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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Accommodationist View of Kevin Padian

In a recent post, I discussed the way Kevin Padian views evolution and why he thinks textbooks misrepresent evolution [see Misrepresentations of Evolution in Textbooks: Definition of Evolution According to Kevin Padian]. Now I want to quote his position on the conflict between science and religion.

Keep in mind that Kevin is President of the National Center for Science Education. He isn't speaking for NCSE in this paper but it's fair to say that his view is quite compatible with those of other members of the NCSE leadership.

Here's what Kevin writes under the subtitle "Avoid pitting science against religion, even though sometimes there are real conflicts" ...
... the very openness of science is what attracts scorn from religiousfundamentalists, who build their lives on what they accept as immutable truths of faith. The principal act of faith of a scientist is accepting that the natural world is knowable, and that we can use our (however imperfect) faculties and judgment to learn about natural phenomena and trust our results, wherever our investigations lead. After that, the rules of scientific inquiry are not about faith, but about posing and testing hypotheses. But science has its limits, and the supernatural is one of them. In short, science does not deal with the supernatural. Religion has its limits too, and one of them is in making statements about the natural world. There is only conflict between science and religion if people want it; or rather, there is conflict when people want it. That conflict comes from either side saying more than it reasonably can about its domain. But the non-theistic axiom of science (see below) means that it does not favor or disfavor any particular religious or other supernatural beliefs. In return, its statements about the natural world should not be contradicted on the basis of any sectarian religious beliefs. So, regardless of what some interpretations of old writings about Scripture-professed, scientific evidence affirms that the Earth cannot be 6,000 years old. That is in direct conflict with some religious views. Contemporary evolutionary biologists hold varying religious views; contrast, for example, Gould (2002a), Miller (2007), Coyne (2009), and Asher (2012). But when they operate as scientists, they do not place religious views above empirical evidence.

In textbooks, it is appropriate to discuss why evolution or any scientific idea or hypothesis was or is controversial as science (cold fusion is an example). But it is not appropriate to pretend that well-established scientific concepts are controversial. It is also not appropriate to note that some scientific concepts were controversial in the past, without noting the present state of understanding of those concepts (a great many important scientific ideas are controversial when they are first proposed). Cultural and religious controversy about science has no place in science texts, and pedagogical activities that encourage children to have debates about evolution or global warming - in an educational system where they can have only the most rudimentary exposure to these subjects - merely amplify the prejudices of the students’ families.

Is there room to discuss cultural and social controversies over scientific ideas in textbooks? Perhaps, although the focus of a science textbook should be squarely on the science. But textbook authors who choose to discuss cultural and social controversies should be careful to ensure that they are not misrepresenting the science as controversial or offensive to the beliefs of their readers, and thus undercutting the legitimacy of the science.
I think there IS a conflict between science and religion. For example, I think that a proper understanding of evolution leads inevitably to the conclusion that there is no purpose or goal in evolution and that the evolution of humans on this planet was largely a chance event. This conflicts with many religious views.

I think that science can, and has, dealt with supernatural explanations and found them wanting in all cases. I do not believe in non-overlapping Magisteria. There's nothing that science can't investigate.

I believe that Kevin Padian is wrong when he says that religious scientists such as Ken Miller, Michael Behe, and Francis Collins "do not place religious views above empirical evidence." They all believe in miracles, they all believe that humans have a soul, and they all believe in life after death. They all believe in the existence of a personal, creator God in spite of the fact that there's no evidence that such a being exists.

I believe in teaching the controversy. I think it's quite silly to pretend that there's no controversy about evolution when, especially in the USA, huge numbers of people reject evolution. The general public is well aware of attacks on science from Intelligent Design Creationists and Young Earth Creationists. These attacks on science (i.e. controversy) need to be addressed in schools in order to equip students to think critically. Debates and discussions on global warming and evolution in high school are marvelous teaching opportunities. Ignoring the controversy, even if it's religious and cultural, isn't going to make it go away. Ignoring the obvious conflict between science and religion isn't going to make that go away either.

Padian, K. (2013) Correcting some common misrepresentations of
evolution in textbooks and the media. Evolution: Education and Outreach 6:11 (published online June 25, 2013) [doi: 10.1186/1936-6434-6-11]


  1. I believe that Kevin Padian is wrong when he says that religious scientists such as Ken Miller, Michael Behe, and Francis Collins "do not place religious views above empirical evidence."

    I'm sure he would be wrong if he said that, but the only one he actually mentioned was Ken Miller, who clearly doesn't. Creationists often interpret NOMA, by the way, as just a warning for religion to keep out of science's way, and I like that interpretation. As long as they steer clear of any testable claims -- and that's one operational definition of "supernatural" -- there is no conflict between science and religion. (Note that there might still be a conflict between making sense and religion; a body of Christ that's physically indistinguishable from a cracker isn't testable, but it sure sounds silly.)

    1. Supernatural phenomena suggest that reality is at bottom purposeful and mind-like, particularly in a sense that implies a central role for humanity and human affairs in the cosmic scheme. Creationist are prioritizing religion over science, therefore it is not true that they interpret NOMA only as limiting the reach of religion as you claim. Furthermore, there are an unlimited number of ways that supernatural explanation could be favored by evidence given that the laws of nature impose many constraints, so your assertion that supernatural is by definition anything that is untestable is false.

    2. I didn't say that's how creationists interpreted NOMA because they like NOMA. They interpret it that way as a criticism. But I happen to like that interpretation.

      Untestability isn't a definition of "supernatural", but it seems to be a common feature. The most common response to god not fitting the facts is to have god retreat into untestability. Like with that host.

    3. Retreating to anything that is untestable is a method for concluding that there is an invisible dragon who throws heatless fire from its mouth floating in your garage. It is not a method for reaching conclusions that identify what is true about how the universe works.

    4. Whatever gave you the impression that I thought it was?

    5. If you are posting here merely to assert that other people are shallow thinkers then what is the purpose of your commentary? How about sharing YOUR opinions regarding what we all should believe is true on the merits? That is what everyone else here is doing. Maybe you should find another place were people all post about what other people think and have nothing else to say?

    6. Not that what I think amounts to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but I had no difficulty understanding what John Harshman's opinions were above, and generally find his comments well-informed, interesting and thought-provoking (and well-written).

    7. I would think that just reading what I wrote would be enough to tell you what I think, assuming you actually read it rather than use random key words to force it into a template that's already in your head. I don't recall saying or implying that you're a shallow thinker, though I might be willing to hazard a guess based on your performance so far.

      Anyway, what I meant, again, guessing at what you might be unclear on: 1) a version of NOMA that means that, in case of conflict between science and religion, science wins is something I would favor; 2) science can't deal with untestable hypotheses; 3) there is no way I know of to test untestable hypotheses, and religion possesses no "way of knowing"; 4) but Occam's razor might be helpful nevertheless. Did that help?

