Pharyngula

Somebody gets it.

Now what are we to think of a scientist who seems competent inside the laboratory, but who, outside the laboratory, believes in a spirit world?  We ask why, and the scientist says something along the lines of:  "Well, no one really knows, and I admit that I don’t have any evidence – it’s a religious belief, it can’t be disproven one way or another by observation."  I cannot but conclude that this person literally doesn’t know why you have to look at things.  They may have been taught a certain ritual of experimentation, but they don’t understand the reason for it – that to map a territory, you have to look at it – that to gain information about the environment, you have to undergo a causal process whereby you interact with the environment and end up correlated to it.  This applies just as much to a double-blind experimental design that gathers information about the efficacy of a new medical device, as it does to your eyes gathering information about your shoelaces.

Maybe our spiritual scientist says:  "But it’s not a matter for experiment.  The spirits spoke to me in my heart."  Well, if we really suppose that spirits are speaking in any fashion whatsoever, that is a causal interaction and it counts as an observation.  Probability theory still applies.  If you propose that some personal experience of "spirit voices" is evidence for actual spirits, you must propose that there is a favorable likelihood ratio for spirits causing "spirit voices", as compared to other explanations for "spirit voices", which is sufficient to overcome the prior improbability of a complex belief with many parts.  Failing to realize that "the spirits spoke to me in my heart" is an instance of "causal interaction", is analogous to a physics student not realizing that a "medium with an index" means a material such as water.

It’s like asking someone if they understand science, and they can recite a string of facts at you … but they haven’t absorbed the concept.

Comments

  1. #1 Rocky
    January 22, 2007

    If I started hearing voices, demons, or hearing something that is not there, I would quickly get myself tested for schizophrenia! I cannot understand how delusions or firmly held but false beliefs can be considered “holy” in any way.

  2. #2 t. comfyshoes
    January 22, 2007

    That whole brain-compartmentalization thing just blows my mind. I have an in-law whose day job is in a donor matching lab for organ transplants.

    She spends the rest of her life accumulating and spreading woo, from Xi Gong to Shamanism (and is an accredited practitioner of at least a dozen altie methodologies whose theoretical bases fundamentally contradict one another, but she switches from one to the next without batting an eye.)

  3. #3 fontor
    January 22, 2007

    Yes, yes, yes. So many religious people have told me, “Of course you can be a scientist and believe in God.”

    And my response is always, “If a scientist claims to believe in gods, spirits, angels, and what not, then something’s gone horribly wrong with their scientific training.”

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    January 22, 2007

    Xi Gong

    Add a [t] sound in front: Qi Gong.

  5. #5 David Marjanovi?
    January 22, 2007

    Xi Gong

    Add a [t] sound in front: Qi Gong.

  6. #6 bfy
    January 22, 2007

    I think this sort of compartmentized thinking is worse among working scientists than other professions. The ability and habit of thinking in reductionist terms, and to bring problems into fine focus, lends itself to the growth of mental,unlinked, ‘silos’ of thought. I recently had a discussion with a successful PhD candidate in genomics who had been working on a physical map of a fish (won’t say which one) and was perfectly comfortable with the notion of intelligent design. I was gobsmacked. But the reality is that many, if not most, working scientists rarely deal with big picture issues, or have to look at the world from 30,000 feet. They focus, focus, focus, and move on.

  7. #7 Anna
    January 22, 2007

    Great so now we have a doctrine test for practicing science! What next the Inquisition?

  8. #8 Steve LaBonne
    January 22, 2007

    Nooooobody expects the Meyers Inquisition! 😉

  9. #9 MiddleKid
    January 22, 2007

    I grew up with both parents partitioning their separate fantasy worlds off from the real world. Usually things would go smoothly, but when they didn’t — when worlds collided — the consequences were double-taking jaw-dropping bone-jarring bizarre.

    My father would often be off in Whereverland, and it would take time, trying, and retrying, to get his attention in the real world. Once there, he would quickly repond to the situation, and immediately return to wherever. Whenever the real world interrupted with no warning, however, he would respond like someone coming out of a trance, or out of a dead sleep, needing help to sort out where he was, and when it was.

    My mother had two sets of children, the real and the other ones. Rarely she would trip up and say to a real kid what she meant for the fantasy kid. The fantasy kids apparently were independently wealthy, went gallivanting around the world, had sports cars, had nice clothes, and had wonderful experiences.

    I had one suit from 7th through 12th grades — the same suit, black wool, taken in to fit me at first, and let out as I grew a foot. One day my mother had me put on my suit to go into the city with my father. After I put on the suit, she commented in front of the family, why did I have to wear my worst suit? Everyone was stunned, even my father. They all knew about the one suit, as it was an embarrassment to all of them. Next she sent me out to weed the yard. In my suit? No: in your suit you’re going into town; in your yard clothes you’re going out to do the weeding.

    You see, she was confusing the real son with the fantasy son, and vice versa, in real time, right in front of the rest of the family.

    Weirdly, my father obviously understood what happened, and he covered for her, distracting us. My brother and sister were baffled, but seem to have shrugged it off and forgotten about it.

    My parents went to church on Sunday, and throughout the service both wore that entranced expression, having slipped off to their fantasy worlds.

    My parents weren’t crazy. Theirs were elected delusions. There’s a lot of it around.

  10. #10 Caledonian
    January 22, 2007

    Humans use different sets of heuristics in different contexts, and in certain contexts, they find it virtually impossible to abandon heuristics and apply reason.

    Unfortunately, the emphasis on the importance of rationality combined with inadequate concern about actually being rational has lead many people to believe that they’re reasonable and intelligent beings when they couldn’t actually think their way out of paper bag most of the time.

  11. #11 Great White Wonder
    January 22, 2007

    Now what are we to think of a scientist who seems competent inside the laboratory, but who, outside the laboratory, believes in a spirit world? We ask why

    There is only one rational and honest answer: “Because it makes me feel good and without it I’d have to take antidepressants. Without my faith-based beliefs, I’d be a truly antisocial creep or I’d just kill myself. I guess I’m just sort of weak that way. I’ve tried to imagine not having the faith-based beliefs, but it just makes me sad. I sympathize with alcoholics and drug-abusers in that respect. I really do.”

    It’s tough to find Christians who are this honest. That’s because speaking those words spoils some of the “magic”.

  12. #12 Michael M.
    January 22, 2007

    Well I’d be worried about someone — scientist or otherwise — who is hearing voices — “spirit voices” or otherwise. But how is this “getting it”? Getting what? The whole passage is the type of construct-a-strawman-and-knock-it-over reasoning typically engaged in by right-wing demagogues. It doesn’t speak to doctrine, mythology, philosophy, ritual, community, or any number of other factors that underpin many people’s religious beliefs. It speaks only of some vague sense of a spirit world, which sounds rather like ghosts. Weak, very weak.

  13. #13 SEF
    January 22, 2007

    That’s evidently because *you* don’t get it, Michael. It’s not about the specifc spirit world story at all. It’s about the all-too-common going through the motions pretence of doing science, in which even quite religious people can indulge, instead of actually comprehending in the deepest sense why those motions are necessary, as per a *true* scientist.

    The former is externalised (and thus mindlessly and devotionally defective) and the latter is internalised (and thus intelligently and rationally adaptive). Just like moral/ethical systems.

  14. #14 Pablo
    January 22, 2007

    I think what everyone is missing here is that it isn’t a conscious choice to believe or not believe (I’m a former believer, by the way). Anyone who operates in both a rational and an irrational state of mind has, as the title of this article states, a partitioned mind. Rationality, for whatever reason, hasn’t broken through to that irrational part of their mind. The only hope is that the more exposure to rationality the person receives, the more likely a breakthrough is to occur. Not that I’m always rational myself, but at least I understand that.

  15. #15 oddjob
    January 22, 2007

    How DARE those religious fakers spoil our fun by showing up at our meetings and spoil our fun by reminding us that there are others in the room besides us, the cool kids, the atheists, the only right and true humans!

    You’re all a bunch of arrogant assholes convinced of what you know no more than anyone else.

    Fuck you all.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    January 22, 2007

    This is your only and final warning oddjob. Straighten up or go find some other place to whine and whimper.

  17. #17 Bob
    January 22, 2007

    Well, in some sense, I think it’s clear that people don’t necessarily have knowledge in one area just because they have knowledge in another — i.e., I wouldn’t automatically assume that a chemist would know, say, all of logic notation in set theory and write down all the symbols correctly or know how to translate sentences into logic. And I don’t know stuff, too.

    But, in some sense, it seems clear that ordinary people, for some reason, simply assume the opposite, i.e., that a person does have knowledge in another area of specialization simply because that person knows such and such about some field. I don’t know where that comes from, but it happens a lot. And I don’t know what to do with that.

    I’ve heard many people tell me, “Einstein didn’t believe in personal survival of physical death,” or “Einstein believed in a Spinozistic god and not the xian god” — as if to make a point by simply name-dropping — and my usual response is, “So? Why should I believe Einstein about that?”

  18. #18 Great White Wonder
    January 22, 2007

    You’re all a bunch of arrogant assholes convinced of what you know no more than anyone else.

    I resent that. I consider myself one of the few truly arrogant assholes around here. I wish there were more people as clever, witty and abrasively sarcastic as I am, but I’m always disappointed. Story of my life, actually.

  19. #19 Gene
    January 22, 2007

    Ridiculous. This straw man thing certain scientists are engaged in these days is going to push the whole community over a cliff. So, are you saying that a scientist with spiritual feelings can’t be a good scientist? Great, now you are judging people. Kewl, now you get to know how the fundies and every other intolerant group feels! What part of you is getting tickled by that? How’bout medical Doctors, maybe you should not go to one who attends church. Oh-oh, my mechanic has been baptized! Better find a new one. My childs’ teacher has a Star of David around her neck, sounds like child abuse to me! I agree with Anne above, re her comments about a scientific Inquisition. Oh, btw, Carl Sagan had spiritual feelings as well, so I suppose that makes him a wack-job who was not safe around a telescope.

  20. #20 jeff
    January 22, 2007

    I think there are real-world scientific observations for believing that something is going on. Even if it is only going on inside our brains. The vast majority of people in the world believe in some sort of spiritual phenomena. This is an observable fact. There is some property of human biology that gives rise to this. Are people perceiving something real, or is it merely a byproduct of the human brain? Does it have an evolutionary benefit? These are respectable scientific questions.

    One of the biggest mysteries of science is that it works, that our senses and intellect are sufficient to understand some portion of the universe. No one thinks that the senses and intellect of a virus are sufficient to understand the Theory of Relativity. Why should our senses and intellect be sufficient to understand every single phenomenon in the Universe? Why is it unreasonable to assume that there are some phenomena beyond our senses and intellect? How likely is it that the last few million years of evolution have finally produced a creature capable of grokking the entire Universe?

  21. #21 Daephex
    January 22, 2007

    It occurs to me that non-believers should take some time to remember that church-goers/religious folks/qi gong practicioners/etc are AT LEAST interested in the greater questions– so maybe this is a commonality we can build on.

  22. #22 Jane Shevtsov
    January 22, 2007

    Now what are we to think of a scientist who seems competent inside the laboratory, but who, outside the laboratory, believes in a spirit world? We ask why, and the scientist says something along the lines of: “Well, no one really knows, and I admit that I don’t have any evidence – it’s a religious belief, it can’t be disproven one way or another by observation.” I cannot but conclude that this person literally doesn’t know why you have to look at things. They may have been taught a certain ritual of experimentation, but they don’t understand the reason for it – that to map a territory, you have to look at it – that to gain information about the environment, you have to undergo a causal process whereby you interact with the environment and end up correlated to it.

    The problem with this type of argument is that a supreme being can choose not to be examined. Science can say how life came about, how the Universe was born and even why we are moral, but not whether a more generic god exists. That’s a philosophical question, not a scientific one.

  23. #23 Tav
    January 22, 2007

    Do you retain NO beliefs that have not been rigorously, scientifically examined? Where do you find the time?

    Everyone compartmentalizes, all the time. I’m a non-believer, and I do enjoy your blog, but must say that picking out religious belief as the one thing that somehow disqualifies a scientist from really ‘getting’ science just makes you look like a bigot.

  24. #24 Victor Eigen
    January 22, 2007

    There is, I believe, a useful analogy between knowing a tree is there without looking at it, by seeing its shadow, and learning about China without ever having gone there, by hearing the words of a traveller who has been there. Both are forms of indirect observation.

    Most people have no difficulty understanding that learning about a tree by seeing its shadow is an indirect observation and they have no trouble understanding why this works — because the shadow is an observable physical effect of the tree’s presence. But they don’t understand that hearing another person’s words is also a form of indirect observation, and must fulfill the same condition in order to allow learning about something that isn’t available for more direct observation.

    So they don’t recognize that the traveller’s speech about China is a physical phenomenon that must be an effect of China in order to enable learning about China. And so they don’t recognize the contradiction between a religious believer’s explicit claim that god has no observable effects on the physical world by which he can be known, and the implicit claim that it is somehow possible to learn about god from listening to the believer.

  25. #25 Mike Haubrich
    January 22, 2007

    I think I can allow for a scientist to be agnostic regarding things for which there can be no positive proof nor negative test; but I do a have a problem with scientists who accept something as important as whether or not there is a creator, whether or not the Bible has any truth to it at all, whether or not Jesus was a historical being on faith. These are all things that if true would leave some sort of evidence of fact.

    And I am so sorry, but I don’t think beautiful waterfalls count as evidence of the trinity. This whole discussion comes out of the act of scientists claiming that it is foolish to be an atheist becuase it relies on faith that there is no God. And my viewpoint is that it takes little faith to be atheistic about things that have not been evidenced other than by personal revelation.

  26. #26 PZ Myers
    January 22, 2007

    Of course everyone compartmentalizes…but that doesn’t mean we should simply ignore or excuse those compartments that blatantly contradict observable reality. I’d say that a scientist who believes in elves or perpetual motion machines or the magic properties of energized water is just as anti-science as the one who tries to reconcile the absurdities of Christianity or Wicca or Asatru or Islam with science — but the Christianity problem is more of an epidemic than free energy scams.

  27. #27 Dan
    January 22, 2007

    Daephex:

    It occurs to me that non-believers should take some time to remember that church-goers/religious folks/qi gong practicioners/etc are AT LEAST interested in the greater questions– so maybe this is a commonality we can build on.

    The question of which particular strain of wide-eyed squinky-woo is superior to all the other strains of wide-eyed squinky-woo doesn’t strike me as being particularly “great.”

  28. #28 Michael Kremer
    January 22, 2007

    “It’s like asking someone if they understand science, and they can recite a string of facts at you … but they haven’t absorbed the concept.”

    The problem here is that you can find cases of believers who’ve done a lot more than recite strings of facts, or even discover strings of facts, believers who’ve been much more than labratory grunts. Believers who’ve made fundamental conceptual contributions to science, for example. (Pascal, Leibniz, Mendel, Millikan, …) It seems a bit much to say that such people were merely “going through the motions pretence of doing science … instead of actually comprehending in the deepest sense why those motions are necessary, as per a *true* scientist” as SEF put it, or that such people “probably never did understand why the scientific rules work,” that they can perhaps “don’t understand on a deep level,” that they’ve merely “been trained to behave a certain way in the laboratory, but … don’t like to be constrained by evidence,” etc, as the original post to which PZ linked has it.

  29. #29 PZ Myers
    January 22, 2007

    You are skipping over that important term, “compartmentalize”. I don’t deny that there have been great scientists who have also been religious. However, they accomplish their successes, the stuff that makes them great scientists, by using the compartment that hasn’t been poisoned by religion.

    It’s a shame that so many are still infected with that failed myth.

  30. #30 Middle Professor
    January 22, 2007

    PZ – Two of the major architects of the modern synthesis, Fisher and Dobzhansky, were apparently strongly devout Christians. Admittedly, though I know nothing of their personal beliefs (for example, did they follow the more liberal, essentially godless, Christian theology that was common 50 years ago). Anyone?

    The point, of course is that clearly these two were pioneer scientists but still compartmentalized their religious and scientific life. As much as I’d like to agree with you, I think the facts are against where you are trying to take this (that theistic scientists cannot be good scientists).

    But I agree that there are many areas of science that are little more than following standard recipes to get one more box in the sudoko puzzle. Someone can have good bench skills but little intellectual curiosity or even ability and be a very good modern scientist.

    That said, I think the survey of belief systems of NAS members does support the claim that most scientists that really “get it”, that is, those with the most intellectual curiosity and ability, do not have a compartment for theistic belief.

  31. #31 Caledonian
    January 22, 2007

    A person who can accept one ridiculous idea will accept others.

    And if you understand why the process of science is necessary, how can you justify that partitioning?

  32. #32 Maria
    January 22, 2007

    I see this as the natural consequence of the fact that some questions cannot be answered, yet people need answers. Scientists are not, for the most part, superior human beings. They have an ability to find questions of interest to other scientists, and to provide persuasive answers. But when they’re out of their field of expertise – and I think that the meaning of life, the origin of the universe, and that sort of questions are outside everyone’s field of expertise – they come up with answers that somehow suit them. I don’t see how this negates their worth as scientists.

    I know I really don’t understand where we come from, or how we can even exist. It literally blows my mind. Others need to have an answer, and as long as they don’t impose their answer on me, and that answer doesn’t interfere with their responsibilities, I don’t think I should impose my lack of an answer on them.

  33. #33 Caledonian
    January 22, 2007

    I think I can allow for a scientist to be agnostic regarding things for which there can be no positive proof nor negative test

    Mr. Haubrich, a thing for which there can be no positive or negative test, even in theory, is equivalent to the null statement. Logic alone suffices to demonstrate that the things so described do not exist.

    Agnosticism on things which we cannot verify is expected; I can allow for a scientist to have a belief about things that the evidence isn’t clear on. But belief in a logical impossibility cannot be reconciled with rationality.

  34. #34 PZ Myers
    January 22, 2007

    Really — I haven’t ever said that theistic scientists can’t be good scientists. Where does that come from?

    I will say that you can’t mix your theism with your science and get anything other than pure crap.

    Oh, and Fisher was Anglican (and not entirely conventional in his beliefs), while Dobzhansky was Russian Orthodox. One interesting source of irony is that creationists will accuse us damned godless evilutionists of favoring eugenics, while the good Christian Fisher was one of the most fervent eugenicists around.

  35. #35 Rey Fox
    January 22, 2007

    Literally blows your mind?

  36. #36 Caledonian
    January 22, 2007

    Try not to picture it. In this particular case, a vivid imagination is NOT your friend.

  37. #37 Michael Kremer
    January 22, 2007

    “I haven’t ever said that theistic scientists can’t be good scientists. Where does that come from?”

    Let’s see.

    You link approvingly to a post that says that “If, outside of their specialist field, some particular scientist is just as susceptible as anyone else to wacky ideas, then they probably never did understand why the scientific rules work.”

    Then you summarize matters by saying “It’s like asking someone if they understand science, and they can recite a string of facts at you … but they haven’t absorbed the concept.”

    Hmmm… why would anyone think that you’re of the opinion that theistic scientists can’t be good scientists? Apparently their being theistic shows that they “never did understand why the scientific rules work,” that they “haven’t absorbed the concept…” — is that compatible with being good scientists or not? Can a good scientist fail to understand the why of the rules they follow, fail to get the concept of science?

    “Caledonian” once told me in one of these lovely little discussions that, since I was a theist and believed wacky stuff, I would make a good lab technician, as long as I did what I was told, but couldn’t possibly be a decent scientist. It seems to me that’s the conclusion you should be drawing too, PZ — the only problem is, see, there’s this empirical evidence that seems to undercut the conclusion… Mendel and all that once again…

  38. #38 llewelly
    January 23, 2007

    Literally blows your mind?

    It blew her mind in a manner expressed by letters. Clear?

  39. #39 Maria
    January 23, 2007

    Right, you did not say a theist will be a bad scientist. Just that they don’t understand what science is about. And you draw that conclusion from the fact that they believe something about the world that is not based on anything even potentially observable.

    My question is why you think there is such a huge incompatibility between believing something about the world that cannot possibly be proven or observed; and choosing to have a scientific outlook on everything that can or potentially could be observed.

  40. #40 Eliezer Yudkowsky
    January 23, 2007

    Yes, there have been many great scientists who believed in utter crap – though fewer of them and weaker belief, as you move toward modern times.

    And there have also been many great jugglers who didn’t understand gravity, differential equations, or how their cerebellar cortex learned realtime motor skills. The vast majority of historical geniuses had no idea how their own brains worked, however brainy they may have been.

    You can make an amazing discovery, and go down in the historical list of great scientists, without ever understanding what makes Science work. You couldn’t build a scientist, just like you couldn’t build a juggler without knowing all that stuff about gravity and differential equations and error correction in realtime motor skills.

    I still wouldn’t trust the one’s opinion about a controversial issue in which they had an emotional stake. I couldn’t rely on them to know the difference between evidence versus a wish to believe. If they can compartmentalize their brains for a spirit world, maybe they compartmentalize their brains for scientific controversies too – who knows? If they gave into temptation once, why not again? I’ll find someone else to ask for their summary of the issues.

  41. #41 Scott Hatfield
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian writes: “And if you understand why the process of science is necessary, how can you justify that partitioning?”

    Partitioning can be justified to the extent that we aren’t scientists playing the role of human beings, we are human beings who happen to do science.

    Not everyone can fit into your seamless garment, Caledonian. Your unsparing pursuit of logical consistency has a certain austere appeal; I wish I had your ruthless certainty. Sincerely….SH

  42. #42 Russell Blackford
    January 23, 2007

    There may not be terrible consequences for science. If someone really has partitioned her mind, then her actual science may not be much affected – which I suppose is why there have been plenty of effective scientists who have also believed weird things. If her mind has not been so well-partitioned, she may tend to make conjectures that are biased by a religious worldview (just as other scientists may make conjectures that are biased in various ways, e.g. by the deep metaphorical structures that their thinking tends to fall into). But the professionalised processes of science will weed out conjectures, regardless of what biases went into them, if they are not falsifiable or if they predict phenomena that are then not observed (or if the conjectures are protected by the introduction of ad hoc modifications and additions, etc., etc.).

    I suspect that there is no serious consequence for the professional endeavour of science if some scientists have highly abstract religious beliefs.

    I also suspect that some touch-feely, “nice”, highly abstract and unfalsifiable religious beliefs do no great social harm, either. At worst, they provide some cover for people with more directly dangerous beliefs.

    The problem is when people believe things that entail the “need” for undesirable practical action, i.e. things that are not partitioned off adequately from their ordinary ways of relying on evidence and on reasoning (in ethical and political matters) about the interests that are really at stake.

    For example, if someone happens to believe that Cthulu created the universe and that (contrary to all the propaganda) Cthulu is a force of love whom we should emulate by being loving to each other … I can live with her believing that, even though I see no evidence for it whatsoever, think it’s a far-fetched hypothesis with no real explanatory power or prospect of being tested, etc., etc.

    On the other hand, if she believes that Cthulu wants stem cell research banned and that we must obey the will of Cthulu in this matter … well, there I have a problem.

  43. #43 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    I am a scientist in training (biology) and I belief in a mixture of quantum mechanics and a “godlike” energyfield beyond the borders of the universe which penetrates everything and all of us.

    What you “hardcore” scientists don’t understand is that you think with your brain and feel with your heart.
    Living a life completely unaware of your inner voice will lead you to a bitter and frustrated journey to an absolute truth which does not exist.
    I am perfectly convinced that you can do scientific work in a logical manner but still retain your belief.

  44. #44 Davis
    January 23, 2007

    I am a scientist in training (biology) and I belief in a mixture of quantum mechanics and a “godlike” energyfield beyond the borders of the universe which penetrates everything and all of us.

    This is a clear example of what PZ is talking about. “Belief” in quantum mechanics? Energy field “beyond the borders of the universe”? Spiritual gobbledygook trying to cloak itself in the language of physics. I’d be willing to bet you don’t actually know quantum mechanics; have you ever computed a wave function?

    It seems to me the main danger of compartmentalization is that the walls can start to crumble. Ideas from the belief compartment bleed together with ideas from the science compartment to produce nonsense pretending to have grounding in science.

  45. #45 Davis
    January 23, 2007

    Slight correction to my post — the latter use of ‘belief’ should be ‘theism’ or ‘faith’.

  46. #46 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Hey Davis,
    thanks for your response.

    You don’t have to bet! 🙂 I am no physicist at all and have never dealt with higher mathematics. Though some basic physics courses covered wave functions.
    It is not my intention to introduce ‘spiritual gobbledygook’ top science at all. Physicists can explain me what happened right after the birth of the universe but have no chance at all to go beyond that baseline of time. This is where science has an end and (my) faith starts.

    I can understand your concern about the compartmentalization. I can assure you, my work is based on experiments and facts, not on a belief.

    On a personal level: It’s just that the world out there is quite a shitty place and when I feel the warmth of the energy which permeates throughout the universe I have hope. Hope which fills my heart with joy and laughter. I prefer this than living in a cold, logical world.
    Note that I am not a member of any religious organization at all and have no confession. Also excuse my cumbersome english 🙂

  47. #47 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    “top science” should be “to science”

  48. #48 Dan
    January 23, 2007

    Ced:

    What you “hardcore” scientists don’t understand is that you think with your brain and feel with your heart.

    Actually, this is 19th-century Romantic squinky-woo. In spite of what Hallmark tells you in the fortnight leading up to Valentine’s Day?, your heart doesn’t actually do anything but pump blood around your body. Your brain is the part that both thinks and feels.

    One hopes, anyway. For far too many people, it does neither.

    Living a life completely unaware of your inner voice will lead you to a bitter and frustrated journey to an absolute truth which does not exist.

    What the fuck does this even mean, and which new-age crystal-rubbing book did you crib it from? Gah. It sounds like a lyric in a latter-day Madonna song.

    I am perfectly convinced that you can do scientific work in a logical manner but still retain your belief.

    Conviction, while honorable in the abstract, doesn’t really count for much in practice. In fact, it actively hinders scientific inquiry far more often than it helps it.

    Although conviction does tend to solve your odd “bitter and frustrated journey” epistemological problem rather handily: if you presume that there’s such a thing as absolute truth (or even if you don’t), just convince yourself that you know it all already. Voil, problem solved. No logic or science necessary. Just pure, unadulterated conviction.

  49. #49 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Sorry for the triple post.
    I just noticed “confession” is the wrong word to use. I meant “relgious denomination”.

  50. #50 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Dan, when a girl leaves you, where does it hurt? It propably is a psychosomatic effect, but what does it change.

    The problem I have is: I find the discussion extremely interesting and I would love to contribute more, but my limited time (I should do some experiments :-), limited english vocabulary and also limited philosophical knowledge hinders me.

    Please do not view me as an esoteric gabbler, I am a young scientist wich struggles with the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I hope I can expand my knowledge on those topics in the years that follow.

  51. #51 Dan
    January 23, 2007

    Ced:

    On a personal level: It’s just that the world out there is quite a shitty place and when I feel the warmth of the energy which permeates throughout the universe I have hope. Hope which fills my heart with joy and laughter.

    Really? I have plenty of hope as well, but I didn’t have to presume the existence of “universe energy” or any other such nonsense to get it. Hope — real hope, not just the vague feeling of dopamine-fueled elation you get when you enter your personal fantasy world –is a natural and quite inevitable consequence of the basic sense of empathy and concern for one’s fellow humans that we’re all supposed to have (but which is usually stamped out of us by the time we reach puberty). There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. It’s quite mundane, actually.

    Religion and woo (yes, yours too) don’t create hope so much as they thrive on its absence. Denying the world for what it is and imagining something else in its place –the specific and explicit mission of both religion and woo –is the absolute nadir of abject hopelessness.

    I prefer this than living in a cold, logical world.

    If you think that logic makes the world cold, you’re either doing it wrong or you’re expecting way too much from it.

  52. #52 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    I do not try to convince anyone of my “religion” as you call it, it is just my personal belief which I state her, as an example.
    I would love to discuss this more with you, but I simply am in a hurry now because I have to work 🙂
    I will try to answer this evening!

  53. #53 Dan
    January 23, 2007

    Ced:

    Dan, when a girl leaves you, where does it hurt? It propably is a psychosomatic effect, but what does it change.

    The whole point behind the concept of psychosomatic effects is that they’re all in your mind. QED.

    Please do not view me as an esoteric gabbler, I am a young scientist wich struggles with the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I hope I can expand my knowledge on those topics in the years that follow.

    Why does life have to mean something? More specifically, why does life have to mean something beyond the everyday meaning you yourself give it?

    Or to rephrase the question as an axiom: If you need someone or something else to tell you what your life means, your life doesn’t mean anything.

  54. #54 Michael H
    January 23, 2007

    Ced. It might be a good choice for you to try to learn quantum mechanics from a mathematical perspective, perhaps by taking a subject in it.
    It has been my experience that most belief systems(with a very few exceptions)that use QM as support misunderstand the basic concepts of the theory, due to overrelience on pop-sci books.It’s a tough subject, to be sure, but learning more about what you consider your philosophy of life to be based on cannot be a wasted endeavour.

  55. #55 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Well.. Is
    The Cosmic Blueprint – Order and Complexity at the Edge of Chaos, Paul Davies (1987)
    a pop-sci book?

    🙂

  56. #56 SEF
    January 23, 2007

    Among the many oddities of thought/belief systems is the way people find the incompatibility of rational logical thought (eg science) and irrational emotional belief (eg religion) as at all unusual and surprising. So much so that some of the believers rail against it being true and award each other prizes (eg Templeton) for lying about it the most. Such incompatibilities, and the more or less complete compartmentalisations of mind/life they necessitate, are common and normal.

    No-one finds it at all hard to understand that it’s not possible to simultaneously and actively be both a chef and a pianist with any competence. Yet no-one would claim a chef couldn’t also have learned a musical instrument, or that a musician couldn’t also have learned how to cook. Nor do people balk at the fundamental incompatibility of the roles of construction engineer and father. Though some people do have issues for other (religious?) reasons over the incompatibility of the roles of pilot and mother, say.

    It could even be seen as religion trying to make an exception for itself once again. That special-pleading and demanding-to-be-special side of it which leads its proponents to tell so many falsehoods about its actual place in the scheme of things. Religion doesn’t deserve any of its exemptions – not the self-absorbed nor the self-aggrandising nor the plain selfish ones (eg tax breaks). It *is* incompatible with various things, including science, and it *isn’t* at all special in that.

  57. #57 Cat of Many Faces
    January 23, 2007

    well, i think the big thing about compartmentalizing is what happens when a conflict occurs.

    basically which compartment wins out?

    if it’s science, then it’s all good. if it’s unsupported claims, then it’s not.

    after all, the compartmentalization we are discussing is of logically incompatible ideas. thus, i don’t see a blending occurring too well. it will be one or the other. and so long as science and logic win out, it’s ok.

    just my 2 cents

  58. #58 Jud
    January 23, 2007

    Quoting Scott Aaronson (quantum computing/computational complexity postdoc) from his blog:

    “I don’t have any stance toward the question of God’s existence or nonexistence that involves the concept of belief. For me, beliefs are for things that might eventually have some sort of observable consequence for someone. So for example, I believe P is different from NP. I believe I’d like some delicious Peanut Chews today. I believe the weather this January isn’t normal for planet Earth over the last 10,000 years, and that we and our Ford Escorts are not entirely unimplicated. I believe eating babies and voting for Republicans is wrong. I believe neo-Darwinism and the SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) Standard Model (though not its supersymmetric extensions, at least until I see the evidence). I believe that if the God of prayer couldn’t get off His lazy ass during the Holocaust, or the Rwandan or Cambodian genocides, then He must not be planning to do so anytime soon — and hence, ‘trusting in faith’ is utter futility.

    “But when it comes to the more ethereal questions — the nature of consciousness and free will, the resolution of the quantum measurement problem, the validity of the cosmological anthropic principle or the Continuum Hypothesis, the existence of some sort of intentionality behind the laws of physics, etc. — I don’t have any beliefs whatsoever. I’m not even unsure about these questions, in the same Bayesian sense that I’m unsure about next week’s Dow Jones average (or for that matter, this week’s Dow Jones average). All I have regarding the metaphysical questions is a long list of arguments and counterarguments — together with a vague hope that someone, someday, will manage to clarify what the questions even mean.”

    I pretty much agree, with the exception of the Peanut Chews. Seems to me that debates that turn on questions such as “the existence of some sort of intentionality behind the laws of physics” say volumes about the attitudes of the debaters, and nothing in the least provable about the question being debated.

    Let’s truly talk about science here for a minute. PZ, do you think the data you possess about the question of whether or not some “intentionality behind the laws of physics” exists is the sort you’d feel comfortable using in an article on a neurobiological subject submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal?

  59. #59 kemibe
    January 23, 2007

    I would guess that the huge majority of theistic scientists — and virtually all of the fundamentalist ones — were committed to their religious belief systems long before they became interested in, or even aware of, science.

    It is surely harder to integrate something like strict Christianity into a world view reigorously reliant on reason than it is to blend it with, say, being a casino pit boss or a real-estate agent. But as everyone here has seen, strongly religious people can, by the time they’re adults, find ways to ease all manner of cognitive dissonace regarding their faith, be it by selective exegesis or plain old la-la-la-ism and canard-spouting.

    By this time, queitly asking them to cast the bright light of skeptical inquiry on their religious beliefs is about as helpful in getting them to question what they were imbued with as tots as screaming “WHAT SORTA FRIGGIN’ BRAINWASHED RUBE ARE YOU???” in their faces.

    I’m trying to think of secular realsm in which people perform the same mental gymnastics. Maybe people with kids who take home less than 20,000 a year but justify spending 15-20% of that on cigarettes while inwardly pretending it’s not even an expense? Probably not a good analogy.

