Pharyngula

Wilkins gets shrill

We have a couple of more eye-witnesses to the start of Dawkins’ lecture tour in Arizona, Jim Lippard and John Wilkins. Lippard gives an interesting account, while Wilkins…well, I guess Dawkins interrupted his lecture to walk up the aisle, smack John with a truncheon a few times, rifle his wallet, and as he was stalking away from the poor guy crumpled in his seat, hissed that he was the atheist pope and he could do anything he wanted. At least, that’s what I imagine must have happened, and John hadn’t quite recovered from his concussion before he started writing his complaints.

First of all, he makes a dreadful tactical error, and he should know better — it’s a game we encountered all the time on talk.origins. While accusing Dawkins of irrationally demonizing religion, the running them of his critique, the great dirty word that he uses to bludgeon Dawkins in reply, is to claim with flashing eye and a sneer and a spit that he’s practicing atheism as one of those filthy religions. You can’t piously grant religion the great latitude to believe whatever doesn’t harm others, and defend it as exempt from the kind of criticism Dawkins delivers, while simultaneously damning atheism because you think it is a religion. It’s inconsistent and verging on hypocrisy.

And what is the basis of accusing Dawkins of fomenting vile religion? That he encourages “Us’nThemism” and “derogation of the Other.” Let’s grant Wilkins that this were true (I disagree, however)—this is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group? This is what religion is? Dawkins is definitely harsh on religion, as am I, but neither of us have apparently achieved the depth of contempt and the simplicity of reduction that Wilkins has…but then, he trained as a theologian, so I guess he would know better.

But of course, the foundation of his accusation is simply not true. There will be no atheist religion. Dawkins’ tour has none of the trappings of the last visit of the pope; he does not set himself up as a moral authority; there will be no Atheist Crusade; we do not have rituals, a sacrament, a dogma. Wilkins’ sloppy flinging of the ‘religion’ insult does more damage to religion than it does to atheism.

But in one respect, he is right. I think the New Atheism is trying to adopt some of the ordinary and worthy human impulses that have been hijacked by religion for so long. To name one specifically, community. I think it is an indictment of the pernicious influence of religion that it has so thoroughly undermined the whole notion of a social community that when secular people with purely secular motives engage in community building, normally rational people gasp in horror, point, and shriek, “He’s creating a cult!” It’s an attitude the religious love to encourage, because it can be used to short-circuit any competition. We can always trust people to use religion as an epithet against any non-religious community, while somehow, conveniently, always neglecting to apply it in the same way to the one class of organization that really deserves it, religion itself.

As for the charge that these New Atheists are unable to tolerate a harmless religion, and that their goal is the elimination of the enemy, that’s complete nonsense. We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy; we will educate, we will talk, we will stand up for our ideas. Further, my standard reply to questions about what I want to happen to religion in the future is this: I want it to be like bowling. It’s a hobby, something some people will enjoy, that has some virtues to it, that will have its own institutions and its traditions and its own television programming, and that families will enjoy together. It’s not something I want to ban or that should affect hiring and firing decisions, or that interferes with public policy. It will be perfectly harmless as long as we don’t elect our politicians on the basis of their bowling score, or go to war with people who play nine-pin instead of ten-pin, or use folklore about backspin to make decrees about how biology works.

I get the impression that John believes religion has already achieved the innocuous status of bowling. Maybe for you, John, but not for most of the rest of the world.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    March 7, 2008

    IMHO I think it’s more than a social cause that becomes virulent. An atheistic world view derives its credibility from the evidence against the supernatural. Now I’m not saying that science has disproved “god”. But it’s not a 50/50 split either. Of all things known and understood, none of them require a supernatural (such a vacuous word) cause or explanation. So religion relies on fluff and faith for its credibility, not reality.

  2. #2 Mooser
    March 7, 2008

    when secular people with purely secular motives engage in community building, normally rational people gasp in horror, point, and shriek, “He’s creating a cult!”

    Or foementing revolution. Don’t forget about revolution!

  3. #3 hermit
    March 7, 2008

    “Science is just like a religion. Skeptics are close-minded. Skeptics lack understanding. Skeptics lack nuance and wonder. Skeptics are taking away what people need. Security. Or choice. Or magic. Or hope”.

    Yes, these are the arguments that come up from the religious side…and they are all wrong. Where do you get off saying a skeptic lacks understanding, nuance and wonder? One early and important scientific treatise is entitled “The Skeptical Chemist” authored by one of the first scientists who believed everyone’s work should be documented by publication for the purpose of public scrutiny. A skeptic simply is not gullible…that’s it, and that’s good.

