Regular readers of this website know that for a long time Chris Mooney has argued for the compatibility of science and faith, based largely on the observation that some scientists are religious. He now seems to have realized that this method for rapprochement hasn’t worked very well. The divide seems as wide as ever. But Mooney has done his homework as a Templeton Fellow, and has a new Big Idea. In a new editorial in USA Today, “Spirituality can bridge science-religion divide,” he takes a different tack.
His idea rests on spirituality. He notes that “spirituality is something everyone can have—even atheists.” And because we’re all brothers and sister in spirituality, presto!: we can heal the science/religion gap. More about that in a second, but first I want to highlight how often Mooney uses military language when describing the religion-science debate (my emphases):
We hear a lot these days about the “conflict” between science and religion — the atheists and the fundamentalists, it seems, are constantly blasting one another. But what’s rarely noted is that even as science-religion warriors clash by night, in the morning they’ll see the battlefield has shifted beneath them.
The old science-religion story goes like this: The so-called New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, uncompromisingly blast faith, even as religiously driven “intelligent design” proponents repeatedly undermine science. And while most of us don’t fit into either of these camps, the extremes also target those in the middle. The New Atheists aim considerable fire toward moderate religious believers who are also top scientists, such as National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins. Meanwhile, people like Collins get regular flack from the “intelligent design” crowd as well.
In this schematic, the battle lines may appear drawn, the conflict inescapable. But once spirituality enters the picture, there seems to be common ground after all.
I’m not sure what this language is about. I myself have used terms like this, but never so profusely! Is this a way of “framing” the discussion, paving the way for Mooney to be the Jimmy Carter of accommodationism?
But never mind. Mooney goes on to say that many scientists have spiritual experiences, or derive spiritual satisfaction, from their science. He quotes Dan Dennett, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins as either experiencing or approving of secular spirituality.
We can all find our own sacred things — and we can all have our own life-altering spiritual experiences. These are not necessarily tied to any creed, doctrine, or belief; they grip us on an emotional level, rather than a cognitive or rational one. That feeling of awe and wonder, that sense of a deep unity with the universe or cosmos — such intuitions might lead to a traditional religious outlook on the world, or they might not. . .
Spirituality in the sense described above does not run afoul of any of Dawkins’ atheistic values or arguments. It does not require science and faith to be logically compatible, for instance. Nor does it require that we believe in anything we cannot prove. Spirituality simply doesn’t operate on that level. It’s about emotions and experiences, not premises or postulates. . .
A focus on spirituality, then, might be the route to finally healing one of the most divisive rifts in Western society — over the relationship between science and religion. We’ll still have our evolution battles, to be sure; and the Catholic Church won’t soon give up on its wrongheaded resistance to contraception. The problems won’t immediately vanish. But each time they emerge, more and more of us will scratch our heads, wondering why.
This all sounds well and good, but in the end it’s just soothing words that don’t offer any solution to the problem.
“Spirituality” covers a variety of notions, which I think Mooney recognizes. (“Religion,” of course, also has diverse meanings, but since at least 70% of Americans believe in a personal God who interacts with the world, let’s take it as that.) A scientist can be spiritual in many ways. She can do science as a way to glorify or understand God, as the British natural philosophers did. She can feel a oneness with the universe as a result of doing science, something that Carl Sagan touted. (I myself haven’t experienced that from science, though I did from various pharmaceuticals in my youth.) She can feel wonder and amazement at how intricate nature is and how we’ve been able to understand so much of it. She can marvel at the intricate products devised by such a simple process as natural selection. She can be elated at finding something that nobody in the history of the world has ever known before. And she can simply get pleasure and satisfaction from her job.
Scientists are not automatons. Just like other people, we have emotions and feelings, and sometimes these are connected with our work. If you want to call that “spirituality,” so be it. But I don’t see how recognizing that both scientists and religious people feel emotions about their work or faith can heal the breach between them. That breach is irreparable: it comes from the very different and irreconcilable methods that science and faith use to find truth—combined with the fact that science hasn’t buttressed the “truths” of faith nor has faith produced truths convergent with those of science. Science is at war with faith because it shows that religious “truths” are bunk, and the faithful realize this.
Telling the faithful that scientists are “spiritual” won’t achieve an iota of reconciliation. Evidence: as Mooney notes at The Intersection, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist theological seminary, doesn’t agree.
The real question posed by Mooney’s USA Today column is whether Christians possess the discernment to recognize this postmodern mode of spirituality for what it is — unbelief wearing the language of a bland faith.
Chris Mooney might be on to something here. The American public just might be confused enough to fall for this spirituality ploy. Will Christians do the same?
Mohler may be a Baptist, but he’s not a moron. He knows that Mooney’s “spirituality” is just science dressed in faith’s clothing, and is still a threat. Mohler isn’t buying it, and neither will other religious people who oppose science.
My online dictionary defines “spirituality” as follows:
1) of, or relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things: I am responsible for his spiritual welfare
- (of a person): not concerned with material values or pursuits
2) of or relating to religion or religious belief: Iran’s spiritual leader.
People like Mooney, Krista Tippett, and all the other spirituality mongers are counting on people conflating definition 1 with definition 2. That’s the “reconciliation” they’re hoping for. And it’s one that the Templeton Foundation is spending millions of dollars to promote. But it won’t work. We “spiritual” atheist-scientists are having none of religion, and religious people are smart enough to see that spirituality is not a form of religion.
333 thoughts on “Spirituality: the Great Communicator fails again”
“… emotions and experiences …” – Oh, he means “humanity”. We’re all human and we share human experiences. Duh.
“Not particularly religious? … Interested? … Spiritual?! … Are you testing me, Chris Mooney?!”
Hahaha; I remember that one. 🙂
OMG–*never* seen that one! Still shaking with uncontrollable laughter…having to retype this 16 times because my fingers won’t hit the right keys….
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! (where’s my sister, she *has* to see this)
I personally think these attempts to “reconcile” are highly disrespectful of religious people, in that they condescendingly suggest that the religious don’t really believe what they claim to believe. The Gnu Atheists, it seems to me, do not respect religion but do respect religious people, in that they take them seriously and suppose that they can handle disagreement. The accomodationists respect religion but not the religious. This “spirituality” stuff is just more of the same.
Absolutely. Mooney wants to pat the faithful on the head patronizingly, whereas Gnu Atheists treat the beliefs of the faithful as serious claims that deserve serious intellectual attention.
Well said. We treat believers as equals. Accomadationists (and many clergy) treat them as children.
condescendingly suggest that the religious don’t really believe what they claim to believe.
A large group within the faith (as it were) know they have doubts and other issues. They consider themselves defective and are just faking it for their children.
It’s weird. And it’s not all. But there is a significant group that does behave this way.
I’ve even seen it within my family. It’s really strange.
condescendingly suggest that the religious don’t really believe what they claim to believe.
I disagree. I do in fact think that many religious people don’t “really believe what they claim to believe”, or rather, that they don’t believe everything that the religion they claim claims. As MosesZD said, many claim the faith merely to keep up appearances.
And still many others simply do not care to examine their beliefs rigorously. What matters to them is that their beliefs “work” for them. To acknowledge this doesn’t have to be condescending or patronizing—it can simply be an acknowledgment that they have different priorities, and chose to devote their intellectual activity to other areas.
Markup fail. OMG, did I just italinuke the entire thread? My apologies!
I am really glad for people like you Dr. Coyne, and I feel pity for you. You have to read his drivel and all I have to read is excerpts.
See Chris Mooney sing kumbaya while eating a word salad with a nice blue cheese framing dressing and covered in spirituality croutons.
How can he reconcile his professed role as “communicator” with his practice of obfuscator?
I suspect he sees those as complementary roles.
No, No, they are NoM.
I’m sure he can frame the issue so it will all work out, like Baghdad Bob did.
In a Reaganesque “peacemaker missile” way, it makes perfect sense.
No the obfuscator work goes under the “framer” title. He wears several hats, you know – communicator, journalist, framer, Templeton Fellow, swell normal nice guy, blogger, best-seller.
Looks like Mooney thinks he’s found a Trojan horse, and all the serried ranks of the religious are hiding out in there as it makes its way into scientific territory, just waiting to explode onto the scientific scene with spirits aglow!
What surprises me is that there wasn’t a word about salients or enfilade fire in the whole thing, when it is quite clear that he’s proposing to break the scientific defensive line at a weak spot, capture and occupy a salient in science land, and, well, try to look just like all the scientists with their eager spirits just ready to share their experiences of awe, wonder and oneness with the whole of things.
This guy – I’m sorry, but it’s just got to be said – is a real turkey, if he thinks that this is a solution to anything. Since he’s obviously not prepared for it, a little enfilade fire from the shoulders of the salient might be an effective response. Because, obviously, he simply doesn’t understand what religion is, and that his camouflage simply won’t work. He thinks he’s going to blend right in, but he’s got a surprise coming.
Perhaps he should take Eagleton’s advice to Dawkins, read some Occam and Duns Scotus, and perhaps a few Muslim “scholars” for good measure, and get an idea of how the religious mind really thinks. For, despite squishy writers like Karen Armstrong, religion isn’t about spirituality. It’s really hard edged stuff about gods, rewards and punishments, beliefs that are impossible except for the benighted to believe, and morality that would curl the hair of a psychopath. Gods consign those who do not believe to suffer the torments of fire for eternity; they prefer embryos over grown women; they have a coniption fit if you have sex with the wrong person, or with the wrong person at the wrong time or in the wrong way; and they’re not above sponsoring wars of aggression and even extermination from time to time. If Mooney thinks all he has to produce is a bit of simpering spirituality, he really needs to get out more.
Now that there is communication.
From an Anglican priest, no less – he knows whereof he speaks!
Albert Mohler seems confused as well: “The American public … Will Christians do the same?”
Or are we at the point where any use of the word actually implies “True Christians (those who agree with me)”?
There’s also the problem that “spirituality” for some seems to imply a sort of belief in a soul. I dare say that many/most atheists have no reason to believe in such a thing.
At a talk I saw PZ give, a questioner who proclaimed to be a “Buddhist atheist” asked about spirituality. PZ’s initial response was, “You mean like, as in ‘spirits’?”, which of course the questioner said no. PZ went on to give a fairly balanced answer, but the point is made: Yes, I think we know what is meant by “spirituality” in that context and I think it’s something I can get on board with. But the word is unfortunate and probably should be avoided.
I prefer “feeling of transcendence” myself.
Buddhists also don’t traditionally believe in a soul.
Buddha was a premature anti-theist.
So how does one get reborn without a soul?
Rebirth is a Hindu concept, mentioned as an analogy in early Buddhist sermons to give an easily accessible starting point. The essence of Buddhism is that “self” is an illusion, however — which means that the rebirth of “self” would be nothing more than an illusion as well.
And what is perceiving that illusion?
What you say seems to go against what’s here. How do you reconcile what you say and what it says?
There are many types of Buddhism. Some are, as Kirth describes, a sort of proto-atheism. Others are just plain old theism with their own dogma and all that crap.
Isn’t the real illusion to think of buddhism as atheism? It was started as a religion. Rewriting the original script is only going to end up in later day non-believable apologetics of the deist kind.
Buddhism was both a religion and philosophy, and as it spread it changed in many ways. Some are blatantly theistic (Pure Land, which really seems to contradict what Buddhism is about at its core), others are more atheistic. As taught by Buddha (or whoever was at its core), gods existed but were irrelevant.
For some, reincarnation refers to the ever-changing nature of who we are (sort of, its a bit confusing). Others see it as a rebirth of one life to another, even though nothing of the self exists, but some parts do and transfer (yeah, makes no sense to me either).
Buddhism has good points, and can be useful as a philosophy, but you have to jettison the more fantastic parts (like anything else in this world).
I’m cynical enough to dislike even “transcendence” — sounds almost as vague as “spirituality” and invokes the recollection of the TM movement. Transcending what, exactly? If you mean, dmaping down eon’s ego enough to acknowledge that one is an inextricable part of a larger social whole, or managing to visualize (to some degree) one’s small location in space and time, then fine — I guess transcendence is a reasonable shorthand for all that.
I think the feeling of transcendence is real, but it isn’t evidence of actual transcendence.
In a similar way, I have felt like I was floating out of my body before, but I didn’t think this feeling indicated that mind was actually floating out of my body. I suspected it meant I had drunk too much caffeine after taking pseudoephedrine.
Pretty much all the aspects of “spiritual” I can agree with could be covered adequately, and less ambiguously, by the word “emotional.”
“Feeling of the Numinous”
is another contender, favoured by Christopher Hitchens.
When I first read that, I saw “feeling of the numerous”. Time to get my eyes checked and my mind out of the gutter.
Really, that’s the best he can come up with? Sloppy definitions of a word used as a metaphor for “awesome experience”?
Someone needs to take a critical thinking course. Several, perhaps.
I’m fine with people who claim they’re spiritual — just as long as they don’t define “spiritual” to mean “that which is externally instilled by a supernatural entity”.
For that, we’ll need citations and evidence, thanks.
Sorry Chris. Back to the drawing board. You’ve accommodated no one and pissed off everyone with a quarter of an inkling of a brain.
Think of his potential “Templeton Prize” money. He plainly is!
Christ Money more like it.
Dr. Coyne–I just finished your book. Thought it was fabulous. I am a Presbyterian minister and I teach religion at my local state university. Based on your thoughtful tone in the book, I was surprised to find your blog so hostile. Many educated religious people do not have the slightest problem with evolution. My denomination fought the creation-evolution thing a hundred years ago. I have no difficulty whatsoever accepting scientific claims or confessing my faith because they ask a completely different set of questions. Theologian Langdon Gilkey, who I beleive taight at your university, and who testified atthe Scopes @ trial in the 80s, said at trial that science deals with proximate origins, while religion speaks of ultimate origins. Science can describe the cosmos, but it offers no clues as to what it all means, or what a person’s purpose in life is, or what defines the good or the just. I think that this is what people like Mooney and Tippett are trying to communicate. I would think that, politically, you would do better to try and enlist people like this as allies in your attempt to try and raise the level of science education in our society, rather than trying to bash them. I have scores of undergrads who could benefit from what you know and how you present it in your book, but you come off here as unkind and demeaning, which would, if I recommended your book to them, would cause them to reject it out of hand if they came here first. This is not how you speak in your book, by contrast, so I am not sure why you have taken this tone here.
Where did this come from? There is no evidence of it at all, anywhere.
Did you read what they wrote? Mooney is trying to obfuscate and frame the discussion by twisting it all out of recognition.
Yet another mention of tone instead of substance. Read the words, then you can understand the tone.
Bob–For some fundamentalist Christians, resurrection may be a scientific claim, but for many people, we would describe it variously as mystery or metaphor. Christianity is a big tent.
If the resurrection is just a metaphor, why favour Christianity over, say, Aesop? Surely the only reason to take the claims of Christianity seriously is because they might be true, not because they are metaphorical. If Jesus simply died and stayed dead, he wasn’t a god, which I would think would be problematic for a Christian.
Tulse–You’re treating religion like it’s a consumer-based enterprise., in which one goes brand shopping. Most religious people are iether born into a particular tradition or have some kind of life-altering conversion experience which changes their perceptions. There is doubtless some of the kind of thing you are describing, but most people stay within some form of the faith they were raised in. And they do so because it works. Not at the informational level, but at the level of meaning and purpose. People don’t go to church to find out or argue over whether Jesus was raised from teh dead. The come to church with their difficult marriages, their home about to foreclose, an aging parent or difficult boss. They want to know how to have a more meaningful life, how to get along better with their neighbor, how to unclutter their lies and focus on what;s important. And religion helps them do this.
When their religion cannot help them answer their big life questions, that’s when they usually start casting about for some other tradition.
That’s true, Tim, most people are what they are, whether Baptist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Hindu, Buddhist, Shiite, Sunni, Shinto, etc., because they grew up that way. What does that tell you about all those different beliefs held by all those different people, some of whom are willing to kill you, or to restrict your freedom, because of the beliefs that they hold.
It’s true, most ordinary believers are just ordinary people trying to get through life, and they find belonging to a religious fraternity/sorority to be a kind of community therapy. Their religious community, no matter what it is, tells them stories about the origin of things, and the purpose of being human. Christians tell the story of the fall of man, the choice of a special people, the failure of that people, and their replacement by a new people … Sometimes they don’t spell all those beliefs out, and sometimes they even let on that they don’t really believe that the stories reflect historical fact, but still the stories somehow tell the truth. People are still chosen or unchosen, and are they are still living in the belief that there is a God who is or is not pleased with the way they are living their lives, and that that matters. It matters so much, to many of them, that eternity begins here with how we do that, and there’s a serious price to pay if we get it wrong.
At what point in all this is it right to say that you actually know something? Because, believe it or not, most of those ordinary believers really believe things. The stories they hear are, nine times out of ten, not just stories to them, but histories, and if they aren’t, then there’s no genuine community for them to belong to, because they think that community is somehow saving, something with an eternal resonance and significance. There’s that group of people down the road who meet at St. Stephen’s, and they meet together and pray, and sometimes even confess their faith in terms of creedal statements about a God who sent a Son who died for them. And the story is not just a story, because if it’s only a story it doesn’t really say why they should live a certain way, nor does it help them to understand where they are going, or why they are here.
Certainly, we can all live in the story, but if we can step outside the story and see it as just a story, then it doesn’t answer the questions, and it doesn’t help us to understand.
So, I guess I want to know what it is for you. Is Jesus really the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father, and did he suffer death on the cross so that my sins can be forgiven, so that God’s fierce anger can be sated with this sacrifice, so that I, snatched as a brand from the buring, can be saved?
Or is it just a story, and the truth is just what you read in Jerry’s book, that we are here because of a perfectly contingent process that might or might not have ended in us? Because I think we need to know the answer to this question, and so do the people you serve. Is it just a story? Or is it something more, rooted in the way things are, so that, even if we say it figuratively, the figuration that it bodies forth is something that, in some sense, really happened, and happens now, and matters to us all, whether we were born Hindu or Buddhist, Jain, Muslim or Sikh.
I was of the impression that many religious folks choose their church based on the availability of daycare and other such conveniences offered by the megachurches.
Eric–I have found Paul Ricouer’s concept of the “Second Naivete” to be helpful. Finding out that it’s “just a story” doesn’t have to make it any less meaningful or transformative. I teach religious studies in a secular university so I am fully aware of all of the ways in which religion develops and functions, so I have peeked behind the curtain for a long time. But understanding all of this has not impeded the practice of my faith. I am able to enter my community’s story and embrace it as my own. I realize that this is what happens for some people, but that it doesn’t for others, particularly for people who grow up in a faith tradition and become atheists.
And they do so because it works. Not at the informational level, but at the level of meaning and purpose. People don’t go to church to find out or argue over whether Jesus was raised from teh dead
When you say, “works,” do you mean that it actually gives their lives purpose? Or that they THINK it gives their lives purpose? If the former, how do you know? If the latter, isn’t that a little dishonest?
Also, if the clearly historically false claims of the Bible are intended as metaphors, what are they metaphors for? Metaphors are not true statements, pretty much by definition. But one can inevitably analyze the metaphor to find the parts that are valid and the parts that aren’t. No one ever seems to be clear on the actual content of these Biblical metaphors. And if there’s no one meaning for them, then why assume they mean anything at all?
As far as science being methodologically barred from denying a role for God in evolution, I think you’re wrong about that. First of all, for the claim, “God intervened in evolution” to be meaningful, there must be a counterfactual in which God didn’t intervene and things happened differently. Otherwise, why posit God at all? If things happen exactly the same with or without God, Occam’s razor really does indicate we should chuck the notion that God intervened.
On the other hand, if there is a meaningful counterfactual there, then scientific methodology can be used to assess the evidence and say whether the world looks more like God intervened in evolution or more like he didn’t. Basically, if God is causally efficacious — if he does anything at all, then science can investigate God’s existence (at least in principle, unless he’s the sort of God who’s always playing peekaboo).
Sure, fictional stories can be meaningful, even transformative, but at that point it’s no longer religion, it’s art. It is meaningful and transformative in a way that is categorically different than religious faith.
If you have “progressed” to the second naivete you referenced above, then you are an atheist, and I can’t see why you’d have any beef with Coyne. But if you are in the second naivete but preach to your congregation as if they were in the first naivete, then you would be dishonest, essentially a con-man with a not-very-lucrative con. You would also be hurting the cause of science and rational inquiry by giving people the idea that the first naivete is a good place to be.
I don’t see how the second naiveté explains any more than a willing suspension of disbelief. But for some stories disbelief simply will not suspend, and I suggest that the Jesus story is one of them.
I know how easy it is to get lost in the complexities of theological reflection on the story, but the bare bones of the story are, basically, as I outlined them earlier, as they are outlined in the Apostles’ Creed, for example, or the Nicene Creed.
It is very hard to see how this is, in any sense, a story. In order to get the religion off the ground at all, it had to be more than that. Do you really think you can keep it up and running without the metaphysical stage machinery? I don’t think so.
