Remember a few months back when Kevin Padian was all “The two kinds people who believe that religion and evolution can not coexist are extreme atheists and extreme religious fundamentalists”? Then a buncha people said that Padian (an atheist) was making cracks about atheists, “othering” atheists, &c? Good times.

One of the arguments that emerged from that was just how many atheists really do claim some sort of broad incompatibility between science and religion. In the context of the current fighting over science’s relationship to religion, this is actually not that interesting a question. The same people who insist that all or most atheists reject compatibility of science and religion are the ones who insist that it tells us nothing to look at how many scientists are religious. They argue that what matters is not what people think, but the abstract philosophical merits of their basis for believing what they do. So even if all atheists thought religion was incompatible with science (by whatever definitions of “science,” “religion,” and “incompatible”), they could still be wrong! But still, there was the question of whether calling this group of atheists “extreme” could be considered an insult, or just a description of the current state of public opinion.

At the time, there didn’t really seem to be any data on how common anti-religion atheism was in general, but a new book that’s coming soon from Oxford Press offers some insights. My copy of Elaine Ecklund’s Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think, like Chris’s, just arrived, so I’ve only skimmed it for the juicy bits, but the cover promises that it’ll show “[o]nly a small minority” of scientists at elite institutions “are actively hostile to religion.”

And the contents of the book seem to deliver. Ecklund surveyed nearly 1700 scientists at top research schools, and conducted followup interviews with 275 of them. She writes that “a small proportion of the scientists I interviewed who claimed no religion saw it as a threat to science. … only a small percentage (15 percent) of the 275 scientists I interviewed” adopt a “conflict paradigm,” and only “a few scientists…flatly declared that there is no hope for achieving a common ground of dialogue between scientists and religious believers.” For what it’s worth, 34% of scientists were atheists (agreeing with the statement “I do not believe in God”), meaning that even if all the people adopting a conflict model were also atheists, it’d leave more than half of the atheists as not in favor of the conflict model. Then there are the 30% of scientists who said they were agnostics (agreeing that “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out”).

That most atheist scientists are not anti-religion is borne out later in the book. Indeed, “the majority of atheist scientists and agnostic scientists I talked with were not hostile to religion. Indeed, only five (!) of the atheist scientists I talked with [of 275] were so hostile that they were actively working against religion.” Five out of 275 counts as extreme. Sorry.

She continues:

I discovered many spiritual atheists, those who think that key mysteries about the world can best be understood spiritually. Other atheists and agnostics were parts of houses of worship, completely comfortable with religion as moral training for their children and for alternative forms of community.

Again, this is not the portrait of atheism generally presented by the Affirmative Atheists (which seems now to be the preferred term to “New Atheist”). It presents a broad middle ground, even among atheists, that accepts religion as a valid part of their intellectual life. And yes, it shows that those who regard it as necessary to attack religion or set it in opposition to science represent an extreme set of views even within the rarefied community of scientists who are atheists.

Like I say, I’m getting this by gleaning bits and pieces from a quick skim. I think I recognize Jerry Coyne as an unnamed “biologist who teaches at a private school (in a state where the majority of citizens go to church more than once per month)” interviewed on p. 129-130, but I could be wrong. Ecklund notes that this biologist “is right that when compared to those in the general population, more of his fellow biologists at top research universities are atheists and are not regular parts of religious communities. He is mistaken, however, that there are almost no theists among his colleagues. (Over 30 percent of biologists at top universities actually have a firm belief in God.)”

A fuller review will follow when I’ve had a chance to go through this and pick through her analysis. It’s very nice to finally have a way to empirically ground at least some of the discussion going on about science and religion. Especially interesting will be her discussion of “spiritual atheists,” a surprisingly large group among scientists that is nearly absent from the non-scientist population.

I suppose it’s unfair to use a book that isn’t widely available to stir this particular pot, but go to Amazon and pre-order your copy! Then we can all fight about it, but with actual data!

Comments

  1. #1 Dave W.
    April 13, 2010

    Do you, Mr. Rosenau, think that atheists “who regard it as necessary to attack religion or set it in opposition to science” do so solely on the basis of religion and science being philosophically incompatible?

  2. #2 Brian Westley
    April 13, 2010

    Does she define what she means by “actively working against religion”?

