Pharyngula

It’s just sad. The arguments the apologists for religion make seem to be getting more and more pathetic, and more and more unconvincing. There is going to be a lecture, announced in the Times Higher Education supplement, by someone trying to reconcile science and religion in the history of the Royal Society. How is he going to do it? By arguing that members of the society in 1663 were religious. Woo hoo. They also wore funny powdered wigs, treated syphilis with mercury, and argued that there had to be precisely seven planets because it was a number sacred to geometers, but I doubt that he’ll be resurrecting those old ideas.

While an early memorandum of the Royal Society declared that fellows would avoid “meddling with divinity, metaphysics, morals”, its 1663 charter stated that its activities would be devoted “to the glory of God the creator, and the advantage of the human race”.

Officers were even required to swear an oath on “the holy Gospels of God”.

In reality, Professor Harrison said, “almost without exception, early modern natural philosophers cherished religious convictions, although these were not invariably orthodox. Some – but by no means all – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.”

Far from being militant atheists, they “believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”.

Yes, so? They were wrong.

Believers have been trying for centuries to find objective evidence for the truth of Christian mythology. The fact that they’ve been searching is not in itself evidence for their superstitions. The fact that they have not come up with such evidence, though, and haven’t even made any progress in coming up with a convincing argument, does suggest that they’ve failed. It’s simply meaningless to declare that people 350 years ago felt that their religion motivated their pursuit of science; it does not support the validity of the religious part. They might as well argue that the people who built Stonehenge 5000 years ago were motivated by their pagan beliefs to study astronomy — the astronomy is cool, but animism is not hallowed by its antiquity.

It’s an unpersuasive mess. It’s also tainted by association; the lecture is sponsored by the Faraday Institute, which is just a mouthpiece for the Templeton Foundation. Ho hum. Get some new arguments, guys.

Comments

  1. #1 F
    February 16, 2010

    Their arguments are not hallowed by their antiquity, as it were, then.

    Ho hum, indeed.

  2. #2 Ferris
    February 16, 2010

    Argumentum ad antiquitatem much?

  3. #3 Aquaria
    February 16, 2010

    Ah, the Simpleton Foundation strikes again, and the sound is as dull as always.

  4. #4 SC OM
    February 16, 2010

    They’re talking about the 17th century, and this is the best they can come up with? I thought the dudes had stronger religious convictions before I read that bit.

  5. #5 mxh
    February 16, 2010

    Maybe someone should go to the talk and bring up this exact point. I’d like to see their answer to comparison of their “devotion to the glory of God” to their wearing of powdered wigs.

  6. #6 windy
    February 16, 2010

    Far from being militant atheists, they “believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”.

    And how did that work out for them? Hmmm?

  7. #7 jcmartz.myopenid.com
    February 16, 2010

    Isn’t following such pursuits just a waste of time? That being said, many people have tried to reconsile science and religion and have failed. So, this is just one more failed attempt.

  8. #8 SC OM
    February 17, 2010

    Far from being militant atheists,

    I’m still laughing at that. He’s got us there!

  9. #9 alex.asolis.net
    February 17, 2010

    Comment I left there:

    “‘Religion and science are not single entities that we should essentialise and put in an essential relationship of conflict or congruence,’ he said.

    ‘That is one of the things history teaches us.’”

    It’s unfortunate that you just disproved your thesis here:

    “While an early memorandum of the Royal Society declared that fellows would avoid ‘meddling with divinity, metaphysics, morals’, its 1663 charter stated that its activities would be devoted ‘to the glory of God the creator, and the advantage of the human race’.

    Officers were even required to swear an oath on ‘the holy Gospels of God’.”

    History teaches us that it’s dangerous for science and religion to mix. It only leads to irrationality. And of course there were multiple influences on the early Royal Society. Problem is the religious influences were all negative, while the Enlightenment influences were positive.

  10. #10 bulletproofcourier
    February 17, 2010

    Sounds like the old “we were here first” argument, where we=religion and here=in people’s heads.

  11. #11 Midnight Rambler
    February 17, 2010

    So if we start an avowedly atheistic science society, and 300 years later lots of good scientists have been in it, that means that atheism was right all along? Time to get organized!

  12. #12 aratina cage of the OM
    February 17, 2010

    Templeton Foundation Spokesperson: “Phlogiston theory, here we come!”

    Instead of making their religious convictions look esteemed, I think this makes them look silly because the natural sciences, despite all the swearing of oaths to God, coalesced and underwent a revolution while Christianity broke out into infighting and underwent a reformation that made an incomprehensible idea even more inane for all the factions that came out of it.

  13. #13 Pyrrhonic
    February 17, 2010

    I know that this may not be a popular line around here, but there is very good evidence to believe that religious beliefs and a few certain religious structures did aid the development of early modern natural philosophy, and that these were mostly positive influences in the lives of these men. It’s also important to know that none of them were working to “prove” particular church dogmas, and that their nascent experimentalism was just a preliminary stage in modern science. To draw parallels between the “science” of early modern England and modern science is a real historical mistake. There are and were significant differences which allowed religion in science back then and which necessarily disallow religion now. The assumptions about the goals of natural philosophy–which avowed all kinds of metaphysical speculation–were very different from the goals of modern science.

    Ferris’s argumentum ad antiquitatem is dead on. To claim a valid place for religion in modern science because it used to be the case is a failure of logic and reasoning. Moreover, the lecturer’s disapproval of Dawkins as “intellectually vacuous” is a complete failure to understand why Dawkins argues in the way he does.

  14. #14 Mr T
    February 17, 2010

    Ah yes, 1663. That was a good year. Emperor Reigen of Japan ascended to the throne. The Turks declared war against Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I. Robert Hooke observed cells with his microscope, shortly after the founding of the Royal Society a year earlier. Louis XIV established the Prix de Rome, which would remain untainted with prizes for music, engraving or architecture for many decades. It would be another thirty years until the world was graced with the Salem witch trials….

    Please excuse me while I shed a solitary tear, imagining how wonderful it must have been back in the good old days.

    These Templeton people give me a fucking headache. How can they be so clueless? They could offer memoranda and charters from yesterday, or 350 years ago, or 3500 years ago, or from the planet Neptune circa one million B.C. It makes no difference.

    Although that last one would at least be interesting, it would still in all likelihood be totally irrelevant to their futile quest to “offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”. As many have pointed out before, scientists having religious beliefs (no matter where or when) proves absolutely nothing about the world, except scientists can have superstitious beliefs too. We already knew that, and it’s still irrelevant.

  15. #15 MadScientist
    February 17, 2010

    “Some – but by no means all – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.”

    That is very deceptive. Many (if not the majority) proclaimed such a bondage to religion in hopes that they would not be drawn and quartered, burned at the stake, tortured, and so on. That was also the excuse used to establish and continue the operation of the Vatican Observatory (after all, why waste money on the pursuits of this world if not to glorify the sky fairy). The “not invariably orthodox” presumably includes Isaac Newton who would have been drawn and quartered for his heresy if the church of his era knew of his dabbling in the occult.

  16. #16 CalGeorge
    February 17, 2010

    Officers were even required to swear an oath on “the holy Gospels of God”.

    Yes, religious types have, for centuries, resorted to social pressure and intimidation to keep their idiotic cult alive. Not something to celebrate.

    What a bonehead.

  17. #17 Mr T
    February 17, 2010

    I know that this may not be a popular line around here, but there is very good evidence to believe that religious beliefs and a few certain religious structures did aid the development of early modern natural philosophy, and that these were mostly positive influences in the lives of these men.

    I don’t care if it’s popular, and I won’t outright deny it, since my knowledge of scientific history is admittedly quite limited. Would you please specify exactly what you’re talking about? Perhaps some “religious beliefs” and “religious structures” were beneficial. The fact that theology and natural philosophy were so muddled together for so long probably makes it difficult to disentangle them. Anyway, if that is so, and if there is good evidence to back it up, then what were they?

  18. #18 waynerobinson4
    February 17, 2010

    Not seven planets in 1663, 7 heavenly bodies; the Sun, Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus wasn’t recognised as a planet till 1781 (re-described by William Herschel as a disc not a point, and initially thought to be a comet, previously thought to be a star).

