Pharyngula

Coyne at Rockefeller

Jerry Coyne recently gave a talk at Rockefeller University, which is now available on video. It’s a good talk, making points familiar to most readers here about the absurdity of creationism/intelligent design, with clean examples to rebut their major arguments. The real treat comes at the very end, though, when Coyne goes off the reservation to state the obvious: that religion is the root of the problem here, and that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible.

I’ve been saying this for years. Will you believe me now?

Comments

  1. #1 Bachalon
    May 30, 2008

    To be fair, I never needed convincing. I’ll have to watch that video when I’m a bit more awake.

  2. #2 One Eyed Jack
    May 30, 2008

    Science and religion aren’t compatible?

    But.. but… but Isaac Newton believed in God!

    (ducking and running for cover)

    -OEJ

  3. #3 X
    May 30, 2008

    And he died a virgin!

  4. #4 stoat100
    May 30, 2008

    I believe you. Remind me again why religious people are allowed to vote?

  5. #5 Mike
    May 30, 2008

    They’re fundamentally incompatible when they address the same issues, but each has territory the other can’t touch. No one will believe you if you think that science encompasses everything.

    All the while, clearly religion is the one doing the encroaching. Science is the honest one.

  6. #6 wazza
    May 30, 2008

    We believe you, PZ…

    group hug!

    Mike, religion’s unique territory, so far as I can tell, doesn’t even exist.

  7. #7 NC Paul
    May 30, 2008

    @ #5 – You know, you’re right, science really can’t touch made-up fairytales. It has remarkably poor traction on things that don’t exist.

  8. #8 design
    May 30, 2008

    Very nice website! Love all the color and links. Your site is a gold mine for Social Studies research.

  9. #9 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    No one will believe you if you think that science encompasses everything.

    I’m going to take this ball and run with it, if you don’t mind…

    while nobody might say that science encompasses everything, it’s not inaccurate IMO to say that science encompasses everything useful. It has proven itself the only method capable of producing useful answers.

    but each has territory the other can’t touch

    since science correctly claims that which can be subject to observation and experimentation, what’s left for religion to claim that is of any practical use? Ritual? fantasy?

    I agree with what wazza said.

    In the end, religion can claim nothing of value. It is a “was” thing. Religion WAS the way we tried to answer questions (and failed miserably) before science. Now it just serves some apparently innate need for ritual at best. A need that could easily be replaced by secular rituals.

    It’s not a matter of NOMA, it’s a matter of substance vs. vapor.

    even when broken down at the level of the individual, say Francis Collins, it becomes readily apparent that while the science side (genetics) has many answers to offer that work, the religious side of his arguments (Moral Law), are entirely facetious arguments (mostly based on willful ignorance) that boil down to little more than your standard “gaps” argument.

    When PZ and others mention “incompatibility at a fundamental level” they aren’t just saying that from looking at the aspects of the “realms” themselves, and logically concluding that they are innately incompatible, but also from looking at the actual results of people that have tried to publicly reconcile them, like Collins or Miller.

    both people have written books looking at both realms impact in their lives, and for anyone who has read either of them, it’s blatantly obvious which parts make sense, and which don’t.

    perfect example:

    http://www.talkreason.org/articles/Theistic.cfm

  10. #10 Frederik RosenkjŠr
    May 30, 2008

    #5: Science CAN in principle explain everything, the problem is the mind creates an illusion of something, that science can’t explain. It explain the illusion itself, but not the content of the illusion – which doesn’t exist.

    So yes, science can explain everything that exists – not necessarily all that doesn’t.

  11. #11 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    not necessarily all that doesn’t.

    which of course means that religion explains things that don’t exist just as well as any fantasy novelist can.

    whaddya know, Tolkien was a god after all!

  12. #12 ansuzmannaz
    May 30, 2008

    It occurs to me that religion isn’t really about explaining anything, it is about experiencing something. The experiences may or may not be profound, but over the ages they have been wrapped in layers of superstition, as we had no way of knowing what was happening to us. The incompatibility between science and religion occurs when people cling to their treasured, fairy-tale explanations of their experience like children to stuffed animals.

  13. #13 Serena
    May 30, 2008

    Excellent talk.
    I throughly enjoyed it and would really like to see rationality taking a firmer stand against religion in our country.

    I agree with wazza and Ichthyic. The only thing that science is unable to even attempt to explain is that which does not exsist or that we have no evidence of.

    However, when I was 19 and a freshman in college Gould’s idea of the “separate magesteria” belonging to science and religion was appealing. Only because I was still atempting to equate the sentimentality I had for my childhood beliefs with what I had begun to understand of science. Once I fully understood the strength of the scientific method in explaining natural phenomena did I abandon any respect I had for a religions “right” to have a place in any aspect of society.

    Clinging to a fairytall is in no way noble or respectable. I don’t deny that people find meaning in their religions, I just don’t respect it’s validity.

  14. #14 Rightsaid
    May 30, 2008

    The real treat comes at the very end, though, when Coyne goes off the reservation to state the obvious: that religion is the root of the problem here, and that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible.

    It has always seemed pretty damned obvious to me. Heck, the only hope of understanding “religious” experience is through science.

  15. #15 386sx
    May 30, 2008

    The incompatibility between science and religion occurs when people cling to their treasured, fairy-tale explanations of their experience like children to stuffed animals.

    You might be on to something there.

    “If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.”

    Jumble the words a little:

    Fully human and fully telos, the Christology is drawing the fundamental picture for the word-flesh Chalcedon doctrine and the view of the sciences (i.e. seriously).

    Sounds like the same thing pretty much. It’s early though. Makes more sense with coffee probably. I’m not a theologlian though. Have a good day.

  16. #16 386sx
    May 30, 2008

    “If we take seriously the word-flesh Christology of Chalcedon (i.e. the doctrine that Christ is fully human and fully divine) and view Christ as the telos toward which God is drawing the whole of creation, then any view of the sciences that leaves Christ out of the picture must be seen as fundamentally deficient.”

    You could jumble all that however you want and it pretty much would sound all the same to me. What do I know though. It’s early.

  17. #17 clinteas
    May 30, 2008

    What I didnt like about the talk was the distinction Coyne made in the statistics he showed,between ID and Creationism,as in,what should be taught in school,Evo,Creo,ID or both?
    Wheres the difference? Its not that the average American layperson could tell the difference….
    Otherwise a really good talk tho !

  18. #18 Schmeer
    May 30, 2008

    Damn! I just got my coffee and am not even fully awake and all that’s left of #5 are little troll bits scattered around with some gore clinging to Icthyic’s shoes. You have to get up very early to have a piece of fresh troll at Pharyngula.

  19. #19 386sx
    May 30, 2008

    Damn! I just got my coffee and am not even fully awake and all that’s left of #5 are little troll bits scattered around with some gore clinging to Icthyic’s shoes. You have to get up very early to have a piece of fresh troll at Pharyngula.

    What, if science did religion they would call it religion, and if religion did science they would call it science. Science wouldn’t be doing science and religion wouldn’t be doing religion. They would be doing each other. I don’t see what the problem is. Icthyic is completely off base on this one.

  20. #20 Mister Troll
    May 30, 2008

    “…religion and science are fundamentally incompatible.”

    Nonsense. What’s the definition of religion here?

    Science and many religions are fundamentally incompatible — no argument from me.

    (Alas, I’ll be too busy today to defend myself, but I’ll look forward to carnage.)

  21. #21 clinteas
    May 30, 2008

    Comparing religion and science is like comparing a sweet warm pudding to a steel knife,one wobbles around,cant be grasped,tastes nice and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside,the other cuts and peels and reveals and dissects…
    So yes,fundamentally incompatible they are !

  22. #22 Cesium
    May 30, 2008

    “I’ve been saying this for years. Will you believe me now?”

    I think you’re preaching to the choir here.

    …bad phrasing?

  23. #23 uknesvuinng
    May 30, 2008

    @#20

    It’s not that the “answers” various religions give are necessarily incompatible with the answers science provides, or that religious and scientific approaches can’t exist within the same individual, but that the approaches themselves are opposite of one another. “It’s true cause this book/this preacher says so” is contradictory to testing our understanding of reality by experiment. Science is the best tool we have to understand the world around us. Religion is a dead, rotting fish that stinks up your toolbox.

  24. #24 Logicel
    May 30, 2008

    Coyne delivers a most excellent Yiddish description of weak IDism as meshugener gemish (crazy melange of wrong science and religion).

    In delineating the five aspects of Evolution, Coyne did not mention at all what Creationists mistakenly think as being the bulwark supporting evolution: random mutation. Obviously, Coyne does not understand evolution (sarcasm).

  25. #25 PatrickHenry
    May 30, 2008

    Science works by inductive reasoning, starting with observable data. Religion works top-down. It’s deductive, starting with doctrine revealed from on high. On occasion, these two very different types of thinking will reach contradictory conclusions. In such cases one must make a decision — which method is likely to provide the most reliable information?

  26. #26 Wallace Turner
    May 30, 2008

    Religion and science are fundamentally incompatible?

    Not sure if Albert would be in agreement.

  27. #27 Jesse
    May 30, 2008

    Look, it’s easy to say “Hey, I don’t believe in religion because it’s idle superstition” and then congratulate yourself for being smart. I used to do the same thing. Arthur C. Clarke did too.

    But that approach I think just doesn’t work for most people. Not because they are stupid. Because there are things that science can’t deal with. I don’t mean “science can’t explain X” in the usual sense. I mean that, for example, if I ask you why your favorite color is blue, there isn’t an answer that you can give that is scientific, strictly speaking.

    You know how we always say that science has to deal in falsifiable statements? “I love you” is not falsifiable. “My favorite color is green” isn’t either.

    Science in and of itself can’t deal with ethical questions either (though it can inform them). I can build two societies, both with strong beliefs in and support for science, and get one that is a democracy and one that isn’t. That says to me that in and of itself science doesn’t address that kind of stuff. No shame there — that isn’t what it is for.

    Any moral system takes a few a priori principles as read. “Slavery is wrong” is not a scientific statement. “Slavery is right” isn’t either. If you can falsify one or the other in the way you can falsify the theory of the aether my hat’s off to you and you’d better write this one down.

    To say religion and science are incompatible is perfectly true as far as the physical world goes. Icthyic is right when he says that science has been the method for providing answers about that. But there’s other stuff that science — and even to an extent the scientific method — isn’t much help with.

    Bashing religion as superstition is easy, but there’s a deeper set of questions that goes beyond that. From an evolutionary perspective religions must have at least a little survival value, or they wouldn’t be so pervasive. And there are many cases where religious movements have had salutory effects. (Abolitionism?).

    Not to say churches haven’t done their share of harm, they have. But it isn’t that easy.

  28. #28 Iain Walker
    May 30, 2008

    Mike (comment #5):

    They’re fundamentally incompatible when they address the same issues, but each has territory the other can’t touch.

    Except that the territory that science can’t touch (i.e., questions of meaning and value) is not religious by definition. Religion may set up camp on this territory, but it has no exclusive claim to the land rights. This is another reason why NOMA is unsatisfactory – it’s very hard to define an exclusively religious domain or magisterium which it can call its own.

  29. #29 rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 30, 2008

    But that approach I think just doesn’t work for most people. Not because they are stupid. Because there are things that science can’t deal with. I don’t mean “science can’t explain X” in the usual sense. I mean that, for example, if I ask you why your favorite color is blue, there isn’t an answer that you can give that is scientific, strictly speaking.

    Damn. I never knew that religion can explain why my favorite color is red and that I really like the Lexington style of pulled pork over the South Carolina mustard base style.

    learn something new every day.

  30. #30 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 30, 2008

    You know how we always say that science has to deal in falsifiable statements? “I love you” is not falsifiable. “My favorite color is green” isn’t either.

    This demonstrates a misunderstandin in how science works Jesse.

    Science isn’t out to falsify “I love you”. It’s out to explain the chemical, genetic or other reason why humans love. The proposes a theory based on observation, data and research that is falsifiable.

  31. #31 michel
    May 30, 2008

    i would say science’s reach is limited to the objective world. science can tell us why we fall in love or feel wonder for the universe. but as i see it, it can never explain the way that feels subjectively.

    those kind of feelings (especially the wonder for the universe) can easily give you the feeling there is something supernatural.

    the problem is that once you allow the supernatural to explain your subjective world, than you’re only a small step away from allowing it to explain the objective world. and that’s when science and religion clash. some (like ken miller) claim they can keep those worlds apart, so that the two can coexist. could be, but i have my doubts.

    personally i think that religion is for people for whom just standing in awe is not enough. they feel the need to explain the wonder. maybe even explain it away.

  32. #32 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse,

    With regards issues of morality and ethics, it is true that science cannot tell us what is right or wrong, although it can often inform such a debate. However the claim that religion is any better seems to me to be untenable. It is true that religious groups opposed slavery, but it is also true that religious groups supported slavery as well. When we look at the progress humans have made in how they treat each other it would seem to be moral and ethical philosophy that has had the most important role in re-thinking our attitudes, with some religious groups then getting behind those philosophical positions. The move to abolish slavery came out of the Enlightenment after all. I would add that for the the US at least it seems to have been somewhat slow in recognising the evil of slavery despite religion being more important in the US during the C19th than in those European nations at the forefront of pushing Enlightenment values.

  33. #33 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 30, 2008

    pffft . Typos for the win.

    I am from the south, but that should read misunderstanding and “The proposes” should be “Then proposes”.

  34. #34 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    Surely religion has a host of vital questions which are not only beyond the reach of science, but are exclusively its own, for example:

    Where did Cain get his wife?
    Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son?
    Was the Virgin Mary conceived without sin?

    I’m quite prepared to leave it to theologians to debate these issues, although I do rather resent public money being used to support them while they are doing it. (My examples all come from Christianity, since I know it best, but I’m sure all the other “major faiths” can produce similarly vital points of contention.)

  35. #35 Serena
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse #27

    Do you really think that religion was the main driving force behind the abolutionist movement? I know that it was claimed to be by those leading the movement, but I would make the case that religion (I am primarily refering to Christianity here) has, if nothing else, encouraged and perpetuated slavery.
    Science tells us that there is very little difference between humans from seemingly unrelated groups. The bible states that one group is superior to another and has been anointed as Gods special “race”. Not surprisingly all factions of christianity claim to occupy this special position.
    That kind of ideology can in no way contribute to feelings of compasion or empathy for members outside of ones own group. Empathy is really all that is needed to see that slavery is wrong. Maybe without religion we would have seen that sooner.

  36. #36 Serena
    May 30, 2008

    I need to type faster.
    Matt Penfold beat me to it.

  37. #37 Iain Walker
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse (comment #27):

    “I love you” is not falsifiable. “My favorite color is green” isn’t either.

    Well, if the speaker’s behaviour is consistently incompatible with either claim, then that constitutes strong empirical evidence against those claims. Of course, the complexities of human behaviour and the variety of ways in which humans express their likes and dislikes means that a single contrary observation is not necessarily going to constitute a conclusive falsification. But the single falsifying observation isn’t really the rule in science – statistical falsification, in which one weighs up multiple observations to see if the trends and patterns are compatible with the predictions of the hypothesis, is just as common, if not more so.

    So I think you’re a little off base here. These are falsifiable statements, in the broad sense of being empirically testable in such a way that it is possible to accumulate contrary evidence.

  38. #38 Ivan
    May 30, 2008

    Is there any way to download this video?
    I tried all kinds of plug-ins and and stream downloaders.

    It’s appalling that this video can’t be downloaded

  39. #39 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    “I love you” is not falsifiable. “My favorite color is green” isn’t either. – Jesse

    I dispute both these cases – though I’m not trying to extend science to cover these statements.
    If X says he loves his wife, but she’s often bruised, always seems scared of him, and is happier when he’s not around, I’d say his claim is falsified – Even if he believes it. Similarly if he says green is his favourite colour, but has nothing green in his house, never goes out, and vomits when you show him a green piece of paper – green is not his favourite colour, even if he says so sincerely.

  40. #40 Steve LaBonne
    May 30, 2008

    It’s science and art that are non-overlapping (though they certainly influence one another) since art doesn’t explain; it expresses. Religion, on the other hand, is virtually defined by its efforts to “explain” things- using the peculiar method known as “making shit up”. All the mental contortions in the world will never make that enterprise compatible with good sense, let alone with science.

  41. #41 maxi
    May 30, 2008

    I lose the volume halfway through the video. Does anyone else have this problem?

