My debate with John Haught in Kentucky

October 13, 2011 • 6:09 am

The Gaines Center for the Humanities at the University of Kentucky runs a twice-yearly series of debates, the Bale Boone Symposia, on diverse topics.  Last night I participated in a debate with theologian John Haught on the topic of “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?” Needless to say, I was on the “no” side.

It wasn’t really a formal “debate”: each of us talked for about 25 minutes and then answered audience questions for about 40 minutes. The crowd was large, as I expected given the topic: the room was filled and many people were forced to stand in the aisles.

Since the talk was filmed, and I’ll make it available here when it comes out, I won’t recount the debate in detail.  I will say that I think our side came out well.  I had read six books by Haught and watched nearly all of his debates and presentations on YouTube, so I think I was well prepared. Much of my talk consisted of explaining the foibles of theology and the mess it gets itself into when trying to harmonize itself with science.

I illustrated those foibles with quotes from Haught’s own books—not to denigrate the man, but because he is regarded as America’s leading theologian who tries to reconcile science and evoluton with religion (Catholicism in his case), and also because he was there and could defend and explain himself. (An encomium for the man: Haught testified on the evolution side in the Dover trial.)

Haught had not prepared to debate me in particular: he gave what seemed to me a canned presentation, not referring to my views at all.  My take was that he seemed perturbed by my using his words against him. During the questions afterwards, took great pains to claim that all of the quotes I gave from him were taken out of context (they weren’t).  He also argued that I was a victim of scientism and that I needed to “get out more” because I didn’t understand religion.

My response (my sole response to a direct accusation, since we weren’t addressing each other) was that his quotes were completely in context and accurate, and that Haught’s sophisticated brand of nearly-apophatic faith did not represent the religious views of most Americans. I claimed that Haught was the one who needed to get out more and see what most American really believe (nearly 80% of us, for example, accept the real existence of angels).

Haught made his usual claims that scientists themselves have a form of faith: a faith that truth itself is worth seeking for its own sake, and a faith that the world is comprehensible through scientific study.  Both of these ideas, he argued, are evidence for God.  Although I didn’t address these directly, I can’t comprehend his logic here; and when we continued the discussion with students and faculty at dinner, Haught flatly denied that he meant those asssertions as any kind of evidence for God.  But he clearly did, and I think he was being intellectually disingenuous.

As for why we seek truth, I think it’s in some people’s nature to seek truth—but not everyone’s. One student, who was interested in music and poetry, said he didn’t really care that much about scientific truth, and we know that 64% of Americans (see previous post) would reject a scientific fact were it to conflict with their faith.  And surely some of our truth seeking stems from our evolved nature to want to understand the world, for that understanding once helped us survive. Now our own scientific curiosity piggybacks on that ancestral desire to understand. (Religion, of course, was the way we understood the universe in our intellectual infancy.)

As to why the universe is comprehensible, well, I fail to see how that provides evidence for God.  In fact, if there were a theistic God—and Haught is indeed a theist who thinks that God intervenes in the world—I would expect the universe to be not comprehensible, for God would be sticking his finger into the works continuously, destroying any physical laws or regularities  The point is that neither a comprehensible nor an incomprehensible universe gives evidence for God.

As I said, Haught denied at the post-debate dinner that this comprehensibility, and the “faith” of scientists in the value of truth, was evidence for God.  But he really does think that, and you can see that by reading any of his books (most of which, by the way, make exactly the same arguments).  Given that, I accused him at dinner of adducing a God-of-the-gaps argument by implying that because the universe was comprehensible, and we don’t know why, that means that God exists.

My own response is that, yes, we don’t understand why there are physical laws, and the answer may be simply “because that’s the way it is.”  But to interpolate God as an explanation is to do what Haught spoke against in his anti-intelligent design testimony at Dover: to use God as an explanation for something we don’t understand. He of course denied he was doing this.

At any rate, I didn’t have to argue much with Haught at the post-debate dinner, for the enormously bright and impressive “Gaines fellows” (all undergraduates selected for their drive and intelligence) pretty much took him down. I just had to sit back and watch these engaging and thoughtful students dismantle Haught’s fluffy ideas.

As for the debate, there was a standing ovation afterwards—the first, according to director Robert Rabel, ever given in these debates as long as he’s been running them.  Twice (once after the debate and once at dinner thereafter), Haught attributed the standing ovation to “Jerry’s groupies—the young people.”  I found this demeaning, and told Haught so: that I would like to think that insofar as the applause was for my side, it was due not to groupies but to the cogency of my arguments. But it’s clear that some of the approbation was for Haught, too, because there was applause for some of the points he made during his talk, and a few of the questions directed at me were hostile.

But I’ll post the video of the debate when it’s available and you can judge for yourself (I hope it includes the questions and answers).

In the meantime, today I’m off to the races: I’m watching the thoroughbreds run at the famous Keeneland Track near Lexington.  Thanks to the generosity of a Gaines board member, the Gaines family (of pet-food fame, now engaged in horse racing and raising), and Robert Rabel, the genial and impressive head of the Gaines Center, I’ll be watching the races from the private box of the Gaines family (coats and ties required to enter the boxes!), and will partake of a fancy lunch that’s been arranged at the track. I’m keen to see the whole megillah, from the parading of the thoroughbreds before the race, to the saddling of horses and their mounting by jockeys, to the races themselves.

I’ll try to document this all with photos.  This will be my reward for fighting superstitition in the South!  In the meantime, here are Professor Ceiling Cat’s groupies:

h/t: Grania Spingies for the photo

177 thoughts on “My debate with John Haught in Kentucky

          1. Is this the correction sub-thread? Oh, good.

            If I ever come to one of those debates, I’ll be sure to bring some sandpaper in case I’m forced to sand in the aisles.

          2. Typos like this “sand” for “stand” (both are proper) makes me wonder how much people are depended on spellcheckers? Type full ahead and then let the spellcheckers do their stuff?

            slow snails

  1. The sheer power, stamina and elegance of a racing thoroughbred (or 20) will be a nice reward for fighting the woo. Enjoy!!! They are noble animals in a tough world.
    (ahem – resident horse-girl transforms back into hardcore Skeptic)

    1. Yes, they’re admirable creatures, a product of human animal husbandry. But aren’t their shins (or whatever the equine equivalent name is), more than a bit too delicate for their own good? Is that not a bit of abuse for the sake of the Almighty Dollar? Yep, fracture or break a bone, put the horsie down.

      Why not instead race the sturdier, more resilient quarter horse?

      And while I’m ranting, it’s not the ownership of something (in this case a horse) by some moneybags that counts. It’s the horse and the jockey – and trainer – who should be grinnin’ for the cameras. For instance, take the Elgin Marbles. “Elgin”? Give me a break. All hail Lord Elgin. It should be “The English Peerage Thief Marbles” in that case.

      1. Filippo: I don’t know very much about the racing industry, but I’m absolutely sure, that some of it is horrendous. I’m sure some disgusting owners see the horses as machines that make money. BUT I also know that others make a big deal out of rehabbing their ex-racers, breeding animals that are sound for riding after their racing career, and animals that are sturdy and strong. So I think it’s wise to be sceptic when looking into racing and the whole industry, and to support the “good guys”.
        The animals are still overwhelmingly beautiful and proud.

      2. One hears that the greatest scandal these days is the widespread (& apparently legal) injection of horses with performance enhancing drugs.

  2. I’m sure congratulations will be in order, but, out of a sense of decorum, I’ll withhold them until after I’ve had a chance to watch the video and judge for myself.

    Oh — and even if it was young enthusiasm that drove the standing ovation, you can rest assured that the devotion they displayed was only secondarily to you as a person, and primarily to the power of the explicative nature of the ideas you promote.



    1. No doubt. I applaud the preparatory effort on Prof CC’s part, and eagerly anticipate applauding the lucidity of his arguments.