  3. #3 TB
    April 14, 2010

    When John Wilkins first proposed the label “affirmative atheism” I thought it was a classic example of spin. Drop the label with the bad connotations but do nothing to address the behavior that brought about the bad connotations. And the fact that you’re changing the label essentially acknowledges the bad connotations.
    But now with this study I think we have a winner! No more “accommodationists” or “new atheists.” Instead, we can have
    – “Affirmative atheists” which could include anyone who puts the best political face forward in support of atheism (like Josh and even Chris Mooney)
    – we have those “2 percenters” who can be called “extreme atheists,” openly hostile to religion who think there is no hope of common ground, and
    – “Conflict atheists” – that 15 percent who believe religion and science are in conflict but do not necessarily think there is no hope for common dialogue. These would be divided between the two labels (oh, I can see the comment threads: “Accommodationist is soo 2009. I’m a non-extreme conflict atheist and don’t you forget it!” “Splitter!”)

    Of course, coming up with labels makes it easier to dismiss other people’s arguments, something I’ve never been in favor of. But then I’m not the one who started the whole labeling exercise so if it’s going to be done we might as well make these labels useful.

  4. #4 MartyM
    April 14, 2010

    I wonder how the percentage of scientists who are atheist compare to the percentage of biblical scholars who are atheist. I have yet to see some statistics on biblical scholars. I’m not talking about preachers (thought Dr. Dennet may have a take on that), but academic biblical scholars like you might find at Princeton Theological Seminary.

  5. #5 Larry Moran
    April 14, 2010

    Hmmm …. is this one of those situations where the results from a single country are extrapolated to the entire world?

    I suspect it is but since Josh has the book he can answer the question. Are the results of this poll only applicable to Americans?

    Should the book title be, “Science vs Religion: What *American* Scientists Really Think”?

    And yes, it shows that those who regard it as necessary to attack religion or set it in opposition to science represent an extreme set of views even within the rarefied community of scientists who are atheists.

    You are correct to separate these two ideas. There is a very small group of people who think it’s necessary to actively oppose the influence of religion in our society. There is a much larger group who think that science and religion conflict in many ways. I don’t think this larger group represents an “extreme” set of views among scientists.

    Did she ask the scientists whether science was compatible with Young Earth Creationism or a world-wide flood? Did she ask whether science is compatible with life after death, the efficacy of prayer, and modern day miracles?

  6. #6 Pierce R. Butler
    April 14, 2010

    I want to see comparative analyses of how many scientists are alcoholics/comic book collectors/Cubs fans/dope smokers/good in bed/neurotic/overweight/sexist/Unix programmers/war-on-terror advocates/etc.

    Using these scientific™ techniques, surely we can determine everything we need to know about how to make the best ScienceⓇ!

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    April 14, 2010

    Larry: I believe the survey was restricted to US scientists, but I’ll check when I have the book in hand again. I’ll also note that it’s a large leap from “science and religion conflict” to “science and religion conflict in some ways.” Few people dispute the latter, while many dispute the former. But the latter could also be used to say that literature is incompatible with science, or that art is. Much of modern art is intended to be at odds with empirical reality, and much of the psychology underlying, say, surrealism is profoundly wrong (poorly glossed from the erroneous Freud). Science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and historical novels are all at odds with our scientific understanding of the world. If having elements contrary to science is the same as being in conflict with science, religion is far from the only problem.

  8. #8 Larry Moran
    April 15, 2010

    I’ll also note that it’s a large leap from “science and religion conflict” to “science and religion conflict in some ways.”

    It’s not a large leap. The second statement is correct because it’s possible to construct a religious worldview that avoids all possibility of conflict. Strict deism, for example. I realize there are people who hide behind this exception in order to refute the generality but I hope you’re not one of them.

    In the real world that we all inhabit, science conflicts with religion all the time. I bet you don’t even know a strict deist who rejects the idea of a interventionist or personal God.

    But the latter could also be used to say that literature is incompatible with science, or that art is.

    Really? Science is a way of knowing based on rationality, evidence, and skepticism. “Knowledge” is something far more profound than just memorizing the names of the characters in Wuthering Heights. “Knowledge” is not personal experience like preferring Turner over Picasso, it’s something closer to universal truth. It applies everywhere.

    Can you give me an example of such knowledge that’s acquired from literature or art but doesn’t conform to the scientific way of knowing?