  42. #42 SEF
    May 30, 2008

    Religion is a dead, rotting fish that stinks up your toolbox.

    But some people are nostalgic and superstitious about that rotting fish because it was there when they inherited their toolbox from their father (et al) and are convinced that the toolbox and its tools won’t function properly at all without the rotting fish being present. They even go as far as to try and convince saner people (ie those lacking rotting fish but functioning fine without one) that their own toolboxes have a rotting-fish-shaped hole in them.

  43. #43 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 30, 2008

    I lose the volume halfway through the video. Does anyone else have this problem?

    Yes, I have a feeling their servers are getting hammered.

  44. #44 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    Just-so stories, whether from Kipling or Hubbard or ‘Moses’ were all known by the original storytellers to be inventions of their own minds. When did someone believe it? Why? Is there an evolutionary advantage for those who came later to believe such made up stories?

  45. #45 SEF
    May 30, 2008

    Do you really think that religion was the main driving force behind the abolutionist movement? I know that it was claimed to be by those leading the movement

    Tellingly, the religious slavers of the time were adamant that the anti-slavery movement was a vile atheist plot!

    Eg:

    If the mischievous abolitionists had only followed the Bible instead of the godless Declaration, they would have been bound to acknowledge that human bondage was divinely ordained.

    Last of all, in this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and Religion. The Abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic.

    The track record of US churches on slavery:

    We have in the United States slavebreeding states. … Slave-rearing is there looked upon as a legitimate trade, the law sanctions it, public opinion upholds it, the church does not condemn it.

    What have we in America? Why we have slavery made part of the religion of the land. Yes, the pulpit there stands up as the great defender of this cursed institution, as it is called.

    The church-going bell and the auctioneer’s bell chime in with each other; the pulpit and the auctioneer’s block stand in the same neighbourhood; while the blood-stained gold goes to support the pulpit, the pulpit covers the infernal business with the garb of Christianity.

  46. #46 Brendon Brewer
    May 30, 2008

    >>You know how we always say that science has to deal in falsifiable statements? “I love you” is not falsifiable. “My favorite color is green” isn’t either.<<

    Actually both of those are quite testable. For example, suppose we have a hypothesis that person X’s favourite colour is green. We can test that in a few ways. For example we would expect that this might influence clothes purchasing decisions (for example). We could then see whether they have more green clothes than the average person, and that is a test of that hypothesis. Sure, this would only provide weak evidence in either direction, but it’s still scientific reasoning being applied to something you claimed it couldn’t be applied to.

    And “I love you” is a doddle to test. Someone’s behaviour towards you tells you heaps about their state of mind about you.

  47. #47 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    If the mischievous abolitionists had only followed the Bible instead of the godless Declaration, they would have been bound to acknowledge that human bondage was divinely ordained.

    Now the religionists try to claim that the Declaration and the Constitution are manifestly Christian doctrines. I love the immutability of doctrine.

  48. #48 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    And “I love you” is a doddle to test. Someone’s behaviour towards you tells you heaps about their state of mind about you.

    That assumes that the person saying it is mentally healthy and capable expressing love. We could apply that to the human storytelling, as well. The stories of the Bible show us that God does not act in a way to show that He loves people.

  49. #49 frankie
    May 30, 2008

    i can’t get the video to work at all :(

  50. #50 Serena
    May 30, 2008

    Thank you SEF #45.
    I was homeschooled.

    Those statements are extremely telling…and disturbing. It is interesting how many religious people claim to get their sense of morality from the bible and yet today most religious people would be horrified to know that that was what the church leader of the day were espousing.

  51. #51 inkadu
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse – You’re Pharyngula’s favorite hackey sack.

    You are falling into the trap of thinking of science and religion as a zero-sum equation, so that whatever science is lacking, religion must be in possession of. You list many things that science can’t do (which are debateable), but don’t really show that religion has any more to offer on those same subjects (i.e. color, proof of subjective experience), etc. Religion is MORE in the dark on all those issues than science is.

    “Teligion” isn’t even a single belief system with a stock set of answers. It’s a kaleidoscope of ideas, and each religion is incompitable with the others, and all of them have at their core completely different unverifable beliefs. So I don’t even know how you can even talk about the benefits of “religion” when it comes to addressing real questions with real answers. Every religion has different answers, so in what sense would it even be theoretically true that “religion has better answers” than science??

    Re: Ethics. Determining right and wrong is a problem that has challenged bona fide philosophers for millenia. Religion actually offers very little in this regard, except a social enforcement mechanism for whatever ethics are in place. Personally, I think the study of ethics is bollocks, because society adapts morality depending on economics, with ethicists and religionists both being used as rationalization after the fact; but at least philosophers aren’t weighed down by the baggage of theology, a large set of assumed premises, and a pre-determined conclusion. Read some writings on ethics, and you’ll see how little religion adds to the conversation.

    And I encourage you to continue partcipating here. You’re about where I was 20 years ago. I’m rooting for you.

  52. #52 Mike from Ottawa
    May 30, 2008

    I’ve been saying this for years. Will you believe me now?

    Just like you believe religious people who tell you atheists can’t live moral, fulfilled lives?

  53. #53 inkadu
    May 30, 2008

    PZ or some other in-the-know biologist: Can you give us some of the inside baseball? Who is going to take Jerry Coyne “to the woodshed” after his talk? Coyne refers to someone, and I’m curious who it is, and what if he’s written on the subject. I’m also curious what the feedback from the academic community will be on this portion of the talk. I’m sure I can read about it here.

    Now I have to go to work, where Pharyngula is blocked. DailyKos? Not blocked. Science blogs? Blocked. I don’t get understand the software’s reasoning.

  54. #54 Brian English
    May 30, 2008

    Wilkins? Wilkins? I believe this question was addressed to you. :P

  55. #55 AJS
    May 30, 2008

    I think you’ll find, if you look back, that the abolition of slavery owes nothing to religion. If anything, the Bible has been used to justify the continuance of slavery.

    Slavery was not abolished because black people decided to stand up for their rights, nor because white people decided to stop being mean to black people. Slavery was abolished for one reason, and one reason alone: in a free market, slave labour was simply unable to compete with steam power.

    In that respect, one could say the abolition of slavery actually owed something to science.

  56. #56 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    Slavery was abolished for one reason, and one reason alone: in a free market, slave labour was simply unable to compete with steam power.

    That may have been the case in many countries, but slavery was still profitable in many parts of the US when the war started. The religious excuses for slavery may have allowed it to hang on longer than otherwise, but the war made it much easier for the whites in the South to continue to treat the former slaves and their descendants as second-class citizens for a century afterwards.

  57. #57 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    Appealing to arguments from authority now, PZ?

    You’ve found a likeminded anti-religionist and you’re trumpeting his argument because it’s like-minded. A while ago, you touted a semi-religionist saying to effect, “I’d be satisfied with his version of religion,” sort of implicitly supporting the idea that religion and science can co-exist. You advance arguments that make no sense in favor of your anti-religionist theses. (We can’t confuse our brains by thinking one way in certain situations and thinking another in others? Really? When you get into a car accident, do you yell out, “Okay, roll for damage?”)

    You’ve been saying that you don’t like religion for years. The fact that Coyne seems to agree with you is hardly the last nail in the coffin of religion. Rather, as I said, it’s another argument that seems to support your own, so you’re advancing it and ignoring or badmouthing arguments that discontribute to your favored thesis.

    In other words, you’re Scottie McClellan during his days as a Bush PR flack. (Sorry. That was below the belt. I think I just violated Godwin’s law or something.)

    BCH

  58. #58 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    May 30, 2008

    A while ago, you touted a semi-religionist saying to effect, “I’d be satisfied with his version of religion,” sort of implicitly supporting the idea that religion and science can co-exist.

    Can you point us to which post you are referring to?

  59. #59 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    Burt,

    Did you have a specific criticism of what either Coyne or PZ have to say or are you just condemning them for agreeing with each other?

    Please identify the benefits of religion and provide supporting evidence.

  60. #60 SC
    May 30, 2008

    There is a vast and rich historiographical literature dealing with the struggles of slaves and the abolitionist movement. It would be nice if people making historical arguments would cite (respected) sources from it.

  61. #61 Brian
    May 30, 2008

    Am I the only one experiencing massive techincal difficulites with this link? I get to it, but I loose audio for a long time on it. Others?

    Brian

  62. #62 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Burt is known to wilfully misrepresent what people say. He has done it before, he has done it here, and no doubt he will do it again.

    Does anyone other than those with retarded comprehension skills think PZ was actually making an argument from authority as opposed to informing us of an interesting talk given by Jerry Coyne with a rather tongue in cheek comment at the end ?

  63. #63 alex
    May 30, 2008

    well i get a no video found message, which is annoying, i really want to watch this, if anyone has the inclination to upload it to youtube or even download it and post a link, it would be very much appreciated

  64. #64 Ed Darrell
    May 30, 2008

    Incompatible in most methodologies, sure. That doesn’t imply there need be enmity or animus of any form.

    Most of us dated a bit in high school. We found some of our dates incompatible, for many reasons. Didn’t mean we couldn’t be friends.

    I’m a Democrat. When both of my state’s senators were of the opposite party, and one called me to work for him, should I have turned him down as incompatible? I think the nation’s better off when we work together where principle allows collaboration and cooperation.

    The old Shakey’s Pizza Parlors used to have a great sign: “Shakey made a deal with the bank. Shakey doesn’t cash checks; the bank doesn’t make pizza.” Both organizations take money and provide products and services to many of the same people.

    Incompatible does not have to mean “at loggerheads.”

    Now, where religious ideas carry religious people over into the “stupid” category, that’s a different story. Just as I don’t give credence to the pink elephant the drunk claims to see, I don’t give credence to the lack of evolution the creationists claim to see. If the drunk starts pressing my kids to acknowledge the pink elephant, I call the cops. Creationists, you don’t have anything you want my kids to acknowledge, do you?

  65. #65 James F
    May 30, 2008

    Jerry Coyne correctly observes that lack of religion correlates with acceptance of evolution within a given country. An atheist creationist is a contradiction, and the non-religious people in the ID camp are statistical anomalies like David Berlinkski and Dave Scot at UD (are there more?). I maintain, however, that if all the Evangelical Christians in the United States had the same attitude toward evolution as Keith B. Miller and Richard Colling, the creation-evolution controversy would be close to a non-issue.

  66. #66 windy
    May 30, 2008

    I mean that, for example, if I ask you why your favorite color is blue, there isn’t an answer that you can give that is scientific, strictly speaking.

    Yet.

    (Don’t you think that your color preference is stored your brain? If not, where the heck is it? If yes, why couldn’t science in principle study how color preferences develop?)

  67. #67 Dennis N
    May 30, 2008

    Religion is like an infection though. Where you say,

    Now, where religious ideas carry religious people over into the “stupid” category, that’s a different story.

    you have to remember that when we beat it back to it’s home, it only festers until it grows and has to be beat back again. Why not get rid of the infection at the source?

  68. #68 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Ed Darrell,

    Can you tell us what function religion serves ?

    It does not tell us how the world works, we have science for that. It tries to tell us how we should live our lives, but all too often what it suggests is antithetical to living a good life. We also have moral and ethical philosophy which seem to be much better at suggesting how to live a good life, and do not rely on texts written by bronze-age men to justify their suggestions. So religion would seem to have no benefit but has done, and still does, a whole load of harm.

  69. #69 lylebot
    May 30, 2008

    Ed #64, can you give an example of something religion and science could collaborate on? Your analogy of working for an opposing political party doesn’t work, because ultimately both parties have to do the same thing: run the government. Religion may like to claim it’s doing the same thing as science, but it’s really doing the opposite in all but its most vacuous forms.

  70. #70 co
    May 30, 2008

    For those having technical difficulties, it may not be the server’s fault (then again, it may). I first tried watching the video using the latest release candidate of Firefox, and got a black box with “no data” where the video should be. Then, I used the latest stable release, with a similar problem. However, when I allowed my NoScript to let through data from Rockefeller, everything worked fine (it’s a Quicktime video).
    So: use a browser with a Quicktime or compatible plugin (or web-enabled Quicktime), and make sure that JavaScript is enabled. Things should work then (as long as their server isn’t smoking!).

  71. #71 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    1) Rev. BigDumbChimp:
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/more_details_on_the_thursday_d.php
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/02/loyal_rue_vs_pz_myers.php

    And the quote in question:
    “I read his book, Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which is actually very good: he doesn’t advocate the abandonment of religion, but rather the evolution and transformation of religion to incorporate the best of modern science in its cosmology, rather than the best of Babylonian science from the first millennium B.C. We have our differences, but I couldn’t help but feel that I’d be quite content if all the reactionary religious nuts would convert to Rue’s religion, even if they did fall shy of the perfect ideal of atheism.” (Emphasis added.)

    2) Freelunch:
    “Did you have a specific criticism of what either Coyne or PZ have to say or are you just condemning them for agreeing with each other?”

    I am not condemning anyone. I don’t think I have ever condemned PZ for his atheism. I love atheism and agnosticism and other ways of thinking about the world. Criticizing atheists because they don’t believe in God is anathema to me. I think I can categorically deny that I have ever done so since becoming metaphysically sentient.

    “Please identify the benefits of religion and provide supporting evidence.”

    That is immaterial for the purposes of my response to PZ. I need not demonstrate this for my response to be of merit. But what you are asking is a good question for its own merits and if you shoot me an email (link above), I’d be happy to carry on a conversation with you about some thoughts I’ve had on the matter.

    3) Matt Penfold:
    “Burt is known to wilfully misrepresent what people say. He has done it before, he has done it here, and no doubt he will do it again.”

    Ouch. Umm, chapter and verse please? The last time I willfully misrepresented someone, I was very clearly making a joke and it was about a co-worker with him in the room at his playful expense. (He loved the joke.)

    Your language here isn’t all that playful. Mind if I hold your feet to the fire and demand you produce some evidence to back up this invidious claim?

    PZ’s language was of the form, “Jerry Coyne agrees with me. Now will you listen to me?” How is this not at least arguably an argument from authority? And more importantly, rather than firing both rhetorical barrels at me, how are you not interpreting this as a playful swipe? (Hell, man, look at how I ended my vituperous piece! This post of mine was fully playful in it’s good natured disagreement with PZ. What the devil is your problem coming after me like this as thought I weren’t in large part a fellow traveler with PZ in the pro-evolution struggle?)

    BCH

  72. #72 charley
    May 30, 2008

    Evangelical Christian colleges claim to teach science “from a Christian perspective”. I received such an education, and I still don’t know what this means. To me, it’s like teaching how to fight a war from a pacifist perspective; the perspective undermines the subject matter and vice-versa.

    Science and religion have conflicting approaches to knowledge leading to conflicting descriptions of reality. Also, religion stifles the spirit of scientific curiosity and inquiry by responding to mystery with “Isn’t God amazing!” instead of “How can this be explained?” Religious schools steer clear of scientific topics which might cause religious controversy, or they delegate them to the philosophy department where they are hidden in smoke.

    I would like to see a thick-skinned evangelical Christian science professor explain and defend “science from a Christian perspective” here. Any takers?

    I have to get back to work, though.

  73. #73 protocol
    May 30, 2008

    Absolutely loved the talk (especially at the end). But what’s with the “western civilized countries” (at the beginning)? What the f does he mean by that? As opposed to “non-western uncivilized” countries? Also, Turkey is not a muslim fundamentalist country (as he says at the beginning); it is a majority muslim country, just as france is a majority catholic country (true it does have religious parties, but they are not very different from the catholic parties in western Europe). Seriously, scientists cannot afford to be intellectually lazy in their non-scientific (intellectual) pursuits. This kind of thing would have never been permitted in his scientific work (one reason I have immense respect for Chomsky; he is just as rigorous in his writings about world affairs–of course standards of rigor will differ here–as he is in his linguistics work.

    I apologize for the semi-rant, but I have personally witnessed the above tendency (of making offhand political pronouncements without evidence) among many scientists I like(including some of my colleagues).

  74. #74 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Burt,

    I do not have verbatim examples to hand, but I have come across you in the past, and you wilfully misrepresented me on that occasion. Unfortunately the search feature of SciBlogs is pitiful so I doubt I would find the thread again.

