Sunday, March 07, 2010

Who's the Grownup in the Science vs Religion Debate?

Joshua Rosenau has fired another shot in the accommodationist war. As usual, he focuses more on rhetoric and mudslinging than on the logical arguments that are presented by both sides. In this case, he demeans all those who disagree with him in On the need for grownups [Updated]. Apparently, there are very few honest people on my side of the argument.

I'm not going to reply to Josh. He's gone beyond the pale as far as I'm concerned and no amount of rational argument is going to convince him that science and religion may not be compatible. His mind is firmly made up and now he's just making sure that his side gives out as many insults—perceived or real—as it receives.

John Wilkins is another matter. He has posted a defense of Josh [On the need for grownups [Thoughts from Kansas]]. I think it might be worthwhile to address his arguments in an attempt to shed some light on the problem and avoid the worst of the name-calling.

So, here goes ....
Josh Rosenau has a sermon on the perils of attacking those who think science and religion can coexist at On the need for grownups [at Thoughts from Kansas]. It’s a pretty damned good sermon. He points out that the claim that science and religion are incompatible is itself an untested, and hence unscientific claim. It’s a point I would like to discuss a bit.
Good, let's discuss. We begin by defining terms. I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence. I claim that when that way of knowing is applied to religious claims, those claims can be shown to be false or, at the very least, unsupported. Thus, if you are committed to science as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of religious beliefs are not compatible with science.

Do you have to make the assumption that the scientific way of knowing is a valid way of knowing? No, you don't. If you want to believe in other ways of knowing, such as faith, revelation, and just-so stories, then you are perfectly free to do so. In that case, science is probably not compatible with your worldview and you can believe in the tooth fairy, deny climate change, and refuse to vaccinate your children. No problem. No conflict.

However, if you do adopt the axiom that science is a valid way of knowing then I think most of those beliefs (and more) are not compatible with your choice. John is about to show us why that's bad philosophy.
Back when a philosophy known now as logical positivism was fashionable, the claim was made that whatever was not scientifically verifiable was metaphysical rubbish. This was known as the Verification Principle. Karl Popper, among others, noted that the Verification Principle was not scientifically verifiable and was therefore, on its own account, metaphysical rubbish. That put an end to that version of logical positivism (although no philosophical position ever really dies). It was self-defeating.
So far, so good. I'm not a fan of Karl Popper. (However, I note that John is vastly over-simplifying the views of Popper and conveniently ignoring the reasons why the Verification Principle might be valid.)
What Jerry Coyne and the anti-accommodationists are doing, as Josh points out, is a version of logical positivism (Josh does not use that example – that’s me). They are saying that those who attempt to argue that religion and science are compatible or might coexist are being unscientific, are themselves being unscientific. In fact, the data is that science and religion coexist nearly all the time – most of those who support scientific views are religious. This is because most of everyone is religious, of course, but the fact remains: if one approaches this as a scientific matter, science and religion just are coexistent, that’s the fact of the matter.
Let's dissect this paragraph. First, my anti-accomodationist argument is that once you accept that science is a valid way of knowing, then it follows that most religious claims are not compatible with that approach to knowledge. I have yet to see a valid accommodationist argument that addresses this important point. True, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway-Morris have made the attempt but in the end their arguments boil down to a rejection of science as the only way of obtaining valid knowledge. In other words, they limit science to just those areas where it can't conflict with religion and then lay claim to other ways of knowing that rule in the religion magisterium. Presumably, John thinks that is a scientific way of reasoning.

Second, John repeats to tired old argument that just because there are people who claim to be good scientists AND are religious, then it follows logically that science and religion are compatible. (Actually, he says that they "coexist," but I assume he means compatible.) This is a very silly argument and I don't understand why John persists in using it. If it were true, then science has to be compatible with every single belief that's ever been held by anyone who claims to be a scientist. In other words, science is compatible with Young Earth Creationism since we know for a fact that there are many scientists who are Young Earth Creationists.

Please, John, for the sake of all of us, drop this argument. It's not going to convince any of us accommodationists and it makes your side look ridiculous since it puts you in the position of defending Young Earth Creationism and other kooky ideas that must be compatible with science if your argument is valid. You know darn well that there are many people who hold on to contradictory ideas. The fact that those people exist is NOT evidence that the ideas are compatible. (There's probably a name for that kind of flawed reasoning.)
What Coyne and others seem to want to argue is that religion and science should not be coherently expressed by a single person. That is a philosophical position one might argue for, philosophically. It is not a fact of science, though, nor, it seems, a fact of logic. So argue for it. Others, as is the way of debates, will argue the contrary, or some other view. As an accommodationist, I think that whether or not science and religion should be treated as compatible, in fact they are, or as compatible as any potentially competing set of beliefs may be, such as the belief that science is the only way to gain justifiable beliefs, which is not, itself, scientifically justifiable.
John, you tacitly admit that science and religion are a "potentially competing set of beliefs." That's the point, isn't it? I argue that if you adopt science as a valid way of gathering knowledge then most everything about religion fails the tests of science. Those who claim to be scientists and still believe that there's a God who answers prayers are expressing two contradictory positions. You can't claim to be thinking like a scientist while holding on to beliefs that have been refuted by science. I claim that almost all claims of religion fall into the set of things that are incompatible with the scientific approach to knowledge (deism is a debateble exception).

I don't understand your position. Perhaps it hinges on the idea that accepting science as a way of knowing is supposed to be a "fact" of science. I have never made that claim and, as far as I know, neither have any other prominent defenders of the incompatiblity of science and religion.

I do assume that science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge but that's a testable assumption—at least in theory. All one has to do to refute that argument is demonstrate the existence of valid forms of knowledge that cannot possibly be derived from the scientific approach AND ARE COMPATIBLE WITH SCIENCE AS A WAY OF KNOWING. The last part is important. Acquiring knowledge by revelation is another way of knowing and if all of that knowledge was perfectly compatible with science then science and religion would be compatible. If the knowledge acquired by listening to imaginary voices in your head conflicts with the scientific approach then religion and science are not compatible.

You don't have to accept my assumption that science is a valid way of knowing. That's not the point. I agree that that the assumption cannot be justified as "scientific" since that's a circular argument much like to one you used to dismiss Popper. The point is that once you make that assumption and become a scientist, you can't just arbitrarily pick and choose how you are going to apply that way of knowing. You can't say that your scientific approach will help you understand whether the climate is changing but when it comes to deciding whether it's better to pray for your sick child or take her to the hospital then you'll rely on some other way of knowing. You can't be consistent if you say that science helps you understand evolution but you need to shift to another way of knowing when trying to decide whether you have a soul that lives on after you die.

Lot's of people may do that, but they aren't being logical or consistent. They may say they are being logical and consistent (e.g. Ken Miller, Francis Collins) but surely, as a philosopher, you recognize that what people say isn't always the truth.

By the way, feel free to offer up examples of knowledge gained by religion that are fully compatible with the scientific approach but couldn't have been derived from that approach alone. Those would be positive examples in favor of your position on compatibility. It would be a refreshing change to hear an atheist (agnostic) compatibilist give us a few examples instead of just ranting against our position.
This is why I made my snide cheap shot about the split in Dawkins’ website. Dawkins, Coyne, and many others (but not all those who happen to agree with them substantially, I hasten to add) are in the business of building an exclusionary group. Ken Miller and Francis Collins believe in religion? Exclude them from science, and damn them to the outer hell of irrationality. The irony that this is itself an irrational behaviour (or, better understood, is an act of strategic rationality rather than conceptual, to keep allies close and enemies away) escapes them, as our own sins always do.
John, it doesn't help your cause to write things like that. For years people have been claiming that science and religion are perfectly compatible. As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education. Scientific groups such as the National Academies and AAAS also promote this belief. It's only in the past decade that people like me have been pointing out the flaws in those positions and advocating a reexamination of that widespread assumption.

For decades we've been demonstrating that Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design Creationism conflict with science. They are not compatible with science. For decades we've been biting our tongue when softer versions of creationism are touted as "scientific," religious, alternatives to the extreme versions of creationism. The idea being promoted was that there's some arbitrary line separating some religious beliefs from others. If you stay on one side of that line you are scientific but if you step over the line you are not. People like Ken Miller made this argument: he says that he can be a Roman Catholic and all of his Roman Catholic beliefs are perfectly compatible with being a scientist. Michael Behe, on the other hand, is a Roman Catholic whose beliefs are not compatible with science, according to Ken Miller.

Now, along comes a group of people who are fed up with having to bite their tongue in the face of such obvious irrationality. We present counter-arguments to the claim of compatibility. We suggest that the difference between Ken Miller and Michael Behe is quantitative, not qualitative. We suggest that that imaginary line between scientific theists and non-scientific theists is just that: it's imaginary.

Yes, it's true that this argument labels Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway-Morris (among others) as irrational thinkers. It's true that we state quite categorically that they can't claim to be thinking like scientists while, at the same time, falling down before frozen waterfalls as though they were a sign from a supernatural being. Is this "exclusionary"? Well, I suppose it is but it's no more exclusionary that the group you support. You're not trying to include me in your group of accommodationists (or agnostics) are you?

My point is that your argument is illogical and irrelevant. All points of view are exclusionary to some extent. The people who agree with you are included and the people who disagree with you are not. You are being exclusionary. Does that have anything at all to do with whether your argument is valid or not? (Hint: no, it doesn't.) I thought philosophers were supposed to be good at logic and good at understanding false and irrelevant arguments.

You say, "The irony that this is itself an irrational behaviour ..." Why am I being irrational when I argue that religion isn't compatible with a scientific approach to knowledge? And why is it ironic? As far as I'm concerned, the ironic part is that for many decades we bought into the belief that some religious views were incompatible with science but other, equally bizarre, beliefs are perfectly compatible with science. Do you believe that God created the universe 10,000 years ago?—that's not scientific. Do you believe that God performs miracles just about every day?—that's compatible with science. Do you believe that God killed almost everyone on Earth in a giant flood?—that's not scientific. Do you believe that God sent his son to visit Earth then raised him back up into heaven?—that's perfectly compatible with science. Is this an example of rational thinking?

You also claim it's irrational to argue for the incompatibility of science and religion because it is bad politics ("to keep allies close and enemies away) escapes them, as our own sins always do"). Please, drop this argument. You've been following this debate for long enough to know better. In case, you've forgotten the issue, let me state the relevant points one more time.
  • This is a discussion about the meaning of science and religion and whether they are compatible. My "allies" in that discussion are those who agree that science and religion are in conflict. My "enemies" are those, like you, who disagree. Please don't continue to made false assumptions about who my allies should be.
  • From a political perspective, we argue that major organizations like NCSE should adopt a neutral position on the issue of compatibility. That's not what they have been doing. By allying with, and agreeing with, accommodationists they are excluding potential allies like me. I do not advocate that they officially adopt my position. I argue that they stop excluding me from the conversation by siding 100% with my "enemies." Got it? It's not rocket science. Try and keep up. The people who are being politically unwise are groups like NCSE who insist on adopting a controversial position that brings them into conflict with a great many scientists. We advocate neutrality. Why is that more irrational than taking a position that excludes people like me? Why are we labeled as the ones who are rejecting allies in the fight against creationism? You're not making sense here.
  • When it comes to the bigger picture, I'm participating in a debate about rationality and superstition. The evolution/creation debate is a subset of that much larger debate. My allies in that large debate are fellow atheists and skeptics and we are fighting against superstitious beliefs of all kinds. My allies are people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Jerry Coyne (among others). Many of the superstitious beliefs are religious. My enemies in that debate are all those people who promote superstition and irrational (IMHO) worldviews. Those "enemies" include Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris as well as Michael Behe, Bill Demski, and Paul Nelson. Please don't try to tell me that Ken Miller should be my ally.1 He's not on my side in the debate that matters. I'm the one who will decide who are my allies and who are my enemies. It's illogical for you to arbitrarily try and make that decision for me. This has been explained to you many times. Do you not listen or do you have cogent arguments about why my choice of allies is incorrect? (If you have cogent arguments, then why not make them instead of the strawman arguments you obviously prefer?)
For example, Coyne’s term “faithiest” is a term of opprobrium and abuse, just as Josh points out, other racial or sexual epithets are. While one may not identify the exclusion of non-”Caucasians” or LGBT’s in American society with that of accommodationists (or, for that matter of atheists in theist America), they are of the same kind if nowhere near the same degree. Dawkins’ claim that accommodationists “like the idea that someone has faith” or that we “have faith in faith” is a similar act of abuse. But they are rational, of course. No self-defeating behaviour for them, no sir.
If this is the main point you want to make then you could have done it much better—and much less hypocritically—by leaving out everything else. Make up your mind. Are you criticizing the position I take or are you just complaining about the rhetoric that's being used on both sides of the debate?

Anyone reading your posting would conclude that you are belittling the argument that science and religion are in conflict. Then to top it off you complain that in addition to being "unscientific," "irrational," and "exclusionary," your "enemies" are also being mean because they call you names. Don't you see any irony in that?
Look, I don’t care if atheists are aggressive or not. Certainly being excluded themselves, they have the right to be loud and proud. I think they should speak out at every turn. But does that require that they must denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with them? Must they turn into what they themselves despise? It seems, sadly, this is the human condition. But don’t pretend to be the vanguard of rationality when you are just as irrational and tribal as everyone else. The term for that is not “rational”, but “hypocritical”.
Pot, kettle black.

Anytime you'd like to continue this debate without calling me names, I'm happy to oblige. I'll try and refrain as well, although it does take some of the fun out of the discussion.


1. I can ally with Ken Miller in the fight against extreme forms of creationism and I'm happy to do so. That doesn't mean I have to agree with him on everything else. He's a grownup—as am I—and he can handle people who disagree with him on some issues but agree with him on others.

133 comments :

  1. Great post Larry. I don't understand why the defenders of the accommodationist position keep coming back to this same point. Regarding the fact that there are scientist who are also religious and that makes science and religion compatible. Mooney was caught making these same claims. As you and Coyne and many others have pointed out, that holding 2 contradictory positions in one mind does not mean the methods or "ways of knowing" are compatible. Why is this point so hard for them to understand?

    ReplyDelete
  2. First, my anti-accomodationist argument is that once you accept that science is a valid way of knowing, then it follows that most religious claims are not compatible with that approach to knowledge. ...

    I do assume that science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge but that's a testable assumption—at least in theory. All one has to do to refute that argument is demonstrate the existence of valid forms of knowledge that cannot possibly be derived from the scientific approach AND ARE COMPATIBLE WITH SCIENCE AS A WAY OF KNOWING.


    Ignoring the tight circle you're running and the danger of disappearing up your own butt (science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge, therefore, all knowledge must be measured by its compatibility with science), are those scientific claims? Where is the peer-reviewed support for those propositions? If they are not a scientific propositions, how do you justify them in the absence of "the only way of obtaining valid knowledge", i.e. science?" That's John's point. You are proposing a self-defeating assertion.

    If it were true, then science has to be compatible with every single belief that's ever been held by anyone who claims to be a scientist. In other words, science is compatible with Young Earth Creationism since we know for a fact that there are many scientists who are Young Earth Creationists.

    Really? We can't tell the difference between "scientists" and "non-scientists"? Who is the person lacking realism now?

    Second, John repeats to tired old argument that just because there are people who claim to be good scientists AND are religious, then it follows logically that science and religion are compatible. (Actually, he says that they "coexist," but I assume he means compatible.)

    Hold on! Are/were Francisco Ayala and Theodosius Dobzhansky good scientists? Are they just "claiming" to be good scientists? For that matter, is Ken Miller? Are we going to have to compare credentials? As I've pointed out before, the issue is not whether religious scientists "prove" that science and religion is "compatible" but whether or not science is, as you claim, a "worldview," i.e. a philosophy, that must be followed in order to be a "scientist." Since the empiric evidence is that you don't have to buy into the "worldview" in order to be a good "scientist," your point collapses. It is possible to be a good scientist without accepting that science is a" worlview."

    ReplyDelete
  3. John Pierot:

    It is possible to be a good scientist without accepting that science is a "worldview."

    I would argue that it is possible to do good science without accepting that science is a "worldview."

    Are/were Francisco Ayala and Theodosius Dobzhansky good scientists?

    Are/were they good scientists when it came to their religious beliefs? Did they explore their religious beliefs with all the tools science has/had to offer? or did they corral their religious views from scientific scrutiny?

    Does a good scientist refuse to test their beliefs scientifically?

    Of course Francisco Ayala and Theodosius Dobzhansky have done good science (and by definition are good scientists) - but what if being a good scientist meant subjecting all your beliefs to scientific scrutiny?

    They hold/held scientific and religious views only by protecting or corralling one from the other. If two views can only be held by erecting barriers to protect them from each other, how can they be called compatible? To do so reduced compatibility to a trivial level. After all I can make a lion and a lamb compatible if I tether the lion, but does that tell us anything about their compatibility, except that it is artificial.

    Take the last thing HAL broadcast in 2010

    ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE

    Beauty, humankind may have thought, we've got all these worlds. Except, actually no they haven't. There's a qualification which reduces the concept of "all" into something that is like "all" but not the same.

    People who claim science and religion are compatible do something similar.

    "Science and religion are compatible", they say. But when pressed, admit that actually you need an accommodation, you need to distort, corral, protect them from each other. By doing so you reduce the concept of "science" and "religion" into something that is like "science" and "religion", but not the same as the original.

    If two things need accommodation, distorting, protection from each other, to be compatible, are they really compatible?

    If you allow such accommodation are you reducing compatibility to a trivial level - a state that can be achieved by almost anything given enough "accommodation".

    ReplyDelete
  4. John Pieret says,

    Ignoring the tight circle you're running and the danger of disappearing up your own butt (science is the only valid way of acquiring knowledge, therefore, all knowledge must be measured by its compatibility with science), are those scientific claims? Where is the peer-reviewed support for those propositions? If they are not a scientific propositions, how do you justify them in the absence of "the only way of obtaining valid knowledge", i.e. science?" That's John's point. You are proposing a self-defeating assertion.