    8. Science can "deal with" untestable hypothesis in that sense that an untestable hypothesis can be a prediction of a scientific conclusion. Such an untestable hypothesis is derived from the empirical evidences and thus we are properly justified in tentatively believing that it is true even though we do not have direct verification.

      Since religion possesses no way of knowing it follows that religion cannot be based on self asserted knowledge claims. Yet ALL of the major religions assert (multiple) such knowledge claims and the VAST majority of believers, including even those who do not associate with a particular religion, rest their belief on knowledge claims. For example, Mr. Miller claims that a God tweaks the outcomes by interfering with quantum events in a way that is non- detectable. Not only do we have no evidence for this, but such divine control over the universe is actually is counter-evidenced when we take into account the lack of morality in the outcomes, and everyone who is rationally following the available evidences must take this into account.

    9. I'm afraid your first paragraph was, at least to my reading, hopelessly confused. Prediction of a conclusion? Untestable hypothesis derived from empirical evidence? What? Perhaps if you gave an example of something we should tentatively believe even though we have no "direct verification" (whatever that is, and however it differs from testing), that might help.

      The first sentence of your second paragraph is a non sequitur. Of course religion can be based on self-asserted knowledge claims; they're claims, not knowledge. You don't need a way of knowing to make claims, only to have knowledge. It also grates on me that you use "evidences", plural, which is something that only biblical apologists usually do.

      As for the QM-tweaking, science can certainly falsify claims about god if we assume that he has characteristics that would create particular outcomes. But you can render god untestable once again by denying that he has such characteristics. In this case, that he is interested in moral outcomes, or has moral standards that we can recognize, or that this is indeed the best of all possible worlds, etc. So yes, you can falsify many gods, but have you falsified Ken Miller's god? Hard to say.

    10. For example, various multiverses are predictions of quantum mechanics and of inflation. Therefore a multiverse is an empirically derived conclusion that we are properly justified to tentatively consider to be true even though it has not been directly tested. The notion that science is only restricted to what is testable is false.

      Sorry, but everyone needs proper justification when making claims about how the world works, otherwise there is no distinction between fiction and non-fiction and you are living in crazy land. I make no apology for sometimes rendering the word evidence in plural to emphasize that we assimilate a variety of evidence. I don't care if you think, incorrectly, that the plural form is somehow characteristic of religious apologists. Atheists should claim the plural usage also.

      QM has probabilistic outcomes, the probabilities are determined, but the outcome can only be specified as a probability. Since the probabilities are determined, Ken Miller's claim that God tweaks the QM outcomes raises a question of how that is feasible without changing the probabilities.

      Yes, Ken Miller's god is falsified in the only sense that matters, which is that the direction of the available evidences is that events happen with complete indifference to humanity and ethical considerations so a god tweaking the outcomes is counter-evidenced. But Ken Miller is asserting that a god is tweaking QM outcomes without any evidence, and any factual claim that is asserted without evidence can, and should be dismissed, without evidence, like the claim that an invisible dragon breathing heatless fire is floating in Ken a Millers garage. The fact is that human imagination/intuition has essentially zero probability of correctly guessing what is true about how the world works. The world functions according to non-intuitive and counter-intuitive laws.

    11. I don't think we're justified to consider a multiverse to be true, and I think it's bizarre to make such a claim. I had supposed you might bring up string theory, and many people don't consider that to be science. So I don't think you've made your case here.

      The whole thing about "evidences" is a minor point, but I've only seen it used once by a non-Christian apologist, and that was Doug Theobald's "29+ evidences for macroevolution", and I think that was specifically intended to echo a creationist title. Claim it if you like, but we warned that it sounds weird.

      I have no interest in defending Ken Miller's views. But you have not falsified it, since Miller renders his view unspecifiable by stating that the tweaks are buried in the randomness of mutation and so are undetectable. There is no reason for believing that he's right, but it certainly can't be falsified. Occam's razor suggests he's wrong, but that isn't science.

    12. Because Einstein's theory of general relativity has successfully predicted many things that we can observe, we also take seriously its predictions for things we cannot observe, e.g., what happens inside black holes. It is similar with a multiverse. We are justified in taking a multiverse seriously, in tentatively considering it to be true, because it is a prediction of QM and inflation and thus empirically well grounded. String theory is not a prediction of other theories.

      I have no problem with your using the word science in a narrow sense, but if we do that then we needed to discard that word and talk about justified beliefs. Outside of mathematics and pure logic there is no such thing as proof, there is only empirical evidence, so similarly words like proof and falsification are not appropriate in this context. Ken Millers assertion about a god tweaking QM outcomes is a factual claim that he, and we, and everyone, is completely unjustified to believe because it has no supporting evidence whatsoever and is counter-evidenced. And that is what matters.

      When I say that we can only be justified in making a factual assertion about how the world works by following the empirical evidences that is exactly what I mean. Ken Miller is not doing that here, and that is enough to conclude, with confidence, that he is wrong. Again, no one simply guesses from intuition/imagination how the world works and gets it right because the laws about how the universe are non-intuitive and counter-intuitive, and certainly no one gets it right by selectively disregarding some empirical evidence, such as the overwhelming evidence that the universe does not operate for a purpose of furthering some ethical or human-centered purpose. Falsification is your language, not mine. The only sense that falsification is possible in this context is that his assertion is counter-evidenced. That is all that matters since that condition by itself rationally requires that his assertion be rejected. Science in the narrow of sense that word, and falsification or proof, are not the issues here. The issue is properly justifying factual claims regarding how the universe works, and what Ken Miller is doing here is outside the bounds of what qualifies as a properly justified factual claim about how the world works and therefore should be rejected by everyone.

    13. Mr. Harshman, you are citing Ken Miller when arguing with me, but then you are also denying that you agree with Ken Miller's argument. It would be better if, when citing someone else's argument to dispute what I said, you cite someone whose argument you agree with. Otherwise, this is not going to be a productive discussion.

    14. I don't have to agree with Miller's argument in order to use it as I have, as an example of something untestable that is beyond the ability of science to deal with. If you said "nobody likes broccoli", I could mention someone I know who likes broccoli, even if I don't myself. The reason this isn't a productive discussion isn't my examples.

      There is a difference between unjustified and falsified. You are indeed unjustified in believing that god tweaks quantum events. But it isn't falsified, being untestable. The only way even to assign a probability to it is to consider the idea of god, certain forms of which are subject to testing. Nor is can we say that an unjustified belief is wrong, or probably wrong, unless we have evidence against it. I am unjustified in a belief that tomorrow I will find a pony in my back yard, but you can't say I won't either. I do reject Miller's claims, but not because I have evidence against them per se; it's because I have evidence that his particular god doesn't exist, and a nonexistent being rarely tweaks anything.