    However that does not alter your wilful misinterpretation of the PZ original post. I say wilful, there is always the possibility your comprehension skills are simply too poor to follow this kind of discussion. The simple fact is your failed to notice to that PZ was simply informing people of the Coyne video and then making a tongue in cheek comment about how he had been saying that for years. You missed that, I think on purpose but I will concede you make simply be too stupid. If so I apologise for calling you a liar.

    “That is immaterial for the purposes of my response to PZ”

    It is not, not when the utility of religion is what is being discussed. Again, either a lack of honesty or simple stupidity on your part there.

    You maybe a fellow-traveller with PZ in the creationism/evolution battle. You are not in the war against irrationality. In fact you have openly supported irrationality, so you not deserve much in way of credit here. As Coyne pointed out, the figures with regards the number rejecting evolution in the US have not altered much in last 20 years. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the religion and science are compatible but different ways of knowing. It is the opposite. It demonstrates what a failure it has been. No change in 20 years ? Pathetic. And you Burt, who have spoken out against those who say science and religion are not compatible in favour of the non-overlapping magisteria bear some of the blame for that.

  75. #75 Iain Walker
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse (Comment ##27):

    Missed this bit previously:

    if I ask you why your favorite color is blue, there isn’t an answer that you can give that is scientific, strictly speaking.

    I don’t see any reason why one couldn’t (in principle at least) study how exposure to different colours triggers different neurological reactions in different people, or study how people learn to associate different colours with positive or negative stimuli, or study how genetic predispositions towards such associations might have evolved.

    So a scientific explanation of why a given person’s favourite colour is blue doesn’t seem remotely far fetched.

    Of course, “Why is blue your favourite colour?” is an ambiguous question, since it may be a demand for explanation in terms of reasons rather than in terms of causes. Although I suspect that many people would probably explain their colour preferences in terms of whatever they associate the colour with, which points us back to the possibility of a causal, scientific explanation.

  76. #76 Thanny
    May 30, 2008

    I’m glad Coyne addressed Genie Scott’s one really bad argument, that religion and science can’t be incompatible, given the fact that there are religious scientists. As Coyne pointed out, all that means is that religion and science can exist simultaneously in the same human brain, which we already know is a storehouse capable of giving safe harbor to a vast quantity of incompatible thoughts.

    Most of Jesse’s misconceptions have been addressed, but perhaps not one quite strongly enough.

    Saying that science can’t disprove a statement about one’s favorite color, or whether or not one is in love, is exactly like the claim made by Auguste Comte over a century ago that we will never know the composition of the stars.

    We know quite well now what stars are made of, thanks to the discovery of selective spectral absorption and emission. We don’t currently possess the ability to judge the truth or falsity of what a person represents as his or her state of mind (and if you think we do, that the polygraph actually detects lies, you need a refresher course in critical thinking).

    This is a current technological limitation, not a limitation in principal. Human minds are the abstract products of humans brains, which are physical objects. However difficult it may prove to be, it is entirely possible in principal for a person’s favorite color to be read directly from the brain tissue.

  77. #77 JimC
    May 30, 2008

    Now, where religious ideas carry religious people over into the “stupid” category, that’s a different story

    You mean anything past ‘love each other’? What religion isn’t filled with the absurd.

  78. #78 CosmicTeapot
    May 30, 2008

    Ichthyic @ 9

    “Now it just serves some apparently innate need for ritual at best.”

    Sorry to disagree, but religion serves the delusional to believe in an eternal life. Even a false hope for immortality is a comfort (until the christians go to a funeral, they seem pretty sad then).

    It also allows people to have a view of the world (incorrect though that view may be) without having to think.

    There are other benefits for the religious, otherwise it would not be so pervasive. Unfortunately the evil it allows far outweighs the benefits.

    The ritual is just the method for reinforcing the delusion.

    “A need that could easily be replaced by secular rituals.”

    Religion is unfortunately deeper, more ingrained than that, hence the inability to reason with the likes of the various trolls on this blog.

  79. #79 SteveM
    May 30, 2008

    Although I have argued in the past that religion (attempts) to answer “why” while science answers “how”, I also say that those “why” questions really can’t be answered by either. Religion just makes up an answer. And so it seems that what religion does is give answers to questions that either cannot be answered or to questions that are just cries for comfort. “Why did my love one have to die?” “Why did the tornado destroy my house?” etc. They don’t want a “real” answer, they want comforting, sympathy, a hug. Science doesn’t do “hugs”, but religion does.

  80. #80 Alex
    May 30, 2008

    Religion has no virtue that is not already part of secular world-views. Religion only offers solace to those who want to understand life/existence/reality without gaining actual knowledge about it. That’s why religions are always tripping over themselves. They want to participate in the game, but they bring no game. Only authoritative screeching and barking. Religions have been trying to explain things via proclamation instead of scientific reasoning – rigorous skeptical inquiry.

    This is why the two are incompatible. In order for religions to maintain their perceived authority, they rebuke skepticism, admire blind faith, and chastise actual knowledge. Science, does the exact opposite – but yields results. Compelling results. Life changing results.

    Religion dresses itself with gaudy ritual, ornate costume, and loud blustering. Science, for the most part, is humble and only trumpets its accomplishments.

    As more and more real knowledge is gained – which only occurs when applying the scientific method, religion will be pushed further into obscurity, and therefore will kick, claw, bite, and wail every inch along the way. We see this more and more each day.

  81. #81 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Thanny,

    What gets me is that there some who are very vocal in criticising the likes of PZ, Dawkins et al for being so vocal in their claim that religion and science are not compatible and indicate that making such claims in public undermine attempts to fight creationism. Yes PZ, Dawkins et al have been vocal but that is a fairly recent occurrence especially in the degree of coverage they get. As Jerry Coyne has pointed out, the figures on those who reject/accept evolution have changed little in the last 20 years in the US. If those fighting evolution who criticise PZ, Dawkins et al were doing well, then why has there not been a reduction in those rejecting evolution ? Claiming science and evolution are compatible has been tried for the last 20 years. It has not worked.

  82. #82 Iain Walker
    May 30, 2008

    Burt Humburg (Comment ##71):

    PZ’s language was of the form, “Jerry Coyne agrees with me. Now will you listen to me?” How is this not at least arguably an argument from authority?

    It may look like an argument from authority, but if you’ve been reading Pharyngula long enough to recognise PZ’s blogging style, then it becomes fairly obvious that it was not intended seriously as such.

    It may not quite be as blatantly tongue-in-cheek as his occasional “I am the Cephalopod Overlord, bow down before me puny mortals” riffs, but it’s not that hard to pick up on the ironic intent.

  83. #83 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “It may not quite be as blatantly tongue-in-cheek as his occasional “I am the Cephalopod Overlord, bow down before me puny mortals” riffs, but it’s not that hard to pick up on the ironic intent.”

    Iain, to you and me it may not be that hard. To Burt it would seem to be impossible.

  84. #84 Glen Davidson
    May 30, 2008

    If religion and science were truly (and fully) incompatible, science would never have had a chance.

    Europe has shown us two things–that science and religion can get along to some extent, and yes, science and its related ideas tend to erode religion.

    Science doesn’t explain everything worth knowing, particularly not our earliest experiences of knowing. Science is built upon these (qualia, the building of confidence through repetition, etc.), upon epistemology, which comes prior to science.

    However, this gives nothing to religion, which is at its best in today’s world as poetry, or maybe analogous with sci-fi. Nothing inherently wrong with dabbling in it, then, but once someone thinks that these art forms are the way to know the world, one is slated for delusion. Unfortunately, religion tends to claim that it is the way to know the world, which is why it typically causes a good deal more trouble than do poetry and sci-fi.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  85. #85 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    It may not quite be as blatantly tongue-in-cheek as his occasional “I am the Cephalopod Overlord, bow down before me puny mortals” riffs – Iain Walker

    I think you mean radula-in-beak!

  86. #86 BAllanJ
    May 30, 2008

    From #9…waaay up there:

    In the end, religion can claim nothing of value.

    Of value to whom? Religion has been used for millennia to control the masses. This should not be underestimated …it’s at least as useful as the institution of slavery for this purpose.

    There must be reasons for the peasants to go along… future reward in heaven, comfort from grief etc. The pay off for those in control is obvious and is right here and right now.

  87. #87 Iain Walker
    May 30, 2008

    #85

    I think you mean radula-in-beak!

    That’s the one …

  88. #88 Marcus Ranum
    May 30, 2008

    Religion is a tool for dominance and political control. What about that is not immediately obvious? As such it is subject to understanding, just like any other behavior.

    It’s only religion’s claims to be special that make it special to those that believe its claims.

  89. #89 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    PZ posts this as Nisbett posts an AAAS video on how science and religion are not incompatible.

    http://scienceblogs.com/framing-science/2008/05/aaas_youtube_clip_on_compatibi.php?utm_source=sbhomepage&utm_medium=link&utm_content=toplink

    It is not very impressive.

  90. #90 Slaughter
    May 30, 2008

    Oh, lordy, look at this chat going on with a physics teacher: http://www.azcentral.com/members/Blog/ChrisMarsh/24487

    The teacher, Philip Moon, says: If our worldview is atheisitic, then there really is no ultimate meaning to life because we will die, and that’s the end. As such, the atheistic view is ultimately supremely nihilisitic. It’s hopeless at the core.

    So all us atheists, let’s go out and shoot ourselves collectively in the head.

  91. #91 kcrady
    May 30, 2008

    I disagree that religion is necessarily incompatible with science. The main mistake I think everyone here seems to be making is to equate “religion” with “Christianity.” That un-analyzed equivocation is one of Christianity’s major tools of domination. Basically, it is a way that even people who do not believe in Christianity concede to it a special status it does not deserve.

    Most of the “sophisticated” or “philosophical” arguments for Christianity depend on this assumption. The “sophisticated” Christian can spend several pages arguing for a First Cause in dense philosophical jargon complete with pseudo-equations–and then, at the end, finish with something like: “And this First Cause, we call God.” Likewise for Intelligent Design. The identity of the alleged Designer is taken as a given: it’s the fellow who had a dispute with a talking snake in the Book of Genesis. Pascal’s Wager dies a quick death if every religion gets considered. “Are you sure you want to take a chance on disbelieving in Osiris?”

    I agree that Christianity as we know it is incompatible with science. However, Christianity does not subsume the entire abstraction labeled “religion”–it’s only one member of the set.

    “A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”

    –Carl Sagan

    What sort of religion could be compatible with science? It could not be a religion centered on the assumption of an anthropomorphic god with human needs and motivations, such as the desire to boss humans around. It ought to be blatantly obvious that the Cosmos does not exist to be a home for humans any more than humans exist to provide a habitat for mouth bacteria.

    It could not be a religion of faith, since faith is incompatible with the scientific method.

    One example of the sort of religion that could be compatible with science is Pythagoreanism. The Pythagoreans set out to discover the underlying order of the cosmos using geometry, mathematics, and an experimental study of the principles of vibration using a one-stringed instrument called a monochord. Their discoveries include the musical scale we use today.

    They also came up with quite a bit of nonsense, but they were light-years ahead of pretty much everyone else on their side of the planet at the time. It has also been pointed out here that a Buddhism stripped of supernaturalist elements could be compatible with science. Transhumanism/Extropianism/Singulitarianism arguably qualifies as a religion complete with a promise of relative immortality and an eschatological hope (the coming of Singularity).

    One counter-argument to this is that these “religions” would really be philosophies. And, as far as their ideas are concerned, they would be. What would make these “religions” in my opinion would be the inclusion of elements philosophy per se does not have, such as an emphasis on seeking experiences of awe, transcendance, or “the numinous,” communal action to that end as well as communal celebration of life’s turning points such as birth, coming of age, marriage, and death.

    Of course, relgions as described above do not yet exist as sizeable bodies with Lyceums (or whatever they’d call their meeting-places) on every street corner. Nonetheless, I think it is possible, at least in principle, for rational, scientitic religions to exist. Until you all prove me wrong. :)

  92. #92 Slaughter
    May 30, 2008

    I posted my comment at #90 before reading Jesse’s stuff and the responses to it. Seems Mr. Moon is dealing with the same stuff, though not as politely.

    I don’t agree that one can’t show that saying “I love you” is not falsifiable. It all depends on the evidence you’ll accept. I thought that was a weakness in the trial scene in “Contact” when Jodie Foster’s scientist was asked whether she loved her father and the preacher demanded: “Prove it!”
    OK, how’s this? I told him that I loved him, and I cared for him at the end of his life, when he couldn’t care for himself. I daily had to change his adult diapers and put my own life on hold to do it — and don’t regret it at all. Will you accept that as evidence?
    On the flip side, if you make a vow of marriage and have affairs, ignore your spouse and inflict all manner of psychic pain, I think a good case can be made that you don’t love that person.

  93. #93 Mike G
    May 30, 2008

    A lot of people are probably going to disagree with what I’m going to say, but I believe it’s worth saying.

    Science and religion aren’t inherently conflicting. Both each address certain matters that the other can’t, and they both have their own methodologies for doing so. (I will say that I do believe those methods are mutually exclusive in relation to each other.) The difference between the two is that science does isolate itself to the role for which it is intended, specifically, describing the natural world. There are certain roles though for which it is of no use, that’s an undeniable fact, and to insist to the contrary is to sort of treat science like a religion.

    Many, but not all of the roles that religion has been applied to are territories in which science is non-applicable. Such roles include matters of morality, politics, and economics; usually places where value judgements are required. Science can inform and advise on such matters, certainly, but it can not make such decisions itself. This is especially important when it comes to matters of morality, as science can not tell us what is right and wrong. A tool that is used solely to describe the natural world can not provide us with a moral code.

    I would like to think that science is a passive endeavour; that it is not aggressive or actively trying to destroy anything else. When it does conflict with religion, it is most likely the case of religion being the aggressor; where religion intrudes into the role that science fulfills. And it is probably true that some religions are more intrusive in that respect than others. For example, fundamentalist Christianity is most definitely more aggressive towards science than Buddhism.

    Now, I’m not really trying to defend religion, I am a rather staunch atheist who has nothing but apathy and contempt for religion. And I will gladly admit that religion has more often than not left a path of destruction in its wake wherever it has gone, but religion most definitely has fulfilled roles in which science would be useless. Although, I would like to think that those other roles are probably now also being filled by secular institutions, which I would hope are more successful in those roles than religion.

  94. #94 SteveM
    May 30, 2008

    The Sagan quote is very poetic, too poetic. So poetic it doesn’t really make any sense. I think what he is describing is just science. I think he is imagining a time when people are taught science as religiously as religion is today. But science itself should not become a religion (i.e. a dogma based on faith and “prophets”). I think he is saying that understanding the science of the rainbow adds to the awe we feel from its beauty. Or maybe he is just hoping that someday religion will stop teaching that “taking the mystery out of it” diminishes our awe. Awe does not require “mystery”. In fact knowing what those points of light in the sky is much more awesome than just “pinholes in the firmament”.

  95. #95 Steve LaBonne
    May 30, 2008

    Not only are value judgments != religion, but the proposition that the latter is even a useful tool for arriving at the former needs to be defended, not just asserted. And assertion is all we almost ever get.

    By the way, science and religion are trivially compatible if “compatibility” is defined to include tolerance for cognitive dissonance. We all know that humans have quite a large capacity for that.

  96. #96 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    A tool that is used solely to describe the natural world can not provide us with a moral code.
    You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who says it can.

    However, the point is that religions can’t either, at least not one that isn’t based on arbitrary prejudices and obsolete taboos. (i.e. most religions say they provide a moral code, but the elements that aren’t common to many other systems are arbitrary and often worse than useless for actual ethical reasoning)

    Science and religion aren’t inherently conflicting. Both each address certain matters that the other can’t, and they both have their own methodologies for doing so.

    What is the religious method?

    Since it’s largely a rhetorical question, I’ll answer it myself: Make shit up.

  97. #97 Autumn
    May 30, 2008

    To me, science is being mentally and morally grown-up enough to allow one’s self to admit “I don’t know, but I may know if more information is given to me at a later date”
    Religion is the mental act of declaring that “because you don’t know, I will announce what I feel to be true, and gather a flock to do incredible violence to those who disagree.”
    Whenever someone presents me with the argument that morals flow from religion, I answer with my own (non-scientific, but they can’t tell the difference anyway) pet theory; morals arose long before the mind was developed enough to concieve of religion. Religion came about later, when our minds were searching for reasons to justifiably ignore our morals.

