Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Recourse to the Miraculous is Always a Regressive, Obfuscating Move

 
The same issue of Skeptical Inquirer that contained the Michael Ruse article [Appeasers and Other Atheists] also has an article by Frederick Crews.
Crews, F. (2007) Follies of the Wise. Skeptical Inquirer March/April 2007 pp.27-31.
Crews addresses the same issue as Ruse; namely whether it's a good idea to distinguish between Intelligent Design Creationists and Theistic Evolutionists. However, he delves deeper into the issue that Ruse does. I'm tempted to say that Crews is being more scholarly than Ruse.

Whenever we (e.g., PZ, Dawkins etc.) try to make the case that Theistic Evolution is just as fuzzy-headed as Intelligent Design Creationism we are accused of over-stepping the limits of science. While everyone recognizes that scientists must practice methodological naturalism, there seem to be lots of people who don't know what that is. They seem to think that it's okay to believe in miracles and still brag about being scientific. I've tried to point out the inconsistencies in such a position in my essay [Theistic Evolution: The Fallacy of the Middle Ground]. As Crews says below, "recourse to the miraculous is always a regressive, obfuscating move." This applies to Intelligent Design Creationism of course, but it also applies to the Theistic Evolution of Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway-Morris. I just don't see how atheists can dismiss the miracles of Dembski, Denton, and Behe while accommodating the miracles of Miller, Collins, and Conway-Morris. That makes no sense to me.

Crews takes a different approach. He argues that metaphysical naturalism is a valid and rational extension of methodological naturalism. This is contrary to Ruse and to the people at NCSE (e.g., Eugenie Scott). I present the Crews argument below. Let me know what you think. Personally I agree with him, even though I'm prepared to argue that most of the so-called "science" in books by Theistic Evolutionists is in violation of methodological naturalism not just metaphysical naturalism.
... some scientists and philosophers who are privately indifferent or hostile to transcendent claims nevertheless seek an accommodation with them. They do so from the best of motives, in order to stem the infiltration of bumpkin "creation science" or its slick city cousin "intelligent design," into biology curricula. Their hope is to show that scientific research and education have no bearing on issues of ultimate meaning and hence needn't be feared by the pious. To that end, they emphasize that science exemplifies only methodological naturalism, whereby technical reasons alone are cited for excluding nonmaterial factors from reasoning about causes and effects. Hence, they insist, the practice of science doesn't entail metaphysical naturalism, or the atheist's claim that spiritual causation is not only inadmissible but altogether unreal.

In one sense this is an impregnable argument. Even when science is conducted by ardent believers, it has to disregard theological claims because those claims typically entail no unambiguous, real-world implications, much less quantitative ones, that might be tested for their supportive or falsifying weight. The allegation that God was responsible for a given natural fact can't be either established or refuted by any finding; it is simply devoid of scientific interest. And thus it is true enough that scientists stand under no logical compulsion to profess metaphysical naturalism.

Any God worthy of the name has to be capable of miracles, and each of the great Western religions attributes a number of very special miracles to their conception of God. What can science say about a miracle? Nothing. By definition, the miraculous is beyond explanation, beyond our understanding, beyond science.

Ken Miller in "Finding Darwin's God" p. 239
Quite obviously, however, trust in the supernatural does get shaken by the overall advancement of science. This is an effect not of strict logic, but of an irreversible shrinkage in mystery's terrain. Ever since Darwin forged an exit from the previously airtight argument of design, the accumulation of corroborated materialist explanations has left the theologian's "God of the gaps" with less and less to do. An acquaintance with scientific laws and their uniform application is hardly compatible with faith-based tales about walking on water, a casting out of devils,and resurrection of the dead.

Metaphysical naturalism may be undiplomatic, but it is favored by the totality of evidence at hand. Only a secular Darwinian perspective, I believe, can make general sense of humankind and its works. Our species appears to have constituted an adaptive experiment in the partial and imperfect substitution of culture for instinct, with all the liability to self-deception and fanaticism that such an experiment involves. We chronically strain against our animality by inhabiting self-fashioned webs of significance—myths, theologies, theories—that are more likely than not to generate illusory and often murderous "wisdom." That is the price we pay for the same faculty of abstraction and pattern drawing that enables us to be not mere occupiers of an ecological niche but planners, explorers, and, yes, scientists, who can piece together facts about our world and our own emergence and makeup.