  4. #4 Elise
    March 7, 2008

    I get the impression that John believes religion has already achieved the innocuous status of bowling. Maybe for you, John, but not for most of the rest of the world.

    Maybe Australia isn’t ‘most of the rest of the world’?

    It’s has been difficult for me to see Rabid Atheists as being sensible people due to the fact that where I come from they out number (or at least out Vocalise) the Crazy Fundies. It is only through the power of Teh Intarwebs that I have come to realise that Atheists are that vocal because they have to be to shout over the top of the Crazy Christian Noise. I don’t know, it’s a culture shock.

    In my day-to-day life I am certainly the most religious person I know. And I don’t consider myself a Christian (I act like a christian I suppose and I find it immensely amusing that I go to church more regularly than many “proper” christians). The Priest at my church keeps fossils in his office so that he can make fun of creationists and another church I went to the priest had a PhD in Astronomy. There’s a young guy at my church who I get along with quite well and we swap stories about the Science Department at our local university where he’s currently doing his PhD in microbiology and where I studied Geology for several years. I go to church and meet people who genuinely love science (well in the case of my priest he may just like making fun of stupid people). So while I *know* that crazy anti-science religious people exist – it’s not something that I’ve ever had to actually deal with even as a comparatively (amongst the general public where I come from) religious person.

    I think I get it – in the US the sensible people have to yell to be heard over a whole lot of insanity and noise – but across the ocean here we just hear the shouting.

  5. #5 Ian
    March 7, 2008

    As for the charge that these New Atheists are unable to tolerate a harmless religion, and that their goal is the elimination of the enemy, that’s complete nonsense. We want to eliminate them in the same sense that we want to eliminate illiteracy; we will educate, we will talk, we will stand up for our ideas.

    Is there really a difference? After all, isn’t this the same way that Ann Coulter infamously wants to eliminate all Muslims — by converting them all to Christianity?

  6. #6 spurge
    March 7, 2008

    Ann Coulter quote

    “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”

    That sounds exactly the same Ian.

  7. #7 GBruno
    March 7, 2008

    I posted quite a bit on Wilkins’ blog. I need a good shower. Thanks for everything, PZ.

  8. #8 afterthought
    March 7, 2008

    To be clear, I applaud the goal of combatting delusion, dangerous or otherwise, with the power of reason. But it seems wrong to delude ourselves into believing that this is anything other than strategic deconversion in the face of a perceived threat.

    Posted by: Ian

    Coulter wants to convert people from their cult to her cult, which is based on nothing but dogma. Atheists would like people to join the world of reason, where they can think for themselves. No force, just education. There is simply no comparison between the two methods or goals.

  9. #9 PZ Myers
    March 7, 2008

    Paul, you forgot to say I’m one of those Angry Agnostics.

    Not angry — militant. You’re one of those darned militant, fundamentalist, evangelical agnostics who wants to turn agnosticism into a religion.

  10. #10 Damian
    March 7, 2008

    I don’t get the “I don’t care what other people believe” spiel. Everybody says it, but it doesn’t sound tolerant to me (which is what I think they’re going for), it sounds kind of callous and nihilistic. “Let people have their stupid beliefs as long as they don’t bother me!”

    This is something that I tried to point out on Wilkins’ blog. Though many of us don’t care about a whole range beliefs, I simply don’t accept that anyone can be entirely consistent with “not caring about what anyone believes, as long as they accept the importance of science and secularism”.

    While we all like to think that it is right to believe that, it is actually quite dangerous when you think about it, and you would have to show that your emphasis on whether someone accepts science and secularism is more justified than having concerns about religion. I don’t think it’s possible.

    Also, I get the impression that some people really quite enjoy handicapping their own side in this struggle. They seem to be happy to have to continually put out the small fires – with no prospect that the rate of arson is ever going to decrease (indeed, it is increasing, as far as I can tell) – and they can’t abide by the idea that we might actually flex our muscles politically, oh no, as that would obviously take all of fun out of it, and on top of that, they also don’t have any appreciation for the fact that religion is responsible for the loss of half of the worlds rain forests to satisfy believers, and yet, a few Atheists produce books and it just can’t be right, as it has obviously upset the status quo.