    John, dealing with your strawman versions of my statements is getting tedious. I'm not going to continue much longer.

    Let me try once more to explain my position.

    We are trying to decide whether science and religion are compatible. I begin by defining science as a way of knowing. That definition is somewhat arbitrary but so far I haven't seen anyone who proposes a serious alternative. Once you accept that science is a way of knowing that requires evidence, rationality, and skepticism, then it follows logically that claims of religious knowledge are not compatible with scientific knowledge.

    Therefore, I conclude that science and religion are not compatible.

    Is science the only way of knowing? That's a different question. There have been alternatives proposed but none of them have convinced me so far. Thus, I *personally* conclude that science may be the *only* valid way of knowing. I did not start out with the arbitrary claim that science is the only possible way of knowing and I'm perfectly willing to change my opinion when someone can give me an example of valid knowing that doesn't require evidence, rationality, and skepticism. Got it?

    Really? We can't tell the difference between "scientists" and "non-scientists"? Who is the person lacking realism now?

    I'm discussing the difference between science and religion. I'm interested in people who claim that they are being true to science when they claim to be Young Earth Creationists or Theistic Evolutionists. As far as I'm concerned, such claims are inconsistent with the practice of science.

    Can people who believe in astrology or the magic of vitamin C still be good scientists in other domains? Yes they can. Linus Pauling, for example, was a good scientist. Life is complicated.

    You are the one who is raising the issue of whether someone is a good scientists or not. That is not part of this discussion.

    Hold on! Are/were Francisco Ayala and Theodosius Dobzhansky good scientists? Are they just "claiming" to be good scientists? For that matter, is Ken Miller? Are we going to have to compare credentials?

    I think they're all good scientists. But when they pretend that they are still doing good science when they offer scientific evidence for God, that's when they are not doing good science. I actually think that Scott Minnich is a pretty good scientist even though he believes in Intelligent Design Creationism. All of us slip up from time to time.

    The question is whether "science" is compatible with religion. It's not whether there are some people who can do good cell biology experiments and still believe in God. Can't we please drop this nonsense?

    As I've pointed out before, the issue is not whether religious scientists "prove" that science and religion is "compatible" but whether or not science is, as you claim, a "worldview," i.e. a philosophy, that must be followed in order to be a "scientist."

    Feel free to offer another definition of science that allows people to believe in miracles and still claim to be doing good science when they defend that belief.

    Waiting ....

    ReplyDelete
  5. ... but what if being a good scientist meant subjecting all your beliefs to scientific scrutiny?

    I've been through this before. Has Larry decided he loves his wife, daughter and granddaughter because he has performed scientific tests on himself? I hope not. The fact that he could does not change the fact that he doesn't. No scientist that is also a decent human being subjects all her/his beliefs to scientific scrutiny. It is an incredibly unrealistic standard and, if you want to claim that theists should do it, you first have to prove you consistently do it yourself.

    If two things need accommodation, distorting, protection from each other, to be compatible, are they really compatible?

    If you need to assume your conclusion, are you doing logic?

    ReplyDelete
  6. John, dealing with your strawman versions of my statements is getting tedious. I'm not going to continue much longer.

    Larry, you've been saying that for a while. Either follow through or quit kvetching.

    Feel free to offer another definition of science that allows people to believe in miracles and still claim to be doing good science when they defend that belief.

    Waiting ....


    Simple enough. Science is what people do, not what they believe. Just like you believe, without scientific proof, that you love your wife and daughter and granddaughter. You aren't required to accept everything on a scientific basis, nor should you. The question is only whether everyone else should accept your particular parsing of where the divide should be.

    ReplyDelete
  7. But when they pretend that they are still doing good science when they offer scientific evidence for God, that's when they are not doing good science.

    P.S. Where have they claimed it was scientific evidence? Don't make the same mistake the IDiots make and say that because it involves some scientific fact about the world that it is, therefore, a scientific argument.

    ReplyDelete
  8. The problem with defining science as a "way of knowing" is that it doesn't have much to do with science as it is practiced. It makes a lot more sense to define the word "science" as a discipline (e.g. the practice of doing research, publishing papers, peer review, etc.) and as a body of knowledge because those are the things that in general people use the word "science" to describe.

    ReplyDelete
  9. John Pieret says,

    Larry, you've been saying that for a while. Either follow through or quit kvetching.

    Good point.

    Goodbye.

    ReplyDelete
  10. No scientist that is also a decent human being subjects all her/his beliefs to scientific scrutiny.

    So what? At most, this is just another demonstration that scientists can hold unscientific beliefs. That's been stipulated a billion times already. The argument is whether that is sufficient to demonstrate compatibility between science and "other ways of knowing" (including religion).

    Simple enough. Science is what people do, not what they believe.

    Actually, it's both. Suppose I do an experiment, and the evidence indicates A binds to B but not C. I can't arbitrarily decide to believe that A binds to C but not B and still claim that I'm doing science.

    You aren't required to accept everything on a scientific basis, nor should you. The question is only whether everyone else should accept your particular parsing of where the divide should be.

    If science was compatible with those other areas, there would be no need for a divide at all!

    I agree it's OK to decide to apply scientific standards to some parts of your life and not to others. If someone wants to use science for studying molecular biology but still believe in a 'literal' Bible when it comes to creation, there's nothing objectively wrong with that. That does not mean, however, that science is compatible with their religion. It only means that they have successfully partitioned their science and their religion so that the lack of compatibility is not an issue for them.

    ReplyDelete
  11. So what? At most, this is just another demonstration that scientists can hold unscientific beliefs. That's been stipulated a billion times already.

    Good! Then there is no reason to single out Ken Miller or any other theist who is also a scientist. Thus Larry's whole tirade is false, right?

    That does not mean, however, that science is compatible with their religion. It only means that they have successfully partitioned their science and their religion so that the lack of compatibility is not an issue for them.

    I really don't understand what that is supposed to mean. I am well aware that some religious claims are incompatible with science but how does reconcilling one's religion with science result in incompatibility?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Goodbye.

    I at least have to say that I like you a lot and have not intended to piss you off. That I do it may be a constitutional thing based on my legal training. But I accept that I do so and accept your decision not to engage me further. Unless you bar me from your place, I'll continue to comment and you're free to visit my blog, where I'll continue to treat you, as I always have, as an honored, but not sacred guest.

    ReplyDelete
  13. John Periet:

    Has Larry decided he loves his wife, daughter and granddaughter because he has performed scientific tests on himself?

    No, but he is not claiming his love for his family as a method of assessing and generating understanding and knowledge.

    When I say all beliefs, I mean all beliefs regarding ways to assess and generate knowledge and understanding.

    Is it good science to claim two methods of assessing and generating knowledge and understanding - science and religion - but refuse to assess religion using science?

    "If two things need accommodation, distorting, protection from each other, to be compatible, are they really compatible?"

    If you need to assume your conclusion, are you doing logic?


    Scientists who are also religious are happy to confirm the power of science as a way of assessing and generating understanding and knowledge. However, they refuse to use science to asses their religious beliefs.

    That is a restriction on science. That is an accommodation. They admit to doing it, it is not an assumption.

    If two things need accommodation, distorting, protection from each other, to be compatible, are they really compatible?

    "So what? At most, this is just another demonstration that scientists can hold unscientific beliefs. That's been stipulated a billion times already."

    Good! Then there is no reason to single out Ken Miller or any other theist who is also a scientist. Thus Larry's whole tirade is false, right?


    No. Theist scientists such as Ken Miller are held up as examples of the compatibility of science and religion. But when you look closely, these people are passionate about the power of science as a tool for assessing and generating knowledge and understanding, but refuse to use that powerful tool on their religious beliefs. They are not acting as scientists when they acknowledge that there are two ways of assessing and generating knowledge but refuse to use one on the other.

    They admit to protecting their religious beliefs from science. If both religion and science were compatible, there would be no need to protect one from the other.

    I really don't understand what that is supposed to mean. I am well aware that some religious claims are incompatible with science but how does reconcilling one's religion with science result in incompatibility?

    Because Miller and others can have both science and religion only by refusing to be scientific about religion. They accept the power of science, but protect their religious beliefs from it. Claiming that science and religion are compatible under these circumstances reduces compatibility to a triviality. A square peg and a round hole are compatible it I have a big enough hammer, a lion and a lamb are compatible if the lion is tethered, science and religion are compatible provided you don't use science to assess religion.

    These people admit to corralling their religious views, protecting them from scientific scrutiny in order to maintain both views. If they need to do that, their science and religion are not compatible.

    So you can't use them as supporting evidence for the compatibility of science and religion.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "John, it doesn't help your cause to write things like that. For years people have been claiming that science and religion are perfectly compatible. As you know, it's the official position of the National Center for Science Education."

    On what do you base your claim that it is the NCSE's official position that "science and religion are perfectly compatible"?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Chris Nedin writes:

    "No, but he is not claiming his love for his family as a method of assessing and generating understanding and knowledge."

    You are, it seems wilfully, confusing results and methods. The point of John Pieret's post was that Larry himself used a non-scientific way of knowing to arrive at the conclusion that he loves his family. Assuming there is anyone you love, did you apply the scientific mehtod in order to determine if you love them?

    ReplyDelete
  16. "Back when a philosophy known now as logical positivism was fashionable, the claim was made that whatever was not scientifically verifiable was metaphysical rubbish. This was known as the Verification Principle. Karl Popper, among others, noted that the Verification Principle was not scientifically verifiable and was therefore, on its own account, metaphysical rubbish. That put an end to that version of logical positivism (although no philosophical position ever really dies). It was self-defeating."

    Well, logical positivism says that statements which are not empirically verifiable are either metaphysical rubbish, OR a priori propositions that can be verified analytically, like a tautology. Can some version of the Verification Principle be put forth that can be shown analytically to be true? Some might argue yes.

    Further, even if the VP turns out to be indefensible, it would be an ad logicam fallacy to conclude that it is false, or that some alternative to logical positivism is true and that we should all accept extravagant metaphysical claims. For all the fault-finding with logical positivism, its critics who are sympathetic to metaphysical claims lax the fault-finding when it comes to said metaphysics.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Michael

    You are, it seems wilfully, confusing results and methods. The point of John Pieret's post was that Larry himself used a non-scientific way of knowing to arrive at the conclusion that he loves his family.

    How do you know that Larry used a "non-scientific way of knowing"? He could have noted a difference in his emotional make up, compared that with previous emotional states, tested to see if he was under an outside influences such as a rapture, or hallucinogens, excluded outside influences, and deduced that he was in love.

    Lets see, comparison, testing, deduction, sounds like science to me.

    People don't feel a certain way and say, "hey, I'm in love". They feel a certain way, asses the differences, compare what they feel to previous conditions, or to what people have told them love feels like, and deduce they are in love. Assess, compare, deduce, sounds sciencey to me.

    But lets take it further. Is the condition of love amenable to science? Yes it is. We can analyse brain function and chemistry, monitor their changes due to different stimuli, and come to some conclusions about love and its physiological basis.

    Not allowed do that with religion.

    It would be nice though - 'There is no god, you just have an overactive hypothalamus. Don't worry, we can fix it!'

    ReplyDelete
  18. ... he is not claiming his love for his family as a method of assessing and generating understanding and knowledge.

    Really? He doesn't "know" he loves them?

    Lets see, comparison, testing, deduction, sounds like science to me.

    Right! He has to think about whether or not he loves them.

    Theist scientists such as Ken Miller are held up as examples of the compatibility of science and religion. But when you look closely, these people are passionate about the power of science as a tool for assessing and generating knowledge and understanding, but refuse to use that powerful tool on their religious beliefs.

    As I said before, that is not my point and is, I think, a misunderstanding of the argument Larry and other "New Atheists" are making. Scientists in general "refuse" to use science on many aspects of their lives. It is part of being human. The real question is how the "New Atheists" can stand being so self-righteous.

    ReplyDelete
  19. As has been said many times before, the person that uses revelation, gut instinct or other non-empirical methods for deciding when someone loves them are called "stalkers".

    Thats because despite your nudge-nudge attacks, we can all think of plenty of lines of evidence to support the belief that we love and are loved unless we're in a pathological relationship. We may not conduct formal tests, but life has a way of throwing us tests anyway.

    So please, unless you wish to continue to imply that Larry is a stalker or that his marriage is the only one in the world that has been entirely blissful and free from tests, can we please move on? It's insulting, disingenuous and has lasted far too long.

    ReplyDelete
  20. It's rather tedious to dissect any useful points from the hand waving crap by Pieret, but his point basically seems to be that we know things, like that we love someone, without any scientific tools to determine that knowledge. This is the just about the quality of what passes as acceptable for a "proof" in the legal world, i'm sorry to admit.

    I think the moon is made of cheese. Therefore one piece of knowledge i have is that "i think the the moon is made of cheese". I think grass is blue. I think i love Jessica Alba. All these are true. I'm such a genius that i can generate vast amount of knowledge each second.

    Now irony aside, can i convince you that "i believe the moon is made of cheese" is true--and more importantly, what standard should convince you i'm right? Well, if i'm being very very stupid, i absolutely can convince you that it's true that i believe the moon is made of cheese. I've imparted just the tinest content of knowledge that was in that. It's not useful since knowing i believe that could be useful to you in avoiding to take me seriously in the future. But it's not the same as the knowledge that the moon is indeed made of chese.

    Oh, and of course no one doubts that Jessica Alba is loveable.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Tyro: "As has been said many times before, the person that uses revelation, gut instinct or other non-empirical methods for deciding when someone loves them are called 'stalkers'."

    But John Pieret was talking about how Larry Moran knows whether he loves his wife, not whether his wife loves him back (though offhand I'd presume she does!), so that is a strawman.

    Tyro: "We may not conduct formal tests, but life has a way of throwing us tests anyway."

    Science, though, is formal. Instead of relying on informal judgments, scientists try to introduce rigor into their experiments, models, etc. No one does such testing in every aspect of one's life, however. It's utterly impractical. If Larry Moran wanted to scientifically prove his wife loved him, he could hire an investigator to follow her around, measure her hormone levels, and do other things to try to establish that she wasn't just pretending to love him. That, however, would be rather invasive, to say the least, and in his day-to-day family life, the unscientific, informal approach is far more reasonable.

    ReplyDelete
  22. JJ,

    Science, though, is formal.

    Mmm....

    First, let's remember that Larry started by defining: "I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence."

    Second let us remember that we conduct formal test for broad theories which describe a class of actions but not for specific observations. When we measure the pH of water, it is appropriate to use simple tools and observations, relying on prior work. We remain open to correction and apply some degree of scepticism to the process but this is within limits.

    Why then should we expect that Larry or anyone else should be relying on more than the multitude of observations he has already made? That might be appropriate for someone with a history of psychosis, inappropriate attachments, delusions or other personality disorders so Johns degree of scepticism appears as him implying that Larry suffers some severe mental handicap.

    It could be that you and John are actually seeking "proof", something that Larry hasn't mentioned, and something that science doesn't provide. What science does is support good ideas and even better it falsifies bad ones. To my mind, this is why religion is incompatible with science - religion has no means of getting rid of bad or false ideas except through science (or sceptical empiricism, as Larry has defined earlier).

    ReplyDelete
  23. Tyro: "First, let's remember that Larry started by defining: 'I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence.'"

    If I claim a hand is a foot, how many toes does it have? Zero. Larry Moran can't define science any old way he wants, but has to look at the reality of what people in general use the word "science" to describe. A good private detective can base his career on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence, but that doesn't make him a scientist.

    Tyro: "Second let us remember that we conduct formal test for broad theories which describe a class of actions but not for specific observations. When we measure the pH of water, it is appropriate to use simple tools and observations, relying on prior work."

    I think you misunderstand. Think about a drug trial, for instance. It's not enough to just give people a prospective drug to some test subjects and see if they get better. One uses a double-blind test to compensate for the placebo effect. That's the sort of formality I'm talking about, and it's not just applied to broad theories. Sure, an experimental apparatus could be informal in the sense of being made from scrap PVC pipe, wood, and duct tape, but if one is being scientific, one will still try to formalize things by documenting procedures and spelling out how one obtains and interprets the data.

    Contrast the sort of work described above with the means that normal people figure out whether someone is in love with him or her. Sure, one makes such judgments based on observing assorted gestures of affection. However, those gestures can be faked, and someone who really wants to believe in them may be too biased to see subtle signs of fakery--provided that they are visible to the observer at all. A scientific test of love would attempt to take those issues into account in the same way that a drug trial would take the placebo effect into account, but the cost of doing that so far outweighs the benefit that not even a hardcore rationalist would bother with such a scientific test.

    Or think of Internet polls and why it is repeatedly asserted that they are not scientific. In scientific polls, there are all sorts of controls to try to ensure an unbiased sample, calculations of error, and so on.

    ReplyDelete
  24. JJ

    Larry Moran can't define science any old way he wants, but has to look at the reality of what people in general use the word "science" to describe.

    It's entirely appropriate for Larry to define his terms. You may say there are better definitions but it's ridiculous to then attack Larry for making false claims when you ignore his clearly stated definitions for your own.

    Think about a drug trial, for instance. It's not enough to just give people a prospective drug to some test subjects and see if they get better.

    Which just illustrates the point I made. You're talking about drug trials, accepting that each pill is representative of a larger class. Larry can be taken as an individual member of a broad class of emotionally normal humans in a committed relationship who professes to love his wife. Unless we have reason to exclude Larry from the class, this is as valid as accepting that one Tylenol is equivalent to another in a trial. They may be different and we're open to evidence but it's enough to grant preliminary acceptance. To not do this for Larry strikes me as perverse and insulting.

    If you have a serious point to make, I think you should drop this inflammatory and derogatory line of attack and instead talk about someone else. And, as plenty of people have said and you haven't answered, we can gather evidence to falsify and these claims so they're hardly unscientific.


    And finally is the increasingly obvious fact that you have not proposed any competing "way of knowing" or methodology, nor have you once defended religion. Are you suggesting bible study or revelation is a good means of knowing whether you (or someone else) loves another? If not, in addition to being insulting this attack is irrelevant to the issues Larry raised.