Here it may be objected that myths, theologies, and theories themselves, as nonmaterial things that can nevertheless set in motion great social movements and collisions of armies, confound a materialist or metaphysically naturalist perspective. Not at all. We materialists don't deny the force of ideas; we merely say that the minds precipitating them are wholly situated within brains that, like everything else about which we possess some fairly dependable information, seem to have emerged without any need for miracles. Although it is not a provable point, it is a necessary aid to clear thought, because now that scientific rationality has conclusively shown its formidable explanatory power, recourse to the miraculous is always a regressive, obfuscating move.


54 comments :

  1. Ever since Darwin forged an exit from the previously airtight argument of design

    I would quibble with that. The argument from design was never airtight, and could not be because it is an argument from ignorance. It was considered convincing, but not conclusive, before Darwin. See for example Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

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  2. "This is an effect not of strict logic, but of an irreversible shrinkage in mystery's terrain."

    I think there are five different ways that metaphysical naturalism may be supported.

    First, we can test if naturalism or supernaturalism is "natural", i.e. which is most important. While we can't make hypotheses on supernaturalism, we can describe nature well. So supernaturalism would look like uncaused phenomena, and make a mess of our conservation or probability laws. They do not, so naturalism is first order. (No surprise there. ;-)

    Second, it is remarkably how well our physics is protected against what religions calls miracles, unnatural events in subdomains. Conservation laws of course, but also QM not allowing (local) hidden variables, gauge theories visibly destabilized et cetera. Again, we can test for readily visible signatures of unnatural physics by looking at the workings of nature, but now down to a fine scale.

    And circumstantially, I argue, in this case it is obvious that nature is trying to tell us something. A scientist would heed this, the nature of things.

    Fourth, while I'm personally not yet positive to using inductionism for decisive support, there are scientists who seriously studies support from conditional probability models (bayesians). That would definitely be along Crews' argument.

    And finally, the usual arguments that abandoning elegance and parsimony isn't scientific method and likely to be wrong.

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  3. How harmful is a theistic evolutionist? They may write platitudes about how evolution exemplifies theological concepts and such, but it's not like they are making any claims as to revolutionizing the undertanding and practice of regular evolutionary science.
    Furthermore, they do not propose (correct me if not ) that we include the supernatural as scientitic explanations. This is possible even though they know that they believe in some supernatural events (for example resurrection of JC: believed out of faith, not out of reason).

    So, the differences to ID'ers are:
    1) No fundamental data are challenged
    2) No revolution of biology proclaimed
    3) No calls for introducing the supernatural as scientific explanations.

    I'd say that those who have problems distinguisihing a K Miller from M Behe are just having their knee-jerk reaction againts anything that is not a complete denial of god, and see only two sides, and of course, one is "good", the other "evil". With lots of room in the "evil", for all kinds of people.

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  4. Crews writes, "Only a secular Darwinian perspective, I believe, can make general sense of humankind and its works."

    I agree. In my half-century of studying the Bible I believed was inerrant, I was always coming up with new sources of confusion; it provided me with "answers" to my questions about myself and my fellow humans, but they always contradicted the evidence of my senses.

    I remember well the day, well into my 50s, when everything suddenly became clear to me. It was in the midst of a furore in the news about the "flesh-eating bacteria" and antibiotic resistance, and I had been reading everything I could find on the topics. (My usual habit when faced with a new concept.) I remember walking down the sidewalk on a Saturday afternoon and catching a glimpse of a headline in the news kiosk. "New case of flesh-eating bacteria". Just that, but something jogged in my brain, and I knew. They evolved. As did we, and every bit of life around us.

    It was amazing, to me, how suddenly things began to fall into place. How it all made sense, finally.

    I tried, for some time, to keep God in the picture, too, but that came only at the cost of adjusting my theology until it no longer matched up with the Bible. Which played havoc with the idea of Biblical inerrancy.

    So ended even my "liberal Christian" phase, which was mercifully brief.

    You write, "Theistic Evolution is just as fuzzy-headed as Intelligent Design Creationism". Yes. It's fuzzy-headed science, and just as fuzzy-headed theology.