  19. #19 hznfrst
    February 17, 2010

    Ugh, the Templetoons – they were at the first Beyond Belief conference in 2006 and made complete asses of themselves, parading around their Physics Envy for all to see.

  20. #20 Pyrrhonic
    February 17, 2010

    First, let me say that I am hardly an apologist for religion or religious beliefs. I am not here proselytizing, and I am an affirmed, non-accomodationist atheist. As a student of Early Modern England, however, and as someone with an interest, but not a strong background in Early Modern science, I do want to present as accurate a picture as possible.

    Amos Funkenstein’s book Theology and the Scientific Imagination is one place to get a much fuller and more scholarly picture of this problem.

    One way in which this occurred was simply because these natural philosophers thought that by searching out natural causes, one could come ever closer to God. This may seem like a veneer of legitimization in a world hostile to anything that appeared to be anti-Christian, but by all accounts, these men really believed it. Even if their discoveries did not confirm directly any of their beliefs, the aesthetic beauty of the “creation” was enough for them to see God in every detail. Newton passionately confirms that his scientific explorations are aimed at finding the “first cause” which he understood as the Christian God (Burtt, 287).

    In the case of the early reception of Copernicus’s heliocentrism, although people like Luther regularly condemned the idea, other Protestant thinkers and reformers, such as Phillip Melanchthon worked on and circulated the ideas within institutions committed to Christian indoctrination. Although they disagreed with some of Copernicus’s conclusions, they saw his work as providing more accurate predictors and continued to articulate it in astronomical tables. Through the support of pre-established church communities, Copernicus’s ideas gained traction.

    I know that these examples aren’t probably finally satisfactory–this isn’t my primary research area, and I am still just learning quite a bit–but there is a lot of good evidence to show that religious institutions both in the Christian West and Islamic East aided the development of pre and early modern science.

    The Funkenstein book listed above, E.A. Burtt’s The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science and Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s book Objectivity all do a pretty good job of discussing the role of religion in early science.

    But once again, this does not mean that religion should be a part of modern science. It is clear that the immaterial speculations of religions or spiritualisms have absolutely no place in science today. Any argument to the contrary is a failure to understand what modern science is about.

  21. #21 llewelly
    February 17, 2010

    So, to sum up, the argument is, more or less: “Centuries ago, nearly all premier scientists were religious.” Today, most premier scientists are atheist, agnostic, or do not otherwise believe in a personal god. Does Harris really think no one will wonder why that change occurred? Evolution by natural selection has explained the wondrous variety and relatedness of life on earth. It requires no divine intervention of any sort. Thermodynamics explains Earth’s climate, and the inner workings of stars. No divine intervention required. Germ theory explains the spread of contagious disease. No divine intervention required. Neuroscience explains how people think, and why they believe nonsensical things. No divine intervention required. General relativity explains the motions of planets, stars, and galaxies. No divinity required. Quantum mechanics explains the inner workings of atoms. No divinity required.

    For millennia, religion has struggled to explain. It has failed entirely. Science, on the other hand, has explained a great deal – and no explanation requires any supernatural action of any kind. Furthermore, as Victor Stenger has shown, there is plenty of evidence that most of the sorts of gods believed in by most religious people are, at best, very unlikely. And there is no evidence whatsoever in favor of any god.

    That is why scientists have gone from being primarily religious to primarily non-religious. That is what reality indicates.

  22. #22 jaranath
    February 17, 2010

    Frakking brilliant. Hold up seventeenth-century science as a positive model for blending science and religion.

    Not, of course, to denigrate the good work that did get done back then.

  23. #23 Aquaria
    February 17, 2010

    I’d like to see their answer to comparison of their “devotion to the glory of God” to their wearing of powdered wigs.

    I’d like to see their answer to the comparison of their “devotion to the glory of God” to their likelihood of being murdered for heresy.

  24. #24 zhu-wuneng
    February 17, 2010

    I don’t think the Templeton foundation is all bad, they’ve championed people like Meera Nanda, but yeah, in general they’re a pain in the ass.

  25. #25 SteelRat
    February 17, 2010

    It is commonly held that science has nothing to say about religion. I don’t think this is true. I think there is enough scientific evidence now to prove that God is either absent or at least impotent.
    If God is truly active in the world we should be able to observe his actions even if God himself is invisible in the same way that we can observe the wind even when we cannot see the gasses involved.
    Consider these thoughts:
    1. As God’s message to his people, the bible should be brilliant, accurate, concise and consistent. Taken as a whole it is none of these things. You also expect that he would protect his good words from human meddling and yet many biblical books are now recognised as forgeries not written by those they claim to be authored by.
    2. Many people pray to God for healing. Although it is recognised that God does not answer all prayers this should mean that statisically Christians have slightly better recovery rates than atheists. This does not happen (type prayer into pubmed). At the very least the religious should be told that prayer for the sick is a waste of time.

    Evolutionists are always asked to justify their science (and rightly so) but the same responsibility should be placed on the religious as well. There is no reason why science should be continually on the defensive and not be allowed to ask some hard questions in return.

    And the next time you are asked about holes in the fossil record, maybe you should ask about the total absence of any archeological record of the great Jewish kings Saul, David and Solomon! That is one hell of a transition fossil to ignore.

  26. #26 Agi Hammerthief
    February 17, 2010

    off topic -
    PZ featured on atheistcartoons:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwRYrKT7_jU&feature=player_embedded

  27. #27 frankosaurus
    February 17, 2010

    Believers have been trying for centuries to find objective evidence for the truth of Christian mythology

    I don’t think so. The issue was really only pressed in the 19th century on the “objectivity” front. Though, of course, trying to find logical proofs for God’s existence could be considered a form of objective evidence, I guess. But I don’t think Christianity was really a problem people were “trying to solve” rather than just dabbling with (or proving among themselves whose proof was the most rigorous), much like the fact that we can’t find an unproblematic proof that “murder is wrong” doesn’t make us seriously doubt it (at the risk of scandal).

    I agree though, that by showing the early Royal Societeers were religious doesn’t validate religion. But it could go to hit home the point that science and religion weren’t always seen to be in direct opposition, and thus aren’t necessarily so. Pretty weak assertion, if that’s what he’s after, but fair.

    Dawkins isn’t intellectually vacuous, but he does come across as a bit of a Christophobe, and seems himself a relic of the past. I don’t know what he argues about religion that hasn’t been said for over a hundred years. In his mind, everything in religion hangs on the truth of the premises “God exists.” This isn’t exactly keeping up with modern theology, hence the anglican sneer job. If one sees religion more as an eternal question rather than a neatly dismissed series of hypotheses, then there are interesting things about it that can be explored. Science, for example, has very little of interest to say about cultural nihilism aside from whether it is reasonable or unreasonable to adopt that position…given the evidence.

  28. #28 zhu-wuneng
    February 17, 2010

    I didn’t know Karen Armstrong posted here!

  29. #29 Aquaria
    February 17, 2010

    n his mind, everything in religion hangs on the truth of the premises “God exists.” This isn’t exactly keeping up with modern theology

    Bollocks.

    Theology falls apart when one demands evidence of the deity they’re “studying.” If they can’t cough up any evidence of the thing, how the fuck do theologians know anything about the deity? If they can’t even provide a shred of evidence that he exists, how can they even speculate about what the deity’s properties, what it is or is not?

    Would you take a theologian of Zeus, Isis, Thor, or leprechauns seriously? Why not? They have just as much to back up their theology as does Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.

    The only true thing about deities is that there is ZERO evidence for a single one of them, thus all theology is delusional wanking.

    That’s what you just don’t get.

  30. #30 Josh, Official SpokesGay
    February 17, 2010

    I agree though, that by showing the early Royal Societeers were religious doesn’t validate religion. But it could go to hit home the point that science and religion weren’t always seen to be in direct opposition, and thus aren’t necessarily so.

    Since “science and religion weren’t always seen to be in direct opposition,” then you conclude they “thus aren’t necessarily so?”

    Coal-burning plants and steam engines weren’t always “seen to be” in direct opposition to clean air and a breathable atmosphere over 19th century London. That “hits home” the point that coal-burning isn’t necessarily in opposition to clean air.

    Would you also like to “hit out against” that “point of view?” You fucking idiot.

