Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Francis Collins on Compatibility

 
Many of us struggle with the controversy between science and religion. As one who argues that science and religion are not compatible (with minor exceptions), I try hard to understand the views of my opponents. One of the greatest challenges is to understand why Francis Collins sees his position as an argument in favor of compatibility.

Here's a video of a talk he gave last October at The Veritas Forum in California. All of it is really interesting but the punchline comes at 50 minutes when he gives a short summary of his beliefs.
[First Slide] Almighty God, who is not limited in space and time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.

[Second Slide] God's plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that plan included human beings.

[Third Slide] After evolution, in the fullness of time, had prepared a sufficiently advanced neurological "house" (the brain), God gifted humanity with free will and with a soul. Thus humans received a special status, "made in God's image."

[Fourth Slide] We humans used our free will to disobey God, leading to our realization of being in violation of the Moral Law. Thus we were estranged from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.

That's it. A very simple but, I think, entirely compatible view that does no violence either to faith or to science. And puts them in a harmonious position ...
Collins goes on to describe this view as "Theistic Evolution." It could also be called the "New Creationism."

I can think of six, perfectly scientific, questions that could be asked.
  1. Is there any evidence of purposeful "fine tuning"?
  2. Is there any evidence that humans were inevitable?
  3. Is there any evidence of a Moral Law?
  4. Is there any evidence of a soul?
  5. Is there any evidence that humans have something called "free will" that other species lack?
  6. Is there any evidence that such a personal God exists?
I think the answer to all six question is "no," therefore, believing those things conflicts with science. They are supposed to part of the natural, observable, universe and they should all be detectable, if they exist.

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief from The Veritas Forum on Vimeo.




52 comments :

  1. What I have never been able to understand about Francis Collins is how you can spend and hour talking about fine tuning, God being "outside and independent of the universe", working through evolution, etc., then say with straight face "Therefore the Judeo-Christian God is the one we should be worshiping, and that's why I'm an evangelical Christian". It simply does not follow, and it actually makes very little sense

    Not only hasn't he given any remotely serious evidence for the existence of a God, (all he has done is hide it safely where science can't directly disprove it, and he hasn't done that very successfully either) but even if we were to take his arguments seriously, they actually argue against the Judeo-Christian story.

    I absolutely can't wrap my mind around how it is possible not to see how absurd this position is. Young-Earth creationists make a lot more sense to me, at least they are intellectually honest

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    1. If you dont have freewill then your opinion means nothing. How many other self refuting beliefs do yo hold? Maybe the world just magically designed itself. You believe in the eternal block universe as most atheists use? Then fine tuning means nothing-- as the nothing caused anything. Your opinion is an eternal accident frozen in reality and your consciousness just magically move along the fake timeline.

      Have you guys ever considered the price you have to pay to spew out this nonsense week after week. Oh yeah..there are no weeks. Its almost like you think you can talk the truth out of existence.

      Do you really believe all your incoherent ramblings are actually gonna carry any weight on the day(there are no days BTW) when you meet up with your worst fear? This ends very badly for you and all of you sense that. There is simply no other reason to pretend you actually have free opinions, actually believe you can change fixed frozen minds.

      I say make a list of all the things you Must believe to uphold your beliefs and see if they are not just a boatload of crazy. Just picture the eternal block universe with your 4 dimensionally extended person-hood, with all its fixed thoughts imprinted on reality with no cause, no reason for it to be there---just you following some magical script written for you by nothingness and somewhere on that squiggly line you making grandiose proclamations about how absurd everyone else is but you and your atheist friends who believe your not even real.

      After you have done that, after you have seen the price you must pay to accept such an incoherent mess, may be you can join the rest of humanity who are looking at you guys through the monkey bars, for the spectacle you are, as you throw poop at us

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  2. I like your 6 questions, but any halfway capable apologist will argue that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Now you and I might think that they misunderstand how science treats absence of evidence, but perhaps we could rephrase the questions:-

    What objective tests could show that purposeful "fine tuning" exists?
    What objective tests could show that humans were inevitable?
    What objective tests could show that a Moral Law exists?
    What objective tests could show the existence of a soul?
    What objective tests could show that humans have something called "free will" that other species lack?
    What objective tests could show that a personal God exists?