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  5. I think that the position of the Chamberlain appeasers is not that Miller et al are practicing good science or indeed making any sense in their attempts to marry faith with evolutionary biology, rather that these attempts are not doing the harm that the IDers seek to do. Specifically, they are not attempting to prevent the teaching of evolution in science classes. It's more of a pragmatic position, rather than a philosophical one.

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  6. I just don't see how atheists can dismiss the miracles of Dembski, Denton, and Behe while accommodating the miracles of Miller, Collins, and Conway-Morris. That makes no sense to me.

    Of course not. You're trying to be consistent in all things regardless of circumstance.

    "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

    (Emerson, Self-Reliance)

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  7. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

    Wolf, if you're trying impress posters here, it's best not to quote this sort of anti-intellectual dreck from a 19th. century woo advocate.

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  8. SteveF,

    Whether or not it is politically pragmatic to refrain from castigating theistic evolution, I don't think I'm willing to sacrifice the intellectual integrity of science for such pragmatics. Science as an endeavor is concerned about what is true, and people who choose to play in such an arena should under no circumstances be exempt from scrutiny. If people like Francis, Collins, Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris are going to don the pages of mainstream publications extolling the compatibility of science with ancient superstition, they invite excoriation from their colleagues. It's simple as that.

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  9. As Alipio said, theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller Francis Collins and Simon Conway Morris are not making any claims as to revolutionizing the understanding and practice of regular evolutionary science. Nor do they propose that we include the supernatural as scientific explanations - not even Simon Conway Morris seems to go that far. In fact, Simon Conway Morris is a (the?) major contributor to the fossils of the Cambrian explosion and their cladistic interpretation as stem groups of known phyla. No theistic evolutionist has recourse to the miraculous as a scientific explanation.
    Metaphysical naturalism certainly is a logical extension of methodological naturalism. It just might not be an emotionally satisfying extension, at least for people brought up with other concepts. One has to realize that people might be quite paradoxical in their beliefs.

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  10. Does anyone know how to get the Skeptical Inquirer articles on internet?

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  11. Does anyone know how to get the Skeptical Inquirer articles on internet?

    Here's their web site, but it doesn't look particularly well-maintained. For example, it still claims that SI is published by the "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" when that organization changed its name to the "Committee for Skeptical Inquiry" in Nov. 2006.

    They have a List of On-line Articles

    I see mention of buying subscriptions on-line, but I think that's just signing up, not reading the full text on-line.

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  12. Conway morris is just working the predeterminist vision of the evolution of the universe. Under that view everything can be accordin to god's plan, without having to stick his finger in all the time for some supernatural action.
    I think theistic evolutionists spend more time explaining how theism is not incompatible with evolution. This is a message that I think is important to get out there: There is nothing in Evolution that is intrinsically antireligious. All religions are true as far as science cares. It is some religions that have a problem with evolution, not the other way round.
    Actually, say if ID tomorrow agreed they are no longer against evolution, that would steal their thunder from their christina fundie bases. Bigtime, they'd just forget about them, no matter how theistic they reamined. They want some sciencey-looking person to tell them that ape-men are aberrations.
    I know anecdotes that baptists after reading K Millers book have asked for forgiveness from other people in their families they used to argue about evolution.
    If you can be a abaptist, and not take it against science, you are Ok with me. Take for instance, Bob Bakker. He demonstrates that you can be a theist while making great contributions to evolutionary science (and being a great science writer and popular paleontologist). Bob bakker is SUPER ok with me.

    Appeasers may screw up (for instance, I don't like the idea of "framing") but in this case the other side is wrong. It is very silly radicalism to say that there is no difference with ID; we can glimpse that evolution is just a secondary topic for those who envision a world with no religion.

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  13. Tyler,

    I appreciate your position. However, in the face of the assault on science education in this country, I believe that pragmatism may well be necessary. The first and most vital task is to safeguard the teaching of evolution in schools; at present theistic evolutionists do not pose a direct threat to this, whereas IDers do.

    I know that there have been school board votes where creationism would have been introduced were it not for the presence of those adopting the TE position. No philosophical naturalists were available. Surely, from a pragmatic point of view, you can see the need not to alienate these people?