  31. #31 Mr T
    February 17, 2010

    One way in which this occurred was simply because these natural philosophers thought that by searching out natural causes, one could come ever closer to God.

    Sure, that may have been one of their motivations, but I don’t think one could say it aided the development of science. If they were in a different environment (like the modern world), wouldn’t they or someone have studied the natural world for its own sake anyway?

    Through the support of pre-established church communities, Copernicus’s ideas gained traction.

    As you also described, through the support of pre-established church communities, Copernicus’s ideas were deemed heretical. (If this doesn’t make religion look even worse, then at least these cancel each other out or something.) Even if that weren’t the case, it would be unscientific to support a scientific theory on the basis of some whacky superstitions. I’m sure you already understand this, but it doesn’t hurt to point it out anyway.

    —-

    SOMEWHAT OFF-TOPIC: I’m reminded of something I heard on the radio earlier today. I will paraphrase it as well as I can. The discussion was about the nuclear disarmament/non-proliferation movement(s). Eventually, religion (which they generically labeled “faith communities”) was touted as one of the strongest players. This in itself was not terribly surprising to me, because religion has this tendency to find its way into nearly every topic (perhaps only in the U.S.).

    Since unfortunately not much has been accomplished to this end (i.e., opposition to nuclear weapons) in the past several decades, some sort of explanation had to be given. The interviewee claimed that the top-levels of nearly all the Christian churches had made various pronouncements and produced a myriad of brochures and pamphlets to promote the cause. Somehow, according to him, something in the Beatitudes indicates that nukes are bad — I could practically hear the desperate hand-waving through the speakers. He then claimed part of the failure was that local ministers did not sermonize on it, and parishioners didn’t take it seriously.

    In other news, shit continues to roll downhill.

    I’m opposed to nuclear weapons, and I’m certainly glad there are religious people who feel the same way. Still, this sort of thing irritates me a lot. Perhaps if they got their heads out of their asses, stopped relying on their absurd faith, and thought about it rationally and ethically, we’d have accomplished even more by now. Instead, they cite some crap from the Beatitudes as if it’s in any way helpful, wonder why they haven’t accomplished much over the course of decades, and blame the people who don’t understand because they’re at least capable of recognizing transparently cheap propaganda.

  32. #32 llewelly
    February 17, 2010

    In his mind, everything in religion hangs on the truth of the premises “God exists.” This isn’t exactly keeping up with modern theology, hence the anglican sneer job.

    The vast majority of religious people believe in a god who answers prayers. Most of them believe in angels, or some rough equivalent. Those are beliefs which require a god which exists. An “eternal question”, a “transcendence”, a “metaphor”, a “way of finding meaning”, and other such piles of stinking sophisticated pig excrement entirely fail to meet the expectations of most religious believers. The apologists who dream up the ridiculous textual wankery which is called “modern theology” are out of step with most religious people. Dawkins addressed what real people actually believe, not the puerile nonsense “theologists” invent to impress each other and obfuscate the issues.

  33. #33 allport
    February 17, 2010

    I love that line “So ? They were wrong”.

    I am allowed to say that Newton (genius though he was) was full of shit when it comes to a lot of things.

    If you have ever talked religion for more than 10 minutes with either an apologist or a full on faith head (ha, who hasn’t) you will have had the “Einstein said” conversation.

    Telling them that what they think he meant probably isn’t what he actually meant doesn’t work.

    Telling them he is wrong is so much fun.

    They splutter a lot “But he was Einstein, you know Einstein” like I must worship him because he was a brilliant scientist and you know I like science and stuff.

    When it comes to Physics then I would absolutely bow down to his superior knowledge and genius, but when it comes down to day to day living then he can take his genius and shove it up his arse.

    I think it is the religious mindset of asking no questions that makes them act this way.

    P S sorry Einstein I am sure you had a lot of wisdom to offer on how I should live my life.

    Saying “Yeah he was wrong” is ace.

    How can I possibly argue with Einstein, they ask.

    We

  34. #34 dae
    February 17, 2010

    I just decontructed this whole line of argument in an evolutionary biology class I teach. Of course all the natural philosophers of the 17th century were advocates of intelligent design. Who doesn’t know that? The question is how did scientific inquiry move away from this ideological straight-jacket and help spawn the modern world (the topic of today’s lecture). To say that 17th century naturalists were theists is like saying the pope is catholic.

  35. #35 allport
    February 17, 2010

    Oops sorry for that spill over.

  36. #36 WowbaggerOM
    February 17, 2010

    Frankosaurus wrote (of Dawkins)

    I don’t know what he argues about religion that hasn’t been said for over a hundred years.

    Because he does this because there’s a very good chance that a religious person raised in an environment bereft of intellectual honesty about religion won’t have heard those arguments before.

    Remember, what you might know about the vacuity of religion isn’t guaranteed to be known by everyone. Plenty of believers have been lied to their whole lives about the validity of their belief systems, even if it’s only lies via omission on the parts of their families and religious leaders.

    Ask a few deconverts how much they were told about the arguments against Christianity.

    Then there’s also the fact that any so-called ‘new’ argument for any religion is nothing but a sophist’s rewording of the same tired, unsupported presuppositional nonsense – or, in other words, sprinkling the unpolishable old turd in shiny new glitter.

  37. #37 frankosaurus
    February 17, 2010

    Theology falls apart when one demands evidence of the deity they’re “studying.”

    Okay, so Dawkins isn’t the only one who believes this. Sorry to have left you out.

    Would you take a theologian of Zeus, Isis, Thor, or leprechauns seriously?

    sure, if he took the subject matter seriously. I’d hear him out. why not?

    thus all theology is delusional wanking

    Depends on what counts as evidence, what inferences are allowable, etc. And what do you have against wanking anyhow?

  38. #38 strange gods before me ?
    February 17, 2010

    Francosaurus has different ways of knowing.

  39. #39 elzoog
    February 17, 2010

    Actually this is good news. I have generally found that an opponent’s arguments will get more and more pathetic until even the opponent himself can’t believe the arguments anymore.

  40. #40 Rorschach
    February 17, 2010

    Because he does this because there’s a very good chance that a religious person raised in an environment bereft of intellectual honesty about religion won’t have heard those arguments before.

    I argued something similar to Russell Blackford the other day regarding Australians and the upcoming atheist convention, actually. The debates and newspaper articles over here to me clearly show that Aussies, and Aussie religious types, haven’t had much exposure to atheists versed in debating the american-style lunatic religionists yet, and are surprised when they realise that we have heard all the dodges and excuses before…:-)

    almost without exception, early modern natural philosophers cherished religious convictions

    So ? Early 80′s pornstars cherished hairy pussies, drugs and unprotected sex.And were wrong.

  41. #41 Gingerbaker
    February 17, 2010

    “In reality, Professor Harrison said, “almost without exception, early modern natural philosophers cherished religious convictions, although these were not invariably orthodox. Some – but by no means all – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.”

    Unfortunately, these ‘religious commitments’ interfered with their scientific inquiries. Newton squandered decades of his life in the pursuit of the purified essence of God through alchemy.

    The early Royal Society annals are a document testifying to the enormous time and effort expended fruitlessly by these early scientists because their theology informed their science. Does not Professor Harrrison remember that the Enlightenment came after the Royal Society was established?

    Not to mention the 1500 years or so previous, when most any scientific endeavor was heresy and punished by very very very painful death? Something about the Sun revolving around the Earth? Did I forget to mention how painful the punishment for heresy was?

  42. #42 WowbaggerOM
    February 17, 2010

    The debates and newspaper articles over here to me clearly show that Aussies, and Aussie religious types, haven’t had much exposure to atheists versed in debating the american-style lunatic religionists yet, and are surprised when they realise that we have heard all the dodges and excuses before…:-)

    I was never a theist, so it’s not like I’ve never had to present arguments to justify my atheism before – either to myself or others; as a result I learned more about the arguments both for and against religion in the first week of coming here than I had in my entire life prior to that point.

    Coming out and talking about why you believe or don’t believe just isn’t something Australians, for the most part, do.

  43. #43 Mr T
    February 17, 2010
    Would you take a theologian of Zeus, Isis, Thor, or leprechauns seriously?

    sure, if he took the subject matter seriously. I’d hear him out. why not?