    15. The difference between unjustified and falsified is of little if any practical significance in the context of belief justification. It is no more rational to adopt beliefs about how the world works that are both not supported by evidence and counter-evidenced, and thus unjustified, then it is to adopt a belief that is "falsified" in some absolute, and thus impractical, sense. Not only can we say that unjustified beliefs, such as the belief that invisible dragons breathing heatless fire are floating in garages, are wrong, we are rationally obligated to reject such beliefs. We do have evidence against Miller's claim that a god tweaks QM outcomes, it is the evidence that the QM outcomes do not discriminate in any way between good or bad outcomes no matter how we measure good or bad.

    16. You keep referring to testability as the primary necessary criteria, and I keep pointing out that the primary necessary criteria is following the empirical evidences wherever they go. In physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics make many predictions, some of which are observable and testable and some of which are not. Testability is certainly important, it establishes that relativity and QM are true, but it does not follow that the non-observable, and thus untestable, predictions of relativity and QM are faith based religious beliefs with no scientific validity that we are free to dismiss. Testability is not a necessary criteria for science, and even less so for belief justification more generally, that is too narrow and limited a criteria. Empirical evidence more generally speaking, which includes predictions that are unobserved and untested, is the more fundamental criteria. As long as you keep trying to artificially restrict what is proper in science, or belief justification more generally, to only the directly observable and testable you will not be fully following the available evidences.

    17. Following evidence where it goes is testability. If there's no test, you can't follow anything. To put it another way, we accept hypothesis A over hypothesis B because A has a better fit to the data than B does, and that's what I mean be testability. I don't see the black hole as being any different in that respect. Theories of what goes on inside a black hole have testable consequences, not necessarily involving black holes. I'm not sure what you mean by "directly observable"; does it differ from "observable"? I would consider few things "directly observable"; almost all of what we know is inference from data, and what goes on inside a black hole is just that. We can't distinguish two hypotheses that have no observable differences in expected observations, though.

      It's news to me that multiverses are predicted from standard physics. You may be right about that, but I'm suspicious. What is it, exactly, that makes a multiverse theory detectably different from a one-universe theory?

    18. A multiverse is not a theory, it is a prediction arising from particular combinations of conclusions that are associated with QM. Not all physicists or cosmologists agree about what QM implies, there appears to be a minority who are multiverse skeptics, and sometimes the consensus is wrong. But the consensus is that whatever is possible according to QM is likely true and QM permits universes to spontaneously create themselves.

      Observability and testability set a starting point foundation, but the conclusions are not confined to only what is observed and tested because theoretical frameworks built on the observations extend our reach by making predictions which can reside in unobserved and untested realms. We construct logical webs, some of the links are more observable and testable and in that sense are stronger, but the weaker links that are more distant from observation and testing are still part of the same interconnected web. Some of these weaker links can become quite strong by having close connections to multiple strong links.

      This is similar to the relationship between hard science narrowly defined as chemistry, physics, biology, and the like, soft sciences like history, and good belief justification more generally. It is all a single, interconnected web. So while some links are stronger because they have a more direct connection to empirical evidence and fall within the hard sciences category, we utilize the same overall approach for the same reason across the board. This is because the empirical approach is the only method that has a track record of success. It is wrong to posit what is outside this web as being scientific, and it also equally wrong to say that what is outside this web is a properly justified belief about how the world works more generally.

      The way I see the available evidences, there is no way to properly conclude that our universe operates supernaturally from within a best fit with the overall available empirical evidences approach and therefore supernatural conclusions are all unjustified beliefs which therefore should be rejected, even when applying the looser everyday standards appropriate for making decisions outside of the academic context. The way I see it, many people are too promiscuous in the way they go about justifying their beliefs, and many people also exhibit bias for religious/supernatural beliefs.

    19. Are you talking about the many worlds interpretation of QM? If so, that isn't at all what is generally meant by "multiverse". And I don't see it as a prediction of QM at all, merely an interpretation, no better than any other.

      I think you're going at it pretty much backwards. We test that unobservable stuff by looking at consequences we can observe. That's standard scientific practice. That which fits A better than B is evidence for A, against B. The whole thing about being inside and outside webs is unclear and, to me, not useful.

      As for your third paragraph, the definition of "supernatural" is way too vague to bear the weight you put on it, as if it were some sort of unified phenomenon. I agree that people exhibit biases and that all supernatural (so-called) beliefs that I know of have no real justification. That certainly isn't what we're arguing about here.

    20. A multiverse is rooted in the notion that universes have zero net energy and self-create themselves from quantum waves/fluctuations, not in many worlds. In effect, a universe, or maybe a pair of universes if they are created in pairs, sums to nothing. In QM, nothingness is an unstable condition, in effect there is no such thing as absolute nothingness.

      Think existing and new ontology. A horse is an empirically verified creature so it fits within existing ontology. An invisible dragon is not an empirically derived creature, it is outside the domain of existing ontology. Let's create a graph containing nodes representing only those fact claims that we are properly justified to believe are true. We cannot just add a node for something that represents a new ontology and represents a factual claim originating inside someone's head nto this graph without violating the basic rule that the only justified beliefs are those that are empirically derived. Yet that is what Ken Miller is doing when he asserts that god is messing with QM outcomes, and therefore his proposition is outside the bounds of a properly justified belief. This is not a difficult concept and it works without the natural/supernatural distinction for those people who are not comfortable with that.

    21. I think you need to work a little harder at communicating your thoughts. Nothing you say in the first paragraph suggests that a multiverse is a prediction of quantum mechanics. The second paragraph's attempt at formalism adds nothing for me. Sorry. There has never been any question whether Ken Miller's beliefs are justified, so your argument there is pointless.

    22. You hsve failed to explain why Ken Miller's beliefs are not justified. The failure here is on your side. I have a method for filtering out unjustified beliefs that I I am describing, you are chickening out and refusing to acknowledge that you also apply this same empirical method except while I am applying this method consistently you are not.

    23. Quantum mechanics in its mathematically simplest ("unitary") form gives us a Level III multiverse. Look it up.

    24. EA: Because Einstein's theory of general relativity has successfully predicted many things that we can observe, we also take seriously its predictions for things we cannot observe, e.g., what happens inside black holes. It is similar with a multiverse...

      The above is a practically verbatim quotation from Tegmark 2007 (Nature 448: 23-24). Paerhaps you are Max Tegmark himself, but if not, it would be nicer to credit your source.

    25. Quantum mechanics in its mathematically simplest ("unitary") form gives you Level III.

      And this is copied from Vilenkin and Tegmark (SciAm, 19 July 2011).

    26. Yes, good, that is my source. No one should take my word for this, and everyone has the same ability to access and read what the experts say. Some people spend time disputing assertions that they could quickly verify on the Internet if they honestly wanted to know the answer, like you did here to your credit.

    27. I simply had this terrible feeling of déjà vu as I read your posts, so I checked it up. I see you are a great fan of Max Tegmark, but if you rely so heavily on the views of a single author, it would be a good idea to provide the reference rather than imply that those views represent the consensus of the whole field. They probably don't (not that I have a strong informed opinion on the Everett-style multiverse question -- my interest in physics is that of a dilettante).