  98. #98 JimC
    May 30, 2008

    Science and religion aren’t inherently conflicting. Both each address certain matters that the other can’t, and they both have their own methodologies for doing so. (I will say that I do believe those methods are mutually exclusive in relation to each other.) The difference between the two is that science does isolate itself to the role for which it is intended, specifically, describing the natural world. There are certain roles though for which it is of no use, that’s an undeniable fact, and to insist to the contrary is to sort of treat science like a religion.

    Virtually that entire paragraph is BS. There is no religious method so thats rather beside the point. How is the religious answer for any question an answer at all? How does it inform morality?

    And to say science cannot provide an answer on morality while religion can again gives legitimacy to an ‘answer’ founded on pretty much no evidential basis. And to cherry pick one of my pet peeves science deals with the natural world.

    Morals are simply opinions on the behaviour of an animal species. They don’t exist per se. To say science can’t address morality is absurdly stupid because ‘morals’ are a non-entity. The behaviour to which we assign an opinion however is purely biological as are the neurons that cause the opinion. All squarely in the realm of science without the need for religious claptrap.

  99. #99 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse @ 27:
    From an evolutionary perspective religions must have at least a little survival value, or they wouldn’t be so pervasive.
    freelunch @ 44:
    Is there an evolutionary advantage for those who came later to believe such made up stories?
    CosmicTeapot @ 78:
    There are other benefits for the religious, otherwise it would not be so pervasive.

    Simply substitute “the common cold” for religious beliefs in these formulations to see that while someone or something must benefit it is not necessarily the believers themselves. In the case of the common cold, the evolutionary perspective tells us the beneficiary is the rhinovirus. Similarly, we have to at least consider the possibility that religions themselves benefit from their pervasiveness in human culture.

  100. #100 H.H.
    May 30, 2008

    A tool that is used solely to describe the natural world can not provide us with a moral code.

    Well, it could, it’s just that such a moral code would be baseless, arbitrary, and totally unevidenced. Hey, what do you know! That’s exactly how religious moral codes are derived!

    Whenever I hear someone exclaim “science cannot make pronouncements on X,” all they really mean is that science could not honestly and rationally make such determinations. Religion, being somehow free from such constraints, can. So all their criticism really boils down to is “science has integrity,” which really isn’t much of a complaint at all. It does, however, demonstrate what a transparent sham religion is.

  101. #101 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    Regarding #74:
    Mr. Penfold, I don’t know what I said against you in whatever former thread to which you refer, but I did answer your demand that I produce the quote in question. In response to my answering your challenge successfully, you did not apologize. Rather, you keep to your claim (arguing on the basis of heresay) that I misrepresented you in the past somwhere (somehow) and therefore I am apt to do so again and again. I don’t think this is central to our discussion but we’ll revisit this in a second.

    Rather, what is central to our discussion is what you went on to write in the remainder of your rejoinder. Namely, as Ed Brayton says, there are two essential groups in the pro-science community and they are defined by what they consider to be the central conflict. For the first group, the central conflict is evolution versus creationism. For the second group, it is science versus religion or reason versus unreason. And for most of the issues that we really need to focus on (whether to support Kitzmiller et. al., whether to support Hovind, etc.), I think in large part the two camps are going to agree.

    But there are going to be other issues on which the two camps aren’t going to agree. PZ, writing from the second camp, wrote a post that was at odds with the sensibilities of those in the first camp. I wrote in challenge of those views. In response to this, you blast me with both barrels as though I were a disciple of Hovind.

    This is what is central to our discussion. It is what motivates your insistence that I am either illogical, stupid, or lying. (Those conclusions simply do not follow. I need hardly explain why.) It is what motivates your insistence that I am to blame in part for creationism (and your blindness to my activism against creationism in this regard, which is a matter of public record and frankly discredits your writing here more than anything I could ever write would do). It is what allows you to excuse PZ’s writing as “tongue-in-cheek” but damn my obviously playful words as sincere. And it is what motivated PZ when he wrote the damn post in the first place.

    I have a modest suggestion.

    I think you should drop the pretense that your invidious characterizations of me are justified on the basis of my alleged bad behavior in the past. You and I both know that my having allegedly wronged you is not what is driving your ire. (Whether I did or did not misquote you is hardly grounds for you arguing illogically and making non sequiteurs.) What is going on is precisely what you wrote above: because I have supported irrationality (read: theistic evolution or any way of thinking about God that doesn’t involve a wholesale dispensation with science), this justifies the wholesale gainsaying of my perspectives and, in the case of PZ talking about dying Christians, the dehumanization of people he otherwise wouldn’t allow himself to do.

    Rather, I think we should at the very least agree to presume that the beliefs of those in the other group, even when in clear conflict with the views we personally hold, are held sincerely. If we can do this, I think we’ll cut down on the internecine warfare that I think is pointless.

    There is another point that must be made and it regards the public reception of our ideas. To get to that point, I’m issuing a standing challenge to you or anyone else to produce a quotation of me misquoting or misattributing or whatever the things they said, whether intentional or not. When I am presented with such data, I will do what I would expect anyone to do when they are confronted with data that support the notion that they’ve behaved badly: I will apologize.

    This will be of use to me because the thing you guys in the other camp have to understand is that I’m not really talking to you. Let’s be honest: you’re as passionate about your views as I am about mine and we are hardly going to be convincing each other anytime soon. Rather, I’m talking to the people who haven’t made up their minds yet who aren’t necessarily in one camp or the other. Maybe they’re not even pro-science yet, but they someday will be. Maybe they’re voters we’re trying to sway. They see you acting all a fool up in #74 (“Humburg’s a God-head; Don’t listen to him; He’s to blame for creationism; etc.” as paraphrases). They see me answering, in the service of what I’m sure you would consider irrationality, rationally.

    Moreover, given, I showed where PZ wrote pretty much word-for-word what I summarized him as saying. And, given, you did not apologize; in fact, you wrote as if I should be grateful for the credibility I do have in these fora since I’m one of those God-heads. If nothing else, by apologizing when the time comes and the need arises, I’ll definitely be seizing the argumentative highground from you. And more people are going to be inclined to see things my way as a result.

    Say what you want to against Nisbet. (God knows I do.) But he’s onto something when he reminds us to be aware of how we are perceived. The fact that the data are on our side regarding evolution and creationism only get us so far. It’s not enough to be rational. We have to seem rational.

    You don’t seem too rational when you wrote what you did. And that’s why our camp is going to win.

    BCH

  102. #102 kcrady
    May 30, 2008

    SteveM wrote:

    The Sagan quote is very poetic, too poetic. So poetic it doesn’t really make any sense. I think what he is describing is just science. I think he is imagining a time when people are taught science as religiously as religion is today. But science itself should not become a religion (i.e. a dogma based on faith and “prophets”).

    I suppose it depends on your definition of “religion.” Since your definition is basically Abrahamic, requiring dogma, faith, and prophets, I would agree with you that “religion” as you use the word is incompatible with science. So is secular dogma, faith, and “prophets” (e.g. Communism).

    I was using “religion” in a broader sense to refer to a set of ideas and practices shared by a community intended to perform functions such as fostering moral and personal development, strengthening community bonds, and assisting members in discovering the experiencce of awe, wonder, and transcendance.

    Science and philosophy overlap these areas somewhat, and vice versa. Practiced properly, science and philosophy are methods for discovering a set of ideas that constitutes the most accurate understanding of Universe and the human condition available at a given time.

    Religions include sets of ideas about Universe and our place in it. Apart from a default assumption of “Religion = Abrahamic faiths,” there is no reason I know of that a religion must get its idea-set from faith, dogma, or ancient books rather than from sources like science, philosophy, and direct contemplative experience.

    What distinguishes “religion” (as I’m using the term here) from science and philosophy is that religion’s focus is not on the discovery and validation of the idea-set, but on human interaction with the idea-set, geared toward aims like community solidarity and the experience of wonder.

    We all agree that apprehending the Universe revealed by science produces awe and wonder that leaves something as petty as an invisible Sky-King who performs little parlor-tricks like talking, burning bushes in the dust. However, producing the experience of awe and wonder is not the purpose of science.

    One of the main tasks of a science-compatible religion would be to convey the wonders discovered by science in terms more lyrical and poetic than technical, and provide a framework for humans to relate to Universe and to each other. Such a religion would not be a rival to science and philosophy. Rather, it would serve as a conveyor belt to take the discoveries of science and philosophy from theory to practice in the lives of people as individuals and as a community.

    Analogy: Science provides us with pictures of the Hubble Deep Field and explanations of what the pictures show in factual terms. Philosophy could incorporate these findings into its inquiry about humanity’s place in the Cosmos. A properly science-compatible religion might seek to celebrate the discovery (say, in a “sermon”/planetarium show with inspiring music) in such a way as to facilitate an emotional, visceral appreciation of just how vast the HDF reveals our Universe to be. This religion might incorporate celebrations, holidays, or rituals to mark the solstices and equinoxes, commemorating the stages of Earth’s movement through space over the course of a year.

    The ubiquity and persistence of religions indicates that many people feel a need for these functions, as well as others like community, mutual assistance, and cooperative charitable endeavors. I do not see why these functions cannot be met by a religion that lacks dogma, faith, and “prophets.”

  103. #103 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    I asked:

    “Please identify the benefits of religion and provide supporting evidence.”

    Burt answered:

    That is immaterial for the purposes of my response to PZ. I need not demonstrate this for my response to be of merit. But what you are asking is a good question for its own merits and if you shoot me an email (link above), I’d be happy to carry on a conversation with you about some thoughts I’ve had on the matter.

    So, we will assume for the purposes of argument that there is no value to religion. Where does that get you? Why bother to defend it? Why don’t you want to discuss it in this forum?

    How can your response have merit when your response assumes that there is value to religion?

  104. #104 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    The ubiquity and persistence of religions indicates that many people feel a need for these functions, as well as others like community, mutual assistance, and cooperative charitable endeavors. I do not see why these functions cannot be met by a religion that lacks dogma, faith, and “prophets.”

    I get where you’re going, but when a system lacks these sorts of elements, we don’t call it a religion.

    I think a defining characteristic of religion, and I mean that this is what sets religions per se apart from philosophies and other systems, is specifically “makes claims systematically invulnerable to disproof.”

  105. #105 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Burt,

    “Mr. Penfold, I don’t know what I said against you in whatever former thread to which you refer, but I did answer your demand that I produce the quote in question. In response to my answering your challenge successfully, you did not apologize. Rather, you keep to your claim (arguing on the basis of heresay) that I misrepresented you in the past somwhere (somehow) and therefore I am apt to do so again and again. I don’t think this is central to our discussion but we’ll revisit this in a second.”

    I have not asked you produce any quote in this thread and nor have you produced one.

    “Rather, what is central to our discussion is what you went on to write in the remainder of your rejoinder. Namely, as Ed Brayton says, there are two essential groups in the pro-science community and they are defined by what they consider to be the central conflict. For the first group, the central conflict is evolution versus creationism. For the second group, it is science versus religion or reason versus unreason. And for most of the issues that we really need to focus on (whether to support Kitzmiller et. al., whether to support Hovind, etc.), I think in large part the two camps are going to agree.”

    The evolution vs creationism is issue is a small part of a larger struggle. It is a non-issue in most of Europe. The issue of rationality vs irrationality is the larger stuggle and is still an issue in Europe. I simply do not know enough on Asia, Africa or South America to comment on the situations there. Kitsmiller is important to Americans. Outside America it means nothing. The UK recently had a two debate in the House of Commons on a new human reproduction and embryology bill. There were various attempts to make illegal the use of human-animal hybrid stem cells for research, to reduce the time limit on abortion, to make illegal the idea of “saviour” siblings and to insist that clinics offering insemination by donor consider the need for a “father figure”. All were religiously inspired, and the proponents all seemed to lack any basic understanding of human reproduction and embryology. As you might expect in Europe, the biggest supporter of these amendments was the Catholic church which could offer no arguments against the act other than it was “Frankenstein” science (whatever that means) and “playing god”. Thankfully all the amendments were defeated. However, it shows that the war in favour of rationality is not restricted to the evolution vs creationism debate. It may be where you live, but it is not here. I for one resent your xenophobic view that the evolution vs creationism issue is all that matters. It is not, not here. I would also note you mention Ed Brayton, who by his own admission has refused to read Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and yet still insists on criticising it. I would also point out Brayton’s knowledge of the world beyond the US borders is limited, and I have caught him lying about the Police in the UK before now.

    “There is another point that must be made and it regards the public reception of our ideas. To get to that point, I’m issuing a standing challenge to you or anyone else to produce a quotation of me misquoting or misattributing or whatever the things they said, whether intentional or not. When I am presented with such data, I will do what I would expect anyone to do when they are confronted with data that support the notion that they’ve behaved badly: I will apologize.”

    I have done. You didn’t. You accused PZ of the logical fallacy of appealing to authority. You willfully misconstrued what he said. This has alread been pointed out you, and you have not yet aplogised so I do not believe you are being honest when you claim you would.

    I would also add you have failed to convince the American public. You have not had made an impression in 20 years. You are are total failure, pathetic even, and really deserve to be treated with some contempt for your continued insistence you are winning. 20 years, not any effect. Think on that.

  106. #106 Matt
    May 30, 2008

    To the extent that science and religion say contradictory things that are verifiable one way or another, they are incompatible. And not surprisingly in those cases, the science wins out.

    In the cases where religion makes a claim that is not falsifiable or not in any sense scientific (such as the basic claim that god/s exist), then they are compatible in the sense that there is no overlap in their domains of knowledge, claimed or otherwise. Simply put, science has nothing to say about the existence or non existence of something that is non-material or supernatural, since by definition science seeks natural explanations for natural phenomena. Not all knowledge is scientific.

  107. #107 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    Not all knowledge is scientific.

    I hear this a lot. But please name another method capable of reliably generating knowledge.

  108. #108 windy
    May 30, 2008

    Simply put, science has nothing to say about the existence or non existence of something that is non-material or supernatural, since by definition science seeks natural explanations for natural phenomena. Not all knowledge is scientific.

    At the risk of starting this endless argument again, no other discipline can produce such “knowledge” about non-material or supernatural affairs either, unless it is somehow assumed to affect the physical, in which case it’s free game for science again.

  109. #109 Brian Kirkman
    May 30, 2008

    Agree with #107. Is the existence of God “knowledge”? If so, what type of God. Muslims “know” one type of “truth,” Christians “another”. They both “know” different things. Is that “knowledge”, if it contradicts itself?

  110. #110 H.H.
    May 30, 2008

    Not all knowledge is scientific.

    Barring personal subjective claims on internal mental states, yet it is. What science cannot tell us about the Universe, mankind cannot know. Unevidenced claims of the existence of supernatural agents do not qualify as knowledge. If science cannot confirm their existence, then nothing can. There is no “other system” one can turn to. Faith is not a valid method of knowing.

  111. #111 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Let us look at how the moderate, let us be nice to religion, anti-creationism lobby in the US has worked.

    It has won some court cases, in fact in always wins them. If they were being truly successful there would by now not be any need to worry about attempts to force creationism into the classroom. The creationists would have packed up and gone home, but they have not. They are still there, still trying to find ways to get creationism into the classroom. Maybe claiming to be studying the bible from a cultural point of view, maybe by passing acts allowing “academic freedom”. Whatever method they go for, they are still at it. And yes, they must be stopped, and that probably will mean relying on the courts. But it needs more than that. They cannot just go on the basis, find case to fight, fight case, win case, find case to fight ….. But this will not win the battle. It is merely a holding action. I see nothing from this moderate lobby that intends to push back the hold of religion in America on the scientific discussion. You can try telling them that religion and science address different things, and that they are not in conflict. The simple fact is they are. Ask the creationists, they will tell you, they do see such a conflict and there has been twenty years of people telling them there is no conflict and they have not paid any attention. The policy has been a total failure. It has not shifted the views of the American population at all. Can they not see they need to try something new ? If they cannot solve the problem, and it is a problem, then maybe they should others have a go. Instead they just complain that those who advocate a more robust approach will alienate people, and should shut up. I sometimes wonder if some anti-creationists in the US are too in love with idea of fighting court cases and winning. It must be quite exciting to be in midst of such a case.

  112. #112 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    I responded to FreeLunch’s challenge by writing, in part:
    “[Providing a justification for religion] is immaterial for the purposes of my response to PZ.”

    To which FreeLunch responded:
    “Where does that get you? Why bother to defend it? Why don’t you want to discuss it in this forum?”

