Pharyngula

The heathen are raging again

More than five years ago, I was griping about the pretense of compatibility between science and religion, prompted by an otherwise good site at the University of California Berkeley that offered the usual pablum:

Science and religion deal with different things. Science tries to figure out how things work and religion teaches about morality and spirituality. There doesn’t need to be a conflict.

Complete bullshit. I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science, and religion teaches nothing about morality. Religion is about obedience to arbitrary rules. As for spirituality — I don’t need a cult to teach me about the nonexistent and irrelevant. Then last year, the NAS came out with the same nonsense:

Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World

Science and religion address separate aspects of human experience. Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith. And many religious people and denominations accept the scientific evidence for evolution.

There is this kind of conciliatory and entirely false cliched position that major proponents of better science education tend to take — because it’s popular, they pretend that religion is the gentle, benign bit of fluff that has some vague utility in making people better. It’s a lie told to calm the ignorant…the ignorant who will then turn about and obligingly stick a knife in our efforts to improve science, all in the name of their Lord.

I’ve never understood it. It simply grants religion an unquestioned privileged place as an equal to science, when it deserves no such prestige. Why aren’t these pro-science organizations going out of their way to say, “Science and literature deal with different things” or “Science and Art Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World”? At least then they’d be saying something true. At least then they wouldn’t be promoting a damaging delusion.

I’m not a lonely voice crying out my frustration to an unheeding world, I’m pleased to say. I’ve heard from many fellow scientists who feel the same way. Larry Moran has always been vocal about the same problem. And of course we’ve got those cranky New Atheists busily publishing their demolitions of the validity of faith.

Add another big name: Jerry Coyne is making a similar argument.

It seems to me that we can defend evolution without having to cater to the faithful at the same time. Why not just show that evolution is TRUE and its alternatives are not? Why kowtow to those whose beliefs many of us find unpalatable, just to sell our discipline? There are, in fact, two disadvantages to the “cater-to-religion” stance.

  1. By trotting out those “religious scientists”, like Ken Miller, or those “scientific theologians,” like John Haught, we are tacitly putting our imprimatur on their beliefs, including beliefs that God acts in the world today (theism), suspending natural laws. For example, I don’t subscribe to Miller’s belief that God acts immanently in the world, perhaps by influencing events on the quantum level, or that God created the laws of physics so that human-containing planets could evolve. I do not agree with John Haught’s theology. I do not consider any faith that touts God’s intervention in the world (even in the past) as compatible with science. Do my colleagues at the NAS or the NCSE disagree?

  2. The statement that learning evolution does not influence one’s religious belief is palpably false. There are plenty of statistics that show otherwise, including the negative correlation of scientific achievement with religious belief and the negative correlation among nations in degree of belief in God with degree of acceptance of evolution. All of us know this, but we pretend otherwise. (In my book I note that “enlightened” religion can be compatible with science, but by “englightened” I meant a complete, hands-off deism.) I think it is hypocrisy to pretend that learning evolution will not affect either the nature or degree of one’s faith. It doesn’t always, but it does more often than we admit, and there are obvious reasons why (I won’t belabor these). I hate to see my colleagues pretending that faith and science live in nonoverlapping magisteria. They know better.

If you want to talk compatibility with science, atheism is a far better fit to the evidence. It is ridiculous that we still try to link evolution and science education to an airily nebulous version of inoffensive religion that virtually no one accepts, and isn’t even a reasonable model of the way the universe actually works.

Comments

  1. #1 Free Lunch
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t see the point of attacking those who think there is no overlap between religion and science. It’s not as if either the moderates or the religious zealots will be impressed by reality, but the moderates will support science as long as it doesn’t require them to give up on religion on a schedule of someone else’s making.

  2. #2 Tabby Lavalamp
    March 24, 2009

    I know it’s only a quote, but mentioning Ken Miller negatively? Are you trying to bring the wrath of Kwok on your head again?

  3. #3 heddle
    March 24, 2009

    And of course we’ve got those cranky New Atheists busily publishing their demolitions of the validity of faith.

    Demolitions of the validity of faith? Gee, that sounds juicy and very important. I’ve read most of the NA bestsellers, but I must have missed those. Any references? If I could find a way to avoid another pot-luck with lukewarm rigatoni and green bean casserole, I would be most appreciative.

  4. #4 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t see the point of attacking those who think there is no overlap between religion and science.

    Most of the time, those who profess there is no overlap will still push religion into scientific territory – most notably on the concept of morality. Morality-creationists are still creationists, thinking that the body is somehow separate from the mind is absurd to the highest degree.

  5. #5 cactusren
    March 24, 2009

    This is a topic that I struggle with. Yes, personally I think science and religion are incompatible. But when talking to someone who rejects evolution because of their religious beliefs, I sometimes think it’s more effective to tell them there doesn’t have to be a conflict (note that I do not say “there is no conflict or overlap”). Basically, I assume that if you tell someone with strong religious beliefs that the two are incompatible, they will choose their religion and refuse to even learn about the evidence for evoloution. By telling them they can have both, you might be able to convince them to open their mind a bit. And once they do that, and learn about evolution (and science in general) maybe, just maybe, they will become more rational and skeptical. Deconversion is a long process, and sometimes you have to lead people through it with baby steps. Now, maybe this is all a bit disingenuous (saying religion and science can be compatible when I really don’t think they are), but I think it might be an effective way of educating more people.

  6. #6 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    There are plenty of statistics that show otherwise, including the negative correlation of scientific achievement with religious belief

    I’d love to see these statistics. I would especially love to see how these “statisticians” rationalize away the fac tat the religious US produces so much more scientific output than atheistic France.

  7. #7 Bad Albert
    March 24, 2009

    Despite all we have learned since the enlightenment, even some scientists still want to suck up to religion. Is this a sincere attempt to keep the peace or simply Pascal’s Wager in action?

  8. #8 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    I’d like to take particular issue with this:

    Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World

    Religion isn’t a way of understanding the world. Religion is, sometimes, useful for understanding a teeny, tiny subset of the world – human behavior and culture. Almost all of the things religion is occupied are in this tiny little subset of everything science studies.

  9. #9 James F
    March 24, 2009

    Perhaps a solution would be to emphasize methodological naturalism in the practice and teaching of science. Science and evolution do not equal atheism and philosophical naturalism, otherwise teaching them in an American public school would violate the Establishment Clause. Although it’s typically stated in some variant of “evo-atheists indoctrinating our children,” that’s one of the biggest fears of the creationists.

  10. #10 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    If you want to talk compatibility with science, atheism is a far better fit to the evidence.

    <
    Atheists haven't been very forthcoming with this scientific evidence (at least the popular ones haven't).

  11. #11 AnthonyK
    March 24, 2009

    fac tat the religious US produces so much more scientific output than atheistic France.
    Oh, how so? Why so? Based on what information? What the fuck are you talking about?

  12. #12 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    Personally, I think the ideas of religion and science are incompatible. God has always been created as an explanation for the unknown, and it’s still used as such (these days he’s the universal creator rather than a conjurer of lightning.) God always was a god of the gaps, and science has been able to fill such gaps.

    But those statements are not what this is about. There is no point turning this into an “us vs them” situation because we are grossly outnumbered. We need the support of the general community in order to minimise the role of creationism. In a society where people are forced to choose between God and evolution, what chance do we have?

  13. #13 CJO
    March 24, 2009

    the negative correlation of scientific achievement with religious belief

    Facilis, Coyne is talking about individuals, not societies.

  14. #14 Chayanov
    March 24, 2009

    Well, religion does offer a different way of understanding the world. It’s just not a very good one.

  15. #15 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    Demolitions of the validity of faith? Gee, that sounds juicy and very important. I’ve read most of the NA bestsellers, but I must have missed those. Any references? If I could find a way to avoid another pot-luck with lukewarm rigatoni and green bean casserole, I would be most appreciative.

    I second heddle’s objection. Using the expression ‘demolition of the validity of faith’ implies there’s something there to be demolished. How do you demolish an absence?

    What you could say instead is ‘demolitions of the immense structures built by theolo-apologists in order to disguise that absence‘ – it probably helps to visualise it as an institution combining a sleight-of-hand magic school, a tapdancing academy, and a sewerage treatment plant.

  16. #16 Ryan
    March 24, 2009

    A God that had to physically interfere with the world he created would pretty lame, yes?

  17. #17 Lycosid
    March 24, 2009

    Our strength comes from the different approaches scientists are taking to this question. Those who advocate the fluffy non-overlapping magisteria approach soften the faith-headed up for the harder blow of reality that follows from PZ and his 2 to 8 legged minions.

  18. #18 10channel
    March 24, 2009

    “Science tries to figure out how things work and religion teaches about morality and spirituality. There doesn’t need to be a conflict.”
    These two definitions of religion and science are just plain false. Moreover, it also ignores the fact that religion often comes in conflict with things other than science: like common sense, and morality & ethics. And even if science did not conflict with religion, why ought religion still ought to be given a free reign?

    “It’s a lie told to calm the ignorant?the ignorant who will then turn about and obligingly stick a knife in our efforts to improve science, all in the name of their Lord.”
    Perhaps these lies can be more easily understood the more the public realizes that the Vatican excommunicating all people involved in a raped girl’s abortion is more accurate vision of what religion is all about. Perhaps the problem is that people just think that religion is all about good works, but things like these are hardly ever brought to the public attention.

  19. #19 H.H.
    March 24, 2009

    Free Lunch wrote:

    I don’t see the point of attacking those who think there is no overlap between religion and science. It’s not as if either the moderates or the religious zealots will be impressed by reality, but the moderates will support science as long as it doesn’t require them to give up on religion on a schedule of someone else’s making.

    We don’t have to “attack” them, but we should be able to politely disagree. If religious moderates want to support science, good! Science is true for everybody and is openly-accessible to all. But if they’ll only support science if we support their religions views, then it’s not a fair exchange. As PZ said, it grants religion a privileged status it does not deserve. You should not have to pamper anyone to get them to accept the findings of science. Science is strong enough to stand on its own. Religion isn’t. They know it and it scares them. Religion needs science. Science does not need religion. Religious moderates will never turn their back on science because they aren’t that stupid. That’s why they are moderates and not zealots. Oh, they might whine and complain, but as with a temperamental child, the worst thing you can do is give in. It only reinforces the behavior.

  20. #20 Pontus Reed
    March 24, 2009

    It would do many of the regular readers of Pharyngula a great deal of good to read an article featured on Arts & Letters Daily:

    http://spectator.org/archives/2009/03/10/the-new-humanism

  21. #21 sng
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis,

    Yes, clearly religion is the important factor there. Ignore the minor details of populations of 61,538,322 vs 303,824,640 and GDPs of 2.56 Trillion and 13.84 Trillion. No that wouldn’t possibly account for it at all.

    Oh wait. Yeah, it would. Easily. You also seem to be ignoring that about 93% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences here are atheists.

    Really you should try to build better strawmen.

  22. #22 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    In a society where people are forced to choose between God and evolution, what chance do we have?

    This reminds me of what Egnor was threatening. Imagine if the (16%???) of atheists in this country turned it into an us-vs-them and the other 84% of the population voted to cut all gov’t funding to evolutionary biology. It would be a disaster. Evolutionists have to suck up to the majority because they need taxpayer money.

  23. #23 Tabby Lavalamp
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis wrote:

    I’d love to see these statistics. I would especially love to see how these “statisticians” rationalize away the fac tat the religious US produces so much more scientific output than atheistic France.

    I admit this is purely a guess, but I suspect having a much larger population to draw from and more money to throw at research would be mightily helpful in this regard.

  24. #24 boom
    March 24, 2009

    Science and Surrealism deal with different things. Science tries to figure out how things work and surrealism teaches about melting clocks, hundred-buttocked men and apples in bowler hats. There doesn’t need to be a conflict…except of course to point out that none of these things exists outside a deranged mind.

  25. #25 Alex
    March 24, 2009

    Religion is bullshit. Any system of thinking that does not provide a mechanism for updating its knowledge base is bullshit and not capable of successfully mastering reality. As a matter of fact, when the religious try and meddle with science they degrade everyone’s chances at reaping the rewards of understanding.

  26. #26 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    In a society where people are forced to choose between God and evolution, what chance do we have?

    This reminds me of what Egnor was threatening. Imagine if the (16%???) of atheists in this country turned it into an us-vs-them and the other 84% of the population voted to cut all gov’t funding to evolutionary biology. It would be a disaster. Evolutionists have to suck up to the majority because they need taxpayer money.

  27. #27 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Science is all; religion is nothing. Even to mention insane religion in the same sentence as science denigrates science as a comparison or separate entity. Religion should be relegated to what it is; irrational belief in nothing, perpetrated by unsound minds.

  28. #28 E.V.
    March 24, 2009

    We get it Heddle, you’re married to your Calvanistic view of the world. You’ll never let god go no matter what the lack of evidence is for deities and magick.
    You’re no different than my neighbor (an engineer) who believes in a grand global jewish conspiracy, that we never put an astronaut on the moon and LBJ was behind the Kennedy assassination. No amount of reason, empirical evidence or lack of evidence will sway him; and like you, he believes himself to be fully rational and logical.
    You won’t ever take the training wheels off the bicycle or even see a reason to do so because it’s so much safer.

  29. #29 JD
    March 24, 2009

    Palm reading and science. NOMA for sure.

  30. #30 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, you need to suck up to us if you wish to keep posting here by your logic. You are certainly failing to do so.

  31. #31 pcarini
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Pontus Reed (#20)
    It would do many of the regular readers of Pharyngula a great deal of good to read an article featured on Arts & Letters Daily:
    [link snipped]

    Skimmed it, didn’t find it worth an in-depth reading. Just another older man complaining that the younger generation behaves differently than his did.

  32. #32 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    facilis wrote:

    This reminds me of what Egnor was threatening. Imagine if the (16%???) of atheists in this country turned it into an us-vs-them and the other 84% of the population voted to cut all gov’t funding to evolutionary biology. It would be a disaster. Evolutionists have to suck up to the majority because they need taxpayer money.

    Fortunately, most of those people aren’t as stupid as you, facilis.

  33. #33 Chris Davis
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis – If all the atheists left the US, they’d have to turn off the lights when they did, because no-one left behind would know how to work them.

  34. #34 breadmaker
    March 24, 2009

    for a moment i thought evolution was going to be proven in the post… i’ll go get another cup of coffee and wait……

  35. #35 Big City
    March 24, 2009

    Also, it makes us look like we need the religious for validation.

    I really don’t think that learning about evolution made me believe in God any less. What did it for me was Dawkins’s famous quote
    “Nonscience is just guessin’!”

  36. #36 Sperry
    March 24, 2009

    Science tries to figure out how things work and religion teaches about morality and spirituality.

    Implication: morality isn’t about trying to figure out how things (societies, communities) should work, rather it is something to be taught and accepted and please don’t try to think about it, it’s far too mysterious.

  37. #37 Sven DiMilo
    March 24, 2009

    It’s a lie told to calm the ignorant?the ignorant who will then turn about and obligingly stick a knife in our efforts to improve science, all in the name of their Lord.

    No it’s not. Such people (e.g., McLeroy, much of the population of Oklahoma) are not the targets of these Chamberlainesque statements. They are aimed instead at people who are both religious (to some degree) and support science education and “science improvement.” There are a lot of such people, and they can be useful allies in many important battles against the truly ignorant. You can call me Neville.

  38. #38 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, you keep showing no reason and logic. Every NSF funded dating of a rock layer adds to the theory of evolution. Every Interior Department funded biological survey adds to the theory of evolution. Every NIH funded biochemical study on genes, DNA, cellular metabolism, disease organisms adds to the theory of evolution. You really need to read Coyne’s book if you wish to post intelligently.

  39. #39 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    This reminds me of what Egnor was threatening. Imagine if the (16%???) of atheists in this country turned it into an us-vs-them and the other 84% of the population voted to cut all gov’t funding to evolutionary biology. It would be a disaster. Evolutionists have to suck up to the majority because they need taxpayer money.

    Scientists don’t have to suck up to anyone, they just need to be a bit more inclusive and tolerant when it comes to the public understanding of science. Carl Sagan was excellent at this, yet you won’t find a more staunch opponent of religion and that kind of thinking. He focused on selling the wonder and importance of science as opposed to focusing on attacking religion.

  40. #40 Daenyx
    March 24, 2009

    I agree with the philosophical position against these fluffy compatibility assertions – science and religion are in many cases directly contradictory, and cannot be given equal weight/status with any logical integrity. However, I think this is a pretty strong case for parts of the scientific community choosing their battles. Militant atheism isn’t going to affect the opinions of religious fundamentalists, at least not in the way atheists would want the outcome to go. If anything it gives them an example of Human Evil, Hubris, and Temptation (TM) to beat the books about and say “SEE! This is PRECISELY the kind of fiendish manipulation by the wicked that we’re warned to guard against!” Whereas the illusion that science and religion can (sort of) coexist, I believe, works to slowly raise the tolerance level for logic. It’s a cracked door, if you will. I’ve seen quite a few people who started out direly religious (hurray for growing up in the Bible Belt…); the “coexistence” rationalization made them at least receptive to scientific principles, and later the extension of that growing understanding of science cleared out most or all (depending on the person) of the superstitious mental cobwebs. But the first step was to believe that science was valuable, but didn’t mean they had to give their safety blanket to learn from it.

  41. #41 The Chemist
    March 24, 2009

    Religion is about obedience to arbitrary rules.

    So is all morality. I don’t understand this concept that morals can be derived from science. Morality is the post-hoc rationalization of actions undertaken to fulfill immediate subjective priorities (such as social order). Science simply tells us how to achieve them- and really only sometimes.

    …I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science

    Science is and always will be a system of knowing, nothing more nothing less. Obtaining morality from science strikes me as being akin to worshiping a toolbox. Is a toolbox useful? Yes. Fun? To some people. It’s not going to give you guidance on what to build, though.

    Reason tells us how to grow apples. Reason also tells us how to grow oranges. Reason does not dictate which I decider to grow in my back yard- my entirely non-logical preference for apples does.

  42. #42 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 24, 2009

    (shaking head)

    The last time I checked, the (uncapitalized version of) science is not threatened by a movement of literature profs insisting that we teach ecology via iambic pentameter. The reason why so many outfits (including the NAS) make ‘nice-nice’ where religion is concerned is that science education is in fact imperiled whenever religion is inserted into the curriculum.

    Yes, PZ, you are right: atheism is more compatible with the business of doing science. Science, strictly speaking, is a godless enterprise, that will not admit various flavors of human experience as evidence. The subjective, the non-falsifiable, and much of the feats attributed by believers to the supernatural do not count for a hill of beans in science, and that is the way that it should be.

    But admitting that does not privilege atheism within science, any more than my assertion of theism privileges my views in that forum, or (for that matter) any other. Do you agree? It seems to me, PZ, that if you feel otherwise you are essentially making the same ridiculous argument that Larry Caldwell (via his spouse) recently made (unsuccessfully) against the University of California.

    I can understand you are reluctant to join tentacles in a ‘Kum Ba Yah’ moment with religion. Well, really, who asked you to? The NAS policy doesn’t require you or me to sign up for any particular understanding of the status of religion with respect to religion. It just says ‘different understandings’ exist. It doesn’t say that these understandings are correct. It’s not giving religion of any sort pride of place within the scientific enterprise, and it’s just one small part of the document.

    Given that, your scorched-earth rhetoric on this point sounds like a rather peevish attempt to privilege beliefs within science. I think what we need to privilege in science is not your beliefs or mine, but skepticism towards claims lacking evidence. I’ll happily buy the first round on that point, any time, any place.

    Cheers…SH

  43. #43 AJ Milne
    March 24, 2009

    Is this a sincere attempt to keep the peace or simply Pascal’s Wager in action?

    I’d suspect it’s far more of the former, very, very little of the latter. But even the former doesn’t quite cover the whole of the phenomenon.

    Beyond ‘keeping the peace’, which takes a lot of guises and can get very personal (remember: religion has deep tendrils into most societies: if you’re going to take a hard, direct line on the damage religious thinking does, you may have any number of aunts or uncles or in-laws who might take offense), there’s also a complex psychology around this. Religion has insinuated itself into that role of moral arbiter for a variety of reasons for centuries–there’s a drumbeat out there that it’s the source of morality, that just having faith for faith’s sake is actually a good thing, so on. Otherwise very independent-minded people don’t always spot the issues with those notions, and as it’s a very thick, tangled tapestry of intersecting claims, it does take some effort to take it all apart.

    And in fairness, beyond this, I think some are just trying to pick their battles, save their strength. Religion is not a small problem, nor really just one problem. It fucks up so much, gets in the way so many places, muddles so many minds, inserts itself aggressively so many places, there’s a reasonable concern: snip at the vines in every direction they’re coming at you from, and all you’re going to do is wear out your hands.

    You may even get through the essential analysis that the base of what religion is is actually deliberately hostile to reasoned, open inquiry–that anything that spreads itself by deliberately corroding its adherents’ capacity for reason is a nasty piece of work from top to bottom, bloody dangerous to have around in general–and still decide: I, personally, just don’t think I’m going to get anywhere hack at the beast at that fundamental level. It’s too much. So I’ll go after the head of the hydra closest to what I’m actually trying to get done, hope maybe that gets me where I’m going.

  44. #44 pcarini
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: breadmaker | March 24, 2009 7:38 PM
    for a moment i thought evolution was going to be proven in the post… i’ll go get another cup of coffee and wait……

    Did this post have anything to do with “proving” already known facts?

  45. #45 vinraith
    March 24, 2009

    People derive a lot of personal comfort and security from their religious beliefs, no matter how wrongly. If you insistently tie belief in science to an absence of that security blanket, logos is going to lose out to pathos and we’re all going to end up screwed. Human beings, on the whole, aren’t rational animals. Insisting that they be completely rational or not rational at all is a losing proposition for rationality.

  46. #46 John Morales
    March 24, 2009

    Pontus @20, so, I read the article.
    Very noble.

    I take from it that humanism is yet another ideology, but I guess you were drawing attention to the “new humanism” and the “old humanism” characterisation therein.

    I’m not a humanist, by the way, except tangentially and incidentally.

  47. #47 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    @Redhead
    I’m not talking about evolution. In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).
    Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of God even if I grant you evolution. Evolution does nothing to address any of the other evidences for God people present.

  48. #48 Free Lunch
    March 24, 2009

    H.H. -

    I don’t care what the zealots say, since they have made themselves incapable of learning. I do care about the moderates because if we can show them what science can tell us, they will realize that religious doctrines are designed to intrude on science and fails in those areas. Eventually, they will realize that religion says nothing worth bothering with. It isn’t accurate in scientific realms and it isn’t defensible anywhere else.

  49. #49 Alex
    March 24, 2009

    It’s not going to give you guidance on what to build, though.

    I respectfully disagree – it absolutely gives guidance on the types of things one can build. If all there are is wood-working implements in the tool box, one will not be successful working with steel, or deities.

    Reason does not dictate which I decider to grow in my back yard- my entirely non-logical preference for apples does.

    It does if you need more vitamin C in your diet.

  50. #50 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis and Heddle

    I have a little booklet whose cover states: “What god has revealed to man”. When you open it, all the pages are blank. Should I write in your names?

  51. #51 The Chemist
    March 24, 2009

    Alex @49

    *Buries head in hands*
    I knew it!

    It’s always only a matter of time before someone stretches a perfectly good analogy to breaking point.

    It’s just an example… Sheesh!

  52. #52 sng
    March 24, 2009

    Scott Hatfield,

    “skepticism towards claims lacking evidence” Given that religion falls firmly in the category of claims lacking evidence how are those two things not incompatible again?

    Also keep in mind atheism is a lack of belief. Usually, but not always, accompanied by “skepticism towards claims lacking evidence”. So certainly science seems more compatible with that outlook than religion which, by definition, requires you to abandon said skepticism. So while you are correct that it does and should not privilege atheism it also certainly isn’t compatible with religion.

    The fact that so many religious folks can do science is simply evidence that people are really good at compartmentalization, dealing with cognitive dissonance, and denial.

  53. #53 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Holbach wrote:

    I have a little booklet whose cover states: “What god has revealed to man”. When you open it, all the pages are blank. Should I write in your names?

    Write facilis’s name in crayon, and put the ‘s’ around the wrong way – just so everyone who reads it knows how truly stupid he really is. Anyone who could honestly write this:

    In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).

    …hasn’t got the intellect of the average mango.

  54. #54 Andyo
    March 24, 2009

    Ha ha, Facilis, you are priceless!

  55. #55 echidna
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis@47:

    In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).< \blockquote>

    I presume you are a gravitationist and an electricity-ist too. Scientific facts and principles are not articles of faith or ideological positions, and until you get that into your head, what you say will sound nonsensical.

    Noting that Expelled is a really poor source of scientific information, what exactly about evolution do you not accept?
    Rhetorical questions are not an answer. Please answer in the form “This piece of evidence X contradicts the theory of evolution by showing that Y is the case rather than Z.”

  56. #56 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    I would especially love to see how these “statisticians” rationalize away the fac tat the religious US produces so much more scientific output than atheistic France.

    1)Apples and Oranges, considering the size and population differences. to get accurate answers, you’d have to compare either the EU to the US, or France to, say, California. and then the picture look much, much, different…

    2)Most U.S. scientists are atheists, so your comparison is irrelevant anyway.

  57. #57 heddle
    March 24, 2009

    Holbach

    I have a little booklet whose cover states: “What god has revealed to man”. When you open it, all the pages are blank.

    Ooh, so clever–didja think that one up all by yourself? I doubt anyone has made that funny before!

  58. #58 Free Lunch
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, if you can be persuaded by Expelled and some dishonest propaganda from the DI, you are incompetent to have an opinion. You need to find a relative who will take over your daily affairs so you don’t destroy yourself.

  59. #59 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).

    A victim of propaganda…

  60. #60 pcarini
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis,SP @ #47:
    Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of God even if I grant you evolution. Evolution does nothing to address any of the other evidences for God people present.

    <Facilis mode>Evolution doesn’t take into account the Irrefutable Transcendental Proof!</Facilis mode>

  61. #61 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    “skepticism towards claims lacking evidence” Given that religion falls firmly in the category of claims lacking evidence

    I think naturalism lacks evidence. No naturalist has been able to present evidence of his beliefs to me. Naturalism and science and incompatible.

    Also keep in mind atheism is a lack of belief.

    Where did you get that definition from?
    Stanford Philosophical Encyclopaedia says it is “denial of the existence of God”.

    Usually, but not always, accompanied by “skepticism towards claims lacking evidence”. So certainly science seems more compatible with that outlook than religion which, by definition, requires you to abandon said skepticism. So while you are correct that it does and should not privilege atheism it also certainly isn’t compatible with religion.

    Ok big problems here. Why don’t you think religious people can be skeptical?

    The fact that so many religious folks can do science is simply evidence that people are really good at compartmentalization, dealing with cognitive dissonance, and denial.

  62. #62 Pierce R. Butler
    March 24, 2009

    The battle is escalating: last year, our host didn’t print the objectionable NAS quote in the font classically reserved for raving loonies.

    It’s downright ominous: Comic Sans of the End Times!

  63. #63 aratina
    March 24, 2009

    After I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat – Facilus, SP

    ROFLMAO! At least we can count on you for a good laugh unlike the three losers.

  64. #64 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    Why don’t you think religious people can be skeptical?

    are you counting yourself as an example, or a counterexample?

  65. #65 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    Why don’t you think religious people can be skeptical?

    Because we base our entire worldview of Christians on you…

  66. #66 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    When faced with the claim that science and religion are “different ways of understanding the universe”, my practiced response is to say “no, science is a way of understanding the universe, religion is a way of failing to understand the universe.”

  67. #67 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Facilis, SP Author Profile Page | March 24, 2009 7:48 PM

    @Redhead[sic]
    I’m not talking about evolution. In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).
    Evolution has nothing to do with the existence of God even if I grant you evolution. Evolution does nothing to address any of the other evidences for God people present.

    Exhibit A; evidence for the damage religion does to critical thinking AKA “each consecutive piece of fiction is easier to swallow as truth”

  68. #68 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    The fact that so many religious folks can do science is simply evidence that people are really good at compartmentalization, dealing with cognitive dissonance, and denial.

    *bing*

    winnah!

  69. #69 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Evolution does nothing to address any of the other evidences for God people present.

    There are no evidences for god.

  70. #70 Andyo
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Kel | March 24, 2009 8:01 PM

    In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).

    A victim of propaganda…

    He probably already was in the choir… Either he’s so dishonest to be in the ID camp, or he’s THAT stupid to have had his mind changed by Expelled.

    Oh wait… maybe he was a victim of propaganda after all.

  71. #71 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    are you counting yourself as an example, or a counterexample?

    Yes I am skeptical. There are lots of things I am skeptical of , naturalism, Zeus, atheism ,PZ Myers , Barack Obama.. etc.

  72. #72 Wowbager, OM
    March 24, 2009

    facilis asked:

    Where did you get that definition from?

    How about actual atheists, facilis? Whoever it is who put together the Stanford Dictionary hasn’t met me; how can it be representative of my views?

    Who would you ask to define Christianity, facilis – a member of your own sect or a Catholic? A Jehovah’s Witness? A Mormon? A Seventh-Day-Adventist?

    The fact that so many religious folks can do science is simply evidence that people are really good at compartmentalization, dealing with cognitive dissonance, and denial.

    For once we agree on something, facilis – though that probably wasn’t your intent. Yes, religious people do engage in all those things, and we’re pointing out that to do so is unnecessary when they could just abandon their religious beliefs and be better off.

  73. #73 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Alex | March 24, 2009 7:49 PM

    Reason does not dictate which I decider to grow in my back yard- my entirely non-logical preference for apples does.

    It does if you need more vitamin C in your diet.

    That just gives your more data to make a decision with. The data don’t dictate the decision.

  74. #74 cpsmith
    March 24, 2009

    I have a question for folks here. I am currently studying both philosophy and biochemistry and I find science and philosophy to be highly complementary in their approaches to understanding the world and depend on each other a great deal. They both take a rational, logical approach to understanding how the world works and what it all means (which makes sense as science was at one time a branch of philosophy). It seems to me that people who claim religion is compatable with science are ignoring the relationship science has with philosophy and are claiming that religion can do the sort of work for science that philosophy generally does (like answering all those pesky ‘why’ and ‘aught’ questions after science answers the ‘how’).

    Which brings me to my questions:

    Do people here think that the atheist movement would benefit from placing more emphasis explicitly on philosophy and its relationship to science rather than just on science alone? Could this help counter the whole annoying non-overlapping magesterium argument?

  75. #75 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t think compartmentalization is necessary. Religion is a good way to fail to understand the universe. Sometimes in our lives that is precisely what is called for.

    Saying that scientists can’t be religious is like saying psychiatrists can’t have mental problems: a preposterous idea.

  76. #76 Sven DiMilo
    March 24, 2009

    But the point is that people are really good at compartmentalization, dealing with cognitive dissonance, and denial. People. The kind of people at whom these statements about compatibility are aimed.

  77. #77 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    Yes I am skeptical. There are lots of things I am skeptical of , naturalism, Zeus, atheism ,PZ Myers , Barack Obama.. etc.

    …but not AIG, ICR, DI, Expelled…

    rather selective skepticism, yes?

    oh, why the fuck am I bothering?
    :P

  78. #78 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t accept everything either. I am still a kind of skeptic of ID. But after Ben Stein showed what was really going on inside science I can’t hel but be skeptical of the current paradigm.

  79. #79 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: cpsmith | March 24, 2009 8:13 PM
    Do people here think that the atheist movement would benefit from placing more emphasis explicitly on philosophy and its relationship to science rather than just on science alone? Could this help counter the whole annoying non-overlapping magesterium argument?

    I don’t, no. I consider philosophy to be almost, but not entirely, useless.

  80. #80 pcarini
    March 24, 2009

    … But after Ben Stein showed what was really going on inside science I can’t hel but be skeptical of the current paradigm.

    FSM forbid that scientific organizations not support people who refuse to play by the rules of science…

  81. #81 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t accept everything either. I am still a kind of skeptic of ID. But after Ben Stein showed what was really going on inside science I can’t hel but be skeptical of the current paradigm.

    That film was a lie: http://www.expelledexposed.com

    Seriously facilis, it’s a bad propaganda film, misrepresenting what really happened to make it seem like there’s a conspiracy. Check the facts about what went on, everything about that film reeks of dishonesty.

  82. #82 Marcus Ranum
    March 24, 2009

    How can they co-exist? They both make claims about objective reality and only one’s claims are backed up by evidence. They contradict eachother, too.

    It’s silly to say there’s no conflict between two things that flat-out contradict eachother all over the place!

  83. #83 Sven DiMilo
    March 24, 2009

    Ben Stein showed what was really going on inside science

    Facilis is a deep-cover Poe. Nobody else could make this statement with an apparently straight face.

  84. #84 AnthonyK
    March 24, 2009

    In Fact I was an evolutionist until a couple weeks age (after I saw Expelled and read some stuff from the DI my position with regards to evolution has weakened somewhat).

    Christ, you’re a tedious waste of an alphabet. What about your post made you think it worth writing – or even thinking? You were an evolutionist the way chlamydia was just a woman’s disease, and you similarly fooled no one.
    The wank factor of your posts is higher than ever since you failed our first worthless human being challenge, and though I notice you did add “Sad Prick” after your name, it did nothing to add wit, insight, or even adequate English to your micturations.
    Go and play with the christians; there at least your feeble-mindedness and insincerity would not be so out of place.

  85. #85 Discombobulated
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t accept everything either. I am still a kind of skeptic of ID. But after Ben Stein showed what was really going on inside science I can’t hel but be skeptical of the current paradigm.

    I call Poe. Even though Facilis has been trolling for months with his failed presupp arguments, NO ONE can be this stupid and still be breathing.

  86. #86 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t accept everything either. I am still a kind of skeptic of ID. But after Ben Stein showed what was really going on inside science I can’t hel but be skeptical of the current paradigm.

    does that mean you also believe in Roswell and Area 51, and that 9/11 was an inside job? because, you know, there’s convincing* documentaries showing what was really going on inside the government, too!!

    *to those deficient in critical thinking

  87. #87 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, what part of Ben Stein lied his ass off in Expelled are you having trouble with? You won’t be taken seriously until you get out of the habit of believing liars.

  88. #88 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Facilis, SP | March 24, 2009 8:15 PM

    I don’t accept everything either.

    But you accept the existence of a personal God who cares about human beings, despite the complete and total lack of evidence for such an entity?

  89. #89 grebmar
    March 24, 2009

    “Complete bullshit. I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science, and religion teaches nothing about morality. Religion is about obedience to arbitrary rules.”

    This statement is just as full of bullshit as you say the other is. How exactly does science teach about morality? It says nothing about how to live your life. Given the violence nature exhibits everywhere, we could justify murder as a morally justified act, no? It’s called the naturalistic fallacy.
    And religion teaches nothing about morality? How more false a statement can you make? What are the ten commandments? Are those not moral statements? They are certainly arbitrary, but they still teach morality.

    No, I am not a troll, and no, I am not any form of a creationist. I’m just amazed that such drivel is taken so seriously.

  90. #90 John Morales
    March 24, 2009

    cpsmith, yes, I consider that the atheist movement would benefit from placing more emphasis explicitly on philosophy and its relationship to science rather than just on science alone, but no, I don’t consider that help counter the whole annoying NOMA rationalisation.

    Ideally, I’d like to see philosophy replace religion.

  91. #91 sng
    March 24, 2009

    To refute my post you would need to present concrete, objective, physical, and repeatable proof for the existence of god. If you can not do that the assertion that religion requires you to abandon skepticism about some things stands. And that is incompatible with science.

    I’ll wait while you do that.

  92. #92 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    cpsmith; I think you’ve highlighted a very important issue. The fact is that, as much as I wish it were true, there is no ‘natural philosophy’ of morality that is objectively any better than religion. Granted, relying on one MAY BE better than religion, but it may not. And, like religion, it lacks any supernatural power to enable believers to actually be moral.

    The fact of the matter is that, without the convenient sky-being to dictate what is and is not good, we are left with only supposing what may be good or what we believe is good. Yes this in fact leaves us no worse off than the best religion can do. But natural philosophy can only be consistent if it refutes itself as a universally normative prescription of morality.

  93. #93 Facilis, SP
    March 24, 2009

    Do people here think that the atheist movement would benefit from placing more emphasis explicitly on philosophy and its relationship to science rather than just on science alone? Could this help counter the whole annoying non-overlapping magesterium argument?
    Alright I think the new atheists would be better at coming up with more sphiticate arguments and better at reasoning if some were to take some course in philosophy and logic. Not to mention that religion touches on epistemology ,metaphysics, ethics , meaning and purpose and many other philosophically important topics. Atheists would do well to put forth some philosophically informed worldview that could provide such things. It would make it much more attractive to theists.
    Perhaps it is just me but I do not see any conflict between science and Christianity. I know what kind of discoveries could create a conflict in the future, but I do not see any now.

  94. #94 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    It would do many of the regular readers of Pharyngula a great deal of good to read an article featured on Arts & Letters Daily:

    http://spectator.org/archives/2009/03/10/the-new-humanism

    a semi-christian bemoaning the loss of the “christianity without god”. oh boo-hoo.

  95. #95 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    I really feel sorry for facilis. You can tell he’s trying hard to be an intellectual, but his complete ignorance of science permiates through every post he makes. He quite simply has no idea how any of it works, it’s really sad.

  96. #96 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    Alright I think the new atheists would be better at coming up with more sphiticate[sic] arguments and better at reasoning if some were to take some course in philosophy and logic.

    oh the irony…

  97. #97 John Morales
    March 24, 2009

    grebmar, one word: ethics.

  98. #98 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, Christianity has had zero effect on science in the last hundred or so years, and will have no effect on it in the future. Science ignores god and religion. That is the nature of science. Religion will adapt to science. Period, end of story.

  99. #99 Shane
    March 24, 2009

    PZ, let me begin by saying that I am an atheist as to erase doubt.

    To say that there is a contradiction or not between religious belief and science is messy. Most modern religious doctrines have at least some element of the miraculous or interventionism by their chosen deity. Obviously we can all agree this is crap and a contradiction between science and faith.

    But it is not impossible to formulate faith in a way that naturalistic questions have wholly naturalistic answers. It isn’t much of a faith at this point and I would agree that it would be more along the lines of abstract rules that provide an unnecessary layer to morality and there exists no evidence for such a belief. But it wouldn’t contradict science, just some views of rationality.

    The reason why I personally wouldn’t criticize faith of this kind harshly is because the public debate is about marketing.

    Look at how vehemently people defend religious belief against the most well defended theory in history, evolution. Regardless of who is right and wrong we as scientists can agree we want people to at least have a grounding in reality and accept at least the truths about the world. To do that we have to apply rhetoric and not aggression. There has to be a slow progression otherwise we can’t win.

  100. #100 Pierce R. Butler
    March 24, 2009

    The Chemist @ # 41: Reason tells us how to grow apples. Reason also tells us how to grow oranges. Reason does not dictate which I decider to grow in my back yard.

    Reason wants to know if your back yard is in Oregon or Florida, to start with.

  101. #101 Rob W
    March 24, 2009

    I sometimes like to force the issue in online conversations — because I’m right, damn it — but in the long run I think the “nonoverlapping magisteria” people serve a valuable purpose.

    The roles of religion & faith in people’s lives are complex and sometimes incredibly pervasive. And many people simply aren’t equipped emotionally or intellectually to grapple with the complexity of overturning all of those deeply-held ideas — rejecting a religious POV is not as simple as just saying, “oh yeah, those were some stupid ideas influencing how I voted, and maybe I’ll stop giving money to the church”… for many people, it’s about making grandma cry to you on the phone every weekend (because why aren’t you going to church anymore? what about your soul?), and telling Uncle Bob that his 12-step program was part psychology but a heavy, heavy load of bullshit mixed in, and telling your fiancee that you can’t go through with the promises you’d have to say in front of the crowd in a religious marriage. And so on.

    Remember that most people’s lives are built around family and social connections, NOT around building the most accurate mental model of reality possible. They may have religion intertwined through those structures like an overgrown vine — you can’t just ask them to rip it out, because it would mean dismantling their lives. And for the sake of *what*, from their point of view? Do you have anything of comparable value to offer to balance the destruction of someone’s entire family/social web? “Being right” or “voting smarter” are not strong arguments in that context.

    I personally do not trot out the “non-overlapping magisteria” line (nor would agree to it in a conversation…), but I’m not the kind of person who needs it. So I do think there is value in having some people out there saying it (alongside the rest of us who are less compromising…) — it enables people to keep going to church (and protects grandma from that nervous breakdown) but still allows exploring a scientific perspective on the world.

    And if they explore science but go to church and engage with religion’s supposed home turf, like morality (’cause it can at least serve that purpose — morality is discussed), then the science-based worldview can let them analyze what they’re hearing in sermons. And they may decide to have “morality discussion night” instead of taking *their* kids to church. And their kids quite likely won’t have any use for the “nonoverlapping magisteria” crutch.

  102. #102 Marcus Ranum
    March 24, 2009

    If there’s no conflict between science and religion, then the faithful ought to give up their computers, modern medicine, telephones, eyeglasses, etc — and see how good a job god does of fixing up their problems with objective reality.

