August 1, 2010 • 7:56 am

I must be doing something right: twice in one week Sauron has ordered his minions from BioLogos to call me out on HuffPo.

Pete Enns, BioLogos’s senior fellow in Biblical studies, takes exception to the polling data I cited showing that many Americans are not only creationists, but see the Bible as the precise word of God.  Enns notes that these polling questions were ambiguously worded, making their interpretation dicey.  Ergo Jesus. Well, I’ll grant that in some polls the questions could be misleading.  Nevertheless, all polls, with their diverse ways of posing the question, show that about 40% of American are Biblical creationists.  And perhaps Enns could tell us what’s so misleading about the poll questions showing that 81% of Americans believe in heaven, 78% in angels, 70% in Satan, and 70% in hell. Maybe they interpret the question as actually asking about a metaphorical hell (e.g., spending your days reconciling science with the story of Adam and Eve).

BioLogos‘s vice president, Karl Giberson, whom I recently debated about the compatibility of science and faith (video pending), engages in classic displacement behavior: he argues that one analogy I used is weak.  The analogy at issue: “Catholicism is compatible with pedophilia because many Catholics are pedophiles.”  This was meant to show that compatibility isn’t demonstrated simply by people holding two contradictory views in their heads.  (Along with many accommodationists, Giberson seems to believe that the existence of religious scientists is evidence for the compatibility of science and faith.)

According to Giberson, this analogy doesn’t work because those child-abusing priests know that it is wrong. They have cognitive dissonance. In contrast, the religious scientist has no such dissonance:

A religious scientist functions routinely as a scientist in the lab, perhaps looking for the gene that causes hyperbole. While they [sic] are engaged in this search they believe that God is the creator. On regular occasions this scientist goes to church, where he or she sings hymns, listens to sermons, volunteers at the soup kitchen, takes communion, and puts money in the offering plate, all the while believing that the scientific picture of the world is accurate. Occasionally this religious scientist may even daydream about finding that gene for hyperbole while listening to the sermon. At no time do the co-existing mindsets conflict or create cognitive dissonance.

QED: science and faith are compatible.

Never mind that some pedophilic priests almost certainly aren’t tortured by guilt, or that any dissonance might come from the fear of detection rather than genuine guilt.  Never mind that monogamous adulterers may live a happy and unconflicted life with their duplicity (indeed, I’ve known some!).  There are many forms of hypocrisy, and not all hypocrites are tortured.  I would add that a lot of people who try to adhere to science and their faith do experience dissonance: read the testimonies of those who finally abandoned their their faith after learning about science, or of those priests who left the cloth when they couldn’t comport their faith with reality.

But put all that aside. Giberson is just playing a word game here to avoid tackling the real question, the question that I broached in our debate—science and faith are philosophically incompatible.  Accommodationists pretend that these are equally valid “ways of knowing”, but they actually differ radically in how they attain this “knowledge” (I’d claim that faith produces no knowledge at all), and in how they buttress it when answering the questions, “What’s the evidence for what I think is true?” and “How would I know I was wrong?”   There are many religions, all making incompatible assertions about what is true, but there is only one science.

I’ve belabored these points ad nauseam here and elsewhere, but accommodationists like Giberson won’t deal with them, despite my having explicitly defined what I mean by “compatibility.”  They’d rather quibble about semantics.  (By the way, Dr. Giberson, I didn’t mean that religious scientists were as bad as pedophilic priests.)

Let’s rewrite Giberson’s paragraph about the happy religious scientist:

A religious scientist functions routinely as a “naturalist” in the lab, perhaps looking for the gene that causes Alzheimer’s.  While doing this, he refuses to accept any conclusion that isn’t supported by data.  One of his students wants a particular gene to be involved, since he’s working on it, but the r.s. tells him that wish-thinking isn’t enough. There have to be hard data—perhaps through association studies—that can either implicate that gene or rule it out.  On Sunday this scientist goes to church, where he prays for the health of his mother, assuming against all evidence that someone Up There hears his prayer and is kindly disposed to answer it.  He has a sip of wine and eats a cracker, assuming without evidence that these substances have been magically transformed into Jesus’s blood and body before consumption.  Later on, he goes into a little booth and tells a hidden priest that he masturbated twice during the week.  He believes, without evidence, that if he doesn’t confess to this diddling he’ll be immolated for all eternity in molten sulfur.

I’d call that intellectual dissonance.  And it explains why American scientists are far less religious than the American public.

106 thoughts on “Gibersonia

  1. Could it be that “Catholicism is compatible with pedophilia…” as Socratism is compatible with pederasty?

  2. You really did it this time. I was a regular reader before, but this post has converted me into a Coyne Fangirl. I absolutely love the rewrite at the and and the LOLCat cap to the post. <3

  3. And again, I ask why HuffPo doesn’t provide you with equal time…

    If they’re calling you out by name, I think it’s incumbent upon them to provide you with an equal-footing platform to refute their nonsense.

  4. Although I couldn’t find any specific declaration of christian denomination on Giberson’s personal site, I assume he is Nazarene. He did his undergrad at Eastern Nazarene College, and has been on staff there since 1984.

    The Nazarenes don’t use sacramental wine (I assure you, they use the lowest grade of grape juice that KMart has to offer!), don’t believe in the transubstantiation of crackers, or confess to pastors/priests. They are pentecostal evangelicals.