    28. The only counter-argument I am aware of is that QM may not be unitary. There is no arguing with an applied mathematical result. As for the many worlds interpretation of QM, the only relationship here, as far as I am aware, is that those people who favor the many worlds interpretation cite this result as support for it.

    29. Ken Miller's beliefs -- and to be clear, we're talking about his idea that god hides his intervention in rare quantum events -- are not justified because there is no evidence for them, and in fact by the nature of things there can never be, because that was one of his criteria in choosing his hypothesis. There is a difference between having no reason to belief X and having reason to believe X is false, which you seem not to realize.

      I don't know what you know about statistics, but failure to reject the null hypothesis does not necessarily equal evidence that the test hypothesis is false. If you want to draw that conclusion you also have to consider the power of the test.

      There are reasons to think that Miller's hypothesis is false, but they are either not scientific (Occam's razor, which is a philosophical tool) or are scientific -- at least I would say so -- but beyond the scope of your claim (the hypothesized causal entity, god, can be strongly argued not to exist).

    30. I have said this before and I will keep saying it. No one guesses how the universe works and gets it right. This is because our universe functions according to non-intuitive and counter-intuitive laws. It is difficult enough to understand how our universe operates when we listen to what the universe tells us about how it operates by following the empirical evidence. The probability that Ken Miller, or anyone else, will guess correctly is vanishingly small. Guessing is good at generating fiction, it does not generate non- fiction. So yes, I reject all guesses as false because that is the rational thing to do. Anyone who bets on guesses being correct is going to be a loser.

    31. That is one absurd reason for thinking Ken Miller is wrong.

    32. How so? Given that you are rejecting imposing a standard that factual assertions about how the universe works must be justified with empirical evidence before they warrant being taken seriously, what alternative standard are you proposing? The number of possible such unjustified factual assertions is infinite. Do you also take seriously the assertion that invisible dragons breathing heartless fire are floating in garages? Your insistence that we should take Ken Miller's proposition seriously while you simultaneously dismiss millions of other assertions out of hand is arbitrary, biased, and inconsistent.

    33. I don't know how many times I have to say this. You aren't listening. I don't think we should take Ken Miller's proposition seriously. Your post is based on multiple false premises.

    34. You cannot have it both ways, you are claiming to have your cake after you eat it. Either I being absurd for dismissing Ken Miller's belief out of hand just like I dismiss out of hand all other unjustified beliefs, or you are arbitrarily applying a biased and inconsistent standard that elevates Ken Miller unjustified belief over most other similarly unjustified beliefs. You would never tell me that I am being absurd for dismissing out of hand the belief that invisible dragons breathing heatless fire are floating in garages. You have provided no explanation for your insistence that we give Ken Miller's unjustified this special. elevated status over the invisible dragon belief.

    35. I believe your central problem is that you are incapable of understanding fine distinctions. First, it isn't your dismissal of Miller's belief that I find absurd, but your expressed reason. You're saying something like "communism is bad because red is such a yucky color", and finding that statement odd is not in any way a defense of communism. Second, you still can't seem to understand that I am not elevating Miller's unjustified belief at all. Third, you don't understand that not having evidence that something is true can be different from having evidence that it's false. Fourth, you don't understand that we have good reasons, one's I have explained already, for dismissing Miller's claim. Fifth, you don't understand that Occam's razor is a philosophical principle we find useful, not a matter of science.

    36. The rule I am following can be summarized thusly: Whatever is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. The invisible dragons breathing heatless fire floating in garages assertion is without evidence and the god is messing with QM outcomes assertion is without evidence. I dismiss both assertions as false for this reason. You say I am being absurd in the second context only. I ask again, how so?

    37. We do not need evidence that there are no invisible dragons breathing heatless fire floating in garages to declare it false. But, in fact, we actually do have counter-evidence. Invisible dragons breathing heatless fire floating in garages violates the laws of physics. A god messing with QM also violates the laws of physics because it is an intelligent mind and agent without a physical brain or body that evolved into existing from chemical origins. The fact is that if either one is true that would require a major departure from known ontology. The rational approach to such all such assertions that are outside the realm of known ontology and made with no supporting evidence is to dismiss them out of hand as false. All such claims are counter-evidenced in the sense that they do not fit within the known, empirically derived, laws about how the universe works.

    38. Mr. Harshman, you cannot boil down my argument to the assertion theism is bad because it is yucky without sacrificing your integrity, that is a disingenuous mischaracterization of my argument. That is stupid and you are clearly an intelligent person.

    39. You persist in making up things I didn't say. I have expressed no opinion on your invisible dragons. My eyes glaze over whenever the word "ontology" appears in a sentence; a character flaw, certainly. I would prefer to say, not that these things are false, but that they are pointless to think about. Anything without detectable consequences is likewise pointless. I can certainly dismiss them out of hand, but it's impossible to say they're false. You don't see that distinction? Or, perhaps, you think that distinction is pointless? Your attempt to make untestable hypotheses into something science can deal with likewise seems pointless.

    40. You cannot say that invisible dragons breathing heatless fire floating in garages is false? Is that assertion about dragons in someone's apartment no different from an assertion that there is no cat in some unknown person's apartment? They are qualitatively different statements, the former statement is about entities that defy the laws of physics and are substantially unlike anything that is known to exist and the latter is about a known animal that people are known to keep in apartments.

      Is Ken Miller's god tweaking QM outcomes more like the dragon or the cat? I say it is more like the dragon than the cat. I say that while we cannot reasonably say whether a cat is present in some unknown person's apartment we can reasonably say that there are invisible dragons in some unknown person's garage.

      Is that clear? I dropped the word ontology. Does this still sound absurd to you? I bet this does not sound absurd to most of the other people reading this.

    41. I meant to say "we can reasonably say there are no invisible dragons in so e in known person's garage."

    42. I would say instead that we have more reason to believe that there might be a cat in some unknown person's apartment than we have to believe that there's a dragon in my garage. The reason is that we know there are such things as cats and that people do have them. I can't say there is no invisible dragon, and if there were one I wouldn't know what it would be like or whether it would enjoy living in a garage. We can however have good reason to believe that Miller's hypothesis isn't true, as it relies on the existence of a being whose flame should not, if he exists, be intangible. That is, Miller's hypothesized god is incompatible with the evidence. Still, I can't rule out the existence of a god whose only act is to give occasional, random-seeming tweaks to a genome or two. But there is no reason to think about such a god.

    43. Yes, but at some point when "we have more reason to think X than Y" it is because we have reason that Y is most likely false. And at some point the most likely false assessment is better expressed as Y is false than as "I can't say there is no Y". No one is omnipotent and omnipresent, so no one ever can say that anything does not exist in an absolute sense that requires omniscience and omnipresence. Now I believe that the universe operates exclusively by laws of nature with no laws of supernature. And it is more accurate from the point of effective communication for me to say so in the form "I believe there is no Y" than for me to say "Y may or may not exist".