    It’s not science’s fault that religion is full of fail. Does the NAS think that there’s no conflict between science and the doctrine that fairies are involved in disposing of lost teeth? NOMA, etc, is just cowardice.

  103. #103 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    And religion teaches nothing about morality? How more false a statement can you make? What are the ten commandments? Are those not moral statements? They are certainly arbitrary, but they still teach morality.

    religion doesn’t add anything of value to the morality societies seem to agree upon, it does however often hinder the progress of morality in societies. those 10 commandments you cited? most of it is religious and morality-free (don’t take the lords name in vain etc), and the rest is stolen from the Code of Hammurabi, a secular code of law. on the other hand, it’s religiosity that condemns loving people just because they happen to love the wrong gender, consider raped women criminals and whores, etc.

  104. #104 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    facilis wrote:

    Alright I think the new atheists would be better at coming up with more sphiticate arguments and better at reasoning if some were to take some course in philosophy and logic. Not to mention that religion touches on epistemology ,metaphysics, ethics , meaning and purpose and many other philosophically important topics. Atheists would do well to put forth some philosophically informed worldview that could provide such things. It would make it much more attractive to theists.

    Now, this is why a clever fellow came up with the idea of the ‘Courtier’s Reply’. Perhaps you should go and read a bit about that, facilis.

    Why do we need sophisticated arguments, facilis? There’s no evidence for god, and none of the arguments used by apologists over the years – chiefly as an attempt to hide the fact there is no evidence for god – is anything more than self-indulgent twaddle.

    All an atheist needs to know to be content, philosophically, is that no argument for the Christian god cannot be applied to any and all other gods posited by humanity.

  105. #105 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    I just ordered 3 books off Amazon last night that facilis could do with reading:

    • John W. Loftus – Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity
    • Daniel Dennett – Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon
    • Ken Miller – Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul

    Maybe you can get and read them at the same time as to compare notes…

  106. #106 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, you are absolutely full of it. New Atheists have a very extensive grounding in philosophy and logic. Far more than all of the religionists like you in the world all put together.

  107. #107 MCMLXXXVI
    March 24, 2009

    PZ Myers – Making the hairs on my godless neck stand up since 2006.

  108. #108 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    It isn’t much of a faith at this point

    so why mention it.

    the public debate is about marketing

    strategy vs. tactics.

    which do you think applies when we debate the future of religion itself at this time and place?

    why is it so many seem to forget the difference?

    are we not allowed to discuss what, from a rationalist perspective, should be the end goal, in deference to currently applied tactics?

    It indeed boils down to the tacticians telling the long term strategists to shut up.

  109. #109 Josh
    March 24, 2009

    Ken Miller – Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul

    This is a pretty good book; very clear.

  110. #110 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    This statement is just as full of bullshit as you say the other is. How exactly does science teach about morality?

    Science teaches about morality by teaching us how our behaviour is derived both genetically and socially. Through studies of animal behaviour, human behaviour, wider societal effects, and applying mathematics to the endeavour, science can get a good view of how morality works.

    I recommend reading Michael Shermer – The Science Of Good And Evil

  111. #111 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Heddle @ 58

    No, I am not that clever to make up such a devise to prove you are insane, but have the booklet in front of me, as I have had for many years. Neither you nor your imaginary god deserve any space in any context except in ridicule of the utmost severity. Your god is non-existence shit, and your insane brain is made up of the same dreck.

  112. #112 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    It’s not science’s fault that religion is full of fail.

    exactly. reminds me of something another pharyngulite said some time back:

    “Science disagrees with religion for not being empirical or scientific, while religion attacks science for being a religion.”

    - brokenSoldier

    and for Imbecillis:

    “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

    - Winston Churchill

    get. lost. twit.

  113. #113 Sperry
    March 24, 2009

    It’s not enough that atheism be grounded in science, now Facile(is) demands that atheism be philosophically satisfying.

    I wonder if it can be done… oh that’s right: Pyrrho, Zeno, Diagoras, & Astippus, David Hume & the British empiricists, the French from Babeuf & Helvetius to Marcuse, Foucault et. al., the Germans from the Young Hegelians through Nietzsche to Habermas. Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Carnap, Quine, Dennett, Danielson. I’m sure none of these have been “sphiticate” enough in their thinking.

    Please, atheism is not suffering for lack of philosophical rigor.

  114. #114 Cyborg
    March 24, 2009

    Science and in particular is confusing to some but the link will make sense of it all.

  115. #115 386sx
    March 24, 2009

    I second heddle’s objection. Using the expression ‘demolition of the validity of faith’ implies there’s something there to be demolished. How do you demolish an absence?

    I second the objection also. Nobody can demolish the validity of faith because faith can be whatever it wants. Just think of something and then there you go you have some faith. Whatever you want it to be. It’s kinda hard to demolish something that can be whatever it wants to be.

  116. #116 Evangelatheist
    March 24, 2009

    @Nerd #99

    Facilis, Christianity has had zero effect on science in the last hundred or so years, and will have no effect on it in the future. Science ignores god and religion. That is the nature of science. Religion will adapt to science. Period, end of story.

    I can’t say as I agree with you in this case, Nerd. I think the fundies delayed quite a bit of good work with the stemcell ban.

  117. #117 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis, you are absolutely full of it. New Atheists have a very extensive grounding in philosophy and logic. Far more than all of the religionists like you in the world all put together.

    Maybe facilis does what Andrew Brown did in his article criticising “the New atheists” – complain about the lack of scholarship in philosophy / theology in the movement by ignoring all philosophers and theologians / biblical historians that are part of the movement.

  118. #118 kamaka
    March 24, 2009

    Science describes reality. Religion claims to explain reality.

    The god concept kills inquiry. Why is there anything instead of nothing? Well, god didit, no further questions need be asked.

    grebmar @90

    How exactly does science teach about morality?

    Because it leads to the rational ethic:

    How do I behave to help create a world worth living in?

  119. #119 Alan Kellogg
    March 24, 2009

    In the ages to come we will learn things that would surprise people living today, atheists and theists alike. But that’s in the ages to come. For now it suffices to say that God has bugger all to do with what we can know, and how we can know it. You’re on your own, kiddo; don’t flush the puppy down the toilet.

  120. #120 John Morales
    March 24, 2009

    Rob W @102, good point.

    Religion is perceived (mostly by adherents) to be a source for ethics, for telos, and for goals – but in reality it is not required for any of these.

  121. #121 Sven DiMilo
    March 24, 2009

    If there’s no conflict between science and religion, then the faithful ought to give up their computers, modern medicine, telephones, eyeglasses, etc.

    What? That’s what they should do if there is irreconcilable conflict between science and religion, they admit it, and they choose religion anyway.

  122. #122 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    “How exactly does science teach about morality?”

    By providing evidence of the efficacy of altruism as an evolutionary development.

    “It says nothing about how to live your life.”

    And yet says everything about how not to live your life. For instance, not murdering people has been proven to reduce your chance of being murdered in any human population. Not shitting where you eat has also shown beneficial results. YMMV

    Given the violence nature exhibits everywhere, we could justify murder as a morally justified act, no?

    Almost as easily as the religionists do, I imagine. Almost.

    “It’s called the naturalistic fallacy.”

    Not all humans murder if presented the opportunity. We know this to be true, because there are humans still around.

    “And religion teaches nothing about morality? How more false a statement can you make? What are the ten commandments? Are those not moral statements? They are certainly arbitrary, but they still teach morality.”

    Not if they are arbitrary, they don’t. Vast volumes in the field of moral philosophy and ethics have been written on this issue. Any dictate from a sky-being would, due to its arbitrary nature, not be morally good or bad. Just arbitrary.

    “No, I am not a troll, and no, I am not any form of a creationist. I’m just amazed that such drivel is taken so seriously.”

    You just missed a step, that’s all. As far as natural philosophy is concerned, the Ten Commandments or any other list of dictates is only moral, if at all, by coincidence.

    For example, “Thou Shalt Not Let Queers Marry” is not a Commandment, nor is “Thou Shalt Save Every Zygote”. How moral could they possibly be? ;-)

  123. #123 H.H.
    March 24, 2009

    Free Lunch wrote:

    I don’t care what the zealots say, since they have made themselves incapable of learning. I do care about the moderates because if we can show them what science can tell us, they will realize that religious doctrines are designed to intrude on science and fails in those areas. Eventually, they will realize that religion says nothing worth bothering with. It isn’t accurate in scientific realms and it isn’t defensible anywhere else.

    And I agree, I just don’t think it should be the job of science advocates to hold their hands while they figure this out. If someone says “I don’t know how to reconcile this aspect of science with my religion,” the appropriate response is to say “good luck with that.” How religious moderates incorporate science into their belief system is entirely their problem, and when they try to do it by shoehorning supernatural explanations into science we shouldn’t clap our hands and encourage them, but say “No, you still haven’t got it, keep trying.”

  124. #124 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    cpsmith #75 wrote:

    Do people here think that the atheist movement would benefit from placing more emphasis explicitly on philosophy and its relationship to science rather than just on science alone? Could this help counter the whole annoying non-overlapping magesterium argument?

    Yes, definitely. Gould’s claim that “religion” owns the realm which deals with “morals and meaning” ignores both “ethics” and “philosophy.” Religious morals are but a subset of ethics, and religious meaning is a subset of philosophy. How could NOMA leave out the magisterium of Philosophy?

    When aspects of a religion seem valuable and make sense to people outside the religion, those elements are obviously appealing to a secular common ground. They’re not unique to religion. When values or morals are unique to a particular sect, that means they can only be defended by reference to a special revelation. That way lies division — not unity, and not harmony.

    One of the main reasons atheists need to fight this claim that “religion teaches about morality” is because it implies that religion is necessary for morality. To do this in a country where atheists are considered immoral because they “have no basis for deciding right and wrong” is thoughtless. For science organizations to do this is darn near outrageous.

  125. #125 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 24, 2009

    I can’t say as I agree with you in this case, Nerd. I think the fundies delayed quite a bit of good work with the stemcell ban.

    It had an effect on funding, but not how the science was done, which appeared to be FFF’s point. I cannot argue that the US is now behind other countries due to the fundies.

  126. #126 Josh
    March 24, 2009

    Science describes reality. Religion claims to explain reality.

    Science can actually do both of these.

  127. #127 AnthonyK
    March 24, 2009

    And religion teaches nothing about morality?

    No, religion teaches nothing worthwhile about morality except possibly in the many delusions and cultural rationalisations which we should most carefully avoid.

    Do people here think that the atheist movement would benefit from placing more emphasis explicitly on philosophy and its relationship to science rather than just on science alone?

    I reckon that we should be pushing rationalism and thinking skills – but not just general philosophy. It’s too wordy, too easily manipulated, too baffling – and too easily mocked. It may be the foundation of the scientific method but it has had little or no impact on our real discoveries and current knowledge. And the likes of Derrida were just intellectual frauds.

  128. #128 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    The philosophical foundations for atheism start back in ancient greece almost 2500 years ago with the likes of Epicurus and Socrates. Then in recent times there’s David Hume, the “deist” movement of the late 18th century, moving onto the likes of Bertrand Russell, and more recently there’s Antony Flew’s work. Even now in the “new atheist” movement there’s people like AC Grayling, Peter Singer and Daniel Dennett just to drop a few names.

    The philosophy has been put out in depth, but it hardly matters. Science is the biggest killer of gods because theists keep insisting that their respective god does things in the universe. At each step of the way, rational inquiry and scepticism has trumped any religious affirmation. It’s to the point now that any philosophy or religion in order to be coherent has to be consistent with science.

    “Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous.” – David Hume (1739)

  129. #129 Ian
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis’ original comment was a derail. Does it deserve this much attention?

    —–

    From the post:
    “Science and Art Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World”?

    That’s important. People don’t care about religion because they think it will help them understand the natural world; they care about it because they find it makes their life more meaningful.

    To beat a religion down you need to argue that it’s not just bad science but also bad poetry — that it makes the lives of believers more hollow, immoral and/or uninteresting. e.g. not only is heaven not a physical place somewhere out in the Oort cloud, but believing in heaven will make your life worse.

  130. #130 VD
    March 24, 2009

    Some of you really are remarkably ignorant. “What the fuck” Facilis is pointing out, correctly, is that the per capita scientific overperformance of the religious USA is a factor of 7.89. With only 4.5 percent of the global population, it produced more than one-third of the global scientific output in 1999 according to a UNESCO study entitled “A Global Snapshot of Scientific Trends”. That is 28.7 percent more scientific output PER CAPITA than the most atheistic nation in Europe, which is France.

    One notes that Albania saw no great scientific leap forward during the 24 years it was an atheist nation. To the extent that atheism is linked with left-wing ideologies, it actually tends to inhibit science, although that has much more to do with economics than the belief models held by the individual scientist. Research tends to suffer when the central planners are in charge of distributing the test tubes and deciding who will study biology and who will work at the pig farm.

    PZ’s notion of deriving morality from reason and science only demonstrates his customary philosophical incompetence. He clearly needs to read Daniel Dennett again, or perhaps have someone explain Dennett to him nice and slowly. Unlike Harris and PZ, Dennett at least understands the tremendous difficulty in constructing a reason-based morality. In fact, he goes so far as to declare it to be “quite obvious” that “no remotely compelling system of ethics has ever been made computationally tractable, even indirectly, for real world moral problems.”

    Religion is simply not a danger to science. If any of you knew anything about history, you’d be aware that the only serious threats to science and technological advancement have been political ideologies that seek societal stasis.

  131. #131 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    Coyne himself mentions evidence in support of the idea that even tactically, the NOMA idea is a failure:

    In 25 years of effort, these organizations [refering to those science organizations that promoted NOMA in one form or another] don’t seem to have much effect on influencing public opinion about evolution. I think that this may mean that the USA will have to become a lot less religious before acceptance of evolution increases appreciably.

    there lies the rub.

    NOMA only succeeds with those who want to accept it to begin with.

    the problems were are having in the US stem from those who in essence, can not even begin to accept NOMA, let alone the idea that their religion is entirely irrelevant at best.

    Now, I have SEEN NOMA be applied with success during specific battles (the rejection of the creationist agenda in Ohio comes to mind). However, in the end, Coyne is absolutely right. attitudes of acceptance will change only in the face of the reduction of religious influence itself.

    This should indeed be our long term goal, if the acceptance and furtherance of science itself is also a long term goal.

  132. #132 heliobates
    March 24, 2009

    Facilis,

    The fact that you insist that you have access to universal, immaterial, invariant laws of logic shows that you know fuck all about philosophy.

    Admit it: you’d never even heard of the Gettier problem until I asked you about it.

    And when you bother to consult the SEP for a definition of atheism but are completely unfamiliar with any of its entries on logic, truth or knowledge you cause a surge of irony so massive it threatens to bring down the entire Eastern Seaboard.

    If you knew any philosophy beyond the buzzwords and talking points you absorb from your favorite apologetic sources, you’d be able to offer at least an interesting challenge to naturalism. But your attempts at “logic” start to resemble a blindfolded man staggering across a rake-strewn lawn.

  133. #133 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    Religion is simply not a danger to science. If any of you knew anything about history, you’d be aware that the only serious threats to science and technological advancement have been political ideologies that seek societal stasis.

    I’m sure galileo felt the same way when being hauled in front of the inquisition…

  134. #134 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    That’s important. People don’t care about religion because they think it will help them understand the natural world; they care about it because they find it makes their life more meaningful.

    To beat a religion down you need to argue that it’s not just bad science but also bad poetry — that it makes the lives of believers more hollow, immoral and/or uninteresting. e.g. not only is heaven not a physical place somewhere out in the Oort cloud, but believing in heaven will make your life worse. that is true, but it is not a discussion for scientists per se, it’s a point that atheists and humanists need to bring to the forefront of attention. science, being what it is, should completely and utterly ignore the “god” question, while defending itself from encroachment by religion on its turf.

  135. #135 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    VD has a correlation != causation failure, as is usual for him, assuming VD = Vox day.

  136. #136 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    Sastra and Josh, I think you’re both assuming your conclusions. The fact is, natural philosophy is only superior to religion in that it recognizes its inability to provide a universal morality. It isn’t in any way superior in actually providing ethics, it is just not worse.

    Certainly, anyone can point to a particular morality based on natural philosophy and _claim_ that it is a universal morality. But so can the faithful.

  137. #137 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    Albania…? really…? fuck, you’re dumb.

  138. #138 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    “One notes that Albania saw no great scientific leap forward during the 24 years it was an atheist nation.”

    Yea, that’s gotta be Vox day.

  139. #139 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    To beat a religion down you need to argue that it’s not just bad science but also bad poetry — that it makes the lives of believers more hollow, immoral and/or uninteresting.

    I disagree. You only have to show that religion is irrelevant to their morality, and to living a fulfilling life.

    much easier and just as effective.

  140. #140 DaveL
    March 24, 2009

    It’s true that science and religion are two different ways of understanding the universe. Where people go wrong is by suggesting that they both work.

  141. #141 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    Research tends to suffer when the central planners are in charge of distributing the test tubes and deciding who will study biology and who will work at the pig farm.

    EPIC FAIL. not even the soviet union worked that way.

  142. #142 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    It would make sense that VD is Vox Day, given he’s used the same example as facilis and facilis has admitted to reading his screed. Of course one way to look at the scientific output of atheism and religion is to see the reliigon of the top scientists or the number of non-religious nobel prize winners…

  143. #143 Africangenesis
    March 24, 2009

    grebmar#90 and PZ,

    If patterns and commonality in morality are found among the religions of the world by cultural anthropologists would they still be arbitrary, or could they demand an explanation. Perhaps there is innate in humans a way they think society should work. Perhaps they are not inate but features that allow religions to succeed and propagate, once again, since they are propagating in humans, they represent something of what we know about human nature. Perhaps the morality rationally deducable from the way intelligent species have to live together to cooperation when making the transition to higher levels of organization.

    So there may be an argument against arbitrariness in patterns that are seen.

    There can also be arguments against arbitrariness in attempts by the religions to have internal consistency, where perhaps inconsistent rules are eventually rejected due to incompatibility with higher level theology. I think Christianity has some of this when Jesus explained the rest of the 10 commandments being derivable from the first two and Paul taking it further and declaring freedom from much of the law of the old testament. Much of the appeal of Christianity comes from these simplifying principled reforms. No longer is morality prescriptions laid down in detail for every situation, it becomes derivable with an internal integrity that some find inspiring. Principles are an interesting way of simplifying the task of intelligence when facing new situations.

    I think in Catholicism, the sense of arbitrariness is enhance by all the ritual, while some of the protestant sects are very good at emphasizing the accessibility and simplicity and love. Of course the protestants have their share of the other as well, and are even returning to the law of the old testament and apologizing for all that Christ and Paul seemed to be reforming.

  144. #144 ElectricBarbarella
    March 24, 2009

    I am hijacking for a moment to ask for the Pharyngulites help (hopefully our illustriously tentacled leader does not mind)…
    A poll for you to burn: http://www.onenewsnow.com/Poll.aspx?ekfrm=463314

    The news article here: http://www.onenewsnow.com/Legal/Default.aspx?id=463166

    Feel free to do as you wish with it, but I think it needs some “attention”.

    EB

  145. #145 Shaden Freud
    March 24, 2009

    One notes that Albania saw no great scientific leap forward during the 24 years it was an atheist nation.

    You think that’s bad, how about Cambodia, where those godless scientists convinced the Khmer Rouge to kill them off along with all the other intellectuals!

  146. #146 Josh
    March 24, 2009

    Sastra and Josh, I think you’re both assuming your conclusions. The fact is, natural philosophy is only superior to religion in that it recognizes its inability to provide a universal morality. It isn’t in any way superior in actually providing ethics, it is just not worse.

    Are you sure you intended to address this to me? I didn’t offer a conclusion at all; merely a statement of fact. And I wasn’t even talking about natural philosophy being superior to religion. Far from it. I was talking about science and it’s relationship to reality. That you could somehow infer that I was talking about ethics from what I wrote is beyond me.

  147. #147 kamaka
    March 24, 2009

    PZ’s notion of deriving morality from reason and science only demonstrates his customary philosophical incompetence.

    It’s simple, really. Surrounded by apes struggling to make it through the world, take personal responsibility for creating an environment conducive to other apes happiness and well-being.

  148. #148 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    AG, if I understand what you’re going on and on about, you’re saying “morality evolved”, right?

  149. #149 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Heddle: Don’t feel too bad, as it is not your fault that there is no god. After all, there were no gods until humans came along. Now how do you explain that? I like to offer my comments concisely and to the point. Let’s see your imaginary god. If your head was cut off would there still be a god? Simple, eh? Not as simple as you though. Even philosophy cannot be as simple as this, and theology is just pure simpleton. As I have said many times here, if I was a supreme being and one of my creations questioned my existence, I’d be down in a flash and kick the crap out of it.

  150. #150 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    Shane #100 wrote:

    But it is not impossible to formulate faith in a way that naturalistic questions have wholly naturalistic answers.

    Yes, faith can be like that. And faith can also give supernaturalistic answers to naturalistic questions. Faith can do any damn thing it wants. It is a method which has no rules. There’s no way to draw a ‘wrong’ conclusion when you approach a question with the commitment to discover an answer that you want to discover. As Dawkins put it, “… how can there be a perversion of faith, if faith, lacking objective justification, doesn’t have any demonstrable standard to pervert?”

    That’s the problem with trying to market scientific theories by appealing to their compatibility with faith. It gives support to the idea that faith is a wonderful tool to use — but only if you use it the “right” way. What is the “right” way? The way that makes sense to people without your faith.

    But since when has a person’s religious beliefs rested on how much they appeal to atheists and nonbelievers? Religious people seek the approval of God. That is the one and only “right” way to do your religion.

    And that means that anything reasonable and useful which comes out of it is pretty much a measure of chance. It’s a bit like trying to promote the theory of evolution among skeptical astrologers by impressing upon them that there’s a method of reading the stars which has them spelling out “evolution happened.” Even if it works, you’ve built the astrological support for evolution on a pretty weak foundation.

  151. #151 The First Eviction Notice
    March 24, 2009

    heliobates@#133
    “your attempts at “logic” start to resemble a blindfolded man staggering across a rake-strewn lawn.”

    Or, perhaps, Sideshow Bob.

  152. #152 heddle
    March 24, 2009

    Holbach,

    Your god is non-existence shit, and your insane brain is made up of the same dreck.

    Hmm. Is that one of them-there sophisticated New Atheist arguments that “demolish of the validity of faith?” I must say, Bertrand Russell would be so proud of the current state of the art.

  153. #153 AnthonyK
    March 24, 2009

    Fans of Vox Day – well, Vox Day – might not want to read the ass whupping he received at the hands of Orac:
    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/03/if_you_hand_me_some_stupid_yes_in_fact_i.php
    Any kooky theory, put in long words and stroked vigourously to emission – religious apologism a speciality – eh Vox ;0

  154. #154 Sven DiMilo
    March 24, 2009

    Didn’t Bertrand Rusell write “Why I am not faeces”?

  155. #155 John Morales
    March 24, 2009

    VD@131:

    [Facilis] I would especially love to see how these “statisticians” rationalize away the fac tat the religious US produces so much more scientific output than atheistic France.

    Some of you really are remarkably ignorant. “What the fuck” Facilis is pointing out, correctly, is that the per capita scientific overperformance of the religious USA is a factor of 7.89. With only 4.5 percent of the global population, it produced more than one-third of the global scientific output in 1999 according to a UNESCO study entitled “A Global Snapshot of Scientific Trends”.

    Some of us get that (granting the facile premise) the “per capita” would apply to the set of scientists working in the USA, not of that of the population at large, and that the appropriate metric for such a facile comparison should be the ratio of theistic to non-theistic scientists.

  156. #156 Sperry
    March 24, 2009

    Anthony K @128: I reckon that we should be pushing rationalism and thinking skills – but not just general philosophy. It’s too wordy, too easily manipulated, too baffling – and too easily mocked. It may be the foundation of the scientific method but it has had little or no impact on our real discoveries and current knowledge.

    I know that as a scientist, PZ has primarily argued for the scientific basis of atheism, but I think statements like this are absolutely terrible. Too wordy? Too baffling? Damn right, it may have been responsible for the scientific method, but logic as well, the supposed “rationalism” you suggest we model (what sort of rationalism? Kant’s? Hegel’s? Hume’s? Plato’s?), the critiques often offered here of social conditions, ethical, political & legal theory, theoretical physics, the Enlightenment of Jefferson & Voltaire. In short, it has everything to do with our current discoveries & knowledge.

    It’s true that “science” is generally capable of providing a convincing case against YECky inerrantists, but any real argument for atheism in toto is ultimately a philosophical (i.e. ontological/metaphysical/ethical) argument. This is why Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” is so convincing. This is why PZ’s critique of the ethical implications of biblical texts are so persuasive.

    And what’s with hating on Derrida? Too baffling?

  157. #157 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    AG, if I understand what you’re going on and on about

    I read it 3 times, and still am unsure wtf he means myself.

    It sounds as though he’s saying there is something “to” religion because of commonality of pattern in different societies in religious ideology?

    I sure hope not.

  158. #158 heddle
    March 24, 2009

    Holbach,

    As I have said many times here, if I was a supreme being and one of my creations questioned my existence, I’d be down in a flash and kick the crap out of it.

    Yes you have said it many times, and yet is has had no effect. On anyone. Imagine that. And such a powerful argument, too.

  159. #159 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    Yes, Josh, I was referencing your comment, and, no, I made no mistake. Don’t get snippy, OK?

    I believe you were incorrect when you claimed “Science can actually [both describe and explain reality].”

    You get a choice: you can say that science explains HOW the universe works but not WHY the universe works, or you can say that science explains WHY the universe works as it does, but not HOW the universe works as it does. I’m not making an argument for NOMA, I’m saying that unless you make ‘how’ and ‘why’ identical things, science only gets a crack at one of them. If every single position of every single particle throughout the history of the universe were known by science, it would not explain why there is a universe.

    Now, you could say “that’s not a valid question”, it’s been done before, but I think that’s a cop-out.

    “Science”, as it were, will be able to replace “religion” in informing morality as soon as it stops claiming it is superior to religion in informing morals. Which is, in essence, what I saw your comment as addressing.

  160. #160 Sven DiMilo
    March 24, 2009

    Religion is simply not a danger to science.

    Some religion is indeed a danger to some science. This is empirical.

  161. #161 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Heddle @ 153

    No, that is pure blatant reason crapping in the face of insane religion. There is no validity of faith per se, but there is the validity of crap run amuck at the hands of religion. And don’t misconstrue Bertrand Russell’s pride in our remarks here against you and your insane ilk. He no doubt would have won the Molly for life in crap flinging at religious imbeciles.

  162. #162 vhutchison
    March 24, 2009

    Although I agree with much of PZ?s statements and the comments here, I must make a point. Pragmatic politics, especially here in Oklahoma and in many other states require that we recognize that 80% or so of citizens are ?people of faith.? We can not win against legislative attempts at anti-evolution by attacking religion. Indeed, some of our best activists and lobbyists are people of faith, especially from mainstream denominations and Interfaith Alliances. Support from these ministers is especially helpful in direct lobbying with legislators. Perhaps it is ?enemies of my enemies are my friends,? but it has been essential to our success in the last ten years in stopping really bad bills. Those out here on the ground in day to day battles are likely to understand. It is one thing to offer opinions on blogs on what should be and a very different thing to take direct action to influence legislation introduced by far-right Christians.

    I know that PZ has at times criticized NCSE for a similar stand, but the realities are that we need help from the more liberal religious persons and organizations, if we have ANY chance to succeed. Perhaps this is why NCSE now has a staff member to work with faith-based groups. The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, for example, has twice made significant donations to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and successfully led the fight a few years ago to prevent creationist exhibits in the Tulsa Zoo. They and other interfaith groups have issued statements supporting evolution. Perhaps it is significant that Richard Dawkins? Foundation just donated $5000 to OESE as well; I am sure he knew that we use all of the help we can get from friends of our cause ? at least I mentioned to him about our Board of Governors having a few ministers ? and why.

    Support from these religious persons and organizations do not mean that all on the evolution side are themselves people of faith. The OESE Board represents a big umbrella, containing atheists, agnostics, etc., all dedicated to stopping creationist crap. The persons of faith also see that anti-evolution attempts are ultimately harmful to their own religion.

    Get involved at the local level and I think most will come to agree with this strategy, at least for the foreseeable future. Unless one has been so involved, comments to the contrary may not mean much, IMHO.

  163. #163 Africangenesis
    March 24, 2009

    Tmaxpa#149,

    Yes morality evolved. Religious morality may not be arbitrary in the sense of being created out of whole cloth, it was constrained by what worked practically, both socially and with the human nature it had to appeal to and propagate within. Apologies for the typos that made the reading difficult. If a religion has “happened” onto certain principles with more universal appeal and resonance, perhaps they should be examined for insight into human nature.

  164. #164 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    heddle wrote:

    Hmm. Is that one of them-there sophisticated New Atheist arguments that “demolish of the validity of faith?”

    You’re making the mistake of assuming faith has any validity to be demolished. It doesn’t.

    Anyway, as I noted upthread, you don’t believe we can choose to become Christians; why, then, are you bothering to argue with us about why we don’t believe in your god? In your world there are no arguments for religion since the Christian god nominates who believes in him and who doesn’t.

    How can arguments change that?

    Your time would be better spent asking your god to convert us as you were converted, rather than defying his will by presuming you can argue for him.

  165. #165 aratina
    March 24, 2009

    Rob W, I like what you said, but there are additional considerations you should take into account. One is that your gentle argument is exactly what repressed the LGBT community for so long. Even today families are torn apart by one member coming out, and grandma even cries on the phone every day for her lost lamb. Some kids are thrown out on their own after breaking the news to their parents. But I don’t think there are many gay people in the U.S. who want it to be that way; they just want everyone to deal with the reality of the situation instead of pretending all the time. It is the same for atheists.

    Another thing to consider is that many people are not rooted so deeply in the church or in a certain religion, and they can handle the fact that many of our cultural traditions are surreptitiously religious yet still not be religious themselves. You have to think of those people, too.

  166. #166 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Heddle @ 159

    Precisely. As you said, no effect.

  167. #167 heliobates
    March 24, 2009

    Or, perhaps, Sideshow Bob.

    I can’t believe I had such a golden opportunity for thematic recapitulation and intensification—and I let it slip away.

    helio is a bad Pharyngula elf. helio must go iron his hands.

  168. #168 foxfire
    March 24, 2009

    At the risk of being tagged a Troll:

    I think the statement:

    Science and religion deal with different things. Science tries to figure out how things work and religion teaches about morality and spirituality. There doesn’t need to be a conflict.

    Is not true for the following reasons:

    1. Science does try to figure out how the human mind works, which includes trying to figure out what part of the human brain involves concepts such as morality and spirituality, and how those concepts might have come to be as part of our evolution.

    2. Religion also (almost always*) attempts to “teach” the why, as in how we came to be, generally with some kind of presupposition that humanity occupies a “special” place in the Universe.

    Now, here is where the I-might-be-tagged-a-troll thing comes into play: PZ, you wrote:

    I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science, and religion teaches nothing about morality.

    Shortages of natural resources, the prospect of global climate change, the challenge of asteroid deflection, the possibility of significant disruption of our electrical grid and GPS/satellite systems starting in 2011 (Sun wakes up), currently confront us as a species.

    Does science and reason suggest that humans who are mentally and/or physically unfit to contribute to resolving these challenges should be terminated? Would reason suggest this termination be done to minimize expenditure of resources as opposed to some kind of process that focuses on the fears of those to be terminated?

    So PZ, at the risk of being tagged a troll, I don’t get my morality from science or religion. Reason, yeah and that old-time Golden Rule….the bugs in my house have a lot of “luck” getting outside.

    * Not sure if Buddhism and Confucianism qualify as religions – no magic sky-daddy.

  169. #169 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    tmaxPA #137 wrote:

    The fact is, natural philosophy is only superior to religion in that it recognizes its inability to provide a universal morality. It isn’t in any way superior in actually providing ethics, it is just not worse.
    Certainly, anyone can point to a particular morality based on natural philosophy and _claim_ that it is a universal morality. But so can the faithful.

    “Universal morality” is one of those vague phrases which can mean several things. If it means trying to establish a common standard of good and evil — right and wrong — which all reasonable people can or would recognize, then I think secular standards built on what we can see and know in this world will be superior to any standards which come from a “special revelation” which is available only to the faithful.

    Why? Because to demonstrate the value of the religious morality to people not already in the religion — and ‘universalize’ it — you have to use what we can see and know in this world. Adding either “God said it” or “this is the nature of God” only works you slap it on something that stands on its own. Otherwise, you’ve got nothing but an argument over whether God would have said such a strange thing, or whether such a behavior really reflects “God’s Nature of Goodness.”

  170. #170 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    You get a choice: you can say that science explains HOW the universe works but not WHY the universe works, or you can say that science explains WHY the universe works as it does, but not HOW the universe works as it does.

    nope, we get to have our cake and eat it too.

    science can address both proximate and ultimate questions, and often does, in fact. The mechanism of star formation addresses how a star came to be, and the big-ban is the ultimate explanation for WHY it came to be.

    this really isn’t like the heisenberg uncertainty principle, you know.

    now, if you wish to extend “why” to some issue of MEANING, then the only thing relevant to science is why you wish to impose meaning on it to begin with.

    otherwise, the question of applying meaning to the existence of anything is, well, meaningless.

  171. #171 AJ Milne
    March 24, 2009

    … with now standard apologies for length (for tl;dr, check this box –> __)

    Funny thing about some of what’s claimed here: I’d argue that what really pisses off those who bitch about the so-called ‘new atheists’ is precisely that there is an implicit (and sometimes very explicit) moral code behind what they pursue…

    And, also interestingly, that the rule within that code that’s giving certain apologists for obscurantism conniptions is also a rule that they arrived at simply from working out its apparent advantages–no divine orders necessary (perhaps obviously–but I’m trying to type slowly for certain slow types here, see… oh and hello, Mr. Day…)

    Now ‘new atheists’ is of course just yer standard BS attempt at a wholesale labelling of positions you happen to oppose as extreme or naive or what have you, and atheism on its own, as noted, is a very general qualifier that takes in a wide umbrella of folk who don’t happen to believe in gods for any number of reasons, but I’d say there is something of a unifying concept behind the actions of the more vocal, activist types that tend to attract that ‘new’ label, nonetheless, and that it’s this additional rule–or rather, a more rigourous and general application of a really very old rule–that presumably even earns them (us) that label.

    The rule is just this: don’t lie.

    Like I said, it’s an old one, and no one much ever needed anyone saying some god intoned that idea to figure out it’s a principle you might want to follow. There are reasons enough. Main one is: when people catch you lying to them, they do get pissed off about it. Because usually, they figure, your doing so to them will hurt them in some way. Whether or not they know precisely what harm any lie does them, people generally don’t like being lied to, anyway. And they probably wouldn’t whether or not anyone wrote down that it’s generally wrong. Messing with what you know of the world, it generally poses a danger, and that’s what a lie does, obviously enough.

    So it’s an old and obvious principle, sure. But the trouble is, many among the current crop of vocal atheists go and take that way too seriously for certain folks’ tastes.

    See, the vocal atheist types certain laughably transparent thinkers (and I do use that last noun loosely, here) like to call ‘new’ go so far as to say: ‘Don’t lie. And we mean that. So that even means don’t go bullshitting people and telling them you’ve evidence for a god when you don’t, even if you do think maybe you could get yourself a nice, convenient, universal moral code out of that lie by claiming (in lie number two) you got that code from the deity you just claimed you know exists.’ Oh, and some of us would even go so far as to say: hey, look, beyond that, once you tell people you need them to collude in spreading those particular lies, even for that reason, you generally mess up the whole thing anyway. They spot the contradiction, realize, actually, you aren’t saying don’t lie–you’re saying don’t lie unless you’re doing so to prop up your religion. And for folks with a direct economic interest in that (see the priesthood), there’ll be self-serving motivations behind that, too, beyond any claimed useful ones, so it is almost guaranteed to go places you don’t want to let it from the start. And it’s generally incredibly unnecessary, besides, since we can and do arrive at moral guidelines by working them out between us, anyway, and by arguing over how we like to live–funny thing is, that’s how we actually revise our criminal codes, generally, these days.

    And here’s another funny thing: religion does that working it out thing too, actually, to some degree, despite claiming, of necessity, not to, and this is easily demonstrated. Insofar as, as has been noted elsewhere, the ethics religious types claim their religion promotes tend to shift with time. Slavery’s good… then it’s bad, as one really obvious example.

    And therein lies the obvious truth: moral codes don’t come from gods, anyway, whatever religious apologists claim. They come from within our societies; we work them out on our own, and they do change, over time. We don’t have habeas corpus because some god said we should–we have it because the rebel barons stuck it in on top of a lot of other demands in with the rest of the magna carta, probably partly to buy a little popular support for it, then made the king sign it at the point of a sword. But even that principle predated its encoding–it had become custom prior even to that treaty (tho’ imperfectly followed), presumably for internal political reasons in monarchies. You can stabilize a regime’s power by setting limits on it, customs by which it may be applied, get more people to support it, or at least not actively oppose it, as they do at least recognize: hey, they could do worse…

    So the laws and principles that matter, you get those anyway: any given society has to work out something of the type just to stabilize itself. And this is where real laws come from, by the way. Not abstract, airy principles handed down from on high. From street protests and vocal opposition and heated arguments in legislatures. From eloquent oration, treaties signed with gritted teeth, deals made to keep things moving. From self-interest. From the simple principle that we like our societies to work, because we know we generally all benefit from that, and we’ll put up with all sorts of crap not directly in our interest to preseve that larger interest.

    So you get the principles anyway. But then religion co-opts these principles two ways, then, specifically: it claims they come from its god, and then adds a few that help preserve the religion, too. Pass the laws along, you pass the religion on. Don’t lie (‘cept, as noted, to preserve the religion), oh, and have no gods before ours. Oh, and having faith is a virtue, honest. And raising your children in the religion, that’s good, too. We’re the moral arbiter, we should know…

    Like I said: all a bit obvious. Hope I didn’t lose anybody in there.

  172. #172 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    You get a choice: you can say that science explains HOW the universe works but not WHY the universe works, or you can say that science explains WHY the universe works as it does, but not HOW the universe works as it does. I’m not making an argument for NOMA, I’m saying that unless you make ‘how’ and ‘why’ identical things, science only gets a crack at one of them. If every single position of every single particle throughout the history of the universe were known by science, it would not explain why there is a universe.

    that definition of “why?” you’re using? it’s basically a mix of an Argument from Ignorance and Anthropocentrism. Most likely, there’s no “reason” for the universe to exist, only a “cause”. the universe needs no reason or purpose for existing, but some people feel the need to have the universe have a purpose/reason. that’s not a valid line of questioning, it’s mental masturbation along the lines of “how many teeth does the monster under my bed have?”

  173. #173 kamaka
    March 24, 2009

    Does science and reason suggest that humans who are mentally and/or physically unfit to contribute to resolving these challenges should be terminated?

    Science and reason suggest we accept these humans as they are.

  174. #174 The Tim Channel
    March 24, 2009

    It simply grants religion an unquestioned privileged place as an equal to science, when it deserves no such prestige.

    Somebody is channeling Sam Harris….

    Enjoy.

  175. #175 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    AG: “If a religion has “happened” onto certain principles with more universal appeal and resonance, perhaps they should be examined for insight into human nature.”

    It wasn’t the typos that made it hard to read. It was the lack of a point.

    If the principles have universal appeal and resonance, we have no need of religion to happen upon them.

  176. #176 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    If the principles have universal appeal and resonance, we have no need of religion to happen upon them.

    *bing*

    just so.

  177. #177 Marcus Ranum
    March 24, 2009

    the per capita scientific overperformance of the religious USA is a factor of 7.89. With only 4.5 percent of the global population, it produced more than one-third of the global scientific output in 1999 according to a UNESCO study entitled “A Global Snapshot of Scientific Trends”. That is 28.7 percent more scientific output PER CAPITA than the most atheistic nation in Europe, which is France.

    Correlation does not imply causality. So what?

  178. #178 Josh
    March 24, 2009

    Yes, Josh, I was referencing your comment, and, no, I made no mistake. Don’t get snippy, OK?

    Sorry. I didn’t intend that reply to be snippy. I’m sorry that you interpreted it that way. Believe me–you’ll know it if I start getting snippy.

    But I think you did make a mistake.

    You wrote:

    Science describes reality. Religion claims to explain reality.

    I commented:

    Science can actually do both of these.

    And it can. Science has multiple functions in trying to help us better understand the universe. One of these is to describe things about nature that we observe (e.g., with laws). Science can simply describe a pattern or trend of observations (or indeed, simply a single observation). Another is to explain these things that we observe (e.g., with theories). Science can devise explanations for why certain patterns of observations exist or how things happen. It is this relationship that I was referring to, because your statement limited science to describing. That simply isn’t accurate. Not only that, but I would also offer that religion does a rather piss poor job of explaining how patterns of observations happen.

