Newsweek interviews Richard Dawkins:

Are those incompatible positions: to believe in God and to believe in evolution?

No, I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God–to name only Francis Collins [the geneticist and Christian believer recently chosen to head the National Institutes of Health] as an outstanding example. So it clearly is possible to be both. This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.

I wonder whether you might be more successful in your arguments if you didn’t convey irritation and a sense that the people who believe in God are not as smart as you are.

I think there is a certain justified irritation with young-earth creationists who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Those are the people that I’m really talking about. I do sometimes accuse people of ignorance, but that is not intended to be an insult. I’m ignorant of lots of things. Ignorance is something that can be remedied by education. And that’s what I’m trying to do.

This, for what it’s worth, looks like the position NCSE has taken, and is, to the best of my knowledge, the sort of rhetoric Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have been calling for from folks like Dawkins. It matches my own views, too, though I’ve been less vocal in these debates than many others.

It will be interesting to see whether the usual suspects go after Dawkins with quite the same vehemence that has met others advancing similar lines of argument.

I’ll note that it’s also a shift from his previously stated views. In The God Delusion, he is careful not to limit his criticism just to young earth creationists, but to anyone who believes in some form of god, that is “a supernatural intelligence who, in addition to his main work of creating the universe in the first place, is still around to oversee and influence the subsequent fate of his initial creation.” That’s a description which surely includes young earth creationists, but it also the apparently praiseworthy Francis Collins, among the deluded. And those who advocated treating science and religion as potentially compatible came in for their own opprobrium. NCSE was listed among the “Neville Chamberlain school of evolutionists,” Stephen Jay Gould was accused of dishonesty for writing about how he thought science and religion might be reconciled, and so forth.

Maybe he’s changed his mind, or maybe he’s drawing a nuanced line between a humility about what might be possible and his certainty about what he himself believes. If the latter, TGD could have been a bit clearer about drawing a line between his personal beliefs and his understanding of what other views might be correct, and I may have to re-read the book with that sentence in mind to see if I react to it differently.

The interview is fairly brief, and doesn’t give a lot of chances to delve into his views, but the second page gives an interesting exchange where he also seems to walk back the implications of his most memorable line from the book, the opening sentence in which the Old Testament God is described as “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

In the interview, he says that this isn’t really alienating or insulting to the general public since “I’m only talking about the God of the Old Testament, so the only people who will be offended are the people who believe in the God of the Old Testament,” adding immediately, “which by the way is most of the people you’re referring to [the American public].” When pressed, he allows that Christians would insist that they believe not in the Old Testament God, but in the God of the New Testament, and that Jews confronted with that statement would say “OK, we’ve moved on since that time.” To which Dawkins adds, “Thank goodness they have.”

Thank goodness, indeed. One of the criticisms, arguably the most common, of TGD, was that it ignored this sort of adaptation and adjustment of religious views over time. The criticism was so common that PZ Myers coined a mocking reply, comparing claims that Dawkins is hardly knocking down the nuanced views that many religious believers have by attacking these rigid and literalist approaches to the Bible to The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this Courtier’s Reply, PZ mocks the notion that such nuanced views are any better than the views Dawkins treats, but I wonder if Dawkins hasn’t taken this criticism seriously, and perhaps even deepened his appreciation for the varieties of religious experience and belief.

He’s clearly still an atheist, comfortable in his non-belief. It’s hard to know from one brief interview whether we see a shift under way, and I’ll be interested in blogospheric responses, and in seeing how Dawkins’s rhetoric, and perhaps beliefs, continue to evolve.

Updated 10/4/2009 8:33 PDT: Jerry Coyne has a response from Dawkins, describing either this post and Chris’s or at least Jerry Coyne’s as “utterly ridiculous,” and comparing himself to a politician who must worry about his words will be “misused by somebody with an agenda.” My intent was not to misuse his words, nor to bring ridicule or ridiculousness to him, and I’ve written Dawkins a note apologizing and asking for additional clarification, so that the needed correction is ? correct.

I note in passing that I dispute various things about Jerry’s characterization of my views, but I’ve got to finish an article that is way past deadline before I return to blog drama. Thanks to Jerry for getting some answers from the horse’s mouth, though.

Comments

  1. #1 Sigmund
    October 2, 2009

    Josh, when I saw the title of your post I assumed I was going to be writing to agree with you for a change. Dawkins has indeed recently come out with a statement that can only be described as accomodationist.
    It’s not, however, the one you use.
    I think you are reading the anti-accomodationist position completely erroneously. The things that anti-accomodationists complain about are statements to the effect of science proving the stories of specific religions or religions providing the only answers for specific scientific questions (for instance the origin of morality and altruism) when there are clear naturalistic explanations available.
    Your view of the anti-accomodationist position seems to be that holding that view means you regard it impossible for someone to be religious and to simultaneously accept evolution.
    There is no compatibility problems when you treat science as a collection of facts.
    The issue of compatibility rests with the epistemological compatibility of the scientific method and theistic religion.
    As for Dawkins being an accomodationist this week?
    I regard his avoidance of the question of Bill Mahers anti scientific medical views as being accomodationalist towards medical woo in the same way avoiding the question of the incompatibility of the scientific method and theistic religion is being accomodationist towards supernaturalism (another form of woo). In both cases I think there is a tactful alliance with individuals that one disagrees with on one level, in order to advance another cause (in the case of Dawkins and Maher, its atheism, in the case of the NCSE and moderate theists, its evolution).

  2. #2 Treppenwitz
    October 2, 2009

    His statement seems both accurate and in line with his previous writings. Evolution is not incompatible with the “god hypothesis” as described in The God Delusion. It’s incompatible with specific doctrines of various religions, and it demolishes the argument from design, but it is mute on the question of whether gods exist.

    The incompatibility is not between evolution and religion; it is between faith and reason. The bits you quote don’t address that separate question.

    As for the adaptation and adjustment of religions over time, to paraphrase Sam Harris, this is not an indication that faith is wise, but rather that the faithful have taken in some of the secular values that have developed over the years.

  3. #3 a lurker
    October 2, 2009

    This really is not new for Dawkins at all. He has always recognized that there are real scientists who accept God. After all how could he not? Thus he has recognized “accommodation” per se. He just thinks that for a scientist to hold such a view is unjustified and inconsistent.

  4. #4 Matt Penfold
    October 2, 2009

    This, for what it’s worth, looks like the position NCSE has taken, and is, to the best of my knowledge, the sort of rhetoric Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum have been calling for from folks like Dawkins.

    It is also the position that none of you have being willing to justify. You merely assert that religion and science are compatible and go all huffy when asked to explain how.

    The only way god and science are compatible is if that god does not intervene in the universe. Dawkins agrees with that, so when you and others criticise him for saying science and religion are not compatible you are not talking about a non-interventionist god. That leaves you arguing that science is compatible with a god who does intervene. And that is where it gets silly, because once you allow for an interventionist god where do you stop ?

  5. #5 Maurice Colgan
    October 2, 2009

    Creationists live on an evolving planet and cannot see the Good for the Thees.

    A couple of weeks ago today, Richard Dawkins received a standing ovation here in Ireland, land of saints and scholars.

    Lapsed saints, these days.

  6. #6 IanW
    October 2, 2009

    Once again you’ve demonstrated that, even though dance isn’t _really_ a way of knowing, you do indeed know the dance move called “side-step” and know it well.

    You appear to be reading a lot more into what Dawkins said in the interview than what he actually did say, but what’s really sad that you’re not only effectively making an argument from authority – the “authority” of Richard Dawkins – you’re once again side-stepping addressing what the likes of Coyne and Myers have repeatedly made clear. Both they and Dawkins (as he clearly shows in the interview) accept that religion and science are “compatible” in the sense that many people can effectively compartmentalize and “rationalize” the two things, but that’s not the issue Coyne and Myers raised.

    What those two were concerned with vis-à-vis NCSE is that instead of being neutral on the topic, NCSE has taken a pro-religion stance in larding-up its web site with so many references to how many religions can contort themselves into a position where swallowing the two contenders is possible without vomiting.

    Last I heard, Coyne and Myers are still waiting on anyone from NCSE effectively addressing the actual issue they raised, and they’re also still waiting on anyone from NCSE defining what it is we can “know” from religion that can compare with how science knows things.

    Side-stepping these issues with treatises on literature, stretching to co-opt Dawkins into your camp, and whatever other digressions you’ve engaged in is not addressing these two issues. It’s quite obviously side-stepping them.

  7. #7 Orac
    October 2, 2009

    Of course, there is taking accommodationism too far, at least in this direction:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/10/here_are_those_inconvenient_questions_fo.php

    :-)

  8. #8 Mystyk
    October 2, 2009

    Richard Dawkins acknowledges that people are profoundly capable of the cognitive dissonance required to simultaneously hold scientific positions and anti-scientific religious faith. Nothing Earth-shattering there, as there are clearly enough of those people around to show that the human ability to do so is a fact.

    This is entirely different from the accomodationism you and most of the NCSE are practicing, where there is an insistence on 1) reconciliation of science and faith and 2) insistence on an unearned respect for faith. The difference in interpreting Dawkins’s words is made clear, as another commenter noticed, by looking at the parts you don’t quote. You seem to do that quite a bit.

    You can side-step the issue all you want, continue to either ignore criticism or cry that you were “misunderstood” (no matter how clearly it is demonstrated not to be the case), and generally try to give the religious a warm-&-fuzzy feeling that you’re not one of those “evil New Atheists,” or you can get serious about promoting science education and accept the potential ramifications. That which is true is so no matter how unsettling it may be, and your job is to convey that truth accurately and proudly to the public. You aren’t doing that very well.

  9. #9 Josh Rosenau
    October 2, 2009

    Sigmund: “Dawkins has indeed recently come out with a statement that can only be described as accomodationist.”

    You mean WRT to antivaxx activism?

    Sigmund again: “I think you are reading the anti-accomodationist position completely erroneously.”

    I think they’re reading my position erroneously. There’s clearly a misunderstanding at work, but what Dawkins says here is what I’ve been saying throughout this.

    “anti-accomodationists complain about … statements to the effect of science proving the stories of specific religions…”

    Where do you see me, NCSE, Chris Mooney, or others labeled “accommodationist” take that position?

    a lurker: “He has always recognized that there are real scientists who accept God. … He just thinks that for a scientist to hold such a view is unjustified and inconsistent.”

    But he doesn’t seem to be calling Francis Collins unjustified or inconsistent here. I take his comments to be rather contradictory not just to the anti-accommodationists, but to the anti-accommodationist opposition to Collins’ NIH nomination a few months back. Maybe I’m reading too much into a short comment, though.

    Matt Penfold: “You merely assert that religion and science are compatible and go all huffy when asked to explain how.”

    No, we, like Dawkins, observe that there are clearly people who find a compatibility. As I wrote above, this is not a claim of absolute epistemic compatibility, but it does speak to the possibility of such compatibility.

    IanW: Your second paragraph treats it as uncontroversial to note that many religious people or groups find a compatibility of science and religion. Your third paragraph states that it is controversial for NCSE to mention those groups’ existence. If you have nothing to offer but self-contradiction and flames, I see no point responding at length.

    I also don’t see the appeal to authority. I’m not saying that Dawkins’s statements prove anything, I merely find his shift in rhetoric (and perhaps thinking) noteworthy.

  10. #10 Dave Morris
    October 2, 2009

    You and Mr. Mooney are really really stretching here to try to claim you’re in the same camp with Dawkins. Where did he ‘praise’ F. Collins? Observing that he’s intelligent is an obvious fact. He praises neither his new role, nor Collins’ non-rational stances.
    It seems like Dawkins is stating the obvious. “..it clearly is possible to be both” – Given the millions of people that ARE both, this is akin to stating that racists can love their children, even though you disagree with their racist attitudes.
    I’m also puzzled by the shock being expressed over these statements. What, you thought Dawkins was so narrow-minded that he couldn’t SEE that some people could believe in both God and evolution? That’s all he’s stating here. I personally fall about 50% of the way between the positions of the NCSE and PZ Myers, so I think I can sympathize with the attitudes from both camps. The fast, intense effort to proclaim Dawkins an accomodationist suggests a hunger to claim Dawkins is in your camp, when the facts of his statement just don’t support that. These reactions are nothing more than spin.