That’s why so-called ‘liberal religion’ is a dying form of Christianity, why churches split a fissure over issues as simple as the acceptance of gay and lesbian people and their love. The story doesn’t hold up under the strain. It may work for you, but where is the religious motor in the story?
Besides, just consider all the really grotesque things that are said and done in the name of that story today. How can that story, that consigns women to die in childbirth, the sick to die in misery, the gay person to die alone, be enough to be going on with? I’m sorry. There comes a time when the second naiveté is simply too naive, hides from too much, excuses too much.
Eric–Liberal Christianity has declined in numbers from its baby boom highs in the 50s and 60s, but it is still quiet large group. Mainline Protestantism still has more than 20 million adherents, and a good percentage of these are liberals like me who accept evolution.
“When their religion cannot help them answer their big life questions, that’s when they usually start casting about for some other tradition”
You mean, when their religion doesn’t give them the (illusion of an) explanation they want, they leave to find something that fits their notions.
Religions have no answers to anything – they make things up regardless of a lack of evidence. That’s why you sense hostility – most of the people here prefer reality and evidence, and that which is not backed by evidence (and in many cases a denial of evidence) is considered useless. We prefer honesty and truth, not dogma and lies. We see ourselves as giving us life and meaning, not the idea that we are playthings for a creature that forces us into whatever roll it likes – a Cosmic Dungeon Master. The argument is more than that, but I don’t want to write more than I did, now – my food is ready and I need to eat. I’m sure others can address this.
The other reason there is a sense of hostility is that the US is being swayed by people who seem to think that their peculiar beliefs should be imposed on millions of other people, who seek to distort scientific discoveries and historical truths with outright lies (“Christian Nation”, anyone?), and whose anti-science efforts (AGW-denialism, HIV-denialism, faith healing and anti-vax (religious based)) can cost people their lives. We sort of have problems with those things.
I hope you’d have problems with that too, and if you do, then you’ll be welcome.
However, if you don’t, then we’d appreciate it if you’d give us evidence that we can all evaluate.
Badger–I share your concerns about the oppressive nature of fundamentalism. It’s the world I was raised in and as I have already indicated, I spend a great deal of energy trying to combat it. However, as I have also said, atheistic ‘fundamentalism” shares with its religious variety the same kind of intolerance that it purports to despise when it comes to even religious people like myself who share many of your same beliefs and goals for scientific education. But rather than working towards attaining these common goals, most of the people–with some notable exceptions–on this wall sneer at “accommodation” and have the same understanding of compromise as a dirty word that Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson had in the world of my childhood. Which is most unfortunate, in my view.
Timothy – I’ve stated at various places (and I did earlier, down below – take that internets!), that the argument is one of differing goals. Some prefer the status quo (as studies have shown) and merely want some religious people to accept science (sort of, at least the parts they like), and some want to change that by getting people to overcome the supernatural thinking and learn to think critically of their beliefs (and everything), and then they will accept the findings of science and then we can move on with a more humanistic philosophy (or whatever else, I think most atheists are humanists – but I could be wrong).
The “fundamentalist atheist” charge is a bit dated, though. What’s the dogma that we adhere to? Critical thinking? Evidence? Reason?
(and unlike Jon thinks [below], we don’t worship Dawkins or Dennett either – that’s just incredibly stupid)
@Timothy F Simpson:
Re: working together on common goals: do you really mean to suggest we need to first compromise on religion before we can work together on topics like science education? Because if you do, atheists are *really* not the fundamentalists here.
Deen–I don’t think anyone has to compromise and give up any of their core beliefs in order to work with someone else. I don’t have the least trouble working with atheists who will accept me as I am. And I don’t find the need to get atheists to modify any of their views, other than that they can’t work with anyone who doesn’t think like they do, in order for me to accept them as they are and work with them.
Someone said: (and unlike Jon thinks [below], we don’t worship Dawkins or Dennett either – that’s just incredibly stupid)
What I meant was, that wing of philosophy is the only thing you’ll take seriously. Anything outside the most sciencey wing of Anglo Empiricism is beyond the pale and you won’t give it a hearing. What you don’t see is not everyone thinks that way, and they never will. So you will always disagree with a lot of the population, even more so with the less educated people who don’t have callings in the sciences…
@Timothy F Simpson: so you are saying that it’s not you who won’t work with atheists, but that it’s atheists won’t work together with others who disagree with them, is that it? Do you realize how that sounds? Sounds like quite a smear.
No, atheists will work together with others on things we agree on, but we won’t stop criticizing them for the things we don’t agree on. Maybe you don’t consider that “working together” enough, or us sufficiently “accepting who you are”. But if you want us to stop criticizing religion, even your kind of religion, you are not accepting who we are, and you are trying to change our views.
And then what about original sin, which is destroyed if the creation story is discredited.
Rob–There are actually two creation stories, one in Gen 1 and another in Gen 2. In my branch of Christianity, these are read as ancient confessions of faith about God made by a pre-scientific people, not descriptions of an actual event.
And the notion of human fallibility has many other places from which to draw upon the biblical text than just Genesis 3.
Humans fallible? Duh, what next, water is wet?
That is an entirely different concept from original sin and the need for redemption.
Since above (in your first note) you speak about ‘ultimate origins’, surely you mean that the creation stories are not taken to be descriptive of the act of creation. You have already indicated that you think they are at least right about that.
No preacher, your religion is wrong to Genesis. And so are you.
Judaism, as re-written in 600BCE during the realm of King Josiah, combined TWO SEPARATE RELIGIONS. One of which was a polytheistic religion practiced by the Israelites. The second of which was a monotheistic religion practiced by the Judeans.
Those two creation stories were separate creation myths from individual faiths combined into a rather cumbersome whole by the monotheists who held sway under Josiah. Upon his death, btw, they returned to polytheism for another 300 years or so before Judaism, under the persecution lead by the monotheists, basically, won out.
Some sects of Jews, however, continued to practice various forms of polytheism until as late as 1400AD.
But, hey, thanks for playing and accept our consolation prize of the home-version of “What I Don’t Know About my Religion Because We Don’t Know it Ourselves.”
Peter–If you reread Moses’ post, you will see that it was he who was asserting that I was not even apprised of the historical origins of my own religion but that he was in possession of a factoid and thus had some position of superiority from which he could grant me a “parting gift.” In truth, his factoid was about as revelatory as telling a professional biologist that he didn’t know his profession because he didn’t know that human cells have mitochondria. Which is nonsense, because anybody who has ever had biology course knows this, much less people who have devoted their life work to it. Likewise, people in my line of work deal with the data Moses mentioned all the time, and which, like mitochondria, we teach in our introductory courses.
As to what he said, he was correct that this is one of the working hypotheses on the development of early Judaism out of the religion of ancient Israel and Judah. Israel, the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE, so the most of the texts we have are from the southern kingdom of Judah, which was antagonistic towards the north. Which would be like trying to figure out about Al Qaeda by listening to transcripts of Sean Hannity. It’s not always easy to tell what is propaganda. What we do have from the north are lots of physical remains, some of which include many asheroth, which are little goddess figurines. We also have some important inscriptional evidence mentioning Asherah, the female goddess. We know about goddess worship from all over the ancient near east, but because there are not many northern texts that we have not gotten from the southerners (like the book of Hosea) it is difficult to assess the significance of the goddess worship and its relationship to Yahwism, which was the official religion of the south.
The hypothesis that Moses refers to suggests that there was a polytheistic religion in the north and a monotheistic religion in the south which vied with one another for ascendancy for some time, until the southerners won out, with some modifications, sometime after the southerners returned from exile, which lasted fro much of the sixth century BCE. There are problems with this but ts a frame from which many work trying to solve the puzzles of that time period.
As I said, for biblical scholars, this is unremarkable boilerplate. So I’m not ashamed of myself for pointing out that fact to someone who was trying to be rude and insulting and who was questioning the extent of my scholarly knowledge of the subject. The New Testament is replete with examples of both Jesus and the Apostles doing the same thing to mean-spirited interlocutors, so I don’t feel like this is in any way a betrayal of my religion’s values, your scoldings notwithstanding.
Moses, this is obviously some kind of silver bullet for you that you imagine you can use to debunk religion, but anybody who takes intro to the Hebrew Bible gets all that and a hundred other things of like content. So it may be a big deal to you and a lot of high schoolers. But it’s not all that revelatory for someone whose doctoral work is in Hebrew Bible and who has been teaching it at the university level for more than fifteen years.
Because without a “doctorate in Theology” one cannot arrive at the “real” truths to be found in the mysterious scriptures. Bollocks.
What remarkable condescension from somebody who rode into this thread on his high horse, immediately complaining about tone and lack of respect. This is neither consistent, making you something of a hypocrite, nor, incidentally, is it Christian to casually dismiss a view as the dabbling of “a lot of high schoolers”. As a self-professed Christian, you should be ashamed of yourself.
One other thing. You did not address a single issue of substance that MosesZD brought up. As a party to a discussion, and especially as a teacher, it is incumbent on you, at least briefly, to explain why you think somebody’s ideas mistaken. We’re not in a discussion to win, but to learn.
If you’re in for the winning—especially by cheating insofar as you’re not prepared to depart an inch from your convictions anyway—then don’t be too surprised if the atmosphere seems a bit hostile.
Really? It’s only fundamentalist Christian denominations that treat the resurrection as having actually happened?
Do you realize that you have just called the entire Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches “fundamentalist”?
The pastor who wrote the original comment said he was a Presbyterian minister. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States. Their website (http://www.pcusa.org/) has a statement on the front page that starts with this:
“Presbyterians affirm that God comes to us with grace and love in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose for us so that we might have eternal and abundant life in him.”
Are you saying they’re fundamentalists too?
There are lots of priests, pastors and theologians in the Catholic Church and in many other denominations who would describe the resurrection as mystery or metaphor. What is essential in these branches of Christianity is the confession of faith in the resurrection, not a scientific explanation of how it happened.
“There are lots of priests, pastors and theologians in the Catholic Church and in many other denominations who would describe the resurrection as mystery or metaphor.”
If they describe it as a metaphor out loud, then they are on the fast-track to excommunication. Both churches have an official doctrine about this, and it’s that the resurrection actually happened. A belief in Jesus’s resurrection is incompatible with science. Encouraging other people to have that belief is discouraging them from thinking scientifically.
Lots of priests, pastors and theologians in the Catholic Church and in many other denominations would describe the resurrection as mystery or metaphor, yet the confession of faith in the resurrection is what is essential? Do those two claims make sense together? What is essential is the confession of faith in a metaphor? I don’t really even know what that is.
Ophelia–As I said, religious claims don’t fit into some kind of universal discourse. They have a peculiar character rooted in the story of each religious community and it’s story. So I’m sure that this does not make a whole lot of sense to you, any more than other people’s religious claims make much sense to me.
Ah, back 10000 years to tribes, fears, superstitions, ‘us’ insiders and ‘them’ outsiders who are different and do not understand.
So they don’t believe in the resurrection, they just lie and say they do? And you think that’s OK?
Truthspeaker–No one said that they did not believe in the resurrection Those are your words. I said that they when they consider the resurrection they think of it as metaphor or mystery. You may feel the need to have the biology or physics of it explained. So do many Christians. But not all Christians have this need. They are content to affirm their faith and to derive meaning from the resurrection in other ways. There is no single way to do this, so I can only summarize briefly how people have thought about this. Going back to the 1940s, under the influence of existentialism, the resurrection was viewed in terms of the individual’s transformation that comes from an encounter with God. In more recent times, under the influence of the Marxist-inspired liberation theologians, resurrection has been understood to be symbolic of the breaking free from systems of domination which hold people back and keep them in place for the exploitation of others. These are just two thumbnail sketches of what in which the resurrection is genuinely confessed by people who have no interest in analyzing the science or even the historicity of the event. Too often, I think that non Christians assume that because they see fundamentalist TV preachers all the time that this exhausts the possible renderings of the christian religion and that anyone who doesn’t conform to that very narrow standard is somehow inauthentic.
In other words, since the original meaning makes no sense now, we have to reinterpret it until we find something we like. If all it means is a change, why bother with the rest of the tripe?
What I would like to know is does your congregation view Jesus as a metaphor? Would they admit that he never existed, and that the resurrection is a mythological metaphor? Sorry to tell you this, but quite a few have looked into the (science!) or Resurrection (not there) or the historicity (also not there) – and even into the historicity and origin of various claims, and found them lacking in even basic evidence. How can you believe something without evidence? Don’t you prefer to believe in things that are true?
Finally, what does it mean – it is a mystery? Does that mean you don’t know?
Badger–What counts as evidence in religious communities differs from what counts in those grounded Western reason. And this varies from community to community. Western reason presents itself as the only possible reality; religious communities object. The evidence that Christians have for their faith is not scientific or historical. Christians claim an encounter with the Risen Christ which, for them, is a proof far greater than anything which could be verified by other means.
Some Christians throughout history have gotten a bit defensive about their claims and have sought to try and shoehorn their beliefs into a system of reason and proofs that could pass muster among the scientifically-minded. They call this approach apologetics. I find apologetics to be a waste of time and don’t put any stock in it. It doesn’t change the mind of non-Christians and is really more designed to address an inferiority complex in certain Christians who want to be thought intelligent by those outside of teh community. For me, you’ve either had the experience with the Risen Christ or you haven’t, and if you haven’t, trying to prove to you that I have is useless.
I’m from a Calvinist background, so this fits nicely with the belief that it is God who reveals and saves, rather than something that people do on their own. My task is not to convince anyone but instead to live life a particular way with a particular set of values sharing a particular story about what has happened to me.
Ooooh… Ophelia, I know. “Confession of Faith” in the metaphor being important means that what the Church TRULY cares about is that people pack the seats once a week and re-affirm verbally that they are still in the fold and ready for action and/or tithing. Actual belief in the text doesn’t matter, but “badge politics” (i.e. showing up and making public declaration that your “still on the team”) does.
Gah, it’s hard to properly reply with this setup, but…
Tim – I sincerely hope you dropped the Calvinist baggage off a long time ago. I’ve found that those who believe in predestination (etc) are a bit impervious to evidence. A few thoughts, if I can get them down:
Western Reason – you mean logical thought, empiricism, critical thinking – not western at all. As someone said somewhere here, I think, buddhist philosophy has an element of all of them, and the idea that this is a Western thing is reminiscent of the woo-sellers and their “Western medicine”. Your comment along that lines with the idea that religious make their own reality (if I read that correctly) stretches the word reality beyond what we normally use it. It’s a relativistic use that doesn’t work for most of us. Reality is that which is shared and objective. The rest is subjective coloring and interpretation. Two separate animals.
The “evidence” that Christians have that you state as being non-historical and non-scientific, is called subjective experience. However, when we can create such experiences in the lab (as has been done for some) and know of the psychological (and in some cases physiological) reasons for others, what does that leave the believer? Add in that every religion has believers who use the same “evidence” as you do to reveal the “truth” of their beliefs…what is a poor non-theist to do? What do those of us who value a real truth have as evidence to convince us? No a heaping lot.
Religion preys on the emotions, and emotional appeals are notorious for being not-reality-based. Don’t you care whether your beliefs are true or not? And that is true in an objective sense, not the wishy-washy-everyone-has-their-own-truth sense you’ve used earlier.
Do you think that the Hindu who has a revelation and personal relationship with Krishna, or the Wiccan with the Goddess, or houngan with the Loas, or the priests of Osiris in ages past – are their experiences real and evidence that their deities exist? Do you treat their subjective experience the same as yours? Are their gods and goddeses (and spirits and the like – one book I have lists over 14,000) – are they real?
As for apologetics, yeah, like theology, I consider it collective wanking. Might be entertaining for a little while, but there’s always a mess at the end. And it’s hard to swallow (hee hee hee).
“Truthspeaker–No one said that they did not believe in the resurrection Those are your words. I said that they when they consider the resurrection they think of it as metaphor or mystery.”
If they think of it as a metaphor, then they don’t believe in the resurrection. If they think of it as a mystery, then they believe it actually happened, which means rejecting science.
Earlier you implied you understood it as a metaphor. That means you don’t believe it actually happened, which means your beliefs differ from the Presbyterian Church USA’s statement of faith. Don’t worry, I have no intention of narcing you out to your superiors. I’m just curious how you feel about preaching one thing from the pulpit and believing something different in private.
Wait a minute, you are the original poster. You just called your own denomination fundamentalist, and implied that you don’t share its core beliefs.
You might want to look for a different denomination, or a different line of work.
Timothy, but then you are admitting that the claims don’t really say anything meaningful, aren’t you?
Truthspeaker–I’m neither an atheist nor a con man. I believe my faith, and wear my pastor hat comfortably. But I also wear my university professor hat quite easily too, and, far from letting people stay naive, spend enormous amounts of time and energy trying to teach people how to look at religion with methodological sophistication, i.e. to look at it from behind the curtain. Just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and by true I don’t mean scientifically true, but true within the framework of the community’s understanding of truth, which is a kind of truth that is thousands of years older than scientific truth.
I mean no offense but you seem to have a false stereotype of religious people as either rubes or Elmer Gantry’s. The spectrum is much broader than that.
Yes, tell a story long enough and you get people to believe in fantasy.
Sleazy, but effective.
But what does that mean? What does “true within the framework of the community’s understanding of truth” mean?
With all due respect, Timothy (and I do respect your willingness to reply), that just sounds like verbiage; like a convenient formula for dealing with the fact that the story you’re talking about is not true in any normal meaning of the word. It’s not true; you know it’s not true; so you resort to verbiage about “true within the framework of the community’s understanding of truth.”
Can you see this community’s understanding of truth clearly enough to grasp how inadequate that seems to us? How inadequate, and evasive, and as it were desperate? How much like a ploy it looks, rather than a real attempt to say something about the world?
Ophelia, I’m trying to decide between cognitive dissonance and a deliberate refusal to compare two conflicting ideas. The “truth within…” bit sounds like postmodernism or relativistic thinking. It seems to me that it merely means people will believe what they want to believe. Truth is universal, or else it isn’t a truth, but an opinion (although possibly there are better words than that). All he seems to say is that they prefer their illusions because they prefer them.
Ophelia–I do understand how people using your categories can’t make sense of this. But billions of others of don’t have a problem with religious claims that don’t correspond to the categories of the Western rationalist tradition.
What you call “verbiage” other people call their worldview. It isn’t any more a “ploy” than is your worldview, which privileges some kinds of speech but derides others.
People who insist on the existence of only one reality–theirs–are often frustrated because they can’t get any traction in discussions because they find that their interlocutors don’t share their presuppositions. So rather than conversing politely and asking questions, they get hostile.
What I wish could happen is that greater understanding could occur between people of different discourses, not so as to try and make converts, but so that we can problem solve in areas of mutual interest and concern. For many here, this is the dreaded accommodationism. They have no interest to talk with anyone who is not ideologically pure. The problem is demographics. There aren’t enough atheist’s in the country to make significant inroads in bringing about a change in the public’s perception. Nor are atheist’s situated socially so as to be able to make a difference in that regard either, since they are intentionally outside of the religious communities they need to win over. But when people inside those communities who share common ground with the atheist’s, they are met with hostility.
My question is this: Are atheist’s more interested in advancing science or in debunking religion? To me, it feels like the latter, and nothing I have experienced here in the last two days has suggested otherwise, which in my view is why
The level of resistance is so high. There is a world of difference in giving someone a useful tool that can benefit them and attacking them. It can be exactly the same information, but how it is presented matters.
Since you (largely) accept science, of course we aren’t going to discuss that with you, instead we’re focusing on our differences. Come back when there’s a case of fundies pushing ID/YEC into the classroom or faith healers neglecting children and you’ll see a very different side.
It’s like going to a Trek convention (to use Greta’s wonderful analogy) and saying that TNG is the best. You’ll spark hours of fruitful debate and an observer may think that’s all people cared about when it’s really that they agreed on virtually everything so these small details were the only things left to discuss.
Doesn’t mean that I agree with much of what you’ve said here because I don’t, but I suspect all of this makes up a very small part of our real lives.
“Are atheist’s more interested in advancing science or in debunking religion?”
I agree with Tyro – it depends on the conversation. Ultimately, I think advancing critical thinking on all beliefs and claims, and the use of objective evidence, will serve both purposes.
Ophelia, he’s using the words reality and truth in a colloquial, almost anthropological sense. Basically, if a group believes something, it will be true for them, even if totally false for everyone else. It’s been a long time since I’ve really gotten into anthroplogy that deeply (other than archaeology), but the use of that term in studying culture was never meant to reflect an actual reality, just the perception of it. I think the postmodernists and others have taken it farther than was intended.
I think he expects us to be happy with this [the idea that others can have this false view of reality] and not care. He probably sees us (mean ol’ fundamentalist atheists, I’m sure) as having a shared reality that is different, but … it’s all cool. Have you ever, like, really looked at your hand?