  9. #9 Anton Mates
    April 15, 2010

    Larry,

    The second statement is correct because it’s possible to construct a religious worldview that avoids all possibility of conflict. Strict deism, for example.

    That is one example, but it’s certainly not the only one. Belief in a god who intervenes in scientifically undetectable ways is another. Such a god might operate by making sure its interventions don’t conform to any pattern human scientists can observe and comprehend, as Ken Miller and many liberal believers of my acquaintance suggest, or by administering an afterlife (provided the person doesn’t also believe in testable communication with the dead). I suspect that these beliefs are at least as popular as strict deism.

    I realize there are people who hide behind this exception in order to refute the generality but I hope you’re not one of them.

    In the real world that we all inhabit, science conflicts with religion all the time. I bet you don’t even know a strict deist who rejects the idea of a interventionist or personal God.

    My best friend in high school was (and still is, for all I know) such a deist.

    Anecdotes aside, there’s ample evidence to show that your generality is false. By the ARIS 2008 survey, roughly 24% of American adults don’t believe in a personal god, and 12% don’t believe in a god at all. But only 10% and 6%, respectively, fall into those categories and are non-religious. (That is, identify as atheist/agnostic/secular/humanist, or state no religious preference.) This indicates that about 1 in 6 religious Americans doesn’t believe in a personal god, and about 1 in 15 doesn’t believe in a god at all.

    This phenomenon is even more marked in other Western countries. For instance, depending on the survey, 17-50% of French Catholics say they don’t believe in any god, and most of the remainder don’t believe in a personal god. About 85% of Danes have a religious identity, and about 75% of their kids are still christened in the Lutheran church, but only about 30% believe in a personal god. (You may recall the Danish Lutheran pastor who was suspended by superiors for openly professing atheism, then reinstated with the near-unanimous support of his congregation.) And surveys in the UK have well over half (anywhere from 60-80%, depending on the survey) of the population reporting religious affiliation, but well under half reporting belief in any sort of god.

    So no, in the real world, religions without an interventionist god are quite common. In fact, I’d say this is one of the great trends of Western society; not only have more and more people rejected religion, but more and more people who remain religious have rejected belief in miracle-working gods.

    Of course, such a position has long been fairly common among, for instance, Western Jews and Buddhists. What’s new is that it seems to be spreading to Christians as well.

  10. #10 Larry Moran
    April 16, 2010

    That is one example, but it’s certainly not the only one. Belief in a god who intervenes in scientifically undetectable ways is another.

    That view conflicts with science.

    I won’t bother addressing the rest of your comment.

  11. #11 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2010

    Larry,

    That is one example, but it’s certainly not the only one. Belief in a god who intervenes in scientifically undetectable ways is another.

    That view conflicts with science.

    How so? I don’t see how it possibly could.

    I won’t bother addressing the rest of your comment.

    I accept your concession.

    Razib Khan made a similar point to mine in his article on Ecklund’s book, which you linked to on Sandwalk; he observed that at least 40% of the religious scientists in Ecklund’s survey were non-theists. Again, religion != interventionist theism.

  12. #12 Larry Moran
    April 16, 2010

    How so? I don’t see how it possibly could.

    One of the requirements of science is rational thinking.

    Some people claim that supernatural beings exist who direct the course of events but do so in a way that’s completely undetectable by anyone—including them, presumably.

    You think that’s an example of rational thinking?

  13. #13 TB
    April 16, 2010

    One of the requirements of doing science is rational thinking, which is best tested for through the peer-review system.

    Requiring purely rational thinking at all moments in a person’s life as a condition of doing science is impractical and unenforceable at the very least.

  14. #14 Larry Moran
    April 16, 2010

    Requiring purely rational thinking at all moments in a person’s life as a condition of doing science is impractical and unenforceable at the very least.

    It may be impractical and unenforceable but surely you agree with my point? When we discover someone advocating an irrational point of view about the nature of historical events, we don’t hesitate to label it non-scientific.

    Please tell me you agree.

  15. #15 Anton Mates
    April 16, 2010

    Larry Moran

    One of the requirements of science is rational thinking.
    Some people claim that supernatural beings exist who direct the course of events but do so in a way that’s completely undetectable by anyone—including them, presumably.

