted by an absence of evidence.

Claims that gods do not exist or do not interfere in natural processes, and that we must base our interpretations on an assumption that events occur by the action of natural phenomena, however, have been the essential operational basis of all of science, and that has worked incredibly well. Barring the presentation of any positive evidence, a scientist should provisionally reject the existence of a postulated force that does nothing, is indetectable, and that even its proponents argue would exert only actions that are indistinguishable from what would occur in its absence.

The only unscientific opinion being offered is the bizarre idea that a magical being might have miraculously created humans or jump-started the Cambrian explosion, two suggestions Miller makes in his book, Finding Darwin’s God.


*The Lawrence Journal-World reports the same thing.

But Miller said the root of the portrayal of religion and evolution as opposites may come from scientists who have an “anti-theistic interpretation of evolution,” a stance he disagrees with.

“People of faith are shooting at the wrong target. They should not be shooting at evolution itself,” he said.

Instead of attacking evolutionary theory, the argument should be against the anti-theistic interpretation of evolution, he said.

I’d say he was pandering to a bunch of bible-walloping yahoos, except I think he honestly believes that nonsense himself. It still doesn’t excuse suggesting that everyone needs to start shooting at the godless, and he should realize that what he’s doing with that kind of argument is antagonizing a rather large subset of the scientific community.


I’ve put more shooting at Miller here.

Comments

  1. #1 JD
    September 9, 2006

    “”Faith and reason are both gifts from God,” said Miller.”

    Uh, if I remember my kooky bible stories correctly, wasn’t reason a gift from satan? I believe god wasn’t too keen on the whole ‘thinking’ idea.

  2. #2 Stuart Coleman
    September 9, 2006

    That’s too bad, I liked Ken Miller. But to dismiss atheists like that is just unacceptable.

    He should realize that he has no impact on the die-hard creationists, and saying crap like that is doing no good except alienating the people who used to like him.

  3. #3 quork
    September 9, 2006

    “It is faith that gives scientists a reason to pursue science.”

    Ken Miller needs to make it much clearer that he does not speak for all scientists in this matter.

  4. #4 bob koepp
    September 9, 2006

    For all the problems with Miller’s position, he at least is right that “skeptics ignore the limitations of science, just as the creationists ignore the limits of theology,” so long as we take ‘skeptics’ to refer to those who think science evidence (or its absence) contradicts the hypothesis of a diety. Skeptics of the traditional philosophical sort, on the other hand, are keenly aware of the limits of both science and theology, and know the difference between lack of evidence and contradiction.

  5. #5 Max Udargo
    September 9, 2006

    Skeptics of the traditional philosophical sort, on the other hand, are keenly aware of the limits of both science and theology, and know the difference between lack of evidence and contradiction.

    To what category of skeptic do I belong if I think you should believe things for which there is evidence, and not believe things for which there is a lack of evidence? It seems to me important to know the difference between having a reason to disbelieve something, and having no reason to believe it in the first place.

  6. #6 AndyS
    September 9, 2006

    This is accurate:

    Evolution isn’t anti-religious, said Miller. Rather, it’s the non-scientific philosophical interpretations some humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, draw from the evidence that challenges the role of religion.

    So is this one:

    Some of those who take a materialist world view assert that science alone can lead us regarding the nature of existence, or that scientific knowledge is the only kind worth having, said Miller. In doing so, these skeptics ignore the limitations of science, just as the creationists ignore the limits of theology.

    Or would you claim that science has somehow produced complete knowledge of everything, knowledge that is accessible to everyone all the time? I’m an atheist with a materialist world view and I find I need all sorts of knowledge that science can not yet provide, likely will not provide in my lifetime, and might never provide. Will it rain a month from now? Science can’t tell me. Which of the three candidates for county supervisor should get my vote? Science is of no help.

    The choice is not a binary one between scientific knowledge and supernatural inspiration. There are other sorts of knowledge as well. I often get the impression here, however, that anyone who speaks to the limitations of science is lumped into the religious lunatic category.

  7. #7 Torbjörn Larsson
    September 9, 2006

    Miller’s argumentation fall back on himself, since he likes to speculate, poorly, from science to teology.

    If he really said “the argument should be against the anti-theistic interpretation of evolution” I think he is shooting at the wrong target. As I read him, Dawkins is agnostic on science, but anti-theistic on religion. “The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t mean anything. What makes anyone think that “theology” is a subject at all?” ( http://www.simonyi.ox.ac.uk/dawkins/WorldOfDawkins-archive/Dawkins/Work/Articles/emptiness_of_theology.shtml )

  8. #8 bob koepp
    September 9, 2006

    Just for the record, there is a demonstrable difference between:
    smith believes not-x,
    and
    smith does not believe x

    Ignore at the peril of talking nonsense.

  9. #9 drb
    September 9, 2006

    Bob, I must certainly disgree with your endorsement of the claim that “…skeptics ignore the limitations of science…”. Evidence, please. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle might be described as a limitation of science, but it does not follow that skeptics ignore it. On the other hand, if there is no conceivable to way to detect or experience something that must, by definition, be accepted solely on faith, then I am pretty comfortable with the argument that ignoring it is justified (this could encompass an infinite number of possibilities). Unless one can show that those mysteries of life and creation are not simply unknown but CANNOT be known, you are tilting at windmills. If history is any teacher, irrational appeals to deities to explain what puzzles us in 2006 is likely to look foolish and shortsighted in fifty years.

  10. #10 Mena
    September 9, 2006

    Right now C-Span2 has a Discovery Institute discussion for “Traipsing into Evolution”, which is supposed to explain why the Dover decision is wrong. I was going to try to be brave and watch it but this Logan Gage guy looks like the typical young Republican, too busy with more important things than going into the army. It’s John West (who is apparently an great biologist, he has a PhD in government and all) and Casey Luskin, a “scientist (snicker) with the Discovery Institute”. This is too much, I just had lunch! It’s going to be about an hour and a half if anyone has a stronger stomach than I do, meaning that it will be over at about 2:30 Central time.

  11. #11 horrobin
    September 9, 2006

    The choice is not a binary one between scientific knowledge and supernatural inspiration. There are other sorts of knowledge as well.

    What would these other sorts of knowledge be?

    I’m an atheist with a materialist world view and I find I need all sorts of knowledge that science can not yet provide, likely will not provide in my lifetime, and might never provide. Will it rain a month from now? Science can’t tell me. Which of the three candidates for county supervisor should get my vote? Science is of no help.

    Well, look at your examples…will it rain a month from now? Science can’t answer that now, but science (or reason, or a materialist worldview) it the only possible way it can be answered. What’s the alternative, divination? Philosophy? Which candidates to vote for…you use reason (hopefully) to evaluate the choices, and then you choose. Even if you think, “Well candidate A seems more honest than the candidate B”, you aren’t using some other kind of esoteric knowledge. You’re guessing. Everybody does it, but it doesn’t mean there is a different ‘kind’ of knowledge.

  12. #12 Andy Groves
    September 9, 2006

    Barring the presentation of any positive evidence, a scientist should provisionally reject the existence of a postulated force that does nothing, is indetectable, and that even its proponents argue would exert only actions that are indistinguishable from what would occur in its absence.

    I think most Christians would argue that the notion of God gives them comfort, that they can detect God’s presence and that it changes the way they live their lives. The problem is that you can’t measure any of those things with a pH meter.

  13. #13 Steve LaBonne
    September 9, 2006

    Miller makes the typical strawman arguments of religious believers so locked within their worldview that they cannot conceive of any other. Hey Ken,
    1) Limitations of scientific knowledge != non-fraudulence of theology.
    2) Atheism != lack of appreciation for human endeavors other than science.
    3) And for damn sure, “faith” is NOT the reason for pursuing science, certainly not for the great majority of scientists. Speak for yourself, Ken.

    By the way, for the benefit of Bob Koepp, Smith should believe not-X (provisionally, as one should believe anything) whenever a) X is inherently implausible and indeed (as with the idea of a Creator- where’d he come from?) question-begging; and b) there is no credible evidence for X. Furthermore, Smith should indeed weigh scientific evidence strongly in deciding about the plausibility of X; for example, it has become possible since 1859 to explain the organized complexity of living things scientifically, and that is an important fact to take into account when weighing claims that a Designer in the sky did the job. Scepticism does not mean being so open-minded that one’s brain falls out one’s ear, though I note that Bob’s scepticism, sadly, is typically of precisely that kind.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    Nobody is arguing that science can and will explain everything. Nor are they arguing that the only way to make a decision about what kind of breakfast cereal to eat is by tapping some CSF and running it through a mass-spec to get The Answer.

    Pointing out that we don’t know everything is not evidence for God. Miller knows about God of the Gaps arguments — so why does he use them so blithely?

    Religion IS anti-science; it invokes a way of ‘knowing’ something that is antithetical to the method of science. Similarly, science is anti-religion because it rejects revealed knowledge and faith as a legitimate way to understand the world. Those are the battle-lines, not disagreements on the conclusions, but different ways of figuring things out. If aliens dropped in tomorrow and showed us documentation for an intervention that created Homo sapiens 2 million years ago, that would vindicate the conclusions of ID, but not the methods, and science, by relying on and requiring evidence, would still be correct. Too many people fail to realize that science is measured by how you know something, not what specific answer you’ve arrived at.

    Miller doesn’t seem to appreciate that, and is declaring himself to be on the same side as the creationists — where faith trumps evidence.

  15. #15 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “Go get ‘em, Kansans! Hound those wicked atheists–they aren’t the real scientists, after all.”

    As much as I hate to say it, your criticism of these sorts of issues is generally pretty sloppy, and, frankly, become deeply unfair when you start putting words in someone elses mouth. In this case, you are misrepresenting what Miller said. He didn’t say that Dawkins isn’t a scientist: he said that philosophical declarations aren’t themselves scientific or part of science and the opinions of Dawkins on religion shouln’t be lumped into what “evolution theory” is or involves.

    And guess what: on this, he’s right, and you’re wrong. If you hold that there is no evidence for god, that such claims are totally unconvincing, that science offers no support to the claims made by the religious that’s one thing. But if you declare that there is no god and science can prove it, then you’ve both foolishly assumed the burden of proof and probably jumped outside the scope of what science has to say all in one move.

    “Claims that gods do not exist or do not interfere in natural processes, and that we must base our interpretations on an assumption that events occur by the action of natural phenomena, however, have been the essential operational basis of all of science, and that has worked incredibly well.”

    You’re confusing things here. You are trying to conflate the principles that delimit the scope of science with the idea that those principles are themselves proof of anything. We carefully stake out the territory of science to what we can see and detect and test because it would become pure nonsense if we did not (and DOES become pure nonsense in the hands of religious people who try to introduce god into their equations). But that doesn’t mean that science “makes the claim that god does not exist.” You aren’t going to find that declaration in a science textbook, because it’s neither necessary nor supportable.

    “It still doesn’t excuse suggesting that everyone needs to start shooting at the godless, and he should realize that what he’s doing with that kind of argument is antagonizing a rather large subset of the scientific community.”

    Right, so according to you, you get to ridicule him and his beliefs and present arguments as to why he is stupid, but if he responds, then he’s “shooting at the godless.” Sounds real fair to me.

    Again, what he’s saying is “yes, there are scientists out there that attack religion. But their anti-theistic views are their own, not those of science or evolutionary theory, and if you attack/respond to those views, don’t confuse yourself by thinking that you are having a scientific debate over evolution itself.”

  16. #16 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “Quork said, re Miller’s “It is faith that gives scientists a reason to pursue science.”
    Ken Miller needs to make it much clearer that he does not speak for all scientists in this matter.
    He did, at the talk. The remark followed one that pointed out the fact that some – many – scientists are people of faith.”

    If that’s so, then that’s the only part of why PZ quoted that I had a problem with, and that then deals with it pretty well. Some scientists are people of faith, and their faith is a motivation for what they do. I don’t share that faith, but it’s simply undeniable that this is true and I don’t begrudge them it as long as it doesn’t creep into the work they claim is scientific.

  17. #17 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    But if you declare that there is no god and science can prove it, then you’ve both foolishly assumed the burden of proof and probably jumped outside the scope of what science has to say all in one move.

    Neither Dawkins nor I have ever claimed to have proof of the nonexistence of any gods.

    You are trying to conflate the principles that delimit the scope of science with the idea that those principles are themselves proof of anything.

    I have not said that I’ve presented “proofs”. I’m not a mathematician.

    But that doesn’t mean that science “makes the claim that god does not exist.” You aren’t going to find that declaration in a science textbook, because it’s neither necessary nor supportable.

    Curiously, I have not asserted that science claims that god doesn’t exist, nor that that declaration can be (or should be) found in a science textbook.

    Got any more strawmen?

  18. #18 Steve LaBonne
    September 9, 2006

    Hmmm, since theistic evolutionists are also a large subset of the scientific community

    I believe this statement to be very remote from the truth.

  19. #19 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    I don’t share that faith, but it’s simply undeniable that this is true and I don’t begrudge them it as long as it doesn’t creep into the work they claim is scientific.

    I have no problem with individuals, like Ken Miller, going to church and believing whatever they want. Miller is not merely exercising his right to religious beliefs, though — he’s misrepresenting science in a public venue. “Faith and reason are both gifts from God” is an anti-scientific statement. He has not arrived at that conclusion by observation, experiment, or reason. It is the product of dogma and tradition.

    I will repeat myself.

    Claims that a god operates in the natural world are not testable. They lack evidence in support. They make no predictions. They guide no hypotheses. They add nothing to any explanations of the natural world. They are contradicted by an absence of evidence.

    Miller has left science behind when he babbles Catholic dogma. Atheists have NOT left science behind when they demand that claims about cause should be provisionally rejected if they lack supporting evidence…but people freak out and have an emotional reaction when the name of that postulated cause is “god”.

  20. #20 MYOB
    September 9, 2006

    “I’d say he was pandering to a bunch of bible-walloping yahoos, except I think he honestly believes that nonsense himself.”

    Honestly, I think he sees the writing on the wall and like religion after the world was proven round, that the world was proven not to be at the center of the universe or even of our own solar system, these people are trying to rationalize it in their own minds and make it work within their faith. Otherwise they have to confess they lived their lives as complete fools.
    After Dover, after Ohio and after Kansas this guy and some others are realizing that once again they have attached themselves to yet another sinking ship. And with the way republicans appear to be on the out this upcoming election(a theory I do not believe in the slightest) Miller is trying to save face.

    MYOB’
    .

  21. #21 carlman23
    September 9, 2006

    “The first principles of science aren’t themselves provable or scientific. They are assumed.”

