Karl Giberson: It’s un-American to criticize faith

May 24, 2010 • 6:28 pm

Oh dear, Karl Giberson is mad at me. He’s just disgorged two articles that criticize me for incivility and for not properly understanding the ways of God.  The first, “Atheists, it’s time to play well with others” (oy, what a title!), is at USA Today.  The second, “Jerry Coyne’s insufferable argument,” is at his own venue, BioLogos.  I’ll take up the first one here, as I’m not sure I have the stomach for both.

There’s really nothing new in the USA Today piece—it’s the wearying argument that even if the New Atheists are right, and there is no God, our tone is simply off-putting.  We’re shrill, obstreperous, and intolerant. More intolerant, in fact, than fundamentalists themselves, since a religously conservative seminary was open-minded enough to hire Bruce Waltke after Reformed Theological Seminary forced him to resign for being soft on evolution.

Here’s what Giberson says.

Science and faith are compatible because there are lots of religious scientists.  Some of them have even won Nobel Prizes! Hello? Anybody listening out there?  Earth to Giberson:  no New Atheist has ever denied that faith and science can be “compatible” in the sense that both can be simultaneously embraced by one human mind.  The argument is, and always has been, about whether science and faith are philosophically compatible.  Do they clash because they deal with “data” in disparate ways? Do they have completely different standards for judging “truth”?  I say “yes,” and assert that religious scientists exist in a state of cognitive dissonance.

I stated this perfectly clearly in an earlier New Republic article that, apparently, helped inspire Giberson’s USA Today piece. But this simple logic still eludes him.  Well, let me inform Dr. Giberson one last time what his argument implies: Catholicism is compatible with pedophilia because many Catholics are pedophiles.

Atheist-scientists claim “that a fellow scientist doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist.” You know, Giberson is really starting to tick me off.  I have never said this, nor, to my knowledge, have any New Atheists.  All of us agree, for instance, that evangelical Christian Francis Collins is a good scientist.  What we say is that anybody doing any kind of science should abandon his or her faith if they wish become a philosophically consistent scientist.

It’s hard not to see Giberson as disingenuous when he continues to accuse New Atheists of things that they don’t believe, and which he knows that they don’t believe.  That’s how creationists behave, for crying out loud.

I attacked Giberson in an unseemly manner.:

Dennett’s brother-in-arms, atheist Jerry Coyne, raked Brown University cell biologist Ken Miller and me over the coals in The New Republic for our claims that Christians can unapologetically embrace science.

Raked them over the coals? I defy anybody to read that article and say that it’s uncivil. In fact, it says the following:

Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

Wow, that’s way harsh, dudes!

I didn’t rake Miller and Giberson over the coals, I raked their ideas over the coals.  Giberson, like Michael Ruse, can’t see the difference between attacking ideas and attacking persons. Which brings us to Giberson’s last complaint:

Criticizing faith is “un-American.” I wouldn’t have believe this McCarthy-esque accusation if I hadn’t seen it myself:

There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don’t comport with science.

But wait. Isn’t  that exactly what Giberson is doing when he tells people, as he did in his latest book, that they should stop espousing creationism because science disproves it?

Giberson is, a la Archie Bunker, telling vociferous atheists to stifle themselves.  Criticizing religion is off limits because it clashes with people’s cherished—or uncherished!—beliefs.

But here‘s what’s un-American: demanding special privileges for religion, and immunity from criticism, that other bodies of thought, like political views, don’t enjoy.  Giberson would never tell Democrats to stop criticizing Republicans’ cherished ideas of offshore drilling and racial profiling. Political ideas must survive the rough-and-tumble market of free thought.   Giving a pass to religious ideas, simply because they are religious, makes about as much sense as giving tax breaks to churches.  The First Amendment is there because free expression allows the best ideas to rise to the top.

Freedom of speech is profoundly American.   Like Dorothy, we atheists have looked behind the curtain of religious thought and found nothing there.  And we talk about that.  Is a little criticism, and, at times, ridicule, too much for Giberson to bear? Are he and his comrades in faith such wilting flowers that they must at all cost be protected from criticism of their supernaturalism?

In the end, Giberson condescendingly admonishes us:

The New Atheists need to learn how to play in the sandbox.

Sorry, Dr. Giberson, no can do—not if “playing” means pretending to eat the invisible sandwiches that our playmates offer us. And besides, you know what happens when you put a kitteh in the sandbox:

89 thoughts on “Karl Giberson: It’s un-American to criticize faith

  1. The worse part is he published it in USA Today where it will be read by many religious people and that is what will be stuck on their minds. That we are intolerant of them, which of course, is not true.

    1. Exactly. It’s the same with Mooney’s untrue accusations in mass-circulation newspapers and magazines last summer. It’s what these guys do, and it’s repellent. Yet they claim to be The Party of Nice.

      1. They are the party of psychological manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, and intellectually dishonesty. They are revoltingly disgusting.

        Bravo, Jerry!

  2. Wow…someone got stung. I’ve had my friends (mostly the non-conventional “sort of believers who believe in belief” say similar things to me.

    They are so sensitive.