  11. #11 TB
    October 2, 2009

    :)

  12. #12 Josh Rosenau
    October 2, 2009

    Dave Morris: “It seems like Dawkins is stating the obvious. “..it clearly is possible to be both” – Given the millions of people that ARE both, this is akin to stating that racists can love their children, even though you disagree with their racist attitudes.”

    Okay, I guess. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much how NCSE has approached the question, but without making any normative judgment about religion at all (which is what the analogy requires if racism:religion::science:loving children).

    Given NCSE’s stated policy of not taking a position on religion, we couldn’t condemn religion, nor praise religion qua religion. But as you say, it’s totally consistent to praise religious people who favor evolution without therefore praising religion.

    And what is it I’m supposed to have omitted from the interview that has relevance here?

    And as a simple matter of fairness, I didn’t “proclaim Dawkins an accommodationist.” I asked whether this statement could be considered accommodationism, and at least a few of you seem to think it can’t.

    This raises a question for me of why those statements aren’t accommodationist, but they are accommodationist when NCSE says the same thing. Why does making this point count as acceptable and uncontroversial from Dawkins, but gets Chris Mooney and Genie Scott labeled as “dissemblers” who misstate what “incompatible” means by making an argument that is “trivial, and insulting to anyone who can think.”

  13. #13 Glen Davidson
    October 2, 2009

    Others have noted the difference in Dawkins’ tone with this book over the last one.

    It’s hard to know what it’s all about, really. Book sales might have something to do with it (probably do, at least some, whether he likes it or not), and/or maybe he’s mellowing.

    He’s certainly repudiating nothing, while he looks like he’s shifting targets, at least for now. It’ll be interesting to see what his focus is in the future.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  14. #14 llewelly
    October 2, 2009

    Josh Rosenau:

    Why does making this point count as acceptable and uncontroversial from Dawkins, but gets Chris Mooney and Genie Scott labeled as “dissemblers” who misstate what “incompatible” means by making an argument that is “trivial, and insulting to anyone who can think.”

    Coyne:

    First of all, nobody doubts that science and religion are compatible in the trivial sense that someone can be a scientist and be religious at the same time. That only shows one’s ability to hold two dissimilar approaches to the world simultaneously in one’s own mind.

    This is not what we mean when we say science and faith are incompatible.

    Follow your own link and read the rest.

  15. #15 Mark
    October 2, 2009

    I feel like he is using this in a way of ultimately getting his opponents to “pull the goalie” at the end of a lop sided game. Admitting that they are compatible is his way of turning the goal keeper into a forward and leaving a wide open net.

  16. #16 Josh Rosenau
    October 2, 2009

    Llewelly: I did read the link. My question is, where’s the opprobrium against Richard Dawkins for using the term “incompatible” in the exact sense that Coyne rather viciously criticized people for using in the past? If “this is not what we mean when we say science and faith are incompatible,” then I have to ask “what do you mean ‘we,’ white man?” Apparently that “we” doesn’t include Dawkins, nor does it mean me or Genie or Chris, to name a few. If others are dissemblers for disagreeing on this point, why not Dawkins, too?

    Note that I don’t think the error is Dawkins’s here. I’m happy for someone to draw a reasonable distinction between what Dawkins says here and what Coyne criticized so harshly, but I don’t see it yet.

    As a reminder, Genie says in the video: “I don’t have to address that as a philosophical question, I can address that as an empirical question. It’s obvious that it is. Because there are many people who are scientists who are also people of faith. There are many theologians whose life it is, whose job it is to think about religious issues, who are enthusiastic accepters and supporters of science and who are excited by the things scientists discover. So it’s empirically obvious that there’s no necessary conflict between science and religion.”

    Or consider the much criticized comment here that “The science of evolution does not make claims about God’s existence or non-existence, any more than do other scientific theories such as gravitation, atomic structure, or plate tectonics. Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.”

    These passages have both been criticized widely, presented as proof that NCSE is not neutral toward religion, is somehow being dishonest, and is out to throw atheists under the bus. But here’s Dawkins making a comment that is identical in structure, logic, and even language in places. And the response is a collective yawn.

    I find that interesting, and potentially dispositive about people’s insistence that it’s not a personal vendetta, just a philosophical difference with NCSE. If that were true, why wouldn’t people jump on Dawkins when he applies the same philosophy?

  17. #17 Treppenwitz
    October 2, 2009

    For one thing, I didn’t see Dawkins making claims about “other ways of knowing.” Acknowledging compatibility in the trivial sense is not the same as claiming that faith actually brings anything to the table.

  18. #18 TB
    October 2, 2009

    “I find that interesting, and potentially dispositive about people’s insistence that it’s not a personal vendetta, just a philosophical difference with NCSE. If that were true, why wouldn’t people jump on Dawkins when he applies the same philosophy?”

    You’re right, it’s a strong indication of other motivations, maybe the ultimate appeal to authority: They’re fans.
    Other opinions are not tolorated, self-worth inflated simply due to being associated with the movement. And now one of the giants dares to have an original thought. How much will the followers tolorate this? Maybe it’s just a lapse? Has all this really been about the science or about their psyche?
    Are the New Atheists about to have – oh no! – a Beatles moment? (Quick! Are there any photos of Dawkins at Abby Road?)
    Snark aside, it’d be nice if people took this as an opportunity to re-think a few things.

  19. #19 Sigmund
    October 2, 2009

    Josh, I’ve already suggested that accomodationism is a charge that Dawkins recent actions may warrant – regarding allowing his name to be used in an award for promoting science and reason to be given to woo supporter Bill Maher.
    The reason you have chosen to highlight, however, is ludicrous. There are a small proportion of atheists who seem to have a belief that one cannot be a scientist and also have religious beliefs. Dawkins (not other prominent new atheists, PZ Myer, Jerry Coyne etc) is not in that group.
    If Dawkins is asked “is religion and science compatible?” and answers “of course it is” like the head of the NCSE then feel free to accuse him of accomodationism.
    Eugenie Scott said “I don’t have to answer that as a philosophical question, I can answer it as an empirical question”. What does this mode of answering seek to portray about the question of philosophical compatibility?
    Remember Josh, philosophical compatibility is the question here. It is science as an epistemology that is claimed to be incompatible with theism, not being a theist and having the ability to practice science.
    As others have pointed out to you, agreeing that someone can be a scientist and still be religious is simply pointing out the obvious. It is a trivial fact of the matter and no more proves the compatibility of the approaches of science and faith than the fact that someone can simultaneously be a Lutheran pastor and the BTK murderer proves that faith is compatible with serial killing.

  20. #20 IST
    October 2, 2009

    If Dawkins is frankly stating that current scientific evidence and a belief on God are logically consistent, then I strongly disagree with that statement regardless of the source. They aren’t. That clearly doesn’t stop people from compartmentalising and believing both, or inserting their God into a gap that science hasn’t enough evidence to close fully.
    As for why those particular comments aren’t accomodationist, I would only consider them not to be by taking into account the remainder of Dawkins’ statements on the subject… if the trend continues, they certainly are, and I would disagree with that on logical grounds as well. Again, I understand the practical considerations that would cause someone, be it Genie or Richard, to take that position… it doesn’t mean I have to agree with the position or think it any less mercenary, particularly coming from someone who doesn’t really accept that compatibility in a rational sense, as Dawkins has stated.

    TB> Nice strawman. I can’t speak for vast numbers of atheists, new or old, but I can speak for myself, and I personally don’t care for whomever’s opinion if they can’t support it with evidence or it isn’t logically tenable. From most of my interactions with others, I’d say the majority of “new atheists” are accepting of original thoughts that come with evidence, not so much of pure opinion. If NCSE could admit that the purpose of presenting statements like the one Josh gives above as oft criticised is that they have no chance of fulfilling their mission without making the reconciliation for people, I can at least accept the honesty of that. The fact that there are believers who also accept evolution, and have been before scientists and science organisations attempted to reconcile those for them implies that they were doing just fine at compartmentalising those beliefs on their own.
    I do fully agree with your initial statement, I just find the insinuations of intolerance to be a) false and b) offensive. The latter is my own problem, not anyone else’s, as you’ve a right to say what you wish.
    What exactly would you like people to re-think?

  21. #21 IST
    October 2, 2009

    Josh>
    Re-read the last two lines of the first response you quote carefully… does that sound like his thinking has shifted, or does it sound like Dawkins has chosen not to re-address the compatibility issue in this book because he’s simply seeking to educate about the evidence for evolution. I’m inclined to take the latter. The missing outcry against Dawkins is missing precisely because he’s already stated he doesn’t find those views compatible elsewhere, whereas those labelled “accomodationist” have not. Why address that issue again in a book that isn’t intended to do that?

  22. #22 Sigmund
    October 3, 2009

    “There are a small proportion of atheists who seem to have a belief that one cannot be a scientist and also have religious beliefs. Dawkins (not other prominent new atheists, PZ Myer, Jerry Coyne etc) is not in that group.”
    Oops, quick typing redrafting and not checking doesnt always lead to good results.
    What I meant is:
    “There are a small proportion of atheists who seem to have a belief that one cannot be a scientist and also have religious beliefs. Dawkins and the other prominent new atheists, PZ Myer, Jerry Coyne etc are not in that group.”

  23. #23 Matt Penfold
    October 3, 2009

    No, we, like Dawkins, observe that there are clearly people who find a compatibility. As I wrote above, this is not a claim of absolute epistemic compatibility, but it does speak to the possibility of such compatibility.

    Josh, I cannot get why you are so evasive on this.

    Dawkins does not disagree some people can be scientists and also religious. No one does.

    The argument over the compatibility of science and religion has nothing to do with whether one can be a scientist and religious.

    I am coming to the conclusion that you cannot offer a serious explanation of how belief in an interventionist god is compatible with science. You refuse to do so, Mooney refuses, Kirshembaum refuses. You all refuse.

    You really do need to offer a good philosophical explanation if you want to be considered as being anything other than an apologist for religion.

  24. #24 Russell Blackford
    October 3, 2009

    Richard certainly didn’t sound very accommodationist in his speech that I attended here in LA a few hours ago.

  25. #25 David Morris
    October 3, 2009

    Josh Rosenau says,
    “This raises a question for me of why those statements [by Dawkins] aren’t accommodationist, but they are accommodationist when NCSE says the same thing.”
    You miss the point, Mr. Rosenau.
    No one thinks the NCSE or Mr. Mooney are accomodationist because you observe that some religious people believe in evolution. That’s like observing that some religious people eat chicken – a pure statement of fact. It’s the many other statements about ‘different ways of knowing’, etc, that I (and, if I may be so bold, many others) find to be accomodationist.
    It’s a leap – indeed, a completely misleading statement – to suggest Mr. Dawkins is saying the things that have led some to label some NCSE and Mooney statements as ‘accomodationist’.

  26. #26 RBH
    October 3, 2009

    David Morris wrote

    No one thinks the NCSE or Mr. Mooney are accomodationist because you observe that some religious people believe in evolution. That’s like observing that some religious people eat chicken – a pure statement of fact. It’s the many other statements about ‘different ways of knowing’, etc, that I (and, if I may be so bold, many others) find to be accomodationist.

    Indeed, it was reading through the NCSE material on the “Faith Project” that advocates a NOMA position on the relationship between belief in a god and science that led me to abandon my unqualified defense of NCSE’s strategy. Observing that there are people (e.g., Francis Collins) who both believe in an interventionist deity and hold evolutionary theory to be the best scientific explanation of the diversity of life on earth is quite different from advocating for a particular form of accommodation between religion and science. The former is empirically true; the latter philosophically problematic.

    As for the “different ways of knowing” business, it requires a whole lot of slop in what the verb “to know” means, often to the point that it becomes effectively meaningless.