    In this paragraph you wrote:

    You get a choice: you can say that science explains HOW the universe works but not WHY the universe works, or you can say that science explains WHY the universe works as it does, but not HOW the universe works as it does. I’m not making an argument for NOMA, I’m saying that unless you make ‘how’ and ‘why’ identical things, science only gets a crack at one of them. If every single position of every single particle throughout the history of the universe were known by science, it would not explain why there is a universe.

    you didn’t use the word describe once. You’re only talking about explaining here (which isn’t what your original statement said (even if you intended it such)). And you’re using the word “how” as in function or mechanics and “why” as in purpose for existing. I wasn’t talking about purpose for existing at all (largely because of the foolishness of postulating a reason for the universe to exist in science). I was responding to your original point where you made an overly limiting statement about the relationship between “describe” and “explain” in science.

  179. #179 AnthonyK
    March 24, 2009

    Sperry – classical philosophy may be interesting but it’s fuck all use in real life. Go on then, apart from their influence on say Marx, what possible value has any philosopher’s written thoughts on anything we do?
    Logic – logic in all its glory was so fantastically influential that Russell and Whitehead wrote the Principia Mathematica entirely in its language, finally proving that 1 + 1 = 2 after 1000 pages; only to see the whole project collapse following a paradox of Russel’s own devising.
    Historically, I assert, aside from their influence on political movements (and excepting, in particular, mathematics) philosophy is dull, irrelevant, and easily turned to support poor ideas.
    And Derrida? French wanker. Is there anything he said of any lasting value whatsoever?
    Thought not.

  180. #180 Blake Stacey
    March 24, 2009

    grebmar (#90):

    And religion teaches nothing about morality? How more false a statement can you make? What are the ten commandments? Are those not moral statements?

    No. They’re a contract establishing servitude.

  181. #181 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Heddle

    Why is it that the imaginary god that infests your brain does not also reside in mine? Why can’t this god thing of yours also make an attempt to ossify my neurons in the same manner as yours? How do you utterly explain this? We have the same brains, yet yours is prone to all such manner of insanities whereas mine is free from this rot? Am I missing something or is it that your brain has defied the realm of evolutionary process and has gone berserk from an errant stimulous? Come on, I want to experience your imaginary god in the same manner as you. I have an open mind; get your god to enter and permit my mind to rot as well.

  182. #182 James Brown
    March 24, 2009

    I have never understood how some religions can claim leadership in the area of morality. It may be true that some religious leaders are schooled in morals, as in the training the Catholic Church gives its leaders (stop laughing right this minute) most have no claim to training of any sort.

    The religion I escaped from, The Mormons, are proud that there leaders are simply plain folk that have been recognized by the Lord to dole out platitudes or even worse actual advice. The fact that the guy setting across the table from you runs a car dealership, or is a dentist can?t be allowed to make you feel uncomfortable with the advice.

    Personally I would rather take moral advice from Ann Landrers…

  183. #183 Ryk
    March 24, 2009

    The reason religion survives so well in the US is because it is basically free. All that you have to do is say “Oh yeah, sure I believe in God” Walla you are a Christian. You don’t have to know the Bible much less accept it. You can say “It’s a metaphor” to any passage or doctrine that you find difficult or silly” You don’t need to go to church or send money or even have a denomination.

    You just claim to believe and no one bothers you. You can claim respectability, and morality. You can do whatever you want and either claim “Gods will” or beg forgiveness and you don’t have to do a thing to prove your “faith”.

    It is cowardly and dishonest, but a whole lot easier than being an atheist.

    If Christian churches in America made people actually live by their supposed beliefs, and disavowed anyone who wasn’t a regularly attending member of a denomination there would be a lot more Atheists.

  184. #184 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    Sastra@170:

    then I think secular standards built on what we can see and know in this world will be superior to any standards which come from a “special revelation” which is available only to the faithful

    If we could get everyone to agree on “what we can see and know”, religion would have never gotten started to begin with.

    Unless you’re going to stop with The Golden Rule (a dictate which itself breaks down if treated logically) you’re going to have just as many “holy wars” over your ‘secular morality’ as the religionists do over theirs.

    And RE: ‘God said it’, this also pertains to an earlier comment someone made about refuting the poetry of a religion. HUMAN BRAINS NEED NARRATIVE. Some of us are lucky enough (or cursed, depending) to not need their particular narrative. If you think that means you don’t have a narrative, you are mistaken.

    Take your secular morality, dress it up with a metaphysical narrative that ‘explains’ what is “really going on” with our existence in the universe, and then you will convince people their religion might be wrong and yours is right.

    Convincing people that their religion is wrong and so is every and all other religions, that simply doesn’t work, most of the time.

  185. #185 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    vhutchison #163 wrote:

    I know that PZ has at times criticized NCSE for a similar stand, but the realities are that we need help from the more liberal religious persons and organizations, if we have ANY chance to succeed.

    Yes, you’re right. It is not only true, but useful, to help religious people understand that their faith beliefs can be compatible with the discoveries of modern science.

    But, their faith beliefs cannot be derived from the discoveries of modern science — and in the long run, there will still be a conflict. In the short run, conceding the entire area of morals to religion will fuel negative sentiments against the non-religious.

    I don’t think then that it needs to be an either/or situation — either we promote the idea that science and religion can “work together” pragmatically or we promote the idea that science and religion don’t “work together” philosophically. We can do both. Not the same voices, perhaps. But I think we need at least some people arguing strenuously for an unwelcome honesty — because it is never a good idea to abandon honesty for long.

    Religious people can be stronger, wiser, and braver than their religions. The same values which impelled them to adopt their supernatural beliefs, can compel them to abandon them.

  186. #186 John Morales
    March 24, 2009

    Ryk @184, nice!

  187. #187 Bo Dixen Pedersen
    March 24, 2009

    http://sciencewatch.com/dr/cou/2008/08decALL/

    Switzerland outperforms USA in citations pr. paper.

    And Denmark is third with only 5.5 millions citizens. woohoo.

  188. #188 Marcus Ranum
    March 24, 2009

    “morality” is just another words for personal beliefs – which are always individual (to a certain degree) and societal (to another). There is no actual thing such as “morals” that’s worth talking about, because it’s impossible for us to have even the slightest confidence that if we both use the term, we’re talking about the same thing.

  189. #189 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    If Christian churches in America made people actually live by their supposed beliefs, and disavowed anyone who wasn’t a regularly attending member of a denomination there would be a lot more Atheists.

    Indeed. I’ve always felt that it’s more Christianity being intricately linked with sociocultural identity that’s responsible for the high adherence figures in the US. It’s got next to bugger-all to do with believing in it – and certainly it’s very little to do with understanding what believing in it actually means.

    If they made Christians have to fill out a form or pass a basic knowledge test in order to qualify there’d be a lot more atheists – and fewer Christians responding to survey questions about Sodom and Gomorrah in way that illustrates they think the two were husband and wife.

  190. #190 BS
    March 24, 2009

    Sir, as a Tehologist, I must object!

    Only an adequate grasp of Teh allows one to, e.g., distinguish between eternally (or perhaps only temporally) binding commandments transmitted via Tools of Teh vs. the insane ramblings of degenerate power-mad lunatics, to elaborate on the relationship between N-Rays and the cosmological constant, or, most significantly, to function normally relying on the omnipresent spirit of Teh after ones occiput has been devastated by a ball-peen hammer.

  191. #191 Monado
    March 24, 2009

    On the other hand, if someone chooses to believe in a non-intervening God or an underlying Ground of Being, it’s no skin off your nose, is it? In fact, it’s like my touching faith in education for improving people’s behavior in spite of the undeniable fact that people still litter.

  192. #192 Owlmirror
    March 24, 2009

    Unless you’re going to stop with The Golden Rule (a dictate which itself breaks down if treated logically)

    How so?

    you’re going to have just as many “holy wars” over your ‘secular morality’ as the religionists do over theirs.

    I don’t think so… That is, I think it would be possible to tie everything to the Golden Rule, if only as situational clarifications and modifications thereof.

    Really, what sort of “holy wars” are you thinking of?

    And RE: ‘God said it’, this also pertains to an earlier comment someone made about refuting the poetry of a religion. HUMAN BRAINS NEED NARRATIVE.

    I don’t disagree that narrative is useful, but I’m not sure that it’s an actual need.

    I might modify it to this, though: Human brains need for ethical systems to be imparted in a way that the human brain can accept and understand. Because human brains differ based on genetic and developmental factors (and quite possibly the latter more than the former), it is (probably) necessary to use multiple methods to impart ethical systems, of which narrative is definitely an important method, but not the only method (I think pragmatic examples may be better at talking to more pragmatic personalities; appeals to emotion to more emotional personalities, et cetera and so forth).

    Yes, it’s a more complicated formulation, because people are in fact complicated.

  193. #193 Ed
    March 24, 2009

    Church Father Tertullian in the 2nd century, already understood the incompatibility between faith and reason. Quotes by Martin Luther also underscore that sentiment. The reason people today hang on to such silly notions is due to the implications for religion. In a world dominated by epistemic methodological naturalism; once the word is out that embracing faith means accepting what is equivalent to intellectual schizophrenia, you will find it increasingly difficult to peddle faith.

  194. #194 DominEditrix
    March 24, 2009

    yhutchison makes an excellent point about, well – reality. When dealing with the majority, who usually self-identify as “people of faith”, you have to take the honey-over-vinegar approach. First, you use those who are patient with the cognitively dissonant to cozzen the PoF into accepting real science into the classroom, then you teach their offspring to think logically. You don’t tell them ‘Your belief in God is irrational and at odds with the observed universe.’ You lead them gently to that moment of epiphany when they tell you.

    The less threatening the approach, the easier to convince someone. Face it – most of those who are “religious” are so because they’re dead scared of the unpredictability of the universe. Horrible natural disaster? Must be part of “God’s Plan”. Personal tragedy? “God moves in mysterious ways”. Try to tell them that there’s no great plan, no Cosmic Muffin who cares about what happens to them, no place to go to after dying*, and you have people running off in droves. Ease them gently into the reality of an uncaring universe and you’re far more likely to have them stick around and listen. And possibly absorb.

    * A friend of mine and I once mused on the fact that our “believing” friends were far more afraid of death than we were. Knowing that one is going PFFT! is apparently more reassuring than meeting St Pete at the Pearly Gates. [ZOMG! What if I sinnnnnned!!!! I'll go to hell!!!!]

  195. #195 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    tmaxPA #185 wrote:

    Unless you’re going to stop with The Golden Rule (a dictate which itself breaks down if treated logically) you’re going to have just as many “holy wars” over your ‘secular morality’ as the religionists do over theirs.

    I think that, if such things are to be had at all, any “universal morals” are likely to be very vague, general sorts of things — whether secular or religious. But arguments over secular morals will necessarily lack the dogmatic certainty of moral systems that rest on undemonstrable dogmatic certainties and inbuilt hierarchies of cosmic authority. One is therefore forced to stand on common ground with those one disagrees with, and attempt to persuade them with evidence and argument.

    Such attempts may eventually fail, but pulling out “God’s Will” as trumps is failure — and it is too tempting to use it.

  196. #196 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    Icthyc@171:

    now, if you wish to extend “why” to some issue of MEANING, then the only thing relevant to science is why you wish to impose meaning on it to begin with.

    Ding ding ding! You win the prize for “Agreeing most with NOMA without wanting to.” Science is, not incidentally, entirely impotent in even the most trivial questions of “meaning”.

    You can insist if you wish that all answers to ‘why’ are just artificial constructs, but you cannot do that and then claim special privileges for your own answers. In other words, to claim that religion must be silent on an issue on which science itself is silent is nonsensical, and would rightfully earn accusations of ‘scientism’, whatever that is. Is this perhaps what Gould was trying to say?

    If you think religionists are good at tying up scientists in knots (or thinking they are doing so at least) you should talk to more philosophers. ;-)

    The fact is that the reason we still have priests is the same reason we have scientists: neither can refute anything the philosophers say, but both wish to very sincerely. If the scientists had been able to satisfy or refute the questions of the philosophers as easily as they did the alchemists, the priests would have disappeared centuries ago. If the priests could have answered the philosophers adequately, there never would have been any scientists.

  197. #197 John Harshman
    March 24, 2009

    I’ve been around with Larry on this too. While some of the make-nice statements are a bit much, religion is not incompatible with evolution, or with science in general, if it’s a religion that makes no claims with observable consequences. It may be highly unparsimonious, but that’s another matter. And religious belief is incompatible with the scientific method, but thats another matter too; one need not apply the scientific method to everything; and as long as a person makes no attempt to apply religion as “a way of knowing” to biology, why should we care what he does in the rest of his life?

    This is more or less a version of NOMA, which many theists have (I think properly) interpreted to mean that science and religion are compatible as long as religion stays out of science’s way. And that’s exactly what Ken Miller’s religion does, as I understand it.

    Jerry Coyne’s point #2 seems to be wrong, by the way. I’ve also noted a correlation between evolutionary biology and atheism, but I haven’t seen any data that show causation. If you have some, I’d be interested. It could indeed be that biological knowledge kills religion, but it also could be that the non-religious are preferentially drawn to evolutionary biology. Or it could be that being smart predisposes one to both. Now if there were a study showing that 1st-year grad students are as religious as the general population, but recent Phds are significantly less religious than non-Phd members of their cohort, I would agree that Jerry has something. But as for me, I came in that way and left that way.

    In my opinion, evolution doesn’t incline to atheism any more than any other aspect of reality.

  198. #198 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Wowbagger @ 165

    Perhaps we should not meddle too severely with Heddle’s brain as he might become more befuddled than he is now. He is on the precipice of near-insanity now, and a little more rational severity may cause him to complete his insanity. He will never find his imaginary god, neither will he find his sanity once lost. And his god will not avail him in either case.

  199. #199 Insightful Ape
    March 24, 2009

    Hey Facilis the troll, you are really good for a laugh. You call yourself a skeptic? After you swallowed all the fraud Ben Stein fed you hook, line and sinker? The fact that you refer to yourself as a former “evolutionist” tells me who had no understanding of biology to begin with(when was the last time I heard of a gravity-ist?). You as asking why the US has more scientists than France. Eh, comparing pure number between two countries not exactly equal in size? You said you are also skeptical of Zeus, I just don’t see why not the Judeo-Christian-Islamic gawd.

  200. #200 Dwight
    March 24, 2009

    A few quick thoughts

    As a religious naturalist, I’m not sure where evolution conflicts with my religion. And such a naturalism is evident in many mainline protestant denominations. Check out the United Church of Canada creed, for instance. It’s also a given in most 19th and 20th century mainline theologians.

    Of course much of religion is supernaturalist. Some of you may think it’s the only proper religion, more easily to dismiss. But my concern about dismissing it, is that a number of doctrines, religious ideas that hold sway really do things to make sense out of experience.

    It may be dressed up as supernatural, but even then, presumably it does something in seeing the world. If it was utterly at odds with the world, how would it hold sway in such communities over time? Notice I said utterly. Some of it may be, but let’s not rush to dismiss the experiences of various communities and traditions.

    In that I’m agreeing with Dennett that we shouldn’t prematurely shut off inquiry over religion. Not saying folks on here should do it. But the idea of some positive traffic of religion and the sciences strikes me as a worthwhile endeavor.

  201. #201 Bryson Brown
    March 24, 2009

    I think there is a thin and much-misunderstood shred of truth in these efforts at reconciliation– and it’s related to a problem with PZ’s proposal to somehow extract ethics from our best natural/scientific understanding of the world. The shred is just this: norms are not fixed by a full description of the world. How things are does not tell us what we should do. Of course there are pretty basic humanist values that provide most (if not all) of what we need here, once we have the facts about how things stand. For example, the Pope is monstrously, horrifically wrong to try to undermine condom use in Africa, because 1. His influence is likely (fore-seeably likely) to prevent many sexually active Africans from using condoms, 2. The consequence of this will be that some of them contract HIV and die, and 3. This is a bad thing. It’s the last part that’s normative, and not reducible to any of the descriptive facts here– but it doesn’t take a brilliant moral insight to see that it’s true. On the contrary, it takes a lot of self-righteous, religiously-motivated casuistry to bury that fact deep enough to do what the Pope has done. I object to making a soft peace with religion because religion too often resists and distorts both the descriptive truths and the normative truths we need to be be dealing with: religion is bad cognitive hygiene, both in science and in normative ethics. But science alone won’t settle the latter– we need a common-sense morality grounded in something like the value of human and other beings, life, and the quality of life. Happily, the deep issues rarely need to be settled definitively– that people dying of HIV infection is a bad thing is enough to make very clear just how wrong the Pope is, the grotesque failure of the war on drugs is enough to make very clear how wrong prohibition is, and etc. Beyond these sorts of obvious and practical points, we may have to resort to tolerance…

  202. #202 Owlmirror
    March 24, 2009

    By the way, heddle, if you get tired of playing troll with Holbach, perhaps you could address the counterargument to your interpretation of Romans 1:20, here.

    It seemed to me that you were making extremely emotion-based arguments in that thread. I’m just curious enough to suggest a psychological experiment: Read a few scientific papers to put your brain into a more analytical and empirical mode, and then look at at Romans 1:20 again. Think of Paul not as someone presupposed to be divinely inspired, but as someone who is making an argument to convince people that he is divinely inspired. When you do that, do you still come to the same interpretation as to its meaning?

  203. #203 charley
    March 24, 2009

    It’s as if “scientific” and “religious” are the extreme ends of a linear scale. An increase in one comes at the expense of the other. Science and religion are only compatible to the extent you are willing to compromise them.

  204. #204 CalGeorge
    March 24, 2009

    AUTHORING COMMITTEE

    FRANCISCO J. AYALA, Chair, University of California, Irvine
    .
    .
    .

    Aha!

    Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, former Dominican priest, present day wine-grape grower, art collector, author of 12 books and 650 articles on genetics, and a professor of biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine, is known in the science world as the Renaissance man of evolutionary biology.

    Q. You teach a basic biology class here at the University of California at Irvine. How do you handle students with religious objections to the theory of evolution?

    A. I treat them with respect, and I try to get a dialogue going. Every year, I start out my course with the theory of evolution. So on Day 1, there’s always a line of students complaining, ”Professor Ayala, I am only here because I want to go to medical school — I cannot accept evolution because I am Catholic.”

    With Catholics, I take out the Pope’s address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October 1996 where he endorses evolutionary teachings. If the students are Christian fundamentalists, I tell them that there are many Protestant theologians who agree with evolution. I say that evolution, in my view, is not only NOT anti-Christian, but the idea of special design, which many fundamentalists adhere to, might be — because it teaches the view of God that is blasphemous. The Special-Design-God is a God who messes up. Think about all the backaches, infected wisdom teeth and painful childbirth that exist because we humans evolved incompletely! ”Do you think God is absent-minded?” I ask them.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/27/science/conversation-with-francisco-j-ayala-ex-priest-takes-blasphemy-evolution.html?fta=y

  205. #205 vhutchison
    March 24, 2009

    #195, DominEditrix. Right on! I fully agree with your analysis.

  206. #206 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Dwight @ 201

    Insightful remarks, but they will never suade me the reality that relgion has any validity in the rational world. Science is positive, but religion is stagnant not only in intellectual reality, but morally in it’s many horrendous transgressions on humanity that have been mostly perpetrated in the name of an imaginary god. I will never accede to anything worthwhile to religion, nor will I cease to hope for it’s eventual demise at the hand of widespread reason to those still afflicted by this useless pox.

  207. #207 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Rob W | March 24, 2009 8:32 PM

    I sometimes like to force the issue in online conversations — because I’m right, damn it — but in the long run I think the “nonoverlapping magisteria” people serve a valuable purpose.

    The roles of religion & faith in people’s lives are complex and sometimes incredibly pervasive. And many people simply aren’t equipped emotionally or intellectually to grapple with the complexity of overturning all of those deeply-held ideas — rejecting a religious POV is not as simple as just saying, “oh yeah, those were some stupid ideas influencing how I voted, and maybe I’ll stop giving money to the church”… for many people, it’s about making grandma cry to you on the phone every weekend (because why aren’t you going to church anymore? what about your soul?), and telling Uncle Bob that his 12-step program was part psychology but a heavy, heavy load of bullshit mixed in, and telling your fiancee that you can’t go through with the promises you’d have to say in front of the crowd in a religious marriage. And so on.

    My feeling on that is those people are better equipped than they think they are, and the more of them that do it, and the more we talk about it publicly, the easier it will be for others to do it as well.

  208. #208 CalGeorge
    March 24, 2009

    Ayala, the Chair of the committee that wrote the NAS doc, interviewed in U.S. Catholic magazine:

    But evolution and religion need not be adversaries, says Ayala. ?Science can neither endorse nor reject religious beliefs,? he writes in his book Darwin and Intelligent Design (Fortress), arguing that ?we may accept [evolution] without denying the existence of God or God?s presence in the universe.?

    http://uscatholic.claretians.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=12552&news_iv_ctrl=0&abbr=usc_

  209. #209 Wowbagger, OM
    March 24, 2009

    Dwight wrote:

    If it was utterly at odds with the world, how would it hold sway in such communities over time?

    That goes more to psychology than it does to the validity of whether religion can co-exist with science; whether or not people believe it can co-exist makes no difference whatsoever to the reality of the situation.

    But the idea of some positive traffic of religion and the sciences strikes me as a worthwhile endeavor.

    As long as the religious were happy to have more of what they’ve traditionally ascribed to god be shown to be part of the natural process and requiring no supernatural intervention then I think it’d be fine – but I can’t see that happening.

    Hence the anti-evolution furor in the US – why else would religious groups oppose it, other than because it undermines our intellectual dependence on their god for our existence?

    What’s also a problem is, if we engage science and religion, determining where the line that science is not allowed to cross is drawn.

    For example, certain Christian groups say that we shouldn’t use stem cells in research because it isn’t what their god wants. At other times Christians plead that their god wants us to use science, such as in life-support for the brain-dead who would die without it, a la Terry Schiavo.

    Religion seem to me to provides unneccessary barriers to science – and with no valid way of ascertaining whether god does or doesn’t want something to be within our means makes it difficult to incorporate.

  210. #210 Insightful Ape
    March 24, 2009

    Dwight#201: you are entitled to your opinion. I can’t tell you why biology conflicts with you religion, because I don’t know what your religion is. But discoveries in science do contradict the notion of an omni-benevolent god- at least so I think. And here is why: evolution as a phenomenon is inefficient(takes generations to work) and is based on a process of “elimination” which by its nature is very unpleasant. Consider this: god is thinking, fine, we are going to create these beings, and we will let them fight over food, space, mates, freeze to death, starve, get devoured by others, etc. We are going to sit back and watch this, and see what comes out of it. And maybe if one of them turns out to be intelligent enough, I’ll make a male child of myself in their shape, and let him get nailed to a tree-
    for their benefit.
    Omni-benevolent. Right.

  211. #211 tmaxPA
    March 24, 2009

    Sastra@196: I think you’re under the mistaken impression that God is the only thing people are ever deluded into thinking they’re absolutely certain about. Religion may be an obvious form of Think Fail, but it is by no means the only one.

  212. #212 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Kel | March 24, 2009 8:38 PM

    Science teaches about morality by teaching us how our behaviour is derived both genetically and socially. Through studies of animal behaviour, human behaviour, wider societal effects, and applying mathematics to the endeavour, science can get a good view of how morality works.

    But it won’t tell you how to behave. You have to figure that out by yourself, just like everybody else.

  213. #213 SDR
    March 24, 2009

    don’t see the point of attacking those who think there is no overlap between religion and science.

    The point is that what they think is untrue. They are trying to pass of something blatantly untrue as truth. And the worst part of it is these are scientific organizations promoting such an absurd idea. That’s what science and a skeptical worldview is all about, the truth. To truly care about and foster truth one much attack lies, especially when they are a danger to something important and fact-based like science.

  214. #214 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    CalGeorge @ 205

    I confirmed my resolute opinion of Ayala when he spoke at the Beyond Belief syposium in November of 2006. He is a religionist posing as a scientist, and to me this denigrates his chosen profession, as that profession should be the overriding bulwark against nonsense. I can respect his scientific work, but will not respect him as a person.

  215. #215 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    tmaxPA #213 wrote:

    I think you’re under the mistaken impression that God is the only thing people are ever deluded into thinking they’re absolutely certain about. Religion may be an obvious form of Think Fail, but it is by no means the only one.

    Oh, I agree: there are secular dogmas. But religion immediately places any argument into an area which needs no rational justification in this world.

    Over time, dogmas which purport to be reasonable but are at odds with the facts of the matter can eventually be caught, even by believers. But once someone has adopted the idea that “faith” is a valid reason for believing something even in the teeth of worldly evidence, there is no need to correct anything.

  216. #216 aratina
    March 24, 2009

    AJ Milne #172, that was excellent and insightful. *heads over to Molly thread* It really is that simple. As an atheist, I recognize that religions are lying. Sometimes they tell little white lies like “there is a god,” but they also tell worse lies, including very evil lies designed to do nothing more than gain or maintain political power in the world of human institutions. The compatibility problem would not exist if it weren’t for religious meddling in political processes, often successfully, to give their lies the same clout as science.

  217. #217 llewelly
    March 24, 2009

    … religion teaches nothing about morality.

    Apart from producing millions of examples of how to be grossly immoral in the service of some non-existent god.

  218. #218 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    But it won’t tell you how to behave. You have to figure that out by yourself, just like everybody else.

    You’re right, it won’t. But it can show the limitations of your behaviour, and it can show how your behavior can be dictated by circumstances. For instance, you never need to figure out that you have to protect a young child – especially your own. Do you really need to “figure that out by yourself” or do you think that maybe protection of babies is vital for the survival of our species and thus it was programmed into us long before we ever started having thoughts?

  219. #219 Qwerty
    March 24, 2009

    Wowbagger @ #15 “What you could say instead is ‘demolitions of the immense structures built by theolo-apologists in order to disguise that absence’ – it probably helps to visualise it as an institution combining a sleight-of-hand magic school, a tapdancing academy, and a sewerage treatment plant.”

    I agree, but I’d call it brain washing. And, if you use enough Jeso-bleach, it tends to leave an empty space.

  220. #220 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: tmaxPA | March 24, 2009 10:39 PM

    Sastra@196: I think you’re under the mistaken impression that God is the only thing people are ever deluded into thinking they’re absolutely certain about. Religion may be an obvious form of Think Fail, but it is by no means the only one.

    But it’s one of the few that promotes, often demands, a delusion of absolute certainty.

    A few people compared religion to poetry and art. There is a crucial difference. People can have their lives enriched by watching “The Tempest” without believing the characters in it really existed and the events in the play really happened. Take that requirement away from religion, and you’re left with poetry or art.

  221. #221 Holbach
    March 24, 2009

    Owlmirror @ 203

    You are using a nonsense book to foster a rational argument?

  222. #222 Dwight
    March 24, 2009

    A few quick thoughts

    *There are some denominations that have endorsed evolution. The United Church of Christ has been developing resources, curriculum for such an end.

    *I’m a liberal Protestant and a naturalist (God as a way of speaking what works in our world to transform human existence for the better). I won’t claim we represent a significant group of folks but it certainly has had an impact on the mainline protestant church (and in my own seminary education).

    *The issue I raised with supernatural beliefs was not one of reconciling them with evolution. But providing a context by which they could be inquired into, discussed, part of a public discourse of sorts. Reading through Dennett, I can see how many religious beliefs are odd, fanciful, but I don’t think they could count as a “good trick” if they were utterly at odds with reality. Presumably they have some reference to it (and that could be evaluated to be sure) and if so, do such things indicate something about life in the world when they do?

    *Holbach. I’m not going to deny when religion goes wrong. But when I’m helping the ladies of my church with the local pie sale, participating in a Jewish service (which I’ve done through a Jewish Christian dialogue course I’m taking), it’s hard to think of your description as capturing the full reality of all religion.

  223. #223 ndt
    March 24, 2009

    Posted by: Kel | March 24, 2009 10:58 PM
    For instance, you never need to figure out that you have to protect a young child – especially your own. Do you really need to “figure that out by yourself” or do you think that maybe protection of babies is vital for the survival of our species and thus it was programmed into us long before we ever started having thoughts?

    How much to let the motivation to protect a young child influence your behavior is what you have to figure out for yourself.

  224. #224 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    How much to let the motivation to protect a young child influence your behavior is what you have to figure out for yourself.

    It still sounds like you are separating mind from body. The idea that morality is an external entity separated from our body is foolish. In that respect religion cannot dictate morality, at best it can serve as a modifier on drives that are already there. As such, religion having domain on morality means that science and religion are overlapping… just look at those who say that homosexuality is a choice.

  225. #225 Ryk
    March 24, 2009

    llewelly #218

    Exactly. I see the Bible being a guide to morality the same way I see my Dad as a guide to parenting. Usually if I do the opposite I will be doing well.

    Aside from the painfully obvious things like not murdering, stealing etc. My morality is the exact opposite of the Bible.

    The Bible says genocide is good, I say it is evil. The Bible says slavery is good, I say it is evil. The Bible says parents should murder their children, I say that is evil. The Bible says human sacrifice is good, I say it is evil. The Bible encourages incest, I think incest is wrong. Etc. Etc.

    For those who might claim the Bible doesn’t support those things, I suggest they take the time to actually read it. Maybe if they knew what evil they were devoting their lives to they would give it up.

  226. #226 Miguel
    March 24, 2009

    When did NAS become an acronym for New Age Silliness? Scientific organisations should be attacking superstition, not promoting it.

  227. #227 Insightful Ape
    March 24, 2009

    Dwight. Again, you are entitled to your opinion. But please don’t raise the “they have survived so they can’t be totally wrong” argument. I believe you are more rational than that.
    Look at Hinduism; it is a belief system totally different from yours. They worship cows. There is no way you can both be right. Yet it has existed longer than Christianity and has hundreds of millions of followers today. Look at Islam; to them the idea that god had a son is an unforgivable heresy. Many muslims claim anyone who does not accept Mohammad as god’s prophet will burn in hell. Again, it is a religion that has survived for over a thousand years. Does that mean there’s any truth to it? The vikings worshiped Thor for hundreds of year. You think there is any element of truth to the viking pagan mythology?
    The reason religions survive is fear(both fear of death and fears in this life needing consolation) and wishful thinking (the euphemism for that is hope).

  228. #228 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    Dwight #223 wrote:

    Reading through Dennett, I can see how many religious beliefs are odd, fanciful, but I don’t think they could count as a “good trick” if they were utterly at odds with reality. Presumably they have some reference to it (and that could be evaluated to be sure) and if so, do such things indicate something about life in the world when they do?

    Yes; all superstitions and religious beliefs can be studied in order to give us insights into how the mind works, how societies work, and the kinds of narratives which make the world familiar to us. Religion is part of our human heritage, and of course the supernatural beliefs are only a part of the structure of some very complex systems.

    One can examine pseudosciences and their adherents the same way — looking for the positive benefits and values which feed them, while recognizing that these benefits are also available in other areas, and with fewer problems with reconciling belief with reality.

  229. #229 Robocop
    March 24, 2009

    “Complete bullshit. I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science, and religion teaches nothing about morality.”

    Are you illiterate? Your stated preference is irrelevant to whether there is a necessary conflict. Moreover, religion obviously does teach about morality (e.g., “Do unto others…”), even if you happen to disagree with it or reject it. For the sake of Morris Junior College, let’s hope you’re a better scientist and teacher than you are a logical thinker, though the two are often connected.

    “As for spirituality ? I don’t need a cult to teach me about the nonexistent and irrelevant.”

    If you really deny the existence of spirituality (as opposed to, say, its alleged benefits), you’re obviously either delusional or intentionally ignorant. Moreover, spirituality needn’t even require belief in a god. And, obviously, relevance is typically in the eye if the beholder.

    Your righteous and overwrought contempt is so palpable in virtually every post that I can’t help but paraphrase Whittaker Chambers reviewing Atlas Shrugged: From almost any page of Pharyngula, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber ? go!” Fortunately, your status as a third-rate atheist (at best) means nobody has to take you seriously. Reasonable people can simply laugh at your silliness.

  230. #230 Aquaria
    March 24, 2009

    But it won’t tell you how to behave. You have to figure that out by yourself, just like everybody else.

    So why add a layer of stupid (believe in imaginary friends!) and inherently hateful (us good you bad) to the process?

  231. #231 CraigM
    March 24, 2009

    Yesterday I was defended by a fundie sophomore in one of my biology classes against another student who claimed that God should be a subject of scientific study. I think the fundie girl may be a biblical literalist, but the other kid is some kind of old-earth scientific creationist. It’s going to be an interesting unit on evolution…

  232. #232 Aquaria
    March 24, 2009

    robocop: Your concern–and fucktard stupidity–is noted.

    Here, have a mint.

  233. #233 Wowbagger
    March 24, 2009

    Robocop, a pissant concern troll wrote:

    Reasonable people can simply laugh at your silliness.

    How would you know?

  234. #234 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    Fortunately, your status as a third-rate atheist (at best)

    I keep hearing this. Not even sure what it means, really, but…

    Is there some sort of “atheist rating” website (in which case, let’s see it), or are you morons just, as I suspect, pulling this out of your ass?

    Is Coyne a third rate atheist, too?

    Dawkins?

    who is a “1st rate” atheist?

    2nd?

    Your righteous and overwrought contempt

    nice bit of projection there.

  235. #235 Notagod
    March 24, 2009

    Dwight,

    Are you suggesting that you are unable to do anything nice without wanting a reward? I do nice things without any mythological motivation what so ever, how do you explain that? PZ gives a lot of his time and effort as do many people that have no connection with mythology.

    Organized deception practiced by christians is deceitful, it isn’t a virtue.

  236. #236 Kel
    March 24, 2009

    If you really deny the existence of spirituality (as opposed to, say, its alleged benefits), you’re obviously either delusional or intentionally ignorant.

    Spirituality beyond a metaphor doesn’t exist. It serves nothing more than a means to describe the human condition.

  237. #237 Jadehawk
    March 24, 2009

    Moreover, religion obviously does teach about morality (e.g., “Do unto others…”),

    amazing, isn’t it, how all the useful morals that religion teaches us are ones we can derive WITHOUT religion, but all the nonsensical “god hates gays”, “god hates infidels”, “eating a steak is a mortal sin” etc all come only from religions?

    Maybe it’s because religion is just a crust of superstition and mind-control on top of standard-issue human empathy.

  238. #238 MadScientist
    March 24, 2009

    Way to go, PZ! It must be about 15 years ago when I first heard this “religion and science blah blah blah”. I thought about it for a grand total of maybe 5 minutes and said “You know, that’s absolute crap. Religion remains a lie and science is not a lie – that is the fundamental difference.” Back then I thought it was a reassuring self-deluding mantra recited by religious people who dabble in the sciences, but since then I’ve seen the religious establishment bleating it as an excuse for their continued existence.

    One of my favorites is still “the bible is a source of moral teachings”. Hmmm… let’s rape and pillage our neighboring villages – god ordered that in the bible, so it must be GOOD. Even the New Testament of the christian bible only has the most absolutely rudimentary moral rules. If morality depended on the bible or on the gods described in any bible, we’re all screwed.

  239. #239 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    Science is, not incidentally, entirely impotent in even the most trivial questions of “meaning”.

    what you forget is that so is religion.

    that’s why we have philosophy.

    …wait, no, that’s also in the end nothing but chasing one’s tail.

    …and that’s just one small aspect of where NOMA breaks down, albeit in a perhaps non-obvious fashion.

    so, no, you fail to make your point.

  240. #240 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    Robocop #230:

    Would you be more comfortable with the following revisions? –

    “Complete bullshit. I’d rather get my morality from reason, and real world experience, from science; and religion teaches nothing uniquely valuable about morality.”

    “As for supernatural spiritual realms ? I don’t need a cult to teach me about the nonexistent and irrelevant.”

  241. #241 Ichthyic
    March 24, 2009

    You can insist if you wish that all answers to ‘why’ are just artificial constructs,

    funny I don’t recall insisting that at all.

    Instead, what I insisted is that you are confusing ultimate causes with “meaning”.

    …and you still are, I see.

  242. #242 SDR
    March 24, 2009

    *Holbach. I’m not going to deny when religion goes wrong. [...] it’s hard to think of your description as capturing the full reality of all religion.

    No one is claiming the damage religion causes is the full reality of it. The fact that it has other facets doesn’t override how dangerous it is.

    I am a scholar in the field of religious studies. I have dedicated my academic life to the study of religion. I respect some things about religion, such as the great art, poetry, and even the beliefs (especially mysticism) which are interesting to study. That doesn’t mean I deny the danger of people actually following/believing religious dogma nor does it prevent me from being disturbed that people do.

  243. #243 Aquaria
    March 24, 2009

    I always snicker at the religion answers why bullshit. Maybe because I think of “why” questions as questions from lack of information. Like, how children don’t know anything, but they’re curious. So they ask why…about 10,000 times a day, when they’re a certain age!

    Anyway…

    Let’s see what answers these why questions better, science or religion:

    Why is the sky blue?

    Science.

    Why do birds fly?

    Science.

    Why does the moon shine at night?

    Science.

    Why are rocks heavy?

    Science.

    Why are bears big?

    Science.

    Religion doesn’t answer any of these why questions.

    I must be missing something.

    Somebody help me out here.

  244. #244 Sastra
    March 24, 2009

    “Why” questions:

    Why did that volcano erupt?

    A: Because the magma pushed through a fissure in the earth’s surface.
    B: Because you were a very naughty boy, and it was mad at you; it won’t do it again if you apologize the right way.

    Science can only give some of the answers to “why” questions. You need religion in order to get the answer to the “why” question you really want to know.

  245. #245 Aquaria
    March 24, 2009

    One minor correction. Religion does answer those questions, but not in a satisfying way. The answer is always GODDIDIT. Like that explains jack shit.

  246. #246 Dwight
    March 24, 2009

    Sastra
    That was one thing I was trying to get granted. If I pushed it further it I don’t think I’d find many takers. Which is to say that I think there are are significant resources for moral, social, etc. insight in many religious traditions. Somehow when I read bits from the Talmund, I find things identified about the good in life that are worthwhile, interesting, for example. In that case, I think again we ought to not close off whatever transactions are possible with religions. Sometimes things can be studied to avoid its harmful effects (of which there can be many), sometimes a positive contribution is possible to.

    Holbach
    I’m not saying that all religious claims, or even the significant ones are true per se. I’m saying that many of those claims take hold of, even if oddly, to something in the world, maybe even disclose something because of that. And to the degree they do, they ought to not be dismissed, without seeing what that might be. and that includes Hinduism. If anything I’m relying on JS Mill here.

    “Are you suggesting that you are unable to do anything nice without wanting a reward?” Never said that. I’m saying whatever acts to transform the world for the better could be rightfully understood as divine.

  247. #247 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    “I’d rather get my morality from reason and real world experience, from science, and religion teaches nothing about morality.”

    I think that was also why I raised this question. When I was thinking of the Talmund (and not being Jewish of course) I’m thinking..yes it does teach us something about human experience, the moral life, etc. I’m not saying everything in it does. Nor does everything in the Gospels. I’m saying something is there…it shouldn’t be ruled out a priori.

    SDR
    I think you’re right. One shouldn’t be dismissive of the real evils, problems, etc. that have been associated with religion. I think you’d recognize that religion seems to allow for a wide range of responses, has a lot to condemn and commend it. Though the condemnations and the defenses of religion out there often make it into something more impressive (for good or ill) than it could plausible me.

  248. #248 Ichthyic
    March 25, 2009

    I’m not saying that all religious claims, or even the significant ones are true per se. I’m saying that many of those claims take hold of, even if oddly, to something in the world, maybe even disclose something because of that.

    here, listen carefully:

    s-u-p-e-r-f-l-u-o-u-s

    what’s that mean?

    it means you have to show that religion, in and of itself, was the only means to “disclose” whatever information you deem significant.

    otherwise, most likely you could just as easily reached similar conclusions without invoking an organized cliche or random deity.

    religion has made itself significant, not because of what it has accomplished in an explanatory or predictive sense, but in how it has propagated itself.

    not the same thing at all.

  249. #249 Buzz
    March 25, 2009

    How do you deal with contractual obligations? For example, at the college where I teach, the following is a question on the student evaluation form:

    The instructor demonstrates respect for individuals, regardless of their cultural background, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

  250. #250 Owlmirror
    March 25, 2009

    I’m saying whatever acts to transform the world for the better could be rightfully understood as divine.

    I assume you’ve heard of tikkun olam, and perhaps you are even referring to it using English terminology.

    This sort of redefinition of terms reminds me of the various types of Pantheism. The only problem I have with that is that it strikes me as being not particularly coherent. If “making things better for everyone” is good in its own way and for its own sake — that is, for purely secular reasons — is it even necessary to call that by a religious term?

    Still, as with Pantheism, it might be useful for “weaning” some people off of the angry personal God that so many fundamentalists seem to think takes a cruel and prurient interest in humanity.

  251. #251 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    buzz, category fail.

    respect for person regardless of religion != respect for religion.

  252. #252 hje
    March 25, 2009

    Some scientists embrace religion in the sense described by Einstein, which is a world apart from personal faith of Collins and Miller (or most Americans that describe themselves as religious). The latter stand in contrast to Ken Hams and Ray Comforts in their embrace of reason as a constraint on what they are willing to believe. Even so, the religious beliefs of Miller (Roman Catholic) and Collins (evangelical Protestant) are fundamentally different with respect to how they think about God, man and the universe–despite their faiths having a common founder.