    And all the while, those who would love nothing more than to destroy science and dismantle secular institutions are gathering money and adding to the web of deceit on a daily basis, with the expressed intention of using the political system to further their aims.

    Having said all of that, I do think that some of the criticisms of Dawkins, et al, are fair, and I do enjoy reading Wilkins blog.

  11. #11 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    True, but the goals motivate the methods, and they should not be ignored.

    that’s stretching things a bit.

    would you care to compare the methods of communication between fundagelicals and religious moderates, for example?

    in fact, your whole premise stretches things way too far to be plausible, or even worth discussing, frankly.

    tighten it up, get some support, and come back.

  12. #12 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    You’re one of those darned militant, fundamentalist, evangelical agnostics who wants to turn agnosticism into a religion.

    LOL

    i would only change “wants” to “has”.

    Fuck, even agnostics can project.

  13. #13 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    Pot, kettle, yadda yadda yadda.

    bet it took you a long time to generate that little nugget of insightful analysis.

  14. #14 Rey Fox
    March 7, 2008

    Why, I suppose next you’ll be calling him…strident!

  15. #15 Ichthyic
    March 7, 2008

    was suggesting that atheists, as a group, are no less capable than any other group of producing somebody similar to her, and that on a large enough scale we could reasonably be expected to.

    I would have to quickly add that depending on how you divy up the groups, you will find psychological differences between them that would indeed tend to generate some behavioral types more than others.

    Atheists as a group tend not to utilize common psychological defense mechanisms nearly as often as creationists do, as we have no need to maintain an untenable worldview.

    so, your premise is likely not accurate from a purely statistical sense.

    some groups would indeed be more likely than others to generate a “Coulter”.

    In fact, I think you should really spend some time examining just how fubar the psychology of people like Phelpsians and the darwin->hitlerites (Like James Kennedy) is, then see the parallels in most creationists.

    I think you might tend to re-evaluate what you think the probabilities would be.

    seriously, before you try to go much further with this, I highly suggest you spend more time analyzing the dynamics of the groups you intend to compare.

  16. #16 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 7, 2008

    The Wilkins is naked.

    he trained as a theologian

    That may explain it. Theologians thinks one can use absence of contrary evidence to weaken accumulated experience that scientific theories are sufficient to explain observations.

    And it may be that Wilkins hasn’t read TGD. A recording, admittedly somewhat incomplete, reveals nothing about Wilkins claim that “those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere”".

    But 41 minutes in Dawkins notes that “interestingly some of the strongest criticisms [to TGD] came from atheists who really don’t believe themselves – [but] “believe in belief” – as the philosopher Daniel Dennet has put it. They just love the idea that over people are religious. [pause] How patronizing can you get: “I’m an atheist, but I really wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.”" And he goes on to compare his text with some harsher London restaurant critics.

    Perhaps that section is what Wilkins object to, as he criticizes Dawkins. In that case there really shouldn’t be any confusion that there are several groups that Dawkins discuss. Those who allege there is a “psychological and emotional need for a god” – those who “believe in belief” (p 394, paperback ed) are discussed on pp 20-22 in the new preface in the paperback edition Dawkins refers to. And on pp16-17 the above quote headlines a section where he notes those London restaurant critics as an answer to those who criticizes his language.

  17. #17 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    March 7, 2008

    The Wilkins is naked.

    he trained as a theologian

    That may explain it. Theologians thinks one can use absence of contrary evidence to weaken accumulated experience that scientific theories are sufficient to explain observations.

    And it may be that Wilkins hasn’t read TGD. A recording, admittedly somewhat incomplete, reveals nothing about Wilkins claim that “those of us who do not condemn someone for holding religious beliefs were caricatured as “feeling good that someone has religion somewhere”".

    But 41 minutes in Dawkins notes that “interestingly some of the strongest criticisms [to TGD] came from atheists who really don’t believe themselves – [but] “believe in belief” – as the philosopher Daniel Dennet has put it. They just love the idea that over people are religious. [pause] How patronizing can you get: “I’m an atheist, but I really wish to dissociate myself from your shrill, strident, intemperate, intolerant, ranting language.”" And he goes on to compare his text with some harsher London restaurant critics.

    Perhaps that section is what Wilkins object to, as he criticizes Dawkins. In that case there really shouldn’t be any confusion that there are several groups that Dawkins discuss. Those who allege there is a “psychological and emotional need for a god” – those who “believe in belief” (p 394, paperback ed) are discussed on pp 20-22 in the new preface in the paperback edition Dawkins refers to. And on pp16-17 the above quote headlines a section where he notes those London restaurant critics as an answer to those who criticizes his language.