    While some people do make that claim, that’s a stronger claim than the one I described. “Scientifically undetectable” is not equivalent to “completely undetectable by anyone, including them.” Nothing prevents your standard omni-deity from dropping hints of its existence to a select group of people, while ensuring that the evidence is never strong enough to reach statistical significance in any organized research program.

    You think that’s an example of rational thinking?

    Category error: (ir)rationality is an attribute of arguments or thought processes, not of individual beliefs and claims. The belief in interventionist but scientifically undetectable deities may be a rational inference, an irrational one, or an arational axiom; it depends on what first principles the believer reasons from.

    For instance, if someone believes in an interventionist god, and they also believe in the efficacy of science, then the conclusion that their god must act in scientifically undetectable ways is entirely rational.

    Furthermore, one of the requirements of science is rational thinking, but it’s not the only one. Not all rational thinking falls under science; therefore, not all irrational thinking conflicts with science. (Irrational thinking cannot be science either, of course. But it may simply occur on a topic with which science doesn’t concern itself.)

    I’m curious: you agree that strict deism avoids all possibility of conflict with science. Do you consider deism inherently more rational than theism?

    When we discover someone advocating an irrational point of view about the nature of historical events, we don’t hesitate to label it non-scientific.

    Again, “non-scientific” and “conflicts with science” are not the same thing. If you want to show that a point of view conflicts with science, you need to show that scientific reasoning leads to its negation.

  16. #16 TB
    April 16, 2010

    I defer to Anton.

  17. #17 Larry Moran
    April 17, 2010

    Anton Mates says,

    Again, “non-scientific” and “conflicts with science” are not the same thing. If you want to show that a point of view conflicts with science, you need to show that scientific reasoning leads to its negation.

    Now I see where you’re coming from.

    So, when Young Earth Creationists say the Earth is only 6000 years old but God made it look much older that’s not in conflict with science. Scientific reasoning can’t “negate” such a claim therefore it’s compatible with science.

    That seems like a very silly position to defend but I accept that you define “conflict” in that way. It seems we’ve reached an impasse.

  18. #18 SC (Salty Current)
    April 17, 2010

    I’ve posted a series of questions:

    http://saltycurrent.blogspot.com/2010/04/questions-for-accomodationists.html

    I hope I get a few answers, since I haven’t to these and similar questions in the past. Although I say that this program seems to me dishonest, it’s not an attack. I’m trying to understand where people are coming from, since “I don’t believe it, but we should respect the belief and epistemic system that produced it” doesn’t make sense to me.

  19. #19 Anton Mates
    April 17, 2010

    Larry,

    So, when Young Earth Creationists say the Earth is only 6000 years old but God made it look much older that’s not in conflict with science.

    Nope. Provided you admit that the universe looks 13-14 billion years old according to available scientific evidence, you can claim it was actually created last Thursday or five minutes ago if you want to. I don’t think science has anything to say at that point.

    Of course, as I’m sure you know, 99.9% of Young Earth Creationists reject the idea that God made the earth/universe look old.* Kurt Wise is practically the only living YEC I know who even comes close. Everyone else claims scientific support for creationism and/or attacks the scientific evidence for evolution–flood geology, Piltdown Man, gaps in the fossil record, archeological remains of Noah’s ark, etc.–and that most certainly conflicts with science.

    *Some of them do invoke “apparent age” to explain away specific bits of evidence they have trouble denying, like incoming starlight from distant stars, but that’s not the same as claiming that the whole earth or universe is consistently set up to look old. Most YECs think that would make God into a deceiver.

    That seems like a very silly position to defend but I accept that you define “conflict” in that way. It seems we’ve reached an impasse.

    We need not, though. Most YECs (and almost certainly the majority of self-identified creationists in the English-speaking world) hold beliefs which conflict with science, both by your standards and by mine. Conversely, as I pointed out earlier, a significant fraction of religious people in the West reject the notion of a personal god; their beliefs (at least in that area) don’t conflict with science, either by your standards or by mine.

    The only place where we’ve reached an impasse, it seems to me, is on the subject of liberal religious folks who believe in an interventionist yet “hidden” God.

  20. #20 Larry Moran
    April 18, 2010

    Anton Mates says,

    Nope. Provided you admit that the universe looks 13-14 billion years old according to available scientific evidence, you can claim it was actually created last Thursday or five minutes ago if you want to. I don’t think science has anything to say at that point.

