i-ffac1ede4a1f848c5e962a003973eafb-sciencerewriting.jpgJohn Pieret on Russell Blackford on Accommodating Incompatiblism. Russell writes:

religion needs to be constantly reinterpreted to maintain even logical consistency with our empirically-based secular knowledge. This process in itself leaves religious beliefs looking ad hoc and implausible.

John notes:

But, wait a minute, doesn’t science constantly reinterpret itself to maintain consistency with empirically-based knowledge?

So, is the complaint that those forms of theism that try to reconcile empirical knowledge and religious faith are being too damn much like science?

Seriously, if you aren’t reading John Pieret, you’re missing out on some good snarking.

On a more serious note, I’d again urge people to think about the importance of self-certainty as a defining trait of the dangerous sorts of theology. Folks like Answers in Genesis think that “sinful, fallible human beings in a sin-cursed universe” can interpret the Bible with perfect consistency, but that “fallible assumptions and fallen reasoning” cannot possibly reveal a consistent understanding of the natural world. Moderate theists recognize that human fallibility would apply to both our ability to reliably interpret empirical data and our ability to interpret the written word, and so approach both with the sort of humility and willingness to question and revise that scientists have to bring to their work in the lab and the scientific literature every day. I know why Ken Ham objects to moderate theists doing this, but I don’t know why Russell Blackford would object.

Image via.

Comments

  1. #1 Anna
    February 17, 2011

    :-)

    Besides, any seminarian could tell you that first book in the cartoon has been rewritten and rewritten and rewritten and rewritten as well.

  2. #2 John Pieret
    February 17, 2011

    Oh, well … I suppose being known as good at snark is a claim to fame. It’s better than being known for being bad at snark, I suppose.

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    February 17, 2011

    It’s not just the snark, of course. Go for the snark, stay for the smart.

  4. #4 Left_Wing_Fox
    February 17, 2011

    I’m sorry, but this seems to miss two big issues.

    The first is that a naturalist worldview relies on observation, experimentation and testing of theories to explain the universe, and any belief which does not match up to the evidence needs to be examined and discarded where shown false. Religion has certain key beliefs which are impossible to challenge without changing the basic nature of the religion.

    Those beliefs my be small and flexible, (I believe there is an intelligent creator of the universe), or complex and rigid (Biblical inerrancy, interventionist deity, smiting god, moral code of conduct, etc). Either way, there’s a fair amount of flexibility outside those core beliefs (I.e. those who believe in the power of prayer and creationism may also go to the doctor for science-based treatment)

    The problems happen when the core beliefs come into conflict with evidence against those beliefs; creationism, anti-homosexuality, faith healing, end-times AGW deniers using up the planet for Jesus. When it’s faith versus evidence, faith wins. If evidence dosen’t matter, then you’re left trying to fight faith with theology. Given the number of schisms and sects in religion, forgive me if I don’t see that as a useful weapon in the arsenal against anti-science.

    The problem is the same as fighting any other form of anti-science, like homeopathy. Pill A is a sleeping pill. Pill B is a cure for cancer. Taking A might provide some benefit for people through the placebo effect. Taking B instead of regular treatment is suicide by cancer. So how do you say “B” is wrong in a way that leaves “A” valid?

  5. #5 msironen
    February 18, 2011

    Going by that logic, wouldn’t criticizing anti-vaccinationists or global warming deniers for being unscientific be hypocritical since they do occasionally come up with new bullshit when their old bullshit gets demolished badly/publicly enough?

  6. #6 Ender
    February 18, 2011

    “When it’s faith versus evidence, faith wins”

    Then why is Russel complaining that religion is being reinterpreted? Surely faith is winning and it’s not being reinterpreted?

    How’s that geocentric universe coming then? I hate it that all religions still insist that’s where we live. But at least they’re letting the faith win….

  7. #7 Josh Rosenau
    February 18, 2011

    Actually they don’t really come up with new bullshit, they usually just recycle the old stuff. Most modern creationist arguments are largely the same things William Jennings Bryan argued, and that persistence in favor of debunked arguments is the fundamental problem. If they come up with a brand new thing, it deserves to be taken somewhat seriously (no more than you’d take any new and untested proposal seriously) until it’s been debunked. But even a stopped clock is right now and then, so it behooves us not to just write off a genuinely new argument until we’ve had a chance to review it.