    2. We all know that it is really the hypnotic effect of ceiling cat (and the cowboy boots) that seduced Jerry’s groupies.

  3. You definitely keep a video camera all the time with you especially during lunch or dinner discussions. I think it would be delighted to see the clip from that exchange too (as a dessert).

  4. “intellectually disingenuous” = lying

    Haughty’s main rhetorical trick is the “science as just another ideology, metaphysics and philosophical view point”

    Clever but a lie. There is no such thing as “science” there are only scientific facts, data, predictions and theories based on the “scientific method” which is always changing.

    So when the term “science” is used, it’s “What science?”

    I hate when I have to sand in the aisle, it gets between my toes, i track in in the hose, etc…

    Haughty has abt as much gobbly gook as any endowed chair we’ve ever heard.

    1. If you don’t accept the use of “science” as a noun, are you justified in using it as an adjective? (“scientific,” as in “scientific method”?)

      How’s this for a definition of “science”:

      “a logical, organized way of investigating, discovering, and explaining reality”?

  5. Actually, Noether’s Theorem provides a pretty good explanation for the conservation laws, which are some of the most fundamental physical laws that exist.

    Basically it states that any symmetry in your space-time must lead to a conservation law; for instance, if physics is the same on Tuesday over here as it was on Wednesday over there, that directly implies that linear motion and energy are conserved.

    Of course, this does reduce to “well, why is space-time symmetrical?”, but there’s probably a good answer for that too – an asymmetrical space-time would have really really high energy states (you could make perpetual motion machines if space-time were asymmetrical – imagine Escher’s infinite waterfall, but in reality), and from what we can tell the universe seems to not like that sort of thing.

    1. This is better stated that the laws of physics are invariant under static time translations, which can be shown to be equivalent to conservation of energy. They are invariant under static spacial translations which can be shown to be equivalent to conservation of linear momentum. They are invariant under static spacial rotations which can be shown to be equivalent to conservation of angular momentum.

      1. As for asymmetries this comes out of a naive reading of Noether’s results, see my comment below.

        Standard cosmology, the self-consistent use of GR, preserves the energy of the system. (It is precisely zero.)

        To do that, something has to give when expansion happens. Luckily, energy is not conserved in GR because spacetime changes over time: “When the space through which particles move is changing, the total energy of those particles is not conserved.” That is why we see cosmological redshift (photons dispersing and stretched to lower energy).

        More fundamentally, energy is not globally defined in GR because time isn’t. In some cases, for example a symmetrically expanding universe, one can have a global time (as defined by the cosmological redshift).

        As a consequence, the global energy result of standard cosmology (rather all such FRW universes) follows from looking at the whole system, not GR as such. That the local energy density of our universe (background is flat space, i.e. zero energy density) happens to agree with the global result is a special case AFAIU.

      2. Oops. Some technicalities:

        – I mean that seeming absence of asymmetries is the naive reading.

        – And of course the dilution of radiation isn’t the redshift, it is a correlated consequence of expansion.

    2. Yes, this is well known, despite Coyne’s description. Physical laws stems from symmetries but also symmetry breaking.

      As for energy states and the universe having the opportunity to explore them towards lower states, it is because expansion sets up a cooling universe.

      You don’t even need to exploit entropy, which is lucky since it is a consequence of having many distributions to choose from. Some laws may be a consequence of choice over multiverses, but some surely followed after inflation stopped locally.

      Vic Stenger has a more basic description in his “God – the failed hypotheses”, but it applies to understand all the observed, universal [sic!], propensity for laws. He notes that initial hot chaos is the ultimate symmetric states, with a maximum of symmetries. Spontaneous symmetry breaking, say to an expanding universe, is simply an observation: natural systems do this eagerly for whatever reason. Hence out of chaos comes expansion, cooling and ultimately everyday low energy laws.

    3. Noether’s theorem is wonderful, including its more recent quantum versions. But there is some naivety concerning just how much one can extract from purely symmetry. I would recommend taking a look at Michael Spivak’s recent book “Physics for Mathematicians”. In particular pp. 469-470:
      “…this derivation is sometimes regarded as a proof of conservation of momentum that relies only on the ‘homogeneity’ of space. But the allure of this so-called proof is significantly diminished when we realize that the third law (i.e. Newton’s–P.H.) is already built into Lagrange’s equations….Needless to say,the more elegant,invariant and sophisticated the presentation of Lagrangian mechanics and Noether’s theorem, the easier it is to hide this fact, and thus appear to demonstrate that the basic laws of mechanics can be derived magically from symmetry.”


  6. As to why the universe is comprehensible, well, I fail to see how that provides evidence for God.

    Me too, especially since this comprehensible universe is supposed to give evidence for a God that sophisticated theologians insist is incomprehensible.

  7. Since Prof. Haught appeared to question the physical Resurrection Yeshua of Nazareth in his Dover testimony, saying that if a video camera had been present, it would have recorded nothing, there are many in the Christian communities who would question whether he is a Christian at all. For instance, physics Professor David Heddle of Newport Un., in response to a query from me on another blog stated emphatically that belief in a physical Resurrection is a necessary condition for a Christian.

  8. Just in case Mr Haught doesn’t quite get what it is that most christians believe, here’s a simple primer for him.

    1. That video really drive home what so annoys me about the story of Adam and Eve: “It was at this point that they became aware and understand good and evil“, and this is a bad thing? Knowledge is worthy of punishment?

      No wonder Christianity is so anti-science.

      1. Some theologians have supposed the “fall” was really a step up into consciousness. In other mythologies in that region, the snake was usually a good guy.

        Of course most versions of Christianity take the opposite view of the whole thing.

      2. One of many wacko things about that story.

        God told them not to eat that apple. So how were Adam and Eve to know they shouldn’t disobey god and eat that apple anyway.

        They didn’t know it was wrong. They, in fact, had no idea what right or wrong was. Until they…ate the damn apple.

        God tells them not to do something way above their current mental skills level. What an idiot.

        Many other problems as well. Where did that talking, walking snake come from and why did god let it hang around the garden? Isn’t he supposed to be…omniscient. And idiot could have predicted the outcome.

        And why plant his magic tree in the garden with two humans anyway? It’s a big universe. He could have planted it on Mars or somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy and let the giant squids of Kapix V worry about it.

    2. Wow, I’m an atheist, but apparently I know the Jewish creation myth better than the makers of that video. “Satan” isn’t named as the guy who tempts Eve — it’s just an anonymous walking, talking snake (and not an interloper, but “the serpent” — one of the many creatures with which God had populated the Garden). There were two year zeroes (0 BC, and 0 AD) on their timeline! And I liked how the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was the Apple Computer logo.

      1. Peter, you’re quite right about what Genesis actually says about the serpent, but most Christians equate the serpent with Satan anyway (as the video says).

        1. Yes I know — but that’s not what the book says. The serpent is just one of the animals running around the Garden — albeit, the most “subtil” one. He is punished for his impudence by losing his legs, and his many descendents are slithering around to this day. To say that the serpent is God’s disobedient angel is to go way outside the text.

          This is just one example, among countless others, of how religious beliefs and practices are based on tradition, rather than on a literal ready of their foundational scripture. And traditions change — “that old time religion”, to which so many of the faithful wish to hew, is most certainly not the religion of (the probably fictional) Jesus, or the Patriarchs.

          1. To the Jews, it’s just a serpent. However, to the Christians, it’s viewed as Satan, and that’s based on a couple of verses in the New Testament, not just on tradition. For example Revelation 20:2.

          2. I wonder if any sociologist of religion has made any serious attempt to collect all the “Christian folktales” which are known about by large swathes of the population where Christianity was or is popular but have no basis in the text. For example, James, the supposed brother of Jesus, is actually described as a “brother of the lord”, which is quite different.