    That aside, a couple of tidbits:

    Favorite Books:
    1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

    His fifth book, The Anointed: America’s Evangelical Experts (with ENC historian Randall Stephens) is currently under contract with Harvard University Press. Also under contract is a book on theistic evolution co-authored with Francis Collins for InterVarsity Press, and a biography of John Polkinghorne, with Dean Nelson, for Lion-Hudson press.

      1. I loved them, was introduced to them by someone from our church. She made a specific point to tell me the order she thought they should be read (The Magician’s Nephew first). However, if she said anything about the religious allusions in there, I don’t recall it.
        I would have been about 11 or so. I never caught the allusions when I read the series either. It was just a great story. Got a bit boring in the last books though–probably thought the last was really bad because I didn’t remember it.

        I read them all to my daughter when she was 4 or 5 and the religious connections really stuck out. But it’s still just a story, just like the bible, so I had no problem finishing the series with my daughter. She didn’t like the last book much either.

      2. Never read them, and when I watched the movie, and freaking Santa shows up, all desire to do so went out the window. I mean, really. Its bad enough you have Lion Jesus, but when you have Santa come through? Its the sort of plot point that you only accept when you’re a young kid.

        I for one, started rooting for the White Witch at that point. All hail Jadis!

  5. Reading the title of this as Gibersomnia was obviously an appropriate slip, in as much as G. comes across as a boring, sleep-inducing twit.

  6. A religious scientist functions routinely as a scientist in the lab, perhaps looking for the gene that causes hyperbole. While they [sic] are engaged in this search they believe that God is the creator…At no time do the co-existing mindsets conflict or create cognitive dissonance.

    Well why not?

    If they don’t, they should, which is perhaps the point of the pedophile analogy.

    Giberson seems to be implicitly saying that “God is the creator” is a belief with no substance – that it’s just a set of words, which are “believed” without real thought.

    If he were applying real thought to it, he would (surely) notice that the scientific beliefs he has are attached to a string of inferences that can be traced back to evidence – they can be tested and confirmed or disconfirmed. “God is the creator” is not like that. There is no chain to follow back to evidence; there is only a long history of assertion.

    So if there is no dissonance…the religious scientist is doing it rong.

    1. Precisely what I am trying to say in the next note, which I was typing while you were doing yours! The claim that religion is a way of knowing is simply wrong. To know something is to have a decision procedure or error theory that can work for someone who does not know, to enable that person to find out. Failing that, it is simply assertion, all the way down.

  7. Quite aside from questions of compatibility, it seems to me that the religious must at least explain what kind of knowledge it is that religion provides. And in order to do this they must provide some kind of decision procedure or error theory for distinguishing what they know, religiously, from errors in religious thought. This, I guarantee, they cannot provide.

    Just take one item from the theological grab bag, say, the incarnation of God in Christ. Not only can it not be shown that God was incarnate in Christ, no one really knows what it means to say that he/she/it was: not only because no one really knows what it means to be a god, but because no one knows what the idea of an incarnate god could possibly mean.

    In the debates of the fourth century, the disagreement, as wits say, depended on the Greek vowel, iota. Jesus was either homoousias with the Father, or he was homoiousias with the Father, of the same or of one substance, or of similar substance.

    But that was then, this is now. We no longer use the word ‘substance’ in the same way. The whole idea of transubstantiation depends on this Greek idea of substance too. We no longer think of things as composed of substance and accidents, the underlying nature — say, body and blood — and contingent qualities – breadlike, winelike.

    But Giberson is bound to tell us, I think, before he even suggests compatibility of religion and science, what it would mean to know that there is a god, that this god was incarnate in Jesus, that this god did and does certain things. What would falsify all these claims? Unless he can do this, the question of compatibility simply does not arise. Being a scientist, he should know this.

        1. I always thought it was Harold after a mis-hearing of the Lord’s Prayer:
          ‘Our father which art in heaven, Harold be thy name……’

          Just like Irish comedian Dave Allen attending a catholic funeral as a kid and thinking he heard the priest say:

          “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and into the hole he goes.”

        2. I thought that his middle name started with F, as that is how it is exclaimed on most construction sites when something goes wrong!

    1. As you say – we were saying similar things at the same time.

      Just saying “there is no cognitive dissonance” tells us only that there is successful denial. We already knew that.

      1. I’m sure most psychopaths don’t have any cognitive dissonance about what they do — does this make religious scientists intellectual psychopaths?

    2. When I was in college I had a similar problem with my philosophy major friends. They spent a lot of time discussing what words meant and what sorts of ideas were valid for the world, but they had no evidence for any of them, or any means to prove that they were at least useful philosophies.

      Philosophies and religions are created and forgotten, but there is no rhyme or reason to why, other than some of them are just more appealing (but not necessarily more correct). I have since become intolerant of claims of proof that come just from thinking alone. The mind leads us down a lot of false paths, and people can believe all manner of opposing facts if they don’t follow them through.

  8. Aside from the subject, which as far as I can see Coyne handled with his usual excellence, there is an annoying thread in Enns’ and Giberson’s articles. They are each in their own way concluding that atheists aren’t equipped to discuss religion:

    – Enns claims that a “theological education” is needed.

    Speaking of having explained it elebinty times: Many atheists are well versed in religious texts. And it doesn’t bear on science and its methods, or how it differs from base-less faith.

    – Giberson wants to see commenters as “cheering” “knee-jerk” and as self-labeling according to his categories.

    Unfortunately for Giberson neither is a fact.