    Phrasing the questions this way (or some better way) puts the onus on the godstruck to explain how their (no doubt honestly held) subjective assertion can become an objective fact. Otherwise we'll go around the loop forever where all sorts of tortured logic and subjective feelings are offered as 'evidence'.

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  3. It's rather interesting that Dr. Collins is still claiming that the evolution of humans was inevitable. His theistic colleague, Ken Miller has apparently backed off from this claim and now says that the evolution of intelligent animals, not necessarily humans was inevitable (e.g. paleontologist Dale Russells' speculation that Troodons, had they survived the KT extinction, might have evolved into intelligent birds).

    Dr. Collins is just another example of very intelligent individuals believing dumb things (Brian Josephson anyone).

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  4. "I think the answer to all six question is "no," therefore, believing those things conflicts with science."

    If it's a question of evidence -- as you seem to imply, what with you using the terms 'evidence' in each of your 6 questions -- then it is reasonable to ask what evidence you have for thinking the answers are 'no' in each case.

    Is there any evidence for thinking that there is a universal moral law? No, not direct evidence. But it does have some explanatory power. However, much of what it used to explain can now be explained through biological, cultural and social forces. But neither are these new explanations 'evidence' that there is NO universal moral law. 'Inference to the best explanation' is a logical and inductive (inductive: meaning probabilistic and not absolutely certain) judgement, not empirical observation.

    This is the thing that drives me CRAZY about your blog: basing biological claims on only 'explanatory power' leads to the nutty 'just-so stories' of the sociobiologists and adadptationists. But your claims that you have 'evidence' that there is no universal moral law is similarly based wholly on the pure 'explanatory power' of those alternate explanations. You don't have evidence that contradicts their claims. What you have is simply the fact that any judicious and objective application of Occam's Razor will leave science and cut away the 'godspeak.'

    Shorter version: you claim deductive certainty when you really only have inductive probability. Even though it pains my atheistic heart, I cannot countenance crimes against logic even in the pursuit of worthy scientific/humanistic goals.

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  5. It's rather interesting that Dr. Collins is still claiming that the evolution of humans was inevitable. His theistic colleague, Ken Miller has apparently backed off from this claim and now says that the evolution of intelligent animals, not necessarily humans was inevitable (e.g. paleontologist Dale Russells' speculation that Troodons, had they survived the KT extinction, might have evolved into intelligent birds).

    What if those intelligent animals were insect-like and had 6 or more appendages? What about the symbolic significance of the cross in this case? It would have been harder to crucify someone in this case I would guess...

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  6. I still don't see why Collins is excluded from the Intelligent Design community.

    Re: Troodon, I just want to say this because its funny, not only did Russell think that they might have become intelligent (a reasonable claim I think), but he made the egregious but error of thinking they would look like humanoids too

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  7. "you claim deductive certainty when you really only have inductive probability. "

    Those who claim to believe in an objective moral law would go a long way toward establishing their belief if they would define non-problematically what they mean by such a thing. If they can't define it or define it well, then it does follow with deductive certainty that "this non-defined thing exists" or "this poorly-defined thing exists" are meaningless statements.

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  8. dpoyesac says,

    This is the thing that drives me CRAZY about your blog: basing biological claims on only 'explanatory power' leads to the nutty 'just-so stories' of the sociobiologists and adadptationists. But your claims that you have 'evidence' that there is no universal moral law is similarly based wholly on the pure 'explanatory power' of those alternate explanations. You don't have evidence that contradicts their claims

    I don't claim that I can prove the negative. I do not claim that I have "evidence" to prove there's no Moral Law or that God doesn't exist.