    Because the subject matter is quite obviously fiction. When we study fiction seriously, we do it no favors by pretending as if it were nonfiction.

    Do you think the subject of leprechauns should also be obscured by giving it the status of “eternal question”, or do you just plain think they don’t exist? I personally won’t be around for eternity to find out. Our solar system likewise will not be around for an eternity. Perhaps even the universe itself will not exist forever. Should delusional questions about leprechauns transcend all of this?

  44. #44 The Tim Channel
    February 17, 2010

    Sentiment from a dying atheist I thought you guys might be interested in:

    I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

    http://www.esquire.com/print-this/roger-ebert-0310

    Enjoy.

  45. #45 The Tim Channel
    February 17, 2010

    I’d posit the best religious ‘defense’ against science is the non overlapping magisteria (NOMA) route. That would appear to be the only honest way they can continue to appeal to rationalists who still want to dabble in mysticism. By forcing a “science vrs religion” discussion they will always come out losers.

    IMHO, science will never be able to prove a first cause, any more than religion will be able to prove existence of a creator (assuming such a creator wishes to remain anonymous–as certainly appears to be the case if one exists/existed).

    Enjoy.

  46. #46 peter.jeaiem
    February 17, 2010

    All the muslim scientists during Islam’s scientific golden age, around the first millenium have been well… Muslim. What does that prove ?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_scientists

  47. #47 captainblack
    February 17, 2010

    #21 “So, to sum up, the argument is, more or less: “Centuries ago, nearly all premier scientists were religious.” Today, most premier scientists are atheist, agnostic, or do not otherwise believe in a personal god.”

    If you know a reference to the statistics please give it. If you are just making them up (like the other 87.3% of all statistics) please say so.

  48. #48 llewelly
    February 17, 2010
  49. #49 llewelly
    February 17, 2010

    The results of Greg Gaffen’s Evolution, Monism, Atheism and the Naturalist World-View.

  50. #50 MikeMa
    February 17, 2010

    The idea that religion was first and ought to have an honored, tandem place with science id bollocks of course. Religion hold sway in many minds because it is easy. Science is hard. Therefore to save face, or be lazy, or whatever, religion wins a lot of mind battles hands down.

    Paraphrasing the Lord of the Rings: All the more reason to reject the easy path.

  51. #51 Knockgoats
    February 17, 2010

    the fact that we can’t find an unproblematic proof that “murder is wrong” – frankosaurus

    Yes we can, if we accept that murder means “deliberate, wrongful killing”. Then:
    “Murder is wrong” is equivalent to
    “Deliberate wrongful killing is wrong”.

    If you insist that murder is “deliberate unlawful killing”, then it’s not always wrong.

  52. #52 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    February 17, 2010
    Would you take a theologian of Zeus, Isis, Thor, or leprechauns seriously?

    sure, if he took the subject matter seriously. I’d hear him out. why not?

    “Hear him out” is not the same as “take him seriously”.

    It sounds like modern theology is the equivalent of a Star Trek discussion forum: people having serious discussions of a topic they know is fictional, discussion they know most of the people outside their little clique couldn’t care less about.

    I suspect there are more serious Star Trek fans than these modern theologians you mention. That’s probably why Dawkins doesn’t address their arguments.

  53. #53 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnZyFfKb0qWYyoGaY7BIk8-6EJnV6twwSM
    February 17, 2010

    The question of the role of religion in the history of science is, in my opinion, something of a red herring. Phrasing questions like “would science have progressed further during the seventeenth century without religious belief” is somewhat ahistorical. The only way one could really answer the question is to posit a counterfactual world in which seventeenth century Europe had a radically different culture and society from the one it in fact did have. Studying such a world might be fun from a science fiction perspective, but it is not doing history, and does too much damage to the evidence to tell us anything meaningful about the history of the actual seventeenth century.

    It also does considerable violence to the evidence we have to just focus narrowly on “the history of science” to the exclusion of all other intellectual, social and cultural currents present in a particular past society. Science was never done in a cultural vacuum, and this is particularly true of early modern and medieval science where modern disciplinary boundaries and epistemological assumptions were entirely absent. It is, in my opinion, impossible to get an accurate picture of what people were thinking in the past if one willfully ignores strands of thought that would not fit with what we today consider “science”. One example from my own field of research, the central middle ages, is medical astrology. Historians of medicine frequently ignore astrological medicine in the middle ages, leaving it to specialist historians of astrology, yet even the most cursory glance at medieval medical texts will tell you that astrology was at the very heart, and provided the most convincing theoretical framework for, medical study during the middle ages.

    Furthermore, setting up a dichotomy between “religious” and “non-religious” attitudes in this period is also missing the wider and more important point that these were simply people of their time and it was they, as individuals, who chose what to think and how. They shaped their religions and philosophies as much as if not more than those religions and philosophies shaped them. Medieval christianity was ubiquitous in Europe in the middle ages because it answered the social and cultural needs of medieval people, and it was cut and shaped to do just that by generations of medieval people who viewed their religious inheritance through the lens of their own experiences. When society changed, people’s needs and expectations changed, and the christianity changed with them. Early modern religion and early modern science are BOTH products of early modern minds – ideas thought up by people – and the two most assuredly fed off one another, as ideas held concurrently by the same individuals always do. If they had not, that would be a most disturbing and unprecedented phenomenon indeed, as it would go against everything we know about the history of ideas and the transformation of human culture.

  54. #54 Abdul Alhazred
    February 17, 2010

    Harvard and Yale were originally religious schools. Yale was founded in reaction to Harvard being soft on witches.

    So there were impious liberals to be countered even back then.

  55. #55 Hypatia's Daughter
    February 17, 2010

    Some – but by no means all (pre-Enlightenment scientists) – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.”

    And today, some – but by no means all – football players make the point that they are motivated to pursue their sport on account of their religious commitments.
    Which doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t pursue their interests if they weren’t religious; nor that there is any reality to their belief that they are “serving God” by giving him the credit for their success.

    To defend Pyrrhonic’s point, before natural causes were found, the only working explanation was Goddidit. But these men were blatant materialists who looked for the natural mechanisms that God used.
    In astronomy, even after Copernicus, the working hypothesis was that the planets were composed of a substance called “ether” – a pure luminous substance that naturally moved in circles – hence their shine and circular orbits. After Galileo demonstrated the Moon was more earth-like than ethereal; and Kepler showed that orbits were ellipses, that fell apart and science was left scratching it’s head until Newton came up with his 3 laws and the Universal Theory of Gravitation.

    As Newton said, before the UToG, the explanation that the angels periodically corrected the planetary orbits was as good as any other.
    Note that Newton, a very religious man, sought to replace the need for divine intervention.

    Sure, some good scientists today are like Newton – trying to find the natural mechanisms that God used and keeping science and God in different compartments of their brain.
    But the CreoIDiot “scientists” (using the loosest definition of “scientist” possible) really want us to replace natural mechanisms with angels pushing planets.

  56. #56 Free Lunch
    February 17, 2010

    Back when religious people believed that learning more about the universe would only redound to the glory of God, it made sense to be looking for more information to see how great God was. It was only after the discoveries showed that the religion that was being taught contained indefensible and false doctrines that religious leaders became opposed to honest research. God forbid the religious leaders admit that they were teaching falsehoods.

  57. #57 simonator
    February 17, 2010

    Conceptualy, once you have an omnipotent, interventionist god, how can you have miracles? The very concept of miracles presupposes that most of the time God is not actively intervening in the minutia of existance. Once you believe in a “God the clockmaker,” who only intervenes occasionally, than figuring out when he isn’t intervening allows you to figure out when he is. So in the 16th century, Natural Philosophy wasn’t seen as opposed to the existance of God, but was rather opposed to the puritin image of god. Few would have predicted then that the scientific method would become such a powerful way of explaining the universe that God would be unnecessary.

  58. #58 tsg
    February 17, 2010

    I’d posit the best religious ‘defense’ against science is the non overlapping magisteria (NOMA) route. That would appear to be the only honest way they can continue to appeal to rationalists who still want to dabble in mysticism.

    “Honest” being the key word, here. The reason NOMA fails is that, if god is observable, then science most definitely can address and investigate its nature. If its not, then nobody can know anything about it, including those who claim they do. If god is not observable, then where did they even get the idea for it?