  18. #18 Ichthyic
    March 8, 2008

    Theologians thinks one can use absence of contrary evidence to weaken accumulated experience that scientific theories are sufficient to explain observations.

    he also might be deathly afraid Hector Avalos is correct: Theology is doomed.

    meh, probably not.

    :p

  19. #19 Scholar
    March 8, 2008

    “We can always trust people to use religion as an epithet against any non-religious community, while somehow, conveniently, always neglecting to apply it in the same way to the one class of organization that really deserves it, religion itself.”

    … well said PZ. I feel like I should pay tithe… or at least tuition…

    I had a feeling wilkins was off the rocker again! lol

  20. #20 Steven
    March 8, 2008
    Paul, you forgot to say I’m one of those Angry Agnostics.

    Not angry — militant. You’re one of those darned militant, fundamentalist, evangelical agnostics who wants to turn agnosticism into a religion.

    Here is my take. Theist or Atheist donotes belief or lack of belief. Gnostic or Agnostic denotes knowledge or lack of. You can be an agnostic atheist. In other words you don’t know there is no god(it is impossible to know even every definition of that word) but you just don’t believe there is. I haven’t visited everyone planet(or even one) in the Andromeda galaxy so I don’t know there isn’t an alien with 25 arses in the shape of my head that lives on one of those planets. However I don’t believe there is.

    I am an agnostic atheist when it comes to a deistic type of god.

    I am a gnostic atheist when it comes to the Abrahamic gods because they actually posit claims about that god and they are easy to debunk.

  21. #21 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    Coulter advocates the use of military force, yes, but her ultimate goal is conversion. Real conversion, not pretend conversion under duress.

    That may well be true, Ian, but in context her words imply conversion by means of force and mass evangelism. And given previous intemperate statements from Coulter I reserve the right to take her at face value.

    She is selling a delusion, and a dangerous one at that.

    Isn’t that the same goal?

    Only in the same vague, handwaving sense that making war is a means of achieving peace.

  22. #22 Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
    March 8, 2008

    [T]his is the defining character of a religion, that it encourages a group to hate another group?

    Certainly most Christian sects, in particular Protestant ones, divide the world into the elect and the ungodly. Islam does this too. This taxonomy does not always manifest itself as hate, but has historically been responsible for a LOT of hatred.

  23. #23 Michael X
    March 8, 2008

    Aw, Marcus. All art criticism isn’t that bad. And comparing what we do to what religion should attempt to emulate is an insult to artists everywhere, be they, paint, stage, dance, etc. Religion will never be art. That’s why we call it religion. There is a fundamental difference. Religion will only become art, when religion ceases to exist. And frankly, I hope that it simply ceases to exist period, and doesn’t instead ooze over into the respectable world of art. And if you have any love of culture, you would wish the same.

  24. #24 Leigh
    March 8, 2008

    Well, if nothing else, we’ve recognized Janine’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law: Anything more than the most glancing mention of the K**ltergeist will suck all the brains out of the room; the discussion may linger on life support for a while, but rational thought is dead. I hypothesize that the K**ltergeist achieves her effect because she’s a massive black hole for all energy given off by nearby bodies in the course of constructing logical arguments. After the K**lterHole has sucked away all rationality in the event space, no free rationality is available for forming more arguments, or even for amending arguments that have already been developed.

    Or, to put it more simply, she’s a big ole transvestite looking gal whose favorite hobby is “let’s show our dicks so that all can see that yours is smaller than mine.” In this view, the anti-rationalism effect proceeds purely from the impenetrable cloud of testosterone the contest created.

  25. #25 windy
    March 8, 2008
    You can’t piously grant religion the great latitude to believe whatever doesn’t harm others, and defend it as exempt from the kind of criticism Dawkins delivers, while simultaneously damning atheism because you think it is a religion. It’s inconsistent and verging on hypocrisy.

    Yes. We were quite wrong to expect better out of the educated and science-oriented than out of those who have their horizons limited by their lack of learning.

    I think you misunderstand PZ’s point (and at the same time, provide evidence for it). If you expected something “better” than religion, then isn’t religion “worse”?

  26. #26 Luna_the_cat
    March 8, 2008

    Er, looks to me like the atheists here are doing a damn fine job of delineating the “right, sane, sensible us” vs. the “deluded them” again. Not to mention the ongoing condemnation of agnostics because, by damn, they all don’t have your strength of conviction and are just panderers to delusion.