From his background, he may be a presuppositionalist, and from watching debates on line (in writing, that is, on John Loftus’ site) and hearing others, that if he is one, forget it. There is no debate or discussion that will go anywhere. IIRC, our presuppositions make our worldviews, and our reality, and there really isn’t anything objectively real. This fits with his “multiple truth” idea.
If this is what you believe Timothy, just say so and we can stop wasting time.
“People who insist on the existence of only one reality–theirs”
There IS only one reality. That’s what “reality” means. If there isn’t, what is “it” that we are talking/arguing about? If there is only the subjective, how can there be any interaction between people? How could there be any agreement? I say I see a brown horse, you say you see a brown horse, SOMETHING caused us both to say we see a brown horse (probably a brown horse). If one of us says they see a blue horse, further investigation is called for. (Maybe a blue barn is reflecting on to their side of the horse.) We don’t just say “Oh, in your reality it’s blue, in mine it’s brown.”
I don’t say that I know what the one reality is, that would be insanely presumptuous. But I’m strongly inclined to believe that my perceptions (and yours) have something to do with (were maybe even caused by) that one reality, and that science is a valiant attempt to find out as much as possible about that one reality, and has probably made some tiny inroads in that direction. For example, the people whose reality is that thunderstorms are caused by the anger of Thor or Zeus are simply wrong, and stactic electricity is a much better explanation.
“My reality/your reality” annoyed me no end when New Agers used it, and even more when conventionally religious people use it.
I’d better deal with the rest of the sentence:
“…are often frustrated because they can’t get any traction in discussions because they find that their interlocutors don’t share their presuppositions. So rather than conversing politely and asking questions, they get hostile.”
I am very interested in other people’s worldviews, so I don’t often get hostile in real life. But those are just worldviews. I have one and I know mine isn’t complete or perfect (of course).
“Just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and by true I don’t mean scientifically true, but true within the framework of the community’s understanding of truth, which is a kind of truth that is thousands of years older than scientific truth.” And its great age makes this “kind of truth” commendable how? Astrology is thousands of years older than astronomy. It it “a kind of truth” too?
Shuggy: “If one of us says they see a blue horse, further investigation is called for. (Maybe a blue barn is reflecting on to their side of the horse.) We don’t just say “Oh, in your reality it’s blue, in mine it’s brown.”
True. And as a further comment, this is different from uncertainty (which is a very scientific concept). If I see something in the woods and think it’s a horse, any you think it’s an elk, we are seeing different perceptions, but the reality is still reality: it is a horse or an elk, or something else.
But, except in the quantum world, we can have uncertainty but we can’t have contradictory realities.
Tyro–I share your disagreements with the ID/YEC folks with whom I argue quite frequently.
“Just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and by true I don’t mean scientifically true, but true within the framework of the community’s understanding of truth,”
That’s a fancy (and deliberately vague) way of saying “it’s not actually true but the story seems to tell us something about the human condition”. It seems to me that you’re trying to have your cake and eat it too. You are smart enough to know that it’s patently ridiculous that Jesus rose from the dead, but you want to feel a part of a community where people believe that literally happened. So you deliberately use vague, obfuscatory language so you can pretend to yourself that you’re not being dishonest about what you believe.
There is only one reality, and it’s not, mine, yours, or anyone else’s. It’s there for each of us to discover. You’re free to make up your own, of course, but don’t expect us to join in the pretense with you.
Just to reply to an earlier comment:
“What counts as evidence in religious communities differs from what counts in those grounded Western reason. ”
That’s one of our main complaints about religion, and it’s one of the reasons I see religion as harmful.
I don’t mean to speak for Jerry Coyne here, but I’ve just got to reply to this. Mr. Simpson, if you accept evolution as a combination of mutations and speciation, but you still believe that at some point God played a role, either by inserting the human soul into humans or by starting the whole process or by doing something at some point, you are not actually in acceptance of the modern scientific theory of evolution. I’m glad that you’re open to the idea of science, but you can’t simply insert God into it. God has nothing to do with evolution, as far as science in concerned. So while many of us are happy with liberal theologians who do not deny the age of the earth, we are still displeased to see that you are trying to inject God into places where we have no evidence (or need, as Laplace said) for such a thing.
The tone of this blog is irrelevant of the facts that it discusses. I like to think of myself as a generally kind person, but if someone says something that is unintelligent, why should I not point that out? Likewise, as many of us here discuss controversial issues, some people might have their feelings hurt. I’m sorry that that is part of the process of coming to terms with reality, I truly am. I do not intentionally want people to suffer or to feel bad, but if they come here to have their unscientific and anti-rational views coddled, they’ve come to the wrong place.
Chris–Why can’t someone insert God into the creative process? That is methodologically fallacious, akin to the religious fundamentalism you purport to disagree with. You can say that there is no physical evidence known to support such a belief. You can say that there are adequate reasons within the framework of what is known to obviate the need for such a belief. But when you you say that I “can’t insert God into the process” you are making what amounts to a religious claim that exceeds the available information. As Dr. Coyne says in his post today from the Christian who wrote him asking questions, he can’t prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead just as he cannot prove that there aren’t leprechauns in the bogs of Ireland. Science, because it operates within a rigorous methodological framework, has limits to what it can say. Many religious people recognize this and are comfortable with it. They understand faith as a different way of knowing than by the route of sensory perception and thus do not see it as in any way incompatible with science.
Do these words have a meaning? What way of ‘knowing’? Sensory perceptions – does this mean to take drugs or drink and hallucinate? What does religion ‘know’? How to fake answers and make stuff up? Most apologetics are just that – pure fabrications.
Bob–It means different things in different religions. It can to drink things and hallucinate. The only generalization that really covers all religious belief is probably that describing how such knowing takes place only occurs in any meaningful sense to people inside the group. To everyone else, it may appear as if people are just “making stuff up.” But making such an observation is not the same as proving that they are making stuff up. Science can’t do that.
No one has to prove they are making stuff up. THEY have to prove what they claim or else it should be dismissed, just as much as a child’s claim of monsters under the bed.
As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof”.
Given the vast profusion of religious groups and their incompatible claims, it’s unavoidable that the vast majority of faith-based claims must be wrong, and it’s a real possibility that they all are.
If there is a small, quiet voice of God talking to people, he must be telling people different things making him a great deceiver, or that small quiet voice which informs your faith isn’t divine at all, just you talking to yourself.
If you assert that there are other ways of knowing besides sensory perception, then you are making a scientific claim, one that contradicts the currently known evidence.
Tyro–You are treating religion as if it were a zero sum game, that in order for one group to be right others have to be wrong. Another way to look at it is that people possess different parts of the truth without ever grasping the whole of it. In such a view, truth and error are always a part of everyone’s religious tradition.
You wrote earlier:
The message I got from this was that outsiders were wrong when they believed that religious believers were making stuff up, but then you write:
It appears that we both agree that most religious claims are wrong and that the outsider’s perspective is right, namely that the so-called “way of knowing” really is to just make stuff up.
How can anyone determine which claim is true? Given the huge amount of falsehoods which are believed to be true, what reason do we have to believe that any of it is true, that there really is a core truth behind any of this?
It seems that you’re clinging to some of the last gaps in our knowledge when everything we know says that faith as a mechanism for knowing is almost guaranteed to lead us to falsehoods.
I don’t have a big problem with that per se, but I do wonder why you would presume to attack those people like Jerry who are merely following the evidence and avoiding taking this leap of faith especially when it demonstrably leads people astray. Wouldn’t this be an indication that Jerry is committed to following the evidence and would actually strengthen the arguments for evolution?
To put it another way: if you knew that Jerry was in the habit of taking leaps of faith, claiming that things were true merely because they hadn’t been totally disproven (even when evidence was against him), wouldn’t you be less likely to trust his opinion? After all, how would you know whether it was based on reason and evidence or it was a faith-based leap?
I’m interested to get back to a comment you made earlier, that Jerry’s attitude would turn people away from science but it’s issues like this which make me wonder if it shouldn’t instead make him more reliable and not less. Thoughts?
Well, almost all of the successful religions in existence, yours included, claim that they have the whole truth and the other religions have none, so you can see why Tyro would operate on that assumption.
Tyro–I’m not attacking Dr. Coyne at all. I was simply expressing my disappointment that the way he spoke to religious people in his book was not followed through here. I want his views on science to be advanced. He is right. But how one communicates this to religious people is crucial. What many in science do not get is that the contempt in which the average religious person is held by scientists/atheists is as much a part of the problem as anything else. Certainly religious people have treated scientists/atheists terribly, for which there is no excuse. But if there is genuine concern about winning people over, then how one makes one’s case matters.
I am an ally in this battle, but you can see from the way that I have been spoken to on this wall that many people do not care to find agreement where it can be reached but must instead operate with a kind of fundamentalism that will brook no disagreement. I’m a big boy, have been involved in way bigger and more protracted debates than this in academic and political circles, and am thus not bothered by it. But this is exactly the kind of thing that makes it impossible fro religious people to hear anything scientists say. It’s why people send their kids to private schools, so that they won’t have to be exposed to the vitriol. And to me, that is unfortunate, because the science has the better argument by far on this, and I would like to see it have due consideration by religious people. I think Dr. Coyne does an outstanding job of this in his book, and we need more of it.
No, Timothy F Simpson, you are being dishonest here.
You ideas were countered, not your character. You apparently dislike being shown all the errors in your words. You spew obfuscatory nonsense about other ‘truth’ and expect us to swallow your crap?
Because they can’t handle truth? Give us an example of the vitriol. I guess every time you were decimated here with logic and then abandoned a thread, you call it vitriol.
Like I said, you are dishonest and play a victim here when you sling nonsense and refuse to answer calls for you to back up what you say.
I replied in #32 at the bottom – we’re getting a bit cramped up here 🙂
» Timothy F Simpson
I am an ally in this battle
See, this is where you’re kidding yourself. Your hardcore relativism (talking about people and “their” truth) as well as your obfuscation actively undermine an understanding of science.
Science is about going where the evidence (which must be intersubjectively verifiable) leads you. It is diametrically opposed to shutting out reason and evidence from an area of reality just because that might jeopardise your prejudices.
Maybe you are in favour of telling people about some of the results of science, as Jerry does in WEIT. But of course that is no all that there is to science, which you should know from your epistemology classes.
As per Richard Feynman, a fine philosopher of science inspite of himself, the main thing is “not to fool yourself—and that you are the easiest person to fool”. If you insist that personal revelation is a legitimate way to find truth, then I’m sorry, but you’re most definitely not supporting science.
And lest anyone still be in doubt about this: No, arguing with good evidence that somebody is indeed not an ally, although touting themselves as being one, is not hostile. It is honest.
It looks that Mr. Simpson supports science in a trivial sense, i.e. he likes cell phones, cars and nice exhibitions in natural museums while not caring much about the rest (i.e. reason and scientific method) – or maybe just conditionally (by redefining words for example).
I am wondering that just the ‘vitriol’ and ‘militant tone’ of ‘extremist fundamentalist’ atheists is sufficient to prevent him from exposing his students to discoveries of science. Arguing similarly as Mr. Simpson – we should not teach theory of gravitation in our schools because Newton had nasty character.
Stan–I do love me cell phones! But I don’t think my support of science is trivial. Indeed I think it is essential to the preservation of our planet. But my support of science does not mean that I share the goal of debunking religion. All I am suggesting is that it is possible to get many more people to accept science if you show them that the essentials of their faith do not have to be jettisoned. It is completely possible for religious people to accept evolution. Tens of millions of people all around the world do it, myself included. What I hear on this wall, however, is that half a loaf is not good enough. It’s all or nothing. And I find that to be a false choice.
Mr. Simpson said:
But my support of science does not mean that I share the goal of debunking religion.
I see that you have nicely defined yourself and contradicted in the same time in that one sentence.
All effort of science is “debunking” or otherwise known as treating ideas with Ockham razor against evidence. Science shreds (or sends to history department) all ideas which do not match evidence (reality).
Religions are ideas which massively contradict (or at best do not adhere to) collected evidence and thus are discarded by most serious people in business as obsolete or at best irrelevant.
Religious people do not like those consequences of science and call it ‘debunking’ when it tells them that they are wrong all along their whole lives. I empathize for them and understand that it hurts, but their behavior is childish. It is similar to cursing a garden pike after hitting it painfully with one’s toe.
All I am suggesting is that it is possible to get many more people to accept science if you show them that the essentials of their faith do not have to be jettisoned.
I cannot understand what you want to accomplish.
If you have claim A and B and both are logically contradictory and A has vast amounts of mutually supportive evidence from many sources and B has completely nothing for its support, then it is dishonest to claim that B is equally true as A. To any healthy person confronted with such scenario it is clear that B is incorrect and should be abandoned and all further effort should be invested into A.
Now if religion contradicts evolution and has no base in evidence (contrary to the latter) it is at least honest to express that it is obsolete.
I understand that it may require efforts to shift gears but we are all ‘big boys’ and can handle such situation without too much weeping. If as you describe your religious folks (I do not share that point) that they will be incapable to handle the thought that they were wrong so long, and start crying. Then let them cry and accustom to situation. This is the way adult people handle difficult situations. If you want atheists to not talk about that to religious folks you just ask us to actively help you in keeping them in constant ignorance and to be lied to by people like you, Reverend (correct me if i am wrong about you being priest). This is dishonest and morally unacceptable position.
So finally HOW it is possible to do this specifically? Do you propose something other that just being silent about conclusions of science in regard to religion?
Or maybe it is just simply ‘tone’ issue? Then I do not understand the problem because ‘tone’ is irrelevant to substance in question.
It is completely possible for religious people to accept evolution.
I agree. But only if one:
(a) does not realize what is evolution about,
(b) did not think much about logical consequences of that theory, especially to ones religious compartment,
(c) does not understand what are logical fallacies, and in general has faulty logical thinking faculties, does not care about definitions etc.
(d) does think that one is immune to illogical thinking,
(e) switches context (while thinking about evolution and science ‘forgets’ about religion and vice-versa)
(f) cannot handle consequences (thus sticks to dogma but cannot leave it – sunk cost effect),
(g) treats religion as ‘art’ or ‘hobby’ or other community-related activity without serious intellectual attachment,
(and perhaps many more other possible reasons)
But it still does not prove that religion does not contradict science.
Tens of millions of people all around the world do it, myself included.
Yep. Bandwagon fallacy.
Nazis had massive support among Germans but this does not prove that i.e. Nazis racial theory is (factually) correct or (morally) right.
What I hear on this wall, however, is that half a loaf is not good enough. It’s all or nothing. And I find that to be a false choice.
I said it is about basic logic. It is just there is not always like in saying that “the truth is always in the middle” – this is one of proverbs which is not necessarily true. Sometimes (and frequently in logic) there is no middle ground and if A and B are contradictory then A and B cannot be simultaneously true. I may prefer B above A hypothesis but it does not matter because weight of evidence is decisive here. You may prefer that B is true and A is true and A and B are contradictory, but it is not logic. It is called BS.
You may have your opinion that 2+2=5 and you may freely express that opinion but just saying that it ‘is true’ or ‘is false’ does not prove anything. Evidence (or proof in this particular case of math) is required.
if A and B are contradictory then A and B cannot be simultaneously true.
What if I like to believe in a god that doesn’t contradict any element of evolution, cosmology, or any aspect of science? That is, I define my god as one who does not interfere with the natural world but lit the cosmic match from outside of it—the god who doesn’t design, but sets the initial conditions and hits “enter”? A god as first cause? Does science contradict this? Is this still even “religion”? (I’d argue no, on both counts.) What if I decide it is? (Many people do.)
All effort of science is “debunking” or otherwise known as treating ideas with Ockham razor against evidence. Science shreds (or sends to history department) all ideas which do not match evidence (reality)
I actually disagree (perhaps in a pedantic sense) that all effort of science is “debunking” (for where would the ideas come from in the first place?), and (much more strongly) that Ockham’s razor is part of the scientific method. To the first point, if we’re talking about science as more than just the body of knowledge it produces, but the process of performing it, then we must also include the creative aspect in hypothesizing ideas. To the second, these ideas would often would be shredded by the Ockham’s razor of the existing convention (bringing to mind Thomas Jefferson’s (apocryphal) retort to a report out of Yale on meteorites: “It is easier to believe that Yankee professors would lie than that stones should fall from heaven.”)
Science limits itself to testable claims. Ockham’s razor is, by definition, only applicable to scenarios in the absence of further testability. It is a heuristic principle of probability, not a scientific law of fact. Thus, to attempt to disprove god or the afterlife (or anything) with it is inherently unscientific. Science disproves a lot of religious claims about their various gods, but as Hawking and Mlodinow put it, it does not disprove god, but simply removes the need for one. To prefer the simpler argument is a matter of aesthetics.
Thus, I agree with Timothy and jon that science is not the only framework to approach these questions. The thing is, even with aesthetics, not all things are equally valid or useful. To lazily regurgitate my previous example, I believe that The Godfather is a better movie than Piranha 3D.
Sure, if you’re looking for a comedy for a house party, Piranha 3D might suit your needs better. Similarly, if you’re in a state of grief or loss, believing in a deity and an afterlife might help you through it.
But The Godfather is still a better movie. That is not empirical, but it is true to me—not just in a wishy-washy, my-favorite-color-is-lavender kind of way, but in one that reflects my ethical and moral standards. I cannot prove it as a matter of science, and others may not agree, but I find it to be the most ethical and responsible conclusion.
I suck at html. >_< To clarify, I'm quoting Stan in the first two lines of my second paragraph, then responding.
Mark. Z wrote:
I define my god as one who does not interfere with the natural world but lit the cosmic match from outside of it
Then it has no much to do with religion understood and practiced by billions of people on this planet. However if your entity intervenes in the reality, then we can test these effects. Clearly our Reverend does not believe in the deistic god. Just ask him if Jesus resurrected and it is true.
Ockham’s razor is, by definition, only applicable to scenarios in the absence of further testability
This is clearly not true. First, the probabilities of the hypothesis you may more or less reliably estimate on the basis of prior evidence. In your example of lying Yankee professors and falling stones from the sky we know probabilities of both situations. Also you may also use Ockham’s rule to decide which explanation of phenomenon is better on criterion how many and how probable prior assumptions were made.
To prefer the simpler argument is a matter of aesthetics.
Then you use colloquial meaning of word ‘simple’. In the sense of scientific hypothesis ‘simple’ means something that makes less (and especially improbable) assumptions. Removal of gods from the picture is ‘simpler’ because there is no need for them (after Hawking and Mlodinow) in the light of recent science discoveries. Lack of evidence where it should be (like in claims of religious) is in fact and evidence of absence (after Victor Stenger). Just like idea of existence of fairies. Fact that billions of people did not see (or rather cannot present evidence of) any single fairy diminishes further the probability of the hypothesis of their existence. And BTW – fairies are ‘simpler’ than ‘god’.
Thus, I agree with Timothy and jon that science is not the only framework to approach these questions. The thing is, even with aesthetics, not all things are equally valid or useful.
You mistake the facts with preferences (values). Science deals with facts (of nature) and not values. In fact it cannot because values require subject and are relationships rather than independent facts. They motivate us to action but do not provide much of insight to reality. Art is one example – it is expression of our preferences, emotions etc. But it does not create knowledge. Similarly religion does not provide mechanism for creating reliable knowledge.
Example: If you see a female black widow spider – you want rather to kill it. Male spider at the same time would have something other in mind. Both perspectives base on simple factual observation (female spider), but preferences (and consequently actions) are different for both subjects.
So if you want to call religion a form of art – it is fine to me, but this in fact something else than mainstream religions claim (factual claims) and perhaps our Reverend may differ too.
This is clearly not true.
Oh, but it is!
First, the probabilities of the hypothesis you may more or less reliably estimate on the basis of prior evidence.
Which one, more or less? If you can more reliably estimate the probabilities of the hypotheses on the basis of how well they fit prior evidence then there’s no need for Ockham’s razor—you know the probabilities through science and don’t need to resort to measuring the simplicity of the scenarios. If it’s less reliable, than it’s exactly that—an unreliable estimate of the probability of the hypothesis on the basis of prior evidence. You’ve described exactly my scenario: there is no further testability, and thus, no scientific rationale to support either one over the other as scientific truth.
In your example of lying Yankee professors and falling stones from the sky we know probabilities of both situations.
That’s exactly my point—we know them now with hindsight, but Ockham’s razor, as applied to the state of knowledge in Jefferson’s time, would have given the wrong answer. To accept in that era that rocks had fallen out of the sky absent the evidence of seeing them do so with your own eyes would require an improbable assumption—namely, that rocks existed somewhere out there that had never before been observed and had no compelling reason to exist in any cosmological model of the universe.
Of course, we now know these assumptions, improbable as they once sounded, to be unassailably true—we have observed asteroids and comets, and we now understand protostellar dynamics well enough to support the formation of belts of these objects. We now conclude that this is right—not because (according to Ockham’s razor) it has less assumptions, but because it has been born out through observation and analysis—the scientific method. Ockham’s razor is not a scientific test that can determine which competing theory is true, nor is it objective—it’s a heuristic principle that is dependent on your scientific understanding of the situation.
