Jerry Coyne is is on tour for his new book Fact Versus Faith: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. That title's a little vague. What do you suppose the book's about?
It turns out that he was making a stop in Washington DC. Since that's not so far from my digs in Harrisonburg, I decided to go. Then again, much as I love Jerry, DC is far enough so that I wouldn't make the drive just to see him. So I found someone to proctor the exam I was giving in my summer course, and decided to make a whole day of it.
Of course, since this is a post about Jerry Coyne, I feel honor bound to show you what I ate. So my day started with lunch at DC Noodles, one block from the U Street Metro stop (on the green/yellow line):
It's a really excellent Asian-style noodle shop. Check out this magnificent bowl of soup I had:
Yum! I chose well. Another good thing about DC Noodles is that if you walk one more block you come to this:
See how skillfully I planned my afternoon! Killed close to an hour browsing. Added to my Spider-Man collection, and made a few impulse buys.
I decided to continue with the bookstore hopping, so next up was Second Story Books, near Dupont Circle:
They're especially good with math, science and philosophy. My kind of place. Found a few items I just had to have.
Of course, this was all just a warm-up for the main event. As the evening drew near, I worked my way up to my third bookstore of the day. Politics and Prose was hosting Jerry:
I love Politics and Prose, but it's a pain to get to. The nearest Metro stop (Van Ness, on the Red line) is a good mile walk. So walk I did!
Then it was time for the big event. It was a decent-size crowd, and largely supportive.
Jerry certainly was not hurting for autograph seekers. This fellow shown here was a high school student who credited Richard Dawkins and him with sparking his interest in evolutionary biology and atheism.
So how did the presentation go? Pretty well, I think. Jerry quipped at the start that his editor told him to talk about how the book came to be, rather than what was actually in the book. If you want to know what's in the book, you have to buy it and read it. So he talked about his experiences presenting evolutionary biology to students and to the public, and about the many times when people told him they could not accept evolution for religious reasons. He emphasized that science and religion have different approaches to knowledge, and that while science's methods are reliable, religion's methods are not. He also talked a bit about the doleful consequences of an excessive respect for faith, such as exemptions for people who deny medical care to their kids for religious reasons. He suggested that it should not be considered a compliment to describe someone as a “person of faith.”
As I said, the audience was generally supportive. But not completely! The older woman sitting next to me kept shaking her head and muttering angrily every time Jerry said something juicy. There was no shortage of people at the microphones to ask questions. There were only two who were miffed though, and they both made similar points. The first was a nurse who talked about how often faith had helped her patients pull through. She referred to studies that had shown that patients who asked their doctors to pray with them before surgery had better results than those who did not. She also made the point that faith was important to her work, saying that she had faith that she was doing the right thing. She went on for a while, eventually building up to the idea that it was not really faith that was a problem, but narrow-mindedness on both sides. I suspect she had some firm ideas about who was being narrow-minded in this discussion.
The other challenging question came from an older man wearing a yarmulke. (If you look carefully you can pick him out in one of the pictures.) If I understood him correctly, he said he did not believe in God, but he found value in Jewish tradition and eventually became a rabbi. To me it sounded like he was talking about cultural Judaism, but then he started going on about the value of faith in ways that made it hard for me to understand his point. I got, though, that he felt Jerry had a very narrow idea about what faith was.
Jerry was a little less sure-footed in dealing with the critics. It seemed to me he got a little too exasperated with them, especially the nurse, when humor and a light-touch would have been more effective. One point he made though, that I agreed with, was that his critics were using “faith” in contexts where something like “confidence” would have been the better word choice. Thus, the nurse didn't really have faith that what she was doing was correct. Rather, she had confidence that she was correct, and this confidence was based not on faith but on experience, and the experiences of her colleagues.
So, that's the precis. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but I'm looking forward to doing so. After the talk I chatted with Jerry for a few minutes. He chided me for not blogging as much as I used to. I also got to meet his sister, who lives in Fairfax, VA. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad I went.