  60. #60 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Dan:

    Living a life completely unaware of your inner voice will lead you to a bitter and frustrated journey to an absolute truth which does not exist.

    What the fuck does this even mean, and which new-age crystal-rubbing book did you crib it from? Gah. It sounds like a lyric in a latter-day Madonna song.

    Whether you believe it or not, it’s my own thought. If you don’t understand what I mean by this sentence I will try to explain:
    First let me clear one thing up. I won’t talk about ‘religion’, because in my opinion religion has nothing to do with faith or spirituality. It is just control over the masses. So, in my view, everything about spirituality actually deals with psychology. The various images, symbols, rituals, fantasies, prayers are tools for the individual to invoke certain states of mind. Thus, when I speak of an “inner voice”, I certainly don’t mean that some ghost whispers advises.. What I mean is the feeling for ethics and morality imprinted in your brain (or heart, or soul, or consciousness).
    I think a lot of people have problems with spirituality because they don’t understand the symbolism. Not everyone is a brain researcher, hence people can use knowledge acquired over the course of the history of mankind to gain insight into their own “inner voice”, or feelings, or desires…
    An idea just came to my mind: To convince more people of scientific reasoning, maybe one should introduce a sort of “mythical” system around scientific discoveries such that it is easier for layman to grasp the concepts. Do you expect non-scientist to ever understand science? I think not. Maybe a revolutionary explanation style could help?

    Religion and woo (yes, yours too) don’t create hope so much as they thrive on its absence. Denying the world for what it is and imagining something else in its place — the specific and explicit mission of both religion and woo — is the absolute nadir of abject hopelessness.

    I don’t like it that you are citing my faith and “religion and woo” in the same sentence. I find it rather disrespectful. Btw, I do not imagine something else in the place of the world, I rather accept the world as it is, based on scientific evidence. I just believe there are forces which science cannot discover because they are on a layer too high or too deep.

    Or to rephrase the question as an axiom: If you need someone or something else to tell you what your life means, your life doesn’t mean anything.

    I don’t need something to tell me what life means. I am looking for the answer not outside, but inside myself. Do not confuse me with some stupid evangelical cult member or a esoteric dabbler. I may not possess very well developed knowledge about physics and philosophy but at least I try to learn more.
    I also respect your atheism, please respect my own belief.

    As a sidenote, I’m sorry if the initial post sounded a bit aggressive, it was not my intention to insult anyone! (Basically I am a hardcore scientist as well.. Maybe I just don’t want to accept the fact *smile*)

  61. #61 Chris' Wills
    January 23, 2007

    < >

    It can hardly be a failed myth given that you know that so many are still infected. Seems rather a succesful myth in fact.

    I would have thought that as you are a *true* scientist (stalinist-atheist as opposed to the Neville Chamberlain type) you would have recognised this :o)

    It should be obvious to most people, especially those claiming to be rational that religious people can do science as well as non-religious scientists.
    It is a fact of history that this is so.
    So anyone seeking to only allow non-believers to be scientists or claiming some deeper understanding of science because of un-belief is argueing from a flawed premise with no discernable rational basis.

    A religious believer could simply say “ad majorem Dei gloriam” and see science as a way of understanding the universe and a duty (assuming of course that the believer believes that god created a universe that is understandable using a naturalistic methodology).

  62. #62 Mondo
    January 23, 2007

    “Why does life have to mean something? More specifically, why does life have to mean something beyond the everyday meaning you yourself give it?”

    Exactly. This is anecdotally what I have found spiritual/religious/god_lovers refuse to wrap their minds around.

  63. #63 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    I would hope that we could all agree that scientists should be judged solely on their scientific output.

    Which is the better scientist:

    a. An atheist who’s work is mediocre.

    b. Someone with crazy, irrational beliefs, but who produces theory which greatly increases our understanding of the world.

    A compartmentalized mind doesn’t necessarily effect an individual’s ability to do science. If the mental barriers break down, the science will suffer, and so will that person’s career (rightly so). Until it does, we can assume that it’s not a problem. Otherwise, it’s just guilt by association.

  64. #64 Middle Professor
    January 23, 2007

    I’d would be very interested in specific examples of how religious belief has influenced scientific practice either positively or negatively. I don’t want personal testimony, because that’s too biased. But stories like this one from Carl Zimmer:

    “That that fascinates me. It reminds me of the way tapeworms were used to prove God’s wisdom in the 1800s. At the time people didn’t realize that tapeworms lived first in cows and pigs, and then in humans. They had some similarities in both hosts, but in us, they’re long and skinny, while in cows and pigs they look like little buttons with fringes of hooks. So some scientists claimed that the tapeworms in cows and pigs were deformed dead-enders in the wrong host. This outraged a devout German doctor named Friedrich Kuchenmeister (a name that invites repeated utterances, I can tell you). Kuchenmeister declared that dead-end tapeworms would be “contrary to the wise arrangement of Nature.” He had the brilliant idea that tapeworms went through two hosts. To prove his case, he plucked the button-shaped tapeworms out of a roast pork and fed them in a soup to a criminal about to be executed. After the man was hanged, Kuchenmeister slit open his intestines and discovered the tapeworms maturing into their long, skinny form. Kuchenmeister found a gruesome vindication of his faith (and made a major biological discovery).”

    Again, the survey data of the religious belief of “elite” scientists (NAS members) relative to the rest of us is at least consistant with a relationship between lack of religion and elite science.

  65. #65 Bob
    January 23, 2007

    I don’t need something to tell me what life means. I am looking for the answer not outside, but inside myself. Do not confuse me with some stupid evangelical cult member or a esoteric dabbler.

    But isn’t this the problem? That is, unless you think (and can justify) that you automatically have the “inside packaging” to make these types of decisions accurately, these two sentences here are in conflict with each other. Saying that something (i.e., some answer or some truth or whatever) lies “inside oneself,” unfortunately, is a method that’s just way too popular.

    This sounds like Colbert and that “gut” comment.

  66. #66 Middle Professor
    January 23, 2007

    What has received little comment here (at least in this thread) is the influence of other world views on one’s science. For example, Gould and Lewontin’s extreme political views hugely biased their science, largely for the worse in the case of Gould. Lewontin, at least, mentored an amazing number of evolutionary geneticists. Their political view had far more influence on their science than say, Francis Collins’ religious view has had on his (or Ken Miller’s). I often think that Gould and Lewontin never even tried to compartmentalize their politics from science simply to prove the point that this cannot be done.

  67. #67 Caledonian
    January 23, 2007

    “Caledonian” once told me in one of these lovely little discussions that, since I was a theist and believed wacky stuff, I would make a good lab technician, as long as I did what I was told, but couldn’t possibly be a decent scientist. It seems to me that’s the conclusion you should be drawing too, PZ — the only problem is, see, there’s this empirical evidence that seems to undercut the conclusion… Mendel and all that once again…

    Mendel messed with his statistics in order to more neatly generate the patterns he thought should be there. As it happens, he was right – but he committed scientific fraud to make the evidence conform to what he thought right should be.

    It’s not whether you believe wacky things, it’s the process you use to come to conclusions that matters. No reasonable process can generate theism, not in this day and age. If you make exceptions for deities, you’ll make exceptions for other things.

  68. #68 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian:

    It’s not whether you believe wacky things, it’s the process you use to come to conclusions that matters. No reasonable process can generate theism, not in this day and age. If you make exceptions for deities, you’ll make exceptions for other things.

    I disagree. You can believe in dieties but still apply reasonable and serious thinking in your scientific work. It’s just weakness in character if you cannot differentiate. But this then, is a different subject!

  69. #69 Fastlane
    January 23, 2007

    Does anyone know off hand which particular form of religion Collins follows?

    His wishy washy ‘no one knows’ it’s all a mystery crap certainly does not lend itself to defending any one particular worldview.

    Like most people, he probably belongs to the religion in which he was brought up, and like most, he rarely gives much of a thought to what he would believe if he were born in, say, Pakistan.

    Cheers.

  70. #70 John B
    January 23, 2007

    Is the claim being made against religious scientists that a good scientist has access to objective reality which is atheistic? or that understanding the justification of knowledge about physical reality entails rejecting the justification of religious knowledge (arguments from emotion, revelation, authority, etc…)?

    I tend to agree with the second claim, though i think achieving that level of internal consistency is a process that people should be allowed some time and freedom to achieve for themselves. It could require alot of study and contemplation to be confident enough to reject your upbringing and community. Depending how hard they are working, they might not have the time or interest to devote to reorienting their lives like that.

    Also, i feel strongly that protecting my right to be irreligious entails protecting other people’s right to have a different position or be on a different path: Freedom from – and freedom of religion as a secularist. To me, it’s more about defining public and private, so i guess I’m pro-compartmentalizing.

  71. #71 Steve LaBonne
    January 23, 2007

    Mendel messed with his statistics in order to more neatly generate the patterns he thought should be there. As it happens, he was right – but he committed scientific fraud to make the evidence conform to what he thought right should be.

    The case for this claim is much weaker than many suppose. Its only real basis is the famous analysis by Fisher purporting to show that Mendel’s data were ‘too good to be true”, but the correctness of Fisher’s approach can be and has been dipsuted. See for example http://jhered.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/77/4/281

  72. #72 Caledonian
    January 23, 2007

    I disagree. You can believe in dieties but still apply reasonable and serious thinking in your scientific work. It’s just weakness in character if you cannot differentiate. But this then, is a different subject!

    It’s ‘deities’, moron.

    You’re wrong more generally, as well. As far as science is concerned, there’s no difference between one’s professional and personal life. Believing in nonsense doesn’t inhibit one’s ability to carry out the rituals of one’s profession, but it doesn’t inhibit the performance of science.

  73. #73 Caledonian
    January 23, 2007

    I will grant that Mendel is somewhat controversial.

    The point, however, remains: no intellectually honest person can accept that the scientific method is vital for discovering the best available approximations for truth and refuse to apply it to their religious beliefs.

    Intellectually dishonest people can manage that prestidigitation without effort. But such people are a liability, not an asset, in science.

  74. #74 Anonymous
    January 23, 2007

    Ha, it’s faithlessness vs. works. You are justified not by the quality of your research, but by atheism through the grace of Reason. Might as well have Jack Chick draw the cartoon version of this thread.

  75. #75 poke
    January 23, 2007

    I don’t think we really know how religious belief interacts with the ability to do science. Most scientists aren’t in a position to pick and choose what research they do in a way that would allow the problem to express itself. Tellingly, the higher up the ranks of scientists you go, the fewer theists you find. I think a case could be made that you need more of a fully naturalistic world view to do truly original work.

  76. #76 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian, do you think that all theists in science produce work which is compromised by their beliefs? Or would you agree that some do, and others don’t?

    To say that they are all a liability is pronouncing them all guilty without any evidence; a thought crime, no less. All I’m saying is that we should judge people on their actions, not on what goes on inside their heads.

    Lets not strive to polarize science on personal beliefs. As I said before, a scientists work should be judged solely on it’s merits.

  77. #77 rrt
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian and I tend to agree more than we disagree, but here I’ll do a little bit of the latter. Although I pretty much do support his general point, I do also think it’s possible for some scientists to compartmentalize without noticeable impact on their work. The critics here aren’t wrong to complain that we’re arguing the concept (compartmentalization is universally bad) without presenting much evidence.

    But again, I still mostly agree. It may be possible to compartmentalize without compromising science, but I think it’s a bad, risky, dangerous, and unnecessary idea. To me the best case scenario is that they have no negative effect. As has been pointed out, those walls can leak or crumble, and we’ve seen what happens when they do. Conflicts are almost inevitable, and how are they dealt with? The mere fact of the compartmentalization probably does call into question the person’s intellectual honesty, or if it doesn’t begs the question of what it does imply. If you really know “why science,” then why wall it out of your personal life? I can’t think of a satisfactory answer to that question.

    I’d add a comment for Ced, if I may: When it comes to these discussions, there’s a point that I keep coming back to, and it’s a point the original article touches on. You say that you: “believe there are forces which science cannot discover because they are on a layer too high or too deep.” But why? How can you justify that belief? I can see no way for you to do so without ultimately falling back on a material, testable claim. The original article says: “if we really suppose that spirits are speaking in any fashion whatsoever, that is a causal interaction and it counts as an observation.”

    It’s a dance between complete undetectability and testable claims. You seem to favor the former, but if so, then you can’t justify the belief, and it may as well not exist. Any effort to do so (e.g., it makes me a happier person) pushes it towards testability (let’s define happiness and measure it comparatively with good controls.) It’s heads I win, tails you lose.

  78. #78 AndreasB
    January 23, 2007

    Ced wrote:

    So, in my view, everything about spirituality actually deals with psychology. The various images, symbols, rituals, fantasies, prayers are tools for the individual to invoke certain states of mind. Thus, when I speak of an “inner voice”, I certainly don’t mean that some ghost whispers advises.. What I mean is the feeling for ethics and morality imprinted in your brain (or heart, or soul, or consciousness).

    What is spiritual about a sense of ethics and morality? That sounds more like basic psychology and behavior of humans (as well as of any animal living in complex societal relationships) .

    Also, how exactly would it be possible to live your life unaware of this sense?

  79. #79 John B
    January 23, 2007

    Tellingly, the higher up the ranks of scientists you go, the fewer theists you find. I think a case could be made that you need more of a fully naturalistic world view to do truly original work.

    Or maybe that there is some form of social pressure at work?

  80. #80 Chris
    January 23, 2007

    What is the evidence that one cannot compartmentalize very effectively? I see lots of statements to that effect, as if it something that at least SHOULD be true, but no evidence.

  81. #81 Nix
    January 23, 2007

    Ced is sort of correct if you strip away the QM nonsense: there is, in fact, `energy which permeates the universe’. I recommend that Ced hop a trip to empty interstellar space and throw himself out of the airlock to be warmed by the light of the 2.7K microwave background.

    You’ll soon find it’s far too sparse to keep you happy.

  82. #82 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    In general I agree with some commenters that we should separate a person’s scientific output from his/her personal faith.

    Bob:

    Saying that something (i.e., some answer or some truth or whatever) lies “inside oneself,” unfortunately, is a method that’s just way too popular.

    It could perfectly be that all the answers are imprinted into our brain. Who knows? It is a scientific hypothesis. But I do not have to justify my beliefs.

    Caledonian:

    It’s ‘deities’, moron.

    You’re wrong more generally, as well. As far as science is concerned, there’s no difference between one’s professional and personal life. Believing in nonsense doesn’t inhibit one’s ability to carry out the rituals of one’s profession, but it doesn’t inhibit the performance of science.

    It seems like you took my post personal, but I think you misunderstood my use of ‘you’. What I meant was more like ‘one’. So it was not directed to you. Sorry for the confusion. As you can see with my spelling error, I am not a native English speaker.
    But I still disagree with you in that I do think you can separate between science and personal life.

    Caledonian:

    The point, however, remains: no intellectually honest person can accept that the scientific method is vital for discovering the best available approximations for truth and refuse to apply it to their religious beliefs.

    Intellectually dishonest people can manage that prestidigitation without effort. But such people are a liability, not an asset, in science.

    I am perfectly willing to let people apply scientific methods to my belief. Do it! I will recognize your discoveries and think about it and relate it to my view.

    rrt:

    You say that you: “believe there are forces which science cannot discover because they are on a layer too high or too deep.” But why? How can you justify that belief? I can see no way for you to do so without ultimately falling back on a material, testable claim.

    As I said already, I surely do not justify a belief; this would be paradoxal.

    AndreasB:

    What is spiritual about a sense of ethics and morality? That sounds more like basic psychology and behavior of humans (as well as of any animal living in complex societal relationships) .

    Also, how exactly would it be possible to live your life unaware of this sense?

    As I have already stated, in my opionion, spirituality consists mostly of basic psychology. And excuse me, but I know so many people who live unaware of ethics and moraility that I stopped counting!

    What is the evidence that one cannot compartmentalize very effectively? I see lots of statements to that effect, as if it something that at least SHOULD be true, but no evidence.:

    My discipline has nothing to do with spirituality. It is completely reductionistic, so I have no troubles to compartmentalize.

  83. #83 Chris
    January 23, 2007

    The point, however, remains: no intellectually honest person can accept that the scientific method is vital for discovering the best available approximations for truth and refuse to apply it to their religious beliefs.

    I would say, no completely intellecutally honest person. Some people seem to compartmentalize their intellectual honesty along with everything else; this does of course diminish it, but I wouldn’t say it destroys it. Human beings are complex.

    Intellectually dishonest people can manage that prestidigitation without effort. But such people are a liability, not an asset, in science.

    That’s further than I’m willing to go. Would Newton, Pascal and Einstein have been even better scientists had they been atheists? Possibly, but I’m not going to say that they were “liabilities, not assets, in science”. Their incomplete intellectual honesty, and their acceptance of unproven beliefs, *are* liabilities; they themselves, as whole human beings, are not, nor are their contributions which have been examined and found good by succeeding generations of scientists (regardless of those scientists’ own religious beliefs checked at the laboratory door).

    Darwin himself spent years trying to reconcile his prior religious beliefs with his scientific discoveries and knowledge (e.g. his famous questions about the Ichneumonidae and whether or not misery that occurs in nature is intended by God). He eventually concluded that they could not be reconciled and discarded the religion (to the extent that it was safe to do so in the society of the times), but was he a “liability, not an asset, in science” up until that point? Hardly.

    P.S. rrt: If it could be proved that believing in religion really did make the believer a happier person (and not just because they weren’t being persecuted for unbelief), that still wouldn’t establish that those beliefs were *true*. An argument from consequences, even if correct, does not address the truth of the proposition it is about; that’s exactly why it is a fallacy.

  84. #84 nerdwithabow
    January 23, 2007

    Perfectly rational people can accept the realities of modern scientific thought and hold deep felt religious beliefs. When you take the stand that it’s either/or you are being just as extreme as the ID folks and doing just as much damage to science among the general population.

  85. #85 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Man, you guys discussing here heavily motivate me for pursuing much much more personal research into these topics!! Also I hope to get better in English, because it is very hard to argue on such a level if the language is not your mother tongue. 🙁

  86. #86 Middle Professor
    January 23, 2007

    Poke: Somebodies quote: Tellingly, the higher up the ranks of scientists you go, the fewer theists you find. I think a case could be made that you need more of a fully naturalistic world view to do truly original work.

    John B responded: Or maybe that there is some form of social pressure at work?

    I hear this frequently but have never seen any kind of analysis of this. At first I would say this is wishful thinking but on second reflection, I do think there is some bit of truth to this. Certainly there is no atheist litmus test for invitation to the NAS and elite scientists are not bullied into being atheists. Nevertheless, young, potential scientists at the high school, college, and even graduate school level that are religious may feel uncomfortable by remaining in science. This discomfort will come indirectly simply because many cherished beliefs will get demolished in the classroom and from discussion with peers. I think this indirect mechanism is probably a pretty powerful incentive to seek other careers as one would have to have incredible self-confidence and self-esteem to withstand the constant challenge to one’s faith. Similarly, young, potential scientists that are strongly intellectually curious and willing to pursue lines of thought wherever they lead and whatever the consequences are likely to both lose faith and become elite scientists.

  87. #87 Dan
    January 23, 2007

    Ced:

    I don’t like it that you are citing my faith and “religion and woo” in the same sentence. I find it rather disrespectful.

    Tough shit. You’re not special, and neither is your “faith.” Your insistence that your specific “faith” is somehow different from all those other completely identical faiths out there is not convincing in the slightest, and is entirely undeserving of respect.

    I’ll let you in on a little secret: nobody thinks that their particular personal brand of religion and/or woo should be lumped in with anyone else’s. It’s one of the many, many things that you all have in common.

    Btw, I do not imagine something else in the place of the world, I rather accept the world as it is, based on scientific evidence. I just believe there are forces which science cannot discover because they are on a layer too high or too deep.

    How exactly does imagining invisible, undetectable magic forces that fill the world with bunnies and flowers qualify as “accepting the world as it is, based on scientific evidence”?

    In fact, that strikes me as being the exact, diametric opposite of “accepting the world as it is, based on scientific evidence.”

    Or to rephrase the question as an axiom: If you need someone or something else to tell you what your life means, your life doesn’t mean anything.

    I don’t need something to tell me what life means. I am looking for the answer not outside, but inside myself. Do not confuse me with some stupid evangelical cult member or a esoteric dabbler.

    Your rhetoric is entirely indistinguishable from that of stupid evangelical cult members and esoteric dabblers. And, I might add, from that of every single woo-salesman that has ever existed since the dawn of time.

    Your insistence that you’re too special to be lumped into the same category as them is not proof that you shouldn’t be. In fact, it usually means that you should be, as soon as possible.

    I may not possess very well developed knowledge about physics and philosophy but at least I try to learn more. I also respect your atheism, please respect my own belief.

    Admitting that you don’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about then demanding that your ignorance be respected is generally not the best way of earning respect.

    But thank you for showing us exactly what a successful compartmentalization looks like. You’re it, buddy.

  88. #88 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    Ced, your English is excellent if it’s not your primary language. Your knowledge and reasoning abilities aren’t so good, but the fact that you are motivated to improve your situation is very commendable. We all begin somewhere, and I’m sure that you’ll find it to be a very rewarding journey. Good luck!

  89. #89 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Dan, you know what you do? You trivialize. You have no idea about my faith, but talk about a “magical force which fills the world with bunnies and flowers”. Do you think I’m stupid? I do not belief in any such bullshit “miracles” or “forces” which manifest in the physical world.
    I just believe in the theory set up by Paul Davies: That the universe has a sort of “creative energy” and all physical manifestations are due to the loss of symmetry from the original perfectly symmetrical entity out of which the big bang occured.
    Inside science, I believe nothing.
    Outside science, I believe in a theory by a scientist.

    No fairies, bunnies.. !!

    My rhetoric is quite possibly very bad, because I have troubles expressing my views. Sorry for that. I will certainly try to educate myself, in order to defend my belief in the future.

  90. #90 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    On a personal level: It’s just that the world out there is quite a shitty place and when I feel the warmth of the energy which permeates throughout the universe I have hope. Hope which fills my heart with joy and laughter. I prefer this than living in a cold, logical world.

    This is my biggest beef with theists. What exactly is so “shitty” about the world, and what makes you so special that you think you deserve more? Why does it take belief in something outside reality to make you happy and give you hope? Disgusting.

    And don’t tell me in your mock-civil way to “respect” your religious beliefs. I have no respect for anything that degrades something I care about so thoroughly.

  91. #91 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    MarkG:
    Thanks for the encouraging words. Do you have any reading suggestions how to improve my reasoning? Maybe a philosophical handbook for a non-philosopher? 🙂

    Another thing: Do you know any web-based forum which covers similar topics and has similar people writing? I find the comments system highly uncomfortable to communicate 🙂

  92. #92 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    Ced: “I will certainly try to educate myself, in order to defend my belief in the future.”

    Just remember to guard against confirmation bias. Actually, you’ll do well to avoid every type of cognitive bias, as could we all.

  93. #93 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    This is my biggest beef with theists. What exactly is so “shitty” about the world, and what makes you so special that you think you deserve more? Why does it take belief in something outside reality to make you happy and give you hope? Disgusting.

    And don’t tell me in your mock-civil way to “respect” your religious beliefs. I have no respect for anything that degrades something I care about so thoroughly.

    I see your point. Nothing makes me special! Also I do not take anything away from you, nor do I degrade your “world”.
    All I do is look in my heart (or brain, if you prefer)! Do you have some sort of fear, that I might do “something” to your world?? I don’t really understand.

    As I have said, I do not believe in something “out of reality”, I believe in one way to explain reality. Nothing extraordinarly magical or mystical involved.

    Are you aware of the fact that you are very intolerant (“I have no respect”)? I certainly think “intellectual person” and “intolerance” do not fit together. I do not impose my faith on anyone. The least thing you should do, is respect it.

  94. #94 Matt the heathen
    January 23, 2007

    MarkG, thanks for the link. The cognitive bias list is a pretty handy guide for examining your belief system in an intellectually honest way.

    Ced, I think you’d do well to read through it, and then try to explain to explain to yourself anything other than what is excepted by the scientific community.

  95. #95 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    “Thanks for the encouraging words. Do you have any reading suggestions how to improve my reasoning? Maybe a philosophical handbook for a non-philosopher? :-)”

    You’re welcome. I don’t have any recommendations, but one of the main things you are going to have to learn is how to search for information yourself, and how to distinguish between good sources and not-so-good sources. Perhaps most importantly, try to fully understand the scientific method. In particular, understand WHY it is regarded as the best way of understanding reality.

    As far a web fora are concerned, richarddawkins.net is worth checking out, though I’m sure there are better.

    Aim to be independent, and be critical of every belief you hold, especially the ones you hold dear. Remember that the current Dali Lama (who I think you will agree is regarded as a very ‘spiritual’ person) has said that if science is shown to be in conflict with with Buddhist teachings, then the Buddhist teachings should be changed.

  96. #96 Davis
    January 23, 2007

    I do not impose my faith on anyone. The least thing you should do, is respect it.

    Your religious beliefs don’t automatically deserve respect any more than your political beliefs do. They deserve *tolerance*, but that’s not the same thing. Beliefs of all kinds need to be held up to criticism if we want the nonsensical ones to be rooted out. You’ve come to the wrong blog if you’re not willing to face that.

  97. #97 Sastra
    January 23, 2007

    Theistic scientists can be excellent scientists. I think the difference between them and their naturalistic counterparts isn’t so much the way they understand and do science, but the way they categorize God. They don’t think of it as a scientific hypothesis.

    Instead of classifying “there is a living intelligence which exists prior to and apart from matter, and which creates and acts upon the physical world through intentional force” with claims like “ESP exists” and “people can bend spoons with the power of their mind,” they seem to classify it with assertions similar to “I love my mother” or “this sunset is beautiful.” The first two can be tested and falsified, or measured against the background of evolutionary theory. The second two aren’t really science claims.

    If you are a scientist and take the concept of God seriously, you will probably view it as a scientific hypothesis, take it apart, and examine it for consistency with what else we know. If, on the other hand, you spend a lot of time denying and explaining why no, no, no, God is not anything like a science hypothesis, it is much more like the feeling of hope we see when we gaze up at the stars, then you will likely consider yourself to be open, deep, and perceptive — and the other scientists will likely see you as being evasive and rather good at kidding yourself.

  98. #98 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Your religious beliefs don’t automatically deserve respect any more than your political beliefs do. They deserve *tolerance*, but that’s not the same thing. Beliefs of all kinds need to be held up to criticism if we want the nonsensical ones to be rooted out. You’ve come to the wrong blog if you’re not willing to face that.

    Why are you talking about “religious” beliefs? I am not a member of any religion. Also my faith has nothing to do with politics. Faith is a very personal issue and thus has to be respected by anyone. Of course you can freely critisize religions.
    I am a strong opponent of any spiritual institutions such as churches, religions, cults, sects.. etc.

  99. #99 Blake Stacey
    January 23, 2007

    Russell Blackford wrote, way up there:

    There may not be terrible consequences for science. If someone really has partitioned her mind, then her actual science may not be much affected — which I suppose is why there have been plenty of effective scientists who have also believed weird things. If her mind has not been so well-partitioned, she may tend to make conjectures that are biased by a religious worldview (just as other scientists may make conjectures that are biased in various ways, e.g. by the deep metaphorical structures that their thinking tends to fall into).

    Yes, it does seem like the critical problem is incomplete partitioning. If the membrane is not permeable, then you’ve basically got two minds sharing the same body, and the only loss to science is the time the non-scientific mind was in control. (That’s presuming no work takes place at an “unconscious” level. Having dreamt of taking physics exams and woken up to realize I was solving the problems correctly, I expect that some kind of science-related thinking can happen in a protoconscious part of my software.)

    I suspect that there is no serious consequence for the professional endeavour of science if some scientists have highly abstract religious beliefs.

    Expanding on this point, I think it’s fair to say that science as a whole is more atheistic than the individuals of the scientific community. When Newton said that the planets all moving in the same plane and the same direction was evidence of God’s handiwork, people didn’t take that as gospel — not for very long. Laplace showed a way the same pattern could arise via natural law; the explanation is largely analogous to the reason why pulling the plug out of the bathtub causes the water to swirl in one direction, clockwise or counterclockwise, down the drain. Nobody deduces the Hand of God from their bathwater.

    With a thriving community of varied individuals, magic totem-words lose their protective effect. When Francis Collins says that human morality must have been caused by God, for example, I can take that as a “red flag” saying that the origin of morality is an important problem whose solution is not immediately obvious. We never call on God for the mundane, so the places in which God is invoked may be avenues to discovery.

  100. #100 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    A sidenote: Of course I mean “personal faith” as in a inner spiritual path which does not confer harm to anyone and concerns only you and no one else!
    And of course my faith is open for critisism, I just prefer it when people show respect for each other.

  101. #101 Burt Humburg
    January 23, 2007

    Isn’t the approvingly-quoted author assuming that since science has been extraordinarily successful in terms of explaining and predicting findings in the observable and testable world, it must therefore be the tool with which we approach all our decisions in life? Isn’t his argument a specific case of “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”?

    I doubt the author undertakes a probability assessment before falling in love. (If he is the sort of person who does this, I absolutely *must* be a fly on the wall at sterile conversation they must have during meals sometime.) Assuming he doesn’t, then it’s sort of odd for him to claim that probability theory must apply to our decisions regarding ascientific things like Gods, but doesn’t necessarily apply to our decisions regarding the kinds of ascientific things that atheists even engage in,

    I also take exception to the broader point that people must never “partition their thinking,” if by this he means that one can’t believe in God and be expected to do well as a scientist. I have appropriate interactions with my patients and I also defecate, but I do not defecate in front of my patients. Similarly, I believe in God and I try to exercise rational judgement in the pursuit of the agents that cause my patients’ disease, but I do not blame God or demons for those diseases. And to wax a bit blue, PZ behaves in front of his wife in ways he doesn’t in front of his classroom and vice versa.

    It does not bespeak a lack of intellectual integrity to engage in situationally-appropriate behaviors; that is, we each of us “partition our minds” all the time. (Hell, one could make a strong case that it’s part of growing up to learn to do so.) And as long as one is not trying to determine the agents of change in a scientific experiment, believing in God is a perfectly appropriate undertaking, if not advisable (as I’m sure PZ would say). So I’m not sure that the author quoted above can claim the intellectual highground here with regard to intellectual integrity and behaving the same way in different situations throughout life, unless he or she defecates in front of passersby.

    I maintain that the atheist/Christian debate doesn’t have much to do with rationalism or denial. We each of us must acknowledge reality just to get through our days: even the disgraced believer Ken Ham looks both ways, and not to faith, before he crosses the street. On the other hand, atheism is no guarantee of completely rational thinking or complete intellectual integrity: even the most hardened of the godless can engage in perfectly illogical thinking about things they would rather ignore or not address. There’s common ground to be had there that is being overlooked

    BCH

  102. #102 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    Ken Ham is a disgraced believer? Well, that must be as true as the rest of the stuff that you’ve just spewed out.

  103. #103 octopod
    January 23, 2007

    Ced: You still didn’t answer Junk Science’s question, and I’d really like to hear your reasoning on this post as well. I find myself entirely unsympathetic with anyone who calls the world “a shitty place”. This is as disrespectful to me as it is for me to blaspheme at your god/s; I don’t appreciate being told to respect your worldview while you insult the world in which I live and to which I am devoting my life. Be consistent.

  104. #104 James Orpin
    January 23, 2007

    “Faith is a very personal issue and thus has to be respected by anyone.”
    Faith is a very personal issue and thus has to be respected by no-one.
    Keep it to yourself and no-one will say anything. Bring it out in public and expect it to be questioned, criticised and ridiculed.

  105. #105 Colugo
    January 23, 2007

    A suggested cause of the conflict between the ‘New Atheists,’ the ‘appeasement school of evolutionists,’ ‘theistic evolutionists’ etc.: different understandings of what science is supposed to be.

    All scientists employ methodological naturalism. Most, but not all, accept metaphysical naturalism. Others, however, hold certain theistic and mystical beliefs that are not supported by science. Alternatively, if they do not hold such beliefs themselves, they do not view these beliefs as necessarily antithetical to science. Let’s call them scientific instrumentalists. In addition to believing that science is an efficacious research strategy, scientific instrumentalists also believe that either a) science is not the sole means of revealing metaphysical truth or b) science is not even concerned with the discovery of metaphysical truth.

    Those who believe that science is the only means of understanding metaphysical truth can be described as scientific metaphysicians. To them, science is more than just an instrumentalist strategy based on merely operational assumptions. Science is good not just because of its utilitarian aspects, but because it is the only means to truth, which is ultimately the basis of goodness and beauty.

  106. #106 Greg Laden
    January 23, 2007

    This is probably why every few decades the number of scientist who believe in god goes down significantly. It actually has been revolutionary. I can’t think of a lot of other examples of wholesale shift in philosophy of this type.

  107. #107 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Octopod:
    I’m sorry for using such a derogatory word.
    When I said “shitty world” I rather meant to say “I feel this world is a shitty place”. It was exclusively subjective.
    I can perfectly understand someone who likes the world and is happy to live here.

  108. #108 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    James Orpin: You are right. I just wanted to represent an example of a scientific instrumentalist (thanks Colugo for the nice vocabulary).

  109. #109 Jessica
    January 23, 2007

    This post really pissed me off. I love the blog, PZ, and I have never posted before, but as a scientist and a theist this post really pushed my buttons.

    So during my decade of research experience in major, top-ranked university labs, I was merely “going through the motions”? So I’m not a “true scientist” despite my PhD and years of postdoctoral research? That my emotional connection to my (non-Christian) faith precludes me from participating as an equal in the “true” scientific community? BULLSHIT. I never, never bring god into my work– this is ideology-baiting.