    While this is true, one can get an idea of the likelihood of the validity on the assumption based on the available evidence generated by such an assumption (I believe this is Bayesian probability):

    Scientific knowledge has provided us with understanding, technology, healthcare etc… Religion, er, not so much. It’s ridiculous to assume that evidence would suggest that ALL assumptions are equally as valid.

  22. #22 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “Neither Dawkins nor I have ever claimed to have proof of the nonexistence of any gods.”

    You’re just seizing on a particular literalistic intrepretation of the word proof to avoid the point. Miller argues that the anti-religious arguments offered by yourself and Dawkins are not themselves scientific. Either he’s right, or you think they are. You tell me.

    “I have not said that I’ve presented “proofs”. I’m not a mathematician.”

    Again, this is a lateral dodge. Your whole argument is based on the premise that claims that there are no gods are scientific while claims that there are are not.

    “Curiously, I have not asserted that science claims that god doesn’t exist, nor that that declaration can be (or should be) found in a science textbook. Got any more strawmen?”

    Give me a break. Here is what you said:

    “Claims that gods do not exist or do not interfere in natural processes, and that we must base our interpretations on an assumption that events occur by the action of natural phenomena, however, have been the essential operational basis of all of science”

    It certainly seems a heck of a lot like you are saying that “Claims that gods do not exist or do not interefere in natural processes” have been (and presumably are) “the essential operational basis of all of science.” If that isn’t what you are saying, perhaps you could rephrase it so that it doesn’t say exactly that in plain English.

  23. #23 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    You are on a field with a diamond and a set of 4 bases and a central mound. There are no goals. The field is not rectangular. There are 9 players on each side, they are carrying mitts and bats, and the ball is much, much smaller than a soccer ball. You can postulate that there exists somewhere a hypothetical soccer field with eleven players on a side, but in the current situation, the rules of baseball hold.

    Similarly, we find ourselves in a world and a universe with a set of rules we’ve managed to discern with the tools of science. These rules are more than an arbitrary game — they seem to be unbreakable constraints on our very existence. Now if you want to imagine another universe with different rules and an omnipotent deity somewhere, go ahead. Thought experiments like that are ‘allowed’ under our constraints. It doesn’t change the fact that your imagined universe doesn’t seem to affect our actual physical universe in any measurable way.

    You don’t get to claim that science is just a language game unless you’re also arguing that the world we live in is also just a game.

  24. #24 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “Faith and reason are both gifts from God” is an anti-scientific statement. ”

    Again, bullshit. It’s certainly not a scientific statement, but calling is anti-scientific is just poisoning the well.

    “Miller has left science behind when he babbles Catholic dogma.”

    Cite for where he claims Catholic dogma is scientific? Everything I’ve seen of his writing regarding religion has been presented as trying to rethink Catholic belief so that it fits scientific evidence, not the other way around.

    “Atheists have NOT left science behind when they demand that claims about cause should be provisionally rejected if they lack supporting evidence…”

    Are you claiming that THIS is what Miller is talking about? But that certainly doesn’t seem to be what he is talking about. As far as I can tell, he’s talking about explicitly anti-religious arguments (like: faith is stupid, religion is stupid and evil, etc.), not mere “show me” skepticism.

  25. #25 Scott Hatfield
    September 9, 2006

    It seems to me that whether or not one regards Miller’s quotes from the Kansas presentation as inflammatory depend a lot on a person’s context. I’ve attended a Miller Power Point. It was pretty similar by accounts, a post-Dover assessment of the state of affairs. He talked rapidly, skillfully and covered a huge amount of ground in 90 minutes. You can see why he’s so fabulously successful in debate.

    At any rate, in person he’s very charming, not the least mean-spirited, and he probably didn’t come across as insensitive to skeptical folk in person as he might appear in a few quotes. He was genial to the point of fault, apparently, in an exchange with Dr. Dawkins at AMH last year, for example. The line about ‘shooting at the wrong target’ was probably a rhetorical stubbing of the toe at this particular event and probably evoked associations not intended.

    As a theist who has only of late come to appreciate the oppression experienced by many atheists, I have to admit I might’ve said something thoughtless like that a few years back without meaning anything by it. I would encourage my friends who are non-believers to give Dr. Miller the benefit of the doubt on the occasional turn of phrase, but of course hold his feet to the fire where you think he is overstating his case.

    Speaking of which, I think I’ll drop him a line to that effect myself. All of us who care about science education should realize that there are bigger fish to fry that scientists who may hold metaphysical positions differing from our own.

    Sincerely…Scott

  26. #26 Kagehi
    September 9, 2006

    Plunge, show me a church built on the “faith” that it will stay upright in a high wind or earth quake, and which was built without scientific consideration of sound building practices, and then tell me the two sides can be compared to sports events and merely have “different rules”. Your analogy is bullshit. A better one would be to try to claim that fanatical Islam isn’t anti-soccer, despite the tendancy of such groups to equate sporting events with westernism and a fall from Islam. The only side playing games here is the religious, and the game they play is, “Delude as many as possible and I will win a prize!” If a church collapses in the world of the religious, its business as usually, and all part of God’s plan. If a building collapses in the “real” world, there are consequences, the presumption is that someone seriously screwed up, or some unknown, but important factor was overlooked, and that *we* need to make plans to prevent it happening a second time. You die for/in religion and its a reason to ring balls, release baloons and celebrate like someone just made a field goal. Die in the scientific world and its tragic, people want to know why it happened, and the celebration is deferred to when/if someone figures out how to keep it from happening to someone else. *We don’t treat things like a @%$@$@# game show.*

  27. #27 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    The god defined by Miller is NOT testable, I should say. His God is an omnipotent being who can do anything but consciously avoids interfering in the universe in a way that we can detect.

    Plunge, here’s the simple, plain English version.

    1. “My invisible pink unicorn loves me.” ← not scientific. A child can believe it if she wants.

    2. “There is no evidence that an invisible pink unicorn exists, the description is internally contradictory, and magic unicorns do not have any detectable influence on human lives.” ← a reasonable scientific conclusion.

    3. “I have PROOF that there are no invisible pink unicorns!” ← not scientific, and it’s the usual misrepresentation brought up against atheists.

    Trust me. I know the difference between 2 and 3. So does Richard Dawkins. So does every atheist I’ve ever talked to.

    The fact that 3 is an unscientific assertion does not mean that 1 is a valid position. 2 should be the default, until someone finds evidence of some sort of the activities of invisible pink unicorns. Got any?

    Do you think Ken Miller has some?

  28. #28 JJP
    September 9, 2006

    Miller is a scumbag (siding with the fudies), and a deluded fool to boot!

  29. #29 Scott Hatfield
    September 9, 2006

    George wrote:

    “Faith and reason are both gifts from God,” said Miller.

    I want someone to tell me why this sentence isn’t completely meaningless.

    Sorry, George, can’t help you. Only you can decide if it’s meaningful, since it implies a belief in God. If you think the latter is absent, nonsensical or incoherent you’ll find the statement much the same. If you don’t, you won’t. The best I can do for the former case is to point you to the fact that some hold the latter, and what that means for them.

    As for whether the concept of God is nonsensical or incoherent? Well, of course it is. Credo quia absurdum.

    Scott

  30. #30 Steve LaBonne
    September 9, 2006

    Plunge, universal sceptism is not a sensible default position; indeed it has, perversely, repeatedly served in the history of philosophy as the starting point for a (doomed) search for a certain foundation for knowledge, desperately sought by the philosopher as an antidote to the vertigo induced by dangling over the pit of scepticism. From Descartes on, the playing of this little game has resulted in a great deal of lamentable nonsense. There is always (as, quite obviously, in your case) a religious or quasi-religious seeker of certainty lurking behind the mask of the pretended thoroughgoing sceptic.

    And you still haven’t come to terms with the point that science could not successfully be practiced in a universe in which phenomena resulted from the arbitrary intervention of gods rather than the operation of natural laws. Really, the only reason it’s possible for there to be scientists who are religious believers is the well-known human talent for embracing cognitive dissonance.

  31. #31 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “Similarly, we find ourselves in a world and a universe with a set of rules we’ve managed to discern with the tools of science.”

    I sense circular reasoning coming on…

    “These rules are more than an arbitrary game — they seem to be unbreakable constraints on our very existence. Now if you want to imagine another universe with different rules and an omnipotent deity somewhere, go ahead.”

    No I won’t, thanks. But neither will I claim that it is necessary to outright deny or reject alternatives or untestables in order to practice science. Not even because I am friendly to them: first and foremost because I have no particular obligation to even address those alternatives in the first place unless they can prevent some compelling reason for me to do so.

    “Thought experiments like that are ‘allowed’ under our constraints. It doesn’t change the fact that your imagined universe doesn’t seem to affect our actual physical universe in any measurable way.”

    But measurability is precisely the standard of science. You can’t use a standard to demonstrate the absolute efficacy of the standard. Look: logical positivism was tossed out a long time ago. Science is best defended as pragmatic, not ontologically “true.” Verifiability isn’t verifiable.

    “You don’t get to claim that science is just a language game unless you’re also arguing that the world we live in is also just a game.”

    Now you’re just mixing methaphors: the “game” is the epistemology, not the reality (i.e. how we attain and verify knowledge, rather than some metaphysical absolute of truth). One doesn’t have to deny science or the reality of the world in order to assert that there are other realities and even realities in this world that resist scientific detection. You can I and be utterly unconvinced of those claims, but it’s not inherently “anti-scientific” to assert them. The premises of science do not reject them, they rule them outside the scope of what someone claiming the mantle of science can say scientifically.

  32. #32 JJP
    September 9, 2006

    According to Boswell, Hume once remarked that ‘when he heard a man was religious, he concluded he was a rascal, though he had known some instances of very good men being religious.’

    We all know theistic evolutionist is incoherent drivel. Rascals like Miller will always come down on the side of religion when pushed. Theistic evolution, the idea that an omnipotent God would need to use random mutations and natural selection to produce life is as about as meaningful of a concept as that of a square circle. Natural selection necessarily means that nothing outside of nature is necessary to explain it. Darwin’s theory was and is revolutionary in part because it shows that humanity is not at the center of creation, and not its purpose either.

    Perhaps little more than this muddle offered by the cognitively challenged (i.e. the ‘faithful’). It appears to offer strongest corroboration for the biologist William Provine’s infamous rule: if you want to marry Christian doctrine with modern evolutionary biology, “you have to check your brains at the church-house door.”

  33. #33 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    Science is best defended as pragmatic, not ontologically “true.”

    Exactly. So show me the pragmatic aspects of believing a deity makes it rain or gave australopithecines a shot of soul juice.

    The ultimate determinant of whether something is scientific is whether it is useful. It is useful to dismiss the idea of a prankster god tinkering with our experiments. It is useless to do as Miller does, inventing complex entities hovering over our petri dishes, but voluntarily doing nothing.

  34. #34 Steve LaBonne
    September 9, 2006

    Please cite where anyone is claiming that science should.

    OK:

    It certainly seems a heck of a lot like you are saying that “Claims that gods do not exist or do not interefere in natural processes” have been (and presumably are) “the essential operational basis of all of science.” If that isn’t what you are saying, perhaps you could rephrase it so that it doesn’t say exactly that in plain English.

    Just how dense are you, anyway? If science cannot operate on the assumption that divine beings are intervening in the phenomena- a proposition with which you claim to agree- then, in fact, science IS founded on the assumption that they do not. Now, you may be under the naive delusion that there are religious believers who believe that God “exists” but does not actually DO anything. But I can assure you that Miller doers not share that delusion. As a Catholic he would be guilty of an extremely grave heresy if he did share it.

    Thus, the proposition you claim to defend, and that of PZ which you condemn, are certainly equivalent in the real world, and indeed really become logically equivalent if “religion” is defined in a non-Pickwickian way. You’re simply generating a lot of hot air without actually saying anything.

  35. #35 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    Nothing is ever contradicted by a lack of evidence.

    What about claims that one has evidence? That certainly is contradicted by an absence of evidence.

    If I say God zapped the grass in my backyard and turned every blade pink, you could examine my lawn and the absence of any pink grass certainly would be evidence against my claim. I could then argue that he zapped it back to its normal green color, of course, but that kind of continually retreating claim is also evidence against an idea.

    (Oh, and people: Plunge is arguing in good faith from and for a position I disagree with…but he’s not making a stupid argument, OK? We get so used to dissenters from evolution being such chronic idiots that it’s easy to assume dissenters on other issues must also be that foolish. Please don’t.)

  36. #36 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “So show me the pragmatic aspects of believing a deity makes it rain or gave australopithecines a shot of soul juice.”

    I won’t because I don’t think there are any, at least not for me. People like Miller seem to find a lot of these beliefs personally important though. I can disagree (though in general, I mostly just don’t care). And they can respond to my disagreements. But, as was Miller’s point, we should not confuse a debate over THAT as being a debate over, say, evolution. Because it isn’t. Lots of religious people seem to think that accepting science means you have to agree with Richard Dawkins that religious belief is stupid and evil. They don’t. In fact, they can argue with Dawkins over that point. All without having to dispute the science.

    “The ultimate determinant of whether something is scientific is whether it is useful.”

    Indeed, but science is not, in turn, the ultimate determinate, which is the point. The scientific definition of useful is physical and of limited scope. There are other definitions. They aren’t scientific, but they aren’t necessarily anti-scientific either.

    “It is useful to dismiss the idea of a prankster god tinkering with our experiments.”

    It is scientific to not treat that proposition as scientifically proven or provable.

    “It is useless to do as Miller does, inventing complex entities hovering over our petri dishes, but voluntarily doing nothing.”

    Again, you are switching meanings of “useful” mid-argument Miller seems to find it useful and he doesn’t actually think they do nothing, though what is done is, convieniently, outside the scope of science.

  37. #37 JJP
    September 9, 2006

    Try Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained” in my judgment an excellent account of the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs of all varieties.

  38. #38 carlman23
    September 9, 2006

    “Indeed, but science is not, in turn, the ultimate determinate, which is the point. The scientific definition of useful is physical and of limited scope. There are other definitions. They aren’t scientific, but they aren’t necessarily anti-scientific either”

    Here we go again. What are these definitions? How is something useful if its usefulness cannot be measured?!?!? Even belief in religion can be scientifically “useful”…

  39. #39 GH
    September 9, 2006

    , are keenly aware of the limits of both science and theology

    What can theology even do that it needs limitations?

    he said that philosophical declarations aren’t themselves scientific or part of science and the opinions of Dawkins on religion shouln’t be lumped into what “evolution theory” is or involves

    But of course he is free to blather on about how evolution supports his childhood religion?

    Plunge thinks universal skeptism is the answer to whether teapots float in space, the FSM made the universe and if a unicorn lives under my bed. He thinks any and all things possible and doesn’t use any clues and evidence from the world to discern which may be real or not.