    To which I respond:
    Simple. Because answering your question in this thread is immaterial for the question at hand, which is about Coyne and PZ’s alleged argument to authority (yes, I bloody well know it was a joke, people – sheesh). If you want to start a discussion on the matter of justifying religion, do so in a post other than this one and I’ll gladly join it. (Some have already taken up that torch in this thread.) But it would take us offtopic of where I want this conversation to head and so I deem it immaterial.

    BCH

  113. #113 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “In the cases where religion makes a claim that is not falsifiable or not in any sense scientific (such as the basic claim that god/s exist), then they are compatible in the sense that there is no overlap in their domains of knowledge, claimed or otherwise.”

    It is true that science cannot address the issue of whether god(s) exist or not, at least not directly. However it can address claims made about those gods which normally include various forms on intervention in the universe. Answering prayers, performing miracles, intelligent design and so on are all claims that impinge on what science can investigate. So whilst science cannot tell us gods do not exist, it can tell us that if gods exist they are limited in what they can do. That role is at best limited to starting the big bang, and under some cosmological hypotheses not even that. It does indicate that there is no role for gods once the universe has started. Given the role allowed for gods by science is so limited, what is so special about them ? Anyone who thinks there is such a god does not really subscribe to any of the mainstream religions but instead is simply a deist.

    Science does tell us that Mary was not a virgin, that Jesus did not rise from the dead, that he did not feed 5000 with a few loaves and fish and did not walk on water. Other religions make equally false claims. We are told that educated, sophisticated people do not believe in the literal version of events in Genesis. How many of those people believe in the literal virgin birth, or resurrection ? Things that are just as implausible from a scientific point of view.

  114. #114 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “To which I respond:
    Simple. Because answering your question in this thread is immaterial for the question at hand, which is about Coyne and PZ’s alleged argument to authority (yes, I bloody well know it was a joke, people – sheesh). If you want to start a discussion on the matter of justifying religion, do so in a post other than this one and I’ll gladly join it. (Some have already taken up that torch in this thread.) But it would take us offtopic of where I want this conversation to head and so I deem it immaterial.

    BCH”

    The subject of the thread is Jerry Coyne’s talk in which he says the real battle being fought is between religion and rationality. As such the question FreeLunch asked was perfectly reasonable and consistent with the topic. That you decided to falsly accuse PZ of a logical fallacy does not alter the original topic. And again I note you lied here. The topic is NOT about appeal to authority, despite what you claimed.

    Can you actually tell the truth Burt ? Would you know what it is ? Or are really the pathetic lying scumbug I think you are ?

  115. #115 Jams
    May 30, 2008

    An example of something religion is good for/at: controlling the behaviour of large numbers of people.

    Just say’in.

  116. #116 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    Mr. Penfold vituperation is noted. I don’t see a whole lot worth responding to in his screed, except to point out that twenty years ago, I was myself a creationist. Thankfully, the college I went to had people who were in my camp (described above in an earlier post), who helped me understand that choosing science didn’t mean that I had to choose atheism.

    I would also add that many creationists have come up to me after I’ve given my talks or argued at creationist revivals thanking me for what I had to say and in many cases going so far as to say language like, “If you were the one teaching my kid evolution, I wouldn’t mind that.”

    All this is to say, I reject being saddled with the failure of evolution to appeal to people. However able I am to see the sincerity of people in Penfold’s camp (and I do think he and others are sincere), there’s much to be said that both creationists and people in his camp agree that science and religion are immiscible. In other words, I would saddle people like Penfold and their insistence of anti-religion flavored science as the only Way of Thinking About Things Worthwhile with the failure to appeal to people far more than I could ever be saddled with.

    The people in my camp would argue, as Josh Rosenau of the NCSE has, that it is an empirical fact that there are people who see compatibility between science and religion and that it can be very helpful to point this out to people, since many people will simply not listen to a discussion of the underlying science until their religious concerns have been addressed. Here in the states, this is an extremely effective tactic for disarming the bomb of evolution when trying to teach it to students and parents.

    Best wishes,

    BCH

  117. #117 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “An example of something religion is good for/at: controlling the behaviour of large numbers of people.

    Just say’in.”

    Yes, it can do that. Others in this thread have suggested likewise. It is not really a very good reason though. It seems to amount to co-coercion: be good or suffer in hell for eternity. One would have hoped we had moved on from such.

  118. #118 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    In reading the latest vituperation from Penfold, I would note that I have found it effective in general, when trying to appeal to voters and other church-goers in Kansas, to not call them “pathetic, lying scumbags.” They tend to not respond well to that.

    Oops, I put a comma between pathetic and lying, and Penfold didn’t actually put one there. That’s a misquotation of the first water! I guess this constitutes a lie in his eyes as well, doesn’t it? What a weasel I am!

    I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Penfold has no interest in appealing to the open-minded to convince them of his case. His role here in this thread appears to be solely to preach to the choir of his camp. If he can spew just one more invective, then he can generate a few more hardy-har-har’s and that will be a job well done for him.

    Who the devil does he think he’s winning over by calling me a scumbag?

    As for me, just like I’m not interested in justifying religion in this thread, so too am I not interested in meeting Mr. Penfold’s vituperation with the same. I’m hoping to convince those who are not yet convinced and perhaps to meet a few in his camp somewhere in the middle, to agree to disagree on some details, and to otherwise fight together in a good cause.

    I welcome all willing to join me in that endeavor. And I think that may be the last I have to say to Mr. Penfold.

    BCH

  119. #119 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Burt,

    “The people in my camp would argue, as Josh Rosenau of the NCSE has, that it is an empirical fact that there are people who see compatibility between science and religion and that it can be very helpful to point this out to people, since many people will simply not listen to a discussion of the underlying science until their religious concerns have been addressed. Here in the states, this is an extremely effective tactic for disarming the bomb of evolution when trying to teach it to students and parents.”

    No one denies that there people who do not see a conflict between science and religion, at least not that I am aware of. However The National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine recently published a book “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” which discusses the compatibility of science and religion. Or rather actually is doesn’t. Whilst it has plenty on scientists who think the two are compatible it does not even mention that there are scientists who think the two are not compatible. It seems that one side has problems admitting although they claim to represent American Science not all scientists agree with their position.

    I am not sure what your religious views are, but can you assure me you do not accept that your god (or gods) intervenes in the universe ? If you cannot, how do you justify that view given it would conflict with science ?

  120. #120 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “In reading the latest vituperation from Penfold, I would note that I have found it effective in general, when trying to appeal to voters and other church-goers in Kansas, to not call them “pathetic, lying scumbags.” They tend to not respond well to that.”

    I am not trying to appeal to you. I am trying to insult you.

    “As for me, just like I’m not interested in justifying religion in this thread, so too am I not interested in meeting Mr. Penfold’s vituperation with the same. I’m hoping to convince those who are not yet convinced and perhaps to meet a few in his camp somewhere in the middle, to agree to disagree on some details, and to otherwise fight together in a good cause.”

    The why bother turning up ? The compatibility of science and religion was after all the topic, despite your lies in claiming otherwise. Your failure to answer is noted, and does not reflect well on you.

    I would also note you have not not apologised for misrepresenting PZ, despite your saying you would. Yet another lie.

    I said at the beginning you were lying, had lied in the past and would lie again. I was right.

    “Who the devil does he think he’s winning over by calling me a scumbag?”

    No one, that was not the aim. I just think you are a lying bastard only slightly better than the likes of Hovind or Demsbki.

  121. #121 James F
    May 30, 2008

    Burt Humurg @ 166 wrote:

    The people in my camp would argue, as Josh Rosenau of the NCSE has, that it is an empirical fact that there are people who see compatibility between science and religion and that it can be very helpful to point this out to people, since many people will simply not listen to a discussion of the underlying science until their religious concerns have been addressed.

    I would take it a step further and say that more needs to be done than pointing out the existence of compatibility; some people won’t listen unless they hear the message from their co-religionists.

  122. #122 Jams
    May 30, 2008

    “One would have hoped we had moved on from such.” – Matt Penfold

    Well, we could hope, but it certainly isn’t so. Though it’s an unpleasant argument, I think it’s one of the best arguments in favour of religion. It could be argued that religion is good as long as it successfully controls the sorts of people who are stupid enough to believe in it, without actually making their stupidity more dangerous than it would otherwise be.

    It’s a sketchy best argument though.

  123. #123 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “I would take it a step further and say that more needs to be done than pointing out the existence of compatibility; some people won’t listen unless they hear the message from their co-religionists.”

    Well it would be fine if they did. If they have tried in the US they have failed. Of course creationism is not a scientific issue really anyway, it is a theological one.

  124. #124 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    Not all knowledge is scientific.

    I hear this a lot. But please name another method capable of reliably generating knowledge.
    - CJO

    Constructing mathematical proofs.

  125. #125 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “Well, we could hope, but it certainly isn’t so. Though it’s an unpleasant argument, I think it’s one of the best arguments in favour of religion. It could be argued that religion is good as long as it successfully controls the sorts of people who are stupid enough to believe in it, without actually making their stupidity more dangerous than it would otherwise be.

    It’s a sketchy best argument though.”

    Not only that but rather dangerous. If the only thing keeping people from acting in a moral way is fear of eternal damnation then they are only a crisis of faith of way from going postal.

  126. #126 Quine
    May 30, 2008

    Coyne uses the term “Darwinism” repeatedly through this video, which I believe is not a good idea because the ‘ism part carries the psychological baggage of terms like Marxism and Catholicism. Each place he used it, it sounded like he meant “Darwinian evolution” which would have been better (i.e. representing an objectively testable truth). We should leave the ‘isms to the politicians and to those pushing religion.

  127. #127 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “Coyne uses the term “Darwinism” repeatedly through this video, which I believe is not a good idea because the ‘ism part carries the psychological baggage of terms like Marxism and Catholicism. Each place he used it, it sounded like he meant “Darwinian evolution” which would have been better (i.e. representing an objectively testable truth). We should leave the ‘isms to the politicians and to those pushing religion.”

    Could we say it is the “isms” that cause schisms ?

  128. #128 freelunch
    May 30, 2008

    Constructing mathematical proofs.

    I disagree. Mathematics and logic are a way of testing things and a tool for understanding, but I’m not persuaded that a mathematical proof ever provides knowledge — other than the way the mathematical system under consideration works. When the math does a good approximation of the physical world, it’s a great tool to help understand, but knowledge? Not really, or not any more than any other human invention.

  129. #129 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    The question on whether science and religion can be “compatible” depends not only on what it means to be compatible, but what people really mean by “religion.”

    Ed Darrell in #64 seems to define “compatible” in a mostly social sense: science and religion can get along the same way modern chemistry and homeopathy can get along. One side brings the potato salad, the other side brings the hot dogs, and they work together against dangerous quacks who actively kill people. They both use their strengths to win.

    That’s one sense of compatible. But modern chemists and homeopaths are not going to be compatriots when it comes to analyzing whether homeopathy is anything other than water, placebo, and a lot of handwaving. And to the extent that religion is saying anything special about reality, there’s going to be the same kind of conflict once the subject turns to analyzing the “more reasonable, less harmful” religions. And then the handwaving really gets going.

    Several commenters, such as Mike G and K Crady, have highlighted the bigger problem: the definition of religion. What, exactly, are we talking about here?

    A few years ago I started collecting definitions of religion, God, and spirituality. They run all over the board (to put it mildly.) I have nothing to object to in kcrady’s post #103 — but its definition of religion. Religion is “a set of ideas and practices shared by a community intended to perform functions such as fostering moral and personal development, strengthening community bonds, and assisting members in discovering the experience of awe, wonder, and transcendence.” S/he’s admitting it’s being used “in a broader sense.” A bit too broad. It seems to apply to Pharyngula.

    So here’s what I think: the definition of religion is loose for various reasons, but one major reason is tactical. Religious people LOVE to blur distinctions between religion and other areas such as philosophy, ethics, community, morality, emotions, tastes, aesthetics, imagination, qualia, history, metaphor, abstractions, compassion, desire, the sense of awe, and so on. The broader they can get the definition, the more they love it — because it allows them to sneak things which are unsupported and particular to religion in among the big, messy, jostling secular crowd.

    And then they too often think they can point out that atheists are somehow “missing” the Big Picture. They can now point to things like philosophy, ethics, community, aesthetics, etc. and say that since those things are not, specifically, science, then atheists can’t really lay any claim to them because all atheists are greedy scientistic reductionists who just can’t see the importance of things like philosophy, ethics, (God), community, aesthetics, etc.

    I want the definitions tight because there’s a mad and nasty habit going about of playing bait and switch. I’m not saying anyone here is doing it. No. But it’s out there, and it’s ugly, and it’s confusing, and it wastes everyone’s time.

  130. #130 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Sastra,

    I do not have the book to hand, but in “The God Delusion” Dawkins discusses what he means by religion. He makes it clear he does not include those religions do not make divine claims (or least none of any great import) but are more ethical systems for living. If I recall he essnetially says that the religion must make claims of some form entity intervening in the universe, which also rules out Spinoza’s god.

    In the context of this discussion it would seem to be a reasonable definition.

  131. #131 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    Matt #130

    Dawkins defines the God Hypothesis as:“… there exists a superhuman, supernatural intelligence who deliberately designed and created the universe and everything in it.”

    And did the sophisticated HOWL over that. That’s not God! God is nothing like that! Religion has nothing to do with that! Atheists are just creating a straw man! An easy version to knock down! Ho ho ho.

    Here’s an excellent response to one of the critics of Dawkin’s immature, literal version of God, who has offered a mature, rarified version of God which turns out to be “vague, contradictory, and clearly driven by human psychological needs”:

    http://www.naturalism.org/projecting_god.htm

    Tom Clark vs. Haught. Clark FTW.

  132. #132 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    Dawkins makes the distinction by referring to what Matt calls Spinoza’s God as “Einsteinian religion.”

    I believe my criterion: “makes claims systematically invulnerable to disproof” is a paraphrase of Dennett, from Breaking the Spell.

  133. #133 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Sastra,

    Yeap, that is it.

    I am not sure why the so-called sophisticated theists could object to that. They do after all claim that god created the universe, and that whilst he might not have created everything in it personally he put in place the laws that would do so. A standard “sophisticated” theist response to creationism is to claim that god used evolution as his method of creation. I am not sure how that does not fit with the definition used by Dawkins, but then I am not sure there is any definition they would not object to. I somehow doubt they object to the use of “deliberately”, although I sure there are some people somewhere who think it could all be an accident. Sounds the kind of thing Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchet would come up with. Of course I suppose they could really be sincere and do not think a supernatural entity had anything to do with it, but then you have to ask why they would object to Dawkins’ definition when it would not apply to them. Dawkins was clear he was not targeting religion that did not have a role for a supernatural entity.

    I guess I will never understand the religious. The fundamentalist sort baffle me in their wilful ignorance, and the “sophisticated” ones baffle me in how much they are willing to play silly word games.

  134. #134 windy
    May 30, 2008

    I disagree. Mathematics and logic are a way of testing things and a tool for understanding, but I’m not persuaded that a mathematical proof ever provides knowledge — other than the way the mathematical system under consideration works. When the math does a good approximation of the physical world, it’s a great tool to help understand, but knowledge? Not really, or not any more than any other human invention.

    Split the difference? I think knowledge about non-real systems can be called knowledge if it’s sufficiently qualified. Someone can be said to “know” the identity of Luke Skywalker’s dad, since everyone implicitly understands what system we are talking about. In mathematics we can qualify whether we are talking about a relationship that applies in the real world or not. Religious knowledge claims usually equivocate between being claims about the real world and being about “something beyond science”.

  135. #135 BaldApe
    May 30, 2008

    Sounds like the same thing pretty much. It’s early though. Makes more sense with coffee probably. I’m not a theologlian though. Have a good day.

    That’s the problem with theology: a bunch of made up words about a bunch of made up concepts. Then they say “Well Darwin can’t explain original sin!” and think they’ve scored a point.

    But the really sad thing is that since they still have fairy studies courses at major universities, these people think they are educated.

  136. #136 James F
    May 30, 2008

    #123

    “I would take it a step further and say that more needs to be done than pointing out the existence of compatibility; some people won’t listen unless they hear the message from their co-religionists.”
    Well it would be fine if they did. If they have tried in the US they have failed. Of course creationism is not a scientific issue really anyway, it is a theological one.