    I agree with you that ID is ridiculous pap that is trying to spoil science education in this country. I agree with you that people who try to impose their religious views on others are dangerous to our secular society. I won’t try to talk to you about why I am a theist– my reasons are private and personal– and you can call me an ignorant superstitious fool for maintaining my theism without any evidence. BUT I *AM* A SCIENTIST.

  110. #110 Arun
    January 23, 2007

    This blog is a lost cause.

  111. #111 Patrick
    January 23, 2007

    Jessica:

    “I never, never bring god into my work”

    That is the point: you are compartmentalizing. The reason you don’t bring god into your work is that your work would be pretty poor if you did. I don’t think anybody is claiming good scientific work can’t be done by a theist (obviously false); I think PZ is trying to encourage religious scientists to go the other way: bring your work to your god. The fact you have to keep the two separate is because the latter could probably not withstand the former for very long. I say this rather cavalierly because I kept up the same farce for some time: I also had “private and personal” reasons for believing in God (which was just code for maintaining ethnic tradition). But the sensible part of me slowly eroded the wall, and it crumbled rather abruptly.

  112. #112 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    Jessica, if it’s any consolation, I’m sure the majority of atheistic scientists couldn’t give a hoot about what their colleagues believed in, as long as such beliefs didn’t affect their work. Sure, a few atheist scientists will have reservations about theistic scientists, but at the end of the day, it’s only the science that counts.

    Mark
    (atheist biologist)

  113. #113 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    And of course my faith is open for critisism, I just prefer it when people show respect for each other.

    Fine. I think you’re wrong to be a theist. I think the idea of a god or any supernatural being is utterly ridiculous. I think faith in supernatural entities does a great deal of harm to humanity and that we would all be better off without it. And I say that with the greatest respect.

    When I said “shitty world” I rather meant to say “I feel this world is a shitty place”. It was exclusively subjective.

    Well, I’m sorry you dislike the world and feel it owes you something. I would recommend therapy over “faith” as a solution for you, but that’s your business.

  114. #114 squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    Thanks Jessica–your thoughts are much appreciated.

    On this whole issue of compartmentalizing–way up, about a third of the way, someone brought up the point that it isn’t just theistic views that cloud science, but other world views as well. S/he cited how politics clouded Gould’s science as an example (sorry, I am just too tired to find the post).

    This is a good point. Religion isn’t the only source of bias that scientists contend with in order to do good science. We all have sources of bias that we strive to compartmentalize, be it religion, politics, or whatever. I would argue that no one is completely successful at compartmentalizing these things.

    For example, if one is paid by the Bush administration and oil companies to investigate the claim that humans are the cause of global warming, would not that scientist have a built in bias to find evidence to challenge a human cause for global warming? Likewise, a scientist who is passionate about preserving the environment investigating global warming may miss evidence that argues that humans aren’t the cause of global warming. Both scientists, in order to be good scientists, MUST compartmentalize their bias concerning the cause of global warming.

    So the question becomes, then, why is religious belief any more difficult to compartmentalize than one’s politics or any other bias one may have? I don’t believe it is, and to be a good scientist, it’s a struggle we all need to deal with, theist and atheists alike. In fact, I find it far more difficult to compartmentalize my bias that humans are the cause of global warming than I do to compartmentalize my religious faith from science. If I were a climate scientist, my work would be far more likely to be compromised by the former bias than it would the latter.

  115. #115 squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    Junk Science:

    “Well, I’m sorry you dislike the world and feel it owes you something.”

    You are reading way too much into his statement. How do you know he is saying that? Maybe he thinks the world is a shitty place because people are being killed in Iraq every day in an unjust world, or that genocide is occurring in Darfur and the rest of the world is basically ignoring it, or that every few seconds a woman or child is the victim of domestic violence. I could be reading into his statement as well, but don’t assume he thinks the world sucks because he has bought into a theological ideal that “the world sucks because it is bound for destruction and the only thing worth living for is so we can die and go to Heaven.” I don’t believe that is what he meant. Try to compartmentalize your bias against religion from this discussion so that you don’t inadvertantly put words into another’s mouth.

  116. #116 Caledonian
    January 23, 2007

    What you “hardcore” scientists don’t understand is that you think with your brain and feel with your heart.

    ‘Thinking’ and ‘feeling’ are both done by the brain. They are not opposites – they are both forms of the same thing, one being slightly more sophisticated than the other.

  117. #117 Matt the heathen
    January 23, 2007

    I think squeaky makes a good point about the need to compartmentalize biases when doing scientific work.

    I think the point the author of the essay, and many other commenters have been making, though, is that a true scientist shouldn’t have unfounded biases at all. If you are a climate scientist, and you have some belief that humans are causing global warming, but your belief isn’t grounded in researched facts, than you are a bad scientist.

  118. #118 Kagehi
    January 23, 2007

    If I started hearing voices, demons, or hearing something that is not there, I would quickly get myself tested for schizophrenia! I cannot understand how delusions or firmly held but false beliefs can be considered “holy” in any way.

    Well, Rocky:

    http://www.livescience.com/humanbiology/060915_hearing_voices.html

    “The resulting studies found that more people might hear voices than psychologists had thought, perhaps around 4 percent of the population.”

    And that is the crux of the problem. If 120,000,000 people out of the 3 billion+- in North America *hear voices* and the only explanations most of them “want” or “have been given” for those voices is “spirits”… guess what explanation they are going to use for them. And the problem will only get worse the bigger the population you are dealing with, since among those that don’t hear any there will always be a fair percentage that believe the goofy explanations and *wish* they also heard them, thus slavering all over the boots of those that do, in hopes their “blessing of hearing them” rubs off somehow.

  119. #119 Caledonian
    January 23, 2007

    BUT I *AM* A SCIENTIST.

    No, Jessica, you’re a technician. A very highly trained technician, but a technician nonetheless.

    Colugo, you’re missing the point: all scientists utilize what you’d call ‘methdological naturalism’; not all are intelligent enough, thoughtful enough, or honest enough to realize that what you’d call ‘metaphysical naturalism’ follows inevitably from that methodology.

    Preconceptions are crippling in science. Think of Newton failing to predict the existence of other planets because he handwaved away perturbations in planetary orbits as God making adjustments to his clockwork universe, or Einstein failing to anticipate the Big Bang because he thought the universe had to be static.

    Religion is nothing but a certain kind of preconception. It cripples science and rational thought whenever and wherever it appears, no matter what its form.

  120. #120 Krystalline Apostate
    January 23, 2007

    “The resulting studies found that more people might hear voices than psychologists had thought, perhaps around 4 percent of the population.”
    It’s probably WAY larger than that.
    It depends on whether the dialogue is considered internal, or external, for 1 thing. When we think, we hear an internal voice. Of course, most realize that it’s themselves. It’s when you hear what seems to be an auditory hallucination that it becomes scary.
    I realize it’s not widely recognized among academia, but Jaynes’ Origins of Consciousness has some interesting insights into this. It’s a fascinating hypothesis, but difficult to posit proof for. I rather like the theory, but more research is needed to bear it out.
    Of course, most folks don’t want to share the info that they hear something that seems to be external from them.
    Just call it ‘gawd’, though, seems to make it all right.

  121. #121 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    “I think the point the author of the essay, and many other commenters have been making, though, is that a true scientist shouldn’t have unfounded biases at all.” — Matt

    True, but who doesn’t have some biases? Can you honestly say that you are not affected by any cognitive bias? I think it’s easier for a theist to keep their supernaturalism out of their work than it is for an atheist (for instance) to keep some of those biases out. We are only human.

  122. #122 Caledonian
    January 23, 2007

    Actual scientists acknowledge that they have flaws, but don’t gloss over them. Theists warp their understanding of science so that their cherished beliefs become, not failures, but permissable options.

    And Hatfield, you’d better hope we never meet in real life. “Ruthless certainty” in a pig’s eye! It’s ruthless uncertainty that makes science function and that’s the foundation of rationality.

  123. #123 Kagehi
    January 23, 2007

    Ugh.. I read a lot of this, but not all of it and its just….

    Lets try to use a **real world** example. I can’t remember the specific name of the scientist involved in this, but its a *perfect* example of why compartmentalization *is* a problem. The scientist in question was a physicist. He spent a large number of years doing “valid” and “good” science in physics. Then he decided he was getting bored and wanted to explore questions “he” wanted answered… Most people here can probably figure out where this is going already. For those that can’t, he decided to answer the question of “How cells talk to each other.”, and, *part* of his theory was that they used flashes of light, and more to the point, that these flashes could be picked up and interpreted by “other” people as well. See, he *believes* that psychics are real, so obviously there must be “some” explanation for how it works, and to him little cells making chemical based flashes of weak light, which is nothing but a byproduct of energy production, *had to be* the right answer. As far as I know this clown is *still* researching how cells communicate with flashing lights, having failed to prove anything the first time, when he had the fraud John Edwards fleece a victim in the lab while looking for “coherent light patterns or signals from their bodies”.

    If he had stuck to psychics he would have been fine. Instead he threw out valid research to explore something that even a half brain dead biologist could have told him is bullshit. Why? Because the moment he stepped outside the psychics lab and started to explore things outside his expertise, his first reaction wasn’t to “figure out what the rules are for biological system”, it was to presuppose that some brand of Woo he believed in was true, then manufacture the most idiotic experiment possible to try to find evidence of it. The possibility that his initial premise that psychics are real was *wrong* to start with, never mind any basic preliminary examination of even the nature of what he chose to examine as proof, never entered his head. One strongly suspects that he did well in physics “in spite” of this flawed thinking, since he was never exposed to anything that required more than what he already knew, but that had some unexpected phenomena shown up, he would have lept off the deep end looking for spirits, magic fairies of pixie dust anyway.

    **That** is the, “You can do science, and even mostly do it well in a specialty, yet not *understand* why science works and how to properly use it.”, that PZ, et al are talking about. And its so fracking common that some new businesses are starting up dedicated to taking interdisciplinary information and applying it to research fields to increase progress, because the scientist “in” those fields are all too often complete morons *outside* their field, and even more so when dealing with things that are not “in” any specific field, like ghosts and goblins.

  124. #124 Kagehi
    January 23, 2007

    Oh, and just to be clear. The people that post here are often Renaissance types. We read and understand more than a basic laymans level of a *lot* of disciplines. Most of the “famous” scientists of the past tended to be that as well, with some exceptions. The sort of scientists that we are talking about wouldn’t post here, unless it was “specifically” about biology and “never” anything else, because specilization to the point of complete idiocy on any other subject has almost become the *norm* in mordern science. To use a layman’s analogy, the number of plumbers that think they think they can fix anything is in the hundreds, when compared to the general maintanence guy that “can” fix nearly anything, but doesn’t know every single type of rubber seal ring on the market. That is modern science now. Lots of plumbers that get bored and try to become architects or something, very few people that have sufficient cross discipline knowledge to not end up building a skyscrapper out of PVC pipes and rubber cement.

  125. #125 Matt the heathen
    January 23, 2007

    MarkG, I’m sure you’re right. In my department, there are many scientists that are theists, and I have no doubt as to their ability to avoid any bias from their religion. In fact, I find it hard to imagine how it could bias their work in my field.

    There are probably many more pressing sources of bias to most fields than religious beliefs. Still, I think that ideally, as scientists we should be able to recognize and guard against our biases, or at the very least, try to rid ourselves of them when they are pointed out.

  126. #126 Colugo
    January 23, 2007

    To expand on my earlier comment, is science 1) just a model-generating algorithm that is valuable because it has utility (in effect, a technology-generating algorithm), or is it 2) a Truth-generating algorithm (by successive approximation via provisional “truths”) that is valuable because Truth is inherently good?

    Scientific instrumentalists believe that it is the first. Scientific metaphysicians believe that it is the second.

    A scientific instrumentalist may be rational or irrational, atheistic or theistic, materialist or mystical. A scientific metaphysician has little choice but to be to rationalist, atheistic/agnostic, and materialist. To scientific instrumentalists, scientific metaphysicians have made science into a religion (“scientism). To scientific metaphysicians, scientific instrumentalists fail to understand science, and hence are mere technicians.

    Caledonian: I was about to post this comment – complete with the “technician” descriptor – when I noticed your response to Jessica’s and my comments. I happen to be a rationalist, atheist, and materialist, because I believe that such a view follows from the scientific method. My reasoning is this: since naturalistic methodology has proven its efficaciousness, I can assume that knowledge so obtained is the only real knowledge (as opposed to Gnosis, scripture, and so on). Others have reached different conclusions.

    While my rationalism, atheism, and materialism are well-supported by logic and observation, ultimately they are dependent on an assumption. The scientific method is itself reliant on propositions that are thought to be self-evident but are, in fact, unprovable (though rational and reasonable) assumptions – uniformitarianism of physical laws and properties, replicability of experiments, the absence of the possibility that our senses and instruments are being completely thwarted.

  127. #127 squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian:

    “Einstein failing to anticipate the Big Bang because he thought the universe had to be static.

    Religion is nothing but a certain kind of preconception. It cripples science and rational thought whenever and wherever it appears, no matter what its form.”

    If Jessica is a mere technician because of her theistic preconceptions, then so was Einstein because of his preconception in a static universe. Then we all are technicians because none of us are free of preconceptions. The religious preconception is no more dangerous than Einstein’s preconception that the universe is static, or any other preconception we might hold. We ALL have preconceptions, and none of us are excluded from that no matter how good we are at compartmentalizing.

    You also judged Jessica’s merit as a scientist based solely on her theistic beliefs. You haven’t read any of her papers or seen any of her work. Your scientific approach to judging Jessica’s work is flawed by your preconception that no theist can do good science. Your conclusions are not based in evidence, but in your beliefs.

  128. #128 mtraven
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian is obnoxious and obtuse enough that he makes me want to take up a faith just to annoy him.

    And Hatfield, you’d better hope we never meet in real life. “Ruthless certainty” in a pig’s eye! It’s ruthless uncertainty that makes science function and that’s the foundation of rationality.

    Uh huh. You really come off as someone devoted to the practice of ruthless uncertainty. I’ve rarely come across someone so convinced that his narrow little world view was the only correct one.

  129. #129 Squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    mtraven–

    “Caledonian is obnoxious and obtuse enough that he makes me want to take up a faith just to annoy him.”

    Hee. I like that.

  130. #130 Ced
    January 23, 2007

    Many good statements are made here, a joy to read. In particular I would like to ask Colugo if he runs any kind of website or published some more material, because I really like his thoughts and style of writing.

  131. #131 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    Try to compartmentalize your bias against religion from this discussion so that you don’t inadvertantly put words into another’s mouth.

    Try to compartmentalize your defensiveness about religion so you don’t give people credit they don’t deserve. I agree with him that many things about the world are in fact shitty. I also find it ridiculous that he thinks the world is such a terrible place that he’d rather live in a fantasy and expects other people not to laugh at him for that.

  132. #132 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    The religious preconception is no more dangerous than Einstein’s preconception that the universe is static, or any other preconception we might hold.

    I’m afraid that comparison is false, because Einstein could have been convinced with evidence that the universe wasn’t static. Religious believers declare themselves beyond the reach of material evidence and argument when it comes to their faith.

  133. #133 squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    Junk Science,

    The point I’m making is that any preconception muddies the scientific waters.

    And CED has been nothing but polite in this discussion. If you don’t want to be respectful, at least you can be polite.

    And, by the way why can’t be you respectful? I respect your views on religion, even if I don’t happen to agree with them. I have a Muslim colleague whose beliefs I don’t share at all, but I respect his beliefs. I’ve had atheist colleagues and agnostic colleagues who I disagree with in terms of faith, but I respect their lack of faith, too. I don’t see why that is so difficult. To respect something doesn’t mean you believe in it. It just means you respect the person and understand that that is something very important to that person. It’s an act of decency, not of agreement.

  134. #134 PZ Myers
    January 23, 2007

    You’ve confused respect with tolerance. Respect implies that you think there is something worthy of value in it; tolerance means that even if you find an idea silly or even dangerous, you’re willing to concede others the privilege of believing it.

  135. #135 squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    Even with that definition, I can’t say Junk Science’s response to Ced has been even risen to the level “tolerance.”

    If respect implies there is something worthy or of value in the belief, I still see that as no excuse to disrespect another person for their beliefs, even if you don’t agree with them. If you don’t want to respect someone’s beliefs, fine. Don’t. But you can still respect the person (find worth and value in that person). And if you truly respect that person and truly understand that that person’s beliefs are very important to them, then out of respect for that person, you will not be disrespectful to their beliefs.

  136. #136 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    We’re not friends. I don’t care what’s important to you. If you say something stupid, I’m not going to pretend it’s not stupid, even if it hurts your feelings. No one’s forcing you to pay attention to anything I say.

    The point I’m making is that any preconception muddies the scientific waters.

    No, the point you were making is that being religious is no worse than thinking the universe is static. The first belief loudly and explicitly declares itself beyond the reach of argument, while the second does not.

  137. #137 MarkG
    January 23, 2007

    Squeaky, I think the phrase is “respect the person, not the belief”.

  138. #138 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    Even with that definition, I can’t say Junk Science’s response to Ced has been even risen to the level “tolerance.”

    I’m not doing anything to stop him from believing whatever he believes. You should learn the difference between coercion and disagreement.

  139. #139 squeaky
    January 23, 2007

    So you are saying it’s OK to return politeness with rudeness. It really isn’t that hard to make your point without being rude. But if you don’t want to reach for a higher level of discourse, that is your choice.

    And no, that emphatically was not the point I was making. Sorry if you disagree, but it wasn’t. You can re-read my above points for clarification.

    This,

    “The first belief loudly and explicitly declares itself beyond the reach of argument, while the second does not.”

    is true for some people. You assume that no one who has any sort of faith has not questioned that faith and has accepted it blindly. This is not the case with everyone who has faith. You just don’t understand how anyone who questions can still have faith in the end. You might say, “obviously, they haven’t questioned hard enough.” This, however, is what a lot of Christians would say of Atheists who have sought faith and still don’t believe in God.

  140. #140 junk science
    January 23, 2007

    And no, that emphatically was not the point I was making.

    This is what you said.

    The religious preconception is no more dangerous than Einstein’s preconception that the universe is static, or any other preconception we might hold.

    But if you’re going to lie that openly, then there’s not much point in talking to you.

  141. Jessica, I’d say you’re a scientist but you don’t understand what makes science work better than religion, like a skilled juggler who doesn’t know anything about their cerebellum.

    Yes, you can be a good scientist, or even a great one, while compartmentalizing your brain. What would make you an even better scientist is, not becoming an atheist per se, but becoming a more skillful rationalist. For example, developing your understanding of rationality-related disciplines, such as evolutionary psychology and probability theory, to the point where you can’t go on fooling yourself because you know that your brain can’t arrive at correct answers without undergoing causal interactions with the phenomena to be mapped.

  142. #142 mtraven
    January 23, 2007

    Here’s a correct answer arrived at without any causal interaction with the phenomena: 2 + 3 = 5.

    Actually you (Eliezer) have neatly encapsulated just what is wrong with the more strident form of atheism we see around here. You say “you don’t understand what makes science work better than religion”. This implies that religion is nothing more than a bad form of science, which is an incredibly blinkered view of what religion is about. Even if you are a non-believer, even if you think religion is icky, you owe it to the phenomenon of religion to try to understand what it is trying to do, before passing judgment on how well it works.

  143. #143 Scott Hatfield
    January 23, 2007

    Caledonian: First of all, if we met in real life, I’d buy you a beer and listen to whatever you had to say, if you’d extend me the same courtesy. Shoot, I’ll buy you a pitcher and take notes.

    Secondly, I agree that *science* itself depends upon the acknowledgement of uncertainty and limits. But I wasn’t talking about *science*, I was talking about *you*. It is your *personal* lack of uncertainty that I find enviable.

    I’m tempted, for example, to join squeaky in attributing your demotion of Jessica from the rank of scientists to one of mere belief which (ironically) would disqualify you, as well.

    But that’s too easy and (frankly) stops dialogue. You seem to continually misread my caution and reluctance to speak in absolutist terms as weakness, equivocation or dissembling. That’s a shame, because I really would like to buy you that beer: I’m reasonably certain I would learn something from the experience and I hope one day we will meet!….Scott

  144. #144 Scott Hatfield
    January 23, 2007

    Colugo: I found your brief above re: scientific instrumentalism vs. metaphysics thought-provoking! Like Ced, I would be interested in learning more about these distinctions. If there is a web site or a particular book article etc. you could recommend could you share it?

    Sincerely…..Scott (epigene13@hotmail.com, if you’d like this off-thread)

  145. #145 PZ Myers
    January 23, 2007

    I will repeat myself: being a theist does not mean that one can’t be a good scientist, in any domain in which one specifically excludes theism. Believers who are scientists switch off the god excuse whenever they are practicing their art, and I do not see any problem with that.

    However, I also think they switch off the scientific thinking when they practice their religion. That’s deplorable, but some people just have to do it in order to make it through their life.

    The ‘scientific instrumentalist’ distinction is mildly interesting, but I don’t quite buy it. One objection I have to this kind of rationalization is that they always claim to have some alternate path to something they call The Truth, but whenever you get right down to it, they can never describe or demonstrate anything that improves the world or more accurately describes the world or even makes a tiny, incremental change in some miniscule fragment of the world. Face it, by alternate means of discovering metaphysical truths, what is really meant is “easy explanations that make me feel better.”

    I don’t think I’m quite a scientific metaphysician, though. I wouldn’t argue that “science is the only means of understanding metaphysical truth”, only that so far science is all we’ve got, and any alternate means someone wants to propose is going to have to show me that it gives science a run for its money in someway. It seems all we ever get, though, is complaints about the inadequacy of science and assertions that there are these other means, means which are never explained in such a way that anyone else can practice them. It’s an awful lot like creationism.

  146. #146 Daryl McCullough
    January 23, 2007

    My God (pardon the expression). These harangues about religion in the blogs that I used to enjoy are (1) getting more and more frequent, and (2) getting more and more creepy. So it’s not enough that someone is doing good scientific work. It’s not enough that in a person’s professional life he rejects superstition and teleology and subjectivity. It’s not enough that he considers the scientific method to be the final arbiter for the truth of scientific claims. No, we must look at what people believe privately. Are they really devotees of science, or are they secretly compartmentalizers? Do they sometimes harbor religious thoughts in an unguarded moment? In that case, they’re not real scientists. They are impure. They are corrupted. They are not of the body.

    This is purely an emotional reaction on my part, irrational as hell, but I find atheist sites pretty creepy these days. Almost as creepy as Jack Chick.

  147. #147 Drunken_School_Marm
    January 23, 2007

    “as a scientist and a theist this post really pushed my buttons.”

    Not to pile on, Jessica, but this post is neither a scientist nor a theist.

  148. I didn’t say that people who believed in a spirit world weren’t “real scientists”. Poor rationalists, yes, but not poor scientists. Why is it such a strange idea that you can understand quarks without understanding how human beings understand quarks?

    The problem with believing in a spirit world without evidence, is not that it is a secret sin which damns you even when committed in privacy. The problem is that it’s grossly the wrong answer, like thinking that seven apples plus eight apples equals fifteen apples because the rules are different for apples. Yes, I know you’d never do that while counting oranges. But, no matter how good you are at counting oranges, you’ve still just put a sharp upper bound on how well you can possibly understand counting, as such. Deeply understanding the natural numbers isn’t the same thing as being skillful at counting oranges (but not apples, because you think the rules are different for apples).

    Someone who believes in spirits doesn’t understand how this “believing” business works, no matter what they know about mitochondria.

    Of course religion is a lot of things besides bad science; it’s also bad morality, bad poetry, bad practical advice, and a whole bad way of life and existence. But yes, religion is bad science on top of its other failures.

  149. “The problem is that it’s grossly the wrong answer, like thinking that seven apples plus eight apples equals fifteen apples because the rules are different for apples.” Delete “fifteen”, insert “three”.

    (The very first person to comment on my shocking fallibility is still being unoriginal.)

  150. #150 Colugo
    January 23, 2007

    Ced and Scott Hatfield,

    Thanks you both for the compliments. I’m afraid that I cannot answer Ced’s question about additional publications, because that would compromise my anonymity. (I will admit to having articles in peer-reviewed journals.) However, I do have other comments posted around ScienceBlogs, including Pharyngula.

    Eugenie Scott’s discussions of methodological vs philosophical naturalism in science have been influential.
    http://www2.ncseweb.org/selman/2006-11-16_Scott_expert_report.pdf

    Also see Massimo Pigliucci on the topic.
    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1369219

    Some might disagree with the way I have linked the methodological/metaphysical naturalism distinction and instrumentalism. I’ve just started wrestling with the concepts myself, and my attempts are not informed by deep expertise in the philosophy of science.

    American Pragmatism
    http://www.radicalacademy.com/amphilosophy7.htm

    PZ,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response to my attempts to figure out where and why the battle lines have been drawn. Your remarks also strike me as highly instrumentalist (pragmatist). I think we’re all pragmatists here. The question is, what conclusions about ultimate truth do we derive from that pragmatism? And how defensible are those conclusions?

    Francis Bacon: “Truth and utility are the very same thing.”

    That statement has profound implications. But is it a provable fact – or a preconception?

  151. #151 Daryl McCullough
    January 23, 2007

    Eliezer writes: The problem with believing in a spirit world without evidence, is not that it is a secret sin which damns you even when committed in privacy. The problem is that it’s grossly the wrong answer, like thinking that seven apples plus eight apples equals fifteen apples because the rules are different for apples.

    I don’t think that the distinction between “wrong answer” and “sin” makes any difference to the creepiness of what you are saying.

    Perhaps I have a much more modest view of science and “the truth” than you do. To me, life for humans is, at its core, about the same things as life for your typical mammals. We eat, we sleep, we avoid dangers, we make babies. Science is about two things: one is practical, and the other is emotional. On the practical side, we use science to improve our lives, to make it more likely that we survive long enough to make babies, to make it easier to find food or avoid dangers. On the emotional side, it’s thrilling to explore ideas, to explore the universe, to find out how things work. I find it pretty thrilling, but not everyone does, and there is no reason for them to. I don’t care what people believe, except when their beliefs have practical consequences.

    If I think that someone’s beliefs are a practical threat, for example, people not getting immunizations out of religious belief, or people throwing away their money investing according to Ouija boards, or people putting going to faith healers instead of doctors, then I will try to persuade them to believe something different. Just slightly different. Just different enough to address the problem. I don’t try to overhaul their belief systems. I consider that not my business. And it creeps me out that people consider it to be their business. In exactly the same way as it creeps me out that people care whether other people are homosexual.

  152. #152 PZ Myers
    January 23, 2007

    Francis Bacon: “Truth and utility are the very same thing.”

    That statement has profound implications. But is it a provable fact – or a preconception?

    Neither. It’s a useful working hypothesis, one that has had demonstrable success, and that’s all I care about.

    So yes, I’m an instrumentalist and utilitarian, but I’m not a theist by any stretch of the imagination. What people would need to do to convince me that religion is deserving of respect is to demonstrate that it has some power. They haven’t (they haven’t even tried), it doesn’t, and I reject it.

  153. #153 mtraven
    January 23, 2007

    Actually it isn’t so surprising that we should see the strident faction try to read people out of the church of science for the sin of heresy.

    Richard Dawkins and others have taken the tack of telling people who attempt to develop a view of religion that is in harmony with science (like Ursula Goodenough) that they aren’t really religious. So if the have no qualms about adjusting the meaning of term “religion” in order to prove their argument by definition, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they do the same with the term “scientist”.

  154. #154 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    Colugo: Thanks for the links. I’ve read the first two, but the last was unfamiliar to me. I’ll explore!

    For the record, I agree with PZ’s characterization of Bacon’s claim as far as doing science goes. Supernatural claims don’t appear to be directly testable, and many religiously-derived testable claims have been falsified. I would say their usefulness in science is confined to the fact that they might inspire more hypotheses: here, the sense is not that the hypothesis is correct, but fecund.

  155. #155 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    If Jessica is a mere technician because of her theistic preconceptions, then so was Einstein because of his preconception in a static universe.

    Once again we see that there is no argument so simple that someone won’t misunderstand it.

    Einstein was a scientist because when he was confronted with his preconceptions, he abandoned them. Jessica is a mere technician because she abandons reason rather than abandon her preconceptions.

  156. #156 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    It is your *personal* lack of uncertainty that I find enviable.

    You are a complete idiot! For multiple reasons!

    I don’t have a lack of uncertainty, my posts do not showcase a lack of uncertainty, and even if they did such a lack would not in any way be enviable. Quite the opposite!

    ***

    Religion and rational thought simply aren’t compatible. If the necessary concessions are made to the unsupported and unjustified assertions of the religion, that opens the door to accepting more unsupported and unjustified statements. If you make a specific exception, you’ve permitted the declaration of exceptions.

  157. #157 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    Can you be a good surgeon (by modern standards) without accepting the circulation of the blood? Can you be a good geologist without accepting the spherical Earth? Can you be a good biochemist if you believe in Vitalism? What about being a chemist, without further modifiers, if you believe in Vitalism? A doctor, if you don’t believe in infectious agents?

    Can you be a scientist if you reject the most basic aspects of the scientific method?

  158. #158 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    Even if you are a non-believer, even if you think religion is icky, you owe it to the phenomenon of religion to try to understand what it is trying to do, before passing judgment on how well it works.

    What a boring, tired defense. Could just one theist explain what exactly they think religion is and what good it does in the process of whining that atheists just don’t understand?

  159. #159 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    Caledonian, at last a retort that I can make with some certainty: the history of science is replete with counter-examples to your distinction above. Bowler and Morus’s “Making Modern Science” (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005) makes this rather clear.

    Specifically (from pg. 269) Einstein rather notoriously asserted that QM was NOT “the secret of the Old One” and “that He (meaning God) does not play dice.” What matters here is not the question of whether QM is a theory of everything, or whether Einstein’s ‘God’ is anything like the deity of believers, but whether Einstein harbored preconceptions that he refused to abandon.

    Clearly he did. Was Einstein, then, here not a scientist? Or was a he a scientist who (like every other scientist) was a human being and subject to whimsy, prejudice, conceptual blindness, etc.

    I cast my vote with the latter, sir….SH

  160. #160 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    One protests: “You are a complete idiot! For multiple reasons!

    I don’t have a lack of uncertainty, my posts do not showcase a lack of uncertainty, and even if they did such a lack would not in any way be enviable. Quite the opposite!”

    (with gentleness) Are you certain?…..SH

  161. #161 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    What a boring, tired defense. Could just one theist explain what exactly they think religion is and what good it does in the process of whining that atheists just don’t understand?

    Understanding what religion attempts to do is vital in judging whether it is successful.

    And what it attempts to do is eliminate the insecurities many people have about ultimate questions for which there are no answers, or none available; it does this by providing superficially satisfying responses, giving people something they can use to fill in the terrifying blanks.

    It’s not about understanding things, or producing useful models of the world – it’s about denying the world when it makes us uncomfortable. And in the sense that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, it’s an unqualified success for many.

    In rather the same way that a junkie burgling someone’s home to get the cash for his next purchase of smack is “successful”… and in a deeper and more important sense is failing utterly.

  162. #162 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    Caledonian, at last a retort that I can make with some certainty: the history of science is replete with counter-examples to your distinction above.

    Incorrect. Einstein regarded his insertion of a Cosmological Constant into General Relativity to be the greatest mistake of his life, but it certainly wasn’t the only one.

    His refusal to use a terribly useful abstraction because he found it aesthetically unpleasant caused him to present a series of objections to quantum mechanics that its supporters rapidly demonstrated were invalid – the greatness of his intellect was overcome by his need to make physics match what he thought it should be.

    He was a great scientist to the degree that he left preconceptions behind – to the degree that he had them, they crippled his work.

    What he mourned as an error and failure, Jessica embraces. That is why she isn’t a scientist. She merely goes through a learned procedure – sure, the demands of publishing and receiving funding and peer review induce her to keep to the method, in the same way that constant observation can keep an employee from embezzling funds or stealing supplies. Honesty is determined not by what you do when others are watching you, but how you act when no one is watching. When dealing with subjects where there’s no social disapproval to constrain her, Jessica violates basic rules of rational thought, then proclaims that she is justified in doing so.

    In dealing with other people, such a lack of integrity is sociopathic. In dealing with concepts, such a lack of integrity is called intellectual dishonesty, and it is lethal to the performance of science.

  163. #163 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    Or was a he a scientist who (like every other scientist) was a human being and subject to whimsy, prejudice, conceptual blindness, etc.

    Obviously he was a human being and not a machine. But his human weakness wasn’t anything like the systematic, defensive denial of reality practiced by the religious. At the very least, Einstein probably wouldn’t have defended his own weakness as a moral good, as many theists do.

  164. #164 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    Correct, junk science. Einstein explicitly mourned his weaknesses and acknowledged that they prevented him from predicting the observations of an expanding universe.

    Theists not only deny that their faith is weakness, they assert that it’s a kind of strength and a type of virtue.

    Doubt and honesty make science work. They’re antithetical to religion.

  165. #165 Krystalline Apostate
    January 24, 2007

    t.comfyshoes:
    She spends the rest of her life accumulating and spreading woo, from Xi Gong
    Pardon me, but Chi Kung (Qiqong) is not ‘woo’. Your in-law is probably mixing ‘n matching a bunch of New Age melodrama.
    Sadly, out here in the West, most charlatans turn Tai Chi, Qi Qong, into some sorta snake-oil panacea (which they are not).
    Some of those Eastern methods are crap. Some are not.
    I usually do some research on a subject, before I shoot my mouth off. I’d advise you do the same.

  166. #166 Michael H
    January 24, 2007

    “Well.. Is
    The Cosmic Blueprint – Order and Complexity at the Edge of Chaos, Paul Davies (1987)
    a pop-sci book?”