  40. #40 Max Udargo
    September 9, 2006

    I think most Christians would argue that the notion of God gives them comfort, that they can detect God’s presence and that it changes the way they live their lives. The problem is that you can’t measure any of those things with a pH meter.

    The other problem is that none of these things indicates the belief is true.

    Because a belief is comforting and beneficial, let’s say even healthy and essential, doesn’t make it true.

  41. #41 JJP
    September 9, 2006

    Also can I recommend John Searle’s “The Construction of Social Reality”

    John Searle is a well-known American philosopher, at Berkeley. Searle is very defends a naturalistic ontology. He believes that there exist objective facts that make the world the way it is and that at least some of these facts can be known to a high degree of probability. He is careful to define key terms as precisely as he can and explain them with a multitude of examples. He writes in a plain and unadorned style, avoiding flowery passages and dark sayings. No special expertise is needed to understand this book. Any theses he advances he defends with arguments that he believes to be rigorous and logical. Yet he holds that much of our knowledge is concerned with facts which are socially constructed. Most of this book consists of an examination of these social facts and an explanation of how they arise.

    Searle defends the “Realist” view that there exists a real world comprised of objective facts that fall into two categories. In one category are (1) those facts (he calls them “brute facts”) which exist independently of what humans think about them and (2) those facts that depend for their existence on human thought (he calls them “social facts.”) Examples of the first sort are the mental fact that I am now in pain and the physical facts that Mount Everest has snow and ice at its summit and that hydrogen atoms have one electron. Examples of the second sort of fact, social facts, are that this piece of paper is a five dollar bill, that he is a citizen of the U. S., that the New York Giants won the 1991 Superbowl, and that he owns a piece of property in Berkeley, CA.

    Of course, in order to state facts we need the existence of language, a social fact, but the facts we state can be distinguished from our statement of them. Facts are facts, whether they are stated or not. Furthermore nothing in Searle’s view implies that there is some “best” language for stating facts. Different and even incommensurable languages may be needed to describe the facts.

    For Searle, long before there were humans, there were brute physical facts. Eventually, as consciousness appeared, there came to be brute mental facts. However, as humans developed, there has come into existence a new kind of fact, social facts, generated by human practices and human attitudes. The project of this book is two-fold, (1) to justify his Realism, his claim that there are objective brute and social facts, and (2) to explain how social facts, and the social reality they comprise, come into existence. IMHO Searle does an excellent job with this material; what’s more he pisses all over the post-modernist like Derrida and destroys idiots like Rorty.

  42. #42 James
    September 9, 2006

    PZ.

    Pull your head in.

    As a life long atheist (and I won’t go into why, but I mean that; never – even as a child – have I believed in god), attacking someone like you’ve done here, for honestly held beliefs is completely wrong.

    The keyword being honest. And Dr. Miller is nothing but honest in his beliefs.

    We can all go hair splitting, and maybe I might think someone doesn’t meet my personal standard for which particular split-hair I prefer, but I’ll always prefer the person willing to talk over the one wanting to fight.

  43. #43 plunge
    September 9, 2006

    “Science certainly can’t say with 100% certainty that none of it is possible or they don’t exist. But at some point **individuals** who do science have to draw the line some place, with respect to what kind of improbably, ludicrous and unprovable gibberish they are willing to accept as sufficiently likely to be worth doing anything with other than maybe writing fantasy novels or entertaining small children.”

    Well yeah: and we can get into all sorts of heated arguments about religion and gods and so forth.

    Which is precisely why it’s important to keep clear that there is science, and then there are our philosophical (or in some cases theological) convictions, and even just our plain old judgemental opinions. Dawkins is a scientist, one of our best. But’s he also just this guy, you know? He has opinions on things, and he isn’t afraid to speak about them. If you want to attack those opinions, attack them.

    But rightly or wrongly, whether it’s Dawkin’s fault or not, there is a widespread perception that evolutionary biology includes “the opinions of Dawkins about religion.” And boy howdy, it does not. I think Miller makes a decent case in FDG that many famous scientists have stepped over the line in portraying “what science can support as” “what science has to say about ultimate reality.” Of course, that pales in comparison to what creationists do (and to be fair, he does spend the lions share of his book bashing the creationists, and is fairly measured in criticizing fellow scientists), but it’s still both unjustifed and only adds to the perception that if you are religious, science is your enemy.

  44. #44 Kagehi
    September 9, 2006

    Hmm. I suppose, from your description, John Searle is probably fairly right. The only flaw might be time scale. Brute physical facts tend to remain so for longer durations, depending on what they are. Its not inconcievable that Everest could end up “not” having snow and ice on it at some point, and anything from severe global warming to a massive enough shift in the earths plates, which resulted in it sinking some how, could do it. Brute “social” facts though are weak, unstable, rely heavilly on the rest of the structure and can become completely meaningless very rapidly, under the right conditions. Unfortunately, one can also bolster dangerous or useless facts, in order to defend their existence, even in the face of a large number of other social factors, which would otherwise rapidly leave them meaningless, sort of like what post-modernists have done to shore up post-modernism. ;) Brute facts, when describing social systems, are often only as brute and the brutes who defend them.

  45. #45 calladus
    September 9, 2006

    Uh, if I remember my kooky bible stories correctly, wasn’t reason a gift from satan? I believe god wasn’t too keen on the whole ‘thinking’ idea.

    The standard Christian apology that I was taught when young is that it wasn’t a tree of reason, or even of knowledge. It was a tree of “Knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:17). Theologically the gift of reason came from God, so before Adam and Eve ate of the fruit they couldn’t tell the difference between an evil action and a good one.

    But when I thought about that I realized that this means that God gave us the gift of reason, but Satan gave us morality.

    Figures – the Old Testament never really showed a moral God anyway.

  46. #46 JackGoff
    September 9, 2006

    And Dr. Miller is nothing but honest in his beliefs.

    True, but his beliefs basically state that scientists who do not believe in God are the root cause of the problem with evolution. Why must it be a debate in the scientific sphere about whether evolution is theistic or not? That’s the error Miller is making. He, as a scientist, is making a case for theistic evolution with no evidence other than faith. In the scientific realm, no tiene sentido.

  47. #47 JJP
    September 9, 2006

    My own favorite take on ontology and epistemology comes from Otto Neurath also became (an ardent Logical Positivist. As a member of the “left wing” of the Vienna Circle, Neurath rejected both metaphysics and epistemology.

    In fact, it was Quine, in “Word and Object”, who made famous Neurath’s analogy which compares the holistic nature of language and consequently scientific verification with the construction of a boat which is already at sea:

    “We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.”

  48. #49 Dave
    September 9, 2006

    For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t be reading your blog today if I hadn’t read Ken Miller’s book a few years back.

    You have a legitimate beef in the science vs. faith debate, but Miller is still on your side in the creationism vs. evolution fight.

    Getting religious people to even *consider* evolution has to be done by someone like Miller, and atheism by someone like Dennett.

    You sir, are definitely an acquired taste.

  49. #50 Kagehi
    September 9, 2006

    But rightly or wrongly, whether it’s Dawkin’s fault or not, there is a widespread perception that evolutionary biology includes “the opinions of Dawkins about religion.”

    True, but its hardly entirely, or even mostly, “our” fault. The other side is quite busy hand picking quotes and statements which conflate this belief, from every source that “dares” to suggest something is a little wacky with their world view. Both sides have tales to tell, there’s is, “Those people don’t believe in anything!”, while are tends to be, “Most of those people are completely nuts!” Both sides have reasons to think they are right, mostly though, because one side has done everything it can to “prevent” the two sides from talking rationally with each other and even going so far as to intentionally torpedo any fair discussion, in favor of dog and pony shows, where they get all the baloons.

    I have to say, I find it entertainingly ironic that the only side being “honest” about things is the one that doesn’t, in general, have presume that they have some thug standing over their shoulder telling them, “Yous better follow them commandments, or else.” Is this true of all of them? No. But Ken Miller is as delusional as the rest if he honestly thinks its possible to discuss the thoelogical aspects of the situation, without a strong possibility of one side wandering off on irrelevant, pointless and “absolutely” science hostile side lines, rather than dealing with the real issue, especially since “most” of them conflate the views of the religious hostile with the views of science in general in the first place. You might as well try to sit a Muslim cleric down with a dominatrix and have them come to a “reasonable” middle ground on sex clubs, while in Tehran. You *might* be able to get some common ground in some other region, but I still wouldn’t bet on it, nor on the possibility that the moment the cleric pulled out the God card, a very large number of the fence sitters would all suddenly scramble to be on the side of religion. Most people won’t listen well enough, learn enough or even let themselves hear enough of the scientific side of some arguments to not immediately jump to the side of the guy waving a cross, them moment said person whines about losing to the godless. And none of those people probably have a clue what the difference between “social knowing” and “religious knowing” is, since they are based on very similar patterns of thought and can sometimes even “be” the same thing. That some are based on evidence, like knowing that toothpaste tubes don’t generally contain glue, while others are *solely* based on people telling them over and over that X is true, without even indirect evidence, doesn’t matter in a slightest to such people.

  50. #51 bob koepp
    September 9, 2006

    “If I say God zapped the grass in my backyard and turned every blade pink, you could examine my lawn and the absence of any pink grass certainly would be evidence against my claim.”

    Yes. So this example doesn’t illustrate an absence of evidence for the claim in question. I point this out, in good faith, because it is directly relevant to an important strand in this thread that concerns the logic of evidential relations.

  51. #52 John Palmer
    September 9, 2006

    PZ:
    Re: Nothing is ever contradicted by a lack of evidence.

    What about claims that one has evidence? That certainly is contradicted by an absence of evidence.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. You’re confusing the evidence for a proposition with a proposition about evidence. The two are completely different.

    If you have no evidence about whether proposition A is true, then proposition A has not been contradicted.

    If “proposition A” is “I have evidence”, in that context, “lack of evidence” means you have no way of determining if proposition A is true or not. Thus, you don’t know anything about whether or not I have evidince. Proposition A is not contradicted.

    If you *know* that proposition A is false, then you have evidence about proposition A, and it was contradicted by that evidence, not by the lack of it.

    Just because the word “evidence” appears in two places doesn’t mean it refers to the same thing.

    If you have no evidence about proposition A, you should (from a scientific perspective) ignore proposition A, and you certainly shouldn’t teach proposition A as “science”, or even “a controversy”.

  52. #53 Steve LaBonne
    September 9, 2006

    And Dr. Miller is nothing but honest in his beliefs.

    Consciously, of course; nobody is accusing beleiving scientists of conscious dishonesty, at least I’m not. However I maintain that people like Miller do in fact simultaneously hold two quite incompatible sets of ideas. The fact that they are able to shove the resulting cognitive dissonance down to some unconscious level of their minds does acquit them of willful dishonesty. That does not mean, though, that they are admirable role models of clear thinking.

  53. #54 Inoculated Mind
    September 9, 2006

    In my comment above, I shifted subjects akwardly – when I said “you can’t dance around the fact…” it should read “he [Miller] can’t dance around the fact…”

  54. #55 ekzept
    September 9, 2006

    i don’t think anyone in the foregoing said it did, but why, as a rhetorical question, does atheistic humanism need science to defend itself? i don’t believe it does. i think it can defend itself against any religious assault just fine, thank you very much. it might use scientific principles and methods as fodder. but finally, it can sustain itself, i think, entirely upon being comfortable with saying and accepting “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure” to a whole spectrum of issues theists need to make assumptions to live with.

    as far as religion being “anti science”, well, yes, much of it is. as far as Ken Miller’s talk goes, which i have not yet heard, i can imagine a hypothetical Ken Miller talks to the Society for Secular Humanism or a group of Humanistic Jews which suggest their opposition is the religious, and there’s no need to ‘drag evolution into it’. he hasn’t given such talks AFAIK. but if he’s being consistent and objective, he oughtn’t have a problem doing so and saying just that.

    if he does have a problem saying just that, then, well, yeah, he’s gone kinda Francis Collins-ish.

  55. #56 Andrew McClure
    September 9, 2006

    Mr. Myers:

    While this is an interesting discussion, your attacks on Ken Miller here seem largely based on out-of-context quotes of a paraphrase of a talk you did not attend, and I do not think they were appropriate for outright inlining on the Panda’s Thumb front page– especially since you then denied people the ability to respond there.

    Perhaps in this case it would have been more appropriate in your Panda’s Thumb post to simply link to the more level-headed RSR coverage, offer a link to your own blog as an alternate viewpoint, and leave the editorializing in your own blog.

  56. #57 Douglas Theobald
    September 9, 2006

    … who is the right target? Why, those humanists, people like Richard Dawkins and anyone who challenges the role of religion. Go get ‘em, Kansans! Hound those wicked atheists–they aren’t the real scientists, after all. Real scientists believe in God and spirits and magic and etheric essences infused into souls by a phantasmal hominid, just like you do.

    Thanks, Dr Ken! I know what side you’re on, now … it’s you and the creationists, best friends 4ever! Did they promise to let you strike the match at the atheist-burning?

    Are such puerile hysterics really your usual reaction when anyone has the gall (oh the nerve!) to question your contempt of religion? “Atheist-burning” PZ? I truly expect better from you, and I know you are capable of it.

    The truly humorous (and warmly ironic) part is that in your absurd comments you have just established Miller’s very point: if you are someone concerned about political/sociological attacks on religion, forget about evolutionary biology which in and of itself has nothing pertinent to say about God. Rather, attack the arguments (note Miller did not say “attack the person”, as you falsely imply) that actually undermine religion, specifically the arguments of “some humanists” (Miller’s exact words according to the report, not “all humanists”, as you falsely imply) like, well, our visibly overwrought PZ.

    Care to explain, PZ, preferably with a mixture of less emotion and more logic, why Miller was wrong? Why should Creationists target evolutionary theory, instead of your personal anti-religious, metaphysical extrapolations from it?

  57. #58 Nick (Matzke)
    September 9, 2006

    PZ, you’re a great guy, but I think the only thing that would make you happy is if everyone submitted to your personal metaphysical beliefs. Ken Miller is correct that theists should argue against atheism, not mistarget science or evolution. You just don’t seem to get the distinction between science and metaphysics.

    PZ, I respect you greatly for your contributions as a scientist, evolution educator, and effective foe of creationism. But if you’re going to be bashing Ken, would it not be worth comparing you two in these categories? Isn’t there a good chance he would come out ahead in all three?

  58. #59 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    I’ve listened to the talk. It’s very clear what he’s proposing: what he believes “is ultimately the road to peace” between evolutionists and creationists is to start shooting at those who make anti-theistic interpretations. In other words, find a common enemy. That common enemy is Dawkins, and Dennett, and whatever other atheistical peons, like me, that you can find. He wants a scapegoat, and it’s always safe to target atheists.

