The week’s worst defense of religion

October 9, 2010 • 5:12 am

From Uncle Karl, who finds it hypocritical for atheists to attack the regular-Joe believer, since his is a diluted and distorted version of the real faith—the faith espoused by theologians:

The second straw man I want to dismantle is the naïve “believer” that Coyne insists represents religion. Like Dawkins in The God Delusion and other New Atheists in their various screeds Coyne seems to think that the “majority view” held by uninformed believers with a haphazard collection of ideas from Sunday School is the true definition of religion. The religious ideas of these believers are then contrasted with the scientific beliefs of well-educated scientists. And—big surprise—they don’t fare too well in the comparison. . .

Let us suppose by analogy that we attached the label “science believer” to everyone who passes the standard roster of science courses in high school and affirms that, in general, they accepted what was taught in those courses. Now we have a group that is genuinely analogous to “religious believers.” Suppose now that a well-educated theologian was describing the beliefs of these “science believers,” and using the results to evaluate the credibility of science. The theologian would note that these people really were “believers.” They loved their iPhones and thought highly of the engineers and scientists who made them possible. They are excited about space travel and encountering aliens some day. When they get sick, they look to medical science for help. Sometimes they watch the Discovery Channel and they all loved Avatar.

But what would “science” look like, were it defined by these “believers”? From actual polls and other sources we know that the physics would be an incoherent mix of Aristotelian and Newtonian ideas; most of them would accept astrology and think that a “dowser” with a stick should be consulted before you drilled a well. UFOs and aliens would be accepted as real; some would report having been abducted by aliens. General Relativity, the most important theory in cosmology, would be completely unknown; quantum mechanics would be perceived as a way to influence the world with your mind and the scientific proof of free will.

Suppose that Keith Ward or Alister McGrath critiqued the scientific community for the collection of irresponsible things accepted by their followers, the “science believers.” Suppose they wrote books with titles like “The Science Delusion,” “Science is Not Great,” and “How Science Ruins Everything”? Coyne and company would cry foul immediately and say that the “science believers” were not authentic representatives of science, because they didn’t understand it very well.

And yet all of the “science believers” would have had far more education in science than the typical religious believer has in theology. Science as “lived and practiced by real people” is quite different than the science promoted by the intellectuals like Coyne and Dawkins.

Yes, but these “science believers” don’t cause problems.  In contrast, the “typical religious believers”—and not the sophisticated theologians—are the ones suppressing women and gays, taking all the fun out of sex for everyone, preventing the distribution of condoms to prevent AIDS, stoning adulterers and burning witches, filling young kids with Catholic guilt and fear of hell, fighting stem-cell research and the teaching of evolution in schools—and dividing human from human through irrational superstition.  People who misunderstand quantum mechanics don’t disenfranchise gay people or fly planes into buildings.

96 thoughts on “The week’s worst defense of religion

  1. science is not a system of belief and the difference is not if it causes trouble or not.

    it’s an evidence-based tool to understand how the world works, and if said evidence contradicts a previously-held idea, that idea goes out the window.

    1. His false analogy tries to compare theology, where all you have is opinions, to science knowledge, where you deal with facts and evidence. Epic Fail. He also uses the No True Scotsman fallacy. I’m oddly tempted to go and see just how many fallacies he uses.

      Besides, most of the atheists I know also attack the deplorable state of science education in this country, so, to use a line from my students, we are just “haters”. Can’t cut anybody any slack.

      1. His false analogy tries to compare theology, where all you have is opinions, to science knowledge, where you deal with facts and evidence.

        Yes. I tried to point that out near the end of the comment I just posted at BioLogos:

        Why should anyone accept that “the intellectual leaders of the religious community” are the slightest bit relevant?

        Whereas scientists actually study reality, “sophisticated” theologians don’t have anything more meaningful to say than the unwashed masses that Giberson demands we all ignore. The theologians are just smarter, sneakier, and better at avoiding blatant howlers that directly contradict observable fact. They’re simply better at running away from the crushing grip of reason than the rank-and-file are; how does that make them the slightest bit deserving of attention?

        As Coyne points out (and Giberson conveniently ignores), the ignorant religious masses actually do things that affect all of our lives. Theologians, shut up in their ivory towers where few but other theologians care about them, don’t.

        The in-comments observation that theologians engage in something they call “peer review” is just hilarious. Scientific peer review ensures that one scientist’s work takes into account other work—other examination of reality—that has gone before. How exactly does “review” of one person’s flights of meaningless fancy against someone else’s bring anyone closer to truth about anything?

    2. Yes. And this is the perfect place for me to propose my own framing change:

      NEVER say: “Do you BELIEVE in evolution?”

      ALWAYS say: “Do you ACCEPT evolution?”