    And then you have the anomalies like Martin Luther KIng (contrast Martin Luther) who were obviously motivated by their religious beliefs in terms of their moral actions. But individuals of this type are unfortunately rare. If they were not, religion would have a lot more credibility than it does.

  253. #253 Ichthyic
    March 25, 2009

    who were obviously superficially motivated by their religious beliefs

    better.

    religion would have a lot more credibility than it does.

    nope.

  254. #254 ndt
    March 25, 2009

    Posted by: Kel | March 24, 2009 11:17 PM
    It still sounds like you are separating mind from body. The idea that morality is an external entity separated from our body is foolish.

    That wasn’t my intention at all. I meant the impulse to protect a young child competes with other impulses in your brain, all influencing your behavior.

  255. #255 Zarabeth
    March 25, 2009

    I fear that if I point out you’re conflating apples, kiwifruit, and purple armadillos, I’ll be accused of being mindless and making lousy casserole…
    Having faith is the most subjective thing there is.
    A primary goal of science is to be an objective gauge of reality. So of course you can’t equate the results of the two schema.
    Being your friendly neighborhood Jewish Egghead Kid, I hope I can propose that the two can, however, cohabitate within a competent, sane psyche.
    May we all please agree to treat religion as a matter of taste? Of course good science and social progress should not be constrained by a system of mindless conformity to dogma. I fear collective human intellectual growth being hindered by narrow tradition rather than guided by humanist ethics. I also consider prostletyzing bloody well rude.
    But if I have an inherited tendency to internalize and validate a deity concept, do you really have to beat me with a stick? Hope not.
    pax,
    ZB

  256. #256 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Ichthyic
    I don’t think it’s superfluous even if we had a fully natural explanation for a given insight, sensibility or comportment to the world. And that is because, given particular histories, contexts, ways of life, folks look for different things in the world, use different concepts to organize that, bring different questions and responses to the table because of that. A lot of things which has preoccupied western thought never seemed to be much of a concern in Asia (and vice versa). I recognize we’re dealing with broad generalities, but the point being that I think it’s possible that Hinduism has resources in it’s tradition for thinking about life in the world, that while not supernaturally derived, would be worth engaging on some level and they would be different than say with Hellenistic thought, which has it’s own resources to bear too.

    Owl
    I think it’s the way (both sides) have defined religion has something against nature, unnatural. In that I think Judaism has a leg up, in being more of a community, a people, not some discrete religious belief system (even if many do have such beliefs). But dispensing with fundamentalism would be a good thing indeed.

  257. #257 Owlmirror
    March 25, 2009

    When I was thinking of the Talmund (and not being Jewish of course) I’m thinking..yes it does teach us something about human experience, the moral life, etc. I’m not saying everything in it does. Nor does everything in the Gospels. I’m saying something is there…it shouldn’t be ruled out a priori.

    Something to keep in mind is that philosophy, meaning the original Hellenistic schools, as well as the later addenda from philosophers of different cultures, addressed this sort of thing as well, and of course, philosophical ideas were then later imported into religion. Yet, again, if the ideas are good, they are good regardless of religion; they are good for secular reasons.

    I have recommended Jennifer Michael Hecht’s Doubt before, and I am doing so again. She also wrote The Happiness Myth (which I am about to start reading), which also covers the personal utility of philosophy as a guide to life.

  258. #258 Sperry
    March 25, 2009

    @AnthonyK:
    Classical philosophy may be interesting but it’s fuck all use in real life. Go on then, apart from their influence on say Marx, what possible value has any philosopher’s written thoughts on anything we do?

    Not just Marx. Tell me how you separate Athenian politics from the debates of the pre-Socratics, or the Early Middle Ages from the neo-Platonists, or the alchemy/science of Bacon (the father of science in some sense) from Aristotle and the theories of species; Enter the modern era without Descartes or Spinoza or Leibniz; pull apart Goethe from Spinoza & Schilling or Wagner from Schopenhauer; try the Enlightenment without Locke or Rousseau or the American Revolution without Reid; Try Mai ’68 without Benjamin or the Frankfurt school.

    Logic – logic in all its glory was so fantastically influential that Russell and Whitehead wrote the Principia Mathematica entirely in its language, finally proving that 1 + 1 = 2 after 1000 pages; only to see the whole project collapse following a paradox of Russel’s own devising.

    This is an almost cartoonish presentation; give the PM credit for much of what we know about modern axiomatic schemas, modern logic including computer science (you do realize a computer is just a big Boolean box, right?), artificial intelligence theory, certainly the influence on Godel and Turing; the “collapse” you speak of has only given way to modern set theory, essential to group theory and therefore QFT & Y-M theory. Also the Russellian notion of descriptors was the most influential theory regarding denotation until Kripke.

    Historically, I assert, aside from their influence on political movements (and excepting, in particular, mathematics) philosophy is dull, irrelevant, and easily turned to support poor ideas.

    You’d be wrong.

    And Derrida? French wanker. Is there anything he said of any lasting value whatsoever?

    I think here we might agree. Alright, Derrida is a hack. But he is a poor philosopher precisely because there is so much good philosophy going on these days: he falls short of the standard set by the Quines, Searles, Foucaults, Nussbaums, Novaks, Rawls, Taylors, Putnams, Wrights, Kripkes & even Zizeks, none of whom could be described as dull, irrelevant, or easily turned. Just because language *can* be abused, doesn’t mean it has to be, and matters of how to do politics, law, ethics, art, even science, are to be decided philosophically- not religiously, not scientifically.

  259. #259 hje
    March 25, 2009

    “who were obviously superficially motivated by their religious beliefs
    better.”

    How can justify that assessment? I’m sorry but I have to disagree on this one. Even if you think that MLK’s beliefs were complete delusion, how do know that he was “superficially” motivated by these beliefs.

    “religion would have a lot more credibility than it does.”

    And I mean that in some pragmatic sense, not in whether its claims are true or not.

  260. #260 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    I’m saying whatever acts to transform the world for the better could be rightfully understood as divine.

    I can assure you without any doubt, there is no god idea or mythology involved.

  261. #261 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    “who were superficially motivated by their religious beliefs”

    I don’t think MLK would say that about himself.

    Owl
    I have to admit, though I might be saying this in the wrong forum, but I tend to treat Hellenistic thought as sacred literature (yeah in a good sense of the word). Whenever I teach Ethics, we always cover Aristotle and we invariably cover the Stoics. It’s a goldmine imho for thinking about these concerns. I appreciate the book recommendation and will look into it. Thanks!

  262. #262 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    Dwight, now you’re simply confusing culture with religion. the Jewish culture is a completely different albeit related thing to the Jewish religion. similarly, my family has a Polish Catholic culture (celebrating christian holidays, no meat for christmas, etc), but most of them aren’t Catholics in the religious sense.

    Also, you’re confusing religion as a subject worthy of study (it is), and religion as a valid world-view (it isn’t, if only because it’s factually incorrect)

  263. #263 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    That wasn’t my intention at all. I meant the impulse to protect a young child competes with other impulses in your brain, all influencing your behavior.

    Fair enough, on that I agree.

  264. #264 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    And I mean that in some pragmatic sense, not in whether its claims are true or not.

    so you believe in the Noble Lie, then?

  265. #265 ndt
    March 25, 2009

    Posted by: Dwight | March 24, 2009 11:53 PM

    Sastra
    That was one thing I was trying to get granted. If I pushed it further it I don’t think I’d find many takers. Which is to say that I think there are are significant resources for moral, social, etc. insight in many religious traditions. Somehow when I read bits from the Talmund, I find things identified about the good in life that are worthwhile, interesting, for example. In that case, I think again we ought to not close off whatever transactions are possible with religions.

    That’s not religion, that’s literature. We have nothing against the study of literature. Religion is when you believe the literature about gods actually describes real gods that really exist.

  266. #266 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    And I mean that in some pragmatic sense, not in whether its claims are true or not.

    so you believe in the Noble Lie, then?

  267. #267 Conor H.
    March 25, 2009

    “Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith.”

    What kinds of scientists are these and how much can they really appreciate their studies if this is true? I haven’t had a single thing in my academic experience to promote “faith” but I’ve left several classes feeling better about my atheism.

  268. #268 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    “Many scientists have written eloquently about how their scientific studies of biological evolution have enhanced rather than lessened their religious faith.”

    What kinds of scientists are these and how much can they really appreciate their studies if this is true? I haven’t had a single thing in my academic experience to promote “faith” but I’ve left several classes feeling better about my atheism.

    eh, this is just a milder version of the “my life is shit, but it has made me REALLY appreciate god’s love even more!!” self-justification.

  269. #269 SDR
    March 25, 2009

    And then you have the anomalies like Martin Luther KIng (contrast Martin Luther) who were obviously motivated by their religious beliefs in terms of their moral actions.

    Actually, Dr. King was surprisingly known to be a huge critic of religion, Christianity in particular. He saw the danger of religion and spoke out against those dangers in stronger words than many atheists. Dr. King appeared to understand that he himself was taking good deeds and morals from something inside him, and that he was then linking them to Christianity after he already had them. He makes it very clear in much self-conscious writing that he mostly used religious rhetoric because it worked, not because he saw the Bible as necessarily supporting his views.

    He, at the least, realized that while he could cite scriptures to support black civil rights others could cite just as many to oppose it.

    Damn, I wish I had some examples on hand, but it’s 12:30am and I need to get up early for work. If anyone is interested search for “martin luther king religious criticism” or something similar. It shouldn’t be too hard to find.

  270. #270 hje
    March 25, 2009

    “so you believe in the Noble Lie, then?”

    No. Not more that something like the Getting Things Done philosophy. Maybe it helps you, maybe not. Aren’t we all motivated by things that we can’t prove in some logical sense are true?

  271. #271 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    I think folks are easily separating things, literature from the religious communities who produced them, communities from religion, etc. There must be some traffic between religion and these things admired. If so, then a summary judgment of religion has inherently bad (or for some apologists as inherently good) isn’t going to work.

  272. #272 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    oh ffs, Dwight! Versailles is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen, and the louvre is an priceless collection of art… but that says nothing about the value of the Absolute Monarchy that produced it! the same goes for religion. humans are capable of amazing things, and some of those things are a proverbial lotus in the mud, but that doesn’t mean that those horrible things are in any way necessary for the creation of meaningful, beautiful, inspiring things

  273. #273 Menyambal
    March 25, 2009

    Some confusions in the original article:

    Which religion? What is a religion? Lesser-Way Buddhism is practically the scientific approach, Southern Baptists are locked-down into stupid.

    Science is simply natural philosophy, which is logic applied to the real world. The things that science has discovered to be true are what IS real. If a god really existed, science could probably discover it.

  274. #274 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    Aren’t we all motivated by things that we can’t prove in some logical sense are true?

    preferably not, no. and i’ll have to interpret that as a partial yes to my question, since you say it’s ok to believe in false things if it makes things work

  275. #275 SDR
    March 25, 2009

    Before bed, let me ad some actual evidence to my previous comment, in the words of MLK himself.

    In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, ?Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.? A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  276. #276 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    King was a liberal protestant and a graduate student of philosophy at Boston. So he’s not the conservative baptist that some wish he was. And like most attentive folks he was aware of how religion could be used for ill. But I never found anything in King which suggested that a.his religious faith, upbringing and context was not significant for him and b.he wrote a lot on how his involvement with the civil rights movement, moved him from mainly conceptual ideas to a more personally felt faith.

  277. #277 CW
    March 25, 2009

    Thus Voxed Day;

    Facilis is pointing out, correctly, is that the per capita scientific overperformance of the religious USA is a factor of 7.89. With only 4.5 percent of the global population, it produced more than one-third of the global scientific output in 1999 according to a UNESCO study entitled “A Global Snapshot of Scientific Trends”. That is 28.7 percent more scientific output PER CAPITA than the most atheistic nation in Europe, which is France.

    What makes you think that per capita comparisons by nation is a valid metric? Even if nothing else were wrong with that approach (and it has been pointed out the this is not the case) the fact that it completely ignores all aspects of finance and national GDPs fills it full of fail. The United States accounts for about one quarter of the GDP of the planet, don’t you think it likely that this fact has some impact on the issue?

  278. #278 hje
    March 25, 2009

    “He makes it very clear in much self-conscious writing that he mostly used religious rhetoric because it worked, not because he saw the Bible as necessarily supporting his views.”

    I’m sure he was critical of Christianity–it’s hard to believe that he could even remain in a religious tradition that had justified the slavery of his ancestors.

    But saying he has just using religious rhetoric as a tool, that seems to cast him in the mode of Hams/Comforts who use religious language as a means to less noble ends.

  279. #279 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    hje, more in the mode of the deistic/atheistic founding fathers who used the god-language to sound inspiring, and because that’s just the way rhetoric worked back then.

  280. #280 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    One of the problems with the christian bible is that it demands belief that a god idea actually exists. If you dismiss that then you aren’t giving a true assessment of the scope of the belief. If the bible were some perfect work as it claims to be, it wouldn’t lead mothers to drown their children, it wouldn’t lead preachers to rape, and it wouldn’t lead god idea devotees to murder.

    There simply is no validity and no added value to the belief that a god idea is real. Pointing to some good that only religion can do is wrong and dangerous. Societies are capable of doing much better than that.

    Religion has an even worse aspect though, because it keeps society in an endless loop where we are unable to build societies based on truth and honesty. Religion teaches deception as a way of life.

  281. #281 hje
    March 25, 2009

    “preferably not, no. and i’ll have to interpret that as a partial yes to my question, since you say it’s ok to believe in false things if it makes things work”

    OK, I’ll assent that you are the superior intellect.

  282. #282 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    it’s not about intellect. it’s about attitude. everybody can be taught skepticism, but it DOES take practice

  283. #283 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Menya
    Does science tell us what is beautiful? Is beauty real? Or imagined? I’m not a 2 magestriums type of guy, but it does strike me that unless we have a broad definition of science, like a wissenschaft, a way of disciplined inquiry (say like the field of aesthetics), then simply saying that the physical and biological sciences tell us all what is real is going to be a bit odd.

  284. #284 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    I think religion is a kind of stand in word for evil. Since King is admirable, he obviously wasn’t religious. And if sacred scripture is inspiring then it must be a philosophy and not religious. It reminds me of my mother who thinks the word liberal is a stand in for evil. Suffice it to say we don’t talk politics much these days. Family peace has it’s own merits.

  285. #285 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    you don’t really want to understand, do you? what part of “superfluous” sounds like “evil” to you?

  286. #286 SDR
    March 25, 2009

    Before bed, let me ad some actual evidence to my previous comment, in the words of MLK himself.

    In a world gone mad with arms buildups, chauvinistic passions, and imperialistic exploitation, the church has either endorsed these activities or remained appallingly silent. During the last two world wars, national churches even functioned as the ready lackeys of the state, sprinkling holy water upon the battleships and joining the mighty armies in singing, ?Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.? A weary world, pleading desperately for peace, has often found the church morally sanctioning war. – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  287. #287 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    Does science tell us what is beautiful?

    does religion?

  288. #288 SDR
    March 25, 2009

    Sorry for the double comment. scienceblogs is being screwy.

  289. #289 raven
    March 25, 2009

    vhutchison:

    Although I agree with much of PZ?s statements and the comments here, I must make a point. Pragmatic politics, especially here in Oklahoma and in many other states require that we recognize that 80% or so of citizens are ?people of faith.? We can not win against legislative attempts at anti-evolution by attacking religion.

    Agree. This is reality. Look kids, in the real world, science runs on money. Lots of money. The US R&D budget is roughly 400 billion bucks, public and private. Federal is roughly 180 billion bucks. This explains our world lead in science along with some cultural factors, mostly freedom and an entrepreneurial form of capitalism.

    The federal budget is from the taxpayers. 76% of those taxpayers are xians, probably 85-90% of those describe themselves as religious. They do get a return in longer lives, technology, and kicking anyone’s ass who attacks us and most of them know it. You need the support of the taxpayers or else.

    No money=no science. One highly successful project I worked on cost $300 million. If you think getting your hands on that amount of money and spending it is easy, I got a city called Kandor in a bottle to sell you.

  290. #290 hje
    March 25, 2009

    “it’s not about intellect. it’s about attitude. everybody can be taught skepticism, but it DOES take practice”

    Can one be skeptical about an individual’s mastery of skepticism?

    Here’s my point. Let’s say you have a significant other that you love. You believe that you love them so much that you would offer your life for them. Say that you are also childless and post-reproductive. Why would you be motivated to die for them? Is it just the oxytocin that motivates you–well that’s probably part of it. But you would likely say it is because you “love” them–whatever that means. You love being around them, they give you pleasure–so chalk that up to the dopaminergic circuits. But we probably think about it other terms, terms that are not true in some verifiable sense and may be a complete fiction. So is this a bad thing?

  291. #291 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    Does science tell us what is beautiful?

    Absolutely, there have been many studies done on what proportions are considered to be beautiful in the human form. But even at that there is still a certain amount of beauty that is taught by the society in which it is presented. There certainly isn’t anything supernatural or unnatural about it.

  292. #292 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Jadehawk
    I’m not sure how a social context, a community which produces x is superfluous to x? Unless we somehow want to isolate what we don’t like, in this case religion, from what is likeable. And I’m not sure that is always a legitimate move.

  293. #293 Robocop
    March 25, 2009

    “Your concern–and fucktard stupidity–is noted.”

    Reading comprehension problems seem to be de rigueur tonight. I expressed no concern.

    “Robocop, a pissant concern troll….”

    . And no feigned concern either.

    “Is there some sort of ‘atheist rating’ website (in which case, let’s see it), or are you morons just, as I suspect, pulling this out of your ass?”

    To any thinking person it’s obvious. But you may also look here if you like (note the comments):

    http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2009/03/against-terminological-mischief-negative-atheism-and-negative-nominalism.html

    “who were obviously superficially motivated by their religious beliefs”

    If you had actually read much of what MLK wrote, you wouldn’t make such a fool of yourself. But it’s so consistent I assume it’s part of the act.

  294. #294 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Notagod
    I’m not saying religion in this case is supernatural. I think it’s quite natural. But I was thinking that if one wanted to describe beauty, it’d be helpful to go to the field of aesthetics, if one wants to know something about culture, maybe anthropology or sociology. The point being is that the natural sciences are not all encompassing when it comes to disciplined inquiry.

  295. #295 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    Does science tell us what is beautiful?

    Not what exactly, but how. It can tell us how the mind works, how we aesthetically enjoy certain sights, sounds and smells. But you don’t need science to tell you what, you don’t need any authority to tell you what.

  296. #296 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    terms that are not true in some verifiable sense and may be a complete fiction. So is this a bad thing?

    I personally think that is what leads to the high rate of divorce in the United States. People build a fictitious reality of their lover, when the lover fails to live up to it, it causes friction. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with playing fantasy games in relationships but when that is done to avoid reality, it can lead to problems in the future. Just my opinion.

  297. #297 Darren S. A. George
    March 25, 2009

    The comments here are ridiculous (most of them, anyway). If you try to convince the world that science and religion are incompatible, most people will choose religion (and refuse to give up their iPods, since that’s “technology, not science”).

    If the majority of people in your country are moderates, why try to force them to choose between fundamentalism and militant atheism? I may disagree with the moderate religious types, but they’re a hell of a lot easier to work with than the fundies.

  298. #298 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    I’m not saying religion in this case is supernatural. I think it’s quite natural. But I was thinking that if one wanted to describe beauty, it’d be helpful to go to the field of aesthetics, if one wants to know something about culture, maybe anthropology or sociology. The point being is that the natural sciences are not all encompassing when it comes to disciplined inquiry.

    So what you think I am stupid? Just keep moving the goal posts until you score?

    Or are you suggesting that aesthetics, anthropology and sociology are religion?

    Or have you changed your mind and now agree that belief that a god idea is real is bad?

    Or what?

  299. #299 Badger3k
    March 25, 2009

    Kel @ 129: You name drop, but did you go to high school with them?

    For myself, as a high school teacher, I have to be careful what I say, but I try to be even-handed with criticisms, usually phrasing things that would get the students to look at things critically. I tell them all to put everything, even their most cherished beliefs, up for questioning. I do agree that science and superstition are ultimately incompatible, and even though sucking up to religionists to defend science from the fundies is good for the short term, it just perpetuates the superstitious thinking which is the root of the problem. Sometimes you have to go after the roots of the weeds rather than just chop the heads off them. NOMA is useless twaddle.

  300. #300 hje
    March 25, 2009

    “People build a fictitious reality of their lover, when the lover fails to live up to it, it causes friction.”

    I completely agree. But why do some relationships last a lifetime? Or what about arranged marriages where people who don’t individually choose one another as mates, but still may end up loving one another? The same could be said of non-sexual long term relationships. I absolutely know that biology explains a lot of it, but it’s not how we talk or think about it.

    And based on my family and acquaintances, religiosity sure isn’t a guarantee of a long term relationship. Quite the contrary.

  301. #301 Badger3k
    March 25, 2009

    hje @ 291 – if our love, our desires, or drive to die for those we love, are the products of physical processes…so what? We know why we feel certain ways, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Religion and other superstitions give us false reasons for such things, when they even give us reasons – I have yet to hear any reason for love, for instance. We know that something like love exists in the animal kingdom, we have many hypotheses for this. Science can tell us about these things. Religion makes up stories that aren’t real.

    I can write (horrible) poetry about love and loss, but I don’t need religion to do that.

    To someone else, I forget who, sorry – religion takes natural human impulses and desires, such as our love of family, and tries to co-opt them for themselves. Do Unto Others has been in non-religious philosophy long before it was incorporated into religions. If you took multiple religions and added together commonalities, I think you’d see that they are all humanistic values which do not need religion – they exist in reality. Damn dog – wants to play and got me distracted so that I lost my train of thought. I hope this is understandable. Gotta go.

  302. #302 aratina
    March 25, 2009

    This is reality. Look kids, in the real world, science runs on money. Lots of money. – raven

    I think we already covered that. Relationships will be broken, no doubt, by an assertive attitude about the validity of religious beliefs as they pertain to science. Nobody denies that. But not every relationship will be broken and so not all funding will be cut. Yet, you are telling us we should lie to obtain money (power). How is that any different from what religions are doing?

  303. #303 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 25, 2009

    (smacks forehead in disbelief)

    My godless friends, you are usually far more lucid in these threads. I am, frankly amazed that so many of you seem to think you can derive morality or values merely from an application of reason. This is, to put it mildly, a faith-based proposition.

    As an example….

    kamaka (#119 ) wrote:

    How exactly does science teach about morality?

    Because it leads to the rational ethic:

    How do I behave to help create a world worth living in?

    I believe you have skipped a step. Let us grant that science can inform our decision-making process, leading to a rational ethic as you frame it.

    This does not explain how we know what ‘a world worth living in’ would look like. It seems to me that science values certain things, but it holds those values as something like axioms. Science may not be a belief system, but it does constitute a value system, and I don’t see how you can derive the axioms of that system from the business of doing science. There seems to be another source of value: culture? biology? a messy interaction between the two, which includes such things as xenophobia, out-breeding and religious ritual? Whatever it is, it is most certainly not science.

    I would agree with Dwight’s statement: “the natural sciences are not all encompassing when it comes to disciplined inquiry”, but I would go further. I would say that, no matter what the field of inquiry, mere logic and evidence will never satisfy humanity’s quest for meaning.

    Before I get crucified for pitching woo, consider: E.O. Wilson has justly pointed out that ‘transcendentalism is psychically full and rich’ when compared with arguments based on empirical evidence alone. Keeping in mind that Wilson is not in any way appealing or arguing for the former, and that he reaches his conclusion presumably on the basis of logic, what you’ve got there is something like a poison pill where appeals to reason are concerned. But reason away!

  304. #304 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    hje, I have seen relationships last for a long time when the parties hated each other almost all the time. Relationships can be very complicated but, sometimes, rarely, they are very simple. Compatible and incompatible desires and wants and willingness or desire to give.

    I absolutely know that biology explains a lot of it, but it’s not how we talk or think about it.

    Yeah, people still talk about the heart doing the thinking even though almost all of us know the heart is a muscle that pumps blood. I wish we wouldn’t, adds to the confusion. Some people actually believe that emotion originates in the heart.

  305. #305 Leigh Williams
    March 25, 2009

    Fine by me, PZ. I’m going to continue to be your ally, even if you disown me, because the fight against irrationality is too important for me to get my feelings hurt and flounce off.

    And perhaps there will come a time when you admit that it’s a damn good thing we theistic evolutionists didn’t get our panties in a wad and abandon you. If for nothing else, at this time and place in history you need our numbers to protect you.

    And protect your rights and your point of view we will. Because it’s not about you and me; the battle for reason and evidence-based decision making is righteous and a worthy cause in itself. In fact, it is probably the worthiest cause of all; solutions to our planet’s ills lie therein.

    So I forgive you. And like Oscar Wilde I say: “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them more.” (Wink and smile there, for the humor-impaired; PZ may declare me his enemy, but he’s not mine!)

  306. #306 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    Jadehawk
    I’m not sure how a social context, a community which produces x is superfluous to x? Unless we somehow want to isolate what we don’t like, in this case religion, from what is likeable. And I’m not sure that is always a legitimate move.

    well, in that case we should have never abolished Colonialism either, considering all the wonderful art, architecture, and literature that came out of it. what an absurd way of thinking! the whole point of progressing as a society is to separate out the bad things from the good things and toss out the bad. and since a religious society is no more conductive to art, beauty, culture, philanthropy, or philosophy than a secular culture, while at the same time being FAR more susceptible to the evils of dogmatism, authoritatianism, and fuzzy, magical thinking, how is there any question at all about tossing it?

  307. #307 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    I’m not saying religion in this case is supernatural. I think it’s quite natural. But I was thinking that if one wanted to describe beauty, it’d be helpful to go to the field of aesthetics, if one wants to know something about culture, maybe anthropology or sociology. The point being is that the natural sciences are not all encompassing when it comes to disciplined inquiry.

    you’re having a really hard time grasping what religion is, don’t you? the things you keep mentioning? those are called “the Humanities”, or “Liberal Arts”. they’re not religion.

  308. #308 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    Scott Hatfield, OM,

    A lot of people thought “W” had some magic going on. Obviously not!

    If you want me to believe there is magic, give a verifiable example, so we can look at it and find it if it is there.

    E. O. Wilson says he is a deist, I’ve heard him talk about it. His thought was that a deity setup the original universe then went on to other things. I’ve also noticed that he likes to be poetic at times. If his level of religiosity was a maximum for woo belief there wouldn’t be a problem with religion. He also understands the problem with the practice of religion.

    Science is the study of nature, is there something that you know about that exists outside of the natural universe? If you do I am certain some scientist would like to study it. I don’t think you are quite implying that but it seems you want some fuzzy place in between natural and supernatural.

    Science as practiced teaches about honesty and truthfulness. That is something christians could use to learn. That doesn’t guarantee anything but, I don’t see where religion is adding anything that is worthy of its cost and the cost of religion is indeed high.

  309. #309 Africangenesis
    March 25, 2009

    tmaxPA#176,

    “If the principles have universal appeal and resonance, we have no need of religion to happen upon them.”

    Sure they might be unrelated to any need, in fact something with univeral appeal and resonance may actually represent a vulnerability to be guarded or organized against. But if there is something to be learned about human nature from religion, it might be wise to take advantage of the opportunity, rather than hide our heads in the sand.

  310. #310 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    Kel @ 129: You name drop, but did you go to high school with them?

    Who do you think I am, John Kwok? ;)

  311. #311 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    People are afraid of death, people are afraid of the unknown.
    But if => There, done.

  312. #312 silkworm
    March 25, 2009

    Recently when I was perusing Dkos, I saw a link to their ?Dkosopedia,? which I though was probably an attempt to set up a ?liberal? alternative to the ultra-conservative Conservapedia. I was most interested in their attitude to religious topics. However, on their title page, there is no link to any religious topic. I thought there would at least be a direct link to the topic of the separation of church and state. To cut a long story short, I eventually found my way to their religion overview page, where there are links to about thirty religious topics:

    http://www.dkosopedia.com/wiki/Category:Religion

    In regards to the topic of this thread, I found the following out-of-place piece of Christian apologia tucked away at the end of a fairly innocuous article on ?Christians? -

    “Science: Not only are Science and Christianity not at odds but some great progressive scientists have been Christians.”

    Dkosopedia is a mass of contradictions regarding religion. Sometimes their approach is pro-Creationist, and at other times anti-Creationist. Perhaps their confusion is best summed up by their approach to evolution. There is no article on ?Evolution? as such, but there is a strange article on ?God Democracy and Evolution? which is essentially an advertisement for a book by that title. On the other hand, their article ?Teaching Evolution? basically addresses Creationists and tells them that there is no scientific evidence for their stance, and yet the article begins by describing “Teaching Evolution? as an example of ?Telling people what to believe,? which is the Creationist position. Analyse that!

    The overall impression I get is that Dkosopedia goes out of its way not to offend anyone, yet in its attempt to be neutral and offend neither conservative nor liberal, Dkosopedia ends up at best adopting a triangulated position that offends against reason.

  313. #313 Blind Squirrel FCD
    March 25, 2009

    Does science tell us what is beautiful?

    does religion?

    Do we need to be told?

  314. #314 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    I also don’t believe in compromising with theists, but some sort of understanding is going to have to happen because we will never be rid of them. I am proud to be free of superstition and would love to live in an atheistic world, but it just won’t happen.

    Rational people, behave rationally we use sensible family planning, we typically have one or two well raised, well educated children. Many secularists who for whatever reason feel it would be best to not have children, choose not to.

    Religious people on the other hand often have huge families, and they indoctrinate their young with all of their lunacy and superstition. Yes, not all of these children will be stupid, and atheists rescue a few. Most however will turn out to be raving bible thumpers like their parents and go on to breed their own huge broods of brainwashed children.

    As long as this continues there will always be hordes of believers. The only way for science to prosper is to allow these people the delusion that their fantasy world is compatible with science. Most don’t know or care what their religion actually says. If some preacher tells them that evolution, geology, and physics are OK, they will go along with it and let their children be educated. Some of these educated children will become atheists, many won’t, but they will still be more rational than they would be if they were never exposed to real science.

    I don’t care if someone wants to believe that leprechauns live in his ass and tell him to wear a strap on over his face. That is fine with me as long as he doesn’t try to make teaching the theory of ass leprechauns a science standard.

    If letting religious people lie to themselves about their fairy tales will convince them to support education I say let them be as deluded as they want.

  315. #315 faithless
    March 25, 2009

    Hah!!
    ‘Evolution is incompatible with faith’?

    No expert fees for you next time a school board is trying to impose creationism on the science faculty in court…

  316. #316 Howay The Toon
    March 25, 2009

    The theists who claim that their beliefs are compatible with science and who are even themselves eminent scientists (Miller, Collins et al) are essentially claiming what I would term “Doctrinal compatibility”, the statement that there is nothing in the findings of science which they find to contradict their faith.

    And of course they are right.But this Doctrinal Compatibility comes with costs.

    Firstly, it is only achieved by making one’s faith beliefs so vague, non-soecific and unfalsifiable that they would be compatible with anything and so, as Popper said, to explain nothing at all.

    Secondly, it ignores the more fundamental “Epistemological incompatibility”. Science is not, at heart, the sum of all its established results. It is a set of criteria ( falsifiability, parsimony, explanatory power, repeatability, consistency with observation etc) for determining what can be legitimately regarded as knowledge. Crucially this means rejecting propositions which fail those criteria as well as accepting those that do.

    Religious propostions or explanations fail those criteria. So using the SAME criteria and methods which compel acceptance of established scientific theories would also compel the rejection of religious claims.

    THAT is the real incompatibility.

  317. #317 faithless
    March 25, 2009

    @facilis:

    *’Atheist’* France? Have you ever *been* there, you numpty?

    There are probably more churches per square foot in France than in the US. (It certainly has more, and more beautiful, cathedrals than France.) Go to a ville de la campagne on a Sunday and watch everyone turning up for church.

    France is only ‘atheist’ in the sense that it has no state religion.

    Wait – isn’t that the same for the US??

    Mind you, along with all the other non-Americans in the world, by now I should have got used to the widespread US difficulty in focussing on anything going on east of the eastern seaboard or west of the West Coast…

  318. #318 Cannonball Jones
    March 25, 2009

    Nice post PZ, very much along the lines of what I think. Lots to chew on in the comments but I’m going to pounce on this pile of dumb ’cause I like easy targets:

    I’d love to see these statistics. I would especially love to see how these “statisticians” rationalize away the fac tat the religious US produces so much more scientific output than atheistic France.

    For starters those statistics are widely and freely available on the net, especially the religious belief vs acceptance of evolution one which seems to be reproduced afresh every couple of years. I’m interested as to exactly which members of the population of the US you believe is responsible for scientific research. Do you really thing it’s going on in trailer parks all across the mid-west? Is it the deeply superstitious folks of the Bible Belt who are pushing the boundaries of science? Maybe the Ted Haggard Megachurch Of Quantum Chromodynamics?

    Or is it all happening in those heathen universities on the godless coasts? What do you reckon the level of religiosity is in the institutions where the actual research is being carried out? And when do you reckon you’ll start engaging your brain before typing?

  319. #319 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Jade
    I do assume that something of the community which produces X was important in the production of x. That doesn’t mean to enjoy Talmudic literature one must be Jewish, to enjoy fine art in France one must become a believer in monarchy. It does mean that there was some connection in both. In other words, this is not an apologetic for one to join a given religion, only a sense of relating to whatever is worthwhile in such things. Which means rejecting easy dismissals (or endorsements) of religion.

    Ryk
    You’re going off to eugenics land.

    Howay
    I’ll agree with your last conclusion. And it in fact describes what happened with liberalizing trends in Christianity, Judaism, etc.

    Notagod
    I think there are two issues. One is the role other disciplines outside of the natural sciences play in their respective areas of study, which are not generally studied by the natural sciences. Too is the presumption that there is more to the world than what we know.

  320. #320 John Morales
    March 25, 2009

    Ryk @315, distilled:

    I also don’t believe in compromising with theists, but [...]
    The only way for science to prosper is to allow these people the delusion that their fantasy world is compatible with science.
    [...]
    If letting religious people lie to themselves about their fairy tales will convince them to support education I say let them be as deluded as they want.

    Um.

  321. #321 John
    March 25, 2009

    “Science” has no morals as the word “Mengele” now implies. Atheism has no logical foundation for the birth of any binding moral code.

  322. #322 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 25, 2009

    John, religion has genocidal morals. Read your bible. Atheism starts with the golden rule, which many xians seem to have misplaced over the years.

  323. #323 Sven DiMilo
    March 25, 2009

    I can’t help but paraphrase Whittaker Chambers reviewing Atlas Shrugged

    I hate it when that happens.

  324. #324 John Morales
    March 25, 2009

    John @322, you are making a category error. Science is a methodology for acquiring knowledge about the natural world, not an ideology.

    Similarly, atheism is a lack of belief in deities, not an ideology.

    Morals are value judgements. They can be based on knowledge and reason (cf #98).

    Atheism has no logical foundation for the birth of any binding moral code.

    But it’s less illogical than theism… and what’s a “binding” moral code, anyway, if not dogma that you can’t question?

  325. #325 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Dwight #320 wrote:

    In other words, this is not an apologetic for one to join a given religion, only a sense of relating to whatever is worthwhile in such things. Which means rejecting easy dismissals (or endorsements) of religion.

    A question: do any of the points you have made on this thread regarding the value of religion change at all, if there is, in actuality, no God? In other words, are you simply making an argument for the practical benefits of a certain kind of approach to life which many people find satisfying and inspiring?

  326. #326 prochoice
    March 25, 2009

    I have never understood why the faithheads put this compatibility-question in the world.
    They should understand that people do hold a number of assumptions in their heads, and even very consistent humans manage to check only a few of them for causality.
    I can see no problem, but also no reason why scientists should pay attention to the fact that there remains some emotion/association to a religious childhood, if it was good, and an urge to not to be forced back if a person´s childhood experience was the hellfire-version.
    (Mine was, education the first chance to get away, and I snatched it!)
    But if religion is about obedience, then it is logical that they play “the winner takes it all” – and it is about time they loose it all.

  327. #327 Josh
    March 25, 2009

    Does science tell us what is beautiful?

    Yes. It does. Science increases our understanding of the natural world, and in doing so significantly enhances our view of what’s “beautiful.” Indeed, I would argue that science actually helps define beauty for those of us who are looking at the world through scientific eyes. An increased understanding of a phenomenon often leads directly to an increased appreciation of it. I think that the better you understand an aspect of nature, the more likely you are to hold it in awe.

    My father, who isn’t a scientist and who doesn’t know much of anything really about stars, can look at a red giant through my telescope’s eyepiece and think that the crimson hue is beautiful. In fact, this has happened. He doesn’t need to know anything about the star to appreciate the beauty of the color. He just happens to like red. However, I know why the star is red. And I would argue that having this knowledge gives me something about the star (I guess I would call it an enhanced appreciation) that Dad doesn’t have. I might even argue that I think the star is more beautiful than he thinks it is. Science is telling me what beautiful is.

    Similarly, my mother can look at a bee sitting on a flower and think that it’s beautiful, a miracle of nature, whatever. She likes flowers a lot, although she doesn’t know all that much about them. But yes, she can see the bee/flower scene and think that it’s so beautiful her eyes tear up. She might even, overcome with it’s beauty, question the flower’s “reason for being.” I on the other hand, know a little bit about insect eyes and have some insight into what the bees appear to be seeing when they look at that same flower. I know what the flower’s “reason for being” is (according to current science). Just having the knowledge that the bees can see something about the flower than I can’t makes them so much more awe-inspiring to me than they were before I knew that. I would argue that science is telling me that the flower is beautiful, in a way that my mother, who doesn’t possess the same knowledge I do, is missing.

    Last summer, I watched a small crab dig a burrow in some beach sand. I noticed that, in the tiny pile of sand grains that it had dutifully built up, there were far more black/dark grains mixed in with the clear/white grains than I had expected to see. Knowing a good bit about sand, and knowing why there are usually far fewer dark grains than light grains on barrier-island beaches (not all beaches are “created equal”), I began to wonder about the source area for the sand on that beach. This of course got me to thinking about just how long those sand grains had been rolling around in the surf on that shore. That got me to thinking about how long, before that, those same grains had been lounging in the bars and floodplains of the rivers that had transported them to the shore. That got me to thinking about how long, before that, those same grains had been sitting in the soils that had eroded them into those rivers. That got me to thinking about how long, before that, those same grains had been trapped in the rocks that had provided material for the soils. And so on. And that got me to thinking about how some of the grains on that beach came from ancient rocks that were deposited in environments that also had crabs living in them (crabs go back quite a ways). And that got me to thinking about how at least some of those same wet grains that I was squishing between my toes had possibly been moved around by a long-dead crab on a long-dead beach, while it was digging out a long-filled-in burrow.

    I sat there on that sand for a long while, under a spectacular afternoon sky, watching the waves scour the beach as the tide ebbed, and observing the life and death war between the crabs and the birds that try to eat them. I sat there, feeling an immense connection, through deep time, to those other crabs on those other beaches that warred with whatever was trying to eat them. The feeling of simultaneous connection and insignificance was absolutely breathtaking. It was beautiful, and it was based on knowledge.

    You really wanna try and tell me that science doesn’t tell us what’s beautiful? Whatever. If that’s the case, then I would argue that the word “beautiful” is simply too small and pathetic to properly describe what you can see through scientific eyes.

  328. #328 Sven DiMilo
    March 25, 2009

    …as Josh evocatively comments his way to the top of the Molly list…

  329. #329 heliobates
    March 25, 2009

    Josh, are you angling for John MacPhee’s job?

  330. #330 Knockgoats
    March 25, 2009

    No naturalist has been able to present evidence of his beliefs to me. – Facilis, SP (Stupid Pinhead)

    That’s because in response to any and all rational arguments, you shut your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and sing “La la la la, impossibility of the contrary!”

  331. #331 KI
    March 25, 2009

    Wow, thanks Josh. I’ve tried for years to explain why I can feel a deeper appreciation for beautiful things without delusional nonsense attached to it.

  332. #332 AJS
    March 25, 2009

    Actually, I would say that the deeper, underlying problem is that reality is incompatible with religion.

  333. #333 ndt
    March 25, 2009

    Posted by: Dwight | March 25, 2009 1:04 AM

    Does science tell us what is beautiful? Is beauty real? Or imagined?

    It’s imagined, obviously. Was that even a serious question?

  334. #334 ndt
    March 25, 2009

    Posted by: John | March 25, 2009 7:55 AM

    “Science” has no morals as the word “Mengele” now implies. Atheism has no logical foundation for the birth of any binding moral code.

    Neither does religion. We are left to develop our own non-binding moral codes without relying on logic.

  335. #335 Leigh Williams
    March 25, 2009

    Josh @ 328 . . . Thank you for that. Thank you very much indeed.

  336. #336 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    John Morales #321

    Yes I saw how I contradicted myself after I posted and should have sent a correction note.

    What I should have said is that I would prefer to not have to compromise.

    Silly mistake on my part.

  337. #337 John Harshman
    March 25, 2009

    Quick quiz:

    “Nothing in biology makes sense without evolution.”