    There is no other reasonable interpretation that can be made from those remarks. He really is calling on the people of Kansas to crusade against atheism rather than evolution. It would be a convenient distraction, I suppose, and it’s easy for some of you to dismiss the strategem if you aren’t an atheist, but you really ought to worry. What if he’d said the problem isn’t the science, but the Jewish (or Islamic or Lutheran or whatever) interpretation of science? Don’t target the science, instead pick on the Jewishness of it all.

    Come to think of it, that would be effective. There are a lot of Jewish evolutionary biologists, after all; if we just asked the gentlefolk of Kansas to purge Jewish evolutionism rather than good Christian Evolutionary Biology, we could refocus their efforts in a less damaging (to non-Jews, at least) direction, and at last achieve peace. A few more Mireckis are a small price to pay if it’ll help Christians become accommodated to science.

  59. #60 Chris Ho-Stuart
    September 9, 2006

    There are good points in the body of Paul’s article, but he starts out very badly.

    Ken Miller is a Christian. That means there is a difference in belief between him and non-Christians. It doesn’t mean we are implacable enemies; it means there is a difference of opinion.

    There are plenty of instances in history where differences of opinion explode into intolerance, oppression and violence. We should not contribute to that by automatically phrasing any difference of opinion in terms of violent antipathy.

    This has nothing whatsoever to do with how good or bad the arguments are, OK? Whether Ken’s reconciliation of his beliefs with science is sensible or not is entirely beside the point.

    So look at the comments. The initial extract quoted by Paul includes this:

    Evolution isn’t anti-religious, said Miller. Rather, it’s the non-scientific philosophical interpretations some humanists, such as Richard Dawkins, draw from the evidence that challenges the role of religion.

    There’s nothing there about attacking humanists. It is about attacking their ideas. I welcome that. There’s no reason at all to take offence, or be antagonized, or to associate this with creationism or atheist-burning.

    I don’t think God exists. I don’t think there’s any indication of God in the world; and I think Ken’s rationalizations of his religion with the lack of any empirical indication of a creator or divine sustainer of the natural world are weak. He, on the other hand, disagrees with me, and that’s fine. Our disagreement is not over whether evolution works, or over the material details of how evolution operates. It’s about whether it’s sensible to propose some kind of divine creator who set up the process or sustains its operation.

    Unfortunately, many people can’t seem to handle disagreements without getting personal, or seeing it in terms of a violent conflict. Ken is not like that; but Paul is the one here putting it in those terms.

    Paul’s response immediately escalates this into an attack on people. He describes it as “a shot at the majority of biologists, and a declaration of common cause with creationists”, and after a series of shrill ejaculations, Paul goes into a comment about “atheist-burning”.

    That’s irrational and destructive, Paul.

    Ken is disagreeing with the majority of biologists; and we should not cavil at that. Surveys indicate that rates of belief amongst working biologists are very low. That’s because, in my opinion, the philosophical implications of biology conflict with religion. Ken identifies this as the major conflict with religion; and I think he’s right. It’s all very well to shoot down the nonsense of creationists, who want to rewrite the empirical details of how the world works; but a far deeper and more sweeping conflict with religion arises when you go beyond the straightforward material implications that are the business of science, and try to rationalize belief in God with acceptance of the empirical details. That is what Ken is recognizing as the major problem for religion.

    The proper response is: Bring it on, philosopher-guy!, and go straight into to the consideration of the deeper implications, beyond the straightforward empirical details that are the business of science.

    Unfortunately, Paul leads out with a wholly invalid characterization of Miller’s point as being an attack on people or some kind of atheist-burning; and that puts a very bad taste on the rest.

    Cheers — Chris

  60. #61 George
    September 9, 2006

    From the Miller talk (from mp3 above):

    “Dawkins takes this bleak view … the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. How does Richard manage to get up in the morning?”

    Let’s give Richard a digital videocam. He could record the scene for us:

    The alarm goes off. Richard opens his eyes. He yawns. He stretches. Oh, he’s sitting up! Yes, yes, now… he’s standing up! The atheist is up! The atheist is up! He’s up! He did it! He did it! Blind pitiless indifference be damned! Dawkins has gotten out of bed!

  61. #62 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    It’s easy to follow. “You aren’t good enough to lick Ken Miller’s boots, so how dare you criticize him?”

  62. #63 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    Yeah, that business with mocking Dawkins was also annoying. He apparently has The God Delusion, so he should know better: while Dawkins sees no purpose in physics, chemistry, and biology, that does not mean he is some kind of nihilist who can find no purpose in his own life or in the strivings of humanity. That was simply more atheist-bashing.

  63. #64 GH
    September 9, 2006

    You just don’t seem to get the distinction between science and metaphysics.

    Good grief, metaphysics. The ability to believe anything for any reason.

    And if Miller only gets up in the morning because he think an invisible supernatural entity wants him to do so isn’t that far more bleak than anything Dawkins believes. In fact Miller saying as such is a big key to his inner psychology.

  64. #65 Alexander Vargas
    September 9, 2006

    I think this is about bad epistemology. As I have said, Science will never prove or disprove the existence of god. Both scientists and religious people will benefit greatly from understanding this clearly.
    If you present your epistemology as falsating an unscientific hypothesis, you can only do this by not being fully scientific.

  65. #66 Lowk
    September 9, 2006

    I think this is good, and that he is doing the right thing. He isn’t saying that Creationists should kill or outlaw atheists, just that those who are anti-atheist should target atheists, rather than evolutionists. And he’s right. The religious and the non-religious SHOULD clash in argument on salient points. Creationists should stop lying about evolution, accept that evolution is true and not Atheistic, and start arguing against atheists because of the genuine disagreements about religion.

    We (atheists, or those of us who wish to reduce the influence of religion) all critique the religious whenever they say anything about it (as we so should). I think it’s great if the religious do the same thing, providing they aren’t a) degrading Science or b) endorsing legal discrimination. Once they stop lying about us and start engaging what we are actually saying, then we can start winning.

  66. #67 Pete Dunkelberg
    September 9, 2006

    Did Miller really say that dumb yet nasty thing about How does Dawkins get up? We know some people say things like that, but from a scientist it’s really bad.

    It is no better than blurting out a dumb nasty prejudice against any other group. PZ is certainly right to try to raise some consciousness in any society where such remarks are accepted in public. Sure, it’s indicative of how little some people understand some other people. But this was the case with White attitudes toward Blacks as well. We should know by now that the proper course when you have such a prejudicial attitude is Get over it.

    This does not rule out the possibility of overreacting to some other remarks of Miller’s.

  67. #68 AndyS
    September 9, 2006

    PZ,

    I like Pharyngula except for posts like this one in which you seem to go out of your way to attack a guy like Ken Miller, the hero on the science side of the Dover decision, and go on to treat all religion as if it was one homogenous lump of insanity. However, your black-and-white thinking — the antithesis of good scholarship — is certainly consistent, and all too common when someone steeped in one domain steps outside their area of expertise.

    Maybe teachers are particularly subseptible to this since they spend so much time being the expert authority for batch after batch of young, far less experienced students. In short, however good a scientist and teacher you may be, that doesn’t qualify you to be much of a philosopher or social critic. But keep trying. We all live and learn, and on balance Pharyngula is a positive force in the blogosphere.

    Religion IS anti-science; it invokes a way of ‘knowing’ something that is antithetical to the method of science. Similarly, science is anti-religion because it rejects revealed knowledge and faith as a legitimate way to understand the world. Those are the battle-lines, not disagreements on the conclusions, but different ways of figuring things out.

    Which religion are you talking about? They are not all the same — as an athesistic Buddhist I’m tired of being caught in the generalization. The Buddhism I practice and the Buddhist teachers I know reject supernatural explanations and emphasise checking out all knowledge claims for yourself. There’s nothing anti-science in my beliefs, yet I’m an atheist and religious and don’t see science at all as anti-religious.

    “Faith and reason are both gifts from God” is an anti-scientific statement. He has not arrived at that conclusion by observation, experiment, or reason. It is the product of dogma and tradition.

    As others have asked, how can that be “an anti-scientific statement”? If it has meaning, it’s in the realm of poetry. Last I knew many scientist liked poetry and frequently employed it to express their awe of things as prosaic as cephalopods.

    I wonder if you can not accept that, at times, people work in more than one mode of thought, or have trouble detecting when the mode changes. Some find the variation quite satisfying.

    However, I hear so often that us goddamned atheists are damaging the cause by alienating all those devout Christians we desperately need to support us, that it’s irresistible to point out now and then that we also desperately need all those secular, areligious and anti-religious scientists…but everyone expects them to simply shrug off any insult.

    I don’t see needlessly alienating people as particularly useful, but my objection is to the lack of nuance, understanding, and scholarship in posts like this one. In many others you demonstrate you can apply those qualities. So I have to conclude this is either willful disregard or some sort of personal blindspot when you write about religion and science somehow being fundamental opposed to each other.

  68. #69 PZ Myers
    September 9, 2006

    I don’t see needlessly alienating people as particularly useful

    It’s good to see someone else criticizing Miller.

  69. #70 Pierce R. Butler
    September 9, 2006

    “Creationists … are shooting at the wrong target.”

    I hope that Miller would have used a better metaphor if he had, as I have, watched a doctor park as closely as he could to a clinic entrance but not open his car door to dash through the intervening two yards until he had donned a special jacket and helmet. Given the people shouting at him (and me) at the time, his actions were quite prudent and rational.

    The audience at UK was probably not so literal- or bloody-minded as are a large number of hyperchristians, but the evidence indicates that Miller has yet to grasp the, ahem, fundamental nature of the social phenomenon he thinks he’s addressing.

    Epistemology may be a fun topic for online discussion, but it is not the core issue here.

  70. #71 Jack Krebs
    September 9, 2006

    George quotes Miller from the mp3,

    “Dawkins takes this bleak view … the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. How does Richard manage to get up in the morning?”

    What George failed to quote (and this is precisely what we criticize the creationists for doing) is what Miller said before and immediately afterwards: that Dawkins is one of the most purposeful people he knows, or something to that affect. If you listen to the whole segment on Dawkins, I think you’ll see it is not harsh and condemnatory.

  71. #72 Gerard Harbison
    September 9, 2006

    Ken Miller is correct that theists should argue against atheism, not mistarget science or evolution. You just don’t seem to get the distinction between science and metaphysics.

    Nick, I’d have no problem if Miller argued against atheism. Unfortunately, here, Miller seems to be arguing against atheists.

    It’s a very important distinction.

  72. #73 Steve LaBonne
    September 9, 2006

    Gerard, the message seems to be that atheism is OK (sort of) as long as atheists just shut up and don’t talk about it in public. Whereas, of course, we need to pay great deference to the delusions, and tender sensibilities, of theists. Same old same old. Sigh.

  73. #74 386sx
    September 9, 2006

    Jack Krebs said: I like the way Richard Wein phrased the issue in a post above: “It seems to me that what he is saying to creationists is this: if you want to argue against atheism then argue against atheism, not against evolution.” That is a succinct summary of what Miller said, I believe.

    Miller blames the anti-theistic interpretations of evolution for the onset of anti-evolutionism. He says anti-evolutionism is a backlash against people like Dawkins who attack religion. Although that might be true in some cases, anti-evolutionism, I think, is more of a “we don’t come from no stinkin’ monkeys” kind of a philosophy. They don’t attack evolution for fear of atheism taking over (since they know full well there are plenty of theists who don’t have a problem with evolution), they attack it because they don’t come from no stinkin’ monkeys. So when Miller tells them they’re attacking the wrong target, they might be inclined to ask of Mr. Miller: “Huh, what’s wrong with attacking the stinkin’ monkeys?” At which point Mr. Miller might ask himself the question: “Dude, what the $%#& am I talking about? Oops I think I goofed.”

  74. #75 Alexander Vargas
    September 9, 2006

    I dont know how associations are made in La Bonne’s head. Atheism should be religion’s target, not evolution.
    This does not mean that religion must not be criticized, nor that atheists don’t talk their views in public

  75. #76 Great White Wonder
    September 9, 2006

    if you want to argue against atheism then argue against atheism

    There is no “argument” against atheism unless “who wants to go to hell?” or “church is fun!” is an “argument.”

  76. #77 Great White Wonder
    September 9, 2006

    [Miller] says anti-evolutionism is a backlash against people like Dawkins who attack religion.

    Assuming he made this claim (and surely others have) it would be nice to see the evidence for it. And I don’t mean quotes from religionists that attack Dawkins. I mean the evidence that before there were “people like Dawkins” (which I suppose means an “evangelical atheist” or something like that) religionists just kept to themselves and didn’t go around behaving like anti-scientific idiots.

    Do you think Miller or anyone else can make a convincing case for this history?

    I sure the hell don’t.

    If Miller or Krebs wanted to make a truly convincing case to the religious retards in Kansas, they would shame the living shit out of them and compare them to the religious retards to the fundie morons who flew planes into the Twin Towers. That argument is immune from *rational* criticism, although religionists love to whine and draw distinctions between violent and non-violent dogma (news flash: the distinction is relevant to law enforcement types only).

  77. #78 ekzept
    September 10, 2006

    i listened to both MP3 excerpts of Ken Miller.

    first, in this talk, Miller is being as much a Bill Nye or an Ira Flato as he is a biologist: he is trying to be entertaining on top of everything else, and it’s clear to me, for example, the comment about Dawkins was meant in fun.

    second, there’s no proof or evidence for meta-physics. that is, if evolution were the way a deity decided to do things, the deity might or might not know in advance the outcome, but in either case evolution might just be the deity’s style. completely consistent with that is the notion that there is no deity but there is, rather, physicalist materialism. it is at that level an undecidable choice in basic principles. sure, physicalism is parsimonious. but, frankly, because you can’t really “weigh” an individual assumption, does it really matter whether you make one additional assumption or a hundred?

    third, Miller’s case has a strong utilitarian aspect to it. that is, he argues, by citing people like Augustine and others, that there are benefits to taking an theistic set of starting principles and shows his cards to the anti-theistic crowd, asking “Okay, what do you got?” i think atheistic humanists have plenty to show. Miller would probably say its a draw, but i don’t think so.

    fourth, although Miller somewhat distances himself from this point in his Q&A, with his implication that “God” would be just as satisfied with big-brained dinosaurs as smart hominids, still, in his main talk he clearly puts smarts and humanity in a role of having a central role or “special creation” in “God”‘s universe. i think the evidence for the importance of that “special creation” remains missing, and that’s a weak point of Miller’s presentation. also, most theists are no where near as “species egalatarian” as Miller is. indeed, if Miller really buys what he’s saying he, it seems to me he embraces the ideas of Peter Singer and should be opposed to animal experiments and other forms of speciesism or even being a “carbon bigot”.

    fifth, Miller clearly repudiates in the Q&A any notion that “attacking anti-theism” is a proper thing. what he does do, creatively, is devise particular theistic responses to anti-theistic interpretations of evolution and its implications by Dawkins, Gould, and so on. he is one in a rare if highly respected community that does this. most theists attack evolution itself.

    sixth, Miller clearly gets wrong in the Q&A (last question) that all religions think they are special and exclusive. he does, to his credit, take a universalist stance. but some religions, e.g., Buddhism, see no incompatibility between being a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim and appreciating and practicing the Eightfold Path or the Four Noble Truths. Buddhism might disagree with particular doctrinal aspects of these religions, such as their supposed justifications for killing, whether people or animals, however liturgically done. but Buddhism can coexist with a theology just as it can with an anti-theology.