  3. Hey! Don’t go dissing McCarthy, now. He was a good guy after all. Just read a Texas textbook on the subject and you will learn the truth. Hallelujah!

  4. “Raked them over the coals? I defy anybody to read that article and say that it’s uncivil.”

    My point exactly:

    “Enough with the jokes; now I’m serious. That’s a really offensive claim. Not offensive in the frivolous sense the word is so often used to convey, but genuinely offensive, because it is untrue. Coyne doesn’t rake Miller and Giberson over any coals; he says good things about both of them in that long review in The New Republic; he also disagrees with much of what they claim in their respective books. He does it honestly, and carefully, and with detailed argument. That is not the same thing as raking people over the coals! It is offensive for Karl Giberson to make that accusation in a large-circulation national newspaper. Yet here he is telling other people how to play nicely. It’s so typical – say things about atheists that are not true, in the very act of telling atheists to be Nicer.”


    The quoted passage backs up my claim beautifully – I think I’ll add it to the post, which I’ve been updating all day, what with one thing and another.

    We know Giberson reads WEIT, so he’ll be reading this. Well, Dr Giberson, aren’t you embarrassed at yourself? I hope you are. You said the thing that was not.

    1. Indeed. How is it that Giberson thinks he has expertise in how to “play nicely”? He can’t even play honestly. Why is it that theists seem to have so much trouble failing to notice the beam in their own eye?

    2. There seems to be a wide difference in interpretation of the expression “raked over the coals”. To me it just means thoroughly criticised. I for one am quite happy to be described as having raked someone over the coals when I’ve thoroughly refuted their arguments.

  5. When will people learn the difference between “unamerican” and “politically incorrect”?

  6. Atheist-scientists claim “that a fellow scientist doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist.” fuck ’em, this is ultimately true. You can’t achieve the full extent of scientific achievement if there is the dead weight of faith dragging your lab-coat-tails back.

    1. Although one need not give up their religion to be a good scientist, if one applies the scientific method to their religion, the natural corollary is atheism.

  7. I can’t remember if it was addressed already, but Ruse had a similar total failure of grasping the attacking-the-idea-not-the-person not too long ago….

    “Coyne is also an ardent New Atheist with the glassy-eyed, moral fanaticism that such people share with opponents of abortion and lovers of guns. Those who disagree are not just wrong but stupid and probably evil to boot. Hence, rather like the human genome, one finds in Coyne’s blog, interspersed between the functional (the brilliant mini-essays on evolution), the dysfunctional (ranting against anyone who presumes to think that there might be more to life than science). I should say that people like me who think that science and religion might co-exist — “accommodationists” — are particular objects of scorn.”


    Such an absurd exaggeration of Coyne’s position. I asked the Ruse to defend that part of his post. I assume everyone isn’t surprised, Ruse never responded.

  8. You know, one thing that struck me in that piece was Giberson’s hit on Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola. They told the stories of skeptical clergy with real compassion, expressing deep sympathy for those who find their commitment to truth in conflict with the ideals of their youth. They are, one suspects, stories with which Karl Giberson can identify intimately.

    That Giberson, on behalf of BioLogos, chooses to mischaracterize Dennett and LaScola speaks volumes.

    1. It’s worse than you think. The “quote” they attribute to Dennett wasn’t made by Dennett himself–it was made by an Episcopal minister whom Dennett quoted! That is bad faith of the highest order.

      1. On the plus side, he said you and Dennett were “brothers in arms”.

        Not only do I find this phrasing hysterical given the pacifistic nature of you both, but I can’t think of a more flattering person to be a “brother in arms” with.

        What better way to ignore the message than to declare the messengers to be big militant(unAmerican) meanies –with a bad “tone”!

        (What power you must have to make someone feel so defensive! Methinks he doth protest too much.)

  9. Is Karl mad because those “new atheists” find his beliefs as crazy as he finds other supernatural beliefs? Say, –how nicely does he play in the proverbial sandbox with the Scientologists and Young Earth Creationists? How about the witch doctors? Is he as deferential to their crazy beliefs as he expects others to be to his? Would he seek out his birth certificate if someone wanted to do his astrological chart? What if the person called him “unamerican” if he didn’t play along? And does Giberson really think it’s “harmless” to ennoble the idea of faith as a means of knowledge? Do we really want more people thinking the voice in their head is coming from a higher source? Or is it just his “brand” of faith that he wants special treatment for?

    Let Karl’s invisible savior soothe his hurt feelings after he’s been “raked over the coals” (poor martyr). Besides, if his beliefs are good and true, what should it matter that we mock him? If you’re wearing magical robes that only the chosen can see, why should you care about the opinion of those who see you as naked? You’ve got magic; they don’t. Or does magic need to be “believed in” to “work”?

    Sandboxes, like magical thinking, are for children. When it comes to intelligent conversation, I prefer the grown-up table.

  10. Giberson, “There is something profoundly un-American about demanding that people give up cherished, or even uncherished, beliefs just because they don’t comport with science.”