    This is kind of a “well, the difference is we are RIGHT” level of blind spot which admits no criticism of your position, accepts no validity of anyone else’s perception or decision-making process, and encourages the shrill condemnation of those insufficiently enlightened. Which is why some of us see it as analogous behaviour to that indulged by fundamentalists. And if you weren’t so tied up in being RIGHT, you would see it too.

    And, as I may have mentioned before, you are so busy crapping all over the pro-science people who don’t agree with you exactly, you forget that you need all the friends you can get to deal with the anti-science people. The only civilisations which survived, historically, were the ones which were capable of uniting in the face of a common threat. The strongest civilisations are the ones which have internal methods of enforcing compromise between diverse attitudes; you all really need to be reality-aware enough to accept that there are always going to be some very diverse attitudes on this.

    That’s going to be my only post on the matter. I have other things to go deal with.

  27. #27 cureholder
    March 8, 2008

    I agree completely with PZ’s analysis, except for his observation that what people believe and observe with their families is harmless as long as they don’t vote or go to war based on it. That conclusion ignores what it does to children trappedn involuntarily on the inside of this insanity, not able to escape or usually even know that they are being abused. I know PZ thinks the same way about that particula dilemma, and probably didn’t mean to elide it so simply (as he was making a broad social point), but, as a former captive to a fundamentalist cult, I wanted to make sure we didn’t forget the victims in all of this nonsense.

  28. #28 windy
    March 8, 2008

    Er, looks to me like the atheists here are doing a damn fine job of delineating the “right, sane, sensible us” vs. the “deluded them” again. Not to mention the ongoing condemnation of agnostics because, by damn, they all don’t have your strength of conviction and are just panderers to delusion.

    What the fuck? The only condemnation of agnostics in this thread consists of an in-joke between PZ and John Wilkins. And the whole thing was a response to the condemnation of a certain type of atheist.

    That’s going to be my only post on the matter. I have other things to go deal with.

    How convenient for you, not having to provide references of the “ongoing condemnation of agnostics”.

  29. #29 PZ Myers
    March 8, 2008

    Wilkins is incorrect. Atheism makes warranted knowledge claims; most of us, for instance, do not argue that we have a disproof of god’s existence, but rather, that the claims of theists for their gods make predictions about the nature of the universe that fail.

    I certainly do not imply that Wilkins is a closet christian! I’ve known John virtually for well over a decade, and he is a fanatical member of the Agnostic Inquisition. He will gladly torture any Christian to death by gently lashing them with volleys of maybes, and will similarly afflict us atheists.

  30. #30 CalGeorge
    March 8, 2008

    This is kind of a “well, the difference is we are RIGHT” level of blind spot which admits no criticism of your position, accepts no validity of anyone else’s perception or decision-making process, and encourages the shrill condemnation of those insufficiently enlightened. Which is why some of us see it as analogous behaviour to that indulged by fundamentalists. And if you weren’t so tied up in being RIGHT, you would see it too.

    I’m not bothered by the fact that atheism comes across as a very negative, dogmatic way of thinking.

    Atheists are saying something very simple: THERE IS NO GOD.

    It’s an inherently negative and destructive outlook.

    Religion bashing is what atheists do. We relentlessly question why and how people choose to believe in God.

    Will people’s feelings be hurt by atheists?

    Sure, because people don’t like to have their beliefs challenged. But people don’t have to listen. If you think we come across as smugly superior, walk away. Go hang out with the insufficiently enlightened.

  31. #31 Eamon Knight
    March 8, 2008

    Damned with faint praise…John, you’d drink with the devil if he were buying.

    My local beer store has Maudite in stock again. Should I ship a six-pack to Oz?

  32. #32 Ron Sullivan
    March 8, 2008

    And people say there’s no such thing as Progress. Tsk. Time was, nobody got called “shrill” except Teh Wimminz.

  33. #33 CalGeorge
    March 8, 2008

    While I was a rationalist theist who still believed in an interventionist God, I took the position that God was the creator of the universe, and almost always did everything by just setting up the natural laws of physics -> chemistry -> biology, but occasionally wanted to make a point, and then would do something startling, like a virgin birth or resurrection. This does not invalidate the science, but shows the power of God who set up the rules but could circumvent them if s/he chose.

    This is what Francis Collins believes. You express it better than he does.