By the time the talk ended I was ready for dinner. I selected the Taj of India restaurant in Georgetown. No small trip when you're starting from Politics and Prose, but well worth it. They make the best chicken vindaloo I've ever had. Good thick sauce, hot enough so you know it's vindaloo, but not so hot that you can't eat it. Alas, I was so engrossed in my dinner that I forgot to take pictures. So you'll just have to imagine it.
And that's it. But since this is a post about Jerry Coyne, I feel I have to include a cat picture. So here's Emily anticipating that I was about to sit down at the computer, making sure she had a front row seat.
One point he made though, that I agreed with, was that his critics were using “faith” in contexts where something like “confidence” would have been the better word choice.
This is so frequently the case with controversial topics. If you want a serious discussion about God, or free will, or consciousness, it is vital to get participants to agree on definitions before you start. As a bonus, contradictions in your opponent's arguments will frequently become obvious before they even get going.
The equivocation between faith is one of the most frustrating aspects of any religious criticism. It seems fine that a word can have multiple meanings in various contexts, but it's disappointing when the context it's being criticised in is ignored and some possible definition of the word for use in a different context is pulled out.
Nice! You certainly adopted the Coyne style. However, you did skimp a bit on photos of food.
I, for another, do enjoy your writing and would certainly appreciate more posts. But, in Jerry's words, it's your show so do it as suits you.
I agree with Jerry, you should blog more! I love your blog and "Among the Creationists" ... do write more!
I agree that there is a definitional problem, but it’s a different one. Jerry’s claim that faith is “belief without evidence” is merely a bald and unsupported assertion. It surely isn’t faith in a Christian context and it also doesn’t conform to standard dictionary definitions, which probably explains the confusion. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary defines faith as
"a. Confidence, reliance, trust (in the ability, goodness, etc., of a person; in the efficacy or worth of a thing; or in the truth of a statement or doctrine).
b. Belief proceeding from reliance on testimony or authority."
For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It doesn't relate to any set of propositions and thus evidence as to the truth or falsity of certain propositions is manifestly irrelevant. That is not to say that such evidence doesn't exist, however. Jerry or you may not like that definition, but it's the definition most Christians (at least in my experience) use.
Moreover, we already have a great word in English for the concept Jerry is so anxious to emphasize. It's not faith he’s talking about. It's credulity, commonly defined as "readiness or willingness to believe especially on slight or uncertain evidence."
Most ironically, the alleged incompatibility between science and religion, despite the alleged primacy of evidence, isn’t itself evidence-based at all. It’s entirely philosophical, political, practical and predicated upon preconceived notions as to the way things *must* be. The unsupported claim that faith is belief without evidence is a purported argument disguised as a definition, and a pretty lousy argument at that.
Of course Jerry will be facing many more audience members who have strongly different opinions about about faith, fact, truth, etc. I can not imagine how I would do before such an audience, but I think I would want to lay down some working definitions about 'faith', 'fact', 'truth', etc. That might at least temper the ones who try to say that science is just another form of faith, or that Jerry describes his truth but that does not fit my truth so nyah, nyah, nyah.
Coyne and other atheists have a fundamental flaw to their argument - they accept the evidence for now free will but then blame "conscious" religious beliefs for harmful behavior. To wit, Coyne says -
"Humans may have evolved to be xenophobic and even violent towards members of “outgroups,” but we have the ability through culture and learning to overcome such a tendency. And, in fact, overcoming xenophobia happens to be both more useful and more ethical in a world of wide interactions between people and nations—interactions much different from those experienced by the small social groups of our African ancestors." Huh?
In addition there is no evidence "beliefs", esp about magical-religious things causes any behavior. Correlated? Apparently. Causal? We don't know.
Sam Harris makes the same dum mistake....
Bob, Jerry is using the word faith in a completely normal way. From Merriam-Webster:
a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion
b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
The problem with the statement "For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ." - From where does the confidence arrive? How do you "know" about this revelation?