    They have tried and their efforts continue, but it’s an approach with a positive influence that ought not to be abandoned. People have been won over by books like Finding Darwin’s God, The Language of God, and Rational Designer. The United Methodist Church just endorsed the Clergy Letter Project, which has spiked to over 11,300 signatures, and the Vatican is planning a conference to mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of the Species. Without moderate theist voices, the fundamentalists will go unchallenged.

  137. #137 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “But the really sad thing is that since they still have fairy studies courses at major universities, these people think they are educated.”

    I don’t know about theology courses in the US but here in the UK most of a theology degree consists of studies that would not be considered “fairy tales”. There is science, philosophy, history, archaeology, psychology and the academic study of religious books. All of those are respectable disciplines. Of course there is then the theological element proper, which is where the trouble lies.

  138. #138 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 30, 2008

    I guess I will never understand the religious. The fundamentalist sort baffle me in their wilful ignorance, and the “sophisticated” ones baffle me in how much they are willing to play silly word games.

    It is likewise difficult to understand why Atheists insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism. I guess it makes things easier. For the second part, one reason is that it is difficult to express in language ideas that are beyond the ability of language to represent. Poetic language seems to help, as noted up thread. That is why religious and artistic expression have such affinity for one another. They are both attempting to eff the ineffable.

  139. #139 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    I don’t know about theology courses in the US but here in the UK most of a theology degree consists of studies that would not be considered “fairy tales”. There is science, philosophy, history, archaeology, psychology and the academic study of religious books. All of those are respectable disciplines. Of course there is then the theological element proper, which is where the trouble lies.

    http://www.amazon.com/End-Biblical-Studies-Hector-Avalos/dp/1591025362

    I think we had a thread on the very issue of ending theology as a discipline here on Pharyngula a while back.

    I *think* this was the relevant thread:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/05/a_man_after_my_own_heart_at_io.php

  140. #140 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    … I sit corrected:

    the relevant thread is THIS one:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/10/lets_disband_the_theology_depa.php

  141. #141 Jesse
    May 30, 2008

    See what happens when I go to work! I miss eight hours of pretty cool discussion.

    Waaay back up there I brought up that religion and science are two different things, and more importantly that there are things that aren’t testable. So I am going to try to address some of that here.

    When I brought up stuff like “I love you” as not falsifiable, I meant that i could point to any number of behaviors that I might say demonstrates love — like corporeal punishment, for instance. I find it personally wrong, but there are a lot of parents out there who might say their willingness to hit a child for wrongdoing demonstrates love. I can’t prove any differently, not being in their heads.

    The fact that I can come up with any and all justifications for all kinds of weird stuff to demonstrate love that few people could agree on says to me that “I love you” isn’t as empirically testable as one might think. Yes, we can go by people’s behavior, and we do in our everyday lives. But entire books and plays and all that have been written about whether you know the person you love (or feel you do) really loves you back.

    When I said science deals in falsifiable statements, I was pointing out that one reason ID *isn’t* science is that it isn’t falsifiable or even testable. There are lots of things like that — while a neurologist might say we can track mental states using brain scans, I would say that you still have the problem of understanding the person’s subjective experience. That is, you aren’t in my head so there’s no real way for you to know what the brain scan is telling you (relative to the person’s perceived mental state).

    Can you prove to me you can love? I can try to figure it out from behavior, but I can come up with a million ways to justify anything without resorting to that conclusion — just as I can justify all sorts of things to get to that conclusion. I demonstrate love for my kids by shoving carrots in my ears as I dance! Prove me wrong! You can’t.

    Here’s another way of looking at it. Remember the Matrix? Can you, using the scientific method, prove we aren’t in one? Probably not. Oh, we can go with the ad hoc position that we are in the real world (that’s the scientist in me) but you can’t prove it.

    Then there’s ethical questions. I brought up the abolitionists precisely because the Bible can be used to justify slavery and fight it as well. “Slavery is wrong” is not a scientific statement. There is no testable hypothesis here– only the sense that you shouldn’t do that to other people. I’m not saying that you can’t rationally come up with a system of ethics, or even that religion is the way to do that. Far from it, I’m just saying that the testing of hypotheses method of science has limited utility in discussing ethical questions.

    I say this for the same reason, by the way, that I think Ben Stein is a fool for saying Darwin leads to Hitler. The ToE has no bearing on the ethics of eugenics.

    I don’t believe god exists. So what? Once you get there it has little bearing on many ethical questions I might face. Science (and I am speaking as a former science major) was never a whole lot of help in that regard. Religion wasn’t either, but the point is that once you get past the idea that religious people are all idiots or insane (on my bad days I don’t think that’s completely unreasonable) you still have to grapple with that stuff.

    Philosophers have been wrestling with this for so damn long precisely because empirical science is so little help in deciding certain kinds of questions.

    As to whether atheists or religious people are better at tackling ethical questions: I give the win to neither. I have seen no evidence that you can’t be an abusive jerk when an atheist; similarly I have seen no evidence that religion has any particular effect on the proportion of abusive jerks in a population. In fact, it seems that one’s ethical sense is completely independent of whether one is religious (of whatever stripe), or an atheist.

    I see science as a tool (and a damned good one). But it’s like a saw or a screwdriver. I wouldn’t use either of those to hammer nails with.

  142. #142 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    It is likewise difficult to understand why Atheists insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism

    Isn’t this just The Courtier’s Reply? Explain to us again how rich and luxuriant are the Emperor’s beautiful clothes, as opposed to that vulagar old tale those lowbrows are teling in their fundamentalist hovel.

    it is difficult to express in language ideas that are beyond the ability of language to represent.

    You might even say it’s impossible. If a task is “beyond your ability” is it difficult, or does that mean you just can’t do it? Or do you mean that you might just succeed, but by sheer dumb luck, not by any virtue or ability? Some basis for a system of thought, ethics, or, well, anything.

    religious and artistic expression have such affinity for one another.

    Or antipathy, it seems to me, depending on the proclivities of the artist. As a blanket statement, it’s just BS.

  143. #143 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    It is likewise difficult to understand why Atheists insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism. – Brenda von Ahsen
    Some atheists (we’re a modest lot, quite satisfied with a lower-case “a”) may conflate religion with fundamentalism, but it’s a bit odd to make that point out of thin air, in response to a comment from Matt Penfold that explicitly distinguishes fundamentalists from the sophisticated religious. Do you have an argument to advance?

  144. #144 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    “It is likewise difficult to understand why Atheists insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism. I guess it makes things easier. For the second part, one reason is that it is difficult to express in language ideas that are beyond the ability of language to represent. Poetic language seems to help, as noted up thread. That is why religious and artistic expression have such affinity for one another. They are both attempting to eff the ineffable.”

    It might be difficult to understand but since I am not aware of it being a widespread phenomenon it does not seem to be much of a problem. Of course you are starting of rather disingenuously as fundamentalism is a form of religion, and not something separate to it. There are not two separate groups, the fundamentalists and the religious but rather a continuum. Even those who are part of what is normally considered a moderate religion can show fundamentalist tendencies. A Church of England Bishop stated he thought the severe flooding the UK saw last summer to be a warning from god. That would seem to be a view straight out of the fundamentalist’s book of claims about god. It certainly is making an empirical claim about god.

    Can you offer any evidence that a significant number of atheists think all religious people are fundamentalist ? Only most of the well known ones, Dawkins, PZ, Hitchins, Harris, Dennet, Grayling are all on record as saying precisely the opposite.

  145. #145 Matt Penfold
    May 30, 2008

    Ichthyic,

    Damm that Dawkins (and PZ). They always say what I think better than I can!

  146. #146 windy
    May 30, 2008

    Can you prove to me you can love? I can try to figure it out from behavior, but I can come up with a million ways to justify anything without resorting to that conclusion — just as I can justify all sorts of things to get to that conclusion. I demonstrate love for my kids by shoving carrots in my ears as I dance! Prove me wrong! You can’t.

    First of all, science isn’t about proof. We can’t prove that fossils weren’t planted by Satan to trick us. This does not mean that we are unable to study fossils. Can you reformulate your claims about love so that they actually have something to do with science?

  147. #147 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    Ed Darell:

    I’m a Democrat. When both of my state’s senators were of the opposite party, and one called me to work for him, should I have turned him down as incompatible? I think the nation’s better off when we work together where principle allows collaboration and cooperation.

    Wait…

    you’re actually trying to say that comparing opposite ends of the political spectrum is analogous to comparing science and religion???

    Gees, Ed, I’ve seen way better arguments from you than that.

    hang your head in shame.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize what you are tyring to say is:

    “can’t we all just get along”

    but really, that is one of the worst ways of expressing that sentiment I’ve seen in a while.

  148. #148 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    When I brought up stuff like “I love you” as not falsifiable, I meant that i could point to any number of behaviors that I might say demonstrates love

    if you would be so kind, please peddle your bicycle backwards a little faster?

  149. #149 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    Damm that Dawkins (and PZ). They always say what I think better than I can!

    well, that’s why they get paid “the big bucks”.
    ;)

    seriously, though, don’t sell yourself short. I rather liked your shredding of Humbug.

  150. #150 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    Brenda von Ahson #138 wrote:

    It is likewise difficult to understand why Atheists insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism. I guess it makes things easier.

    No, atheists do not all “insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism.” Although the issue of creationism involves fundamentalism, atheists are constantly being criticized because they do NOT confine their critiques to creationism, fundamentalism, or other forms of religion which make directly testable claims. They go after the concept of God itself, and usually try to make the definition as inclusive as possible. Atheists come from all backgrounds of religious belief, and they don’t all carry grudges and battle scars. Whether religion is true is different than whether it is useful, pretty, or interesting.

    Thinking that atheists focus only on the most simplistic and superstitious religions is a common conceit, a way for theists to place themselves in the wonderful Golden Middle between the extremes. Why, what Dawkins says surely doesn’t apply to me and my beliefs, which are very, very, different. Atheism and fundamentalism are really the same sort of thing — a childish inability to understand fine nuances.

    And what — exactly — are those nuances and oh-so-fine beliefs? From what I can tell, the usual rules are that the atheist goes first, and defines God. The theist then sighs and says “that’s not it.” Repeat and continue, to general amusement. One can chase a process theologian around for months and never get a straight answer.

    Here’s why conservatism fundamentalism is easier. It’s clearer. Moderate and liberal theists are often frantic to avoid actually saying, clearly and simply, what it is they believe and why they believe it.

    “No, no, no, we can’t do that — God is too mysterious and numinous for us to ever explain what it is. That’s because it’s God! Babbling incoherent nonsense and making lame analogies is exactly what one would expect to do if there really was a God! We’re trying to eff the ineffable over here! Cut us some slack!”

    No. No slack. Sit up straight, and stop mumbling.

  151. #151 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    No. No slack. Sit up straight, and stop mumbling.

    I see some knuckles that could use a good thumping with a ruler…

    :p

  152. #152 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    Mathematics and logic are a way of testing things and a tool for understanding, but I’m not persuaded that a mathematical proof ever provides knowledge — other than the way the mathematical system under consideration works. – freelunch

    That’s the knowledge I meant. The fact that this is not knowledge about the real world does not mean it is not knowledge. When Euclid (IIRC) proved that there are infinitely many primes, do you really want to deny that he added to human knowledge? Once we select the axioms of a particular mathematical system (and some logical rules of inference), we cannot choose to reject the theorems that result – but the full consequences of any interesting set of axioms are not immediately obvious, so as we discover (not invent) more of those consequences, we are indeed gaining knowledge. This is true for any arbitrary mathematical system, but when we apply maths to science, the choice of a mathematical system is empirically motivated: those applying it think the objects in that mathematical system will provide an accurate model (or useful approximation) of some aspect of the real world. However, having once chosen a mathematical system as a the basis of a theory or model, we are committed to the logical consequences of that system, even if we did not immediately appreciate them. Indeed, deducing previously unknown consequences of mathematically-expressed theories or models is often (e.g. in particle physics) the key to devising new experimental or observational tests.

  153. #153 inkadu
    May 30, 2008

    I’m glad someone brought Hector into this, because I’ve been thinking…

    Look what happens when science (or rationalism) begins to investigate religion. The bible has completely collapsed under it’s own weight. In what weird universe do people live where religion can claim to be separate & independent & equally valid, when the founding text of the ruling national religion has been completely and thoroughly undermined?

    I just don’t get it. Religion is like the black knight in the Holy Grail. It’s been cut off at the knees and insisting it’s only a flesh wound.

  154. #154 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    Jesse #141 wrote:

    Waaay back up there I brought up that religion and science are two different things, and more importantly that there are things that aren’t testable.

    The problem isn’t whether all things are testable. It’s where religion and God go.

    For example:

    Category #1:
    The Big Bang occurred.
    Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.
    A person can leave their body and go into another room.
    Cats have 8 legs.
    Humans feel emotions.

    Category #2:
    You have to have hope.
    Shakespeare was the greatest writer ever.
    Yippeee!
    People who harm animals are wrong.
    I am feeling the deepest love for my mother.

    That first category is, roughly, a fact category. The statements can be true or false, and rest on empirical evidence. They can either be tested, or rejected as unlikely.

    That second category consists, roughly, of feelings, opinions, and expressions of values — morals and meaning. They exist — but are generally conceded to be at least partly “outside of science.” They’re not necessarily testable.

    The big question, then, in which category does “God exists” go? If I think God looks like it belongs in the first category, rather than in the second, making a lot of bother and thump about the importance of the second doesn’t do anything for me.

  155. #155 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 30, 2008

    CJO
    Isn’t this just The Courtier’s Reply?
    No it is not, I read that post before commenting. As I understand it The Courtier’s Reply is to huff and puff and to feel insulted.

    You might even say it’s impossible.
    I believe that is incorrect, nevertheless, there is value in the effort. It is in fact the difference between merely existing and having a life worth living. I prefer the latter. I’m sure you do too.

    Matt
    It might be difficult to understand but since I am not aware of it being a widespread phenomenon it does not seem to be much of a problem.
    Well, it is just my perception of a good deal of what has been said in this thread.

    There are not two separate groups, the fundamentalists and the religious but rather a continuum.
    You were the one to make the distinction between lower (fundamentalist) and higher (sophisticated) religious positions. It’s not an uncommon observation to make and can be quite useful.

    Can you offer any evidence that a significant number of atheists think all religious people are fundamentalist ?
    It is my perception. I don’t believe in “God” and in fact I used to be an atheist though I wouldn’t call myself a believer either. It’s just my observation, online and off, that I see a lot of atheists focus excessively on fundamentalism. I guess that is understandable from a political viewpoint. But intellectually it’s a bit puzzling why one would concentrate on the illiterate.

    Up thread it is said that “religion” is intended to be limited to a special subset of spiritual thought i.e. only those who make direct claims to a deity. Again, that seems like special pleading to me. It allows one to make expansive claims and yet at the same time to narrowly restrict one’s opponent. Nice.

    I think of myself as someone who is questioning, trying to figure things out. I would agree with the quotation “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there.” I like that, it sort of sums things up nicely for me. Mere scientific atheism just isn’t enough for me. Science is a necessary foundation, it accurately describes the world. But that isn’t enough. It’s doesn’t get me to where I want to go. I don’t want to merely exist, I’m not a bacterium. I want more than that. I would think most people do.

  156. #156 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    inkadu #153 wrote:

    In what weird universe do people live where religion can claim to be separate & independent & equally valid, when the founding text of the ruling national religion has been completely and thoroughly undermined?

    I once read about a sect of Mormonism which actually admitted that The Book of Mormon was a scrabbled-together invention of a 19th century con artist. However, they believed that Mormonism and the Church of Latter Day Saints was still, in a very significant way, true.

    I never ran into one of these. I’m guessing that this is a sort of “fingernail theology” (as in ‘hanging on by your fingernails’) used by people who were raised in a strong Mormon culture, so that they came to associate morals and meaning with the stories and rituals. Thus the strained attempt to find some way to both accept the historical record AND grant special status and deep importance to the Book of Mormon.

    They probably don’t go around trying to convert outsiders much. After all — how could they?

    Many ‘liberal’ religionists are quite proud of the fact that they don’t go around trying to “tell people what they should believe.” Well, no. Not if you have Fingernail Theology.

  157. #157 CJO
    May 30, 2008

    As I understand it The Courtier’s Reply is to huff and puff and to feel insulted.

    Then you don’t understand it.

    The Courtier’s reply is to insist that the critic of religion has made a fundamentalist caricature of it and that one’s own beliefs are much more refined and sophisticated than THAT, without ever really trying to spell out the difference in terms that anyone –believer or non-believer– can comprehend.