      Evolution exists independently of whether people accept it, just as gravity and photosynthesis do.

      This re-framing is not only more accurate but also rhetorically puts the burden back on to the questioned: Why don’t you accept something that is true?

      1. Agreed Penman, I always point out the distinction when people ask if I believe in evolution. It’s why I also dislike the term ‘evolutionism’. Makes it sound like a belief system (and often creationists will mistakenly throw into that term things like atheism, Big Bang origin of the Universe etc)

  2. I love your last line, Jerry.

    All of Karl’s argument still dodges the question. What do sophisticated theologians know that would make gnu atheists fall to their knees and say we’re wrong?

    1. Agreed – since we can show those who think that homeopathy works they are wrong, based on evidence…where is the evidence that the average theist is wrong? What do the theologians have as evidence, not just talk?

  3. His argument by analogy stinks of post hoc fallacy where he seems to misattribute science believer’s confusion to science when the proper blame should go to religion. I wonder if there would be such science believer confusion if religious believers weren’t given such free reign to assert their beliefs.

    1. Exactly. The quantum nonsense that claims the mind can control reality, for example, is directly linked to all sorts of new-age spiritual beliefs. Quantum nonsense is also regularly invoked to defend more mainstream religious beliefs, like mind-body dualism, and even to explain how God can interfere in the world without violating the laws of nature, or without us noticing.

  4. I think all these theologians have hurt feelings. We’re giving all the attention to the run-of-the-mill, common believers. We’re not giving any to the big, important theologians and all their big, important theologising.

    It’s rude, is what it is.

  5. another issue is that they’re unable to truly understand the difference between religious belief and the scientific method — which is why we get a plethora of descriptions of science in religious terms.

    can’t be done.

  6. Something has been missed here – science does not require belief. I don’t have to BELIEVE in the effects of gravity to know that it’s not a good idea to step off a cliff. I don’t have to BELIEVE in electromagnetic waves to listen to the radio or watch TV. I DO have to BELIEVE that having sex with someone I’m not married to will condemn me to an afterlife in a lake of fire.

    Furthermore, most rational people are sceptics when it comes to outre phenomena like alien abductions, dowsing and astrology. Some of us might be willing to admit the possibility of such things, but few would commit to a blind belief without firsthand experience. A gadget freak may “love” an iPhone, but the engineers who created it are not given the veneration religionists give their ministers and priests.

    That said, I do believe that there is a spiritual component to our lives that cannot be quantified, but I also believe that it lies entirely within each of us.

  7. So, all he’s saying is that only theologians are true believers?

    Can I quote him on that in my discussions with non-theologian religious folks?
    Can I explain to them, that according to uncle Karl, they only THINK they’re religious, but really aren’t, and thus aren’t worth my time arguing with them?

    1. Ah – but you see, there you’re arguing based on the non-theologian’s understanding of a person’s accountability to statements that person has previously made.

      It’s really unfair how you atheists keep arguing under these unsophisticated assumptions. If you really knew the sophisticated and in-depth nuance of the overall methodology applied to argumentation by elite theologizers, of course you would see the errors of your ways, and wouldn’t have a shred of an argument to put forward.

      Of course, I’m not going to tell you about the in-depth nuance that we theologians possess. Simple exposition is so… crude, somehow.

    2. Actually, it’s entirely probable that theologians are among the weakest believers, simply because they are the ones who are most aware of the fallacies in religious thought. They are, however, the ones who filter the nuanced arguments to the rank-and-file wh are expected t mindlessly accept the dogma.

      1. Actually, it’s entirely probable that theologians are among the weakest believers, simply because they are the ones who are most aware of the fallacies in religious thought.

        As Dennett said here: “we often heard two jokes about the seminary experience that was part of the training of most clergy: ‘If you emerge from seminary still believing in God, you haven’t been paying attention,’ and ‘Seminary is where God goes to die.'”

        1. Indeed, after reading Karen Armstrong’s ‘History of God’ I really thought she was an atheist. It seemed the only logical attitude from her writings!

  8. How can anyone be considered well educated when they believe that there is an invisible man who created everything in existence and knows everything there is to know?

  9. No True Scotsman. Karl is attempting to construct a false conflation argument via reverse engineering. What he forgets is that science is a method that “the majority” can only converge on once the efficacy of the method has been established. This is the point of Sam Harris when he states that there is no such thing as Muslim or Christian physics.

  10. Oh look: more gibberish from Karl the hayseed. His barn must be overflowing with straw to stuff his field of thousands of straw men. He makes up the most ridiculous nonsense to prop up ‘theologians’.