    What I do claim is that believing in things without any supporting evidence whatsoever—and much contrary evidence—is not compatible with science. When Francis Collins chooses to believe in those things he is abandoning science in favor of some other way of knowing. This would be acceptable (barely) if he believed in things that have no impact on the real world (i.e., deism) but that's not the case with his beliefs.

    He's wrong to say that his religion is compatible with science. It's not.

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  9. @dpoyesac:

    Larry's questions are all of the form "Is there evidence that...?" In each case, his answer is "No, there is no [or insufficient] evidence." And I agree with him.

    Note that he does not say there is evidence for (e.g.) NO moral law. He might well make that argument (as would I), but he didn't do so here.


    The point is that in science, one does not believe in things that are not adequately supported by evidence. Thus, it's contrary to science to believe in absolute moral law, or souls, or whatever, because they aren't adequately supported by evidence. If Collins wishes to believe in them despite the lack of evidence, that's certainly his right. But those beliefs are inconsistent with science. (Whether they do "violence" to science is open to interpretation, I suppose.)

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  10. Whether they do "violence" to science is open to interpretation, I suppose.

    They do a lot more damage than it would seem from just watching Collins gives his lecture. Did anyone notice what kind of questions he was asked at a place like Caltech? I regret not being able to be there when he came, and this is one of the reasons. More than half of the Q&A sessions consisted of utter apologetic nonsense, and among the rest there wasn't much challenge. Is this a healthy intellectual climate? It doesn't look so to me.

    The fact is that we have created a culture that is pretty much completely detached from the real physical world in which we actually live in and has instead chosen to live in a fantasy world where we are chosen by God and have some divine right to always get around the laws of nature. Which will eventually catch up with us and we aren't going to like but one can't argue with nature. If the only people who are supposed to have gotten the kind of training and to have developed the kind of mental habits that would allow them to understand reality better than that, and as a result lift the rest of humanity from its collective ignorance and delusion about how the world works, aren't able to see what a load of crap the "arguments" that Francis Collins presents for the existence of God are and how inconsistent his logic is, either because they haven't developed the above mentioned mental habits or because they are simply to awestruck by the big name standing in front of them, or if even worse, they believe the same nonsense themselves, then things are completely broken and there is little hope. The situation will not be helped by famous figures in science actively sabotaging even whatever completely insufficient promotion of scientific thinking to the broad society is happening.

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  11. Re Ford Perfect

    1. An evolved Troodon might or might not bear some resemblance to humanoids but, having only three fingers and three toes per appendage, they would, at least in that regard look different. I would think that they might have to bear at least some resemblance in order to support a human sized brain.

    2. Dr. Collins seems to differ from the IDiots in that he apparently supports front loading, at least according to the slides shown by Prof. Moran.

    Re Georgi Marinov

    I think that an even more perplexing question to have asked Dr. Collins is as follows: "Dr. Collins, since a necessary condition for the rise of mammals (and thus the appearance of human beings) is the extinction of the dinosaurs, do you believe that god sent the asteroid that caused that extinction?"

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  12. What objective tests could show that purposeful "fine tuning" exists?

    This is relatively straightforward. Take the fundamental physical constants and model (computationally) what happens to universe evolution when those are changed. Do you still get an imbalance between matter and anti-matter? Do stars still form? Can elements heavier than hydrogen still be produced? If the allowable parameter-space consistent with the universe as we know it is small then you have to explain why we should be in such a privileged universe. The possibilities would include things like "really big coincidence", "finally got lucky after multiple tries", and "deliberately designed that way". It's a starting point anyway.

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  13. A long time ago . . . In a firmament far, far away . . .

    G-d: "Dum-de-dum . . . There, that's the universe finished. Now to create a liitle bubble within it, finely tuned for life.'

    Backroom staff: "Umm . . . wait a minute. You refuse to provide evidence that you exist, right?"

    G-d: "Right. proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

    Backroom staff: "But, having life exist in a universe completely hostile to life is a dead giveaway isn't it?

    G-d: "But I can do anything."

    Backroom staff: "Yeah, but having life in a universe completely hostile to life would be evidence that you exists."