Anyway, I guess its a bit much to expect a Christian to argue in good faith.
I think Bob needs to learn the word "equivocation".
There is usage of the word faith in the way he describes, but that certainly isn't the "religious" usage, except maybe in the case of Doubting Thomas, but then again, I doubt Thomas...
“For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ.”
This is a tautology. It is wishful thinking without evidence. It is also word salad.
Rjw: M-W doesn't contradict the OED. No *proof* is not no *evidence* (quite obviously). The confidence arrives via experience (but I hardly "know").
Tyson: I'm not aware of any religion that uses Jerry's definition. Are you?
NEB: You have a definitional problem with "tautology" too.
Hi Bob @7,
"For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t relate to any set of propositions and thus evidence as to the truth or falsity of certain propositions is manifestly irrelevant."
The proposition here is the existence of God and whatever Christian appurtenances you mean to summarize in your profession. There is no evidence for (more technically, the evidence does not support) such a proposition. That is always relevant because it makes the belief irrational. So Jerry is correct that faith, in a religious context, is equivalent to credulity, as you would have it.
Jerry's description of faith here isn't unsupported, it is observed daily in the way religious people use the word. You are part of the evidence. :) Similarly, we aren't just guessing about the conflict between science and religion. You can look at cases like support for evolution of course but really just look at essentially any religious claim and notice that the evidence doesn't support it. You can also look at indirect evidence like the fraction of prestigious scientists who are atheists compared to the general population.
Here is the link for the audio recording of the event @ P&P :
Hi Brain Molecule Marketing,
"In addition there is no evidence “beliefs”, esp about magical-religious things causes any behavior. Correlated? Apparently. Causal? We don’t know."
Right, which is why people who become atheists keep going to church, and people who convert to a religion never start going. There is no conflict between realizing that free will doesn't exist and thinking that beliefs affect our actions. No free will just means that in principle both your beliefs and your actions could be predicted before you have/make them if one had enough knowledge and processing time.
"There is no evidence for (more technically, the evidence does not support) such a proposition."
So you have concluded. I have concluded otherwise, for I think good reasons. Most believers don't get to that point because their religion works for them at some level. Few of us examine our preconceived notions so long as we think they work. That's another flaw in Jerry's book. He seems to assume we all have such an obligation.
"[W]e aren’t just guessing about the conflict between science and religion."
There are lots of conflicts, but Jerry claims a philosophical and necessary conflict. Those are very different things.
"You can also look at indirect evidence like the fraction of prestigious scientists who are atheists compared to the general population."
I suspect that's cultural. A related example: My professional world has tons of physics PhDs, perhaps more than academia. But while academics are overwhelmingly politically liberal (broadly construed), my world (including tons of physicists) is overwhelmingly conservative (broadly construed). That's suggests more of a cultural connection than philosophical necessity.
"No free will just means that in principle both your beliefs and your actions could be predicted before you have/make them if one had enough knowledge and processing time."
But the rabbit hole goes deeper still. If we can't do otherwise, there can be no way to know that what we see, think, conclude and believe is true both because our commitments are as inevitable as our belief in their truth and because our perceptions are inherently unreliable.
Bob: For the Christian [who else would it be for?], faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t relate to any set of propositions and thus evidence as to the truth or falsity of certain propositions is manifestly irrelevant. That is not to say that such evidence doesn’t exist, however.
Evidence that word salad can still provide some minimal entertainment.
"But while academics are overwhelmingly politically liberal (broadly construed)"
That's a statement for which there is no solid evidence despite being widely believed. The most common explanation comes down to money and philosophy: obtaining a Ph.D. (traditionally a requirement for academic work) is expensive and time consuming, and pay in academic institutions is typically lower for people with advanced degrees than what they could make in the "free market". There are exceptions: business faculty at prestigious teaching institutions, medical faculty, and folks in the occasional specialized tech area can make substantial amounts at a university. The benefit for accepting lower pay has traditionally been the granting of tenure and the notion of "academic freedom". The pay difference is the oft-cited reason for the perceived difference in social/political leanings.