  78. #79 Paul Decelles
    September 10, 2006

    Hmmm I was at the talk, and don’t recall Miller attacking humanists per say. He was telling religious people that attacking evolution doesn’t work and that they should be attacking the idea that evolution necessarily leads to an antitheistic position. I suspect, based on what I heard and have in my notes, he would be quite suprised to be accused of attacking humanists.

    Are humanists necessarily antitheistic?

  79. #80 Richard Wein
    September 10, 2006

    Earlier I wrote:
    “Still, it is annoying the way he tends to state his unsubstantiated (and highly questionable) opinions as if they were facts.”

    After listening to the MP3s I would retract this, as Miller is much less dogmatic than the blog reports of his lecture made him sound. He includes a lot of “I think”s and “I would say”s. I still disagree with much of what he says on the nature of science and its relationship with religion, but he makes his points in a way that’s mostly friendly and respectful to those who disagree with him, and I see no reason why we atheists shouldn’t do the same. True, I’m speaking from the comfort of secular Britain, and I can understand that oppressed American atheists may feel more strongly about it!

    Incidentally, I think he’s mistaken in saying that the level of acceptance of evolution is much the same in Britain and the US, the BBC survey notwithstanding. I find the survey’s results very surprising. I can’t believe that 41% of Brits (the proportion that said Intelligent Design should be taught in schools) even know what it means. They probably had to have the term defined for them by the questioner. And I suspect most of them just gave a knee-jerk reply based on the assumption that if there are two views on any subject, it’s only fair to teach both of them.

  80. #81 Gerard Harbison
    September 10, 2006

    Gerard, the message seems to be that atheism is OK (sort of) as long as atheists just shut up and don’t talk about it in public. Whereas, of course, we need to pay great deference to the delusions, and tender sensibilities, of theists. Same old same old. Sigh.

    Interestingly, I think atheists do mostly argue against the idea and not its adherents. You can find scads of web pages pointing out the Ark is physically and biology impossible; that the earth could not have been created 6000 years ago; and, more philosophically, that there is no rational reason to make methodological naturalism stop before it reaches claims of miracles, supernatural beings, etc.. OK, occasionally, you see mean old atheists mocking big-haired Baptists praising Jaysus before returning to spend the other six and a half days in the comfort of their double wide, and no doubt we shouldn’t…but our primary arguments are generally not ad hominem and are directed to the absurdity of the idea as opposed to the absurdity of its adherents.

    In contrast, their arguments are generally directed against the person, usually one of the satanic triumvirate of Dawkins, Dennett, and Wilson, though I suspect PZ is ready to join the pandemonium. And their assault is not directed against anything false or refutable that DD &W said, but just the very fact that they had the effrontery to challenge religious ideas. Forget his Catholicism: how can an educated man like Miller espouse such a medieval notion that religious ideas cannot even be challenged?

  81. #82 Gerard Harbison
    September 10, 2006

    NicK:

    While we’re comparing CVs, why don’t we compare Miller with Dawkins? Dawkins had good research career. Then, as a disseminator of evolutionary dieas to the general public, he is unexcelled; he has written a good half-dozen best selling, readable, and yet not at all dumbed down books promoting evolutionary ideas. He has been doing it far longer than Miller. Yet Miller uses Dawkins as an atheist bogeyman, and in this respect he’s no different from the IDers.

    Funny how Dawkins seems not to be one of the untouchables. Please explain the double standard.

  82. #83 Great White Wonder
    September 10, 2006

    Matzke

    Now, really, just what in holy hell does a guy have to do get a little of respect from you guys?

    I have a little respect for you, Nick. :)

    Seriously. You do a great job. So does Miller. Both of you can do better, of course, as we all can do better. For the record, I think your own contributions to the debate have gotten much better/sharper over the past couple years.

    Keep up the great work. I still don’t understand why the NCSE doesn’t seek donations more actively …

  83. #84 Wonder
    September 10, 2006

    re-Reading my post, how this conversation relates to animal behavior and their reactions to a ‘what’ which could in ignorance be confused with reactions to a ‘who’. I left that point, dull. Without considering that the metaphysical world as explained from many points of view and wonder, is separate and indeed different than the reality of this world here and now. Despite what enumerated the faithful, it is their right to wallow in it.

  84. #85 Chris
    September 10, 2006

    “Dawkins takes this bleak view … the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. How does Richard manage to get up in the morning?”

    Well, it doesn’t take an advance copy of _The God Delusion_ to answer that question: Dawkins addressed it specifically in the preface to _Unweaving the Rainbow_. Which I happen to have in arm’s reach, so here we go:

    Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don’t; not if we are sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected. But in this book I shall try a more positive response…

    I need only add that I pity anyone who has to believe in invisible spirits to have meaning and purpose in their lives. In fact, I think most people that do believe in such things *don’t* really need that belief, but they don’t know that they don’t need it, and use it as a kind of psychological crutch, to avoid the realization that they have ultimate responsibility for finding – or creating – the meaning and purpose in their own lives.

  85. #86 386sx
    September 10, 2006

    This is not what I said or meant. It’s difficult to respond to this sort of crap without cussing, but I will try.

    Oh, relax Mr. Matzke! Everybody else seems to be saying that this is a useful dialogue. Including Ken Miller. And what Ken Miller wants, Ken Miller gets.

  86. #87 Douglas Theobald
    September 10, 2006

    PZ:
    Yeah, that business with mocking Dawkins was also annoying. He apparently has The God Delusion, so he should know better: while Dawkins sees no purpose in physics, chemistry, and biology, that does not mean he is some kind of nihilist who can find no purpose in his own life or in the strivings of humanity. That was simply more atheist-bashing.

    Dunkelberg:
    Did Miller really say that dumb yet nasty thing about How does Dawkins get up? We know some people say things like that, but from a scientist it’s really bad.
    It is no better than blurting out a dumb nasty prejudice against any other group.

    What Miller really said, in context:

    [10:42]
    Isn’t Darwin’s legacy that we are just pointless, purposeless molecules that are here as the result of accidental collisions, and our lives are without meaning? There is in fact no shortage of scientists who are willing to say, pretty much, exactly that.

    [snip quote by David Hull, Nature]

    [11:35]
    Later on this semester you’re going to hear from Richard Dawkins, who is in my opinion the most brilliant and the most incisive writer on evolutionary theory alive. I have enormous respect for Dawkins. His book, The Selfish Gene, I think is the greatest book on evolution in the 20th century.

    Nonetheless, Dawkins takes this bleak view of what evolutionary science tells us about the world:

    “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, an no good — nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

    I always wonder, how does Richard manage to get up in the morning, if this is what he thinks?

    But the irony of this, is he says, this universe tells us that there is no purpose — I don’t know of anyone who lives his life with more drive and purpose than Richard Dawkins. And that’s the point to be made about the nature of this point of view.

    Now all of these assertions that I’ve just shown you, have something built into them that I think sometimes their advocates are unaware of — but you should be aware of. And that assertion is that science alone can lead us to the truth regarding the purpose of existence. Which is, of course, that it does not have a purpose. And that’s a bleak message. But the argument again is that science is the only road to truth.

    Now the reality of these statements, is that statements like that are philosophical — not scientific in nature. Now philosophical doesn’t mean wrong, it simply means not testable by the methods of science. And they actually have no more scientific standing than a statement that I might make about the purpose of existence on the basis of my own theistic points of view.

    Now, as I see it, this can only be interpreted as bashing atheists if you consider Dawkins’ view to be representative of all atheists, or if you consider pessimism to be a universal, necessarily quality of atheism and atheists. Seems to me Miller is simply arguing that a pessimistic view of the universe is a philosophical viewpoint that is outside of science, nothing more nor less. This is quite clear from the rhetorical question that he sets off to answer at the outset, and from the answer he finally arrives at in the last two sentences.

  87. #88 PZ Myers
    September 10, 2006

    Oh, sure. And if you pick some particular black person by name and joke about his fondness for watermelon and fried chicken, it must no longer be bigotry about a whole people.

    That nonsense about pessimism and nihilism and not being able to get up in the morning is stock atheist stereotyping. That he picks Dawkins as the target of the joke doesn’t mean it doesn’t reflect a fundamental ignorance about the minds of atheists. It’s also rather sneaky because Dawkins himself has published clear refutations of that caricature.

  88. #89 Douglas Theobald
    September 10, 2006

    I’ll just repeat what I said. This can only be interpreted as bashing atheists if you consider Dawkins’ view to be representative of all atheists, or if you consider pessimism to be a universal, necessary quality of atheism and atheists. Obviously you do for both. Your comment “that nonsense about pessimism” is nonsense itself. Dawkins published the quote attributed to him, and it is pessimistic as hell. Do you mean he has subsequently retracted what he wrote there?

    Comparing Miller’s comments to bigotry of ethnic minorities is pretty lame (and disrespectful in my opinion). Are you really trying to argue that we can’t even discuss or criticize Dawkins’ views without being immorally prejudiced? Criticism of Dawkins writings (or of atheism) is “un-PC” in your view?

  89. #90 PZ Myers
    September 10, 2006

    I was saying exactly the opposite: it wasn’t a criticism of Dawkins. It was the imposition of a fallacious stereotype about atheists on Dawkins. Go ahead and criticize him all you want, criticize atheists all you want, but you’ll have to excuse us if we roll our eyes when you do it on the basis of something as clueless as the ignorant stereotype that all atheists must be depressed.

    I don’t see anything pessimistic about the quote. It’s a description of the way the world is. Does imagining a cosmic CareBear who sheds a tear for you somehow make the universe more purposeful? Is belief in an imaginary being necessary for you to find meaning in your life? I find that as pessimistic as hell.

  90. #91 Douglas Theobald
    September 10, 2006

    It is hard for me to see how you can think that Miller’s comments are not a criticism of Dawkins when Miller quoted Dawkins and pointedly criticized the quote. That is hardly stereotyping either Dawkins or atheists. And Miller immediately points out the irony that Dawkins is not “depressed” and that he leads an incredibly purposeful life.

    If you don’t find the quote pessimistic, then what in the world would be a pessimistic description of the universe? Do you really think that all atheists hold the view expressed in Dawkins’ quote? I don’t, and I know a few who find this well-known quote to be embarassing. I mean, come on — there are plenty of people in the world who show pity and care for other people and animals. Last time I checked, people were a product of the universe and evolution. Surely an atheist could recognize the altruism rampant in biology — a more optimistic atheist could consider that as indicating the opposite of indifference in the universe, obviously.

  91. #92 PZ Myers
    September 10, 2006

    I don’t think you are getting the point of the quote. It’s not pessimistic at all: it’s realistic. This universe is not an overengineered habitrail designed for the incubation of either PZ Myers or Douglas Theobald.

    I’d be very curious to meet one of these atheists who believe that the universe is a purposeful and caring place. I’d also like to meet one who is embarrassed by the quote. I suspect it would be someone who actually hasn’t read much Dawkins. That the universe is pitiless and indifferent does not mean we are incapable of finding purpose and happiness in our own lives. Here’s something from Dawkins’ Devil’s Chaplain, for instance:

    There is more than just grandeur in this view of life, bleak and cold though it can seem under the security blanket of ignorance. There is deep refreshment to be had from standing up full-face into the keen wind of understanding: Yeat’s ‘Winds that blow through starry ways’. In another essay, I quote the words of an inspiring teacher, F.W. Sanderson, who urged his pupils to ‘live dangerously…’

    … full of the burning fire of enthusiasm, anarchic, revolutionary energetic, daemonic, Dionysian, filled to overflowing with the terrific urge to create–such is the life of the man who risks safety and happiness for the sake of growth and happiness.

    Safety and happiness would mean being satisfied with easy answers and cheap comforts, living a warm comfortable lie. The daemonic alternative urged by my matured Devil’s Chaplain is risky. You stand to lose comforting delusions: you can no longer suck at the pacifier of faith in immortality. To set against that risk, you stand to gain ‘growth and happiness’;the joy of knowing that you have grown up, faced up to what existence means; to the fact that it is temporary and all the more precious for it.

    Dawkins is not a pessimistic writer by any means. Miller selected a quote that defies theistic myths in which they find consolation, to act as if he’s just one of those glum, doomed atheists, and then tells everyone he’s actually a happy guy — to show that his writing is all a sham, as if Dawkins himself didn’t believe it. It suited his rhetorical purpose, no matter how false it was. He could instead have picked a more representative passage of Dawkins’ joy in life, but pffft. That wouldn’t do. We can’t be admitting to the godly that atheists live fulfilled lives, love people and are loved in return, and do things like, you know, help other people. Better to portray them as grumps who kick the dog and try to make everyone miserable in their pessimistic little books.

    So have you read anything by Dawkins? Aren’t you aware of the silliness of Miller’s portrayal?

  92. #93 Douglas Theobald
    September 10, 2006

    Well, there’s some nice pithy quote out there that I can’t find at the moment about how pessimists never fail to think of themselves as “realists“.

    I appreciate the nobility of Dawkins’ ability to find personal purpose in opposition to what he considers to be the “bleak and cold” universe in which he lives. However, Miller’s point still stands — it’s not silly, it’s accurate. Dawkins finds the universe itself to be bleak, cold, purposeless, pitiless, indifferent. That is not a scientific conclusion. It is a a philosophical interpretation, one that assigns human value judgments to the universe. Dawkins’ personal metaphysics forces him to find purpose in spite of his universe (which he obviously does, and one can validly wonder how he does, but that is in fact not Miller’s main point).

    Again, without recourse to theism, I can find (at least significant aspects of) the universe to be purposeful and caring, as evidenced by widespread biological altruism, by the apparent design/fine-tuning in the universe (which Dawkins paradoxically affirms in other writings), and by the existence of human elements that are not indifferent or cold or purposeless (and which are rightfully as much a part of the physical universe as atoms or pandas or mountains or whatnot). IOW, as there are obvious counterexamples, Dawkins’ quote is not realistic — it is simply his personal value judgement, based on a subjective interpretation and selection of the available evidence.