    But the religious routinely make claims about god that would be observable. In other words, they overlap magisteria on a regular basis.

  59. #59 ConcernedJoe
    February 17, 2010

    I have nothing to add to post and comments that reflect my essential thought: the T F’s argument’s logic is so vacuous – so meaningless – that it is beyond just plain stupid.

    OK I will say something more.

    At one time I was a practicing believer as a young person yet I felt science was science and my religion was in no way part of science. Totally separate I felt it was. I did not see my religion as interfering with the scientific method or basic science conclusions. No YEC for instance in my religion.

    That is until I got into sex! And my religion got into my pants. Well then I began to see how my religion was irrational and unscientific; that it was indeed downright counter to good science and conclusions.

    Was this just an adolescent wanting sex and rebelling – NO!

    I appreciated the pitfalls of sex – learned via secular social and health curricula and yes experimentally. And I was even as teenager thoughtful in my relationships so to speak.

    What I did not appreciate was the arbitrary and downright basically unfounded and wrong conclusions and judgments my religion made on the subject. Their view did not fit the reality. Yet they refused to to see reality.

    When they said god is love praise god I could go along with it – hadn’t thought that through scientifically yet – so why not, but when they said (me metaphorically speaking here) that masturbation puts hair on the palms – well that was testable and falsifiable – so why do they say it in the face of contrary evidence? They had to resort to weird and/or outdated “scientific” statements to justify their dictum and here is the kicker: THEY INSISTED YOU ACCEPT THE BAD SCIENCE OR ELSE!

    My conclusion as I matured: religion never stays out of scientific issues – never really. And religion is never compatible with science in a broad way.

    There are innumerable examples the world over – major ones – where religion insists on life contrary to reality and/or scientific reasoning and facts – almost always to the oppression and/or detriment of the people involved.

  60. #60 Reginald Selkirk
    February 17, 2010

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think they are using a version of the genetic fallacy

    The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

  61. #61 Anri
    February 17, 2010

    Ok, members of the Royal Society, way back when, were religious. Is he saying that you have to be/should be religious to do good science?

    Because I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that these selfsame members were all white, male, and upper class as well.

    Should we infer these as prerequisites for doing effective science?

    Perhaps we should ask the Foundation, loudly and publicly, what their opinion on that might be…

  62. #62 sqlrob
    February 17, 2010

    I’d posit the best religious ‘defense’ against science is the non overlapping magisteria (NOMA) route. That would appear to be the only honest way they can continue to appeal to rationalists who still want to dabble in mysticism.

    Except NOMA isn’t honest. Science covers everything that can be measured. That leaves things that can’t be measured, which is what exactly? Feelings? MRIs measure stuff in the brain, so that’s out. Life After Death / Soul? Actions of a consciousness are measurable, and the consciousness itself is a measurer, so these are out. How v. Why? These are the same question in science, there is no difference.

  63. #63 sqlrob
    February 17, 2010

    frankosaurus,

    What’s the point of talking about the emperor’s clothes when he’s naked?

  64. #64 SC OM
    February 17, 2010

    It sounds like modern theology is the equivalent of a Star Trek discussion forum: people having serious discussions of a topic they know is fictional, discussion they know most of the people outside their little clique couldn’t care less about.

    I think someone should put together a compilation of some of the writings of people “defending” religion against the so-called New Atheists, post it online, and distribute the link widely. So much of it seems to take the line that, well, of course “thinking people” don’t believe in “God” or many of the claims of organized religion; the existence of a deity isn’t an important or necessary question to religion or the theological endeavor; and we the elite should let the common people have their silly, common beliefs because they find value in them, even if we recognize that they’re false. It’s tremendously patronizing, and I suspect that more than a few believers would be shocked if they really had to confront what’s being argued in their “defense.”

  65. #65 aratina cage of the OM
    February 17, 2010

    I didn’t know Karen Armstrong posted here! -zhu-wuneng

    :D Hahahaha! I about fell out of my seat seeing fuckosaurus compared to Karen Armstrong, but the shoe fits. Well done!

  66. #66 CanonicalKoi
    February 17, 2010

    I’m currently reading The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf. The first chapter deals with the “Fairchild Mule”, a hybrid created by Thomas Fairchild who crossed a Sweet William with a carnation in 1716. In 1720, he was invited to share his experiment with the Royal Society. Terrified of being accused of tampering with “God’s Plan”, he refused to explain how he had cross-pollinated the plant and down-played his role to that of discoverer of a hybrid instead of its creator. All of which is a long way of saying that when you mix religion in science you wind up with suppression of information and discoveries because of fear.

  67. #67 Sastra
    February 17, 2010

    Far from being militant atheists, they “believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”.

    This isn’t NOMA. This is approaching God as a hypothesis that makes predictions. It’s the early stage of new atheism.

    frankosaurus #27 wrote:

    In his mind, everything in religion hangs on the truth of the premises “God exists.” This isn’t exactly keeping up with modern theology, hence the anglican sneer job. If one sees religion more as an eternal question rather than a neatly dismissed series of hypotheses, then there are interesting things about it that can be explored.

    The best way to refute atheism is changing the subject to something other than God? Why? Because nobody really believes in God, or cares if it’s true.

    Ok. So now let’s all explore religion as a natural cultural phenomenon.

    That’s not a counter to Dawkins. That’s jumping in with him.

  68. #68 Rey Fox
    February 17, 2010

    “I don’t know what he argues about religion that hasn’t been said for over a hundred years.”

    Well, there weren’t any gods then, and there aren’t any gods now. But sometimes you just gotta use repetition to get the point across.

  69. #69 James Sweet
    February 17, 2010

    It’s my opinion that all pre-Darwin belief in a Creator doesn’t count. It is totally understandable how a belief in a divine designer might be seductive in the absence of any halfway decent answer to the basic question, “How did all these fucking animals get here, anyway?” Granted, defaulting to Goddidit is still a logical fallacy, but in the absence of even a remotely satisfying explanation, it is perfectly understandable why even the best thinkers would be drawn into it.

    By the same token, it is my opinion that dualist beliefs prior to late-20th century neuroscience don’t count either. Once again, the absence of a satisfactory answer to a very basic question (“Why do I have a mind, anyway?”) makes it understandable, even if still incorrect, to grasp at a supernatural explanation.

    It’s not even an Argument from Authority fallacy, because the “authorities” in this case had a very good excuse for being wrong.

  70. #70 The Tim Channel
    February 17, 2010

    I am aware of the problems involved with invoking NOMA. There are certainly religious folks who make demonstrably false claims about their version of history/facts (Hamm, e.g.)

    In such cases, it’s the religious individual or organization making scientific claims they can’t support. Fundamentalists fail constantly in this regard. More enlightened religions seem to avoid this head on confrontation. Those folks rarely post here though. We get the wackaloons.

    It’s my position that so long as you keep your religious dogma nebulous enough, then you can peacefully coexist with science.

    If you take the time to listen to our side’s most dogmatic speakers (Dawkins, etc), you will find that they make no concrete claims against the possible existence of God. They consider it highly unlikely, as do I, but they know better than to shut the door completely. They are aware that there is no evidence yet found for God, but don’t deny that it might surface at some point in the future.

    I believe the odds of religious types ‘finding verifiable evidence for God’ is about the same as scientific types ever being able to fully explain how matter springs into existence out of nothing. Science will ultimately hit a wall they can’t break through without destroying all that exists. I think we’re pretty close to that now, but in any event, dogmatic religions hit that wall several centuries ago.

    In the final analysis, it’s my belief that there will always be something unknown or unknowable. This is the fertile ground that will likely always exist for spiritualism to inhabit. So long as they don’t make any claims that are scientifically preposterous, NOMA seems a positive intellectual hitching post in which to foster goodwill. It’s not the crazy people I fear. It’s the crazy people who want to impose their craziness on us all by fiat. NOMA would appear to be a good way in which to sort out the former from the latter.

    Enjoy.

  71. #71 tsg
    February 17, 2010

    In a Faraday Institute public lecture, to be delivered in Cambridge this week, Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford, will challenge such arguments about the impossibility of being both scientific and religious, pointing out that they “obviously didn’t apply to the earliest fellows”.

    Ah, I see. This is just more “religion and science are compatible: there are scientist who are religious.” Harrison’s just burning the same strawman again.