    ReplyDelete
  25. normal humans in a committed relationship who professes to love his wife

    Heh, that should be "profess to love their wives", not Larry's wife :)

    ReplyDelete
  26. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDMonday, March 08, 2010 3:23:00 PM

    "Back when a philosophy known now as logical positivism was fashionable, the claim was made that whatever was not scientifically verifiable was metaphysical rubbish. This was known as the Verification Principle."

    OK, Suppose I am willing to drop the verifiability criterion for a "way of knowing." What other criteria can religious "ways of knowing" meet? What else do they have to offer us so we can tell that their claims to "knowledge" are justified?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Tyro, you keep evading my point, which is that doing science involves going beyond the usual quick-and-dirty heuristics that we use to make observations in our day-to-day lives. As for "ways of knowing" (a unfortunate turn of phrase that uses "knowing" in a non-standard fashion, ugh) other than science, how about those quick-and-dirty heuristics, which often we call intuition? Those are what we usually use when figuring out, for example, figuring out someone else's state of mind. Of course, that "way of knowing" isn't as accurate, but usually we have no problem calling its results "knowledge."

    ReplyDelete
  28. JJ,

    Are you arguing that, in practice, we use non-scientific methods for arriving at temporary conclusions?

    If so, I agree but what of it? If a scientist used a dream as a starting point for further investigation, that would be fine as a starting hypothesis which would gain strength through evidence, scrutiny and rational inquiry.

    In the case of love, I hear you asking for a series of formal tests but would you acknowledge that, while this may be an ideal, scientific investigations do not always have this luxury and that by lacking this ideal we would still consider the conclusions scientific provided there is prior plausibility and our conclusions remain tentative?


    And I do think it's time for you to put up your alternative. What does religion have to offer? At least state clearly where you stand on the topic raised in the OP, because this attack on Larry while coyly avoiding any stance of yourself isn't working. Even if science has weaknesses (it does) that doesn't mean religion is any more compatible.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Tyro: "Are you arguing that, in practice, we use non-scientific methods for arriving at temporary conclusions?"

    And even not so temporary conclusions, much of the time.

    Tyro: "In the case of love, I hear you asking for a series of formal tests but would you acknowledge that, while this may be an ideal, scientific investigations do not always have this luxury and that by lacking this ideal we would still consider the conclusions scientific provided there is prior plausibility and our conclusions remain tentative?"

    No, not at all. The conclusions would not be in the least scientific. In practice, the conclusions would probably be correct, but unless you go beyond informal judgments, you aren't doing science.

    Tyro: "And I do think it's time for you to put up your alternative."

    My alternative? Science is a discipline, an error-correcting enterprise where it is assumed that individual scientists are fallible and measures such as double-blind tests, peer review, formal protocols, etc. are used to compensate for that fallibility. Science is also the body of knowledge from the discipline that I described. Science is not a world view, but a practice that can and is undertaken by people with a variety of world views, even mistaken ones.

    Religious beliefs that don't get in the way of scientific endeavors and don't contradict the body of knowledge from the discipline of science are compatible with it. Note that this does not necessarily make such beliefs scientific in and of themselves, or even correct. They may, for example, be unfalsifiable in principle, such as the idea that invisible, undetectable beings watch over us, or they may simply be unfalsifiable in practice, such as the idea that a deity suspended the laws of physics and raised a Nazarene carpenter from the dead. Note, too, that this rules out clearly falsifiable beliefs such as young-earth creationism or astrology.

    That's my alternative.

    ReplyDelete
  30. John Pieret

    "... he is not claiming his love for his family as a method of assessing and generating understanding and knowledge."

    Really? He doesn't "know" he loves them?

    "Lets see, comparison, testing, deduction, sounds like science to me."

    Right! He has to think about whether or not he loves them.


    No his brain thinks about whether or not he loves them.

    We are bombarded by love every day, what love is, how people feel, what people do, etc., from friends, family, tv, books, movies. By the time we are adolescents we all have a good idea about what love is. When we eventually get hit between the eyes by love, our brain thinks, "Ah ha, this is a new sensation, have I experienced it before? No. Have I any frame of reference? Yes. People in love claim a similar feeling. Therefore I am in love. We are not conscious of this process, the brain does it automatically. The brain is a powerful evidence-based decision-making engine. We 'know' we are in love because our brain has analysed the feeling, compared it to various frameworks, and made a conclusion. So actually Larry knows he is in love through a science based method. It's just the way our brains are wired to operate (I should add that the brain is also capable of making leaps of logic that evidence doesn't support - which is why we are creative).

    As I said before, that is not my point and is, I think, a misunderstanding of the argument Larry and other "New Atheists" are making. Scientists in general "refuse" to use science on many aspects of their lives. It is part of being human. The real question is how the "New Atheists" can stand being so self-righteous.

    I would argue that we use science-based methods every day as that is the way our brain operates.

    This thread started with claims that science and religion are compatible based on the fact that certain scientists hold both 'viewpoints'.

    However on closer examination we find these scientists hold that the 'science view' and 'religious view' are powerful tools to assess and generate knowledge and understanding. They fully support the 'science view' as a powerful tool to assess and generate knowledge and understanding. They even support the application of the 'science view' to assess other people's 'religous view' where they do not support that 'religious view' e.g. prayer as a method of healing, a young Earth, spiritual laying on of hands healing. So they support the 'science view', they support the 'science view' applied to other people's 'religious view' but they refuse to apply the 'science view' to their 'religious view'.

    You can understand why some people think that this is a bit inconsistant.

    But it gets worse.

    Other people then claim that because these scientists corral their 'religious view', protect it from scrutiny from their 'science view', that this means that the 'science view' and the 'religious view' are compatible.

    You can understand why some people think that this argument is a bit flawed.

    Would you consider someone who, avowed the power of the 'science view', agreed that it can be used to test other people's 'religious view', but refused to use this tool on their own 'religious view', as being self-rightous?

    ReplyDelete
  31. Chris Nedin: "We are not conscious of this process, the brain does it automatically."

    This kind of automatic thinking isn't scientific. It is very useful, but it's far too quick-and-dirty, which is pretty much the opposite of what science is about.

    Chris Nedin: "I would argue that we use science-based methods every day as that is the way our brain operates."

    If I hadn't been eating a brownie as I read that, I would have laughed out loud. Our brains do not normally operate in a scientific mode, not even close. Before you talk more nonsense like this, I urge you to get your hands on a book called How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. Another book that you should probably read is David J. Linden's The Accidental Mind, which discusses just how kludgy our brains are.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Larry, you are holding human beings to an impossibly high standard of rationality and consistency.

    Not everyone will agree with your definition of "science", indeed it is an exceeding high expectation for practicing scientists to obsess over logic and internal consistency in every aspect of their professional and personal lives.

    Besides, science is a social endeavour, and the term "compatibility" is a socio-emergent property that cannot be reduced to fundamental logic.

    If society considers people who exercise rational thinking within their science project but exercise magic thinking in their personal lives as examples of "compatibility" between science and religion, then that is that.

    This apple and orange debate is inherently insoluble.

    ReplyDelete
  33. When someone says to me "I love you" I watch their behavior to see if their behavior supports their statement. I love people whose behavior indicates they are kindhearted and honest. I don't have to put aside my scientific worldview in order to have loving relationships.

    The idea that a scientific worldview is inadequate in all aspects of one's life is not valid.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Science is the only form of knowledge/understanding that admits, at it's core ,
    THE PROBABILITY of BEING WRONG;
    and thus is the only form of knowledge/understanding with
    ANY POSSIBILITY of BEING RIGHT.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Science is the only form of knowledge/understanding that admits, at it's core ,
    THE PROBABILITY of BEING WRONG;
    and thus is the only form of knowledge/understanding with
    ANY POSSIBILITY of BEING RIGHT.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Lim Leng Hiong,

    I thought Larry's point was that he isn't holding scientists to ANY standard when discussing compatibility. They're simply irrelevant. Such a position hardly set their bar too high...

    After all, his major claim is that merely looking at what people do won't tell you whether ideas are compatible. You've got to analyze the ideas themselves to figure that out.

    ReplyDelete
  37. J J Ramsey

    Chris Nedin: "We are not conscious of this process, the brain does it automatically."

    This kind of automatic thinking isn't scientific. It is very useful, but it's far too quick-and-dirty, which is pretty much the opposite of what science is about.


    Chris Nedin: "I would argue that we use science-based methods every day as that is the way our brain operates."

    If I hadn't been eating a brownie as I read that, I would have laughed out loud. Our brains do not normally operate in a scientific mode, not even close. Before you talk more nonsense like this, I urge you to get your hands on a book called How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. Another book that you should probably read is David J. Linden's The Accidental Mind, which discusses just how kludgy our brains are.


    I never claimed the process was scientific, I'm claiming that the process used by the brain is similar to that that we now use in science, namely observation, comparision, recognistion, and conclusion.

    I never claimed that is was clean, clinical, or non-kludgy.

    That the brain goes through these stps is easy to show.

    Take three people A. B and C. A gets a lesson on cats, including a description of a lion. B gets a lesson on cats. C gets no lesson and so has no frame of reference for cats.

    You then show each of them a picture of a lion. What happens?

    A identifies the lion as a lion.

    B identifies the lion as a cat.

    C doesn't know what kind of animal it is.

    Clearly in these cases the brain is essentially making an observation, comparing that to information it has and making a decision based on that information. Observe, compare, decide. A similar process to science.

    What would be your, Lehrer's, and Linden's explanation?

    You appear to be reading my comments too literally. I am attempting (though not very successfully) to provide a rough description the basic processes that go on, not an in depth clinical exposee of brain function (I'd need a little more space and a lot more knowledge to do that!)

    We know people learn things, and then compare a new thing to what they have learned to come to decision about what the new thing is. That is uncontrovertial surely?

    In doing so they are using similar processes to those we use when doing science. That is my point. Being biological, it is not clean, it is not clinical, it is not non-kludgy (but nonetheless wonderful), but it is a rough description about what is going on.

    ReplyDelete
  38. We seem to be using different definitions of compatibility.

    Some religious claims are incompatible with scientific knowledge. Creationism is generally incompatible with much of biology and geology, for example, so it ought to be uncontroversial to observe that some religions are, to this extent, incompatible with some sciences. In fact, their adherents generally admit as much.

    Larry Moran and Jerry Coyne have asserted that religious claims generally do not pass scrutiny as scientific claims. Again, this ought to be uncontroversial, and theologists seldom use scientific methods or evidence to support their assertions.

    Conceding that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria is conceding that they are incompatible in each other's domain.

    That's certainly not to say that an atheist of a scientific bent can't enjoy a meal, a glass of wine, a piece of music or a warm body nestling up against one.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Chris Nedin: "I'm claiming that the process used by the brain is similar to that that we now use in science, namely observation, comparision, recognistion, and conclusion."

    Science is a discipline that aims at filtering out biases and slop in thinking. Those four steps that you describe are not in and of themselves scientific. We can observe carefully, scientifically, or in a quick-and-dirty fashion. Same goes for the other four steps. You are showing an incredible naivete here, writing as if science is a human activity that comes naturally when it involves going against the grain of our normal, cognitively miserly, ways of thought.

    Like I said, go grab those books I mentioned, especially the first.

    ReplyDelete
  40. "We can observe carefully, scientifically, or in a quick-and-dirty fashion. Same goes for the other four steps"

    Darn it! That should be other three steps. Oh, well, at least I gave a demonstration of a quick-and-dirty brain at work. :)

    ReplyDelete
  41. Wilkins is a damned liar. Coyne does not hold the views which Wilkins claims he does. For one, Coyne has pointed out numerous times that there are many religious scientists, but this is not proof that science and religion are compatible but evidence that people can ignore their scientific training and believe silly things anyway. The other thing of course is that people like Coyne say that religion should simply be left out of science, not that people must reject religion because they are scientists - he's not trying to force any ideology on people. But imbeciles like Wilkins will always interpret that as persecution from the godless scientists who want to force him to believe something he doesn't want to believe. People like Wilkins are exceedingly stupid in my opinion because they cannot understand such simple ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  42. "The fact that those people exist is NOT evidence that the ideas are compatible. (There's probably a name for that kind of flawed reasoning.)"

    A variation of argumentum ad populum, I would guess. Anyone?

    ReplyDelete
  43. they may simply be unfalsifiable in practice, such as the idea that a deity suspended the laws of physics and raised a Nazarene carpenter from the dead. Note, too, that this rules out clearly falsifiable beliefs such as young-earth creationism or astrology.

    Well, if you permit the former as compatible with science, then YEC immediately becomes compatible with science in the exact same sense. You can no longer say that our methods of dating an old universe clearly falsify YEC, because you've just permitted a deity to suspend the laws of physics at will.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Wilkins continues to insist that atheists assert that there is no god, and that, although he doesn't believe in a god, he is not an atheist.

    It's tiresome, but he's an interesting guy and well worth keeping up with.

    ReplyDelete
  45. JJ Ramsey

    Chris Nedin: "I'm claiming that the process used by the brain is similar to that that we now use in science, namely observation, comparision, recognistion, and conclusion."

    Science is a discipline that aims at filtering out biases and slop in thinking.


    No. Science is a series of disciplines and processes which includes the filtering out of bias and sloppy thinking. Filtering is part of the scientific process. It does not define the scientific process.

    And why do we have such filters as part of the scientific process? Because people are biased and sloppy thinkers - BUT THEY STILL DO SCIENCE!!!!!! Shock! Horror!

    Yes us blighted, biased, sloppy thinkers actually can do science, with all our dirthyfilthystinkingrotten baggage.

    We have to introduce filtering mechanisms such as opening up the research/findings to peer investigation, in order to filter out bias and sloppy thinking. Because, well because people are biased and sloppy thinkers, and because just by being biased and/or a sloppy thinker doesn't mean you get the wrong answer, or cannot make an important discovery even if you reach the wrong conclusion.

    If you think science can only be done (or is only done) when bias and sloppy thinking are removed, or is defined as the process of filtering bias and slop, then I am afraid you have a very (to use a word you seem fond of :)) naive view of science.

    Those four steps that you describe are not in and of themselves scientific. We can observe carefully, scientifically, or in a quick-and-dirty fashion.

    Again I didn't describe the processes in the brain as scientific. I claim that they include roughly similar processes to those used used in science.

    And you seem obsessed with the speed at which the brain functions. Don't misconstrue that speed for "quick and dirty". That's like saying a supercomputer must be worse than a laptop because it is much faster and so must produce quick and dirty results!

    Same goes for the other four steps. You are showing an incredible naivete here, writing as if science is a human activity that comes naturally when it involves going against the grain of our normal, cognitively miserly, ways of thought.

    I have made no comment as to the nature of science as a human activity. I have made no comment on our cognitively miserly, ways of thought. I am saying that some of those congitively miserly ways of thought operate roughly similarly to some of the processes we use in science.

    ReplyDelete
  46. If, for convenience I use the definition offered by http://www.thefreedictionary.com/knowing then "knowing" is defined as possessing knowledge, information, or understanding. Further I define knowledge as data acquired through experience or study of external reality. Then if science may be defined as (According to Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary), "knowledge attained through study or practice," or "knowledge covering general truths of the operation of general laws, esp. as obtained and tested through scientific method [and] concerned with the physical world." Accepting the external reality hypothesis and equating external reality with the "physical world" then it would seem a tautology that science is the only way of knowing about external reality.

    If there exists some other "reality" that is not external reality (internal reality?) then I must admit that there may exist some way of knowing about this other reality that is not the "science way" of knowing; perhaps some religious way (in which case science and religion would apply to different realities and thus would be compatible). However, it seems to me that in order to claim the validity of some religious way of knowing, one must first hypothesis a reality that is other than the external reality. It seems to me that this second hypothesis is unnecessary because a singular external reality is sufficient to account for everything that I have experienced and/or studied during the previous nearly seven decades and I understand that a great number of my contemporaries and predecessors (most of whom are also my betters) have come to the same conclusion.

    If I accept that here exists only one external reality, then it seems that science (as defined above) and religion (magic) are indeed incompatible. That it is possible to hold both religious and scientific claims simultaneously while accepting a singular external reality is an instance of cognitive dissonance; (the usually uncomfortable feeling caused by) holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.

    ReplyDelete
  47. For example, Coyne’s term “faithiest” is a term of opprobrium and abuse, just as Josh points out, other racial or sexual epithets are

    This kind of garbage does not make me think well of Wilkins' intellectual honesty. Let's try this: "'faithiest' is an epithet, just as other epithets are". I won't argue with that, but note how it's different from what Wilkins wrote. The problem with racial and sexual epithets is not merely that they are epithets, it's that race and gender are innocent categories -- no one has done anything to be criticized for simply by being of a certain race or gender, and the people who wield racial and sexual epithets are bigots. Wilkins would be a lot more honest if he compared "faithiest" to "fundie" or "Rethuglican" instead.

    ReplyDelete
  48. I honestly cannot believe how many words you people have wasted on the question of how Larry knows he loves his family, and whether that is scientifically knowable or not.

    Larry knows that he loves his family because he observes himself having the feeling of loving them.

    For others to rigorously observe the same feeling (in Larry) is not straightforward and perhaps too invasive, but the important point is that it is possible in principle to empirically assess whether Larry loves his family or not.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Assuming there is anyone you love, did you apply the scientific mehtod in order to determine if you love them?

    No more or less than I applied the scientific method in order to determine whether all batchelors are unmarried.

    The fact is that this is sophistry; people like Pieret and Ramsey focus on such things as "how do you know you're in love" for a particular reason. While our beliefs about our own mental states are not arrived at "scientifically", they are unassailable as a matter of semantics, just as is the fact that all batchelors are unmarried. While science is a way to know empirical truths, we reach analytical truths by other means. But religion doesn't get us to either kind, so the comparison to our knowledge of whom we love or of our other mental states (such as whether we are in pain) is intellectually dishonest.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Larry knows that he loves his family because he observes himself having the feeling of loving them.