    The former being non-factual is easily seen by perusing a few posts here. Many, myself included, are as critical of scientist and atheist claims as they are of religious. That is the very basis of being a skeptic. Certainly Coyne hasn’t been immune to this.

    Criticism is essential to _all_ subjects, and no one should take it personal. Especially the special pleading of religionistas in these matters are suspect and to be criticized.

    And from this, and a modicum of self-criticism or in other words self-observation, follows that the later isn’t going to happen. Certainly there is a lot of cheering going on. But that happens because Coyne is so often correct, and Giberson is so often wrong. It isn’t knee-jerk by any means.

    So why do we have to explain this elebinty times?

    Of course, all of the above is rather off topic commentary brought on as classical displacement behavior, because Giberson tainted us with his bigoted brush. :-/ And I’m not going to lick that up, this cat is too proud; that is for Giberson to do.

    1. “Giberson wants to see commenters as …“knee-jerk”…”

      I see people like Giberson and the faitheists are far more “knee jerk” in their reaction; they see any criticism of faith as “hate speech” and attempt to silence it. In this way they never have to examine the criticism. They miss the message every single time in order to vilify the messenger.

    2. Enns claims that a “theological education” is needed.

      And how many believers have the requisite “theological education”? And if they don’t, does that mean that what they believe is “rong”?

      1. Which just brings us back to the question of if, as religious people claim, religion is a way of knowing, what arbitrates which theological result is correct.
        If the Gibersons of the world have converted any creationists by giving them a reason to reject biblical literalism, I would be very interested in hearing about it.

        1. When people do move away from fundamentalism, it usually is in steps… first more liberal interpretations, then more nebulous woo, maybe deism, etc. Dan Barker writes about his conversion from Pentecostal preacher to atheist, so there maybe be some evidence for accommodationism or whatever it is Giberson’s approach might be.

          But if one believes that faith is the key to salvation, then it seems that those with the strongest faith have the best salvation “insurance policy”.

          The problem with Giberson’s approach is that it still ennobles faith even though there is no evidence that faith is good for anything except fooling oneself and manipulating others. (How curious that the supposed invisible creator of the universe would prize that above all else.)

          1. “so there maybe be some evidence for accommodationism or whatever it is Giberson’s approach might be”

            Unless someone says otherwise, I would guess that people move to more liberal versions of religion because they become aware of contradictions, either internal to the theology or with evidence, that are absent in the more liberal theology.
            If someone argues against someone else’s faith using evidence, it’s an admission that evidence is the way of knowing, not faith.
            If someone claims that a theology is better because it is free of internal contradictions, I’ll give credit for that, even though consistency of an idea doesn’t make it knowledge.
            The claim seemed to be that theology itself can justify a belief. I was wondering whether anyone has ever successfully convinced another person using theology that their faith is wrong, that their beliefs are not justified while different ones are.

  9. Unfortunately you may have to splain it elebinty-seven more times, but it does get through to some people.

    1. Of course, ‘splaining into someone with as rigid skull as Giberson may have him ‘splode. What a mess!

  10. Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Gnu Accommodationism iz bad on analogiez.
    Analogosly iz bad on facts. Elebinty times.”

  11. Giberson’s position is very muddled.

    Jerry made an argument against Giberson’s position, and illustrated it with an analogy. Actually, I think it would be more correct to say that Jerry gave an example of a logical consequence of accepting Giberson’s preferred meaning of the word “compatible”.

    Giberson writes:

    It follows that simply noting that a scientist can be religious is not an argument, all by itself, that science and religion are compatible. So far so good.

    But that was the whole point that Jerry was making. So Giberson apparently understands Jerry’s argument and accepts its validity. This makes Jerry’s example unimportant, since the argument it was intended to illustrate has been accepted.

    Giberson now attempts a new argument (or, if you like, a refinement of the original one), introducing the previously unmentioned criterion of harmony, or whether the person in question suffers from any cognitive dissonance. He then attacks Jerry’s example on the grounds that such harmony is allegedly lacking in such cases. But this is unfair, given that Jerry’s example was a response to Giberson’s original position, not his new one.

    So let’s consider Giberson’s new argument:

    In framing this particular argument, I would emphasize that scientific achievement — think John Polkinghorne — is most likely accompanied by a genuinely scientific frame of mind. And careful study and practice of religion — think John Polkinghorne — is most likely accompanied by a religious frame of mind. The harmonious co-existence of those two frames of mind is what suggests compatibility — and even philosophical consistency, although that is a loaded phrase — rather than the simple observation that geneticists go to church.

    Giberson originally seemed to be implying that the existence of religious scientists made religion and science compatible by definition. Now, besides upgrading the criterion to harmonious co-existence, he is citing this co-existence as evidence (“suggests”) of compatibility, not as the meaning of compatibility. But then what does he mean by compatibility? Presumably he means some sort of rational (or logical)compatibility (what Jerry calls “philosophical compatibility”), though Giberson seems here to make some distinction between mere “compatibility” and “philosophical consistency”. What a muddle!

    If Giberson is really presenting harmonious co-existence within the minds of some scientists as evidence of rational compatibility, then he is just making an appeal to (supposed) authority, instead of addressing the rational arguments that incompatibilists make.

    If on the other hand, such harmonious co-existence is actually what he now means by compatibility, then he’s still vulnerable to the original argument. This isn’t the kind of compatibility that most people are interested in knowing about, and it’s certainly not what incompatibilists are talking about. What people want to know is whether science and religion are rationally compatible.