Also you may also use Ockham’s rule to decide which explanation of phenomenon is better on criterion how many and how probable prior assumptions were made.
Again, that criterion, although aesthetically pleasing and even rational, is not scientific. Science requires a testable, predictive hypothesis and you haven’t tested it, or these assumptions (and if you had, you wouldn’t need Ockham’s razor).
In the sense of scientific hypothesis ‘simple’ means something that makes less (and especially improbable) assumptions.
I hope I’ve demonstrated with the asteroid belt example why a hypothesis being scientifically ‘simple’ doesn’t make it scientifically true, and why simplicity, even as defined by the number of assumptions one makes, is subjective.
Just like idea of existence of fairies.
But aren’t fairies things that supposedly exist in our universe? The god I’m positing exists outside of it.
BTW – fairies are ‘simpler’ than ‘god’.
Now we’re where Dawkins was at Templeton. There is no reason that I can’t simply posit a god that is simpler than fairies. There’s no reason I can’t posit a god that requires no explanation at all. In fact, I’ll say my god transcends rationality and is in fact irrational and outside the epistemology of science. I can’t prove it, and therefore it is not a scientific claim—and therefore cannot be disproven by science.
So then how do you argue with something that has been declared by fiat to be unscientific, with what Dawkins called the strongest argument against his Ultimate 747 Gambit? It doesn’t even seem harmful, because by staying away from science, it’s not interfering with reason, and by staying out of our physical universe altogether (apart from the first cause), it places no restrictions on curiosity of the natural world. I’m a big fan of Dawkins’ response, which rests not on scientific grounds, but intellectual integrity:
“The theologians of my Cambridge encounter were defining themselves into an epistemological Safe Zone where rational argument could not reach them because they had declared by fiat that it could not. [. . .] To suggest that the first cause, the great unknown which is responsible for something existing rather than nothing, is a being capable of designing the universe and of talking to a million people simultaneously, is a total abdication of the responsibility to find an explanation. It is a dreadful exhibition of self-indulgent, thought-denying skyhookery.”
This is an inherently weaker argument than a scientific one, but I find it a very strong and ethical case for the expansion of scientific knowledge, instead of resting upon our laurels and filling in the blanks with “here be dragons”.
You mistake the facts with preferences (values).
On the contrary, this is precisely the distinction I am making, and I agree with the rest of your post! 🙂 I think religion as a sort of practice of art is the only justifiable, scientifically compatible one (and “compatible” not in the sense that science supports it, but that it stays away from everything that science does). So maybe I’m not being clear; my argument is that assuming that god—even a simple one—does not exist is the most rational conclusion in the face of a lack of evidence (so we’re in quite a bit of agreement here :)). But Ockham’s razor is heuristics, not science, and does not prove this conclusion or make it true in any sense. For that, we must turn to the ethics behind our approach to knowledge. After all, what empirical evidence do we have that the universe is simple or the most probable outcome? The whole underlying issue is that the universe we live in is in fact staggeringly improbable! (Not to mention that since simplicity is subjective, it precludes empiricism to begin with.) Furthermore, Ockham’s razor can be turned against science by positing a simple god (even more evidence that Ockham’s razor is no agent of truth).
In any case, I would be interested to hear what Timothy has to say too, since I agree that it seems his god is quite different from the one I’ve posited.
Mark Z said:
If you can more reliably estimate the probabilities of the hypotheses on the basis of how well they fit prior evidence then there’s no need for Ockham’s razor
I did not intended to discuss definition of Ockham rule. I agree this is heuristics and based rather on economy than precise science.
Number of all possible ideas explaining phenomenon is unlimited and we have constrained resources (time and money) so it is just unworthy to invest them in very low probability ideas. (I.e. I will rather not move my finger to pursuit the idea that you are conspiring Illuminati reptilian.)
Ockham razor also is used by science which makes testable claims and compares tests against different hypothesis and judges their probabilities and probabilities of their assumptions. If I loose a key, I may have infinite (entirely possible) explanations (like: i left it in car, my wife took it, bird took it, pickposketer, etc), some of them are quite improbable (i.e. Obama took it) which can excluded for practical reasons.
Ockham’s razor, as applied to the state of knowledge in Jefferson’s time, would have given the wrong answer.
Exactly. This is effect of self-correcting mechanism of scientific method. Jefferson had much restricted access to empirical data as we have today.
I hope I’ve demonstrated with the asteroid belt example why a hypothesis being scientifically ‘simple’ doesn’t make it scientifically true
I never claimed such thing.
There is no reason that I can’t simply posit a god that is simpler than fairies.
Yep. First Amendment guarantees this right to you.
So what is such ‘god’ – did ‘it’ create universe or not? If yes – I think it is harder than just being fairy and stay hidden in the garden. ‘It’ needs to create galaxies, planets, and all those plants and animals and all other mythological stuff fairies including. Then if ‘it’ did not create Universe then what is it if it is not even empty space. I think that ‘it’ satisfies definition for word “nothing”.
Anyway, let’s just cut the crap. It does not make it more true if you still do not have evidence. The idea that Obama stole my key do laundry room might be possible, but it is ridiculously improbable. Idea of ‘invisible conscious cloud beyond whatever else’, that you propose is massively more improbable and remains just vacuous language construct.
I think religion as a sort of practice of art is the only justifiable, scientifically compatible one (and “compatible” not in the sense that science supports it, but that it stays away from everything that science does).
Just read what you write. You claim that religion does not make scientific claims and remains in the zone of values. Ask anyone who is religious (theistic) about what they believe (or what their religions claim). There is vast amounts of claims of factual matter. Is Jesus son of virgin? Did he resurrected? Did Muhammad rode on horse to heaven? What about unicorns in Bible, etc.?
Or if what you name “religion” is just “invisible cloud beyond whatever” just change the word because it is not what billions understand as religion. I can help you – just call it “deism” and then proceed.
So if you have evidence for your invisible cloud – just show it.
You can spend whole day and preach your idea in the subway trains but it does not make your delusion more probable. And sorry, I am not buying it. To me it is still empty language construct.
I did not intended to discuss definition of Ockham rule. I agree this is heuristics and based rather on economy than precise science.
Then we basically agree on everything that matters here (IMO; you may disagree). My point was simply that Ockham’s razor cannot tell you anything about which hypothesis is “better” in anything other than an aesthetic sense.
I do not mean this as a putdown; aesthetic beauty, in addition to being emotionally powerful, is, of course, one of the driving forces of scientific endeavors; you can say that all of physics is a search of beauty (symmetry). But it carries no scientific weight or proof.
I never claimed such thing [about scientific simplicity implying scientific truth.
Then I must have misconstrued your statement, “All effort of science is “debunking” or otherwise known as treating ideas with Ockham razor against evidence.”
So what is such ‘god’ – did ‘it’ create universe or not?
Sure, it did! For the hell of it, lets say he created himself too, and thus requires no explanation! Or, he came from nothing, just like the universe apparently did. Anyway, he’s something so far out of the realm of human experience that science can’t even conceive of it.
Anyway, let’s just cut the crap. It does not make it more true if you still do not have evidence.
I never claimed that this hypothetical god is true in any scientific or rational sense—in fact, I explicitly defined this god to be irrational; if I really wanted to push it, I might even say our attempts at language constructs to describe it are meaningless.
I think that ‘it’ satisfies definition for word “nothing”.
It’s not nothing, I’ve just defined it as something that doesn’t exist on our plane of existence. You could even think of it as a personal metaphor—you talk about preaching it in the subways, but it’s not the sort of thing one could or would try to convince others of.
Not to belabor the point, but do I take this position? Like I said, no. I just believe that I cannot justify myself as a matter of science, but rather of aesthetics and ethics, which assert a different sort of “truth”.
Just read what you write. You claim that religion does not make scientific claims and remains in the zone of values.
Please read what I wrote, as well. I made no such sweeping claim; in fact, I claimed the opposite—precisely that many religions do make scientific claims. I said that the only sort of “religion” that is justifiable (IMO) is one that does not make scientific claims and remains in the zone of values. This gets back to one of my original questions, which is, does such a set of beliefs even constitute a “religion”? As I said, I would say no, but I suppose I should qualify that.
I can help you – just call it “deism” and then proceed.
That works, too, although many people also consider that religion. Which brings up another point… I do find it interesting that so many people do choose to call such deistic beliefs religion; in many cases, the cultural aspects of their faith are so strong they are simply attached to the word. So this is my qualification: I don’t object to it—in fact, I would welcome such a redefinition of the word.
Deism is still considered by many to be religion, and by many non-supernaturalism-believers to not represent what they want to retain. (Although if a movement of deist handbell choirs, potlucks, youth groups, and places of gathering for non-theistic celebration and fellowship caught on, I’d be all for it!)
You can spend whole day and preach your idea in the subway trains but it does not make your delusion more probable. And sorry, I am not buying it. To me it is still empty language construct.
No need to apologize—I’m not trying to sell it. I just think it’s fun to think about these things. 🙂
Mark Z said:
Then we basically agree on everything that matters here (IMO; you may disagree).
I am not so sure. I rather disagree.
Ockham’s razor cannot tell you anything about which hypothesis is “better” in anything other than an aesthetic sense.
If some rule is heuristic that does not mean it is aesthetic. This is rule of economy (economical strategy). You use this rule in the shop when you choose bigger, more ripe apple from others same priced. You may as well buy all apples (even these rotten ones) and eat them all at once but I believe nobody is such resourceful. So Ockham is not aestetics which is in area of values and preferences (which are researched in science. Read more about utility theory.)
you can say that all of physics is a search of beauty (symmetry).
The symmetry is well defined notion in mathematics. It just is property of physical laws that are mostly symmetric and this gives physicysts do bets that new laws will be symmetrical too. And just people like symmetry does not imply that all in the reality is aestetics. Our preferences to symmetry are secondary effect.
Sure, it did! For the hell of it, lets say he created himself too, and thus requires no explanation!
You are so sure about it, so sure that you even do not need any explanation. These are just empty assertions. I am not sure if you are aware that these are just language constructs
Deism is still considered by many to be religion
Yep. And some people think that Obama is reptilian illuminati from Kenia. You may name it religion but there is no churches of deism there.
I never claimed that this hypothetical god is true in any scientific or rational sense—in fact, I explicitly defined this god to be irrational; if I really wanted to push it, I might even say our attempts at language constructs to describe it are meaningless.
No offense but this discussion is meaningless. Just read and swallow your own word salad:
1. you define your entity, what it did etc.
2. you claim that it is irrational (cannot be rationally inquired)
3. you claim that we cannot even describe it in words (and you use words in point 1 to describe it BTW).
This flatly does not make sense. Just after point 2 you should quit the discussion entirely.
In point 3 you just contradict yourself because even definition (in point 1) is impossible.
Please engage with discussion the fairy-ology expert Mr Dr Reverend. He might find your words thoughtful.
If some rule is heuristic that does not mean it is aesthetic.
This is rule of economy (economical strategy).
This means that you have defined “better” to be “more economical”, which is a value and a preference. The terms of economy are subjective and certainly have nothing to do with truth. What if I’m a professional chef and presentation of my meal is important, so what I really want are apples that are pretty?
Maybe I need to clarify: Ockham’s razor can not tell you anything about which hypothesis is truer in anything other than an aesthetic sense.
I took your word “better” to mean “truer”, because that’s what I thought we were talking about. If you want to define “better” in terms other than truth, then of course Ockham’s razor can help, in the heuristic sense in which it was intended. Of course we can use Ockham’s razor to choose which hypotheses to spend the resources to investigate, to choose which apples to buy. But just because something is more economical to investigate doesn’t make it true.
And just people like symmetry does not imply that all in the reality is aesthetics. Our preferences to symmetry are secondary effect.
My point exactly. My point is that in making the leap from Ockham’s razor to defining reality (as opposed to merely heuristic arguments of economy), you are necessarily invoking aesthetics. Again, you already acknowledged that Ockham’s razor does not define reality, so I don’t see any disagreement between us here.
My point, which I think you also agree with, was a tangential one not necessarily related to the rest of the discussion; it was to not neglect the importance of aesthetics in the messy process of performing science. In that sense, it’s not just a secondary effect, it can be the cause, the reason that one comes up with a theory in the first place. The premise of string theory rests entirely on the notion of symmetry—not in the strict mathematical sense, but an aesthetic one of form (if there’s a law for A, there must be one for B); Kepler’s idea that orbits could be ellipses was also motivated by its aesthetic beauty; etc.
Dirac once declared flat out that in this sense, “it is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.” He didn’t mean that beauty made something more correct, but that the truth of experiment rests on the truth of our assumptions, which are necessarily limited by the current state of knowledge: “It seems that if one is working from the point of view of getting beauty in one’s equations, and if one has really a sound insight, one is on a sure line of progress. If there is not complete agreement between the results of one’s work and experiment, one should not allow oneself to be too discouraged, because the discrepancy may well be due to minor features that are not properly taken into account and that will get cleared up with further developments of the theory.”
In fact, this is all nothing more than using Ockham’s razor heuristically, but acknowledging that “simplicity” is, in effect, a matter of aesthetics, which is all I meant to say in the first place.
You are so sure about it, so sure that you even do not need any explanation. These are just empty assertions. I am not sure if you are aware that these are just language constructs.
Sure, all assertions are language constructs. But I can fill empty ones with all sorts of things that don’t exist. For some, the Mars rovers are just machines. But I think of Spirit, dragging his stuck little wheel across the craters of Mars in the innocent pursuit of science and understanding, as a cute, heroic little robot! That’s not a scientific claim, nor one that I believe to be true in a literal sense. In fact, I recognize it as an entirely emotional, irrational response. But I don’t reject it, I embrace it, because it’s fun, and gives me something emotionally meaningful to attach to. That’s why I it’s so possible for people to cling to this kind of god, and why I think Dawkins’ insight is so important in countering the application of this kind of thought (or non-thought) to these matters. Or Einstein’s: “It is always misleading to use anthropomorphical concepts in dealing with things outside the human sphere—childish analogies. We have to admire in humility the beautiful harmony of the structure of this world as far—as we can grasp it. And that is all.” Again, an aesthetic and ethical argument—not a scientific one.
No offense but this discussion is meaningless.
Exactly—because we are trying to apply principles of reason, rationality, and science. That’s precisely my point—you can’t disprove it, and invoking Ockham’s razor to do so carries no weight of truth; to imply such a thing is dishonest. You can’t just say Ockham’s razor and slice god out of the picture without also acknowledging the framework that the subjective terms of Ockham’s razor rests upon.
And in this case—the argument against such a meaningless god—that framework is one of ethics. You can say that this god is not possible to investigate, but that does not make it wrong. You can invoke Ockham’s razor and say that it is not worth your time, but that is subjective and does not make it wrong. Like Dawkins said, an irrational god is wrong not because it is demonstrably false, but because in these matters, it is wrong to be irrational.
You may name it religion but there is no churches of deism there.
That’s precisely the second point I was trying to make, which is that churches have an irreligious social function that many people like. If becoming a deist means having no churches, then, then what choice do these people have but to remain “religious” under your terms? Far better, IMO, to take the religion out of “religion”.
Just a quick clarification. When I say:
“Exactly—because we are trying to apply principles of reason, rationality, and science.”
I should have said: “Exactly—because we are trying to apply principles of reason, rationality, and science to something that has been explicitly defined as outside of those lines of inquiry.”
You don’t insert any unnecessary elements into the scientific process because they add nothing.
It’s not “why not”…it’s “why bother”.
No kidding. If you don’t understand this, insert “giant green invisible alien monkeys watched” into every verse of Matthew 27. And then tell me why I shouldn’t insert that phrase into every verse.
Kevin–There isn’t any scientific reason why you couldn’t insert that phrase into Matthew 27 or any other text in the Bible or any one else’s sacred texts.
To say that you could not add something into the process is, again, is to assume that you know everything about the process that it is possible to know as well as it’s purpose. And science can’t say that. If science could there would be no more need for further study. Science has not even exhausted the potential of what can be known by reason and sensory perception, much less can it get at faith.
Let’s try this again…
How do you increase the explanatory power of current theories by adding god?
(Hint: YOU DON’T)
ZOOM!!! Point completely missed.
You want to insert god where god is not only unnecessary, but actively harmful to the process.
You might as well ask me to insert giant green invisible alien monkeys into the Krebs cycle.
When you can provide ONE example of inserting god into the mix that adds either explanatory or predictive value to an observation or an hypothesis, then we can talk.
Until then, keep your pink unicorns to yourself.
Hey, where’s Simpson’s reply to the last two posters. They are clear and devestating.
Simpson took the phrase “you can’t insert God into the process” to mean Scientists are precluding areas of research. Rob and Kevin clarified what was actually meant by the phrase.
Then Timothy dissolves and does not respond.
Beyond Belief– I didn’t answer those two posts because both of them asserted that they knew what the answers were to their questions. Neither of them cared about my answers but were simply trying to snarky.
It’s hard enough to converse with someone with a different set of presuppositions when the other person is really trying to listen, much less when they are not.
» Timothy F Simpson:
I didn’t answer those two posts because both of them asserted that they knew what the answers were to their questions.
Completely unlike religion. *facepalm*
It’s hard enough to converse with someone with a different set of presuppositions when the other person is really trying to listen, much less when they are not.
And this is exactly why the complaints about ‘tone’ are so poisonous: the next step all too frequently is a get-out-of-a-tough-spot-in-a-discussion-free card. Whenever somebody vigorously attacks me, I simply say, ‘I’m offended and I will ignore your arguments.’
How convenient. And the textbook definition of intellectual dishonesty (cf. Popper).
“Knowing” things by means other than sensory perception is called something else. It’s called “Making stuff up.”
One may not “insert God into the creative process” because that’s an assertion without any evidence, which is completely antithetical to science.
Nichole–Science doesn’t insert God into the creative process. Religious people do who count as “evidence” what science would not. But one can do that as a religious person without having to deny what science has proven.
How do you insert anything other than “God of the Gaps” without denying science?
The Christian god is most definitely incompatible with science, no ifs ands or buts.
Prove that there is other evidence or your words are meaningless.
Bob–Religion doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. You are confusing it with science. As I said, to outsiders, religious discourse would naturally seem meaningless. So at least we agree there 🙂
Then we are done here. Your statements ARE meaningless. Without facts or evidence or logic, there can be no discourse. You can hide your head like an ostrich.
The instant religion makes a claim about the real world, yeah, it needs to support it.
Otherwise it’s a story, nothing more, nothing less.
“Nichole–Science doesn’t insert God into the creative process. Religious people do who count as “evidence” what science would not. ”
And that’s exactly what we mean by religion being incompatible with science.
“Fath is fact.”
Other ways of knowing. That’s such a tired excuse for failing to put on proof.
If any DA in America went to court and said “He’s guilty your honor, I prayed to the baby Jesus and I am knowing of his guilt,” then failed to put on a case, it’d thrown out.
And yet you act as if this analgous argue being made is some sort of insurmountable argument. It’s laughable.
Put on proof.
Especially in light of the vast archaeological evidence which points to your religion not even being what you think it is… It’s an evolved religion combined of two primary and many secondary sources.
It’s just fairy tales that you chose to believe. As opposed to the fairy you chose to not believe.
Moses, you are assuming a universal discourse for what is true. We live under a kind of framework like that in labs and another in our civic life. But those are not the only possible discourses or truths. You choose to believe that there is only one such truth available and only one means of arriving at it. Billions of religious simply disagree with you.
And I actually DO teach upper level courses on the development of both the textual tradition from which my religion is derived as well as about the evolution of that religion itself, at a secular state university no less. You make a lot of unfounded assumptions for someone to be so keen on the role of evidence in logic.
And billions of religions disagree with yours.
Why are you Christian?
There is a universal discourse for what is true – empirical evidence.
We don’t just use it in courts of law (which restrict themselves to subsets of it) or in laboratories. We use it all the time in our daily lives. If you want to know if your car is running low on gas, do you look at the fuel gauge, or do you depend on personal revelation? If you want to know how much money is in your bank account, do you check your balance, or do you go with what feels right?
Someone can insert their version of a god into anything they want. We want to see evidence for such a being before we take them seriously. We don’t just add things that aren’t needed whenever we want, or add things without evidence.
When people do that to scientific theories, which are based on evidence, they are called out.
If you disagree, all you need to do is present evidence for this god of yours, we can all review it, and then go from there.
You might want to look over the site for the discussions on this “different way of knowing” claim. We’d like evidence that this claim is useful (and reflects reality) as well – we have yet to see any, but you can be the first.
If Zeus had intervenes in a physical process, that intervention would necessarily take the form of making it turn out differently than if he had not intervened. This would make a measurable difference that scientists could detect. If Zeus intervenes and leaves no trace, then it is exactly the same as he he didn’t intervene. The fact that no scientist has ever found evidence anywhere of anything that cannot be explained without postulating Zeus’ activity. Strongly suggests that Zeus has never intervened in any physical process. Can you point out a single observation that is explained by the Theory of Evolution that cant be understood without saying Zeus did it (please don’t say the bacterial flagellum).