  27. #27 Josh Rosenau
    October 3, 2009

    Sigmund: “What does this mode of answering seek to portray about the question of philosophical compatibility?”

    I think it portrays that her interest is not in the question of whether religion is right or on the broader philosophical issues, but on the practical question of whether science and religion can work together in the workaday world. Much as Dawkins is saying above.

    Matt Penfold: “The argument over the compatibility of science and religion has nothing to do with whether one can be a scientist and religious. …You really do need to offer a good philosophical explanation if you want to be considered as being anything other than an apologist for religion.”

    But if I offered a philosophical justification for the philosophical compatibility (whatever that means) of science and religion, then you’d surely call me an apologist for religion. What Dawkins does above, what NCSE does, what Chris and Sheril do, is not defend religion as an institution or as a philosophy. We note that people do fine at being religious and scientific, so a defense of science needn’t antagonize religion.

    Penfold again: “I am coming to the conclusion that you cannot offer a serious explanation of how belief in an interventionist god is compatible with science. You refuse to do so, Mooney refuses, Kirshembaum refuses. You all refuse.”

    So why is it that you keep claiming that that’s what any of those people are trying to do in the sense you want? We have offered explanations, and the explanation is the same as what Dawkins says: “I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God–to name only Francis Collins as an outstanding example.”

    RBH: I certainly took your critique seriously, and I wonder if you’ve looked over those passages recently. You’ll find that NCSE did respond to the criticism and reworked the religion section, clarifying some of the concerns that you and others raised.

    David: I don’t know if those changes also address any of your concerns, but I’d be interested to know if you’ve looked over those changes.

    RBH: As Genie has clarified when asked, “ways of knowing” is synonymous with “epistemologies.” Whether that reduces the slop, or just shifts it into an academically acceptable bin, is a question I can’t really answer.

  28. #28 J. J. Ramsey
    October 3, 2009

    From what I can tell, “ways of knowing” is a term of art in anthropology, which is Eugenie Scott’s field. I get the feeling that part of the problem is that she’s so used to the term that its meaning is obvious, even though to outsiders, it is far murkier.

  29. #29 J. J. Ramsey
    October 3, 2009

    I mean that the meaning of “ways of knowing” is obvious to Eugenie Scott.

  30. #30 Sigmund
    October 3, 2009

    “I think it portrays that her interest is not in the question of whether religion is right or on the broader philosophical issues, but on the practical question of whether science and religion can work together in the workaday world. Much as Dawkins is saying above.”
    In other words it is the classic political diversion technique: Refuse to answer the question posed and instead answer a different one that shows you and your policies in a better light (and avoid treading on the toes of allies by pointing out some obvious problems with their stance).
    I don’t think Eugenie actually does think science and theistic religion are compatible as epistemologies any more than President Obama thinks it is morally OK to discriminate, on the basis of their sexuality, the right of two people to get a secular marriage. In both cases, however, it is politically impossible for them to come out and say it without throwing their (religious) allies into a hissy fit.

  31. #31 Matt Penfold
    October 4, 2009

    But if I offered a philosophical justification for the philosophical compatibility (whatever that means) of science and religion, then you’d surely call me an apologist for religion. What Dawkins does above, what NCSE does, what Chris and Sheril do, is not defend religion as an institution or as a philosophy. We note that people do fine at being religious and scientific, so a defense of science needn’t antagonize religion.

    Josh,

    No one is disputing that people can be both scientists and religious. That is not what Dawkins and others mean when the say religion and science are not compatible.

    What Dawkins and others are saying is that there is a compatibility problem when people claim that belief in an interventionist god is compatible with science. You still cannot explain why he is wrong in saying this. Your continued refusal to do so suggests you cannot.

    If you cannot explain why Dawkins is wrong, say so. Justy admit you do not have an answer. But quit the dishonesty in saying he is wrong but refusing to explain why.

    So why is it that you keep claiming that that’s what any of those people are trying to do in the sense you want? We have offered explanations, and the explanation is the same as what Dawkins says: “I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God–to name only Francis Collins as an outstanding example.”

    You have NOT offered an explanation. And simply claiming you have will not make it so.

    I used to think you made serious points in this debate, even if I did not agree with you. However of late you have stopped doing so, and have event taken to blatant dishonesty.

    Dawkins does not say religion and science are incompatible because one cannot do science and be religious. No one disputes this, and for you to claim this is where Dawkins disagreement lies is simply dishonest on your part. The disagreement lies with the nature of an interventionist god.

    So please Josh, explain how belief in an interventionist god is not incompatible with science.

  32. #32 TB
    October 4, 2009

    Oh, talk about political diversion, Sigmund. You were the one who introduced the Scott quote as an example of what you were criticizing about the NCSE. Now Dawkins comes out and says virtually the same thing and yet there’s no mea culpa, no admission that maybe you were wrong in your criticism. Conversely, no condemnation of Dawkins for his position.

    Once one of those things happen, then, IST, we can consider if the fan phenomenon is really just a strawman.

    Because right now, all I’m seeing are a lot of verbal gymnastics and the motivation behind that is very open to examination.

    Penfield: “What Dawkins and others are saying is that there is a compatibility problem when people claim that belief in an interventionist god is compatible with science.”

    I think, in light of that Dawkins quote, it’d be a good idea to stop trying to explain what Dawkins thinks because obviously it’s possible to get that WRONG.

    Oh, and I love how people are getting upset: “Refuse to answer the question posed…” and “You have NOT offered an explanation…” Guess it’s only OK for some people to avoid questions …

  33. #33 Matt Penfold
    October 4, 2009

    I think, in light of that Dawkins quote, it’d be a good idea to stop trying to explain what Dawkins thinks because obviously it’s possible to get that WRONG.

    Try reading what Dawkins has said. Especially “The God Delusion”. Rosenau is misrepresenting what Dawkins has said about the compatibility of religion and science. As yet I am not sure if he is doing so deliberately. I used to suspect it was just through not understanding what Dawkins was saying but he has been corrected so many time I am now inclined to think it is being done on purpose.

    Either way Rosenau owes Dawkins, and those who have pointed out his error, an apology. I do not hold out much for one as Rosenau seems to subscribe to the Mooney and Kirshembaum school of ethics. In otherwords lie if will help.

    Just we are clear. Dawkins does not deny that scientists can be religious. He is on record as saying in that respect science and religion are compatible. He has not changed his position on that, despite Rosenau’s dishonest claim.

    Some people, including Dawkins, have argued that there is a compatibility problem between religion and science. That problems concerns the nature of an interventionist god. Dawkins has been clear that the compatibility problem goes away when you talk of deism.

    Why is this so hard for you and Rosenau to understand ? Why do you continue to trot out the scientists can be religious claim when it is irrelevant to the incompatibility problem Dawkins and others talk about ? Ignorant ? Stupidity ? Dishonesty ? Political expediency ?

  34. #34 Sigmund
    October 4, 2009

    There’s an hilarious put-down of this ridiculous nonsense over on Jerry Coynes blog.
    Here’s how Jerry got an answer for Josh!

    “Oh for God’s sake! An alert reader called my attention to two blog posts by Josh Rosenau and Chris Mooney/Sheril Kirshenbaum, both of which claim that Richard Dawkins explicitly voiced accommodationist views in a Newsweek interview.

    Well, I know Richard Dawkins. I am at a meeting with Richard Dawkins. I just discussed these accusations of accommodationism with Richard Dawkins. And I can tell you, Chris, Sheril, and Josh, that Richard is not one of you.

    Right now I feel like Woody Allen in Annie Hall. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember that in one scene Allen is in a movie line with Diane Keaton, and becomes annoyed by some pompous guy trying to impress his date by nattering on about the work of Marshall McLuhan. Allen goes behind a movie sign and pulls out McLuhan himself, taking him over to confront Mr. Pomposity. McLuhan coldly eyes him and says, “Excuse me, but I am Marshall McLuhan, and I couldn’t help overhearing what you said. I have to tell you that you know nothing of my work!” Allen turns to the camera and comments, “Don’t you wish life could be like this?”

    Well, I have a Woody moment now. Nobody who has followed Dawkins’s work and writing could possibly think he’s an accommodationist. I am here with Richard at a meeting, and simply emailed him the links to Rosenau and Mooney-and-Kirshenbaum’s websites. I have Richard’s email response and his verbal response (I’ll post the email if I get permission). Both of them are of this nature:

    Of course Dawkins is not an accommodationist in the sense that he thinks religion can be made philosophically compatible with science. All he meant by that statement is that people like Francis Collins can simulataneously hold religious and scientific ideas in their brains. So can many vicars! The idea that he saw some potential harmony between faith and science is utterly ridiculous.

    So that’s your answer, Josh, Sheril, and Chris. I wish you weren’t so desperate to validate your own ideas that you need to distort the views of others, pretending that they support you. Really, you’ve read The God Delusion and, presumably, Dawkins’s other writings. Anybody with two neurons to rub together should know that the man is not an accommodationist.

    Now that he’s said as much, it would be nice, J, S, & C, if you’d correct your postings. And please — stop pretending that the existence of religious scientists and religious people who accept evolution proves that science and faith are compatible. We settled that issue long ago. The issue is philosophical compatibility. Is that really so hard for you to understand?”

  35. #35 Josh Rosenau
    October 4, 2009

    Matt: If you have evidence to justify a claim of lying, you need to offer it, or you need to apologize (or I’ll have to perform some disemvowelling). I’m not going to have myself libeled on my own blog. If you can’t carry on a civil discussion, I see no point responding to you. This goes equally for your baseless charges of “dishonesty,” and for the laughable claim that I’ve offered no explanation for my views. If Richard Dawkins could proclaim compatibility based on Francis Collins’ belief in an interventionist God, why can’t I or anyone else do the same?

    When you have a civil answer to that question and an apology or clarification via email or blog comment, we’ll talk again. (And pointing to previous writings only demonstrates the incompatibility between Dawkins’ religion-friendly views stated above and in various links offered by other commenters on one hand, and those stated in TGD on the other. People change their minds, and it’s not dishonest to point that out. Dawkins, of all people, is unlikely to claim infallibility.)

    To put a point on the question, why do you continue to trot out abstract philosophical issues when they are irrelevant to the compatibility that Dawkins and others talk about? Ignorant [sic]? Stupidity? Dishonesty? Malice? Avarice? Sloth? Greed? Lust? Gluttony? Pride? Envy? Wrath?

  36. #36 Chris Schoen
    October 4, 2009

    This “gotcha” logic that says “if you were consistent you’d believe XYZ” is the kind of thing they try to get away with at Uncommon Descent. Why not engage with what people actually believe, not what they would believe if we were in charge of their brains? Perhaps there are logical inconsistencies with believing simultaneously in evolution and an interventionist god. There are also logical inconsistencies with believing that genes are “master programmers.” Should we just tear it all down and start over?

    If it’s agreed that Francis Collins (for example) does good science, maybe Dawkins (and Coyne) can lay off the accommodationist rhetoric long enough to work on their own damn problems rather than looking for specks in everyone else’s eyes?

    Matt Penfold @33, The Catholic Church has embraced the neo-Darwinian synthesis pretty much in its entirely. It’s true that Catholics regard mind as having arisen from something other than natural selection. But so did Alfred Wallace (who was, much like Dawkins, a passionate advocate of free inquiry over blind faith). In other words, I don’t think this supposed Rubicon between deism and theism amounts to much when it comes to this supposed conflict between science and religion. It’s too easily crossed, without even attracting much notice.

  37. #37 Benjamin Nelson
    October 4, 2009

    Josh, I agree that Matt could have been more cautious with his rhetoric. Although the claim of dishonesty is perhaps not defensible, his substantive points about the more plausible way to interpret Dawkins seems correct. Obviously, the word “compatibility” is ambiguous to the point of meaninglessness. So when taken in isolation, it’s understandable that people might interpret the word “compatibility” to mean “epistemic compatibility”. But ultimately this is not a plausible interpretation for Dawkins (esp. after Sigmund’s post above).