    G-d: "Hmmm . . . in that case I'll just tweek here, . . . and here . . . There. A universe fine tuned for life!"

    Backroom staff: "Umm . . . wait a minute."
    [whispers] "Good grief this is like a scene right out of Mr Deity!"

    G-d: "Mr who?"

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  14. I don't buy the Francis Collins version of things, but I also don't think that not being able to prove what he says is a valid argument against faith. The reason it's called 'faith' is that it requires faith, rather than proof. If we could prove all these things were true, there wouldn't be a need for religion.

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  15. I don't buy the Francis Collins version of things, but I also don't think that not being able to prove what he says is a valid argument against faith.

    There are plenty of other arguments against faith

    The reason it's called 'faith' is that it requires faith, rather than proof.

    This is the problem - if you think it is somehow beneficial to believe in grandiose claims that aren't true, then I can't really help you, but the fact is that what is actually true does matter

    If we could prove all these things were true, there wouldn't be a need for religion.

    Which exactly things that religion claims do we need to "prove". By saying this, you are basically assuming that what religion claims is true, but it hasn't been shown to be true, when it is in fact simply false.

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  16. Anonymous,
    a couple of problems with your "objective" test, come to mind.
    1. How do you know what probability distribution the parameters are being drawn from?
    2. These "fundamental constants" are only "fundamental" in our current cosmological model and may not be "fundamental" or "constant" in reality.

    So what I am basically saying, is that your test depends critically on assumptions that may be false, and have never been tested.

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  17. Just do the best with what we already know. That's how science works. :) These types of modeling experiments are pretty standard fare in modern cosmology.

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  18. Gosh, what piffle from Collins!

    I'm in favor of a sort of faux-compatibility between science and religion in saying that it is possible to be (say) a happy praying church-goer on Sunday while working in a lab Monday to Friday. (And I think we should all try to live together happily on this crowded world, so bickering about everything is not A Good Idea.)

    But that compatibility depends on compartmentalising, where the proponent separates the rational and irrational. In effect, the believer is saying "No, I'm not having the argument, I don't care". Is it honest? Depends on your interpretation of honest, but at least it's straight and simple.

    When Collins tries to apply rational analysis to the nonsensical, he is a traitor to both his faith and his reason.

    It is dishonest on so many levels.

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  19. Georgi, I suspect the lacklustre questions posed to Collins is really a result of his stature. It takes balls to put the screws to someone whose scientific legacy is, in my opinion, untarnished by his unfortunate beliefs. Yes, Collins has some awful, inconsistent, braindead ideas. He has also probably saved millions of lives (some in the future) and has certainly contributed more to the advancement of knowledge than most scientists ever will. Anyone would be intimidated by that, students in particular.

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  20. Yes, but the questions weren't coming from students only, there were some quite adult sounding voices there. Anyway, I agree with you that his was a major factor, but the point remains - this should not be the case. His stature should not inhibit students, postdocs and professors of lesser fame to see the wholes in his reasoning and point them out; as I said, this is not a healthy intellectual climate

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  21. Also, even assuming that there was some kind of "estrangement", why is Jesus and nobody else the solution to that estrangement? Why the Judeo-Christian God?

    By the way, I don't think it's inconceivable that science may provide explanations for a moral law. Check out Sam Harris's TED talk and his upcoming book.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hj9oB4zpHww

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  22. The answers to the 6 questions are no. Fine. I don't see though the reasons for your "therefore".

    The claim is not that those four slides *prove* God or anything. Only that believing that will *not* prevent you from doing sound science.

    That is the meaning of "compatible". One meaning at least. You might argue that's a weak version of "compatible". And I agree. But I don't see a stronger claim here.

    If, on the other hand, you want to insist that for something to be "compatible" with science, there has to be evidence for it, then nobody will argue that God is compatible with science, *in that sense*.

    But then you don't argue about the same thing.

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  23. I don't think it's inconceivable that science may provide explanations for a moral law

    It already does, i.e. it explains it away as their is little reason to think there is such a thing to begin with.