"That’s a statement for which there is no solid evidence despite being widely believed."
The data I've seen and seen reported suggests otherwise. Note the following:
Do you have other data?
@6 Bob: "For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ."
Note the world "revealed". It's derived from "revelation". That means "without using logic and/or empirical evidence" - eactly the meaning JAC gives to the word faith.
You only have confirmed his view: belief without evidence.
Of course in addition to revelation the christian might bring up logic and/or empirical evidence. But then we're not talking about revelation and faith anymore.
@8 BMM doesn't get it. From his blog:
"So, how exactly do silly supernatural statements/”beliefs” cause any acts?"
The belief itself according to JAC is not supernatural. It's believing that there is something supernatural. Supernatural things according to JAC (and many others) don't cause anything.
The totally natural belief in supernatural things may cause all kind of stuff.
MNb: "Note the world 'revealed'. It’s derived from 'revelation'."
Indeed. But it's revelation in the sense of being shown or made plain rather than a religious pronouncement.
So because Jesus existed God exists? How does one follow from the other?
-- "There are lots of conflicts, but Jerry claims a philosophical and necessary conflict. Those are very different things."
And Jerry is right. Science isn't just a game, some arbitrary set of rules you stick to when putting on a white lab coat. The scientific method arose in response to fundamental epistemological problems - e.g. problems with variables in attributing cause and effect, and in our explanations (theories).
If both A, B and C can cause effect D, then simply declaring that A caused D because D has been observed is clearly problematic. The attribution seems arbitrary and just ignores the other possible causes. How then would such an attribution deserve the term "knowledge" or "justified?"
This is a problem of understanding your reality no matter what you take "reality" to be - material, an illusion, or if you are some "supernatural" realm (whatever that may be). Once you have multiple possible causes for an effect, how do you justify attributing one cause over the other?
Science grew out of ways of answering such problems. If we want to be able to accord more confidence to one cause over another, we should try to control the variables, so we are testing one possible cause at a time (e.g. if you are testing a new blood pressure medication you will want to make sure the subjects aren't also taking another blood pressure medicine, or suddenly altering their level of physical activity, which would become confounding alternate causes to confuse your conclusions).
There is an inherent, fundamental logic at work that doesn't just go away, or which is no longer violated, if by just slapping another label on an activity like "religion" or claiming "another way of knowing." A scientist who proclaims results based on a procedure which clearly allows all sorts of confounding variables and bias will be heavily criticized doesn't gain any more justification by resorting to "Ok, then this isn't SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE...I've used ANOTHER way of knowing to get to my conclusions." That wouldn't fly for a second because his sloppy method violates or ignores the very epistemic virtues - underlying the scientific method - that arose to address the flaws in that very way of thinking!
In other words, science is our way of being "epistemologically responsible" in the face of the deepest challenges to understanding reality. You can not accept science - and in doing so accept it's method as epistemic virtues - and then simply violate or ignore those virtues in another activity - e.g. religion - and claim this is "compatible." It's no more compatible than on one hand accepting the virtues of monogamy, and then cheating on your wife. Nor does it help to call cheating on your wife: "another way of being monogamous."
----"But the rabbit hole goes deeper still. If we can’t do otherwise, there can be no way to know that what we see, think, conclude and believe is true both because our commitments are as inevitable as our belief in their truth and because our perceptions are inherently unreliable."
You've simply made a gratuitous leap from "inevitable" and the unreliability of perception and beliefs. That doesn't follow.
The output of a calculator is "inevitable" and predictable, following understood, rote rules. Does it follow that the results are therefore wrong or invalid? Of course not. It doesn't matter whether the outcome is determined - part of what is determined is the actual process the calculator uses to get the right answer! That process doesn't just disappear if you raise the scary word "determined" or "inevitable."