      2. There were two year zeroes (0 BC, and 0 AD) on their timeline!

        Well, there would be. Year 0 AD would be year 1 BC and year 0 BC would be year 1 AD. Otherwise, they shouldn’t have used year 0 at all.

        1. Though a year zero certainly would make the delineation of decades, centuries, etc., much more intuitive to most people.

          Maybe the year 0 ABCD? 😉

  9. On my best days, I try to live up to the ideas that

    “truth itself is worth seeking for its own sake, and a faith that the world is comprehensible through scientific study.”

    It’s discouraging and a bit depressing that Haught finds this worthy of criticism.

    1. I don’t believe he does. The way I’m reading it, Haught didn’t dispute that the universe is comprehensible and that truth is worth seeking, nor did he criticize people who have that attitude. He only asserted that the attitude itself comes from faith.

      I suspect that his purpose was simply a defense of faith, in which case I think Stephen Hawking has the best response: “Science wins because it works.”

      1. If faith is defined as belief without proof, then it seems especially idiotic that Haught has a problem with [the belief without proof] that truth is worth seeking for its own sake, or [the belief without proof] that the world is comprehensible through scientific study.

        If, as you say, Haught is not disputing that the above is proved, why would he assert that the attitude comes from faith?

    2. This is usually not so much a criticism as a way to set up a poor analogy. Specifically, there are a few assumptions we have to make in order to form a coherent model of the universe that we can gather no evidence for. From there, if science has to make stuff up at its roots, why can’t religion do the same?

      This of course ignores the experimental confirmation and peer review parts of science that require it to change, but that is where the analogy miserably fails.

  10. On the other hand, it must be cool to even have groupies, young or otherwise.

    Perhaps these are just young people enthusiastic for science and somewhat bored with the religious doubletalk?

  11. On a serious point: “As to why the universe is comprehensible…”

    Agreed, this is neither evidence for or against the existence of god(s), but isn’t the universe only comprehensible to the degree that we can comprehend anything?

    I’m reminded of Richard Feynman (it doesn’t take much): “…while I am describing to you how Nature works, you won’t understand why Nature works that way. But you see, nobody understands that.”

    And (looking for something else just now) I came across this: “What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” — Werner Heisenberg

    And this is what we’re discussing here the other day, that science provides only arbitrarily close models of reality – to be sure, before Torbjorn leaps in, ones that asymptotically approach reality – but we (can?) never know how close we are (except within certain bounds).


    1. When theists insist on continuously asking “why” questions (“why is the universe comprehensible? why are the laws of physics the way they are? why is there something rather than nothing?”) they do so on the egocentric assumption that the answer to these questions can only properly terminate in a psychological explanation. What was the motivation? What was the intention? When we have that, then and only then will we understand the REAL “why” behind everything.

      To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. To members of a group-dwelling species who navigate themselves through life using psychological and social reasoning, the “problems” of the universe look like Mind-problems. In this milieu, the simplest answer to the question why is the universe comprehensible is to say that somebody wanted it that way.

      1. And then when we ask why that somebody wanted it that way, the answer is that it is a mystery and not something us humans should or even could endeavor to find out.

      2. To be fair, one of those questions is not like the others. In particular, “why is there something rather than nothing?” is different: it presupposes that there could have been nothing, which is, needless to say, in need of support. (Especially with conservation laws with no known “expiry date”.)

    2. What makes him think the Universe is comprehensible? Maybe there are problems that can never be solved, or maybe just never with our limited brains. So? Doesn’t mean we have to invoke a Big Daddy in the Sky to solve them, or even pose them. Nor does it mean we shouldn’t try, when we’ve come so far, so far, by trying.

  12. It does seem that when you have debates of this kind, its rare that you get an even 50% split between the theists and atheists, though there are usually always representatives of both sides. Clearly Haught was not used to being received by a large group of the opposing side… and I think that’s to the determent of him and his whole side. Nothing makes the quality of your rhetoric and argument decay faster than always having a sycophantic audience.

  13. One of the things that’s insanely common it seems is this idea that there’s some complex nuanced theology which is what Christianity really is and as such that’s what we should be debating against. You saw it in all the Sullivan stuff, and you see it here.

    I disagree 100% with this. When someone brings this up, my stock reply is that this doesn’t really matter. What matters is the wider culture and what the majority or significant minorities actually believe. And if what they believe is wrong, what can be done to change this? (Trigger the crickets)

  14. The point is that neither a comprehensible nor an incomprehensible universe gives evidence for God.

    We should really start painting theists in a corner for this. We should ask them if both a comprehensible and incomprehensible universe would be evidence for their god. Like you wrote right before this:

    In fact, if there were a theistic God—and Haught is indeed a theist who thinks that God intervenes in the world—I would expect the universe to be not comprehensible, for God would be sticking his finger into the works continuously, destroying any physical laws or regularities

    If both can be used for evidence for the existence of god, and both types of observations are mutually exclusive, this means that (according to probability theory) neither forms of evidence can be used for the existence of god.

    Let’s say we have some hypothesis H, the existence of god. And then we have E, the existence of a comprehensible universe. If the theist says that the probability of H given E is greater than the probability of H [P(H|E) > P(H)] then they have to admit that ~E (the existence of an incomprehensible universe) would be evidence against H. But, as you put it, ~E can also be used for evidence of H; an incomprehensible universe fits well with the hypothesis of an interventionist god.

    If a hypothesis accounts for both E and ~E then it’s the probability theory version of dividing by zero. In order to not argue the equivalent of dividing by zero, the theist has to admit that P(H|E) = P(H|~E), which is the same as P(H|E) = P(H), and this is the definition of independence. I.e., the evidence exists independently of the hypothesis; or, that our universe would be comprehensible independently of the existence of a god.

  15. “Haught made his usual claims that scientists themselves have a form of faith: a faith that truth itself is worth seeking for its own sake, and a faith that the world is comprehensible through scientific study.  Both of these ideas, he argued, are evidence for God.  Although I didn’t address these directly, I can’t comprehend his logic here[.]” (J. Coyne)

    This seems to be Haught’s line of argumentation:

    “PC1 Unless god exists, the universe could not exist.
    PC2 Unless god exists, the universe could not possess any order or regularity.
    PC3 Unless god exists, the universe could not be intelligible to anyone.
    PC4 Unless god exists, the universe could not be scientifically investigated.
    PC5 Unless god exists, scientific knowledge of the universe could not be gained.
    PC6 There is no feature of nature that could possibly be incompatible with god’s existence.
    Furthermore, as the entire naturalistic worldview is based on the intelligibility of nature and scientific knowledge, the creationist theologian can easily draw another conclusion directly from PC1–PC6:
    PC7 Naturalism’s foundations all necessarily require that god exists.”

    (Shook, John R. The God Debates: A 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. p. 164)

  16. He also argued that I was a victim of scientism and that I needed to “get out more” because I didn’t understand religion.

    What you really don’t understand about religion is its first rule: God exists, so find some way to make the concept make sense to you. Bend over backwards if need be, because somehow God — and belief in God — is where all the stuff you can’t hold in your hand exists. Emotions, values, stories, beauty: all this is at stake.

    So never say “God does not exist.” Instead, say “we used to think that God was like this — but now we have learned that God is really like THIS.” And then get all swoony.

    The problem isn’t that the atheists haven’t “gotten out more.” The problem is that we have gotten outside the box — and now we can think outside the box. Haught is simply coming up with more and more eloquent ways of thinking inside the box and calling it freedom.

  17. About the comprehensibility of the world: If there’s a God (or gods) who created the world with the aim of making it comprehensible to us, why should we expect the world to be comprehensible through-and-through via humanly accessible methods of gathering information?