    I know in a way I am getting into the dangerous waters of evolutionary psychology here, but really, people behave "morally" when they are in a social group in which the perceived cost of not behaving "morally" outweighs the perceived direct fitness benefits. Which is why small-scale violence has been steadily decreasing with the increase in societal complexity and the advancement of civilization. But once you remove that cost from the equation, you get things like Nazi and Japanese camps and everything that happened in them.

    Of course, it's not always that simple and it's hard to test and falsify such hypothesis, but the explanation that this is what animals with developed intelligence do is infinitely more likely and plausible than the explanation that the bearded man in the sky set it up for some known only to him reason. And it certainly fits the data much better

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  24. The claim is not that those four slides *prove* God or anything. Only that believing that will *not* prevent you from doing sound science.

    I don't agree. The goal of science is to understand the world around us. There is no grander claim about the world around us than the claim that it was intentionally created by a God with us in mind and he somehow cares about us. So if you enter science with that preconceived idea, you have already taken yourself out of the game of trying to understand the world, and if you try to persuade others into believing the same things, you have entered the game of preventing others from understanding the world. You can still contribute to the advancement of knowledge, by collecting data and figuring out small things here and there, and you can even become a big name based on that and due to the fragmented nature of modern science, but you are still actively working against the big goal.

    If, on the other hand, you want to insist that for something to be "compatible" with science, there has to be evidence for it, then nobody will argue that God is compatible with science, *in that sense*.

    God as a concept is compatible with the facts that science has uncovered about the Universe. And he's compatible only because he can always be hidden away from new facts that don't support the older version of God. It doesn't mean that the facts are compatible with any particular religion (they usually aren't). But most importantly, religion as a "way of knowing" is absolutely and 100% incompatible with science, and this is the most important incompatibility. There is no common ground between "I am sure X is true because I have faith in it" and "I think that the evidence in support of X being true is quite compelling so I will consider X true until shown otherwise"

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  25. This bit from SLC is interesting:

    It's rather interesting that Dr. Collins is still claiming that the evolution of humans was inevitable. His theistic colleague, Ken Miller has apparently backed off from this claim and now says that the evolution of intelligent animals, not necessarily humans was inevitable.

    There's an odd disconnect here. If you look at someone like Deepak Chopra, who in spite of being a New Age guru appears to be quite thoroughly into the idea of an entity that resembles an omnipotent God in all but name, you find an underlying belief that complexity and consciousness -- in other words, the "inevitability" of intelligent beings evolving in this universe -- is anything but.

    There seems to be a conviction that complexity and consciousness were not inevitable, but had to be propelled forward by some mysterious force, which for the religious is God, and for the New Agers is some kind of cosmic consciousness.

    And that belief seems to rest on the assumption that complexity beyond a certain point can't just happen, as if there is some sort of barrier that only a higher power can push past. (How the higher power itself managed to push past the barrier is left as an exercise for the student.)

    The result, it seems to me, is that believers have two places to put their god: first, to fine-tune our universe to make us possible, and second, to nurse things along to make sure we -- or something a lot like us -- appears. The first is a deist concept, the second an interventionist.

    Something for everybody!

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  26. If anyone's interested, it looks like Nature is weighing in, albeit in a subsidiary journal: http://www.nature.com/ni/journal/v11/n5/full/ni0510-357.html

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  27. He has also probably saved millions of lives...and has certainly contributed more to the advancement of knowledge than most scientists ever will...
    LOL, wut? Name one life Collins has 'saved'. Theres no cure for CF. Theres no cure for Huntingtons. And what precisely, did he personally contribute to 'the advancement of knowledge'? The human genome? Which Venter also did (cheaper and faster)?

    I can name hundreds of scientists I respect for their scientific accomplishments more than Collins.

    Anyone would be intimidated by that, students in particular.
    'Intimidation' is not a word I would use for my approach to Collins. 'Annoyed'. 'Irritated'. '*eyeroll* inducing'. 'Unimpressed'. Not 'intimidated'.