    From what I’ve been able to gather, yes.
    Of course, I consider ‘the road to reality’ by Penrose at least semi pop-sci, and that doesnt skimp on the calculus 🙂
    I haven’t yet had a chance to read the particular work you show, though I am familar with Davies. He’s a good physicist, and a decent populariser as well. I disagree with him, but if your veiws are at least partially based on his, it begins to look a little more rational.
    You must understand that the words ‘energy field’ make most skeptical people very wary. Too few actually know what energy means in a scientific definition.
    Thank you for clarifying your veiwpoint

  167. #167 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    With respect to Einstein, junk science wrote: “Obviously he was a human being and not a machine. But his human weakness wasn’t anything like the systematic, defensive denial of reality practiced by the religious.”

    I agree. But that doesn’t make Einstein a non-scientist. Was Asa Gray a mere technician? R.A. Fisher, just a lucky guy good with figures? Dobzhanksky, a deluded mystic who liked to play with flies? S.J. Gould, a Marxist poseur who occasionally did field work with snails?

    I doubt it. They were all scientists who to some degree were led, inspired and also constrained by prior commitments. And constrained, in some cases, in the practice of science itself. It is unjustifiable to go beyond this, as one here does, and declare this or that person a non-scientist not for their scientific practice, but for their private beliefs.

    So, in the end I agree with our host: “being a theist does not mean that one can’t be a good scientist, in any domain in which one specifically excludes theism. Believers who are scientists switch off the god excuse whenever they are practicing their art, and I do not see any problem with that.”

    Respectfully submitted…SH

  168. #168 Michael H
    January 24, 2007

    To weigh in on the argument, of course its possible for a scientist to belive in stupid stuff and not subject it to the same standards. It’s been demonstrated hundreds of times at least that good, even great science can be achieved under such circumstances.
    Provided the scientist isn’t investigating something he/she considers to be under the excusive agis of said stupid stuff he/she can be considered trustworthy.

    Even if such a situation occurs they can be a good scientist, provided the belief is flexible enough to undergo modification in the face of conflicting data.
    So while I would not trust a creationist studying the moons formation, I would tend to trust a sufficiently rational buhddist studying cognitive science, even if they were searching for the mechanism of suffering, for example.

    I think I mostly agree with Elizers stance on this, you can be a decent scientist while compartmentalising, but it means you have to be especially careful to avoid cognitive bias in situations that influence your belief. Problem is, being sufficently careful and knowledgable of your own thought processes to not fool yourself tends to open the compartment to the harsh light of reality.

  169. #169 Jillian
    January 24, 2007

    Here’s a little thought experiment that I’d like to see both the theists and the atheists try….

    I am your wife. I have blond hair and blue eyes. You are my husband. You have blond hair and blue eyes. My ex-boyfriend, with whom I am still very, very, very close, has brown hair and brown eyes. I give birth to our first baby. This baby, upon reaching an age of maturity where hair and eye coloration have stabilized (I know that many newborns will display bluish eyes at first), turns out to have brown hair and brown eyes. When you query me about this, I tell you that I had a dream during my pregnancy that God would place a miraculous sign upon our child to show his love for us. Do you:

    1.) Accept that this is, in fact, a miraculous sign from the Lord, or

    2.) Insist that my ex boyfriend pony up some DNA for genetic testing on the baby?

    Please note that I’m not asking a value judgement question here: I’m not asking if you divorce me for cheating on you, or whether or not you love the baby, or any of that. I’m asking if you believe that this is a miracle, or you believe that I was fooling around with the ex and just trying to hide it from you.

    I’d also really like to know why you come to the conclusion you do. If you are a theist, what is the process you use to rule out the possibility of this child’s coloration being a miracle (if you do, in fact, rule it out)?

    I’m not trying to be a snark queen in posing this. I’m just trying to highlight why it is that some atheists question what goes on inside the brain of someone who claims to be a theist and also claims to do science. It seems to involve this weird compartmentalization that is done without any reasonable justification. If you do accept that this is a miracle, why? If you don’t, why not? What are your reasons (“reason” and “rationality” sharing an etymological origin, after all)?

  170. #170 Michael Kremer
    January 24, 2007

    PZ thinks that “Believers who are scientists switch off the god excuse whenever they are practicing their art … However, I also think they switch off the scientific thinking when they practice their religion.”

    But this claim of “compartmentalization” really just doesn’t apply to religious scientists that I know. Imagine this: someone doing science and praying at the same time. Someone offering up their scientific work to God at the beginning and end of their work day. It really does happen.

  171. #171 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    Imagine this: someone doing science and praying at the same time. Someone offering up their scientific work to God at the beginning and end of their work day.

    …someone using “God did it” to explain experimental results… someone believing that the evidence may say the Earth goes around the Sun, but a collection of Iron Age writings is the ultimate authority on the structure of the solar system…

    I can imagine that: in fact, I can even picture it.

  172. #172 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    It is unjustifiable to go beyond this, as one here does, and declare this or that person a non-scientist not for their scientific practice, but for their private beliefs.

    The strawmen never end…

    It’s not their private beliefs, but their violation of scientific principles, that causes such people to not be described by the term ‘scientist’, just as adherence to those principles makes a person a scientist regardless of what their profession is.

  173. #173 squeaky
    January 24, 2007

    PZ, thanks for clarifying that theists can also be good scientists. I know you have emphatically asserted that. Others here have made it clear they do not share your views.

    To those people, I ask this question: What is the danger of a theist doing science? I’m not talking about ID or creationists, I’m talking about theists who accept evolution and an old earth and natural processes. What evidence do you have to support a hypothesis that theists who do science are influenced by their beliefs and are doing bad science. Are there an increased number of papers that are being rejected because of a religious bias? Are there obvious cases of fudged data? More to the point, what branch in science is even negatively influenced by a scientist who has religious beliefs? How would that negatively influence or bias, for example, their work in molecular biology (again, assuming the scientist in question accepts evolution, etc).

    If it truly is just about compartmentalization, and not about the quality of the work, then what really is the issue?

    PZ also said theists can’t bring science to their religion. I do it all the time.

    Scott Hatfield, as usual, you are unfailingly respectful and measured in your responses. I envy your ability to do that! Try as I might, I can’t do it as well as you. Thanks for your input to these discussions!

    Cheers

  174. #174 Steve LaBonne
    January 24, 2007

    But this claim of “compartmentalization” really just doesn’t apply to religious scientists that I know. Imagine this: someone doing science and praying at the same time. Someone offering up their scientific work to God at the beginning and end of their work day. It really does happen.

    Nonetheless they are not invoking “goddidit” as an explanation for their results, so the compartmentalization is still fully active- they could not function as scientists without it.

  175. #175 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    Imagine Pasteur claiming that microorganisms spontaneously generated due to the Will of God, and insisting that only prayer could be effective against disease…

  176. #176 Daryl McCullough
    January 24, 2007

    Caledonian writes: The strawmen never end…It’s not their private beliefs, but their violation of scientific principles, that causes such people to not be described by the term ‘scientist’, just as adherence to those principles makes a person a scientist regardless of what their profession is.

    Well, I don’t find your arguments to be scientific in any sense. When you call Jessica a “technician”, rather than a “scientist” you are speaking from the point of ideology, rather than any empirical basis. You don’t know Jessica’s scientific work (do you?) Perhaps your claims are tautologies, true by definition. In that case, they have no empirical content.

    Your categorization of people into “scientists” and “non-scientists” is just wrong, in my opinion. The same people who can be rational about one topic (such as whatever your field is) can be irrational about another (such as when you or PZ talk about theists). Science is not a God watching for sins against the scientific method (or “violations of scientific principles” in your words). It’s a systematic way of improving our knowledge of and control over the world. If in some field, someone is using the scientific method and is making progress towards that end, then that person is doing science, and I would call them a scientist. The fact that in other fields the person is sinning against science by “violating scientific principles” or by entertaining nonscientific views is irrelevant.

  177. #177 John B
    January 24, 2007

    From Secularism @ Wikipedia:

    1. Secularism, in the more moderate sense, asserts the freedom of religion, and freedom from religion, within a state that is neutral on matters of belief, and gives no state privileges or subsidies to religions. (See also Separation of church and state; see also Lacit.)

    2. Secularism, in the more extreme sense, refers to a belief that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be based on what it considers to be evidence and fact, not on beliefs that secularists consider superstitious. Secularists hold that public policy should be free from religious influence. For example, a society deciding whether to promote condom use might consider the issues of disease prevention, family planning, and a belief in women’s rights. A secularist would argue that such issues are relevant to public policy-making, whereas Biblical interpretation or church doctrine are irrelevant. Secularists believe that all activities falling outside of the private sphere should be secular, i.e. not religious (see also anticlericalism).

    Is it me, or are the ‘New Atheists’ antisecularists? The rejection of public and private spheres seems to suggest so. I know you’re discussing personal belief and not political policy here, but it’s interesting to see the concern with people’s private religious commitments being expressed.

  178. #178 Michael Kremer
    January 24, 2007

    Caledonian:

    I asked you to imagine a certain kind of unity of faith and science. You insist on turning attention to a different kind of unity of faith and science, asking me to imagine “someone using “God did it” to explain experimental results… someone believing that the evidence may say the Earth goes around the Sun, but a collection of Iron Age writings is the ultimate authority on the structure of the solar system… Imagine Pasteur claiming that microorganisms spontaneously generated due to the Will of God, and insisting that only prayer could be effective against disease…”

    But not all religious faith is like that of the Discovery Institute folks. My religious scientist friends don’t do what you describe. They are not working at the Discovery Institute but at regular (even prestigious) scientific establishments (I don’t have their permission to name them on this blog so I will not say more).

    Pasteur knew that “God did it” and “bacteria did it” are not competing explanations. One can accept that God is the primary cause of everything and still think it sensible to search after specific secondary causes. It is the latter kind of knowledge that allows one to manipulate and control one’s environment after all.

    Steve Labonne: “Nonetheless they are not invoking “goddidit” as an explanation for their results, so the compartmentalization is still fully active- they could not function as scientists without it.”

    If all you mean by compartmentalization is that as scientists they have to accept that scientific methods and not theological methods are appropriate for discovering the order of secondary causes, then fine and dandy, they compartmentalize, but this need not mean that they can’t think both religious and scientific thoughts at the same time or that (as some have said above) they must really have two minds in one body, or that they have to shut down their reason when they pray. That’s like saying since I walk with my feet and chew gum with my mouth, I can’t do both at once, or must really be two bodies instead of one.

  179. #179 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    Huzzah for our fine theist friends who has so elegantly demonstrated the fruits of letting reason and faith combine – the quality of their arguments are a very important lesson that I think many could learn from.

    Let’s give them a big hand!

  180. #180 Michael Kremer
    January 24, 2007

    This is apparently what passes for “good argument” then:

    “Caledonian elegantly demonstrates the fruits of separating reason from its source, Truth. Nicely done!”

    You might try actually showing what is wrong with anything that I said.

  181. #181 Ced
    January 24, 2007

    Michael Kremer:
    Your post contains the words I was longing for the whole time I was reading Caledonian’s posts and also other statements by determined atheists. When thinking of a theistic scientist they often a very trivialized image in mind. A person who prays to some kind of personalized god and tributes all his life and work to this god..
    There are a faiths which accept the whole scientific method and results (from the big bang to modern genetics) as the objectively most acceptable truth but still have a belief in realms where science cannot (yet?) offer any explanations.

    My question then is: Is this still religious in the common meaning of the word? Because nothing is “added” or “changed” to our universe, no fantasy involved. Is it mere believing in scientific speculations?

  182. #182 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    Here’s my longish answer to Jillian’s test: I ask for a test. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this is an extraordinary claim.

    If the tests rule out my genetic contribution to the child, I consider that hypothesis falsified and (at best) wishful thinking on the part of my partner. And I would attempt to make the relationship work on that basis, which of course would be difficult.

    If the tests indicate my genetic contribution to the child, I do *not* consider the particular hypothesis (appeal to supernatural forces) confirmed. I would not submit it to a journal and say, ‘Aha! Prayer answered’ or any such nonsense. There may very well be a natural explanation for this anomaly, and it warrants further investigation: no ‘science stopper’ should be invoked as a formal matter.

    Privately, I might experience some combination of satisfaction and relief, and thank God that the result in question makes it easier for me persevere in the relationship. But, at the end of the day, I’m on the hook for making things work, not God.

    Good question!…SH

  183. #183 wintermute
    January 24, 2007

    Kahegi:

    the 3 billion+- in North America

    3 billion ± 2½ billion? That’s a mighty big error bar…

    300 million in the US, 100 million in Mexico, 30 million in Canada…

    Krystalline Apostate:

    Pardon me, but Chi Kung (Qiqong) is not ‘woo’. Your in-law is probably mixing ‘n matching a bunch of New Age melodrama.

    Well, in the sense that keeping moving is good for your joints, reflexes and so forth, Qi gong is good for you. However, when people claim that it’s any better for you than, for example, line dancing or walking the dog, then they do begin to descend into woo. When they start to construct methods by which it might have an effect beyond simple movement of the limbs (for example, the existence of “qi” – certainly not “new-age” anything), they invariably become fully-fledged wooists.

  184. #184 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    I can’t resist. . . . .

    C: No scientist privately harbors theistic views.

    Not-C: But my Uncle Angus privately harbors theistic views.

    C: Ah yes, but no TRUE scientist harbors theistic views.

    From this we can gleam that Caledonian has the truthiest of truths, and is the very truest of Scotsman. Which (given the meaning of Caledonian) seems like a trivial claim.

    For the record, Caledonian, I think you could resurrect your argument such that it isn’t fallacious, but you would need more *certain* knowledge about the actual practice of those who claim to be scientists, including Jessica.

    Cheers…SH

  185. #185 PZ Myers
    January 24, 2007

    Squeaky, if you actually brought science to your religion, your religion would vanish in a puff of vapor. This is the one thing on this thread in which I agree with Caledonian: the religious have to actively avoid bringing scientific thought to that part of their life in which they practice faith, and I think the worst kind of thinking is the pseudo-scientific rationalization of religious belief by people like Collins and Miller. I have much more respect for people who openly admit that their religion is simply a belief that they hold without evidence, because of tradition or comfort or enjoyment, than I do those who have to mangle science to try and reconcile the two. (They also tend to mangle religion in the process, but I have no objection to that at all — rip away at that, who cares?)

  186. #186 kmarissa
    January 24, 2007

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and this is an extraordinary claim.”

    But, I think that Jillian’s point was that, for religious believers, SOME extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence (those in the “science” compartment), whereas other extraordinary claims require no evidence at all, because they are in the “faith” compartment. The question Jillian seems to focus in on is, how do theists know what “belongs” in each compartment? And more importantly, why do we create these two compartments to begin with? Why do rules apply to one but not the other? I think the previous comment about apples and oranges was an excellent illustration of this question.

  187. #187 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    C: No scientist privately harbors theistic views.

    Not-C: But my Uncle Angus privately harbors theistic views.

    C: Ah yes, but no TRUE scientist harbors theistic views.

    C: No virgin has had sex.

    Not-C: But my Uncle Angus has had sex.

    C: Ah yes, but no TRUE virgin has had sex. (Or, less stupidly, “Then your Uncle Angus isn’t a virgin.”)

    For the record, I think most theistic scientists probably have more integrity than they seem to want credit for. They know how utterly they would fail as scientists if they brought gods into their work, so they diligently avoid connecting gods with reality in any way. “God” is probably just a metaphor for love or existential meaning or something else they feel is too special to exist on its own. Some of them are even willing to admit that.

  188. #188 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    The first three lines of my last comment were supposed to be in italics.

  189. #189 GH
    January 24, 2007

    M.Kermer-

    and not theological methods are appropriate for discovering the order of secondary causes,

    theological methods? What would those be? And how would one determine correctness?

    then fine and dandy, they compartmentalize, but this need not mean that they can’t think both religious and scientific thoughts at the same time or that (as some have said above) they must really have two minds in one body, or that they have to shut down their reason when they pray.

    Really, read that for yourself. You think it is perfectly reasonable to say words to nothing and think that this nothing is 1: listening and 2: will answer. This to you isn’t shutting down reason? If not then what is? Where else in your world would this seem rational?

    If this seems reasonable to you then what wouldn’t? And how could one ever even remotely determine the validity of a particular faith let alone any of the multitude of doctrines they spew forth.

    That’s like saying since I walk with my feet and chew gum with my mouth, I can’t do both at once, or must really be two bodies instead of one

    No it isn’t. Both are normal bodily functions. Your analogy fails because thinking and acting on faith especially in a religious sense has nothing to do with how we function in and depend on the world day to day. You need to compartmentalize faith and science methodology because they are polar opposites. Not at all like walking and chewing gum.

  190. #190 Michael Kremer
    January 24, 2007

    Following up on SH:

    PZ: “if you actually brought science to your religion, your religion would vanish in a puff of vapor”

    not-PZ: “But I (or someone I know) have (has) brought science to my (their) religion and it hasn’t vanished in a puff of smoke”

    PZ: “Then they haven’t really brought science to their religion.”

    There’s an old saying in philosophy: One man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens. Never truer.

    More seriously, I think it matter what “bringing science to religion” means.

    It could mean
    (a) bringing to religion the sum total of all scientific knowledge so far established. This certainly will have an effect on religious faith, it may cause the faith to modify its understanding of some of its elements (Garden of Eden, etc) but it need not cause the faith to vanish in a puff of smoke. This has been going on since long before Galileo.

    (b) bringing to religion the methods of science, in the sense of bringing to religion the awareness that pretty much everything we know about the natural world can be organized into a coherent body of knowledge using these methods. This will threaten religion if religion is itself thought of as a competing explanation of the self-same natural phenomena. But not otherwise (and no, this doesn’t force deism on the religious believer either).

    (c) bringing to religion the methods of science, in the sense of bringing to religion the claim that the methods of science are the only rational methods for finding out any kind of truth. This will cause religion to vanish if it is accepted, but there is no reason why it has to be accepted. Really this is bringing not science but scientism to religion.

  191. #191 Michael Kremer
    January 24, 2007

    junkscience: “Ah yes, but no TRUE virgin has had sex. (Or, less stupidly, “Then your Uncle Angus isn’t a virgin.”)”

    So, the claim is supposed to be a tautology after all.

  192. #192 Michael Kremer
    January 24, 2007

    GH: “You think it is perfectly reasonable to say words to nothing and think that this nothing is 1: listening and 2: will answer.” So you say. I say that I am not saying words to nothing, only to something that is beyond the bounds of scientific understanding. You say that equals nothing. I disagree. The question is whether my disagreement disqualifies me from understanding science.

    GH: “Both are normal bodily functions.” So are doing science and praying. So?

  193. #193 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    So, the claim is supposed to be a tautology after all.

    Pretty much. By definition, a scientist is supposed to be someone who doesn’t take things on faith or openly hold biases about reality. If they do, then calling them a scientist doesn’t mean much.

  194. #194 GH
    January 24, 2007

    Again-

    So you say. I say that I am not saying words to nothing, only to something that is beyond the bounds of scientific understanding. You say that equals nothing. I disagree. The question is whether my disagreement disqualifies me from understanding science.

    Why would it be beyond the bounds of science? And which being beyond the bounds of science is it of the many 1000’s that are claimed to exist? If one cannot possibly know which if any it is how does it become rational?

    If you cannot provide any clue that you are doing more than than talking to yourself how is that reasonable? You may do it and enjoy it but it isn’t rational by any stretch of normal thinking.

    Of course you can understand science and still buy into all types of woo for a variety of reasons. But the fact is you have to seperate one type of thinking from the other because using the type of thinking endemic to science makes religious claims irrational. And in truth people do use science to discern this woo from that woo it’s only their own personal woo they shield from the process.

    So are doing science and praying. So?

    Right, your analogy states that faith and science don’t need compartmentalized. Your analogy only presents normal things as an equivalent. They aren’t. You wouldn’t think someone rational to think they had an invisible friend and who they enjoyed conversating. You would think they are not using reason to see their friend is imaginary. Same thing applies here.

  195. #195 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    I say that I am not saying words to nothing, only to something that is beyond the bounds of scientific understanding. You say that equals nothing. I disagree. The question is whether my disagreement disqualifies me from understanding science.

    It seems to me you’d rather not say “I know there’s not really such a thing as a god, but it makes me feel better to imagine there is.” Saying that your belief is “beyond the bounds of scientific understanding” sounds much less embarrassing. At least that’s what I have to imagine, because I’ve never seen a theist actually lay out in words what “truth” they think religious belief has access to that science doesn’t.

  196. #196 John B
    January 24, 2007

    Michael Kramer,

    Really this is bringing not science but scientism to religion.

    Now you’ve stepped in it.

    I participated in an argument about what ‘Scientism’ actually means, and whether it is a valid label or not just a little while ago, over at Mixing Memory and I’m pretty sure it went badly. From what I could tell, my opponents in the comments rejected the label ‘scientism’ completely, because it implied there was some other way to know things beyond science, which to them was obviously untrue. (It was pointed out to doubters that ‘science’ is derived from sciens latin for ‘knowing’…)

    Trying to suggest that there were other worldviews with different processes of justification and concepts of ‘truth’ didn’t really help me, in the end. The naive realism displayed by a few of the posters was pretty rigid.

  197. #197 Middle Professor
    January 24, 2007

    PZ: However, they accomplish their successes, the stuff that makes them great scientists, by using the compartment that hasn’t been poisoned by religion.

    PZ, are you denying that, from Bacon up until the 19th century, nearly all European science was explicitly motivated by the desire to understand the Christian god by discovering the general laws of nature, which laws were created by the Christian god, and that this preconception even motivated much of 19th century (and to a much lesser extent, 20th century) science?

  198. #198 Uber
    January 24, 2007

    Exactly junk science. This stuff about religion having some truth or a competing is simply, well, wierd. What truth does religion provide that isn’t contradicted either by reason or another religious sect right down on the next corner.

    How can one determine a religious ‘truth’ from another religious ‘truth’ without making appeals to reason and reality in any event. And if your going to do that why bother with the former in any event.

  199. #199 Uber
    January 24, 2007

    Trying to suggest that there were other worldviews with different processes of justification and concepts of ‘truth’ didn’t really help me, in the end

    The difference, and it’s a big one, is that with science you actually do know something but it’s always provisional. The other processes and justifications your referring to don’t really have the same weight or are what one would ever be considered knowledge just so much superstition and dogma that may have some functions but are certainly not ways to knowledge or accuracy.

  200. #200 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    Don’t be such a tease, John B. What are those other ways of knowing that we’re overlooking? What extraordinary truths is science blinding us to?

  201. #201 wintermute
    January 24, 2007

    From what I could tell, my opponents in the comments rejected the label ‘scientism’ completely, because it implied there was some other way to know things beyond science, which to them was obviously untrue.

    I’ve heard this argument before. But people never spell out what these “other ways of knowing” are, and how we can know that they’re valid epistemologies.

    Put your cards on the table. What are these ways of knowing, and how do they work?

    Trying to suggest that there were other worldviews with different processes of justification and concepts of ‘truth’ didn’t really help me, in the end.

    No, it wouldn’t. You need to go beyond asserting these worldviews, and actually demonstrate why they’re better than, for example, consulting a magic 8-Ball. Can you do that?

  202. #202 John B
    January 24, 2007

    So, the claim is supposed to be a tautology after all.

    Pretty much. By definition, a scientist is supposed to be someone who doesn’t take things on faith or openly hold biases about reality. If they do, then calling them a scientist doesn’t mean much.

    Wow. I didn’t realize how far this had gone. I thought being a scientist was a profession, like being an entertainer or a civil servant.

  203. #203 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    PZ, are you denying that, from Bacon up until the 19th century, nearly all European science was explicitly motivated by the desire to understand the Christian god by discovering the general laws of nature, which laws were created by the Christian god, and that this preconception even motivated much of 19th century (and to a much lesser extent, 20th century) science?

    The difference is that those scientists really believed, in their narrowly scientistic way, that God existed. When Darwin came along and the god hypothesis really started to crumble away, those scientists with intellectual integrity stopped assuming the truth of the Christian god since there was more reason, according to science, not to believe in this god than to believe in him.

  204. #204 John B
    January 24, 2007

    oh sorry didn’t mean to tease you guys, the whole lengthy argument is still up at Mixing Memory if you want to see me flail about.

    Jason, the mean proponent of Scientism’s non-validity as a label, offers this resource for people on different ways of knowing, it’s basic but helpful for people just beginning to study epistemology:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology/

    the naturalistic epistemology is described in section 6.2

    The earlier parts give good basic descriptions of different types of justification. You’ll notice not all of them would be appropriate for science.

  205. #205 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    I thought being a scientist was a profession, like being an entertainer or a civil servant.

    Who said it wasn’t? If you prefer, I can call a theistic scientist a bad scientist, to the extent that they don’t apply science to their religious beliefs.

    By the way, John B, we’re still waiting. Don’t keep us in the dark about your amazing source of non-scientific knowledge.

  206. #206 squeaky
    January 24, 2007

    PZ–how can you make that claim without even knowing how I rationalize science and faith? You don’t know anything about the ways I have challenged both science and faith and what I am doing in that regard now. I could tell you, as many Christians have (as you have reported) that you haven’t sought God hard enough if you haven’t found him. But that is arrogance, is it not? I don’t know much about your journey and what led you to atheism, so I’m not going to make those assumptions about you or your choice of no faith. Your argument is that since you don’t find a rationalization between science and faith, there can’t possibly be a rationalization, and anyone who claims to have a rationalization is clearly deluded.

  207. #207 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    the whole lengthy argument is still up at Mixing Memory if you want to see me flail about.

    But I don’t want to see you flail about. I want you to say what you have to say, instead of referring us somewhere else like every other theist before you has.

  208. #208 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    Your argument is that since you don’t find a rationalization between science and faith, there can’t possibly be a rationalization, and anyone who claims to have a rationalization is clearly deluded.

    It might help if one of them would explain their personal rationalization, instead of just saying that they do too have one, so there.

  209. #209 John B
    January 24, 2007

    oops

    Jason, the mean proponent of Scientism’s non-validity as a label,

    that was supposed to be main proponent… lol, he wasn’t mean at all.

  210. #210 Middle Professor
    January 24, 2007

    Caledonian: And in the sense that it accomplishes what it sets out to do, [religion is] an unqualified success for many…[but] in a deeper and more important sense is failing utterly.

    Patrick: I think PZ is trying to encourage religious scientists to go the other way: bring your work to your god.

    Why should we require that the religious replace emotion with rational thought when constructing a world view to make one feel better or understand one’s place in the world? Should we require that one do a Fourier transform of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion before we decide if it makes us feel good or not? Should we require an elemental composition profile of Michelangelo’s “Hand of God” before we make an emotional judgment about it? To expect this of someone who simply needs to use an irrational belief so they can feel better is a remarkably conservative or even fascist view.

    I say “needs” above for a reason. I personally don’t need theistic (Christianity) or atheistic (buddhism, the “god” of Einstein and Pascal) religion to feel better about me as a person or my place in the universe but this probably has much less to do with a brute force abandonment of emotional thought than the fact that I was born (thank God!) with a prefrontal cortex that has easily allowed me to think this way. But I accept that brain’s differ and I can think of no rational reason that someone must turn off the amygdala when they are thinking about what makes them happy.

  211. #211 GH
    January 24, 2007

    Your argument is that since you don’t find a rationalization between science and faith, there can’t possibly be a rationalization, and anyone who claims to have a rationalization is clearly deluded.

    I actually think you right here squeaky. It is a rationalization. Thats the problem. You can’t even get to a rationalization with compartmentalizing the ideas and methods of science.

    Anyone who does so may or may not be deluded but they are not being rational towards their own brand of superstitious thinking.

  212. #212 John B
    January 24, 2007

    Well, junk science, I already said what i have to say in this thread about scientism to Mr.Kramer. For a discussion of something else, I’m afraid you will have to go somewhere else.

  213. #213 Ced
    January 24, 2007

    It might help if one of them would explain their personal rationalization, instead of just saying that they do too have one, so there.

    It appears to me that scientific knowledge is pretty solid and objectively the most “believeable” truth out there. There are realms which science cannot (yet) explain nature, thus because I don’t want to just say “i dont know” I resort to believe in one specific scientific speculation about those realms. No special “god” or “fairies” involved.

    As I have asked before: Is believing in a scientific speculation a “religion”, “faith” or none of it at all?

  214. #214 GH
    January 24, 2007

    with a prefrontal cortex that has easily allowed me to think this way. But I accept that brain’s differ and I can think of no rational reason that someone must turn off the amygdala when they are thinking about what makes them happy.

    I can agree with this. The problem is when people like the fellow above actually delude themselves into thinking this method of feeling ‘better’ is actually a method of finding reality or ‘truth’ on par with scientific methodolgy and then go from there. The root of the evolution debate is right there.

  215. #215 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    Well, junk science, I already said what i have to say in this thread about scientism to Mr.Kramer. For a discussion of something else, I’m afraid you will have to go somewhere else.

    All you said was that there are different ways of knowing than the “scientistic” way. I don’t believe an elaboration on one of these ways would be “a discussion of something else,” but a discussion of the very same thing you claim to have something to say about. I’m beginning to think you just might be a bit of a weasel.

    Is believing in a scientific speculation a “religion”, “faith” or none of it at all?

    None of it at all. Scientists don’t have faith in scientific proposals. They have tentative speculations, hypotheses, and theories of varying certainty.

  216. #216 Vitis01
    January 24, 2007

    junk science – to be fair, we refer people to other sources all the time when explanations are lengthy and complex. If John B has referenced a legitimate scholarly discussion of epistemology then it should be considered the same way we would expect a science journal article to be considered.

  217. #217 Ced
    January 24, 2007

    None of it at all. Scientists don’t have faith in scientific proposals. They have tentative speculations, hypotheses, and theories of varying certainty.

    My guess is that we propably would be very surprised to realize how many scientists actually have faith in scientific speculations.

  218. #218 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    we refer people to other sources all the time when explanations are lengthy and complex.

    We also do that to distract people from the fact that we don’t have any actual explanations. Instead of giving me a primer on epistemology with no other commentary, it would have been sporting to provide me with a short summary of the points the article was being used to defend. I could provide a link to the Amazon page for The God Delusion every time someone asked me to back up an argument, but I don’t.

  219. #219 Vitis01
    January 24, 2007

    “The problem is when people actually delude themselves into thinking [a] method of feeling ‘better’ is actually a method of finding reality or ‘truth’ on par with scientific methodology and then go from there.”

    Bingo. This for me is the most common stumbling block I have when having this discussion. There seems to be a fundamental difference between people whose minds are set up to try and make them feel better about the world and those who are interested in systems that short-circuit their own biases to reveal reality.

  220. #220 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    My guess is that we propably would be very surprised to realize how many scientists actually have faith in scientific speculations.

    My guess is that we’re not using the word faith in the same way. The way it’s used by the religious, it doesn’t refer to a tentative guess, but a belief that is impervious to any contradictory material evidence.

  221. #221 Middle Professor
    January 24, 2007

    Junk Science and Caledonian (and maybe some others on this thread). I am inferring from much of what you write that you actually believe scientists are purely rational creatures that lay at the door of their lab their innate beliefs, culturally induced beliefs and all folk theories stemming from books read, movies watched, and conversations had, political experience, socioeconomic experience, sexual experience, etc. etc. You are a psychologists dream! Much more important than the biases that we acknowledge and attempt to control (which control may be largely an illusion), are the biases of which we are completely unaware. Science works, remarkably well, but not because we are all rational robots with uniform brains. It works precisely because we all bring different subsets of a multitude of worldviews and preconceptions to the lab, and these bias how we all do our work. As a consequence, a lot of goofy things get said, but without these diverse worldviews and preconceptions, most of what we’ve learned would still be out there undiscovered.

  222. #222 Ced
    January 24, 2007

    My guess is that we’re not using the word faith in the same way. The way it’s used by the religious, it doesn’t refer to a tentative guess, but a belief that is impervious to any contradictory material evidence.

    Yeah, maybe we use it differently.
    But with your definition, how can you even discuss with a theist? You have just moved his view out of the frame by defining it away. So this whole discussion make no sense at all then.
    For me faith starts where science stops (at least so far). Maybe this is not how faith is generally used. Is there a better word?

  223. #223 kmarissa
    January 24, 2007

    “PZ–how can you make that claim without even knowing how I rationalize science and faith?”

    Squeaky, I am sure PZ will correct me if I am wrong, but I had read PZ’s comment as referring not to RATIONALIZING science and faith, but bringing the principles of the scientific method as a way of learning things into the realm of faith. Unless you can explain how you have “brought science to your religion,” I don’t think PZ is out of line in saying what he did, especially as that, in itself, is what a lot of the theistic commentators here are arguing should not or cannot be done. There is a difference, and an important one.

    Let’s say that I believe a teapot is orbiting the planet. Professionally, I study plate tectonics, and I’m excellent at it (let’s say). I make all sorts of exciting new discoveries. I am easily able to rationalize all of my exciting new discoveries with the idea that there is also a teapot orbiting the planet. No one can argue that I am unable to RATIONALIZE the two together. However, were I to bring science to my beliefs, and examine whether there is actually a teapot orbiting the planet using the same scientific principles of gaining information that I use in my studies, I would quickly find myself unable to be convinced in the “truth” of my teapot.

    If you do mean to say that you came about your beliefs as a CONCLUSION based upon scientific observations (not simply compatible with them), then please explain.

  224. #224 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    I am inferring from much of what you write that you actually believe scientists are purely rational creatures that lay at the door of their lab their innate beliefs

    That’s because you’re not paying attention. We’re saying that everyone has biases, but only the religious are refusing to accept that those biases are weaknesses that get in the way of being able to do good science. The religious embrace their biases and defend them as a higher and purer source of truth than scientific truth. No one is perfect. Only the religious are unwilling to admit that.