  11. Can Uncle Karl demonstrate that the ordinary believers are wrong? In which way are they wrong? Didn’t Jesus exist? Wasn’t he god’s son after all? Didn’t he die for ‘our’ sins? (Insert whatever silly dogma that is held by ‘ordinary’ believers).

    It’s the Courtiers Reply all over again.

  12. Since there isn’t any ‘science creed’ for the science believers to follow, he just comes up with anything that comes to mind, with hilarious results.

    According to him, science believers believe in astrology, divination, and alien abductions. Then he (bizarrely) adds in “When they get sick, they look to medical science for help.” Silly science believer! Why would you do a thing like that?!?

    This post made me laugh a few times, thanks for sharing!

  13. I have stuck a very critical comment below Uncle Karl’s gibberings; I wonder how long it will be before some craven editor at Biologos removes it.

  14. Not to mention that this is about the most condescending piece of crap I’ve ever seen! He has constructed the biggest dust filled caricature of a hand puppet to attack that I can remember. It would be fun to construct a parody of a “typical redneck Christian” from the same stuff, except that it would be taken as too harsh and shrill.

  15. I once got in a lot of trouble making the statement that I “believed” in science. Yes, it was pointed out that science isn’t a belief, but I was inarticulate in describing my position: I don’t know what top scientists know in their respective fields, but I believe that they know, and that science means the search for the truth, no matter what it is or where the search leads.

    I develop software and I know that subject quite well. I encounter fluffy “beliefs” all the time from users who think they know how the program works. And they do doubt my explanation when I tell them what the program is actually doing. But the code doesn’t lie.

    1. I don’t know what top scientists know in their respective fields, but I believe that they know,

      There is a difference between faith, the belief in the truth value of an assertion without evidence and trust.

      You trust that scientists have knowledge in their respective fields and you are free to verify this at any time, although that verification may involve a lifetime of education and work.

      Which is another difference between religion and science, religion is easy, you can memorize and regurgitate the tenents of most religions in a few hours, but any significant contribution in science can take years of hard work.

  16. This is an absurd argument. The fact-based criticisms of Christianity mostly amount to criticisms of what is stated in the Nicene Creed, which was written explicitly to quell the civil wars that erupted from “naïve” popular interpretations of the Gospel. Here it is:

    We believe in one God,
    God the Father, the Pantocrator,
    creator of heaven and earth,
    and all things seen and unseen.
    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only-begotten Son of God,
    begotten of the Father before all ages.
    Light of Light, true God of true God;
    begotten, not created; of one essence with the Father
    by whom all things were made;
    who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
    and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary,
    and became man.
    And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
    suffered and was buried;
    and on the third day He rose from the dead according to the scriptures.
    Ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of His Father;
    and He is coming again in His glory to judge the living and the dead;
    whose kingdom shall have no end.
    Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the Lord, the Giver of Life,
    who proceeds from the Father;
    who with the Father and the Son, is worshiped and glorified;
    Who spoke by the prophets.
    And in one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
    We confess one Baptism, for the remission of sins.
    We look for the resurrection of the dead,
    and the life of the age to come. Amen.

    Which bits of the Nicene Creed does Giberdon reject as “naïve”?

    1. The Nicene creed is exactly what I think of whenever I hear claims that the gnus are treating all religions as if they are fundamentalist. As far as I know the Nicene creed is a good summary of not just the official Catholic belief but of almost every Christian denomination.

      1. And so it should be, since it was the officail statement the new, cleansed State Religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine.

        Got rid of all those heretic Manichaens and Arianists quite nicely.

  17. The one fundamental point Giberson overlooks is that religion isn’t real. Theology isn’t the study and observation of reality – it is a system of arguments and assumptions that are untestable, unprovable and, outside of a theologian’s mind, imaginary. And in a discussion like this, it’s not the behaviour of the believers that matters, it’s the fundamental reality of their claims. Science is a process of learning that tries to answer questions about the world. Religion has no answers or explanations, so has nothing to add to the conversation. Science aside, literature and the arts contribute much more to our understanding of the world than any religion ever has.

    Besides, isn’t this cruel of Giberson, implying that those who lack sufficient understanding of their faith aren’t proper believers? It sounds to me like he’s condemning anyone who’s not a theologian to hell.

  18. So Uncle Karl is creating strawmen in order to deal with what he perceives as a strawman?

    Who in the WORLD has he been talking to about science? Dousing? Astrology? UFOs?


    I think Uncle Karl is like one of those “funny uncles” who you have to invite to family events out of obligation, but who you warn your kids to steer away from.

    Don’t sit on Uncle Karl’s lap, whatever you do. He might try to … ick … convert you.

    Seriously, Dr. Coyne, I don’t see why you even bother attempting to refute him. It’s self-evident, self-refuting, banal, simplistic, non-sophisticated sophistry. Boring, trite, factually wrong, and intellectually vapid.

