Fulsome accommodationism at a pro-science site

A while back I wrote a piece about how a decent pro-evolution site at the University of California at Berkeley, “Understanding Evolution,” was marred by its pro-accommodationism stance, and was funded by the National Science Foundation.  To me that bordered on state endorsement of religion, because asserting the compatibility of science and religion is a particular theological stance.

Alert reader Peter, though, just informed me of a similar site, also hosted by Berkeley, called “Understanding Science.” As with the evolution site, it looks like a good resource for teachers; there are sections about how science works, the nature of evidence, and so forth.  But it’s also marred by its accommodationism, which is not a small part of the site.

Here’s one:

Misunderstandings of the limits of science

  • MISCONCEPTION: Science contradicts the existence of God.  
  • CORRECTION: Because of some vocal individuals (both inside and outside of science) stridently declaring their beliefs, it’s easy to get the impression that science and religion are at war. In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God. To learn more, visit our side trip Science and religion: Reconcilable differences.

The facts: many people, and not just scientists, do see a contradiction between science and religion.  Look at these data from a recent Pew survey (click to enlarge):

And a further correction to the correction: science can either support and contradict the existence of supernatural entities: all we need to do is test for the effect that those entities are claimed to have on the world. We can look, for instance, at the efficacy of prayer or the ability of rain dances to bring precipitation.  Why do accommodationists continue to ignore that and assert that science can’t “test” the supernatural?  We can’t test deism, but we can test theism. We have, and it failed.

Here’s another misconceived misconception from the Berkeley site:

  • MISCONCEPTION: Scientists are atheists
  • CORRECTION: This is far from true. A 2005 survey of scientists at top research universities found that more than 48% had a religious affiliation and that more than 75% believed that religions convey important truths.1 Some scientists are not religious, but many others subscribe to a specific faith and/or believe in higher powers. Science itself is a secular pursuit, but welcomes participants from all religious faiths. To learn more, visit our side trip Science and religion: Reconcilable differences.1Ecklund, E.H., and C.P. Scheitle. 2007. Religion among academic scientists: Distinctions, disciplines, and demographics. Social Problems 54(2):289-307.

1Ecklund, E.H., and C.P. Scheitle. 2007. Religion among academic scientists: Distinctions, disciplines, and demographics. Social Problems 54(2):289-30

The facts: scientists are far more atheistic than regular Americans.  As Jason Rosenhouse pointed out on EvolutionBlog about Ecklund’s conclusions:

Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% [of scientists] chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.

An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.” That makes 72% of scientists who are explicitly non-theistic in their religious views (compared to 16% of the public generally.) Pretty stark.

From the other side, it is just 9% of scientists (compared to 63% of the public), who chose, “I have no doubts about God’s existence.” An additional 14% of scientists chose, “I have some doubts, but I believe in God.” Thus, it is just 25% of scientists who will confidently assert their belief in God (80% of the general public.)

For completeness, the final option was “I believe in God sometimes.” That was chosen by 5% of scientists and 4% of the public. Make of it what you will.

Now explain to me, please, how anyone can look at that data and write this:

As we journey from the personal to the public religious lives of scientists, we will meet the nearly 50 percent of elite scientists like Margaret who are religious in a traditional sense…. (p. 6)

And, finally, this:

Science and religion: reconcilable differences:

With the loud protests of a small number of religious groups over teaching scientific concepts like evolution and the Big Bang in public schools, and the equally loud proclamations of a few scientists with personal, anti-religious philosophies, it can sometimes seem as though scienceand religion are at war. News outlets offer plenty of reports of school board meetings, congressional sessions, and Sunday sermons in which scientists and religious leaders launch attacks at one another. But just how representative are such conflicts? Not very. The attention given to such clashes glosses over the far more numerous cases in which science and religion harmoniously, and even synergistically, coexist.