    Tell it to John Adams:

    They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Herschells’ universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews; And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world. —John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson, 22 January 1825

    I’ll return these ignorant remarks with an animation of Giberson “playing in the sandbox” of religion. The flys, enjoying their fine meal of Kopi Luwak from the litterbox, are overcome with the foul odor of atheism from the offensive mouth of a kitteh. At 5:50:


  11. I went looking for a list of Giberson’s peer-reviewed papers and came up empty. But, since I’ll venture to suppose that to be in the pilot house of BioLogos he must have some, could someone direct me to that list? (If my hypothesis is not supportable, that might contribute to the thin skin here.)

    1. Right, I just checked that on another thread.

      Google Scholar _seems_ to say that he made 4 papers on optical pumping of lasers before his physics PhD. IIRC, use “KW Giberson”.

      Wikipedia and BioLogos says that since then he worked as a professor, perhaps in physics, and involved with a magazine on “the relationship between science and religion” before eventually Templeton himself.

      In sum, he is a historian of religion on the looks of it, not a physicist any longer. The prediction becomes “no skin at all”. (o.O)

  12. Karl Giberson has an unhealthy emotional attachment to his beliefs, as do the people he is “defending.” We really need to start encouraging people to understand that human beings have rights, but beliefs do not. Beliefs are not entitled to respect. They are not entitled to immunity from criticism.

    Either Karl Giberson sincerely cannot distinguish between a belief and a believer, or he is intentionally obscuring the two.

    Another thing I wanted to mention is something I heard Richard Dawkins say. I’m paraphrasing, but he expressed the idea that whenever someone plays the “offended” or “hurt feelings” card, you know that they have NO MORE ARGUMENTS. They’ve completely run out. They’ve been backed into a corner and they simply can’t fight anymore. Shrieking about criticizing ideas as “un-american”, admonishing us to “play nice” while lying one’s ass off is nothing more than gutless emotional blackmail.

    I used to think that accommodationists were simply benign but misguided. I was wrong. They are not benign. They are positively obsessed with compromise. There is little they will not lie about to keep up the illusion that religious beliefs still have relevance. These people really do deserve our contempt.

    1. Er, I just read Jerry Coyne’s response and realized that he basically said what I said. I’ll have to start reading everyone else’s responses before I respond, lest I just add more redundant clutter to the discussion. I just got caught up in the moment.

      1. I really liked your post and didn’t find it redundant. I especially like this: “We really need to start encouraging people to understand that human beings have rights, but beliefs do not.”

        But I recognize the feeling you express. Often I post something here only to realize multiple people have already said it– and said it better (and without as many typos!).

  13. Can anyone look at political discourse in America today and, with a straight face, say that atheists are “Unamerican” because they are not sufficiently polite?

    1. Being a UK citizen, whenever I see an accusation of someone being “un-American” I have to smile.

      It’s usualy got the same meaning as “I’m offended by …” and, to me, simply means that the person making the accusation has run out of argument(s) but still refuses to give in to evidence and better argument from the opposition.


  14. Mostly, being called ‘un-American’ is an honourable distinction, as those being so labelled usually hold their country to a higher standard of ethics and morality than do the ‘patriots’.

    1. I usually just get called “disloyal” because I criticised Dubya and his war waged on false pretenses at every opportunity.

      Er, no. I’m not obligated to be “loyal” to politicians. They work for us, not the other way around.

  15. All I can think of every time I hear someone playing the politeness card is “Help, help! I’m being repressed!”

  16. Hey, I have to agree with one thing in the second article: It’s not suprising that PNAS (Publish Nearly All Shit) published this. Unfortunately that bit was nothing but a misplaced, snide and childish remark at you and the rest of the drivel is utter crap.

    I am especially amused by that pathetic argument that grass didn’t suffer to evolve and therefore evolution isn’t cruel enough to render God bad or non-existent (in a nutshell).

    Yes, it makes so much sense, how could I miss it: Because in Giberson’s head only mammals and other higher orders can suffer, the argument that evolution causes way too much suffering is no longer valid. I mean, countless parasites, bacteria and parasitic worms live just paradisic, right? Why would anyone, given this undeniably luxury, say evolution is so cruel? /sarcasm

    What a complete moron.

  17. There’s a good example of the offense that the religious take to simply having their claimed beliefs repeated to them without the fawning “respect” they demand in the following clip (skip forward to 6:15)

    1. The most disrespectful thing RD said was that God “couldn’t think of a better way” to redeem the world, but if He could (and He’s reportedly omnniscient, and one would have thought, very clever – “omnicogitant”?), why didn’t he?

    2. Well, though I’m pretty sympathetic to Dawkins et al, this doesn’t strike me as his finest moment. First, surely this isn’t how myth functions psychologically: people don’t ask simply, ‘is this admirable?’ or whatever. There’s some deeper way the story of pain and sacrifice and redemption works which people find moving and personally affecting. (I’m not arguing about whether it – the story of God taking human form etc – is true. Of course it isn’t).

      Second – is it admirable? He seems to find this a no-brainer question. But the story of a man who suffers terrible things for the sake of all humanity is admirable. I think it’s admirable. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s true.

      If you ‘believe in the new testament’ you believe in a great deal more than the crude summary of it Dawkins gives, and you can see why people would see it as a reductio ad absurdam.