    44. No, I don't think any of that follows. There is no necessary connection between "we have more reason to think X than Y" and "we have reason that Y is most likely false". I have more reason to think I have a cat than that you have a cat, but I have no reason to believe you don't have a cat. And in fact I can't say that you don't have a cat. No omniscience or omnipresence is necessary or implied. I am not responsible for your beliefs about how the universe does or does not operate, but I find the distinction between nature and supernature too undefined to be worth thinking about. I agree that if you think Y doesn't exist, then it's better for you to say so than to say something else, but I don't see the relevance.

    45. But that is a bogus argument. Cats exist and they live with people are facts. So of course we cannot reasonably deny that. But invisible dragons and gods are not known to exist. So it is entirely reasonable to believe that they do not exist.

    46. Regardless of whether you think the distinction between nature and supernature is not well defined, there is a difference between a universe that operates by laws which are indifferent to humanity and a universe that was willfully created for humanity. Rightly or wrongly, lots of people think this an important distinction and my view is that laws of physics are indifferent to humanity which renders them laws of nature instead of laws of supernature.

    47. But of course it makes a difference whether we believe that a god exists. People worship gods. There are houses of worship, and clergy, and weekly or daily services, and holidays to celebrate or mourn and worship, and rituals. I do not see how anyone can reasonably conclude that this question makes no difference to people. People reach different conclusions about government policies based on what they think a god wants.

    48. Because there is no necessary connection between "we have more reason to think X than Y" and "we have reason that Y is most likely false" it does not follow that there is never a connection. When there is a connection is when we actively believe that Y is false. That is the case here with regard to invisible dragons and gods but not cats.

    49. I think your posting would be better if you would think of what you want to say before posting four times. At any rate, I think I'm going to stop arguing with you, since no communication is taking place.

    50. I think you are completely failing to make a case that it is wrong, let alone absurd, to say that invisible dragons, gods, leprechauns, and the like do not exist. I did not expect to you succeed, and it is interesting that you would devote so much effort to such a hopeless argument.

  2. Larry wrote:

    "I think there IS a conflict between science and religion. For example, I think that a proper understanding of evolution leads inevitably to the conclusion that there is no purpose or goal in evolution and that the evolution of humans on this planet was largely a chance event. This conflicts with many religious views."

    Larry, how do you scientifically test the hypothesis that there is no purpose or goal in evolution?

    "I believe that Kevin Padian is wrong when he says that religious scientists such as Ken Miller, Michael Behe, and Francis Collins "do not place religious views above empirical evidence." They all believe in miracles, they all believe that humans have a soul, and they all believe in life after death. They all believe in the existence of a personal, creator God in spite of the fact that there's no evidence that such a being exists."

    Larry, what empirical evidence have Miller, Behe, or Collins ignored in forming or holding their religious beliefs?

    "I believe in teaching the controversy.... Debates and discussions on global warming and evolution in high school are marvelous teaching opportunities."

    I agree.

    1. "How do you scientifically test the hypothesis that there is no purpose or goal in evolution?"

      You begin by stating clearly what it would mean for a natural process to be goal-driven - i.e. if a leaf falls off a tree in a goal-driven way, how does its trajectory differ from if it falls in a non-goal-driven way? If weather patterns change in a goal-driven way, how do they differ from weather patterns changing in a non-goal-driven way? If stock prices change in a goal-driven way, how do they differ from stock prices changing in a non-goal-driven way?

      If anyone wants to make a claim that a process is goal-driven, the onus is on them to first show that there is a measurable difference between goal-driven and ordinary processes, otherwise how are we even to make sense of the claim?

    2. Hi Konrad,

      Larry was very explicit "that a proper understanding of evolution leads inevitably to the conclusion that there is no purpose or goal in evolution and that the evolution of humans on this planet was largely a chance event."

      The onus is on Larry to show that there was no purpose or goal in evolution, since he is the one making the claim.

    3. It is obvious that under the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology, everything that happened in the past, and everything that will happen in the future, occurs without direction from any agent or team of collaborating agents orchestrating an intended outcome to achieve some goal. Instead, everything occurs on an autopilot mode, things in motion interact, and the interactions just occur according to natural laws that are completely indifferent to humanity or any moral codes.

    4. Hi EA,

      It might be obvious to you that no goal was intended, but it's not obvious to everyone. The point of a scientific investigation is to remove subjectivity and replace it with objective, quantifiable results. So where are Larry's objective, quantifiable results that show that evolution had no purpose or goal?

    5. Bilbo -

      The onus has been on creationists since Darwin, and has been moved further to their side by population genetics, molecular biology, and multiple independently confirming developments in other areas of science since then.

      A couple of simple questions:

      - If evolution had/has a goal, what was/is it?

      - If an entity implemented evolution in service of that goal (e.g., humans), why not simply create the products of evolution rather than wasting a few billion years and a few billion lives (extinctions) in the process?

      - What goal was served by having animals, which are incapable of sin, evolve to eat each other?

      - What is the goal or purpose of having nipples on males of a mammalian species?

    6. Hi Judmarc,

      So basically you're arguing that if we don't know what the purpose was of something, then it had no purpose? Isn't that an argument from ignorance?

    7. The argument that the known laws of nature exhibit a complete indifference to humanity and moral codes is an argument from the available empirical evidences, which is the strongest form of argument we have based on a long track record of success. As such this is the opposite of an argument from ignorance.

    8. @Bilbo

      you're arguing that if we don't know what the purpose was of something, then it had no purpose?

      I'd say that what is being argued is that if we don't know the purpose of something then we don't know the purpose of something.

      Since no natural process that we have looked at so far has purpose then investigating new processes using this as a basic assumption is a perfectly sensible thing to do.

      And no, this is not due to some "faith" in science, it's because so far science has been demonstrated to work and it is the only system that reliably generates new information about the nature of reality.

      Making up fairy tales about your special relationship with an invisible friend is the real argument from ignorance here.

    9. Hi EA,

      So your argument is
      (1) The laws of nature are indifferent to humanity.
      (2) Therefore, there was no purpose or goal to evolution.

      So far, you have invalid argument. You need to supply at least one more premise.

    10. Hi Steve,

      When you say that no natural process has a purpose, what experiments proved this?

    11. Hi Steve,

      To quote you: "...Since no natural process that we have looked at so far has purpose...."

    12. Bilbo,

      If your going to lecture others on the construction of valid arguments it would behove you to actually understand what you are talking about,

      Saying that no X has ever been observed to have property Y is not the same as saying that there is no X that has the property Y.

      Get it ?

    13. It is actually a multi-part argument:

      E1) The known laws are all natural laws because they exhibit an indifference to humanity.
      E2) The laws of nature are not violated.
      Conclusion:Therefore the available evidences favors the conclusion that our universe is exclusively natural over the competing conclusion that our universe is partially supernatural.

      My method is called following the overall direction of the available empirical evidences. The available evidences are not neutral here, they have a definite direction, so I match my beliefs to the direction of the available evidences and this leads me to atheism.