  225. #225 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    But with your definition, how can you even discuss with a theist? You have just moved his view out of the frame by defining it away.

    I can’t, in the same way I can’t discuss equine biology with someone who believes in unicorns. I would be required by good sense to “define away” his belief in unicorns by pointing out that they don’t exist.

  226. #226 Vitis01
    January 24, 2007

    Middle Professor – scientists know they are not rational creatures (most anyway), that is why they use the scientific method and peer review as a check against those biases. Is it a perfect system? Only when used perfectly. Is it always used perfectly? No. Is there another epistemological system more rigorous in its ability to dissipate bias? No.

  227. #227 Ced
    January 24, 2007

    I can’t, in the same way I can’t discuss equine biology with someone who believes in unicorns. I would be required by good sense to “define away” his belief in unicorns by pointing out that they don’t exist.
    Well but you do, so either you possess no good sense or god exists!

    Just kidding, have a nice evening 🙂

  228. #228 Krystalline Apostate
    January 24, 2007

    Kahegi:
    Well, in the sense that keeping moving is good for your joints, reflexes and so forth, Qi gong is good for you. However, when people claim that it’s any better for you than, for example, line dancing or walking the dog, then they do begin to descend into woo.
    No, it descends into woo when it starts making ridiculous claims & mystical claptrap. It calms the mind, & teaches the person to breathe deeply. For instance, Tai Chi is a form of Qiqong. I can tell you from personal experience, it is w/o a doubt 1 of the hardest things a person’ll ever learn to do, being a physical/mental discipline.
    So, no: it’s not the equivalent of any other exercise. It’s way harder than most people think.
    When they start to construct methods by which it might have an effect beyond simple movement of the limbs (for example, the existence of “qi” – certainly not “new-age” anything), they invariably become fully-fledged wooists.
    This is where the New Agey wonks get it wrong.
    It’s just your body’s ‘energy’. That’s all. Bio-electric impulses, if you prefer. Breathing patterns can alter your consciousness. ‘Qi’ roughly translated means ‘breath’.
    These sort of exercises teach people how to relax (no mean feat in this day ‘n age). More relaxed means stronger (efficient use of muscles). Also, better reflexes.
    I teach Tai Chi. & trust you me, it’s way harder than it looks. An hour w/me, you’ll be sweating, & the legs’ll be burning.
    I could go on, but that’s sufficient for now.
    & yes, my brains are firmly tucked in place.

  229. #229 wintermute
    January 24, 2007

    What’s that, John B?

    You aren’t going to tell us what these “other ways of knowing” are?

    We’re just going to have to take your word for it that they exist?

    You double-dog promise that they’re at least as good as science at proving things?

    Wow, I can’t imagine why those mean old curmudgeons at Mixing Memory weren’t blown away by that argument.

  230. #230 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    Well but you do, so either you possess no good sense or god exists!

    Just kidding, have a nice evening 🙂

    I have no idea what you just said. But I hope you have a nice evening as well.

  231. #231 Flex
    January 24, 2007

    Heh,

    It’s almost as if the distinction which is being made here is that the person who tries to view the world scientifically is willing to adapt or drop their beliefs when clear evidence is presented that those beliefs do not accurately reflect testable reality.

    Those who refuse to adapt or drop their beliefs, even when clear evidence is presented that those beliefs do not accurately reflect testable reality, are not thinking scientifically.

    Religious thinking conflicts with scientific thinking because it attempts to establish a special case for itself, claiming that it’s beliefs are not testable. Even if those beliefs are testable.

    Add to that the range of religious thinking which covers a continuum from the assumption of a nebulous undefinable deity(s) to the bearded sky-daddy who wrote the inerrant King James Bible, and you can insult quite a few people by saying that scientists can’t be theists.

    I think maybe what should be said is that people who cannot examine their own beliefs, and change those beliefs when they find they conflict with testable reality, are not subjecting those beliefs to scientific inquiry.

    Or maybe that shouldn’t be said. 😉

  232. #232 squeaky
    January 24, 2007

    kmarissa,
    I need to get to class in 5 minutes, so I don’t have time to completely flesh out an answer. However, this point:

    “bringing the principles of the scientific method as a way of learning things into the realm of faith. ”

    is interesting to me. If I substitute “English” for “faith”, I think most humanities folks would think it is crazy to study English using the scientific method (as would scientists think it was crazy to study science using methods used in the humanities). The question is then, can faith be understood scientifically or science by faith–is it just as ridiculous to do that as it is to understand English scientifically? It makes me wonder if it would have ever been an issue at all if creationists hadn’t made it an issue. In that sense, maybe I agree with many of the points here. But it is still something I need to think about more.

    What I meant by “rationalize” is that I don’t find science and my faith to be incompatible. That doesn’t mean I think that faith can be studied using the scientific method or vice versa.

    More later, maybe…

  233. #233 kmarissa
    January 24, 2007

    Squeaky,

    By “study English,” what exactly do you mean? Literature? Grammar? The usage, or evolution of the English language? I ask because this would change my response greatly.

  234. #234 wintermute
    January 24, 2007

    I think most humanities folks would think it is crazy to study English using the scientific method (as would scientists think it was crazy to study science using methods used in the humanities).

    You think linguistics (the scientific study of language) is “crazy”? Semiotics? Critical discourse analysis? Phonology? Structuralism?

    I imagine most “humanities folks” are perfectly comfortable with having these scientific tools available to study language with.

  235. #235 kmarissa
    January 24, 2007

    Since you’re going to class, I’ll elaborate a bit more before you get back. If you were asking factual questions about the English language, then yes, you would use the same scientific methods of inquiry to determine, say, when a word first case into usage, what the generally accepted plural of a particular noun is, or who the author of a work was. If you’re talking about something like literature, then you’re not really concerned with objective “truth.” You’re concerned with taste, opinion, style. You wouldn’t use scientific methods of inquiry because you’re not looking for the same type of answer. You can argue about which of Shakespeare’s sonnets is the best, but you can’t use the scientific method to determine this, because there is no objective “best” Shakespearean sonnet–“best” is not a measurable trait.

  236. #236 PZ Myers
    January 24, 2007

    “Science” is actually an awkward term to use in these discussions, because it has so much baggage — too many people imagine someone in a white lab coat with a scalpel and a test tube. The issue is more general, about natural mechanisms.

    Would you use natural methods to study English, or would you invoke the supernatural and consult the ghost of Shakespeare in a seance?

  237. #237 GH
    January 24, 2007

    I think most humanities folks would think it is crazy to study English using the scientific method

    But you can do so in a manner of speaking but this is a poor analogy in any event. Your not taking the english language on faith. And kmarissa said it quite nicely, the argument is different. It is not right or wrong. If that is your view of faith have at it. What method are you using to determine why your faith is superior to your neighbors or to one who lacks superstitions at all.

    How can your superstitions lead you to any discernable truth that reason and science cannot?

    What I meant by “rationalize” is that I don’t find science and my faith to be incompatible. That doesn’t mean I think that faith can be studied using the scientific method or vice versa

    Well then frankly I find you are the perfect example of a compartmentalized individual. I don’t know your religion so I’ll just pick a random idea, Jesus rose from the dead. Either he did or he didn’t unless it’s just a fable. There is an objective claim here and it happened in the natural world.

    Your correct ‘faith’ itself cannot be studied although parts of the brain that allow for it can. Faith(whichever of the 1000’s you subscribe to) cannot be reliable as a method of finding truth simply because one can have faith in anything and everything rendering it moot.

  238. #238 Blake Stacey
    January 24, 2007

    Suppose that tomorrow a manuscript is discovered in a hidden cubbyhole, perhaps in a library on one of those English estates one finds in an murder mystery. The first line reads, The Historie of King Stephen and the second, by Will Shakespeare. Surely, an undiscovered Shakespeare play would rock English Lit to its very foundations! Provided, of course, that the manuscript is authentic, and how do you tell that?

    In a word, science. You bring in the document forensics people to test the paper and the ink; you compare the handwriting with other examples from Elizabethan times; you investigate the provenance of the papers (how did they get where they are today?). Each step in the detective story requires both the findings of modern science and the scientific method.

    This is, of course, an extreme example. But linguistics is an operating science. In order to discover how people speak and write today — or how they spoke a thousand years ago, when English sounded much like German — you make guesses, test them against all the evidence you can gather, and grant provisional acceptance to those ideas which stand the test of observation. In a word, you use science.

  239. #239 SEF
    January 24, 2007

    PZ, are you denying that, from Bacon up until the 19th century, nearly all European science was explicitly motivated by the desire to understand the Christian god by discovering the general laws of nature, which laws were created by the Christian god, and that this preconception even motivated much of 19th century (and to a much lesser extent, 20th century) science?

    I’ll deny it instead. The religious scientists each did what they wanted to do anyway and then rationalised it away to themselves as what god wanted. Just as those religious people who massacre others or invade countries do it because they want to anyway and invoke religion as a rationalisation – and a very convenient provider of means, motive and opportunity. Religion, having no genuine merit at all as a means of distinguishing truth from falsehood, is ideal for such dishonest purposes. Good people, whether scientists or not, tend only to be good despite their religion and not because of it.

    Meanwhile, with the real intent or effect of religion being to gain power and money (and specialness and pretend knowledge) without having to have individual personal merit, those people running the religions were the only ones with the leisure time and money to spare. Resources which they could choose to devote to science if they were already intellectually inclined that way – and if not enough of the other religious people managed to stop them.

    Religious scientists are those few who wanted to mess with finding out stuff anyway. They probably all told themselves their god(s) approved (making their gods in their own image being a common feature of all kinds of believers). However, often their fellow religionists will have disagreed with their pursuits – seeing knowledge quite rightly as a danger to their undeserved power-base, but judging that personal and dishonest interest of theirs quite wrongly as the thing which should be allowed to continue.

    All to a first approximation anyway …

  240. #240 squeaky
    January 24, 2007

    Kmarissa,
    You are right–I should have said music or art or English Lit instead of English. Or more specifically interpreting Shakespeare’s sonnets. I was in a hurry–still am, so that’s all I have for now-just clarifying.

    Thanks

  241. #241 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    Ced, you wrote: “My guess is that we propably would be very surprised to realize how many scientists actually have faith in scientific speculations.”

    I’m probably going to surprise ‘junk science’ by agreeing with him on this point. I not only don’t believe in scientific speculations, I don’t ‘believe’ in well-established things like evolution, or in gravity. I accept, rather, that a very large number of confirming observations have established that such things are facts.

    No belief (which implies faith) required. Speculative hypotheses require not so much belief, as a suspension of disbelief for the purpose of testing them, nothing more or less….SH

  242. #242 Patrick
    January 24, 2007

    This is from an up-thread post, but in response to Middle Professor, who in response to me said:

    “Why should we require that the religious replace emotion with rational thought when constructing a world view to make one feel better or understand one’s place in the world?”

    Firstly, I think you misunderstand the nature of this debate. No-one wants to “require” anything of anybody, we are only pointing out the hypocrisy. As junk science said, you should learn the difference between coercion and disagreement.

    Secondly, you bring up works of art, but that is a false analogy – art does not make general truth-statements about the world. Just about every major religion goes far beyond the realm of emotion to make bold statements about the nature of the universe, which are completely unjustified. They claim to know what they can’t possibly know – and that is fraud. You cannot say the same of Bach.

    As for “needing” religion for emotional sustenance, I challenge the (very bold) claim that certain people “need” religion to feel good just because their prefrontal cortex came hooked up differently than mine or yours. I, in fact, was moderately religious until about a year ago. I didn’t “need” it – it was just drilled in to my head at a young age and I crafted rationalizations to support it until the mental contortions became too much. My feelings of self-worth have sharply increased since. It would be rather elitist of me to assume anybody else could not make the same break.

  243. #243 junk science
    January 24, 2007

    I’m probably going to surprise ‘junk science’ by agreeing with him on this point.

    And I’m going to surprise ‘you’ by not being a him.

  244. #244 John B
    January 24, 2007

    What’s that, John B? You aren’t going to tell us what these “other ways of knowing” are? We’re just going to have to take your word for it that they exist? You double-dog promise that they’re at least as good as science at proving things? Wow, I can’t imagine why those mean old curmudgeons at Mixing Memory weren’t blown away by that argument.

    They weren’t ‘curmudgeons’, it was just a discussion.

    I can’t believe you really need examples of other ways of knowing things that aren’t scientific, pick any of the other ones following that link, or just look back in time or to different cultures, either you can recognise that people have had knowledge of things without access to the scientific method or your definition of ‘science’ is general enough to include a fundamentalist reading of the koran. Does the reader have knowledge of the book? is he a scientist?

    Anyway i don’t think it’s really important to the topic in this thread, Scientism is an appropriate worldview for a scientist to have, in my opinion. Their role demands only that they provide society with information about nature, so of course the methods they have developed recognise only that (heuristics). When you build your worldview from the results of scientific inquiry, you get a worldview that recognises nothing else.

    Like Caledonian said it’s radically uncertain, your knowledge is provisional and incomplete. People who understand science would be too cautious to claim a monopoly on all possible understandings of ‘reality’ or ‘truth’, regardless of whether those different understandings seem true to him or her, or if they’d agree with the process of justification the person used. Without a good understanding of all the possibilities, why would you want to pass judgements like that?

  245. #245 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    (blushing) Junk Science: apparently my gender bias slip is showing. My apologies. I hope I didn’t offend you or anyone else.

  246. #246 kmarissa
    January 24, 2007

    “…either you can recognise that people have had knowledge of things without access to the scientific method or your definition of ‘science’ is general enough to include a fundamentalist reading of the koran.”

    Okay, so now we have an example of the “knowledge” that John B is talking about. The “truth” inherent in the fundamentalist reading of the koran.

    Perhaps what we need from John B is not an example of “knowledge” or “truth” outside the reach of scientific inquiry, but a definition of those very terms.

  247. #247 John B
    January 24, 2007

    kmarissa,

    This is why the links might have been useful, Knowledge is ‘true justified belief’, defining truth is trickier in a few lines, but in the above i was refering to a correspondence theory of truth, in which truth conditions have some relation to objective features of the world (I’m more comfortable with coherence theory as a constructionist, but accoridng to my understanding of the naturalist position, i think most people here would assent to correspondence)

    So do you feel that, “no, the reader has no knowledge of the book he just read from” or “yes, he does know something about the book he just read from.” if yes, does the act of reading count as science? if not, why not?

    if it does count as science, you have too general a definition of science for the idea of ‘Scientism’ to be meaningful.

  248. #248 kmarissa
    January 24, 2007

    I have looked at the link and read a bit of it, but I think it highly unlikely that I will be able to read the whole thing at any point in the near future. If conversation cannot continue without that, I understand and apologize.

    I’m confused about the reading a book example, though. He has gained knowledge of what the book states, but he has gained no knowledge about whether what the book states is true. If (under the definition we are using) truth has “some relation to objective features of the world,” then aren’t we still using scientific (or naturalistic if you prefer) inquiries to determine what those objective features of the world are? I enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories. Objectively, he is not, and never has been, a real person, but the stories claim that he is. I have knowledge of what the stories say, but do I have knowledge that he exists? I would say not, because there is no scientific, naturalistic, “objective” evidence supporting this.

  249. #249 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    I think most humanities folks would think it is crazy to study English using the scientific method (as would scientists think it was crazy to study science using methods used in the humanities)

    The people who study languages using the scientific method are mathematicians, logicians, linguists, and philologists. Wikipedia: Philology

    Anyone who thought it was crazy to study language as a science is either grossly ignorant or mentally deranged. Or both, as many people in the humanities are.

  250. #250 David Marjanovi?
    January 24, 2007

    This implies that religion is nothing more than a bad form of science, which is an incredibly blinkered view of what religion is about.

    It is the view that Biblical literalists and other creationists seem to have about their own religions. Those people are what most people think of when “religious” is mentioned in this blog; I think this has produced a couple of misunderstandings.

    ———-

    Methodological naturalism clearly suggests metaphysical naturalism, but it doesn’t even try to prove it. What follows logically from the success of methodological naturalism is not metaphysical naturalism but, if anything, apathetic agnosticismprecisely your “radical uncertainty”. It seems you, Caledonian, only trust the principle of parsimony more than I. 🙂

    ———-

    Ced, just one question: Do you only believe because you want to believe?

    Because that would be a very bad reason for faith, IMHO…

  251. #251 David Marjanovi?
    January 24, 2007

    This implies that religion is nothing more than a bad form of science, which is an incredibly blinkered view of what religion is about.

    It is the view that Biblical literalists and other creationists seem to have about their own religions. Those people are what most people think of when “religious” is mentioned in this blog; I think this has produced a couple of misunderstandings.

    ———-

    Methodological naturalism clearly suggests metaphysical naturalism, but it doesn’t even try to prove it. What follows logically from the success of methodological naturalism is not metaphysical naturalism but, if anything, apathetic agnosticismprecisely your “radical uncertainty”. It seems you, Caledonian, only trust the principle of parsimony more than I. 🙂

    ———-

    Ced, just one question: Do you only believe because you want to believe?

    Because that would be a very bad reason for faith, IMHO…

  252. #252 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    History includes countless ways people have generated beliefs. There is only one way they have generated knowledge, and that’s science. It was used long before it was formalized, before it was even given a special name, but it was there.

    Without it, there is only error and belief – no knowledge.

  253. #253 Mike Haubrich
    January 24, 2007

    What makes someone a scientist is their work product, not their personal belief. The fact that they compartmentalize doesn’t affect the results of their research. It is a curious social phenomena that people are able to do it; but Caledonian and others here have gone off the edge when they tell someone that she is not a scientist because she has religious beliefs.

    Religious beliefs will fade once people start to understand that it is humanity which creates religion and not supernatural beings who affect our lives. Like I have said before, it may take another 500 years but humans have this wonderful capacity to learn.

  254. #254 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    but Caledonian and others here have gone off the edge when they tell someone that she is not a scientist because she has religious beliefs.

    No, she’s not a scientist because she does not follow the scientific method.

    “God” as traditionally defined is a systematic contradiction of every valid metaphysical principle. The point is wider than just the Judeo- Christian concept of God. No argument will get you from this world to a supernatural world. No reason will lead you to a world contradicting this one. No method of inference will enable you to leap from existence to a “super-existence.

    [Leonard Peikoff, “The Philosophy of Objectivism”]

  255. #255 Rey Fox
    January 24, 2007

    “Because that would be a very bad reason for faith, IMHO…”

    What would be a better reason? Maintaining bonds with one’s peers? Fear of punishment (the flip side of “it makes me feel good”)? It seems to me that if one were faithful for any purpose with demonstrated utility, then it wouldn’t be faith anymore.

  256. #256 Michael
    January 24, 2007

    Mark Edmundson in “Why Read?” makes a very interesting statement about many liberal arts students and many liberal arts teachers. I state it because it comments upon exactly what is being debated here, but without being directly religious in nature.

    He says: “You can be a close observer, you can write well, you can be brlliantly ingenious in making your terms appear to square with the poem at hand, you can even be the sort of person on whom little or nothing is lost, and you can stll be the sort of person who does what he is told without thinking much about it. You can still be someone who lives to follow orders”

    The orders he refers to are those of literary and philosophical figures like Foucault for example. But the larger idea remains that if one (even one who is brilliant otherwise) can easily be blinkered by the teachings of Foucault into unthinking literary interpretation, it is equally probable that those who follow religious doctrines can be just as easily blinkered into biased beliefs about reality. And for scientists this is fatal.

  257. #257 Scott Hatfield
    January 24, 2007

    “No, she’s not a scientist because she does not follow the scientific method.”

    I found myself laughing as I typed my reply. This is *too* easy by far. She is not a True Scientist, quoth the Scotsman, for she does not follow the scientific method—as if there is a single formulation, ‘THE scientific method’, that described all scientific activity, or (more naively) as if scientific methods are suitable for every sort of problem.

    Still willing to buy you that beer, you old Scot. I just can’t buy into the notion that you can remotely tell us who is or isn’t a scientist via the application of logic alone. At the end of the day, what I want is evidence, and you’ve presented none that I can see bearing on Jessica’s particular case. The fact that you appear to have reified terms like ‘scientific method’ to suit your beliefs does not obligate us to do the same. Leonard Peikoff? Please. Being Ayn Rand’s page boy doesn’t make you an authority on what is or isn’t science.

  258. #258 Caledonian
    January 24, 2007

    The “True Scotsman Fallacy” deals with people who shift the definitions of terms when confronted with things they previously regarded as being described by those terms yet violate some prejudice.

    It is commonly cited by stupid people who believe it to mean that including and excluding things from a category based on a definition is invalid.

    It is difficult to see how any intelligent person can regard excluding an individual who rejects the essentials of the scientific method from the category of scientists as an example of the True Scotsman Fallacy.

  259. #259 wintermute
    January 24, 2007

    I can’t believe you really need examples of other ways of knowing things that aren’t scientific, pick any of the other ones following that link

    I did read the link, and it seemed to be a list of criteria that need to be satisfied before you can claim to “know” something. I didn’t see anything that looked like a method of knowing. Perhaps you can point it out in more detail?

    or just look back in time or to different cultures, either you can recognise that people have had knowledge of things without access to the scientific method or your definition of ‘science’ is general enough to include a fundamentalist reading of the koran. Does the reader have knowledge of the book? is he a scientist?

    Yes, other cultures have had non-scientific methods of knowing things. Methods like “take hallucinogens”, or “make stuff up” come to mind. The scientific method has been used for far longer than you seem to think, though. Certainly for far longer than people even knew it existed. – when the first hunters discovered that a flint knife could be made in a certain way, and would be able to kill a zebra, they were using a rudimentary form of the scientific method.

    As for the Koran example, yes I do think that reading could be described as an application of the scientific method that is excellent at discovering the contents of a text. Automatically assuming that all the truth claims in a given text are correct is not scientific, however; are you seriously intending to claim that this is valid epistemology? Can I apply it equally to The Illiad?

    Anyway i don’t think it’s really important to the topic in this thread, Scientism is an appropriate worldview for a scientist to have, in my opinion. Their role demands only that they provide society with information about nature, so of course the methods they have developed recognise only that (heuristics). When you build your worldview from the results of scientific inquiry, you get a worldview that recognises nothing else.

    “Scientism” (the idea that the world can be understood through observation, and that the rules don’t change arbitrarily) is an excellent one for anyone to have. It stops me thinking that I can step out onto the freeway and be safe because the cars will simply cease to exist when they get close. Or from thinking that because Jesus promised that I’m immune to poison, then it must be true. Everyone uses “scientism” to make decisions hundreds of times a day.

    Really, I’d be fascinated to learn what these other ways of knowing are. Please, just describe one clearly. Or point me to a resource that does so. Is that so hard to do?

  260. #260 god
    January 24, 2007

    Hi, this is God. I’m here to tell you that these arguments are incredibly tedious. If you don’t have something new to say, please shut up. I didn’t create humanity so that they could rehash the same dumb arguments endlessly. I don’t really care if you believe in me or not. Whichever way you go, just show some style about it, for my sake.

    Let me also say that in this age of science it takes more work to be a believer than an atheist, so believers who aren’t totally stupid about it get extra points for effort.

    Oh, and quoting Leonard Peikoff is a sign that you need to move out of your parent’s basement and read some real books.

  261. #261 Scott Hatfield
    January 25, 2007

    Caledonian notes that the True Scotsman fallacy refers to equivocation after the fact, shifting the definitions as it were and adds that it is “commonly cited by stupid people who believe it to mean that including and excluding things from a category based on a definition is invalid.”

    Implication: Hatfield’s mocking employment of the True Scotsman fallacy in a reply to Caledonian misses the mark, because the latter did not actually commit it in the former sense. Rather Hatfield, after the fashion of stupid people, misread the whole thing in the latter sense given.

    Nice try, Caledonian, but from where I sit, your previous response to my Einstein counter-example *was* an equivocation. Prior to that, you excluded folk like Jessica for their privately-held religious views. She was no scientist, you said, but a ‘mere technician.’

    After I pointed out that Einstein rejected QM (especially the Copenhagen school of QM) due to similarly-held convictions, you didn’t admit that your brush was too broad. You tried to make it look as if Einstein regretted opposing QM by conflating it with the recantation of his famous ‘fudge factor’ in the general relativity field equations, an entirely different matter.

    I’m assuming that’s an honest mistake in the heat of the moment. For the record, Einstein never ‘mourned’ or ‘regretted’ his opposition to QM. That’s hogwash. He and Niels Bohr argued about this to the end. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

    At any rate, your litmus test fails, because you know it would be absurd to claim that Einstein was not a scientist, but a ‘mere technician.’ Acknowledging rhetorical overkill would be a small concession from where I sit, but apparently that’s not in your playbook.

    One more thing: I previously wrote that “you could resurrect your argument such that it isn’t fallacious, but you would need more *certain* knowledge about the actual practice of those who claim to be scientists, including Jessica.”

    I stand by that statement, because then your remotely-applied litmus test could stand or fall in a given case on the basis of evidence, and no one could accuse you of equivocation–whether we agreed with you, or no. But when you fail to explain why your litmus test shouldn’t also exclude Einstein, you do appear to be backtracking!

  262. #262 Scott Hatfield
    January 25, 2007

    Hey God: imagine my consternation at finding you here at PZ’s blog! All that time I wasted in choir practice, when I could’ve just logged on here.

    I appreciate your offer of the extra points for effort. Could you just try not to make it so hard in the future?

    Also, while I have your attention, if you don’t give a shit as to whether we believe in you or not, could you at least give a good You Damn about whether we believe in each other, or not? We could use some help down here.

    Amen.

  263. #263 Krystalline Apostate
    January 25, 2007

    I didn’t create humanity so that they could rehash the same dumb arguments endlessly.
    No, you created them so they could sing your praises endlessly.
    Sinning syncophants. Imagine that.

  264. #264 Chris' Wills
    January 25, 2007

    Just a few questions for clarification.

    What does science encompasses?
    Is mathematics under science? It follows a different methodology.
    Is engineering a science? There were engineers long before the scientific method came about.

    What is “Truth”?

    What is “rational”? Caledonian seem to think that anything he thinks is not scientific is irrational.

    What is “knowledge”?
    Are only experimentally tested predictions knowledge?

    I ask as these words are thrown around and people seem to have different meanings for them. Some even seem to expand or contract the meaning to suit their comments.

    ———————–

    In my worldview; Mathematics is not a Science so I would say that 1 + 1 = 2 is Truth not derivable by science (N.B. I am not talking about 1 apple + 1 apple = 2 apples but the number 1).

    Another piece of knowledge held to be true by many people is: “all people are created equal”.
    This is not a scientific fact as all people are different and so not equal in the scientific sense.
    Also, there are heated discussions about when a person becomes a person (abortion discussions being the most high profile) and so is entitled to legal protection. I don’t think that science can supply an answer to a moral issue, it can supply data/technical knowledge but not the “truth”.

    Science collects data, scientists generate information, great scientists generate knowledge.
    But scientific knowledge does not create the wisdom required to use the fruits of science and at best science only approximates the truth of reality.

    I would also point out; the source of an hypothesis in science is irrelevant, if it makes predictions and these predictions can be tested and the testing is repeatable then it is scientific.
    ———————–

    Oh yes, if Caledonian isn’t a pseudo-Scot (my preferred conjecture) then I guess that he is a Rangers supporter :o)

  265. #265 Michael Kremer
    January 25, 2007

    Krystalline Apostate:

    That’s “sycophant” to you. But… a sycophant is one who praises another, not because the other deserves praise, but because the other has power and the sycophant wants to receive special favors from the other.

    Now you might think that’s what religion’s all about. But suppose instead that I sing God’s praises out of gratitude for the great good He has already done, even though I had not merited it; that I do not sing His praise in order to gain some reward for the praise, but because the act of praising and loving Him is the highest good that I can hope for (not because there is no other good that I can hope for, but because all other goods are in the end ephemeral and transitory unless they are grounded in love of Him); that I sing His praise because he deserves the praise; and that I sing His praise eternally because he is infinitely deserving of praise.

    Then I simply am not a sycophant.

    Note also that it is not merely a matter of singing His praise eternally; this singing can be anything I do in my life both here and hereafter, any act of charity towards a brother or sister, especially. We will forever sing his praises together and in love. To turn this into toadying to a tyrant is to completely misunderstand — for what we praise Him for is His infinite service to and love for us. Not His granting us the trivial and ephemeral rewards that a tyrant uses to keep his subjects in line, but His giving us being, life, and the ability to freely return to Him what He has given, and so to enter into a relationship of love with He who is most deserving of our love, because He has loved us into being.

  266. #266 Ced
    January 25, 2007

    A good point. Most people here (also PZ) seem to have a trivialized view of faith as in praying to a personified god or gods and the whole blah-blah around it.

    But there are alot of other forms of faith. Isn’t faith just the act of love towards a higher principle?
    Because I just feel love towards the universe as a whole, made by “I don’t know” and explained by science.

  267. #267 Ced
    January 25, 2007

    Squeaky wrote:

    I could be reading into his statement as well, but don’t assume he thinks the world sucks because he has bought into a theological ideal that “the world sucks because it is bound for destruction and the only thing worth living for is so we can die and go to Heaven.” I don’t believe that is what he meant. Try to compartmentalize your bias against religion from this discussion so that you don’t inadvertantly put words into another’s mouth.

    Thanks very much for clarifying my point. It’s exactly like you wrote in the post. No theological reasoning involved. Just a general observation that mankind has much room for improvement.

    David Marjanovic wrote:

    Ced, just one question: Do you only believe because you want to believe?

    I don’t know? Conciously of course no! But maybe I have an unconscious urge to believe which I am following. What does it change? But maybe someday I will discover it and loose my faith. Maybe faith is just an illusion anyway. Or reality. Or the universe. Well, you get my point 🙂

    Krystalline Apostate wrote:

    This is where the New Agey wonks get it wrong.
    It’s just your body’s ‘energy’. That’s all. Bio-electric impulses, if you prefer. Breathing patterns can alter your consciousness. ‘Qi’ roughly translated means ‘breath’.

    Exactly. Most people do not realize that spiritual techniques are in first place a method to change levels of awareness, or modes of conciousness. There is a lot of scientific evidence for that. No supernatural “energies” involved at all.
    But then there are alot of (less educated?) people who build a supernatural belief around those system and thus mislead critisizing observer into thinking the systems are based on supernatural premises.
    From my point of view, spiritual techniques are training of your mind.

  268. #268 Caledonian
    January 25, 2007

    Isn’t faith just the act of love towards a higher principle?

    No.

  269. #269 John B
    January 25, 2007

    If (under the definition we are using) truth has “some relation to objective features of the world,” then aren’t we still using scientific (or naturalistic if you prefer) inquiries to determine what those objective features of the world are?

    You are right, in a sense. My main point in using the example of the fundamentalist reading the koran was to suggest to you that, in my opinion, if you see the act of reading itself as ‘science’, then your definition is too general for the label “Scientism” to mean anything to you. Usually people who use it are referring to chemistry, biology, physics, and other hard sciences as disciplines. As a perjorative term, its supposed to suggest that the proponent of scientism thinks the only knowledge gained from reading a book are the physical details of the book itself, usually a strawman argument.

    The minor point I wanted to make was that different epistemic positions approach the example in different ways:

    from the epistemology entry, I offered (each summary mildly edited for space). Each of these approachs to how knowledge is acquired will offer different answers, or ask different questions about the man reading the koran:

    6.1 Virtue Epistemology

    Epistemology, as commonly practiced, focuses on the subject’s beliefs. Are they justified? Are they instances of knowledge? When it comes to assessing how the subject herself is doing with regard to the pursuit of truth and the seeking of knowledge, this assessment is carried out by looking at the epistemic quality of her beliefs. According to virtue epistemology, the order of analysis ought to be reversed. We need to begin with the subject herself and assess her epistemic virtues and vices: her “good” and her “bad” ways of forming beliefs.[…]

    6.2 Naturalistic Epistemology
    According to an extreme version of naturalistic epistemology, the project of traditional epistemology, pursued in an a priori fashion from the philosopher’s armchair, is completely misguided. The “fruits” of such activity are demonstrably false theories such as foundationalism, as well as endless and arcane debates in the attempt to tackle questions to which there no answers. To bring epistemology on the right path, it must be made a part of the natural sciences and become cognitive psychology. […]

    6.3 Religious Epistemology
    In the history of philosophy, there are several famous arguments for the existence of God: the ontological argument, the cosmological argument, and the argument from design. From an epistemological point of view, the question is whether such arguments can constitute a rational foundation of faith, or even give us knowledge of God.[…]

    6.4 Moral Epistemology
    The basic moral categories are those of right and wrong action. When we do theoretical ethics, we wish to find out what it is that makes a right action right and a wrong action wrong. When we do practical or applied ethics, we attempt to find out which actions are right and which are wrong. The epistemological question these areas of philosophy raise is this: How can we know any of that? Traditionally, philosophers have attempted to answer the questions of ethics via intuition, a priori reasoning, and the consideration of hypothetical cases.[…]

    6.5 Social Epistemology
    When we conceive of epistemology as including knowledge and justified belief as they are positioned within a particular social and historical context, epistemology becomes social epistemology. […]Those who prefer the more radical approach would reject the existence of objective norms of rationality. Moreover, since many view scientific facts as social constructions, they would deny that the goal of our intellectual and scientific activities is to find facts. Such constructivism, if weak, asserts the epistemological claim that scientific theories are laden with social, cultural, and historical presuppositions and biases; if strong, it asserts the metaphysical claim that truth and reality are themselves socially constructed.