  8. #8 Left_Wing_Fox
    February 18, 2011

    Then why is Russel complaining that religion is being reinterpreted?

    Because naturalism has a mechanism for reinterpretation as a core philosophy; the idea that observation of reality should trump belief. Most religions do not, outside of the splintering effects of theology. To the outsider, there is no consistant reason why Church A can accept evolution, Church B cannot, yet both believe in an interventionist deity. As a result, you get these improbably constructs of apologetics to reconcile the faith with the evidence, ranging from the innocuous (deism) , to the ridiculous (flood geology).

    Surely faith is winning and it’s not being reinterpreted?

    My statement was intended for the personal level, not the cultural level. Yes, there is a range of beliefs, and yes religions change based on politics and theology,. Those changes are inconsistant though. The Catholic Church accepts evolution. The original Fundamentalist churches were founded in the US as a reaction against modernity and the scientific method. How can you say which is correct based on the evidence, without implying to the Catholics “By the way, evidence says your wrong about transubstantiation too”?

  9. #9 Ender
    February 18, 2011

    So this: “When it’s faith versus evidence, faith wins” is not true. They do reinterpret according to the evidence, you just don’t like why they reinterpret.

  10. #10 J. J. Ramsey
    February 18, 2011

    Left_Wing_Fox:

    Because naturalism has a mechanism for reinterpretation as a core philosophy; the idea that observation of reality should trump belief.

    This is not true. Naturalism is simply the view that there is no such thing as the supernatural, i.e. no ghosts, gods, spirits, miracles, etc. Both theists and naturalists have both endorsed and put into practice the idea that one should adjust one’s beliefs to fit with empirical evidence. You are conflating science and naturalism.

  11. #11 Left_Wing_Fox
    February 18, 2011

    They do reinterpret according to the evidence.

    “Can”. Not “do”. Otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The point is that religions and theists pick and choose which evidence they will or will not support, which is why that change is seen as “ad hoc” rationalizations. We support the evidence for Evolution, but not the conclusion that humanity is thus one possible result of evolution, rather than God’s Chosen result.

    You are conflating science and naturalism.

    Fine. Atheism uses the scientific method science as a philosophical underpinning (Philosophical naturalism using methodological naturalism). Religion may accept or rejects science depending on how well it can reconcile it with their core beliefs. Changing those core beliefs changes the religion; the actual difference between Catholics and Anglicans are fairly minor, but are important enough to have been major driver of religious strife.

    Some theists have a core of simple deism that is unchallenged by the existing evidence. There are many, many other religions which make verifiably false claims about the nature of the world, many of which are the emotional anchors for people to their faith. Personally important beliefs like an interventionist god and devil, and the healing power of prayer are simply not compatible in any way with scientific evidence.

    It feels dishonest of me to say “Evidence and religion are compatible” if there’s only a very narrow range of religious beliefs which survive the acid of evidence.

  12. #12 J. J. Ramsey
    February 18, 2011

    Left_Wing_Fox:

    Atheism uses the scientific method science as a philosophical underpinning (Philosophical naturalism using methodological naturalism).

    No, this is hopelessly confused. Atheism and philosophical naturalism are endpoints; they are conclusions about the world and what is and isn’t in it. They are not methods, nor do they prescribe methods. Philosophical naturalism doesn’t use methodological naturalism. Philosophical naturalism (abbreviated in post #10 to just “naturalism.”) is a world view that denies the existence of the supernatural. Methodological naturalism isn’t a world view at all, but rather means that one makes the working assumption that gods, demons, etc. aren’t meddling in experiments or planting fake evidence and that one avoids using a “God of the gaps” as an explanation for one’s theories.

  13. #13 Anton Mates
    February 18, 2011

    Left_Wing_Fox,

    The first is that a naturalist worldview relies on observation, experimentation and testing of theories to explain the universe, and any belief which does not match up to the evidence needs to be examined and discarded where shown false. Religion has certain key beliefs which are impossible to challenge without changing the basic nature of the religion.

    Thing is, these two features are not actually opposed. It’s entirely possible for a worldview to rest on non-negotiable key beliefs, yet also require its adherents examine and discard any belief which doesn’t match up to the evidence.