    14. Hi Steve,

      So what you meant to say was that no natural process has been observed to have a purpose? How do you know that they haven't been observed to have a purpose?

    15. Hi EA,

      There might be problems with (E1). If laws did exhibit partiality to humanity, it's not clear that they would be non-natural or supernatural. Further, it's not clear to me why there are any laws at all. Why not complete chaos?

      But for the sake of argument, let's grant the truth of (E1) and move on to (E2), the laws of nature are not violated. We have eyewitness testimony from time to time that suggests a violation now and then. But let's assume that all those reports are false. It doesn't follow that the laws are inviolable. Merely that we have never observed them to be violated. How does that prove that they cannot be violated?

      But again, let's assume the truth of (E2). I'm not sure how this shows that the evidence favors the view that reality is exclusively natural. Nor do I see how it shows that there is no purpose to evolution For example, a Deist believes that after God created the world He allowed it to go on its own. Presumably such a God knew that sooner or later humanity would show up. How does science show that humanity wasn't one of the purposes of such a God?

    16. No one has ever successfully predicted a law of supernature by starting with a purpose and demonstrating that there is a law which exists to achieve that purpose. In contrast, there have been predictions of laws of nature by starting without a purpose and demonstrating that there is a law which exists absent any purpose being achieved. It is not like there is a lack of equal opportunity here. Both outcomes were given equal opportunity, the former outcome was usually preferred by humanity. But throughout history the former approach fails and the latter approach succeeds. The more we abandoned the pursuit of purpose as the source of the laws regarding how the universe works the more successful we became in finding laws that accurately modeled how the universe works.

    17. E1 is definitional, it is how we distinguish natural laws from supernatural laws. We must start with a definition if we are going to have a coherent discussion. E1 together with E2 are exactly what we expect to be true in an exclusively natural universe. If EITHER E1 or E2 were false then that would give us SOME proper justification for taking supernaturalism seriously. Without either E1 or E2 being false you have nothing other than imagination/intuition to support supernaturalism and imagination/intuition are very good at producing fiction and very bad at producing non-fiction.

    18. Hi EA,

      The first modern scientists (Galileo, Newton, etc.), believed that the world was created by an all-powerful, rational God, who probably governed the world by natural laws. They also believed that they were created in the image of God and therefore had the ability to investigate and discover those laws.

      Modern humans have abandoned both of those views, so it's not clear why they should think the universe is governed by inviolable laws, nor why we should have the ability to discover those laws, since we did not evolve with the purpose of being able to discover them.

      But none of this discussion is pertinent to the question of how science has supposedly shown that evolution has no purpose, which Larry needs to demonstrate.

      Now I need to depart the blogosphere and return to the real world. I'll let you have the last word.

    19. Everyone is still arguing without clarifying what it is they are arguing about. Larry's claim that our understanding leads to "the conclusion that there is no purpose or goal in evolution" makes about as much sense as saying it leads to the conclusion that there is no squirgledunkle in evolution. Until such time as someone explains what it would mean for there to be a purpose or goal in evolution, the whole notion is just nonsensical.

      That said, if no one gives us a sensible definition of what a squirgledunkle might be, we are probably justified in saying that there isn't one in evolution.

    20. It is much easier to see an absence of purpose in the laws that model how the universe works, which is why evolution is so consistently opposed by many Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

      There is no good justification, assuming a benevolent and all-powerful God, for “natural evil,” the suffering of animals and innocent children due to diseases and natural disasters. A benevolent God would not kill off humanity in 5 billion years. Nor would a benevolent and powerful God use evolution or natural selection to create modern life and humans. That just doesn’t make sense, though theologians concoct amusing arguments not only why evolution makes sense, but why it should be God’s preferred way to bring species into being.

      There is no explanation for why a benevolent God would allow more than 99% of the species he wanted to exist to subsequently go extinct without issue.

      Most of the universe inhospitable to life, and nothing lives there. Why this largesse of uninhabitable space if God created Earth for humans? Even if life exists elsewhere, it can’t be common, and the trillions of uninhabited stars serve no purpose.

    21. Yes, some of the first scientists were religious. And when we look at their work carefully, we find that they sometimes spent much of their time pursuing supernatural methods and explanations without any success. It quickly became apparent that success was synonymous with natural methods and explanations and failure was synonymous with supernatural methods and explanations. That is THE reason why supernaturalism has been abandoned.

    22. Bilbo, you engage constructively in debate here and you are doing good both explaining, reading, and responding. The argument that the universe follows laws, and we have this ability to discover them, therefore the universe has a purpose, seems to me to be rather weak. Yes, we find our individual purpose in our living our life, and one component of this is our cross-generational discovering the laws governing the universe, but for the universe itself to evidence a purpose greater than ourselves we would need more than this. Naturalism does not preclude the universe from following logical laws, it only precludes the universe from following laws that were intentionally and intelligently designed to achieve a larger moral goal.

    23. Bilbo, you engage constructively in debate here

      Really ?

      All I see is a dishonest version of Robert Byers.

      Robert at least has the integrity to honestly state his position and to stick by it irregardless of where the evidence points.

      Bilbo's faith is apparently so weak that he must resort to trying to shoehorn science into his world view by distorting and misrepresenting what it means.

    24. Since there are no "like" or "dislike" buttons after comments to tell people whether others are in agreement or not, I am commenting to say that I thought Bilbo, in this instance, fought his corner well and honestly, sticking to the simple point that our host asserted a conclusion without providing evidence for that conclusion. In my opinion (worth what you paid for it), the honest thing to do in reply would be to concede that, and then perhaps go on to provide some evidence.

      Ultimately, I think that Bilbo's argument is a variation of "you can't prove that my god doesn't exist". I'm not sure that it is worthwhile to try to debate that, except to say that as scientists and engineers we make our best guesses about what does and doesn't exist and gain confidence in those guesses which seem to lead us forward and explain things. For example, yearly variations in the flu virus seem more random than purposeful (biased however by the survival principle).

    25. The question of "purpose" always puzzles me. If I were to say that the melting of icebergs, the formation of a hurricane, or the path of a comet shows no evidence of a purpose or goal, would anyone challenge my statement? Would anyone demand that I prove the absence of purpose?

      Is "Unguided" Part of Modern Evolutionary Theory?
      Evolution Is Purposeless and Unguided—Deal with It!
      Is Evolution Guided or Unguided?
      Direction and Purpose in Evolution
      NCSE v National Association of Biology Teachers
      Richard Dawkins on "Purpose"
      Science and the Question of Purpose
      Evolution and Purpose

  3. I do not believe in non-overlapping Magisteria.

    I agree. And we hardly need to be concern ourselves with the issue of overlap or non-overlap when one of the Magisteria is not a magisterium at all but is just human-made nonsense.

    There's nothing that science can't investigate.

    Or maybe there is. But we would be permanently insensible to the phenomenon where it so and it would be as if the phenomenon did not actually exist. And no hypothetical second Magesterium would help us out of that particular conundrum.