    However I was specifically instructed not to start shit with Collins (seeing/meeting him in June).

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  28. Georgi Marinov: "There is no common ground between "I am sure X is true because I have faith in it" and "I think that the evidence in support of X being true is quite compelling so I will consider X true until shown otherwise"

    That's only half of it. Religion, any religion, doesn't limit itself only to faith as a way of knowing.

    Miracles are a class of phenomena supported not on faith but evidence. Faith is required for things unseen and unknown, miracles are neither. They actually happen(ed), or so it is said.

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  29. ERV: "However I was specifically instructed not to start shit with Collins (seeing/meeting him in June)."

    I've met him in person once. He's a charismatic, quirky man and was an excellent scientist.

    I'm embarrassed to say his charm took the fight out of me. Stay strong!

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  30. Miracles are a class of phenomena supported not on faith but evidence.

    Miracles are supported by evidence????

    Where is that evidence?

    If someone wrote 2000 years ago (actually later than that) that a miracle happened and nobody has ever seen one since then, then how is this evidence for miracles?

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  31. 1. An evolved Troodon might or might not bear some resemblance to humanoids but, having only three fingers and three toes per appendage, they would, at least in that regard look different. I would think that they might have to bear at least some resemblance in order to support a human sized brain.

    There is also no reason to think an evolved Troodon would have an upright humanoid stance. The traditional raptor stance does just as well at freeing the hands for tool-work, it is more efficient for both walking and running (but especially running), and it is more stable (for running, walking, and standing). It worked very well for a huge variety of dinosaurs, (including modern birds), living in all sorts of different environments. (My apologies for this off-topic bit, but an "evolved Troodon" or other dinosaur is often depicted or assumed to have a humanoid stance, when in fact that is neither likely nor advantageous.)


    Since there are hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy, and at least one science-doing species evolved, I can see why people think the evolution of a science-doing species is likely (but strictly speaking, humans have the ability to test that notion only in the weakest ways), but the "more-or-less like humans" depictions of science-doing species are a big leap from there. They remain widely used in part due to anthropocentrism, but also due to desperation; we have no other examples. (But other earth creatures, such as cephalopods, appear to provide some basis for extrapolating nonhuman intellects, though it seems unlikely that they represent genuine aliens any better than humans do.)

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  32. Re Lewelly

    The theropod dinosaurs were only able to walk in their bent over position because of their large tails which provided balance. If, for some reason, the tails grew smaller as the brains became larger, continuing in the bent over position becomes untenable.

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  33. Georgi Marinov: "If someone wrote 2000 years ago (actually later than that) that a miracle happened and nobody has ever seen one since then, then how is this evidence for miracles?"

    Faith in the religious sense, as I understand it, is applied to untestable claims, not testable ones, such as miracles. For believers, miracles are real-world occurrences and as such can be subjected to scientific scrutiny, whereas a deistic god probably cannot.

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  34. The distinction I'm trying to make is that when apologists and accommodationists insist that religion and science are different ways of knowing, they do so by intentionally ignoring a large part of religious belief.

    Just as these same people would attempt to restrict science to lab coats and pipettes, there is more to religion than faith assertions. Miracles are a vital and inseparable part.

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  35. Compatibility is a weak test and perhaps Collin's beliefs pass this test. My question is to think of the space off all possible belief systems that are just as compatible, then ask "why is your story the true one, and not any of the others?" The bottom line is that there is no way of knowing. So there is clearly a lot more than compatibility going on here.

    Memes are the key to understanding why some "compatible belief systems are preferred over others, IMHO.

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  36. The theropod dinosaurs were only able to walk in their bent over position because of their large tails which provided balance. If, for some reason, the tails grew smaller as the brains became larger, continuing in the bent over position becomes untenable.

    Thats just the thing though, if their heads/brains grew larger, as a functional constraint their tails would probably be selected for greater length anyway. I think this is a much more likely scenario than convergence to humanoid-form.