    Have I read anything by Dawkins? I have read more than I care to admit. In addition to probably dozens of independent articles and chapters, I’ve read many of his books in their entirety: River out of Eden, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mt Improbable, and The Extended Phenotype (thrice). I disagree with Miller about TSG; I think TEP is far and above Dawkins’ magnum opus, and one of the very most important evolutionary works of the last century (though hardly the ultimate). On the whole, though, I think his more popular writing are overdone and sententious. Like Miller, I find his extra-scientific philosophizing overly patronizing, and, well, just naively cheesy.

  93. #94 Pierce R. Butler
    September 10, 2006

    Douglas Theobald: … a a philosophical interpretation, one that assigns human value judgments to the universe.

    Read the Dawkins quote again: he notes an _absence_ of human values in the universe as a whole.

  94. #95 PZ Myers
    September 10, 2006

    Dawkins finds the universe itself to be bleak, cold, purposeless, pitiless, indifferent. That is not a scientific conclusion. It is a a philosophical interpretation, one that assigns human value judgments to the universe.

    No. He’s saying that the universe lacks the human values that would make it warm, purposeful, merciful, and caring. Which set of adjectives do you think most accurately describes a universe that is mostly vacuum, where radiation and heat or cold are completely inimical to our kind of life?

  95. #96 Jack Krebs
    September 10, 2006

    A note about Miller’s remark about “not knowing how Dawkins gets up in the morning,” which PZ calls “stock atheist stereotyping.” If you listen to the whole section on this, starting at about 11:30 on http://24.124.37.19:16080/science/kenmiller.9-7-06/01.speech/04.speech3.mp3, you will hear that Miller makes this comment good-humoredly, and follows it up by saying,

    “But the irony of this is that I don’t know of anyone who lives his life with more drive and purpose than Richard Dawkins.”

    He doesn’t go on, but if I were going on from that point I would say something like this:

    The fact that one doesn’t believe that the universe itself, or some God, gives purpose and meaning to live does not mean at all that one can’t have meaning and purpose in life. The materialist / atheist perspective in general holds that in some way or another we make our meaning and find our purpose from within our own nature and in part from our own choices.

    I would also direct everyone’s attention to Miller’s answer to the last question in the Q&A on http://24.124.37.19:16080/science/kenmiller.9-7-06/01.speech/05.qanda.mp3, where he is asked if all religious views are equal. This is a tough question, and I liked quite a bit of Miller’s answer.

    I’d like to make it clear, by the way, that I am not defending every single thing Miller said, or that I agree with him about his particular religious beliefs. What I am saying is that he has laid out a framework for a discussion that needs to be had.

  96. #97 Douglas Theobald
    September 10, 2006

    No. He’s saying that the universe lacks the human values that would make it warm, purposeful, merciful, and caring.

    OK, whatever, so the universe lacks those qualities. Same difference. The lack of light is … darkness. It’s still an extra-scientific value judgement.

    And one that is logically absurd assuming Dawkins’ own premises.

    You claim, as does Dawkins, that Dawkins’ human life is purposeful, in opposition to the universe. I’m also going to assume that you and I both agree that Dawkins can (at least occasionally) have pity, be caring (the opposite of indifferent), and be good.

    However, unless you are a Cartesian dualist like the ID-ists, Dawkins’ life, mind, characteristics, and purposes belong wholly to the physical universe. I also assume that this is your and Dawkins’ (and the usual atheist) view.

    Thus we have the illogical situation where Dawkins is simultaneously claiming that the universe is wholly purposeless yet parts are purposefull. This is a blatant inconsistency.

    You cannot simultaneously hold that (1) the universe is completely purposeless, that (2) humans can and do have purposeful lives, and that (3) humans are wholly part of the universe. The same argument applies to the other characteristics Dawkins applies to the universe: indifferent, pitiless, not good, not evil, bleak, cold. How do you get around this? Which one of the three is wrong?

  97. #98 Dude
    September 11, 2006

    Douglas Theobald said:
    “Thus we have the illogical situation where Dawkins is simultaneously claiming that the universe is wholly purposeless yet parts are purposefull. This is a blatant inconsistency.

    You cannot simultaneously hold that (1) the universe is completely purposeless, that (2) humans can and do have purposeful lives, and that (3) humans are wholly part of the universe. The same argument applies to the other characteristics Dawkins applies to the universe: indifferent, pitiless, not good, not evil, bleak, cold. How do you get around this? Which one of the three is wrong?”

    None of the three are wrong.

    Human “purpose” is an entirely subjective matter. Dawkins never claims otherwise. Your false conflation of an objective universal purpose and the subjective “purpose” that people can create in their lives is a blatant straw-man.

    But back on topic:

    Ken Miller, despite being an accomplished cell biologist and outspoken champion of the ToE, is not going to make any friends with his new take on the “anti-theistic interpretation of evolution”. I think it was a mistake on his part to introduce religion into the discussion of evolution.

  98. #99 PZ Myers
    September 11, 2006

    Jack, “good humor” does not excuse stereotyping and misrepresentation. Atheists are not a miserable, depressed lot, but we hear from Christians that we are. We also hear that we’re amoral SOBs who are plotting murder, rape, and theft. Maybe Miller can make a joke about that, too.

    Douglas, do you believe that Neptune really, deep down cares about you? That the Orion Nebula is a structure designed for the illumination of humankind? That rocks are there to be trod upon by your feet? The universe is not a friendly place for people, no matter how much you want to anthropomorphize it. Dawkins is right, and it’s not mere philosophy. It is a huge and fruitless mistake to view the universe as a place that has the well-being of humanity in mind.

    Of course Dawkins considers humanity part of the natural world. Your complaint doesn’t make sense. You’re confusing local conditions with a universal state. When the physicists report that the cosmic background temperature is about 3°K, do you claim that their view is falsified because you can see that the earth’s mean temperature is about 288°K? We build a caring environment for ourselves in our local culture. That the universe as a whole is uncaring is still a valid observation.

  99. #100 Richard Wein
    September 11, 2006

    Douglas Theobald: “Thus we have the illogical situation where Dawkins is simultaneously claiming that the universe is wholly purposeless yet parts are purposefull. This is a blatant inconsistency.

    Dude: Human “purpose” is an entirely subjective matter. Dawkins never claims otherwise. Your false conflation of an objective universal purpose and the subjective “purpose” that people can create in their lives is a blatant straw-man.

    Douglas’s error arises from overlooking an ambiguity in the word “purposeful”. It can have two different meanings:

    1. Made for a reason. E.g. a tool is made for hammering nails (and for the profit of the manufacturer).

    2. Having a reason to act. E.g. my purpose in eating is to satisfy my hunger.

    I can have a purpose in my life (meaning 2) regardless of whether I exist for a purpose (meaning 1).

    Incidentally, even if the Universe is purposeless, I could still exist for a purpose. E.g. my parents could have produced me to support them in their old age.

  100. #101 Richard Wein
    September 11, 2006

    I thought I would just add that, even if the Universe existed for a purpose (e.g. God’s), I need not necessarily accept that as my own purpose in life, any more than I need necessarily accept my parents’ purpose for me.

    While the Universe existing for a purpose might well give people some additional reason for getting up in the morning, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient reason.

    I agree with PZ that Ken Miller attempts to portray Dawkins’ (and other atheists’) position as incoherent when in fact it’s his own argument which is fallacious. What’s more it’s a simplistic and oft-refuted argument (refuted by Dawkins among others), which makes it all the more annoying. But for some reason I just can’t get as worked up about it as PZ does. ;-)

  101. #102 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    None of the three are wrong.
    Human “purpose” is an entirely subjective matter. Dawkins never claims otherwise. Your false conflation of an objective universal purpose and the subjective “purpose” that people can create in their lives is a blatant straw-man.

    The issue is not whether purpose is subjective or objective, whatever that could mean. If you are part of the universe, and you have purposes, then your purposes are necessarily part of the universe (whether you describe them as “subjective” or “objective”). You are a small part of the physical universe that is conscious and has purposes. When I look at the universe I see people doing lots of things, many of them purposeful, caring, and good. Thus I must conclude that parts of the universe have these same qualities.

    Richard, you say ” … even if the Universe is purposeless, I could still exist for a purpose.” I don’t see how, unless you are not part of the Universe. If you are part of the Universe, however, and you exist for a purpose, then the part of the Universe that is you must exist for a purpose. IOW, the Universe is not purposeless as Dawkins claims (and this holds even if the purposes the Universe has do not apply to it as a whole).

  102. #103 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    PZ:
    Of course Dawkins considers humanity part of the natural world. Your complaint doesn’t make sense. You’re confusing local conditions with a universal state.

    No I’m not — I’m not the one who made universal claims about the Universe. You and Dawkins claim the universe is purposeless. That can only be true if all local conditions in the universe are also purposeless.

    As a simple analogy, my shirt has parts that are green, other sections that are blue, and others that are black. My shirt is not colorless (as you would like to claim), even though one cannot validly say that the shirt as a whole is green, or blue, or black. My shirt has parts that are colored, and thus it is an error to claim that my shirt is colorless.

    s/my shirt/Universe/g
    s/colors/purposes/g

  103. #104 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    No, to show that the universe is not purposeless, all I have to do is show that parts of the universe are purposeful.

    Parts of the universe can be sentient (and purposeful), and the evidence I present are people. QED.

    The claim that the universe is not purposeless (contra Dawkins) does not entail that the universe as a whole has a single purpose.

    Analogous reasoning applies to the other characteristis that Dawkins claims the universe lacks: care, good, evil, design, etc.

  104. #105 Owlmirror
    September 11, 2006

    I think the problem is semantic, in the sense of focussing on specific details rather than generalities.

    One could legitimately say “That car is red”, and someone could just as legitimately point out that the windscreen, windows, tyres, interior (and so on) are not red; that the red is a rather thin layer of pgiment on the external part of the body.

    So the universe in general is purposeless, but the human component of the universe has purpose.

    Or something like that.

  105. #106 Steve LaBonne
    September 11, 2006

    Sorry, you’re very confused, unless you’re just using “the universe has purpose” in a Pickwickian way- not at all the way the “spiritually” minded intend that phrase to be understood- to mean “the universe contains entities which can entertain purposes”. If that’s what you’re doing, it’s just tiresome and irrelevant word-chopping.

  106. #107 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    The ocean contains entities which are fish. But the ocean is not a fish!!

    Correct, but again not my point. My point is that because the ocean contains living things, like fish, the ocean is not lifeless. My claim that the ocean is not lifeless in no way necessarily entails that the ocean itself is a living entity or that the ocean is a fish. Get it?

  107. #108 Steve LaBonne
    September 11, 2006

    Pure word chopping. The ocean is not “lifeless” but it’s also not alive. I’m not the one who needs to “get it”.

  108. #109 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    Religious peole are claiming a lot more by “the universe has a purpose” than just “the universe contains purposeful entities.”

    True, but I’m not specifically arguing here that the “universe has a purpose”. I’m showing why Dawkins’ universal negative is fallacious. In order to argue that the “universe has a purpose” it is necessary but insufficient to show that the universe is not purposeless.

  109. #110 Steve LaBonne
    September 11, 2006

    You’ve shown no such thing. But feel free to blabber on, solo.

  110. #111 PZ Myers
    September 11, 2006

    Douglas, you’ve got to be kidding. This is a ridiculous amount of unwarranted parsing.

    Dawkins said the universe is purposeless and bleak and uncaring. It is. There are rocks tumbling about in orbit around distant stars that don’t know who I am. There are bacteria right here on earth that see me as nothing more than a tasty perambulatory lump of protein and sugars. That’s what he means — the universe is mostly a nasty, unpleasant place for me and you.

    At the same time, we humans have our own goals and our own cultures and care about each other. Dawkins does not deny this, and in fact revels in it frequently and in his usual literary style. That we have been able to carve out our own wonderfully nurturing local environment does not mean that the universe as a whole supports us in that action. It’s indifferent.

    If you’ve got some reason to think that the second planet orbiting Betelgeuse is personally concerned about my plumbing, please let me know what it is.

  111. #112 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    That point of logic has nothing whatsoever to do with physicalism vs. dualism. If you think you’re making some kind of clever point, you’re not.

    And also once again, you’re using words in a Pickwickian sense.

    And also once again, you’re using words in a Pickwickian sense. Religious peole are claiming a lot more by “the universe has a purpose” than just “the universe contains purposeful entities.” Furthermore, you know that damned well.

    Let me spell out the relevance a bit more, since you don’t seem to be following.

    In the infamous quote, Dawkins is making an argument of the sort: A entails B, not B, therefore not A (modus tollens).

    Dawkins concludes that the universe is blind, pitiless, and indifferent. How so? He claims that if it were not blind, pitiless, and indifferent (A), then the universe would be expected to have elements that exhibit things like design, good, evil, and purposes (B). However, Dawkins sees no design, no good, no evil, and no purpose in the world (not B). Thus he concludes that at base the universe is not caring, shows no pity, has no purpose (not A).

    All I am doing is showing that there are obvious elements of our physical universe (e.g. people) that do show design, good, evil, and purposes (B), by Dawkins own admission. Thus Dawkins’ modus tollens argument is invalid, as the second premise is invalid. Your point is, apparently, that by establishing B I have not proven A (i.e., I cannot affirm the consequent), and I agree.

  112. #113 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    BTW Steve — I should also point out that I am not the one who has generalized about the whole (the Universe) from properties of its parts. That is Dawkins’ reasoning in the original quote (and PZ’s above) — bacteria see me as dinner, celestial rocks don’t know me, etc., thus the universe is indifferent, pitiless, purposeless.

  113. #114 Pierce R. Butler
    September 11, 2006

    If you’ve got some reason to think that the second planet orbiting Betelgeuse is personally concerned about my plumbing, please let me know what it is.

    According to the Grand Panimperator’s Chaometric Triangulators, that recent contretemps in your basement and yard was responsible for Her Ultimateness’s sudden fit of flatulosternutation which disrupted the 3,916th ritual of the Tar-Aiym Thang.

    A retaliatory armada is being assembled.

  114. #115 Caledonian
    September 11, 2006

    All I am doing is showing that there are obvious elements of our physical universe (e.g. people) that do show design, good, evil, and purposes (B), by Dawkins own admission. Thus Dawkins’ modus tollens argument is invalid, as the second premise is invalid. Your point is, apparently, that by establishing B I have not proven A (i.e., I cannot affirm the consequent), and I agree.

    Wrong. The second premise is about universal properties — the laws of physics, our observations of the cosmic enviroment, and so on — not particular minor aspects of the universe.

    Don’t even get me started on the ‘good and evil’ garbage you’ve tried to peddle. You can’t even define those concepts, much less demonstrate that humans possess those qualities.