    The naturalist worldview, if it’s scientific, does exactly this. Belief in some kind of uniform natural law is key to scientific naturalism, and impossible to challenge without changing its basic nature. (Without such a belief, induction doesn’t work. No induction, no science.) But it’s also, itself, an untestable belief, and hence it always matches up to the evidence.

    Religious worldviews can, and sometimes do, work the same way. (Sometimes they don’t. But of course there are atheist worldviews that are equally reliant on verifiably false claims.)

    Taking A might provide some benefit for people through the placebo effect. Taking B instead of regular treatment is suicide by cancer. So how do you say “B” is wrong in a way that leaves “A” valid?

    Didn’t you just do so? “Might benefit some people via a known effect” versus “suicide by cancer” seems like pretty compelling grounds for rejecting B but not A!

    How can you say which is correct based on the evidence, without implying to the Catholics “By the way, evidence says your wrong about transubstantiation too”?

    Quite easily. Most popular variations of the transubstantiation doctrine are untestable, so evidence doesn’t say their adherents are wrong (or right). But evolutionary theory is not untestable, nor is fundamentalist creationism. (These aren’t Omphalos supporters; their flavor of creationism usually involves decidedly empirical claims, like flood geology and a big boat sitting on Mt. Ararat.)

    Hazier versions of creationism (“some kind of god made us, in some way”) are sometimes truly untestable. But in that case our objection is not that they’re wrong, but that they’re not science, and don’t belong in science classes. Catholics aren’t (by and large) trying to teach transubstantiation in science classes, so that’s no problem either.

    The point is that religions and theists pick and choose which evidence they will or will not support, which is why that change is seen as “ad hoc” rationalizations. We support the evidence for Evolution, but not the conclusion that humanity is thus one possible result of evolution, rather than God’s Chosen result.

    That conclusion does not follow from the evidence. We don’t know what the creative mechanisms of a god with unlimited power and unknown psychology would look like. Therefore, nothing about the evidence for evolution tells us that it is not such a mechanism. (Nothing about the evidence tells us that it is such a mechanism either, but that’s only a problem for people actually arguing theism.)

    Consider the possibility that reasonable people can disagree about how to interpret the same evidence. When theists (and nonbelievers like me) disagree with your argument against divine guidance, it doesn’t automatically follow that we’re picking and choosing among the evidence while you’re not.

    Fine. Atheism uses the scientific method science as a philosophical underpinning (Philosophical naturalism using methodological naturalism).

    Not really. There are many forms of atheism which don’t rest on the scientific method at all, and most atheists’ worldviews (in my experience) do not rest solely on it–pro-science atheists often still hold scientifically untestable beliefs, just like pro-science theists.

    There are many, many other religions which make verifiably false claims about the nature of the world, many of which are the emotional anchors for people to their faith.

    True. But there are many political parties, social movements, and fan communities which do the same thing. I don’t think this demonstrates that religion in particular is necessarily counterfactual.

    Personally important beliefs like an interventionist god and devil, and the healing power of prayer are simply not compatible in any way with scientific evidence.

    I disagree. All of those can be quite easily rendered immune to evidential disproof, and often are among liberal believers.

    It feels dishonest of me to say “Evidence and religion are compatible” if there’s only a very narrow range of religious beliefs which survive the acid of evidence.

    As long as that range is nonzero, it feels to me like the only honest conclusion.

  14. #14 Pseudonym
    February 19, 2011

    It might be more accurate to say “evidence and religion need not be incompatible, but often is in practice”. Both sides could probably agree on that.

  15. #15 Ikedi
    February 26, 2011

    The interpretation of the bible can be done by the individual, but a teacher is always a good addition, even if the teacher is not always teaching and interpreting the way a listen may see it, just to hear the words read from the bible can be a great teaching tool.

    Fo instance many say that the bible doesn’t contradict itself, but the bible its self never made this claim it says that no

    Isaiah 34:16 (King James Version)

    16Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath

    So knowing this we know that if we find slight inconsistencies within the historical books such as Chronicles or Kings, it is because they are witnesses to the events just like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do not always explain things exactly the same.

    But when we see prophecy the things said will always come to pass no matter what. Peace and keep spreading the words

    You can find out How to iinterpret the bible by doing the required studies your self