    1. Yes, I want to ask him if belief in witches or astrology are compatible with science if one feels harmonious about it? How about belief that it’s important to tell kids about the threat of hell? Is any belief compatible with science so long as the believer doesn’t think s/he has cognitive dissonance and feels harmonious?

      Is ALL magical thinking compatible, per Giberson’s definition, so long as science can’t prove it wrong? This seems to be his argument. Does he realize that those with conflicting and/or harmful beliefs can use the same arguments to support their “woo”?

      I think the coolest thing about science is that it lets humans understand the difference between what is true and what is woo.

      Unfalsifiable claims (such as the belief that there are magical beings totally undetectable to science but still detectable to other mortals through unmeasurable means) are decidedly unscientific ones. Only a scientists brain who has been made soft by faith can fail to understand this. Science can no more support Christian claims of the supernatural than it can support Muslim claims of the same.

  12. Eh, what? You mean pedophile priests don’t do those exact things?
    As for “knowing” what they are doing is wrong, that doesn’t mean much either. Turns out, the bishops and cradinals that protected the pedophile priests (much higher, percentagewise, than priests themselves) believed they were doing the exact right thing, by preserving the reputation of the church…

  13. “Nevertheless, all polls, with their diverse ways of posing the question, show that about 40% of American are Biblical creationists.”

    This number is terrible, no doubt about it.

    It isn’t quite as bad as it seem though. 20% of Americans are Geocentrists, who cannot diagram the solar system and think the sun orbits the earth.

    This shows that 20% of the US population is totally clueless, just along for the ride, will check any box in a poll no matter how stupid it is, and are not important in the grand scheme of things.

      1. LOL, yeah that is a problem.

        I doubt the 20% Geocentrics vote much, that requiring literacy and other complicated skills. Remember, half the US population is less than IQ 100, a lot of 70’s and 80’s in there.

        Probably more drive cars and reproduce.

    1. …and are not important in the grand scheme of things.

      Except when they comprise the deciding margin in an election…

      1. Aack, sasqwatch, I should read the whole thread before jumping in!

        raven, just whom do you think the political parties are madly driving to the polls on election day? And whom are the clergy exhorting to vote?

  14. I’d rewrite the rewrite, replacing assuming with pretending. I suspect that the number of believing scientists is exceedingly small. Most religious scientists have a cultural background leading them to think they should be religiously observant. And being held as an example to skeptical youth (“Well, Marcia’s a scientist, and she’s religious.”) complicates separation. Cognitive dissonance doesn’t apply to acting.

    1. I think most are “de facto” atheists. They may not want to admit to themselves that they don’t believe or aren’t sure what it is they do believe (due to Pascal’s wager type angst), but they don’t pray and don’t really look forward to dying (presumably because they know that it probably is the end…not the beginning of “happily ever after”.)

      Most scientist who believe seem to want to be able to say they believe without really putting what they believe in on the table for scrutiny. You’d be hard pressed to tell them from their more rational counterparts, but I suspect that they remain purposefully ignorant when it comes to anything that threatens their faith. For example, Francis Collins need to believe in “free will” ensures that he remains ignorant of (or doesn’t examine to closely) the increasing studies that show there is no such thing.

  15. There’s another thing. Giberson says the analogy is “offensive” – but I think he’s misunderstanding it. The analogy has to be about something undesirable, because that’s the point – it’s meant to show people what kind of mistake they’re making.

    1. It’s always “offensive” when someone treats the believers beliefs the same way he treats all the supernatural beliefs he doesn’t believe in– ha! (The hidden hypocrisy of every religious zealot– and, oddly enough, each imagines himself humble.)

  16. There is a problem with the use of analogies like pedophile priests in catholicism or adultery in marriage in that in both instances the offending party knows he or she is doing something wrong and generally tries to hide it.
    The problem is that it doesnt cover the point that a tiny minority of religion (vague deism) is not incompatible with current science.
    To my mind a more apt analogy is the use of the fact that there are small numbers of members of particular religions that hold beliefs that are so different from the orthodox dogma as to be unrecognisable. For instance there are some people who call themselves Roman Catholics who believe in gay marriage and the right of a woman to have an abortion if she chooses. Therefore gay marriage and abortion are compatible with Roman Catholicism.

    1. The problem is that it doesnt cover the point that a tiny minority of religion (vague deism) is not incompatible with current science.

      That is begging the question.

      But worse for argumentation along those lines, many people recognize that supernatural actions are unlikely and impossible. Dawkins, for example, do not accept deism as compatible with science:

      “Let’s remind ourselves of the terminology. […] A deist, too, believes in a supernatural intelligence, but one whose activities were confined in setting up the laws that govern the universe in the first place. […] Pnatheism is sexed-up atheism. Deism is watered-down deism. […] In the rest of this book I am talking only about supernatural gods, of which the most familiar [ …]”. “The God Delusion”; pp 39-41, -07 Black Swan (paperback).

      With such a definite distinction being possible, there simply is no gray area left to push gods into gaps, in facts or in argument.

      1. Ye gods! Obviously it is I, not Dawkins, who can’t spell “pan” in “pantheism”.

        I’m starting to wonder if my brain’s antigod system is hypersensitive. Is it possible to acquire god allergy against superstition?

    2. The problem is that it doesnt cover the point that a tiny minority of religion (vague deism) is not incompatible with current science.

      If faith as a way of knowing is incompatible with science, then deism is also incompatible with science. A deistic god may be far less problematic that an interventionist god, but deism is still an unevidenced belief in a disembodied mind spirit. So I would say it’s a moot point whether any religion is compatible with science.