Similarly, that our brains are made of physics that might in principle be predictable (forgetting for now all the caveats), then we are no more restrained from "coming to correct conclusions" than a calculator is, so far as our brains are properly using logic and sound reasoning applied to our experience. If I produce a valid syllogism, it's valid whether it was determined or not, and an argument is sound whether it is determined or not, and one can recognize - through reason - a sound, or unsound, or invalid conclusion through the same determined processes.
"Jerry or you may not like that definition, but it’s the definition most Christians (at least in my experience) use. "
Christians may use any definition they like, but in terms of behavior, faith means to them "belief without good evidence." Of course, that definition is offensive to many of them, but all that says is that they engage in behavior that even they don't approve of.
That's what I usually point out to Christians....in non-religious contexts, Christians use a higher standard of evidence than they use for their religious beliefs.
"Coyne and other atheists have a fundamental flaw to their argument – they accept the evidence for now free will but then blame “conscious” religious beliefs for harmful behavior. To wit, Coyne says – "
This isn't a flaw in Coyne's argument, it's just that you don't understand it.
If I write a computer program that contains faulty logic, it's easy to talk about the program as having made the "wrong decision", even though we know that the decision was unavoidable. It's just a way of speaking, not a philosophical position.
Bob, You say, "I’m not aware of any religion that uses Jerry’s definition. Are you?"
Hebrews 11:1 Parallel: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
As a former evangelical, this was the definition of faith drummed into my head. It is identical to Jerry's definition.
Good review. But you know, you missed a Jerry-ism. To really do the event right, you needed to do your entire day-long trek in cowboy boots. With a pic of them propped up in front of you on your desk to show the nice stitching.
“There is no evidence for (more technically, the evidence does not support) such a proposition.”
So you have concluded. I have concluded otherwise, for I think good reasons.
Great, then I look forward to your peer-reviewed publication telling us all about this reproducible empirical evidence for God. If you want to tell me its not that kind of evidence, well, I understand. So does Jerry.
Science and most religions including Christianity seem incompatible to me in this sense: the scientific method evolved as the best way we have to gain an understanding of this universe and it involves these elements: a) entertaining as many different hypotheses as we can generate; then b) subjecting each hypothesis to very strict standards of verification (statistical analysis to weed out random rather than causal effects, controlled/double-blind experiments where possible, independent replication where possible, peer review, ...); and then c) selecting the hypothesis which best fits the data.
Most religions, it seems to me, involve indoctrination at an early age to screen out competing hypotheses, and rely on traditional, word-of-mouth, hearsay evidence. The Christian religion, I have been told by creationists, specifically bans any experimental testing of it - "God doesn't do tests," or something like that, from Paul to the Corinthians, or some such source.
There are some good scientists who are Christians or believers in other "faiths". I have also observed that Christians who pray for "traveling mercies" before a long trip, also check their tires, brakes, and oil, and belong to AAA. So their religion does not necessarily make them irrational in other matters. In that sense they can claim some compatibility, but for the majority of devote Christians I have known, their religion prevents them from even attempting to grasp science. Example: when I gave Simon Singh's "Big Bang" (mainly an historical account of the observations leading to the Big Bang theory) to a nephew as a high-school graduation present, he told me he would not read it, because, "Science can't be true because it always changes; religion must be true because it never changes."
That is the kind of indoctrination that occurs in many Christian churches that I have been to (when visiting relatives) in New York State, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Florida, and California. If some Christians wish to defend the compatibility of their religion with science, it seems to me their first step should be to visit such churches and argue on behalf of science to their fellow "believers".
"For the Christian (at least), faith is confident belief in God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It doesn’t relate to any set of propositions and thus evidence as to the truth or falsity of certain propositions is manifestly irrelevant."
But what does it mean to have confidence in the revelation of Jesus if not that there's a truth to it? It would seem quite odd to simultaneously claim that truth and falsity is irrelevant when the very claim it rests on would be a truth claim.