    It's stronger than that, like "How do you know that it seems to be unusually cold today?" -- you know that regardless of whether it is in fact unusually cold today, regardless of whether you have made an observational error, because you cannot be in error as to how things seem to you, or about any other of your mental states (well, you can lie about them, but you can't have false beliefs about them).

    Compare this to the claim that you saw God because you observed yourself seeing God -- that can be in error; we can have false beliefs about what we see (but not about what we think we see).

    ReplyDelete
  51. I think accommodationists dislike the idea of religions beeing incompatible with science for the same reason they dislike the idea that religions are a subset of superstition.

    I checked Wikipedia:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstition#Superstition_and_religion

    The difference beteween religion and superstition sounds very ambiogous:

    "Religion and superstition are usually considered separated because while superstitions are based on fear, uncertainty and insecurity in the future and in peril, religious people can feel secure and safe under the protection of their God(s), thus actually making them fearless and resilient to calamity."

    In the end, it is always a matter of feeling?

    ReplyDelete
  52. "I thought Larry's point was that he isn't holding scientists to ANY standard when discussing compatibility. They're simply irrelevant. Such a position hardly set their bar too high..."

    Amos, the standard was set via Larry's definition of "science" - truth be told that is the sort of definition that I like, but not a definition that religious scientists are likely to agree upon.

    "After all, his major claim is that merely looking at what people do won't tell you whether ideas are compatible. You've got to analyze the ideas themselves to figure that out."

    I still think that a key problem in this debate is the term "compatible". A scientist who thinks rationally in the lab but thinks magically in his personal life is inconsistent, but having scientists who think inconsistently does not mean that the social endeavour of science and religion are "incompatible", especially if what "compatibility" means is decided by society in the first place.

    In other words, a scientist may be employing what seems to be contradictory thought processes, but as long as they don't co-exist in her mind at the same time, and thus cannot conflict with each other resulting in bias in the lab, some people will consider them to be "compatible".

    ReplyDelete
  53. "I honestly cannot believe how many words you people have wasted on the question of how Larry knows he loves his family, and whether that is scientifically knowable or not."

    Me neither, but in a slightly different way than you went on to argue.

    Issues of personal feelings are pure distraction, and are not the same as what we are discussing when we talk of science. Science, religion, and other "ways of knowing" are concerned only tangentially, if at all, with such questions of personal feelings and values. Whether Larry loves his family is up to Larry and his family. It is not something that Larry, his family, or we need to be declared universally true. Gravitation, though - [Sylvester Stallone voice] it's the law! [/Sylvester Stallone voice].

    Religion, like science, makes universal truth claims. How old is the earth? You, I, and everyone else are urged to believe it is 6000 years old by one source of universal truth claims, religion, and 4.5 billion or so years old by another source of universal truth claims, science. I prefer the latter based on experience that empirical testing provides answers that work for me, while the argument from authority or its subspecies, the argument from deity or the argument from the ancient wise man, seldom does.

    It seems to me that what is often pointed out by those in favor of an "empirical" approach to the issue, that there are religious scientists as well as religious laypersons who accept particular scientific conclusions, is simply a recognition that there are those who have tried to make religion a source of personal rather than universal truths. While non-believers think they can discern a level of mental gymnastics involved in this exercise, issues of personal belief are in my opinion not particularly interesting, though discussions can degenerate to this.

    And to be fair, it seems to me that people such as PZ and Larry are not engaged primarily in discussion of personal beliefs. Rather, it is when they feel believing scientists or others with a "big tent" philosophy (e.g., NCSE) are trying to have it both ways - not only (quite properly) allowing people to have their personal beliefs, but also (not properly) seeking some room for the universal truth claims of religion - that they rise to object.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Chris Nedin: "If you think science can only be done (or is only done) when bias and sloppy thinking are removed, or is defined as the process of filtering bias and slop, then I am afraid you have a very (to use a word you seem fond of :)) naive view of science."

    I already gave my definition of science, and it is pretty clear from it that on the one hand, science is not defined as just "process of filtering bias and slop," but that on the other hand, if there are no attempts at filtering bias and slop, then what one is doing isn't science.

    Chris Nedin: "And you seem obsessed with the speed at which the brain functions. Don't misconstrue that speed for 'quick and dirty'. That's like saying a supercomputer must be worse than a laptop because it is much faster and so must produce quick and dirty results!"

    That analogy is so amazingly wrong. Burning stupid-level wrong. I don't like incivility in general, but I'll use it if I see particularly gross cases of willful ignorance.

    Human beings are not digital computers. Rather, human beings have a couple of modes of thinking:

    1) A very fast mode of thinking that relies on usually subconscious heuristics, pattern-matching, and so on. It can be very useful, and in fact, a winning quarterback is likely to be using it (and in fact, that is one of the examples in How We Decide). Unfortunately, because it is heuristic, it can fail, and fail spectacularly, especially in unfamiliar situations. This is what I've been calling quick-and-dirty thinking.

    2) A more analytical mode of thinking, which is far slower. This is the mode of thinking that one is likely to be using when working on a complicated math problem, or figuring out a protocol.

    This is discussed in more detail in the books that I mentioned.

    Anonymous: "Well, if you permit the former as compatible with science, then YEC immediately becomes compatible with science in the exact same sense. You can no longer say that our methods of dating an old universe clearly falsify YEC, because you've just permitted a deity to suspend the laws of physics at will."

    Oh, geez, more burning stupid. If YECs had said, "Your methods of dating only appear to show an old universe because God can suspend the laws of physics at will, and he uses that power to interfere with your dating methods and make things look older that they are," you might have a point. However, YECs instead use pseudoscientific arguments to discredit the dating methods. Now in some cases, they do involve miracles in these arguments. For example, flood geologists obviously consider the Noahic flood to be a miracle. However, when they make arguments such as, "The order of fossils deposited by Noah's Flood can be explained by a combination of hydrologic sorting, differential escape, and ecological zonation," they are attempting to argue that the fossils that we see can be explained through natural processes that were by-products of the initial miracle.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Oh, geez, I'm about to type more burning stupid. If YECs had said, "Your methods of dating only appear to show an old universe because God can suspend the laws of physics at will, and he uses that power to interfere with your dating methods and make things look older that they are," you might have a point. However, YECs instead use pseudoscientific arguments to discredit the dating methods. Now in some cases, they do involve miracles in these arguments. For example, flood geologists obviously consider the Noahic flood to be a miracle. However, when they make arguments such as, "The order of fossils deposited by Noah's Flood can be explained by a combination of hydrologic sorting, differential escape, and ecological zonation," they are attempting to argue that the fossils that we see can be explained through natural processes that were by-products of the initial miracle.

    First of all, many YECs do make the argument that the universe only appears old because God miracled it that way at will. Omphalism? Last Thursday-ism? "God made light from distant stars already on their way"? "Satan put them fossils there"? Anyone remotely familiar with YEC rhetoric has to have heard these at one point or another.

    Secondly, for the Creationists that do attempt (pseudo)science, it isn't simply that their pseudoscientific rationalization over the ordering of post-diluvian fossils is scientifically dubious, it is that the Flood -- the miracle itself -- is scientifically dubious. You take the position of permitting the miracle but attacking only the implication in order to defend the views of religious moderates who want the virgin birth or resurrection miracle, but these things have implications too. In fact, those of us who fall in the "anti-accomodationist" or "incompatibilist" camp are only doing exactly what you are doing -- attacking the implications. Human parthenogenesis? Turner's syndrome male? Why are we allowed to attack what the Flood implies, but not what the virgin birth or resurrection implies?

    ReplyDelete
  56. Bjørn Østman wrote:

    Larry knows that he loves his family because he observes himself having the feeling of loving them.

    No one doubts the truth of this, but it is incomplete as a scientific establishment of the fact of that love. What is missing is the testing of the null hypothesis by experiment. Romance, like many another human endeavor, is prone to delusion.

    Subjective and objective empiricism are not equivalent, which is why the scientific method is agreed to be so important. How would you feel if we replaced the terms of your statement so that it read:

    "Larry knows that God is in that burning bush because he observes that God is in that burning bush." Or,

    "Larry knows that homeopathy is effective because he observes himself feeling better after homeopathic treatment."

    ReplyDelete
  57. Anonymous: "First of all, many YECs do make the argument that the universe only appears old because God miracled it that way at will. Omphalism? Last Thursday-ism? "God made light from distant stars already on their way"? "Satan put them fossils there"? Anyone remotely familiar with YEC rhetoric has to have heard these at one point or another."

    And anyone remotely familiar with YEC rhetoric has to know how comparatively rare they are. The only one of those that is that common is "God made light from distant stars already on their way." Omphalism is roundly rejected, and Last-Thursdayism is a parody of it.

    Anonymous: "In fact, those of us who fall in the 'anti-accomodationist' or 'incompatibilist' camp are only doing exactly what you are doing -- attacking the implications. Human parthenogenesis? Turner's syndrome male? Why are we allowed to attack what the Flood implies, but not what the virgin birth or resurrection implies?"

    If you honestly believe the implication of the virgin birth is that it would entail humans in general being able to do parthenogenesis, then you really don't understand the meaning of the word "miracle." If that's not what you are getting at, then I have no idea what you are babbling about.

    ReplyDelete
  58. And anyone remotely familiar with YEC rhetoric has to know how comparatively rare they are. The only one of those that is that common is "God made light from distant stars already on their way."

    In other words, it's common, not rare. Yeesh.

    the meaning of the word "miracle."

    The meaning of the word "miracle" is that anyone who believes in them is, in your words, "burning stupid".

    ReplyDelete
  59. Romance, like many another human endeavor, is prone to delusion.

    That is quite irrelevant to the issue of whether one knows that they love their wife, and you surely must know it. One can be deluded as to whether one has a wife, but not as to whether one feels love toward some possibly illusory person. For that to be possible, there would have to be some better measure as to whether one has a feeling than the actual having of it. Of course people say things like "you can't love her if you belittle her and beat her" but that seems not to be true, at least for certain meanings of "love". And for the meanings that are amenable to such operational evaluations, science can be applied.

    Subjective and objective empiricism are not equivalent

    This is a false divide. Everyone's scientific beliefs rest upon subjective observation, which extends to reading and evaluating the work of scientists, judging whether there is scientific consensus, and so on; there is no such thing as free floating "objective" empiricism. If only there were, we would have to try to convince anyone of anything.

    ReplyDelete
  60. "As you know, it's ["science and religion are perfectly compatible"] the official position of the National Center for Science Education."

    This is simply false. We may not be able to convince one another of theological/scientific matters, but can we have the discussion without manifest inaccuracy?

    Here is NCSE's official position:

    "What is NCSE's religious position?

    "None. The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. We and our members enthusiastically support the right of every individual to hold, practice, and advocate their beliefs, religious or non-religious. Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum."

    At best, this is an affirmation that some religions may be (or may not be) compatible with science. It is not a blanket statement of absolute compatibility, and suggesting that it is simply misleads your readers.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Well, Mr. Rosenau, NCSE, like any other organization, has official disclaimers, but it also has the following page:

    http://ncse.com/religion

    At least the starting links lead to articles with compatibilist conclusions. I have seen no article on NSCE homepages with a non-compatibilist slant.

    Mr. Rosenau, you don't really mean that NCSE is neutral on the compatibility issue, do you?

    ReplyDelete
  62. It is difficult to claim that NCSE does not hold an accomodationist position when they have a whole orginization devoted to just that proposition and provide the following encouragement for their readers to study accomodationists publications:
    "One goal of this section of the website is to make the public aware that the dichotomous view represented by creationists and antireligious atheists leaves out a large range of more moderate religious views. We hope that you find these materials useful in considering these important issues."

    "More moderate religious views."

    Here is the NCSE supporting the proposition that " I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence. I claim that when that way of knowing is applied to religious claims, those claims can be shown to be false or, at the very least, unsupported. Thus,if you are committed to science as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of religious beliefs are not compatible with science." is immoderate? But it is, obviously, demonstrably true! (Italics mine)

    ReplyDelete
  63. Matti K.: "I have seen no article on NSCE homepages ith a non-compatibilist slant."

    That's probably because the NCSE figures that the creationists already have the non-compatibilist slant covered.

    ReplyDelete
  64. JJ Ramsey: Yeah, there is that.

    Matti: I think you're moving the goalposts there. Larry's comment was about NCSE's official policy, and I quoted NCSE's official policy.

    Nor is perfect neutrality the only alternative to the absolutist position Larry ascribed to NCSE ("science and religion are perfectly compatible"). NCSE could find religion only imperfectly compatible, for instance. Or NCSE could take no institutional position, remaining neutral officially while allowing staff to espouse their own views. And so forth. Genie and other NCSE staff have certainly made their own views known, but that need not establish official policy. Consider Larry's disclaimer about whether "my personal opinions represent the official position of Canada, the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, the University of Toronto, the Faculty of Medicine, or the Department of Biochemistry." They don't, of course.

    James: Noting the existence of more moderate views is not itself an endorsement of them. The quote you offer is simply not an endorsement or a statement of NCSE's views. It simply says "hey, this exists and you might prefer it to the dichotomy suggested by others." Institutionally, NCSE's purpose is not to adjudicate abstruse philosophical points about theology's relation to science. The point is to defend evolution in public schools, and it is often the case that working with religious people is the best way to achieve that stated mission. Working with those people or groups no more endorses their religious position than working with the Richard Dawkins Foundation promotes Dawkins' religious views.

    As the NCSE page you quote was written before Larry's post, it was clearly not a reply to it. I'll note that Larry's statement that science is a way of knowing does not, in and of itself, foreclose the possibility of other ways of knowing. And stating that claims from such other ways of knowing are scientifically unsupported does not mean they are wrong, just that they aren't science. Which is practically tautological. What it is not is evidence of conflict (hence I would not say that it is "obviously, demonstrably true"). And there's nothing wrong with immoderation if you're right. But lots of people think Larry's wrong, and NCSE's page gives voice to a different perspective, a view which can defuse classroom conflicts but which is poorly represented in public discussions about evolution and creationism in the classroom. And since defusing those conflicts is NCSE's job, and adjudicating philosophical disputes is not, that seems appropriate. As J. J. notes, the anti-compatibility view is a) not helpful to most classroom conflicts and b) well represened in the public discourse (indeed, often spawning such conflicts).

    NB: As an NCSE staffer, I'm walking a fine line here. My blog and my comments on other people's blogs are not done on NCSE time and I don't speak for NCSE. But obviously I have a feel for the internal dynamic by virtue of working at NCSE. But I don't set policy and my comments should not be taken as reflective of NCSE policy. My comments are based not on private knowledge of NCSE's inner workings, but on publicly available information.

    ReplyDelete
  65. "Institutionally, NCSE's purpose is not to adjudicate abstruse philosophical points about theology's relation to science. "

    So why does Peter M. J. Hess, NCSE Faith Project Director, write such passages as:

    'In fact, the "creation or evolution" dichotomy is needless and false, based upon a category mistake'

    and

    'Like color and shape, "creation" and "evolution" do not occupy competing categories, but are complementary ways of looking at the universe.'

    How is this not an example of an NCSE official adjudicating philosophical points about theology's relation to science?

    I think accommodationism is wrong-headed and philosophically insupportable, but I can understand why the NCSE might find that a politically expedient position to take. What really pisses me off is that the NCSE clearly does adopt that position in practice while staffers like you deny it. Don't lie to our faces, Josh -- we're not blind.

    ReplyDelete
  66. You need to read the part of the Sandwalk Hypothesis that I quoted:

    Thus, if you are committed to science as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of religious beliefs are not compatible with science."

    ReplyDelete
  67. I believe the converse is also true "If you are committed to religion as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of scientific beliefs are not compatible with religion."

    ReplyDelete
  68. Tulse: Peter is entitled to his opinion, and to express it, as is Genie and even me. That doesn't constitute an official position, and is entirely consistent with the second of two alternatives I offered, in which NCSE is officially neutral and staff can express their own views. Nothing dishonest there, and no different than how most academic/semi-academic entities operate.

    For what it's worth, Peter is a theologian, and thus can be expected to weigh in on theological matters in ways and to an extent that I would not.

    James M: I felt that I was responding to, and rejecting, the sentence you quote. It does not follow that something unsupported by science is incompatible with it. Something which consistently contradicts science (when properly interpreted) is incompatible with science, of course. But Star Trek consistently contradicts basics of science, but I would not say that enjoying Star Trek is incompatible with science (hence my "when properly interpreted" disclaimer).

    Of course, how best to interpret such sources is a topic of endless dispute. As I say here (in reply to this post), "In such circumstances [aesthetics, sports, programming languages, etc.], I try to apply the maxim: de gustibus non est disputandum (there's no disputing about tastes). This isn't to say you don't talk about them, but there's nothing gained by escalating discussion to dispute. My fiancée doesn't care to eat red meat, and while I occasionally try to tempt her with delicious bacon or a nice brisket, I do so knowing that I won't change her mind, and that actually trying to logic her into eating meat would only cause resentment. I hope the parallel to the current accommodationism fight is obvious."

    ReplyDelete
  69. "Peter is entitled to his opinion, and to express it, as is Genie and even me. That doesn't constitute an official position."

    I'm sorry, Josh, but that seems terribly disingenuous to me. Hess is the NCSE Faith Project Director, an official position that seems to directly involve the relationship between religion and science, and his articles are presented with his title as imprimatur. I don't see anything like the disclaimer you offer above on the NCSE website, certainly not on Hess' articles. I also don't see any non-accommodationist positions presented by any of the NCSE staff. It is ridiculous for you to claim that any reasonable person would not conclude that the NCSE as an organization supports accommodationism.

    Again, what irritates me most about all this is not that the NCSE takes a position that I think is simply unsupportable, but that it does so and then its staff denies it. The former may be intellectually incorrect, but the latter is downright insulting.

    ReplyDelete
  70. J.J. Ramsey

    Chris Nedin: "And you seem obsessed with the speed at which the brain functions. Don't misconstrue that speed for 'quick and dirty'. That's like saying a supercomputer must be worse than a laptop because it is much faster and so must produce quick and dirty results!"