    And, of course, Uncle Karl’s ‘sophisticated theology’ isn’t practiced nor believed by the vast majority of those who he seeks to shelter under his loving embrace.

    Most of the theists I know think he’s a heretic. As doomed to hell as you or me.

    Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  19. Would a room of theologians gathered from around the world share the identical ‘sophisticated beliefs’ of others in the room? No? Then I guess their ‘sophistication’ adds no value to the quality of their beliefs.

  20. Clearly God is only looking for the eternal company of those who can fathom and dissect the intricate nuances he possesses.

    Blessed are those with a Doctorate of Divinity at top earthly universities, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

  21. I think this says something interesting about who follows BioLogos. Clearly, Giberson is equating actual belief in supernatural agency with belief in UFOs, but he seems to know that he’ll get away with it. Ah, reformed atheism.

  22. strawman is the right word. The argument seems to be

    Since there are many people who don’t understand things that are natural (i.e. science-based reality), it shouldn’t bother you if you don’t understand things that are supernatural (i.e. “religious truths”)…

  23. I just posted this on BioLogos’s forum. I’m curious to see how long it lasts….

    The thing is, what believers believe really is so unbelievable as to beggar belief.

    Almost every Christian I’ve met believes that Jesus reanimated a putrid corpse, and cite the story of Lazarus as one of utmost importance.

    Many also believe there was a massive zombie invasion of Jerusalem at the moment of Jesus’ death. I’ve heard Christians speak of the Signs and Portents, including the saints who rose from the grave to the amazement of all, with awe and wonder.

    And I don’t think there exists a Christian who believes in the Resurrection — surely as foundational a pillar of Christianity as any — who doesn’t also believe that Jesus invited Thomas to fondle his intestines through the gaping wound in his side.

    Though there exists controversy over the Eucharist, uncounted millions of Christians believe that a certain magic spell can turn stale bread and cheap wine into the living flesh and blood of the reanimated corpse who himself reanimated corpses, and who also believe that eating and drinking said flesh and blood will result in their own corpses being reanimated.

    These are not strawmen caricatures of Christianity; they are its core tenets.

    It is these beliefs which must be addressed, not abstract theology.



  24. Religion ennobles faith. It encourages the inane notion that what you “believe in” is more important than what you do or what is true. Those infected with the meme, tell trusting children that horrible things will happen to them if they don’t have faith and fabulous things are coming for those who believe the right magical story.

    Science ennobles reason. It has an error correcting mechanism. It does not reward magical thinking.

    That’s a big difference that theists accommodationists, and faitheists refuse to acknowledge. I don’t care how moderate or how sophisticated the faith is, the premise behind it encourages childish, primitive, and often dangerous thinking. This effects more than the indoctrinated.

  25. There’s fantasy and there’s reality. There’s no amount or education or word-smithing that can turn one into the other. With respect to religion and belief in god, I sometimes want or prefer the “unsophisticated” believer – they’re far less tedious.

  26. In fact, contra Giberson, atheists are known for energetically attacking those of their number who espouse irrational silliness, to the point where many wanted to take back the atheist award given to effective media voice Bill Maher because he rejects conventional medicine, many jumped down Randi’s throat despite decades of effective public skepticism when he made some silly remarks about global warming, and so on. Show me examples of some allegedly deep-thinking theologians who publicly condemn the TV preachers who rant about hellfire to shake down their credulous audiences. I haven’t seen any, despite the constant gibe directed at gnu atheists, “you’re just as bad as the fundamentalist Bible literalists”. Then why don’t those hypocrites direct a little of their vitriol at those fundies who they supposedly find “just as foolish” as the gnus?

    1. True. Uncle Karl should be going after the unsophisticated theology of the believers.

      Robertson, Ratzinger, Craig, Warren, Hagee, and all the rest.

      Clean your own house first. Convert all of them to your sophisticated belief, then we might start to have a conversation.

      I believe the metaphor with regard to the likelihood of that happening is “snowballs in hell”. But, of course, I don’t want to appear unsophisticated because the concept of hell is probably not included in the gnu theosophy.

  27. Actually, those science misbelievers can cause problems – especially when they fall for such nonense as AIDS denialism, the anti-vax movement, healing by SCAM instead of evidence-based medicine, especially for potentially fatal conditions (cancer, childhood illnesses). Heck, even buying that idiotic power balance bracelet can take money out of your pocket that could have been used for better things.

    That said, I think in sheer number of problems causes, though, they can’t hold a candle to religious believers. Both must be fought, but Karl’s “not-true-Chrstians” are the bigger danger to society as a whole, at this moment.