    If gods are needed to make the world humanly comprehensible, or are even *the best explanation* for why the world is humanly comprehensible, then the world *isn’t* humanly comprehensible through-and-through via humanly accessible methods of gathering information, since some magic trick by gods is required, or best explains, that comprehensibility. Only if there are no godly magic tricks can we hope to understand the world through-and-through via our decidedly non-magical methods. Indeed, “comprehensible through-and-though by human beings” implies “in no way tricked up by magic,” and you can even remove the qualifier “by human beings” in that sentence.

    Contrary to what supernaturalists often say, gods *rule out* the through-and-through human comprehensibility of the world unless those gods are superfluous.

  18. “Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?”

    The religious belief at stake is the belief that there are imperceptible supernatural, spiritual agents (deities, angels, demons, or other ghosts) who are hidden causers or influencers of spatiotemporal events or processes.

  19. Greetings,

    I’d agree with you, Ant Allan (#16).

    On the contrary, the comprehensibility of the universe – rather than evidence for the existence of God – is evidence that evolution is correct.

    It’s comprehensible because extant organisms are the result of a evolutionary process, which has enabled us to correctly perceive and interpret our environment – those that were unable to either correctly perceive and/or interpret the environment died out.

    I also agree with Tulse’s and Ray Moscow’s comments to the video.

    Also, the video mentions that Adam and Eve, having been banished from the Garden of Eden, were subject to death.

    However, this is a error, I believe(!)

    There is nothing to suggest that they weren’t already subject to death within the Garden – else, why would there be a Tree of (Eternal) Life and the concern of God that they might eat of its fruit (Gen 3:22)?

    Kindest regards,


    1. Excellent point. My fundamentalist brother insists that even animals (including dinosaurs!!) did not die before the Fall! I will enjoy asking him about your point.

      1. The tree of life wasn’t even guarded until after the fall – I’ve always wondered if a few garden of eden animals managed to eat some fruit before the tree was off limits. That might explain why certain vermin are so hard to get rid of – they just can’t be killed because they ate of the tree of life. Eternal vermin! Did they sneak aboard the ark, or just tread water for a year?

      2. Greetings,

        Lou Jost, I was just wondering what date does your “fundamentalist” brother believe is the date of Creation?

        If the 4004BC/~6000yrs date, I’ve got some more ammunition for you! 😉

        Kindest regards,


          1. Greetings,

            That’s great news!

            And sad…

            I was SO looking forward to providing you more ammunition! ;(

            Kindest regards,


          2. James, if your ammunition is unusual, I’d love to hear it for future reference….I am a working scientist who has the usual bases covered. But internal Biblical evidence against the YECs would be novel for me. Unlike Jerry, I don’t have the energy to read every word of that book in order to debate against a patently ridiculous proposition. I admire Jerry’s fortitude and thoroughness, but I can’t bring myself to do it…..

          3. Greetings,

            Lou, as someone who’s arrived at “the fence” of Agnosticism from the Theist position, I think I have a number of Bible-based arguments against the YEC position which may be of interest.

            In fact, one can’t argue against YECs using science since they dismiss it out of hand – one has to, perforce, use the Bible to disprove their claims.

            [By the way, note how “God” refers to “himself” in the afore-mentioned Gen 3:22 – interesting, isn’t it!? 😉 ]

            I’ve been thinking of starting a blog dealing with these – and other – issues and interests of mine for some time, along with uploading YouTube videos. I’m still putting things together, at present, but to give you a taste of how I’d have handled the 4004BC YEC date for Creation, I’ll cover part of it here.

            Although you won’t find any definitive date for the Creation in the Bible, YECs base their belief for the 4004 BC date on combining a couple of well known passages and mistakenly reinterpreting them – as did the earlier writers (including Newton).

            You don’t need science to disprove their dating – the Bible disproves it.

            My approach has a lead-in (1) – or, you can just go for the jugular (2):

            1) The first passage is:

            2 Peter 3:8
            “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

            The important point to note here is the use of “is…as” and “as”.

            These are used to compare a day with a thousand years, and vice versa.

            However, there are only two possible states – “IS” and “IS NOT”.

            Literalists (those who take their religious texts literally) take this to mean that “a day IS a thousand years” – but this is not the case.

            Consider identical twins – Alice and Betty.

            We can say that:

            a) Alice is like Betty; Betty is like Alice.

            Or, to use the Biblical terminology:

            b) Alice is as Betty: Betty is as Alice.

            However, in saying this, we are also saying something else:

            c) Alice is not Betty: Betty is not Alice.


            d) A day is not a thousand years, a thousand years is not a day (to God).

            2) The second passage is from the Book of Genesis where it outlines the seven days of Creation (including the “rest day”).

            YECs take their date for Creation from “Bishop” Ussher – actually, he was a Archbishop (an even higher authority!) – from his published chronology: 4004 BC.

            [To my knowledge, this date includes a correction of 4 years, which was pointed out by a Spanish priest – hence 4004 instead of 4000.]

            The obvious question to ask is:

            Q. When did the purported first day of Creation end (if this “one day is a thousand years” holds true)?

            A. 3004 BC

            So, we have a list (where “EoD” stands for “End of Day”):

            EoD Year
            1 3004 BC
            2 2004 BC
            3 1004 BC
            4 4 BC
            5 AD 997
            6 AD 1997
            7 AD 2997

            Q. When did Ussher publish his chronology?

            A. AD 1650

            That places him in the midst of the sixth day of Creation.

            Which is impossible.

            Gen 1:31
            “And God saw every thing that he had made , and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

            “He had made” and “Ended”.

            Past tense.

            The sixth day had already ended when Ussher published his chronology.

            If that isn’t enough…

            Gen 2:2
            “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.”

            “Ended”, “made” (twice) and “rested”.

            Past tense.

            The seventh day also had already ended when Ussher published his chronology. (Which means that Seventh Day Adventists, and their ilk, are wasting their time!)

            [There’s more relating to the fact that, if the six days = six thousand years claim is correct, that means that the earliest possible date for the creation of Man is AD 997, and all human history would have had to occur since then, most of it between then and 1650, when Ussher published his chronology.

            Which would not only contradict his chronology, but clash with the Biblical history (Old and New Testaments), including – and most catastrophically – the accepted date for the birth of Jesus – 4BC!!]

            I trust that the above partial argument might prove a reasonable approach in combating YECs.

            Kindest regards,


          4. Greetings,

            I meant “He had made” and “Ended”.

            Also, I was told about the missing four years error by a priest at school many years ago. I haven’t found a reference for it though.

            Kindest regards,


          5. Greetings,

            Let’s try that again!

            I meant “‘He had made’ and ‘were'”.

            Also, the earliest date for Man would be AD 998 – the start of the sixth day. Though 997 would be as near as makes no difference.

            Kindest regards,


  20. In the nonpejorative sense, scientism is the view that “scientific perception”, i.e. methodically and intersubjectively controlled observations and experiments, is the most objective, most reliable, and most authoritative source of justification and knowledge available to us, and that the refusal to accept scientific knowledge in favour of philosophical or religious beliefs that are incompatible with it is irrational and deserves to be criticized harshly.

    1. it is the difference between prescriptive and descriptive. If I describe science as being the “most reliable source of knowledge available to us”, that can be a tentative claim that can be demonstrated to some degree (ie, it works). In other words, it can be thoughtful conclusion based on evidence. Not necessarily dogmatic.

      Much like atheism, people like to redefine it to be asserting a negative, because that strawman is much easier to argue against.