You can insert Zeus into the process, if you can show evidence that Zeus intervened in the process; evidence that can’t be explained in any other way. Otherwise you’re just fantasizing. If I drop a pencil and it falls to the floor. I can say, Zeus caused that pencil to fall, and I can believe it, but I can’t expect anyone else to believe it, unless I can show that something different happened than if Zeus didn’t exist. Unless you can show where in the process of evolution Zeus intervened, how there is evidence that only Zeus; intervention can explain something, how can you expect to be taken seriously?
Helena–what makes you assume that science can either measure or detect all of the physical processes in the universe? That is an unprovable assumption because you don’t know what you don’t know. Occam’s Razor would suggest that it’s more likely that science has not discovered all such processes rather than the opposite. It might discover a mechanism that could discover God tomorrow. Neither of us thinks this will happen, but there is no logical reason why this could not happen, unless one posits that , by definition, God is that being which cannot be detected or measured in the physical processes of the cosmos.
Way to miss the point. Science doesn’t assume to be able to detect every process. The ones that we can detect do not show evidence for any non-physical being, anywhere. Without evidence, what is the reason to assert that something is there? You can’t, not if you wish to be honest or truthful. To assert without evidence is to (to borrow a phrase from the Skeptic Zone podcast) “make shit up”. I’m trying to determine if you really cannot see that point. If you can’t, and you are trained in textural criticism (or any other high discipline field), then I wonder at the quality of your work. Do you have work published we can read? Can you allay our fears that you don’t go beyond the evidence? Or would your work reveal that you do as many others do?
I have been studying archaeology since I was a child, and I’ve seen how asserting without evidence (especially done in the past) has been overturned with new discoveries that show these assertions to be baseless. I’m not just talking biblical archaeology – look at how the “peaceful” Mayans have been revealed to be anything but. Or how the “one-with-nature” native Americans had devestated the ecosystem, esp in the Southwest.
As for the Bible-as-metaphor, can you answer what others have failed to do in the past – what is your criteria for determining what is a metaphor? Further, since this is your field, what is the criteria for determining the difference between what the authors meant, and what you take it to mean today?
Badger–You are assuming that your definitions of “honest” and “truthful” are the only available ones and that there is some kind of universal discourse in which all of this can be judged. There isn’t. People lived for tens of thousands of years without the assumption of such a universal discourse and most of the world still does today. Many people assume that the langauge game they are using is transparent, superconductive of meaning, and completely objective. Most scientists think this way, in my experience. But that isn’t how language works at all. When you give an explanation that you belive is “the truth” wjat comes out of your mouth is not reality, but rather your subjective construal of reality, the definition of which is never fully inscribed in the words that you just used, but who depend for their meaning 1) on even other words and 2) on the acceptance of those shared meanings by the person to whom one is sending those words. Linguists, psychologists and philosophers of language have understood this for decades–Freud, Saussure, Wittgenstein, Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, Kristeva and a boatload of others have been writing about this for the last hundred years. What you are calling “reality” is a subjective and thus fictional account of your understanding what constitutes the real for you and your community. Which is the only reality any of us can describe.
This is why something like Hawkings’ book is DOA, because his grand narrative only “works” for people who share his assumptions, and that is a very small group. Lyotard wrote the obituary of these kinds of explanations nearly thirty years ago. Hawkings would have done well to have read it.
It is the failure of scientists to take seriously the incommensurability of their language assumptions with the way that the rest of the world operates that is at the heart of why evolution gets little traction any more in this country. People’s attachments to their communities of meaning trump all other commitments, and when science tries, not just to give people information, but to break the bonds that connect them with what is most important to them in their lives, people will resist the science and cling to what they know. It is that all-or-nothing approach that atheists and so many in modern scientific community try to use in the marketplace of ideas that is the reason religious people are so quick to reject it and to grasp at anything that might suggest an alternate explanation.
What I am suggesting is that this approach, that sneers at ‘accommodation? be scrapped–based on the empirical data of not only failure but a worsening of the condition, which ought to count for something in a community that is nothing if not committed to empiricsm!–and that a fresh aproach be adopted which would encourage people to integrate science into their already existing framework of belief in ways that does not threaten their core values or their understanding of community.
The failure to do this has consequences far beyond evolution. It is becasue of the way that science has presented itself to religious people that science is held in such low regard today by religious communities that there is overwhelming rejection of the science on climate change in conservative Christian circles. This at a time when we are in great danger of doing irreversible harm to the biosphere. The only reason I bother with conversations like this is because I recognize the need to win as many allies as possible in this quest before things get even worse.
» Timothy F Simpson:
What you are calling “reality” is a subjective and thus fictional account of your understanding what constitutes the real for you and your community.
Not to gloat, but you heard it here first.
Which is the only reality any of us can describe.
The only reality we can describe, yes; the only reality that exists, no. You still apparently fail to see that that is exactly why we need a process that eliminates as much as possible this necessarily subjective perspective of a single human being, so as to enable all of us to see a good, and progressively better, approximation of our external reality. This process, by the way, is also known as ‘science’, the process of getting to know things. And it is spectacularly successful as a uniter of mankind in the appreciation of our world. One wonders why religion is a bit of an underachiever in that department.
Yes, but you’re proposing that religious people can detect processes that science can’t.
If your undergrads ignore works of authors, artists and scientists they don’t personally like, you might be doing something wrong, or at least there is something you should try to correct instead of state as a fact.
Is it really the biology teacher’s responsibility (not just as part of their job, but as a fellow human being and an authority on the subject) to explain to her/his students that “yes, cells do indeed exist”? If students choose to not accept something because they don’t like it, that’s not the teacher’s fault. Not understanding is a valid issue, but choosing to not accept is just wasting the teacher’s time. If you’re not going to approach the world with an open mind, there’s very little a good introductory education to science can do for you.
It’s any teacher’s responsibility to teach, and the attitude I commented on I don’t think should be one of a teacher. That is, “you should be kinder/more polite person so if I ask my students to read your book, they’ll read it”. That’s obviously a wrong approach to a problem of teaching, isn’t it?
Hell yeah it’s wrong! Education is meant to challenge preconceptions, and if a book upsets someone, at least it gets them thinking. I know my beliefs have changed because of such things, and while it may not have been easy, my commitment to evidence has led me to change my views and beliefs. Not always easy, but once I learned to accept that what I wanted to believe wasn’t as important as what really is…well, I have to go with honesty over emotional attachments.
I’d rather take honest confrontation over dishonest pandering any day. I’ve learned that others aren’t like that, and as a high school teacher I have to be careful of what I say and how I say it. But I can still get the message across. Think critically of everything, and question everything, especially our own beliefs and attitudes. Such reflection is important, but it still needs to be based in reality. Hopefully at least some of my students will grow into that.
I had a student see someone finding a notebook on the street and bringing it to school as a miracle (as did the individual who found it – they included bible verses). I said nothing – not my place – but other students knew of my atheism, and while I didn’t talk to much about my reasons, I stressed that I questioned and read everything I could, including things that were against what I believed, and then examined the evidence. Haven’t had any problems yet, and may have changed a few of the kids beliefs because of that (from what they said, I got them thinking about things they hadn’t before, and they came to the conclusions on their own).
“Science can describe the cosmos, but it offers no clues as to what it all means, or what a person’s purpose in life is, or what defines the good or the just.”
And neither can religion.
“I have no difficulty whatsoever accepting scientific claims or confessing my faith because they ask a completely different set of questions.”
Really? Asserting that someone can rise from the dead is not a scientific claim?
Actually, I just re-read the blog post and I don’t see anything hostile about the tone at all. Can you provide an example of what you’re talking about?
Bravo for reading WEIT and liking it! My short answer to your question of why the tone is that it is the inevitable consequence of being sick and tired of rationally rebutting the SAME simplistic questions, distortions and lies from the creationary side. The assertions posed by their ilk have been answered over and over and they are ignored. It has been pointed out here by Jerry that if all of religion was like yours, few of us would have any problem with it, but it isn’t. Furthermore, we don’t see any effort from liberal theology such as yours to draw the creationaries into your fold. You folks seem to expect atheists to convince Southern Baptists et al to become Presbyterians*. This is Jerry’s problem with Genie Scott (Natl Cntr Science Ed) et al. It’s not our shore to pull them to.
*As a gesture toward that, would you consider posting a review somewhere like Amazon?
Thank you, Hemp. An answer that addressed the heart of the issue, without condecension or snark, and which included meaningful recommendations, was exactly what was lacking. Good show.
Hempenstein–I was actually trying to link the book to my FB page when I stumbled onto this blog. I reject the idea that liberals have not been fighting on this issue. I have been contending on the issue in congregations and classrooms for twenty years. I have been giving out copies of Kenneth Miller’s books for the last ten. My wife, (who is also a Presbyterian pastor) and I are both signatories of Michael Zimmerman’s Clergy Letter Project, which has the endorsement if thousands of pastors all across the country who accept the scientific facts of evolution. All of which is why it dismayed me to read disparaging comments about people who are trying to bridge a huge divide. I went to Jerry Falwell’s college as an undergrad many years ago, and the kind of “orthodoxy” of belief that seems to be required here could teach the fundamentalists a thing or two.
There is one orthodoxy here:
Support your claims with evidence.
You big old fundamentalist you.
So, any expectation of consistency – even if it’s supported by logic and/or evidence – is considered fundamentalism now?
Excellent! I’m off to insult a whole bunch of mathematicians and engineers for their closed-minded dogmatic fanaticism.
Wowbagger–No one said that consistency and logic were left aside willy nilly in the manner you suggest. Fields of endeavor, communities, societies, all have their language games. Read Wittgenstein or Lyotard, for just a few examples of non-religious explanations of this. They have their own way of describing things, their own stories of who they are and what they are doing, and their own ways of determining what is true. What counts for truth in mathematics is not necessarily what counts for truth at a Native American smudge ceremony or at a civil rights rally in a black church.
The imposition of one group’s discourse on the everyone else used to be something scientists didn’t like about religion. Funny how the shoe now seems on the other foot.
I read an implied smiley there. I don’t know which of our interpretations is correct.
Pastor, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but most of us are not here to “bridge the divide,” and most of us in fact do not support such an effort. The goals of WEIT and this website are to clearly state the factual evidence for evolution and to discuss problems regarding the intersection of science and faith. As happy as we are that you are a liberal theologian who seems to accept evolution (again, you don’t actually accept it if you insert God into it), we don’t really care. In fact, I do in some ways at least prefer the Biblical literalists, because at least they are consistent. As Professor Coyne has pointed out, liberal theologians like you, and scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller, pick and choose which supernatural things they are going to believe and which to not. Most of us here simply reject the supernatural, we reject all that we do not have evidence for. And so I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ve come to the right place. It seems like you want us to be happy because you’re a religious person who has accepted evolution. It’s sad that we as a country have gotten to this place, where such a thing should please us, but I guess it is where we are. But many of us here are not satisfied by that. Of course you should be swayed by the evidence for evolution, just as you should be for cells and faraway galaxies. But if you accept the logic and the reason, the methodology of science that leads us to these conclusions, then why must you continue to harbor beliefs in truth-claims for which you have no evidence? This is our objection to religion. And we have no intention of reconciling reason and science with that which has no evidence. So I applaud your efforts to improve the public understanding of science, but only to the extent that your science is based on evidence, and does not include the supernatural/that which you do not have evidence for.
First, I hope you understand that even all of us here, while we are mostly fans of Dr Coyne, are not exactly the same in our attitudes regarding everything.
Second, speaking for myself, while I highly admire you work regarding public understanding of science, I do not believe anyone is above criticism.
My main point is, while you preach that faith is a positive attribute, I cannot see it as such. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. If you had evidence you wouldn’t call it faith. It seems to me that belief in the absence of evidence takes us down a slippery slope. It opens the door to all kinds of dangerous ideas. The world being 6000 years old and Islamic 72 virgin as just some examples. I think belief in the absence of evidence is not a virtue.
So long, and I hope we can still be friends.
Insightful, oh yes we can be friends. We’re just having a friendly discussion. Some of us are anyway.
I will have to disagree with you on the slippery slope. There is a reason that philosophers treat that as a logical fallacy. There is no inexorable reason why taking one move must imply taking a second. I get the same thing from religious people who, instead of pointing to the martyrs 72 virgins as proof of where religion has to go, they point to Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong as what atheism inexorably leades to. Which is nonsense of course. All the atheists I know are as appalled as anytheist at the atrocities of Stalin or Mao. Atheists are as capable of ethics, morality, selflessness and every other virtue as any other person. Each of us, faith or no faith, has to take responsibility for our actions. Yes, once can choose to be a total nutball and kill thousands of people believing you are going to have good sex in the next life. But you be as equally crazy slaughtering millions of people because you believe in nothing but the naked exercise of power and because you won’t have to answer to anyone in any next life because it doesn’t exist. Getting away from religion may mean leaving extremism for some people, but embracing it can mean the same thing for others. The only reason we don’t have separate bathrooms and drinking fountains in my state any more is because some black Baptist preacher from Georgia embraced the nonviolence of Jesus and thus took the violence of Jim crow into his own body without reacting in anger.
There are good religious people and there are bad religious people. There are good atheists and bad atheists. Whether or not they have a religion is no predictor of their moral or ethical behavior.
You might enjoy reading through Dale McGowan’s series of posts “Can You Hear Me Now?” over at The Meming of Life (http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/). Given the tone of the discussion so far, I think a number of commenters here might very well benefit from reading it, too.
Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.
Father Tim (should I call you that?),
First, let me say I appreciate your taking the time to chat with us fallen heathens. Particularly given that you are well aware the liklihood that you will ” save any souls” this way is next to none.
It is clear that we are going to disagree on a number of things at the end of the day.
I think there is a difference between saying the godlessness may give us another Stalin, and belief in the absnce of evidence can lead to someone becoming a suicide bomber. Let alone that someone being a doctor or engineer.
See, Stalin was a power maniac. That he killed people had very little with godlessness. In fact some of Lenin’s closest associates were among his victims. Also, it turns out, Stalin’s biggest “hero” was Ivan the terrible, a devout orthodox Christian. The two had nothing in common other than being power maniacs. All in all, godlessness was not Stalin’s MOTIVE. For Islamic suicide bombers, though, faith-belief in the absence of evidence-is the motive. That is undeniable.
Blaming Stalin’s acts on godlessness makes no more sense than blaming those same acts in the case of Ivan the terrible on Christianity. But blaming suicide terrorism does make sense. I don’t think this point is too complicated to see.
Whatever our disagreements, father, I hope you will tell your flock that the hell bound infidels were critical but respectful.
That would be true if belief was not great force of influencing people. Believing things without evidence opens great opportunity for doing immoral or stupid things by misplacing the real purpose for a fictional one. Just for that risk of possibility of unintentionally doing wrong one should be seek interest in making sure that one’s belief is based on much more solid foundation than just belief alone. I find this real moral attitude.
StAn–where we would disagree is over your use of the terms “real” and “fictional”. You assume what you call reality is real. I say it’s a construct based on your own presuppositions and attendant value judgments. It is, in my view, no less a construct, and thus no less a fiction, than my or anyone else’s worldview.
Insightful–Tim is fine. I’m not Catholic, and Protestant clergy don’t usually go by that. But you are kind to offer it, as you have been kind in your conversation. If yours is the kind of thoughtful atheism that people would find here, that wasn’t threatened by disagreement, evolution would be a much easier sell than it is to religious people. Unfortunately, many others on this wall are working out their emotional problems by harsh personal comments which don’t shed any light on the subject at hand nor advance the common goal we all share of trying to bring our society to a better understanding of science. I wish you all the best in trying to get your fellows to treat people better so that they can learn from you all.
Good that you are trying. But, I expect that Jerry would be quick to point out, as he has many times in the past, that the statistics – polls upon polls – show that no traction is being made in overall public acceptance of evolution. Countless scientific advancements have been made since 1860, and none have met with the resistance that evolution has. Most biologists don’t even bother to take on creationaries, regarding it as a hopless waste of time, which it largely seems to be. That a handful like Jerry do should be applauded.
Also good that you seem to have transcended Liberty U and Falwell to a considerable extent. I’m frankly astonished that anyone could emerge from there and become a Presbyterian (unless you were already?), and so I’m curious what % of your fellow classmates at LU that you think stayed in the fundamentalist mindset vs. coming to grips with a more liberal outlook such as yours, if you have any way to gauge that?
Hermenstein–I know that things are bad on the evolution front. That’s why I was posting about this on my FB page, because I have so many friends and students who are still stuck in the 18th century on this.
I actually got a great education at Liberty. That’s where I became a theological liberal. It didn’t happen for many in my time, but I was fortunate to have some real scholars for professors who interpreted Falwell’s very poorly written doctrinal statement, which they had to sign every year, very loosely. So I learned a lot of things in class which perhaps I was not supposed to, which may explain the anomaly. It is much less of an intellectual shift as it is a psycho-social one. There is a strong sense, which is communicated to you all your life growing up, that deviation means leaving everything behind, God, family the whole bit. It is fear that thus holds so many people back. My professors helped me overcome that fear by showing me that the world wouldn’t fall apart if I didn’t check my brain at the door.
Most interesting, thanx very much for that bit of insight re. Liberty U – that the professors are not at liberty, or not supposed to be at liberty, anyway. How am I not surprised. Do you have any idea if that doctrinal statement is available online anywhere? Happy to hear that it’s an imperfect system, at least.
Quite the liberty.
Tim, Your education al arc is interesting. You’re two steps down the road to atheism,… take the next.
I became a non-believer largely because of a)my questioning mind and b) because of education in an Irish Catholic Seminary (studying to be a priest), and at a Jesuit Undergrad institution. You CAN change a faithful person’s thinking with education…if they have whatever magic “it” is that allows them to break out of what they’ve been taught since birth and ask new questions. But I believe you and I are in the minority. I’ve met too many others who cling to their certainties regardless of new evidence or ideas.
Good luck making the last step to non-belief. 🙂
Beyond Belief– thanks. I am sure I am in the minority but it is a sizable one in mainline Protestantism. I don’t have a problem with non belief. I have been there and back many times. When I read the book of Job I see a character who lives in that same space. What I have come to think over the years is that God believes in me even when I don’t believe in him.
» Timothy F Simpson:
the kind of “orthodoxy” of belief that seems to be required here could teach the fundamentalists a thing or two.
Which is simply bullshit. And an actually helpful response to having bullshit called on one’s ideas is not to run to mommy and complain that someone has been rude to you, but to put your nose to the grindstone and raise your game.
Also, apparently you think that the principles of rational discourse—internal consistency, conforming to what else we know to be true (in a non-relativist sense of the word), and intellectual honesty, among others—are somehow a scary orthodoxy. And just because you are in favour of telling people about the fact of evolution, but reject the consequences of understanding the process because they might invalidate your religious prejudices, you think you are an ally.
Sadly, you are not. In fact, You’re Not Helping™.
Peter–I don’t have any problem with rational discourse at all. I wish there were more of it on this site, for example. But I reject the notion that all of what can be construed to be true falls within the purview of this particular language game, of which this one is just one among many. Every language game has its own rules. The practitioners of some language games, usually, but not necessarily religious ones, insist that theirs is the only real or even possible one. That is the orthodoxy, common on this wall, to which I refer.
» Timothy F Simpson:
I don’t have any problem with rational discourse at all. I wish there were more of it on this site, for example.
Unfortunately, you’re not contributing too much, as it is.
If you want to play those games, fine. But don’t start complaining about tone when somebody points out to you that your use of, for example, ‘truth’ is pure sophistry and apparently designed to obstruct any clear communication about what we might profitably mean by that term. (Which, incidentally, is a time-tested way of always being ‘right’. And yet you lecture people about their closed-mindedness and the absence of rational discourse. Talk about delusional.)
What is being insisted upon here, and quite rightfully so, is a workable definition of relevant terms that doesn’t allow for essentially arbitrary variation in its interpretation. To call that ‘orthodoxy’ is simply disingenuous.
Peter–everybody’s use of “truth” is sophistry to everybody else who doesn’t share the same language game. That does not mean that people cannot move towards common understanding, and even share certain presuppositions where it clearly benefits different groups. One could conceptualize it as a kind of Venn diagram. The point of dialogue is to find those places of “worldview overlap” and then to leverage those commonalities for the common good. And in the process of such dialogue, one might even create new points of overlap. This is precisely what happened in my own Presbyterian tradition in the 19th century, which was back when people in science would actually converse charitably with religious people, and which, because of the force of the argument, the religious people in my community embraced the science of evolution. That could still happen, but not so long as the sneering and mocking of religious people by the science community and the demonizing of science by the religious continues.
Truth. Decades ago I was much more civil.
But after thirty years of being treated like a the worst sort of deviant by Christians… I’m much more “in your face” about it.
