Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Some scientists are astrologers, therefore science and astrology are compatible

 
Most people would laugh at you if you were to say that, "Some scientists are astrologers, therefore science and astrology are compatible." There's a serious logical flaw in that statement. It probably has a name but I can't think of it right now.

Chris Mooney sides with the accommodationists in the fight over how scientific organizations should behave Atheists for Common Cause With the Religious On Evolution. That's fine, he's entitled to his opinion.

What he's not entitled to is blatantly illogical arguments like the following.
First, I don’t see anything particularly “philosophical” about the accommodationist stance. Rather, holding that there is no necessary conflict between faith and science is an empirical matter: There are a vast number of different religions traditions in the world, and a still more vast number of ways in which different people profess and live out their faiths. In some of these traditions, and for some of these people, there is stark conflict with science; in other traditions, and for other people, there isn’t. That’s just a fact, and one that can be demonstrated simply by identifying any number of scientists who are religious, any number of religious leaders and denominations which embrace evolution, and so on.
There are religious people who are scientists. That's a fact, but it doesn't necessarily mean what Chris Mooney thinks it means.

It means the same thing as saying that some Intelligent Design Creationists are scientists. That's also a fact.

Please, let's stop using illogical arguments in this discussion. We can all agree that there are Theistic Evolutionist scientists, Young Earth Creationist scientists, Intelligent Design Creationist scientists, and scientists who believe in astrology and homeopathy. There are even scientists, as Chris knows, who deny global warming.

You can't draw any conclusion from those facts about whether science is compatible with all those beliefs.


[Image Credit: Astrology]

21 comments :

  1. I was just thinking that after seeing the new Templeton Foundation site: BioLogos and the many stories of Scientists conversion. I can't argue their conversion story, it appears to be a fact. But it doesn't help their argument that the universe is designed and, just as you say, it doesn't have anything to do with the compatiblity of their beliefs and science

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  2. But Larry, haven't you read the studies showing feelings of cognitive dissonance make people, especially scientist, spontaneously combust?

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  3. I did a similar post about science and astrology a while back that attracted a few astrologers who thought I was serious!
    I simply modified the AAAS accomodationalist statement about science and religion.
    http://sneerreview.blogspot.com/2009/01/arent-physics-and-astrology-opposing.html
    Chris Mooney's criticism of Jerry Coyne was particularly eye opening for me - wondering why understanding evolution is limited to materialistic explanations.

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  4. There are two aspects here; conceptual and empirical. That many scientists are religious is an empirical, observed fact. There's nothing wrong in stating it. As far as the stating of empirical facts goes, Chris is right. However, it is wrong to extrapolate from the empirical statement to saying that science and religion are compatible.

    By the way I don't think Chris made an argument in that particular paragraph. I don't see a "therefore" connection anywhere!

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  5. I am afraid that Prof. Moran has a rather elastic definition of what makes a scientist. I don't happen to consider Kurt Wise or Michael Behe or Jonathan Wells scientists because they don't practice science. I do consider that Ken Miller is a scientist because he does practice science (can Prof. Moran show that Prof. Miller has invoked supernatural explanations in any peer reviewed paper he has ever had published?). I'm not too sure about Francis Collins these days.

    By the way, I will remind Prof. Moran that some time ago, Prof. Miller posted a comment on your blog objecting to the term theistic evolution as applied to him. He considers himself a methodological naturalist who is also a philosophical theist which he insists is incorrectly termed theistic evolutionist.

    This terminology also, by the way, applied to Charles Darwin, the second greatest scientist who ever lived, throughout most of his career (at least until his daughter died in 1850)

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  6. What the NAS said was that "Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith."

    That there are scientists that accept the evidence for evolution (and also do good and even great biology) who also report having religious faith is an empiric fact. That they do accept the evidence for evolution is easily confirmable objectively. Can you objectively demonstrate that they cannot hold religious faith at the same time? How?

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  7. Well, his argument is toast within a few words. Accommodationism *is* a philosophical proposition, pure and simple. Blackford et al. are correct.