  4. Yes, we are obliged to reject any proposition that is not favored by the available empirical evidences. Nothing guarantees us access to all the evidences needed to understand everything, so insofar as we lack such access we will simply be forever unable to understand. We are limited in time and space, we are not omnipresent or omniscient. Period.

  5. here it goes again.
    Having a advocate for one side be the judge of a fair debate is absurd.
    The only problem is about certain conclusions in certain subjects touching on origin matters.
    Creationists are NOT attacking science! Thats a unjust accusation to dismiss our intellectual accusations against certain conclusions.
    We created the modern scientific world.
    We say the facts have been poorly understood and wrong conclusions drawn from nature. Then we have a witness also. Fair and square.

    The host here is right. There is a great historic contention and talking about won't hurt the millions or our future happiness. Its not that defining of civilization.
    Evolutionists do seek censorship of the good guys, as usual, and then are uncomfortable pretending we don't exist.

    YEC and ID say we fight these matters using science then let the jury observe whether this is so.
    Some, like me, say evolution does not employ science in its conclusions.
    Again let the jury decide.
    Evolution is in crisis and indeed open or shut will lose more and more credibility.
    Origin issues , both sides, must be given equal or close time in science class where conclusions are drawn.
    The guys who are wrong are the only ones to lose in a free society.
    Evolutionism has run on authority of educated elites and not on its scientific merits.
    Its not working anymore because educated elites are denying and writing best books about denying evolution is true and about evidence for a creator .

    1. We created the modern scientific world.

      By imprisoning Galileo and placing Copernicus's book on the church index of banned books? The hell you did. Even if many of the great scholars of the past were religious, their actual contribution to science took place when they applied objective, rational methods in examining the empirical evidence, not when they indulged in metaphysical speculation.

    2. Unfortunately booby, religious beliefs are a science stopper. The classic case is Isaac Newton, the most important scientist who ever lived. Newton's universal law of gravity explained the motion of the then known planets but he became concerned as to whether the Solar System was stable over long periods of time because in the interplanetary interactions (e.g. the effect of Jupiter on the motion of the earth, etc.). To solve the problem would have required him to invent perturbation theory and at the time he had other fish to fry. Thus he contented himself with opining that, every so often, god gave planets in the Solar System a nudge to maintain their orbits. Thus Newton was stopped from exploring other options.

      A hundred years later, Laplace used the methods of perturbation theory that had been invented in the interim to calculate the interplanetary interactions and showed that the Solar System was, indeed, stable over long periods of time. When asked by Napoleon as to what part god might play in the system, he famously replied, "I have no need of that hypothesis".

      Similarly, current day biologists have no need of the hypothesis that intervention by god is required to explain the diversity of life.

    3. Robert Byers says,

      Creationists are NOT attacking science!



    4. Piotr
      I don't mean a few people accomplishing a few discoveries etc.
      i mean it was the true faith or rather the puritan/Protestant reformation that rasied the intelligence of the common man in those certain countries where Puritan protestants/other protestants were in highest percentages.
      Without this reformation the continuing Roman cAtholic civilization in europe would never have advanced beyond the dark ages.
      Therefore its really the intelligence rise to that to the scientific rise and so we get the credit.
      It was protestant Christendom that created the scientific revolution.
      Then plenty of persons who were deeply or casually affected by Christian conclusions about nature are in the short lists for notable accomplishments.
      We created science for all intents and purposes.

    5. coinago80
      I don't think Newton was the top scientist. I read about questions as to whether he deserves the credit for his gravity stuff. They suggest Haley got the apple in the head.
      The bible as a foundation never has interfered with inventions/discoveries and instead would lead to more if people read Gods ideas on nature.
      I can think of a few.
      Christianity is why the western world created the scientific revolution and not the others.
      Science is the child of the true faith with Gods blessing.
      Evangelical/puritan Christianity created the modern scientific world by raising the intellectual abilities of the common man in the 16, 17, 18,(possibly 19, centuries.
      All has been just downhill from that motivation ever since.
      Its our patent if there is to be segregation about whom science favors.

    6. Well booby, Prof. Moran agrees with you that Newton was not the most important scientist who ever lived. Unfortunately for you, his candidate is Charles Darwin.

      In fairness, without any attempt at ranking, I think that the overwhelming consensus of historians of science is that the three most important scientists who have ever lived are Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, none of whom was a believing Christian, at least in their later years. Newton was an Arian, Darwin was probably best described as an agnostic, Einstein is probably best described as a Jewish Deist.

  6. Some people want there to be purpose in the universe. That is fundamental to their religion.

    The problem is that thay can't point to any evidence and it seems they are not even looking for evidence. Evidence that would be evidence for the existence of God?

    Some people need toe believe in a purpose. If there's no purpose. Life is menaingless. An attitude not shared by atheists and agnostics, most of them enjoy life just as much as religious people. Religion should not be about imaginary properties of the universe, it should be aboud human spiritual life.

    1. I think even the most religiously inclined person would be perfectly content to live a meaningless and purposeless existence provided it never ended. Given a choice between a meaningful and purposeful finite existence and a meaningless and purposeless but unending one, I suspect most would go with latter. It's not a desire for meaning and purpose that drives religious belief, it's an inability to accept the finality of death and the surreality of existence.

    2. There is no reincarnation, no heaven and hell, no after life, in Judaism.

    3. First of all, you're wrong; there is a notion of afterlife in Judaism. In fact, Israel's chief Sephardic rabbi Ovadia Yosef (who just passed away, btw) is notorious for having suggested that Holocaust victims were reincarnated sinners. The notion of "the world to come" is also usually interpreted as an afterlife, and there is a long tradition on Judaism of belief in a resurrection of the dead and judgement of the wicked.

      [Google is your friend; a quick search of "Judaism" and "afterlife" would serve well.]

      That said, I would agree that the afterlife is not as important in Judaism as it is in Christianity and Islam. But it doesn't matter; even religious traditions with no belief in a personal afterlife are still driven by the need to find meaning in a life that mortality seems to render pointless. Humans are able to accept tragedy better if they can imagine a reason or purpose behind it; the idea that "all of this" has a purpose and a plan is still comforting to people, even if they do not anticipate an afterlife.

      Even if one has no expectation of a supernatural life after death, there is still psychological benefit to thinking you can extend your life and avoid pain and suffering by appeasing unseen powers.

      Seems odd that an "Explicit Atheist" would endeavor to deny the most obvious incentive for religious belief, which is clearly the finality if death.

    4. PS: A kingdom for an edit button. Autocorrect seems to think all ofs are misspelled ifs.

    5. PPS: Another way of putting it would be to say that given a choice between an infinite meaningless existence and a finite one with meaning, most would take infinity every time. But obviously, given a choice between a meaningless finite existence and a finite existence with a meaning and purpose based on faith on religious teachings, people would go with the latter. It's still ultimately about trying to make mortality more palatable.