    You seem to think that what some scientists believe in everyday life really is evidence to say something about epistemic compatibility, as if it were prime facie evidence. In that case, I think there’s no major disagreement: both you and I and everyone would agree that, in effect, brute force compatibility is a minimal amount of evidence in favor of epistemic compatibility.

    However, your position is distinct from Scott’s (last I checked), who says that she doesn’t even need to look at philosophy, she just looks out in the world and the answer is obvious. It isn’t. So understandably, many of us feel quite appropriately unpersuaded. For my part, I’m especially unpersuaded, since I’ve cycled through a number of attempts to clarify just what is meant by “epistemic compatibility”. When we get serious about it, I think it is just about as opaque as “compatibility”.

  38. #38 TB
    October 4, 2009

    Sigmund, Dawkins said this:
    “No, I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God–to name only Francis Collins [the geneticist and Christian believer recently chosen to head the National Institutes of Health] as an outstanding example. So it clearly is possible to be both.”

    He goes on to say this: “This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.”

    As for Coyne’s post, doesn’t sound like Dawkins’ is taking back what he said.

    “All I was saying is that it is possible for a human mind to accommodate both evolution and religion because F. Collins’s mind seems to manage the feat (along with lots of vicars and bishops and rabbis).”

    Yup, that’s what he says. And no one’s disputing Dawkins’ personal beliefs. But what he said – and what he repeats in Coyne’s post – is entirely consistent with what you found Scott to have said:

    “Well, I don’t have to address that as a philosophical question, I can address that as an empirical question- its obvious that it is, because there are many people who are scientists who are also people of faith.”

    So, to quote Dawkins “it clearly is possible to be both.” He personally does not believe he can, and that’s true of anyone who is an atheist.

    So again, why does Dawkins get to say that and Scott doesn’t? You haven’t answered that question. Of course, the honest answer is there is no difference in what they said.

    Let’s quote Coyne again:
    “The issue is philosophical compatibility. Is that really so hard for you to understand?”

    No, it isn’t at all hard to understand. The NCSE doesn’t take a position on philosophical – or theological – matters. And Scott was clearly not talking philosophically.

    Still wrong, Sigmund.

  39. #39 Matt Penfold
    October 4, 2009

    Matt: If you have evidence to justify a claim of lying, you need to offer it, or you need to apologize (or I’ll have to perform some disemvowelling). I’m not going to have myself libeled on my own blog. If you can’t carry on a civil discussion, I see no point responding to you. This goes equally for your baseless charges of “dishonesty,” and for the laughable claim that I’ve offered no explanation for my views. If Richard Dawkins could proclaim compatibility based on Francis Collins’ belief in an interventionist God, why can’t I or anyone else do the same?

    How about the fact Dawkins denies saying what you claim he did ? It was pointed out to you earlier that you were misrepresenting Dawkins. Instead of admitting that you maintained you were correct. When you did so you lost the right to claim you had made an honest mistake. Jerry Coyne has been in touch with Dawkins, and reports he takes exception to your description of his position on accomodationism.

    Dawkins has never once denied one cannot be a scientist and be religious. To say otherwise is to make a false claim. That might be because you a genuinely mistaken in your understanding of his position, or you made a mistake in stating your understanding of his views, or you are being less than honest for whatever reason.

    With regards your claim you have offered an explanation, you actually admit you have not.

    We have offered explanations, and the explanation is the same as what Dawkins says: “I don’t think they’re incompatible if only because there are many intelligent evolutionary scientists who also believe in God–to name only Francis Collins as an outstanding example.”

    The fact that people can be scientists and be religious is not the issue. No one disputes that. The issue is a philosophical one, and you claim you do not need to answer that. If you wish to claim Dawkins is wrong to say science and religion are incompatible you need to address his philosophical argument, not one he has even made. You still have not explained how science and religion are compatible on a philosophical level, yet that is what I have asked you to do more than once.

    W

    hen you have a civil answer to that question and an apology or clarification via email or blog comment, we’ll talk again. (And pointing to previous writings only demonstrates the incompatibility between Dawkins’ religion-friendly views stated above and in various links offered by other commenters on one hand, and those stated in TGD on the other. People change their minds, and it’s not dishonest to point that out. Dawkins, of all people, is unlikely to claim infallibility.)

    Civility is a two way street. You demand I be civil to you, when you misrepresent what Dawkins has to say ? How is that civil of you ?

    Dawkins has indicated to Coyne that he not changed his views on either the compatibility of being a scientist and being religious, or on the philosophical compatibility issue. Why, when the man has said you are wrong, do you persist in saying you are not ? I do not know how things work were you come from, but here it is not considered civil to make false claims about people.

    To put a point on the question, why do you continue to trot out abstract philosophical issues when they are irrelevant to the compatibility that Dawkins and others talk about? Ignorant [sic]? Stupidity? Dishonesty? Malice? Avarice? Sloth? Greed? Lust? Gluttony? Pride? Envy? Wrath?

    Maybe because the philosophical compatibility issue is the one you, and others, seem to have a problem with. It cannot be the simple compatibility of being religious and being a scientist as it has never been Dawkins position that one cannot be both. Why do you persist in claiming he once did ? You do not seem to like my calling you dishonest ? How should I describe someone who has repeatedly made false claims, and refused to admit he is wrong ?

    I hope you are aware Dawkins has been in correspondence with Jerry Coyne, and that Dawkins has made the same points I have. That he has never denied one cannot be both a scientist and religious, and that his objections to the compatibility of science and religion are philosophical in nature. Coyne is asking for permission to make public Dawkins’ email. When he does, will you be admitting your mistake ?

  40. #40 Matt Penfold
    October 4, 2009

    Matt Penfold @33, The Catholic Church has embraced the neo-Darwinian synthesis pretty much in its entirely. It’s true that Catholics regard mind as having arisen from something other than natural selection. But so did Alfred Wallace (who was, much like Dawkins, a passionate advocate of free inquiry over blind faith). In other words, I don’t think this supposed Rubicon between deism and theism amounts to much when it comes to this supposed conflict between science and religion. It’s too easily crossed, without even attracting much notice.

    If you think the tenets of Catholicism are compatible with science you are seriously mistaken. Unless you really think it is scientific to claim that female mammals can give birth to male infants without being inseminated, or that humans can die and come back to life three days later. Now not all Catholics believe those things are literal truths, but many do, as do many other Christians. The Catholic Church is also pretty big on miracles, claims of divine intervention in which the rules by which the Universe work were suspended. How is such a belief compatible with science ? These are just a few examples of how science and belief in an interventionist god conflict. It is this conflict that Dawkins and others point out is a problem. So when people say Dawkins is wrong on the conflict issue is this conflict they refer to, not the trivial one of being a religious scientist.

  41. #41 Matt Penfold
    October 4, 2009

    I have an update. Dawkins’ email to Coyne has been published.

    How utterly ridiculous. All I was saying is that it is possible for a human mind to accommodate both evolution and religion because F. Collins’s mind seems to manage the feat (along with lots of vicars and bishops and rabbis). I also needed to make the point that TGSOE [The Greatest Show on Earth] is not the same book as TGD [The God Delusion] because many interviewers who are supposed to be interviewing me about TGSOE have simply ignored it and gone right back to assuming that it is the same book as TGD.

    I sympathize with politicians who have to watch every syllable they utter for fear it will be misused by somebody with an agenda.

    Now you were saying Rosenau ?

  42. #42 Physicalist
    October 4, 2009

    Josh: Thanks for your reply on the other thread, and especially for clearly stating your philosophical position on the epistemic compatibility of science and religion:

    “I don’t know, I can’t know, and I’m not sure it matters.”

    That’s fine (with me, at least), but I’m sure you understand that many people do take this debate seriously, and least some of them think that they have good reasons for believing that science and religion aren’t epistemically compatible.

    What I find irksome’s about Mooney’s account (on his blog, and in his book with Kirshenbaum) is that he waded into the philosophical debate, made a bunch of haughty claims about compatibility, and then when he was called on it (by Rosenhouse, Coyne, Blackford, and others), he just started complaining about how mean people were being. The intellectually honest route would have been either to defend his philosophical position, or to admit that he’d overstated his case.

    So as I see it, Mooney and Kirshenbaum are not merely saying that people “do fine at being religious and scientific”; they are saying that such people are are in no way philosophical misguided. Hopefully you can see why such a claim (especially when made with an air of superiority, and without support) would grate on someone who believes that she or he has good philosophical reasons for thinking that science and religion are in epistemic conflict.

    I think much of the smoke surrounding this issue could be eliminated if people were just clear on when an epistemic (or metaphysical) claim is being made, and when the point is merely psychological or sociological. Everyone agrees that good scientists do hold religious beliefs, but this is irrelevant to the philosophical question that is addressed by Dawkins, Coyne, Blackford, Myers, etc.

    (One further reply to your comment: I think everyone in these parts agrees with your political preference of liberal religious thinkers over fundamentalists. I know I do.)

  43. #43 Chris Schoen
    October 4, 2009

    Well there’s the rub, Matt. “[N]ot all Catholics believe those things are literal truths.” So are we going to take pains to be clear what we are talking about, or are we going to respond to anyone who self-identifies as Catholic as through he or she were a deluded idiot who needed to be “educated”?

    Josh gives Dawkins props here for walking back his earlier remarks (in TGD, for example) against theists in general, which he now revises as directed in particular toward creationists. That’s sensible. Young earth creationism, specifically, is in conflict with both geology and biology (not to mention history.) Belief in god, generally, is not.

  44. #44 Matt Penfold
    October 4, 2009

    Well there’s the rub, Matt. “[N]ot all Catholics believe those things are literal truths.” So are we going to take pains to be clear what we are talking about, or are we going to respond to anyone who self-identifies as Catholic as through he or she were a deluded idiot who needed to be “educated”?

    You were the one who introduced Catholics into the conversation.

    However it is not unreasonable to point out that belief in a virgin birth conflict with science. Indeed belief in any miracle conflicts with science. Accepting miracles happens means rejecting science as a means of understanding how the universe works. Would you have people not talk about this conflict ?

    Josh gives Dawkins props here for walking back his earlier remarks (in TGD, for example) against theists in general, which he now revises as directed in particular toward creationists. That’s sensible. Young earth creationism, specifically, is in conflict with both geology and biology (not to mention history.) Belief in god, generally, is not.

    You are misrepresenting Dawkins. Dawkins has pointed out, quite correctly, that people can be religious and accept evolution. However Dawkins still contends that belief in an interventionist god does conflict with science. By intervention he means that the god changes what happens in the universe in a way different from the rules that govern how the universe works. It is difficult to see how belief in such a god is compatible with science, given it would involve rejecting scientific methodology but Rosenau and others have claimed it is. None of them has progressed beyond mere assertion though. They have not developed the philosophical arguments that would be needed to show Dawkins is wrong to view science and religion as being philosophically incompatible.

    Yes, YEC conflicts with science. But so does belief in a virgin birth, resurrection, the sick being healed by prayer and any other claims for miraculous events. Many Christians rejected creationism but that are far fewer who reject the claims for the literal truth of the virgin birth, or the resurrection, both of which are also incompatible with science. If a religious person does not accept miracles happen, rejects an interventionist god (accept in the Einsteinian sense) then Dawkins openly admits his objections to the compatibility of science and religion fail. He is very clear they only apply to religious belief in an interventionist god.

    The one attempt at an answer the the question of philosophical compatibility I have seen lies in claiming that miracles do not happen very often. Well that is probably true if you look at what individuals believe. However there are a lot of religions, and a lot of believers out there and they will not agree on what was a miracle. You end up having to accept a whole load of miracles if you are not to privilege any one religion or denomination. Another problem comes when trying to decide what actually qualifies as a miracle. I have not yet seen an explanation as to how the virgin birth could be a miracles, but not some form of creationism. If you are going to allow god to break the rules by which the Universe works then how do restrict the extend of the miracle ?

  45. #45 TB
    October 4, 2009

    Matt: “However it is not unreasonable to point out that belief in a virgin birth conflict with science.”

    Um, because it’s a supernatural claim about something that’s claimed to have happened 2,000 years ago? A claim that not even all christians agree is literally, physically true?