It seems to me that if it's wholly that Christians aren't interested in making truth claims about the universe, then the Christian and the atheist are making the same point - faith is not a valid way of knowing anything. The conflict only arises with Christians who do claim the truth - that there is one God, and that God is the Christian God. One cannot simultaneously claim there's no truth component in Christian claims while claiming the truth of Christian claims. And, realistically-speaking, if you didn't believe that Jesus was God was a truth claim about the universe, why on earth would you believe it at all? Surely it makes all the difference in the world that it's true as opposed to merely held.
Years ago, a friend recommended Lee Strobel's lawyerly argument for belief "A Case for Faith" where he went point by point to review all the evidence for God, Jesus, the Resurrection, etc.
In the end I wasn't convinced but the exercise was useful to further my conviction that religion and "faith" are a dead end. I respected Strobel's effort, however, because he was truly trying to find some compatibility and eschewed the "other ways of knowing" argument in favor of solid empirical evidence. Of course, despite his efforts, Strobel failed, but that's the point that Jerry Coyne makes: on an even playing field, faith loses because there is no evidence that is provable, repeatable, or, for me at least, even believable.
I really enjoyed your post and to me your point was spot on about discerning between 'faith' as in religious claims and 'confidence' especially about concrete conclusions- like evidence based modern health care (as you said), or checking the tires, brakes before a trip (as said in one of the comments).
Michael Fugate (23): “So because Jesus existed God exists? How does one follow from the other?”
It doesn’t (and I didn’t suggest otherwise).
Vaal (24): “Science isn’t just a game, some arbitrary set of rules you stick to when putting on a white lab coat.”
Indeed. If you think I’m agreeing with Gould you’re mistaken.
“You’ve simply made a gratuitous leap from ‘inevitable’ and the unreliability of perception and beliefs. That doesn’t follow.”
If our conclusions are determined there’s no way to know whether they’re correct or not. If Jerry's right, we don’t choose them (in any meaningful sense) because they best fit the evidence; we “choose” them because we are programmed to do so. Moreover, our evolutionarily-mandated belief that our perceptions are generally reliable (if far from flawless) is also blown up because we are, by Jerry’s lights, constantly in error (we think we are actively making choices – literally – all the time).
Greg Esres (25): “Christians may use any definition they like, but in terms of behavior, faith means to them ‘belief without good evidence.’”
You’re insisting that others reach the same conclusions about the evidence that you do. Funny how we humans are prone to doing that…disagreeing over that…going to war over that.
trou (27): “As a former evangelical, this was the definition of faith drummed into my head. It is identical to Jerry’s definition.”
I have heard Heb. 11:1 used to define faith a gazillion times too (along with “Forsaking All I Trust Him”), but never equated with “belief without evidence.” In context, that reading makes no sense whatsoever. The rest of Heb. 11 consists of great examples of faith using heroes of the Old Testament. Note that each and every one of them is described as having had direct interaction with God. There was no “belief without evidence” for them. They all saw God work first-hand. Thus your offered interpretation doesn’t even begin to hold up.
Eric (28): “I look forward to your peer-reviewed publication telling us all about this reproducible empirical evidence for God.”
I look forward to your explaining how you have “reproducible empirical evidence” for everything you believe to be true.
“If you want to tell me its not that kind of evidence, well, I understand.”
Evidence need not be reproducible or empirical to be good evidence. If your mother tells you it’s raining do you insist on going outside to check before you believe her?
JimV (29): “If some Christians wish to defend the compatibility of their religion with science, it seems to me their first step should be to visit such churches and argue on behalf of science to their fellow ‘believers’.”
I make the case for science all the time, in person and in print. That said, the incompatibility claim is yours (and Jerry’s). It’s your burden of proof (one that Jerry hasn’t begun to meet).
Kel (30): “But what does it mean to have confidence in the revelation of Jesus if not that there’s a truth to it?”