    The real world, unfortunately, works often works pragmatically. There are areas on which I am absolutist (free speech for example), but others where I acknowledge the need for compromise.

    By the way, before the accusation is levelled at me (as it frequently is towards appeasers), I should state that I don't want to muzzle the likes of PZ and Larry. Whilst I think that their strategy might not always be entirely helpful, they are valuable voices for rationalism and unless I could persuade them to change their stance, in no way would I seek to tone down their more strident views.

    Speaking of PZ, what I do find rather interesting that the Minnesota Citizens for Science organisation takes an expressely Chamberlain position on the matter.

    Cheers

    Steve

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  14. However, in the face of the assault on science education in this country, I believe that pragmatism may well be necessary.

    Well, here's my pragmatic viewpoint (which is similar to Larry's): it's appeasement of religious bullshit all these years that has GOTTEN US INTO this mess. I fail to see how more of the same will get us out.

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  15. Steve,

    You might well be right, although given the overwhelmingly theistic nature of US society, I'm somewhat sceptical that any major alternative would have made significant headway.

    However, the here and now is what counts most. In the school board situation I described above, the reality on the ground, I believe that the appeasement approach is likely to be more productive in keeping creationism out of the classroom. This is my number one priority.

    Cheers

    Steve

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  16. Minnesota Citizens for Science is an organization that represents a wide range of views, and the statements on their website necessarily represent a sort of median position. In spite of my reputation for brutality and intolerance, I do not demand that everyone I work with share my opinions in every way -- I only use my Darth Vader strangling grip on creationists.

    I tolerate an appeasing stance by the group as a whole, they tolerate the presence of an uppity atheist on their board. It sounds fair, mostly. Not entirely, though -- it's always the atheist views that get shushed in these kinds of groups, all across the country.

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  17. Well, I have evidence, though certainly not proof- the strong correlation between the (longstanding) public appeasement of religion in the US as compared to other "advanced" countries, and the (longstanding) strength of religiously-based antiscience movements in the US as opposed to other "advanced" countries. And the evidence for your contrary view is??

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  18. P.S. And the point I'm trying to make is NOT that scientists should go out of their way to bash religion (though they have a perfect right to do so should they wish, and indeed we need some of them to do so- I think the popularity of Dawkins's book is a very good thing which will open some eyes among those many who are religious merely out of unthinking habit ingrained during childhood); it's simply that all scientists INCLUDING BELIEVERS should consistently TELL THE TRUTH by sending a clear, unambiguous message that religious beliefs have no place in the practice or teaching of science, and not muddy that message with arrant bullshit about "compatibility."

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  19. "it's appeasement of religious bullshit all these years that has GOTTEN US INTO this mess."

    Appeasment? You mean freedom of religion? It's the law, isn't it?

    If people want to believe in religious crap, they will. They outnumber you and always have. To them it doesn't matter what a bunch of egghead professors say. Their pastor/priest/imam is immensely more trustworthy. That may take a long time to change. And if you're too strident, bitchy, and negative, you'll come across as extreme or nuts, your credibility will suffer, and you'll be ignored.

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  20. Appeasment? You mean freedom of religion? It's the law, isn't it? So is keeping religion out of public education. So is my right to point out the fallaciousness of religious beliefs and the inappropriateness of their injection into science. Did anybody talk about interfering with religious observances? What point do you imagine you're making? And are you so ill-informed that you think every industrialized country is as badly infected with obscurantism as the US?

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  21. SteveF,

    I certainly understand the concerns you (and others) express, but I think we have to be a bit careful when tossing the integrity of science away in order to allay the fears of those who, for instance, want creationism taught as science in our schools.

    The first problem I have with it is the message it implicitly sends. It's essentially saying "Yes, we have this rigorous scientific framework that has withstood 150 years of scrutiny and is absolutely essential to the assimilation of everything we have discovered about biology. But your sentimental attachment to the fanciful imaginings of goat herders in the Bronze Age takes precedence and must be appeased." It may have short term benefit, but what are it's (unintended) consequences in the long term?