      1. Clive

        He isn’t asking whether Jesus is admirable – he is asking whether God is. Would you admire someone who tortured their own kid to death because they couldn’t bring themselves to forgive other people for their so-called “sins”?

      2. Dawkins doesn’t give the best arguments in this instance, I can agree with that. On the other hand translate what he said into an argument against a political or social dogma and it sounds incredibly mild.
        It’s only the fact that he is talking about religion that makes the religious so uptight and prickly about criticism.
        He didn’t say anything that was untrue. What raised their hackles was that he suggested that the beliefs were reprehensible if true.
        I agree with your martyrdom point – it does resonate with a lot of people but its not a strong point in the case of Jesus himself, who, if he really was God, would have known he was only going to be dead for a couple of days. Compared to the martyrs of history Jesus merely lost most of his weekend. The other point he missed was that Jesus was apparently giving his life in order to atone for the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, who we now realize are clearly fictional characters. Why didn’t Jesus know this?
        Dawkins tried to argue the case as one of vicarious punishment – an argument that Hitchens does very well although in his particular case Hitchins does show zero respect for those he argues against.

      3. That’s not the point. If God has the properties claimed, why such an inhuman and barbaric resolution? Seriously, an all-powerful, all-knowing God should be able to come up with something better than some iron-age torture/execution routine.

        Maybe mult-level marketing. Like Amway. Could have called it “JesusWay” and spread it through-out the world…

        1. Well, I’m not sure these answers cut it.

          First, surely part of the myth is that Jesus is both God *and* human, and isn’t, at the point he’s being tortured, simply God. Second, logical arguments about what an all-knowing god might do don’t really engage with the psychology of belief.

          I do agree that in tone Dawkins is mild. The point I am trying to make is that it is hardly surprising if you perform a reductio ad absurdam on people’s beliefs they will think you’re not doing their beliefs justice, which is, partly, what ‘not respecting’ them means.

          (Perhaps there’s an ambiguity in ‘respect’, which is the problem. Taking ideas seriously doesn’t necessarily mean accepting any truth claims they make; it’s just a matter of registering that people’s beliefs and reasons for believing aren’t the crudest possible versions of those beliefs).

  18. Well Sir, I can assure you it is terrifically un-British to put words in another gentleman’s mouth!

  19. The “Jerry Coyne’s insufferable argument” article is breathtakingly inane.

    I mean, really – one should stop reading when Giberson claims because trees didn’t suffer to evolve, the argument that the amount of suffering caused by evolution is not in agreement with a good, powerful god is somehow invalid.

    No trees suffered in the long evolutionary process that produced the magnificent maples in my back yard. Neither did the barnacle or the cockroach. In fact, almost all the species had evolved and gone extinct before one emerged that could be said to experience suffering. And even for species that can “suffer,” selection does a lot of work without producing suffering. The poor peacock with the wimpy tail feathers might not be able to find a mate so his wimpy genes will not be selected but the only suffering he will experience will be humiliation.

    Now to quote from my own blog:

    Apparently suffering is a majority-vote, though: If most living things don’t suffer, than it’s okay that others die of thirst, hunger or being slowly and painfully eaten away by parasites (after all, the parasites live in paradise, right?). In Giberson’s head only the majority needs to be fine and then the argument has lost its validity.

    One would wish some human minorities had been aware of that grand school of thought, right? I am sure Martin Luther King would have appreciated this grand intellectual stunt.

  20. In the BioLogos article which criticises this WEIT post, Giberson takes the quote from the Avise PNAS artcile that Jerry used, attributes it to Jerry, and calls it a caricature. He also claims there are a series of ad hominems in the post, where I think Jerry was very complimentary about Avise himself; he just didn’t buy his argument on theodicy.

    Giberson seems to be have a grudge against Jerry, and hasn’t actually bothered reading properly before going on the attack (notably, he linked neither to Jerry’s blog, nor the PNAS article, so his readers have to take his word for what they say, or search for the originals themselves).

    1. Ha! I saw that yesterday and was just about to post on that. And it’s not the only misattribution he’s made!

    2. Yeah Jerry is nothing but complimentary to Avise in that article. He repeatedly says that Avise is an excellent scientist and that his paper was primarily a good one.

      I suppose it’s this special deference to a person’s faith… if you criticize someone’s faith, to many people, that is by definition an ad hominem attack.

      You’d think that if the commentary on their faith was being published in a peer-reviewed journal, of all things, you could criticize it without it being ad hominem… heh….

      Also, I have to say, Giberson’s “un-American” comment is hilarious, given the hypocrisy. Hmmm, a guy who is devoted to convincing people to give up their cherished Creationist beliefs, making that comment. WTF?!

  21. “Well, let me inform Dr. Giberson one last time what his argument implies: Catholicism is compatible with pedophilia because many Catholics are pedophiles.”

    Let’s hope it’s one last time because, no matter how often it’s repeated, Coyne’s claim is still inane. The relevance of good scientists being theists is that, were science and faith truly incompatible, the science of religious scientists would reflect it. In other words, there would be evidence. So, are religious scientists demonstrably poorer than atheist scientists? Are the papers of religious scientists identifiable in a double blind study? Where’s the evidence?