    What I’m curious about is what does that have to do with whether they can be good partners in defending public school science and science advocacy?

  46. #46 articulett
    October 4, 2009

    I’m sure that Dawkins would state that God belief is as compatible with science as fairy belief or demon belief. These are all unfalsifiable. But he and many scientists disbelieve in all such invisible immeasurable entities equally.

    Carl Sagan referred to science as “a candle in the darkness” of a demon haunted world, and you can’t rid of the demons without putting angels, gods, and invisible saviors at risk of disappearance under the same light.

    But you accommodationists want god belief coddled– treated with greater deference than demon belief or other superstitions, and yet you cannot give us a valid reason why. Instead you denigrate those who point out this inconsistency on your part or else you pretend they are saying what you are saying.

    God belief is no more or less compatible than any other unfalsifiable claim and should be treated no differently by scientists than equally unsupportable/unfalsifiable claims.

    God belief=Gremlin belief as far as the evidence is concerned.

  47. #47 Chris Schoen
    October 4, 2009

    Matt,

    Perhaps my point is more modest than the ones you are accustomed to encountering. I’m merely saying that you cannot assume–indeed it would be unscientific to assume–that a person that identifies as a theist believes in the kind of interventionist God you are talking about, in the way you are talking about it. Many Catholics and Protestants do not literally believe in miracles, the afterlife (you can count Pope John Paul II among their number), the virgin birth and much more. Of course many multitudes do believe these things literally. The point is that a good scientist requires more information than Dawkins seeks out (though he is better about in this interview) before deciding who is and is not “ignorant.” If atheism is your only shibboleth separating a “raised consciousness” from delusion it’s a good sign you are dealing with a straw man version of religion.

    As to whether the existence of an interventionist god would be incompatible with the practice of science itself: it surely would make things tricky for scientists if god decided to suspend the rules from time to time, but the world would (or at least could) look more or less the same. It would hardly make workaday science unpracticable, just marginally more nerve-wracking. I don’t see how miracles pose any more of a practical problem to methodological naturalism than statistical noise.

  48. #48 Tulse
    October 4, 2009

    it surely would make things tricky for scientists if god decided to suspend the rules from time to time, but the world would (or at least could) look more or less the same.

    Yes,could, but how would you know? That’s precisely the point, that there would be no independent way of telling how often miracles occur. You are just assuming that they are rare — what if they are in fact commonplace? How would you know, if the interventions were subtle (like those proposed by some theistic evolutionists)? For example, perhaps to punish us for our hubris, the Christian god damaged the Large Hadron Collider (much like he intervened at the Tower of Babel). Perhaps he did indeed create HIV to punish the wicked (as many religious people argue). Perhaps the space shuttles were destroyed to tell us that space is his domain.

    It would hardly make workaday science unpracticable, just marginally more nerve-wracking. I don’t see how miracles pose any more of a practical problem to methodological naturalism than statistical noise.

    Presuming it would be noise is precisely that, a presumption, and doesn’t take into account the possibility of systematic miracles. For example, perhaps the reason that we have been unable to reconcile quantum mechanics with gravity is that gravity is literally a miracle — god intervenes to ensure that every particle experiences what appears to be attraction based on mass. Surely for a god who knows every grain of sand and every sparrow’s fall could do this (indeed, some theologies argue that existence itself requires a god’s active attention). How could you possibly justify ruling out this possibility?

    But more to the point, any such claims amount to nothing more than special pleading — the only reason one would even entertain such a possibility is because someone a few thousand years ago made some assertions in a book. This effort is not a positive attempt by religion to make claims, but a negative attempt to stop the encroachment of science on its domain. And these attempts amount to little more than a more refined god of the gaps argument, saving miracles for either those events we can no longer examine (such as alleged miracles in the past), or which are so tiny we would not even notice (such as the occasional answered prayer or random healing). This kind of special pleading is precisely why accommodationism is so toxic — it undermines the whole approach of science, and tries to carve out an exception to objectivity, rationality, and empirical reasonableness for some belief passed on purely by authority.

  49. #49 Mike from Ottawa
    October 4, 2009

    Dawkins was interviewed for an hour today on CBC Radio One’s ‘Tapestry’ show. You can get the podcast at http://www.cbc.ca/tapestry/podcast.html

    I heard part of the interview, where Dawkins addresses the specific issue of whether or not his views are changing.

  50. #50 articulett
    October 4, 2009

    What Tulse said.

    It’s dishonest, Josh. You are insinuating that Dawkins is saying religion is compatible with science the way atheism is compatible with science… but religion is really “compatible with science” the same way belief in demons is “compatible with science.”

    Someone COULD believe in demons and be a good scientist(for all I know Francis Collins does), but that doesn’t really mean that belief in invisible unmeasurable entities is a scientifically sound proposition or on par with nonbelief in things that are indistinguishable from the nonexistent.

    Skepticism and science are compatible. So are naturalism and science. But you are really stretching the definition of “compatible” when you imply that religion and science are compatible in the same way. Dawkins makes it very clear that religion and science are (not) “incompatible” in that some scientists are also religious. You know full well he could and would say the exact same thing about fairy belief.

    The whole accommodationist approach is to switch back and forth between definitions so as to make belief in god sound much more scientific than all other magical thinking (say, fairy belief) while denigrating all those who point out the dishonesty of such an endeavor. There is no more evidence for gods then for fairies, so why do you pretend the former is more scientific than the latter? Why would you even insinuate that Dawkins thinks such a thing?

  51. #51 Raiko
    October 5, 2009

    Your initial posts at least seems a little more like an honest mistake than the blog entry by Mooney and Kirshenbaum on the same topic. Let’s hope it is so – everyone makes mistakes.

    Nevertheless, I can’t quite blame Coyne for that take on you: It was a rather stupid mistake, after all (if it was one). Nobody can stop you from taking “this is how it is” as “this is how I think it is right”, but as a trained scientist, you should definitely know to distinguish factual statements from opinions.

    Also, it’s not like Richard Dawkins and his views have popped out of nowhere all of a sudden. So asides from that “fact vs. opinion thing”, how can you, who is working partially with and partially against the views of Richard Dawkins (which must have some meaning for the NCSE), really think that he’d suddenly become an accomodationist?! Shouldn’t you know the significant people in the science-religion-atheism-field better than that (or are you going to tell me he is NOT significant in the field)?

  52. #52 Matt Penfold
    October 5, 2009

    Um, because it’s a supernatural claim about something that’s claimed to have happened 2,000 years ago? A claim that not even all christians agree is literally, physically true?

    Dawkins’ disagreement is not with those who do not believe in an interventionist deity. I have made this point several times but it seems I have not been clear enough for you to understand. Rather than repeat myself, please go an read “The God Delusion”. Dawkins puts his position much better than I can.

    What I’m curious about is what does that have to do with whether they can be good partners in defending public school science and science advocacy?

    Nothing as far as Dawkins is concerned. However Rosenau and others have been critical of Dawkins for articulating his views on the incompatibility of science and religion saying it would alienate those partners. Unfortunatly for them they have no evidence so support them. I can see no reason why one should refrain from criticising potential partners, and nor does Dawkins. If you want an explanation as why some people think you should not, I suggest you ask one of them.

  53. #53 TB
    October 5, 2009

    Articulett
    What’s dishonest is your characterization of Josh’s views.
    Josh: “No, we, like Dawkins, observe that there are clearly people who find a compatibility. As I wrote above, this is not a claim of absolute epistemic compatibility, but it does speak to the possibility of such compatibility.”
    Not that that will make much difference. Attack! Attack! Attack! Someone else will sort ‘em out later.

  54. #54 Sigmund
    October 5, 2009

    There are two mistakes that are obvious from Joshua’s interpretation of events.
    First he’s mixing up the compatibility of evolution and theistic religion with the compatibility of SCIENCE and theistic religion.
    These are two separate questions.
    Dawkins was speaking about the first
    Eugenie Scott was speaking about the second.
    The acceptance of one result of the scientific method by a religion does not show that the religion is compatible with science.
    Evolutionary theory is one such result of the scientific method.
    Electromagnetic theory is another.
    There is no more logical reason to treat the acceptance of either of these theories as proof that religion is compatible with the scientific method.
    Creationism seems to have little problem accepting electromagnetic theory (as do many other religions).
    Does that mean that creationism is compatible with science or that elecromagnetic theory is compatible with creationism or Scientology, Mormonism or Raelianism?
    Just because someone accepts part of the scientific method does not mean that their beliefs are compatible with science as a whole.
    The second problem is the point about the possibility of simultaneously being a theist and being a scientist. Has anyone suggested otherwise?
    The disageement is whether that trivial fact means theism is compatible with the scientific method. Creationists and ID supporters can also be scientists (its not so common but it does happen).
    Does that mean creationism/ID is compatible with science?
    If not then explain why theism of the Francis Collins/Ken Miller variety can be compatible while creationism can not.

  55. #55 Matt Penfold
    October 5, 2009

    What’s dishonest is your characterization of Josh’s views.
    Josh: “No, we, like Dawkins, observe that there are clearly people who find a compatibility. As I wrote above, this is not a claim of absolute epistemic compatibility, but it does speak to the possibility of such compatibility.”
    Not that that will make much difference. Attack! Attack! Attack! Someone else will sort ‘em out later.

    Rosenau did indeed say “As I wrote above, this is not a claim of absolute epistemic compatibility, but it does speak to the possibility of such compatibility”.

    The first part of that sentence is not a problem. The second is.

    Whilst it is true that the it is possible to be a scientist and belief in an interventionist god invites the possibility that science and religion are compatible on a philosophical level, there is the problem that a strong philosophical case has been made for incompatibility. Rosenau refuses to address the arguments made for such incompatibility. If he wants to argue for epistemic compatibility he needs provide decent arguments and also deal with the case made against compatibility. Merely pointing out that some people can be scientists and religious is not sufficient to make an argument for epistemic compatibility, especially in light of the arguments against compatibility.

  56. #56 greg byshenk
    October 5, 2009

    No, we, like Dawkins, observe that there are clearly people who find a compatibility. As I wrote above, this is not a claim of absolute epistemic compatibility, but it does speak to the possibility of such compatibility.

    I submit that this is incorrect.

    As Dawkins wrote, “it is possible for a human mind to accommodate both evolution and religion because F. Collins’s mind seems to manage the feat”, but this is not equivalent to “find[ing] a compatibility”, any more than (as I believe Jerry Coyne once noted) the fact that some people in Christian marriages are adulterers means that they have “found a compatibility” of Christian marriage with adultery. Certainly people can hold (seemingly) contradictory beliefs, but to “find a compatibility” means that one finds a way to resolve that contradiction — and this is precisely what is lacking, as Dawkins, Coyne, and others have pointed out.

  57. #57 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    it isn’t at all hard to understand. The NCSE doesn’t take a position on philosophical – or theological – matters.

    This is essentially the heart of the matter, as espoused by TB, and it is just plain false. The entire God and Evolution piece on the NCSE website is a philosophical and theological treatise on the relationship between religious claims and science, and contains unarguably philosophical claims such as “Like color and shape, “creation” and “evolution” do not occupy competing categories, but are complementary ways of looking at the universe.”

    Whatever Dawkins’ beliefs are on the demographic brute fact that some scientists are also religious (let’s call this “psychological compatibility” perhaps), he is very clear about where he stands on whether such phenomenon makes sense philosophically (“philosophical compatibility”). The debate is only, and has only every, been about philosophical compatibility.

  58. #58 Physicalist
    October 5, 2009

    @ Chris Schoen (#47):

    Many Catholics and Protestants do not literally believe in miracles [and] the afterlife (you can count Pope John Paul II among their number).

    Sounds false to me. Any references in support of you claim that JPII did not believe in literal miracles and the resurrection of the dead? (I’d have expected to hear the news if the Pope rejected the Nicene Creed.)

  59. #59 TB
    October 5, 2009

    Sigmund: Deny, deny, deny. You brought the Scott quote up and Dawkins said virtually the same thing.