    6.5 Feminist Epistemology
    When construed in a non-controversial way, the subject matter of feminist epistemology consists of issues having to do with fair and equal access of women to, and their participation in, the institutions and processes through which knowledge is generated and transmitted. Viewed this way, feminist epistemology can be seen as a branch of social epistemology.[…]

    Anyway, for those who were interested in different ways of knowing you can see a few examples of the different approachs people have taken. You may disagree with them, but the privilege you are giving to naturalism is a personal preference not any recognized superiority applicable to all human efforts in the production of knowledge.

  270. #270 John B
    January 25, 2007

    wintermute,

    As for the Koran example, yes I do think that reading could be described as an application of the scientific method that is excellent at discovering the contents of a text. Automatically assuming that all the truth claims in a given text are correct is not scientific, however; are you seriously intending to claim that this is valid epistemology? Can I apply it equally to The Illiad?

    No, I’m not claiming that the contents of the koran are true, where did I write that? So far, your science of reading is letting you down.

  271. #271 John B
    January 25, 2007

    Caledonian,

    I don’t want to make any assumptions about your beliefs, so i thought I’d ask: Why did you quote Objectivist literature in your post above? Is it just because you happen to agree with those sentiments or are you an Objectivist yourself?

    This isn’t the prelude to an ad hominem attack, the answer will just help me understand your position.

  272. #272 windy
    January 25, 2007

    …so to enter into a relationship of love with He who is most deserving of our love, because He has loved us into being.

    I already know two people who “loved me into being”, thank you very much. They didn’t do it so that I would sing their praises for all eternity, and no one would respect them much if they accepted such praise.

  273. #273 wintermute
    January 25, 2007

    No, I’m not claiming that the contents of the koran are true, where did I write that? So far, your science of reading is letting you down.

    Your example was ambiguous. If all you meant was “a reading of the Koran”, why describe the reading as fundamentalist, a term that carries strong implications of automatically accepting all truth claims in a religious text? What did you intend the reader to gain from your addition of that word?

    Just as you didn’t claim that a fundamentalist reading of the Koran alone is a valid epistemology to determine the existence of Allah, I did not claim that you had said that; I answered the question according to the two interpretations I could make of it, and asked which you meant. I’m sorry if you found that approach confusing.

    Of the epistemologies you list, several (virtue, social, moral) are normative rather than descriptive; they do not deal with assessing the value of truth claims, but rather describe how we would like the world to be. I agree that these are important questions, but to describe them as “epistemology” is to seriously abuse the term.

    The remaining non-naturalistic one (religious) is an exercise in pure logic. In so far as that logic is informed by the physical universe, is it “scientism” (to use your term). Where it is not informed by the physical universe, the conclusions it draws are unable to comment on the universe. So, where “religious epistemology” can tell us about the nature of God, it’s “scientism”, and where it isn’t “scientism”, it can’t tell us anything about God.

  274. #274 John B
    January 25, 2007

    Your example was ambiguous. If all you meant was “a reading of the Koran”, why describe the reading as fundamentalist, a term that carries strong implications of automatically accepting all truth claims in a religious text? What did you intend the reader to gain from your addition of that word?

    I know you are probably used to dishonest questions, but I was adding a description of the reader’s stance toward the content of the book to find out if kmarissa felt that made a difference. I was honestly trying to get a sense of what she meant by ‘science’, so i wasn’t going to assume that the beliefs of the person doing the science were irrelevant. That’s what the discussion is about the effect of beliefs on science.

  275. #275 John B
    January 25, 2007

    Sorry, i forgot to reply to this:

    Of the epistemologies you list, several (virtue, social, moral) are normative rather than descriptive; they do not deal with assessing the value of truth claims, but rather describe how we would like the world to be. I agree that these are important questions, but to describe them as “epistemology” is to seriously abuse the term.

    Alright, well i tried to give you examples of different ‘ways of knowing’ but you don’t accept them as appropriate. Am i still weasel-y? Or just too credulous about the terminology used by dubious authorities on philosophy? (damn you, Stanford!)

  276. #276 wintermute
    January 25, 2007

    I was adding a description of the reader’s stance toward the content of the book to find out if kmarissa felt that made a difference.

    Ah, so you meant “a fundamentalist reading the Koran” rather than “a fundamentalist reading of the Koran”. The difference is significant.

    I (obviously) can’t speak for kmarissa, but so long as the reader’s beliefs don’t lead them towards dishonesty, I really can’t see how it could make a difference – reading a book is an excellent example of a repeatable experiment, assuming we can identify the exact version of that book.

    The fundamentalist may emphasise certain parts of the text over others, but this is going far beyond mere reading.

  277. #277 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    John B,

    What “knowledge” do you think can be gotten from reading of the koran, or any other book, except the knowledge of what that book states? You’ve just stated that you weren’t implying that what the koran states is true. So what other knowledge do you gain from it?

    I consider the act of reading to be scientific in that you are collecting data through observation of the words printed on the pages. Perhaps this is why PZ suggested framing the question in terms of natural mechanisms instead. I don’t really see a difference between the two. If this makes a difference as to your argument, I’d be curious as to why, as this might just be an argument over definition.

  278. #278 Krystalline Apostate
    January 25, 2007

    Ced:
    Exactly. Most people do not realize that spiritual techniques are in first place a method to change levels of awareness, or modes of conciousness. There is a lot of scientific evidence for that. No supernatural “energies” involved at all.
    But then there are alot of (less educated?) people who build a supernatural belief around those system and thus mislead critisizing observer into thinking the systems are based on supernatural premises.
    From my point of view, spiritual techniques are training of your mind.

    Thank you. My point exactly. Occasionally, I get the student who wants to tell me some mumbo-jumbo story, I tell ’em, nope, don’t believe it.
    I had some Chinese fella approach me in a park, we got along fine (I get approached a lot) – then he began telling this mystical story about a monk trapped in a building telepathically contacting someone to save him – I told him, no, I don’t buy it. He was cool w/that, but surprised.
    Some folks want to do a bunch of mix ‘n match New Age splooge. I don’t do that. Problem is, in the US, is that some legitimate modalities (like TCC) have been partnered w/crap (like acupuncture), spirit guides, all that woo-poo.

    Breathing in specific ways can alter one’s consciousness. But you need to be careful. There’s actually a phenomenon known as Qiqong psychosis (most are harmless – it’s more of those sexual kungs that’ll really screw you over, like the Mantrak garbage).

  279. #279 Ced
    January 25, 2007

    Krystalline Apostate:
    I would even state that spiritual (including religious) techniques and imagery has the function of “conditioning” the mind, so that a person using such techniques does not have to sit quietly in meditation for hours to be on the same level, but has a quick access to get to a certain desired state of consciousness.
    If people associate such states with religious experience, it’s their own choice.

  280. #280 John B
    January 25, 2007

    kmarissa & wintermute,

    I hope it’s okay if i reply to both you in one post, it seems you are both asking me similar questions about the fundamentalists’ beliefs affecting their reading of the Koran.

    kmarissa:

    What “knowledge” do you think can be gotten from reading of the koran, or any other book, except the knowledge of what that book states? You’ve just stated that you weren’t implying that what the koran states is true. So what other knowledge do you gain from it?

    Well, ‘knowledge about what the book states’ is more complex an issue than it sounds. Depending on the epistemology the reader uses, different questions will be asked and different facts brought to light. Virtue, naturalist, feminist, religious, each reader will walk away with different knowledge about what the book says. The fundamentalist reading the book will apply his epistemic position to it (a religious episteme, at a guess) & walk away with religious knowledge of the contents of the book (not knowing the truth of the religious claims of the book, but knowing what the book says about the issues central to the religious episteme).

    You both agree that reading is a good example of science.

    Remember that knowledge isn’t defined only by the way it is justified (reading, here) but by being ‘true & justified’ related to objective reality in some way. Reading in my example, is the ‘way of justifying’, not the ‘way of knowing’.

    Each of those epistemes listed in the previous post, combine normative claims about a particular truth (returning to feminism – ie. gender equality is good or patriarchy is bad) with some reliable process of justification to create their particular types of knowledge.

    wintermute was partially correct in identifying the normative function of the episteme, while missing the descriptive elements of the non-naturalistic ones (the feminist episteme has brought to light a number of facts on a range of topics that previously went completely unexplored, because of its suspicion of traditional interpretations of all sorts of information), and failing to note the normative elements of naturalist position.

    The strong arguments here for naturalism demand you recognize it’s how scientists should understand the world in order to move beyond being a simple ‘technician’.

  281. #281 Ced
    January 25, 2007

    John B, you seem to have a high level of understanding about epistemology. On wikipedia, I encountered the lexical entry about the subject in a poor state.
    Maybe you would like to update it, if you find some time?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

  282. #282 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    What are the normative elements of a naturalist position? And aren’t the descriptive elements of a non-naturalistic episteme also contained within and reflected by the naturalistic episteme? And if so, what do we have to gain from the non-naturalistic episteme? In your example of feminist episteme, you stated, “the feminist episteme has brought to light a number of facts on a range of topics that previously went completely unexplored, because of its suspicion of traditional interpretations of all sorts of information.” But whether or not this epistime brings facts to light, aren’t you still using a naturalistic position to determine that these in fact are “facts” that the feminist episteme is putting out there?

  283. #283 Krystalline Apostate
    January 25, 2007

    Ced:
    I would even state that spiritual (including religious) techniques and imagery has the function of “conditioning” the mind, so that a person using such techniques does not have to sit quietly in meditation for hours to be on the same level, but has a quick access to get to a certain desired state of consciousness.
    Actually, most meditational techniques induce what’s known as an alpha state, in which the meditator is far more receptive to suggestion.
    For instance, singing hymnals, specific vibrations (music) tend to lull large groups (i.e, revivalist groups, voudon practitioners, etc) into a more receptive state. I’d guess the release of certain chemicals in these states tends to carry a response to the nostrils of others, thereby triggering further responses, but I don’t have enough data on that. Just a semi-educated guess.

  284. #284 Colugo
    January 25, 2007

    Some more food for thought.
    (Note: My presenting them here does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the authors’ theses.)

    Cziko: Without Miracles: The Development of Science
    http://faculty.ed.uiuc.edu/g-cziko/wm/10.html#Heading9

    Feyerabend: Against Method: Outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge
    http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/feyerabe.htm

    Webster: From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science
    http://store.doverpublications.com/0486438333.html

  285. #285 John B
    January 25, 2007

    But whether or not this epistime brings facts to light, aren’t you still using a naturalistic position to determine that these in fact are “facts” that the feminist episteme is putting out there?

    no, you are using some kind of justification(in your terms some scientific process like reading) combined with truth conditions to determine whether these are in fact ‘facts’… gender equality issues are not a natural objects, naturalism says nothing about them, despite the fact that it can identify and evaluate knowledge about the biological sexes. The naturalist approach would not, probably, have questioned why the person in my example is male.

    Ced,

    I appreciate the comment, but at I’m not even close to qualified to make a good contribution to Wikipedia’s epistemology section. My learning in this area is too informal to produce comprehensive descriptions of the elements that aren’t of immediate interest to me.

  286. #286 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding. It sounds to me like you’re saying that a non-naturalist episteme will just spur someone on to use a naturalist episteme in a way that is innovative. And I don’t think this speaks to the naturalist episteme in any way. Now it sounds very much like we’re just talking about examining the facts from different points of view. I don’t think that changes how it is that one would differentiate “fact” from “fiction,” which would still seem to me to be using a naturalistic episteme. Let me know if I’m missing something in your explanation.

  287. #287 John B
    January 25, 2007

    Colugo,

    Some more food for thought.
    (Note: My presenting them here does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the authors’ theses.)

    thanks, I haven’t read two of those. I will take a look at them. If Feyerabend is as i remember him, you are wise to distance yourself for him. I seriously doubt he’s a popular philosopher of science in these parts.

  288. #288 Nescio
    January 25, 2007

    kmarissa wrote:
    I’m confused about the reading a book example, though. He has gained knowledge of what the book states, but he has gained no knowledge about whether what the book states is true. If (under the definition we are using) truth has “some relation to objective features of the world,” then aren’t we still using scientific (or naturalistic if you prefer) inquiries to determine what those objective features of the world are?
    An everyday example: I see a bird thru my window, and, like any normal person assume it’s actually there. Let’s further say it is actually there – I’ve then gained knowledge in the sense of justified true belief. It’s done in a “naturalistic” manner but no reasonable person could say I’ve done science.

    Of course, unreasonable people aren’t hard to find:

    Caledonian wrote:
    History includes countless ways people have generated beliefs. There is only one way they have generated knowledge, and that’s science. It was used long before it was formalized, before it was even given a special name, but it was there.

    Without it, there is only error and belief – no knowledge.

  289. #289 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    Nescio,

    Okay, then I’m being unreasonable. I would say it IS doing science, in that it is gathering observable evidence. What exactly do you mean by “doing science” that would exclude this? I assume that this is why PZ stated above that he preferred using natural mechanism terminology. As I said, I’m fine with that, since it doesn’t change the meaning (to me) of anything I’ve said, it’s just a switching of terms. If you would rather say, “naturalistic observations” or something, that’s fine. From my point of view, it doesn’t change terms of this the conversation, but I’d like to know if you think it does.

  290. #290 Nescio
    January 25, 2007

    For pragmatic purposes, the meanings of words are defined by usage. Those definitions are, of course, fuzzy at the edges, but there’s typically widespread agreement among speakers whether some given thing belongs to the semantic volume covered by a given word. In this particular case, I dare say there is overwhelming agreement among English speakers that believing your eyes in everyday situations does not fall under the heading of “doing science”.

    Now, there is not anything necessarily wrong in using a word in a non-standard way, provided you a) allow the reader a reasonable chance of realizing this straight off and b) don’t pretend that what applies to your usage applies to the common usage.

    That’s basically the problem I have with Caledonian, BTW – he justifies his claim that certain people aren’t scientists by reference to his private definition of the word, then implies we therefore shouldn’t think of them as scientists in the normal meaning of the word*. I don’t think you’re trying to do the same, but I do think you’re being unnecessarily confusing.

    * Since he quoted Peikoff, I might mention that for some reason, this kind of definitional bait-and-switch is in my experience popular among Objectivists.

  291. #291 John B
    January 25, 2007

    kmarissa,

    it might be that you are eliding the naturalist episteme with the methods used to justify it.

    I’ll try to re-phrase things so that you see the distinction I think exists.

    Pretend that there are a group of different theories describing some phenomenon, all are justified theories by the application of the relevant scientific method to the evidence you have access to. Does any of this help you to determine the truth of any one of those theories over the others?

    this underdetermination of theories is the best example I can think of to distinguish between the justification of a belief and its truth.

    Scientists, faced with the failure of empiricism, have a few options:

    Given that sometimes theories are undetermined, then, how can we decide between them? An obvious answer, of course, is not to decide at all. If we cannot find a way to make a demarcation then we could simply take an agnostic position and admit we do not know which is “better”. In that case, we could divide our efforts between the two (or more) and see if there is subsequently a difference that comes to light as they are developed further. The is sometimes called methodological pluralism or the proliferation of theories.

    A second response is to realise that empiricism does not hold the status once ascribed to it: we do not accept or reject theories based solely on the evidence for them but also on account of many non-empirical criteria, such as parsimony; internal consistency; beauty (for example, Copernicus’ certainty that a Sun-centred system was more aesthetically appealing); explanation; the ability to make novel predictions; and so on. This does not answer underdetermination so much as accept it as a limitation on empiricism, which can thus only take us so far in the matter of theory evaluation and choice.

    from : http://www.galilean-library.org/under.html

    Notice in the second response, scientists use justification for their knowledge that is non-empirical.

    So you can’t justify a simple identity between empirical facts, naturalistic knowledge and science.

  292. #292 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    Nescio,

    I agree completely that normally this would be a non-standard definition of “doing science,” and in most normal conversations I wouldn’t define it in this way. But in the context of this *particular* conversation (beginning with the original post), we have discussed the problems (whether or not they exist) of the “theistic scientist.” While I don’t want to bring that debate particularly, I believe the point that some were trying to make was that the theistic scientist arguably cannot or does not apply the same rules of observation and evidence gathering that he or she applies in his or her scientific pursuits–In other words, to “bring science to one’s faith.” So in that context, by “doing science,” I had thought we were referring broadly to the processes of gathering observable, measurable evidence, as opposed to (as John B argues) gathering evidence through non-natural epistemes. I didn’t realize that, in the context of this conversation, this was misleading; I just thought it was a useful shorthand. What term or phrase would you prefer?

  293. #293 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    Sorry, not evidence, knowledge. Hopefully you get what I meant anyway.

    This is what I get for conference calling and posting at the same time.

  294. #294 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    “Pretend that there are a group of different theories describing some phenomenon, all are justified theories by the application of the relevant scientific method to the evidence you have access to.”

    John B, I think I might understand what you’re talking about, but I’m having a hard time fully understanding without having an example of this in mind. I can’t really come up with one that I’m sure fits your criteria or argument. Can you elaborate?

  295. #295 Nescio
    January 25, 2007

    Well, I don’t object to the phrase “bring science to one’s faith” if thereby is meant that one subjects one’s belief to the same kind of rigorous examination one would a scientific theory. If one just means applying the common sense heuristics most everyday conclusions are based on, I’d suggest “bring common sense to one’s faith”, or perhaps “bring critical thinking”.

    Looking back, I not sure which PZ meant.

  296. #296 John B
    January 25, 2007

    Wikipedia uses this as an example:

    ‘More serious cases of underdetermination are illustrated where a theory admits several possibilities between which the evidence for the theory says nothing. Isaac Newton’s mechanics provides such an example. According to Newton, there is an absolute space in which events are located but all we can ever detect are differences between velocities. Hence, it is equally consistent with Newton’s theory to say that the solar system is at rest as to say that it moves at a velocity of 37 m/s in the direction from the center of the earth to the north pole. Newton himself says these two possibilities are indistinguishable.’

  297. #297 kmarissa
    January 25, 2007

    John B,

    I’m sorry, I think that’s a bit too far over my head to be useful to me in this case. Do you have an example of “a group of different theories describing some phenomenon, all are justified theories by the application of the relevant scientific method to the evidence you have access to,” but where (at least) one of the theories is based on a naturalistic episteme, and (at least) one of the theories is based on a non-naturalistic episteme? This would help me understand the distinction you’re drawing between justification and truth.

  298. #298 Caledonian
    January 25, 2007

    Why did you quote Objectivist literature in your post above? Is it just because you happen to agree with those sentiments or are you an Objectivist yourself?

    Filled with hatred towards the reasonable and intelligent people who hold that people who reject science can be scientists, I had a brief fit; in that fit, some of my many flailing appendages happened to hit the keystrokes to copy and paste text from the browser window into the typing area.

    You might ask PZ the same question.

  299. #299 Scott Hatfield
    January 25, 2007

    Nescio: Why do Objectivists tend to do such things? I think it may be that such partisans seem to almost inevitably reify their terminology, which tends to remove them from discussion while at the same time burdening them with more meaning than can be justified by evidence.

    In other words, there might be a more charitable interpretation of Objectivist-type behaviour: it’s not so much that they ‘bait and switch’, as that they tend to regard their reification of the terms they used as derived from first principles, self-evident and not open for debate.

    SH

  300. #300 Caledonian
    January 25, 2007

    That’s basically the problem I have with Caledonian, BTW – he justifies his claim that certain people aren’t scientists by reference to his private definition of the word, then implies we therefore shouldn’t think of them as scientists in the normal meaning of the word*. I don’t think you’re trying to do the same, but I do think you’re being unnecessarily confusing.

    Um, it’s not a private definition. It is in fact a widely-accepted definition, based on a method that’s been used in a consistent manner for centuries.

    By “normal meaning of the word”, I presume you’re referring to the idea that one employed in a scientific profession or who deals with the trappings of science is a scientist. That is approximately as well-informed as thinking that scientists wear white coats as they toil over steaming beakers and tubes, backlit by electric discharges while they cackle manically over their latest experiment.

    If that’s not the case, inform us what the normal meaning of ‘scientist’ is. Then explain to us how someone who rejects the scientific method can fall within that “normal” definition.

  301. #301 Ken Cope
    January 26, 2007

    Despite the fact that Leonard Peikoff wears the anointed Grand Wazoo of all Randroid Asshats, I have yet to see anybody provide a compelling argument for any of their dismissive judgements of the quote Caledonian provided.

    I’d like to think the supportabity of a statement is more important than the matter of who originates or disperses it, which should pretty much excuse me from accusations of living in my parents’ basement.

  302. #302 Nescio
    January 26, 2007

    Um, it’s not a private definition. It is in fact a widely-accepted definition, based on a method that’s been used in a consistent manner for centuries.

    And the moon’s made of cheese. For a start, the word “scientist” is first attested in English in 1834.

    For reasons that should be clear from my reply to kmarissa, I’m not going to provide a legalistic definition of “scientist”. You may think common usage uninformed – that changes nothing.

  303. #303 Scott Hatfield
    January 26, 2007

    Definitions, definitions, definitions….not my stock in trade, I’m afraid.

    However, with respect to the word ‘scientist’, it seems apropos to mention that its coiner (William Whewell) was an Anglican priest and one of the authors of the Bridgewater Treatises. He published many papers in a variety of subjects, notably the tides, but he is best remembered for his treatment of induction in “Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.” In this book, he lists “natural theology” as the science of ‘First Causes’.

    So, one can conclude from this that (by Caledonian’s definition) that the polymath who coined the term ‘scientist’ was, in fact, no scientist at all.

  304. #304 Caledonian
    January 26, 2007

    And the moon’s made of cheese. For a start, the word “scientist” is first attested in English in 1834.

    So? It’s not about how long the word ‘scientist’ was used, but how long the phrase ‘scientific method’ has had constant meaning.

    That pretty much sums up this whole thread – points are made, and people like you utterly fail to understand them.

    For reasons that should be clear from my reply to kmarissa, I’m not going to provide a legalistic definition of “scientist”.

    Clear and precise definitions are vital to effective use of reason. I can see why you avoid them.

  305. #305 squeaky
    January 26, 2007

    So–according to Caledonian, all scientists must be atheists, otherwise they are not scientists. An extreme position that is the mirror image of creationists views which are basically one cannot accept evolution and an old earth and still be a Christian.

  306. #306 Caledonian
    January 26, 2007

    No, squeaky. All scientists must deny that faith is a way to produce valid conclusions.

    ‘Christian’ is infamously difficult to define, since there’s no general agreement on who Christ was, whether he existed, and what he taught. Every group tends to have its own definition, which it holds as superior to all others.

    Christian Creationists, at least in America, are virtually always fundamentalists – and since the Bible’s narrative is incompatible with evolution and an old Earth, accepting even the possibility that either took place is to reject the Bible’s authority – and so by their definition, to do so is to reject Christianity.

    And they’re quite right.

  307. #307 Uber
    January 26, 2007

    creationists views which are basically one cannot accept evolution and an old earth and still be a Christian.

    One can be Christian and believe almost anything.But are they being consistent? The YEC seem to be while others seem to do more bending and twisting.

    Bible’s narrative is incompatible with evolution and an old Earth, accepting even the possibility that either took place is to reject the Bible’s authority – and so by their definition, to do so is to reject Christianity.

    And they’re quite right.

    I think thats pretty much correct.

  308. #308 John B
    January 26, 2007

    Kmarissa,

    do you have an example […] where (at least) one of the theories is based on a naturalistic episteme, and (at least) one of the theories is based on a non-naturalistic episteme? This would help me understand the distinction you’re drawing between justification and truth.

    Well examples of underdetermination usually all involve the same epistemological approach, since it refers to the situation of many justified answers to the same question. If you move for one system of knowledge production to another the aims and concerns generally change.

    I don’t think discussing this further will impact the original issue of whether a theistic worldview excludes understanding science.

    All i wanted to suggest was that the accuracy and objectivity of the evidence collected (justification) is not the whole story about ‘doing science’ if you can see science as a social institution, with participants who have particular aims and concerns in service to the larger society, or even humanity in general. What gets researched, who gets funding, what technologies are pursued or abandoned, who gets recognition/status/authority are all decisions influenced by external social factors.

    From my point of view, what PZ Meyers should be hoping for are politicians, investors and a general populace that adheres to metaphysical naturalism, the worldview of the scientists is irrelevant. All scientists are technicians, with social value in so far as they produce something useful.

  309. #309 squeaky
    January 26, 2007

    Caledonian and Uber,

    Actually–I don’t think the Bible’s narrative is incompatable with either an old earth or evolution, but that gets into a deeper conversation. Certainly, creationists believe that, but they use what little science exists in the Bible to interpret the natural world, rather than using the natural world to interpret what little science exists in the Bible.

    In any case, Caledonian, your arguments would be more compelling to me if it were true that scientists who are also theists are not already doing this:

    “denying that faith is a way to produce valid conclusions.”

    I don’t know of any non-creationist scientist or non-ID scientist who uses faith to produce valid conclusions in their scientific work. You seem to equate all scientists who are theists with creationists who mangle their science to match their faith. This is simply not true.

    Your argument seems to have been that if one abandons rational thinking in one part of their life, they are a not a true scientist. In the sense that I do not use faith to interpret scientific work or that I do not use science in theological investigations, I suppose I do compartmentalize. However, in the sense that I personally don’t sense a tension between my faith and science, I don’t compartmentalize.

    But let’s look at this from another angle. I’m also a musician. Can a scientist who is also a musician truly be a scientist? I abandon scientific thinking in my musical work. Am I now a bad scientist? Let me expand this analogy:

    I don’t use the scientific method when I am learning a piece of music. I don’t investigate the data and devise hypotheses about the best way to musically interpret the music and set up experiments to test those hypotheses. I could, I suppose, say the process takes place analogously through practice and study of the music, but even then the analogy fails miserably because another musician looking at the exact same data will interpret it entirely differently. Who’s right? Neither–or both. Musical work can produce that kind of uncertainty, and it is entirely acceptable in musical circles–but entirely irrational from a scientific standpoint. Certainly science can produce that kind of uncertainty, but scientists will further investigate how to overcome it. Musicians, on the other hand, may argue about whose interpretation is better, but in the end, they acknowledge it is a matter of personal opinion.

    Likewise, I don’t use my musical techniques in my scientific investigations: I didn’t get the right tone when I broke that rock, so I better break another. It just FEELS like this would be a good place to collect a sample. If I mix the chemicals here, it will have the greatest emotional impact for my experiment.

    So, yes, in the senses described above, I compartmentalize music and science. However, even though this is true, I still bring my experience from one world into the other–my observation skills help me analyze and interpret musical form. My love of art gives me an aesthetic appreciation for science, which I believe is beautiful and artistic and musical in its own right. The fact that I move easily within each of these worlds actually enhances my abilities in both.

  310. #310 Nescio
    January 26, 2007

    Caledonian:
    So? It’s not about how long the word ‘scientist’ was used, but how long the phrase ‘scientific method’ has had constant meaning.
    This is disingenious. You were replying to a complaint about your usage of the word “scientist”.

    Clear and precise definitions are vital to effective use of reason. I can see why you avoid them.
    You’re engaged in the use of reason. You’re taking an item of everyday vocabulary and giving it a special definition that’s partially overlapping with common usage to bolster your ideological position – a classic method of obscurantism. If you were genuinely applying a rigorous definition of “scientist” out of a wish to promote rational thinking, you’d picked one designed to minimize confusion.

  311. #311 Nescio
    January 26, 2007

    The first sentence of my second paragraph above should, of course, read “You’re not engaged in the use of reason”.

  312. #312 Uber
    January 26, 2007

    Puh-leez squeaky.

    –I don’t think the Bible’s narrative is incompatable with either an old earth or evolution, but that gets into a deeper conversation.

    Not to get into a big drawn out discussion here but thats just silly. Compatible with a form of the Christian religion perhaps but not with the bible. It says days. Not eons or eras. The order is incorrect and even if one says ‘oh it’s a metaphor’ it’s an admission your not really using the bible as written and if thats the case just admit it.

    Likewise evolution does damage to the entire man caused sin/death type ideal among other more detailed ideas but I don’t want to get involved there.

    In the sense that I do not use faith to interpret scientific work or that I do not use science in theological investigations

    What the hell is a theological investigation?

    Can a scientist who is also a musician truly be a scientist?

    You are confused. No one is saying you must use the SM in every avenue in life. As mentioned previously in the thread these are matters of taste not factual claims about the world and how it works.

    Still music is a part of the natural world and nothing you do with or without it is a good analogy to faith and science.

  313. #313 Alexander Whiteside
    January 26, 2007

    Did nobody else spot the Feynman reference at the end? I’m not completely sure it’s deliberate, but in the context it seems likely. Feynman was [strains memory] doing something in physics in Brazil, meeting the country’s best and brightest graduate students, and he asked a question about the light reflecting off the water outside and in through the window. The students were stumped: with some further questioning he realised they knew the science inside-out but couldn’t even begin to apply it outside of their set problems.

  314. #314 squeaky
    January 26, 2007

    Actually, Uber, there is great debate amongst young earth creationists and old earth creationists over the correct usage for the Hebrew word that is translated as “day”. The original Hebrew has other meanings including “24 hour period” and “period of time of unspecified length.” And you are right–it would require a much more involved conversation than probably either one of us is interested in, especially since this thread is on its last gasps.

    Cheers

  315. #315 Ken Cope
    January 26, 2007

    Squeaky, the discussions between YECs and OECs have as much to do with science as the debate over whether Balrogs have wings, or smoke that wreathe about them like wings.

    Science is not going to settle either question, it’s no more relevant than any other argument among any obsessive fans of fantasy/science fiction or bronze-age mythology.

    Anybody who regards any passage in Genesis (other than for its cultural or literary or mythical values) seriously, i.e. as having any bearing on the nature of the real world, is nuts.

  316. #316 Uber
    January 26, 2007

    Yeah squeaky the mere fact it can be debated at all should show that it’s pretty unclear. That and making it an ‘age of unspecified time’ doesn’t help the order or the events that are clearly spelled out as ordinary days in the narrative.

  317. #317 Scott Hatfield
    January 26, 2007

    Uber: I agree that the Bible as narrative makes claims whose consequences are clearly at odds with scientific findings. I can hold the Bible in reverence, however, without holding it to be either inerrant or requiring that every thing be rendered as a narrative. And I would add that, despite what some fundies say, neither of these approaches would historically have been regarded as orthodox!

    Now what about metaphor? Do we need to invoke metaphor as a fallback position to deal with the ‘days’ of Genesis? Apparently not! For, in the first place, the word in Hebrew rendered as ‘days’ in most Bibles is also used to refer to longer, even indeterminate units of time elsewhere. In the second place, of the two creation stories (which as I’m sure you know don’t agree); the first one has a distinctive character that lead many to regard it not as a narrative, but rather as a liturgical text intended to celebrate the New Year. A good discussion of this is found in a piece by Lawson Stone, which can be found here:

    http://homepage.mac.com/lawsonstone1/Sites/blog/Creation02.html

    Now about your latter point, that evolution poses even more serious problems for doctrines like original sin and the Fall, etc., I couldn’t agree with you more. But these things have always been problematic. Darwin was a sensitive man, and he was deeply troubled by the cruelties of nature, but he didn’t exactly discover theodicy (the problem of evil). For better or worse, Christian theology has always had a hard time reconciling ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ with a benevolent deity.

  318. #318 Scott Hatfield
    January 26, 2007

    I question the claim on this thread that there is a single unitary ‘scientific method’, or that this ‘scientific method’ has been in consistent use for centuries.

    I just don’t think that’s true. Darwin gave lip service to following the Baconian method of induction, as did many of his contemporaries, but this ‘method’ apparently failed to exclude supernatural causes: English naturalists routinely invoke the causation of Providence prior to 1830, or around the time Whewell coined the term ‘scientist’. I doubt that’s what Caledonian had in mind!

    It seems to me, rather, that ‘scientists’ as such have used a variety of methods that place differing emphasis on the role of induction, deduction, measurement and imagination. I don’t think we can really speak of ‘scientific method’ in the modern sense until the latter half of the 19th century, when Pierce allowed that induction and deduction, rather than being in competition, were in fact complimentary programs.

  319. #319 Caledonian
    January 26, 2007

    The scientific method does not exclude things people frequently consider supernatural. That category is incoherent – if it happens, it’s natural.

    And I thought you people were arguing that holding positions incompatible with science doesn’t impair the science. If English naturalists used to invoke Providence, what of it?

    You’re trying to have things both ways.

  320. #320 CapitalistImperialistPig
    January 26, 2007

    Atheism has got to be the most boring religion.

    Is that why (militant) atheists are so obnoxiously pugnacious?

  321. #321 CapitalistImperialistPig
    January 26, 2007

    there have been many great scientists who believed in utter crap

    But fortunately there are so many more talentless mediocrities to instruct us in the errors of the great.

  322. #322 John B
    January 27, 2007

    Scott Hatfield,

    Have you read Mary Douglas’ Purity and Danger?
    a short summary:

    In Purity and Danger, Douglas first proposed that the kosher laws were not, as many believed, either primitive health regulations or randomly chosen as tests of Jews’ commitment to God. Instead, Douglas argued that the laws were about symbolic boundary-maintenance. Prohibited foods were those which did not seem to fall neatly into any category. For example, pigs’ place in the natural order was ambiguous because they shared the cloven hoof of the ungulates, but did not chew cud.

    Douglas claims that rituals of purity that focus on sexuality are meant to mark the boundaries of the human body, in the same way by which the boundaries of society are marked.

    She begins “Purity and Danger” by stating what she considers obvious, that “ambiguous things can seem very threatening” (xi) and claims that “taboo is a spontaneous device for protecting the distinctive categories of the universe… taboo confronts the ambiguous and shunts it into the category of the sacred”.

    As an anthropologist, I think she points out some important elements in the aims and concerns of the people who generated the creation stories in the Bible. If you accept her argument, then the whole ID movement is an inappropriate application of the creation narrative. It’s purpose is to give the ancient hebrew taxonomy an objective and moral character, not to explore the causes or process of creation. The important point of the story is to show God separating one thing from another – order out of chaos, and to suggest that upholding these categories constitutes constructive participation with creation.