    Look at crows too. They can use proto-tools (e.g. twigs) and are very intelligent. Not quite apelike in IQ, but it should be noted that they display no trending toward primate-like morphology.

    I'm sure Larry is loving all this adaptive story-telling.

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  37. For believers, miracles are real-world occurrences and as such can be subjected to scientific scrutiny, whereas a deistic god probably cannot.

    They have been and they don't hold up to scientific scrutiny. So how so "miracles" support religion then?

    The distinction I'm trying to make is that when apologists and accommodationists insist that religion and science are different ways of knowing, they do so by intentionally ignoring a large part of religious belief.

    Just as these same people would attempt to restrict science to lab coats and pipettes, there is more to religion than faith assertions. Miracles are a vital and inseparable part.


    And a vital and inseparable part of why we think religion is nonsense

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  38. Collins goes on to describe this view as "Theistic Evolution." It could also be called the "New Creationism."

    holy crap, that's it!

    since people like Collins and Miller label their atheist detractors "New Atheists", isn't it time we start calling them...

    "New Creationists"

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  39. Georgi Marinov: "They have been and they don't hold up to scientific scrutiny. So how so "miracles" support religion then?"

    I said they are an integral part of religion. Don't confuse an ought with an is.

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  40. I'd like to second Jean-Denis's point.

    "I think the answer to all six question is 'no,' therefore, believing those things conflicts with science."

    The inference here is a non sequitur without additional premises; lack of evidence doesn't by itself entail a "conflict" or contradiction. The further statement that "They are supposed to part of the natural, observable, universe and they should all be detectable, if they exist" is also not sufficient to produce a contradiction, nor is it clearly axiomatic. We shouldn't expect that we have the ability to know all truths or even all truths that are provable--though we do know that the latter set doesn't include all of the former set.

    This doesn't detract from your six questions--I think they are all important questions to ask, and "no" answers do give us reason to question why one should believe those things. But such answers don't demonstrate "incompatibility" of those propositions with the propositions of well-established science, as opposed to an incompatibility with an epistemic norm that says you should only believe propositions that are well-established by science. Such a norm faces the problem of its own justification, among others.

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  41. Larry: In the comments above, you wrote: "What I do claim is that believing in things without any supporting evidence whatsoever—and much contrary evidence—is not compatible with science." But your original post left out the "and much contrary evidence" part.

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  42. @ Lippard: does no one understand the null hypothesis? If your hypothesis is that "god did it", then your null hypothesis is that god didn't do it. And the burden of proof is to show god. Atheists don't have to prove god doesn't exist, they just have to keep deists honest. (And as an addendum, showing god did it doesn't entail Jesus did--just statistically speaking, the odds that one specific religion's dogmas are all true is... beyond remote.)

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  43. @ Pausanias

    Very good point, however, what the other side is going to tell you is that you are thinking like a scientists there, that it is faith that you need to have, and that siency stuff like null hypotheses does not apply to faith.

    Which is an explicitly anti-science position when you think about it, yet if you dress it up with sufficient amount of fancy language, it somehow passes as credible.

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  44. Jim Lippard: "lack of evidence doesn't by itself entail a "conflict" or contradiction."

    You are taking what was said out of context to make a general and trivial point. There is conflict when billions of people insist that despite lack of scientific evidence for divine fine tuning, in addition to evidence to the contrary, fine tuning nonetheless remains central to their beliefs.

    The fact that all knowledge in science is tenuous and core religious beliefs are written in stone as it were is plenty of conflict right there.


    Jim Lippard: "We shouldn't expect that we have the ability to know all truths or even all truths that are provable--though we do know that the latter set doesn't include all of the former set."

    There are truths we may never hit upon because the universe may be infinite, and that's reasonable, but you don't go from that to saying therefore anything goes...from saying therefore this particular religious assertion is probable. It is not probable that humans were inevitable because God loves us.

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  46. There is conflict when billions of people insist that despite lack of scientific evidence for divine fine tuning, in addition to evidence to the contrary, fine tuning nonetheless remains central to their beliefs.