    Where it gets a bit blurry is when we discuss what actions by the NCSE involve inappropriate support of this position. Pointing out that there exist religious scientists is fine. Overloading your website with accommodationist literature to the point where a casual reader wouldn't know any other views exist is not.

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  8. John Pieret says,

    What the NAS said was that "Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith."

    And what they should have said was "Many people believe that acceptance of all the facts of biology and their scientific interpretations are compatible with their own personal religious faith."

    You need to be careful when people say that they "accept" all of science. Sometimes they are not telling the truth. Francis Collins, for example, only accepts that part of science that doesn't cause problems for his religious beliefs. When the conflict can't be avoided he rejects part of the science as being incorrect.

    I suspect that there are a lot of religious scientists who do the same.

    That there are scientists that accept the evidence for evolution (and also do good and even great biology) who also report having religious faith is an empiric fact. That they do accept the evidence for evolution is easily confirmable objectively. Can you objectively demonstrate that they cannot hold religious faith at the same time? How?

    As I pointed out earlier, the "acceptance" of all of science can often NOT be confirmed objectively. Do not take that as a given.

    I will not be trapped into shifting the goalposts from a conflict between "science" and religion to one between "acceptance of evolution" and religion. I hope that wasn't your intention.

    I can't prove that there is always a conflict between science and religion. In fact, I believe that there's very little conflict between science and strict deism.

    However, whenever I look at the specific claims of religious scientists I see that they have to go to great lengths to justify some of their religious beliefs. It's impossible to believe in a miracle like the resurrection of Jesus and not be in conflict with science, for example. It's impossible to believe in life after death. It's impossible to believe that God answers prayers. It's impossible to believe in a soul. And it's impossible to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that life has a purpose and humans are a special form of life that was pre-destined to evolve.

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  9. John Pieret, who is apparently not paying attention: Can you objectively demonstrate that they cannot hold religious faith at the same time? How?Do you think that people can hold two incompatible ideas in their head? Take a look at the title of this post and consider that. If you agree with that (and you should) it directly follows that if people can hold two incompatible beliefs in their heads, that the holding of two beliefs in one head is not evidence that those two beliefs are compatible. QFED.

    SLC: By the way, I will remind Prof. Moran that some time ago, Prof. Miller posted a comment on your blog objecting to the term theistic evolution as applied to him.Having read Miller's book Finding Darwin's God, I am not inclined to accept his description of himself on this count.

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  10. Many churches have lightning rods on the roof, therefore science and religion are compatible.

    Cars can either be moving or stationary, therefore motion and non-motion are compatible.

    The fact that scientists can be religious too simply speaks to the elasticity of the human mind; it says absolutely nothing whatsoever about whether science and faith are compatible in the sense that the findings of one do not encroach upon the findings of the other.

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  11. I agree with Mike. We know that humans are capable of housing contradictory ideas. The true statement we can gleam from people like Collins is there is no incompatibility between people who don't use the standards of science to judge ideas and those that believe.

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  12. Larry:

    "Many people believe that acceptance of all the facts of biology and their scientific interpretations are compatible with their own personal religious faith."

    Whew! And they accuse lawyers of impenetrable nit-picking usages!

    You need to be careful when people say that they "accept" all of science. Sometimes they are not telling the truth. Francis Collins, for example, only accepts that part of science that doesn't cause problems for his religious beliefs.

    Ah! So what you are demanding is ideological purity. What can be objectively told is whether the science they do follows and applies the scientific evidence. Do you have any scientific publications by Collins where he doesn't accept and apply the evidence for evolution?

    Do scientists have to accept philosophical naturalism or philosophical materialism too? That would make science a philosophy/theology rather than ... well ... science. If so, we can't teach it as true in American public schools under our First Amendment.

    It's impossible to believe in a miracle like the resurrection of Jesus and not be in conflict with science, for example. It's impossible to believe in life after death. It's impossible to believe that God answers prayers. It's impossible to believe in a soul. And it's impossible to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that life has a purpose and humans are a special form of life that was pre-destined to evolve.