You miss my meaning. It’s not that we don’t think various propositions are true; it’s that faith isn’t about that. Jerry wants faith to mean credulity. But its closest synonym is trust. When your mom tells you it’s raining, you trust that she’s telling you the truth. You *do* think it’s raining but that’s not why you believe her.
Tony61 (31): “In the end I wasn’t convinced but the exercise was useful to further my conviction that religion and ‘faith’ are a dead end.”
Reasonable people can come to different conclusions about the evidence.
I look forward to your explaining how you have “reproducible empirical evidence” for everything you believe to be true.
Sure. I don't believe in any unusual species of critter until someone shows me some evidence of it. A pic, video, etc. I am less skeptical of someone claiming to have seen a specific instance of a critter when I have prior evidence that species or class of critters exist. So if you tell me you saw a sparrow out your window, I won't be too skeptical. If you tell me you saw a dragon or a God out your window, I will be.
In fact, Bob, I bet you behave the same way I do...towards every unusual critter claim except Christianity's. You probably are just as skeptical of leprechaun or Vishnu sightings as I am, and you would probably use the same lack-of-evidence reason to dismiss them as I would. The difference between us is, you carve out an exception for Yahweh, I don't.
One doesn't suggest the other? What does it mean then? Oh, right it means nothing. Now I understand.
1)"If our conclusions are determined there’s no way to know whether they’re correct or not. If Jerry’s right, we don’t choose them (in any meaningful sense) because they best fit the evidence; we “choose” them because we are programmed to do so. Moreover, our evolutionarily-mandated belief that our perceptions are generally reliable (if far from flawless) is also blown up because we are, by Jerry’s lights, constantly in error (we think we are actively making choices – literally – all the time)."
2)"I make the case for science all the time, in person and in print. That said, the incompatibility claim is yours (and Jerry’s). It’s your burden of proof (one that Jerry hasn’t begun to meet)."
You make some reasonable points and I applaud your defense of science (if only there were enough more of you to reach all or any of the churches which I have been to). That said,
1) I think Vaal's point about the calculator was nailed, with this addition: computer algorithms, e.g. neural networks, can be trained to refine their decision-making process and eliminate errors. So while given the facts and experiences I have most decisions will seem obvious and predetermined by said facts and experiences, I recognize that they might still be wrong and I might be making a mistake, which I can then learn from and not repeat. This is pretty much the method of science, and why it is the best method we have developed to progress towards truth and reality. As I have heard it put, "Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment."
As a digressive note, I differ slightly from Dr. Coyne and others in that I think there are some decisions which are toss-ups due to lack of information, and while some of those may be hardwired, others may be random based on neuronal "coin-flips" which could even involve external inputs which have quantum indeterminacy, such as the number of photons our retinas are receiving at the time.
2) I gave my reasons for the incompatibility as I saw it, between the natures of science and religion, and for the practice of religion and science as I have seen it. The ball is back in your court to contest these reasons.
"I differ slightly from Dr. Coyne and others in that I think there are some decisions...may be random based on neuronal “coin-flips” which could even involve external inputs which have quantum indeterminacy"
I don't think Coyne would disagree with you in principle; although he describes himself as a determinist. In his mind (and mine), randomness is no better than determinism as a justification for free will.
@Greg Esres: I wish that were true. The last time I tried to explain it at his blog (my opinion that some human decisions might be unpredictable) he told me my point of view was not welcome there (so I respected his wishes and haven't been back there since).
There is a lot of confusion in my mind about what free will is supposed to mean according to religionists. I tend to like what I understand the compatibilist definition to be (based on their comments there): to do something "of your own free will" simply means no one is coercing you to do something you don't want to do. You get to make your own decisions for your own reasons and they are your responsibility - regardless of how deterministic or predictable they are or aren't.
(I think an unpredictable factor could be beneficial to survival however, and since I can program it into a computer game I don't see why natural selection couldn't program it into nervous systems.)