      1. Thanks, better point, I missed that!

        [… so now I’m relieved vs my imagined hypersensitivity. :-o]

      2. Which doesn’t seem to prevent some fairly intelligent people from being deists…E. O. Wilson, Martin Gardner…

        In a speech to CFI-MI last year, a local professor maintained that she thought that when we push our questions back to what set off the Big Bang, “God is the most parsimonious” answer.

        1. Although Martin Gardner may have been a Deist at one time, in later life he described himself as a non-christian theist.

        2. Deism is a respectable point of view. In that it is not contradicted by evidence.
          But I would not agree that a deististic god or Jeffersonian “creator” is the most parsimonious answer for how Big Bang came to be.
          It makes assumptions that are not based on what we know is possible based on real world observations. For instance, that intelligence can arise without a process of evolution, and that something that cannot be measured or quantified somehow interacted with the physical world.
          Now is that more parsimonious, or to think that matter always existed, though it didn’t have to look the way it does today?

          1. Well, and that’s precisely how I see it. I just look at all the amazing questions we have already managed to answer (none of which answers turned out to be “goddidit”) and wonder why parsimony doesn’t suggest sticking with hypotheses concordant with the only principles & methodologies that have so far proved to be of any use rather than proposing a by-definition unknowable agent. (Or, again, simply learning to live with “we may never know.”)

            But I’ve had conversations with those who are adamant about the possibility of some sort of ‘universal intelligence’ larger than ours…

            As mentioned in this comment discussion, such deism really doesn’t matter but it sure rankles, esp. when said deists appear to be so much more intelligent than I am…

            1. Deism doesn’t bother me… I see it as sort of a security blanket for those afraid to consider the alternative, but I agree that it’s hardly parsimonious.

              Consciousness evolving from brains through evolution make sense– the type of consciousness we have increases survival and reproduction of our genes. But to imagine that such a thing could just exist absent evolution… some conscious but invisible undetectable unevolved being is incomprehensible. Why would such a being exist? If “he” is immaterial, why would he need to or want to make material beings (and how are they in his own image?). I think you really have to avoid thinking about the subject very deeply to maintain belief in such a being. But I think those who believe in such things WANT to believe MORE than the want to discover if it’s a rational belief.

              The problem with deists for me is that they are, invariably, faitheists. They get upset when people “goof” on religion. They feel that people are making fun of them personally every time someone makes fun of such beliefs. It hurts their feelings that atheists find their beliefs irrational, so they often jump on the “atheists-are-shrill” bandwagon. They don’t mind making fun of fundies or other faiths, but they don’t want their own mocked similarly. I end up feeling like I need to walk on eggshells when I know a deist is in a skeptical crowd. They tend to be big players in the notion that atheists should “tone it down.” But I want to be around skeptics who “laugh it up” rather than give mock respect to magical thinking.

              I think it’s healthy to laugh at superstitions that once caused me such angst.

            2. In fairness, historically, carrying water for organized religion was not always on deists’ job description. Take a take at Tom Paine’s “the Age of Reason”, it is anything but.
              Deism played a very important part in the Enlightenment and loosening the grip of religion on power. But, for better or worse, this has no bearing on the question of whether it is the philosophy accurately describing the world we live in.

          2. Deism is a respectable point of view. In that it is not contradicted by evidence.

            So how do you make your peace with The God Delusion?

            For myself, I think it is quite clear that we can test that there is only one causative sector out there. So it is rejected by a better theory by way of evidence. This is the same method when we reject astrology for physics, both data and theory is against without actually contradicting it; we see no effect. I don’t think astrology is at all respectable.

        3. How can an invisible being be the most parsimonious when there is no evidence for an immaterial entity can think, feel, plan, want, remember, etc. These things all require a material brain as far as the evidence is concerned.

          Besides, if one invisible immeasurable entity is possible,then all such proposed entitites are– from demons to thetans. How do you distinguish real ones from fake ones?

          A material brain is a product of evolution and makes sense in light of evolution. It seems as nonsensical to me to think that consciousness can exist absent such a material brain as it does to think of sound can exist in a vacuum.

          I think those who think god is a parsimonious explanation are fooling themselves.

        4. Diane, some very smart people are theists, too. Religiosity seems to have some correlation with level of education, but it’s a mistake to assume anyone who’s religious is automatically unintelligent. They’re all wrong and to a certain extent credulous, but they aren’t necessarily stupid. The smart ones just think up more complex rationales.

          Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how smart a theist or deist is. What matters is the strength of their arguments. That local professor made a very bad one. Invoking a disembodied consciousness (a seeming impossibility) who lives in an alternate reality doesn’t at all explain the Big Bang. By what means is this “god” thing supposed to have created an entire Universe? Some sort of magic? Not only is that not the most parsimonious explanation, it’s not even an explanation.

          1. A simpler way of saying this: We currently have no known examples of a “god.” We don’t know what a god is, what it’s made of, what properties possesses, how it works, acts, or creates. It’s a complete unknown. So all that local professor was doing was invoking an unknown to explain an unknown. It’s poor, unconvincing reasoning.

            1. Yes, it’s a non-explanation that feels like a rationale. But I think it’s even worse than that. We KNOW for certain humans invent gods and other supernatural beings to explain that which they don’t understand, to comfort themselves, and to manipulate others. Even the non-scientific know about cults, myths, and legends involving such entities.