  34. #34 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Theo Bromnine wrote:

    I’m sure the idea that one can be religious and at the same time committed to rational thought seems odd to some people,…

    Not entirely. However, I only read that as you THINK you are committed to rational thought. You may not be as rational or committed to it as you think.

    Also, I don’t agree with what some of the other atheists here are saying. I don’t think they’ve given it as much thought as it yet needs.

    For example, when Matt Penfold quotes Dawkins:

    Dawkins makes it clear in “The God Delusion” that he has no quarrel with those theists/deists who say god started the universe but no longer takes an active role. It those theists who claim that god does intervene who cannot with any honesty claim to fully accept science.

    For me it’s not so much about the idea that God intervenes as it is about thinking you know what God wants and/or thinking you know his plans for you and others. That’s where religious thought goes off the deep end and into territory that seems dangerously delusional to me. Of course the concepts are related, to think God intervenes means you think he does have wants and plans.

    I don’t see how claims to that sort of knowledge can be called rational. And since Christians think they have a book that gives them such knowledge I don’t see how they can be considered rational.

  35. #35 dave
    March 8, 2008

    John may very well be a closet christian or a hopeful jew, in some weird abstract way. His agnosticism is just a bit too… convenient.

  36. #36 Matt @dandderwen.co.uk
    March 8, 2008

    “Science isn’t in the business of defining reality in terms of what it allows or disallows. All you can say is that you’ve never witnessed anything you take to be an intervention by God and that science wouldn’t be able to determine whether such an event ever happened so far.”

    Appeal to the supernatural are not part of science. Thus it is not scientific to claim that an action is not the result of natural forces operating in the universe but instead the result of a god just doing stuff.

    “Also, would you go so far as to at least say that those who think they know God’s plans seem more delusional and dangerous than those who admit they don’t. And isn’t someone like Obama more rational than some like Huckabee?”

    I would agree to that, yes. Not all religious people are the same, and not all accept the same degree of intervention by god. Some do not allow for it all, which is good and these are not the religious people I, or Dawkins, have issues with. Then you get those who think, for example, god answers prayers to heal people. Those people do reject science, as do those who think there is any form of divine intervention.

  37. #37 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    quoth Norman Doering:
    … I only read that as you THINK you are committed to rational thought. You may not be as rational or committed to it as you think.

    Based on the reading I have done in cognitive neuroscience, I would have to concede that I am not as rational or committed as I think, but then neither is anyone else.

    quoth Matt Penfold:
    If we allow god to circumvent the rules once we must allow it for all occasions, and thus science becomes pointless. Even allowing one “godditit” is a rejection of science, and the person allowing cannot make any honest claims not to do so.

    I fail to see how theistic scientists who consider the intervention of God to be such a remote possibility that it would not affect their work are any different from the atheistic materialistic scientists who do not account for the remote possibility that all the atoms on their lab bench will re-arrange themselves in such a way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor

  38. #38 Matt Penfold
    March 8, 2008

    “As for believing in God AND following science, you can do it just fine as long as you say “here I draw a line and make only this exception.” Gravity and physics — until Jesus walked on water. But that’s all. Just stuff in this one story.”

    This is the problem. You cannot make that one exception. One that exception has been made you are rejecting science. You are saying that there are material events that science cannot explain. It does not matter how limited in number you make those events, one is enough. The Virgin Birth is as much scientific nonsense as ID, and yet it seems many are willing to give scientists who claim the virgin birth is real a much softer ride than those who support ID.

  39. #39 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    “I fail to see how theistic scientists who consider the intervention of God to be such a remote possibility that it would not affect their work are any different from the atheistic materialistic scientists who do not account for the remote possibility that all the atoms on their lab bench will re-arrange themselves in such a way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor”

    Well, some difference. I think theistic scientists are actually more analogous to those atheistic materialistic scientists who believe that all the atoms on their lab bench re-arranged themselves in such as way as to unceremoniously dump their experimental apparatus on the floor last Thursday — and then the same extremely rare forces re-arranged themselves back again, and all the equipment popped in place — BUT THAT’S IT! Just that one Thursday night, and not to be expected again. Not to be taken account of anymore.

    You just used the wrong group of atheistic materialist scientists for comparison purposes. Of course, there’s still the critical difference in that those particular atheistic materialist scientists usually don’t find a lot of personal meaning in their lives stemming from their belief in last Thursday’s unrepeatable anomaly, but there you go. It is what it is.