    6. I do not deny that, I deny this: "It's not a desire for meaning and purpose that drives religious belief". It may be that the finiteness of life is a problem because it is perceived as being incompatible with meaning and purpose. I think very few people, either religious or non-religious, would like a life that was eternal and also meaningless and purposeless as you asserted. I think it is lack of meaning and purpose that is perceived to logically follow from the finiteness of life. You are placing the finiteness of life first, I think that comes second.

      I resent your comment about it being odd that I would deny what you arrogantly and falsely claim is "the most obvious" incentive. That is a nasty and inappropriate, hostile comment.

    7. I think we are largely on the same page, but I don't see where I've been arrogant, false, or nasty. My basic position is that religious belief is by and large a response to mortal panic. I don't think there would be religions of the aggressively fact denying sort we see around is today if we didn't die.

      On the other hand, I think there would still be what some call "spirituality" in a deathless world. Not in the sense of believing in non-material 'spirits' but in the sense of having a capacity for awe; the ability to appreciate just how weird and interesting all of this is without invoking unseen personal agents to 'explain it'.

      Anyway, I apologize for offending you, but suspect after reading this you will see that I actually didn't intend to do so; I think this is more a matter of misinterpretation than hostility.

    8. I guess the convergence of our points of view would be to say that yes, a desire for meaning and purpose drives religious belief, but the desire for meaning and purpose is itself driven by our mortality. If we didn't die, I don't think meaning and purpose would be as important to us.

    9. Joe G. says,

      But obviously, given a choice between a meaningless finite existence and a finite existence with a meaning and purpose based on faith on religious teachings, people would go with the latter. I

      Hundreds of millions of people disagree.

    10. Name them.

      But seriously, I suspect you misinterpreted me as somehow enduring religious faith (I'm not); my point is simply that religious faith is driven primarily by an inability to accept the finality of death and apparent meaninglessness of existence. I guess this wasn't clear to you because I didn't explicitly state "given a choice between a meaningless finite existence and a finite existence with THE ILLUSION OF a meaning and purpose based on faith on religious teachings, people would go with the latter." That I do not regard the "meaning and purpose" asserted by religious traditions as plausible should have been obvious form the other 400,000 words or so that I had written.

      I would be very curious to know where these hundreds of millions of people are who are immune to the comforting lies of religion. Even in supposedly post-religious Western Europe, polls consistently indicate the majority claim to believe in god, or else some form of woo. Just because they are not mired in American style, science denying "old time religion" and don't attend church regularly doesn't mean they are beyond magical thinking.

    11. I think most people would prefer a finite existence with meaning to a infinite without meaning if they could fathom the consequences. I don't see what the problem would be in facing the finality of once life if there is no purpose. If there is purpose that you truly believe in however, then you could face the finality or an endless existence equally well.

    12. Andy,

      Could you explain how the existence of God would impart "meaning" to human existence, and what that "meaning" would be? Because, frankly, I don't see it.

    13. lutesuite, you just need to stick your fingers in your ears, stamp your feet on the floor and chant "la, la, la, ..." at the top of your voice and you too will finally have "meaning" in your life.

      And be sure to do this in a public venue so that as many people as possible can understand what a good and pious person you are.

      And if possible, try as hard as you can to inject this "meaning" into the public sphere in the form of misogyny, homophobia and in general opposition to any form of rational, evidence based formulation of public policy.

      Because we all know that every thing we need to know about human well being was formulated by iron age goat herders who didn't even understand germ theory.

  7. The folly of NOMA is it's failure to acknowledge that to be "beyond the scope of science" is to be beyond the scope of reliable information. It's not like science is a car and religion is a ship, and therefore one is suited for water and the other for land. You can actually go places with science; religion never leaves the dock.

    The only sort of religion that might might avoid conflict with science would be one which makes no claims about why the world is the way it is. This would limit it to either some sort of naturalistic pantheist conception of 'god' (in which 'god' is just another word for "nature" or "universe"), or an 'interpretation' of one of the dominant mainstream religious traditions that was so liberal and flexible as to be effectively indistinguishable from atheism.

    A metaphorical interpretation of Genesis doesn't so much reconcile science and religion as obfuscate the inherent conflict. If the claim of the accommodationist is that the author of Genesis knew about evolution but chose to wax metaphoric about it (perhaps because the contemporary audience was 'not ready' for it), it's just as implausible and involves as much magical thinking as Biblical literalism. If however the accommodationist acknowledges that the author of Genesis knew nothing about evolution and was simply writing a fable intended convey some sort of poetic 'truth' about the human condition, then Genesis might be good poetry but it's not 'religion' any more than "Dante's Inferno", "A Christmas Carol", or "Avatar" is. Genesis so interpreted may not conflict with science but only because it is effectively no longer a religious text.

    1. The folly of NOMA is it's failure to acknowledge that to be "beyond the scope of science" is to be beyond the scope of reliable information.

      Far from being a "folly" of NOMA, I see tha as one of the main points in its favour. That religion makes claims that cannot be evaluated by empirical evidence is one of the chief characteristics that distinguishes it from the magisterium of science. If religion really claims to have an epistemological value similar to that of science, but in a different non-overlapping field, then it needs to come up with a means of falsification of its claims analogous to the scientific method. That religion has failed to do so after so many millenia is reason enough on its own to dismiss claims that religion is able to reveal truths about the universe which are inaccessible to science. And NOMA, by providing a means to contrast science and religion, makes this failure all the more blatant.

    2. To hopefully clarify further with example you use yourself, Joe G:

      If a religious person makes the claim that all humankind is descended from a single couple who existed about 10,000 years ago, then a scientist would be able to point out that this is a claim that strays out of the magisterium of religion and which is in fact best evaluated by science. He can then demonstrate the reams of evidence from population genetics, molecular biology, paleontology, etc. that leaves no question that the claim is false, regardless of what one's religious beliefs claim.

      The religious person might then respond by saying that the story of Adam and Eve is not meant in that literal sense. Rather, it expresses a deeper, metaphysical truth, that humankind exists in a "fallen" state which can only be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And then, when the scientist asks "So how do you know that? You know, what is the evidence that allows you to say this is true in a religious sense, comparable to all of that evidence I just showed to demonstrate that the story of Adam and Eve is not be true in a scientific sense." And the scientist will then have the opportunity to point and laugh at the response he receives.

  8. If anyone hasn't figured it out already, the Joe G. above is clearly not the Joe G (Joe Gallien) of IDiotic infamy.

    To the Joe G. above: I respectfully suggest that you modify your user name in some way to differentiate yourself from the IDiot Joe G. Please believe me when I say that you should not want his reputation attached to you in any way, which may happen if you go by the user name Joe G.

    1. Interesting. Maybe that's why Laurence tweaked my nose...

    2. Joe,

      When I saw "Joe G" I was expecting that IDiot, but when I read your comment, it was obvious, within the first two words, that you were not the same. I would still change that user name if I were you.

      See ya.