  21. I had the great pleasure of attending this debate. I took clips of the Q and A and I’ll post the links asap. Haught was eloquent but unprepared. He then said a few things I’m sure he regrets because he was so flustered. Thank you Jerry for coming out and spreading the passion for science and reason. This former fundamentalist is better for it. If you are getting rained out at keanland

  22. You know, there are some things I don’t quite understand:
    1.) Why should God make the universe incomprehensible ?
    I mean, God might always be seen as almighty, but why should He use His powers to make everything more complicated for the humans He appears to love?
    Besides, seeing things from a physicians point of view, I think that the comprehensibility of everything -the fact, that everything follows certain rules- is of course not a proof of His existence, but surely an evidence.
    Take only the theory of relativity.
    For everybody who first reads Einsteins theory it is just incredible to believe what it involves; if people can believe in This theory why should it be somehow mad to believe in God and his power ?
    2.) there are STILL things we cannot explain.
    things we cannot even imagine – i mean, how do you imagine things as “eternity” ?
    the universe is erternal. what does that mean? how can we describe that? where’s the start, where’s the end? is it like a circle without such marks? but even a circle has a certain size, what is about the universe?
    3.) evolution? yes, i believe in the quite probable possibility of evolution.
    but a) what can tell you it’s not Him behind it and b) there are things -even within the evolution- which are actually not logical.
    correct me if I am wrong, but why did the human stand up? where is the evolutionary advantage of going upright?
    4.) there’s one thing that really makes me curious, all of you saying that God is nothing but imagination (and i don’t mean the following questions to be insulting or something)
    a) What is love for you? just a release of hormones?
    b) why is there such a thing as sense ? if we are only some kind of evolutionary half-monkey, how come we have such a thing as sense? and
    c) how come we have a conscience? a feeling of Good and Evil?

    Like I said, I’m just being curious.
    Please don’t take anything insulting or disabusing, I just wanted you to know how “the other side” might feel concerning this topic.

    To me science and religion are neither compatible nor incompatible.
    They are totally different things – science describes how the world works (and this is great by the way) while religion likewise philosophie tries to answer WHY we are living and how we could manage to live a “good” live -however you want to define it.
    No modern theologist would/should dare saying that the bible shows us the truth about how we were “created” and about history.
    To answer this is the duty of science, not of religion.

    (I hope you can understand everything – I’m german and it was quite an effort for me to write this, so something could be spelled or expressed wrong..)

    1. Greetings,

      Jenni, you ask some interesting questions, which many have asked themselves before.

      Firstly, may I point out that I’m a former Roman Catholic from Ireland – I’d now call myself “Christian” in the general sense of the term. I’m technically “Agnostic Theist”, though I usually just say “Agnostic”.

      1.) Why should God make the universe incomprehensible ?

      It is not that God might make it incomprehensible intentionally, but Haught’s point being that we – as mere mortals – may not have the capacity to “understand the Mind of God”.

      Could a ant understand a human’s mind? What about a bacterium? That is the proposed difference between Man’s ability to comprehend God (or his Creation).

      2) As you point out, we find it difficult to conceive “eternity”. Einstein’s theories – and Quantum Mechanics even more so(!) – are incredibly difficult to get our heads around, yet they are based on mathematics, physics and the observed phenomena about us – belief in God is an attempt to explain something that we don’t currently know how to explain. That does not make it true.

      I happen to have a belief system which includes God – but it is like a computer model: just because the real world does not contradict it, does not mean that my belief system is true. Science says that if the model still works without including God, then this is a simpler model and is more likely to be correct.

      Watch Prof. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s (Beyond Belief 2006) explanation of how the greatest minds in history – time and time again – having reached the limits of their abilities to comprehend, keep using God to explain what they cannot.

      Part 1 –
      Part 2 –
      Part 3 –

      3a) Evolution stands on its own without the nee for God – as I mentioned earlier, if a model works without God, then it’s more likely.

      3b) What’s the evolutionary advantage of standing upright? There are so many!

      Go down on all fours and have someone stand beside you. How vulnerable do you feel?

      By standing upright, early hominids gained a height advantage over others (as I pointed out above); they could see farther (to the horizon), thus enabling them to become aware of food and danger at greater distances; and – most importantly – it freed up the hands to be more useful in hunting/gathering/protecting/attacking/etc.

      4a) Love – as compassion – is as much a result of hormones and biochemistry in the brain as much as any other emotion.

      This is the “simpler” explanation than one which includes God.

      4b) By “sense” do you mean “sentience”? Self-awareness?

      It is considered that that is a by-product of a more sophisticated brain.

      4c) Our conscience is as much a result of our upbringing as evolutionary factors.

      For example, if you were brought up in a family where incest was the norm, you’d consider it “ok” rather than unconscionable – strange as that may seem.

      Similarly for cannibalism, if you were brought up in a head-hunting culture.

      In saying all of the above, I’m giving the “simpler” explanation – the one which doesn’t include/require God – to show how these can be explained from a purely Naturalistic perspective.

      Perhaps others may well disagree with some or all of these. After all, I’m not a scientist – my background’s in the computer industry.

      Kindest regards,


    2. Thanks for making the effort to comment, Jenni. Danke schön!

      1. It’s not that God would deliberately make the Universe incomprehensible, but that an intercessionary or interventionist God (that is, a theistic God rather than a deistic one), would disrupt the patterns in the Universe and make a nonsense of scientific inquiry.

      However incredible Einstein’s theories, they explain observations and make testable predictions and are thus falsifiable. “God” is not a coherent hypothesis; it makes no testable predictions and cannot be falsified. But see also Stenger’s book, God: The Failed Hypothesis.

      2. There are still things we cannot explain for now. But naturalistic science has an excellent track record in explaining things that were previously unexplainable (without recourse to the supernatural). See Dawkins’s The Magic of Reality.

      Cosmologists have some good hypotheses about the infinitude universe; see various books by Hawking, Sean Carroll (the physicist, not the biologist; although his book on evo devo is good too), and Brian Greene.

      3. Well, God could be behind evolution, but there’s no evidence that either demands or supports that hypothesis. (Laplace could have been a biologist.)

      As for the evolutionary advantage of walking upright, well, there may be specialists who can give you a specific, detailed answer, but there clearly is an evolutionary advantage or we wouldn’t be as we are today!

      4. (a) “Love” is a psycho-social construct that abstracts the effect of certain hormonal and neurochemical states. Dawkins might argue that it is a set of memes that reinforce biological imperatives to mate and protect those with whom we share genes.

      (b) What sense of “sense” are you using? That we can perceive things? Well, clearly there is an evolutionary advantage of that. Or do you mean “mind” (Ger. Sinn?) or “consciousness”? Well, we don’t know. But it’s clearly an emergent property of the brain — to look for some dualistic explanation flies in the face of much evidence. And, again, it seems to have given us a distinct evolutionary advantage.

      (c) Our conscience, our sense of ethics and morality is another abstraction that reinforces evolutionary advantageous social behaviours. I’ll leave it to Ben Goren to chip in with a game-theoretic view on this.

      I’m glad you accept that science describes the way the world works. It might be true that few modern theologists would/should dare say that the Bible shows us the truth about how we were “created”, but — as you would see if you read through Jerry’s recent posts — this is exactly what a huge number of Christian believers do, in fact, believe — O(40%) of the US population, iirc.

      Science may not be able to tell us how to live a good life, but neither is religion necessary to do that; a naturalistic, secular approach to ethics and morality is quite sufficient, and that philosophy can certainly be informed by science. (If religion could tell us how to life a good life, why then is it so wildly inconsistent about what a good life is?)

      And be careful with that other “why”, “why are we living?”. We are living because generations before us lived, all the way back through the tree of life to a happy confluence of some organic chemicals in a warm lagoon or undersea volcanic vent or wherever it was. But if you mean, what is the purpose of our life, then all I can say is there is none as far as the Universe is concerned (see the Feynman quote below #34). There’s only the purpose we ourselves can give to our lives. (But trying to find that purpose in supernatural claims unsupported or contradicted by the evidence seems appallingly futile.)



  23. Sadly, I am not surprised to find all the arguments for god all too familiar. Moreover, the most common criticisms of these arguments remain as unanswered as they ever were. I am guessing almost any of the “Gaines fellows” could have done a decent job in the debate, if not the PhD level thrashing of Dr. Conye.