    It's pretty much why I endorse a multiple strategies approach. On the individual battlefields the "appeaser" method is probably the best resort. I don't however think that it's the best approach when dealing with Collins, Miller, Conway Morris, Roughgarden, etc. I think the best thing we can do in the long term is do everything we can to forge a revival of Enlightenment thinking, and being deliberately silent toward the irrational superstitions otherwise reliable scientists does no good in such an endeavor.

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  22. The possible existence of a supernatural entity (god) is not incompatible with science as long as it is acknowledged that it is also not a concern of science, that is, not a scientific topic. This of course implies that ni supernatural causes can be included in properly scientific explanations. Asides from this, theistic evolutionists are welcone to believe in god and point out something that is true, and that there is nothing in evolution that implies that god does not exist.

    We cannot say that evolution is incompatible with religion in genral , because that's plain BS. It is only incompatible with certain religious beliefs.

    Evolution isn't a disproof of the existence of god more than any other scientific fact. If you think it is science "in general" that is incompatible with religion "in general", you need to focus on that point and please, realize it is quite a different thing than fighting the creationists, and has more to do with you personal "godless world" agenda.

    Give evolution a break. Appeasers are right when they say you have wrongly attached evolution to your opinion on an unknowable, weird topic (the existence of god).

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  23. Steve,

    Well, I'm a brit and from my happily secular part of the world (although there is a rising tide against this), I can see your point of view. However, looking from the outside in, it seems to me that theism is so deeply engrained in the US that attempting to challenge this in the past would have simply been pissing in the wind. Maybe this is being excessively cynical and I certainly would have welcomed more attempts to secularise the US over the course of the past few decades. The world would undoubtedly be a better place for it.

    We (or rather you across the pond) are where you are and, at the risk of repeating myself, where the situation on the ground is concerned, I don't see overt atheism as being all that helpful. At least this is the perspective I get from many of those people who are putting in the hours to combat creationism (PZ excepted of course).

    Where your PS is concerned, I'm not sure I am far from your POV here. Religious beliefs have nothing to do with science and I have no problem with anyone saying this. However, I think this is distinct from the argument that faith and science can (for some) be accomodated (often by people who oppose regular creationists on school boards).

    Will respond to PZ later (and you if necessary), but have to pop across London for a football match.

    Cheers

    Steve

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  24. I think the best thing we can do in the long term is do everything we can to forge a revival of Enlightenment thinking, and being deliberately silent toward the irrational superstitions otherwise reliable scientists does no good in such an endeavor.

    Exactly. And to those who affect pessimism as to the possiblity of shifting public attitudes on religion I would point out two things. 1) It's happened to a considerable extent in many countries other than the US, and it did NOT happen and could not have happened without active opposition to the involvement of religion in public affairs.
    2) Consider tobacco smoking. Involving as it does the consumption of a physically addictive drug, it may be almost as tenacious a habit as religious belief. Yet great progress has been made in many countries on reducing the rate of smoking by sustained information campaigns to reduce the social acceptability of the habit. (Compare this to the catastrophic failure of prohibition of other drugs- which is one reason why I would never place restrictions on relgious expression even if I were dictator and had the power to do so, the other reason being that it's wrong to force people to violate their consciences.)

    nucleo came in while I was editing this- the answer to him or her is that what is being objected to here is not merely that, say Francis Collins believes in invisible pink unicorns (his private intellectual perversions are not my problem), but that he believes and publicly states that they have purposefully intervened in evolution. THAT is a flatly antiscientific belief.

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  25. I get the impression that the theistic evolutionists mentioned (Bakker, Conway Morris, Collins, Miller) agree that religious beliefs have no place in the practice or teaching of science.
    Steve Labonne said that
    it's appeasement of religious bullshit all these years that has GOTTEN US INTO this mess
    but that might not be so. The percentage people that is actually atheist seems to be identical between the US and Europe, but the difference is in the evangelical versus indifferent percentages. I favour the proposal that the growing insecurity of the lower-middle class starting with Reagan has increased insecure people's reliance on churches promising safety. The US has much more a history of revivalist christianity anyway, versus Europe of social democracy. The influence of science and scientists seems marginal to people's convictions.

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  26. "So is my right to point out the fallaciousness of religious beliefs and the inappropriateness of their injection into science. "

    Sure, it's your right to say anything you want. Doesn't mean antone has to listen to your rants or take you seriously. Just like Collins can say what he wants outside the classroom. Unfortunately, you are required to "appease" him that way.