    Religious people who use the story to support arguments about proper categories (ex. human vs. beast, gender issues, environmental arguments, etc…) are at least using the story in the way it was ‘intended’, according to Douglas. They are reinforcing their sense of order against what they perceive as chaos, by opposing gay marriage, or whatever. Their views may still be odious and backward, but at least it’s in line with the text. (though, the hebrew bible has alot of other rules about things that shouldn’t be mixed that they ignore, see Leviticus’ concept of tzaraath)

    These stories are a description of the order perceived in the physical world, but they are not stories concerned with the origins of material reality, they are about the origins of the categories used then to differentiate between creatures, and a rationale for the danger of things that blur or mix the proper arrangement of things, socially as well as in nature. At least that’s her argument.

    Disputing the meaning of the hebrew term translated as ‘day’ would, I think, be missing the point.

  323. #323 John B
    January 27, 2007

    P.S. Douglas’ argument provides a different rationale for the creationist to feel threatened by the idea of evolution, since the idea of mutation and divergence implies a lack of rigid categories.

    The fact that it makes God irrelevant to the process is almost secondary when looked at from this perspective.

  324. #324 Scott Hatfield
    January 27, 2007

    Caledonian, I can’t speak for squeaky, but I happen to agree that science must be based on evidence. You and I might differ as to *why* the supernatural is excluded, but at no point have I advocated that such ‘explanations’ belong in science. They don’t.

    My objection has to do with the idea that a *real* scientist must necessarily take the same tack with respect to their private/personal life, or else they are not scientists, but merely technicians. It might be from your standpoint logically desirable that all scientists wear a seamless garment of reason, but we both know that isn’t so.

    Since that’s the case, it seems like rhetorical overkill to announce, from a distance, that people you don’t know, whose scientific output is unknown, whose private beliefs remain private, are somehow not really scientists. Now if Jessica or squeaky or Hatfield argues that the private beliefs need not remain private, and (like IDevotees) argue that such things should become part of scientific discourse, then you’d have a real point. But that doesn’t appear to be the case here.

    Yet, there was a time, less than 200 years ago, when such things were part of what was considered scientific discourse, as my comments about Whewell’s generation indicate. Whatever science is, whatever scientific method constitutes today, it clearly was less defined and less universally established 200 years ago.

    And the point of this evidence is not (as IDevotees often bemoan) to restore the original meaning of science, but to reinforce skepticism about the limits of science. What is being rejected is not science or the scientific method, but the uncritical application of this or that as a universal litmus test for doing science, or being a scientist.

  325. #325 Caledonian
    January 27, 2007

    My objection has to do with the idea that a *real* scientist must necessarily take the same tack with respect to their private/personal life,

    Existence isn’t contained within a private/public boundary. Nor are the principles of the scientific method. You can’t serve two masters – although some of you try really, really hard to do so.

    Why is it that self-described Christians never seem to pay attention to the words of the guy they’re supposedly following?

  326. #326 squeaky
    January 27, 2007

    “Why is it that self-described Christians never seem to pay attention to the words of the guy they’re supposedly following?”

    Caledonian–to what words do you refer? I think it could be a very good question.

  327. #327 Caledonian
    January 27, 2007

    If you live in a Western society, you ought to be able to identify them, even if only through cultural osmosis. It is extremely obvious.

  328. #328 squeaky
    January 27, 2007

    Oh–never mind, Caledonian–I reread your post, so I know what you are saying. Of course, pulling those words out of context mean nothing. What Jesus was referring to as the two masters was God and money. Not God and science.

  329. #329 Caledonian
    January 27, 2007

    It’s doesn’t say “there are two masters which you can’t serve simultaneously”, it says “you cannot serve two masters”.

    Why is it always stupid people who insist that everything is presented within the only context it has meaning in? ‘God’ and ‘Money’ are presented as a particular example of a general case. You are a fool.

  330. #330 squeaky
    January 27, 2007

    What-EV! Have a nice day, Caledonian.

  331. #331 Caledonian
    January 27, 2007

    I’ll pray for you, squeaky.

  332. #332 squeaky
    January 27, 2007

    Thanks, Caledonian. I am truly and deeply touched by your generous and gentle spirit.

  333. #333 Caledonian
    January 27, 2007

    Well, no. Not really.

    But even if I had been serious, I didn’t say what I’d be requesting. Likely, I’d pray for you to have something very nasty happen.

    At least one good thing came out of this exchange: we’re publically identified you as a theist.

  334. #334 squeaky
    January 27, 2007

    Uh…CHAH. I thought it was obvious from my comments on this thread, but perhaps I was more subtle than I realized. For the record, I’ve publically labeled myself as a theist on several previous threads (pay attention, son =)). To be fair, I haven’t been around much lately, so you probably forgot all about my squeakiness. “Pray” I stop procrastinating so you don’t have to see me here ever again!

    Cheers

  335. #335 Middle Professor
    January 27, 2007

    “And Hatfield, you’d better hope we never meet in real life.” -Caledonian

    “But even if I had been serious, I didn’t say what I’d be requesting. Likely, I’d pray for you to have something very nasty happen.” -Caledonian

    Caledonian, How old are you?

  336. #336 Scott Hatfield
    January 28, 2007

    Hee hee hee. Sorry, Caledonian, but it was the first thing that went through my mind when I see *you* trying to use scripture. I thought that was the stock in trade of ‘religious apologists’? That’s funny!

    Anyway, old Scot, you wrote: “Existence isn’t contained within a private/public boundary. Nor are the principles of the scientific method. You can’t serve two masters – although some of you try really, really hard to do so.”

    Surely you’re not trying to suggest that we should so value reason as to regard it as a succedaneum for deity? That would take a very real human virtue and turn it into something inhuman, I think; though it rings, again, with a certainty that I don’t possess. Are you sure you weren’t channelling John Calvin just now?

    At any rate, I seem to recall that Jesus said something about rendering unto Caesar, too. Just as I don’t forfeit my faith by paying taxes, I don’t turn my back on science if I fail to employ the scientific method in every aspect of my life.

    Now, on a more serious note, a word of friendly advice: look, if you’re determined to dislike people like me intensely, knock yourself out. I don’t have the right to tell you how to feel, or to exempt myself from criticism. That’s fine.

    But making threats or suggesting that you wish harm to befall on another human being is another matter. It’s vulgar. It makes you look bad, and causes those who are inclined to sympathize with your views to slink away shaking their heads. It could also cause problems for PZ, for obvious reasons. Seems like a no-win scenario to me: why do it?

    Sincerely…SH

  337. #337 Scott Hatfield
    January 28, 2007

    John B, you wrote: “P.S. Douglas’ argument provides a different rationale for the creationist to feel threatened by the idea of evolution, since the idea of mutation and divergence implies a lack of rigid categories.

    The fact that it makes God irrelevant to the process is almost secondary when looked at from this perspective.”

    Mayr made the same point in a number of different books, including “What Evolution Is” (2001, Basic Books). Mayr identifies essentialism as the root of the problem, since it leads to typological thinking entirely at odds with the population thinking developed by Darwin. Mayr claims that it essentialism, which he traced to Aristotle, as the biggest barrier to the acceptance of Darwin’s views prior to the Modern Synthesis.

  338. #338 John B
    January 28, 2007

    I don’t think any scientist actually operates the way Caledonian suggests the ‘good’ ones do. At least, as far as I can tell from the history of science that I know, The way theories have been rejected as ‘falsified’ seems to proceed the way any human community does. The demarcation problem between ‘science’ and ‘not-science’ has not been conclusively resolved.

    This problem of demarcation is symbolic boundary-maintenance, similar to the concerns of the biblical creation myth: a story about the reliability of categories and the danger of mixing.

    from the Wikipedia article on demarcation:

    The work by Draper and White must be seen as directly coming out of this social climate, and their model of science and religion as being eternally opposed, if not historically accurate, became a dominant social trope. Sociologists of science have studied the attempts to erect hard distinctions between science and non-science as a form of boundary-work, emphasizing the high stakes for all involved in such activities.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_problem

    I think the original claim here is that the theistic scientist is like the pig in Leviticus: not kosher.

  339. #339 Caledonian
    January 28, 2007

    I don’t think any scientist actually operates the way Caledonian suggests the ‘good’ ones do.

    I don’t think you’ve actually comprehended my claims about the nature of science, so this point isn’t surprising.

    And here, to prove me right, you post again:

    I think the original claim here is that the theistic scientist is like the pig in Leviticus: not kosher.

    Wrong.

  340. #340 John B
    January 28, 2007

    I have understood your claims: ‘science’ is successful human learning about reality, whenever and wherever humans have learned something true and justified about reality they have done it through science, even if the term was not used.

    This has nothing to do with the demarcation problem, or the original criticism of the theistic scientist.

  341. #341 Caledonian
    January 28, 2007

    Not only do you not understand the claims, you don’t understand that you don’t understand them.

  342. #342 John B
    January 28, 2007

    Not only do you not understand the claims, you don’t understand that you don’t understand them.

    Sorry about that, then. In what way have I misunderstood your claims about science? You certainly seemed to be saying that science was the only option. What other ways have people acquired knowledge about the universe?

  343. #343 squeaky
    January 28, 2007

    Yes, Cal–give us a thesis statement that sums up what you have been saying on this thread (I’m far too lazy to go back and try to figure it out from all your posts here). I do think, however, that you have a point that many have misunderstood what you have been saying. I get the impression too often people have been talking past each other on this thread…

  344. #344 Jason
    January 28, 2007

    Caledonian and I have been over this ground with John B before, here. I think he is just hopelessly confused. He seemed to take a position of extreme epistemological relativism, but it’s hard to extract any clear and coherent position on the nature of knowledge and truth from his vague and rambling posts. I explained why epistemological relativism is self-refuting, but he doesn’t seem to have understood the argument.

  345. #345 Caledonian
    January 28, 2007

    Well, yes – you can use reason to demonstrate that irrationality is incorrect, but what use is that to a person who cannot or will not use reason? It would be like trying to explain quantum mechanics to a dog.

  346. #346 Scott Hatfield
    January 28, 2007

    I admit to being baffled by John B’s latest reply as well. Many scientists clearly strive for the uncompartmentalized life, and would clearly characterize their understanding of science and scientific method in a fashion consonant with Caledonian’s views. I’ve got no problem with that, I just think he’s guilty of rhetorical excess.

    But, squeaky, getting a restatement or a synopsis from Caledonian is problematic. At this point, epigrams as to our various shortcomings are the most likely response. It would be nice to be proved wrong, though.

  347. #347 squeaky
    January 28, 2007

    Ah yes, Scott, I was flirting with disaster by asking such a foolish question. For the record, if *I* ever meet you, I will gladly treat you to a nice beer–they have good beer round about your parts? Heck, I’d treat Cal to a nice beer, too–I don’t care who I’m treating to a nice beer as long as it’s wicked good beer!

    Mmm…beer…I go home now. Dang it! I’m out of beer! And this stupid state I live in doesn’t sell it on Sundays! Of all the religious ridiculousness that needs to be lambasted on this forum, that one takes the cake!

  348. #348 Scott Hatfield
    January 28, 2007

    No beer…on Sundays….!?!?!

    That’s uncivilized. I’ve got at least three first-class watering holes with local microbrews on tap to choose from. Hard to believe that much of my childhood was spent in a dry county.

    For the record, squeaky, the first round’s on me. Let me know if you’re ever in Fresno:

    epigene13@hotmail.com

  349. #349 llewelly
    January 28, 2007

    Forgive me, father, for I have sinned.
    I have failed to drink beer on many a fine Sunday.

  350. #350 Caledonian
    January 29, 2007

    You can just scroll upwards and read what’s been said – demanding that the points be made again is insulting.

    Of course, you clearly weren’t paying attention the first time, so why would you be any more courteous now?

  351. #351 John B
    January 29, 2007

    You can just scroll upwards and read what’s been said – demanding that the points be made again is insulting.

    Of course, you clearly weren’t paying attention the first time, so why would you be any more courteous now?

    Well, I certainly did not mean to be impolite or discourteous to you, Caledonian. Obviously, regardless of the tone you adopt in your comments, you deserve to be taken very seriously and treated with respect. The burden of courtesy is always on the few confused individuals who seek clarification of their muddled views by kneeling in the redeeming shower of your commentary.

  352. #352 John B
    January 29, 2007

    Scott Hatfield,

    I admit to being baffled by John B’s latest reply as well. Many scientists clearly strive for the uncompartmentalized life, and would clearly characterize their understanding of science and scientific method in a fashion consonant with Caledonian’s views.

    Maybe they do, but do these people fit into the category of the ‘spiritual’ scientist described in the original post? The original argument is about a scientist who upholds both scientific method and faith as justifying different kinds of beliefs.

    Regardless of whether they have successfully completed the internal review of their beliefs, I think anyone who thinks that science can be fruitfully applied to the truth of religious claims has already left faith behind.

    The original quote suggested that anyone who compartmentalizes objects of faith from objects of science displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the aims and concerns of science: “I cannot but conclude that this person literally doesn’t know why you have to look at things. They may have been taught a certain ritual of experimentation, but they don’t understand the reason for it ” Just having ‘looked at things’ for the ‘right’ reasons doesn’t guarantee anything about how the things you see are interpreted, and is no guide for what should be looked at.

    When pursuing concerns related to nature, the theist scientist will use the scientific method, they don’t reject it or the reasons for its appropriateness in the situation.

    The idea that there is a single correct way to ‘look at things’ that serves every human aim and concern is unfounded.

  353. #353 Ken Cope
    January 29, 2007

    Regardless of whether they have successfully completed the internal review of their beliefs, I think anyone who thinks that science can be fruitfully applied to the truth of religious claims has already left faith behind.

    And good for them. Faith is definitionally a way of not knowing, a way of excusing a belief from critical examination, a way of walling off with, oh, I don’t know, a partition of sorts, shall we say, a portion of one’s faculties from scrutiny.

    Perhaps you aren’t ready for Thomas Jefferson’s advice to his nephew:

    Religion. Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place, divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty and singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, and the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand, shake off all the fears and servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

    The idea that there is a single correct way to ‘look at things’ that serves every human aim and concern is unfounded.

    What a ludicrous strawman. Science is a faulty but self-correcting tool yielding results that are subject to skepticism and continual re-evaluation. As crappy as it may be, it doesn’t demand a king’s X and a religious holiday exempting itself from even polite challenge.

    If you’re willing only to subject the tools on your workbench to calibration, while declaring in advance that there are some ideas not subject to examination, you may want to think about what kind of person thinks that way.

    You want to make jokes about golden showers, anybody calling themselves a scientist who betrays such an attitude isn’t worth piss.

  354. #354 Jason
    January 29, 2007

    John B

    The idea that there is a single correct way to ‘look at things’ that serves every human aim and concern is unfounded.

    Endeavors other than science, such as music and literature, serve important human desires. But they are not a way of discovering knowledge. The only means of discovering knowledge is science and rational inquiry.

  355. #355 squeaky
    January 29, 2007

    John B–Cal’s comments were directed towards me…primarily, anyhoo…

  356. #356 Scott Hatfield
    January 29, 2007

    Ken Cope wrote: “If you’re willing only to subject the tools on your workbench to calibration, while declaring in advance that there are some ideas not subject to examination, you may want to think about what kind of person thinks that way.”

    Hear hear. My position is different. All ideas are subject to examination, but appeals to scientific claims may not be the best way to evaluate all ideas. For things like that, the best tool on my workbench might be a general application of reason, rather than scientific investigation per se. Of course some people here think that’s pretty much the same thing, which is the source of the brouhaha.

  357. #357 John B
    January 29, 2007

    Jason,

    The question is about the types of beliefs a scientist can have and still claim to be a scientist. If you look at the original post, the imagined theistic scientist makes no knowledge claim.

    No one is suggesting anyone use anything but science to produce knowledge about the natural world. The claim being made here is that supernatural beliefs are incompatible with the worldview of a true scientist.

    So far the only points supporting this idea are the confessional claims of people supporting a naturalistic worldview. The only people who find their definitions or rationale compelling are people who already agree with them. Lack of evidence may be sufficient to keep an atheist from adopting religious beliefs, but as a conversion tool to use again theistic scientists i have a hard time seeing it work.

  358. #358 Jason
    January 29, 2007

    John B,

    No one is suggesting anyone use anything but science to produce knowledge about the natural world.

    Nothing except science and reason can produce knowledge, period. This restriction is not limited to knowledge “about the natural world.” It applies to all knowledge, whether about the natural world or anything else.

  359. #359 John B
    January 29, 2007

    It applies to all knowledge, whether about the natural world or anything else.

    I’m surprised you believe there is anything else.

  360. #360 Caledonian
    January 29, 2007

    Well, I certainly did not mean to be impolite or discourteous to you, Caledonian. Obviously, regardless of the tone you adopt in your comments, you deserve to be taken very seriously and treated with respect. The burden of courtesy is always on the few confused individuals who seek clarification of their muddled views by kneeling in the redeeming shower of your commentary.

    That’s it, JohnB – feel the hate swelling within you. Soon even casual readers will be able to discern the rage and contempt you normally hide (poorly) behind veneers of punctilious politeness, and your journey towards the Dark Side will be complete.

  361. #361 Scott Hatfield
    January 29, 2007

    Reveling, and (thus) revealing.

    I would hate to think that you would harbor similar visions for all of your sparring partners. That would be truly depressing. I enjoy fencing with you, but at the end of the day what I’m really interested in is your ideas, not which of us can slam the other the most.

    Perhaps, one day, you’ll let me buy you the beverage of your choice and you can find that out for yourself. There’s no alley so dark that it couldn’t stand a little light. Peace…SH

  362. #362 Ken Cope
    January 29, 2007

    Scott,

    All ideas are subject to examination, but appeals to scientific claims may not be the best way to evaluate all ideas.

    Especially if it would suck that you’d have to abandon them, I suppose…

    For things like that, the best tool on my workbench might be a general application of reason, rather than scientific investigation per se.

    Sure, “reason rather than scientific investigation” is just fabulous for those who’d rather their cherished belief reservations remain unsettled by the application of observation and evidence, or the production of models that make testable predictions that better explain what was held to be true. If you just want to believe something without challenge, you’d probably better mark off some territory as “beyond science” or “supernatural.”

    John B,
    The claim being made here is that supernatural beliefs are incompatible with the worldview of a true scientist.

    How could they be anything else but incompatible? If the purported supernatural world were amenable to scientific investigation it would cease to be supernatural. For the umpteenth time in this thread and others.

    Lack of evidence may be sufficient to keep an atheist from adopting religious beliefs, but as a conversion tool to use again theistic scientists i have a hard time seeing it work.

    So, no apostasy in your world, eh? By far, the majority of people are raised to believe religious claims about the world. Ultimately, to the extent that such claims are investigated, some people manage to abandon them. A very large percentage of successful scientists have done so– I doubt that all of them had abandoned their theism prior to aspiring to explore the disciplines of science.

    When people working in the sciences partition their brains in order to preserve their beliefs about the nature of reality, ugly train wrecks follow. A great example is Roger Penrose, possibly illuminating in this thread because he claims he is no theist and posits no god. Yet his Mysterianism (the notion that consciousness is made of unexplainium) is so precious to him that he resorts to laughable crackpottery about quantum microtubules to bolster it. The possibility of a machine becoming conscious or of consciousness being the emergent property of a biological machine is something he finds so abhorrent, that he gives Deepak Chopra a run for his money in positing a load of platonist dualism and handwaving about notions just conveniently outside the bounds of observation.

    Such a wondrously broken spectacle is wondrous to behold; Penrose shoots off some fascinating sparks as the gears of his arguments for the priviledged status of consciousness grind and fail to mesh. It’s almost as ugly as what we’ve seen recently with Francis Collins, but at least Penrose is still useful as a sort of human calculator for Stephen Hawking.

  363. #363 Scott Hatfield
    January 30, 2007

    Ken Cope wrote: “Especially if it would suck that you’d have to abandon them, I suppose…”

    Ken, that’s pretty sly, but then again maybe it wouldn’t suck, you know? I’m not sure how I’d feel about it one way or the other. I could see the force of this comment if I was trying to exclude any particular claim a priori, but I think at this point I’m pretty sure I’m not.

    You also wrote: “Sure, “reason rather than scientific investigation” is just fabulous for those who’d rather their cherished belief reservations remain unsettled by the application of observation and evidence….”

    This seems to be more in the same vein, but I really doubt that holding reservations about the universal application of science *necessarily* counts as an attempt to hold belief ‘without challenge’? It certainly isn’t true in my case.

    After all, it may well be that the application of reason alone is sufficient to exclude the ‘supernatural’ or ‘God’ as incoherent or equivalent to null statements, etc. Caledonian seems to feel that way!

    BTW, regarding Penrose, I don’t think much of his microtubules argument either. My reason might surprise you: I happen to think that microtubule arrays may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of consciousness *without* quantum effects. That’s a hell of a position for a theist to take, I suppose, but there it is. My compartments, such as they are, seem less like walls and more like shower curtains. Diaphanous ones, too.

    Peace…SH

  364. #364 John B
    January 30, 2007

    If the purported supernatural world were amenable to scientific investigation it would cease to be supernatural.

    Precisely.

    Science is the only way because nature is all.
    Nature is all science finds evidence for.

    These are the claims of the naturalist worldview. They are not arguments against a spiritual worldview, nor an explaination of the evil of compartmentalism.

    I do remember reading something about Penrose and i think there’s a distinction to be made between pseudo-science and religion.

    Recently I read something about Pinker adopting a mysterian stance that sounded more like the typical ‘supernaturalist’s doubt about science’s ability to answer every question. Obviously this doubt is not in defense of the existence of spirit, but still expresses reservations about the limitations of the human mind. The Front Cortex’s author, Jonah Lehrer discusses the Pinker comments:

    This, of course, is a truism of psychology: our brains are bounded by evolutionary constraints. We aren’t natural epistemologists, and we don’t perceive anything straight. All of our truths depend upon three pounds of fatty membrane. Given these innate limitations, I think it’s eminently reasonable to believe that some questions will always lie beyond our purview. We can’t expect a product of biological evolution to solve every paradox.

    http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2007/01/steven_pinker_is_a_new_mysteri.php

  365. #365 Caledonian
    January 30, 2007

    After all, it may well be that the application of reason alone is sufficient to exclude the ‘supernatural’ or ‘God’ as incoherent or equivalent to null statements, etc. Caledonian seems to feel that way!

    Translations:

    “may well be” = clearly is, but I don’t wish to acknowledge it
    “seems to feel that way” = I can’t argue with the logic, so I’ll denigrate it as emotion and opinion
    “application of reason alone” = I’ll pretend that there are other things that can be applied with reason

  366. #366 Scott Hatfield
    January 30, 2007

    Translations for C’s translations:

    “Hatfield bugs me. I think he’s glaringly, obviously wrong but I’ve had trouble enlisting enough facts to undercut his arguments. The bastard acts ‘nice’ after I abuse him. What the hell’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he know he’s supposed to return scorn and hate with the same? The best I can do at this point is to imply intellectual dishonesty by speculating about his mental state. He’s got to be dissembling….surely any reasonable person would admit this….right? Curse him!”

    Et cetera.

  367. #367 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2007

    …if I was trying to exclude any particular claim a priori, but I think at this point I’m pretty sure I’m not.

    You’re not “excluding scientific claims as the best way to evaluate all ideas?” Presuming you’re not referring to matters of personal taste, how about the claim that the mind, all of it, is an important tool for evaluating ideas? How many more brain cycles are you planning to reserve for making sure diaphanous undergarments shield your religious nethers from Caledonian’s seamless garment of reason?

    I happen to think that microtubule arrays may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of consciousness *without* quantum effects.

    The habit of accomodating beliefs for which there is no compelling evidence must be hard to break. Blake Stacey, in a Pharyngula thread from last April, explains why the microtubules at the other end of your body are more likely to be useful for thinking.

    Here’s Paul W. in that same thread:

    And very few biologists think that microtubules are computing devices; they’re structural gadgets that support eukaryotic cell shapes and act as rails for intracellular transport of chromosomes and other stuff. It’s theoretically possible that they’ve been exapted for quantum computing, but it’s far from obvious that they’re even a good candidate for that.

    These are the claims of the naturalist worldview. They are not arguments against a spiritual worldview, nor an explaination of the evil of compartmentalism.

    Let’s see if I get this. Science must sit on its hands, giving equal weight to the notion that Tilda Swinton will feed me Turkish Delight in a Magic Sleigh in Narnia, and the claim that the ants on my floor are former Indras all.

    I do remember reading something about Penrose and i think there’s a distinction to be made between pseudo-science and religion.

    The only type of distinctions I can think of are religious or pseudo-scientific ones. If you had any other type in mind, please share. If so, can we use this metric in such a way that we can all agree on distinctions between competing religious claims? Your Nobel Prizes are waiting…

  368. #368 Scott Hatfield
    January 31, 2007

    Ken: I think we’re in a lot closer agreement than you might think. I agree that the mind, all of it, is an important tool. Almost certainly our best tool! But here’s my take: every now and then, we come across a problem whose immediate naturalization eludes us. That doesn’t mean that we’ve eliminated natural causes, or that we should despair that science won’t eventually identify such a cause! Rather, it suggests that we should keep other ways of attacking the problem handy. They may prove useful, even if their utility consists of leading to consequential claims that are ultimately falsified. Do I have compartments? Sure! Am I dead set on keeping them? No! Have I been persuaded to drop them yet? Not yet, no. But I’m open to the possibility, and in the meantime, I’ll continue to seek only natural explanations while doing science itself.

    With respect to microtubules, I was talking about *arrays* of microtubules (centrioles, for example) which seem to require gravitational positioning information (do a Google search on ‘Roger Tabony’). This suggests that they may able to store such information for the purpose of optimizing MT nucleation for intracellular transport of targeted products, as well as during meiosis. If such an effect exists, this would constitute a refinement of its original function, or perhaps something like an exaptation.

    Would it be so much to suggest that evolution may have coopted this aspect of metazoan cells, exaptation upon exaptation, in order to store information of a different kind?….SH

  369. #369 Caledonian
    January 31, 2007

    He’s defending the possession of a compartmentalized mind.

    See? Quantum mechanics to a dog.

  370. #370 John B
    January 31, 2007

    Ken Cope,

    No one is suggesting anyone can address the aims and concerns of science with anything but some scientific method.

    The original post claimed that a true scientist should have no beliefs about reality arrived at any other way, but there is no argument why this should be the case. So far the examples of those beliefs affecting scientific work are not examples of compartmentalization, they are examples of exactly the opposite, the person is applying some foreign method to a scientific concern.

    The original example was of a person who believes in a ‘spirit world’ unamenable to science (‘no one knows’ & ‘I have no evidence’ & ‘can’t be disproven’) in addition to a natural world which science is the only appropriate method.

    So far, no one has given any evidence that such a person can’t understand all the reasons ‘why we look at things’ without abandoning their cultural or traditional beliefs. So far people have shown their contempt for arguments from authority, consensus reality, mysterianism, the influence of affect and irrationality, etc… Painting a picture of the true scientist as some kind of heroic figure that makes no assumptions, has no history, culture or bias influencing their work, and the scientific community as devoid of politics, authoritarianism or conservatism in regard to how programs of research proceed and which results are accepted for what reason.

    So far I haven’t heard why a native american couldn’t be a pantheist and still do excellent field biology on buffalo populations, why some adherent to a tribal religion in south america couldn’t learn botanical sciences and discover new species of plants, why believing in a god would keep some young mormon woman from developing improvements in local civil engineering.

    Yes, there are questions they might not think of asking because of their heritage or socialization has already provided them with a meaningful story they have no interest in examining scientifically… there may be other areas which their particular background and beliefs give them a special motivation to ‘look at things’ scientifically.

    It seems to me that science would benefit from lots of people with these particular passions, as long as the result of their work is acceptable to the larger community that doesn’t share their beliefs, what is the harm?

  371. #371 John B
    January 31, 2007

    Caledonian’s seamless garment of reason?

    mmm, woven from threads of pure fiction/fantasy… shockingly appropriate given at least one of his influences.

    All the true scientists should go live in a valley and create an ideal community of pure and applied truthiness.

  372. #372 squeaky
    January 31, 2007

    Good points, John B. So the question is:

    Which is better–a theist who is a scientist but who compartmentalizes science from theism

    OR

    A theist who is a scientist who melds the two, insisting that science cannot contradict with his/her religious texts?

    We all know the effects the latter choice has had on science. What negative effects does the former choice have? And if there are none, then what you are arguing about is why you can’t understand how anyone can have a compartmentalized mind. And if it doesn’t bother those with compartmentalized minds, why does it bother you? Again, the point is, as long as a person doesn’t fall in the latter camp, how does what the person believes privately (or publically) hurt you OR science?

  373. #373 Scott Hatfield
    January 31, 2007

    C pronounces judgement: “He’s defending the possession of a compartmentalized mind. See? Quantum mechanics to a dog.”

    Hee hee hee. Is that what they mean by warp and woof? You do inspire me.

    Seriously, though: is any mind, really, uncomparmentalized? Your example of quantum mechanics is telling! QM is foundational for much of physics, and we accept that its predictions are more accurate, more ‘realistic’ than the limiting case of Newtonian mechanics. Practically speaking, physicists treat QM as if it were ‘reality’, but it has nothing to do with our everyday world of experience. Its output is surreal, if anything. Anyone who works with it for any length of time knows this, and they tend to avoid thinking about it. They use it, because it works, not because they have internalized a quantum picture of the world. Isn’t that compartmentalizing, too?

    Woof!

  374. #374 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2007

    SH,
    I think we’re in a lot closer agreement than you might think.

    You keep saying that, even as you see me moving farther and farther away from you on the Group W bench and giving you the hairy eyeball and being mean and nasty and ugly and horrible.

    we should keep other ways of attacking the problem handy. They may prove useful, even if their utility consists of leading to consequential claims that are ultimately falsified

    Who’s to say stripping the bark from poplar branches and showing them to mating goats won’t generate spotted and speckled kids? Never discard the dulled blades, shattered mallets and half-pliers, either. Perhaps I’d better keep Velikovsky on the shelf, right next to Von Daniken (it’s OK, I can close that case when company arrives).

    With respect to microtubules, I was talking about…

    How does diluting your claim to “information storage” support what you said originally? “…microtubule arrays may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of consciousness *without* quantum effects…” It’s still nonsense. You may as well be thinking with the microtubules in your kidneys.

    John B,
    No one is suggesting anyone can address the aims and concerns of science with anything but some scientific method.

    Scott Hatfield suggested that very thing, hours before your post. Not a good start.

    The original example was of a person who believes in a ‘spirit world’ unamenable to science (‘no one knows’ & ‘I have no evidence’ & ‘can’t be disproven’) in addition to a natural world which science is the only appropriate method.

    Why should anybody claiming the title of scientist believe a thing for which there is no evidence?

    So far, no one has given any evidence that such a person can’t understand all the reasons ‘why we look at things’ without abandoning their cultural or traditional beliefs.

    The fashion among theists is to use what science reveals about nature and hoary apologetics as existence claims for their god, grabbing microphones to rally their true believers around the idea that it’s scientific to war on the evil secularist atheists; see Collins and Miller. Here’s PZ’s response to Miller: “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.

    Back to John B
    So far I haven’t heard why a native american couldn’t be a pantheist and still do excellent field biology on buffalo populations,

    Thank you, Rudyard Kipling. “Contributing to this year’s buffalo census was Eddie Soaring Eagle, who plans to resurrect those he drove over the cliff by performing his tribe’s ritual buffalo dance.” Cultists do bad science and bad reason, see Lysenkoists, Biosphere II and your run-of-the-mill Randroid.

    mmm, woven from threads of pure fiction/fantasy… shockingly appropriate given at least one of his influences. Project much?

    Squeaky,

    Which is better–a theist who is a scientist but who compartmentalizes science from theism

    OR

    A theist who is a scientist who melds the two, insisting that science cannot contradict with his/her religious texts?

    How can anybody show that their theism is completely compartmentalized from science? A theist has already admitted that their theism is more important to them than science.

    I’m finding it tough to defend even fideism anymore. Martin Gardner, for example, claims his religious beliefs can be defended by him for no more rational reason than that he feels like having them. Fine, and yet he wants them to be true. In consequence, he wants consciousness to have a special status, so while Penrose flushes his reputation down the toilet palling around with Hameroff, Gardner gets dragged down too, waving his Mysterian flag with him. Skepticism is great, but it shouldn’t get religious holidays.

  375. #375 Scott Hatfield
    January 31, 2007

    Hi squeaky! The answer, of course, is that (whether or not compartmentalization is desirable) it doesn’t appear to affect the conduct of science for a lot of folk.

    What it affects is the conduct of those who would just as soon equate science not with the suspension of belief, but with active disbelief. The existence of believing scientists is a counter-example to their rhetorical excess, and they don’t like it. Some of the more tightly-wound appear to deal with this by adopting a personal definition of ‘science’ and ‘scientist’ that excludes the behaviour they don’t like.

    I’m amused by those folk, because it’s easy to demonstrate via either the history of science or common present usage that their definition fails. The fact that they cling to it in the face of evidence tells us something about their position: whatever it is, it isn’t science.

    I would be at pains to remark, however, that I don’t think PZ Meyers, Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris fit into that category, and those of us who are believers can take little comfort in the fact that some of us are scientists, too. Big deal! That says more about the openness of science than the truth of our beliefs.

    At the end of the day, science as practiced is an atheistic enterprise by definition and so we should not be surprised that the percentage of non-believers in science is so high; the fact is, atheism is consonant with the practice of science in a way that theism is not….SH

  376. #376 squeaky
    January 31, 2007

    Ken Cope–

    You really haven’t answered my question:

    How does what a theistic scientist believes privately (or publically) hurt you OR science?