  158. #158 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    Mere scientific atheism just isn’t enough for me… It’s doesn’t get me to where I want to go. I don’t want to merely exist, I’m not a bacterium. I want more than that. – Brenda von Ahsen

    Of course as an atheist, I have absolutely no interest in any of the following: love, parenthood, friendship, pleasure, moral obligations, shared and worthwhile work, politics, music, literature, theatre, games, celebrations, eating and drinking, walking in the countryside, the beauties of nature, arguing, or trying to make the world a better place to live. The Pope is a Buddhist. Bears have flush toilets installed in their caves.

  159. #159 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    Brenda von Ahsen #155 wrote:

    Mere scientific atheism just isn’t enough for me. Science is a necessary foundation, it accurately describes the world. But that isn’t enough. It’s doesn’t get me to where I want to go.

    I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you mean that you need a wider philosophy to live and love by — which of course we all do. Atheism as a broad and general category is broad and general. If you think science accurately describes reality, then I suggest you look into secular humanism. I’m secular humanist. There’s also religious humanism, objectivism, scientific pantheism, and various upstarts. Plus the Unitarian Universalists, who will take anyone.

    On the other hand, if by “that isn’t enough” you mean that you’re not going to be satisfied by any reality which doesn’t provide you with reassurance and cosmic love, then I recommend religion. Make up whatever makes you happy, try not to kill anyone, destroy science, or have nonconsensual sex with a goat, and you can justify your belief with the ever popular Argument from Boo Hoo. Just don’t think this will impress us as a sophisticated move. There’s not enough poetry to disguise “God must exist because I personally don’t like the consequences if it doesn’t.”

  160. #160 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    Bears have flush toilets installed in their caves.

    “I don’t think the Ranger’s gonna like that, Yogi.”

  161. #161 inkadu
    May 30, 2008

    Sastra – Perfunctorily kicking ass, as usual.

    Jesse – You’re babbling. We are talking about science and religion, and you are talking again about difficulties and barriers to science, without reference to religion. That’s a whole different topic.

    But, what the hell, it’s the end of the thread — if you want to talk about “questions science can’t answer” you just might consider that there are underlying assumptions that are wrong; that you are asking, in fact, the wrong question. Questions of consciousness, cognition, free will, etc. often make such mistakes… it’s worth exploring, if you’re interested.

  162. #162 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 30, 2008

    Sastra, I do not claim that all atheists “insist on conflating religion with fundamentalism.” It is simply my observation that an awful lot of the rhetoric does just that. Unfortunately all this does is annoy the fundies and alienate everyone else. A strategy that is bound to fail in the long run as Burt was trying to point out above. I think he has a point.

  163. #163 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    Unfortunately all this does is annoy the fundies and…

    Oh, so at least it has something going for it!

  164. #164 Nick Gotts
    May 30, 2008

    “I don’t think the Ranger’s gonna like that, Yogi.”

    “Hey, Boo-boo, I’ll just say it’s part of my religion! Then he’ll hafta let me keep it!”

  165. #165 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 30, 2008

    Sastra @ 159
    Fair enough. However neither of your alternatives are satisfying to me. Secular Humanism is ok, a bit dry. Been there, done that, probably before you were born. Religion isn’t palatable either. These isms you list are not very interesting to me. They are dead ideological systems as far as I am concerned.

    What does interest me are questions surrounding the reality of the virtual. Real effects produced by something which does not yet fully exist. Something which is not yet fully actual. If you want to call that religion or spirituality (it is probably closer to psychology) I guess I don’t care. It is crucial to an understanding of what is going on today, of how we fit into the world of today. And understanding is always good.

  166. #166 Burt Humburg
    May 30, 2008

    From 119:
    “I am not sure what your religious views are, but can you assure me you do not accept that your god (or gods) intervenes in the universe ? If you cannot, how do you justify that view given it would conflict with science ?”

    Thank you finally for an excellent question.

    I’ve been accused by PZ Myers of watching too much Star Trek, and it’s probably true. But having seen so many episodes in which the crew go back in time and make changes only to have the timeline distort in some fundamental fashion, I’ve never been particularly impressed by the idea that an intervention of God must take the shape of some miracle or other. For all we know (and this is what I consider, say, the power of prayer to involve) is that God set the universe in motion, for this molecule to hit that one, and so on and so forth to make things happen the way they always would. The difference between that and deism is that God could be timeless.

    I’m articulating it poorly here and I’d have to think about it more rather than be gearing up for work, but the short version is that I cannot imagine any dataset that science could provide that would dissuade me from thinking that God was behind it all, as all the interventions were at what our time-limited perspective would consider to be at the beginning. And yet I can say categorically (I think) that my theological views could not possibly conflict with the conclusions science will ever provide precisely for the same reason.

    It’s also worth noting (at least to me) that the God that I worship doesn’t give a damn whether you worship him or not. I left the bearded smiter of those who stick their privates in the wrong gender God back in college.

    From #120:
    “I am not trying to appeal to you. I am trying to insult you.”

    You will fail. I am far more insulted by people abusing science than I am with people calling me names. This is an attitude I learned early in life.

    “Your failure to answer is noted, and does not reflect well on you.”

    Why on earth would I answer every word that proceeds from someone with a stated lack of interest in appealing to or having a legitimate conversation with me? It would be foolish on my part to waste my time in that fashion.

    “No one, that was not the aim. I just think you are a lying bastard only slightly better than the likes of Hovind or Demsbki.”

    You demonstrate an abject lack of perspective when you do. I’m sure the next time you stub your toe, you will liken that momentary pain to being worse than a slow, painful death from brain cancer. And you will be just as credible in your statement there as you are in your vituperation against me here.

    Thankfully, it’s your credibility at risk, not mine.

    BCH

  167. #167 Paul W.
    May 30, 2008

    Burt and Brenda,

    You might want to check out this thread on Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2008/05/evolution_and_atheism_a_fascin.php

    Starts with a post by Ed Brayton, passing along some comments by Sastra and another person, then gets elaborated in the comments.

    The thrust of my comments, and some of Sastra’s, is that the less anthropomorphic god concepts generally contain something anthropocentric, and unreasonable in light of modern science.

    The supposedly more “enlightened” non-fundamentalist theologies generally make the same basic category mistake as the fundamentalist ones do. Pretty much anything anybody wants to call God, or feel religious about, presupposes something that’s apparently false.

    The criticisms that seem to tar all theism with the brush of fundamentalism are often based on recognizing the real similarities that believers themselves often fail to recognize.

    That thread is largely an effort to tease out the stuff that the Courtier’s Reply tends to conceal.

  168. #168 JD
    May 30, 2008

    Brenda von Ahsen posted:

    Mere scientific atheism just isn’t enough for me. Science is a necessary foundation, it accurately describes the world. But that isn’t enough. It’s doesn’t get me to where I want to go.

    Ah yes, the “woo” of “woo”. IOW, I don’t want reality unless it’s on my terms!

  169. #169 Monsignor Henry Clay
    May 30, 2008

    BCH:
    For all we know (and this is what I consider, say, the power of prayer to involve) is that God set the universe in motion, for this molecule to hit that one, and so on and so forth to make things happen the way they always would.

    God made me type this comment ~15 billion years ago. Or maybe he didn’t. I can’t be sure, but for no particular reason I’ll imagine he did.

    Note: The Cosmological Argument has been played out.

    But if it provides you with some sense of an undefined purpose so be it. Just realize that it is a foolish thing to place credit on.

  170. #170 cicely
    May 30, 2008

    Brenda von Ahsen @#155:

    It’s just my observation, online and off, that I see a lot of atheists focus excessively on fundamentalism. I guess that is understandable from a political viewpoint. But intellectually it’s a bit puzzling why one would concentrate on the illiterate.

    Why? Because the fundamentalists, of whatever religion, and whether literate or otherwise, are the most noisily determined to force everyone to live by their rules, which they, themselves, often fail to live by. But that’s okay….they’re forgiven! (Other people, outside their particular sect….not so much.)

  171. #171 Sastra
    May 30, 2008

    Brenda von Ahsen #165 wrote:

    What does interest me are questions surrounding the reality of the virtual. Real effects produced by something which does not yet fully exist. Something which is not yet fully actual. If you want to call that religion or spirituality (it is probably closer to psychology) I guess I don’t care.

    I wouldn’t call that either religion or spirituality (or psychology), because I don’t understand it well enough to attempt to classify it into any category. I’d ask for an example, if I didn’t have a sneaking suspicion you don’t quite have one.

  172. #172 Ichthyic
    May 30, 2008

    Ah yes, the “woo” of “woo”.

    LOL

    “Zen and the art of woo.”

    “The Quantum Mechanics of woo.”

    The bookshelves are full of real titles that are quite close to the fictional ones I just made up, and deal with some sort of science/religion linked woo.

    This kind of shit appears to be extremely popular in the US.

  173. #173 Muzz
    May 30, 2008

    *sigh* The streaming on that video is damn diabolical. I must have watched the first five minutes ten times.
    Does anyone one know if it is up on youtube or something else download/preload friendly?

  174. #174 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 30, 2008

    I don’t want reality unless it’s on my terms!
    I don’t understand it well enough to attempt to classify it into any category.
    The Quantum Mechanics of woo.

    No no no, none of that. You’re misunderstanding me and I’m failing to explain myself. But I don’t think we’ll get anywhere tonight. Don’t concretize so much.

    cicely
    Because the fundamentalists, of whatever religion, and whether literate or otherwise, are the most noisily determined to force everyone to live by their rules, which they, themselves, often fail to live by.
    I did say did I not that I understood the political necessity of opposing ignorance and hate? You even quoted my sentence where I said that. I’m with you on those points, I believe in evolution, I don’t believe in God, I don’t call myself a Christian, ok?

    It just seems odd to me that one would focus so hard on an ideology that was intellectually bankrupt over 100 years ago. Funny that. Not funny haha but funny strange. I wonder what’s up with that.

  175. #175 jesse
    May 31, 2008

    Icthhyic, I may have used a bad example, but the point is there are statements that aren’t testable, that therefore aren’t in the realm of science — like intelligent design.

    That’s why we don’t want it in science classes, right? It’s also why we don’t want religion there, or did I miss something?

    I mean, if I said, “there’s an invisible dragon in my garage” (h/t to Carl Sagan) and every time you say “I see no evidence” and I say “It’s intangible, and unmeasurable” you’d not think much of the statement. But you can’t prove it wrong either because I just defined it out of the ability of science to handle.

    That’s what I was getting at originally — and the idea that once we say “God doesn’t exist” it’s too easy to leave it at that. I think the thing that bugs a lot of religious people — heck any thinking person — is the idea that atheists of the Dawkins variety are saying they are a bunch of idiots when they are trying to grapple with ethical questions. I know that isn’t their position, but that’s what it can sound like to the uninitiated.

    Also, I can’t say religion of any kind is an unmitigated evil or useless or whatever. Because I have done some work with people who were involved in religious movements whose goals I don’t think many here would disagree with. For example, the movement for indigenous rights in the 90s was a political position but at its heart very much a religious one as well, and science per se wasn’t very helpful.

  176. #176 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    like intelligent design.

    but intelligent design claims to be science, so that is yet another poor example, no?

    I can’t say religion of any kind is an unmitigated evil or useless or whatever.

    unmitigated evil? depends on how it is used.

    worthless? in it’s essence it’s worse than worthless, as it really is less useful than a crutch.

    But you can’t prove it wrong either because I just defined it out of the ability of science to handle.

    that hardly is an argument for value now, is it.

    I rather think you need to spend a bit more time thinking this one through.

  177. #177 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 31, 2008

    in it’s essence it’s worse than worthless, as it really is less useful than a crutch.

    Yes, it’s worthless, but you see, we need the eggs.

  178. #178 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    we need the eggs.

    too much cholesterol.

  179. #179 Sinbad
    May 31, 2008

    Coyne goes off the reservation to state the obvious: that religion is the root of the problem here, and that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible.

    I’ve been saying this for years. Will you believe me now?

    Only if you provide sufficient evidence. Coyne offers none and neither do you. If it were so “obvious” one would think you’d have tons of it.

    while nobody might say that science encompasses everything, it’s not inaccurate IMO to say that science encompasses everything useful. It has proven itself the only method capable of producing useful answers.

    Why go you think that matters of value, meaning, desire and beauty (which science can inform but not define or decide) aren’t useful (or, presumably, important)?

  180. #180 Emmet Caulfield
    May 31, 2008

    For example, the movement for indigenous rights in the 90s was a political position but at its heart very much a religious one as well, and science per se wasn’t very helpful.

    On the contrary, I think that science may have been very helpful indeed. The public believed that DNA evidence was almost infallible. From the mid-80′s onward, newspapers loudly trumpeted the countless child molesters, rapists, and murderers who would have escaped justice without DNA evidence: it was new, it was hot, it helped convict the kind of criminals that the public hate: it was a force for good. When they were told that the same kind of evidence showed no difference between races, they were readily prepared to accept it.

    I’m not contending that the above is historically true, but it’s at least plausible, so I don’t think it’s at all obvious that science has not made powerful contributions to political and social change.

  181. #181 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    (which science can inform but not define or decide) aren’t useful (or, presumably, important)?

    indeed, these things are important, and as you point out, science does inform them. Why babies seem “cute” for example.

    both your definitions and decisions can also be informed by science.

    *shrug*

    or have you, in your insanity, somehow managed to concoct a way for subjective measures of desire and beauty to answer pragmatic questions?

    ’cause if so, I gotta see that.

  182. #182 Sinbad
    May 31, 2008

    both your definitions and decisions can also be informed by science.

    Of course, but inform and decide or determine are hardly the same.

    or have you, in your insanity, somehow managed to concoct a way for subjective measures of desire and beauty to answer pragmatic questions?

    Matters like politics and economics are highly pragmatic and practical disciples. Science can inform an interpretation of the evidence offered in support of any particular view of them, but the views themselves (representing values and/or desires) are predicated upon unevidenced assumptions.

  183. #183 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    Matters like politics and economics are highly pragmatic and practical disciples.

    did you miss #179?

    science often informs these things too, when done with pragmatism in mind.

    when ideology informs them, they become unwieldy and typically cause more harm than good.

    stem cell research being a good example, but there are thousands.

    sorry, you picked exactly the wrong example to use.

  184. #184 Sinbad
    May 31, 2008

    did you miss #179?

    Nope.

    science often informs these things too

    Duh. I specifically said it does.

    when done with pragmatism in mind.

    It can and typically does irrespective of what ism you have in mind.

    when ideology informs them, they become unwieldy and typically cause more harm than good.

    That’s just plain silly and juvenile. “Pragmatism” means you like it. “Ideology” means you don’t.

  185. #185 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    That’s just plain silly and juvenile. “Pragmatism” means you like it. “Ideology” means you don’t.

    here, this might help you with your own unevidenced assumptions:

    I’m equating science with pragmatism, since that is the essence of it: explanatory and predictive.

    I’m equating ideology with unevidenced assumptions and subjectivity, because that is what ideology is.

    If you think that somehow it’s a good thing that politicians base decisions on ideology, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

    I bet you voted for Bush.

    wait, now I remember you.

    I also recall what a waste of time it was to try and engage you in any kind of coherent conversation.

  186. #186 Robert Byers
    May 31, 2008

    Well. What is actually incompatible is truth and non-truth. Therefore this pro-evolution talk should be matched by a pro-Creationism, of the different species, before the same audience and the same university. I say Creationists folks will clean the clocks of the tired, desperate, 19th century idea of evolution etc.
    The American people after hearing excellent creationist speakers always drift intellectually toward the truth of God and the bible as a solid source on origins.
    The best bet for evolution is as is done in schools today. Censorship,punishment, and a spirit of EXPELLISM to hold ground for evolution.
    If its a contention then let the contenders have equal time.

  187. #187 Zarquon
    May 31, 2008

    Byers, what you wrote is just a pack of lies, so you’re a perfect example of why creationism can’t be taught.

  188. #188 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    let me help you Robert:

    spirit of EXPELLISM

    there ya go.

    you just forgot the link.

  189. #189 Emmet Caulfield
    May 31, 2008

    Robert Byers @#185,

    Very nice try, but your spelling and grammar are a bit too good. The semi-literate sentence construction is a nice touch, as is the apostrophe abuse, but there’s too little of it. Moreover, YOU NEED MORE CAPS, a few subtle spelling errors, and at least two exclamation marks. What really gives it away, though, is “bible” — even the dumbest Creationist imbecile faithfully capitalises “Bible” every time.