    I completely disagree. Science has a lot to say about such non-evidence based, irrational, beliefs.

    I’ve heard some pretty crazy defenses of accommodationism but that one takes the cake.

    Do you think you could publish such an opinion in a scientific paper? It would be fun to try. I have a preliminary title: A Scientific Defense of Last Thursdayism. I think I’ll submit it to Science. Can I quote you as an authority? :-)

  21. #21 J. J. Ramsey
    April 18, 2010

    Larry Moran: “It would be fun to try. I have a preliminary title: A Scientific Defense of Last Thursdayism.”

    Dr. Moran, if Anton Mates has said that science has nothing to say about Last-Thursdayism, wouldn’t it follow that he’d be the last person to defend Last-Thursdayism on scientific grounds? Now if you want to show that science can refute Last-Thursdayism, you should start by pointing to empirical evidence inconsistent with it. Good luck with that.

  22. #22 SC (Salty Current)
    April 18, 2010

    Provided you admit that the universe looks 13-14 billion years old according to available scientific evidence, you can claim it was actually created last Thursday or five minutes ago if you want to.

    Do you claim either of those? If not, why not? What is your opinion of people who would seriously claim that? What if people’s lives depended on the answer?

  23. #23 J. J. Ramsey
    April 18, 2010

    SC: “What if people’s lives depended on the answer?”

    How could lives possibly depend on whether Last-Thursdayism is true?!

  24. #24 Anton Mates
    April 18, 2010

    Larry,

    I completely disagree. Science has a lot to say about such non-evidence based, irrational, beliefs.

    Like what? If the believer already admits that their belief in a young universe is non-evidence-based, what more does science have to say about it?

    And as I said before, I don’t think a belief can be inherently rational or irrational. You clearly disagree; what’s your definition of rationality and irrationality?

    Do you think you could publish such an opinion in a scientific paper? It would be fun to try. I have a preliminary title: A Scientific Defense of Last Thursdayism. I think I’ll submit it to Science. Can I quote you as an authority? :-)

    Only in opposition, I’m afraid! Since Last Thursdayism is untestable, I don’t believe that it can be scientifically defended, any more than it can be scientifically refuted.

    But if you want to put in a line to the effect that “Some people think it’s pointless to attempt to defend Last Thursdayism in a science journal [Mates, 2010]”, go nuts.

  25. #25 SC (Salty Current)
    April 18, 2010

    How could lives possibly depend on whether Last-Thursdayism is true?!

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/barbara_forrest/naturalism.html

    …if supernatural causal factors are methodologically permissible, the cosmos one is trying to explain is a non-natural cosmos.

    Consider the implications.

    Want to answer my other questions?

    That is one example, but it’s certainly not the only one. Belief in a god who intervenes in scientifically undetectable ways is another. Such a god might operate by making sure its interventions don’t conform to any pattern human scientists can observe and comprehend, as Ken Miller and many liberal believers of my acquaintance suggest,

    But they can, apparently – enough to believe in it. How ridiculous. You believe this twaddle? Why?

    or by administering an afterlife (provided the person doesn’t also believe in testable communication with the dead). I suspect that these beliefs are at least as popular as strict deism.

    An afterlife of what and whom? What does that even mean? How is it “administered”? How do they know about it if there’s no communication? You believe this twaddle? Why?

    I suspect you don’t.

  26. #26 SC (Salty Current)
    April 18, 2010

    Like what? If the believer already admits that their belief in a young universe is non-evidence-based [and in contradiction to the evidence], what more does science have to say about it?

    That it’s wrong. Do you believe it? Honestly?

    And as I said before, I don’t think a belief can be inherently rational or irrational.

    In a real context? Sure, you don’t.

  27. #27 Anton Mates
    April 18, 2010

    SC,

    Do you claim either of those? If not, why not?

    I don’t. I tend to follow parsimony considerations when it comes to accepting beliefs, and “the universe is as old as it looks” seems more parsimonious to me than the other options.

    What is your opinion of people who would seriously claim that?

    Well, I’d be interested to know more about their reasoning; those claims are unusual, so I’d wonder whether the claimants were psychologically unusual in other ways. (And I do mean “unusual” there, not “deranged” or “inferior”; there are plenty of elements of an atheistic, scientistic worldview that are also unusual relative to the human norm.)