    I look forward to watching this.

  24. Here are some interesting tricks John Haughty uses. Dishonest but clever.
    – Competing Personalities and Authorities – “Scientists tell us.” No, data tells us. Specific experimental evidence, data and peer-reviewed and double blind experiments and rigorous attempts to falsify tell us.
    But saying “Scientists tell us.” frames the debate in terms of personalities and authorities. So then theological authorities are on the same level as scientific data and evidence since it’s all just about people, and what they believe.
    “Why does Dawkins trust his intelligence?” He doesn’t, to the contrary, he trusts the intelligence of a diverse group of other professionals. Like a school of fish. Duh.
    – “Science” as an Epistemological Belief System — Framing evidence as a belief system is a slick way to subsume the data and evidence into another discussion of natural language rhetorical arguments and belief systems. So philosophers and “philosophers of science” — whatever that is, act as a 5th column by letting this fake framing be applied in the arguments.
    – It’s All About Emotions and Storytelling – He indulges in all sorts of stories, myths, metaphors, poems, etc. Very effective at evoking emotions and shutting down critical thinking. Anytime Teilhard De Chardin is mentioned – head for the exits!! Or Einstein.
    Of course, he doesn’t do this purposefully. Like all pop celebrity speakers he just feedback what the audience responds to. He is a mere cipher for the emotions of his audiences.

  25. Haught made his usual claims that scientists themselves have a form of faith: a faith that truth itself is worth seeking for its own sake, and a faith that the world is comprehensible through scientific study.

    As usual, I’ll agree there’s faith involved, but hardly even an iota’s worth, and not quite exactly where he suggests it is.

    That the universe is comprehensible through scientific study may be taken as an inference from a more basic premise (that the universe has a pattern). Contrariwise, I don’t think in anthropological practice most scientists do justify this belief from more basic premises. Nohow, the alternative requires taking the Refutation, that the universe has NO pattern, which does lead to an equivalently valid worldview, but one in which God (and everything else) is an illusion, and which is thus usually considered dreck even by most philosophers.

    The notion that such comprehensibility is evidence for God seems likely based in a formal fallacy of affirming the consequent. “If there is God, there will be Pattern; there is pattern; ergo, there is God.”

    As to the worth of truth, that’s a value proposition; to go from “is” to “ought”, you need to have some additional axiom defining the ordering relationship on your set of choices, which cannot be inferred from the is-level premises. (Or more exactly, not in specific; existence of a set of such orderings can be shown constructively from the existence of the set of choices, but not which element relationship is meant by “ought”.) Contrariwise, I suspect in anthropological practice most scientists DO take this belief as an inference from more basic premises: a notion of “useful” (where some faith-premise like “human happiness and prosperity are good” is buried), and the observation that there has been a historical tendency for even “abstract” scientific understanding to contribute to being useful.

    1. “a more basic premise (that the universe has a pattern)” — Is it a premise? Isn’t it a simple observation that the universe has patterns — by day, by month, by season, by year, by generation — and thus natural to look for more subtle patterns elsewhere? It’s a working hypothesis that’s continuously validated.


      1. Yes, it has to be taken as an assumption. Formally: that experience has a pattern recognizable by some ordinal degree of Turing hypercomputation. This includes a lot of things that most people wouldn’t think of as having pattern. For starters: any finite data set automatically can be recognized. Thus, it can be described as if it had one — but does it?

        While silly, one may instead as I noted take the Refutation and again have an internally consistent interpretation. This would imply that any appearance of pattern in the universe is simply a local phenomenon, slightly akin to the sort of minor statistical fluke of getting heads four times in a row while flipping a coin, but more akin to the sort of islands of order that Ramsey Theory indicates is mathematically unavoidable for sufficiently large seas of chaos. That the resulting belief system is somewhere between nihilist and surrealist, and that it seems useless, does not mean it isn’t philosophically valid in the sense of being consistent internally and with the evidence.

        The problem with the idea of “continuously validated” is that the means of validation relies on at least some inductive reasoning – the basis of which must then have a justification presented that does not rely on any induction from evidence. It may be justified by the assumption of pattern, in which case justifying pattern as inference from it is circular reasoning. Alternately, it may be taken as a direct premise “on faith”, to leave the two reducibly equivalent — except Induction as premise usually is not precise about indicating the exact limits of when it is and isn’t appropriate to induce, and with what degree of confidence. Taking Pattern so induction instead results as a theorem takes care of that.

        On an aesthetic note, continuous validation also seems less resistant to critique from Last Thursdayists, or from Ken Ham’s bogus “operational-vs-historical science” distinction.

  26. No one needs to seek the truth. I could move to the country, grow apples for the rest of my life and never make claims about anything to anyone. But anyone who makes claims has made herself subject to epistemic norms that require that she have epistemic reasons (i.e. evidence) for those claims. The inconsistent thing about the theologians is that she makes claims while having no evidence at all.

    1. To me, the most inconsistent thing about theologians is that they make the sorts of unsupported claims about their religion that they wouldn’t accept in a fricking heartbeat if a theologian from a different religion made them.

  27. “As for why we seek truth, I think it’s in some people’s nature to seek truth—but not everyone’s.”

    I think this is somewhat self-refuting. Obviously most people don’t seek truth, that’s why we have so many delusional people in the world.

    And human nature? Lots of things are claimed to be part of human nature, but they’re often questionable claims.

      1. Maybe they just can’t handle the truth! Because the truth is that there are things we don’t know — and that frightens them… 

        I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and there are many things that I don’t know anything about. But I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell … possibly … it doesn’t frighten me.

        — Richard Feynman


  28. “Our side came out well.”?! Dude, I felt *sorry* for Haught when your talk was over. That is, until he opened his mouth later and revealed himself to be a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger effect and a dissembler (you took his quotes “out of context”, indeed.) My friend, who is not one of your “groupies”, agreed that you destroyed him and that Haught mostly spouted gobbledygook.
    I was curious about one thing: it seemed to me the audience was divided evenly between old and young people. Did you get a sense as to which was more on our side?
    Nobody approached my friend and I at Pazzo’s afterward, sorry I missed anyone. Though I did enjoy three pints of Three Floyd’s Alpha King and great ‘za.
    Thanks for an enjoyable evening, Jerry.

    1. The introductory slide for Haught’s talk said this:
      “When a superior man hears of the Tao, he immediately begins to embody it.
      When an average man hears of the Tao, he half believes it, half doubts it.
      When a foolish person hears of the Tao, he laughs out loud at the very idea.
      If he didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.”
      I’m not sure if this was meant to be profound or what but it sure as seemed bass-ackwards to me and my friend.

      1. It’s just a slightly spookier version of Psalm 14:1. Here’s my version: If you don’t believe what I say, then you’re stupid and ugly! Neener neener!

  29. lol. Science and Religion were compatible back when people were getting stoned to death. Oh wait…..I guess that still happens now in some parts of the world, so I guess those cultures have compatibility in their Science and Religion. lol.

  30. Wow, sounds like Haught denied some of his own words, contradicted others, played childish games & denigrated his opposition all evening.

    Are they core subjects at Theology school or are they electives?

  31. Science and Religion: Are they compatible?

    I was fine working with religion primarily until I had an epiphany. At that point in time, I turned back because I very sincerely thought that other people would be glad to hear my perspective on what’s ahead for them.

    The epiphany was especially related to the books I had been studying in The Theosophical Society and The Saint Germain Foundation. The epiphany further explained to me how evolution could be occurring. It involves two forms of life that currently are not recognized by science. The first is a higher kingdom that becomes physical by descending into the resident kingdom on earth: humans. The second is a type of life that doesn’t evolve, but involves: they are the angels.