    This is a quote from

    a) an atheist
    b) an agnostic
    c) a devout Christian
    d) an eosin mutant fruit fly

  338. #338 foxfire
    March 25, 2009

    @ Josh #328

    You really wanna try and tell me that science doesn’t tell us what’s beautiful?

    I think science can explain why we humans find certain things to be beautiful (as you so eloquently describe in your post). I don’t think science can define “beauty” as a measurable “thing” (for lack of a better word) that exists independent of human opinion.

    @ Scott # 304

    I am, frankly amazed that so many of you seem to think you can derive morality or values merely from an application of reason.

    Exactly. No woo in your pitch, in my opinion.

    @ kamaka #174

    Does science and reason suggest that humans who are mentally and/or physically unfit to contribute to resolving these challenges should be terminated?

    Science and reason suggest we accept these humans as they are.

    Although I agree with your statement about how humans should be treated, you offer no evidence that science and reason are the primary cause of my belief.

  339. #339 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    Dwight #320

    Not eugenics at all. I didn’t imply that there was a genetic component to religion. I said specifically it was about upbringing. I did mention “stupid”, however I don’t believe I said it in such a way as indicate I was referring to belief system and gullibility. I do see how if you were looking for it you could get the idea that I was claiming that Christians were genetically stupid. I apologize for this.

    Also I did not imply that anything should be done about Christians having large families I was simply showing the possible results of this. If, and I am not citing these as statistics, believers outnumber nonbelievers by five to one. Also that on average a family of non believers produces 2 children on average, and a family of believers produces three children on average. Then the population of believers is going to keep gaining in proportion.

    Admittedly this isn’t the only factor, believers can learn to give up their fantasies. In order to do this, however, they are going to need basic education. That is why I suggested allowing the ones who wanted to pretend their God is OK with science to do so. I believe that kids who’s education backs up their parents superstitions are unlikely to be skeptical. Children who learn science on the other hand just might.

  340. #340 DLC
    March 25, 2009

    You can’t pray yourself to the moon.(although you can Wish yourself to Mars.) You can’t pray up a vaccine for measles.
    Science is only a tool for gaining understanding of the way things work. Religion is only a tool for establishing control over others. Both can be used for good or ill, but when one is based on reality and one is based on a non-existent supreme being and his often conflicting and capricious desires, the choice between which to spend your time on should be obvious.

  341. #341 Guy Incognito
    March 25, 2009

    @338: This raving loon seems to think the answer is either B or C.

  342. #342 Guy Incongito
    March 25, 2009

    Correction to 342: She thinks it is either A or B.

  343. #343 abb3w
    March 25, 2009

    Well, there doesn’t need to be a conflict. However, most religions have a problem with saying “hm, I guess we were wrong about that point”.

  344. #344 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 25, 2009

    @338, it doesn’t matter who said it. The truth is that nothing makes sense in biology without evolution. Science cannot use god as a conclusion or as an explanation. So the science doesn’t need or use god. What is your problem with that?

  345. #345 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    In #340 I put the word “don’t” in the first paragraph where it just doesn’t belong. It inverts my meaning and also sounds stupid. I was correcting one error and didn’t delete far enough back. So I made an even worse error.
    Sorry.

  346. #346 Knockgoats
    March 25, 2009

    Logic – logic in all its glory was so fantastically influential that Russell and Whitehead wrote the Principia Mathematica entirely in its language, finally proving that 1 + 1 = 2 after 1000 pages; only to see the whole project collapse following a paradox of Russel’s own devising. – AnthonyK

    Er… no. Russell discovered his paradox in 1901, Principia Mathematica was written 1910-13. It was the naive set theory of Frege, according to which any property corresponded to a set of entities sharing that property, that the paradox destroyed. PM was part of a largely successful attempt to replace Frege’s naive set theory. If you’re going to dismiss an entire area of human endeavour and you want to be taken seriously, it helps not to make elementary errors about it (see also Erasmus’s recent idiocies).

  347. #347 jj
    March 25, 2009

    Re: Religion and Morals

    Religion is in no way needed for morals. Science is in no way needed for morals. I was raised in a completely religious-less house hold (note I do not call it atheist or agnostic, not too sure what my parents believe). My Mother and Father, two wonderful people, helped teach me ‘right’ from ‘wrong’.

    Morals are instinctual – You are born (or most are) with the ability to put yourself into others situation, to understand that by doing good you are not only helping out others, but yourself and those around you. Science can help explain why we have morals, but they don’t teach them. Science (at leased soft, social) helps show us how being ‘moral’ helps the community at large, but once again, isn’t necessary for being moral.

    Like I said, I’ve never been to church, so I do not understand what one gets out of it. You don’t get your morals from it, and those who feel that that’s the only place they learned to be a good person, must have some sort of social problem.

  348. #348 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    Posted by: John | March 25, 2009 7:55 AM

    “Science” has no morals as the word “Mengele” now implies. Atheism has no logical foundation for the birth of any binding moral code.

    Before using Mengele as an example of why science has no morality, you should take a look at the Bible. If the historical tales mentioned in the Bible are even loosely based on actual events, then the priests of the old testament caused as much genocide, suffering, and rape as the Nazis if not more.

    The supposed commands from god allowed his people only three choices when at war.

    1. Kill everyone, even women and children.

    2. Kill everyone except virgin girls who they were free to rape.

    And finally

    3. Kill every person, even women and children, then also kill off all of the livestock just to be thorough.

    One could easily believe the Nazis were using the old testament as a playbook.

    The difference between science and religion is that a scientist is not automatically associated with the misdeeds of other scientists. If Dr. Joe rapes a toddler, it doesn’t make Dr. Frank a child molester. Religion on the other hand does make one guilty by association. If Rev. Tom kills his son for not mowing the lawn, because the Bible commands him to, then Rev. Mike is responsible as well because he also believes in the doctrine that commanded the murder. The same is true if Rev Tom sells his daughter as a slave or murders some gay people.

  349. #349 jj
    March 25, 2009

    If the historical tales mentioned in the Bible are even loosely based on actual events, then the priests of the old testament caused as much genocide, suffering, and rape as the Nazis if not more.

    Did it take a full 349 Posts to prove Godwins Law, or did I just miss it? (To be honest I read only the first 100 or so posts earlier)

  350. #350 Raging Philosopher
    March 25, 2009

    As a devout Philosophy student few things make me rage harder than hearing the “science tells you about life, while religion tells you how to live” or “without religion, there is no meaning or purpose to life or morality” memes.

    Brilliant. Just deny the entire field of frigging ethics. Let’s just pretend there haven’t been people pondering about how we should live our lives for the past few thousand years and doing so using reason, as opposed to making it all up and forcing people by threat of torture or a fictional eternal netherworld.

    Science tells us how, Philosophy tells us why, Religion tells us nothing.

  351. #351 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    JJ #350

    Guilty as charged. In my defense I was responding to someone who invoked the argument “that science is immoral because of the Nazis.”

    I suppose I could have done it without using a Nazi reference back, but honestly I just didn’t want to.

  352. #352 jj
    March 25, 2009

    @Ryk @352
    Ha, well I mean it is a law, so someone had to do it, eh?

  353. #353 Jadehawk
    March 25, 2009

    Jade
    I do assume that something of the community which produces X was important in the production of x. That doesn’t mean to enjoy Talmudic literature one must be Jewish, to enjoy fine art in France one must become a believer in monarchy. It does mean that there was some connection in both. In other words, this is not an apologetic for one to join a given religion, only a sense of relating to whatever is worthwhile in such things. Which means rejecting easy dismissals (or endorsements) of religion.

    and you still fail to understand that no-one is claiming religion is not worthy as a subject of study, or that the cultures spawned by it are 100% ugly. but as a living, society-permeating worldview it does more harm than good, and as such a progressive society should attempt to extricate itself from it. when you have a truly secular society, then it doesn’t even matter if you end up with many “spiritual” people, as long as this is an individualist matter rather than a “religion” which does its damage in the safety numbers, and by special pleading.

  354. #354 Josh
    March 25, 2009

    Josh @ 328 . . . Thank you for that. Thank you very much indeed.

    *blushes a little*

    You’re very welcome, Leigh. You too, KI.

    foxfire wrote:

    I don’t think science can define “beauty” as a measurable “thing” (for lack of a better word) that exists independent of human opinion.

    It certainly can’t right now. I don’t like to try and predict what science will or won’t be able to do in the future, but I’m inclined to agree with you.

  355. #355 Knockgoats
    March 25, 2009

    I would say that, no matter what the field of inquiry, mere logic and evidence will never satisfy humanity’s quest for meaning. – Scott Hatfield, OM

    How do you think you know that?

  356. #356 Paul Lundgren
    March 25, 2009

    Dr. Myers,

    If my memory serves, you did a piece a while back which included a commentary on how to refute the notion that science cannot test the existence of God. I’ve been unable to find that blog post. Could you perhaps re-post that item, or at least provide a link?

    Thank you.

  357. #357 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 25, 2009

    Notagod (#309) writes:

    A lot of people thought “W” had some magic going on. Obviously not!

    I don’t see the relevance of this comment.

    If you want me to believe there is magic, give a verifiable example, so we can look at it and find it if it is there.

    I don’t recall urging anyone to believe in anything in my previous post, so I don’t understand what prompted this reply, other than the fact that I am a notorious theist. But it’s a deeply-flawed question. Magic involves suspension or violation of the natural order. Science requires that propositions, in order to be testable, not involve suspensions/violations of that order. That is one of the axiomatic values of science, the cardinal rule of how the game of science is to be played. So the question really amounts to a bit of sophistry. What I would say, rather, is this: let’s push science as fas as we can push it, but let’s not get our panties in a bunch if it turns out that there are legitimate phenomena that are not amenable to scientific investigation. Admitting this is not a concession that the supernatural exists, by the way.

    E. O. Wilson says he is a deist, I’ve heard him talk about it. His thought was that a deity setup the original universe then went on to other things. I’ve also noticed that he likes to be poetic at times. If his level of religiosity was a maximum for woo belief there wouldn’t be a problem with religion. He also understands the problem with the practice of religion.

    Wilson describes himself as a ‘provisional deist’. This means he entertains the possibility of a certain type of deity (not necessarily the Christian God) existing. This is not the same thing as holding a proposition to be absolutely true without regard to the evidence. As for me, I am a theist and hold fairly conventional Christian beliefs, but I maintain that I hold many of them provisionally as well and am open to the possibility that I might need to modify or abandon my views. That is probably more common in the pews than a lot of people would admit.

  358. #358 AnthonyK
    March 25, 2009

    Sperry @259: thank you for your good-natured takedown of my no doubt ill-informed assertions.
    But…although I do agree with that these ancient philosophical voices do influence us and out society to an extent, I disagree that they are of great importance, certainly as “set texts” or something we must know about in detail. Each age tends to frame itself by reference to its philosophers, but history is less kind to regimes and tends to reject philosophical explanations for their actions.
    Incidentally, you might be interested in one of BBC radio’s true philosophy programmes – Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time (all episodes available worldwide, I think) – which routinely discusses a philosophical idea (say, the influence of the School of Athens) on history and modern life and thought.
    This, though fascinating, rarely encourages me to back to the original philosophers. For our purposes some of their ideas are now considered influential, but their overall contribution is close to zero.
    And as for George Boole, very influential guy – but who reads his original work? We use his results (often credited, in his case) because they are useful – and he was a mathematician which I would particularly exclude from a discussion of the usefulness of philosophy.
    Have I missed anything? Am I completely wrong? Please elucidate.
    Got you on Derrida, though ;o

    From almost any page of Pharyngula, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: “To a gas chamber ? go!

    Is this the single stupidest non-creotard remark I’ve read on Pharyngula?

  359. #359 Paul Lundgren
    March 25, 2009

    Dr. Myers,

    If my memory serves, you did a piece a while back which included a commentary on how to refute the notion that science cannot test the existence of God. I’ve been unable to find that blog post. Could you perhaps re-post that item, or at least provide a link?

    Thank you.

  360. #360 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Scott Hatfield, OM #358 wrote:

    As for me, I am a theist and hold fairly conventional Christian beliefs, but I maintain that I hold many of them provisionally as well and am open to the possibility that I might need to modify or abandon my views. That is probably more common in the pews than a lot of people would admit.

    Oh, I’m sure it’s common in the pews — but it’s not the process of faith. If you hold a view provisionally, and are willing and — more importantly — able to modify it given new evidence, then you’re approaching that view as if it’s not sacred.

    I’m not sure what, if anything, is supposed to persuade a person of faith to hold the rational evidence of the world above the evidence of the divine, so that they may resolve a conflict in favor of the world. It is very nice to have a God which tells His followers “behave like a humanist; I’ll back you up.” But, if you value faith as method, then faith in very different Gods can’t be criticized on the ground that they’re not behaving like humanists. What’s accepted on faith, is sacred.

  361. #361 qball
    March 25, 2009

    Josh @ 328

    “Does science tell us what is beautiful?”

    I don’t think you’ve really answered the question. The fact that your family members are capable of appreciating beauty without knowledge of science would suggest a ?no? answer.

    You suggest that you?re better able to appreciate beauty than your non-scientific family members, but this isn?t really an evidence-based assertion, is it? Who’s to establish the relative depths of appreciation for scientists, and those who fit their observations into some other, perhaps creationist, worldview.

    You don?t have to be a scientist to have some sort of “Celestine Prophecy”-style, transcendent ?religious experience? while observing nature. Worship of celestial bodies was common long before science provided an accurate understanding of their nature.

    Science may explain *why* we find things beautiful, and for some of us, it may enhance our appreciation of things, but I think it’s largely instinct that tells us *what* is beautiful.

  362. #362 Africangenesis
    March 25, 2009

    Nerd of Redhead#323,

    “John, religion has genocidal morals. Read your bible. Atheism starts with the golden rule, which many xians seem to have misplaced over the years.”

    Not all Christians are biblical literalists. Christ himself rejected legalism, and with it, many Christians believe he rejected the biblical claims that God ordered genocides.

    Starting with the golden rule would be assuming it, I assume you hope atheism somehow arrives at the golden rule, It has a certain appeal, as long as the “others” are relatively similar to one’s self. The problem is atheism doesn’t have any particular place to “start”. Even if a natural inate “morality” is discovered, there is no particular reason to be bound by it, unless those bounds are genetically inescapable, perhaps much as it is difficult to stop breathing voluntarily for very long. Senses of guilt and shame might be the closest we get to this, but even they seem be felt for culturally diverse reasons, and are hardly universal within societies.

    Of course, religion didn’t have anyplace to start either, unless one assumes that god’s preferences take precedence over one’s own. Some religions have more than one supernatural being, which begs the question, which beings standards are these beings to be judged by, which beings standards are the “right” right ones, or are their independent standards … based on what?

  363. #363 Jack Hdfk
    March 25, 2009

    the point is not (and never has been) whether or not religion has a place in this world (of course it doesn’t; it’s silly). the question you should all be asking is “who profits from this argument?” It isn’t me, it isn’t you, i doubt even PZ his holy self makes very much from it.

    the people that do profit from us all being distracted over the ‘big question’ are the people who always profit; why do you think the media are always so happy to hype it up? whether or not you believe in an invisible god is possibly the most irrelevant question one person can ask another. IT DOESN’T MATTER. I know, I know, it’s really annoying that they campaign for creation to be taught alongside evolution and banning abortion and forcing people onto ‘modesty’ and all the rest of it. but if you blow it up into this big battle you are merely make the irrelevant important. this is never a good idea.

    why not? well there’s the ‘dawkins’ position (that he never takes to its logical conclusion): you argue with ‘em; it just means they must have a point. they don’t. they never did. it’s all simply a case of divide and conquer. those in control of our society (oooh conspiracy! not really, just anyone with money to invest) are much happier if we fight it out over god than asking any real questions. like “why are there people starving in the countries we import our food from?” or “are you sure burning all that coal’s a good idea?” or “you want to give the money to who?”

  364. #364 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    Dwight circles around with,

    Notagod
    I think there are two issues. One is the role other disciplines outside of the natural sciences play in their respective areas of study, which are not generally studied by the natural sciences. Too is the presumption that there is more to the world than what we know.

    So you’ve taken your statement at #295:

    Notagod
    I’m not saying religion in this case is supernatural. I think it’s quite natural. But I was thinking that if one wanted to describe beauty, it’d be helpful to go to the field of aesthetics, if one wants to know something about culture, maybe anthropology or sociology. The point being is that the natural sciences are not all encompassing when it comes to disciplined inquiry.

    and removed all of the specific examples of your thoughts, while completely ignoring my response at #299. You are backing away from knowledge. Is it the knowing that you are afraid of? Are you afraid that knowledge won’t support a way to interject mysterious magic? If you view going backwards as a legitimate goal, I can say without reservation that I disagree with you completely.

    However, I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to point you to Josh’s beautiful explanation at #328. Thanks Josh!

  365. #365 Ryk
    March 25, 2009

    I think it is funny that people, often regardless of faith, view the “golden rule” as a triumph of morality. It is not.

    It is a nice Idea in general, but it is flawed in several ways.

    First, just to get the obvious out of the way, it only works if everyone practices it. Otherwise it is just a con game benefiting those who don’t.

    Second it arrogantly assumes that everyone wants to be treated the same as you do. Christians are fine with being lied to and manipulated, therefore the golden rule tells them to do this to others. Christians want to be educated using fantasy and superstition instead of reason so they do that to others. Christian women believe they should submit meekly to their husbands and be forced to bear children whether they want to or not, hence the pro-life movement.
    Masochists often like to be beaten with whips and electrocuted on the nipples, which is fine for them, but I hope they don’t think they should do so unto me. I have met guys, Christians in fact, who think it is OK to take advantage of a drunk girl because they would be happy if some girl did it to them.

    Third it is simpleminded. As a philosophical statement it is pretty obvious. It wouldn’t require a great mind, much less a deity, to come up with. It falls in the same category as “share your toys” or “don’t pull hair.” Even a savage wandering the desert two thousand years ago could have come up with it.

  366. #366 Glen Davidson
    March 25, 2009

    In a later follow-up post, Coyne argues that astrology fails because it doesn’t change even though its claims are falsified, and suggests that religion is in the same boat but gets a free pass. I responded, but either my comment was delayed, or it simply isn’t getting through. So I’m posting it here:

    It would not be hard to counter the analogy by a number of religions that in fact have modified their claims, at least vis-a-vis the “natural world.” So if a church does not claim that life was designed, or that lightning hits god’s intended targets, has it not indeed done better than the astrologist who makes the same claims regardless of the failed tests?

    And I believe that scientists would tend to tread lightly on religions that include astrology as, I believe, Hinduism does in some forms. Which doesn’t threaten the analogy, however, since astrology which is “religion” is treated differently.

    Nevertheless, organizations which attempt to persuade the public regarding science know that the public indeed considers religion to be in a “special category.” If they do believe it, then, practically, it is a social truth. One does not do well to simply ignore social truths.

    This is not, however, an endorsement of the criticisms made of the scientists who belt out the fact that scientific methods are superior both epistemologically and pragmatically than any religious “methods” have ever been. Harangue (or whatever) if you wish. Just don’t suppose that the NAS lacks good practical reasons to tread lightly around (or on) religion.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  367. #367 Knockgoats
    March 25, 2009

    Yep, Josh for a Molly!

    Dwight… can’t you wave your hands any faster? There are still occasional glimpses of content in some of your comments!

  368. #368 oldtree
    March 25, 2009

    Have you, or anyone you know, actually grown up and realized that there is no magic muffin after they have matured into their 20′s? If the poor kids don’t have an adult that can show them reality is different from the fantasy, then how do you help them think?

  369. #369 li3crmp
    March 25, 2009

    (Haven’t gotten through all the comments yet, just so you know)

    PZ (et al.), I *do* think that we can’t get ethics from science per se — Naturalistic Fallacy, is/ought, etc. — but that certainly doesn’t mean we must turn to religion as the only (or even the obvious) alternative source of normative values

    Why is religion the supposed spring for all things moral? Indeed, why isn’t the Euthyphro Dilemma just required reading whenever this kind of move is made?!

    Moreover, don’t we have a whole independent academic discipline that studies exactly how we might have ethics independent of religion?

    Why can’t we be Kantians (he’s not, as some believe, necessarily tied to any kind of religious view)? Utilitarians? Virtue Ethicists of some kind? An Ethics of Care?

    And stripped of their mere moralizing, what’s left to a religion anyway? Just bizarre metaphysics and, at best, sometime entertaining stories (usually) from the ancient world.

  370. #370 Notagod
    March 25, 2009

    I know, I know, it’s really annoying that they campaign for creation to be taught alongside evolution and banning abortion and forcing people onto ‘modesty’ and all the rest of it. but if you blow it up into this big battle you are merely make the irrelevant important. this is never a good idea.

    Your approach of doing nothing fails. That is what got us to where we are today. The christians have a goal, the “return” of their jeebus. They have a general time; when war and destruction is prevalent. War and destruction gladdens the christian because that means the time is soon. I’m not willing to stand by and let them accomplish their goal. When you do nothing the christian interprets that to mean you are in agreement or at least you won’t stand in its way. It isn’t “blow it up into this big battle”, it is standing in the way of the christian’s intended destructive goal. The christian war on science is only one part of their overall plan, they wouldn’t even be waging it if science wasn’t revealing the falsity of their claims. Christians don’t care what they are forcing others to do, forcing IS their objective.

    Bottom line is this, if you do nothing, christians will inject their destructive ways upon you.

  371. #371 Robocop
    March 25, 2009

    “Oh, I’m sure it’s common in the pews — but it’s not the process of faith.”

    Be sure to let Augustine know. He was apparently misinformed. Augustine articulated the very view you claim as antithetical to faith around 1600 years ago.

    “If you hold a view provisionally, and are willing and — more importantly — able to modify it given new evidence, then you’re approaching that view as if it’s not sacred.”

    Nonsense. Holding a view provisionally simply recognizes that people aren’t infallible.

    “What’s accepted on faith, is sacred.”

    Faith (at least in the Christian context) isn’t intellectual assent to any particular proposition (a common atheist claim). Faith is placed in someone or something — in the Christian context case God as revealed in Jesus Christ. One can hold God as holy (in your term, “sacred”) without claiming that one’s interpretation of God or of what we should think or do is perfect.

  372. #372 DaveG
    March 25, 2009

    Dr. Myers,

    Lighten up just a little. People believe in things larger than themselves. Pick a reason for acting “right”: a) because it causes one to feel connected to (loved ones, other people, the world, a shared value) or b) because we act as our brain is programmed to, said programming defined by evolution and environmental pressures. We all have minds which create scenario (a), even though, to my knowledge, no neuroscientist can actually explain what a mind is, except as an example of an emergent system.

  373. #373 CJO
    March 25, 2009

    Faith (at least in the Christian context) isn’t intellectual assent to any particular proposition (a common atheist claim). Faith is placed in someone or something — in the Christian context case God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

    But wouldn’t that faith include assent to the proposition that such a figure as Jesus existed and was uniquely empowered to reveal God?

  374. #374 John Harshman
    March 25, 2009

    First, let me repair the quote, which was from fallible memory: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. If people were educated anymore, everyone would know that it comes from Theodosius Dobzhansky, who was (c) a devout Christian.

    This was intended as an answer to the idea that evolution is incompatible with religion, and more specifically that a religious person can’t be a real scientist, much less a great one. Now of course it’s also true that none of the great scientists who were religious made any use of their religion in their science. They presumably realized that religion is useless in asking questions about the universe.

    But if religion per se is incompatible with science, Dobzhansky doesn’t seem to have realized it. Come on, people, fracking Martin Gardner is a Christian. He has freely admitted it has nothing to do with rationality. Hate the sin, not the sinner.

  375. #375 p1gnone
    March 25, 2009

    While the worlds of science and that of religion are incompatible let the religious delude themselves to the contrary. It is better than their fighting science. In time the rationality of the world of science will erode its dike and flood the delusional plains of religion. So I say invite the religious into the modern world. They may do damage to us all for the time being, but in the long run they have no prayer.

  376. #376 John Phillips, FCD
    March 25, 2009

    Damn you Josh, first AJ Milne and now you. You two are making it difficult come the next Molly.

  377. #377 Anton Mates
    March 25, 2009

    Come on, people, fracking Martin Gardner is a Christian.

    No, he’s not. He is, however, a fideist who’s somewhere between theism and deism. (He calls himself a theist, I believe, but his God doesn’t seem to dabble in the natural world.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Gardner#Religious_and_philosophical_interests

  378. #378 Guy Incognito
    March 25, 2009

    Just like a snowball is compatible with summer if you hide it in your freezer…

  379. #379 John Harshman
    March 25, 2009

    Anton Mates

    Come on, people, fracking Martin Gardner is a Christian.

    No, he’s not. He is, however, a fideist who’s somewhere between theism and deism. (He calls himself a theist, I believe, but his God doesn’t seem to dabble in the natural world.)

    I take back the word. However, any theist is good enough for my purposes. To avoid incompatibility, it isn’t even necessary that God doesn’t meddle in the world, only that he doesn’t meddle in anything relevant to the science you’re looking at. Dobzhansky could be a Christian and an evolutionary biologist as long as God doesn’t mess with genomes. At least not in any way distinguishable from natural processes.

  380. #380 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 25, 2009

    Damn you Josh, first AJ Milne and now you. You two are making it difficult come the next Molly.

    Make it easy on yourself. Nominate both of them.

  381. #381 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Robocop #372 wrote:

    “Oh, I’m sure it’s common in the pews — but it’s not the process of faith.”
    Be sure to let Augustine know. He was apparently misinformed. Augustine articulated the very view you claim as antithetical to faith around 1600 years ago.

    I didn’t say that one could not use both reason and faith. I pointed out that they were different methods.

    “If you hold a view provisionally, and are willing and — more importantly — able to modify it given new evidence, then you’re approaching that view as if it’s not sacred.”

    Nonsense. Holding a view provisionally simply recognizes that people aren’t infallible.

    It also recognizes the difference between a belief that might be mistaken, and something that one one ought to have complete “trust in.”

    Faith (at least in the Christian context) isn’t intellectual assent to any particular proposition (a common atheist claim). Faith is placed in someone or something — in the Christian context case God as revealed in Jesus Christ. One can hold God as holy (in your term, “sacred”) without claiming that one’s interpretation of God or of what we should think or do is perfect.

    I think there is a strong tendency for the religious to blur the distinction between propositions, and what the proposition is about — so that both become sacred. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” In order to have faith in God, once must first have faith that there is a God.

    If one’s belief that there is a God is held provisionally, then it ought to be possible for a believer to give some examples of things that would prove him mistaken, and cause him to change his mind, and become an atheist. But because “faith” slides between referring to trusting in God and trusting in the self, this is often not possible. The “commitment to God” is equivalent to a commitment to spindoctor all possible things that might occur as either consistent with the existence of God, indicative of the existence of God, or even more faith-affirming than that. Faith is not a conclusion that can be revised: it is something that is “lost,” or “found.”

    I think the equivocation between making the “leap of faith” required to believe there is a God, and making the “leap of faith” to trust that God knows what is best — gives too much power to the believer. Doubting the self, becomes the same as doubting God. They are now both equally infallible.

  382. #382 Robocop
    March 25, 2009

    “I didn’t say that one could not use both reason and faith. I pointed out that they were different methods.”

    In the Christian context, faith isn’t a method at all.

    “It also recognizes the difference between a belief that might be mistaken, and something that one one ought to have complete ‘trust in.’”

    Okay, but that still doesn’t guarantee that I’ll figure things out accurately.

    “In order to have faith in God, once must first have faith that there is a God.”

    So? In order for me to have faith in Obama and his presidency I have to believe that there is an Obama.

    “If one’s belief that there is a God is held provisionally, then it ought to be possible for a believer to give some examples of things that would prove him mistaken, and cause him to change his mind, and become an atheist.”

    I agree.

    “The ‘commitment to God’ is equivalent to a commitment to spindoctor all possible things that might occur….”

    I think it’s a good thing to reconsider matters based upon additional information.

    “Faith is not a conclusion that can be revised….”

    Of course it can. All Christians have more or less or different faith at any given time. Contemplative literature is full of it. Martin Luther King’s writing is particularly poignant in this area.

    “I think the equivocation between making the ‘leap of faith’ required to believe there is a God, and making the ‘leap of faith’ to trust that God knows what is best — gives too much power to the believer.”

    I like the idea of a God who respects us enough to allow to make up our own minds. I even believe it and have faith in that kind of God.

    “They are now both equally infallible.”

    I could never claim infallibility. I’m married.

  383. #383 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Robocop #383 wrote:

    “If one’s belief that there is a God is held provisionally, then it ought to be possible for a believer to give some examples of things that would prove him mistaken, and cause him to change his mind, and become an atheist.”

    I agree.

    What then would persuade you that you have been mistaken: God does not exist, and has never existed?

  384. #384 Facilis, SP
    March 25, 2009

    Vox Day totally pwned you guys with statistics.
    Occam’s chainsaw ftw!!!!

  385. #385 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 25, 2009

    Vox Day totally pwned you guys with statistics.
    Occam’s chainsaw ftw!!!!

    Yawn, like it means something from the liar and bullshitter Vox Day. Lies = not true.

  386. #386 Robocop
    March 25, 2009

    “What then would persuade you that you have been mistaken: God does not exist, and has never existed?”

    I would become an atheist if I were to become convinced that we don’t have volitional freedom (that determinism is true). For clarity I should note that I think naturalism requires determinism and that compatibilism is determinism in a nicer suit.

  387. #387 Alex Deam
    March 25, 2009

    Way back at post number 41:

    Reason tells us how to grow apples. Reason also tells us how to grow oranges. Reason does not dictate which I decider to grow in my back yard- my entirely non-logical preference for apples does.

    Well I’m going to take a wild guess here, and assume you’re thoughts and actions originated in your mind. You thought, “I’m gonna grow apples” (or oranges). Now why did you think that? Maybe to your thought processes, it seemed “non-logical” (the word you’re looking for is “illogical”), but of course, there’s this thing called “brain chemistry”. Your brain is essentially just a massive bunch of neurons and other cells and stuff, with chemicals and electrical impulses shooting off all over the place. Now wait a minute. Isn’t there some subject that studies chemicals and electrical impulses? Oh yeah: SCIENCE. We may not be able to study why it was you thought “I’m gonna grow apples” now, but potentially in the future we will be able to predict your decision. It’s a wonderful thing this reason thing.

    Now as this “Can morality be derived from science?” meme, I say sure it can. Let’s take one ethical question: “Is homosexuality immoral?” Now, a lot of Christians will say, “Yes, because the Bible says it’s a sin”. A scientist will say, “Research shows that people don’t have a choice over their sexuality. Also, other research shows that homosexuality and heterosexuality are both equally harmful; that is they don’t cause harm at all, either physically or mentally. Therefore, I conclude there is no reason to see homosexuality as any less moral than heterosexuality.” See how a scientist can look at the empirical evidence, and use it to imply a moral judgement, whereas a religious person can take a book and go, “Book says so, ha!”

    And just in case some troll asks why we shouldn’t get our morality from the Bible, just answer this question: “Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?” See the Euthyphro dilemma.

  388. #388 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Robocop #387 wrote:

    I would become an atheist if I were to become convinced that we don’t have volitional freedom (that determinism is true). For clarity I should note that I think naturalism requires determinism and that compatibilism is determinism in a nicer suit.

    How would you discover that — if it happens to be the case that either determinism or compatibilism is accurate?

  389. #389 Wowbagger, OM
    March 25, 2009

    Vox Day totally pwned you guys with statistics.

    Hmm, I guess we can add statistics to the topics in which facilis is ignorant. I also suspect he hasn’t actually read any of the posts since his last one or he might have realised how well the posters here have pointed out how ignorant both he and his wetdream are.

    You want to see pwned? Go here to read the reaming Orac gave your hero a couple of days ago:

  390. #390 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    Vox Day totally pwned you guys with statistics.
    Occam’s chainsaw ftw!!!!

    Take off your Jesus glasses…

  391. #391 John Morales
    March 25, 2009

    Facilis @385, once again: Here is the first of a number of posts addressing Chapter 14: TIA Tuesday: Occam?s Chainsaw in DD’s patient critique.

    Not that I’m surprised you ignored it the first time I posted that link.

  392. #392 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Of course facilis is impressed by Vox Day’s use of statistics, because Vox Day made several assumptions and tried to apply causation to correlation. But that would impress someone as feeble-minded as facilis, after all he bought into Ben Stein’s bullshit.

  393. #393 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    I’m still waiting for facilis to come back and finish the arguments he started in the most recent thread about Richard Dawkins and Oklahoma. Shit, even when this kid is demonstrated to be wrong he won’t ever admit it. He’s the epitome of stubbornness, and when that’s combined with the presupposition that God exists – any argument he’ll resonate to is sure to be full of fail. For fucks sake, he was willing to throw out 150 years of empirical research on a scientific theory because the religious were ‘persecuted’ according to Ben Stein and the Dishonesty Institute.

  394. #394 Robocop
    March 25, 2009

    “How would you discover that — if it happens to be the case that either determinism or compatibilism is accurate?”

    The same way I try to discover anything else — careful reflection, observation and study.

  395. #395 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Robocop #395 wrote:

    The same way I try to discover anything else — careful reflection, observation and study.

    What would be an example (or several examples) of something that would make you reassess your beliefs re ‘volitional freedom’ vs. determinism/compatibilism?

  396. #396 Owlmirror
    March 25, 2009

    “I didn’t say that one could not use both reason and faith. I pointed out that they were different methods.”

    In the Christian context, faith isn’t a method at all.

    Hm. It may be an emotion, perhaps. But doesn’t “faith” also imply using that emotion to evaluate doctrinal statements, or compatibility with doctrine — and is therefore a method?

  397. #397 Facilis, SP
    March 25, 2009

    @John Morales
    I have read some of the posts on Vox Day and I found their arguments to be lacking in substance

  398. #398 Owlmirror
    March 25, 2009

    Occam’s chainsaw ftw!!!!

    Facilis, do you agree with Vox Day’s theology? Going by Deacon Duncan’s review (as pointed to by John Morales above), VD appears to have resolved the problem of evil by changing the claims made about God’s character.

    VD’s God is not all-knowing, not all-powerful, and not benevolent.

    Is this in anyway compatible with your conception of God as the ground of all knowledge?

  399. #399 Anton Mates
    March 25, 2009

    Robocop #387 wrote:

    For clarity I should note that I think naturalism requires determinism

    But many philosophical naturalists hold that the world is not deterministic; they take a cue from, e.g., quantum mechanics.

  400. #400 Stanton
    March 25, 2009

    There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Of course facilis is impressed by Vox Day’s use of statistics, because Vox Day made several assumptions and tried to apply causation to correlation. But that would impress someone as feeble-minded as facilis, after all he bought into Ben Stein’s bullshit.

    The fact alone that Facilis believes Ben Stein’s bullshit in “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” suggests that a mung bean sprout, or a larval sand dollar has greater mental capacity than him. I mean, if Facilis had a functioning brain, he’d notice that a) “Big Science” (sic) has never persecuted the Intelligent Design movement, b) Intelligent Design proponents have done nothing, nor do they have any intention of doing anything scientific to begin with, c) Hitler’s AntiSemitic motives were plagiarized from Martin Luther’s Of The Jews And Their Lies and The Protocols of The Elders of Zion, and d) Stalin’s motives were purely political, in that he had all those people killed because they were either not Communist enough for his tastes, or were his political rivals and or their family and associates.

    But, the fact that Facilis brags about looking up to Vox Day, well, that’s like bragging, “I put chewing tobacco in my morning oatmeal!” I mean, who in their right mind looks up to someone like Vox Day, a person who heartily claims that he would gladly become a serial murderer of children if he thought God wanted him to become one?

  401. #401 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    I don’t think facilis likes Vox Day, he just likes the idea that someone is standing up to the Big Bad New Atheists. It didn’t matter that Vox established no causation (going by country – WTF?) it mattered that Vox had the balls to post it.

  402. #402 Stanton
    March 25, 2009

    I don’t think facilis likes Vox Day, he just likes the idea that someone is standing up to the Big Bad New Atheists. It didn’t matter that Vox established no causation (going by country – WTF?) it mattered that Vox had the balls to post it.

    I suppose it does take balls to stand up to the “Big Bad New Atheists.”

    Then again, it also takes balls to say that he’d gladly become a serial killer if God wanted him to, also.

  403. #403 Raging Philosopher
    March 25, 2009

    Moreover, don’t we have a whole independent academic discipline that studies exactly how we might have ethics independent of religion?

    Exactly. Biologists have it much better than philosophers. At least creationists try and criticize Darwin. But more than two millenia of secular ethical theorizing, Aristotle to Kant to Mill, is just outright blanked and ignored.

    The whole NOMA thing is engaged in this denialism as well. That “reason” business apparently only applies to facts about the natural world. All the extra stuff from how to live to whether or not there’s a man in the sky is matter of belief, you can think what you want. No. That extra stuff is tackled by philosophy and the resounding response from that disciple is this: religion gives us no answers.

  404. #404 Kel
    March 25, 2009

    Then again, it also takes balls to say that he’d gladly become a serial killer if God wanted him to, also.

    It’s the oddest solution to the Euthyphro dilemma I’ve ever heard. Though sadly it is more coherent than facilis’ attempt.

  405. #405 Alex Deam
    March 25, 2009

    But many philosophical naturalists hold that the world is not deterministic; they take a cue from, e.g., quantum mechanics.

    Quantum mechanics and determinism are perfectly compatible. See Bell’s theorem. According to that, either the principle of locality goes (so we get “spooky action at a distance”) or determinism goes (or both lol!). Wikipedia says there are some theoretical problems with this theorem (according to some physicists) but it seems the majority accept Bell’s theorem to be true. Still, we can always hope that it’s false (certainly the world makes a lot more sense that way), so that something like a hidden variable theory or the Penrose interpretation is correct. I know I do.

  406. #406 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Sastra
    Exactly. I think there’s good reason to engage religious ideas, traditions apart, whether one would say God exists or not.

    Notagod
    Never said I believed in magic. Just saying that there is more to the world than what we know. That I take it as a presumption of the sciences? Otherwise why engage in anymore study if that’s the case.

    Josh
    I can see how science heightens appreciation of beauty in nature. It doesn’t suggest the natural sciences are exhaustive of all claims, even the question of what beauty is.

  407. #407 Josh
    March 25, 2009

    I can see how science heightens appreciation of beauty in nature. It doesn’t suggest the natural sciences are exhaustive of all claims,

    Nothing in science is exhaustive.

    even the question of what beauty is.

    Yeah. I would think that the language I used made it clear that defining beauty was something I was having trouble with. I’m not convinced that religion is going to show us that definition before science does, though.

  408. #408 Wowbagger, OM
    March 25, 2009

    I’m not convinced that religion is going to show us that definition before science does, though.

    Isn’t what we think of as beauty always changing? For example, look at what is has been considered human beauty over the years (as represented by art and, in today’s society, the media)?

    But religion, on the other hand, doesn’t change. It cannot; at its core is the concept that it as already correct about everything – unless, of course, your deity of choice decides to start communicating again; as far as I know, though, that isn’t true of any contemporary religion.

    So how can something static possibly be relied upon to inform or guide us regarding something that is constantly changing?

  409. #409 Dwight
    March 25, 2009

    Wowbagger
    Well there is the God is still speaking campaign of the United Church of Christ. And the LDS still has a president who receives messages from God presumably. But whether a religion is supposed to change or not, they all have and continue to do so. In liberal forms of religion this may be more of an explicit self conscious form, but even in conservative forms, changes happen over time.

  410. #410 Robocop
    March 25, 2009

    “What would be an example (or several examples) of something that would make you reassess your beliefs re ‘volitional freedom’ vs. determinism/compatibilism?”

    Reality tends to be stranger than we could ever imagine, so who knows what science will discover? I once thought Libet would change my mind, but I came to believe that the delay he saw is consistent with free will, common experience and Christianity. Volition isn’t so much the ability to “create” a behavior, but rather the ability to to check and override our “natural instincts” and ultimately to alter our instincts.

  411. #411 John Phillips, FCD
    March 25, 2009

    Dwight, but that change, especially in the more conservative cults, tends to happen in spite of rather than because they choose to. I.e. the zeitgeist forces then to change, often dragging them kicking and screaming to a bit nearer the present day, if they want to remain even remotely relevant. In the more organised cults their theologians will then try to rationalise that change with some hand waving and gobbledygook to try and make it appear that their cult hasn’t really changed only our understanding of what they were babbling about all along. E.g. the pope’s seeming acceptance of evolution but trying to keep itself relevance, and in control, by claiming the soul for the church.

  412. #412 Wowbagger, OM
    March 25, 2009

    In liberal forms of religion this may be more of an explicit self conscious form, but even in conservative forms, changes happen over time.

    Which is a concept I could be okay with if there were some means of establishing whether those changes were right or wrong.

    Just look at the issue of different denominations’ attitudes to homosexuality. Some are fine with it, even going as far as ordaining gay clergy. But others don’t, and condemn those who do – and this has even caused schisms within denominations.

    How does a person of faith who belongs to a denomination split on this issue supposed to know which side to be on?

    My issue with the idea of determining the will of the gods is that, if any of them exist and are concerned about what we do, why aren’t they communicating with us?.