    "Did anybody talk about interfering with religious observances? What point do you imagine you're making?"

    Then what do you mean by "appeasement"? Are you going to "not appease him" by openly disagreeing with him? Wow, that sure is strong stuff.

    "And are you so ill-informed that you think every industrialized country is as badly infected with obscurantism as the US?"

    Non-sequitur. I said nothing about other countries. What point do you imagine you're making?

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  27. "The possible existence of a supernatural entity (god) is not incompatible with science as long as it is acknowledged that it is also not a concern of science, that is, not a scientific topic."

    This is only true if the god(s) you are talking about are the vacuous, irrelevant and completely non-operational concepts of philosophers like Spinoza. Most theists believe in a god that is well within the reach of scientific disconfirmation. In order to make things like resurrected saviors, virgin births, flying to heaven on winged horses, afterlifes, miracles, etc. plausible is to discard empirically established scientific concepts (like basic physiology and anatomy).

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  28. Non-sequitur. I said nothing about other countries. What point do you imagine you're making? The point that you appear ignorant in your passive acceptance of the current religiosity in the US as being somehow inevitable and unchangeable, when cross-cultural comparisons can demonstrate that it is not so.

    As to what I meant, I've explain it clearly- for those who can read.

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  29. "Then what do you mean by "appeasement"? Are you going to "not appease him" by openly disagreeing with him? Wow, that sure is strong stuff."

    Absolutely. Are you seriously insisting that the only feasible way of enacting social change is through making certain beliefs illegal? If that's true, then you've essentially tossed out the entire idea of public discourse, and indeed most of the values we hold dear in an open society.

    Did we greatly reduce the influence of racism, misogyny and homophobia by making it illegal to be racist, misogynistic of homophobic?

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  30. The irony is that there are of course plenty of appeasers who think public disagreement with religion is indeed "too strong".

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  31. "point that you appear ignorant in your passive acceptance of the current religiosity in the US as being somehow inevitable and unchangeable, when cross-cultural comparisons can demonstrate that it is not so."

    Idiot. Countries are what they are as a result of their history and their constituency. Deal with it.

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  32. "Did we greatly reduce the influence of racism, misogyny and homophobia by making it illegal to be racist, misogynistic of homophobic?"

    Do you really think you can apply that to religion, especially when it's explicitly protected by the constitution? (racism, misogyny, and homophobia were not).

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  33. As to what I meant, I've explain it clearly- for those who can read.

    Well, I suppose I can only assume that writing snotty and ungrammatical sentences wins a lot of people over to your point of view.

    I was going to comment on one of your specifics ... but why bother?

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  34. Steve Labonne said:
    shifting public attitudes on religion has happened to a considerable extent in many countries other than the US, and it did NOT happen and could not have happened without active opposition to the involvement of religion in public affairs.
    That depends on the time frame you're looking at: active opposition to the involvement of religion in public affairs was prominent in the 19'th century by both socialists and liberals: see the secularist position in France. But that is ages ago. In the past 40 years in Europe, religion has faded from influence in public affairs not due to active opposition but due to the rise of indifference - and religious indifference is promoted by general prosperity of all of the population. The sixties and seventies in the US were far less religious than the US is now, without active public opposition

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  35. Does collins say HOW is it that god has intervened in evolution? If he implies that god is required to understand evolution, he is wrong.
    If evolutionary theists just want to contemplate established scientific knowledge on evolution as "the work of god", that's OK. All they will do is write books for the public but will cause no shift in scientific practice, and no threat to the teaching of good science in schools. Most of their books are about conveying the facts of evolution.
    These people decrease the number of christians with a negative attitude toward evolution.
    We need to communicate to lay people that evolution is scientifically established fact, while avoiding appearing like we think we are right about anything: For example by going out of our way to deny the existence of god
    We should not tell people if they should or should not be an atheist, it's enough to let them know that evolution is real science.
    Is this being an "appeaser"? Its just what makes sense to me.

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  36. Idiot. Countries are what they are as a result of their history and their constituency. Deal with it.