    That analogy is so amazingly wrong. Burning stupid-level wrong. I don't like incivility in general, but I'll use it if I see particularly gross cases of willful ignorance.

    Human beings are not digital computers.


    Oh dear, here we go again.

    I never claimed that the human brain was a digital computer did I? I was pointiong out that you reference to something being quick and dirty and therefore not similar to science was wrong. Most science is quick and dirty at the early stages. It has to be. If we did every test of a hypothesis in meticulous detail, it would take years to progress very far. Meticulous detail if for when we think were are on the right track and have a significant body of results to support further, detailed investigation.

    Your contribution to this discussion appears to be to ignore the majority of what I say, ignore my questions to you, pick on something, misrepresent what I say, insult me based on that mirepresentation, and recommend a book. (By the way, the "I don't like incivitity in general" was a joke right? Given that you were happy to use insults in previous comments).

    Unfortunately that's not very fruitful.

    ReplyDelete
  71. I don't "denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with" me-- just like Ken Miller, I denigrate the BELIEFS of those who hold strongly to unscientific views (e.g. Behe). It just so happens, that Ken Miller's theistic beliefs fit into that category. I find his arguments for them specious. If I didn't, I'd be a believer.


    Believers (and the faitheists who cover for them) need to step away from their beliefs a little if they can't tell the difference between denigration of a belief and denigration of a believer.

    You cannot coddle some brands of superstition (supernatural beliefs) without weakening science in the process. And it sullies science when people (like Ken Miller) attempt to prop up faith using science on one hand, while denigrating scientists on the other.

    If religious people do not like what atheistic scientists have to say about religion, they always have the option of keeping their magical beliefs private. If so, they'd never have to see this atheist as an enemy. I'd be glad to presume that they are the rationalist that I am.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Michael, you're confusing knowledge of how you feel with supposed knowledge that invisible conscious being exist.

    One would be in the category of "feeling" and one would be in a category of "fact"-- if such beings actually existed.

    We know feelings exist. We know that people can know or think they know how they feel. We can even measure feelings to some extent in the brain. We don't know that invisible undetectable conscious beings exist-- an entity that feels things like love (supposedly) with NO BRAIN AT ALL.

    If you can't tell the difference, I suggest you blame faith for this fuzziness.

    This is the garbled pap that sounds deep to someone whose brain has been seeped in faith. But it's a "deepity". It doesn't really mean anything. It's a semantic game you are using to make you feel justified in believing in the existence of supernatural things.

    ReplyDelete
  73. I don't "denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with" me-- just like Ken Miller, I denigrate the BELIEFS of those who hold strongly to unscientific views (e.g. Behe). It just so happens, that Ken Miller's theistic beliefs fit into that category. I find his arguments for them specious. If I didn't, I'd be a believer.


    Believers (and the faitheists who cover for them) need to step away from their beliefs a little if they can't tell the difference between denigration of a belief and denigration of a believer.

    You cannot coddle some brands of superstition (supernatural beliefs) without weakening science in the process. And it sullies science when people (like Ken Miller) attempt to prop up faith using science on one hand, while denigrating scientists on the other.

    If religious people do not like what atheistic scientists have to say about religion, they always have the option of keeping their magical beliefs private. If so, they'd never have to see this atheist as an enemy. I'd be glad to presume that they are the rationalist that I am.


    Would you outlaw religion, if you could?

    ReplyDelete
  74. Of course I wouldn't outlaw religion.

    I'd treat religion the same way religionists treat religions and superstitions they don't share. I'd give no religion any more of a privilege or coddling than THEY'd want Scientology or Wiccans or astrologists to have. I think it's just as vapid and disingenuous to use science to prop up those supernatural beliefs as it is to prop up any supernatural beliefs--including beliefs in gods souls, angels, demons, devils, etc! Keep your religion out of my science and I'll keep my science out of your churches.

    I'm all for treating all magical beliefs equally. It would surely be a better world if all religionists were as private in their beliefs and demands for respect as they want the Moonies, etc. to be, eh? If you don't want the JW's inflicting their beliefs on you, don't inflict your faith on others. Tit for tat. Do unto others...

    That's fair. There is no way to support one magical belief without endorsing them all. There is no reason Jesus belief deserves more respect than Mohummed belief. You can't give a friendly not to god belief without also implicitly endorsing the idea that people can be possessed by demons... or that the invisible voices in a persons head could be divine providence. Whose to say they are not, if a scientist cannot? How do you tell a real revelation from a fake-- a real god from a myth or imaginary god?

    Scientists can't pretend that souls are a more valid concept than Scientology's Body Thetans when there is no more evidence for one than the other. And no more evidence for gods than sprites!

    But you didn't really want my answer to your question right? Like many smarmy faitheist types, you asked an insincere question because you thought it would win you a point in your head game, I suspect.

    When you use an argument, no one made, it's called a "straw man". Your implication that atheists would "outlaw" religion is a fake argument that you are using to make yourself feel holier than thou. The truth is, I'd probably like all religions treated the same way you'd like all religions you find "wacky" treated.

    I find all supernatural beliefs wacky.

    ReplyDelete
  75. Tulse, I don't feel like such a disclaimer is necessary (on a blog or on an institutional website). A signed article is generally assumed to be a reflection of the author's views, and not necessarily the views of the publisher. That article was adapted from an essay Hess wrote for the Washington Post, and I don't take an essay written by a Brookings Fellow in an op-ed to necessarily reflect official Brookings policy. Why is this different?

    But while I'm not here in an official capacity, I will run your concerns up the chain of command and see what the bosses say. I'm not revealing any deep secrets when I say that they do care about these concerns, and about preserving both the appearance of neutrality and the reality of neutrality (which may be harder to discern, as most of NCSE's work happens behind the scenes).

    As with all discussions of accommodationism, I'd need to see a clear definition of the term before saying whether I think NCSE's official policies or practices "support[] accommodationism." The term has too many meanings at this point. Clarify your terms and I'll offer an opinion. It is simply not true, though, that NCSE's official position (even if you look at the statements of individual staffers in composite) is that science and religion are perfectly compatible. Even the quoted passage from Hess's op-ed does not assert a perfect compatibility of science and religion, contra Larry's post. For instance, Hess notes that "Of course, religious claims that are empirically testable can come into conflict with scientific theories." That's not perfect compatibility!

    ReplyDelete
  76. Oh, Shut up, John P...

    Do you have some other way of knowing that is compatible with science or not?

    If not, then you are in the same loser argument position of all the faitheists.

    Faith makes people feel like they "know" something when they don't know anything verifiably true at all.

    The only reason people are so vulnerable to this idiocy is because they think that the invisible creator of the universe REQUIRES such a thing to allow his "creations" to live happily ever after.

    Honest scientists want no part of enabling this delusion.

    To us it's the same as pretending that the emperor might really truly be wearing magical robes that only "the chosen" can see.

    Prove that there can be invisible clothing or go back to the disingenuous faithiest hole you crawled out of!

    ReplyDelete
  77. The level of sanctimonious windbaggery is astonishingly high here.

    What do Moran, Coyne, Peezy et als. mean when they claim that science and religion are incompatible? If they mean that they are different and they look at the world differently, using different mechanisms, then sure. But I don't think that's the claim. If they mean that science's ability to check its work (so to speak) gives what it produces a greater level of certainty, I could agree despite the inherent limits of induction because of how well science works in the usual case. We put men on the moon after all. But I don't think the claim is so limited. If the claim were merely that science is the best method we know to ascertain (approximate) truth, even if only of a limited type, I'd have little quarrel. But I think they mean a lot more than that.

    It seems to me that Moran, Coyne, Peezy and the various apostate apostles of positivism want to annoint themselves as secular prophets, priests and kings, wearing vestments/robes that look suspiciously like crisp, white labcoats, and dispense special knowledge that only their super-secret-decoder-ring-method can provide. Or, as Moran puts it, "I'm looking for evidence of other ways of knowing that might provide valid knowledge." Not surprisingly, he finds none. In their view, since only the scientific method offers a way to falsify what is proclaimed to be true and, by the lack of such falsification, effectively (if tentatively) to verify such a proclamation, science (cue the music to begin swelling) must be seen as having risen to the level of philosophical system nonpariel.

    Accordingly, our neo-brights have effectively thrown out the baby with the bathwater. In their haste to jettison religion from any spectre of legitimacy on account of its alleged "incompatibility" with (now capital "S") Science, their "thinking" necessarily means that everything and every system of thought that isn't Science is illegitimate too since they rest upon propositions that are impervious to demonstration. They rest upon unevidenced suppositions and assumptions. They must be argued for. Thus ethics is incompatible with Science. Morality is incompatible with Science. Politics is incompatible with Science. All must bow before the Great God (or perhaps Godess).

    Jacobins of the world unite!

    ReplyDelete
  78. Josh, you write:

    "James M: I felt that I was responding to, and rejecting, the sentence you quote. It does not follow that something unsupported by science is incompatible with it. Something which consistently contradicts science (when properly interpreted) is incompatible with science, of course. But Star Trek consistently contradicts basics of science, but I would not say that enjoying Star Trek is incompatible with science (hence my "when properly interpreted" disclaimer).
    The salient part of the sentence was (emphasis mine):
    Thus, if you are committed to science as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of religious beliefs are not compatible with science."

    This seems true to me, almost by definition. Of course it is almost meaningless. It has a weasel word, "if" on every important phrase. I might say it another way: When one adopts and decides to follow a scientific view of reality, all religions become irrelevant.
    There. Maybe that works.

    ReplyDelete
  79. I find Sinbad's rant completely incoherent, particularly when he dresses named scientists in the clothes of priests and then attacks them for founding a religion. However he does accidentally suggest something central to the issue: Any one who got through high-school physics knows that no scientific hypothesis is ever absolute truth. Hence, the polysyllogism:

    1>All scientific statements are hypothetical (even if highly probable). 2>Religion deals primarily with certitude and authority.
    3>Uncertainty is incompatible with absolute certitude.
    >Science and religion are primarily incompatible because science deals with stochastic probabilities: religions deal with absolute truth derived from authority.

    ReplyDelete
  80. "I don't feel like such a disclaimer is necessary (on a blog or on an institutional website). A signed article is generally assumed to be a reflection of the author's views, and not necessarily the views of the publisher."

    Josh, that explanation seems strained in the extreme to me. Hess is not writing on a personal blog, or in newspaper but writing as the NCSE Faith Project Director on the NCSE website. His organizational title appears as an imprimatur on the essays. The NCSE isn't the "publisher" of his piece, but the organization that he represents. It is ridiculous in the extreme to expect a reader to see those pieces as anything other than the official NCSE position.

    Of course, if the NCSE wanted to make clear that these pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the NCSE, they could very simply add a disclaimer. (It would seem extremely odd to me for an organization to disclaim the writings of one of its officials that it posted on its official website, but this would be one solution.)

    "But while I'm not here in an official capacity, I will run your concerns up the chain of command and see what the bosses say. I'm not revealing any deep secrets when I say that they do care about these concerns, and about preserving both the appearance of neutrality and the reality of neutrality "

    I appreciate you taking these concerns to the higher-ups. That said, this has been a very publicly debated issue for quite some time, so I'm rather doubtful that these criticisms are taken all that seriously by the NCSE.

    ReplyDelete
  81. Tulse: Again, that essay was originally written for a newspaper, and then reused on the NCSE site, so it's not right to say that "Hess is not writing … in newspaper." And yes, it would be odd to specifically disclaim the writings of one staff member on the website without doing that for others.

    I will note that NCSE did revise that essay and others that folks here and at Coyne's blog raised concerns with. It wasn't a high-profile event when that happened last year, but I think it's fair to say that it reflects a genuine concern on NCSE's part.

    James M.: The quotation you offer from Moran does not flow logically, at least to my eye. Of course, it's all dependent on an unspecified definition of "compatible," but acknowledging that science is one of many ways of knowing (which I take to be Moran's intent by referring to a way of knowing) does not logically require that science is the only valid way of knowing, or that it is incompatible with other ways of knowing.

    The argument which I understand to be justifying the claim about incompatibility is "when that way of knowing is applied to religious claims, those claims can be shown to be false or, at the very least, unsupported." I hold that most religious claims (when properly interpreted) are unsupported (not falsified) scientifically. I do not think that adopting science as a way of knowing precludes believing things which are not scientifically supported, so I don't think the chain of if-thens holds together. Not least because of the problem pointed out by Wilkins: If adopting science as a way of knowing precludes accepting beliefs unsupported by science, then one cannot accept the belief that science is a valid way of knowing. And 'round and 'round we go.

    ReplyDelete
  82. I don't "denigrate and belittle those who don’t entirely agree with" me-- just like Ken Miller, I denigrate the BELIEFS of those who hold strongly to unscientific views (e.g. Behe). It just so happens, that Ken Miller's theistic beliefs fit into that category. I find his arguments for them specious. If I didn't, I'd be a believer.

    Uh...this strikes me as strange coming from someone who apparently strongly support Moran and other anti-accomadationists, given that they are vocal critics of compartmentalization. This comment compartmentalizes a what a person believes from who that person is and therefore relies on the (erroneous) assumption that people cannot derive any part of their identity (i.e., who a person is) from their beliefs (i.e., quite obviously, what the person believes).

    While I do not have a citation from the psychological literature at hand (i.e., a position arrived at by a sceintific process), a generalization from my experience with evangelical Christian (i.e., a position arrived at by quick-and-dirty reasoning) contradicts the notion that such a compartmentalization cannot be made in any meaningful sense.

    Believers (and the faitheists who cover for them) need to step away from their beliefs a little if they can't tell the difference between denigration of a belief and denigration of a believer.

    First, those claiming that a clear and meaningful distinction can be made between between what a person believe and who that person is.

    Second, I always knew that there was something I didn't like about the label "accomodationist", and articulett's use of "faitheist" illustrates my dislike perfectly. "Faitheist", being a portmanteau of "faith" and "atheist", satirizes those it labels by implying that they are not "real" atheists because they believe that the religious are somehow deserving of some respect, despite the fact that they hold to beliefs that are not scientifically verifiable.

    Similarly, there appears to be a subtle implication in the use of "accomodationist" that those who don't think that religion and science are compatible in a broad sense are somehow not "real" scientists or science advocates.

    You cannot coddle some brands of superstition (supernatural beliefs) without weakening science in the process. And it sullies science when people (like Ken Miller) attempt to prop up faith using science on one hand, while denigrating scientists on the other.

    So what exactly constitutes pure, "unsullied" science?

    If religious people do not like what atheistic scientists have to say about religion, they always have the option of keeping their magical beliefs private. If so, they'd never have to see this atheist as an enemy. I'd be glad to presume that they are the rationalist that I am.

    I suppose the exact same thing could be said of atheists who get criticized for criticizing religion.

    ReplyDelete
  83. "Again, that essay was originally written for a newspaper, and then reused on the NCSE site, so it's not right to say that "Hess is not writing … in newspaper.""

    Josh, that is being extremely disingenuous, as a) the website says absolutely nothing about the "original" source, and b) the piece is presented on the NCSE website under the name of an NCSE official.

    If you want to argue that Hess' views are not those of the NCSE, then I would strongly recommend making that explicit on the website (along with a note indicating that the essay in question originally appeared in the Washington Post). But I thought the point of Hess' job title is that he was responsible for developing the position of the NCSE on religion and science -- am I wrong?

    ReplyDelete
  84. there appears to be a subtle implication in the use of "accomodationist" that those who [...] think that religion and science are compatible in a broad sense are somehow not "real" scientists or science advocates.

    I didn't think it was subtle at all -- I thought it was pretty damned clear. (The argument is actually more complex and nuanced that that, but in outline that's correct.)

    ReplyDelete
  85. James M: "I find Sinbad's rant completely incoherent.... However...".

    Despite the obvious inconsistency in your excoriation, I'll try to dumb it down for you.

    The fundamatheist cabal asserts that unverified beliefs and systems which rely upon unverified beliefs are incompatible with science. That claim is mind-numbingly nonsensical. The jettisoning of all such beliefs and systems (as anathama?) means that ethics, morality, politics and the like must be jettisoned too, since they all mecessarily rely upon unverified beliefs.

    ReplyDelete
  86. This comment compartmentalizes a what a person believes from who that person is and therefore relies on the (erroneous) assumption that people cannot derive any part of their identity (i.e., who a person is) from their beliefs (i.e., quite obviously, what the person believes).

    Just because person B derives some measure of his identity from his beliefs does not imply that person A is criticizing B by criticizing any such belief. Just because B's identity is in part BASED on a belief does not imply that B's identity is identical to or semantically replaceable with that belief.

    That is, it makes perfect sense for person A to be able to criticize a belief of person B's as opposed to criticizing person B, even if person B accidentally conflates the two. Person B is not the same as person B's belief, even if person B thinks that belief is integral to who he is.

    If you think that a person is the same as any particular belief that person has, then you seriously need to get away from the computer for a little bit.

    First, those claiming that a clear and meaningful distinction can be made between between what a person believe and who that person is.

    As Microsoft Word would say: "Sentence fragment, consider revising..." From what I can tell, you're going on with the rather bizarre, "a person is the same exact thing as any particular belief of that person." Which seems absurd to me, but maybe I'm missing something.

    I will say that "fatheist" gets thrown around because there's a lot of atheists (including myself) who think that faith is a real problem. Believing things without justification may be necessary in a very limited set of domains, but it definitely shouldn't be considered a virtue and should be avoided whenever possible. Thus, an atheist who thinks that faith is actually a good thing is, to me, someone who is not thinking consistently (unless they arrived at atheism through some justification other than skepticism, I suppose). It's just a word to use as a handle for a particular class of beliefs, philosophical positions, and arguments. If you think that an atheist can consistently and coherently defend faith as a virtue, then there's no reason to take "fatheist" as an insult. Wear it like a badge of honor.

    Of course, I somehow doubt you object to occasional use of terms like "fundie," "wingnut," or "rethuglican." Just a guess.