    Considering we’re in far more need of guidance (in my opinion at least) in today’s society than the people of the Old Testament, it strikes me as odd that we aren’t hearing from those who – if you believe the literature – may determine our fates both in this life and for all eternity.

  413. #413 windy
    March 25, 2009

    John Harshman @375 and @380

    (Hi John, how’s t.o. been keeping you?)

    First, let me repair the quote, which was from fallible memory: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. If people were educated anymore, everyone would know that it comes from Theodosius Dobzhansky, who was (c) a devout Christian.

    I’m pretty sure many people here knew the answer. But we’ve also discussed the existence of religious biologists and the implications for science-religion conflict about a zillion times already, so your little quiz was not effective discussion bait.

    I take back the word. However, any theist is good enough for my purposes. To avoid incompatibility, it isn’t even necessary that God doesn’t meddle in the world, only that he doesn’t meddle in anything relevant to the science you’re looking at. Dobzhansky could be a Christian and an evolutionary biologist as long as God doesn’t mess with genomes. At least not in any way distinguishable from natural processes.

    So a single example is enough? Kurt Wise’s work in paleontology was good enough to satisfy SJ Gould. Even if Wise is skeptical of evolution, he apparently was able to produce scientific results without inserting his beliefs in the problem. Does that mean that YEC is compatible with paleontology?

  414. #414 Sastra
    March 25, 2009

    Robocop #411 wrote:

    Reality tends to be stranger than we could ever imagine, so who knows what science will discover? I once thought Libet would change my mind, but I came to believe that the delay he saw is consistent with free will, common experience and Christianity. Volition isn’t so much the ability to “create” a behavior, but rather the ability to to check and override our “natural instincts” and ultimately to alter our instincts.

    I’m still having problems figuring out what sort of scientific discovery would not be consistent with free will. Earlier, you agreed that,

    “If one’s belief that there is a God is held provisionally, then it ought to be possible for a believer to give some examples of things that would prove him mistaken, and cause him to change his mind, and become an atheist.”

    I don’t think it helps much to say that you “would become an atheist if (you) were to become convinced that we don’t have volitional freedom (that determinism is true)” if your belief in ‘volitional determinism’ itself turns out to be pretty much unfalsifiable. There are alternate theories which explain the same data.

    My original argument was that applying ‘faith’ gave too much power to the believer, in that it puts them into a situation where they either can’t be wrong — or could never find out they were wrong, even if they were. You disagreed, and argued that having faith in something doesn’t mean you can’t correct your mistakes.

    Assume you’re incorrect about God existing. How do you correct? Specify something.

  415. #415 windy
    March 25, 2009

    I would become an atheist if I were to become convinced that we don’t have volitional freedom (that determinism is true).

    In that case, would you become an atheist volitionally?

  416. #416 JRQ
    March 26, 2009

    Oh, goody…Vox Day shows up again to wallow in his own ridiculousness.

    All heed John Morales @392: If you haven’t seen Deacon Duncan’s massive multi-part takedown of Vox Day’s “The Irrational Atheist” at Evangelical Realism, you need to check it out.

  417. #417 Robocop
    March 26, 2009

    “I’m still having problems figuring out what sort of scientific discovery would not be consistent with free will.”

    I thought my example made that clear. If research discloses that unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiators of acts we think are volitional, I’ll become a determinist and an atheist.

  418. #418 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 26, 2009

    Sastra (# ) wrote:

    But, if you value faith as method, then faith in very different Gods can’t be criticized on the ground that they’re not behaving like humanists. What’s accepted on faith, is sacred.

    I find myself wanting to nod in agreement, even though I suspect you are gently chiding me for upbraiding creationists, who (after all) are accepted on faith. It gives me pause, sure. Is it hypocritical to me to maintain this or that belief on faith, and yet give the creos a hard time for their beliefs?

    Not really. Because what matters is not that people hold beliefs that I don’t share, but that some of them are all-too-willing to impose their beliefs inappropriately. I don’t bring my faith into the science classroom, neither should anyone else. I can respect the right of persons to hold beliefs that I don’t share, but that doesn’t mean that I have to go along with attempts to privilege those beliefs.

  419. #419 John Morales
    March 26, 2009

    I can respect the right of persons to hold beliefs that I don’t share, but that doesn’t mean that I have to go along with attempts to privilege those beliefs.

    I don’t see how you can avoid it.
    For example, in that quote, are you not advocating* your belief that others’ beliefs should be respected and not privileged? ;)

    * privileging

  420. #420 Leigh Williams
    March 26, 2009

    Oldtree asks: “Have you, or anyone you know, actually grown up and realized that there is no magic muffin after they have matured into their 20′s? If the poor kids don’t have an adult that can show them reality is different from the fantasy, then how do you help them think?”

    Well, I realized it when I was 13. My son was 14 when he made the leap to atheism. So I’d say it’s very easy to get there from here without adult help. Admittedly, my son has had the example of how I approach the issue; but oddly enough, at this point in my life I’m a devout Christian, so perhaps that example is a little muddled.

    He does know, however, that I did the unthinkable and actually read the Bible when I was thirteen. I was intolerably bored in church, and my choice of reading materials was slim. Since no cereal box was at hand, and I had got through the hymnal quite smartly in two or three Sundays, that left me with the Bible.

    And what a horrifying literary journey it was, to be sure. Since this happened to be a Southern Baptist church, I had been told that one must accept the Bible as the literal word of God, cover to cover. And so in the old Testament I saw various genocides, rapes, and interminable geneaologies leading up to vapid accounts of the doings of kings, interlarded with patently ridiculous miracles. Worse still, I saw God behaving as a complete horse’s ass, or a thug, or a spoiled and spiteful bully.

    Turning to the New Testament, I read several mutually contradictory accounts of the life of Jesus, followed by some blatantly anti-feminist posturing by Paul, and finally fetched up against the sheer lunacy of the Revelation of John.

    I also found myself on the horns of an ethical dilemma: if Hell exists, and you must “profess Christ” to enter it, what of all the millions of people who have died without ever hearing that name? Surely it couldn’t be fair to stick them all in hell. And for that matter, what kind of malignant deity would consign decent people who happened to be born in India, say, to eternal flames?

    I finally decided that if God was as described, the only ethical choice is choose hell rather than worship him. But on balance, I knew that it was far more likely people had just made him up in their own likeness.

    I’m no genius, and while I was somewhat precocious, I imagine any number of kids travel that same road. I do remember wishing desperately that I could believe in life after death when my mother died young.

    I think it’s a good idea for atheists to be out and proud, because surely there is value in having positive role models in the world. But I knew no adult atheists when I was 13, and that didn’t stop me from announcing that I had become superstition-free.

  421. #421 John Morales
    March 26, 2009

    Leigh,

    …oddly enough, at this point in my life I’m a devout Christian…

    And if you hadn’t stated it, I’d never have guessed from your posts.

    I’d write more, but don’t want to embarass you with my praise :)

  422. #422 Leigh Williams
    March 26, 2009

    Thank you, John. I think I may be an odd kind of Christian. I can swear that I’ve always been an odd kind of person, if that helps any. At some point I’ll elaborate, if anyone asks me. I don’t “do” theology arguments much, being of the belief that religion is better if private, and that my actions should speak for me.

    But there are a surprising number like me. Like atheists, we’re not very well-organized, which means our voice isn’t heard much in the national press. We need a Richard Dawkins-style point man . . . or a PZ Meyers. Alas, I fear that even with that kind of star power we wouldn’t get noticed much. We make nicey-nice, and we’re rather bland — no fire and brimstone. We just can’t bring on the crazy soundbites the way Robertson, Falwell, etc., can.

    We reserve our passion for good works, social justice, equal rights, and science. (Or the environment, assistance for the homeless, reformation of the drug laws, reform in the criminal courts, or any of a large number of worthy causes.)

    Some people call us Red Letter Christians. We’re not all as liberal as I am, and some are even social conservatives. But I’d say the majority leans left.

  423. #423 tomh
    March 26, 2009

    @#230 Robocop wrote: If you really deny the existence of spirituality (as opposed to, say, its alleged benefits), you’re obviously either delusional or intentionally ignorant.

    What an odd thing to say. Some of the first definitions of spirituality are,
    “of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature”
    “not tangible or material”
    “incorporeal”

    You claim that someone who denies the existence of incorporeal things, nonmaterial things, is delusional? Sounds to me like you have it exactly backwards.

  424. #424 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 26, 2009

    I don’t see how you can avoid it. For example, in that quote, are you not advocating* your belief that others’ beliefs should be respected and not privileged? ;)

    I’m genuinely tickled by all meta-arguments of this nature. I am, of course, effectively advocating a point of view. But I’m not attempting to privilege an understanding taken on faith over every other point of view, much less impel its acceptance within science, as some creationists do. It’s just the nature of the scientific enterprise, I think, to resist those kinds of moves.

  425. #426 Josh
    March 26, 2009

    Isn’t what we think of as beauty always changing? For example, look at what is has been considered human beauty over the years (as represented by art and, in today’s society, the media)?

    That is an excellent point.

  426. #427 ConcernedJoe
    March 26, 2009

    I have a punchline here.. if you can bear with me:

    I am an atheist – 100% card carrying.

    And I think organized religion of whatever brand is essentially a tribal construct; a construct born in more primitive times.

    I firmly think this construct (hierarchically authoritarian and protectionist oriented) ultimately breeds inter-tribe conflicts of epic proportions, and needless and wasteful less epic power struggles in and outside the tribe.

    Even its more benign instantiations ultimately, if they become big enough or officially entrenched enough, breed a counterproductive adherence to unsupported dogma of some sort and the status quo and thus stifle beneficial progress for broader society.

    But again, it is a construct born of the need to organize for conflict, for war, and of a model for governance that follows a “kingly power ruling via fear and intimidation” template.

    This construct easily exploits human fear of differences (e.g., non-clan members with different traits), and the unknown and the human need to seek explanations of it and protections from it.

    It couples that with the inner child in most humans that wants to remain wrapped in parental love and protection of some sort. It is a very successful construct (survival of it as construct meaning “success”) because it plays to the primitive nature in us all.

    Now to my point: people like Ken Miller, and many other modern educated people, have surmounted their primitive warlike natures and yet remains in them an inner child. They themselves are good and they cast the construct of religion in their image (although it core image is more hideous). They see the beauty and comfort in it (because there always is some) and cannot see themselves in the context of other less worthy aspects. Their subconscious says” “hey feed that inner child – no harm – no foul – and it feels good.” They see no harm. Their brand of religion is idealistic. Their god belief warmly benign.

    I have no problem at all with being comforted myself and will not deny others that. My inner child needs no god or organized religion but I can see why others might still.

    And there will always be inner children in us.. and we will always want to protect them against those that attack our protection and feeding of them.

    Although we must join the battle when zealots institutionally threaten freedom and progress, separation should be our goal – not elimination.

    But there is validity in thinking all forms pose a danger because even benign instantiations support the more malignant ones in some way.

    I seriously wrestle with my “whatever floats your boat” and “not necessarily gentlemanly to insult others for their feelings” philosophy with my recognition that the construct is and can be very dangerous to mankind and should not be coddled in any way.

    Dawkins on the lecture circuit has license that we in one-on-one relationships don’t. My tongue has many bites.

  427. #428 Sastra
    March 26, 2009

    Robocop #418 wrote:

    If research discloses that unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiators of acts we think are volitional, I’ll become a determinist and an atheist.

    Would you say that this discovery would basically be the same as confirming mind/brain dependency — that brain activity causes mind? That would mean, I think, that the God hypothesis is being tested in the field of neurology.

  428. #429 Sastra
    March 26, 2009

    Scot Hatfield, OM #419 wrote:

    Is it hypocritical to me to maintain this or that belief on faith, and yet give the creos a hard time for their beliefs?
    Not really. Because what matters is not that people hold beliefs that I don’t share, but that some of them are all-too-willing to impose their beliefs inappropriately.

    The problem I have with this is that faith doesn’t have to play by the same rules as reason — and it’s considered superior to reason. If someone makes a “leap of faith” and accepts some sort of supernatural revelation or relationship, this is not supposed to be a minor little addition to an otherwise natural understanding of reality. It is their understanding of reality, and it should inform and motivate their entire life. That’s because it’s NOT about their life anymore. It’s not a private truth, or a matter of personal belief. It’s Truth itself — and everything else is below it. Nothing else counts as much, because, without it, nothing counts.

    If a person recognizes the fundamental meaning structured into the universe then this wisdom will guide behavior so that it meets its purpose — and the more certain you are of this, the more “humble” you become, for you are bowing to the strength of a Higher Power.

    I think that coupling of certainty and humility is dangerous. It makes it impossible to draw a line on what is, and is not, appropriate, because drawing such lines according to what the world thinks is trumped by an understanding of that Big Picture that only insiders can know.

    I would say that both you and Leigh Williams are probably religious humanists. A religious humanist believes that, in the long run, what people believe or don’t believe about God isn’t as important as how they treat each other, and how they live in this world — and God believes that, too. If they ‘lost their faith’ and no longer believed in God, there is little in their life they would change. They would still love the things they love now, still care about the things they care about now, and life would still have meaning for them.

    Religious humanists hold their faith very lightly, indeed — though it may not appear that way. They may live their entire lives as expressions of God’s love, dedicated to their faith. But when push comes to shove and it gets right down to it, they care more about the love part, than the God part.

    Technically speaking, God is supposed to come first, and be inseparable from meaning.

  429. #430 Tulse
    March 26, 2009

    If research discloses that unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiators of acts we think are volitional, I’ll become a determinist and an atheist.

    So God causes your mind, or at least your free will? How does that work?

  430. #431 John Harshman
    March 26, 2009

    [Windy]

    (Hi John, how’s t.o. been keeping you?)

    Not all that well, which is why I’ve wandered off. Where are all the interesting creationists?

    “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” — Dobzhansky

    I’m pretty sure many people here knew the answer. But we’ve also discussed the existence of religious biologists and the implications for science-religion conflict about a zillion times already, so your little quiz was not effective discussion bait.

    At least some of them apparently didn’t, though the main responder appears to have been a crank of some kind. Having just wandered in, I wouldn’t know this has been done to death. Can you summarize the devastating arguments?

    So a single example is enough? Kurt Wise’s work in paleontology was good enough to satisfy SJ Gould. Even if Wise is skeptical of evolution, he apparently was able to produce scientific results without inserting his beliefs in the problem. Does that mean that YEC is compatible with paleontology?

    No, as Wise’s subsequent career clearly shows. But Dobzhansky and several thousand others do seem to be good examples. You can indeed produce many examples in which religion derailed science, e.g. Teilhard. So clearly not all religion is compatible with science. But empirically, some religion appears to be, else how to explain Dobzhansky and others. Other cases seem ambiguous. Conway Morris and Ayala do excellent scientific work, but you can find instances where their religions arguably have colored their conclusions. What this shows is that there is a complex relationship between religion and science. Depending on both the religion and the science, there may or may not be conflict.

    I will also note that this phenomenon isn’t limited to religion. There are many beliefs that can conflict with science, and even great scientists aren’t immune to them. From personal experience I know that the Nobelist Roger Sperry believed that life violated the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and from this he constructed an elaborate theory of meaning. As far as I know, it never affected his actual work.

  431. #432 Campbell
    March 26, 2009

    Screw it – I say we start denying access to the fruits of science to those who don’t believe in it. All those people who deny science while reaping the benefits of it! I say we let them live in the world they want to have.

    Think Mohammed is going to clothe you? Whatever you like man, but I’m not gonna let you use a synthetic, PRODUCT OF SCIENCE fabric for it. Think jesus will cook your food? Fine, but you’re not gonna use a PRODUCT OF SCIENCE stove for it. Is Thor going to get you to work on time? He’d better, because you can’t use a PRODUCT OF SCIENCE automobile. Think Amun Ra will keep you warm? Oh wait, he’s a sun god, he’s good at that. Ah well, no sunscreen anyways. :)

    Maybe if we force all the religious nuts to be Amish, they’ll understand what’s so great about the power of the mind over the real world.

  432. #433 Leigh Williams
    March 26, 2009

    Sastra, you are right: I identify as a Christian humanist. Can’t speak for Scott, though.

    “The problem I have with this is that faith doesn’t have to play by the same rules as reason — and it’s considered superior to reason.”

    By whom? Certainly not by me. I do agree that this point of view seems to be held by the majority of people. I also agree that it’s pernicious. Evidence-based reasoning is by far the superior modus operandi.

    And yes, I do have evidences that support my faith (or I wouldn’t hold it), but they are deeply personal and idiosyncratic to me. It’s always possible that my experiences are purely neurological in origin, or else the product of wishful thinking. Obviously after careful examination I’ve decided against that. But why should you care? It’s not as if my faith . . . and by this I mean my personal faith, not Christianity as a religion . . . impinges in the slightest on your life. But remember, I hold that faith and/or religious beliefs should be purely private.

    “Technically speaking, God is supposed to come first, and be inseparable from meaning.”

    Again, by whose reckoning? I didn’t agree to be bound by these rules of engagement, especially if by “God” you imply Yahweh.

    “Religious humanists hold their faith very lightly, indeed — though it may not appear that way.”

    How can you possibly know this? In my case, rather the opposite is true: it may appear that I hold my faith lightly, but it informs my life more deeply than you can see.

    But perhaps by this you mean merely that I don’t seem to be a raving lunatic, therefore I can’t hold a deep and abiding faith; QED. If so, then thank you. I try hard not to be barking mad in public.

    This brings me to another point. Why should I agree to be held accountable for what other Christians do? I don’t give money to any organized church; my money goes to Planned Parenthood, Habitat for Humanity, the Democratic Party, and various other liberal causes. I’m not a Christian apologist; on the contrary, I’m at least as critical of religion as any of you. I write letters to the editor and engage in online debate, where my position is identical to yours from everything I can see. In my real-world life, I engage other Christians from the liberal point of view, sometimes at considerable personal cost.

    What else can I reasonably be expected to do to further the cause of rationality? If I were still an atheist, what would I be doing that would be any different from what I do now?

    In fact, I think I can make the case that I am somewhat MORE effective from my current position within the castle walls, so to speak.

  433. #434 Knockgoats
    March 26, 2009

    Volition isn’t so much the ability to “create” a behavior, but rather the ability to to check and override our “natural instincts” and ultimately to alter our instincts. – Robocop

    Volition in that sense is completely compatible with determinism (or with our decisions depending on random events) – as argued in Dennett’s Freedom Evolves. It’s not clear that any plausible experiment in neuropsychology could oblige anyone to abandon their belief in free will (you are right about Libet), since this is rooted in our everyday experience of our own and others’ behaviour. Nor does belief in this kind of volition have any necessary connection with theism or atheism: you will find examples of all four possible combinations of theism/atheism and belief/disbelief in free-will on this very thread.

  434. #435 Leigh Williams
    March 26, 2009

    Whoa, massive spelling FAIL in my last several posts. I’m doing too many drugs.

    No, seriously, I am. And not the fun stuff, either. Just Ambien at night, Lyrica by day. I can feel myself growing stupider, like poor Cliff Robertson in that movie they made from “Flowers for Algernon”.

    Sorry, PZ. I KNOW it’s Myers. Or Meiers. Or something other than what I typed upthread that I can’t recall at the moment.

  435. #436 Guy Incognito
    March 26, 2009

    @434:

    I’m not a Christian apologist; on the contrary, I’m at least as critical of religion as any of you.

    But why are you critical of religion? How is the “personal and idiosyncratic” evidence for your beliefs stronger than the personal, idiosyncratic evidence “bad” Christians have for their beliefs? What right do you have to criticize them?

  436. #437 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 26, 2009

    Sastra’s characterization of a ‘religious humanist’ intrigues me, but I’m not sure it describes me. I find myself agreeing with much of Leigh’s response, though. The trend to privilege belief over evidence-based reasoning is pernicious, and it arises (as Sastra correctly points out) from that dangerous combination of ‘humility’ and certainty. But it should be clear that I don’t hold a lot of my views with that sort of impenetrable confidence.

    I would add that the notion that when push comes to shove, someone like me actually favors ‘love’ over ‘God’….meh, I’m not sure I agree with that. We seem to be multiplying abstractions. I suspect when push comes to shove, I tend to favor my own self-interest like everyone else does, but (like most people) I tend to recast that self-interest in other terms.

    In doing that, I’m guided by a faith in something other than survival mechanisms. As a Christian, I identify that something as God, and I believe that in some sense God is love, as the scriptures claim. I don’t have to choose ‘love’ over ‘God’, because in my world view they are easily conflated. But I have to admit to my godless acquaintances that you could receive a very different impression of God from other parts of Holy Writ, or from the (very bad) behavior of other believers.

    (shrugs shoulders)

  437. #438 Notagod
    March 26, 2009

    I suspect when push comes to shove, I tend to favor my own self-interest like everyone else does,

    This is a false assumption, most christians and indeed other god idea followers make. When they discover a fault in themselves they justify it by believing that “everyone else does” too.

    Scott Hatfield, OM, you should be able to prove to yourself that there are people that will act in the interest of others and not in a self-interested manner as do you.

  438. #439 Sastra
    March 26, 2009

    Leigh Williams #434 wrote:

    “The problem I have with this is that faith doesn’t have to play by the same rules as reason — and it’s considered superior to reason.”
    By whom? Certainly not by me. I do agree that this point of view seems to be held by the majority of people. I also agree that it’s pernicious. Evidence-based reasoning is by far the superior modus operandi.

    Ah, this is where the humanistic approach comes in — where faith is used only as a supplement to science and reason, cannot go against it, and is kept rigorously away from any area where the existence of object of faith would make a noticeable difference from its nonexistence. This means that one cannot believe in miracles, accept any literal interpretation of scriptures, or insert God as direct explanation for mind, or morals, or anything else that science and philosophy might touch upon more thoroughly. Religious humanists are often perfectly content to allow God to morph into somehow becoming science and philosophy, if need be.

    Or, maybe, if they do believe in the supernatural, they do so modestly, and with hesitation, fully acknowledging that they might very well be mistaken (and they’ll probably fight like hell against calling it ‘supernatural.’) As a humanist, they don’t think there is anything particularly noble or virtuous in making the leap of faith.

    That’s one of the significant differences, I think, between religious humanists, and liberal theists. At least, this is how I make a distinction. The liberal theist (like the religious humanist) will admit that atheists often have better arguments against the existence of God, than they have for the existence of God. But the reason, they say, which compels them to make the leap of faith is not reason, but love. Their heart reaches out for God, responds to God, or otherwise recognizes and partakes of the all-important cosmic lovefest which lies at the heart of reality.

    Unlike the atheist — who either can’t, or won’t.

    The religious humanist doesn’t play that game. They may agree that God is love, but they don’t agree that faith is love. They do not argue that nonbelievers — those who have no faith — are stifled or crippled or otherwise stunted. And they give enough credit to that which is worthwhile in the world, to make the world sufficient unto itself, whether God exists or not.

    Atheists just get to be mistaken on a particular point. We don’t get labeled as being those who have missed The Point because we don’t have the right kind of capacity for love. That’s one major reason I prefer humanists to the religious liberal. At least the fundamentalists complain that we’re only atheists “because you don’t want there to be a judgment and a Hell for the sinners!” That’s not the reason, but truth be told I’m fine with being accused of being the kind of person who doesn’t want there to be a Hell. I’m not so fine with being accused of being the kind of person who doesn’t want there to be a Higher Consciousness of Infinite Love — or else I’d make that leap, and believe.

    This brings me to another point. Why should I agree to be held accountable for what other Christians do?

    I think this point depends on how much you think faith is justified, and how much it justifies. Once we get into supernatural revelations, everyone is playing Calvinball. Even you. “God is not that way — God is this way!” Faith has no rules, and no way to check itself. Trying to argue that God is a humanist is a lost cause.

    What else can I reasonably be expected to do to further the cause of rationality?

    Approach the existence of God as a falsifiable hypothesis, formulate some predictions, develop some tests, and put it up for peer review. Plus, buy PZ a new car.

  439. #440 Leigh Williams
    March 26, 2009

    “But why are you critical of religion? How is the “personal and idiosyncratic” evidence for your beliefs stronger than the personal, idiosyncratic evidence “bad” Christians have for their beliefs? What right do you have to criticize them?”

    Why in hell wouldn’t I have the right to criticize them?

    I said I have personal, idiosyncratic reasons for my faith in God.

    I also said I’m a humanist, and that clearly means my ethical values are derived from my human experiences and from human history, just as yours are.

    Geez. Reading comprehension, people.

  440. #441 CJO
    March 26, 2009

    If research discloses that unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiators of acts we think are volitional, I’ll become a determinist and an atheist.

    I agree with Nick. It doesn’t follow.

    And further, it’s unlikely to be that simple. Current neuroscience has, in effect, already disclosed that this is the case. What we call “volitional acts” as well as all conscious processes are derived from the collective action of a great many simpler unconscious processes. But when you think about it, free will or no, how could it be otherwise? No conscious process could be simple enough not to depend on simpler, unconscious, processes. Unless you espouse some variety of substance dualism, that is, in which case neuroscience has definitely falsified your beliefs.

  441. #442 Sastra
    March 26, 2009

    Scot Hatfied, OM #438 wrote:

    I would add that the notion that when push comes to shove, someone like me actually favors ‘love’ over ‘God’….meh, I’m not sure I agree with that. We seem to be multiplying abstractions.

    I wasn’t being particularly clear, there.

    Here’s a hypothetical I’ve given to some theists, as illustration:

    Assume for the moment, that you are correct — God does exist. But, assume for the moment, that it turns out that you’ve been mistaken about how God is, what it is like, and what it considers to be Good. Oh, God is still the essence of Goodness Itself, and its Nature is identical to The Good — but when you recognize this standard in all its clarity, it seems that you’ve fallen short, and gotten it wrong. Humans do err.

    God considers one of the highest joys to be taking pleasure in the tortures of the damned, and exulting in the pain and suffering of one’s enemies. It is the very manifestation of His Love — love for vengeance.

    Okay now, 3 choices:

    1.) I would change my understanding if what is Good, to match God’s. He is the Creator, and the Ultimate standard and source of Goodness. I was wrong: God cannot be. I’m going to work hard to live up to my purpose of glorifying Him, and take a spectator seat at the brink of Hell.

    2.) Given that strained and very unlikely scenario (jeezus), I would keep my own understanding of what is Good, and call that God a monster. I’d reject God before I gave up a value so basic to me, and probably prefer to be among the damned.

    3.) Excuse me, but this is not answerable. What you describe is not The Nature of the Good, and therefore it is 100% impossible that God could be like that. Yes, there have been people (mostly in the past) who have endorsed that sort of behavior, but I know it’s wrong and evil, and thus ungodly. I cannot accept a logical contradiction, even as a hypothetical — and a God which goes against my god-given moral sense fits the bill.

    4.) Some other response, that isn’t agree with God, disagree with God, or refuse to play the game.

    Answers #2 and #3 would be examples of what I meant by “favoring love over God.” Answer #1 favors God over love. And answer #4 means you’ve got potential for a career in theology.

  442. #443 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 26, 2009

    Earlier, I wrote: “I suspect when push comes to shove, I tend to favor my own self-interest like everyone else does..”

    Notagod (#439) responded :

    This is a false assumption, most christians and indeed other god idea followers make. When they discover a fault in themselves they justify it by believing that “everyone else does” too.

    Scott Hatfield, OM, you should be able to prove to yourself that there are people that will act in the interest of others and not in a self-interested manner as do you.

    That would be a pretty fair statement, Notagod, except for the fact that you completely misread my intent. When I referenced ‘self-interest’, I wasn’t talking about ‘original sin’ or any other theological conception of human nature. I was referencing the fact that evolutionary theory provides a basis for understanding how individual organisms acting to maximize their fitness can lead to the evolution of kin selection and perhaps, eventually, altruism. In other words, I was specifically referencing a naturalistic account of ethics, not a theological one.

    So I’m afraid I have to give your post a massive *FAIL*.

    Cheers…SH

  443. #444 Guy Incognito
    March 26, 2009

    I said I have personal, idiosyncratic reasons for my faith in God.

    No, you said you have personal, idiosyncratic evidence for your faith. I imagine the “bad” Christians also have personal, idiosyncratic evidence for their faith. How do you claim the right to criticize other beliefs based on personal, idiosyncratic evidence, without being hypocritical? Is your personal, idiosyncratic evidence stronger than their personal, idiosyncratic evidence? How do you know?

  444. #445 Watchman
    March 26, 2009

    Just Ambien at night, Lyrica by day.

    You’re right. No fun to be had there. I hope this regimen is temporary.

    And answer #4 means you’ve got potential for a career in theology.

    Sastra seems to have an unending supply of Tentacle-cluster-worthy material.

  445. #446 Guy Incognito
    March 26, 2009

    And it very well could be a failure of reading comprehension on my part. It’s damn cold and snowy here in Denver, and I only have Guinness to keep me company. And I’m not talking about Ben Kenobi or that book of records.

  446. #447 AnthonyK
    March 26, 2009

    Where are all the interesting creationists?

    Try the “Science of Watchmen” thread – though they are dull and stupid, the responses aren’t.
    Scott and Leigh – go for it! It’s not often people here get a chance to talk to clever Christians – usually it’s too fucking rude here for them.
    (Unless you’re a troll, Leigh!)

  447. #448 Scott Hatfield, OM
    March 26, 2009

    On the other hand, I give Sastra’s last post a *PASS WITH HONORS*. The problem of theodicy is real. One way to deal with that problem is to mull over what God’s true nature is, and whether such a God is worthy of worship. I agree with a pastor friend of mine who says, ‘Never worship a God who is not better than you are.’

  448. #449 Africangenesis
    March 26, 2009

    Is humanitarianism an addiction?

    Christianity stumbled upon universal brotherhood, the ultimate “in-group” and rewarding feeling of belonging, love and acceptance, albeit under a stern, protective and benevolent father. There is nobody, no out-group to hate, just others to welcome to the brotherhood with eyes glowing with love and peace.

    Humanists abandon the obviously fictional father figure, but retain the good-feeling all inclusive brotherhood. Is the need to be part of the team, the in-group, the tribe that it is like hunger, and the fulfillment so rewarding that it is as addictive as food?

    Others, expand the in-group even further to include all animals with faces, or even all of nature. Nature or the earth herself becomes the protective mother figure.

    Universal brotherhood and oneness with nature seem to have separately been arrived at perhaps even earlier in eastern culture as well.

    But how important and potent is the feeling of “oneness” that is free of the “negative emotions” of hatred, demonization, dehumanization and mocking? Nationalisms don’t seem to have been weakened by these feelings, neither has neo-atheism. Some people are “turned off” by these negative emotions, does the appeal or distaste for these “negative” emotions have a genetic basis? Is the longing for “one world government” in some, motivated by a desire for “oneness”, or by a desire to subjugate “the others”, the out-groups?

  449. #450 Alex Deam
    March 26, 2009

    Re: Determinism vs. Free will

    If you accept abiogenesis and evolution via natural selection, then you have no reason to not accept determinism. Clearly regular non-living molecules have no free will, and neither do the simplest life forms, then why should we? Sure, it’s philosophically possible for an external God to swoop down/in? (thinking in 4D curved space-time hurts my head… where exactly is this “God”?) and have imbued us with free will a few million years ago, but why think that? It’s also philosophically possible that the Bible doesn’t exist either: if you doubt empiricism even the slightest, then you must doubt ALL empiricism, hence the Bible isn’t real, Jesus never existed, nobody’s ever been to Church, and Roman Emperor Constantine I certainly never saw a cross in the sky.

  450. #451 Alex Deam
    March 26, 2009

    Humanists abandon the obviously fictional father figure, but retain the good-feeling all inclusive brotherhood. Is the need to be part of the team, the in-group, the tribe that it is like hunger, and the fulfillment so rewarding that it is as addictive as food?

    Others, expand the in-group even further to include all animals with faces, or even all of nature. Nature or the earth herself becomes the protective mother figure.

    Universal brotherhood and oneness with nature seem to have separately been arrived at perhaps even earlier in eastern culture as well.

    But how important and potent is the feeling of “oneness” that is free of the “negative emotions” of hatred, demonization, dehumanization and mocking? Nationalisms don’t seem to have been weakened by these feelings, neither has neo-atheism. Some people are “turned off” by these negative emotions, does the appeal or distaste for these “negative” emotions have a genetic basis? Is the longing for “one world government” in some, motivated by a desire for “oneness”, or by a desire to subjugate “the others”, the out-groups?

    Emphasis mine. What “out-groups” if humanism is “all inclusive”?

    And you seriously think nationalism hasn’t decreased? Have you heard of a period of time called 1914-1945?

    And “neo-atheism” (whatever that neologism is supposed to mean) hates, demonizes, dehumanizes and mocks in the same way as nationalism , how exactly? Sure, atheists mock and hate, but no more than any other person, and we certainly don’t demonize or dehumanize, let alone do it “Auschwitz-style”.

  451. #452 CJO
    March 26, 2009

    Determinism vs. Free will

    They aren’t opposed. Free will could still exist in a deterministic universe –indeed, I believe free will does exist, in our deterministic universe. Of course I don’t mean any kind of magical properties of conscious awareness, so it may not satisfy a theist’s definition of the term, but that’s not a concern of mine.

    Dan Dennett does a much better job explaining this than I can in the early chapters of his Freedom Evolves, but I’d be happy to take a stab at it should anyone care.

  452. #453 Africangenesis
    March 26, 2009

    Alex Deam,

    Apologies, I wasn’t intending the whole post to be assumed to be about humanism, the attractiveness of universal brotherhood was just one commonality I was identifying. non-christian humanism does NOT seem particularly nationalistic except when it comes to health care.

    I think nationalism has both waxed and wained since 1945, consider the ethnic conflicts as colonialism has collapsed. The “right” of ethnic groups to aspire to national independence (self determination) seems to be generally accepted as justified, even when they likely regimes will be more oppressive than the existing institutions. There appears to be sympathy for a right to oppress one’s own, even when one is oppressing a majority. Consider the extreme respect accorded Saddam’s sovereignty by many even in the western world. India and pakistan and bangledesh, the balkans, the breaking away of the sattelite states from the USSR, various African ethnic conflicts, the Korea’s, Vietnam and Cambodia, Indonesia and Timor, etc. Nationalism is not necessarily on the decline. There may even be an increasing acquience to the UN support of national sovereignty over individual rights. We shouldn’t be dismissive of the rise and virulence of nationalism, just because it doesn’t rise to the level Auschwitz.

  453. #454 Robocop
    March 26, 2009

    “That would mean, I think, that the God hypothesis is being tested in the field of neurology.”

    You may be right.

    “So God causes your mind, or at least your free will? How does that work?”

    Dunno. But evolution gives us good reason to believe that our senses are generally reliable and we believe and act as if we have volition essentially 24/7. If determinism is true and our perceptions are ridiculously wrong in thinking that we can choose vanilla over strawberry, then science itself is utterly incoherent, being totally dependent upon observation and perception.

    “Volition in that sense is completely compatible with determinism (or with our decisions depending on random events) – as argued in Dennett’s Freedom Evolves.”

    As I noted above, I think compatibilism is simply dressed up determinism; and I thought Freedom Evolves was even worse than Elbow Room.

    “Nor does belief in this kind of volition have any necessary connection with theism or atheism: you will find examples of all four possible combinations of theism/atheism and belief/disbelief in free-will on this very thread.”

    Yes, but the other combinations are wrong.

    “This means that one cannot believe in miracles, accept any literal interpretation of scriptures, or insert God as direct explanation for mind, or morals, or anything else that science and philosophy might touch upon more thoroughly.”

    You’ve been victimized by the ludic fallacy.

    Apologies in advance but I won’t likely post again for a while (please keep your disappointment to yourselves). I’m in a hotel two plane flights from where I made my last post and won’t likely get this opportunity again for a while (President Obama is fixin’ to raise my taxes substantially so there’s a lot of work to be done). This thread has had much less vitriol and far more intelligence and insight than the typical Pharyngula thread. Commendations all around.

  454. #455 Evangelatheist
    March 26, 2009

    Faith has no rules, and no way to check itself.

    Wow! Such a simple statement, but so on target.

    I agree with the first half of your statement that faith has no rules with the exception that someone must have it.

    The implications of the second half of your, however, are quite astonishing to me when I thought about some of the possible meanings of “check.”

    Faith has no means to “arrest or control it’s motion.” While not absolute, it seems the individual with faith rarely loses it. This uncontrolled faith is the source of fanaticism, which I think we can all agree is unproductive.

    Faith has no means “to investigate or verify its correctness.” In attempting to verify their faith, the faithful would have to necessarily doubt in their faith. That is, in order to have faith, the faithful has to have it blindly and unquestioningly.

    The unrestrained, unquestionable nature of faith is, I think, what leads the faithful to abandon reason. In addition, I think the reasonable person recognizes the destructive power of blind faith and excludes it as a reasonable alternative.

    Thanks for the thought! I enjoy reading your posts as they are well presented.

  455. #456 Tulse
    March 26, 2009

    evolution gives us good reason to believe that our senses are generally reliable and we believe and act as if we have volition essentially 24/7.

    So your argument against naturalism is based on the validity of empiricism? Don’t you get dizzy chasing your own tail?

    Volition isn’t so much the ability to “create” a behavior, but rather the ability to to check and override our “natural instincts” and ultimately to alter our instincts.

    This seems like nothing more than special pleading to rule out Libet and like research, and a definition of “free will” that most people, including most Christians, wouldn’t recognize (for example, it seems to rule out the possibility of creatively “choosing” to actively glorify God, as opposed to simply avoid being bad).

  456. #457 windy
    March 26, 2009

    John H:

    At least some of them apparently didn’t, though the main responder appears to have been a crank of some kind. Having just wandered in, I wouldn’t know this has been done to death. Can you summarize the devastating arguments?

    No devastation, just inconclusive results (I don’t think the existence of Theo-D is a devastating argument for the opposition, either). But I don’t think people are trying to claim that a religious person can’t be a scientist (apart from a few cranks), but that religion as a system of beliefs is incompatible with science.

    No, as Wise’s subsequent career clearly shows. But Dobzhansky and several thousand others do seem to be good examples. You can indeed produce many examples in which religion derailed science, e.g. Teilhard. So clearly not all religion is compatible with science. But empirically, some religion appears to be, else how to explain Dobzhansky and others.

    Compartmentalization?

    That’s by no means exclusive to the religious, but it seems that many respectable religious scientists solve the problem by thinking that God’s influence occurs/occurred by some process which is not within their own scientific field. That is much more nice and respectable than what creationists do, but should it be off limits for philosophical criticism? Isn’t that just inserting God into what is a scientific problem for someone else? (Examples: Francis Collins claiming that God created the moral sense, Ken Miller’s God working through quantum events)

  457. #458 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    Wow. So much good stuff in this thread. In fact, the past week here on Pharyngula has been first-rate.

    AnthonyK, have I done something to make you think I’m a troll? If so, I apologize; I’m arguing in good faith on several threads, but I have been somewhat addled lately. I’m always open to constructive criticism, so feel free to comment if I’ve done something you feel is out of place.

  458. #459 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    Sastra, I’m intrigued by the distinction you draw between “liberal theists” and “religious humanists”. If I’m understanding you correctly, I think you would describe me as the latter, but it’s not a term I’m familiar with. I usually describe myself as a Christian humanist, but on occasion I’ve used the liberal theist label. But in your thought experiment, #2 is my answer. If that’s what God is, I’ll oppose Him to the gates of hell and beyond.

    As a humanist, they don’t think there is anything particularly noble or virtuous in making the leap of faith.

    Emphatically agree. And to go further with this thought, let me address Evangelatheist for a moment:

    Faith has no means “to investigate or verify its correctness.” In attempting to verify their faith, the faithful would have to necessarily doubt in their faith. That is, in order to have faith, the faithful has to have it blindly and unquestioningly.

    Good heavens, no! We certainly have a means to investigate or verify its correctness in our purely human sense of ethical behavior.

    Consider this: You have a neighbor with children. When his children break ANY of his rules, however trivial the offense, he locks them in the basement, starves and beats them, and doesn’t let them out until they beg him for forgiveness and promise to obey. He makes no distinction between a failure to take out the garbage and beating up another child so that she has to be hospitalized.

    Does everyone agree that this neighbor is a sociopath, guilty of gross child abuse? Good, we all see that.

    Now, consider a God who does the same thing to his children, but with fire and brimstone, and FOREVER. No getting out of the basement, even if you beg.

    How can any rational person accept in a deity that which she would unhestitatingly condemn as sociopathy in a neighbor?

    Beats the hell out of me, you should pardon the pun. This is the psychopathology of blind faith. My human reason and sense of ethical behavior tell me that this is crazy shit.

    Now I could do a whole theology spiel, including Biblical exegesis, to justify my belief that hell is a human invention based on a mistranslation of some key passages. You don’t care about that, and indeed why should you?

    My point is that faith can, and should, be viewed through the lens of reason. And yes, that does lead to doubt. Doubt, misgivings, and humility are critical components of a mature and considered faith. Otherwise faith is damned dangerous, as I freely admit.

    The unexamined faith is not worth having (apologies to Gertrude Stein).

  459. #460 Notagod
    March 27, 2009

    Scott Hatfield, OM@444,

    (Is 444 anything like 666? If it is congratulations! (I must admit to not being hip to all the wondrous mythology so sorry for not knowing for sure.))