    1. Way to miss the analogy, Rob!

      Accommodationists argue that theism and science are compatible because many scientists are theists.

      If that is all they mean by “compatible” then pedophilia and Catholicism are equally compatible via the exact same criteria.

      It’s you who is inane. The analogy is spot on.

      1. To paraphrase your garbled conjecture, Rob: “The relevance of good Catholics being pedophiles is that, were Catholicism and pedophilia truly incompatible, the religious practice of pedophiles would reflect it. In other words, there would be evidence. So, are pedophile Catholics demonstrably fewer than pedophiles of other faiths? Are the papers of religious pedophiles identifiable in a double blind study? Where’s the evidence?”

        Your efforts to defend the faith just make you sound as stupid as you imagine Jerry’s argument is.

        Clue: You no haz one!

        1. Anecdotally, it seems like the priests who managed to get away with being prolific pedophiles for very long periods of time were actually quite good at what they did, quite possibly above average. It was their charisma and ability to reach out to followers that enabled them to continue such atrocious behavior.

    2. Rob, you have missed the point of the claim. No one is saying that the practice of certain domains of science is incompatible with certain religious beliefs, but that science is incompatible with religion — those are two very different claims. In particular, the claim is that the approach to understanding the world that is the foundation of science is incompatible with the approach of religion. That doesn’t mean, however, that in practice real people can’t compartmentalize. To see this, simply replace “religion” with some other irrational belief, such as astrology or alchemy — one can be an excellent chemist and believe in astrology, or an excellent astronomer and believe in alchemy. But do note that these beliefs preclude the believers from pushing the scientific worldview through their entire belief structure — one can’t be an excellent chemist and believe in alchemy, or an excellent astronomer and believe in astrology.

      “Psychological” compatibility is not the same thing as philosophical compatibility, which is what Jerry is pointing out.

    3. The relevance of good scientists being theists is that, were science and faith truly incompatible, the science of religious scientists would reflect it.

      Actually no; not if they compartmentalize; which gives the game away. If theist scientists actually did apply their theism to their science, then they would do bad science, and this would be apparent. But people like Ken Miller and Francis Collins don’t do that – as Jerry confirmed when I asked him about it for an article I wrote about the Templeton Foundation for The Philosophers’ Magazine: religious scientists don’t use their religion at the coal face. That fact reveals in what sense even religious scientists actually think the two are “compatible.”


        1. House said it better: If you could reason with religious people, they wouldn’t be religious.

          1. Yeah… and I don’t have a script writer. (But if I did, I’d want his.)

  22. Catholicism is obviously compatible with pedophilia; well played.

    I do have some reactions to used terms:

    ­- “Raked them over the coals?” This is ambiguous of course. If we take the personal meaning, there is no offense; as claimed it is about ideas. If we take the idea meaning, we are done.

    – “Un-american” is so meaningless these days. (What are “american”? No one can say; so it is mostly a sign that someone is out of good arguments.) But I would add that non-americans doesn’t care about whether something is unamerican.

    We care if it works. Used to be that US was a powerhouse in science. Is Giberson willing to risk that?

    I thought it was early day’s “un-american” to not go for the best of breed, in this case among methods. Why won’t Giberson look a horse in its mouth before buying?

    The New Atheists need to learn how to play in the sandbox.

    No, he didn’t?!

    I assume he means something else entirely, but it is hilarious in its naiveté. This is exactly the analogous “sandbox” method of software that atheists are accusing accommodationists of. By putting aside the putative offensive or defective software in a “play safe” sandbox with rigid walls and no other access to the rest of the system, it can play out harmlessly.

    This is what accommodationists would want to see happen with science as regards religious claims. (That religion goes outside the sandbox is a given.) This will not result in so much cat poop but that the hounds of religion gets to tear down the house at their leisure.

    Ironically, freedom of religion is exactly the opposite idea. There religions are put in their own sandboxes, so these puppies don’t poop in the others sand.

    1. Oh, it’s the same sandbox. Totally different illustration … um, no, it’s not.

      The problem then _also_ becomes that the world is not a sandbox.

  23. “The argument is, and always has been, about whether science and faith are philosophically compatible. Do they clash because they deal with “data” in disparate ways? Do they have completely different standards for judging “truth”? I say “yes,” and assert that religious scientists exist in a state of cognitive dissonance.”

    Is it really an interesting statement that religion and science are incompatible in that sense? So interesting that you can assert that scientists who are religious must be in a state of cognitive dissonance? I’m currently doing Cognitive Science classes. I know what when I sit down to write up a proposed Psychology experiment, I don’t use the format or methods of Philosophy, and I don’t write Philosophy papers as if they were scientific experiments. Would that leave me in some sort of weird “cognitive dissonance”? Or is it just understanding that different fields have different methods, data, and standards. And Cognitive Science shows quite pointedly that you can have, say, language talked about in Linguistics papers, Philosophy papers, Neuroscience papers, Psychology papers, and so on and so forth. So, they have different methods and different standards and different focuses and different data, and so by your definition they seem to be incompatible. To which I give a hearty “Who cares?” to that definition of incompatible.

    “All of us agree, for instance, that evangelical Christian Francis Collins is a good scientist. What we say is that anybody doing any kind of science should abandon his or her faith if they wish become a philosophically consistent scientist.”