  115. #116 David vun Kannon
    September 11, 2006

    PZ, I’m disappointed that the tone of your post was so hysteric, that you chose to use perjorative words such as “babbles”, and that you did not distinuish non-science from anti-science in referring to Dr. Miller’s positions. I’ve read Pharyngula with some regularity recently, and this is not one of your finer moments as a blogger.

  116. #117 Tom
    September 11, 2006

    As a fourth generation athiest, on my fater’s side, your reaction to Miller was the kind of thing I would never have heard from him but heard all the time from my mother who embraced athiesm after being raised a baptist. Why so knee jerk? I believe science shows the possibility of the existance of god to be vanishingly remote, but that does not mean the evolution disproves god. Fundamentalists conflate evolution with athiesm all the time and shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

  117. #118 Gorbe
    September 11, 2006

    Is there any wonder why non-believers fail to gain momentum in terms of mainstream understanding? What little commonality there is, is often over-shadowed by those who focus on differences; and would rather spend time splitting hairs and getting into endless philosophical discussions.

    I don’t share Dr. Miller’s religious views. And, I’m not able to reconcile Christian Theology with an approach to knowledge that relies on methodological materialism, to say nothing of the theological paradoxes, contradictions, etc. that exist solely within the scope of religion.

    But, that’s just me. In the meantime, I am willing to give Dr. Miller the benefit of the doubt and work with him. I don’t count him as someone antagonistic towards science; nor do I consider him to be a friend of fundamentalists. Could he choose his words more wisely? Perhaps. But, I don’t think it is worth burning a bridge everytime a science-friendly religionists doesn’t speak exactly as some purists think he should.

  118. #119 AnthonyK
    September 11, 2006

    I find this all very depressing. My view, and I suspect that of many on this blog, is that though I am an atheist it is not accepting evolution that makes me so, nor looking at the world through scientific glasses, but other more base considerations – such as that god, if he exists, must be the biggest cunt in the universe. The only thing science and evolution have to with it is that where some religionists make statements about stuff I know to be true, they are wrong, hence, so is their superstition.
    However attacking Dr Miller because he does see a loving god at the centre of creation seems to me mean spirited. After all I thought that we held that evolution was not inherently athiestic, and that it was not incompatible with religious faith. You do not have to be an athiest to accept evolution, it is not itself a religion in competition with others. Let Dr Miller attack atheism on any grounds whatsoever and let’s have the arguments on those grounds, but let us accept as pointed out above that Dr Miller is one of the best anti-creationists we have (he writes the biology books that kids first learn from, for pete’s sake). It just seems a disservice to a religious man who agrees with us to attack him becaause he is, well, religious, and makes us seem like the caricatures of creationist imagings. Baby’s blood, anyone?

  119. #120 qetzal
    September 11, 2006

    Douglas Theobald wrote:

    “[PZ] and Dawkins claim the universe is purposeless. That can only be true if all local conditions in the universe are also purposeless.”

    Dawkins’s quote is:

    “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good — nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” (emphasis added)

    In light of the emphasized phrase, it seems obvious that Dawkins is only claiming there is no purpose to the universe as a whole. He is not claiming that purpose does not exist anywhere in the universe, as you seem to think.

  120. #121 PZ Myers
    September 11, 2006

    I believe science shows the possibility of the existance of god to be vanishingly remote, but that does not mean the evolution disproves god.

    Theist canard #1: atheists claim they have disproven god.

    I don’t make such a claim, nor do I know of any atheists who do. I know that Ken Miller thinks that’s the basis of our position, though.

  121. #122 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    All I am doing is showing that there are obvious elements of our physical universe (e.g. people) that do show design, good, evil, and purposes (B), by Dawkins own admission. Thus Dawkins’ modus tollens argument is invalid, as the second premise is invalid. Your point is, apparently, that by establishing B I have not proven A (i.e., I cannot affirm the consequent), and I agree.

    Caledonian:
    Wrong. The second premise is about universal properties — the laws of physics, our observations of the cosmic enviroment, and so on — not particular minor aspects of the universe.

    Sorry, but Dawkins certainly is talking about particular aspects of the universe in the second premise. Have you even read River Out of Eden and the chapter where the quote is from? If you had, you would know that he is generalizing from specific cases to a property of the universe as a whole. Here is a bit more context:

    The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

    The “properties we expect” of the universe (i.e., premise B of the modus tollens) is all that stuff about animals suffering found at the beginning of the extended quote.

  122. #123 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    Theist canard #1: atheists claim they have disproven god.

    I don’t make such a claim, nor do I know of any atheists who do.

    George Smith (author of Atheism: The Case Against God) is one famous and influential counterexample.

  123. #124 Chris
    September 11, 2006

    Fallacy of composition. Parts of the universe have purposes (generally at cross-purposes with other parts), but the universe as a whole has no purpose. The ocean is not a fish, the set of even numbers is not an even number, beer is not water. Indeed, you seem to be confusing “beer is not water” with “beer is dry”.

    Can you genuinely not see how it’s valid to say that your hypothetical shirt has no overall color?

    Anyway, my quarrel with Miller is not that he claims the I (and other atheists) agree with Dawkins’s philosophy; while I can’t speak for other atheists, I generally *do* agree with Dawkins’s philosophy. But I agree with the real version, not the straw-man.

    And I think that Miller’s conjunction of “Dawkins’s philosophy is so bleak and hopeless” with “Dawkins is actually a purposeful and driven man” is intended to imply hypocrisy. He’s deliberately, and falsely, painting Dawkins as a passionate advocate for apathy. That annoys me.

  124. #125 Bruce Wilson
    September 11, 2006

    I can’t contend with the depth of this argument, nor do I wish to.

    But, I will say this :

    Has anyone here ever heard of the Damnatio Memoriae ?

    The Romans used to do it – efface all traces of certain of the powerful who had fallen from favor, in an attempt to remove memory of that person from the historical record.

    That was done too, and almost succesfully, with the Pharoah Aknenaton.

    My point has nothing to do with truth – in fact, it involves the observation that – in certain cases – truths can be quite irrelevant in the face of political forces and movements that are willing and able to disregard them.

    Atheism vs. theism is a rube’s game.

    There’s a debate raging over at Ed Brayton’s forum, and I’ve said more there.

    Good luck persuading each other !

  125. #126 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    Can you genuinely not see how it’s valid to say that your hypothetical shirt has no overall color?

    I certainly see how that is valid, if you mean that my shirt has no overall specific color — I’ve said as much above. But that is hardly the same as being colorless or having no color (the analog of Dawkins’ claim). My shirt cannot be characterized by an absence of color overall or in general — it is in fact colored, precisely because some of its parts have different colors. Can you genuinely not see how strange it would be if somebody came up to me and said with a straight face that my blue, green, and black shirt was colorless?

  126. #127 Owlmirror
    September 11, 2006

    Can you genuinely not see how strange it would be if somebody came up to me and said with a straight face that my blue, green, and black shirt was colorless?

    Can we drop the shirt analogy? I don’t think it works very well.

    How about this instead: A giant pool filled with pure water. Drop in one tiny grain of pollen, with some amoeba on it.

    One amoeba (Dawkins, et al) says: We are in a pool of pure water (the universe is purposeless).

    Another amoeba (you) says: Ah, but we’re in the pool as well (humans are also part of the universe), therefore the water is not completely, 100% pure water (humans have a feeling of purpose).

    Ultimately, you’re both right, but I think it depends how important you consider the 99.999999999(etc)% of the universe that isn’t human and is purposeless to the definition of “universe”.

    I think Dawkins is justified in considering the miniscule fraction of the universe that is humanity to be negligable when he’s making a general statement about the universe as a whole.

    I suppose, though, that to many amoeba on this grain of pollen of ours, the fact that the rest of the universe is pure water is less important to them than their interactions with the other amoeba on the pollen, since that’s what they have to deal with 99.99(etc)% of their time.

  127. #128 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    Caledonian:
    Don’t even get me started on the ‘good and evil’ garbage you’ve tried to peddle. You can’t even define those concepts, much less demonstrate that humans possess those qualities.

    As a working definition, I’m personally comfortable with equating “good” with conscious genetic altruism: conscious behavior that benefits other organisms, at a cost to oneself, where cost is measured in fitness (expected reproductive success). That humans possess this form of goodness is factual.

  128. #129 Douglas Theobald
    September 11, 2006

    Owlmirror — I don’t have much complaint with that characterization (I can’t believe you don’t like the parable of the shirt!). It actually makes two of the main points I’ve been trying to make: (1) Dawkins is technically incorrect, though (2) one could consider his point as a reasonable fuzzy generalization if you’re a pessimist.

  129. #130 George
    September 11, 2006

    From: Good And Bad Reasons For Believing (Richard Dawkins)

    “It’s a pity, but it can’t help being the case, that because children have to be suckers for traditional information, they are likely to believe anything the grown-ups tell them, whether true or false, right or wrong. Lots of what the grown-ups tell them is true and based on evidence, or at least sensible. But if some of it is false, silly, or even wicked, there is nothing to stop the children believing that, too. Now, when the children grow up, what do they do? Well, of course, they tell it to the next generation of children. So, once something gets itself strongly believed – even if it is completely untrue and there never was any reason to believe it in the first place – it can go on forever.

    Could this be what has happened with religions? Belief that there is a god or gods, belief in Heaven, belief that Mary never died, belief that Jesus never had a human father, belief that prayers are answered, belief that wine turns into blood – not one of these beliefs is backed up by any good evidence. Yet millions of people believe them. Perhaps this because they were told to believe them when they were told to believe them when they were young enough to believe anything.”

    http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/dawkins2.html

    I don’t know if Ken Miller has kids, but I wonder what he would want a child of his to learn about the religion he professes. Which person comes to the fore, the scientist, or the Roman Catholic? At least Dawkins doesn’t have a lot of explaining to do.

  130. #131 tyro 52
    September 12, 2006

    Douglas Theobald: I don’t know much about these things, but I’ll do my best. I’d like to add my two cents worth by recapping the issue in question form.

    Above, Richard Wein gave two definitions of purpose that seem relevent to the discussion:

    1. Made for a reason. E.g. a tool is made for hammering nails (and for the profit of the manufacturer).

    2. Having a reason to act. E.g. my purpose in eating is to satisfy my hunger.

    I’ll restate these (I won’t go into why) as:

    1. Reason for existing.

    2. Intention.

    Given these definitions, if, as you say, the universe is purposeful, you should be able to answer either or both of the two questions that arise: what is the reason for the universe’s existence; what is the universe’s intention?

  131. #132 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    Goodness, Douglas Theobald has a gift for selective perception. Our world isn’t particularly suited for non-suffering animal life. The rest of the universe, to the best of our knowledge and our ability to observe, is utterly hostile to animal life of all kinds.

    There are simply no signs whatsoever that the universe has any purpose, and a great deal of evidence against specific hypothesized purposes (the universe exists as a home for mankind, for example).

  132. #133 Ichneumon
    September 12, 2006

    Nick (Matzke) wrote:

    Let’s look at what Ken Miller has done with his life:
    [big snip]
    Now, really, just what in holy hell does a guy have to do get a little of respect from you guys? “Ken Miller, creationist.” Cripes, listen to yourselves!

    The use of the word “respect” here has led to a misunderstanding, I believe, as demonstrated by subsequent replies.

    Nick, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you really driving at a point better expressed as the following:

    Now, really, [after all that pro-evolution work,] just what in holy hell does a guy have to do get the benefit of the doubt from you guys?

    That is, aren’t you trying to ask why a number of people here are presuming the worst about some of Miller’s remarks, instead of considering that someone who has been so consistenly on the side of the angels (no pun intended) as Miller has been on this topic might have meant the remarks in a more charitable way, and may not have been declaring jihad as some are so quick to interpret his remarks?

  133. #134 PZ Myers
    September 12, 2006

    Have you read Finding Darwin’s God?

    What has become apparent is Miller’s consistent pattern of promoting his Catholicism and slamming freethought. The bad guys in the second half of that book are Lewontin and Dawkins; the guy seriously makes an argument against deism, even, to claim that science reinforces his belief in the rightness of the Abrahamic religions.

    This is not a criticism out of nowhere based on a few uncharitably interpreted remarks. Some of us have had a growing uneasiness with the fact that he’s on the side of goofy theological nonsense for a long time.

  134. #135 Ichneumon
    September 12, 2006

    PZ Myers wrote:

    I was saying exactly the opposite: it wasn’t a criticism of Dawkins. It was the imposition of a fallacious stereotype about atheists on Dawkins. Go ahead and criticize him all you want, criticize atheists all you want, but you’ll have to excuse us if we roll our eyes when you do it on the basis of something as clueless as the ignorant stereotype that all atheists must be depressed.

    I think you’re off base here. The way I hear it, Miller was gently tweaking the ignorant theist stereotype of atheists, not imposing or validating it.

    He repeated the common stereotype, and acknowledged that one might get such an impression from the kind of comments atheists sometimes make [cue Dawkins quote], BUT, Miller goes on to point out, even arch-atheist and boogeyman-of-theists Richard Dawkins himself nonetheless is a very purposeful person with a positive attitude. The unspoken conclusion that Miller led his audience to was, “therefore the dour, nihilistic stereotype of atheists is not true after all”.

    Apparently Miller’s presentation on this point was a bit too subtle, and perhaps he needed to spell out his conclusion for those who might be a little slow connecting the dots, but it seems to me that by clearly presenting to his audience the contradiction (between the stereotype and the kind of “purposeless” quotes atheists may say or be quote-mined as saying, versus their actual demeanor and behavior), Miller was attempting to demonstrate the fallacy of the stereotype, not “impose” the stereotype.

  135. #136 PZ Myers
    September 12, 2006

    Like I asked, have you read Finding Darwin’s God? He hammered on that pessimism theme in there quite a bit, too.

    I heard something very different. What I heard was a stereotype, and then a description of Dawkins character that was out of joint with it as an attempt to show, not that the stereotype is wrong, but that atheists are hypocrites who don’t even believe what they write in their books. That interpretation is more consistent with what he has written.

    We don’t need Miller telling people that Dawkins is positive and purposeful. Dawkins says that very forcefully in his books.

  136. #137 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    Even better: Dawkins doesn’t say it, he demonstrates it.

    What has Miller been demonstrating, other than that like the Creationists, he will deny his reason when it conflicts with a conclusion that he desires?

  137. #138 demallien
    September 12, 2006

    Douglas, you’re going to have to respond to tyro52′s question, which I’m going to rephrase slightly:
    How does the fact that humans have purpose either a)give reason to the universe’s existence, or b) give an intention to the universe?