  72. #72 Anri
    February 17, 2010

    It’s my position that so long as you keep your religious dogma nebulous enough, then you can peacefully coexist with science.

    Well, certainly. All you have to do is make certain that your dogma says nothing about how or why things exist, or how we should live our lives or treat one another. In short, a dogma that holds itself completely seperate from anything having to do with reality.
    Do you know of any religious dogma that fits that description?

    If you take the time to listen to our side’s most dogmatic…

    I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    …speakers (Dawkins, etc), you will find that they make no concrete claims against the possible existence of God. They consider it highly unlikely, as do I, but they know better than to shut the door completely. They are aware that there is no evidence yet found for God, but don’t deny that it might surface at some point in the future.

    Which pretty much means their positions are not dogmatic. By definition, even.

    I believe the odds of religious types ‘finding verifiable evidence for God’ is about the same as scientific types ever being able to fully explain how matter springs into existence out of nothing.

    Really?
    If you were to line the total progress made on these two questions by these two disciplines up side by side, you’d find them roughly equivalent?

    Science will ultimately hit a wall they can’t break through without destroying all that exists.

    Are you stating that it will, or presuming that it might?
    And do you understand the difference between those positions?
    And do you know what dogma actually means…?

    I think we’re pretty close to that now, but in any event, dogmatic religions hit that wall several centuries ago.

    And people have been predicting the death of discovery in physics for more than a century. Maybe you’re right, but given the track record, I’d rather bet the other way.

    In the final analysis, it’s my belief that there will always be something unknown or unknowable. This is the fertile ground that will likely always exist for spiritualism to inhabit. So long as they don’t make any claims that are scientifically preposterous, NOMA seems a positive intellectual hitching post in which to foster goodwill.

    ‘God exists’ is a claim that is scientifically preposterous. It is a massively extraordinary claim without a shred of credible evidence.

    It’s not the crazy people I fear. It’s the crazy people who want to impose their craziness on us all by fiat. NOMA would appear to be a good way in which to sort out the former from the latter.

    It is also, unfortunately, a way to allow the former to give cover to the latter. So long as the religious believe that religion has moral lessons for the good of mankind (and I don’t know of one that doesn’t), there will be conflict between those that want to listen to Sky Daddy and those that understand that we’re on our own and must solve our own problems, here and now, while we’re still alive.

  73. #73 DLC
    February 17, 2010

    Posted by: Naked Bunny with a Whip @#52 :

    It sounds like modern theology is the equivalent of a Star Trek discussion forum: people having serious discussions of a topic they know is fictional

    Yeah and some of their slashfic is truly horrible.

    As for me, my idea of NOMA is: “keep your blasted bronze age con game out of my science!”

  74. #74 ConcernedJoe
    February 17, 2010

    The Tim Channel if I tuned you in right then I disagree.

    As I stated in my post #59 above: religion – any significant one – never keeps its hands completely out of scientific methods and conclusions.

    NOMA is a ruse concocted for the benefit of religion. Any application of it is weighted against science and toward the “god given” untouchable sanctity and infallibility of religion.

    To put it a different way – science would have no need or desire to tread on religion if religion stayed out of anything that could be scientifically addressed. Never happen – religion is in the business of setting rules for LIFE. And they will attack science (and cry foul on it) if science conflicts with their recipes for us all.

    Problem is last I checked LIFE is a scientific (biology, psychology, sociology, chemistry, etc.) subject so the conflict.

    I made a point in my post above – even when I thought they were separate it only took my first real up close encounter with personal reality to realize religion was into the realm of science – and on average not with positive impact.

  75. #75 tsg
    February 17, 2010

    It’s my position that so long as you keep your religious dogma nebulous enough, then you can peacefully coexist with science.

    Yes, but as science advances and our knowledge grows, god becomes so nebulous that there isn’t anything left. It’s a cloud of vapor so sparse it, literally, may as well not be there at all.

    If you take the time to listen to our side’s most dogmatic speakers (Dawkins, etc),

    If you think Dawkins is dogmatic, you haven’t read any Dawkins.

    you will find that they make no concrete claims against the possible existence of God. They consider it highly unlikely, as do I, but they know better than to shut the door completely. They are aware that there is no evidence yet found for God, but don’t deny that it might surface at some point in the future.

    And if you read Dawkins and Sagan, both of them acknowledge the search has been going on for so long and not found anything of substance that it may as well be abandoned. Sagan’s Invisible Dragon illustrates that point quite well: at this point it’s not even about being able to convince me it exists, I’m starting to wonder how you got the idea it was there in the first place. When your god keeps changing to accommodate our knowledge solely so you can keep believing in it, at some point you have to ask yourself, “why am I doing this?”

    I believe the odds of religious types ‘finding verifiable evidence for God’ is about the same as scientific types ever being able to fully explain how matter springs into existence out of nothing.

    That says more about god than it does about science. God is a set of goalposts with wheels on. Every time science proves something about god wrong, the goalposts move further down field. They’re so far away from where they started, the very word “god” ceases to have any meaning.

    Science will ultimately hit a wall they can’t break through without destroying all that exists.

    I don’t even know what that means.

    In the final analysis, it’s my belief that there will always be something unknown or unknowable. This is the fertile ground that will likely always exist for spiritualism to inhabit.

    What makes “spiritualism” any better at knowing the unknowable?

    So long as they don’t make any claims that are scientifically preposterous, NOMA seems a positive intellectual hitching post in which to foster goodwill.

    Ah, accommodationism. We are currently paying for decades of accommodationism, through watering down science education so it won’t conflict with people’s beliefs, that we have raised generations of people who don’t know science and think they are entitled to not have their beliefs challenged. And they’re running for public office.

    It’s not the crazy people I fear. It’s the crazy people who want to impose their craziness on us all by fiat. NOMA would appear to be a good way in which to sort out the former from the latter.

    It’s precisely because the religious think they are entitled to their own facts that NOMA doesn’t work. Drawing a line in the sand, religion on one side, science on the other, fails as soon as science discovers something new and you have to move the line. What has religion ever contributed to human knowledge? If the line is going to keep advancing until there’s nothing left for religion to stand on, why draw it in the first place?

  76. #76 raven
    February 17, 2010

    Reuters today:

    Divergent demographic views are also found on the issue of evolution, which almost all biologists accept as an explanation for the diversity of life.

    But there is widespread skepticism in America about this especially among evangelical Christians, many of whom believe God created all living things in their current form.

    The report said 55 percent of Millennials — a figure that many scientists would still find alarmingly low — believe that evolution is the best explanation for human life compared to 47 percent in older age groups. It said this pattern was seen among the both general population and a range of faith traditions.

    On questions of faith the report found that by some key measures, the under 29s are losing religion.

    It found one-in-four American Millennials unaffiliated with any specific faith, compared to 20 percent of Generation Xers at a comparable point in their lives (the late 1990s). Only 13 percent of Baby Boomers were religiously “unaffiliated” in the late 1970s when they were roughly the age Millennials are now.

    OT but not by much. A new Pew survey on religion just came out today. This one concentrated on younger generations.

    25% are No Religions. No statement for how many are into New Age religions, but we know many are.

    Acceptance of evolution is higher with younger age groups. 55% in Millennials, over half and climbing.

    I keep saying xianity is on the skids in the USA. That fundie death cult New Dark Age program isn’t selling well.

    Great way to start the day!!!

  77. #77 tsg
    February 17, 2010

    NOMA only works if the magisteria being separated are “reality” and “fantasy”.

  78. #78 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    February 17, 2010
    I believe the odds of religious types ‘finding verifiable evidence for God’ is about the same as scientific types ever being able to fully explain how matter springs into existence out of nothing.

    Really?

    Note the weasel word “fully”. As long as there are any questions at all, one can claim that a question is not “fully” answered. Since science works by developing successive approximations, this demand cannot be fulfilled by it. That’s where the religious bafflegab gets stuffed into the picture.

  79. #79 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    February 17, 2010

    Every time science proves something about god wrong, the goalposts move further down field.

    Thank you for stating what I was trying to say much more succinctly that I did.

    What makes “spiritualism” any better at knowing the unknowable?