    Other than that, I don’t really have an opinion of them, at least one based on those particular claims. I would be more interested in how they approached testable questions, what obligations they felt they had towards other people, and so forth.

    What if people’s lives depended on the answer?

    Since those claims are untestable, people’s lives can’t depend on their truth or falsity. If they did, you could check whether said people live or die and thereby test the claims.

    Conceivably lives might directly depend on someone’s opinion of their truth or falsity, in which case I might encourage them to hold whichever opinion leads to those lives being saved. That cuts both ways, though. If you’re justified in opposing the belief that God wants us to execute gays, because of the lives it costs, you’re also justified in supporting the belief that God wants us to care for the poor, because of the lives it saves.

    I am planning to respond to your questions on your blog, by the way; I just haven’t been able to scrounge up enough time for a proper response yet.

  28. #28 Anton Mates
    April 18, 2010

    SC,

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/barbara_forrest/naturalism.html

    …if supernatural causal factors are methodologically permissible, the cosmos one is trying to explain is a non-natural cosmos.

    Consider the implications.

    So far as I can see, Barbara’s repeatedly arguing that this would have no implications, at least not empirically detectable ones.

    But they can, apparently – enough to believe in it.

    But not as scientists. They may hold that a god’s dropped enough hints of its existence to personally convince them, or that they’re intuitively or emotionally driven to belief even without any such hints. It doesn’t follow that they expect anybody’s research program–even their own–to turn up scientifically unambiguous evidence of that god.

    How ridiculous. You believe this twaddle?

    Nope. I’m an atheist. But the universe is under no obligation to conform to my beliefs.

    An afterlife of what and whom? What does that even mean? How is it “administered”?

    Of what and whom and how it’s administered: I dunno. Ask the believer, although often they don’t claim to know the details either.

    As for “what does that even mean,” I take it to mean something like “Our minds are copied or transferred into some other form after death.” That covers a lot of options–for instance, we could all be living in a simulation, and after death our bodies are copied & pasted into another simulation and patched up. That seems to be the belief of Tipler (the Omega Point guy). Again, it’ll vary by believer.

    How do they know about it if there’s no communication?

    Are you asking them or me? I, of course, don’t think they do know. Some of them don’t think they know either, but believe on faith. Others think they know, but on non-scientific grounds. That includes communication, so long as it’s not testable–they woke up in the night and felt the presence of their dead mother, sort of thing.

    You believe this twaddle?

    Nope, I don’t believe in an afterlife. But see above.

    Like what? If the believer already admits that their belief in a young universe is non-evidence-based [and in contradiction to the evidence], what more does science have to say about it?

    That it’s wrong.

    How could science say that it’s wrong? What evidence is there against a Last Thursdayist universe?

    Do you believe it? Honestly?

    Do I believe what? I believe that the universe is old, but I don’t believe that there’s any ultimate justification for that belief. My preference for parsimony is a fact about my psychology, not a guide to Truth.

    In a real context? Sure, you don’t.

    In a real context? Sure, you don’t.

    Well, give me an example of a belief I’d necessarily find rational or irrational, then.

  29. #29 SC (Salty Current)
    April 19, 2010

    Thanks for your response. I probably won’t be able to respond more till sometime tomorrow (maybe earlier, depending on how quickly my work goes), but for now a quick response to this:

    I don’t. I tend to follow parsimony considerations when it comes to accepting beliefs, and “the universe is as old as it looks” seems more parsimonious to me than the other options.

    …Nope. I’m an atheist.

    …Nope, I don’t believe in an afterlife.

    …Do I believe what? I believe that the universe is old, but I don’t believe that there’s any ultimate justification for that belief. My preference for parsimony is a fact about my psychology, not a guide to Truth.

    It is part of science – part of a reliable guide for acquiring knowledge about reality (not “ultimate justification” or “Truth”). It is inconsistent to argue that science has nothing to say about a proposition while rejecting that proposition based on science (the reasoned evaluation of evidence and parsimony). Parsimony is not an individual preference or idiosyncratic personal tendency but an element of science. You can choose to ignore parsimony, but if you do so you are acting in a way that is incompatible with science. You can base your beliefs on intuition or other nonscientific approaches, but, again, when you do that you are doing something incompatible with science.