    So what exactly constitutes pure, "unsullied" science?

    An example of unsullied science would be if I were to use a tabletop demonstration of wave/particle duality using polarized filters and a laser pointer and then explain the mathematics that predict the (rather surprising) results.

    The corresponding example of sullied science would be if Ken Miller did the same table top experiment and then explained how wave/particle duality provides insight into the mind of God.

    The difference is actually pretty obvious, isn't it?

    I suppose the exact same thing could be said of atheists who get criticized for criticizing religion.

    Kind of. If Dawkins writes a book called "The God Delusion," it's certainly fair game for believers to criticize him for criticizing religion. If Moran criticizes Miller for conflating theological arguments with scientific ones, then it's not fair to criticize him for criticizing religion, because he's really criticizing the application of religion to a domain outside it's applicability.

    Of course, as an atheist, I think there is nothing within theology's domain of applicability. So far, no theist has been able to give me a good reason to think otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  87. I didn't think it was subtle at all -- I thought it was pretty damned clear.

    I haven't read everything that has been mentioned in Larry's post or everything that Larry has written on what he insists is "appeasement" (ooops...I mean "accommodation"), so I was describing what I had perceived as my general impression of what was being said from what I had read (an intuition, if you will).

    (The argument is actually more complex and nuanced that that, but in outline that's correct.)

    What's so nuanced about a smear term?

    ReplyDelete
  88. "That claim is mind-numbingly nonsensical. The jettisoning of all such beliefs and systems (as anathama?) means that ethics, morality, politics and the like must be jettisoned too, since they all mecessarily rely upon unverified beliefs."

    Those are not claims about the natural world.

    ReplyDelete
  89. "What's so nuanced about a smear term?"

    I didn't say the term was nuanced, but the argument was (at least more nuanced than "religious people can't be good scientists").

    ReplyDelete
  90. @Sinbad

    Why do those that refuse to even TRY to understand the arguments of their adversaries insist on explaining to everyone what those arguments are? Let's look at your "characterization" more closely.

    The fundamatheist cabal asserts that unverified beliefs and systems which rely upon unverified beliefs are incompatible with science.

    Not quite true. First of all, a "system" cannot be "unverified" or "verified" or "verifiable." Already you distort the concept of skepticism to "score" a point.

    Second, I think most skeptics would agree that it's not unverified beliefs in general that are anathema, it's specifically unverified beliefs about the natural world. If you tell me you prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream, I cannot verify that fact, but I will still consider it if I decide to buy you ice cream. Even if you always eat chocolate ice cream and never eat vanilla ice cream, I cannot be sure whether you actually prefer chocolate or are just being perverse.

    On the other hand, "God directed evolution through the manipulation of quantum probabilities" is an unverifiable claim about the natural world rather than a statement of feeling or belief. This notion is unscientific, whereas the notion that you prefer chocolate to vanilla -- while unverifiable -- is not unscientific.

    That claim is mind-numbingly nonsensical.

    Yes it is. That's what happens when you construct a straw man instead of honestly evaluating an adversary's arguments. You end up arguing with asinine and ludicrous notions that none of your adversaries are espousing anyway.

    The jettisoning of all such beliefs and systems (as anathama?) means that ethics, morality, politics and the like must be jettisoned too, since they all mecessarily rely upon unverified beliefs.

    Again: systems cannot be verifiable. Again: statements about ethics, morality, and politics are only rarely statements about the natural world. Just because skeptics think that physical realities MUST be evaluated through empiricism rather than revelation or introspection does not mean they believe the same of social realities. Stop burning straw men.

    ReplyDelete
  91. Thanks for dumbing it down. You are right about "mind numbing". "incoherent" by the way, means "not being connected". So you can perhaps show the connection between these two sentences:

    "The fundamatheist cabal asserts that unverified beliefs and systems which rely upon unverified beliefs are incompatible with science."

    and

    "The jettisoning of all such beliefs and systems (as anathama?) means that ethics, morality, politics and the like must be jettisoned too, since they all mecessarily rely upon unverified beliefs."

    Science deals with things that have some physical existence. Ethics, morality, and politics do not. The two sentences have no "middle term" to relate them. They are not connected by any subject matter or idea at all. Unconnected = incoherent.

    If you need more help please don't hesitate to ask.

    ReplyDelete
  92. Just because person B derives some measure of his identity from his beliefs does not imply that person A is criticizing B by criticizing any such belief. Just because B's identity is in part BASED on a belief does not imply that B's identity is identical to or semantically replaceable with that belief.

    That is, it makes perfect sense for person A to be able to criticize a belief of person B's as opposed to criticizing person B, even if person B accidentally conflates the two. Person B is not the same as person B's belief, even if person B thinks that belief is integral to who he is.

    If you think that a person is the same as any particular belief that person has, then you seriously need to get away from the computer for a little bit.


    Uh...You representation of what I said is quite far from accurate

    I'm not sure why you have decide to portray what I have said in the particular way you have, but it completely lacks the subtlety that my original argument had. I was saying that people often derive a portion of their identity from what they believe and that, because beliefs play a role in identity formation, attacking someone's beliefs if often interpreted by the individual whose beliefs are being attacked as attacking their identity.

    While you may be able to formally separate a person's beliefs from a person's identity, being able to do so does not preclude you from operating with the awareness that some people don't full separate them or that, while some people may understand the separation, it is not some that they have emotionally integrated. Such a realization is essential, because
    the psychological, sociological, and political aspects of the science/religion debates often hinge on people's emotional responses elicited when they feel that their identities are under attack.

    ReplyDelete
  93. Tulse: "Those are not claims about the natural world."

    On what world do you propose that ethics, morality and politics exist?

    Daniel: "[A] 'system' cannot be 'unverified' or 'verified' or 'verifiable.' Already you distort the concept of skepticism to 'score' a point."

    Nice job with the scare quotes but you ought to read more carefully. I specifically referenced "systems which rely upon unverified beliefs" (my emphasis). I never claimed that such systems are somehow verifiable. With respect to your major assertion, I think you draw too bright a line between "scientific" and "unscientific." Science grows and develops in large measure on account of the musings and speculations of its practicioners. That's science of the best sort, even when it is unverified (or even unevidenced). Einstein's great work was science even though it wasn't evidenced (much less verified) until much later. String theory is still science. Moreover, much of science falls into the "unverified" category. History is replete with examples of great disputes about what the evidence shows and means and there are many that are still unsettled (unverified). JW mentions the "birds are dinosaurs" dispute as merely one example.

    ReplyDelete
  94. "On what world do you propose that ethics, morality and politics exist?"

    The world of opinion. There are no ethical, moral, or political "facts" in the natural world -- those are human constructs. (That is not to say that we can't strive to make our ethical, moral, and political systems as rational and consistent as possible.)

    ReplyDelete
  95. As Microsoft Word would say: "Sentence fragment, consider revising..."

    You are quite right!

    The relative clause in the fragment is extraordinarily long and the fact that it itself could stand alone as a complete sentence were it not a relative clause confused me.

    I will be more thorough in my proofreading in the future.

    From what I can tell, you're going on with the rather bizarre, "a person is the same exact thing as any particular belief of that person." Which seems absurd to me, but maybe I'm missing something.

    You are missing something because you are taking my argument to be "a person is the same exact thing as any particular belief of that person". As I have mentioned before, different people form varying degrees of identity from their beliefs, so, while you may be able to use formal logic to separate their beliefs from their identity, they themselves don't necessarily do the same thing, which needs to be taken into account when public policies are made.

    I will say that "fatheist" gets thrown around because there's a lot of atheists (including myself) who think that faith is a real problem.

    So you don't see a problem with identifying a group of atheists with the "problem of faith"?

    Believing things without justification may be necessary in a very limited set of domains, but it definitely shouldn't be considered a virtue and should be avoided whenever possible.

    I am in hearty agreement with you here.

    Thus, an atheist who thinks that faith is actually a good thing is, to me, someone who is not thinking consistently (unless they arrived at atheism through some justification other than skepticism, I suppose).

    Do you have any evidence that such atheists exist?

    They seem to be more a creation of other atheists who want to see their specific brand of atheism a being the true brand of atheism.

    It's just a word to use as a handle for a particular class of beliefs, philosophical positions, and arguments.

    If you think that an atheist can consistently and coherently defend faith as a virtue, then there's no reason to take "fatheist" as an insult. Wear it like a badge of honor.

    Recognizing that faith is a reality in our societies and understanding that attacking it tend to alienate those who have it from those who don't is not a claim that "faith is good" or that "faith is above reproach". It is an acknowledgment that people often operate in ways that are irrational and that sometimes it is easier and more expedient to appeal to them on that level than trying to dazzle them with impeccable logical or blind them with science.

    Of course, I somehow doubt you object to occasional use of terms like "fundie," "wingnut," or "rethuglican." Just a guess.

    I'd object to them if your stated purpose is to have a meaningful dialogue with those who you are describing with those labels. Using labels that are overt insults to groups of people with whom you are trying to communicate is the surest way to get them to close their ears to the arguments you are trying to put forth.

    How do you respond to posters who call those who accept evolution "evilutionists"?

    ReplyDelete
  96. @Michael (mjpam):

    I apologize for interpreting your arguments too literally; I don't think we disagree on very much, actually. Please excuse me if I do not respond to every point you made in response to me as a result.

    I will try to make a brief response to cover the grounds on which I think there is still some disagreement:

    You're absolutely right that when you're trying to have a serious conversation with someone and you attack a belief that they take seriously, they may take offense and that will derail serious conversation.

    On the other hand, I lean towards the premise that someone who can't take themselves out of the argument and keep it about ideas isn't going to have a serious conversation about such beliefs in the first place.

    If I can't criticize faith without offending the faithful, then I will go ahead and offend the faithful. Otherwise, taking offense becomes the most powerful argument available in any form of discourse, and that would be asinine.

    But I am not particularly political or accomodating on these things; I guess I can't really fault people for trying to find a middle way.

    ReplyDelete
  97. @Sinbad:

    First of all, I apologize for misreading you. However, the notion that skeptics think all systems need to be based on empirical principles is also false, and thus also a straw man.


    On what world do you propose that ethics, morality and politics exist?


    Microsoft Windows doesn't have a physical reality (or, at the very least, trying to define it in such a way that it's only physical is more trouble than it's worth). It's easier and probably more accurate to propose that it exists in a conceptual space that can be implemented within the physical world (my computer is running Windows right now, but so is my neighbor's -- different implementations but the same conceptual space). Similarly, emotions, morals, values, political entanglements -- these are entities that exist within a different sort of conceptual space, one that would presumably be implemented in the physical world through the mechanisms of the human brain.

    Humans often reify aggregates and complex systems into holistic entities. Just because it's a concept doesn't mean it's physically real.

    With respect to your major assertion, I think you draw too bright a line between "scientific" and "unscientific."... That's science of the best sort, even when it is unverified (or even unevidenced).

    My perspective on what is scientific and not scientific is much more nuanced than you seem to want to give me credit for. I'm not sure I understand your perspective, however. Are you saying that ANY musing by scientists qualifies as science? Can musings of non-scientists qualify as science? Any old musings of non-scientists? It's clear to me, at least, that we need standards. What standards do you think would be fair? Or should science just be a free-for-all?

    At any rate, I disagree that speculation is "science of the best sort." To me, "science of the best sort," is a combination of a theoretical prediction and an empirical result that is either consistent or inconsistent with the prediction. Theory without empirical feedback is worse than useless.

    Einstein's great work was science even though it wasn't evidenced (much less verified) until much later.

    Would relativity have been "science" if it had not been a good approximation to the physical universe? Or would it just be mathematics? Or perhaps idle conjecture? But actually, the notion that Einstein's work on relativity amounted to mere musing or conjecture is incorrect; empirical results in electromagnetic theory were not consistent with predictions of a phenomenon called "aether drag," and Einstein resolved those inconsistencies with relativity. Einstein probably wouldn't have been doing the Gedankens he did if it weren't for these inconsistencies between classical EM and empirical results. Even Einstein can't do science without someone else doing a few experiments.

    Finally, to address your last paragraph, there is a difference between unverified propositions (like the question of birds and dinosaurs) and unverifiable propositions. There are bits of evidence we could imagine that would spell out clearly -- absent intervention from some malicious trickster -- that birds are or aren't dinosaurs. Not so with the supernatural. At some point, you have to admit that either God is undetectable BY DEFINITION, in which case God's existence CAN'T be a scientific question, or God is at least in principle detectable -- which would make religious claims in principle vulnerable to scientific investigations. You just can't have it both ways.

    ReplyDelete
  98. Daniel, you are very sweet to apologize, but I don't think you misread them.

    Some people have a very "kwokian" reputation in skeptic circles.

    Don't expect your attempts at facilitating conversation to go unpunished by such people.

    ReplyDelete
  99. Tulse: "I thought the point of Hess' job title is that he was responsible for developing the position of the NCSE on religion and science -- am I wrong?"

    Pretty much. I mean, NCSE's official position is neutrality toward religion. That's always been the official position, and no one wants to change that. In terms of science and religion, I think the position can be described as: science belongs in public schools without interference from religion.

    NCSE's principal effort is networking. We connect local folks in trouble with experts who can help them. Sometimes that means connecting them with local scientists, sometimes it means connecting them with local politicos, sometimes it means connecting them with local clergy, and sometimes with local theologians. The nature of conflicts over evolution in science classes is to touch on all those parts of society.

    The faith project director networks with religious groups interested in science and religion, just as I go to science meetings and policy meetings and network with scientists and journalists and policy types who might be helpful. I want them to know we're there as a resource, and I want to know who is out there that might be a useful resource. Peter does the same with pro-evolution religious people and groups.

    Some of that outreach involves groups like the Clergy Letter Project and other groups promoting a vision of science/religion compatibility. One can critique the philosophical underpinnings of the CLP statement, but the fact is that it's useful, and science is more concerned with what works than with philosophical purity. NCSE's mission is not to adjudicate philosophical issues, but to win the fight in classrooms, and outreach to religious believers and theologians is an essential part of that effort.

    For more on what the faith project director does, check out this essay by one of Hess's predecessors: http://ncse.com/rncse/22/1-2/why-ncse-should-be-involved-science-religion-dialog

    ReplyDelete
  100. @Daniel

    All I have to say is that there re many ways of making a point about faith. Some offend broader swathes of the faithful than others. Offending those who might help block pseudoscientific curriculum changes is not politically expedient for those who wish to keep pseudoscience out of the public schools, which, of course, is the main goal of the NCSE.

    ReplyDelete
  101. Daniel, you are very sweet to apologize, but I don't think you misread them.

    Note the complete lack of evidentiary support for your claim.

    Some people have a very "kwokian" reputation in skeptic circles.

    I'm not the one who has been banned from the aforementioned "skeptic circles" for my inability to obey the rules of said communities.

    Don't expect your attempts at facilitating conversation to go unpunished by such people.

    Your ermergence from the internet ether to snipe at participants of a thus-far civil discussion should give anyone pause in taking your advice.

    Now, how bout actually responding to what I said about your post?

    ReplyDelete
  102. To respond to you, you'd have to say something honest, intelligible and on topic.

    You have not done that. Perhaps someone else here will find you as intelligible as you imagine yourself to be.

    Try Mooney's site.

    ReplyDelete
  103. To respond to you, you'd have to say something honest, intelligible and on topic.

    More insults?

    What do you find unintelligible about my position?

    You have not done that. Perhaps someone else here will find you as intelligible as you imagine yourself to be.

    So far, you have been the only one to dismiss my comment as "unintelligible".

    Daniel may have misunderstood what I was saying, but his response to my post allowed me to further elaborate on my position. Moreover, after my additional explanation, Daniel found himself to be in substantial agreement with how understood what I said.

    You, on the other hand, made several veiled personal attacks in lieu of an actual argument, which especially ironic because you yourself have quite a reputation online as being unrepentantly uncivil.

    Try Mooney's site.

    ReplyDelete
  104. "NCSE's official position is neutrality toward religion."

    But not all religions, certainly, such as biblical literalists. The NCSE seems to draw an arbitrary line -- no to 6000-year-old-earth and worldwide flood, but maybe to virgin birth and revivification of corpses.

    "One can critique the philosophical underpinnings of the CLP statement, but the fact is that it's useful"

    And that in a nutshell is accommodationism -- it is better to be politic than to be principled.

    Again, to be very clear, no one is saying that the NCSE should be taking a position against religion -- we're just saying that it shouldn't be taking any position. And I think it is extremely hard to argue that Hess' writings in his official NCSE capacity don't do exactly that, support a particular view of the relationship between science and religion.

    ReplyDelete
  105. My comments are likely to be very long (and have a lot of comment posts), since I want to go through a lot of issues, so please bear with me.

    As has been noted already in the comments, there are major problems with the attempt to define science as "a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence". While others have pointed out that Moran can define things however he likes, we can all criticize that definition for either not matching reality or not matching the definition that's causing the debate in the first place. I think he does both, but I'll only raise two of the more interesting problems with it:

    1) It's horribly vague; it seems that I could come up with other ways of knowing that would violate at least portions of the scientific method and yet would be based on the same three things.

    2) On closer inspection, it seems that what he's described could, in fact, describe PHILOSOPHY, which would mean that he's now calling philosophy and even theology "science". That really doesn't seem to work, especially since science came from philosophy.

    But, let's look deeper to see if philosophy really does fit that definition:

    Well, we can't deny rational. Philosophy and even theology are certainly rational, and often geti into trouble by focusing on reason TOO much. This is then a problem since, at the very least, philosophical claims are going to be rational, and so if they're going to be different the contention that the alternative views are irrational is going to be problematic.

    Evidence: Well, the problem here is that this is very, very vague. Is it limited to empirical evidence? Then philosophy doesn't limit itself to that sort of evidence (although it can and does make use of it). But philosophers could argue that the things that aren't empirical -- thought experiments, counter-factuals, armchair explorations -- are still evidence for what they are doing, which is conceptual analysis. After all, how do you filter out incorrect conceptualizations based on what we commonly encounter without testing the concepts in cases that eliminate the other confounding issues? So that would be evidence, just as any experiment is. So, I think it best to avoid these sorts of squabbles and concede that you need evidence in philosophy, and you follow the evidence in philosophy, but that what counts as evidence in philosophy is itself an open question to be argued for, and leave it at that.