    You have scientific evidence against life after death, souls and a purpose to life? Can I see the peer reviewed papers? (Remember that you wouldn't accept Elaine Howard Ecklund's study until you saw the paper.) The only way that science can "conflict" with the resurrection (i.e. come to bear on the issue of its truth or falsity), in the absence of any empiric evidence one way or the other of that particular case, is if you insist on philosophical naturalism. Methodological naturalism (as Massimo Pigliucci points out) doesn't help you there. We've been over the business about purpose before. Again, do you have a way to test it directly? If not, what ancillary hypotheses are you testing and why do they bear on the main hypothesis?

    In short, you're confusing your philosophy with science again.

    I will not be trapped into shifting the goalposts from a conflict between "science" and religion to one between "acceptance of evolution" and religion.

    I'm not sure why you see that as a goalpost shift. Is there something special about evolution that does not apply to science generally?

    Bayesian:

    If you agree with that (and you should) it directly follows that if people can hold two incompatible beliefs in their heads, that the holding of two beliefs in one head is not evidence that those two beliefs are compatible.

    That's quite true. But it does mean that it is a live possibility (as compared to the situation where no one who reported accepting one accepted the other). My question is different: how do you objectively show that they are "incompatible"? Necessarily, that means you have to define all your terms, including "incompatible" and "science."

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  13. John,

    They are incompatible because biology has much to say on the topic of human parthenogenesis, physics on the topic of boyancy, and oenology on the topic of how wine is made. Some religions also have made truth claims about these disciplines too, which, as it happens, are not compatible with what science has to say.

    I (and I assume Larry) are quite content to admit that the existence of religion and science within a single mind are quite compatible. Where the line must be drawn is with the statement that because they can exist in the same mind at the same time, that the conclusions of one are somehow not contradicted by the other. In this respect, science and religious faith are entirely incompatible, even if they may, once in a while, reach the same conclusions.

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  14. They are incompatible because biology has much to say on the topic of human parthenogenesis, physics on the topic of boyancy, and oenology on the topic of how wine is made.

    Sure, methodological naturalism says that we have observed those things (in some small number of cases) and we induce that they will hold in other cases, based on the assumption that the universe is consistent. The question as to whether the induction has to hold -- that there cannot be exceptions (i.e. miracles) -- is one that is neither subject to scientific testing nor a requirement of methodological naturalism. That only requires that "Thou shalt not use miracles as a scientific explanation. An insistence on the impossibility of miracles is only a result of philosophical naturalism or materialism.

    The only other way Larry can claim that science and religion is inconsistent is to insist that scientists have to be doing science all the time, which we've also gone over many times before. That would mean no art or music appreciation, love of family, etc. because scientists would have to be measuring their reactions rather than just having them.

    The problem still boils down to how do you measure "incompatability" when only one pole of the pair has any sort of objective standard (and that is a limited one)?

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  15. But John, you're ignoring the fact that empiricism has a stellar track record of actually working; of providing testable hypotheses that hold up over time.

    You're right; invoking miracles is a great way skirt around the issue. But the burden of proof of miracles lies with the person claiming that miracles happen.

    What you're arguing, it seems, is that at certain points in time, empirically-measurable quantities can be altered such that science and religion are compatible in the "Jesus-walked-on-water-despite-physics" type of way.

    But that still leaves us in a situation where religion needs some serious special pleading to be compatible with science.

    No one is saying that scientists cannot behave non-scientifically from time to time (there are, I imagine, many physicians who smoke, and physicists who are afraid to fly). But this is missing the point.

    The point is that the smoking physician knows damn well that the cigarettes are killing her. What is incompatible here is the notion that (a) cigarettes are harmful and (b) cigarettes are not harmful. One can be a physician who smokes, but one cannot simultaneously hold that both (a) and (b) are true; they are incompatible.

    And so too are religion and science.

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  16. John asks,

    Ah! So what you are demanding is ideological purity
    John, don't be silly.

    When someone says they accept science it's perfectly reasonable to ask whether their version of "science' corresponds to the consensus opinion. You don't just take everyone's word for it.

    Hugh Ross believes that science is perfectly compatible with his religious beliefs. Do you believe him?

    Of course you don't. You know very well that the Hugh Ross version of science is far from "ideologically pure," to use your terminology.