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think The Tim Channel is saying it’s useful, just that it’s going to be there and that we can take advantage of it via NOMA. This doesn’t make sense to me since I don’t know of any religion of note that doesn’t violate NOMA, so it’s not a useful concept.

  80. #80 Anri
    February 17, 2010

    Note the weasel word “fully”. As long as there are any questions at all, one can claim that a question is not “fully” answered. Since science works by developing successive approximations, this demand cannot be fulfilled by it. That’s where the religious bafflegab gets stuffed into the picture.

    Sure, I cought that, that’s why I made the response that I did, about lining up evidence. I wasn’t stating that science will, assuredly, answer that question ‘fully’. I was merely pointing out that he was equating two probabilities, when one seems much, much more likely than the other, based on evidence.

    As far as I know, science has explained how stuff pops into existence on its own. It has been both theorized and observed (albeit indirectly). If by ‘fully’ the writer means ‘to the satisfaction of the people studying this field’, I think we’re pretty much already there. If, however, he takes ‘fully’ to mean ‘until I’m happy with the explaination’, then he might wanna consider the weakness of making an argument from his own ignorance.

    He appears to be making the ‘point’ that science will never have All Of The AnswersTM. And this is almost certainly true.
    What he appears to be missing is that religion has None Of The Answers.
    It is complimentary to science only in the sense that science deals with what’s actually there.

  81. #81 sqlrob
    February 17, 2010

    NOMA only works if the magisteria being separated are “reality” and “fantasy”.

    This is OM worthy, IMHO.

  82. #82 inkadu
    February 17, 2010

    Hypatia’s Daughter: Since this is Winter Olympics season, I just had an image of angels scrubbing the ether to keep the planets on their perfectly circular paths. Cosmic curling.

  83. #83 AJS
    February 17, 2010

    @ James Sweet, #69:

    It’s my opinion that all pre-Darwin belief in a Creator doesn’t count. It is totally understandable how a belief in a divine designer might be seductive in the absence of any halfway decent answer to the basic question, “How did all these fucking animals get here, anyway?” Granted, defaulting to Goddidit is still a logical fallacy, but in the absence of even a remotely satisfying explanation, it is perfectly understandable why even the best thinkers would be drawn into it.

    Thank you.

    The best explanation I could manage was “atheism wasn’t invented in those days”, which isn’t quite right. You have managed to express it much better.

  84. #84 Steven Mading
    February 17, 2010

    Ah yes, the article uses the familiar incorrect premise to defend the concept of NOMA, the one that can be reduced to this statement:

    The statement: ‘belief X and belief Y are compatible with each other’,” is precisely the same thing as the statement “there exist people who think that beliefs X and Y are compatible.”

    To make it more clear why this is bullshit, notice how it can be further reduced to just being a specific case of the following:

    The statement “X is true” is precisely the same thing as the statement “there exist people who think that X is true.”

    No. They’re not the same statement at all. The existence of famous people who thought the NOMA claim is true is NOT evidence that the NOMA claim is actually true.

    The reason actual compatibility between two ideas is different from simply being able to hold the two ideas in one’s head at the same time is because people are perfectly capable of being hypocrites. The existence of hypocrisy in the human mind is what allows one to hold incompatible ideas in one’s head at the same time.

  85. #85 Sastra
    February 17, 2010

    One of the big problems with NOMA is that there is no reason to confine it to airy-fairy, vague, nebulous religious claims where God doesn’t “really exist” per Armstrong and ilk. It easily seeps into more traditional assertions about Jesus being born of a virgin and walking on water. It spills over into the paranormal and New Age woo. Any time the strong, consistent, predictive evidence that ought to be there, isn’t, you will get people mewling and whining about how their belief in the atonement, or vitalism, or mind-body dualism, or homeopathy, or crap of the week, is in a “different magisteria” than similar truth claims, and should instead be treated to the gentle understanding and acceptance that we normally give to claims that we love our mother, or that our mother loves us, or, perhaps, that love is important.

    A compromise with religion is better than religion bullying science, but it is never going to be a bad idea for at least one group, to argue for truth and integrity, over the “wise” and prudent political compromise. Shutting off the option of going for truth and integrity is neither wise, nor prudent, in the long run.

    I doubt its wisdom in the short run, too.

  86. #86 Paul W.
    February 17, 2010

    Sastra:

    The best way to refute atheism is changing the subject to something other than God? Why? Because nobody really believes in God, or cares if it’s true.

    Ok. So now let’s all explore religion as a natural cultural phenomenon.

    That’s not a counter to Dawkins. That’s jumping in with him.

    This reminds me of something I let drop a couple of weeks ago when the trains started wrecking over at Greg Laden’s…

    I had been talking about Karen Armstrong and saying that she was a supernaturalist.

    Somebody reminded me of a much earlier takedown of yours, in which you said that what Karen Armstrong was describing was actually atheism. In my account, she wasn’t.

    Maybe you were only responding to a particular thing that Armstrong wrote, though, and I wonder, do you think she’s an atheist?

    At least in what she writes in her (horribly mistitled) The Case for God I think she’s not.

    She tries to make it sound like she’s completely accepting of science and whatnot, but she’s not; she believes in a concept of God that’s recognizably a supernatural thingamagic by my standards. (Which are very similar to yours, if not identical, and very Pascal Boyeresque.)

    One thing that makes me curious about this, I confess, is wondering whether I’ve found something you and I might actually disagree on. :-)

    (Funny; I meant to write “thingamajig,” above, but I kinda like “thingamagic.”)

  87. #87 Sastra
    February 17, 2010

    Paul W. #86 wrote:

    Maybe you were only responding to a particular thing that Armstrong wrote, though, and I wonder, do you think she’s an atheist?

    I’m not an expert on Armstrong, but, based on what I’ve read, I think she jumps around between supernaturalism, and religious humanism, depending on her needs and mood at the time — and considers her lack of clarity, a virtue. Susan Jacoby wrote that her book The Case for God ought to be re-titled “The Case For A God Who Is Anything You Want Him To Be–As Long As You Have Faith.”

    Look at this:

    “Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians have insisted for centuries that God does not exist and that there is ‘nothing’ out there; in making these assertions their aim was not to deny the reality of God but to safeguard God?s transcendence.”

    O rly? Sounds more like Armstrong’s strategy. Her definition of God is similarly nebulous. And yet, at other times, she will wax on about the “deep connection” between mind and matter in a rather dualistic way, endorsing mysticism. It looks to me like she’s trying to straddle the fence, and hurting herself in tender areas.

    Perhaps you’re remembering a parody I wrote on one of the threads a while back, which went something like this:

    Theist: I believe in God.

    Armstrong: Yes. What I understand you to be saying is that you believe that reality exists. God is its mythic personification, and lies beyond our comprehension. God is nothing.

    Theist: No, I believe that God exists, and that God is real, and He acts in the world.

    Armstrong: Of course God is real. It is a symbol which points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence.

    Theist: You?re not listening. God created the universe, and revealed His purpose in the Bible.

    Armstrong: I hear you. The Bible was never intended to be historically or scientifically accurate or explain anything: no, it is a myth which helps you cope psychologically, akin to poetry or music. I really honor and respect that. Good for you.

    Theist: A myth? A symbol? No, God is our creator. He will judge us according to our sin. He?s not something I made up to feel better. There?s salvation and damnation in the afterlife!

    Armstrong: All of which is a metaphor for the cultivation of the human capacities of mind and heart as you discover an interior haven of peace. Believe me, I understand what you?re doing, and it?s okay. It’s more than okay; its what makes us human.

    Theist: Fuck you.

  88. #88 simonator
    February 17, 2010

    As sceintific inquiry explains more and more of the natural world, theists tend to fall into one of two camps: the strident “we’re right and you’re wrong neeener neener,” idiots and the “science and religion are compatible,” accomidationists. The former are irritating and bordering on crazy. As for the latter… well if they keep falling back on “god’s ways are unknowable,” than waht’s the point. Aren’t you supposed to be able to use your knowlege of what he wants to help us?

    And since you can explain nothing about how this world works, why should be accede to your claims to special knowledge about some sort of afterlife? It’s like trusting your life (well your afterlife anyway) to a pilot whose never flown, and has ground looped the aircraft. No thanks, I’ll simply assume that I’m trapped on the island, rather than trust you to tell me how we’re getting off of the island.