    ReplyDelete
  106. That leaves skepticism. And if you've ever read philosophy, you'd see that, as a system, it's probably the most skeptical we have. No philosophical theory ever seems to get accepted; someone is always raising problems for it. But I'll contend that philosophy has, in fact, rejected FORMAL skepticism because it has rejected philosophical skepticism (and logical positivism). After all, being skeptical as a rule leads you to solipsism, and no one wants that. As has been pointed out in other comments, science is itself only skeptical within limits, but philosophy says that there's no principled and objective way to decide where that line is. So it seems a case can be made that philosophy is different because it rejects skepticism.

    So, how, precisely, do I mean that, when I acknowledge both that science isn't skeptical about everything and philosophy is skeptical about a lot of things? It's whether it's held as part of the system, and I take it thusly: if you put skepticism into your system, you need a reason to not be skeptical in a certain situation, otherwise you are skeptical. Your default is to be skeptical. If you reject this, your default is to NOT be skeptical, and you need a reason to be skeptical. And then we can see how philosophy can doubt everything it's ever come up with and still not hold skepticism as a principle, since it is clear to see that philosophy doubts BECAUSE someone raises reasons for it not to be true, not just because people aren't sure. You don't write philosophical papers -- in general -- saying "There isn't enough proof here", but you write them saying "The proof doesn't hold" (ie it isn't valid) or saying "You can't handle this common case". Okay, okay, the former might be a skeptical idea, but we can go with it for now.

    So, to relate this to Moran, I've identified an alternative to science as a way of knowing. I've also pretty much shown that it isn't derived from science, since science derived from it. So let me go on to talk about compatibility and whether or not this is plausible.

    ReplyDelete
  107. I'll argue that even if you don't buy that philosophy rejects skepticism (but can still distinguish it from science), a way of knowing that rejects ONLY skepticism is valid, as I've talked about skepticism. It is valid to have a way of knowing that says "Trust the conclusions unless you have reason not to". And that wouldn't be scientific or derivable from science, because it rejects the skepticism principle. So, question 1: Could this co-exist with science, in that you could claim that BOTH should be used?

    My answer: Yes. This is actually going to get into the "quick and dirty" debate from other comments. Rejecting skepticism means that you will hold beliefs or claim knowledge about things faster, based on less evidence and less testing. You'll gather up only what evidence you have and derive a conclusion from that. This, it seems, is in fact generally what we do every day. It isn't science because we AREN'T applying skepticism, aren't looking for the placebo effect, aren't testing against the null hypothesis, and aren't looking for objective verification. We're just taking it and going with it, until it stops working. Which skeptical approaches don't do. This method, then, works really well in cases where a) you need fast decisions and b) you don't really care if you're right (close enough is good enough). On the other hand, the skeptical approach for science works best when a) time isn't a factor (because it's more accurate) and b) when you really, really need to be RIGHT. But both can be used on all the same phenomena, since they both accept reason and evidence but simply disagree on skepticism.

    So, in that sense, they seem to be co-existent. So question 2: Are they compatible in the sense of producing -- hopefully -- the same data?

    Well, yes. Ultimately, since both are evidence-driven, both should eventually come to the same answer. They may disagree at points, but that is resolvable. First, what will happen much of the time is that the non-skeptical approach will come to the right answer FIRST -- since it isn't waiting for more evidence/data/testing -- and science will get there eventually. Second, other times the non-skeptical approach will jump to the WRONG conclusion, but will later find evidence showing that it was wrong, and then correct for the new evidence (skeptical science does this, too, but it's less likely to if it truly is skeptical for the reasons I've already outlined). So, eventually, they should align.

    This is, of course, treating science as informally as you possibly can treat it. I disagree that science doesn't imply certain formal structures that could be jetisoned to still maintain the basis of reason, evidence and skepticism, but that those formal structures are what makes science successful. However, I've shown that there is an alternative to science that is compatible with Moran's definition of science and demands, thus blunting the thrust of his argument.

    ReplyDelete
  108. So, now, where do religion and things like love and personal experiences fit in? The debate over personal experiences has been that they're not scientific -- and I think most people intuitively don't think of them that way -- but that some are saying that they really are. I'll accept that they are based on evidence and reason. What I'll deny is that they accept skepticism. When Moran determines that he loves his wife because of how he "feels" towards her, he isn't being skeptical of that. He feels that way, so it is. This is despite the fact that it is, in fact, the case that he MIGHT BE WRONG. He cannot be wrong that he FEELS that he loves her, because if you feel that you love someone you are having that feeling, just as if you are seeing something red you really are seeing that thing as red. But what he can be wrong about is whether or not that object REALLY IS red, or that he REALLY loves his wife. We know that we can have optical illusions, and we know that sometimes we can feel love for other, underlying reasons when we don't (see "rebound" for a prime example; also see "crushes"). But we aren't skeptical about our personal experiences: we believe them unless given SPECIFIC reasons not to (not just the general ones outlined above). So, that ain't science, since it ain't skeptical.

    Religion, I think, can be seen similarly, particularly in those who do think that their beliefs are compatible. Science has refuted YEC, certainly, but I think the compatibilists are arguing that it hasn't ruled out a Creator yet. And so they're saying that science applying skepticism says "Don't believe this; not enough evidence" doesn't really impact a non-skeptical position. Note that these people really ARE taking the science seriously and trying to reconcile their beliefs with it; they aren't denying evolution or the age of the Earth or geology or anything else. At most, they are simply pointing out that there is -- in their minds -- still room for God, and that science's skepticism is interesting and useful but too strong in this case.

    So, in some sense, they are indeed refusing to apply science to their religious beliefs, but that is only because they refuse to apply that formal a skepticism to their beliefs. Which is generally how we live our lives anyway, and is not unreasonable given what I've said above, and the fact that science may never be able to satisfy its skepticism on the matter (how do you scientifically prove a miracle?).

    At any rate, these are people who are, at least, taking science seriously, and are saying that their religion has to be compatible with science in that if their religion contradicts scientific FACT, their religion must change to accomdate that. You can claim that there are contradictions that they are not considering or that they are incompatible in principle, but as Wilkins says that's what you need to argue for; you don't get it for free simply by saying "Science good". They think "Science good", too; they disagree about all the consequences of that.

    ReplyDelete
  109. Tulse: "The world of opinion. There are no ethical, moral, or political 'facts' in the natural world -- those are human constructs."

    The scientific method is an inductive process and, as such, its purpose is falsification, not verification. Indeed, verification is not strictly possible; such a conclusion is only arrived at tentatively and by inference. Thus the idea that there is some bright-line distinction between fact and opinion or hypotheses verified and unverified in a scientific sense simply doesn't hold. Accordingly, where religious claims have been falsified (e.g., 6,000 year-old earth), there is incompatibility. Claims that have not been falsified (e.g., unique miracle events) are not incompatible (subject to further investigation).

    Scientists are as prone of overreaching and excessive certainty as the rest of us. Premature and unwarranted verification claims are far too common. I think Coyne, Moran, et als. are overreaching here. Yet, as Kuhn has established, entire scientific paradigms can be and have been overturned. As an interesting aside, I am old enough to remember scientists proclaiming definitively in the 70s that an ice age was just around the corner and in the 80s that a "population bomb" was about to explode, dooming us all. I suspect the difficulties we are seeing with respect to AGW today are due in part to past missteps like those.

    Daniel: "Are you saying that ANY musing by scientists qualifies as science?"

    Science works by falsification. We can never say for sure what science is, expect in retrospect (and only tentatively, even then).

    Daniel: "At some point, you have to admit that either God is undetectable BY DEFINITION, in which case God's existence CAN'T be a scientific question, or God is at least in principle detectable -- which would make religious claims in principle vulnerable to scientific investigations. You just can't have it both ways."

    I don't think it's a matter of wanting it both ways. For me it's a matter of not knowing. I try to hold my faith tentatively and subject to change based upon new information. Indeed, my views on the subject have changed a lot over time and I expect them to continue to. I readily concede that I may well be wrong.

    Tulse: "But not all religions, certainly, such as biblical literalists. The NCSE seems to draw an arbitrary line -- no to 6000-year-old-earth and worldwide flood, but maybe to virgin birth and revivification of corpses."

    I don't speak for the NCSE in any way, but a distinction between religious views which have been falsified (a 6,000 year-old earth) and those which have not (unique miracle events) seems perfectly appropriate to me.

    ReplyDelete
  110. A 6000 year old cannot be falsified if you consider a magic man that can make the earth look any age that you want to be part of the equation-- or a demon that is trying to trick humans.

    This is why religious beliefs are "unfalsifiable". But that doesn't give them any more scientific merit than Sagan's invisible dragon.

    This, in essence, is why religion cannot be science. All "woo" relies on "unfalsifiability" to some extent to claim that their magic is perfectly compatible with reality.

    In essence, they are saying, "so long as science can't prove me wrong, my belief is perfectly compatible with science." But there are an infinity of inane beliefs that science can't prove wrong. The world could have been made yesterday with all memories etc. implanted to look like an old earth.

    As Larry said-- it's a quantitative difference, not a qualitative difference. There really is no line that distinguishes one supernatural claim from another.

    ReplyDelete
  111. articulett: "A 6000 year old cannot be falsified if you consider a magic man that can make the earth look any age that you want to be part of the equation-- or a demon that is trying to trick humans."

    If someting is unfalsifiable it simply isn't subject to scientific investigation. And, from a theological perspective, God as a charlatan isn't a very atteractive concept.

    "This is why religious beliefs are 'unfalsifiable'. But that doesn't give them any more scientific merit than Sagan's invisible dragon."

    Unfalsified doesn't mean true (as economists discovered to their extreme displeasure -- and billions of dollars in losses -- recently).

    "This, in essence, is why religion cannot be science. All 'woo' relies on 'unfalsifiability' to some extent to claim that their magic is perfectly compatible with reality."

    How do you distinguish this "woo" from an undetectable multiverse or the just-so stories of ev-psych?

    "In essence, they are saying, 'so long as science can't prove me wrong, my belief is perfectly compatible with science.' But there are an infinity of inane beliefs that science can't prove wrong. The world could have been made yesterday with all memories etc. implanted to look like an old earth."

    Without falsification we're left with argument.

    ReplyDelete
  112. Allan C Cybulskie doesn't like my definition of science as a way of knowing that requires evidence, rationality, and skepticism. He says there are two main objections.

    1) It's horribly vague; it seems that I could come up with other ways of knowing that would violate at least portions of the scientific method and yet would be based on the same three things.

    Life's a bummer, isn't it? It would be wonderful if we could reduce all our problems to simple definitions that divided the world into black and white. Unfortunately, the world isn't like that and we have to struggle with imperfection.

    In this case the problem is trying to define what science is in a way that doesn't obviously violate common sense. My attempt is provisional, which shouldn't come as a surprise since scientists are used to dealing with provisional claims, unlike most religious people.

    (Incidentally, you use the term "scientific method" but that's not a term I use. I do NOT think of science as a method.)

    In the context of this debate over the conflict between science and religion, we need to reach some common ground in defining science and religion. Ideally, this common ground should clearly exclude Young Earth Creationism from the magisterium of science and it should define religion is a way that permits atheism to be an acceptable worldview.

    I'm open to discuss any reasonable definitions of science and religion that reflect the real world. In other words, I'm not terribly interested in deep philosophical nitpicking about epistemology. Sometimes that's fun but it doesn't help us decide whether the religious views of Michael Behe, Michael Denton, Douglas Axe, Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Simon Conway Morris are in conflict with science. (Many people think the views first three are easily distinguishable from the views of the last three. I don't.)

    2) On closer inspection, it seems that what he's described could, in fact, describe PHILOSOPHY, which would mean that he's now calling philosophy and even theology "science". That really doesn't seem to work, especially since science came from philosophy.

    Actually, I think of science—when it's defined as a way of knowing—as a branch of philosophy. In fact, I think of everything as a branch of philosophy. Is this a problem?

    Remember, I do NOT restrict scientific ways of thinking to physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. I think everyone should think like a scientist. This includes historians, sociologists, researchers in English literature, physicians, and, especially, philosophers (gasp!).

    ReplyDelete
  113. "the idea that there is some bright-line distinction between fact and opinion or hypotheses verified and unverified in a scientific sense simply doesn't hold."

    You're conflating "opinion" and "hypothesis". A hypothesis is in principle falsifiable by evidence, opinion is not.

    "a distinction between religious views which have been falsified (a 6,000 year-old earth) and those which have not (unique miracle events) seems perfectly appropriate to me"

    Once you allow miracles, you lose the possibility of falsification, as nothing gets ruled out of bounds and literally anything can happen. Perhaps the Earth was created simply to look as if it were older than 6000 years (Omphalos position, or "Last Thursdayism"). Surely an omnipotent god can do that as easily as revivify a corpse. Once miracles get into your ontology, you lose your ontology.

    "from a theological perspective, God as a charlatan isn't a very atteractive concept"

    God as tester of human rationality isn't attractive, but god as distributer pain and suffering to infants is? In any case, this approach may not be attractive from one theological perspective, which you would have to argue, and which is completely extra-scientific. You're suggesting that science should now be governed by theology.

    "How do you distinguish this "woo" from an undetectable multiverse or the just-so stories of ev-psych?"

    I for one don't. I think much of evolutionary psychology is nothing more than extreme speculation unsupported by any reasonable data, and I know that many in the physics community feel the same way about things like string theory. Until there is a way to actually test a theory, it is no more than just a theory. If there is in principle no way to test the theory, it is woo.

    ReplyDelete
  114. Larry Moran,

    First, thank you for the reply.

    Second, let me address your points:

    Life's a bummer, isn't it? It would be wonderful if we could reduce all our problems to simple definitions that divided the world into black and white. Unfortunately, the world isn't like that and we have to struggle with imperfection.

    In this case the problem is trying to define what science is in a way that doesn't obviously violate common sense. My attempt is provisional, which shouldn't come as a surprise since scientists are used to dealing with provisional claims, unlike most religious people.

    (Incidentally, you use the term "scientific method" but that's not a term I use. I do NOT think of science as a method.)


    Well, it's okay to say that it's provisional, but that doesn't mean that you can simply side-step arguments that it isn't sufficient. In this case, the problem I'm raising is that as a definition of science it doesn't identify it; there are things that can have this and not be science. While I don't mean to imply that science is a method, I do think we'd all consider it really, really odd that something could reject the scientific method but by keeping those three criteria could be called science. That means this definition isn't good enough; what we think of as "science" isn't JUST that, and so the accomodationists you are challenging to find an alternative are quite justified in saying that that isn't what they mean by science, and that there's more to science which is what causes the issues. They could even charge that you are trying to define them out of existence, and accept that if that's what you mean by science then they agree that science is the only valid way of knowing ... but that then religion IS science. A cleaner definition avoids all of this.

    Actually, I think of science—when it's defined as a way of knowing—as a branch of philosophy. In fact, I think of everything as a branch of philosophy. Is this a problem?

    Now, but my complaint is actually that you go the other way around: you define all branches of philosophy and all philosophical ways of knowing as BEING SCIENCE. And that's utterly absurd. Yeah, I'd accept science as a branch of philosophy but I'd say that at least currently it isn't the case that all branches of philosophy are ACTUALLY scientific. Maybe they should be, but currently they ain't.

    Remember, I do NOT restrict scientific ways of thinking to physics, chemistry, geology, and biology. I think everyone should think like a scientist. This includes historians, sociologists, researchers in English literature, physicians, and, especially, philosophers (gasp!).

    And this I -- and Wilkins, in your quotes from him -- say is what you need to argue for. I disagree. I'm willing to get into a long discussion of why it shouldn't be the case -- and in fact did a bit in part of my long reply -- but that is not something that you can achieve by definition, but by arguing why science works in those cases. Which means that you can argue with the accomdationists and even me over it.

    Finally, I know that it is long, but did you note my attempt to take your definition head on and argue that every day thinking, philosophy all -- rightly, in at least some cases -- reject skepticism, thus providing you with your alternative?

    ReplyDelete
  115. Tulse: "Once miracles get into your ontology, you lose your ontology."

    If your ontology philosophically precludes the possibility of miracles, any commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads is falsified. This seems to be Dawkins's view, as at the end of The God Delusion, where he seems to say that if he saw a statue of the Madonna wave to him, he would still reject the miraculous. It seems to me that an ontology that refuses, on the basis of a preconceived philosophical commitment, to follow the evidence and insists upon its commitment to ignore a certain type of evidence is far more lost than one which engages no such preconceived notions.

    "You're suggesting that science should now be governed by theology."

    No, I'm suggesting that such a claim can be opposed on both scientific and theological grounds.

    "Until there is a way to actually test a theory, it is no more than just a theory. If there is in principle no way to test the theory, it is woo."

    Prospectively, I don't see how we could tell the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  116. "If your ontology philosophically precludes the possibility of miracles, any commitment to follow the evidence wherever it leads is falsified."

    If your ontology allows miracles, any notion of evidence is suspect. If literally anything can occur, how can you say that anything is evidence? "Evidence" involves a presumed causal relation between the observed data and whatever event or outcome one is assessing, but miracles cut that causal relation. If you allow miracles, you might as well be in the Matrix.

    ReplyDelete
  117. Tulse: "If your ontology allows miracles, any notion of evidence is suspect."

    It already is. That's why hypotheses are tested and re-tested and always remain tentative and subject to revision. We already handle the potential problem with maxims like extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It costs me nothing to concede "it's theoretically possible that...[insert scenario of choice here]."

    "If literally anything can occur, how can you say that anything is evidence? 'Evidence' involves a presumed causal relation between the observed data and whatever event or outcome one is assessing, but miracles cut that causal relation."