    Quite frankly, I for one can not see how purposeful humans can change one iota either the raison d’être, or the goals of the universe. I mean if I was to look at my own personal influence on the universe, the best I can do is suggest that perhaps a radio programme that I participated in once has been broadcast, and that the signal used MAY, if you have a really souped up detector, be detectable out to the heliopause (I doubt it, but maybe…)

    Certainly the 99.999999999% of the rest of the universe is blissfully unaware of my existence (and indeed of the existence of humans as a whole). You seem to be arguing for a kind of intergalactic Gaia – purposeful humans = purposeful whole – but unless you can propose some of the mechanisms by which such an intergalactic Gaia could reasonably function, the whole conflation of purposeful humans with a purposeful universe is just nonsense…

  138. #139 Caledonian
    September 12, 2006

    He seems more to be arguing that purpose is like a drop of dye placed in a cup of water. If the water is colored by the dye, then the universe must be granted purpose by the existence of purposeful things inside it.

    If you follow that, there’re some doctrines about the Trinity I’d like to sell you…

  139. #140 Owlmirror
    September 12, 2006

    (I can’t believe you don’t like the parable of the shirt!).

    The problem with the parable of the shirt is that the multiple colours is confusing; it doesn’t map to the points of your argument.

    An analogy that does is this: you have a completely spotless white shirt. One single molecule of blue dye is added to the shirt. You’re saying that once this happens, the shirt can no longer be called spotlessly white, and even calling it “white” is wrong, because that one molecule of dye taints the definition. Or something like that.

    one could consider his point as a reasonable fuzzy generalization if you’re a pessimist.

    Well… I think he would call himself a realist. And actually, so would I.

    It’s realistic to speak of the universe as purposeless, since most of it is. It’s also realistic to point out that humans can nevertheless have purpose in their lives, since humans can cheerfully (or optimistically, if you will) get along by not worrying about “most of” the universe; our miniscule percentage of the universe looms large simply because of our perspective.

    Which Douglas Adams had some thoughts about:

    The Universe, as has been observed before, is an unsettlingly big place, a fact which for the sake of a quiet life most people tend to ignore.

    Many would happily move to somewhere rather smaller of their own devising, and this is what most beings in fact do.

    For instance, in one corner of the Eastern Galactic Arm lies the large forest planet Oglaroon, the entire “intelligent” population of which lives permanently in one fairly small and crowded nut tree. In which tree they are born, live, fall in love, carve tiny speculative articles in the bark on the meaning of life, the futility of death and the importance of birth control, fight a few extremely minor wars, and eventually die strapped to the underside of some of the less accessible outer branches.

    In fact the only Oglaroonians who ever leave their tree are those who are hurled out of it for the heinous crime of wondering whether any of the other trees might be capable of supporting life at all, or indeed whether the other trees are anything other than illusions brought on by eating too many Oglanuts.

    Exotic though this behaviour may seem, there is no life form in the Galaxy which is not in some way guilty of the same thing, which is why the Total Perspective Vortex is as horrific as it is.

    For when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says “You are here.”

  140. #141 Pete K
    September 12, 2006

    Erm, something can be “cold, pitiless and indifferent”, As long as PZ Myers and Ken Miller do good science, I don’t care what they believe, or don’t believe.

  141. #142 Pete K
    September 12, 2006

    Erm, something can be “cold, pitiless and indifferent”, and still have purpose. As long as PZ Myers and Ken Miller do good science, I don’t care what they believe, or don’t believe.

  142. #143 Gary Hurd
    September 12, 2006

    Listening to Miller’s talk and reading the comments here and elsewhere, I am struck by how Miller and his support crew think that the religious are clear headed charitable people, and his critics view these same people as violent psychotic fanatics.

  143. #144 Kagehi
    September 12, 2006

    Odd, since I suspect that if you listened to his critics talk about just about any subject other than religion, you would find that they not only thought, but generally are, clear headed charitable people, while the religious view us as defacto violent psychotic fanatics. The question that has to be asked imho, is which group is more likely to contain people that are prone to lying about, unreasonably demonizing and even blowing up things they don’t like…

    But seriously, we are not talking about the wishy washy people that Miller was adressing in the most general sense, who only talk behind our back and eye us funny, in case we do something obviously evil. The people we have a problem with, and which Miller is also addressing, are the sorts that have *literally* made statements like, “Athiests are immoral and shouldn’t even be considered citizens”, and, “It is far more important to save souls than use charity money to cure the sick.” You know.. The sociopathic types that think its OK to ask you to convert to their religion *before* they are willing to drag you out of a burning car. I am not sure what other term is appropriate for these people, except violent psychotic fanatic, or why we should give them some bizzare benefit of the doubt, when their thinking, tactics and methods of dealing with those who are not in the right sub-cult has been consistently insane for thousands of years, and only seems to get worse when they gain political power some place.

  144. #145 C French
    September 12, 2006

    I’m joining this conversation a bit late, but I have to get my two cents in there…
    I’m a biology major and a Christian. I find the Christians who refuse evolution out of their own ignorance (or due to misinformation from folks like Dr. Dino) quite frustrating. But the scientists who mock religion and act as though science rules out God are absolutely ridiculous. If you don’t want religious people to step over the line into the science classroom, perhaps you should not use the arena of science to be so hostile toward religion.
    Your criticism of Dr. Miller is way out of line.

  145. #146 Steve_C
    September 12, 2006

    But religion is bullshit.
    Science doesn’t rule out god.
    Common sense does.

  146. #147 Steve LaBonne
    September 12, 2006

    C. French, it’s your right to hold two incompatible sets of ideas- and my right to mock you for it. Christian dogma cannot honestly be reconciled with what science has taught us about the universe. (The lameness of the latter part of Miller’s book is a good example of the lamentable stuff that results from trying.) If being told that causes you discomfort, I can only suggest that you look to the source of the problem- the ancient myths that you’ve uncritically swallowed.

    And science does rule out an active God who arbitrarily intervenes in the course of natural events, leaving room only for the rather pointless postulation of a Deist “dieu fainéant”.

  147. #148 Owlmirror
    September 12, 2006

    If you don’t want religious people to step over the line into the science classroom, perhaps you should not use the arena of science to be so hostile toward religion.

    Hm. I think most scientists do try to keep their heads down, and try to avoid being overtly hostile towards religion. Vocal gadflys like Dawkins and PZ are relatively rare.

    However, this has not stopped certain religious persons and groups in being very hostile towards science. “Stepping over the line” is something they feel ideologically driven to do. And really, I think the Dawkins and PZ could very easily claim that they are the ones in reaction to that hostility, rather than the initiators.

  148. #149 Caledonian
    September 13, 2006

    But the scientists who mock religion and act as though science rules out God are absolutely ridiculous.

    Science rules out religion. As Steve_C pointed out above, it’s rudimentary logic (otherwise known as common sense) that rules out God.

  149. #150 Paul Lucas, Ph.D.
    September 14, 2006

    Ken Miller is absolutely correct. Some scientists, like Richard Dawkins, extrapolate beyond what science can tell us, draw metaphysical conclusions, and then mistakenly call those conclusions “science”. Science is not atheistic nor does it support atheism. Science is agnostic.

    So, yes, people like Ham are shooting at the wrong target. They are shooting at evolution when they want to be shooting at atheism. Miller did NOT say atheism is wrong, only that Ham’s disagreement is with atheism, not evolution.

    Also, Miller’s point is that the attempt to make science be only atheist is just as harmful to science as creationism is. Again, he’s right. In order to do that, you must change science. Some of the changes are seen in the arguments used here:

    “Claims that gods do not exist or do not interfere in natural processes, and that we must base our interpretations on an assumption that events occur by the action of natural phenomena, however, have been the essential operational basis of all of science, and that has worked incredibly well. Barring the presentation of any positive evidence, a scientist should provisionally reject the existence of a postulated force that does nothing, is indetectable, and that even its proponents argue would exert only actions that are indistinguishable from what would occur in its absence.”

    If we as scientists actually used this idea, nearly all hypotheses would have to be rejected before we even tested them! All initially fit this description. As one example, tachyons would have to be rejected. They are indetectable and, if they exist, exert actaions that are indistinguishable from those that occur in their absence.

    Yet we DO NOT provisionally reject tachyons. Why not? Because science doesn’t operate as this particular atheist wants it to. Instead, yes, you can prove a negative. That’s what you do all the time using the deductive logic used by science. The earth is NOT flat. A negative. And proved. The earth is NOT the center of the solar system. Each species was NOT specially created in its present form. All negatives. All proved. That’s the basis of deductive logic and falsification

    When you can’t disprove an entity, it stays on the table as a possibility. As Paul Davies describes the attitude toward both tachyons and time travel:

    “1. Tachyons: can we rule them out.

    The special theory of relativity has been tested to unprecedented accuracy, and appears unassailable. Yet tachyons are a problem. Though they are allowed by the theory, they bring with them all sorts of unpalatable properties. Physicists would like to rule them out once and for all, but lack a convincing nonexistence proof. Until they construct one, we cannot be sure that a tachyon won’t suddenly be discovered.

    3. Time travel: just a fanstasy?

    The investigation of exotic spacetimes that seem to permit travel into the past will remain an active field of research. So far, the loophole in the known laws of physics that permits time travel is very small indeed. Realistic time-travel scenarios are not known at the time of writing. But as with tachyons, in the absence of a no-go proof, the possibility has to stay on the agenda. So long as it does, paradoxes will haunt us.” Paul Davies, About Time, 1994.

    Science has NEVER claimed gods do not exist. Science can’t do this. Science is limited to looking at only material causes because of how experiments are done. We don’t know if there is also a supernatural cause that is also necessary. As Gould and others have put it, science does not comment on the existence of gods or the supernatural. Again, atheists would have us change science in order for atheism to be valid. Creationism wants us to change or discard particular theories. Militant atheism wants us to change the foundation of science and how we do it. Both those positions are harmful.

    ” To say it for all my colleageues and for the umpteenth millionth time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.” SJ Gould, Impeaching a self-appointed judge. Scientific American, 267:79-80, July 1992.

    “It should come as no surprise that many individual scientists, such as Provine, extrapolate from hard evidence and, as part of their private world view, apply the rules of their profession to reach metaphysical conclusions about what kinds of things do or do not exist. Provine is obvously impressed with the explanatory power of evolutionary theory and sees no justification for invoking surpernatural concepts. …But there are no generally accepted criteria for when an explanation should be felt to be adequate [emphasis in original] We have no alternative but to consign such judgements to the private world view of each individual. Johnson is right to challenge scientists who, in speaking to the public, fail to distinguish between well-documentd conclusions of science and their own metaphysical extrapolations.” K.D Fezer, Is Science’s Naturalism Metaphysical or Methodological? in Creation/Evolution, vol 39, pp31-33, 1996.

    And Miller is correct in doing so also. There is nothing wrong with being an atheist. But it is wrong to claim atheism is a conclusion and inevitable result of science.

  150. #151 Steve LaBonne
    September 14, 2006

    Science has also never claimed that orbiting teapots and invisible pink unicorns can be proved not to exist. Shall we leave them on the table as possibilities seriously to be considered by science? If not, why the different status you would accord, say, to the Christian God?

  151. #152 Steve_C
    September 14, 2006

    Atheists have no reason or need to change science.
    There is no supernatural. There is no god. If science discovered “god”.
    We would have to change our viewpoint.
    But we all know that that will not happen.

    The faithful like to point to science and say it doesn’t apply to what
    they believe because it is beyond science’s scope.

    Ask yourself why?

  152. #153 Paul Lucas, Ph.D.
    September 14, 2006

    “there is no evidence supporting the existence of any deities. Miller should know this.”

    This is not true. David Hume showed back in the 1700s that “evidence” is personal experience: what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and feel emotionally. No one since has disagreed. Science works with a subset of personal experience called “intersubjective”. This is personal experience that is the same for everyone under approximately the same set of circumstances. However, if the whole set of personal experiences were completely unreliable, the subset could not be reliable.

    The evidence for the existence of deity is personal experience. Some of it was written down in texts that people call “scripture”. Most personal experiences of deity are not. They are private.

    Now, many people do not have personal experience of deity. That would include all atheists and agnostics. After all, if they had such experience, they would be theists.

    So, you can legitimately say that there is no intersubjective evidence for the existence of deity. But the statement “there is no evidence” is simply not accurate.

    Obviously, atheists do not regard the personal experiences of deity to be valid. So you can say “there is no evidence of deity that I personally consider to be valid”. However, that is very different from saying “there is no evidence”.

  153. #154 Steve LaBonne
    September 14, 2006

    Again, what makes the status of the Christian God different, in your opinion, from that of orbiting teapots and invisible pink unicorns? IS that status actually differnet, in your opinion? Unless you address these questions you’re simply engaging in special pleading for a belief that happens to be traditional.

    By the way, who do you think you’re impressing by putting “Ph.D” after your name? There are a number of us around here who hold that degree.

  154. #155 Steve_C
    September 14, 2006

    There is no evidence you goof. What I experience while tripping on acid doesn’t mean the trancluscent snakes crawling around the room are real… or evidence of a new breed of snake.

    Experience does not equal evidence.

  155. #156 Steve LaBonne
    September 14, 2006

    P.S. You are quite wrong to think that “no one since has disagreed” with the Humean brand of extreme empiricism. Quite the opposite is true; not even someone like Quine would go as far nor would he be the least bit impressed by the “evidence” of believers’ delusions. (Actually Hume wasn’t either; like Quine, he was talking about sensory experience.)Untestable subjective “experience” is not evidence at all according to ANY competent epistemological theory.

  156. #157 Ken Cope
    September 14, 2006

    The evidence for the existence of deity is personal experience. Some of it was written down in texts that people call “scripture”. Most personal experiences of deity are not. They are private.

    Now, many people do not have personal experience of deity. That would include all atheists and agnostics. After all, if they had such experience, they would be theists.

    Have you never encountered the notion of an apostate?

    I’m an atheist who has had several experiences that, at the time, I considered personal experiences of deity. After much introspection and study I concluded that I had merely been very good at convincing myself that what I wanted to conclude from my beliefs about the experiences was true. I have no way of knowing how those experiences could be less compelling and convincing than similar experiences interpreted as confirming the beliefs of those who retain their theism. You may wish to impugn the experiences of an apostate as contrasted with those of a theist, but I’d like to see how you could do so using anything other than religious arguments. How would you propose to determine whose experiences were “legitimate” and whose were not? mine? the theists? both? neither?

    So, you can legitimately say that there is no intersubjective evidence for the existence of deity. But the statement “there is no evidence” is simply not accurate.

    Evidence for belief cannot by itself be considered compelling evidence for the subject of the belief.

    Science will continue to be the practice of methodological naturalism, without theism, no matter what its practitioners privately believe. The “goddidit” hypothesis has been soundly refuted by science in multiple instances. Let me know when we can cease to give equal weight to the hypothesis that Jove or Thor are responsible for thunder.

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