    Matt: “The first part of that sentence is not a problem. The second is.”

    The second part of that sentence isn’t a problem unless you’re pushing the political goals espoused by New Atheists. The goals of the NAs aren’t the goals of the NCSE. And as was annoyingly pointed out like it’s some kind of defense a while back on numerous blogs, there’s nothing wrong with having different goals. Well, that cuts both ways. The NCSE has different goals than the NAs.

    Tulse: “This is essentially the heart of the matter, as espoused by TB, and it is just plain false.”
    You’ve been pointed to the NCSE FAQ time and again. Once again, how is it wrong for the NCSE to facilitate a conversation about religion among the religious – even giving space for it on their website – in order for them to become partners in their goal of science advocacy, in much the same way the state provide translators to foreign-speaking people in order that they can gain access to government programs that they have every right to access. Neither action is stating a preference – not for religion nor against english as the “official” language of the country.
    To not do something could be considered discrimination.

    Tulse again: “The debate is only, and has only every, been about philosophical compatibility.”
    That’s crap. It’s political – you and the NAs are trying to push your political philosophy on other people. You’re free to hold your views (and I’ll defend your right to do so), but I haven’t heard a case of why it’s bad for science advocacy to have people of many philosophies defend science and the scientific method. They ‘re not trying to say what gets taught as science in public science class, they’re defending good science.

    That situation may be bad for New Atheists (doesn’t have to be), but that’s their problem.

  60. #60 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Physicalist@58, my remark in parens was in reference specifically to the doctrine of the afterlife, which JPII characterized as allegorical, not literal. I thought that was common knowledge, but will supply a reference if you like.

  61. #61 Larry Fafarman
    October 5, 2009

    Dawkins said that he mainly targets creationists and not Darwinist cafeteria Christians — he said, “I think there is a certain justified irritation with young-earth creationists who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Those are the people that I’m really talking about.” That is accommodationist. He also called Darwinist cafeteria Christian Francis Collins an “intelligent evolutionary scientist.” That is also accommodationist. So how is Dawkins not an accommodationist?

    Also, the Darwinist cafeteria Christians have it reversed — the bible’s creation story actually makes more sense than the gospel. Both the creation story and the gospel require belief in the supernatural, but the creation story is fairly straightforward whereas the gospel is full of illogic, inconsistencies, ambiguities, and unintelligibility. Also, the creation story is consistent with the idea of an all-powerful god whereas the god of the gospel is a weak, limited god who must struggle against Satan for control of the world.

  62. #62 Sigmund
    October 5, 2009

    TB said:
    “Deny, deny, deny. You brought the Scott quote up and Dawkins said virtually the same thing.”
    You still fail to grasp that there is a difference between evolution and the scientific method.
    This argument is between Joshua and Richard Dawkins.
    Dawkins himself denies he made a statement that science and religion are compatible. Joshua claimed he had.
    Joshua has now apparently written a note apologizing to Dawkins.
    If Joshua is withdrawing the accusation then perhaps, TB, your argument should be directed towards him.

  63. #63 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Tulse,

    I’m not sure I understand your first point. It almost seems like you are arguing that one should disbelieve in god because it makes the practice of science easier to conduct, psychologically. Humans are curious creatures that want to know things, and the observation of regularity has always been an important technique in increasing knowledge, whether or not the universe is ultimately consistent with these observations.

    This is something you and I will never know, and probably no human ever will unless we want to imagine a day when the last meaningful data point has been gathered and subjected to analysis so that we can finally organize all our theorizing into a single coherent whole. Until that day I’m willing to have faith that universe is rational enough to keep learning from my observations of it. If your standards are higher, I can appreciate that, but it would seem to call for an expression of faith on your part in the completely, mechanically reliable nature of the cosmos, remembering that there are numerous ways that the uninverse may not be (or seem) rational that have nothing to do with any kind of god, interventionist or otherwise.

    Your point about special pleading is generally correct, as far as I’m concerned. My problem with the biblical God (and the methods of his intervention) is essentially that he is too conveniently comprehensible. I’m willing to look on biblical and other scriptural descriptions of God as interesting myths, but not as factual events.

    The reasons I am an “accomodationist” and not an incompatibalist are that:

    (1) I think it is perfectly legitimate to be the kind of religious person who takes the allegorical, mystical approach toward rite and scripture, and it is not at all clear from first blush which is which, going on identity alone. Someone like Andrew Sullivan, for example, leans much more strongly toward the mystical practice of religion (without wanting to pick nits here over specifics; I’m talking about a tendency not an absolute category) in a way that doesn’t seem to me any threat to science whatsoever. (If it “gives cover” to fundamentalists then maybe that just means that we need to be better at learning how to distinguish the two. We don’t blame the Green Party for the excesses of the RCP, for example.) We don’t have enough information to condemn simply on hearing the word “Christian” or “theist.” And,

    (2) It creates a false opposition, in my view, between an idealized, delusion-free realm of science and rationality and a bedeviled haunt of spooks and phantasms. This has all the hallmarks of a classic projection, and it is something to look out for. The rationalist, enlightenment worldview has powerful enchantments of its own. We are all, in the end, human, and want more or less the same things, and are subject to many of the same excesses and distortions in seeking them. This seems to me as important a thing to focus on as our metaphysical differences.

  64. #64 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    how is it wrong for the NCSE to facilitate a conversation about religion among the religious – even giving space for it on their website

    The NCSE does not just “give space” to these views — the piece I quoted was by Peter M. J. Hess, NCSE Faith Project Director. In other words, this is (as far as I can see) the official position of the NCSE, and goes well beyond “facilitating conversation”.

    It’s political – you and the NAs are trying to push your political philosophy on other people.

    No, the issue is whether the position of the NCSE is philosophically tenable — that is the heart of the objection. If you can’t defend the philosophical position, don’t retreat to calling it politics.

  65. #65 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    It almost seems like you are arguing that one should disbelieve in god because it makes the practice of science easier to conduct, psychologically.

    Not at all — I’m arguing that, if interventionist gods existed, they would undercut the philosophical justifications for the practice of science. This isn’t a matter of psychology, but of epistemology — if gods can change nature at a whim, then we have no way to assign confidence to any of the results of science.

    observation of regularity has always been an important technique in increasing knowledge

    Only if those regularities can be relied upon. If they can’t, then we face Hume’s Problem of Induction writ large. The existence of supernatural beings who can violate natural regularities would mean that we could not claim any such natural regularity, because we could never know if it were the product of nature or supernatural whim.

    I’m willing to have faith that universe is rational enough to keep learning from my observations of it.

    OK, so then what reason do you have to think that it isn’t completely “rational” (presuming by that you mean “there are no supernatural entities violating physical laws). Again, it is purely special pleading to say that it just so happens that, if such entities exist, they act in ways that don’t seriously impact on science. (It is especially unjustified in light of claims that widely observed violations did occur in the past, and curiously stopped prior to the modern era.) Why should science allow this possibility any more than it does, say, homeopathy, or astrology, or fairies, all of which could share the feature of “acting below science’s radar” so to speak?

    ) I think it is perfectly legitimate to be the kind of religious person who takes the allegorical, mystical approach toward rite and scripture, and it is not at all clear from first blush which is which, going on identity alone

    I don’t think anyone, including Dawkins and Coyne, would argue against those who view religion as purely allegorical, but that then puts religion on the same level as Aesop’s Fables or the Illiad. Such approaches make no physical claims, but neither then do they have the right to assert special authority — they become nothing more than social hobbies. I have no problem with that approach to religion, but that approach is a very “liberal” one that I doubt most people actually adhere to — I am willing to bet that, in the US at least, most religious believe in the real existence of a personal god, an entity separate from themselves with real, non-allegorical properties.

  66. #66 Physicalist
    October 5, 2009

    @ Chris Shoen (#60): I would be grateful for a reference to JPII’s saying that talk of the afterlife is to be understood allegorically. I’d have thought he’d take the affirmations of the Apostle’s Creed regarding “the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” quite literally.

    I am quite confident that he, and Pope Benedict, do believe in, e.g., a miraculous virgin birth, and in the literal resurrection of Jesus’ dead body. In my opinion, these claims are in serious conflict with the findings of science.

    It seems to me that Mooney (and perhaps Josh as well?) has given away 90% of the accommodation game by agreeing with the uppity atheists that a belief in miracles isn’t compatible with science. Catholicism is committed to real, concrete, non-allegorical, scientific-law-breaking miracles (even if some self-described Catholics reject this position).

    The only hope of making Catholicism compatible with science is to argue that science tells us about natural laws *when they hold* (or something along these lines), but that it doesn’t rule out the possibility of God’s breaking these laws occasionally. I think this line of argument fails, but without it, I see no plausible way of saving Catholicism (along with many other Christian sects, Islam, etc.) from the charge of being inconsistent with the facts revealed by science.

  67. #67 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    The only hope of making Catholicism compatible with science is to argue that science tells us about natural laws *when they hold* (or something along these lines), but that it doesn’t rule out the possibility of God’s breaking these laws occasionally.

    I think this is precisely the position they take, and indeed I believe it is pretty much the position for almost all theists, except those who support occasionalism.

  68. #68 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Tulse,

    About the epistemological part, I’m just trying to ask how regular regular needs to be to be regular–that is, to be functionally reliable. We all place some confidence in Wikipedia, for example, which is notoriously prone to fallibility. If something is important we’ll go elsewhere for confirmation, but if it were useless, it wouldn’t appear in our bookmarks at all, nor would it feature so prominently as a reference in threads like these. In the everyday business of factual discourse, we hold a standard much more humble than infallibility.

    The number of actual supernatural miracles is rather small. Things like faith healing and faces in tortillas are really not in the same category. Faith healings can be medically explained, to the same extent that anomalous recoveries after terminal diagnoses can be explained. We don’t say it’s a violation of the laws of nature when someone beats “untreatable” cancer; we say it’s a fluke. Saying that “god did it” doesn’t change the medical story of what happened with cell regulation and tumor growth, it just adds a cause, which we didn’t know anyway if we’re calling it a fluke. This is different than something like a virgin birth, which does contravene the laws of nature as we know them. My argument is that the number of such interventions can be negligible and still consistent with mainstream religious belief. The line between deism and theism is, pragmatically, pretty small, and I think it makes a poor citadel from which to defend naturalism which was the point I was making to Matt P.

    Regarding allegorical or mystical religion: you are adding a feature by comparing this to Greek mythology. I didn’t propose that allegorical religion was as inconsequential as outre myths. In fact it can be quite fervently adhered to, even inspiring one to lay down one’s life. I wrote that the type of descriptive language of this type of religious belief was not literal; that’s not the same as saying it refers to nothing real or of consequence. Rather it’s saying that some things can only be understood through illustration, but we take care not to take the stories literally. Emotionally, and “spiritually,” if you’ll permit the term, these kind of observances can be among the most meaningful parts of a life. It doesn’t really matter if “most people” adhere to this kind of belief or not. It still deserves, in my opinion, as passionate a defense as atheism (which is embraced by an even smaller number).

  69. #69 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    I’m just trying to ask how regular regular needs to be to be regular–that is, to be functionally reliable.

    Right, but you haven’t really addressed my point — if you believe miracles can happen then you have no way to judge what is regular and what is the result of divine intervention. At the extreme end of this, you end up with occasionalism, where everything is actively caused by a god, and there simply isn’t any physical causation. My point is that, from the perspective of science, it seems to me that any position which argues for miracles, however infrequent, has no principle that protects it from devolving into occasionalism. As I said earlier, it might be that gravity is literally an act of god, a result of his constant intervention — he ensures that it acts mostly regular, but will at times allow lapses that appear as “miracles”. I don’t see how one who will admit miracles into the world can rule that out.

    In other words, you have no warrant for presuming that “the number of actual supernatural miracles is rather small” — this is purely an ad hoc assumption necessary to keep both science and miracles, an assumption that is both unsupported and unsupportable, in that if miracles do exist, there is no possible objective evidence that could speak to their frequency precisely because we no longer know the actual state of the world. It would be like saying that “yeah, sometimes we may be in the Matrix, but those instances are rare” — once you allow that possibility, its very nature rules out the ability to determine how frequently it occurs.