    Similarly, it's just as valid to ask whether the version of science that Ken Miller and Francis Collins believes in is the same one that others accept. We can debate whose version is correct but please don't try and suggest that the debate is invalid from the start.

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  17. John Pieret says,

    You have scientific evidence against life after death, souls and a purpose to life? Can I see the peer reviewed papers?
    Science is a way of knowing that relies on evidence and rationality in order to understand things.

    We've been over this many times. If you insist on using a different definition of science then we can't have an intelligent discussion.

    Of course there's no published proof that souls don't exist, just as there's no publication that proves the non-existence of Santa Claus.

    Nevertheless, belief in the existence of things that violate our understanding of how nature works and for which there is no evidence is contrary to science as a way of knowing.

    That's why we are confident that homeopathy isn't effective, for example—or would you prefer to argue that we should reserve judgment about homeopathy? Do you think belief in the effectiveness of homeopathy is any different that belief in a soul?

    (Remember that you wouldn't accept Elaine Howard Ecklund's study until you saw the paper.)
    Indeed. The conclusions reported in the press release didn't ring true. Recall that the press release said that. "Less than 5% of scientists have no faith at all." When we saw the paper we realized that the statement was incorrect.

    This, of course, has nothing to do with whether belief in souls and miracles is compatible with a scientific way of knowing.

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  18. John Pieter says,

    The only other way Larry can claim that science and religion is inconsistent is to insist that scientists have to be doing science all the time, which we've also gone over many times before.
    Indeed we have. My position is that science is a very powerful way of knowing, and it works. I use it all the time, not just when I'm on the university campus.

    That would mean no art or music appreciation, love of family, etc. because scientists would have to be measuring their reactions rather than just having them.
    Ridiculous. If I want to *understand* how these emotion work then I'll apply the scientific way of knowing. Do you have any other way of knowing that might work?

    If I want to just enjoy them then I can do that too, just like I can enjoy riding a roller coaster. Do you think that the feeling you get from riding a roller coaster reveals some other, non-scientific, way of knowing?

    The problem still boils down to how do you measure "incompatability" when only one pole of the pair has any sort of objective standard (and that is a limited one)?
    You discuss it like intelligent adults. Ken Miller and Francis Collins have written books in which they try to explain why their belief in a personal god is compatible with science.

    Were you convinced?

    The one thing you must not do, if you are behaving scientifically, is just take someone else's word when they say that religion and science are compatible or incompatible. You don't do it for Hugh Ross and you don't do it for Larry Moran.

    Why do you do it for Ken Miller?

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  19. Larry says: Science is a way of knowing that relies on evidence and rationality in order to understand things.
    I'm cool with that. But, (to state the obvious) it doesn't tell you everything.

    Hence it is possible for someone to believe something that can neither be proved, nor disproved, using scientific method.

    To someone who believes that science is the ONLY way of knowing things, then any belief based on some other way of knowing is considered unjustified... but not necessarily disproved.

    Larry's position is based firmly on the notion that people who claim to know things without being able to demonstrate them using methods recognized as useful in science are deluding themselves. I'm inclined to agree with that.

    Larry goes a bit further, however; and suggests that it is inconsistent with science to admit any other way of knowing.

    I don't agree. It's certainly not science; but it's not "inconsistent" with science.

    I don't think the theological speculations of Ken Miller are science. Neither does he. I don't find the theological conclusions of Ken Miller to be at all plausible; I think he's kidding himself. (I've read his book that explains his view.) But I can't disprove his notions, and they don't stop him from doing science.

    It's not a sensible position to say "consistent" with science means complete rejection of every other basis for beliefs.That goes beyond consistency to equivalence.

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  20. Duae Quartunciae says,

    Larry goes a bit further, however; and suggests that it is inconsistent with science to admit any other way of knowing.

    I have said repeatedly that the conflict arises when a religious claim conflicts directly with the knowledge gained through science.

    I have said repeatedly that true deism is an example of a superstitious belief that doesn't conflict very much with science.

    It's not a sensible position to say "consistent" with science means complete rejection of every other basis for beliefs.That goes beyond consistency to equivalence.

    Technically correct. However, it turns out that something like 99.99% of religious people believe in things that are not consistent with science.

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