It sounds like you’re saying that Jerry should not speak out about subjects other than evolution in order to gain more allies to this cause. That sounds pretty insulting towards Christians, like you imagine they are incapable of evaluating proposals on their own merits and of understanding that people may agree with you on one topic and disagree on another.
To flip the tables a bit, if you care about evolution then it seems reasonable that you would seek support from scientists and professors. Since most of them are atheists, aren’t you afraid that by promoting Christianity you may upset them and turn them away from evolution?
Have you ever read a newspaper columnist and found that they disagreed with you on one issue and in response you changed other views so that you two would disagree on everything?
It’s absurd, only children would do this. I give Christians more credit than this, I think maybe you should too. After all, you’re here and getting a drubbing but I don’t see you saying “if you don’t shut up, I’m going to be a Creationist!” It’s absurd. Why do you imagine that your students should be so infantile that they would act this way?
So. Allow me to pile on to your original post.
1. The commonly used phrase to describe someone making your type of complaint “tone troll”. You don’t object to the content itself, only the vehemence with which the content is discussed? Allow me to say calmly and with much dignity, “go fuck yourself.” You don’t want us to “tone down”. You want us to shut up. But you can’t say that directly. You’re angry that we use plain language effectively. In effect, you’re ordering us to be more obtuse, less effective, and more deferential. Well…no.
2. Yes, many religious people do not “have a problem” with evolution. Goody. That doesn’t mean they are right about religion. Different subjects. About which one can be right about one thing and wrong about the other.
3. “Religion speaks of ultimate origins”…bullshit. That’s not a religious claim, it’s a scientific one. Origins of the universe (and the state of the “pre” universe – however that ultimately is defined) is the purview of cosmology and particle physics.
Abiogensis is the study of the origins of life on this planet. Evolution is the study of the diversity of life on this planet.
None of those disciplines is aided by the unwarranted insertion of superstitious goo into the process of observation, hypothesis, confirmation, theory.
Religion offers precisely bupkis, except to interfere with science by insisting that your unsupported contentions be given equal weight to millions upon millions of data points leading us in exactly the opposite direction.
4. “What it all means”…why is this a meaningful question? Have you ever stopped to consider that after 5 billion years, the sun goes red giant and this Earth goes with it? And 3 trillion years after that, the entire universe will be nothing more than undifferentiated photons in an ever-expanding universe? And that will STILL be just the knife’s edge of “eternity”? Not to go all nihilist on you, but what “it all means” is the most meaningless question you can consider.
5. “What a person’s purpose in life is.” The scientific answer to that question is “perpetuate the species.” Modern humans do this most effectively by living cooperatively, being good parents (including the ‘it takes a village’ kind of parent), good members of the community at large, and careful stewards of the Earth’s precious resources. None of that requires a supernatural overlord; and in fact, many of your co-religionists believe that Jesus will return when the last tree is felled in the last forest. So, in the most-real sense possible are not helping, but hurting the species.
But that’s not what you intended mean, because you use “purpose” as a code word for “afterlife”. Sorry, you’ll have to provide evidence for such a thing. There is none. All of your Tinkerbell Universe wishful thinking aside, the vast preponderance of evidence declares that when you die, you decompose, redistributing your atoms back to the environment from whence you came. And nothing else.
5. “What defines the good and the just.” Oh, and religion does? bin Laden thinks flying planes into buildings is good and just. Some think bombing abortion clinics is good and just. Some would excuse a couple from legal punishment because they thought god would heal their diabetic daughter and prayed her to death. Have we defined “good and just” yet? Without religion, none of those things happen.
Science doesn’t claim to define morality and ethics; but it can tell you that the source of those things are man-made, as a result of our evolutionary heritage as social animals.
I can’t tell you how much I object to a Christian of any sort trying to tell me something about “justice”. Because the entire Christian religion is based on the fundamental tenet of having any offense forgiven if only you weep at the name of Jesus before you croak. Jeffrey Dahmer, according to your co-religionists’ vision of Christian “justice” is in heaven, while the men he dismembered and ATE are in hell. Pardon me while I vomit.
Christianity is by far the most amoral of all the religions. Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat. Heaven is the reward for perpetual bad behavior on Earth, but only if you give 10% to the preacher. You’re a pimp, nothing more. You just want your cut.
Spare us your claim to the moral high ground.
Honestly, what did you expect someone like me would say?
Now you can declare yourself offended, claim the gnu atheists are not willing to be reasoned with, and go to bed with that smug self-satisfied feeling you probably have every Sunday night.
Come back any time. But if you come with the thin gruel of tone troll, be prepared to get more of *this*.
Wow. I like.
Ditto, with added venom due to parasitic priests stealing my tax dollars…
Kevin, Kind Sir, re: your most sublime quote below:
“Allow me to say calmly and with much dignity, “go fuck yourself.”
Weeeelll, that thar’s enough to make a preacher cuss. I have yet to read Mr. Simpson’s reply, but I trust that he will catch himself.
May I, with fear and trembling, presume to ask you how you distinguish between civil and uncivil discourse? Or do you care to trouble yourself to anymore make such a distinction? To whom would you not utter such terms of endearment? Your grandmother?
It reminds me of a certain relative of mine who doesn’t feel like she’s done a good job properly straightening someone out unless she’s given ’em a good cussin’.
That is certainly the path of least resistance.
Ah, but does religion deal with ultimate origins? I know the religious make the claim again and again, but is it true? Just saying that a god created us doesn’t take us to the origin of things; it just claims that it does. And there is always a big jump from this abstract suppositional being to the very detailed claims that people make about their gods, and of his/her/their relationship with us.
Perhaps Hawking takes us closer in his book (coauthored with Leonard Mlodinow) The Grand Design. At least he is talking about something that has been demonstrated empirically again and again, the laws of physics. As Hawking and Mlodinow say, after dismissing the suggestion that there must have been a god to set the whole thing moving, since this is just positing an unsubstantiated uncaused first cause, “We claim, however, that it is possible to answer these question purely within the realm of science, and without invoking any divine beings.” (172)
If that can be done — and I suspect it can — that really would answer the question why there is something rather than nothing, and would not just leave us with the mystery of where this very strange being called God came from, and how it happened that we could possibly know that such a being exists.
Father Simpson, I am not speaking for Dr Coyne. And I perosnally welcome any positive contribution you make in understanding of science among
the faithful. I haven’t read the whole
thread-it is long. But there are certain thing you siad I respectfully disagree with.
” Science can describe the cosmos, but it offers no clues as to what it all means, or what a person’s purpose in life is, or what defines the good or the just.”
No, no and no.
There is no evidence that the universe “means” anything other than can be described and observed. Specifically, the universe does not exist to support life. And most definitely not human life.
As for what what is good or just, no, description of those things is not something science should do. As it turns out, though, it may not be a job for religion either. As everyone knows, during the civil war, the Quakers were generally abolitionists while southern baptists were pro-slavery. If religion could speak with one voice on what (today) is simplest of moral questions why should we take its word for anything more complex? Maybe it is our own minds that we need to turns to. What is good or just is not something science has an answer for. But religion doesn’t necessarily have an answer for it either. Except that science does not claim to be our moral guide and religion does.
Spirituality says “I believe in Ghosts” to me, but it has come to mean such a variety of different things to different people, I had a realization.
Spirituality is the word “Theory” of religion. Just like how creationists take ‘theory’ and use it to mean hypothesis, because that’s how our language has degraded the word, spirituality has likewise been degraded.
When religious people use it, and when you look it up in the dictionary, it is quite clear that it involves souls, ghosts, or magic either as part of a religion or cult. But hippies and scientists have started to corrupt it to mean ‘awe’, ‘wonder’ and ‘enlightenment’. Which I suppose works, but confuses the meaning of what should be pretty obvious.
The idea that these nebulous notions of spirituality frustrate religion just delights me. Its just a spirituality!
I really don’t understand Mooney’s position here. To the extent that “spirituality” means something like “relating to the immaterial aspect of the world and the human soul”, then it most definitely is in conflict with science, and to the extent that it just means “having subjectively moving or profound experiences”, it is completely orthogonal to the truth claims of religion.
But that’s the idea! If we both use the word to mean different things, you can assume that I am using your meaning, and I can assume that you are using mine, and both of us can pretend that we’re not disagreeing about anything. We can’t actually communicate any ideas, but we can eliminate conflict!
Of course, if you happen to value effective communication over lack of conflict, then this won’t be very appealing to you. You might even find it revolting. I sure do.
But to Mooney and his ilk, conflict is the worst faux pas that can happen. Better to pretend to get along, and then…ponies for everyone!
Haven’t caught up with the whole thing yet, but my immediate reaction is to refer to Charlie Brooker:
– Charlie Brooker
and to my comment from the time that the otherwise wonderful in every way Stephen Fry tried to argue in favour of spirituality — that the wishy-washy “spirituality” that supposedly even atheists have, is not only a non-standard definition of “spirituality” that most people wouldn’t recognise, but is an unhelpful definition of “spirituality” which offers no insight into anything.
The best Mooney can achieve here is to maybe bring pantheism into the “not-disprovable-but-completely-superfluous” club along with deism.
Yes we all experience the feeling Mooney is talking about, but that’s not really the point. Many, many conflicts still remain.
Heh, actually, Mooney’s “spirituality” bridge reminds me of Tim Minchin’s Peace Anthem for Palestine.
We sometimes feel spiritual
You sometimes feel spiritual
Seems like it’s been that way forever
So if we sometimes feel spiritual
And you sometimes feel spiritual
I sometimes feel we should sometimes feel spiritual together
Everybody sing along!
I’m spiritual. I have a nice bottle of Talisker sitting at home.
I just hate the “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” meme. What the hell does that mean? I think that it means the person doesn’t go to church (or whatever) anymore, but still believes in supernatural or pseudo-scientific nonense. Not much better in my book.
I think the issue is one of perception.
Many theists believe that “spiritual” equals the feeling of awe and wonder one has when seeing a beautiful sunrise or a baby’s little fingernails.
People who describe themselves as “spiritual not religious” are using THAT definition of spiritual.
And they think scientists do not have it (nor atheists, which is why the two are often conflated).
They think we’re Mr. Spock, not Dr. Spock, if I may be forgiven a Star Trek reference. I think Gene Roddenberry did us no favors in giving his chief scientist the defining characteristic of being emotionless.
We need to disabuse them of that notion; that we’re merely emotionless automatons.
Yes, we have a sense of wonder. No, we don’t ascribe that sense to an external source. Substance dualism is dead as a doornail or any god you would care to mention.
But do you get around substance dualism by just chopping off mind? (Charles Taylor explains his dissatisfaction with that in the lecture I linked to below.)
Also, I find eliminative materialism close to laughable:
It seems to ask me to give the reality I experience as mind to a bunch of nerds who will turn around and tell me my reality is bogus. “Here, it’s all wrong. We’ll take it and give it back to you when we’re done.” And you get it back and it’s been all chewed up by hardcore rationalists. No thanks.
No, I don’t think you don’t chop off mind.
I’m sure you recognize that we have a brain that is evolutionarily complex. In fact, the brain is highly compartmentalized.
We have, in effect, at least two (probably more – I’ll defer to a neurologist) separate “brains” in our cranium, as well as one in our gut (the enteric nervous system).
Only one of those “brains” is what we call “mind”. That’s our conscious brain, when it’s reporting on what the rest of the brain is doing.
In fact, we make a lot of highly complex decisions in the background, and only become “aware” of them after the fact. That doesn’t mean they’re not coming from OUR brain/mind. Only that we’re able to perform amazing feats with our brains and not be consciously aware that we’re doing it.
Consciousness remains somewhat of a mystery but what is clear is this: it’s still the brain. Same for instincts, subconscious behavior, trained reflexes and all the rest. It’s various parts of the brain doing what they do — occasionally it lets us in on the action via the “mind”.
Every thought, conscious or unconscious, instinctive or counter-instinctual, is still your neurons processing information.
No metaphysical external strings are being pulled. Only stimuli being responded to.
I think people get caught up in false dichotomies on this. I am not saying throw the baby out with the bath water. In fact, don’t throw out the bath water, either. Just recognize that it’s water in the bath, not a rain shower outside the house.
No, you get around substance dualism by observing that minds are physical.
But “physical” is a concept held by the mind. ST Coleridge, when Newton first came out with his cosmology, complained that it depicted the mind as “merely passive.” The notion that there’s no real mind–just a physical reality that winds down like a watch or a clock, and any feeling of agency is illusion–is a metaphysical assumption that has real consequences. And I don’t find it convincing, either. Your mind doesn’t just react to things like a watch spring or a venus fly trap leaf.
Listen to the Taylor lecture and you’ll get the point I’m trying to make (you’ll have to have some basic philosophical context, though). There are other ways to describe things other than mere mechanistic physical description–and those ways are more meaningful, and I think more convincing too.
A series of nitpicks: It didn’t come about entirely on Roddenberry’s original intentions, nor is Spock played as emotionless, nor is his emotions hidden anymore.
If you watch the original series pilot, you will notice that the emotionless persona was played by the female first officer.
This was undoubtedly an attempt to portray a strong and rational female leader along the Roddenberry tactics of breaking free from social conventions in portraying a future possible (well…) universe. Unfortunately it was, IMO, marred by hints of the same character’s conventional and unrequited feeelings for the captain.
At the same time Spock was played conventionally emotional.
By all accounts the network was unsatisfied with the pilot and wanted a new one in an unprecedented move. They also wanted “the satannical” Spock dropped. Roddenberry saved the character, then proceeded to save the series by melding plot devices together to a more streamlined offer.
The female first officer was one of the victims, and her persona was transferred to the alien science officer. However, the way Nimoy played him, he was again eminently capable of emotion, rather more so than most humans but repressed for good reasons akin to the original first officer character. This time the device worked well within the conceptual universe.
Exceedingly so in fact, since it became one of the defining characters and a pivotal role for the interpersonal dynamics.
And today with the restart of the Star Trek universe, Spock’s understated emotions have become much more obvious and accessible to the new generations of public as played by Quinto’s parallel world Spock. To quote the old and new character: “Fascinating.” `:-|
“hints of the same character’s conventional and unrequited feeelings [sic] for the captain.”
I should say possibility of feelings, the role went so far as to suggest that the first officer wanted to break into conventional female role, but didn’t know how or how to combine it with the officer role. In a conventional series that would of course been used to open up the mentioned dynamics. However, Roddenberry’s series was far from conventional, so perhaps I do him injustice here.
It’s called ‘having your cake and eating it, too’ – they want something that makes them feel warm and fuzzy and special, but at the same time they’re aware enough of the massive flaws inherent in all the religions and they don’t want to be criticised for adhering to something as demonstrably nonsensical.
Very long, but good discussion by Templeton Foundation (!!) fellow Charles Taylor on the differences between Dennett’s views and his:
(For people who are actually interested in philosophy.)
You know what else everyone can have? Bowel movements. Maybe this can heal the science-religion divide, when we realize that whatever our approach to understanding existence, we all have to take a crap from time to time.
“Everybody Poops” will henceforth be worth its weight in… uh… gold.
“Life is like a crap sandwich – the more bread you have, the less crap you have to taste” – Tom Servo
Nothing gnu under the sun here. I don’t even think Andre Comte-Sponville would concur with this degree of poetic obscurantism.
Or, we can discuss bowel movements.
The more I read from Chris Mooney the more I wonder how he has had any success as a journalist, or communicator. The information content / word count ratio in his typical piece of writing is too low. His ideas are simplistic to the point of being juvenile. Reading his stuff is like pushing your head through mush, with no reward at the end. He comes off sounding pompous. He pretends, or perhaps desperately hopes, that he has profound insights to offer.
Chris Mooney should be grateful that people like Jerry Coyne are gracious enough to attempt serious responses to his boring articles. Although if I had to guess, Jerry has probably written this response not so much for Chris, as for the spectators watching from the bleachers.
Hear, hear! Seems like every time I read Mooney’s prose, I end up thinking even less of him.
With Jerry, it’s the opposite. (Even Jerry’s posts that feature silly photos of kitties are more substantive than Mooney.)
I cured that. I stopped reading his silly blog almost a year ago.
I wish I’d done that. It was only after he expelled almost all dissenting opinion and let the comment section be ruled by lying scum like Anthony McCarthy and other, similar, intellectually dishonest types that I stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt.
“The more I read from Chris Mooney the more I wonder how he has had any success as a journalist, or communicator. The information content / word count ratio in his typical piece of writing is too low. His ideas are simplistic to the point of being juvenile.”
Looks like you answered your own question, there. Have you seen what passes for journalism these days? Making people feel good without actually informing them of anything – and, above all, without making anybody uncomfortable – is pretty much how it’s done in the mainstream “press”.
It’s not only making people feel good, it’s getting them to hate eachother as well. Faux News or its equivalent in, say, the Kashmir region of Pakistan. For example, one news feed from yesterday was about an angry mob in Pakistan burning a scarecrow. Oooh – scary – those Pakistanis must really hate us ‘murcans. Then again maybe not – it must have been a very small angry mob because the camera was zoomed in all the time, never showing the big picture – when they do that you can bet that the “large angry mob” is just the 4 or 5 folks you actually see in the frame.
» Darrell E:
The more I read from Chris Mooney the more I wonder how he has had any success as a journalist
That’s because, for a career in mainstream journalism, mediocrity is pretty much a job requirement. Don’t stand out too much lest anybody think you are not “fair and balanced”.
As a rule, really good journalism comes either from the fringes—think Sy Hersh and the New Yorker or Glenn Greenwald and Salon—or from a couple of holdouts from a slightly better age of journalism—think Robert Fisk or John Pilger.
Jesus and Mo and Barmaid vomit in response to this Mooney article!
And they did it in 2009…
OMG, they ARE prophets!!!
I’ve noticed that all established religions have, by and large, been falsified. They may have a bit here or there that just happens to be true, but at the core of the matter they are plain wrong. The problem with the religious is that they refuse to admit their mistakes. That is where Mooney fails, for he hates to admit he’s gotten the religious wrong, and that ultimately his efforts to reconcile faith and science are going to fall flat on their face.
Mostly recently I’ve been trying to muddle my way through Sura One of the Koran. If the Koran is the Word of God you’d think He’d be more organized in his speech. At least Hindu and Buddhists don’t claim their scriptures are the Word of God.
Well, the Bhagavad Gita means ‘the song of God’ and is supposed to be Krsna’s words to Arjuna, while many sects see the disciplic lines stretching all the way back to an original sruti or revelation from the supreme god to Brahma and passed from guru to disciple from the beginning of creation.
So Hindus aren’t off the hook either.
That’s formal Hinduism, the stuff at the level of the village is a bit more, well, informal.
When you said Hindus I should have realised that you meant basic village Hindus.
I think Mooney is very wrong on this one but perhaps for a different reason to that mentioned so far. It’s clear that this ‘new’ idea has come about from his dealings with the work of Elaine Howard Ecklund. They spent a lot of time talking about just this point in her interview on Point of Inquiry. The other aspect of that talk was the idea that religious people could become more science friendly, not by abandoning religion, but by changing to a more science friendly faith. I think Mooney is aiming for something along these lines and Mohler completely sees through it. Mooney has never been religious and seems to be tone deaf to how religious people view changing faiths.
Tone deaf to a view? Sorry, I can’t see what you’re pointing at – I’m deaf.
Mooney can always look at the apostates of islam website to see what many muslims think about changing religion. Or he can listen to any televangelist – doesn’t he take time to do these things?
Everyone should be aware that Ecklund is as dishonest as Mooney.
(Caveat: I haven’t read or listened to Ecklund lately, because I just can’t stand it. If she’s recently addressed the problems I talk about below, do please correct me.)
Look at her data, not her spin. The data do not support her interpretation.
It’s no accident that she’s funded by Templeton, or that she and Mooney get along so well.
Ecklund likes to say that science doesn’t erode religious belief, and that scientists just come from disproportionately irreligious or less orthodoxly religious backgrounds.
The latter is certainly true, to a considerable extent. Fundamentalists don’t go into science, by and large, or don’t make it very far. And among non-fundamentalists, less religious people are more likely to be seriously interested in science.
But the former is just false, and her own data show that clearly. MOST U.S. scientists *were* raised religious, and her preferred explanation doesn’t come close to accounting for the eventual irreligiosity of scientists, especially at the higher levels. High-achieving scientists are mostly atheists, including half of the ones raised Christians. Most of the remainder are less intensely and/or less orthodoxly religious.
While she’s certainly right that science doesn’t *necessarily* eliminate or water down religious belief, she intentionally obscures the fact that it *usually* does.
Science is strongly correlated with eroded religiosity, often complete erosion and usually substantial erosion, in a *single*generation*.
Statistically speaking, this is a huge effect. It’s the kind of clear, striking, and interesting trend most social scientists dream of finding—if they’re not trying hard *not* to find it.
If she’d gather more appropriate data and do appropriate statistics, I’m pretty sure they’d show that it’s the *largest* known effect relevant to the subject, even larger than the correlations between scientific achievement and being white and male and from a middle-class background.