    By theistic scientist, I am refering to someone who believes in God, but who does not try to meld the science together with the Bible as creationists have done. This person accepts the Big Bang, evolution, the age of the earth, etc. This person is letting nature and the scientific method be the guide for their science–They are not using the Bible or any other religious text guide them to what to believe about how the world came to be or how natural systems work.

    Your examples are of people doing what creationists do, and that is not what I am talking about. You twisted John B’s point about Native Americans into a strawman argument. If the person is a pantheist, but doing exceptional field biology work that passes muster with any scientific journal, how does it hurt science or scientific discovery if that person is a pantheist?

  377. #377 sqeaky
    January 31, 2007

    Oh Hey Scott–you answered me while I was addressing Ken.

    I appreciate your thoughts on that. I do agree that PZ doesn’t think scientists who are theists are bad scientists (the non-ID/creationist type, that is)–he has been emphatic about that point. And those who insist that true scientists be atheists have certainly been vocal on this thread, and probably, as you say, it has more to do with just simply not being able to comprehend how anyone with a lick o sense can believe in any kind of God (which of course means that a huge percentage of the world are irrational idiots).

    I like this explanation:

    “At the end of the day, science as practiced is an atheistic enterprise by definition and so we should not be surprised that the percentage of non-believers in science is so high; the fact is, atheism is consonant with the practice of science in a way that theism is not.”

    Science is atheistic in practice, but it doesn’t mean all scientists are or need to be atheists.

    Cheers

  378. #378 Scott Hatfield
    January 31, 2007

    Ken: we aren’t communicating very well. I assume it’s my fault. Look, science is an atheistic enterprise by definition (see above). Only natural explanations need apply. I’m not suggesting we admit anything other than natural explanations into science. What I am suggesting is that many problems are not tractable for science at the present. In those cases, the application of reason other than that proscribed for the scientific method may be our best bet. Explanations that appeal to other than natural causes can not be tested by science, but the consequences of such claims can often be falsified, and should be.

    You seem to think that I’m invoking microtubules to do some kind of mumbo-jumbo and establish a non-natural redoubt for consciousness. Not so. It’s good old-fashioned speculation in the Darwinian mode. Look up the work of Michel Bornens (Curie Institute) or Guenter Albrecht-Buehler (Cold Spring Harbour labs) and you’ll see some guys with some pretty interesting things to say about the possible information storage and signalling possibilities associated with MT-derived structures like centrioles.

    Peace…SH

  379. #379 John B
    January 31, 2007

    Why should anybody claiming the title of scientist believe a thing for which there is no evidence?

    Seems like there are a lot of reasons why people do this. The effects of socialization don’t require individual assent and are rarely obtained through critical analysis of the available options. You’d probably get a range of different answers from different people about why they don’t examine all the beliefs they have against a scientific standard:(cultural identity, community, free time, expertise, interest, emotional or ethical value, tradition, beauty, simplicity, uncertainty, intuition, personal experience, and many others, I imagine)

    The more pertinent question is why anyone, scientisit or not, would abandon their spiritual beliefs because of physical evidence or lack thereof.

  380. #380 Jason
    January 31, 2007

    John B,

    Seems like there are a lot of reasons why people do this.

    He didn’t ask why scientists do it, he asked why they should do it. And the answer is that there is no good reason why they should do it.

    The more pertinent question is why anyone, scientisit or not, would abandon their spiritual beliefs because of physical evidence or lack thereof.

    For the same reason they should abandon belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. There’s no good reason to believe that “spiritual beliefs” are true.

  381. #381 Jason
    January 31, 2007

    Scott Hatfield,

    What I am suggesting is that many problems are not tractable for science at the present. In those cases, the application of reason other than that proscribed for the scientific method may be our best bet. Explanations that appeal to other than natural causes can not be tested by science, but the consequences of such claims can often be falsified, and should be.

    Good grief. So many vague and unsupported claims. What problems are not “tractable for science at the present?” What method for solving these problems do you propose? What solutions to these problems has this method produced? Give us some examples. And how have “explanations that appeal to other than natural causes” been falsified?

    Also, what is “reason other than that proscribed for the scientific method” supposed to mean? It’s hard to make sense of this phrase at all. Perhaps you mean “prescribed by” rather than “proscribed for,” although that change would render the phrase only slightly more intelligible.

  382. #382 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2007

    What it affects is the conduct of those who would just as soon equate science not with the suspension of belief, but with active disbelief. The existence of believing scientists is a counter-example to their rhetorical excess, and they don’t like it. Some of the more tightly-wound appear to deal with this by adopting a personal definition of ‘science’ and ‘scientist’ that excludes the behaviour they don’t like.

    When you’re watching a fantasy film in a movie theater, how hard must you work to suspend your belief in the reality of the story to survive a trip to the snack bar (which you’ve spent the first half of the movie actively disbelieving in) for more popcorn? Not very? The role of the storyteller, in whatever medium, whether it’s a comic book, TV show, magician’s illusion, Mystery Play, or transubstantiation of the Host, is to lull your incredulity into a stupor, weaving a web in which you can suspend your disbelief, losing yourself in the story. Whether it’s a story about the Terminator, Jack Skellington, or the redemptive power of Kensington Gore in Mel Gibson’s Jeezo-snuff film, the story isn’t real–it’s an act of the human imagination.

    To believe in a gospel/story as if it were more real than what we mere mortals contend with takes a lifetime of conditioning. It’s conditioning so pervasive and mind-numbing, it’s a wonder science ever got stumbled upon in the first place. You’ve got it completely backwards.

  383. #383 Caledonian
    January 31, 2007

    Does science exclude Santa Claus?

  384. #384 junk science
    January 31, 2007

    Look, science is an atheistic enterprise by definition (see above).

    No it isn’t. Whether or not there are gods has nothing to do with the definition of science. If there are gods, eventually science will find them.

  385. #385 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2007

    How does what a theistic scientist believes privately (or publically) hurt you OR science?

    Read what I said about Collins and Miller above. They claim the authority of science for their religious beliefs. Meanwhile, parents raising their children to disregard science hear a Miller or Collins, or Roughgarden, and the only science they hear is the “scientific” endorsement of religion.

    This person is letting nature and the scientific method be the guide for their science–They are not using the Bible or any other religious text guide them to what to believe about how the world came to be or how natural systems work.

    How do theistic scientists resolve the conflicting notions of a bottom-up world, with complexity emerging from simplicity, with a top-down belief system, with order imposed by the object of their worship? I don’t trust somebody who believes their god is the answer when they say they’re willing to follow the data where it leads.

    Your examples are of people doing what creationists do, and that is not what I am talking about. You twisted John B’s point about Native Americans into a strawman argument. If the person is a pantheist, but doing exceptional field biology work that passes muster with any scientific journal, how does it hurt science or scientific discovery if that person is a pantheist?

    It’s no strawman, they’re doing science unless they’re not. Often enough that it should be embarrassing, such boundaries are too fuzzy to hold, so everything is subject to skeptical review. No sacred cows.

    We are not mentally unsound […] We just want a quiet place to finish working while God eats our brains.
    — Bruce Sterling, Twenty Evocations

  386. #386 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2007

    You seem to think that I’m invoking microtubules to do some kind of mumbo-jumbo and establish a non-natural redoubt for consciousness. Not so. It’s good old-fashioned speculation in the Darwinian mode.

    I still have no satisfactory explanation for how you could say anything so inane as your words repeated yet again: “…microtubule arrays may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of consciousness *without* quantum effects…”

  387. #387 Scott Hatfield
    January 31, 2007

    Ken, I’ve referred you to some first-rate researchers in that field who feel MT arrays provide positioning information for the cell, not merely to where objects in the cell are relative to one another, but to where the cell is relative to a gravitational field.

    Consciousness may not be the same thing as memory storage, etc. but I don’t think you would say that it has nothing to do with information. It may be fanciful to suggest that intracellular structures may have an internal architecture that evolution has coopted for information storage, but it’s hardly inane, especially at the molecular level. The bacterial flagellum’s likely evolution from a group of proteins involved in a secretion
    is a well-known case.

  388. #388 Scott Hatfield
    January 31, 2007

    Caledonian: “Does science exclude Santa Claus?”

    It doesn’t exclude the possibility of Kris Kringle’s existence. It does exclude appealing to a supernatural character as an explanation for presents around a tree.

    Junk Science: As with Santa, science doesn’t exclude the possibility of God’s *existence*. That was definitely not the claim I had in mind. What science excludes is using God or Jesus or Santa or the FSM as an ‘explanation’ for the phenomena we observe. Science attempts to explain the world by natural causes. Period. That means, in my book, ‘without gods’. Thus, whether or not God exists, science IS an atheistic enterprise.

    The heat on this thread has been between those who think that only TRUE atheists can really, truly participate in the atheistic enterprise of science. I’ve said “yes”, while others, in so many words, have said say “no, you’re faking it, because there is some part of your life that you’re not applying the same standards/habits of mind/reasoning to, etc.”

    That appears to be the sticking point!

  389. #389 Ken Cope
    January 31, 2007

    first-rate researchers in that field who feel

    Whatever first-rate researchers are saying, your wording betrays that you can listen only in the language of Woo. Please explain what could possibly compel you to say, “microtubule arrays may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of consciousness…”

    HINT

    Grey matter grey matter ooh . . .
    Grey matter grey matter ooh . . .

    I think you like it–like it
    To be told what to do–isn’t that true
    I think you’re better–better–better off
    Stone cold dead–without your head

  390. #390 Caledonian
    January 31, 2007

    Just so we’re clear: you think that a person can be a scientist while believing in the existence of Santa Claus.

  391. #391 Scott Hatfield
    February 1, 2007

    This is the thread that wouldn’t die, but also my last post here.

    Ken: You don’t appear to be all that interested in the structure and function of MT arrays such as the centrosome. Instead, you repeatedly feign personal incredulity at a speculative, but entirely naturalistic account of how their information storage might have been coopted for higher levels of information processing, where consciousness emerges. I would’ve thought after reading Dawkins you would avoid the ‘argument from personal incredulity’, which is what your replies amount to.

    I can’t decide why you would make that choice. I can say that I much prefer the bracing clarity of Caledonian’s ‘follow-the-logical-trail-wherever-it-leads’ reply above. The question remains, of course, as to whether belief impacts the conduct of science. No matter how risible, faith in either Santa or Jesus only becomes an issue when it constrains or seeks to replace naturalistic accounts.

    So, from my point of view compartmentalization is about doing the opposite: we set aside our personal beliefs as much as we can, in order to not limit the growth of scientific knowledge (and explanation).

    To the extent that those of us who are believers do this, we remain scientists. Those who habitually fail to do this deserve censure, and I will concede this much to Caledonian: at some point, such creatures (Jonathan Wells comes to mind)do cease to be scientists. I just blanch at the notion that we can define ‘scientist’ in advance purely by reference to prior belief.

    SH

  392. #392 squeaky
    February 1, 2007

    Ken–“They claim the authority of science for their religious beliefs. Meanwhile, parents raising their children to disregard science hear a Miller or Collins, or Roughgarden, and the only science they hear is the “scientific” endorsement of religion.”

    So, are you saying the RESULTS of Miller’s and Collin’s scientific work should be disregarded? Are you saying they truly aren’t scientists?

    This has been discussed on previous threads, but as a scientist who, like many others here, have endured years of creationist drivel, I veiw Collins and Miller as scientists who help take away the fear and ignorance of science that many theists have.

    What if their work within the theist community had the following results:

    Theists begin to accept evolution, the big bang, an old earth.

    Theists stop trying to keep schools from teaching these subjects.

    Theists begin to see the fragile nature of the Earth’s systems and realize we need to do everything we can to preserve it, rather than seeing it as something God gave us to rape and pillage for our selfish gains.

    I just saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and as I was veiwing this, I was angered for many reasons. I thought about this thread and all this haggling over whether someone can be a good scientist if they believe in God. How inane. There are bigger fish to fry, and we all know that right-wing Christians disregard global warming because they don’t trust science. So, if you want to haggle about things that don’t matter, fine. But realize the more you do that, the farther you get from your goal of improved science education. If someone like Miller and Collins can win people, who otherwise distrust scientists because they think they are all atheists, over to science, then more power to them. If the goal is to win the battle over how science is taught in the schools, then you should welcome those who can make inroads into the “enemy’s camp”, even if you think their personal beliefs are stupid. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

  393. #393 John B
    February 1, 2007

    He didn’t ask why scientists do it, he asked why they should do it. And the answer is that there is no good reason why they should do it.

    That is an excellent reply.

    So we are not talking about what scientists do or have done, but what they should do.

    The original post and you seem to agree that anyone believing in a spiritual world inaccessible to science (not ‘knowledge’ now, but ‘belief’) literally doesn’t know why you have to look at things.

    What are those reasons, as far as you know? I’m sure your aware of the issue of infinite regress in relying on science as justification. What justifies your knowledge about what scientists should do? and what justifies that justification? etc…

    Everyone so far on the anti-spiritual side has championed the examination of belief through science. How deep does this examination go into each belief’s levels of justification? is the veneer of scientific support enough?

    In short, what counts as a ‘good’ reason, and is your judgement about it’s goodness justified, if so by what? and what is the justification for that if you feel the need for one.

    Do you trust your peers’ reports to construct a consensus reality?

    How do you identify your blind spots so that you can examine the biases these hide? The questions you never think to ask about your own beliefs, who examines those? Do you trust them to raise your awareness about what issues are really important, if so why?

    By the way, please don’t just say something general like ‘logic’ once you have to abandon empirical evidence, I know you have studied enough epistemology to know many forms of logic do not support a worldview constructed from the bits and pieces of the science you have the ability to understand. It’ll be more helpful if you describe the actual logical approach used, instead of a catch-all.

  394. #394 Caledonian
    February 1, 2007

    I’m sure your aware of the issue of infinite regress in relying on science as justification.

    I’m sure you’re aware that the problem of infinite regress strikes all attempts at justification that don’t acknowledge Occam’s Razor.

    Or… maybe not.

  395. #395 Ken Cope
    February 1, 2007

    Scott,

    To claim, as you did, that, “microtubule arrays may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of consciousness…” is as daft as it would be to claim that, “the eye may be sufficiently complex to provide a natural account of perception,” as if the rest of the components of the brain were redundant.

    By this time, I have no greater expectations for you than that you will carry on with incoherent hand-waving while spewing sanctimonious ad hominem in lieu of actually addressing arguments. I’m more comfortable with that than enduring you telling me how much you agree with me, then proceeding in some completely orthogonal tack.

    Squeaky

    So, are you saying the RESULTS of Miller’s and Collin’s scientific work should be disregarded? Are you saying they truly aren’t scientists?

    It’s always easier to argue with something your opponent didn’t say, a theme here apparently.

    Science that repeatedly withstands peer review does so because its merit is clearly independent of whoever’s work it may be. Even Miller and Collins know not to take their claims about religion and try to get them published in Nature. They take them directly to the lay public, where the O’Reillys use them as cannon fodder in their war with evil “secular progressives.”

    Isaac Newton was doing brilliant science when he recognized the relationship among force and mass and acceleration, but when he traded on that authority to help take away the fear and ignorance of gravity that so many of his fellow alchemists had, I’m not as impressed.

    I hope this has made it easier to understand my words, “They claim the authority of science for their religious beliefs,” and “they’re doing science unless they’re not.”

  396. #396 Caledonian
    February 1, 2007

    I’m more comfortable with that than enduring you telling me how much you agree with me, then proceeding in some completely orthogonal tack.

    And then offering to buy you a drink if he ever meets you.

  397. #397 Jason
    February 1, 2007

    John B< What justifies your knowledge about what scientists should do?

    I didn’t claim knowledge of what scientists should do. I said there is no good reason for scientists to hold beliefs unsupported by evidence, which includes religious beliefs. That observation also applies to non-scientists. If you think there is a good reason to hold beliefs unsupported by evidence, state it.

  398. #398 John B
    February 2, 2007

    I’m sure you’re aware that the problem of infinite regress strikes all attempts at justification that don’t acknowledge Occam’s Razor.

    Sorry, Occam’s razor is not the end for scientists, it requires a scientific justification, too, as does its justification.

  399. #399 John B
    February 2, 2007

    If you think there is a good reason to hold beliefs unsupported by evidence, state it.

    We’ve already had this discussion. A religious person accepts evidence, interpreted according to their tradition’s standards, that a non-religious person sees in a completely different way. These beliefs are held true through a coherence approach to truth, rather than correspondence, and justified in ways science does not recognize as valid for empirical investigations.

    Every day, a religious person sees evidence to support their beliefs, this is a question heuristics & hermeneutics and their impact on how experience is interpreted.

    The good reason why a person should respect private freedom of religion and promote public freedom from religion is that it is all that protects my right to be an agnostic from some religious majority. For that good reason, if a person does good scientific work, that survives peer review, I don’t care what they believe, it is irrelevant, and hopefully they would judge my work on its own merits, too.

  400. #400 Jason
    February 2, 2007

    John B,

    We’ve already had this discussion.

    If we have, I don’t recall your answer. What is it?

    A religious person accepts evidence, …

    I’m not asking you what you think a religious person does. I’m asking you what YOU consider to be a good reason for holding beliefs unsupported by evidence, if anything. If you think there is such a reason, state it. If you agree with me that are is no such good reason, say so.

  401. #401 John B
    February 2, 2007

    Ah, well then… the report of some expert or person I trust is my personal standard for a belief I don’t have evidence for. On expertise, I don’t have the skills to check Steven Hawkins’ work, or the work of the people who do check it… On the level of trust, there are just certain people that I can’t see lying to me about their experiences. How they interpret them might be up for grabs but I trust the honesty of their account, at least.

    To a lesser degree, there’s some issue of the coherence of the belief in relation to my current understanding of things, this has more to do with the degree of examination I subject the proposition to than to my acceptance of it.

    Finally, as an constructivist I don’t consider myself the ultimate or final judge of truths about absolute or objective reality, any claims I hear, or make, about ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ are provisional and contextual: opinions or useful fictions.

  402. #402 Caledonian
    February 2, 2007

    Sorry, Occam’s razor is not the end for scientists, it requires a scientific justification, too, as does its justification.

    You twit, abstractions do not provide the ultimate justification for abstractions. Objective reality does.

  403. #403 John B
    February 3, 2007

    You twit, abstractions do not provide the ultimate justification for abstractions. Objective reality does

    We disagree about that.

    I think there is a meaningful difference between your current understanding of things and objective reality.

    How do you avoid the problem of induction?

    I don’t see how you can use ‘matter of fact’ representations of objective reality (mental objects) as ultimate justification for the things you believe.

    “We rely on the razor when we justify induction; by attempting to in turn rely on induction when we justify the razor, we are begging the question.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_Razor

  404. #404 Ken Cope
    February 3, 2007

    I think there is a meaningful difference between your current understanding of things and objective reality.

    Smells like an induction to me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twit

    Induction will have to do unless and until something better comes along. A reasonable person’s mental representation of reality is presumed to fit objective reality with the provisionality of that fit temporarily placed on a back burner (for later scrutiny first by the methods of science; philosophy can wait), or risk the dangers of solipsism. This is why the role of observation and evidence in the scientific method upstage speculative musings about events in elsewhen whose impact upon the facticity of the musings of an objectivist and a constructivist who walked into a bar won’t pay the tab.

    Especially in Fresno.

  405. #405 Caledonian
    February 3, 2007

    The razor doesn’t justify induction, it’s a method of choosing between the infinite possibilities that induction produces.

  406. #406 John B
    February 4, 2007

    A reasonable person’s mental representation of reality is presumed to fit objective reality with the provisionality of that fit temporarily placed on a back burner (for later scrutiny first by the methods of science; philosophy can wait), or risk the dangers of solipsism.

    This is one of the options available to avoid infinite regress, the emphasis on the provisional, fallible nature of scientific inquiry. Anyone having done this would have abandoned truth for versimilitude… not a move I have seen any of the opponents of compartmentalization make in this discussion.

    I’d disagree with both the ‘back-burner’ as the appropriate position for your uncertainty, and the idea that ‘philosophy can wait’, but perhaps you’ll still see my point:

    What real scientist would pretend to be so all-knowing that they would think their views and their way of thinking are the one true way, that their reasons for why we ‘look at things’ are the only valid reasons? Why does certainty suddenly make an appearance? Usually that quality belongs to the people who adopt the other answer to infinite regress: infallibilism.

    Theoretically, that’s what everyone has been objecting to, right? “A person who has some beliefs that are considered infallible cannot be a scientist”? Do you see the absurdity in this when you start judging the ways other people are allowed to think? being contemptuous of beliefs that aren’t as fallible or provisional as yours?

    You know the spirit-belief is wrong because your method of producing provisional, fallible, incomplete pictures of the way things are has demonstrated its falsity?

  407. #407 John B
    February 4, 2007

    The razor doesn’t justify induction, it’s a method of choosing between the infinite possibilities that induction produces.

    Because parsimony is a law of laws of nature? A fact about objective reality?

  408. #408 Ken Cope
    February 4, 2007

    provisional, fallible nature of scientific inquiry

    That’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

    Over time, the best scientific consensus changes. Copernicus would no doubt have been happy to learn he was wrong about circular orbits from Kepler; Galileo would be eager to see what he got wrong about Saturn through Newton’s telescope, etc. Contrast such an attitude with those of their contemporary detractors and inquisitors, who rightly saw such claims about the nature of the world as challenges to religious authority. Science is not just the best way of learning about our own nature and the nature of the cosmos: it can only improve. Even prior to each stage of iterative refinement, science has erected models more accurate than any promoted by its religious opponents.

    Learning what people have believed is a way to understand more about people, but I doubt that even Sloop John B treats all those beliefs as equally plausible and worthy of respect. Must I take every story ever told and presume that it’s true? There’s a reason skepticism is a scientific tool, while credulity in a scientist is considered a flaw.

    Theoretically, that’s what everyone has been objecting to, right? “A person who has some beliefs that are considered infallible cannot be a scientist”? Do you see the absurdity in this when you start judging the ways other people are allowed to think? being contemptuous of beliefs that aren’t as fallible or provisional as yours?

    Please explain your phrase, “ways other people are allowed to think.” Am I being accused of some sort of Orwellian thoughtcrime for judging the way another thinks? Are there no beliefs that can be held in contempt?

    You know the spirit-belief is wrong because your method of producing provisional, fallible, incomplete pictures of the way things are has demonstrated its falsity?

    Unless you are ready to win a million dollars from James Randi, I am quite comfortable stating that there is no evidence to justify any sort of spirit-belief beyond the desire of the credulous that it be so, leaving them vulnerable to frauds, as shown by the likes of Houdini, Randi, Penn & Teller. Teller speaks:

    For a while we thought it would be really cool to do some intimate home seances, where we would come in and say, “This is trickery. You are about to witness trickery. But it’s very good trickery, and it’s really going to fool you.” We probably only did it half a dozen times, and we stopped doing it because we couldn’t stand getting people saying, “Oh, well, I know the part where the glass broke, that was some kind of magic trick. But when you were reading our minds in the beginning, that was for real.” We’d say, “No, it’s a trick,” and they’d say “No, it can’t be. I’m a smart person. I’d know if I were being tricked there. That was for real.” And people would look us in the eye when we were telling them they were watching tricks and tell us we were doing these things for real. And it was just insanely aggravating! (Laughs) It was unbearable to have someone look at you and dismiss your hard work, your art, with this superstitious explanation that contradicts everything we stand for.

    Sherlock Holmes, a fictional (I trust you will agree with my judgement? Why?) character, would never have fallen for the bunk swallowed by his credulous git of an author, Arthur Conan Doyle.

  409. #409 Caledonian
    February 5, 2007

    Because parsimony is a law of laws of nature? A fact about objective reality?

    Are you really expecting us to believe that you don’t understand why it’s desirable to limit the number of presumptions we make and unverifiable consequences we imply when we attempt to explain observed phenomena?

  410. #410 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 5, 2007

    Occam’s razor is not the end for scientists, it requires a scientific justification

    Occam’s razor is better motivated in science than in philosophy.

    First, it has turned out in practice that the simplest theories often are the correct ones. Second, using parsimony minimizes reversals in theories (changes) or of theories (replacements). This is of practical importance in science, but not so much in philosophy which have no tests that motivates change. Third, the simplest theories off-load more complexity on the applications, all else equal.

    How do you avoid the problem of induction?

    If you mean aspects of potential infinite regress when improving models towards describing reality, this is again less of a problem in science than in philosophy. It turns out in practice that theories works as limits; the first theory explains the basics, the next improves, and so on, as our knowledge improves. It is a win-win situation.

    For example, classical mechanics introduced forces, field theories improved the understanding of forces, quantum field theories improves even more, and string theory promises to do it again. It is also expected to be the fundamental theory for reasons of quantization, so further understanding of forces is most likely elaborations of effective theories.

    If you mean using induction to get quantitative approximations of undefined quality, science doesn’t do that. Induction can motivate hypotheses and support theories. However theories must be tested on predictions.

    Hypothesis testing respective theory testing is using contradiction with data respective falsification (denying the consequent) with data. This means the approximations must have certain standard qualities to pass.

  411. #411 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 5, 2007

    Occam’s razor is not the end for scientists, it requires a scientific justification

    Occam’s razor is better motivated in science than in philosophy.

    First, it has turned out in practice that the simplest theories often are the correct ones. Second, using parsimony minimizes reversals in theories (changes) or of theories (replacements). This is of practical importance in science, but not so much in philosophy which have no tests that motivates change. Third, the simplest theories off-load more complexity on the applications, all else equal.

    How do you avoid the problem of induction?

    If you mean aspects of potential infinite regress when improving models towards describing reality, this is again less of a problem in science than in philosophy. It turns out in practice that theories works as limits; the first theory explains the basics, the next improves, and so on, as our knowledge improves. It is a win-win situation.

    For example, classical mechanics introduced forces, field theories improved the understanding of forces, quantum field theories improves even more, and string theory promises to do it again. It is also expected to be the fundamental theory for reasons of quantization, so further understanding of forces is most likely elaborations of effective theories.

    If you mean using induction to get quantitative approximations of undefined quality, science doesn’t do that. Induction can motivate hypotheses and support theories. However theories must be tested on predictions.

    Hypothesis testing respective theory testing is using contradiction with data respective falsification (denying the consequent) with data. This means the approximations must have certain standard qualities to pass.

  412. #412 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 5, 2007

    I should also note on parsimony that scientists tries to find “beautiful theories”, both for the reason that it moves them, and for the reason it seems to work best in practice.

    This is hard to define, and surely scientists can have differing opinions on what this beauty is; though more seldom on which theories are beautiful. However, some forms of parsimony (minimizing free variables, (and in a sense throwing out false theories)) are accepted to be part of that. which brings us back to the first point in my previous comment.

  413. #413 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 5, 2007

    I should also note on parsimony that scientists tries to find “beautiful theories”, both for the reason that it moves them, and for the reason it seems to work best in practice.

    This is hard to define, and surely scientists can have differing opinions on what this beauty is; though more seldom on which theories are beautiful. However, some forms of parsimony (minimizing free variables, (and in a sense throwing out false theories)) are accepted to be part of that. which brings us back to the first point in my previous comment.

  414. #414 John B
    February 5, 2007

    Ken Cope:

    Learning what people have believed is a way to understand more about people, but I doubt that even Sloop John B treats all those beliefs as equally plausible and worthy of respect.

    Plausible to everyone in history? no. Worthy of respect? yes.

    Am I being accused of some sort of Orwellian thoughtcrime for judging the way another thinks? Are there no beliefs that can be held in contempt?

    No, I’m not accusing you of any thoughtcrime. I’m trying to understand the scientific grounds people have for their judgement about people who claim to be scientists but believe in a spirit-world. I’m just trying to understand the contempt, and more importantly how certainty can be justified by verisimilitude.

    Caledonian:

    Are you really expecting us to believe that you don’t understand why it’s desirable to limit the number of presumptions we make and unverifiable consequences we imply when we attempt to explain observed phenomena?

    No, I understand why it’s desirable. My question is just about how you know the more desirable choice is the correct one. Mr.Cope said: “there is no evidence to justify any sort of spirit-belief beyond the desire of the credulous that it be so”.

    It is true that Occam’s razor has become a basic tool for those who follow the scientific method, and is by far the most popular tool invoked to justify one underdetermined theory over another (if not the only one). However, there is more to the scientific method than analyzing data – processes of collecting data, pre-existing mind frames, well-accepted hypotheses and even axioms that may or may not actually correspond with reality, and the vague nature of scientific community consensus all play a very significant role in the process of scientific inquiry, perhaps more significant in practice than many of the finer points of inductive logic (Thomas Kuhn outright rejected induction as the main driving force of the scientific method altogether in favor of paradigm shifts). Aside from that, the common statement of “the simplest explanation tends to be the best” cannot be properly evaluated for scientific purposes unless sharpened into a particular brand by a significant degree of formal precision; it is certainly possible to formulate a set of ground rules for the procedure and operation of such a razor that will be utterly useless or sorely lacking when tackling a particular set of data (see below, “probability theory”). – from Wikipedia: Occam’s Razor

  415. #415 John B
    February 5, 2007

    Torbjrn Larsson,

    First, it has turned out in practice that the simplest theories often are the correct ones.

    This is the problem of induction I was referring to. The subjective recognition of a correlation between successful theories and simplicity in the past does not justify adopting simplicity as a heuristic maxim. Predicting the future using the results of inductive logic is irrational.

    Second, using parsimony minimizes reversals in theories (changes) or of theories (replacements). This is of practical importance in science, but not so much in philosophy which have no tests that motivates change. Third, the simplest theories off-load more complexity on the applications, all else equal.

    I appreciate these reasons, but the fundamental issue is whether or not even scientists with a naturalistic worldview actually have scientific justifications for all their beliefs. Pragmatic reasons apply regardless of the belief’s relation to objective reality (at least on the level of theory).

    The skeptic uses the regress argument to demonstrate that we know nothing, not the position being promoted by the anti-compartmentalists here, who claim science is the source of all true and justified belief (knowledge).

  416. #416 Caledonian
    February 5, 2007

    My question is just about how you know the more desirable choice is the correct one.

    I am beginning to lose patience with your willful idiocy.

    You never know whether any explanation is ultimately correct. You can only know that an explanation is the best available fit to the data at hand. Adding new assumptions means that the hypothesis has more points for failure. Increasing the degrees of freedom in the space of possible implications makes it harder to generate meaningful predictions.

    That’s what ‘best fit’ means.

  417. #417 John B
    February 6, 2007

    You never know whether any explanation is ultimately correct.

    This is my point. I’m trying to reconcile your understanding of the nature of scientific verisimilitude with your earlier claims about knowledge. I assumed you were unaware of the consequences of your understanding of things, given the absolute and totalizing representation you have constructed around science and its ‘knowledge’ about the truth of things.

    Now that I see you understand the problem plainly, I have to imagine you’re either engaged in some form of deceitful rhetorical excess for amusement’s sake, or the victim of a defensive delusion of grandeur.

    Anyway, I won’t test your patience any further. I appreciate the discussion.

  418. #418 Ken Cope
    February 6, 2007

    John B.

    Apparently you are laboring under the delusion that by representing yourself as a philosopher, your musings, unconstrained as they are by observation and evidence, entitle you to act in the manner of a cop on the take, telling science it is out of line for expressing any judgements about religion or the religious, whose claims are absolved from challenge or the need for support. Science claims it trumps religion, religion believes it trumps science, and (your) philosophy trumps both? Not so.

    Religion has given up the show of even pretending to make supportable claims about the nature of reality for centuries, if ever. As a way of understanding the universe, waiting for divine inspiration and revelation is otiose. Science is where the action is, and to quote another scienceblogger, Dr. Wilkins, from the talk.origins FAQ on Evolution and Philosophy:

    Philosophers do conceptual tidying up, among other things, but scientists are the ones making all the sawdust in the workshop, and they need not be so tidy. And no cleaner should tell any professional (other than cleaners) how it ought to be done.

    I’m not sure you’re speaking philosophy at all, but here we’re listening in science. John Wilkins is bilingual, next scienceblog over (although I doubt he’ll appreciate the referral). http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/

  419. #419 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 8, 2007

    I have been remiss in answering here:

    The subjective recognition of a correlation between successful theories and simplicity in the past does not justify adopting simplicity as a heuristic maxim.

    That is not a problem since the method is tested on predictions along with the theories, as I described above.

    I appreciate these reasons, but the fundamental issue is whether or not even scientists with a naturalistic worldview actually have scientific justifications for all their beliefs.

    Here you are referring to infinite regress. I have described the situation above. This time it isn’t a tested method – but it isn’t induction either since we observe a limit process. As I said, we have established definitive limits for fundamental theories.

    The skeptic uses the regress argument to demonstrate that we know nothing,

    Not so. One person can be a skeptic, a scientist and a realist.

  420. #420 Torbjrn Larsson
    February 8, 2007

    I have been remiss in answering here:

    The subjective recognition of a correlation between successful theories and simplicity in the past does not justify adopting simplicity as a heuristic maxim.

    That is not a problem since the method is tested on predictions along with the theories, as I described above.

    I appreciate these reasons, but the fundamental issue is whether or not even scientists with a naturalistic worldview actually have scientific justifications for all their beliefs.

    Here you are referring to infinite regress. I have described the situation above. This time it isn’t a tested method – but it isn’t induction either since we observe a limit process. As I said, we have established definitive limits for fundamental theories.

    The skeptic uses the regress argument to demonstrate that we know nothing,

    Not so. One person can be a skeptic, a scientist and a realist.

  421. #421 beepbeepitsme
    April 5, 2007

    “A scientist is a man who changes his beliefs according to reality, a theist is a man who changes reality to match his beliefs.” -Volker Braun (1998)

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