    1. In fact, I think if you might be able to graph this using side-by-side Venn diagrams.

      On the left the overlap between religious believers and belief in things like dousing, UFOs, astrology, and all the rest. Methinks the overlap would be quite strong.

      On the right would be the overlap between non-theists and belief in the “other woo” if one may be permitted to encapsulate. I think there would be an extremely small overlap.

      A testable hypothesis. One wonders if Uncle Karl would be willing to put his money where his mouth is.

      I sincerely doubt it. Which is why he is so full of shit, his eyes are brown.

      And now, I’m off to watch football.

      1. I’ll take that bet if you’ll modify it from believers vs nonbelievers to strong believers vs weak believers. I suspect you’d find that the stronger a person’s religious belief, the less likely they are to go in for SCAM, etc, because their world is already enchanted. It’s like everybody wants to possess special knowledge, and if you’re not sure about the sky god, maybe you can find it somewhere else. Cold rationality like the gnus’ is quite rare.

        1. I think something like that has been done. I can’t remember exactly where I saw it (here?), but I think you are right – it’s like everyone has a limit on the woo they can believe in, and when it is filled they ignore the rest.

          But, you also have to look at what their belief system accommodates as well – for some religions, demonic possession is real, as is faith healing, which can both be independent “paranormal” beliefs.

          I think that if we can get people to start looking critically at all their beliefs, then maybe we’d see a drop in that, but critical thinking is a never-ending task. You have to keep it up, and for some, that just seems to be too hard (for whatever reason they do it).

      2. Well said, Batboy.

        I think it’s actually quite clear – given the ubiquity of both iPhones and ‘naive believers’, especially in the USofA – that Karl’s ‘science believers’ and the Gnu’s ‘naive religious believers’ are, by and large, the same people.

        Doesn’t say much for either science education or religious education, does it. Maybe it’s time to revisit Kahneman and Tversky yet once more.

  28. Perhaps we should point out a few home truths to Karl.

    Let’s start with the Biologos slogan: “Science and Faith in Dialogue.” Is this what Karl thinks dialogue looks like?

    But the really sad part about this particular part of his ‘straw men of atheism’ argument is that we don’t speak about people who know some science as ‘science believers’. Why not? Well, the whole point of science is to come as close to the truth as we can, so science is whatever has been discovered at the leading edge of science at any given time, including the questions yet to be answered. A ‘science believer’, if there were such a thing, would be someone who held that this is where you would be most likely to find the truth, at the cutting edge, where scientists were testing and retesting theories, and in the confirmed theories upon which those cutting edge theories depended. It would be quite silly to speak of a science believer as someone who believed that what he understood about science was the truth, because someone who believed in science would have to acknowledge that he only knew a smal fraction of what had been discovered.

    But put the same question to a religious believer, and it certainly is not the case that a religious believer is someone who believes that whatever the most sophisticated theologians believe is likely to be the truth. In fact, quite the contrary is the case, in general. This wouldn’t be religious belief at all, because religious belief is something that, in some sense, governs one’s whole life. One of the most frequent remonstrances of preachers is that people are not living their faith. Sometimes they suggest that people should read the Bible more often, or find out more about what the church teaches, but, ultimately, it is aimed at putting the faith into practice.

    But the big difference is this. If a religious believer asks his or her priest, say, “What do we believe?” (a question that is more frequently asked than you might think), there is very often nothing definitive that the priest can say in reply. He can say what he (sometimes she) thinks the church teaches, but there is no completely unquestionable source of belief, since, in the end, it comes down to questions of interpretation. Even catechisms — like the Catechism of the Catholic Church — leave a certain amount of latitude for interpretation, but, even if they didn’t, there is no way to demonstrate that these prescribed or authoritative beliefs are true. And that’s the important thing. There is no test that can be performed to show that this belief, shared by all Anglicans, say, is true, while that contradictory belief, held by Baptists, say, is false. And a lot of it doesn’t make any clear sense anyway, as a glance at a few books on the Trinity or the Atonement will establish. (And of course the same thing applies to Islam and Judaism as well, because everyone keeps pointing out how diverse these religious are.)

    In an interesting Roman Catholic document entitled Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, published in 1990, and signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, we read the following:

    … it is one of the theologian’s tasks to give a correct interpretation of the texts of the Magisterium and to this end he employs various hermeneutical rules. Among these is the principle which affirms that Magisterial teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its argumentation, which may derive at times from a particular theology.

    Which means, being interpreted, that even when you show the Magisterium to be wrong, it is still right (by divine assistance). And this implies a further principle:

    The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent. In fact this freedom does not indicate at all freedom with regard to the truth but signifies the free self-determination of the person in conformity with his moral obligation to accept the truth.