The simple fact is that the large majority of people in the US are orthodoxly religious—not “fundamentalist,” but far more orthodox than the kind of religion she likes—and the large majority of scientists are not, whether or they started out religious or not. At the highest levels of science, e.g., the National Academies or the Royal Society, the overwhelming majority (90 plus percent) is irreligious, and the majority of the remaining minority are not orthodox like the majority of the population.
The effects she attributes this to—mainly self-selection of who goes into science, based on their family of origin—are just not strong enough to account for the trend she’s supposedly explaining.
Does she do the statistics necessary to show whether her explanation is *sufficient*, much less *necessary*? No, because that would show that she’s *wrong*.
(If anybody knows of her addressing this, please do point it out.)
Ecklund is just a terrible scientist. She willfully overlooks the magnitude of the biggest trend in her data, and the insufficiency of her explanations, because it doesn’t support her political agenda.
Then she turns around and says or implies that the “competing” explanations—e.g., that scientific learning erodes religious belief—are unnecessary, because she’s identified the cause.
That’s a load of crap; it’s basically a lie.
And that’s exactly why Mooney likes her.
He likes her because she’s as dishonestly selective as he is, and he can point to her as a “scientist” who supports his agenda with “science.”
One reason I say this is that I’m hoping some enterprising social scientists will take on the job of clearly showing that Ecklund is doing palpably bad science, and is probably just wrong. It shouldn’t be difficult to prove the former, by using her own data against her. I’d think that a masters student with a good grasp of statistics could do it for a masters thesis. If you want a dissertation, start correlating other data and doing more sophisticated analyses. (And ideally, do a well-designed survey or two to gather better data for addressing the real questions.)
I’m pretty sure that if you did this competently, you’d get some striking effects of exactly the sort that Ecklund wants to hide.
Now I remember that one. I read the shredding of her statistics and thesis at…scienceblogs, maybe? (its been a while). The data didn’t support her conclusion, but Mooney was shilling for the fellow Templeton fellow (hey, just like the Tom-whassisname thing). Why waste time with facts when it supports your presuppositions?
Interesting – I missed that one since I delete anything that Mooney is the host of. Since I listen while I drive to work, I’ve found vomiting while driving to be counterproductive. Hopefully CFI will drop his sorry hindquarters so that I can actually listen to the podcast completely.
My goodness. I went to a Michael Dowd (of Thank God For Evolution fame) and he was pushing for something like this.
To me, this “spiritual” stuff is just so dishonest; it is as if he is conflating emotions with a deity.
Oooo! Incredibly apropos, my wife reports that Unscientific America finally arrived for me at our local library branch (I had ordered it some time ago).
Now I get to criticize Mooney’s book firsthand instead of having to sheepishly say, “Well, I haven’t read the book, but….”
OK, is Paul Bloom being “dishonest” here?
Whats up with this Bloggingheads stuff? For myself, I never watch videos on the internet. Staring at my computer without reading is a waste of time (and completely boring) – I can read faster than they can speak and make better use of my time. Besides, any site where the people who choose who will be on (I assume that is how it goes) who will put on people like Jonah Goldberg treat them like they have worthwhile opinions…sorry, about as smart as watching FOX news.
Not trying to be rude, since I might have the wrong site (but if they have Pam Geller and the crew from the National Review, like Instaputz – Reynolds! – hack! – then I won’t waste any time, even to read a transcript). It would be like a video huffingtonpost!
Despite that, I still really hate videos, and have watched one or two on Failblog, and that’s only because they were a minute or less long. Give me a transcript to read, or an mp3 to listen to on my hours drive to work over a video that locks me into one stupid site for a long time.
I’ve come to find this whole science-religion divide quite contrived. What, exactly, are the dire consequences that await us if we somehow fail to bridge it? Is accommodation really the only thing standing in the way of a complete fundamentalist takeover of science education? I don’t think so. I do think that it makes for good copy and claims to authority. Mooney, apparently, knows all about this stuff and is here to help us.
No; in the US at least, the courts the only thing standing in the way of a complete fundamentalist takeover of science education. (I got that insight from Jason Rosenhouse’s blog some time back.)
I may derail the debate here, and please ignore this if that is the case, but I’m wondering if the spirituality thing is such an irritant to atheists like me, because the concept of spirituality/wonder/fantasy/imagination is so muddled.
It irritates me no end that a lot of religious people assume that scientists and atheists are cold heartless people. WEIT already covered that aspect in the original post (no we’re not: we’re human)
But sometimes I think “our side” messes things up as well. The one example I’ve got at hand is “Unweaving the Rainbow” by Richard Dawkins, where this sentence can be read in the preface: “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver.”
Well, no! I agree that the intensity of the feeling one may get in each discipline is the same or comparable, but to describe it as “a deep aesthetic passion” is wrong, isn’t it? Music, poetry, art etc are human endeavors that at their best make us wiser, make us understand our “human condition”. Science makes us understand a lot of other things but not in an aesthetical framework.
I think that this kind of argument is mixing things up, almost as much as this spirituality-debate is doing it.
In the end we’re all amazingly human – some of us just terribly skeptically inclined 😉
PS I do not mean to bash “Unweaving the Rainbow”. It was simply the book nearest to me that expressed this sentiment, clearly and well-written.
“Science makes us understand a lot of other things but not in an aesthetical framework.”
Why not? Maybe not yet for the most part, but why is this out of a purview of science?
Computers are used to pick music hits. There is molecular gastronomy. Mozart like music has been synthesizable for a long time. Stories can be written by computer.
Ah, but that was not my point at all. Of course science can be used for “doing” art. The scientific developement in the 18., 19. and 20. century changed instruments/means of expression radically, thereby influencing the developement of art, but that has nothing to do with what I meant above. What I was trying to discuss/debate is the urge a lot of people have – on both sides of the religious/non-religious fence – to adopt a kind of “spirituality” for lack of better words, as a description of what in my opinion is … the experience of, I don’t know … being human?
I agree with Dawkins (and windy)—I think all he’s saying that science can be appreciated for its aesthetics, its beauty. But while I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re saying, I do agree with that a scientific framework doesn’t necessarily apply to matters of aesthetics.
I found myself taking a stab at the “other way of knowing” argument recently, saying that “I know that The Godfather is a better film than Resident Evil, and science didn’t tell me.” Of course, this isn’t scientific knowledge, but it’s an aesthetic judgment that reflects my worldview to the degree that it represents something fundamental to me. It’s not a pure truth of the universe, because it’s something that I’ve constructed, but it’s true to me.
Being able to appreciate (or write) great poetry, music, art, etc., is something that everyone has to learn, which makes it a kind of knowledge, but not the kind that science teaches. It’s a set of critical metrics and aesthetic values that must be learned and studied. Since mastery of them contains the potential to better ourselves and improve the human condition, it is, to me, as fundamentally significant as pure, scientific truth.
Of course, these values are ultimately subjective, and vary by region, culture, and time. Someone may come up with a critical or aesthetic framework in which Resident Evil would come out on top of The Godfather. Yet, I would reject that reality and substitute my own! Not on any scientific basis, or on any hard evidence, but on aesthetic principles.
“Spirituality” (and I don’t like the word, either) is similar in that it can be whatever you want it to be, even as it still carries some sense of truth to its holder, and the very real potential to better oneself. Although the people we’re openly fighting won’t be swayed to abandon religion for “spirituality”, I feel a good portion of the onlookers whose opinion we’re actually trying to sway might…but not if we keep calling it “spirituality”. Ugh. Can the framers make up a better name for it? 😉
Why bother with the terms. We share common human experiences, we just don’t think that is evidence for supernatural garbage. Emotions are emotions, not spirituality. Why create (or rather, co-opt) one word when we already have words for that? Religious and non-religious feel awe. See how easy that was? Calling this “spirituality” brings on all the baggage that has accumulated with the word – the superstition, muddled-thinking, woo-filled baggage.
Besides, that fact that we all are in awe of things (to use one), or that we all love things, has no bearing on whether or not the claims of the religious are true. Show us the bloody evidence!
Once again, it seems to me that it’s a difference of short term (accept science now) goal vs long term (abandon supernaturalism and accept science over the long haul of existence). I know which one I prefer to work towards.
Well, no! I agree that the intensity of the feeling one may get in each discipline is the same or comparable, but to describe it as “a deep aesthetic passion” is wrong, isn’t it?
I think he means ‘aesthetic’ in a very broad sense. Like when people call physical theories ‘beautiful’ and talk about science as ‘piecing the puzzle’.
Windy: I think you’re right, but I also think that that is one of the things that makes this debate so difficult. My main field is musicology, and in that field aesthetics is a pretty narrowly defined word, afiled of philosophy that makes it possible to speak about artistic experience. To me it makes hardly any sense to talk about nature as aesthetically pleasing, since nature did not decide to please our eyes. At least not consciously 😉 So I guess I’m simply confused by that broad meaning – which – as MarkZ points out above, and others elsewhere – is the same problem with the word spiritual.
What also annoys me is this underlying notion that we have to compare the two – that they have to be equal. I’m extremely excited by nature, science and technology even. But the excitement is hardly an aesthetical experience. Or am I using the words too narrowly?
ok – I’m replying to myself her … ahem 😉 but I think I may just be stuck in my specifically germanistic way of interpreting words like aesthetical and arts and culture. In the Danish (German) university-tradition I come from we talk about culture and mean The Arts. In all English speaking areas you talk about culture and mean society/history … So when I read the word aesthetical I understand it in a different way, than the broad one you suggested, Windy.
What I still don’t understand is why it is so d*** important that science be seen as a spiritual/aesthetical thing and vice versa. The exhileration, joy, excitement can be just as big or bigger or ??? when working with science. But why do you have to call it spiritual/aesthetic. That label does not make it better.
“why it is so d*** important that science be seen as a spiritual/aesthetical thing and vice versa”
Probably it’s just a way of trying to counter the claims that science sucks all awe/beauty/whatever away from things. We can always try to find better words to describe it though 🙂
I don’t like this feeling of awe and wonderment talk. Or at least the suggestion that their awe and wonderment is the same as my awe and wonderment. Sometimes I get a heady feeling when contemplating the Universe but don’t tell me it’s anything like the heady feeling religious people get when contemplating a Universe made especially for them by a loving God. My Universe is vast and cold and indifferent. It’s also mostly lifeless and we human beings aren’t particularly significant in the cosmic scheme.
Even on this little planet we call home we face endless dangers. If God existed, he’d be an asshole and a bully. At least the spiteful, angry God of the Old Testament was somewhat believable in this respect. To a materialist, though, this predicament isn’t quite so miserable I think. There’s no intent or agency behind what’s happening. It just is what it is.
If there’s anything like an atheist spirituality surely it’s just that the natural world appears less malicious (or perverse if you’re New Testament and think tsunamis are God’s tough love) and we can hope for a greater capacity to predict and control outcomes in the future because of our greater understanding of how the natural world works. I like to call that “disenchantment” and I think it’s a better deal than some woolly feeling of being at one with whatever.
Mooney got to me. I am now full of awe and wonder. Awe and wonder that anyone could write such an insipid thing.
It was *full* of awe: awful.
What if anything do you get “excited” about? Is it Ok to experience a sense of “awe”? The “numinous,” as Christopher Hitchens would put it? Or, is it OK to feel, as George Carlin might put it, “moderately neato”?
“spirituality” – this seems to be defined as “je ne sais quois”. I guess Mooney is currently taking a course in Remedial Equivocation and he’s finding it refreshing, exhilarating, and intellectually rigorous.
You say “I’m a big boy” to differentiate yourself from other Christians which both infantilizes them and reinforces the paternalistic role church leaders have adopted for centuries. Truth and bluntness are to be kept from the hoi polloi because they’re too what, ignorant? sheltered? to understand sophisticated discussions. I do wonder if it’s not church leaders like you who are being the most insulting where Jerry and others at least have the decency to treat Christians as intelligent adults.
Do you have any examples of Christians – either young adults or parents – who have turned away from science because scientists, in the role of individuals, spoke out against their religious beliefs? I can’t think of any. I’ve seen Christians say they want to have private schools to instil good moral values, to teach their faith, and sometimes to avoid being taught evolution but it has never been as a reaction to scientists.
I do think that some Christians think that science is in conflict with their belief. Perhaps you think this is the fault of the scientists. Have you considered that these people may be big enough boys to see that there really are genuine conflicts between the scientific theories and their religious beliefs? Not everyone is prepared to dismiss the bible as a pack of metaphors and fiction with some nebulous core of truth. Many people believe that Jesus lived and died and lived again, that he performed miracles, that the world was created for us, that God really listens to our prayers and answers them.
I know, silly isn’t it. Not very “big boy”-ish. These people are still smart enough to see that science has real conflicts with their beliefs and they’re right. Who is to blame for that? Not Jerry and other scientists, I think it’s the fault of weak-willed, deceptive pastors who know that the bible is metaphorical, that faith leads us to falsehoods, that miracles are fantastically rare, and that evolution really did happen but don’t speak out. Perhaps they believe that their flock are like children and too ignorant, stupid, weak or simple to understand some blunt talk and so they’re coddled and lied to.
If Christians are like infants and get shocked by the secular world, it’s your responsibility to wake them up and help them grow. You can come here and seek help in letting your flock grow and mature but please don’t come asking us to collude in infantalizing and dissembling.
I do have Rev Dr Prof Timothy comes back. I came in too late to join in, but the conversation has been fun to read.
Reverend Simpson, it doesn’t take much to invoke the gentleman’s ire, does it?
To invoke St. Paul, you “have fought the good fight” in resisting what if any urge you might have had to similarly respond with (however mild)invective to the stones hurled your way. (I can’t say that I’m in your camp, but I don’t like the gratuitous insults hurled your way.) Can’t blame you for giving it a break.
Which insults are these?
Thanks Flippo. My therapist says that when you encounter someone being unaccountably angry, then you probably remind them of someone else. I think that inasmuch as I am a religious person and that because so many on this wall have been maltreated by religious people and because the Internet allows a degree of anonymity, people feel like they can vent at me without consequence. I don’t lose any sleep over it. But I remain concerned that it bodes I’ll for cooperation in moving society forward in terms of science education. It isn’t clear to me how people acting and talking like this makes that work any easier.
It doesn’t make that work any easier at all. I’m somewhat shocked and very sorry for the rude tone of many of the replies to your comments. Some commenters here need to re-read your posts as homework to learn how to conduct an adult conversation. I truly hope that, in spite of your reception here, you will continue to fight for excellent science education in the US and recommend Dr. Coyne’s book (at least, if not the blog) to any and all you can. Thank you.
Yoko–Thank you for your kind words. We have before us what we all consider to be a serious problem, so I would think it the wiser course to make friends and allies.
Timothy F Simpson, you wrote:’I went to Jerry Falwell’s college as an undergrad many years ago, and the kind of “orthodoxy” of belief that seems to be required here could teach the fundamentalists a thing or two.‘
With this you appear to imply that any kind of adherence to a consistent position (‘orthodoxy’) is flat-out wrong, regardless of how much support exists for that position.
That is a ridiculous notion and a frequent cheap shot levelled by liberal Christians at those critical of religion. ‘Oh, you expect us to not cherry pick the bible so we can ignore the parts we don’t like? Oh, that’s so fundamentalist of you [smirk].’
A position held because of logic and reason ≠ a position held because of dogma, and it’s intellectually dishonest (to put it politely) to pretend they’re equivalent.
Wowbagger–Consistency is not the issue at all. I think everyone strives for consistency, myself included. The orthodoxy to which I was referring rather was to the zero-sum game approach that says there can only be one right answer, and if you don’t give the right answer, people say you are a con man, a liar, that you are delusional, peddling “bulls***.” and if you persist in holding your position, they will tell you to “go f*** yourself.” This is the way religious fundamentalists behave when their orthodoxy is challenged, and how I have been spoken to here.
» Timothy F Simpson:
Consistency is not the issue at all.
Not for you, obviously.
I think everyone strives for consistency, myself included.
Yes, we all think we’re rational. It’s just that some people actively seek out “objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them”, in Mill’s memorable words. The ‘Let’s all just get along’ approach firmly shuts its eyes to the evidence that it isn’t working and that it is not actually helping science.
there can only be one right answer
I wonder why anybody would call you a liar just because you made up this particular claim. And why on earth would anybody want to call someone delusional who believes, because of a personal revelation, in an invisible, unfathomable, all-powerful etc. being that is specially interested in a species of ape on a planet in the backwaters of one of a billion trillion solar systems in the universe? I would believe it.
and if you don’t give the right answer
Have you considered reading a book about how science works, i.e. the method humans have painstakingly pieced together for finding reliable information about what Popper called World 1? If you were wondering, which it appears you weren’t, this is not about “the right answer” but about a reliable process. People here have been handing you pieces of your behind because you seem to have no understanding of that process. You claim to support science, but all you ever mention is the facts that science uncovers. Which is hardly surprising, because if you really supported the process, that would make inroads on things that you hold to be more important than either facts or reality.
First, let me compliment you on your persistence and on your attempts to establish dialogue here. You should know there’s an established theme on this blog (and a number of others) that can be extremely off-putting: tone is kept strictly separate from substance. That gap — a meaningful one from any philosophical or logical standpoint — has the unfortunate side-effect of making people forget that tone does have meaning — just not meaning that’s attached to what it’s being used to convey.
In short, I’d like to apologize on behalf of the more civilized sorts for some of the tone you’ve encountered. That said, let me be clear and up front that I offer you respect not as a preacher (a vocation I personally find distasteful in its very nature), nor for any of your arguments so far (which others have diced apart without any possibility of misunserstanding) — but as a man who’s been willing to extend an effort to talk with others, even after they’ve shown him scant welcome. That last bit makes me sort of hope you’ll stick around a bit, despite the slings and arrows.
Gnu Atheist sez:
“Mooney continues to produce gnu examples of framing, it smells like the same old dung. How unfortunate, it may all end up him leading a spiritual retreat.”
That old Gnu Accomodationist dung! I hear when it burns, you get really, really, deep, man.
Lookat the colors! Double-Rainbow! What does it mean, Gnu Atheists! Whoa…gotta go, got the munchies something fierce….
Really, it is a fault of our human nature and our propensity for laziness. Most of humans just do not use precise definitions of words when they think and use them (communicate). This ‘laziness’ is subverting the thinking process of a person to the point one cannot recognize ones own errors. I think that to some extent everybody is a victim to this equivocation fallacy behavior, some however even follow it after exposition. I think that Mooney is one of such persons.
I have experienced it many times. It drags me to hell sometimes from frustration when I try to put the finger on definitions before discussing the subject and when discussion continues the opponent starts to use different definitions than agreed just a while before. This renders the whole communication effectively as unproductive enterprise.
This word ‘spiritual’ is a clinical example of practicing equivocation and using it in various meanings by all parties involved. Then the subject of discussion becomes debating definitions rather than points which are originally in question. Religious thinks ‘spirits’, atheist means ‘awe’ and (according to Mooney’s recipe) they are supposed to better ‘communicate’ and heal the chasm. This great discovery of equivocation made by Mooney has however short and visible legs and cannot escape far before sight of any person with undamaged central nervous system.
Well, I will just make face-palm and wish good luck to Mooney and his party with that.
Jerry – you missed highlighting one military phrase in the quoted text, namely “conflict inescapable”.
I personally think that conflict between rational and irrational worldviews really is inescapable, and something to be faced and worked through. Not with violence, but with education and reasoned argument.
Through his advocating avoidance of any conflict and attempting to paper over the cracks, repeatedly trying to tell Atheists what they should be doing, Chris Mooney is delaying the resolution of these very real differences.
In summary, Chris Mooney is not helping.
Cyberguy – “Chris Mooney is not helping.”
Careful, you might be accused of being a dick for that.
Timothy F. Stimpson sez:
I hate this line of crap.
People like Stimpson pretend they’re the enlightened, science-accepting moderates who don’t impose anything on anyone, but they’re still trying to sell us on a particular set of beliefs; they just don’t happen to be religious ones. They’re trying to get us to buy into the shoddy, inane philosophy of “other ways of knowing.” Trouble is, unless that “other way” has some consistent methodology and evidence to back it up so we know it works before we buy into it, it’s impossible to tell apart from believers fooling themselves. From the outside, it looks just like every other irrational belief system, religious or no.
They can cry about how we don’t “get” it all they want, but they have no way to show there is anything to get. The liberal religionist message boils down to the same thing as what the more ardent believers all say: “believe what I do and you’ll understand.”
We’re not the ones who are confused.
Trouble is, unless that “other way” has some consistent methodology and evidence… They can cry about how we don’t “get” it all they want, but they have no way to show there is anything to get.
One of these 2 cultures is not like the other. / One of these 2 cultures just doesn’t belong…:
Do you have anything to say in your own words?