    I didn’t propose that allegorical religion was as inconsequential as outre myths. In fact it can be quite fervently adhered to, even inspiring one to lay down one’s life.

    Sure, just as some people fervently adhere to political beliefs, even to the extent of laying down their lives. I wasn’t suggesting that allegorical religion was “inconsequential”, just that it had no justification for authority beyond that claimed by other passionately-held beliefs.

    it’s saying that some things can only be understood through illustration, but we take care not to take the stories literally. Emotionally, and “spiritually,” if you’ll permit the term, these kind of observances can be among the most meaningful parts of a life.

    Yes, and there are those whose lives were positively changed through dressing up as Klingons, or as furries. They (for the most part) don’t take their participation in these activities “literally”, but they are passionate and dedicated and find community and purpose in these lifestyles. How is that in principle different from “allegorical” religion?

  70. #70 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Physicalist, see JPII’s remarks here:

    http://tinyurl.com/8m7f4

    It seems plain enough to me that he believes heaven and hell as real–that is, actual experiences–though not literally corporeal and spatio-temporal as portrayed in the gospel. A number of evangelical Protestants got pretty worked up about this when it came out in 1999.

    I think Ratzenberger/Benedict may have backslid on this. So much for Papal infallibility. Nevertheless, it should give pause to the idea that all mainstream theists take a literal view of scripture.

  71. #71 Physicalist
    October 5, 2009

    I think this is precisely the position they take, and indeed I believe it is pretty much the position for almost all theists.

    I agree that it’s taken by most theists, but is it taken up by the accommodationist atheists? Perhaps it is, but I was led to believe that Mooney was rejecting a claim that belief in miracles was consistent with science by passages like the following:

    Provided that one does not appeal to miracles to explain how things happened, then, a kind of “supernaturalism” may certainly co-exist with evolution: You can simply say that God created everything and then evolution happened in a God-created universe, governed by God’s laws, which are also the laws of nature.

    I took this to be saying that religion is compatible w/ science b/c deism is a form of religion, but perhaps I read too much into the passage.

    It would be helpful to hear explicitly from the defenders of compatibility whether they think that the miraculous violation of natural laws conflicts with the results of science.

  72. #72 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    I took this to be saying that religion is compatible w/ science b/c deism is a form of religion

    And I think that is a reasonable interpretation of Mooney’s statement, but the statement itself is unreasonable. Most anti-accommodationists have explicitly said that science is compatible with deism, so that is really not what is being argued over.

    In addition, I question whether true deism is indeed a religion — if the god one believes in doesn’t now intervene in the universe, what is the point in having prayers and rituals? Wouldn’t that be like having a mass for Maxwell’s Equations? Deism in its pure form seems inimical to religious practice.

    Finally, I believe that those who genuinely believe in a pure deism are relatively few, and certainly they play no role in either the scientific or political debate. Deism is essentially used as a philosophical foot-in-the-door by accommodationists — it’s cover that no one actually believes in.

  73. #73 Physicalist
    October 5, 2009

    @ Chris Shoen (#69): Thanks for the link. I’m not at all surprised to see him rejecting the notion that Heaven & Hell should be thought of as literal locations. But this doesn’t mean he’s rejecting a literal resurrection of our bodies, which will then live forever. Catholicism is committed to this claim (taken literally), and I doubt any recent pope has rejected it.

    On papal infallibility, I believe the Pope is only infallible when speaking ex cathedra on questions of dogma. Very few statements are claimed to be infallible in this sense; I doubt that that JPII issued any statements that were meant to be infallible.

    I believe that the statement that the pope can speak infallibly is itself supposed to be infallible (circular reasoning, anyone?) along with the truth of Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary (the latter of which is in conflict with scientific fact, I’d say).

  74. #74 Raiko
    October 5, 2009

    Or consider the much criticized comment here that “The science of evolution does not make claims about God’s existence or non-existence, any more than do other scientific theories such as gravitation, atomic structure, or plate tectonics. Just like gravity, the theory of evolution is compatible with theism, atheism, and agnosticism. Can someone accept evolution as the most compelling explanation for biological diversity, and also accept the idea that God works through evolution? Many religious people do.”

    I find this “carefully dishonest” of Eugenie Scott, and that is likely also the reason why it is so widely criticized. The scientific theory of evolution includes details about natural selection, bottlenecks and assumes natural circumstances that happen by the complicated works of geology and by animal interaction, etc. – not by “unknown” or “supernatural” forces, be they interventionist or “guided” (which, talking about theism instead of deism, would normally include intervention, anyway). One could imagine these forces are there, but undetectable – which would be irrational and thus also unscientific.

    Eugenie Scott gets around this problem, first of all by only talking about “the science of evolution”, rather than “science”. She also doesn’t specify “theism” so that the listener will assume the most popular forms of theism (which usually include an interventionist God – which is incompatible with evolution). She also just doesn’t mention that including a supernatural power is unscientific and irrational – after all, she only talks about evolution, not science. However, she’s the head of the National Center for Science Education, not just for Evolution Education, so proper scientific thinking and education in scientific thinking should be part of her concern! Obviously, is not – be it for political reasons (to get the moderates on her side) or for any other reason.

    Yes, truly, evolution itself has little to say about whether a God stands at the top of geology, animal behavior and gene distribution which influence evolution – but proper rational, scientific thinking that takes all these aspects together does. Proper science does. Put the science of geology, neurobiology and genetics together with evolution and the proper scientific, rational notion is that there’s no point in invoking a God and not much room, anyway. You can only do it the Ken Miller way: Grasp for the last possible gap (Quantum Theory) and hope – but this does not render such thinking scientific or rational.

    So, by exclusively staying on the border of “are evolution and religion compatible”, subtly hinting that she is meaning only “some religions”(those that think God guided evolution) and not caring about what is scientifically compatible or not, she gets around the fact that science HAS something to say about the existence of God: HIGHLY unlikely and irrational!

    As most atheists and defenders of science education, I do care for the NCSE and value Eugenie Scott a lot (and I am not even anywhere near America). But like anyone I value, I won’t refrain from criticism, either. Carefully omitting things or shaping your words to not address the heart of the problem is a form of dishonesty.

    But here’s Dawkins making a comment that is identical in structure, logic, and even language in places.

    No, it’s not. “The science of evolution does not make claims about God’s existence or non-existence” is not something Dawkins says here or anywhere. Dawkins very clearly says in TGD that the science of evolution leaves no room for an interventionist God and that scientific thinking renders even a non-interventionist God highly unlikely. What Dawkins says “here” is not identical in structure and logic, either – what is identical is that he acknowledges that some intelligent people DO believe in both evolution and religion. That is a factual statement nobody can deny. However, nowhere does he give any evaluation about these people (being an “outstanding example” is no form of praise!). He even adds that TGD was about how he himself thinks this compatibility is impossible for himself:

    So it clearly is possible to be both. This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility. The God Delusion did make a case against that compatibility in my own mind.

    And your comment to this started off with:

    This, for what it’s worth, looks like the position NCSE has taken [...]

    and you even go on and say

    In The God Delusion, he is careful not to limit his criticism just to young earth creationists

    …but you ignore that Dawkins just reinforced his views from The God Delusion in the interview a few paragraphs earlier.

    [Worse, your blog title is "Richard Dawkins, Accomodationist".]

    The simple answer is no, it’s not the same position as the NCSE:
    “Some people do believe in both, but it isn’t compatible in my mind” is nowhere the same as “some people do believe in both, so obviously one says nothing about the other”.

    It’s still amazing to me how you could’ve missed that and while I still give you the benefit of the doubt, as I’ve done above, it’s still hard to believe this little mistake wasn’t done deliberately. What makes me doubt your intention is the fact that you acknowledge it’s hard to take from such a short interview whether there’s a shift underway and that you’re willing to wait and see. Somehow, you’ve seen implications for a shift, though, that isn’t there.

    After all I read, it’s likely because you mistook “outstanding” for some sort of praise, and, as I said earlier “this is how it is” for “this is how I think it is right”.

  75. #75 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Physicalist,

    Judging by your screen name I think you’d agree that for something to be extended in time and space it must have a location. I’d therefore say JP2′s statement does in fact deny the physical resurrection of the body, and this is what the fundies were upset about, because it conflicts with the bible.

    It’s precisely because JP2 appears to say that heaven and hell are outside time and space, and therefore outside of the physical realm, that his statements on this got a lot of attention.

  76. #76 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Tulse @68:

    if you believe miracles can happen then you have no way to judge what is regular and what is the result of divine intervention.

    True. But to the extent that events are regular, it doesn’t much matter, does it? The issue is one of predictability, and reliability. If every space mission succeeds because god personally carries out the laws of the physical universe regarding gravitation each time, then bully for god. I don’t see occasionalism as posing much of a problem to methodological naturalism.

    How do what you are calling “lapses” differ functionally from what we now call anomales? Science can proceed quite well in the face of incomplete determinability. All of our theories have rough edges. Einstein devoted his life to a failed quest to unify the subatomic forces and yet he’s remembered as a giant, not a failure. Real applied science succeeds just fine in the absence of total certainty and comprehension.

    The notion of total and comprehensible regularity you are opposing to belief in the supernatural has never existed, and there’s no reason outside of sheer faith that it ever will.

  77. #77 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    to the extent that events are regular, it doesn’t much matter, does it? The issue is one of predictability, and reliability.

    Right, and once you allow that physical “laws” merely exist at the active whim of some being, and can be violated just as easily, then you lose the notion of reliability. More to the point, you lose the ability to judge what counts as a “miracle” and what doesn’t, and thus any estimate of the frequency of “miracles” is completely undermined by their very nature.

    Science can proceed quite well in the face of incomplete determinability.

    Of course it can, and I don’t think anyone here has claimed otherwise. The problem is that allowing miracles means that you are forces to allow for some likelihood that the universe may be completely indeterminate in the future, and you have no way of evaluating what that likelihood is. In other words, all bets are off, and creationism and Last Thursdayism become just as reasonable positions as any other.

  78. #78 Physicalist
    October 5, 2009

    I think you’d agree that for something to be extended in time and space it must have a location.

    I would (barring some quibbles about relationalist accounts of spacetime, quantum weirdness, and possible ontologies of quantum gravity), but I also reject Catholic metaphysics, so that might not mean much.

    I’ll grant that JP is saying that heaven and hell aren’t spatially located, but it’s not obvious that he’s rejecting their temporal aspect. He does say that hell is “eternal,” for example, and he’s pretty clear that he’s talking about our state after death. But given that God is sometimes thought of as being outside of space and time altogether, and since JP is saying that heaven is just being with God and hell is being apart from him, perhaps he does want to say that we’ll be outside of space and time.

    But I still don’t think it’s accurate to say that he’s rejecting an afterlife. He does think there will be an honest-to-goodness resurrection of our body (granting that it’ll be a magic body of the sort that Jesus got, and not the imperfect sort we now have), and life after death. This isn’t up for grabs. Catholics aren’t bound to read the Bible literally, but when they say the Creed each Sunday, they’re supposed to mean it.

    I readily grant that this seems inconsistent (how do resurrected bodies get out of space and time?), but that’s Catholicism’s problem, not mine.

  79. #79 TB
    October 5, 2009

    Sigmund: “If Joshua is withdrawing the accusation then perhaps, TB, your argument should be directed towards him.”

    Doesn’t look like it from the latest post. LOL!

  80. #80 TB
    October 5, 2009

    Tulse: “The NCSE does not just “give space” to these views — the piece I quoted was by Peter M. J. Hess, NCSE Faith Project Director. In other words, this is (as far as I can see) the official position of the NCSE, and goes well beyond “facilitating conversation”.”

    So, to extend my analogy of the state-employed translator, that person couldn’t be of the cultural background of the language they’re translating? They can’t employ a Polish person to translate for polish-speaking people because just the presence of someone with that cultural link is an implied endorsement of that language over english?