    Oh, I understood what you wrote, I simply disagree that everyone acts in their own best interest to the detriment of others when push comes to shove as you put it. Also, I have seen christians justify their self interested actions by claiming “so, everyone else does it too.” I view that as a failure of the god idea, as christians claim that their god idea is what lifts them up above the lowly heathen knuckle dragger.

    I didn’t know any atheists in my younger years, didn’t know I was an atheist either, simple didn’t know there were atheists. Just knew that the christian god book was bullshit and those that held it high were picking and choosing the parts to apply to themselves and the parts to apply to others (which conveniently were glorious parts for them and scathing parts for others without any real justification.) I bring this up because the first atheists I met were much more like the christians thought they were and much less like the christians actually were.

    So hidden within those two paragraphs is possibly one of the reasons for my response at #439.

    Now this other part ( I didn’t quote the full paragraph before as I will here):

    I would add that the notion that when push comes to shove, someone like me actually favors ‘love’ over ‘God’….meh, I’m not sure I agree with that. We seem to be multiplying abstractions. I suspect when push comes to shove, I tend to favor my own self-interest like everyone else does, but (like most people) I tend to recast that self-interest in other terms.

    And you chastise me for not reading this into that up there:

    When I referenced ‘self-interest’, I wasn’t talking about ‘original sin’ or any other theological conception of human nature. [me: didn't think you were, SH (back at ya weiner)] I was referencing the fact that evolutionary theory provides a basis for understanding how individual organisms acting to maximize their fitness can lead to the evolution of kin selection and perhaps, eventually, altruism. In other words, I was specifically referencing a naturalistic account of ethics, not a theological one.
    So I’m afraid I have to give your post a massive *FAIL*.
    Cheers…SH

    Wow, you really pack a lot of expected assumption into “I tend to favor my own self-interest like everyone else does,” But still I’m quite certain not “everyone” implies that, when they express “self-interest”. I must admit that I am skeptical of your self serving explanation as well, but it is ultimately your brain so I will except your “FAIL” with honor.

    Before I comment on this, could you expand it for me please, thanks:

    I agree with a pastor friend of mine who says, ‘Never worship a God who is not better than you are.’

    Cheers, as well

  460. #461 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    Notagod, you may find that the last part of my post #460 expands on Scott’s comment:

    I agree with a pastor friend of mine who says, ‘Never worship a God who is not better than you are.’

  461. #462 Kseniya
    March 27, 2009

    My point is that faith can, and should, be viewed through the lens of reason. And yes, that does lead to doubt. Doubt, misgivings, and humility are critical components of a mature and considered faith. Otherwise faith is damned dangerous, as I freely admit.

    Leigh, that sounds very much like what the pastor at our church told my mother when she started to doubt her beliefs several years ago. “Everyone has doubts,” she said. “You’re not alone.” The pastor herself had gone through a long period of seeking that took her on a journey through Buddhism and other spiritual disciplines. She returned to Christianity for reasons I can only guess at. Wonderful woman, that pastor. She was transferred to a big city parish, so I haven’t seen her in a couple of years now. I don’t go to church anymore anyway.

    As for the “lens of reason,” that opens the mind up to all sorts of possibilities. I won’t try to persuade you that if the lens is truly clear, it reveals that much of what we believed is simply untenable. I wonder how much choice we really have in the matter. Some people believe, and always will. Other do not, and never really did.

    I hope you sleep well tonight. Hugs.

  462. #463 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    As for the “lens of reason,” that opens the mind up to all sorts of possibilities. I won’t try to persuade you that if the lens is truly clear, it reveals that much of what we believed is simply untenable.

    Indeed. I think the most challenging part of a spiritual journey lies in the search for that “clear lens”. I myself am at the “clear to partly cloudy, with fog after midnight” stage.

    I’m off to bed now. Sweet dreams, dear girl, and to all, a good night.

  463. #464 Evangelatheist
    March 27, 2009

    @Leigh #460

    We certainly have a means to investigate or verify its correctness in our purely human sense of ethical behavior…How can any rational person accept in a deity that which she would unhestitatingly condemn as sociopathy in a neighbor?

    I have a couple of problems with your argument:
    1. In using your “purely human sense of ethical behavior” to examine faith, you have necessarily rejected it as faith since faith “is a belief in the truth of or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing, that is characteristically held without proof.”
    2. If you can use your “human reason and sense of ethical behavior” to condemn belief in hell as a “mistranslation of some key passages,” how can you rely upon anything in your bible, including a putative god?

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, by definition, what you are practicing is NOT faith at all.

  464. #465 Notagod
    March 27, 2009

    Leigh Williams @ 462,

    Thanks but I’d just as soon Scott Hatfield, OM respond for himself, as if I receive two “massive *FAIL*s” in a row I would be just totally devastated.

    I’ve been watching with interest and some giggling as you folks have been reinterpreting the meaning of the christian god idea book. It seems that it is possible that you have inserted and removed much that might improve upon the original immensely, thus, might I suggest that you simply rewrite the damn thing so everyone will be able to read it and understand it at least, generally the same? I mean, what in the name of The FSM was your god idea thinking, when sending the specification? Or perhaps it would be better to start your own religion call it “christian god idea plus and minus” or some such.

  465. #466 DrBrydon
    March 27, 2009

    Seems pretty clear. NOMA. Science deals with truth and knowledge. Religion deals with the opposite.

  466. #467 John Harshman
    March 27, 2009

    #458 (Windy):

    But I don’t think people are trying to claim that a religious person can’t be a scientist (apart from a few cranks), but that religion as a system of beliefs is incompatible with science.

    I think we may be arguing about the meaning of “incompatible”. Just what does it mean? My view is that a belief is compatible with science if it’s uncontradicted by the current body of scientific knowledge. Did you have something different in mind? And I would say it’s simpler than that, because to be a good scientist it’s only necessary that your beliefs be compatible with whatever is relevant to your field.

    Compartmentalization?

    That’s by no means exclusive to the religious, but it seems that many respectable religious scientists solve the problem by thinking that God’s influence occurs/occurred by some process which is not within their own scientific field. That is much more nice and respectable than what creationists do, but should it be off limits for philosophical criticism? Isn’t that just inserting God into what is a scientific problem for someone else? (Examples: Francis Collins claiming that God created the moral sense, Ken Miller’s God working through quantum events)

    Well, of course nothing should be off limits for philosophical criticism. I suspect that Collins’ religion is in fact incompatible with science (though it would be science that’s peripheral to his field). I’m not sure Miller’s religion is incompatible with anything, as it seems carefully designed to be untestable. As I understand it, god tweaks the occasional quantum event, but not to the degree that we can distinguish the distribution from regular quantum events.

    Now of course what people are really worried about is that science is incompatible not with an undetectable god but with the sort of god they want: one that acts in the world, rewarding virtue and punishing sin, and who has a grand plan that will make everything turn out for the best. It seems to me, however, that it isn’t science they should be worried about, but reality in general. Or rather, the threat from science isn’t physics or evolution or whatever, but the “scientific method”, or the habit of testing hypotheses rigorously against reality. If that’s what you mean by “incompatibility”, I agree (and Will Provine made this point first in my experience) that reality rules out any god worth having. But biology has very little to do with it.

  467. #468 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    Crap, here’s another wall of text from me. Feel free to say tl;dr.

    Evangelatheist, I conflated two separate issues in #460; I’m sorry I wasn’t more precise.

    “Faith” is most often used by those of us in the faith community to mean “faith and practices”. When outside that community, it would be clearer if I specified that I’m talking about two things, separate though related: 1) faith that there is a God, and 2) religion, religious practices.

    It’s the second that I’m primarily discussing in #460. Those who read the Bible literally, and think it’s anything other than a story of people’s thoughts about God and a loose history of the development of those thoughts, are of necessity stuck with a god who is a petty, sadistic sociopath. I arrive at that conclusion by applying the reasoning of a humanist and appealing to widespread secular ideas of right and wrong. I use the same kinds of evidence you as an atheist would use to support my argument.

    It’s on the first point, the very existence of a God, that I assert personal and idiosyncratic evidence. I don’t try to convince you to agree with me; in fact I’d feel silly trying. My little collection of epiphanies and small miracles would probably look pretty trivial to you, however important they seem to me. Not only are some of them tinged with considerable emotion, but I am quite willing to consider the idea that perhaps my flashes of comprehension and communication are generated inside my brain, and all the rest is mere coincidence. I’ve considered it, and I don’t think so. This is what people call the “leap of faith”.

    No matter what conclusions I’ve drawn about the nature of God and the universe from that leap, what matters is this: Can I make an argument for whatever course of action I suggest (on abortion, universal health care, human rights, etc) that DOES NOT appeal to my idiosyncratic view of God? An argument that is purely secular, that is accessible to all people of reason?

    And are my actions congruent with the values I claim to espouse through my faith?

    Synchronicity is such an odd thing. I sit here tonight with my son Boy Twin (14, and an outspoken atheist) and my husband Mr. Science (57 and a devout Christian) watching Stargate SG1: The Ark of Truth, which is a two-hour discussion of this very issue, with the followers of Origen as Christians/Muslims, the Ancients as key representatives of science and rational thought, the Ori as priests/mullahs, the Book of Origen as the Bible/Koran, and Tomin as the true believer who is nonetheless imbued with decency and ethics, who comes to regret his religious fanaticism.

    Teal’c: “Somewhere deep inside you you knew it was wrong. A voice you did not recognize screamed for you to stop . . . you tried to convince yourself they deserved it. You shut out the voice that told you to stop.”

    Tomin: “I sit here, and I cannot imagine a time I can forgive myself.”

    Teal’c: “You will never forgive yourself. Accept it. You hurt others, many others. But your life need not be wasted. Fight for that which is right, just and true, and good can still prevail. Fight for others, others that may be saved. That is the least you can do.”

  468. #469 AnthonyK
    March 27, 2009

    Can I make an argument for whatever course of action I suggest (on abortion, universal health care, human rights, etc) that DOES NOT appeal to my idiosyncratic view of God? An argument that is purely secular, that is accessible to all people of reason?

    Yes, of course! Indeed, in a sense, you are doing it now…

    Incidentally, I haven’t been following this thread, but are you, on the whole, glad you decided to come talk to the rude atheists?
    I suspect that as long as your views are….I was going to write sincere, but that is a much abused concept…considered and responsible – and you take responsibility for them – you will not find it too harsh here.

  469. #470 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    AnthonyK, I post occasionally and have for quite some time; I am a dedicated read of Phargyngula. Yes, sometimes I get roughed up a little, but of course it’s worth it.

    Intellectual rigor is sometimes rude. That’s okay with me.

    There’s far too little of it in public discourse, in my opinion.

    BTW, I asked you on another thread if you’re a Brian Regan fan. I don’t think I’m currently reading that thread, but I’m still interested in the answer.

  470. #471 Leigh Williams
    March 27, 2009

    Ack. I’m a READER of Pharyngula. Damn gin and Lyrica.

  471. #472 AnthonyK
    March 28, 2009

    Leigh – no, I can’t say I know anthing about Brian Regan. I’ll look out for him. Can’t have been in the UK much. Him, not me, that is!

  472. #473 Keith Douglas
    March 28, 2009

    The subject: I already posted on Coyne’s page about this, so one can see that for my views, but I realized I should also have added: one can help push people in what many of us feel the right direction, but it is important at least for most adults that we have to give people the freedom to do the stupid, desperate, etc. (“Freedom of choice entails giving people freedom to make the wrong choice.”)

    cpsmith: I don’t distinguish science-oriented philosophy and science at the most general. As for the “ought” and in general normative questions, science-oriented philosophy works in three ways to help there: one is that it tells you what the consequences of a decision are and two, it tells you what has worked and hasn’t in the past, and three it encourages stating values explicitly.

    John Harshman: All that the D. quote shows (at best) is that one can, de facto, be a Christian and a scientist. Nobody is disputing that. The question is whether this is more than double think and cognitive dissonance when comes to the content of each system of ideas: and all religions, especially the literate ones, have elaborate systems of ideas, some explicit, some not. D. might reject some of the official position of his church, or may not – it doesn’t matter.

  473. #474 Leigh Williams
    March 28, 2009

    AnthonyK: Brian Regan is an American standup comedian. The bit I thought you might be quoting is from his “eye doctor” bit. Usually he does the last bit of it like this: “It’s passing . . . now! No, now! Now! Uh, now!”

    Here’s an animation from YouTube (I hope you can see it in the UK) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QZpAoUC_fg&feature=related

    He’s unusual among American comedians because his comedy is family-friendly. We became fans when the twins were younger. I think he’s a riot.

  474. #475 Ed
    March 28, 2009

    So do you believe in love?

    Are you able to really love anyone or anything if you understand it is simply a pattern of electrical impulses?

    It strikes me there are some times when we need to put our scientific knowledge aside and just go with the flow of our humanity. I’d rather live my life with love – including a love of science!

  475. #476 John Harshman
    March 28, 2009

    All that the D. quote shows (at best) is that one can, de facto, be a Christian and a scientist. Nobody is disputing that.

    Actually, some people here have disputed exactly that, or so it seems to me.

    The question is whether this is more than double think and cognitive dissonance when comes to the content of each system of ideas: and all religions, especially the literate ones, have elaborate systems of ideas, some explicit, some not. D. might reject some of the official position of his church, or may not – it doesn’t matter.

    Not sure I get your point. Can you tell me what in Dobzhansky’s religion was incompatible with evolutionary biology? Why would doublethink be necessary?

  476. #477 Notagod
    March 29, 2009

    Ed #476,

    I can assure you of one thing. Your ignorance is showing.

  477. #478 John Morales
    March 29, 2009

    John Harshman

    Actually, some people here have disputed exactly that [a Christian and a scientist], or so it seems to me.

    As I make it, the consensus here is that this is not in dispute, but it is considered to be at the cost of compartmentalisation and overcoming cognitive dissonance. The disputation is as to their epistemic compatibility.

  478. #479 Owlmirror
    March 29, 2009
    Actually, some people here have disputed exactly that [a Christian and a scientist], or so it seems to me.

    As I make it, the consensus here is that this is not in dispute, but it is considered to be at the cost of compartmentalisation and overcoming cognitive dissonance. The disputation is as to their epistemic compatibility.

    Yes, exactly that.

    The argument is all about method.

    The method of science is based on logic, empiricism, skepticism, falsifiability and parsimony. You take some set of observations of the empirical evidence, and make parsimonious logical deductions that explain those observations. You always keep skepticism in mind, because an observation might have been incomplete or incorrect, or the deduction might have logical flaws, and try to keep falsifiability in mind in making additional observations that might disprove your deductions.

    Science might be described as an algorithm that tries to asymptotically approach truth by fractally eliminating the provably false. It is practically impossible to achieve total truth, but without the attempt to reach it.

    The method of religion all too often denies and rejects logic, empiricism, skepticism, falsifiability and parsimony (those that are compatible with them might be better called life philosophies than religions (see #258 above)).

    Even the best religious scientists seem to make the fallacious arguments of arguing from ignorance, and arguing from emotion. Religious belief tends to reside in the epistemic fractal gaps not covered by actual knowledge.

    Which brings us back to mental compartments, in which the religious scientists respectively keep their logic, empiricism, skepticism, falsifiability and parsimony (when doing science) — and their rejection of same (as when they might be applied to their religious beliefs).

    When scientists (who are also Christians) are being scientists, they use the methods of science.

    When Christians (who are also scientists) are being Christians, they reject (or at best, ignore) the methods of science.

    Or something like that, anyway.

    (And just to explicate the definition of Christian a bit, I mean someone who believes in a personal God based on the New Testament, usually but not necessarily also believing in the Nicene Creed as a true doctrine.)
    (If someone doesn’t believe in a personal God, then the argument is just about language and definitions anyway.)

    [ One of the reasons that I keep arguing with heddle about his claimed exegesis of Romans 1:20 is to tap on his mental compartments. One of them sure sounds hollow... ]

  479. #480 Owlmirror
    March 29, 2009

    Bah, sentence construction fail.

    It is practically impossible to achieve total truth, but without the attempt to reach it, there is really no other way to come close.

    Fixed, more or less.

  480. #481 John Morales
    March 29, 2009

    Owlmirror @480,

    Science might be described as an algorithm that tries to asymptotically approach truth by fractally eliminating the provably false. [...] Religious belief tends to reside in the epistemic fractal gaps not covered by actual knowledge.

    Beautiful.

  481. #482 SC, OM
    March 29, 2009

    Posted by: Owlmirror | March 29, 2009 1:49 AM

    Yeah. What he said.

  482. #483 Ed
    March 29, 2009

    Yes – what he said too.

    Indeed do we really need the word “Religious”. Is is not the case that “Belief tends to reside in the epistemic fractal gaps not covered by actual knowledge.”?

    Isn’t the main problem that belief often holds on when science has progressed beyond the gaps? Indeed for any individual we will always be ignorant of much of human knowledge, and most of new knowledge.

  483. #484 John Harshman
    March 29, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    The argument is all about method.

    So incompatibility would seem to depend on applying the religious “method”, and failing to apply the scientific method, to inappropriate/appropriate cases. NOMA, properly understood, means that religion keeps out of science’s way and limits itself to untestable hypotheses. Or at least that religious scientists keep their religion out of their science. Sure, revelation and faith aren’t “ways of knowing”, just ways of imagining you know. As long as you don’t imagine you know something that contradicts a testable hypothesis, what’s the harm? Historically, the conflict between science and religion has happened only when religion has made claims that contradict empirical evidence. “God works through evolution”, for example, makes no claims about empirical evidence; it’s merely unparsimonious, since we “had no need of that hypothesis”.

  484. #485 Notagod
    March 29, 2009

    John Harshman wrote:

    “God works through evolution”, for example, makes no claims about empirical evidence; it’s merely unparsimonious, since we “had no need of that hypothesis”.

    John you seem to be a very good example of why christians shouldn’t be allowed to be scientists.

    Could we start with unparsimonious? Checking a couple of dictionaries, I can’t find “unparsimonious”. I do find parsimonious at The Free Dictionary defined as “Excessively sparing or frugal” so according to you then, “God works through evolution” would be a statement that is not excessively sparing or frugal. In my judgment your statement is highly deceptive if not an outright lie. If you asked your god-idea concerning its workings with regard to “god works through evolution” I would like a transcript of the conversation. If you are implying that you oversee the “works” of your god-idea and thus have first hand experience regarding “god works through evolution” I would like to observe you doing the observing. Either way I would like you to provide a working definition of your god-idea as I would like to reproduce your results.

    Further, you are making a claim with regard to how evolution works. It could be stated (since you give no evidence) that you imagine that your god-idea works through evolution. So as a complete definition of your god-idea would it be fair to state ‘John Harshman’s god-idea is caused by evolution’, in this case?

    Unlike christianity john, deception is not allowed in science. If you get caught deceiving those you associate with regarding your evidence and conclusions, your career might well be junked.

  485. #486 Ichthyic
    March 29, 2009

    NOMA, properly poorly understood and misapplied…

    fixed that for you, JH.

  486. #487 windy
    March 29, 2009

    Well, of course nothing should be off limits for philosophical criticism. I suspect that Collins’ religion is in fact incompatible with science (though it would be science that’s peripheral to his field). I’m not sure Miller’s religion is incompatible with anything, as it seems carefully designed to be untestable. As I understand it, god tweaks the occasional quantum event, but not to the degree that we can distinguish the distribution from regular quantum events.

    But if god tweaks quantum events to “guide” human evolution, for example, does it really matter that the tweaks themselves are undetectable? The end result isn’t; in effect we would have physical evidence of god’s intervention in the human genome, we just don’t know it yet.

    Let’s say that god used quantum tweaking to effect a small number of mutations he deemed necessary in human ancestors. Did god then add some neutral and mildly deleterious mutations to make sure that we observe the same substitution ratios in the human genome? Or was he careful to keep the number of tweaks under some forever statistically undetectable limit? How is that ultimately different, except in degree, from “God made the fossils to test the faithful”?

    “Only fundamentalists say that lightning is caused by Thor’s hammer; sophisticated believers think that Thor causes some lightning by undetectably tweaking quantum events.”

  487. #488 windy
    March 29, 2009

    John you seem to be a very good example of why christians shouldn’t be allowed to be scientists.

    Settle down. IIRC, John is not a believer – and “shouldn’t be allowed to be scientists”? WTF?

  488. #489 John Harshman
    March 30, 2009

    Notagod: John you seem to be a very good example of why christians shouldn’t be allowed to be scientists.

    Windy: Settle down. IIRC, John is not a believer – and “shouldn’t be allowed to be scientists”? WTF?

    Notice that Notagod is a fine counterexample to John Morales claim that nobody is arguing that a Christian can’t be a good scientist.

    Is it too much to expect people to read what I write, and respond to what is said rather than what someone with my imagined group membership might say?

  489. #490 John Harshman
    March 30, 2009

    For Notagod:

    “Parsimonious”, in science, refers to hypotheses that don’t appeal to causes beyond those absolutely necessary to explain results. That is, one theory is more parsimonious than another if application of Occam’s Razor would cause us to prefer the first. Perhaps this meaning hasn’t penetrated to online dictionaries, but I assure you it’s quite common in science and in philosophy of science.

    “Unparsimonious” is of course the opposite of parsimonious. An unparsimonious theory adds causes that aren’t necessary to explain the data. A term of similar meaning, applicable in many such situations, is “overparameterized”.

    It should be obvious that a theory of a god who creates through evolution, and whose actions are indistinguishable from the results of strictly natural processes, is unparsimonious compared to a theory lacking that god. However, an unparsimonious theory is not necessarily wrong. Occam’s Razor is a fine heuristic, very useful in choosing which theory to prefer. But a theory is not actually ruled out just because it’s unparsimonious. It’s just the way to bet.

  490. #491 John Harshman
    March 30, 2009

    Sez Windy:

    But if god tweaks quantum events to “guide” human evolution, for example, does it really matter that the tweaks themselves are undetectable? The end result isn’t; in effect we would have physical evidence of god’s intervention in the human genome, we just don’t know it yet.

    Let’s say that god used quantum tweaking to effect a small number of mutations he deemed necessary in human ancestors. Did god then add some neutral and mildly deleterious mutations to make sure that we observe the same substitution ratios in the human genome? Or was he careful to keep the number of tweaks under some forever statistically undetectable limit? How is that ultimately different, except in degree, from “God made the fossils to test the faithful”?

    You would be better off arguing with Ken Miller directly, but I’ll give it a try. Tweaks are undetectable, even in principle, if they aren’t outside the bounds of what natural processes could be expected to do. That is, if humans or something equally unlikely would be expected from untweaked quantum events, there’s no way to detect the tweaks, even through their results.

    On the other point, given that there are 35 million point mutations separating humans and chimps, there is no need for any fudging of the distribution unless god is performing millions of tweaks. If he only did a few dozen, and if they’re not all clustered within the same thousand-base region, the secret seems pretty safe to me.

    “Only fundamentalists say that lightning is caused by Thor’s hammer; sophisticated believers think that Thor causes some lightning by undetectably tweaking quantum events.”

    Unless that lightning is common enough to show up as a detectable pattern, and differs from regular lightning (say, by consistently smiting non-believers in Thor), there seems no way to falsify that hypothesis. An unfalsifiable hypothesis isn’t science, but it isn’t in conflict with science either.

  491. #492 PZ Myers
    March 30, 2009

    The key reason we favor parsimony is utilitarian: if your Model+God is indistinguishable from Model-God, there is no property that can be tested to discriminate between the two models. We need specific differences in order to get a grip on the alternatives.

  492. #493 Owlmirror
    March 30, 2009

    Notice that Notagod is a fine counterexample to John Morales claim that nobody is arguing that a Christian can’t be a good scientist.

    Well, I certainly wasn’t.

    So incompatibility would seem to depend on applying the religious “method”, and failing to apply the scientific method, to inappropriate/appropriate cases. NOMA, properly understood, means that religion keeps out of science’s way and limits itself to untestable hypotheses.

    More or less, I suppose… but that leads to uncomfortable questions about definitions, including what “untestable hypotheses” means.

    If God is defined as a person, that, in itself, is not an “untestable hypothesis”. We have several billion examples of human persons and their traits. Are there traits, known from humans, claimed about God? Are those traits claimed about God all necessarily untestable? If these supposed traits cannot be tested directly, can they be tested indirectly? Are there traits claimed which would not be untestable if they actually existed?

    I think NOMA is a way of enforcing compartmentalization and social détente; a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It might be necessary in a society deeply afraid of and uncomfortable with hard questions about their religion, but on the other hand… I don’t think that genuinely “untestable hypotheses” are actually compatible with personal-God-based religion either.

    Sure, revelation and faith aren’t “ways of knowing”, just ways of imagining you know. As long as you don’t imagine you know something that contradicts a testable hypothesis, what’s the harm?

    One of the things that causes problems is that different people seem to have different ideas of what “testable hypothesis”.

    This brings us back to arguing from ignorance. Francis Collins many be a brilliant geneticist, but when he suggests that morality is evidence of God, I don’t think he realizes that the origins, function, and utility of morality have testable hypotheses in psychology, neurology, physiology, population biology, sociology, and game theory.

    Also, I suppose it’s that some religious people seem to want to warp what words mean in way that seems completely insane to me.

    I’ll have to bring up David Heddle again as a specific example. Since I don’t know that you know of him: He’s a devout Calvinist and a physicist (who often comes here, often to argue that science and religion are not incompatible; see above for example). I don’t think he’s generally stupid, and I don’t think he’s generally dishonest (he has acknowledged that he knows of no way to test for God), but when his mind is in religious mode, he’s capable of arguing that Romans 1:20 is not internally consistent, not self-contradictory, is not inconsistent with or contradictory to other things that Paul wrote, and is a command to do science. And I find his arguments about that verse to be either stupid arguments or dishonest ones. Some weird psychological privileging is going on inside his head, and it genuinely baffles me, and it baffles me that it doesn’t baffle him.

    Historically, the conflict between science and religion has happened only when religion has made claims that contradict empirical evidence.

    I’m pretty sure that it’s also been when empirical evidence has contradicted religious dogma

    “God works through evolution”, for example, makes no claims about empirical evidence; it’s merely unparsimonious, since we “had no need of that hypothesis”.

    It is unparsimonious, and it also is in contradiction to certain testable traits that God might have, if God were a person and had those traits. A God that works through evolution would be a very different person from one that created all things as they are.

  493. #494 John Harshman
    March 30, 2009

    Also sprach Owlmirror:

    If God is defined as a person, that, in itself, is not an “untestable hypothesis”…Are there traits claimed which would not be untestable if they actually existed?

    Certainly. The standard Christian God is clearly falsified by theodicy, for example. But I don’t think that creates a conflict between science and religion, unless you decide that theodicy is within the province of science. Usually, it’s considered philosophy or theology. Now if the scientific method were used in theology, God would become a much less clearly defined entity, as most of his attributes would have to be abandoned.

    What about biology? Suppose we hypothesize that God has some biologically relevant characteristic, such as an inordinate fondness for beetles. Can this be tested? Perhaps. If we came up with a model for insect diversity, and beetles were significantly more diverse than the model would fit, that might be a test. But such a question awaits a model.

    I think NOMA is a way of enforcing compartmentalization and social détente; a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It might be necessary in a society deeply afraid of and uncomfortable with hard questions about their religion, but on the other hand… I don’t think that genuinely “untestable hypotheses” are actually compatible with personal-God-based religion either.

    Again, this all depends on whether you extend the idea of science to apply to direct investigations of divine attributes. Some gods would clearly be testable, and most gods that people posit wouldn’t survive contact with reality. But is this a conflict with science? I don’t think so, as science is usually thought of. It’s a conflict with applications of scientific methods to theology. In this way, religion is in conflict with logic, reason, and the world. But not with science, per se.

    I’m pretty sure that it’s also been when empirical evidence has contradicted religious dogma.

    I fail to see the distinction.

    It is unparsimonious, and it also is in contradiction to certain testable traits that God might have, if God were a person and had those traits. A God that works through evolution would be a very different person from one that created all things as they are.

    Agreed. But which traits, and what biologists claim those are traits of God?

  494. #495 windy
    March 31, 2009

    You would be better off arguing with Ken Miller directly, but I’ll give it a try. Tweaks are undetectable, even in principle, if they aren’t outside the bounds of what natural processes could be expected to do. That is, if humans or something equally unlikely would be expected from untweaked quantum events, there’s no way to detect the tweaks, even through their results.

    But even God creating a species out of thin air could be undetectable, if he made the genome similar to other species and the event wasn’t observed.

    On the other point, given that there are 35 million point mutations separating humans and chimps, there is no need for any fudging of the distribution unless god is performing millions of tweaks. If he only did a few dozen, and if they’re not all clustered within the same thousand-base region, the secret seems pretty safe to me.

    But if there is a secretive trickster god, what reason is there to assume that he’d stop at statistical undetectability? A trickster god that causes more significant changes, but plants false evidence to look as if natural processes caused everything, would be just as unfalsifiable.

  495. #496 windy
    March 31, 2009

    Unless that lightning is common enough to show up as a detectable pattern, and differs from regular lightning (say, by consistently smiting non-believers in Thor), there seems no way to falsify that hypothesis. An unfalsifiable hypothesis isn’t science, but it isn’t in conflict with science either.

    I’m sorry, but that’s such a pathetically low standard. If I firmly believed that aliens have infiltrated Earth governments using advanced technology that makes them so far undetectable, should I expect to get patted on the head as long as my belief was unfalsifiable and did not effect my ability to do science?

  496. #497 Owlmirror
    March 31, 2009

    The standard Christian God is clearly falsified by theodicy, for example. But I don’t think that creates a conflict between science and religion, unless you decide that theodicy is within the province of science.Usually, it’s considered philosophy or theology.

    Inasmuch as the standard Christian God is (or tries to be) something that is stated about reality; about nature, it is within the province of science.

    Consider that the word science means “knowledge”. The scientific method is a systematic way of gathering knowledge and building on previous knowledge. Given that science arose from natural philosophy, I don’t think it’s inconsistent to use those the philosophical tools of science to analyze the concept of God.

    Now if the scientific method were used in theology, God would become a much less clearly defined entity, as most of his attributes would have to be abandoned.

    And note that this has indeed happened, more than once, which is why atheism (and Deism, and negative theology) existed even before natural philosophy evolved into science.

    It is unparsimonious, and it also is in contradiction to certain testable traits that God might have, if God were a person and had those traits. A God that works through evolution would be a very different person from one that created all things as they are.

    Agreed. But which traits, and what biologists claim those are traits of God?

    Well, the trait of benevolence is often claimed for God… and the usual suspects (Miller, Ayala, Collins) come to mind as claiming that trait.

    However, I think I would need to read more of Miller/Ayala/Collins works to be more sure of what they’re saying, and presenting the argument more formally. I know that Ayala and Miller have suggested that evolution is a solution to theodicy; I don’t have the faintest idea of how that is actually supposed to work (and indeed, it may be so incoherent that it doesn’t really work at all; it may just be a fig leaf they hold in front of their mental compartmentalization).

  497. #498 SC, OM
    March 31, 2009

    John Harshman,

    Would you mind defining “hypothesis”? What properties does something have to possess to qualify as a hypothesis?

  498. #499 Sven DiMilo
    March 31, 2009

    A hypothesis is anything located beneath a thesis. In my office, for example, a thesaurus is hypothetical. Hope this helps.

  499. #500 John Harshman
    March 31, 2009

    Windy:

    I’m not trying to defend either the truth or the reasonableness of quantum tweaking. Certainly, carried to its logical extreme, we can arrive at omphalism or even Last Thursdayism. But I don’t think tweaking rises to the level of “trickster god”. And tweakists are maintaining a certain level of parsimony in their unparsimoniousness.

    However, I’m not suggesting that anyone be patted on the back, or offered a get out of criticism free card. Just that religion doesn’t have to be in conflict with science. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other flaws.

    Owlmirror:

    If all knowledge of the world is considered the province of science, then I agree that science, so broadly defined, falsifies most usual gods, and thus that belief in those gods is in conflict with science. However, we started with evolutionary biology, and evolutionary biology has very little, if anything, to do with that conflict. Except for fundies, of course.

    I would certainly be interested in knowing what solutions Ayala and Miller have offered for theodicy, whether or not they arise from evolution.

    SC, OM:

    I sense you want to engage me in some long, highly technical, and boring argument about semantics. Could you at least start by showing your hand?

  500. #501 James Redford
    March 31, 2009

    God has been proven to exist based upon the most reserved view of the known laws of physics. For much more on that, see Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s below paper, which among other things demonstrates that the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics) require that the universe end in the Omega Point (the final cosmological singularity and state of infinite informational capacity identified as being God):

    F. J. Tipler, “The structure of the world from pure numbers,” Reports on Progress in Physics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (April 2005), pp. 897-964. http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/theoryofeverything.pdf Also released as “Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything,” arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007.

    Out of 50 articles, Prof. Tipler’s above paper was selected as one of 12 for the “Highlights of 2005″ accolade as “the very best articles published in Reports on Progress in Physics in 2005 [Vol. 68]. Articles were selected by the Editorial Board for their outstanding reviews of the field. They all received the highest praise from our international referees and a high number of downloads from the journal Website.” (See Richard Palmer, Publisher, “Highlights of 2005,” Reports on Progress in Physics website.)

    Reports on Progress in Physics is the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, Britain’s main professional body for physicists. Further, Reports on Progress in Physics has a higher impact factor (according to Journal Citation Reports) than Physical Review Letters, which is the most prestigious American physics journal (one, incidently, which Prof. Tipler has been published in more than once). A journal’s impact factor reflects the importance the science community places in that journal in the sense of actually citing its papers in their own papers. (And just to point out, Tipler’s 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper could not have been published in Physical Review Letters since said paper is nearly book-length, and hence not a “letter” as defined by the latter journal.)

    See also the below resources for further information on the Omega Point Theory:

    Theophysics: God Is the Ultimate Physicist (a website on GeoCities)

    Tipler is Professor of Mathematics and Physics (joint appointment) at Tulane University. His Ph.D. is in the field of global general relativity (the same rarefied field that Profs. Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking developed), and he is also an expert in particle physics and computer science. His Omega Point Theory has been published in a number of prestigious peer-reviewed physics and science journals in addition to Reports on Progress in Physics, such as Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (one of the world’s leading astrophysics journals), Physics Letters B, the International Journal of Theoretical Physics, etc.

    Prof. John A. Wheeler (the father of most relativity research in the U.S.) wrote that “Frank Tipler is widely known for important concepts and theorems in general relativity and gravitation physics” on pg. viii in the “Foreword” to The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by cosmologist Prof. John D. Barrow and Tipler, which was the first book wherein Tipler’s Omega Point Theory was described. On pg. ix of said book, Prof. Wheeler wrote that Chapter 10 of the book, which concerns the Omega Point Theory, “rivals in thought-provoking power any of the [other chapters].”

    The leading quantum physicist in the world, Prof. David Deutsch (inventor of the quantum computer, being the first person to mathematically describe the workings of such a device, and winner of the Institute of Physics’ 1998 Paul Dirac Medal and Prize for his work), endorses the physics of the Omega Point Theory in his book The Fabric of Reality (1997). For that, see:

    David Deutsch, extracts from Chapter 14: “The Ends of the Universe” of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes–and Its Implications (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1997); with additional comments by Frank J. Tipler. Available on the Theophysics website.

    The only way to avoid the Omega Point cosmology is to resort to physical theories which have no experimental support and which violate the known laws of physics, such as with Prof. Stephen Hawking’s paper on the black hole information issue which is dependent on the conjectured string theory-based anti-de Sitter space/conformal field theory correspondence (AdS/CFT correspondence). See S. W. Hawking, “Information loss in black holes,” Physical Review D, Vol. 72, No. 8, 084013 (October 2005); also at arXiv:hep-th/0507171, July 18, 2005.

    That is, Prof. Hawking’s paper is based upon empirically unconfirmed physics which violate the known laws of physics. It’s an impressive testament to the Omega Point Theory’s correctness, as Hawking implicitly confirms that the known laws of physics require the universe to collapse in finite time. Hawking realizes that the black hole information issue must be resolved without violating unitarity, yet he’s forced to abandon the known laws of physics in order to avoid unitarity violation without the universe collapsing.

    Some have suggested that the universe’s current acceleration of its expansion obviates the universe collapsing (and therefore obviates the Omega Point). But as Profs. Lawrence M. Krauss and Michael S. Turner point out in “Geometry and Destiny” (General Relativity and Gravitation, Vol. 31, No. 10 [October 1999], pp. 1453-1459; also at arXiv:astro-ph/9904020, April 1, 1999), there is no set of cosmological observations which can tell us whether the universe will expand forever or eventually collapse.

    There’s a very good reason for that, because that is dependant on the actions of intelligent life. The known laws of physics provide the mechanism for the universe’s collapse. As required by the Standard Model, the net baryon number was created in the early universe by baryogenesis via electroweak quantum tunneling. This necessarily forces the Higgs field to be in a vacuum state that is not its absolute vacuum, which is the cause of the positive cosmological constant. But if the baryons in the universe were to be annihilated by the inverse of baryogenesis, again via electroweak quantum tunneling (which is allowed in the Standard Model, as baryon number minus lepton number [B - L] is conserved), then this would force the Higgs field toward its absolute vacuum, cancelling the positive cosmological constant and thereby forcing the universe to collapse. Moreover, this process would provide the ideal form of energy resource and rocket propulsion during the colonization phase of the universe.

    Prof. Tipler’s above 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper also demonstrates that the correct quantum gravity theory has existed since 1962, first discovered by Richard Feynman in that year, and independently discovered by Steven Weinberg and Bryce DeWitt, among others. But because these physicists were looking for equations with a finite number of terms (i.e., derivatives no higher than second order), they abandoned this qualitatively unique quantum gravity theory since in order for it to be consistent it requires an arbitrarily higher number of terms. Further, they didn’t realize that this proper theory of quantum gravity is consistent only with a certain set of boundary conditions imposed (which includes the initial Big Bang, and the final Omega Point, cosmological singularities). The equations for this theory of quantum gravity are term-by-term finite, but the same mechanism that forces each term in the series to be finite also forces the entire series to be infinite (i.e., infinities that would otherwise occur in spacetime, consequently destabilizing it, are transferred to the cosmological singularities, thereby preventing the universe from immediately collapsing into nonexistence). As Tipler notes in his 2007 book The Physics of Christianity (pp. 49 and 279), “It is a fundamental mathematical fact that this [infinite series] is the best that we can do. … This is somewhat analogous to Liouville’s theorem in complex analysis, which says that all analytic functions other than constants have singularities either a finite distance from the origin of coordinates or at infinity.”

    When combined with the Standard Model, the result is the Theory of Everything (TOE) correctly describing and unifying all the forces in physics.

  501. #502 James Redford
    March 31, 2009

    God has been proven to exist based upon the most reserved view of the known laws of physics. For much more on that, see Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s below paper, which among other things demonstrates that the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics) require that the universe end in the Omega Point (the final cosmological singularity and state of infinite informational capacity identified as being God):

    F. J. Tipler, “The structure of the world from pure numbers,” Reports on Progress in Physics, Vol. 68, No. 4 (April 2005), pp. 897-964. http://math.tulane.edu/~tipler/theoryofeverything.pdf Also released as “Feynman-Weinberg Quantum Gravity and the Extended Standard Model as a Theory of Everything,” arXiv:0704.3276, April 24, 2007.

    Out of 50 articles, Prof. Tipler’s above paper was selected as one of 12 for the “Highlights of 2005″ accolade as “the very best articles published in Reports on Progress in Physics in 2005 [Vol. 68]. Articles were selected by the Editorial Board for their outstanding reviews of the field. They all received the highest praise from our international referees and a high number of downloads from the journal Website.” (See Richard Palmer, Publisher, “Highlights of 2005,” Reports on Progress in Physics website.)

    Reports on Progress in Physics is the leading journal of the Institute of Physics, Britain’s main professional body for physicists. Further, Reports on Progress in Physics has a higher impact factor (according to Journal Citation Reports) than Physical Review Letters, which is the most prestigious American physics journal (one, incidently, which Prof. Tipler has been published in more than once). A journal’s impact factor reflects the importance the science community places in that journal in the sense of actually citing its papers in their own papers. (And just to point out, Tipler’s 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper could not have been published in Physical Review Letters since said paper is nearly book-length, and hence not a “letter” as defined by the latter journal.)

    See also the below resources for further information on the Omega Point Theory:

    Theophysics: God Is the Ultimate Physicist (a website on GeoCities)

    Tipler is Professor of Mathematics and Physics (joint appointment) at Tulane University. His Ph.D. is in the field of global general relativity (the same rarefied field that Profs. Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking developed), and he is also an expert in particle physics and computer science. His Omega Point Theory has been published in a number of prestigious peer-reviewed physics and science journals in addition to Reports on Progress in Physics, such as Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (one of the world’s leading astrophysics journals), Physics Letters B, the International Journal of Theoretical Physics, etc.

    Prof. John A. Wheeler (the father of most relativity research in the U.S.) wrote that “Frank Tipler is widely known for important concepts and theorems in general relativity and gravitation physics” on pg. viii in the “Foreword” to The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1986) by cosmologist Prof. John D. Barrow and Tipler, which was the first book wherein Tipler’s Omega Point Theory was described. On pg. ix of said book, Prof. Wheeler wrote that Chapter 10 of the book, which concerns the Omega Point Theory, “rivals in thought-provoking power any of the [other chapters].”