    To put is quite simply, there is no choice, and no basis for making a choice, aside from the authority given to certain utterances or statements at the time, whatever is vested with that authority. The problem with religion is that there are no accepted methods shared amongst the religious for deciding questions of religious truth. Science doesn’t have this problem. There may be disagreements, even questions that cannot be answered at this stage of the development of the scientific project, but in principle there are decision procedures that scientific propositions have to meet in order to be included amongst the things that are scientifically known. That’s why some of the questions cannot be answered yet, because there is no obvious error theory to assess the answers.

    And that’s why religious people are a stnading danger, because religious belief is not subject to any publicly accepted test. Religious belief simply is what any given religious person believes at the time. (And it really is disingenuous of Karl not to acknowledge this.) It may be true that I might say, “Well, you may believe that, but that’s not what Anglicans believe,” and I could probably demonstrate that by reference to Anglican formularies. But John Spong is an Anglican, and what he believes certainly doesn’t agree with the foundational documents of Anglicanism, the historic creeds, the decisions of the first ecumenical councils, the 39 Articles of Religion and so on, and he hasn’t been dismissed for heresy, so far as I know.

    And Karl Giberson? Well, so far, rather embarrassingly for him, he turns out to be a man of straw, don’t you think? (And this man is a scholar?!)

    1. Good god – those excerpts are staggering. Gold, Eric!

      “Magisterial teaching, by virtue of divine assistance, has a validity beyond its argumentation.”


      “The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent.”

      And these are the people who are always solemnly assuring the world that with them faith and reason are totally combined and compatible and basically just the same thing. Oh really?!

      1. Ophelia, you are taking the view that Catholicism is a valid religion. I think it is reasonable to regard Gibersons argument as dismissing Catholicism in its entirety – or at least in its traditional and current form.
        In a way Giberson’s approach is almost scientific – he seems to be whittling away every false hypothesis so that we are left with the best system. As usual it’s difficult to extract what Karl really believes so perhaps we can give Giberson a list of theological positions that he can mark off as being false.
        OK Karl, here’s a list for starters.

        Roman Catholicism
        Southern Baptist

        The question again Karl is whether the official teachings of these religions are, in your opinion, wrong. It would be so helpful to us to understand where you are coming from.

      2. In re. “The freedom of the act of faith cannot justify a right to dissent.”

        I guess that would be why there are 2800 (or whatever the number really is) cults.

        But here, thanks to a post on Facebook, is a perfect example:

        Note the sidebar, too. The USPS seems to have issued a Mother Teresa stamp(!) I’m sure Hitch will want to stock up.

    2. (And this man is a scholar?!)

      And notice what kind of scholar he is, according to BioLogos:

      Karl Giberson is a science-and-religion scholar

      Get the hyphens, as if science-and-religion are, and are universally known to be, inextricably attached. Typical Templeton stealth bullshit. They make me itch.

      1. Actually, I think that means that he studies the interface between science and religion… but still, not a lot to study there.

    3. Religion’s big question seems to be “what do we believe” while a skeptic, atheist, critical thinker, scientist has the question “why do I believe it” or (if you catch it early) “Why should I believe it”.

    4. Apologetics is completely reactive; it can only respond to what is already known – so apologists fit their religion into current scientific understanding with the assumption that this is all that can be known. The problem is god keeps getting squeezed out of all the gaps.

    5. Yes, as Ophelia says, those quotations are gold. I think that one good thing about Roman Catholicism is the clear dependence on a really dictatorial authority, an authority that is mystified so that it may be claimed to derive from God (‘The Church’s teachings’, etc, as though popes, cardinals and suitably intimidated and spineless Vatican theologians never really had a hand in creating these teachings). The Anglican Church, in its more eirenic way, tries not to bring up the question of its authority too much – though it is, I think, a serious claim of the Anglican Church that it represents the true catholic church (the Roman Church having descended into merely superstitious beliefs and practices); the question of authority is still very much there.

      1. “…the Anglican Church that it represents the true catholic church (the Roman Church having descended into merely superstitious beliefs and practices)”

        Wot?? Which bit of the Anglican belief system is not “merely superstitious beliefs and practices”?
        And as for the RCC having “descended” to this level, given their current kiddy-fiddling, tax-dodging, misogynistic, criminal-concealing millennia, I should have thought that mere superstition would have to be squarely ranked as a stellar ascent!

        1. I am sorry, but I think you read a little more carefully and sensitively, and take context into consideration. The Anglican claim that it is the true catholic church depends upon the associated claim that the Roman catholics have descended into mere superstition (as opposed, in the Anglican view, to true religion). That from an atheist’s point of view the Anglicans are no less superstitious than the Roman Catholics goes without saying. Does that make the point clear?