  40. #40 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    Can science discover, measure, and test ESP? Or PK — the ability to move objects with the mind?

    Multiple experiments have been set up over decades. When they failed to get consistent, replicable results, people fell into three camps:

    1.) ESP and PK (probably) do not exist.

    2.) ESP and PK exist, but are spiritual forms of energy outside of science’s ability to detect.

    3.) ESP and PK exist, they have been proven again and again, but atheist materialist scientists refuse to consider the results because these are “spiritual” energies so they are acting as close-minded gatekeepers to the hegemonic orthodoxy they call “mainstream” science, but the paradigm is about to shift, baby, because we are taking our results to the public who has NO FEAR of the unknown, or the spiritual, and will give all views a fair hearing and look at the evidence and make up their own minds, for themselves! And tell their own stories! And we’ll collect them and add them to the body of data!!! There is a SOUL!!!! Watch the Discovery channel and find this out! They shut down PEAR!!! Ben Stein to host!!!

    Same old, same old.

  41. #41 Andreas Johansson
    March 8, 2008

    I was referring to the concept of gods themselves, rather than their actions.

    I still disagree. The Christian god is traditionally considered to be outside the material world, certainly, but many others have been considered very much part of it. The Egyptians weren’t being figurative when they said Ra sailed across the sky. They were wrong of course, but that’s another matter.

  42. #42 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    You are saying that there are material events that science cannot explain. It does not matter how limited in number you make those events, one is enough.

    I can think of several “material” things that science cannot explain (at least with any good degree of certainty). What caused the Tunguska Explosion? Are quantum level events random or are they guided by complex forces and describable by maths we don’t yet understand? What exactly is dark matter? How exactly did abiogenesis happen? Can we be sure life happened on Earth first and didn’t come from space?

    The thing about the virgin birth isn’t that it can’t be explained by some materialistic theory, it could be, it’s the idea that you can trust the Bible when there are so many other religious books each contradicting the others.

  43. #43 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    Coulter isn’t stupid, and she knows that.

    You do remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, don’t you?

    So if religion comes up in casual conversation at work

    See, this is the culture shock Elise is talking about.

    Nobody can decide whether or not to expect the Agnostic Inquisition…or can they?

    ROTFL!

    Scientists tell us that human females do not give birth without there being a father of the baby

    Unless a miracle happens.

    and they also tell us that if you are dead for three days you do not come back from the dead.

    Unless a miracle happens.

    You are arguing from parsimony. That’s good enough, but no disproof.

    Like you, I can’t see how it could be justified to believe in a miracle without any evidence other than a text. (…And yes, “justified” is a strong word, and I think it fits.) That still doesn’t prove it didn’t happen, though.

    Comment 122 says it best.

    The Virgin Birth is as much scientific nonsense as ID, and yet it seems many are willing to give scientists who claim the virgin birth is real a much softer ride than those who support ID.

    That’s because the basic assumption of science (and itself a constantly tested scientific hypothesis, as I’ve mentioned often) is that miracles don’t happen often enough to make the universe too unpredictable. A complete absence of miracles is not required for science to work reliably.

    The Egyptians weren’t being figurative when they said Ra sailed across the sky.

    Well, they certainly thought something divine was involved here, but within that concept, they often depicted several mutually contradicting scenarios at once in the same painting or relief.

  44. #44 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    What caused the Tunguska Explosion?

    It’s exactly what we’d expect from an asteroid or comet (I forgot which is likelier in this case) of a certain size — it’s supposed to explode high up in the air because of the heat generated by friction.

    The thing about the virgin birth isn’t that it can’t be explained by some materialistic theory, it could be

    Hm… parthenogenesis (not supposed to happen in primates) leading to an XX male (in that case this would require a mutation that switches the sex-determining genes on chromosome 6 on)… it’s clearly extremely improbable, but it wouldn’t be a violation of the conservation of energy or suchlike.

  45. #45 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 8, 2008

    What caused the Tunguska Explosion?

    It’s exactly what we’d expect from an asteroid or comet (I forgot which is likelier in this case) of a certain size — it’s supposed to explode high up in the air because of the heat generated by friction.

    The thing about the virgin birth isn’t that it can’t be explained by some materialistic theory, it could be

    Hm… parthenogenesis (not supposed to happen in primates) leading to an XX male (in that case this would require a mutation that switches the sex-determining genes on chromosome 6 on)… it’s clearly extremely improbable, but it wouldn’t be a violation of the conservation of energy or suchlike.