              But we have no examples of such entities being anything other than imaginary. (Or, in some cases, they are a misperception; I’m thinking of psychics, diviners, astrologers, prophets, people said to be possessed by the holy spirit or demons, etc.)

              Using god as an explanation is about as explanatory as saying “it’s magic” with the added onus that you shouldn’t question such a being (or that it’s arrogant to think you can know about a being so much greater than you!)

      3. Yes, I always wonder how they can justify such belief, and I think it’s due to this idea that souls “seem” real– and if souls can suffer forever based on what one believes, then one doesn’t want to die without the right beliefs in place.

        Pascal’s wager seems to work well on young brains, and religions encourage you not to question (and thus outgrow) this particular manipulation. Grown adults become afraid to even examine the concept for fear that it might lead to eternal suffering. Instead, they see anyone who forces such a discussion as “strident”, “shrill”, “confrontational”, “militant”, etc.

        But don’t these deists think that if there were any actual evidence that some sort of evidence that consciousness could exist outside the brain, there’d be massive amounts of scientific study on the subject so we could refine and hone that knowledge for our own benefit as well as the benefit of humanity in general. Who would keep such evidence to themselves?

        And, yet, after eons of belief– there is no such evidence. In fact, the evidence increasingly shows that the soul is as much an illusion as a flat, unmoving earth.

        Are scientists who understand this supposed to shut up about this fact?

        Religious scientists have failed to admit to themselves that wanting something to be true, cannot make it true. But it can bias one’s results, so that one fools oneself or remains ignorant of the actual truth. It’s a well known human error that gurus and scam artists have been using to manipulate others for eons.

        1. There’s not much evidence for multiverses, either.

          Which I think is where some deism comes from; which still surprises me, because it seems to say that one simply can’t be satisfied with “we just don’t know.” (And may never know.) It seems that very few (on either side of this issue) can accept that. Human hubris.

          1. Well, at least the multiverse model has some math supporting it. A lot of it, actually.

            The problem with all religions is that they want their hypotheses to be accepted as plausible without having done the math.

          2. That is the same as claiming that there’s not much evidence for a free bias in EM. After all, we can’t measure the potential “at infinity”.

            Worse, it is currently the best cosmology. Boussou et al shows how environmental selection over multiverses predict 6 observations that no other theory does. All of them examples of severe problems in theories that would like to predict a unique parameter set and a unique universe.

            Which goes against that math Kevin mention.

            I’m not saying it is a done deal, there is a lot of controversy, and it will remain so for a long time. I’m just saying that there _is_ evidence, and relatively strong as the area goes.

            1. “Which goes against that math Kevin mention.”

              D’oh! I meant that “theories that would like to predict a unique parameter set and a unique universe” goes against the math.

          3. It’s an interesting problem. We once accepted atomic theory under similar circumstances. No one could see the buggers, but Einstein’s work on Brownian motion convinced people that that, chemistry and gas pressure as “environmental evidence” was correct.

            Today we can see atoms, for example by atomic force microscopes or as light excitable blinking ions in ion traps.

            Exoplanets started out the same way, first “indirect evidence” and then acceptance; now actual visible dots.

            Multiverses are believed to be similarly observable more directly, for example when bubble universes collide. At least we can’t rule direct observability out.

            But meanwhile it may happen that we have to accept them on prediction. (Aka “indirect evidence” modulo what people likes to claim is indirect. It’s fuzzy, really.)

    3. The problem is that it doesnt cover the point that a tiny minority of religion (vague deism) is not incompatible with current science.

      Do vague deists go to church? Are there rituals for worship of an entity that by definition has no current impact on the universe? Do you pray to such a currently impotent being?

      “Deism” often gets trotted out by well-meaning folks as a kind of sop to the believers (“see, we’re reasonable, we’re not saying all religion…”), but that’s just bunkum, because by any reasonable definition Deism is not a religion. You might as well build a church around Maxwell’s Equations.

      1. Tulse said:
        “by any reasonable definition Deism is not a religion.”
        The definition provided by Wikipedia seems reasonable to me-
        “Deism (pronounced /ˈdiːɪzəm/, us dict: dē′·ĭzm)[1][2] is a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme being created the universe, and that this (and religious truth in general) can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without the need for either faith or organized religion. ”

        I think a better way at looking at the point is recognizing that the word “religion” is too imprecise to use without qualifications (for instance try giving a precise definition of the “sophisticated religion” of Armstrong or Eagleton that is more concise or accurate than that given by wikipedia for deism).
        What I suggest is that the point we, on the gnu side, are really trying to make is that THEISM is not compatible with science.

        1. “without the need for faith or organized religion”

          My point is that deism is so unlike any other form of “religion” (it has no rituals or observances, it posits no currently active deity, it offers no salvation/heaven/reincarnation/afterlife, it requires no “faith”), that it really is more of a philosophical position about the start of the universe than a “religion”. In any real sense, it literally has the same impact as Maxwell’s Equations on the lives of its “adherents”.

          Deism gets used a lot by us atheists to show how open-minded we are (“well, we don’t rule out deism, so how can we be intolerant fundamentalists?”), but that’s a bit of a bait-and-switch, just like when the religious use the same tactic in reverse (“you can’t rule out deism, therefore Jesus”).

        2. Dawkins doesn’t claim that supernaturalism FAIL is only limited to theism. Is Dennett’s sky cranes limited totheism? Surely not if a deist god creates universes?!

          So why the ad hoc idea that deism is immune to criticism? Unsubstantiated belief is not compatible with science, in the same way that fairies or astrology aren’t.