    What happened was that previously where there had been one “migration” of life ever upward and onward towards the evolving of greater being, there now has become three intertwining threads of life: one ascending-one descending, two evolving-one(or more) involving.

    I had to change my vocabulary. Human became something that occupied 7 distinct stages in their evolutionary cycle. Are we human when we are half animal (descending into form) and half human? For three stages (our human descent, we are entwined with animals and our descending angels are replacing and advancing the evolving animals’ group of angels. While the e. animals and their angels ascend, we humans and our angels replace them on earth.

    After a period of time without e. animals who have left the earth while humans and their angels are here alone, the girasas kingdom begins its descent with their angels into the human occupied earth. Now it is the human kingdom on earth that is being replaced by the descend of the girasas. That is why we needed Genesis in the middle of our evolution. Because when the girasas kingdom first came to earth, we changed to receive them within our bodies and minds. As time progresses, they will become more and more knowable to us as we will see them in action and hear their words and directives, as they hear ours.

    The involving kingdoms comprise the entire natural world, but instead of growing and changing independently of each evolving kingdom, they accompany their respective evolving kingdom on both the descent and ascent. Hence our environments are particularly reflective of the evolutionary kingdom that we are and the world as we would make it with the help of i. animals, i. plants, i. minerals, etc.

    1. Brenda. Welcome & thank you. I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.

      I guess this is all your own work: 100 Year Old News:
      Theosophy and the Human Dino
      ? I was so pleased to see a crystal at the top of the page & I note that you now hang in California. All my woo prejudices converge here. Please throw quantum regularly into your comments to keep me happy.

        1. Well, you probably know more than I do about it, but I’ve been studying a particular literature and within theosophy they love to make analogies with findings in physics, so I’m sure some of the up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top of quarks could be applied. I’m just not sure how.

          1. I think you’d enjoy Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, then.


            PS. Before you plough this furrow too deeply, do realise that the names of the quarks are merely jocular. The quarks are distinguished by the physical properties charge, spin and mass.

          2. Capra and Marilyn Ferguson gave seminars at The Theosophical Society Headquarters in Wheaton, IL with Renee Weber.

          3. Quarks also have a physical property called “colour”, completely unrelated to optical colour and the subject of Quantum chromodynamics(QCD). (Disclaimer: I am not an expert).

    2. I thought theologians could waffle, but this is a stack of king-size Belgians. At least theologians theoretically have to stick within the confines of scripture – clearly no such restriction applies to pseduo-postmodern DIY smorgasbord new-age masturbation.

      1. I’ve studied it. I know there was a prophesy that someone during the last quarter of the century would shed additional light on theosophy. I waited and expected something tangible. Then in 1995, when the epiphany hit me, I had the responsibility thrust on me, and I had two small children and a husband. What should I be doing? It’s a long road to public awareness, but at least I don’t have to write a book.

      2. Theologians don’t seem to like it. Scientists don’t seem to like it. And worst of all the two organizations have shown no interest in my quest. I guess I’ll have to carve out a new segment of the population that is open to new ways of thinking.

        1. Perhaps you can first convince some Hollywood actors or pop stars. I mean, look what Cruise and Travolta have done for Scientology and Madonna for Kabbalism.


        2. I guess I’ll have to carve out a new segment of the population that is open to new ways of thinking.

          shouldn’t be hard.

          given that the Mormons did it.

          and Moon did it.

          and Hubbard did it.

          have fun!

      3. …this is a stack of king-size Belgians.

        More like something that comes out of Belgians.

        (The horse, in case any actual Belgians are reading this…)

  32. Both Haught and Sullivan are engaged in the most egregious, weapons-grade special pleading imaginable. Sullivan’s is more crude because he can’t see beyond the limitations of his intellect. (Let that sink in…I’ll wait….)

    Haught’s special pleading is more sophisticated because he has a much more highly functioning brain, but fundamentally, he still wants to have his cake and eat it to. He’s willing to throw absolutely every story in the bible into a metaphorical magician’s hat and STILL pull out the rabbit of belief that a god walked the earth and is the route to personal “salvation” in the after-death.

    Here’s an exercise for such sophisticated theologians. Throw the entire bible out the window. Don’t use it as the basis for any argument, nor can you use any theology or religious dogma that relies on even one verse. Remember, Haught declares that they’re metaphorical. A video recorder would have shown nothing on that first Easter Sunday. (BTW: I agree with him but for the simple reason that it never happened. It’s a fairy story.)

    What do you have as a result? Do you have a religion? Do you have the notion that a god that walked the earth? Do you have the concept of “salvation” in the after-death? Do you have the concept of eternal punishment for non-believers? (Non-believers in what? A metaphor!!!)

    Without some sort of empirical basis for your beliefs, you have absolutely and precisely atheism. Now, you might wind up with some sort of Buddhist ethics, but you certainly can’t get to Catholicism, nor any other Christian denomination (other than the fuzziest of UU-style shoulder-shrugging).

    Haught states that nothing happened, yet is firmly convinced that something happened. It’s an infinite regress of special pleading.

        1. To be fair, it seems obvious from the above comment thread (#40) that Brenda Tucker and btuc are the same person and that she was not trying to appear otherwise. She just has trouble managing her identities.

          I was rather enjoying the replies!!! We don’t often get that level of self-appointed world-changing theosophical quantum-mechanical prophet here…..

          1. Thank you, Lou. There’s quite a lot of thought material that accompanies a new theory. I’ve been thinking about how qualities may have some peculiar characteristics in the way that elements do. For instance, forgiveness is simply the way the girasas kingdom is duty bound to ascend all of the life on earth and if they are capable of ascending every human living plus all of the other types of living things that are not evolving (per se), then forgiveness makes sense. What choice do they have?

            When they go into our human constitution, we change. Perhaps it is a prison, but perhaps it is not.

            And then there is the quality of happiness. I began to think that happiness might be one of the only qualities that is not simply quantified by the girasas in their ability to produce more than we can. Perhaps it is VERY difficult for them to be happy in their situation – having to take a lower form or at least to invade it and conquer it and subjugate that form (of course but not to lose any of their gains). It is the human who is somehow endowed with this great sense of joy and splendor because it is the human receiving mega amounts of things we didn’t earn. We are given the advantages just by this higher kingdom being present in us. But I was thinking it really might be a human who is more capable of the quality of happiness due to this strange turn of events with the girasas having to “feed” off of us for their share.

  33. A word of advice to Prof. Coyne:
    The flashing photo may cause seizures in photo-sensitive epileptics.
    I nearly had one simply by looking at it for a second or more.
    It is at around the correct frequency to be quite dangerous.
    I can still feel the residual effects whilst typing this.

  34. Keenland! That’s fantastic. My wife grew up betting ponies there (thru her handicapper father, naturally). Her advice is to go see the horses themselves before they run to see which looks in the best shape. It’s worked for her!

  35. The intelligibility of the universe suggests that there is a creative intelligence behind the universe. As a metaphysical inference, this proposition is not subject to “God-of the-gaps” criticism. Moreover, it is a Procrustean affair to try and explain the mind’s astounding capacity to discern this intelligble order in terms of an outgrowth of our survival instinct, quod absit.

    1. The intelligibility of the universe suggests that there is a creative intelligence behind the universe.

      Well, it might suggest that to you!

      As a metaphysical inference, this proposition is not subject to “God-of the-gaps” criticism.

      No, but that doesn’t mean that the premises or the logic is sound. Please show your working.

      Moreover, it is a Procrustean affair to try and explain the mind’s astounding capacity to discern this intelligble order in terms of an outgrowth of our survival instinct, quod absit.

      You mean, it’s a bit of a stretch? Not at all: See the discussion elsewhere on this page. The Universe is comprehensible only to the limits of our ability to comprehend it. (And our ability to comprehend anything is much, much more than “an outgrowth of our survival instinct”! In fact, that may be a category error.)