  46. #46 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Matt Penfold wrote:

    None of the examples you give are things that cannot be explained by science in principle, although in practice it may be hard.

    I don’t think that’s known for sure in the case of whether quantum level events are random or guided by complex forces. The “in principle” factor isn’t really that clear. How is anything in principle known to be unknowable by science?

  47. #47 Norman Doering
    March 8, 2008

    Theo Bromine wrote:

    However annoying this kind of solipsistic creationism might be, it is not a problem as long as the creationist is claiming that it is miraculous, and not attempting to cite (aka fabricate) scientific evidence for it.

    Don’t be so sure it is not a problem. Religion is still a serious mindfuck that will mess you up the more you suspect it is true.

    One has to wonder why it is that so many scientists are atheistic.

  48. #48 Theo Bromine
    March 8, 2008

    quoth Norman Doering:

    Don’t be so sure it is not a problem. Religion is still a serious mindfuck that will mess you up the more you suspect it is true.

    Let me be clear: I am no longer a Christian or theist, having come to the point where my rationality and Christianity could no longer co-exist, so I tossed the Christianity. However, it was not science that caused me problems, rather it was the fact that the Christian solutions to the tri-omni problem became increasingly hard, then finally impossible, to accept.

    One has to wonder why it is that so many scientists are atheistic.

    On the contrary, though I am not a scientist (just an engineer who is often a scientist wannabe), I often wonder why it is that a significant (if small) number of scientists are theists.

  49. #49 Sastra
    March 8, 2008

    On the contrary, though I am not a scientist (just an engineer who is often a scientist wannabe), I often wonder why it is that a significant (if small) number of scientists are theists.

    Among other reasons, I partially credit that to a culture that rewards compartmentalization as a sign of sophistication — and which often views religion as a symbol of one’s identity and heritage. The more intelligent you are, the better the rationalizations.

    Of course, anyone can say the same about any view, but I do think theistic scientists deliberately choose to disconnect their religious beliefs from similar beliefs about facts in the universe, and place them instead into some different, friendlier category.

    Is it likely that the universe was created by an eternally-existing disembodied Mind which manifests its Will through Thought alone? “Well, that’s like asking me whether it matters that happiness is better than sorrow, or my mother’s love weighs more than a sparrow — a question that is on the one hand obvious, and yet on the other hand meaningless.” Huh? What? “Well, think about it, at least. Who is to say where meaning lies for another. What is likely is not necessarily the case, and what is the case is not necessarily likely. Do you expect to grasp the infinite with the finite? I find it beyond me.” Never mind. “I thought so.”

  50. #50 Ichthyic
    March 9, 2008

    I don’t know

    that’s not an answer that contains any information, John.

    The real question is:

    Is there any evidence that there is anything TO know to begin with?

    I’d bet your answer to that would have to be no.

    so you can define yourself as an agnostic all you wish, but that is as far as it would go:

    your own definition of yourself.

    I rather think you’re just fooling yourself in order to try to maintain a civil veneer.

    meh, however you want to rationalize it, though.

  51. #51 Ichthyic
    March 9, 2008

    I do think theistic scientists deliberately choose to disconnect their religious beliefs from similar beliefs about facts in the universe, and place them instead into some different, friendlier category.

    this is called: compartmentalization.

    It’s a natural psychological defense mechanism we all utilize to a greater or lesser extent.

    It can be healthier than the alternative, but really is more like a duct-tape fix than a permanent one.

  52. #52 Carlie
    March 9, 2008

    APZist: Please show your work, with citations.

  53. #53 David Marjanovi?, OM
    March 9, 2008

    However, it was not science that caused me problems, rather it was the fact that the Christian solutions to the tri-omni problem became increasingly hard, then finally impossible, to accept.

    Bah. One word: ineffable.

    For me, it’s that it all hangs in the air. It lacks supporting evidence, isn’t testable, and isn’t necessary to explain anything as far as I can tell…

  54. #54 Daniel Murphy
    March 9, 2008

    Elise #12 wrote I think I get it – in the US the sensible people have to yell to be heard over a whole lot of insanity and noise – but across the ocean here we just hear the shouting.

    I think, Elise, that you got it. And it seems that a lot of the American shouters spend their time shouting only at an audience that already agrees with them. Perhaps they are hoping that the sound might carry far enough to be heard by the people off somewhere else who aren’t listening.