          1. Not at all.
            In no way whatsoever.
            Not even a bit.
            That self-identified “Anglicans” have, by fiat, declared that their brand of superstition trumps that of of the RCC is of no value in their claims of legitimacy.
            You seem to be asserting that the Anglican’s claim of logical superiority rest upon the acceptance of their own irrational claims to the dependency of the RCC’s dependence upon superstition.
            And what does the intercourse does that have to do with their mutual MUTUAL misogyny, infant-rape etc?

            1. I really do not understand what the matter is. Are you genuinely unable to read? I have merely pointed out that, historically, the Anglicans have based their claim to be the true catholic church on the assertion that the Roman Catholic church has descended into ‘superstition’, which is something that Christians regularly oppose to what they suppose to be the one, true religion. I have nowhere endorsed the Anglican claim, which is as arbitrary and unfounded as the RC claim. Nor have I even suggested that the Anglican claim has any value. I am merely pointing to what has been the Anglican Church’s claim to justify its separation from the Roman Catholic church. Your final sentence, by the way, is so ill-written as to be incomprehensible, and in all honesty hysterical shriekings about intercourse, misogyny, infant-rape have nothing to do with what is at issue in these posts: which is the dictatorial dependence upon a mystified authority by Christian churches, both RC and Anglican (and the rest of them as well).

  29. Be honest, guys: if we didn’t go to Science Church at least once a week and recite the Niscience Creed with fellow believers — “I believe in Gravity, …” — how many of us would go on believing in Gravity?

    Believing makes it so, and that takes reinforcement, tithing and a paid clergy to do our thinking of us. It’s the same with either Science or God.


    1. You believe in Gravity! Do you believe in Dark Matter, or are you a heretic! Answer, or face the Science Inquisition! (we do have fluffy pillows)

  30. I’m going to create an accommodationist/apologist Fury-O-Meter, which will measure just how furious I get when I read the drivel churned out by these people. Kent Hovind and Berlinski and Comfort would surely be at the top of my meter, with W.L. Craig and D’Souza following close behind. (At this point, Mooney would be right up there with them.) Ordinarily, I’d say Uncle Karl would be lower on the meter than any of these guys, but this latest piece places him right at the very top: He and Bob Wright are now off the charts for me.

    1. Try to base it on the latest Irony Meter technology. The latest version (Mark 10,000 or so, IIRC) still gets broken by creationists and IDiots, and Apologists, but it will work better than if you start from scratch.

  31. Another important difference:

    Scientists are actively trying to change these people, improve their understanding of fundamental science. We’re having trouble, but we’re doing our best.

    Theologians are not doing ANYTHING to change people’s ridiculous religious beliefs. Indeed, they seem to actively encourage them, and they get angry when we criticize them.

    1. That is the whole point of their mind-virus.
      Truth is a vaccine for their concocted & vacuous notions.
      They avoid it like, well: like the plague, if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors.

  32. Rereading this piece by Karl, it occurs to me that he and his fellow apologists actually have their own language. I mean, at a certain point, when a group’s way of communicating becomes overwhelmed by a certain characteristic (in their case, that characteristic is the fallacy), it becomes not-at-all-unfair to say that that overwhelming characteristic is their language. And so Uncle Karl’s is the language of the fallacy. He appears to be literally incapable of communicating without resorting to a fallacy of some kind. Therefore, it is pretty much useless to say to Karl “Hey, that’s a fallacy!” because he won’t get it. That’s just how he expresses himself. It would be like saying to someone who communicates in sign language “Hey, you’re using your hands! What gives?!”

    1. The world of theology seems to be largely made up of “what-ifs” and “maybes”. It’s not really surprising that people immersed in that sort of intellectual environment would become blind to some kinds of fallacious arguments.

  33. Ok, so let’s ask something to Keith Ward and Alister McGrath then. Why do they think there is a God? Why gays shouldn’t be able to marry? Why should kids be taught creationism in high school? et cetera.

  34. Now we have a group that is genuinely analogous to “religious believers.”

    Perhaps. Aside that analogy isn’t equivalence, Uncle G(l)ib’s problem is that there is no analogy to religion in science, not at the factual level but also not on the societal level.

    “Science believers” in general don’t even use science even less participate in science (with individual exceptions, of course). Religious believers are actively participating, in fact making religion what it is.

    Uncle G(l)ib world view is insane. Well, no surprise since religion is at its base insane.

  35. Gnu Atheist sez:

    “Accommodationists like to think atheism is a religion. They also like to think science is a religion.

    “”It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.””

  36. The analogy would hold only if “Keith Ward or Alister McGrath” attacked “science believers” AND “real science”. Atheists reject both the man-with-a-beard religion AND the supposedly sophisticated religion of the philosophers (or we do when we can get them to say what the hell it is).