    Excuse me, the idiots are those who think such a situation is fixed and unchangeable. Other countries once highly religious are now quite secular.

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  37. Does collins say HOW is it that god has intervened in evolution??

    Some rubbish about how human capacity for ethical behavior (and possibly all "higher" cognitive functions- as I recall he's not entirely clear on just how much he's claiming) couldn't have evolved naturally.

    If he implies that god is required to understand evolution, he is wrong.

    Indeed.

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  38. Hmmm well OK, that's crap haha. I didin't expect much from someone who thinks that dna is a code wrtitten by god. Not really sophisticated. I guess he must drag some argument tor another from the creationists in his intellectual baggage.
    I also wonder where the hell is conway morris want to get to when he says the origin of life is "extremely improbable"...does he mean assisted by an intelligence? Does he say so?
    If these "scientists" are in fact trying to introduce the supernaturla into scientific explanation, not only do they do it weakly, it is a big, big category mistake that is incosistent with the rest of their message about compatibility between religion and science.
    We'll have to find a name for these people as their approach to science is simply not 100% naturalist.

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  39. "And to those who affect pessimism as to the possiblity of shifting public attitudes on religion I would point out two things. 1) It's happened to a considerable extent in many countries other than the US, and it did NOT happen and could not have happened without active opposition to the involvement of religion in public affairs."

    AFAIK, in Europe, religion seems to have receded mostly through neglect and apathy, rather than as a result of frontal attacks in culture wars.

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  40. "Do you really think you can apply that to religion, especially when it's explicitly protected by the constitution? (racism, misogyny, and homophobia were not)."

    Last time I checked, it's not illegal to be a racist, misogynist or a homophobe, just greatly discouraged and not institutionalized to the degree that it was prior. So yes, it does apply.

    As for constitutional issues, we have the first amendment to protect speech perceived as racist, misogynist or homophobic.

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  41. AFAIK, in Europe, religion seems to have receded mostly through neglect and apathy, rather than as a result of frontal attacks in culture wars. Then you don't know much. I suggest you read up on, say, French history starting with the Revolution (heard of that?) and extending through the struggles over anticlerical legistation in the Third Republic.

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  42. And I would add that while the "frontal attacks" in other countries have been far more peaceful, they also required a lot more than just apathy- piety declined when it came to seem ridiculous (nobody wants to appear ridiculous to his peers), and things come to seem ridiculous... by being ridiculed. This admittedly was especially fruitful in countries like England where an established church offered a nice fat target.

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  43. "How harmful is a theistic evolutionist?"

    There are three harmful categories, which are easiest to discuss by actual examples.

    First we have those that contradict current data and/or theory. Collins is a prime example, where he claims that morality stems from religion. Both data (moral behavior in animals) and theory (evolution of altruism) contradicts him.

    Second we have those that let religion control their choice of theory. Morris is a prime example, where he claims that abiogenesis is improbable and evolution is "deterministic" in a peculiar sense. The former case is dubious, since while we have only one example it is possible that life started several times until it caught hold and/or merged. The later case is contradicting physics, since determinism allows for contingency and chaos.

    Third we have those that let religion control their interpretation of theory. Miller is a prime example, where he claims that gods operate through quantum effects. This is contradicting physics, since it would distort observed probability distributions however briefly.

    One could also go on to discuss how these actions are harmful to moral obligations of scientists within and without their activities as scientists.

    "The possible existence of a supernatural entity (god) is not incompatible with science"

    The existence of observing (which means acting) supernatural entities is incompatible with current tests and data. The observed universe is compact, and AFAIK all theories suggest it should be. So the existence of supposed entities not interacting with it is highly problematical, to say the least.

    But I hear that for some the FSM seems like an appetizing choice at this point.

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  44. "AFAIK, in Europe, religion seems to have receded mostly through neglect and apathy, rather than as a result of frontal attacks in culture wars."

    You are forgetting that nations in Europe has state churches. They were instated as a state means to control and tax the powerful and rich churches.

    The churches vied for the position so it could more easily oppose other religions.

    So it was the power struggle between state and church, and between churches, that broke the back of fundamentalist views.

    I'm not much of a historian, but my impression is that it was for these reasons proselytizing churches moved to US. And one of the basic reasons why the US constitution wanted to make a clear separation between state and church to the benefit of freedom of religion.