    But then the question is: does philosophical consistency matter to the work of scientists as scientists? If it does, then the implication is that yes, indeed, they aren’t or can’t be good — or as good — scientists until they get rid of the inconsistency. And if it doesn’t, then it’s hard to imagine what definition of incompatible you could have that anyone would care about, even if you could establish philosophical inconsistency.

    I posted on my blog a long post about the poverty of the incompatibilist position (and my name is in the “About” page, so I’m not anonymous anymore) and the big point was that the incompatiblists had to define and defend a position where science and religion were incompatible in an important and meaningful way. That religion does not do things the way science does is not that sort of way; that boils down to the uninteresting claim that religion is not science, which would also apply to philosophy and many other fields. So, then, what IS the interesting incompatibility, so that we should care about the claim that science and religion are incompatible?

    1. Let me just adduce here the data that scientists who are elected to the National Academy of Sciences for their outstanding research, are FAR more atheistic than scientists in general.

      Does this satisfy your request for asking for evidence that scientists who are atheists do better work than those who don’t? Or are you going to find some way around this fact, too.

      1. Why would the fact that some really good scientists are atheistic prove your case any more than the claim that some good scientists are religious would prove theirs?

        Additionally, you seemed to deny that you were saying that having this philosophical inconsistency meant that you couldn’t do science, and so if your point here is that you are a worse scientist if you are religious them I’m afraid that charges that you’re saying that you can’t be a good scientist if you’re religious have some merit. See this point that you are supposedly refuting:

        “Atheist-scientists claim “that a fellow scientist doing world-class science must abandon his or her religion to be a good scientist.” You know, Giberson is really starting to tick me off. I have never said this, nor, to my knowledge, have any New Atheists.”

        Except it seems like you said that here, with the fact that you’re claiming I would “find a way around”.

        However, I must also point out that that fact does not, in fact, demonstrate that there is a philosophical incompatibility between science and religion … and that that was supposed to be your main point, no?

        1. Because you are a faitheist you are perceiving a message that confirms your bias.

          No one said that believers must abandon their faith to be good scientists… rather, most good scientists abandon faith as a corollary of being good scientists. When they apply the scientific method to their faith or view their faith as they would other superstitions, they tend to lose the faith.

          I think it was Feynman who said the first rule in science is not to fool yourself (and that you are the easiest person to fool). It seems that the first rule in religion is to constantly fool yourself into believing in a being for whom there is no measurable evidence.

          I think the fact that a faitheist can’t see a philosophical difference between a faith-based means of knowledge and a fact-based one doesn’t mean that the rest of us don’t. And most of us find the two methods philosophically incompatible… sort of the way pedophilia and Catholicism should be philosophically incompatible.

          1. Well, as for seeing a message that confirms my bias — whatever bias that is — let me repeat what he said:

            “Does this satisfy your request for asking for evidence that scientists who are atheists do better work than those who don’t? Or are you going to find some way around this fact, too.”

            So, at the very least, he must be claiming that abandoning religion would make those scientists better scientists, since that’s what he actually said. Do you have a better way to interpret that? And if that’s what he’s saying, then at least part of the charge that he’s denying seems to hold. He might not be arguing that you can’t be a good scientist at all, but definitely seems to be implying that not being religious makes you a better scientist. Noting as well that this was a response to my asking why the philosophical consistency mattered, and I think I’ve got a pretty tight case that he is tying scientific prowess and atheism, which is pretty much what the original comment — that he denied — said he was doing.

            Yes, there might be some exaggeration in the charge, but not enough to get past the key point.

            What you also miss is that some people — the accomodationists, in at least some cases — argue that applying the scientific method to faith is the wrong way to go about it. In some sense, I agree with that, since it applies skepticism to something that skepticism doesn’t work well with. But that’s what needs to be settled, and that science makes a presumption that generally WEAKENS or makes faith HARDER is not enough to demonstrate an inherent incompatibility.

            If you are simply going to say that science and faith doesn’t use the same methods and claim that as incompatibility, then as I said you have to consider philosophy incompatible with science as well. And my reply is still “Who cares?”

    2. the interesting incompatibility

      Mainly that religion in practice permits believers to put belief before facts, such as in rejecting evolution or interjecting souls in humans. Both of these evolutionary exceptions is discussed regularly on WEIT.

      1. None of these, however, are inherent to religion. You can have a religion that holds a principle that they must conform to scientific fact, and many do attempt it.

        I always find it curious to find people arguing that science and religion are inherently incompatible trying to prove it by things that are not inherent to religion.

        1. There is absolutely no way you can predict that putting belief before facts is not “an inherent” practice of religion, as this is exactly what we observe in practice.

          I can however predict that there is only one method to put facts before belief known, and that is science. Again observed.

          As for the “to find people arguing that science and religion are inherently incompatible trying to prove it by things that are not inherent to religion”, I’m not responsible for your cognitive dissonance making you unable to understand actual arguments or the facts that they describe. So go pin that strawman label on your own donkey.