    Tulse again: “No, the issue is whether the position of the NCSE is philosophically tenable — that is the heart of the objection. If you can’t defend the philosophical position, don’t retreat to calling it politics.”

    Right, there’s no such non-profit advocacy group called the Reason Project. Oh wait …

    The only reason to engage in debate about the theology (aside from how interesting it can be – and I’ll defer to Chris Schoen on that because he does it so well) is if you have some kind of problem with all religion no matter what.

  81. #81 Josh Rosenau
    October 5, 2009

    I’ve really just skimmed over the discussion going on here, and don’t want to interrupt what looks to be a good conversation. I will say that I don’t think of “accommodationism” as an accusation, and I don’t see how anyone can claim “Dawkins himself denies he made a statement that science and religion are compatible.” He said “I don’t think they’re incompatible,” and “This book more or less begins by accepting that there is that compatibility.” He’s referring here to a narrow compatibility, what others have referred to as the “brute compatibility.” Fine. When I talk about compatibility, that’s pretty much always what I’ve meant, too.

    Did I misrepresent TGD? I think not, though I did suggest some variant readings, and the clarification at Coyne’s blog helps point me in the right direction. It’s true he acknowledges the existence of folks like Collins, but finds them mysterious and laughable in TGD. He compares those folks and groups like NCSE that work with religious groups on these issues to Neville Chamberlain, accusing them (us?) of having an ulterior motive (petty politics). He writes: “I do have one thing in common with creationists. Like me, but unlike the ‘Chamberlain school’, they will have no truck with NOMA and its separate magisteria.” One could, I suppose, read that as distinguishing the (grudging) acceptance of a claimed brute compatibility with an absolute rejection of philosophical justifications offered for it.

    But even that grudging acceptance seems to go away: “I am not suggesting that my colleagues of the appeasement lobby are necessarily dishonest [which kinda suggests that they are]. They may sincerely believe in NOMA, although I can’t help but wondering how thoroughly they’ve thought it through and how they reconcile the internal conflicts in their minds.”

    So even in accepting brute compatibility, he questions the intellect (or at least willingness to apply intellect) and honesty of anyone actually espousing such compatibility. That’s a far cry from his statement here that people who espouse brute compatibility are “intelligent scientists,” and the example of such a person he chooses is “outstanding.” I take that latter to be praise of his intellect and accomplishment both as a scientist and a religious person, though that may be reading too much into it.

    I will add that, throughout my initial post I was careful to make clear that I was not sure if this was a shift, and readers have shown Dawkins making similar claims for years, so it is not. I do think it’s fair to say it’s a shift in tone from TGD, and I don’t see any arguments on offer to counter that.

    In the post, I suggested “Maybe he’s changed his mind, or maybe he’s drawing a nuanced line between a humility about what might be possible and his certainty about what he himself believes.” The latter seems closer to the truth, and in that light I would say that a sarcastic reading of the “appeasement lobby are [not] necessarily dishonest” line would be wrong. Perhaps other things that contributed to my impression are also based on a misreading, and I’ll have to return to TGD when my time frees up a bit.

  82. #82 Chris Schoen
    October 5, 2009

    Once you allow that physical “laws” merely exist at the active whim of some being, and can be violated just as easily, then you lose the notion of reliability.

    This is a bit of a non-sequitur to me, Tulse. If such a being’s “whim” is that in every recorded case the inverse square rule applies to physical bodies, or in every case save one that a human female cannot become pregnant without male chromosomal tissue, the notion of reliability seems pretty intact to me.

    Your argument seems to presume capriciousness on the part of this being, which I think is an artifact of the (specious, to me) dualistic polarity of natural and supernatural. (That is, I think everything that happens is “natural” even if a deity does it).

    The point is that theists live in the same world we do, and observe the same regularities. There are no whims in the length of the day, or the frequency range of the visible spectrum, or the sterility of mules. Reliability is a given. We all start from this place, theists, deists, and atheists alike. Whether or not god can or can’t abrogate natural law, he appears disinclined to do so except in special cases. So your concern about his capriciousness would seem to be unwarranted.

    TB @79,

    When it comes to theology I’m more or less an ignoramus. I’m really trying to treat this issue logically without recourse to metaphysical fine points. In a very broad, sociological sense, I think Dawkins (who has framed most of the terms of this debate) is wrong to say that the kind of interventions God is reported to engage in are competing with scientific explanations. I don’t think that most prayers, for example, are appeals for God to contravene the laws of nature. (There’s the old question of which would be worse, praying to God to have Him suspend the laws of gravity to save a baby falling out of the window: if he did, or didn’t?)

  83. #83 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    If such a being’s “whim” is that in every recorded case the inverse square rule applies to physical bodies, or in every case save one that a human female cannot become pregnant without male chromosomal tissue, the notion of reliability seems pretty intact to me.

    The notion of reliability in such cases would now depend on the psychology (if one can use such as term in this instance) of an entity or entities who it has long been argued are beyond human understanding. Do you want to hang induction on the past behaviour of such entities? If you really dispense with all natural law, and rest instead on the active participation of some supernatural agency, you no longer have to induce regularities from the observable world, you also have to induce the psychology of god.

    Whether or not god can or can’t abrogate natural law, he appears disinclined to do so except in special cases.

    How do you know? I see this claim made all the time, but I see no real justification for it. And I see a lot of people in various faiths claim that intervention is done all the time — that is often why people pray, and why they attribute supernatural agency to such things as surviving a plane crash and the paths of hurricanes (and, having been raised Catholic, I will contest your statement that prayers don’t involve appeals to contravene natural law).

  84. #84 Physicalist
    October 5, 2009

    @ Tulsa (#71):

    I think that is a reasonable interpretation of Mooney’s statement, but the statement itself is unreasonable. Most anti-accommodationists have explicitly said that science is compatible with deism, so that is really not what is being argued over.

    I agree completely. Which is why it seemed to me that Mooney was just being intellectually dishonest and cowardly. And why I was surprised to find thoughtful people like Josh defending him, rather than calling him on it.

    And I also agree that very few people are deists, and so in debates like this it’s a red herring. (Though it’s not the case that “no one” believes in deism; I know some deists personally.)

  85. #85 Tulse
    October 5, 2009

    I know some deists personally.

    But are they actually “religious” in the standard sense of the word — do they have rituals and texts and a community of like believers, and does their belief inform their moral behaviour? Or is it more of a “yeah, I guess I think there must have been something to get things started”, but without any of the other accoutrements of religion? Because if it is the latter, I still don’t see how that counts as “religion”, as opposed to, say, an extension of physics.

  86. #86 TB
    October 5, 2009

    Shoen: “When it comes to theology I’m more or less an ignoramus.”

    Well, not theologically but logically or philosophically. Regardless, if anyone hasn’t yet visited http://underverse.blogspot.com/ I do recommend it.

  87. #87 Janus
    October 6, 2009

    There are people who commit acts of great altruism as well as acts of great selfishness, therefore altruism and selfishness are compatible.

  88. #88 Physicalist
    October 6, 2009

    are [these deists] actually “religious” in the standard sense of the word — do they have rituals and texts and a community of like believers, and does their belief inform their moral behaviour?

    Well, of the church-going deists I can think of, one’s Methodist, one’s Presbyterian (if I recall), and I know a couple who are Unitarian Universalist. I think they’d all be OK with my labeling them as deists, but their views do vary. Some pray, some don’t (except with church services), etc.

    So, yeah, they’re plenty religious. (One individual I have in mind is an ordained minister; another teaches theology.)

    I think they’d vary on whether their religion “informs their moral behavior.” Most find moral inspiration in their religion, but I think they’d all reject the claim that their morality is based on their religion. I’d say they all reject dogma.

    As I said, they aren’t common, but they do exist.

  89. #89 Chris Schoen
    October 6, 2009

    I still don’t see how that counts as “religion”, as opposed to, say, an extension of physics.

    Tulse, isn’t this a moving of the goal posts? Incompatibalism is supposed to be about held beliefs. Now you are saying that the beliefs don’t count if they aren’t part of a larger organized social structure called “religion”?

  90. #90 Chris Schoen
    October 6, 2009

    Do you want to hang induction on the past behaviour of such entities? If you really dispense with all natural law, and rest instead on the active participation of some supernatural agency, you no longer have to induce regularities from the observable world, you also have to induce the psychology of god.

    This seems to me an unscientific way of looking at it. All we really know about metaphysical naturalism is that the world seems to have functioned the way it has thus far. To suppose it will continue in the same way is partly an act of faith (a defensible one, since it enables methodological naturalsm).

    We have no way of knowing, for example, that one or more laws of nature aren’t conditional somehow, in the same way water’s liquid state is conditional upon the temperature being between 0 and 100 degrees Celsius. (Someone who had never encountered melting or freezing might well not be able to envision the possibility). We induce that there are no such conditions, or that they are unchanging in the near term, when we predict the continuation of the laws of nature. This is just as much an act of faith as trusting in God’s benevolence, though we take it so much for granted it’s hard to notice.

    And I see a lot of people in various faiths claim that intervention is done all the time — that is often why people pray, and why they attribute supernatural agency to such things as surviving a plane crash and the paths of hurricanes (and, having been raised Catholic, I will contest your statement that prayers don’t involve appeals to contravene natural law).

    My response to this would be complicated. You’re absolutely right that it’s commonplace for fundamentalists to claim that God guides the path of hurricanes to reward virtue or punish sin. It’s rather absurd, and conforms to no consistent theology, but people do believe it.

    The point I’m making is that planes landing safely or hurricanes taking their courses are in a different category than reanimation or virgin births. No laws of nature are violated. I doubt even Pat Robertson thinks he has a chance in hell of convincing God to bring his parents back to (earthly) life or to part the Red Sea. That’s what I meant about prayer contravening natural law.

  91. #91 Josh Rosenau
    October 6, 2009

    I’m just digging through some of the back and forth, which I initially only skimmed to make sure people were playing nice. Since my name’s been invoked, I looked back at comments 70 and 71, and I don’t know that the quote from Chris describes only deism. I think it also describes roughly what Ken Miller and Francis Collins believe, and if we’re sweeping them into the deist camp, I think we’re making a category error somewhere.

  92. #92 Tulse
    October 7, 2009

    Tulse, isn’t this a moving of the goal posts? Incompatibalism is supposed to be about held beliefs. Now you are saying that the beliefs don’t count if they aren’t part of a larger organized social structure called “religion”?

    This really isn’t goalpost-moving — as has been stated by many other folks (including Dawkins and Myers), I believe that true deism is indeed “philosophically compatible” with science. But what I don’t believe is that it’s actually a religion, since for a true deist their god is essentially gone — it doesn’t interact with the universe any more, it just set up the initial conditions, and thus it makes no more sense to worship it and praise it and hold rituals for it than it would to do those things for Maxwell’s Equations. And that’s why I think deism is irrelevant to this debate. As I see it, the religious invoking deism in their arguments is merely a rhetorical trick, a camel’s nose in the tent, and doesn’t really involve the philosophical issues at stake, issues which are not a problem for deism, but for any religion that is no purely deistic.

  93. #93 greg byshenk
    October 7, 2009

    He’s referring here to a narrow compatibility, what others have referred to as the “brute compatibility.” Fine. When I talk about compatibility, that’s pretty much always what I’ve mean
    t, too.

    The problem with this is that it is a completely vacuous sense of ‘compatibility’. It allows even outright contradictory ideas to be “compatible” (in this trivial sense) if someone can be found who believes them.

    I submit (as above) that any useful sense of ‘compatible’ must mean that someone has found a way to resolve the conflict between (seemingly) incompatible ideas, rather than simply ignoring it.

  94. #94 Fordi
    October 7, 2009

    It’s really this simple:
    As processes, religion and science are incompatible. Similar to how ice-skating and biking are incompatible. You can’t perform both at the same time and expect to be reasonably successful at either. Rather, you’ll tend to look a bit silly in both cases.

    That doesn’t imply that a person can’t know how to do both. Such an assertion would be… well, it would be, as has been accused, a strawman of a real argument.