Free will that has some magic quality, which however was not accorded to the Egyptian Pharaoh whose heart was hardened, nor to the Virgin Mary as whether she would bear Jesus, nor to those who reach Heaven - according to at least some Christians - that sort of free will I don't understand and probably never will. God in his infinite beneficence made humans so as to have perverse desires and allows them to act on them, or something like that?
"It’s not that we don’t think various propositions are true; it’s that faith isn’t about that. Jerry wants faith to mean credulity. But its closest synonym is trust. When your mom tells you it’s raining, you trust that she’s telling you the truth. You *do* think it’s raining but that’s not why you believe her."
But when it's used for epistemically-implausible beliefs, it does take credulity. Your Mum saying that it's raining isn't anywhere near the same level as your Mum saying she cut off her finger while chopping food but it regrew back right away. Whether or not you trust your Mum, it takes a lot of credulity to take the latter claim seriously.
---- "Indeed. If you think I’m agreeing with Gould you’re mistaken."
So then you agree with Jerry that religious faith is in conflict with science? Ok.
----- "If our conclusions are determined there’s no way to know whether they’re correct or not."
That is simply repeating your claim, without actually engaging with the points I made that suggest your claim makes no sense. Again, does the fact a calculator's programming and outcome is determined entail it's outputs false results. Clearly: no. Therefore this link you assume between "determined process" and "unreliable result" doesn't follow.
As I said before, what you are missing in how you are thinking about this is the actual process that is part of the determined chain - i.e. the process of human reasoning.
While you can think of an unbroken causal chain starting around the Big Bang until now, that doesn't mean that
my choice to put on a rain-coat today was "decided in advance" for me. It couldn't be! The "big bang" isn't an entity capable of making "choices." The a-rational causal events couldn't have made "choices for me" - I have to appear on the scene, where the reasoning process of my brain becomes a necessary cause of the output!
If you want to know why I put on a raincoat, the part my brain played in
that decision will help explain it. Why did I think putting on a raincoat was a good idea? It was raining, I didn't want to get my clothes wet, and I reasoned that "If I put on a raincoat, it will keep my clothes dry." The reasoning is sound - just like a calculator producing 234 + 16 = 250 is correct - whether it's determined or not (in fact, it's vastly more likely that brains COULD reason to sound conclusions in a determined/causal system, rather than…what…random a-causal events?). Just remember, for my conclusions to be predictable at all, I have to be there doing the reasoning as part of the predicted outcome.
How do we "know" when we have valid or sound conclusions, etc? Same as above. We reason to conclusions. And we can reason ABOUT our conclusions, and check further experience, to see if our conclusions seem valid or sound. These are all things we "can" do and if we couldn't, there would never be the outputs of our reasoning in the first place. So, "determinism" just doesn't say whether any conclusion a human would arrive at would be right or wrong - it's the reasoning brains in the system that do that.
It seems when you adduce evolution, you are switching from what you think follows from determinism, to what you think follows from Jerry's reasoning. I'd say you are in error there as well. First, there seems to be another leap you are making from the premise that "we are in error about our making choices" to "our perceptions are not reliable." That's another non-sequitur. And Jerry doesn't deny we make choices - he believes our choices are part of the causal chain, and would be just as reliable (and unreliable) in making rational decisions as our experience suggests. He just thinks that most people have an accompanying illusion of libertarian, contra-causal will when we make choices, so we don't have a choice in the "magic" sense he thinks most people assume. Taking the magic out of the assumptions doesn't entail the brain isn't using rational processes.
(I happen to think being a compatibilist that Jerry does have some problems with how he uses the word "choice," but not the ones you seem to be alluding to).
Thanks, Jason, for the review of the DC book event and to Hilton for the audio !!!
Bob says, "Reasonable people can come to different conclusions about the evidence." Your words, not mine. Lawyerly arguments, especially the ones put forth by Lee Strobel, about the existence of g-d do not pass muster. They are not reasonable, but rather are based on emotion and confirmation bias.