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  45. "You are forgetting that nations in Europe has state churches."

    Actually, I hadn't forgotten that, but I wasn't sure *how* that factored in to Europe's current irreligion, so I didn't comment further. I can't say that I'd be surprised that the lack of established churches in the U.S. made the difference between the religiosity of the U.S. and other First World countries, since that lack is a major difference between the U.S. and rest of those countries.

    Steve LaBonne: "Then you don't know much. I suggest you read up on, say, French history starting with the Revolution (heard of that?)"

    Yes, I've heard of that, though I'm certainly rusty on the topic. Still, that doesn't explain why the whole of Western Europe is irreligious, and IIRC, the frontal attempts of the rationalists of the French Revolution didn't work out too well.

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  46. Jefferson and Paine seem to be as good Enlightment men as any in Europe, and as for that the US might have ended up secular. The French revolution worked out to be counterproductive both in France after Napoleon and in the rest of Europe, and it is very questionable whether it did not bring disrepute rather than strength to the enlightment followers.
    Anyway, such historical events are too far away in time to be very relevant. State churches do not explain everything either: not every country has a state church dominated by the state as in Scandinavia and England; but few states like a fundamentalist state church. The Roman Catholic Church could in some countries dominate the state, but even there (Ireland Spain) it is in retreat. The Netherlands never had a state church, was pretty religious up to 1960 whereas now no more than 40% is a church memeber and 24% believe in a personal god.

    One might look at 1930 and the dfference in religiousness between US and Europe might not be large. By 1965 Europe might even have been more (but traditional) religious than the US. The question is why Europe somewhat as a whole shifted from religion in the last 40 years, and the US towards it. Not a frontal attack on religion in the last 40 years; it looks more like inner rot.

    What made Evangelicals in the US so strong?

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  47. J:

    "Actually, I hadn't forgotten that, but I wasn't sure *how* that factored in to Europe's current irreligion"

    Fair enough. I'm relating second hand historical explanations, so they aren't very firm, to say the least.

    Heleen:

    "State churches do not explain everything either: not every country has a state church dominated by the state as in Scandinavia and England; but few states like a fundamentalist state church."

    True. State rulers had several different methods towards other political powers. (I live in a city where you still see the cannons famously point down towards the central church, as a remainder of power.) And were satisfied with different results.

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  48. Most theists believe in a god that is well within the reach of scientific disconfirmation. In order to make things like resurrected saviors...afterlifes, miracles, etc. plausible is to discard empirically established scientific concepts (like basic physiology and anatomy).

    No.

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  49. "No."

    You are a fucking idiot.

    There, I have kept pace with the analytic level of your post.

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  50. "Whenever we (e.g., PZ, Dawkins etc.) try to make the case that Theistic Evolution is just as fuzzy-headed as Intelligent Design Creationism"

    PZ and Dawkins have never made that case -- in fact, they have argued to the contrary. Certainly it is factually false; e.g., Ken Miller, while fuzzy-headed, is not nearly as fuzzy-headed as any DI fellow.

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  51. it is remarkably how well our physics is protected against what religions calls miracles, unnatural events in subdomains. Conservation laws of course, but also QM not allowing (local) hidden variables, gauge theories visibly destabilized et cetera. Again, we can test for readily visible signatures of unnatural physics by looking at the workings of nature, but now down to a fine scale.

    Even if the physical world were completely random and arbitrary, with no "lawlike" consistency, it still wouldn't be "unnatural" -- that would simply be how "natural" is. The notion of "supernatural" is simply linguistically nonsensical, and we should be intellectually embarrassed that we have spent so much energy on such a frankly absurd notion.

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  52. I think that the position of the Chamberlain appeasers is not that Miller et al are practicing good science

    I'm no appeaser but Miller is practicing good science (as both PZ and Dawkins have asserted many times) and anyone who denies it is being blatantly dishonest.

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  53. "Did we greatly reduce the influence of racism, misogyny and homophobia by making it illegal to be racist, misogynistic of homophobic?"

    We did by greatly limiting the legal scope of those behaviors, increasing the visibility and available roles of minorities, women, and gays. Familiarity breeds tolerance.

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