  17. So Coyne knows he’s offending by choosing this analogy. Is it helpful or not?

    Could Jerry expand on why he thinks arguments that can be painted as uncivil are a good choice?

    Clearly it plays to the base.

      1. But if it is valid it is strident too.

        That must suck. When will we ever leave the New Accommodationists to argue their strawmen in peace?

    1. I think it is very helpful, and places the logical problem in stark relief–perhaps even understandable for people who don’t often ponder such questions. The other logical problem for people like Enn is that they use “normal scientists are religious” without pointing out how much religion most religious scientists believe. The real “religious scientist” usually believes in god with doubt, goes to church because it’s a nice social thing, and certainly thinks the Abrahamic creation stories are bunk, and thinks “we’re all children of god” therefore so was Jesus. I have a forthcoming paper in Social Science Quarterly showing that fundamentalist religious beliefs and associations decrease scientific literacy among regular Americans–so not only are scientists far less religious than the general public, the more religious you are the less scientific proficiency you have in the general public. Getting that paper published wasn’t easy given that the Templetonions in the sociology are thick and the cloak of reviewer anonymity helps their cause.

      1. “Templetonions” – it’s layer after layer to go through, and it all makes you tear up.

    2. …and additionally, that incivility is remembered? That it actually causes the offended party to reflect more on the issue later?

      I know that point of view is not terribly popular with some folks *cough*.

      …and perhaps it’s a tit-for-tat situation with Giberson going on about the “hyperbole gene”? It’s not hyperbole if it’s accurate, after all.

      Just educated guesses.

      1. Plus accommodationism has a long and failing record. Accommodationism gives the impression that some kinds of magical thinking are worthy of “accommodating”. There is no evidence this is the case.

        Moreover, given the number of readers who used to be religious and now are fans of those “strident new atheists”– as well as growing in their understanding of science– the approach that Mooney imagines doesn’t work– apparently DOES work for many.

        How does the “courtier’s reply” (akin to the accommodationist approach) help the masses understand (the scientific view) that there are no magical fabrics that only the chosen can see? (And if scientists can’t find such things, why should we think anyone else can?)

        1. Ah, I have to repeat myself. All in good cause:

          This may be weak or wrong science as of yet, but maybe the accommodationist strategy is revealed by the facts. It is research on issues and popular opinions, and the most interesting find comes towards the end:

          The results suggest how would-be persuaders could strategically reveal the majority or minority status of a proposal to achieve the maximum persuasive effect.

          If you feel you have a weak argument, it should be best to suggest right away that a lot of people support your issue, before you make your case. In that case, you’re hoping that the majority endorsement will prevent people from counterarguing. People will rely on the “wisdom of the crowd” to guide their thoughts, without actually considering the issue, Petty explained.

          If you tell people you have majority support after you make your weak arguments, it is too late – it will only serve to give people confidence in the negative thoughts they have generated about your cause, Petty said.

          But for those with a strong argument, it can be helpful to reveal wide support for your proposal after explaining it, as this gives people confidence in the positive thoughts they have generated to your strong arguments, Petty said.

          I.e. accommodationist strategy is to promote the idea that religion is compatible with science should be elevated to having a lot of people supporting the issue up front, as a frame over facts. That is the strategy those with weak arguments should follow according to research.

          Incidentally we think they have a weak argument. Coincidence? I think not.

          Reversely, those with a strong argument, either evolution or atheism, should push their argument and its explanation first, and only as an afterthought discuss wide scientific support. This is the strategy New Atheism has adopted. Coincidence? I think not.

          [It is also interesting to note the putative find that psychological mechanisms works so people grow more confident in some beliefs when they find out later that a majority of people disagree with them.

          This means that it is imperative to catch people early on in education. Another instance where New Accommodationism sets itself up for fail, as it wants to move through the pews.]

        2. “How does the “courtier’s reply” (akin to the accommodationist approach) help the masses understand (the scientific view) that there are no magical fabrics that only the chosen can see?”

          I suspect the accomodationist position is that the masses will never understand the scientific view, so the best course of action is to get them to believe in a version of magic that is less harmful.

          I consider that condescending and an insult to humanity.

    3. Any argument that lets a believer understand that you find his beliefs as unbelievable as he finds other superstitions is considered “uncivil” to said believer. There is no civil way to let a deluded person know that you find their beliefs delusional. If there was evidence for their beliefs, then this disbelief of ours would not be seen as uncivil, but, of course, there is no more evidence for Christianity’s magical claims then there is for Scientology’s. And yet every believer wants to believe that there are reasons that his magical beliefs are more respect-worthy than those “others”. From a scientific perspective, they aren’t.

    4. Increasing numbers of people appear to be joining “the base”.

      Some people WANT to know if they’ve been fooling themselves.

  18. Congratulations! Oh I can only dream of annoying the uneducated … By the way, when did Francis Collins change his name to Sauron? I missed that nonevent.

    1. All in all, I think Jerry is hitting a sore spot to cause such a defensive reaction. Even if Giberson’s semantic babbling helps assuages his cognitive dissonance, I think the attention he draws to the subject will prod others to think a little more about what they believe and whether they’d want to know if they are wrong.

      In any case “faith” is on the table for discussion whether people like it or not.

      More people will hear about the many scientists who don’t think faith is a way to know something true or useful (nor is faith worthy of any more respect than other superstitions.)