        1. Hi Ant Allen,
          Thanks for your response. I was just taking a few elliptical shots at Dr. Coyne, who dismissed several points with a speed that would make even Pangloss blush. After all, the deeply intelligible structure of the cosmos was enough to convince the likes of Einstein that some kind of super-mind must be the ultimate explanation of the cosmos, whether pantheistic or deistic. If only Einstein were still with us, Dr. Coyne could have explained to him that such things are because they are.

          In regard to your request for elaboration, maybe something like this:

          1)The cosmos is an intelligible order, and the human mind is conspicuously suited to the task of discovering that order.

          2)Such symmetry between mind and cosmos merits an explanation.

          3)But there is no “bottoms-up” explanation of this symmetry. (such as evolution)

          4)Therefore the explanation must be “top-down”; for instance, a common logos which is the source of both cosmos and mind.

          Cheers, jb

          1. Hi Jorden — 

            Do I detect an argument from authority there? Einstein’s stature as a scientist doesn’t make his every opinion right.

            I disagree that the human mind is “conspicuously suited” to the task of discovering intelligible order in the cosmos. We know only what we can know, and we know that that knowledge is imperfect (cf. the quotations from Feynman and Heisenberg).

            Thus there is no symmetry that needs an explanation, whether bottom-up, top-down, or strange-charm.


          2. But there is a cycle. The circle and the cycle. Precipitation on one side and evaporation on the other. Descent into animal forms is quite different than Ascent with the indwelling of a girasas kingdom. And people want to say goodbye to animals – they limit us. We don’t want to say goodbye to girasas and return to animals, at least until we are trained as to the reason why it has to be.

            Therefore, this is not symmetry.

          3. Plus what Joshua Zelinsky just said (#50):

            Nature is comprehensible because we evolved in nature so we developed minds that can understand it. Indeed, nature seems a lot less comprehensible when one starts looking at the very large scales or very small scales. This is what one would expect: we didn’t evolve in a context where understanding the Minkowski metric or entanglement had anything to do with our survival.


  36. What a treat to attend this event. Haught was out leagued indeed. As Coyne noted, Haught gave a very general speech-nothing pertinent to Coyne’s writings.

    Most notably, was Haught’s comment that Coyne needed to get out more because he was mis-characterizing Christians. This was during the questioning period and was too late to get in line for a comment/question. However, Haught needed to be reminded that he was in KENTUCKY and many of the Christians in the audience were offended by his liberal views (ie accepting evolution and arguing that science was compatible)! KY is so ridiculously conservative that Haught was likely deemed a heretic for his liberal views. And here he was arguing that Coyne was off base for assuming Christians were so literal. Anyway, great to meet Dr. Coyne and speak with him for sometime.

  37. Thanks for the debate last night. I thoroughly enjoyed your part of the symposium. Haught was completely obtuse. There is a huge disconnect between academic theology and the actual beliefs of Catholic or Christians in general. His comment that you should get out more was completely laughable. I was glad to see you turn it around on him.

    I hope you enjoyed the horse races and wona few wagers. I am working at Keeneland this Fall Meet. If Haught went, I hope his winning tickets were only paid in metaphorical money.

  38. This is a most odious claim:

    a faith that the world is comprehensible through scientific study.

    You don’t trust a hammer because you have faith because of lack of evidence, you trust it from experience.

    The world is comprehensible. And as noted way up the thread it is well understood to be a consequence of symmetries and symmetry breaking ever since my science idol Emmy Noether developed her theorem describing that.

  39. Nature is comprehensible because we evolved in nature so we developed minds that can understand it. Indeed, nature seems a lot less comprehensible when one starts looking at the very large scales or very small scales. This is what one would expect: we didn’t evolve in a context where understanding the Minkowski metric or entanglement had anything to do with our survival.

    1. Nature is comprehensible because we evolved in nature so we developed minds that can understand it.

      Hmm, I don’t buy this line of argument.

      there are a great many examples of things that are readily understandable, that only science or careful observation bypassing common perception, has revealed.

      It isn’t hard for people to comprehend that the earth is round; they just needed to be provided with sufficient information to bypass limited perception.

      natural selection certainly would have no need to favor an understanding of this.

      Instead, natural selection WOULD favor minds able to process things beyond common perception.


      that looks like a clump of grass there, but could it instead be a lion hiding?

      1. Yeah, that’s a valid criticism of the explanation. The general flexibility of the human mind certainly comes into play and there may be at some level some deep issues also (e.g. why does the universe follow causal rules? If it didn’t comprehension would be much tougher.)

        But it seems that large parts of standard physics are easy to comprehend in part because they aren’t that far off from what we expect. Highschool students taking physics for the first time need to unlearn some intuitions they have which to some extent come from a naive physics. (The fact that a lot of their physical intuitions resemble how Aristotle thought things work is not a coincidence.) But Newtonian physics isn’t that far off from what they are used to. So it is pretty comprehensible.

        As things extend further from their intuition they become less comprehensible.

        Actually, another issue just occurred to me- it may be that the universe isn’t that comprehensible to most humans. The humans who can comprehend stuff much beyond Newtonian physics are certainly outliers. Even comprehending that the Earth is round happens rarely- most people who know that fact repeat it without being able to make much in the way of predictions that extend from that fact. So whatever traits allow even some not so deep things to be comprehensible may only belong to a small fraction of the population. If that’s the case, then the evolutionary argument I made must fail massively since the traits in question only seem to show up in a small fraction of the population. On the other hand, how much of that is due to environmental effects such as bad education systems?

        Hmm, on balance, this argument seems much weaker than I thought it was.

        1. …it may be that the universe isn’t that comprehensible to most humans.

          Oh, I definitely think we need to begin investigating that possi-/proba-/bility. It seems abundantly obvious to me. I can even (in my best evo-psych imitation) conjure up good hypotheses as to why it is not only the case but adaptive for a large part of society to be uncomprehending…

  40. Valuable racing horses that break a leg are not put down because the owners are callous but because, unlike dogs, they can’t learn to hobble on three legs or otherwise adjust to a cast. In some cases the owners try supporting the horse with slings but it’s unlikely to work. It really is a pity all ’round.

  41. > 64% of Americans (see previous post) would reject a scientific fact were it to conflict with their faith

    Well, that’s the only reasonable thing to do. What would be the point in having faith but then accepting it is wrong with mere science? Woudln’t be much of a faith.
    The silly thing is to have a faith at all. Once you have real faith in something, it is silly not fo follow it blindly.

  42. Cogent and reasoned, very nice 🙂 – There’s a typo in there (at least this is one that I saw – there are likely others, lol…) “asssertions” – Just in case you’re a perfectionist.

  43. Jerry Coyne, Mano Singham, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the other key atheists have it right. The haughtiness of John Haught to block the previously agreed to presentation of this debate shows the cowardice and loosing position of “those religious folks.” Man’s true place in nature is best shown by science, evolution and, of course, natural selection, NOT the supernatural. Europeans and other industrialized nations are increasingly seeing science as the answer, not religion. There has never been even one serious, peer-reviewed scientific article to bring doubt on the FACT of evolution. MachinesLikeUs(dot)org and edge(dot)org have the best resources and interesting articles on atheism and the real world views of the leading scientists.

  44. You know, the reason we used to like to say “Science and religion are compatible” is that we wanted to get a foot in the door…”science and religion” is better than “religion and no science”.

    In fact, science (truth, rigor) is compatible with everything. but not everything is compatible with science.

    That is…whatever you have, adding clarity of thought can only be a plus. But adding superstition is not a plus (unless what you have is something even worse…moving from one religion to another could be a step up).

  45. I really enjoyed your talk, Jerry.

    When will there be a transcript available? It would be nice to have a hard copy of the arguments and comments. It would also be nice to have copies of the explanatory slides that did not appear in the video.

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