  37. I submitted this post to BioLogos, but only after the thread was swamped by an argument between a few posters, and I still don’t see that my submission was posted. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’ll copy and paste my submission to BioLogos here:

    Giberson says Coyne attacks a straw man — naïve Sunday School Christianity. And BioLogos posted a photo of a scarecrow on this page to represent this — naïve Sunday School Christianity. At the same time, Giberson disparages the real thing the photo represents — naïve Sunday School Christianity.

    So according to Giberson, naïve Sunday School Christianity is:
    — A straw man when Coyne attacks it,
    — A real thing when Giberson disparages it.

    Hat tip to BioLogos for illustrating Giberson’s incoherence with the photo.

    Maybe my hat tip to BioLogos put it over the top for them — but maybe we never know what they think. Anyway, to Jerry Coyne, you are my standard in defining “accommodationism” clearly and consistently. I agree with your policy to present “Just the facts, ma’am.” This does not make me intolerant — quite the opposite — my policy represents the present state of science, and helps people think for themselves.

  38. Theology is the study of precisely NOTHING.
    Get over it, faitheists and goddly-coddlers.

    We refuse to get to the back of the bus any longer, and accommodating Uncle Toms like you are a part of the problem.

  39. Let’s give Giberson a little credit. It’s true that average high school graduate have a miserable understanding of science, and what little they know they take on authority. I’ve had liberal non-believing college graduates ask me “What good are ants?” (Social science majors, what can you do.)

    The obvious response is to agree that we Americans do a terrible job of educating students in science. It is rather striking that they don’t learn the foundational premise that there is no authority besides nature itself. What they usually learn instead is that a terminally boring teacher is drilling facts into their unwilling heads.

    A love of science, could we instill it, is a wonderful way to dispel belief, and students encumbered by religion necessarily find science difficult to embrace, but even if we could somehow free them of that baggage we’d still have to do a better job of educating them than we’re doing now.

  40. Note that even if Giberson’s analogy would be correct, and “naive science believers” are analogous to “naive religious believers”, there would still be a large problem for religion. Religion has had 2000 years to do something about the lack of religious education of its followers. Why are they still so uneducated about their own religion?

    Science education, on the other hand, is a lot younger than that. No wonder its job of educating the public is incomplete. But more than that, science education has actively been opposed to this very day by quite a few of those religious believers. Their religious leaders aren’t exactly trying to stop them either. But maybe they don’t actually know theology either? Clearly, theology didn’t do its job, and still comes out looking worse than science.

    1. Theology HAS done its job!
      Its job was, and always has been, to cower the populace with impenetrable baffle-gab, so that the hierarchy can live comfortable, parasitic lifestyles.

      That is what theology has always aimed at, from lone shaman to pope.

  41. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    Enough with the strawman arguments, Jesus!

  42. Giberson’s analogy is a bad one. Theologians are more properly analogs to philosophers of science and scientists are more properly analogs to clergy, since scientists and priests are practitioners while theologians and philosophers of science consider the theoretical underpinnings of what the practitioners practice. Let’s take Roman Catholicism since that’s what I’m most familiar with. It’s the Catholic Church’s leadership that investigates miracles and digs up bodies to find evidence for sainthood. They publish their catechism, what every Catholic is supposed to believe, with exhortations to believe in a literal Adam and Eve, the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus, and in a resurrection of the everyone’s corpses (no matter how decomposed). This is not just religion as interpreted by simple folk. This is religion as the Church instructs people to practice it. And it is this which is properly the object of our criticism.

  43. Disappointing response, Jerry.

    You attack lay-people for their beliefs. Experts retort that arguing against uneducated misunderstandings is like shooting fish in a barrel (creationists, incidentally do just the same, arguing against the misunderstandings about evolution that many people hold). Then you reply that its okay because they don’t fly planes into buildings? I mean, that was a rapid right turn into a cliff wall I didn’t expect. Bizarre.

    Almost as bad as asking “sophisticated theologians” to put up their best proofs of God’s existence then, if they’re really so smarty pants (or asking an evolutionary biologist to produce a crocoduck).

    Sophisticated theologians *are* full of crap, but if anyone thinks that a smart alec reposte is all that’s needed to send them withering off to tend their intellectual shame, then they’re as misguided as someone who thinks that “if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys” is a great way to humble a biology professor into realising that evolution is bunk.

    It seems to me (and I, of course, know squat), that you can either enter into the game, learn the rules, and play along to win. Or you can just undermine the epistemic basis on which the game is played. Its a shame to see half-assed attempts at the former when the latter is just so adequate. All it does is encourage more “sophisticated theologians” to point and laugh (“and he actually asked me to provide evidence for God – haw haw haw, how naive”).

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