  19. Accommodationists pretend that these are equally valid “ways of knowing”, but they actually differ radically in how they attain this “knowledge” (I’d claim that faith produces no knowledge at all), and in how they buttress it when answering the questions, “What’s the evidence for what I think is true?” and “How would I know I was wrong?”

    I was reading the HIV/AIDS special section of Science from about a month ago on my plane rides to Pittsburgh for the ESA Meetings. I had also just read this post on my Blackberry. One of the HIV articles talks about how all of the different vaccination/education/prevention/etc. programs have been successful in reducing overall infection rates. What “knowledge” has religion provided that has helped in the cause?? Not a god damn thing… Unless you count anti-homosexual propaganda.

    1. What “knowledge” has religion provided that has helped in the cause?? Not a god damn thing… Unless you count anti-homosexual propaganda.

      Huh? What has anti-homosexual propaganda done to help infection rates of HIV?

      1. Sorry, was late and I was trying to be sarcastic. Point being, religion hasn’t helped in learning about the biology of HIV, hasn’t helped with development of anti-retroviral drugs nor helped with studies of treatment plans… In other words, as a way of “knowing,” religion hasn’t contributed to knowledge about HIV. The only thing religions seem to contribute to the issue is anti-homosexual propaganda, which is not helping.

  20. Some here have used the word “semantic” as a pejorative in describing Giberson’s article. I think that’s a mistake, because there is a semantic issue at stake here: what is the appropriate meaning of the word “compatible”?

    The problem is that Giberson doesn’t understand this, and fails to properly address the semantic issue (as I argued above). One might even say that his argument is not semantic enough!

  21. Ugh. I just want to express my peevishness at the silly idea of “gene for hyperbole”. I hope Giberson was being facetious.

    Genes code for proteins which can be involved in brain building, and thus, preferences, tendencies, language development, and so forth. But there will be no gene for hyperbole. Maybe people with the dopamine allele known to be involved in risk-taking behavior will be more prone to hyperbole or something, but if Giberson imagines himself a good example of science communication, then that explanation wins him a Dunning-Kruger.

    Maybe he thought he was being funny; in that case, it just fails.

    But I’m looking forward to the video. Do let us know when it’s up.

  22. I have taken a couple of random paragraphs in the article you link to and changed a few words in them. Hopefully Christians will then realise what that article looks like to us atheists:

    Here is my beef: the first three options are not mutually exclusive. To present them as such is, to put it gently, misguided — and I dare say any first-year seminarian could point out the problem. Yes, there are people who think like this, but they are as wrong as are people who believe that earth was literally created from Ymir’s body. Faulty notions of the Edda may reign in some fundamentalist circles, but what this poll presents is not even a remotely accurate description of what Norsemen across the spectrum have believed about the Edda for one millennium

    For the Edda to be the “actual Word of Odin,” that means that “not everything is to be taken literally” and that it is “carved by men.” These are not separate options. All three belong in one positive statement of what the Edda is. Coming to grips with this historic Viking conviction about the Edda will not end the debate, but it will surely help insure that the discussion won’t be hijacked by extreme voices on either side.

  23. “And perhaps Enns could tell us what’s so misleading about the poll questions showing that 81% of Americans believe in heaven, 78% in angels, 70% in Satan, and 70% in hell.”

    Oh well, I think the problem there is simply that the polling data for, say, the Satan question only tells you that 70% (assuming the sample represents the population accurately) of the population would assent to the statement ‘I believe Satan exists’. But without more information as to what /that/ means, mere assent tells you nothing. After all, a large number of those might just be assenting because they understand that to be the rules of their particular denomination. Another number might be assenting because they believe there is a manifest personification of malevolence in the world capable to intervening negatively in people’s lives who had a prior existence as an angel and who now overseas the torment of the unrighteous dead. These are, needless to say, different beliefs which will (if they are applied in everyday life) lead to radically different practice. Thus a sample question which merely indicates that people are willing to assent to the question without giving any further clarification of the theologico-metaphysical beliefs of those doing the assenting isn’t telling you much.

    Another example might be the question ‘do you believe in freedom as a political value’? Most people, I think, would assent to this but for some this might mean leading interventionist wars against despotic regimes, for others it might mean living in a perfect democracy where all equalities were compensated by a powerful redistributive state, it might mean living under a minimal state where inequalities were tolerated in the name of freedom, it might mean nothing more than freeom=America and America is awesome. So, as a sometime experimental philosopher, I have to say going round and asking people ‘do you believe in freedom?’ or ‘do you believe in Angels?’ does not in and of itself give useful data.

    1. I liked your comment in response to Massimo’s post.

      I read what he wrote, but I still don’t understand his point… so many words; so little said. Apparently it has something to do with the definition of “philosophically consistent scientist”

      A “philosophically consistent scientist” should use the best (and only verified) method for discovering what is real, wouldn’t they? If it’s not testable nor measurable, then there is not enough evidence to warrant belief. Massimo disagrees, but I still don’t know why.

      I prefer to get my “philosophy of science” from Dennett.

    2. Julia Galef – who also blogs there – did a very nice comment.

      Massimo, let’s say you’re right about the claim “There is a God” being untestable.

      Does it therefore follow that Coyne is wrong to say that such a claim is inconsistent with a scientific worldview? Seems to me like making untestable claims is *very* inconsistent with a scientific worldview. I’m surprised you disagree.

      1. I think Massimo’s problem is with the word “philosophically consistent”

        Massimo’s definition of a “philosophically consistent scientist” would, apparently, include scientists who believe in any manner of untestable claims.

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