          1. Um, I don’t need to empirically study the world to get inherent incompatibilities. They should show up as soon as you have a definition of it. And your claim of inherence would have issues if religions adapt to facts. Which many do, as many, say, accept evolution.

            You’ll also have to define what you mean by “putting facts before belief”, since you seem to say that science is the only method (whatever that’s supposed to mean) that does that, but then you’d leave a field like, say, philosophy out, which seems absurd, since either philosophy clearly does it too OR putting belief before fact isn’t a bad thing. Unless you want to call all of philosophy inferior in some way, or incompatible with science in a meaningful way.

          2. I think you may have too much faith in faith to even have a clue as to what this conversation is about.

            Are you claiming there are “other ways of knowing” objective truths– other than empiricism? Are you claiming that there a supernatural but objective “truths” that people can “know” via subjective means? Evidence? Or is this just a “feeling” you have?

            Faith is belief without or despite evidence. It’s a great way to feel like you have “higher knowledge” only the knowledge conflicts with other higher knowledge and there is no means of empirically testing it to tell which supernatural entities or forces are real and which are imaginary. People who believe that faith is a way to know “higher truths” or that they are “saved” for what they believe, are unlikely to accept science that conflicts with their faith. Anyone who ennobles faith enables delusion as far as I’m concerned– and they are responsible for whatever people do in the name of the voices in their head since there is no method from separating a real god from a delusion of god.

            Your point is garbled. Good luck with trying to converse with someone here. Perhaps you’ll have better luck on your own blog.

          3. I have to reply to my own comment here, but:

            “Are you claiming there are “other ways of knowing” objective truths– other than empiricism? ”

            Yes. In fact, strict empiricism isn’t very good at objective truths, since sense perceptions are subjective. Now, part of this is going to depend on what you mean by “objective truth”, but mathematics seems to not be empirical and yet seems to be objective and have truths, at least about mathematics. Morality is another area where we wonder if the objective truth can be found empirically. So, yes, you can get objective truths without empiricism, for at least some things.

            Note, however, that I never mentioned that or the supernatural, so you are creating a strawman. I pointed out that I don’t need to do an empirical study to determine if two things are inherently incompatible because as soon as I have definitions of the two things, I should know. You might want to claim that to get the definition I need to do empirical study … but that doesn’t seem to be true for things like what it would take to be a religion or to be science. You can TRY to do that — using naturalistic methods — but they haven’t been all that successful at that, philosophically speaking, and for “systems” like that it really is a philosophical question.

            I agree that faith is belief on insufficient evidence, and would in fact claim that faith — in general — is precisely that you believe something stronger than is justified by the evidence. But I don’t see this as being in any way problematic except that it clashes with science’s skepticism, but then I don’t see how a different presumption makes them interestingly incompatible.

            That people may prefer to be skeptical about some scientific claims or, more frequently, reconcile their religion with those claims doesn’t make them inherently incompatible. So far, you haven’t presented an actual argument for inherent incompatibility in an interesting sense, the sense — to me — of if X is a religion it is incompatible with science. My view is that if a religion says “I accept all scientific fact” it could remain a religion and still be totally compatible in all the senses presented here with science. Do you disagree? If so, why?

    3. It would seem to me that any consistent scientist would apply the same skepticism to his own religion as he does to other religions, superstitions, and pseudoscience. If he did so, how could he be religious?

      Science is an evidence-based method of finding things out. Theism assumes there are other ways of finding things out (faith and feelings). Unfortunately these lead to wrong conclusions again and again as the history of humanity reveals. Science has developed error correcting mechanisms that take into account the known way humans fool themselves.

      What rational or scientific reasoning would allow people to believe in some invisible undetectable entities (gods, demons, angels, souls) and not others (sprites, Thetans, Succubi, aliens that have the technology to hide from scientists). What sensible criteria could they use to believe in some but not others when they are all indistinguishable from imaginary or mythological beings? Do tell us, oh faitheist.

      If there were no promises for belief in a particular invisible entity or threats for disbelief, would those scientists believe as they do? Certainly not if they were thinking scientifically.

      Science and religion are compatible in the same way that pedophilia and Catholicism are compatible. The same people can practice both. If you think these practices are compatible then, per your definition, of course religion and science are compatible.

      Why don’t you explain how Francis Collins can understand the evolution of humans and believe in “original sin” that some incarnate god needs to die to atone for. I don’t see the consistency there. I don’t see scientific consistency when he tells us a feeling generated by a 3 pronged waterfall is what gave him his faith in Christianity. Might I suggest that a scientifically sound argument could involve a temporal lobe seizure and not “signs” from invisible saviors.

      1. No one is required to apply skepticism to all fields or all beliefs. I don’t think that I apply extreme skepticism in my every day life, and think that it would be absurd to. Having a very strict skepticism works really well when you need to have the right answer or have all the time you need to decide what to accept, but it works really badly when you’re better off just doing something than doing nothing, or when it doesn’t really matter that you get it wrong (for example, you learn by getting the answer wrong).