  89. #89 mmelliott01
    February 17, 2010

    I forget… Is that “Sastra, OM” at #87? If not, it should be.

  90. #90 SC OM
    February 17, 2010

    Sastra, that was awesome.

  91. #91 MadScientist
    February 17, 2010

    Michael Faraday was a very religious (though he belonged to the wrong sect of course) experimentalist. He was excited by discovery, so much so that he spent a very large portion of his life conducting new experiments and finding behavior which enthralled him (though he couldn’t quite explain what he observed; J.C. Maxwell would have to sort out that bit). So perhaps Faraday really did associate the exhilaration of discovery with learning more about his sky fairy’s creations. What a pity that a fringe loony group like the Faraday foundation should associate his name with the woo-woo. In his lifetime most of the people around him would have seen Faraday’s religious practices as bizarre, and though many poked fun at his strange drawings, most of his observations and experiments (though not necessarily his explanations) were respected.

  92. #92 heddle
    February 17, 2010

    Sastra, #87

    You rock.

  93. #93 Paul W.
    February 17, 2010

    Rest assured that Sastra is a longtime OM with about a bazillion oak leaf clusters.

  94. #94 Sven DiMilo
    February 17, 2010

    Sastra is a longtime OM with about a bazillion oak leaf clusters.

    and she’s very difficult to see in the woods, so watch out!

  95. #95 'Tis Himself, OM
    February 17, 2010

    Let me see if I understand Harrison’s argument. 350 years ago some prestigious scientists believed in god, therefore god and science are compatible.

    In Babara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror is a description of how 14th Century physicians considered the astrological significance of various diseases.

    In October 1348 Philip VI asked the medical faculty of the University of Paris for a report on the affliction [Black Death] that seemed to threaten human survival. With careful thesis antithesis, and proofs, the doctors ascribed it to a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius said to have occurred on March 20, 1345.¹

    662 years ago it was believed that astrology and medicine were compatible. So why isn’t Harrison pushing for astrology as well as religion?

    ¹Barbara W. Tuchman. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979, pp 102-3.

  96. #96 FossilFishy
    February 17, 2010

    And while we’re doling out compliments to OM’s already burdened with heavy accolades: Here’s to ‘Tis for citing his source.

  97. #97 procyon
    February 17, 2010

    I believe it was not a healthy thing,in the 17th century, to deny the supremacy of the christian god, or to not attribute every discovery to the christian god. Such an attitude would land you in the hands of good christians and torture, prison, death, and stake burning would ensue.

  98. #98 One Furious Llama
    February 18, 2010

    God I can’t wait for somebody to come up with an actual argument.

  99. #99 Paul W.
    February 18, 2010

    Sastra,

    I don’t claim to be able to make Karen Armstrong’s position clear or consistent—that’s not possible, because she’s an inconsistent kook—but I do think it’s worth taking a shot at clarifying some central tendencies. Rather than talking about her position, we might talk about a probability cloud where her position might be, subject to Heisenberg effects—if you look too closely, it changes. :-)

    Or really, she has a couple of central positions which aren’t really consistent with each otehr.

    In The Case for God it seems to me the first central tendency includes the claims that

    1. the human mind has an intellectus in some ancient Greek sense not identical to modern western “intellect,”

    2. the intellectus has abilities higher than rationality—mere rationality cannot reveal the indescribable truths and wisdom that this amazing faculty can. This is the highest form of thinking or intuiting or apprehending or something.

    3. The higher faculty of intellectus reveals profound truth and wisdom that can’t be articulated in words, except when it can

    4. One of the things we can at least roughly articulate is that there is an identity between the operation of the intellectus thingie and the fundamental nature of reality.

    5. Mystics in all major religions, when they do mysticism right, realize these same deep truths. For example, the identity of intellectus and ultimate reality is the same thing Hindu mystics mean by their “discovery” (as she calls it) that the Atman (mind stuff) is the same thing as Brahman (everything stuff), and that this is basically the same idea as central stuff in apophatic Christian the theology from before about 500 years ago, as well as being related to Golden Age Athenian stuff with Platonic Ideals and so on.

    (Basically, all the wisest and most deeply insightful people in all major religions have always agreed with her, even if that sort of thinking was usually a minority view in each major religion. Religion is wonderful, except that most people do it all wrong.)

    6. What we call “God” is this intellectus/ultimate reality or Atman/Brahman thing going on, in some sense. Sometimes God appears to be the ultimate nature of reality itself, but often God seems to be the process of realization of the identity between Atman and Brahman, and the derivation of (otherwise unachievable) wisdom and solace from it somehow.

    7. Because of this, atheistic rationalism or “scientism” is mired in a lower-level understanding of reality. It ignores the highest faculty of mind, which is identical to the deepest reality of matter, and assumes that cool stuff doesn’t exist. It is therefore shallow, ignorant and stupid. People like her and the ancient mystics of all the major religions know better. (Except when they don’t, because many mystics in all major religions do mysticism wrong—i.e., not her preferred way—and generate bullshit.)

    When she’s expounding on these lines, she reveals some definite beliefs. (Whether she really believes them, or believes them consistently, is a different matter.)

    In particular, she thinks that properly-done mysticism reveals fundamental truths about the nature of minds and reality that science has no clue about—except that a few savvy scientists realize that things like quantum weirdness are evidence that she’s right. (So her views are unfalsifiable, except when they’re really not—she implicitly acknowledges that evidence is very relevant. Too bad she has no clue what the actual evidence is, or what it really implies.)

    Woven together with this, in a kind of crude and clunky counterpoint, is a whole different theme:

    1. Religion isn’t about beliefs, it’s about experience and practice

    2. To “get” religion, you have to do it, not think it out.

    (That has the very convenient implication that anybody who doesn’t do religion, and tries to criticize religion, “doesn’t get it.” Even many people who are religious and don’t agree with her about central issues of religion—and that’s most religious people—well, they “don’t get it,” because they do religion but they don’t do it right.)

    3. What you get out of this practice and experience nonetheless counts as knowledge and wisdom.

    4. Since the wisdom you get from doing cool religion is ineffable and unspeakable, the first rule of Cool Religion Club is Don’t talk about Cool Religion Club. (Except when you do, as she does all the time.)

    You can probably tell that I think that her two main themes amount to having her cake, and eating it too.

    On one hand, she is clearly making truth claims about the nature of minds and reality, and they’re the kinds of claims you and I would immediately recognize as falsifiable supernaturalist claims. (There’s something soul-like that transcends the mere meat machine in your head, which can intuit deep truths from the structure of reality fairly directly, rather like Using The Force, Luke.)

    She is very serious about these claims, even if she won’t really clearly state and defend them; they are central to her theme in the book, which is that she and the cross-culturally Right Thinking Mystics are onto something deep and true that scientistic scientists (particularly the New Atheists) just don’t get and are patently wrong about.

    She waffles about these things a little, talking about how you can’t rationally analyze them, even though she’s clearly making claims you can rationally analyze, and even clumsily adducing supposedly cutting-edge science in support of them. (When in fact the ideas she’s talking about were mostly ditched by scientists decades ago, e.g., minds being central to QM phenomena. Most physicists think that the primacy of the mental in QM was one of those appealingly anthropocentric ideas that is just wrong, as most of them are.)

    Most of what passes for argument in a book wrongly titled The Case for God is simply unsubstantiated assertion and argument from very selectively chosen authorities, avoiding well-known materialist critiques. (E.g., that the brain appears, scientifically, to be an evolved meat machine, and it’s really hard to see how or why it could have evolved the amazing abilities she simply assumes it has.)

    When she talks about the primacy of experience and practice, and the seeming insignificance of religious belief, she’s being utterly hypocritical.

    To the extent that she makes a case for anything at all in the book, she’s making a case for religious practice in order to achieve knowledge and wisdom; it’s largely (and ineliminably) about beliefs.

    To agree with her and decide to do religion the way she recommends, one has to assume that she’s likely right that mystics know something about the highest faculties of mind and the deepest nature of reality, and how they’re interestingly the same thing.

    To do that, it really helps to have the kind of naive understanding of minds and matter that most people do, and not to know the first thing about cognitive neuroscience or quantum mechanics or the relevant philosophy.

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