    The vast majority of those billions of people have never even heard of "fine tuning". They simply believe what their holy book tells them, that is, if they happen to both A) know how to read, B) have bothered to open it if they know how to read

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  47. Jim Lippard says,

    But such answers don't demonstrate "incompatibility" of those propositions with the propositions of well-established science, as opposed to an incompatibility with an epistemic norm that says you should only believe propositions that are well-established by science.

    Science, as a way of knowing, is characterized by basing your knowledge on evidence, rationality, and skepticism. The skepticism part is as essential to science as the others.

    You don't start believing in something without evidence and you especially don't start basing your interpretation of the natural world on such acts of faith. That's not how science works. If you behave like then you are behaving in a manner that is incompatible with how science searches for knowledge.

    Nobody is saying that you should only accept propositions that are "well-established" by science. There's plenty of opportunity within science to develop hypotheses and to speculate.

    And nobody is saying that you are obliged to behave in a manner that's compatible with science. People can do whatever they want. They can believe in the tooth fairly, for all I care. What they can't do is claim that what they're doing is compatible with science. They should be honest enough to admit that.

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  48. Pausanius: The proposition that "God does not exist" (positive atheism) has a burden of proof just as theism does. Nonbelief (negative atheism) doesn't have a burden of proof. I agree with you that even if one could prove the existence of God, that wouldn't prove Christianity, though none of what you say seems to me to have anything to do with what I said.

    caynazzo: "The fact that all knowledge in science is tenuous and core religious beliefs are written in stone as it were is plenty of conflict right there." That doesn't demonstrate any conflict between science and religious belief. I can accurately say that there are logical and mathematical truths that are deductively proven but science doesn't deal in that kind of certainty; that doesn't establish a conflict between logic/math and science.

    You also write: "There are truths we may never hit upon because the universe may be infinite, and that's reasonable, but you don't go from that to saying therefore anything goes" -- I agree, good thing I didn't make that argument. By the way, the specific point I was making is that we *know* that there are truths that we cannot prove, not just because we haven't hit upon them. (Cf. Goedel's incompleteness theorems.)

    Larry: All scientists start by believing things without evidence, that's part of the human experience of initial learning.

    I'm not sure I understand your notion of "compatibility"--you seem to be saying that no one can believe anything except on the basis of science and thereby be "compatible" with science, even if nothing that they believe on a basis other than science contradicts anything that science has established. Am I misreading you?

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  49. @ Lippard: Your response to my last comment, and your comment to Larry, gave me a good chuckle.

    "The proposition that "God does not exist" (positive atheism) has a burden of proof just as theism does. [...] All scientists start by believing things without evidence, that's part of the human experience of initial learning."

    If i believe that the pythagorean theorem is true, i don't go around telling everyone "oh well, you know, believing the theorem isn't true has a burden of proof just as my belief does." Scientist do NOT, EVER, use the fact that they believe something as part of the evidence in support of that something. You're very confused to equate intuition with knowledge.

    Look, i'm sorry that my previous comment went over your head. The proposition that god doesn't exist is _your_ starting point to a scientific proof that god does exist. You must show that there are effects that "God exists" explains compared to god not existing. Of course your theory will yield testable predictions.

    Realize that what you're asking for is that after examining lightening, the charge difference, the work it can do, its magnetism, how it can be stored, and so forth, you think people should still be chanting "Thor! Thor!" until we've disproven Thor exists.

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  50. The claim is not that those four slides *prove* God or anything. Only that believing that will *not* prevent you from doing sound science.

    What if a biologist believes that
    everything was created by God and that everything has a purpose. Might he not be wary of such concepts as junk DNA to the point of rejecting them--after all, if God created our genome, why would it contained useless DNA?

    Let's not forget Einstein's big blunder, which was due to his philosophical belief that the universe must be eternal, and so it could not be expanding or contracting.

    Personally, I doubt very much that god belief has no impact on one's ability to do good science.

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