    It may be that what we reckon as "miracles" aren't really supernatural but, rather, are part of some yet unknown natural process. In that case, as in a truly supernatural event (if there really is a difference), the causal relation is simply different than we might have supposed. And, unlike you, I don't see that as cause for despair. In virtually every instance, the universe has turned out to be far more bizarre than we imagined -- probably more bizarre than we could have imagined. We deem what is possible limited and foreclosed before looking at what actually happens at our extreme peril.

    "If you allow miracles, you might as well be in the Matrix."

    If I were in the Matrix, I'd want to know. Wouldn't you?

    ReplyDelete
  118. "That's why hypotheses are tested and re-tested and always remain tentative and subject to revision. We already handle the potential problem with maxims like extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. "

    Sinbad, I think you're missing the true nature of miracles. If miracles are possible, then it is possible that the testing and re-testing are also subject to miraculous intervention. If miracles are possible, induction isn't.

    "It may be that what we reckon as "miracles" aren't really supernatural but, rather, are part of some yet unknown natural process."

    Science doesn't reckon any events as "miracles", but takes precisely the stand you describe -- that the un-understood involves merely unknown but fully natural processes. I don't understand your point here.

    "In virtually every instance, the universe has turned out to be far more bizarre than we imagined -- probably more bizarre than we could have imagined. We deem what is possible limited and foreclosed before looking at what actually happens at our extreme peril. "

    You've got it backwards -- it is declaring miracles possible that forecloses possibility. By saying "goddidit", you prevent any explanation, since miracles are by definition inexplicable in how they work (we can say that god "caused" the miracle, but not how he achieved it -- it is outside the natural causal chain). Miracles are the ceding of understanding to the unknowable. They are the end of curiosity. They are the final declaration of failure of human reason.

    And, at a purely pragmatic level, if miracles are possible, how do we ever know when to stop seeking a natural explanation? Various natural phenomena were once thought to be supernatural (lightning, magnetism, earthquakes, etc.), and it was a long time in human history before we found natural explanations for them. If no one had thought that they might yield to a natural explanation, we would still think they are inexplicable actions of supernatural beings. Are you suggesting that there are some things that scientists should just throw up their hands at and grant are miracles? Put another way, even if miracles are possible, how are scientists to know what is miraculous? Even if miracles are possible, can science be done if they are assumed?

    ReplyDelete
  119. Tulse: "Science doesn't reckon any events as "miracles", but takes precisely the stand you describe -- that the un-understood involves merely unknown but fully natural processes. I don't understand your point here."

    I don't see a real-world difference between a miracle and an unknown physical process. I'm not even sure that there can be a difference.

    "By saying 'goddidit', you prevent any explanation, since miracles are by definition inexplicable in how they work (we can say that god "caused" the miracle, but not how he achieved it -- it is outside the natural causal chain). Miracles are the ceding of understanding to the unknowable. They are the end of curiosity. They are the final declaration of failure of human reason."

    But I'm not saying "God did it" (at least not necessarily). I am merely recognizing that God might have done it.

    "Are you suggesting that there are some things that scientists should just throw up their hands at and grant are miracles?"

    Nope.

    "Even if miracles are possible, can science be done if they are assumed?"

    I have never said that they should be assumed. I merely say that they should not be deemed precluded as a philosophical presupposition.

    ReplyDelete
  120. Tulse: As Sinbad notes, this isn't an arbitrary distinction. Claims about the age of the earth are testable (and while Last Thursdayism can't be ruled out, it can be determined to be non-science and therefore excluded from science classes), while claims about active suspensions of natural law are not. NCSE would oppose presenting any of those religious claims in a science class, so the distinction is, for our purposes, without a difference.

    Tulse quotes me: "One can critique the philosophical underpinnings of the CLP statement, but the fact is that it's useful"

    and replies: "And that in a nutshell is accommodationism -- it is better to be politic than to be principled."

    No, I'm saying that science is about what works, not about dogma or philosophical purity. NCSE's work is fundamentally political: defending evolution in public schools. But to suggest that politics and principle are in opposition is false, and to suggest that NCSE's position is unprincipled is unjustifiable. NCSE institutionally is not dedicated to resolving age-old philosophical conundra, but the principle of defending separation of church and state is nontrivial. Neither is the principle that good science be taught in schools. And as I just posted at TfK in response to Larry's post above, NCSE's approach beyond its mandate of defending evolution in public schools is fundamentally pragmatic, empiricist, and indeed scientific.

    Tulse: "Again, to be very clear, no one is saying that the NCSE should be taking a position against religion -- we're just saying that it shouldn't be taking any position."

    Bull. Creationism is religion and there's no way that you want NCSE to be neutral toward it. And if NCSE (or anyone) wants to attack some religious beliefs without creating a sense that they are attacking religion writ large, it's necessary to explain why certain religious beliefs are problematic and others are not in the scope of that attack. It's the difference between Laplace saying "I have no need for that hypothesis" and declaring "God is dead." The latter may be interesting philosophy, but only the former has scientific warrant.

    ReplyDelete
  121. It would be NICE if the NCSE said "we have not need for that hypothesis"... instead they imply that the "god hypothesis" (and thus "faith") is perfectly compatible with a fact finding endeavor. I suppose it is, if you really want to limit your gods powers.

    And we are hardly asking for them to declare god dead-- "god" is none of their business.

    They ought to treat god questions the way they would treat other supernatural questions.

    ReplyDelete
  122. "Claims about the age of the earth are testable"

    But not if you permit miracles, since any testing you do could itself be subject to miraculous intervention in some fashion. That's the point I've been making -- once you allow miracles, there is no principled way to distinguish them. Literally anything is allowed.

    "No, I'm saying that science is about what works, not about dogma or philosophical purity. NCSE's work is fundamentally political: defending evolution in public schools. But to suggest that politics and principle are in opposition is false, and to suggest that NCSE's position is unprincipled is unjustifiable. "

    You're conflating "what works" in science with "what works" in promoting science. Promoting science indeed involves politics, but to change the way one publicly characterizes science to make it more politically palatable can indeed be a violation of scientific principle. That's the issue with accommodationism.

    "Bull. Creationism is religion and there's no way that you want NCSE to be neutral toward it."

    Agreed -- I misspoke in the original. I want the NCSE to oppose direct anti-science threats from religions, but what I don't want is for the NCSE to take a parochial theological position on the relationship between religion and science. I think it is completely reasonable for the NCSE to say "biblical literalism does not accord with scientific facts" without having to say anything further about the implications for religion of science.

    (Josh, I'll also note that, while we may disagree strongly on these issues, I do greatly appreciate the honest dialogue.)

    ReplyDelete
  123. “Spiritual, not religious.” That is a common entry on most social networking sites. While many young people may have attended the house of worship of their parents, they seldom feel obligated to believe in the tenets of that religion. An interest in mysticism is increasing among them too, which bridges other faiths. We cannot say that applies to all people under 30. Too many are still secular and skeptical.

    The term empiricist applies to many people, young or old. If it can't be seen, heard, smelled, or touched, or tasted it doesn't exist. Contemporary astrophysics says that dark matter and dark energy make up 95% of the critical density of the Universe. That would imply the science can now study only 5% of this Universe.

    ReplyDelete
  124. articulett: I contend that that's what NCSE does.

    Tulse: "'Claims about the age of the earth are testable' But not if you permit miracles, since any testing you do could itself be subject to miraculous intervention in some fashion."

    I suppose, and that's why I made noted that Last Thursdayism (Omphalism, more formally) is in a different category. YECs generall hold that empirical tests show the earth to be 6000 years old, though, and that's falsifiable and false.

    "No, I'm saying that science is about what works, not about dogma or philosophical purity. NCSE's work is fundamentally political: defending evolution in public schools. But to suggest that politics and principle are in opposition is false, and to suggest that NCSE's position is unprincipled is unjustifiable. "

    "You're conflating "what works" in science with "what works" in promoting science."

    I happen to think that "what works in promoting science" can be evaluated scientifically, and that it's odd to attempt to set politics and political persuasion outside the realm of scientific testing.

    "what I don't want is for the NCSE to take a parochial theological position on the relationship between religion and science."

    I don't happen to think NCSE does. I think NCSE cannot avoid answering the inevitable and reasonable questions that theists pose to people who criticize creationism: "if you oppose creationism, do you oppose any belief that god is involved in creation?," "if you think god didn't created, does that mean god doesn't exist?," etc. And that requires some nuance and subtlety. Simply saying "I'm not gonna talk about that" winds up creating an impression of anti-religiosity which is a) inaccurate and b) impolitic.

    And thank you, too, Tulse, for the good discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  125. We begin by defining terms. I claim that science is a way of knowing based on rational thought, skepticism, and evidence. I claim that when that way of knowing is applied to religious claims, those claims can be shown to be false or, at the very least, unsupported. Thus, if you are committed to science as a valid way of knowing, it follows that, when you stick to that commitment, the vast majority of religious beliefs are not compatible with science.

    Coming back to Sandwalk I find one the same old hobby horses. In the small quote above, first you suggest defining terms, then you don't bother. You must have been through this dozens of times. Then you say "it follows". But of course it does not follow and has no chance of following. Nor do you make any attempt to show rather than just assert that "it follows". To even try you would have to define terms.

    As I hope you recall, the key term is "compatible". Those who argue for incompatibility from either side implicitly define "compatible" to make themselves right. Worse, to be compatible the other side would just about have to capitulate. Those who argue the question with great assurance never (that I recall) define the key term and so it (their conclusion never follows. But defining the term would just make it clear that you essentially assume your conclusion.

    Anti-compatibilists I should note can be either creationist types or your type.

    Both simply brush aside the obvious reality of compatibility in the ordinary sense of the word.

    The tragedy of logic: you don't have it until you really lay out your assumptions and definitions, and then anyone who does not agree with your conclusion can simply disagree with the assumptions and or definitions.

    Pete Dunkelberg

    ReplyDelete
  126. Josh, do you think the NCSE treats belief in demons with the same respect that it treats belief in God (gods)? I don't. But I think they should. They just shouldn't "go there". It's not relevant to science. Many scientists may have supernatural beliefs, but that doesn't really mean that supernatural beliefs and science are compatible in any genuine sense. The former is about faith and the latter is about facts (evidence, data, testable claims). Does the NCSE want to get in debates about reincarnation versus heaven and hell or demon possession or karma? Religion is not the NCSE's business. That being said, I support and am a member of the NCSE, and I am a science teacher in a public high school.

    I see science as Sagan's "candle in the darkness" of a "demon haunted world", and I don't want any part of enabling belief or ennobling faith as a means of knowledge. My beliefs (or lack of belief) is not discussed in class. I think biology teachers should be able to teach the facts the same as the chemistry teachers, and I encourage all people to keep religious beliefs private. I would hope that you would see why it feels dishonest or disingenuous to those who feel as I do. I think it's weird when the NCSE discusses which beliefs are and aren't compatible with the evidence. Gods are no more compatible with the evidence then demons, but do we want school children growing up to believe in demons? Are you willing to foster demon belief to make evolution more palatable? How do you address people who have come to believe their salvation depends on them not understanding or accepting evolution? I'm not sure the smoke and mirrors technique is working.

    If the question isn't raised, why bring it up? It was weird in the Dover trial when Ken Miller had to admit that he's kind of a creationist in that he thinks god had a hand in it all. I just don't think god should be a part of public discourse regarding government, education, schooling, or science. You can point people towards theists who accept evolution IF THE ISSUE COMES UP, but why give god more attention than demons or other proposed invisible beings?

    I just think religions ought to be as private as they want all the conflicting and crazy religions to be. They shouldn't ask for any more deference, favors, or coddling than they want to give the Wiccans, Moonies and Scientologists.

    As for Pete, Sinbad, and a couple of others here-- they seem to be having their own private conversations as far as I can tell. I can't tell what their point is. Dunning-Kruger effect, perhaps.

    ReplyDelete
  127. articulett: "If the question isn't raised, why bring it up?"

    But it is raised. All the time. People don't ask NCSE about demons, but they do ask whether teaching evolution is equivalent to teaching atheism, and whether opposing creationism means opposing religion. So NCSE, by your own logic, has to address the matter.

    ReplyDelete
  128. Josh-

    articulett is just upset the NCSE doesn't see religion s being incompatible with science.

    ReplyDelete
  129. I posted this over at The Questionable Authority, in response to Mike Dunford's response to Larry:

    http://scienceblogs.com/authority/2010/03/more_on_the_material_and_metap.php#comment-2355009

    Mike:

    Actually, there are cases - quite a few of them, in fact - where theological statements can be investigated scientifically, and where they can, and have, been shown to be false. The circumstances that surround these cases are very similar to cases where ESP, ghosts, ghoulies, and things that go bump in the night have been investigated by science.

    The common thread that connects these cases, and, more importantly, excludes quite a few others, is fairly simple: there is some sort of set of measurable criteria that all parties - skeptic or otherwise - recognize as a required consequence of whatever is being investigated.

    Sorry, this doesn't wash.

    Consider the Galileo example I brought up in the earlier thread, here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/authority/2010/03/cities_solipsism_scientism_and.php#comment-2341162

    The Catholic authorities (well, some, anyway) wanted Galileo to say that his model didn't actually describe reality, which would contradiction scripture, but was predictive.

    They proposed that the Sun went around the Earth in just such a way as to be observationally indistinguishable from Galileo's heliocentric model.

    They were scientifically wrong, weren't they?

    Science is simply not neutral toward unfalsifiable hypotheses, especially those that

    1) appear contrived precisely to avoid falsification, and/or

    2) are arrived at by dubious methods, using intuitions that have systematically failed in the past

    To the extent that it has any interesting, distinctively religious content at all unfalsifiable religion meets both these criteria.

    It's a scientific fact that unfalsifiable hypotheses are usually wrong---they have to be, because there's an infinity of unfalsifiable hypotheses that mostly contradict each other.

    It's a scientific fact that hypotheses contrived to evade falsifiability are especially likely to be wrong, or worse than wrong.

    It's a scientific fact that religious hypotheses in particular are usually wrong. They have to be, because of the contradictions between religions. (E.g., on the number and traits of god(s), the basic nature of morality, the origin of the universe, the specific moral claims, etc.)

    Religion in general is demonstrably wrong in most cases, even if we can't say for sure which ones it might luck out and be right in.

    Without some extraordinary evidence for particular religious claims, we should scientifically discount religious hypotheses in the very same way we discount other unfalsifiable hypotheses contrived to evade falsification, e.g., Bigfoot, UFO reports, homeopathic nonsense, and various paranoid conspiracy theories. There's no special rule about religion.

    (to be continued...)

    ReplyDelete
  130. (continuing response to Mike)


    Scientifically, we should be at best agnostic toward religion, and extremely skeptical. That's not optional, or a particularly "philosophical" or "metaphysical" claim; it follows from the science.

    It is not okay to say that if science can't strictly disprove something, it's okay to believe it's true, as accommodationists often do.

    Science is simply not about strict disproof, never has been, and never could be. By that standard, we still haven't proved that the Earth isn't stationary.

    And yet it moves, as Galileo said.

    It could still be true that the Sun goes around the Earth in just such a way as to be completely observationally indistinguishable from the best scientific theory of planetary motion. That doesn't mean that it isn't scientifically wrong to take such an idea very seriously, much less actually believe it.

    Likewise other religious claims.

    Accommodationists want to make unfalsifiability and supernaturalism into virtues that protect religious beliefs from scientific scrutiny.

    That's utter bullshit.

    Science can study religion's claims, and religion's methods, and find them sorely wanting as means of getting at anything resembling truth.

    NOMA is wrong, and unfalsifiability of hypotheses doesn't mean science can't say it's probably wrong---it generally means science should say exactly that: distinctively religious beliefs are probably wrong.

    Calling something "supernatural" isn't a science-stopper, either.

    The scope of science isn't limited to the "natural" world in any sense that's relevant to the "natural"/"supernatural" distinction.

    Science can study anything with observable effects, and purported supernatural entities systematically do have (supposed) observable effects---that's how we're supposed to know about them. (E.g., transcendent spiritual experiences, revelation, etc.)

    That makes them fair game for science whether they reduce to materialism as we know it or not.

    Consider Lamarckism and vitalism. Both of those theories had a supernatural character, assuming teleological properties of living things that nobody knew how to cash out in "reductionistic" materialistic terms. (And in fact, many thought it was impossible---that's why Darwin is so important.)

    That did not keep scientists from taking them seriously, scientifically, and it shouldn't have. Darwin was right to be skeptical of irreducibly teleological weirdness, and to make an educated guess that a purely materialistic, nonteleological account could be successful, but to keep an open mind about the possibility of very special principles at work, which could not be reduced to monistic, materialistic Science As We Know It.

    The success of materialistic monism in science is not and never was a matter of an a priori constraint on what science can study, or what hypotheses it can entertain. A priori methodological naturalism is simply false---that is not how science worked then, or works now, or ever should work, or ever could work. Science blinkered in that way would not be science---it would be science bowdlerized to accommodate religion, and that's not just unscientific but antiscientific.

    Accommodationists still don't understand the significance of the most important examples in the history and philosophy of science, and constantly misrepresent the nature of science. It's very tiresome.

    ReplyDelete
  131. Larry Moran said: ". Apparently, there are very few honest people on my side of the argument."

    Agreed, there are very few honest people in your camp. There are plenty of dishonest persons on your side of the argument.

    ReplyDelete
  132. "inchirieri apartamente cluj" posted a comment on this site where he said.

    We all have to agree that some things are just plain irrational, and cannot be explained... at least to some extent.

    No me. There are lots of thing I can't explain but I anticipate that they will eventually have rational explanations. I base this expectation on historical precedence. It's worked well in the past.

    Until there's an explanation, I put it in the category of "unknown."

    I believe that here is when we speak about faith.

    You have "faith" that some mysterious things will have an irrational explanation. You don't seem to like the "unknown" category. That's doesn't seem very rational.

    P.S. I have deleted the comment by "inchirieri apartamente cluj" because it contains a link to a website that has nothing to do with an individual profile.

    It's spam.

    ReplyDelete