You bet. Don’t be such Dawkins and Dennett fanboys. Yes, there are views outside of the ultra-sciencey wing of British Empiricism. Maybe you guys could take a break from sneering all the time and actually *grapple* with views that disagrees with yours. Open a book. Charles Taylor, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Max Weber–you guys pose and self congratulate on these blogs as if all the answers were resolved and closed. They aint. Your blogs all attack the weakest defenders of the things you oppose. But if say, Charles Taylor and Jurgen Habermas appeared on a stage with Daniel Dennett, I think it wouldn’t take long for Dennett to look like a featherweight. But everyone on these blogs all perpetually congratulate each other as if no differing way of thinking existed than his. It’s a very small circle of people you take seriously. You’ve worked out kind of a self-selected monoculture that doesn’t respect the merits of premises that differ from yours. So after a while you begin to sound like right wing “libruls” bashers who I’m sure you don’t like. (I don’t want to say much more, because I suspect this will be a time suck, which I don’t need, which is probably why more people don’t comment on these things…)
A. Noyd: Do you have anything to say in your own words?
jon: You bet. Don’t be such Dawkins and Dennett fanboys.
Wow, that was original.
Maybe you guys could take a break from sneering … and actually *grapple* with views that disagrees with yours. Open a book. … you guys pose and self congratulate on these blogs … Your blogs all attack the weakest defenders of the things you oppose. … I think it wouldn’t take long for Dennett to look like a featherweight. … all perpetually congratulate each other … It’s a very small circle of people you take seriously. … You’ve worked out kind of a self-selected monoculture … So after a while you begin to sound like right wing “libruls” bashers …
You certainly like the sound of your own voice—ironically, congratulating yourself for brilliantly seeing through the naivety of your opponents.
Evidence for their alleged conduct and closed-mindedness? None. Which, for somebody sitting on a horse as high as yours, is pathetic.
I don’t want to say much more
If that would have been more of the same, then that’s a happy coincidence, because neither would we want you to.
My thesis is that you guys know nothing except a few thinkers, and immediately circle the wagons or put on blinders when anyone suggests there might be other reasonable views worth at least mentally turning over appreciating, even if not owrth considering.
My evidence is links to those views and the kind of reaction I get here when I post them. For instance, “Bullshit.” “Word Salad.” And probably implicitly, “Not empirical.” Well what happens if there are important considerations regarding human nature that aren’t empirical in the way you’d accept? The answer I believe I’m getting here is just “Bullshit.” “Word Salad.” “If you don’t have empirical stuff, then STFU.”
Dude, seriously? How is that not word salad? It’s not even grammatical, for fuck’s sake. What is the difference between “considering” something and “mentally turning over appreciating(??)” it? Are you complaining we won’t mentally masturbate to your favorite sophistry? Because I’ll give you that much–but only if you realize it’s an argument from aesthetics. You can’t switch up aesthetics and epistemology, though, which is apparently what you’re trying to do.
Then there are important considerations. They just don’t get prestige equivalent to scientific knowledge, which is apparently what you want, unless they can also live up to the standard of knowledge as justified true belief.
Any system of knowing must give us a valid way of separating true propositions from false ones. It must work independent of individual bias, at least well enough that one person’s results won’t ever contradict another’s. Those are the minimum epistemological conditions for determining a justified true belief from an unjustified or false one. It might very well be that we can discover truths some other way than the scientific method, but no such alternative system yet lives up to the minimum conditions, so we can’t know which such truths are really true. Thus, we cannot claim to have have any “other ways of knowing.
Obviously I’m writing in a hurry. You can turn something over and understand an argument without even feeling you have to adopt it. Something like “agreeing to disagree.” You can disagree with Kant on the limitations of pure reason and not think Kant is a putz. You can disagree with Charles Taylor on the grouping together of German influenced idealism and religious thought and not think he’s a putz. You can disagree with an uneducated person who can’t make sense of either, but nonetheless goes to church every Sunday, and not think he’s a putz. But lots of people seem to start right off with the notion that if X person disagrees with me on Y, it’s obvious they must be a putz. Not a great way to win friends and influence people, not a recipe for enlightenment, or getting respect for science, I don’t think.
And why the hell would we want to do that? Bad arguments should be thrown out.
I don’t see anyone starting from conclusions except you, sweetie pie. Now either cough up an argument to amaze us with or fuck off already. Science doesn’t need to earn the respect of window-lickers who think hand-waving can be used in place of argumentation.
Exactly. Either provide us with the kind of empirical evidence that WE may choose to accept, or STFU.
I already linked to a Charles Taylor talk above about an alternativeness views to Dennett, and as a moderately sane person I will not waste my time on writing blog comment 300 recapitulating the basis of his argument in Merleau Ponty and Aristotle. And I also won’t waste my time teaching you Berlin’s contrast between the sciences and humanities. Listen to the Taylor lecture. Read the Berlin article I linked to. It’s not my job to masticate them for you, and I highly doubt it would do any good if I did.( Maybe we’re seeing why no one joins in your little mutual admiration society here. It’s a massive time suck.)
Me: “Now either cough up an argument to amaze us with or fuck off already.”
Jon: “Exactly. Either provide us with the kind of empirical evidence that WE may choose to accept, or STFU.”
I wasn’t aware that arguments were all empirical evidence now. In fact, I never asked for empirical evidence in the first place; you’re the one pretending I’m demanding that so you can avoid fulfilling my request, you dishonest titbrain.
If you want us to read them, it is. As far as appearances are concerned, you’re just one of any number of crackpots who rejects materialistic monism and denies the scientific method is our only working “way of knowing.” You blindly equivocate, beg the question, and argue from conclusions and assertions, which is hardly a sign we should rely on your logical acumen. If we were to read or watch everything that crackpots demanded we read or watch, we’d be doing nothing else. And (speaking from experience) we’d be finding out, as is likely in your case, that the crackpot in question has pointed us either to worthless sophistry that appeals to his biases and nothing more or something that doesn’t say what he thinks it says.
So argue in your own words what we’re doing or saying wrong so we can see that there’s something to your position that needs to be taken seriously rather than you wasting our time with assertions and links. That is, distinguish yourself from the rest of the looneys. If you pique our interest, then you can show us what philosophers your arguments are based on.
If your arguments aren’t worth the time it would take you to write them up, then they’re certainly not worth us spending an even greater amount of time trying to pick them out of your links. If you’ve tried this before and your arguments were reject, don’t forget that one of the explanations is that you’re wrong. If you won’t consider that, if the only explanation you accept is that we’re close-minded, then that’s even more reason not to bother to follow your links.
Keep in mind, too, that this blog wouldn’t exist (at least not by the same name) if Jerry hadn’t done for the evidence for evolution what you think you shouldn’t have to do for your beliefs. You lazy, whiny, hand-waving fuck.
A. Noyd, I for one would appreciate it if the gratuitous personal insults were left out of the discussion. Calling somebody a “stupid fuck” certainly doesn’t add anything to it. Also, everyone should be welcome to say their piece without fear of being told to shut up—even if what he says turns out not to be rational or to lack arguments. Ignoring that kind of speech pretty much gets the job done, and it can be more effective, too.
Yes, I won’t tolerate this kind of language or behavior. Arguments are fine, vicious name calling is not.
If you want us to read them, it is.
I don’t have time for this in the 300th comment. Just let me conclude that you don’t care enough to click a link to read a few pages, or watch a video for a while, and we’ll call it a day. That’s enough for me, I’m satisfied anyway.
Sorry, didn’t realize you weren’t down with the name calling here. I’ll stop with that.
@ Peter Beattie
The “shut up” thing, as I tried explaining above below (oh, how I hate threaded comments), is the just one way to call people out to, as you might put it, “raise their game.” I’m not telling him to shut up; I’m telling him to say something new. It’s not my style to just ignore the irrational, vacuous speech. Yes, I’m immature that way.
Oops, strikethrough tags don’t work here. The “above” above was supposed to be crossed out.
Good grief, to arrive at that conclusion you have to utterly ignore the reasons I gave above. Your fixation on maintaining your erroneous preconceptions doesn’t bode well for me getting something worthwhile out of your recommendations.
No, we don’t.
No matter who you mention, it’s sophistry, nothing more. No evidence and it tries to claim real world, it’s bunk.
Over half the curriculum at a liberal arts college is bunk? Just because it doesn’t take place among test tubes?
The thing is, it’s not all that bad if you *think* that, but the dangerous thing is the STFU part. I don’t worry about stuff like this so much on college campuses. Charles Taylor is an adult and he takes care of himself quite ably. What I worry about is eventually with these kinds of attitudes is that you get the rest of the public to associate this attitude with science and scientists…
From one of Timothy Simpson’s statements above:
This is exactly what that Isaiah Berlin essay I linked to above is about. Life isn’t predominantly about test tubes and computers, not by a long shot. I admire Timothy Simpson’s patience in engaging with people in the thread above–he certainly has more of it than I have.
The “STFU part” is not a simple “shut up,” but a “if you can’t show us how we’re wrong, then shut up.” It’s just a way of reminding you that the burden of proof is on you. I fail to see how that’s dangerous for anything other than your overweening sense of self-importance. Oh, but maybe since your enormous ego isn’t at the center of my worldview, it’s just a problem of paradigm incompatibility. Or something.
But the big questions of meaning aren’t easy to prove and they never have been. Aristotle divided his Physics from his Metaphysics for a reason. Metaphysics is just that, its outside of physics. It deals with things like teleologies and meanings, which are notoriously slippery and for that reason were separated from science back when the scientific method was devised. But this isn’t to say that questions of meaning aren’t important, or that traditional texts have no meaning. Even Carl Sagan thought they did:
Aristotle divided his Physics from his Metaphysics for a reason. Metaphysics is just that, its outside of physics.
Not exactly, it was posthumously labeled so because the chapters were after Physics.
I suppose Aristotle had some reason for separating those subjects from the study of nature, but Aristotle also divided his “Gait of Animals” from his “Movement of Animals”, so I wouldn’t infer an unbridgeable gap between subjects from his writing choices…
all beg the fucking question.
End of story.
Yes, I suppose for some people, trying to find meaning proves that the seekers are sissies, because they’re making the silly assumption that there’s meaning to find. Because if their balls were big enough they’d admit that there wasn’t any. That’s what you’re saying, right? If you’re trying to find meaning, STFU because there isn’t any, you pansy? Accept that when you die, you rot, and STFU?
I feel kind of dirty watching you grapple so intimately with that massive strawman.
No. Would you listen if I said what I did mean or would you prefer to go on ignoring what I tell you I think?
And have a nice day.
Well, thanks for being a patronizing, self-righteous dick pimple and assuming that I haven’t already *grappled* with the views I disagree with because I might have, you know, grown up steeped in them before encountering the real world. How’d you come to your astounding conclusions about my ignorance, anyway? Oh, right: because I profess to find certain ideas devoid of substance–ideas that just happen to stand in valiant opposition to big, bad scientism–I had to have been born sucking at the teat of Dawkins- and Dennett-ism.
If you’re the spokesman for the philosophical Big Leagues, then why not paraphrase some of that ever-so-amazing sophistication overflowing from the arguments of Taylor or Habermas or whothefuckever as it applies to whatever’s under discussion? Why not defend your beliefs in your own words and tantalize us with this whole other world we’re missing instead of posting a link, sitting back, and telling yourself you stumped us all (or would have if only we had the intellectual fortitude to slog through your mental-masturbatory materials).
Because, as was the point of my original reply, there’s nothing to distinguish any of these hypothetical “other ways of knowing” from the vast buffet of wish-thinking/word-salad systems of pseudo-profundity they resemble so exactly. Respect, so far as ideas are concerned, is something earned, not something given away to anything that can be strung together into grammatical (but not necessarily coherent) language.
Despite your bluster, you still don’t go beyond “believe what I do and you’ll understand.” Been there, done that, played through the whole magical Choose Your Own Reality adventure. I’ll stick with science because it doesn’t ask me to believe first and look for confirmation later; it doesn’t pander to me, telling me I can confuse what feels good with what’s true; it doesn’t let me work myself into a knot of contradictions and lies for the sake of some superficial orthodoxy of universal harmony.
And if you’re worried about wasting time here, how about you fuck off entirely and save the <a> tags for people whose arguments go beyond pointing to their favorite authority.
But do have a lovely day yourself.
Jon posts over at Mooney’s blog, I think – IIRC, he posted the same link to bloggingheads that is supposed to change our minds about “spirituality”. Didn’t he say he was a bullshit artist, er, philosopher? Or am I completely mistaken about that?
Didn’t he say he was a bullshit artist…
Right, as I was saying, we could also have a conversation about bowel movements. That kind of messes up having a meaningful conversation, but unless the conversation involves freaking lab equipment at some point, it doesn’t matter anyway, right? I get it. Bowel movements, “disenchantment“, both are under the the phylum of bullshit, so who cares?
Well, technically, no one has to prove anything to anyone. But if they want to be taken seriously, or treated with respect, then they need to back up their assertions with evidence.
Simple, really. Why do so many find that so hard? Could it be that they lack the evidence? Nah, billions of people can’t be wrong…
“Spirituality” [or “spiritual”] is the most familiar label we have in English — not the best label, just the most familiar — for the sense of awe and wonder and connectedness that I think all “normal” human beings can feel about the cosmos and other living organisms in it.
But “spirituality” is also a kind of mildewed, shabby curtain behind which incoherent ideas are hidden with the hope of making them seem profound.
In 1981 I was a basic rationalist/humanist till I went to a New Age festival and encountered Baba Ram Dass (Richard Alpert). He bowled me over and I went all Spiritual for at least six months. I read the books, burnt incense, meditated and chanted and thought I had moved beyond cold, hard rationalism. I also met some lovely people and got a taste for barfi and chai. It slowly went stale as I found that it was just religion by another name – and not even as coherent as conventional religion (which I didn’t want a bar of). I spent most time with Siddha Yoga, but went off that when one of the Gurus was kicked out and then written out of their history, as if he had never existed (I remembered the line about being doomed to repeat it). I did actually benefit from the experience, because it taught me a lot about how other people think, but I saw too much heartlessness and selfishness among the feeling good to think that it actually made people behave better.
I never completely abandoned rationalism/materialism, but experimented with the notion that “spirit” is something that the “mind” does, and “the mind” is something the brain does – processes rather than entities. Today I’d use an analogy from IT, computers, software+data, performance. But I’m not sure these days if that is saying anything useful.
Before I read all the comments, as I wrote on Mooney’s blog, the whole idea of sprituality is vacuous. It means whatever people want it to mean, making it useless, or it refers to things we already have words for, like emotions, making it superfluous.
I agree with Jerry, the whole idea of compatibility ignores the basic incompatibility and hopes to disguise it with wishy-washy feelings and cheap sentimentality. It’s dishonest and seems to me like a “don’t look behind the curtain” or “don’t look behind you” type of idea.
Debating with Simpson=attempting to nail Jello to the wall. In addition, he was wrong in crediting Jesus as the inspiration for King, it was Gandhi via the Gita.
Simpson wants Jerry to tone it down at his blog because otherwise he can’t suggest WEIT to his students because they will reject it? Boy oh boy! I refuse to tiptoe around the religious.
Slippery slope may be a logical fallacy, but religion making good people do bad things is a documented fact (like my Catholic mother disowning her daughter for life because she married a Jew).
Bad things are done in the name of religion, never in the name of atheism (not the same as bad things being done by atheists.)
What’s a moderate to do? Hemmed in by two extremes? The poor darlings, they should blather more, that should help.
Michelle–I think MLK’s writings make clear that it is Jesus’ teachings that Gandhi embodied that so impressed him. Gandhi also said that he was influenced by the teachings of Jesus.
In case it was missed, Timothy F. Simpson said in an earlier long thread:
“StAn–where we would disagree is over your use of the terms “real” and “fictional”. You assume what you call reality is real. I say it’s a construct based on your own presuppositions and attendant value judgments. It is, in my view, no less a construct, and thus no less a fiction, than my or anyone else’s worldview.”
Which pretty much ends the possibility of advancing the discussion.
I don’t know what Timothy Simpson was saying. But even Plato thought the world that we see wasn’t quite the true one and you have to make some sort of journey to see things right (see the parable of the cave). And see Richard Rubenstein on the difference between Plato and Aristotle and the consequences of that for Western intellectual history:
Have you even read the works you name-drop here?
Aristotle “denied the existence of a world of absolute intelligibilities separate from the natural world”. Well said, so do we. Rubinstein describes a philosophy that in many respects resembles the ideas you ridicule elsewhere in this thread.
You miss my point. The philosophical schism, “the differences between Plato and Aristotle” is why I included the link. These differences haven’t been resolved in 700 years and they’re not going to be resolved now, either.
Check out this painting by Raphael:
Both views, I think, are internally consistent, but have a different focus. New Atheists want want philosophy to be all empiricist. Plato’s bothersome subjectivity has been transcended by SCIENCE (cue the Thomas Dolby).
Are there not facts about the world and the universe that are the same for everyone?
What, I get no reply?
Yes, and there are other things as well that are under philosophical dispute.
So what demarcates those facts about the universe that are the same for everyone that you agree exist (unless I’m misinterpreting your “yes”) from those that are under philosophically disputable?
“Yes, and there are other things as well that are under philosophical dispute.”
Don’t play too loose here. Facts are consistent, though interpretation of those facts can be under dispute. Some, or all of those interpretations can be wrong, but mutually exclusive interpretations are not both ‘right’
Well, name some “facts about the world and the universe that are the same for everyone” and we can talk.
Materialists believe that mind is a product of matter, Idealists (such as Christian Scientists), that matter is a product of mind – the mind of God. (When the faeces hits the ventilator, though, they start behaving as though matter is real enough.) So you have mutually exclusive viewpoints right there.
How about the boiling point of water on earth at standard temperature and pressure? How about the processivity of E. coli DNA polymerase? How about the turnover number of superoxide dismutase? How about the specific gravity of a 2M solution of NaCl? How about the fact that one cannot live without a head?
Make that the boiling point of water at standard pressure. One could go on in this vein ad nauseum, but you get the point. How do you categorize facts such as these?
The philosophical schism, “the differences between Plato and Aristotle” is why I included the link. These differences haven’t been resolved in 700 years and they’re not going to be resolved now, either.
I know what you’re referring to. I’m saying it’s inconsistent to ridicule those who think the question can be resolved in the favour of empiricism, and at the same time refer to the authority of Aristotle.
I’m not personally referring to Aristotle as an authority, except in the sense of what he introduced into intellectual history. I’m just saying the split is old. Insisting that it heal right now in favor of empiricism is making a demand that isn’t going to happen inside the academy, let alone outside.
Lyotard wrote the obituary of these kinds of explanations nearly thirty years ago. Hawkings would have done well to have read it.
This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.
By the way, Tim, you’re wrong about the reason for widespread denial of AGW in the US.* The primary cause is a well-funded and -orchestrated campaign by corporations and the ideologues at their think tanks. (This history is discussed in detail by Oreskes and Conway in Merchants of Doubt.) Their cause was helped by some of the people you admire. You may be interested in this article by Bruno Latour, who is commendably capable of critical self-reflection:
*It would take hours to cover all of the other matters you’re wrong about.
As Carneades Thales Strato, I find that the latter two tried to keep teleology out of science, in contrast to Aristotle. They fought in effect for teleonomy- no final causes or intent, no wanted outcomes. To add teleology to teleonomy not only violates the Ockham but also contradicts teleonomy, and thus science and itself as, Victor Stenger ever insists, can in fact deny the supernatural as the Primary Cause.
We naturalists don’t bear the burden of denying the supernatural but we can do so with this atelic argument, buttressed by science and the Ockham,which it exhumes!
Dr. Coyne himself in ” Seeing and Believing” buttresses the argument- t he Lamberth atelic or teleonomic argument. He, Ernst Mayr in ” What Evolution Is” and George Gaylord Simpson in the ” The Life of the Past” eviscerate the teleological arguments along with Hume and Kant by their presenting the scientific basis for this all-encompassing argument against any intent behind miracles, patterns as designs and so forth!
Furthermore,such as Gilberson, Ayala, Collins and Miller beg the question of that intent in their teleological arguments, at basis, one with ID. No intent finds itself as fine-tuning, probability, from reason and design.
Theology is dressed-up animism behind one spirit instead of the many! Theology argues that the square circle or married bachelor that God is, is meaningful!
Jerry,please take on haughty John Haught, Ian Balfour and Keith Ward so as to illuminate the bankruptcy of theologians- whom Stenger would call the ” premise keepers.” They present the case for the sterility of theology from what little I read from them.
Folks, check the blog noted above and add your welcomed comments!
Ah, as to Mooney, why we all can be Quinten Smith naturalist pantheists- we are in awe of Existence! Yes, that can unite us, yet the gulf is still wide betwixt science and superstitions!
This post-modernist nonsense is exactly why we cannot be allies. We can be short-term temporary allies in the fight against creationism, but in the fight against irrational thinking, you and I are on opposite sides.
Indeed. I noted the same quote in 41 above, and concluded similarly. This really is the sticking point. Not surprisingly, the incongruence goes unaddressed.