        As for the criteria, I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. There’s no reason to lump all of that into the same category and say “You have to believe them all if you believe one”. For the things that are really incompatible — in that you cannot believe both — you will believe one and let the fact that the others contradict your belief cause you to not believe the others, but note that this doesn’t mean that you keep believing the first thing you believe even if it’s proven that something else is true. For things that are unrelated, you believe what you believe. Belief — in the epistemic sense — is there for you to accept propositions that you don’t know to be true. We’d need to work out standards for belief or deny that simple belief is ever useful. The former is not generally something most people want to engage in, and the latter is terribly problematic.

        Now, considering that NOMA is a possible compatibilist view, and considering that some people do allow for feelings to be used as evidence, why should I explain anything about Collins’ story? He thinks it has meaning. You don’t. Why does that make you INCOMPATIBLE as opposed to disagreeing? If you could prove that it was a temporal lobe seizure, you’d be able to claim that he should know otherwise. But, amazingly, that’s not what you claimed.

        1. That last paragraph is nothing but a sleazy way to fake nonsense into knowledge. It is a major fail, just like NOMA, specious and inane.

          1. I’m not saying that he’s right, but am pointing out that he thinks it meaningful, and if someone wants to say that it’s just a temporal lobe seizure and not meaningful you have to prove that, or else it doesn’t seem much of a problem for Collins to continue to believe it.

        2. Look, maybe you should stick with trying to converse with folks like “rob” over on your blog. I readily am able to pick up the point of most everyone here, but you are all over the place. Perhaps your argument makes more sense in your head then it does to anyone else.

          Whether something is “compatible” might be an opinion. But what criteria is a theist using to determine “god(s) exist”? Is it the same criteria they use to determine whether other things exist or not? If not why not?

          I suggest that they are using two different methods to determine whether something exists, and ony one method is compatible with science and the other is not.

          1. Since I’m pretty much just replying to you, being “all over the place” seems an odd claim. Are you trying to read multiple responses and link them directly?

            At any rate, I don’t really see a problem with people have two different ways of determining whether something exists, as long as they have a reason to change criteria. Religious people say they do. If science HAD settled it, we wouldn’t have this discussion … but it hasn’t, so we do.

          2. If science HAD settled it, we wouldn’t have this discussion … but it hasn’t, so we do.

            That is just like saying “If suicide bombing is known to be bad, then we wouldn’t have to discuss it”. Yet another FAIL.

          3. Well, some scientists have settled it; we don’t believe in the supernatural unless or until the evidence warrants it. We think it’s unscientific and irrational to do so. All the scientific evidence in the world will not convince those who believe their salvation depends upon faith. And statistics bear this out.

            I don’t accept the claim that there are “other ways of knowing” or “higher truths” because there is no way of verifying such claims or distinguishing these claims from delusions. And it’s a recipe for confirming biases not understanding objective truths.(I’m assuming that theists believe that the statement “god exists” is objectively true– that is,they believe god exists independent of whether people believe s/he does or not.) Moreover, this way of thinking encourages such delusions in others– in fact, people end up feeling proud and special for such delusions (see: the emperor in his special magical robes).

            If Francis Collins thinks a transcendent feeling is indicative of a divine communication rather than a naturalistic explanation, he is not using a method that is compatible with science to come to this conclusion… unless magical thinking and wishful thinking are perfectly compatible with science, of course.

            Your opinion regarding compatibility and your interpretation of what Jerry is saying is in conflict with the opinion and interpretation of others. You may be of the opinion that they are perfectly compatible because “good scientists” can have “supernatural beliefs”, but the rest of us don’t find that enough to warrant the claim of compatibility.

            Myself, I want no part of that dishonesty. I want no part of enabling delusional thinking. Are Scientology and Science compatible? I’m sure a scientologist would say they are. I doubt many scientists would agree. I think it’s safe to extrapolate this opinion to all relgions, superstitions, myths, and pseudoscience(and those that are indistinguishable from such.)

            You don’t, apparently.

          4. to paraphrase: At any rate, I don’t really see a problem with people have two different ways of determining whether something exists, as long as they have a reason to change criteria. Scientologists say they do. So do young earth creationists. So do believers in witch craft. If science HAD settled it, we wouldn’t have this discussion … but it hasn’t, so we do.

            Yep, science can’t prove there is no woo so every “woo woo” thinks that is enough evidence to prove their woo is true!

  24. This is the part that always pisses me off:

    “Our commitment to pluralism and individual freedom should motivate generosity in such matters and allow people “the right to be wrong,” especially when the beliefs in question do not interfere with us. Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited assaults on the beliefs of fellow citizens.”

    If their activities didn’t affect the rest of us we wouldn’t give a shit. Nothing is gained by loud, self-promoting and mean-spirited infliction of (and demand for) unsupported beliefs on fellow citizens.

  25. Professor Coyne, please don’t use the intellectually bankrupt term “New Atheist”. I’ll admit, I didn’t proclaim my atheism 200 years ago, or 300, or 500, but that sure isn’t because my atheism is of a different type than was prevalent then.

  26. How and why is it so hard for some to see that no one can do science with religious [lack of] methodology; belief, faith, superstition, and (false)hope?
    And that scientific methodology of research, scepticism, testing, and scrutinising is the death knell of religion as anything other than pure fantasy?
    Doesn’t get much simpler, does it?
    ‘Playing in the same sandbox’, my ass!

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