    The leading quantum physicist in the world, Prof. David Deutsch (inventor of the quantum computer, being the first person to mathematically describe the workings of such a device, and winner of the Institute of Physics’ 1998 Paul Dirac Medal and Prize for his work), endorses the physics of the Omega Point Theory in his book The Fabric of Reality (1997). For that, see:

    David Deutsch, extracts from Chapter 14: “The Ends of the Universe” of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes–and Its Implications (London: Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1997); with additional comments by Frank J. Tipler. Available on the Theophysics website.

    The only way to avoid the Omega Point cosmology is to resort to physical theories which have no experimental support and which violate the known laws of physics, such as with Prof. Stephen Hawking’s paper on the black hole information issue which is dependent on the conjectured string theory-based anti-de Sitter space/conformal field theory correspondence (AdS/CFT correspondence). See S. W. Hawking, “Information loss in black holes,” Physical Review D, Vol. 72, No. 8, 084013 (October 2005); also at arXiv:hep-th/0507171, July 18, 2005.

    That is, Prof. Hawking’s paper is based upon empirically unconfirmed physics which violate the known laws of physics. It’s an impressive testament to the Omega Point Theory’s correctness, as Hawking implicitly confirms that the known laws of physics require the universe to collapse in finite time. Hawking realizes that the black hole information issue must be resolved without violating unitarity, yet he’s forced to abandon the known laws of physics in order to avoid unitarity violation without the universe collapsing.

    Some have suggested that the universe’s current acceleration of its expansion obviates the universe collapsing (and therefore obviates the Omega Point). But as Profs. Lawrence M. Krauss and Michael S. Turner point out in “Geometry and Destiny” (General Relativity and Gravitation, Vol. 31, No. 10 [October 1999], pp. 1453-1459; also at arXiv:astro-ph/9904020, April 1, 1999), there is no set of cosmological observations which can tell us whether the universe will expand forever or eventually collapse.

    There’s a very good reason for that, because that is dependant on the actions of intelligent life. The known laws of physics provide the mechanism for the universe’s collapse. As required by the Standard Model, the net baryon number was created in the early universe by baryogenesis via electroweak quantum tunneling. This necessarily forces the Higgs field to be in a vacuum state that is not its absolute vacuum, which is the cause of the positive cosmological constant. But if the baryons in the universe were to be annihilated by the inverse of baryogenesis, again via electroweak quantum tunneling (which is allowed in the Standard Model, as baryon number minus lepton number [B - L] is conserved), then this would force the Higgs field toward its absolute vacuum, cancelling the positive cosmological constant and thereby forcing the universe to collapse. Moreover, this process would provide the ideal form of energy resource and rocket propulsion during the colonization phase of the universe.

    Prof. Tipler’s above 2005 Reports on Progress in Physics paper also demonstrates that the correct quantum gravity theory has existed since 1962, first discovered by Richard Feynman in that year, and independently discovered by Steven Weinberg and Bryce DeWitt, among others. But because these physicists were looking for equations with a finite number of terms (i.e., derivatives no higher than second order), they abandoned this qualitatively unique quantum gravity theory since in order for it to be consistent it requires an arbitrarily higher number of terms. Further, they didn’t realize that this proper theory of quantum gravity is consistent only with a certain set of boundary conditions imposed (which includes the initial Big Bang, and the final Omega Point, cosmological singularities). The equations for this theory of quantum gravity are term-by-term finite, but the same mechanism that forces each term in the series to be finite also forces the entire series to be infinite (i.e., infinities that would otherwise occur in spacetime, consequently destabilizing it, are transferred to the cosmological singularities, thereby preventing the universe from immediately collapsing into nonexistence). As Tipler notes in his 2007 book The Physics of Christianity (pp. 49 and 279), “It is a fundamental mathematical fact that this [infinite series] is the best that we can do. … This is somewhat analogous to Liouville’s theorem in complex analysis, which says that all analytic functions other than constants have singularities either a finite distance from the origin of coordinates or at infinity.”

    When combined with the Standard Model, the result is the Theory of Everything (TOE) correctly describing and unifying all the forces in physics.

  502. #503 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 31, 2009

    God has been proven to exist

    FALSE. No buring bush equivalent, no god.

  503. #504 Notagod
    March 31, 2009

    John Harshman,

    Your comment to SC, OM:

    I sense you want to engage me in some long, highly technical, and boring argument about semantics. Could you at least start by showing your hand?

    I might ask and state the same about you, correct?

    You smacked me pretty good at #490 and #491, and rightfully so. Thank you.

    You also didn’t address nor convince me that there isn’t a danger inherent in having theists working in science. Nor did you address what I consider the point of my comment, that being the parts you failed to address.

    Even though theists are a minority within scientific endeavor, they are causing major problems. There are highly regarded scientists within their field of study making unfounded claims regarding science that they really don’t understand, possibly because they aren’t qualified in the field that they are making claims about. The valid response to those errant claims is to dismiss them as the claimant is unqualified. That works fairly well within the scientific community as a whole but, it doesn’t works so well for society in general. The majority theistic society will accept the errant claims as valid controversy and demand that their government which is also heavily theistic do something to remove non-theistic scientific claims from scientific research. What happens when a significant percent of the scientific community is theistic? Won’t they be pushing each other to insert a god-idea within their research as certainly, there is no proof a god-idea didn’t “done” it that way anyway. As time goes on everything can thusly be proven to be done by a god-idea(s) and there will be scientific proof to back it up. If you don’t think that can happen just rewind the clock a few hundred years and have a look backwards from there.

    As long as you don’t imagine you know something that contradicts a testable hypothesis, what’s the harm?

    There certainly can be harm done but, I don’t think it is completely predictable. Christians aren’t trying to be honest and scientific about pushing their god-idea in, they are simply trying to push their god-idea in anywhere they can get it to stick. They will then use that as a foundation for further encroachment in the future.

    If you can’t see the potential for harm, I think you are being dishonest or at least intentionally ignoring the potential.

    Some christians have been tweaking their “faith” to more correctly align with now known facts however, the tweaking often contradicts what is explicitly written in their god idea book which claims perfection and, that none of the written words are eligible for revision. There is surely a conflict so the inevitable question will be, should the evidence be tweaked to match the “faith” or should the “faith” be tweaked to match the evidence. In many cases they could tweak the evidence without consciously knowing that they are doing it.

    Religion has always been used as a tool for dishonesty and manipulation, I don’t think that will ever change (and I can’t believe in any super being that would use religion such as christianity as a basis for knowing anything let alone it).

    So that’s basically my hand and I don’t think your arguments work well when applied in the real world but, only work when viewed theoretically (and I still see it as potentially problematic).

    So what’s your hand?

    Are you an atheist?

    Are you a christian?

    Please note, that I still find this to be a disgusting statement within a scientific context:

    Historically, the conflict between science and religion has happened only when religion has made claims that contradict empirical evidence. “God works through evolution”, for example, makes no claims about empirical evidence; it’s merely unparsimonious, since we “had no need of that hypothesis”.

  504. #505 Owlmirror
    March 31, 2009

    God has been proven to exist based upon the most reserved view of the known laws of physics.

    Only if by “God” you mean “transcendent humanity”.

    And only if by “reserved” you mean “tenuous, speculative, improbable, unproven, and wrong”.


    The Physics of Bronze Age Mythology

  505. #506 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    March 31, 2009

    James,

    If you’re going to post the same copy and pasted crap all over the internet, at least try and mix it up a little.

    Sheesh

  506. #507 John Harshman
    March 31, 2009

    Notagod:

    I’m sorry, but I have to consider you a crank. You seem highly paranoid, both about me and about some mysterious Christian conspiracy to infiltrate and destroy science. (There is such a conspiracy, i.e. the DI, as shown in its Wedge document, but it hardly includes a significant fraction of Christians, the the plan isn’t secret, and it doesn’t seem to be working out, at least as far as science goes.) I also find your points and arguments largely opaque, and so have difficulty responding.

    As for my religious beliefs, I would think they would be obvious to any reader who actually reads what I write. But for the comprehensionally challenged, I’m an atheist.

    Now it’s true that some Christian scientists (not to be confused with Christian Scientists) do sometimes spout a bit of nonsense, which may gain some credence from their scientific credentials. But in my experience, spouting nonsense is hardly reserved for Christians. I have seen a great many scientists say ridiculous things, sometimes even in Science or Nature, and on the subjects on which they’re supposedly experts. Miraculously, the edifice of science has not thereby collapsed.

    I don’t know how anyone would legally bar theists from science, nor does it seem a moral thing to try. Nor do I see any significant danger in letting them in. If they haven’t destroyed science in the past 400 years, why would they do it now?

    As for this:

    Please note, that I still find this to be a disgusting statement within a scientific context:

    Historically, the conflict between science and religion has happened only when religion has made claims that contradict empirical evidence. “God works through evolution”, for example, makes no claims about empirical evidence; it’s merely unparsimonious, since we “had no need of that hypothesis”.

    Well, de gustibus non disputandem est. If you can give me some rational reasons why you find it disgusting, we might conceivably discuss them.

  507. #508 James Redford
    March 31, 2009

    Hi, Owlmirror and Rev. BigDumbChimp. The only way to avoid the conclusion that the Omega Point exists is to reject the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics), and hence reject empirical science: as these physical laws have been confirmed by every experiment to date. That is, there exists no rational reason for thinking that the Omega Point Theory is incorrect, and indeed, one must engage in extreme irrationality in order to argue against the Omega Point Theory.

  508. #509 John Morales
    March 31, 2009

    James Redford, thanks for exemplifying scientism.

    Kooks have their uses.

  509. #510 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 31, 2009

    Omega Point Theory.

    Irrelevant, not physical evidence, only philosophy, and sophistry at that. Not impressed at all.

  510. #511 Owlmirror
    March 31, 2009

    The only way to avoid the conclusion that the Omega Point exists is to reject the known laws of physics

    Nonsense. The Omega Point is a fantasy. It is made up. It isn’t necessary. It isn’t parsimonious. It does not follow from the known laws of physics; it emerges from Tipler’s imagination, who takes the idea of the Singularity much, much too seriously. Tipler puts the idea of the Singularity in a blender with the Nicene Creed and turns it to 11.

    Pseudoscience smoothie!

  511. #512 Josh
    March 31, 2009

    qball wrote:

    I don’t think you’ve really answered the question.

    Actually, I think I did answer the question. It took me quite a few words, because beauty is a rather subjective and ambiguous concept, but I’m pretty sure that what I wrote constitutes an answer. If you aren’t happy with my contribution, that’s fine of course. Perhaps you should offer one of your own?

    The fact that your family members are capable of appreciating beauty without knowledge of science would suggest a “no” answer.

    How do you arrive at that conclusion? Where did I assert, or even suggest, that science was the only way to understand beauty? I merely responded to the idiotic implication in that question (Does science tell us what is beautiful?) that science cannot help resolve beauty. But even if the answer is an unequivocal yes that science can, why would that make it the only pathway to that understanding? It’s not the best analogy, but that reasoning reminds me of the ridiculous pro-ID position that if evolution were to be falsified, then “obviously” ID would be the winning answer by default.

    You suggest that you’re better able to appreciate beauty than your non-scientific family members, but this isn?t really an evidence-based assertion, is it?

    Saying “better appreciate” is putting words in my mouth, but yes, I would argue that I get something out of observing the beauty of certain aspects of nature that my parents don’t, because I understand those aspects of nature better. I’m sorry that this seems to bother you. It’s not like I’m asserting that I am a better person because of it. My father has forgotten more about wood than I’m ever going to know and I’m pretty sure that he understands its beauty in ways that I can’t even begin to understand. Again, science isn’t the only route. Moreover, it should have been clear that I was offering a speculative hypothesis (note, for example, the lack of supporting references). What–is that off the table at Pharyngula now?

    Who’s to establish the relative depths of appreciation for scientists, and those who fit their observations into some other, perhaps creationist, worldview.

    I’m not really sure where this sentence is going, but I don’t know what a creationist worldview has to do with this conversation.

    You don?t have to be a scientist to have some sort of “Celestine Prophecy”-style, transcendent “religious experience” while observing nature. Worship of celestial bodies was common long before science provided an accurate understanding of their nature.

    Again, my entire comment was a reaction to a direct implication that science cannot offer this sort of experience. No one is contesting the fact that you don’t have to be a scientist to see and appreciate beauty. And the simple fact that I compared my experiences to those of non-scientists (who clearly appreciate beauty) should have indicated that I don’t think science is the only pathway.

    Science may explain *why* we find things beautiful, and for some of us, it may enhance our appreciation of things, but I think it’s largely instinct that tells us *what* is beautiful.

    Is this an “evidence-based assertion,” or a speculation…?

  512. #513 windy
    April 1, 2009

    David Deutsch… endorses the physics of the Omega Point Theory

    Lie or at least misdirection. Deutsch writes:

    Now, suppose that the master builder [of medieval cathedrals] is speculating about the distant future of the building industry, and that by some extraordinary fluke he happens upon a perfectly accurate assessment of the technology of the present day. Then he will know, among other things, that we are capable of building structures far vaster and more impressive than the greatest cathedrals of his day. We could build a cathedral a mile high if we chose to. And we could do it using a far smaller proportion of our wealth, and less time and human effort, than he would have needed to build even a modest cathedral. So he would have been confident in predicting that by the year 2000 there would be mile-high cathedrals. He would be mistaken, and badly so, for though we have the technology to build such structures, we have chosen not to. [...] He would have been wrong because some of his most unquestioned assumptions about human motivations have become obsolete after only a few centuries.
    Similarly, it may seem natural to us that the omega-point intelligences, for reasons of historical or archaeological research, or compassion, or moral duty, or mere whimsy, will eventually create virtual-reality renderings of us, and that when their experiment is over they will grant us the piffling computational resources we would require to live for ever in ‘heaven’. (I myself would prefer to be allowed gradually to join their culture.) But we cannot know what they will want.

    Tipler responds that this is a bad counterexample, since the mile high cathedral will eventually be built by “resurrected” people. (Weird response, since that would be a simulated cathedral, not a real one!)

  513. #514 James Redford
    April 1, 2009

    Hi, windy. Prof. David’s Deutsch’s point is that such an extrapolation wouldn’t be using the most fundamental theories of existence which we have. Prof. Deutsch’s position is that one must enage in unsupported assumptions in order to avoid the Omega Point Theory.

    His position is that the Omega Point Theory involves the fewest amount of assumptions, and that any other position would require assumptions that are unsupported by physics, logic and observation.

    At any rate, Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s Omega Point Theory has advanced considerably since that time. We now have the quantum gravity Theory of Everything (TOE) correctly describing and unifying all the forces in physics, of which inherently produces the Omega Point cosmology.

    So we can be confident that the Omega Point Theory is correct.

  514. #515 John Morales
    April 1, 2009

    JR @515:

    We now have the quantum gravity Theory of Everything (TOE) correctly describing and unifying all the forces in physics, of which inherently produces the Omega Point cosmology.
    So we can be confident that the Omega Point Theory is correct.

    Um, no “we” don’t, and even were it so, I doubt it would be teleological.

    You’re making a leap of faith.

  515. #516 Notagod
    April 1, 2009

    John Harshman,

    Stop being a childish bore. I might be giving you too much credit but, you know what is wrong with your statement that “god works through evolution”. If you don’t have anything to support it then you’ve got nothing. It doesn’t matter if you are an atheist or a christian you still need to show why your extraordinary claim has merit. What is this god thing? How does it work through evolution?

    Anything John, do you have anything at all?

  516. #517 John Harshman
    April 1, 2009

    Notagod:

    I don’t know how you have managed to get this reading of my posts. I don’t claim that god works through evolution. I’m pretty sure there is no such person (which is why I call myself an atheist), and a person who doesn’t exist probably wouldn’t be working either. Has this ever been the least bit unclear?

  517. #518 Owlmirror
    April 1, 2009

    If all knowledge of the world is considered the province of science, then I agree that science, so broadly defined, falsifies most usual gods, and thus that belief in those gods is in conflict with science. However, we started with evolutionary biology, and evolutionary biology has very little, if anything, to do with that conflict. Except for fundies, of course.

    Yet why would you argue for something so narrowly constrained? The whole point is that science is a systematic way of gathering knowledge; science, as we understand it now, is an intersubjective and generally consistent body of knowledge. To deny a broader scope to science is to permit or even encourage inconsistency and contradiction outside of the very narrow fields of each individual scientist, or each individual science.

    The Omega Point advocate reminds me that I brought up Tipler’s claims to Heddle, and his response to that was: “Tipler is another matter. People can publish whatever they like in the non peer-reviewed literature. We judge their science by their research publications, not their philosophical publications.”.

    Well.

    Of course, that was also in the context of being reminded of the infamous Han and Warda paper that somehow passed peer-review to Proteomics, somewhat closer to the field of evolutionary biology:

    “More logically, the points that show proteomics overlapping between different forms of life are more likely to be interpreted as a reflection of a single common fingerprint initiated by a mighty creator than relying on a single cell that is, in a doubtful way, surprisingly originating all other kinds of life.”

    I think that what I am trying to say is that at some point in the intellect of even the most rigorous theistic scientist, religious beliefs end up privileging fallacious reasoning and fallacious conclusions. Belief without evidence may be harmless as long as the scientist keeps up rigorous compartmentalization, but I think we can see more than a few glaring examples of where the compartment walls break down, and the scientist either becomes an atheist, or tries to use science to “prove” the unprovable. Tipler is a good case in point, on one side of a epistemic gradient, and creation “scientists” are examples on the far end (or off the deep end, as it were). I suppose Han and Warda are somewhere in the middle — probably near Behe.

  518. #519 John Harshman
    April 1, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    Yet why would you argue for something so narrowly constrained? The whole point is that science is a systematic way of gathering knowledge; science, as we understand it now, is an intersubjective and generally consistent body of knowledge. To deny a broader scope to science is to permit or even encourage inconsistency and contradiction outside of the very narrow fields of each individual scientist, or each individual science.

    I don’t know that we disagree on this. But if you will recall what brought us here, the whole context of the original complaint was evolutionary biology. We can of course extend the scientific method into as much of the world as we like, though at some point we may pass into areas where the definitions are so fuzzy as to make well-formed hypotheses difficult.

    I think that what I am trying to say is that at some point in the intellect of even the most rigorous theistic scientist, religious beliefs end up privileging fallacious reasoning and fallacious conclusions.

    I find that condescending and…sorry, there’s no word — whatever is analogous to “racist” here. I see no sign that the average theistic scientist allows his religion into his work. I see plenty of evidence that some scientists allow irrational beliefs of various sorts to infect their conclusions, but I don’t find religion to have a special position as the source of such beliefs. So religion doesn’t inevitably cause injection of irrationality, and lack of religion is no guarantee against such error. I’m left with no obvious correlation.

    We can all agree that scientists shouldn’t let irrational beliefs interfere with their work. Of course, even when they do it doesn’t matter much to science as a self-correcting discipline. Crazy things are published in high impact journals every day, and most of them sink without a splash. Does anyone remember the live Permian halobacterium? Religion is orthogonal to this sort of thing.

  519. #520 Owlmirror
    April 1, 2009
    I think that what I am trying to say is that at some point in the intellect of even the most rigorous theistic scientist, religious beliefs end up privileging fallacious reasoning and fallacious conclusions.

    I find that condescending and…sorry, there’s no word — whatever is analogous to “racist” here.

    “Epistemicist”, perhaps? I suppose that I do reject the claim that there are “other ways of knowing”; that special revelation is just as good as systematically-derived falsifiable empirical evidence. That’s where we started from above: I find NOMA itself to be epistemically utterly wrong (even if it might be a tactical or strategic success).

    I see no sign that the average theistic scientist allows his religion into his work.

    Well… Perhaps not. But even granting that, that isn’t what I wrote, is it?

    And of course, I’m more concerned about the fringe cases of creation “scientists” and “ID” supporter scientists.

    But what those prominent fringe case scientists do is help confuse the public and cause problems with implementing public policy. There are many people who find authority impressive. When a scientist gives up on the scientific method and starts evangelizing religion, it sure sounds reasonable to people who have no idea that there is a method.

    Speaking of which, you’ve reminded me that Teaching scientific knowledge doesn’t improve scientific reasoning. The method is important — and it’s not easy to keep in mind all the time. If it were easy, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.

    It’s also the case that humans appear to be naturally teleologically biased. The problem is that scientists who abandon the method for religion help the confuse people and make the illusion of purpose more powerful.

    I see plenty of evidence that some scientists allow irrational beliefs of various sorts to infect their conclusions, but I don’t find religion to have a special position as the source of such beliefs. So religion doesn’t inevitably cause injection of irrationality, and lack of religion is no guarantee against such error. I’m left with no obvious correlation.

    So what would convince you of this? A careful statistical survey that analyzed scientists for counter-scientific beliefs, and showed that religious beliefs were in the majority and most strongly held? There may be some out there; I would have to search a bit.

    Crazy things are published in high impact journals every day, and most of them sink without a splash. Does anyone remember the live Permian halobacterium?

    Yet that, at least, isn’t a failure of the scientific method. Something may have been wrong, but they did not go about it the wrong way.

    Speaking of which, I scholar.google’d Permian halobacterium (actually Archaea, of course), and it does not appear that their viability has been falsified. Do you have anything in mind that does?

    A few recent papers (no http prefix so as to avoid comment moderation):

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/2tun5bg26r3t8b5f/
      geology.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstract/33/4/265
      adsabs.harvard.edu/full/2001ESASP.496…25S

  520. #521 John Harshman
    April 1, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    I suppose that I do reject the claim that there are “other ways of knowing”; that special revelation is just as good as systematically-derived falsifiable empirical evidence.

    So do I, so that’s not relevant to our argument. The point of a good little NOMA is that religion doesn’t try to assert itself against objective reality.

    I see no sign that the average theistic scientist allows his religion into his work.

    Well… Perhaps not. But even granting that, that isn’t what I wrote, is it?

    That’s how I interpreted “I think that what I am trying to say is that at some point in the intellect of even the most rigorous theistic scientist, religious beliefs end up privileging fallacious reasoning and fallacious conclusions.”

    I see plenty of evidence that some scientists allow irrational beliefs of various sorts to infect their conclusions, but I don’t find religion to have a special position as the source of such beliefs. So religion doesn’t inevitably cause injection of irrationality, and lack of religion is no guarantee against such error. I’m left with no obvious correlation.

    So what would convince you of this? A careful statistical survey that analyzed scientists for counter-scientific beliefs, and showed that religious beliefs were in the majority and most strongly held? There may be some out there; I would have to search a bit.

    Yes, that would work. As long as the counter-scientific beliefs had distorted their work. Don’t forget that proviso. This would be a difficult study, as counter-scientific beliefs are sometimes hard to detect, and sometimes are in the eye of the beholder. The counter-scientific belief may be as simple as a pet theory, not unscientific in itself, that one refuses to discard after it’s been falsified by data.

    Yet that, at least, isn’t a failure of the scientific method. Something may have been wrong, but they did not go about it the wrong way.

    I would say they did. They didn’t subject their results to the sniff test. No evolution whatsoever in 250 million years?

    Speaking of which, I scholar.google’d Permian halobacterium (actually Archaea, of course), and it does not appear that their viability has been falsified. Do you have anything in mind that does?

    It’s not the viability that is the problem. It’s the overwhelming probability that the bacteria are not actually Permian, but arise from recent contamination. The papers you cite don’t consider the biology of all this. If ancient halobacteria are commonly included in salt deposits, then there should be a very strange temporal structure to their phylogeny, as taxa should be entering and leaving the salt constantly throughout earth history, having been preserved unchanged for arbitrary millions of years. Imagine what the current human population would look like if the past 10 million years or so of hominid history were randomly thawing out of ice blocks and joining the living.

    I think this covers the case pretty well: Graur, D., and T. Pupko. 2001. The Permian bacterium that isn’t. Molecular Biology and Evolution 18:1143-1146.

    Of course, you may disagree. Which goes to show that loony is in the eye of the beholder. However, I could present other examples showing that the lure of a high-impact journal is as good a spur to craziness as any religion. Many of them, fortunately, never get published. A few years ago there was a trumpeted Triceratops DNA sequence that was identical to the same gene from a turkey. But apparently somebody asked them if anyone had eaten lunch in the lab before they reached the publication stage.

  521. #522 Keith Douglas
    April 1, 2009

    John Harshman: Psychoneural dualism, which is inconsistent with almost every branch of biology and also very basic physics, is an official doctrine of the Catholic church.

  522. #523 Blake Stacey
    April 2, 2009

    For much more on that, see Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s below paper, which among other things demonstrates that the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the Standard Model of particle physics) require that the universe end in the Omega Point (the final cosmological singularity and state of infinite informational capacity identified as being God):

    Wrong. Tiplerian theology (best term for it, really) presumes a recollapsing universe. We don’t live in one of those. You can’t have an Omega Point happy-fun-time when the matter content of the universe just gets thinner and thinner, only clumps tightly held together by gravity sustaining their integrity against the omnipresent pressure of dark energy.

    We now have the quantum gravity Theory of Everything (TOE) correctly describing and unifying all the forces in physics, of which inherently produces the Omega Point cosmology.

    No, we don’t. The closest approach to a viable quantum gravity theory is string theory; in recent years, quantized gravity theories have been constructed via gauge/gravity duality, but these constructions live in anti-de Sitter universes, which have opposite curvature to the Universe we actually live in.

  523. #524 windy
    April 2, 2009

    We can all agree that scientists shouldn’t let irrational beliefs interfere with their work. Of course, even when they do it doesn’t matter much to science as a self-correcting discipline. Crazy things are published in high impact journals every day, and most of them sink without a splash. Does anyone remember the live Permian halobacterium? Religion is orthogonal to this sort of thing.

    [devil's advocate mode:] If that is the case, why should we object to publication of scientific papers incorporating religious ideas and hypotheses? If equally crazy stuff is already being published?

  524. #525 Blake Stacey
    April 2, 2009

    As required by the Standard Model, the net baryon number was created in the early universe by baryogenesis via electroweak quantum tunneling. This necessarily forces the Higgs field to be in a vacuum state that is not its absolute vacuum, which is the cause of the positive cosmological constant.

    Euh. . . A bad idea pulled out of a hat to “rescue” another bad idea. (A classic crackpot tradition, that.) All serious attempts to connect the Higgs field to the inflaton, dark energy, quintessence, etc., in a rigorous way have come up with big question marks.

  525. #526 Owlmirror
    April 2, 2009

    The point of a good little NOMA is that religion doesn’t try to assert itself against objective reality.

    At what point does an argument from ignorance become an assertion against objective reality?

    I see no sign that the average theistic scientist allows his religion into his work.

    Well… Perhaps not. But even granting that, that isn’t what I wrote, is it?

    That’s how I interpreted “I think that what I am trying to say is that at some point in the intellect of even the most rigorous theistic scientist, religious beliefs end up privileging fallacious reasoning and fallacious conclusions.”

    Would you consider Collins arguments from ignorance for God to not be fallacious? Just as one example?

    [Permian holobacteria]

    It’s not the viability that is the problem. It’s the overwhelming probability that the bacteria are not actually Permian, but arise from recent contamination. The papers you cite don’t consider the biology of all this. If ancient halobacteria are commonly included in salt deposits, then there should be a very strange temporal structure to their phylogeny, as taxa should be entering and leaving the salt constantly throughout earth history, having been preserved unchanged for arbitrary millions of years. Imagine what the current human population would look like if the past 10 million years or so of hominid history were randomly thawing out of ice blocks and joining the living.

    I did find this, which references the paper you offered, and others, which are skeptical, but also includes the authors’ response:

    http://www.dna.gfy.ku.dk/mbh/papers/geology_2005.pdf

    Of course, you may disagree. Which goes to show that loony is in the eye of the beholder.

    In my case, it really is basically deep and profound ignorance of the microbiology of extremophiles, besides knowing that they exist, and have extremely surprisingly weird metabolisms. Being aware that they are exceptions to many rules in many cases makes me leery of making strict pronouncements of what should or should not be expected from them evolution-wise, or what should or should not be expected from them regarding any other strictly biochemical or genetic characteristics.

    If I were willing to speculate about something about which I know almost nothing (which I am, because why not?), I would suggest that Archaea, having very robust DNA repair mechanisms, might because of that same robust DNA repair appear to evolve far, far more slowly.

    But as far as I know, nobody is offering supernatural causation for the halobacteria, and again, if they are wrong, it should be possible to show, clearly and unmistakably, that they are indeed wrong. This isn’t nonfalsifiable handwavy stuff.

    However, I could present other examples showing that the lure of a high-impact journal is as good a spur to craziness as any religion.

    OK. Go nuts. I’d be interested in seeing if you have anything in mind that even I would recognize as being definitely off the deep end.

  526. #527 Owlmirror
    April 2, 2009

    [Permian holobacteria]

    All that [my handwaving] having been said, this:

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tim.2005.03.010

    Might well shoot down the whole “Permian” thing, if I could access the entire article, and understand it. Ahem.

  527. #528 Owlmirror
    April 2, 2009

    [Permian holobacteria]

    Sorry to keep harping on this, but the author of the critical letter above, Martin Bay Hebsgaard, has more of his papers available here:

    http://www.dna.gfy.ku.dk/mbh/mbh_cv.html

    In addition to the skeptical 2005 paper (“Geologically ancient DNA:
    fact or artefact?”), note the 2007 paper (“Ancient bacteria show evidence of DNA repair”).

    I’m over here going “?”, because I don’t actually have the expertise to evaluate their applicability to holobacteria claimed to be from the Permian (other than the obvious one about not contaminating your samples with turkey sandwiches or like that).

  528. #529 John Harshman
    April 2, 2009

    Windy:

    If that is the case, why should we object to publication of scientific papers incorporating religious ideas and hypotheses? If equally crazy stuff is already being published?

    We should object to all the crazy stuff equally. And we should realize that the peer review process lets a lot through.

  529. #530 John Harshman
    April 2, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    Would you consider Collins arguments from ignorance for God to not be fallacious? Just as one example?

    I will confess that I don’t understand the argument, based on the wiki you linked. I can’t even tell if it is an argument. It doesn’t seem to conflict with objective reality, because it makes no predictions. And, a little bit more apropos, I see no sign that Collins has applied this model in his science. Finally, isn’t this a digression from your argument? We agree that some scientists believe weird things. We agree that some of them allow these weird things to affect their science. The question is whether the weird things mostly result from theism.

  530. #531 John Harshman
    April 2, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    On the Permian halobacteria thing. I’m by no means an expert on halobacteria or ancient DNA. But that last article you linked makes a nice case, raising an objection different to the one I had, simply that DNA maintenance takes active metabolism, and there’s a limit to how long a bacterium can continue making repairs without a source of food. Dormancy isn’t a solution to long-term survival, at least not this long-term. Though it’s amazing he can infer survival for up to a half million years, but no longer. Note that I initially tossed this out merely as a random example of crazy talk in the literature.

    As for other obvious craziness, there have been papers claiming that guinea pigs aren’t rodents, that birds aren’t dinosaurs (not so crazy a claim in 1980, but a seriously crazy one in 2009), that orangutans are the closest human relatives (again, crazier now than 30 years ago), that hox genes are sources of instant speciation, that almost all speciation is due to endosymbiosis, etc. My point is that the few theist weirdnesses that make it into the literature are dwarfed by the other weirdnesses.

  531. #532 SC, OM
    April 4, 2009

    Sorry for the delayed response, which probably no one will see.

    I sense you want to engage me in some long, highly technical, and boring argument about semantics.

    Furthest thing from my mind. And I don’t see how asking for a clarification of what a person means by “hypothesis” on a science blog should tie anyone up in semantic knots. Seems it should be an easy enough question to answer.

    Could you at least start by showing your hand?

    I don’t think I have a hand – I really wasn’t seeking to play any word or mental games. But since you asked so nicely, I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. It’s just that I’ve seen religious claims referred to as “untestable hypotheses” on here quite a bit recently and I find it both perplexing and a bit of a concern. It’s perplexing to me because I am really only famiiiar with hypothesis as used in a research context. While other “inspirations” may play a role, hypotheses are generated fundamentally on a scientific basis – of observations and of existing theory and models. And they are by definition testable – it’s the whole point of generating them in the first place.

    I don’t work in the natural sciences, so it may be that the meaning of the word has expanded, and it’s commonly used in a different way, like “theory” (though, again, I’ve been noticing it more just recently). I would have a real problem with this, because I think it allows for people who generate and put forth their assertions in a manner that is contrary to science (pulling them out of the air or drawing them from allegedly authoritative texts) to use terminology that has a specific meaning in science in a way that hides the fundamental inconsistencies. I think a central part of the scientific approach is that there needs to be an empirical or theoretical basis for our statements about how the world works, and this is most evident in the hypothesis stage of research. Hence my concern.

    I’m suggesting that many of these religious beliefs should not be called “untestable hypotheses.” Not because they are testable, though in many cases they’re not coherent enough to rise to this level, often because their holders refuse to state clearly exactly what it is that they believe (yes, I have heddle in mind), but because they’re not hypotheses. They don’t even resemble hypotheses. From a scientific point of view, they’re blather, but as statements about the natural world they’re blather that is contrary to science, as Jerry Coyne argued well recently.

  532. #533 John Harshman
    April 4, 2009

    SC, OM:

    On the meaning of “hypothesis”. I think you attach way too much weight to this single word, largely composed of extraneous baggage. You seem to insist that if an idea is not rigorously formed and testable, it’s not a hypothesis. I, however, would consider a hypothesis to be any conjecture. We can thus speak of “vague hypotheses”, “untestable hypotheses”, and the like. I have no objection to you using the word in a different way, but I also see no reason for anyone to complain about the way I used it. The meaning seems clear enough in context. And I don’t see any catastrophe for science, or any implicit support for religion, therein. And nothing relevant to Jerry Coyne’s complaint.

    Now of course there needs to be empirical support for a scientist’s statement of how the world works. But a hypothesis isn’t a statement; it’s really a question.

    Incidentally, do you work in an unnatural science? If so, which one?

  533. #534 John Morales
    April 4, 2009

    John Harshman,

    On the meaning of “hypothesis”. [...] The meaning seems clear enough in context.

    Apparently not. Nor have you clarified it here.
    I note that hypothesis, conjecture and speculation may overlap, but are none synonymous.

    But a hypothesis isn’t a statement; it’s really a question.

    No, it’s not.

  534. #535 SC, OM
    April 4, 2009

    Thanks for returning to respond!

    You seem to insist that if an idea is not rigorously formed and testable, it’s not a hypothesis.

    Yes.

    I, however, would consider a hypothesis to be any conjecture.

    On what basis?

    We can thus speak of “vague hypotheses”, “untestable hypotheses”, and the like.

    Not if we’re on a science blog talking about what is and isn’t compatible with science. Using it in this vague way in this context seems a bit, well, sneaky.

    I have no objection to you using the word in a different way,

    The way it’s used in science?

    but I also see no reason for anyone to complain about the way I used it.

    Because it’s deceptive, intentionally or not, and – again – hides from view one of the central elements of a scientific approach.

    And I don’t see any catastrophe for science, or any implicit support for religion, therein.

    You’re cofused about what I’m saying.

    And nothing relevant to Jerry Coyne’s complaint.

    Do you know what I’m referring to?

    Incidentally, do you work in an unnatural science? If so, which one?

    I work in a social science. It’s a standard distinction.

  535. #536 John Harshman
    April 5, 2009

    As I had anticipated, we are now engaged in a pointless argument about semantics. Yes, a hypothesis is a question: it’s like Jeopardy, only backwards, because the question is in the form of a statement. I do not, however, care enough about this to defend it at length. And the reason I don’t care is that I don’t see the crucial importance to science of defining “hypothesis” properly, or of defending that definition against theism. Sorry.

  536. #537 SC, OM
    April 5, 2009

    As I had anticipated, we are now engaged in a pointless argument about semantics.

    No, we’re not.

    Yes, a hypothesis is a question: it’s like Jeopardy, only backwards, because the question is in the form of a statement. I do not, however, care enough about this to defend it at length. And the reason I don’t care is that I don’t see the crucial importance to science of defining “hypothesis” properly, or of defending that definition against theism. Sorry.

    The importance is in appreciating what the hypothesis stage of research – generating hypotheses as part of scientific practice – encompasses and what this means in terms of how we understand science and what is or isn’t compatible with it. I really do think you’re not following what I’m saying here, but I’m happy to leave it there. So it goes.

    By the way, this was the Coyne piece to which I was referring:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/01/coyne_on_the_compatibility_of.php

  537. #538 John Harshman
    April 5, 2009

    Would that be the same Coyne piece that PZ started all this with? I don’t see what it has to do with the meaning of “hypothesis”, and in fact PZ adds to the mix with “wild hypothesis”.

    And yes we are. This is way too much significance to attach to one word.

  538. #539 Owlmirror
    April 5, 2009

    I don’t know that arguments about semantics are pointless. Is not part of the argument against creationists that they have an incorrect understanding of the word “theory” as used by science?

    Above, @#532, you called some published papers “crazy”. I think I understand why in each case, but can you expand on why you think they are crazy?

    My understanding is that they’re crazy because they either ignore the current, already-published works with which any proper peer-reviewer (if not the paper author) should be familiar (birds not being dinosaurs paper) or make sweeping claims far beyond the data purports to hint (endosymbiotic speciation).

    Would that not suggest that the craziness might well arise from flawed hypotheses? After all, something is wrong with them…

  539. #540 John Harshman
    April 5, 2009

    Owlmirror:

    I don’t know that arguments about semantics are pointless. Is not part of the argument against creationists that they have an incorrect understanding of the word “theory” as used by science?

    I don’t claim that all arguments about semantics are pointless. I merely claim that this one is.

    Above, @#532, you called some published papers “crazy”. I think I understand why in each case, but can you expand on why you think they are crazy?

    In each case, the hypothesis proposed (sorry for using the word) is inconsistent with a great deal of evidence, and the authors do not confront that evidence. Which is approximately what you thought, I believe.

    Would that not suggest that the craziness might well arise from flawed hypotheses? After all, something is wrong with them…

    It would indeed, and something is indeed. But I don’t see the point you’re making here. We would like to avoid flawed hypotheses, and of course we do that by being willing to test them against data. If we don’t, someone else will. And so science is saved from error. Still don’t see how this shows that religion is incompatible with science, or that theists pose a particular danger to science. Perhaps you could restate your, um, hypothesis here.

  540. #541 Sastra
    April 5, 2009

    John Harshman #541 wrote:

    We would like to avoid flawed hypotheses, and of course we do that by being willing to test them against data. If we don’t, someone else will. And so science is saved from error. Still don’t see how this shows that religion is incompatible with science, or that theists pose a particular danger to science. Perhaps you could restate your, um, hypothesis here.

    I suppose one could say that the hypothesis is that religious claims — such as ‘God exists’ — ought to be hypotheses. If they are not, then that means that there is an area which cannot be saved from error.

    Religious claims deal with how the world has been set up — and would include the assertion that the world is set up so that science and religion should not come into any conflict. If religious beliefs are not open to objective correction, then, once you are inside the religious framework, the liberal theists who believe in a God that does not interfere with the world and conflict with science can’t be shown as being any more correct than those traditionalists who believe in a God which does.

    As Dawkins points out, you can’t say that the first group is using faith correctly, and the second group is distorting how they ought to use faith. One would have to compare to see which group is following God the best — not which group is following the secular world the best.

  541. #542 Owlmirror
    April 8, 2009

    Re: flawed hypotheses — I think you would agree that God is a flawed hypothesis, yes?

    We would like to avoid flawed hypotheses, and of course we do that by being willing to test them against data. If we don’t, someone else will. And so science is saved from error. Still don’t see how this shows that religion is incompatible with science, or that theists pose a particular danger to science.

    Would you disagree, though, that theism itself arises from a dogmatic psychological refusal to test flawed hypotheses against the data of the known?

    There’s also the aspect of social reinforcement — would you disagree that social support for dogmatic adherence to flawed hypotheses might help slow and prevent them from being rejected by the public? And doesn’t science require social support for funding and propagation via education?

  542. #543 SC, OM
    April 8, 2009

    Noooooooo! I cannot argue on another thread! How does Owlmirror do it? How many plates can I keep spinning at once? I’m just trying to stay awake! Have mercy!

    ***

    I reject your hypothesis, and substitute my own.

  543. #544 John Harshman
    April 8, 2009

    Re: flawed hypotheses — I think you would agree that God is a flawed hypothesis, yes?

    I would agree that in my experience God is either a falsified or an untestable hypothesis, depending on the details. And science tries not to entertain either sort.

    Would you disagree, though, that theism itself arises from a dogmatic psychological refusal to test flawed hypotheses against the data of the known?

    Arises? No. Maintained? Yes. For those whose god is testable, that is.

    There’s also the aspect of social reinforcement — would you disagree that social support for dogmatic adherence to flawed hypotheses might help slow and prevent them from being rejected by the public? And doesn’t science require social support for funding and propagation via education?

    Yes, but I don’t see the connection. In fact, I don’t see the connection between any of this and what I had imagined we were arguing about.