    In short, there’s enough cretin and parrot, but you need a little more ignoramus to pull off the perfect Poe.

  190. #190 dsmccoy
    May 31, 2008

    “the tired, desperate, 19th century idea of evolution”

    To bring you up to date, some things you might have missed.
    The 20th century was very good for the theory of evolution.
    The theory of natural selection and the study of genetics met, got married, and started having kids. In the 21st century they’re looking randier than ever.

  191. #191 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    In the 21st century they’re looking randier than ever.

    the kids?

    bloody teenagers, nothing but hormones.

    :p

  192. #192 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    OT, but for those “keeping track” of Bush’s foibles, apparently others are as well:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/30/AR2008053002860.html?hpid=topnews

    It’s a pretty good list of all the books written by people who have either removed themselves, or been removed, from the Bush Administration.

    could be a useful reference when making arguments for “Worst President Ever”.

  193. #193 clinteas
    May 31, 2008

    //The American people after hearing excellent creationist speakers always drift intellectually toward the truth of God and the bible as a solid source on origins.//

    Poe or not,there’s a truth here,it doesnt take much to impress your average American Joe or Jane ufortunately….Intellectual drift? LOL,maybe not….

  194. #194 wazza
    May 31, 2008

    One of Time’s cartoons of the week was a drawing of an interview:

    “As a former insider, why did you decide now would be a good time to write a book blasting Bush?”
    “I wanted to avoid the rush.”

  195. #195 clinteas
    May 31, 2008

    That such a dimwit could be president of your country for 8 years confirms what I said in No 192,but that aside,why didnt he come out with this when he was in office,cat got his tongue? He defended all these crap policies for years and now that the rats are jumping ship he remembers he opposed Bush’s policies….Guess it was a good bookdeal…

  196. #196 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    cat got his tongue?

    No love lost for Scottie, that’s for damn sure. Nor any of those clods that involved themselves with the “Project for a New American Century”.

    However, these are also some scary folks, so I’d say basically…

    yeah. Would you want Cheney to accidentally shoot you in the face?

    :p

    Moreover, it’s always easier to complain about your boss AFTER you leave the job, too.

    still, the fact that he wrote a book at all is probably related to some publisher offering him a great deal, no doubt.

  197. #197 clinteas
    May 31, 2008

    You know Ichthyic,

    the picture that this draws of this administration is one of people clenching their teeth in cabinet,actually secretly opposing the decision for war or any atrocity military or social or whatever,and then nodding it off when the votes are counted,thats even scarier than if they were all for it….

  198. #198 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    thats even scarier than if they were all for it….

    I recall seeing some interviews with a congressman who basically said most of congress voted without thinking and out of “panic” after 9/11.

    they must be more like frightened sheep than anything else, then.

    and yes, that is indeed a scary thing.

    as far as the administration itself goes…

    the differences between this administration and the previous boil down to one very important difference:

    Clinton was not the most knowledgeable guy, but he was smart enough to surround himself with policy wonks that he actually listened to.

    Bush is also not the most knowledgeable guy, but instead of surrounding himself with people who knew what the fuck they were talking about, he simply surrounded himself with yesmen who mostly didn’t have any relevant background at all.

    case in point:

    he appointed over 150 graduates from Pat Robertson’s law school.

    Yes, THAT Pat Robertson.

    are these people incompetent?

    Does the US attorney scandal ring a bell?

  199. #199 clinteas
    May 31, 2008

    The US has basically manoevered itself into a position where its politicians are corrupt and strung along by big money,more than half of its citizens are illiterate or dumb or believe the earth is 6000 years old and that there is a devil…..Unbelievable,but true…..

  200. #200 SteadyEddy
    May 31, 2008

    Link isn’t working for me- anybody have another route to the clip?

  201. #201 Sinbad
    May 31, 2008

    I’m equating science with pragmatism, since that is the essence of it: explanatory and predictive. I’m equating ideology with unevidenced assumptions and subjectivity, because that is what ideology is.

    So is my idea that freedom and equality are positive values (despite the inherent conflict between them) pragmatic or am I being an ideologue about it and how does one tell the difference?

    If you think that somehow it’s a good thing that politicians base decisions on ideology, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.

    If you think that any of us can avoid basing decisions on some sort of ideology, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  202. #202 Jams
    May 31, 2008

    It’s incoherant to erect science as something that’s in opposition to or outside of ideology. Science is an ideology.

    “[...] how does one tell the difference?” – Sinbad

    Ideological prescriptions are arrived at via doctrine, while pragmatic prescriptions are fashioned ad hoc. Arguably, every prescription is a little bit of both to one degree or another.

    I’ve never heard a coherant (ironically ideological) argument that shows one is necessarily always better than the other, or that the two are incompatible. I think what Ichthyic is trying to talk about is entrenched/fundamentalist ideology.

  203. #203 Iain Walker
    May 31, 2008

    Jesse (Comment #141):

    When I brought up stuff like “I love you” as not falsifiable, I meant that i could point to any number of behaviors that I might say demonstrates love — like corporeal punishment, for instance.

    I think you’re missing the point. We make judgements about a person’s emotional states based on observation of a range of behaviour, not just individual actions or types of action. We also take social context into account. Sometimes that context includes the notion that it is acceptable to physically punish a child for it’s own good, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the background knowledge we employ when trying to determine whether or not someone is in a particular emotional state.

    But this is still far from making such judgements untestable. You seem to have a rather limited idea of how hypotheses can be empirically tested – in science and in everyday life, it’s not always a matter of having just one or two criteria that can be applied under all circumstances to yield a decisive result. In many cases it’s a matter of deciding on the balance of a range of evidence. Falsification isn’t always hard and fast.

    So simply pointing out that in some contexts a form of behaviour might be seen as loving while in other contexts it may not is beside the point. That’s the kind of thing we already take into account when making such judgements.

    you aren’t in my head so there’s no real way for you to know what the brain scan is telling you (relative to the person’s perceived mental state).

    One can nevertheless correlate brain activity with reported subjective states, one can correlate observed behaviour with reported subjective states, and one can correlate brain activity with observed behaviour. Put it all together, and you have a formidable empirical basis for predicting a person’s subjective states and for evaluating the sincerity of their reports of those states. (Not saying this is simple and straightfoward, only that it is do-able.)

    Can you prove to me you can love?

    I thought the question was one of falsification, not verification. Can we keep the goalposts reasonably static, please?

    But to answer the question:

    No, in the narrow, technical sense of “prove”, in that it is not something that can be demonstrated from first principles using deductive logic.

    Yes, in the looser, empirical sense of “provide strong evidence for”. I can point to my behaviour towards the object of my love, or my behaviour towards others in relation to their behaviour towards said object. I can express the emotions I feel in art, writing or music, in such a way that others can recognise the emotions as they experience it. I can hook myself up to all manner of monitors and show you that my hormone levels, neurological activity and other physiological responses are consistent with my claim. If you wouldn’t accept this as sufficient evidence that I can love, then it’s unclear to me that you would accept any scientific claim based on indirect evidence.

    The point is, “love” isn’t just a term for a subjective feeling. It’s also a behavioural disposition (or related set of such dispositions), and our criteria for ascribing psychological states to others (and sometimes even to ourselves) are ultimately behavioural. If you don’t accept these criteria as adequate, then you’re liable to end up in the philosophical dead-end of solipsism, because if you don’t have reliable grounds for judging whether or not someone is in any given psychological state, then you no longer have any grounds for ascribing any psychological states to others at all.

    Rebecca Hanrahan has an interesting article in the current issue of Philosophy Now about p-zombies which makes a similar point (the article itself is unfortunately subscription only, but if you don’t have a subscription, at least you’ll know what to look out for on the news-stand).

    I demonstrate love for my kids by shoving carrots in my ears as I dance! Prove me wrong! You can’t.

    If this is the only manner in which you demonstrate that “love”, then I think a plausible case could be made that you didn’t understand what the term “love” meant, or that you had some kind of neurological disorder that resulted in a mismatch between your intentions and your behaviour. One would, of course, need to observe your behaviour more fully in the appropriate context to make a more definite judgement …

  204. #204 Brenda von Ahsen
    May 31, 2008

    Wow Iain, I mean just wow. What a stunning example of how to completely and utterly miss the point. An entire world just passed over your head and never ruffled even a feather. I am truly impressed and at the same time at a loss as to how to go forward. Also this discussion about love seems way way off topic so I wonder if it’s even proper to pursue it very far.

    How can two groups of people talk when their languages have so little in common? Especially when one side is constantly rushing off to join in with the Great Crusade Against Ignorance. Daunting to say the least.

  205. #205 SEF
    May 31, 2008

    In the 21st century they’re looking randier than ever.

    Not merely randy but also productive. The union of the theory of evolution by natural selection (along with developmental observations and fossil discoveries) with genetics is fecund! Whereas ID creationism, like other cargo cults, is barren (apart from keeping the conmen themselves in luxury, courtesy of their gullible religious marks).

  206. #206 Ichthyic
    May 31, 2008

    If you think that any of us can avoid basing decisions on some sort of ideology, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    oh I’m absolutely sure YOU base your decisions on ideology.

    good thing you’re not adding to the problems already extant in politics.

  207. #207 SEF
    May 31, 2008

    Sometimes that context includes the notion that it is acceptable to physically punish a child for it’s own good, sometimes it doesn’t.

    That’s an evolutionary thing too – and not just in terms of human behaviour. The fact that the sensation of pain is built in as pain is nature’s need to punish the individual for self-harming behaviour, so that it can learn to avoid “bad” things rather than simply being destroyed. Similarly “good” behaviour is rewarded (although there are also some errors in determination of which is which!). Whereas on other occasions when the individual is doomed anyway, nature doesn’t bother with the pointless negative feedback and people have reported calm or even euphoric states of dying.

  208. #208 Iain Walker
    June 1, 2008

    Brenda von Ahsen (Comment #203):

    Wow Iain, I mean just wow. What a stunning example of how to completely and utterly miss the point. An entire world just passed over your head and never ruffled even a feather. I am truly impressed and at the same time at a loss as to how to go forward.

    Well, I’m sure that puts me in my place …

    I generally find that if one is going to accuse somebody of missing the point, it helps if one makes the effort to try and explain what one thinks the point actually is, and in what way the other person has missed it. I was contesting Jesse’s choices of examples of unfalsifiable statements, nothing more. If you think I’ve missed something in Jesse’s arguments on that particular point, do please chip in.

    Also this discussion about love seems way way off topic so I wonder if it’s even proper to pursue it very far.

    Let me spell it out, then. Compatibility of science and religion (original topic) – possibility that science and religion are compatible because they deal with different kinds of claims – limits of science – kinds of statements amenable to empirical testing – Jesse’s purported examples of such. Does that help?

    Oh, and “proper”? Really?

  209. #209 Brenda von Ahsen
    June 1, 2008

    Well, I’m sure that puts me in my place
    I have no desire to put you in anyone’s place. I’m not sitting here seething with anger looking for a way to get you or anyone else. We’re just talking but it’s been frustrating for a number of reasons that have already been spelled out.

    possibility that science and religion are compatible because they deal with different kinds of claims
    If you mean science and fundamentalism are incompatible then I’d agree. If you mean instead every religious church or organization or philosophy then no, that case has not been made. I’ve been unable to see the video, it refuses to load.

    Science is limited, that is it’s primary strength. It doesn’t even attempt to ask deeper metaphysical questions about meaning. For most people including me that is simply not enough. There is more to life.

    Oh, and “proper”? Really?
    Yes, really.

  210. #210 Brenda von Ahsen
    June 1, 2008

    Actually I’m going to change my position here. I have been able to listen to the talk and I think he does make the case. I’ve been making a different point, one that is really off topic and that has lead to a lot of confusion.

    It was really hard to view the video. In fact all I could get was the audio. On Windows quicktime is a POS, at least on my system. It would be really nice if someone could put this up on youtube.

  211. #211 Steven Sullivan
    June 1, 2008

    I was at the Rockefeller talks. To fully appreciate Coyne’s joke about some of the scientists tehre not throttling each other even though they strongly disagreed, check out Cavalier-Smith’s talk, .
    http://www.rockefeller.edu/evolution/

    For an absolutely fascinating and highly entertaining lecture on the earliest evidence of life, check out Roger Buick’s from the same page

  212. #212 Leigh
    June 2, 2008

    James, I thought the UMC had endorsed the Clergy Letter Project long ago. My own pastor told me about several years ago, and of course we also do Evolution Sunday . . . we’re by far too heathen to participate in the National Day of Prayer, don’t you know.

    I don’t know that I would have described what my faith community does as looking for the eff in ineffable, but I certainly will now. What’s more important than dogma, to us, is our common search for ways to express God’s love to the world in concrete ways, define our ethical standards in community (because we think feedback and the necessity to defend an ethical view are best done together), teach our children ethical behavior, and in general leave the world better than we found it.

    Many people here think that’s a silly approach to life. Okay by me. The rituals we employ and the language we use about the eff (couldn’t resist) are only an attempt to find a common vocabulary to express our search for the Platonic ideal of ethical behavior. And yes, we call this ideal God. And no, we don’t think he’s Yahweh.

    This is not the only way, or maybe even the best way, to search for wisom. I participate in a community of Christians because that’s my cultural background. I believe I would fit in just as well with the Unitarian Universalists, or the Zen Buddhists. If I were born in India I would probably be a devotee of Ganesh. Or maybe I’d have stayed an atheist. But trying to live an ethical life with integrity would still be my raison d’tre.

    So James, Burt, Brenda, Walton, Jesse, and Sinbad (among others) and I are likely walking similar paths.

    The point I really want to make, however, is that I don’t give a good God damn that some of you think we’re silly.

    What I DO care about, and the reason I’m here at all, is actively and effectively waging war against the tide of unreason that is threatening our secular Republic’s foundations. I don’t have to like Ichthyic to consider him a comrade-in-arms (though in fact I do like him a lot).

    If Burt is effectively firing a bazooka in “flipping” fundies so they are weaned off the propaganda they get from the pulpit, I’d rather give him combat pay than criticize his religious viewpoint. His targets would never listen to Matt. But they might listen to me, or Burt.

    Maybe we’re not being effective. But what the hell else can we do? I hate to bring the cliches, but the battle is for hearts and minds.

    And besides that, there are letters to be written; votes to be gained; politicians to be rattled; and voices to be raised in the public square. There are a lot of us. We matter in this fight because we are boots on the ground. You can frag us later, but for now, let us fight with you.

  213. #213 Iain Walker
    June 2, 2008

    Brenda von Ahsen (Comment #209):

    If you mean science and fundamentalism are incompatible then I’d agree. If you mean instead every religious church or organization or philosophy then no, that case has not been made.

    Maybe it hasn’t. But that wasn’t the case I was making or the question I was addressing.

    Science is limited, that is it’s primary strength. It doesn’t even attempt to ask deeper metaphysical questions about meaning.

    True. I never implied otherwise.

    For most people including me that is simply not enough. There is more to life.

    Fine. That’s what philosophy, art, literature etc are for (in their various ways). I don’t recall offhand anyone claiming that science answered all questions that admit a meaningful answer. I certainly didn’t.

    So I’m still entirely in the dark as to what point it is that you think I missed.

    Yes, really.

    “Proper” just seemed a rather quaint choice of words, that’s all. As if musings on epistemology were somehow slightly scandalous …

  214. #214 windy
    June 2, 2008

    The point is, “love” isn’t just a term for a subjective feeling. It’s also a behavioural disposition (or related set of such dispositions), and our criteria for ascribing psychological states to others (and sometimes even to ourselves) are ultimately behavioural. If you don’t accept these criteria as adequate, then you’re liable to end up in the philosophical dead-end of solipsism, because if you don’t have reliable grounds for judging whether or not someone is in any given psychological state, then you no longer have any grounds for ascribing any psychological states to others at all.

    Wow, well put. And thanks for the Philosophy Now tip. FWIW, I think it might not be you who just saw an “entire world pass over their head without ruffling a feather”…

  215. #215 Iain Walker
    June 3, 2008

    Re #214:

    Oh, cheers.

  216. #216 c e hamperch
    June 4, 2008

    I’ve tried 6 times to watch this video. Clearly it is broken. Could somebody please post it on youtube? Thanks in advance.