    But of course you don’t. You reject such beliefs, and you do so on the basis of science. You don’t get around this by saying “Oh, I just like double-blind studies and random samples ’cause they’re pretty.” If you thought these beliefs or the means of arriving at them were justified or legitimate, you would accept them yourself. You don’t. Trying to circumvent the issue by using the language of preferences and opinions and individual paychology is transparently dodgy. And unsuccessfully dodgy: what you prefer is science, to the exclusion of nonscience. Furthermore, it makes you sound foolish, in that it suggests that you make your epistemic choices casually, on a whim, or at least that you don’t think about them critically or seriously or try to justify them. I’m sure this isn’t the case, but this follows from your dodgy presentation.

    OK. More later.

  30. #30 red pepper
    April 19, 2010

    It is inconsistent to argue that science has nothing to say about a proposition while rejecting that proposition based on science (the reasoned evaluation of evidence and parsimony).

  31. #31 red pepper
    April 19, 2010

    It is inconsistent to argue that science has nothing to say about a proposition while rejecting that proposition based on science (the reasoned evaluation of evidence and parsimony).

  32. #32 Anton Mates
    April 19, 2010

    SC,

    It is part of science – part of a reliable guide for acquiring knowledge about reality (not “ultimate justification” or “Truth”).

    Okay, but what does “reliable” mean? I’m pretty sure you’re not making some sort of argumentum ad populum, so either you mean “consistently produces results you and I find convincing and useful”–which is what I mean–or you mean “consistently produces results which are convincing and useful by some objectively justifiable measure,” in which case we’re back to Truth.

    It is inconsistent to argue that science has nothing to say about a proposition while rejecting that proposition based on science (the reasoned evaluation of evidence and parsimony).

    For the most part, I don’t reject untestable propositions; I fail to accept them. (E.g. I’m a weak atheist, not a strong one.) I can hardly do otherwise, since the negations of most untestable propositions are also untestable.

    Parsimony is not an individual preference or idiosyncratic personal tendency but an element of science.

    It’s all three. Precisely because it’s an element of science, unless you have an individual preference for it you’re unlikely to consider science the best/only way of generating accurate knowledge about the world.

    You can choose to ignore parsimony, but if you do so you are acting in a way that is incompatible with science. You can base your beliefs on intuition or other nonscientific approaches, but, again, when you do that you are doing something incompatible with science.

    No, you’re just not doing science. I dunno how you define it, but my version of science doesn’t come with a directive that you must do science all the time, nor that you must accept the results as true.

    If you thought these beliefs or the means of arriving at them were justified or legitimate, you would accept them yourself. You don’t.

    Yes, of course. But it doesn’t follow that I strongly desire to have everyone else make the same judgments about justification and legitimacy that I have.

    Trying to circumvent the issue by using the language of preferences and opinions and individual paychology is transparently dodgy. And unsuccessfully dodgy: what you prefer is science, to the exclusion of nonscience. Furthermore, it makes you sound foolish, in that it suggests that you make your epistemic choices casually, on a whim, or at least that you don’t think about them critically or seriously or try to justify them.

    It only suggests this to a reader who believes that, if we make our epistemic choices seriously and think about them critically and try to justify them, we can somehow elevate them out of the realm of preferences and opinions and individual psychology.

    I don’t believe that. I’ve spent a lot of time considering and refining my epistemology, but it will never be anything other than subjective and ultimately grounded in facts about my own thought processes. I see no other option.

  33. #33 TB
    April 22, 2010

    “Nope. Provided you admit that the universe looks 13-14 billion years old according to available scientific evidence, you can claim it was actually created last Thursday or five minutes ago if you want to. I don’t think science has anything to say at that point. … Most YECs think that would make God into a deceiver.”

    This is correct, and shows the problem with Larry trying to get Anton to defend the position.

    To oversimplify this, we have four positions:

    R (religion) = true
    S (science) = true

    R = false
    S = false

    R = true
    S = false

    R = false
    S = true

    where true does not necessarily equal truth.

    Last Thursdayism is actual a case where R = true but S = false and only appears to be true. Appearance is a red herring because ultimately the position reduces to S = false.

    Anton is discussing cases where S = true and is not defending cases where S = false, so there’s no reason to defend Last Thursdayism. But it was clever of Larry to try and introduce it into the debate.

    What I’m really interested in those who believe S and R = false. I think they’re woefully unrepresented in this debate.

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