One person can be both religious and scientific.
In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Many simply acknowledge that the two institutions deal with different realms of human experience. Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural — hence, the two can be complementary. Many religious organizations have issued statements declaring that there need not be any conflict between religious faith and the scientific perspective on evolution.1

And there’s even a photo of a very accommodationist Francis Collins:

Note that this site is supported by the National Science Foundation, a government agency, although there’s a disclaimer which says, correctly, that “Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).”  Nevertheless, expressing a compatibility between science and faith is a theological view, and I don’t think the government should be in the business of espousing particular brands of theology.

h/t: Peter

88 Comments

  1. Posted June 15, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    “In fact, people of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion. Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities […]”

    – like leprechauns and the Tooth Fairy

    • Frank
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      “People of many different faiths and levels of scientific expertise see no contradiction at all between science and religion” in precisely the same way that creationists “see” no evidence for evolution.

      Accomodationists don’t realize that what we choose to “see” and what the application of logic tells us can be quite divergent. I know how that goes in a very personal way. When I was asked about compatibility many years ago, I gave a standard answer that was somewhat accomodationist. Eventually, I realized that, given the major tenets of ALL mainstream religions, I was in essence LYING to people, probably to make us both feel good. So I refused to do that any more.

      • Occam
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        Right. And, pray, how are the individual religious persuasions of individual scientists relevant to the question whether science and religions (we should always insist upon the plural!) are reconcilable or not?

        Religious beliefs, regardless of their holders, are just that: beliefs. Unfounded, unevidenced, untestable. (If testable, and tested, they would cease to be beliefs.)

        In principle, it would not matter one hoot if 99.9% of all scientists held their religious beliefs reconcilable with science, as long as such beliefs were not formulated as scientifically testable hypotheses, and tested as such. Private persuasions, no matter how widely held, do not constitute proof. Religious beliefs of persons categorised as scientists are interesting only as sociological data, and nothing more.

        • Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          “religions (we should always insist upon the plural!)”

          A good point. I don’t know about “we should always” but I routinely refer to “God/dess/es” and I recommend it, to rattle the monotheists’ cage a little. Who says the Abrahamic – let alone the Christian – God holds any kind of default status?

  2. Sastra
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Right. It is one thing to point out — correctly — that there are many views on the relationship between science and religion. But picking the stance “in the middle” and claiming that it’s the REAL one isn’t good science, isn’t good politics, and isn’t even particularly good diplomacy.

    Saying that science can’t deal with the supenatural even in theory is basically an admission that it’s not objective fact. It’s more like an artistic taste or personal preference, metaphors, poetry, and symbols. If you really think of the supernatural in those terms the term for you is “atheist.”

    Regarding accomodationism and the NCSE, I think it’s interesting that its Executive Director, Eugenie Scott, is accepting the 2012 Richard Dawkins Award at the Atheist Alliance America convention in Denver this fall. The award signifies achievement in promoting the ideals and stance of Dawkins — such ideals encompassing science and outspoken nontheism. Sort of an anti-Templeton, perhaps.

    If we’d be upset if she accepted the Templeton, you’d think the accomodationists might be a bit peeved here.

    • eric
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      I would argue that they aren’t even picking the stance in the middle. Which is so frustrating, because it should be so incredibly easy to do:
      1. Various religions make a wide variety of claims.
      2. Some are empirical and agree with science.
      3. Some are empirical and disagree with science.
      4. Some are non-empirical.
      5. Thus, its impossible to make a blanket statement about whether science conflicts with religious beliefs*; to figure out whether science conflicts with your particular religious beliefs, consult your pastor or your professor as to whether you have any in the #3 category.

      *Quite apart from any conflict or agreement over claims, science as a method is in conflict with religions-as-a-method that accept revelation as a form of evidence…which is most of the big ones. However, if web sites like Berkeley’s got the claims bit right, I would frankly give them a pass on not mentioning the methodological issue. Getting the claims bit right would at least move them up from an F to a B- or C+.

      • Sastra
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        The accomodationism of liberal theism is of course in the middle! It goes like this:

        Too much God –> just enough God —> No God

        If you have just the right amount of God, then you can fit evolution in WITH God. Too much is no good, because then you’re a creationist and you can be caught being wrong — and of course no God at all is too extreme because it makes God wrong. The point is to make it so God can’t too obviously be wrong.

  3. Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Sad. Religion and science are not compatible. It’s that simple. There is not one scrap of evidecne that shows that the claims of religion are true. Nothing that shows any of the myths involved are correct, no “creation” myths, no miracles, no magical occurences in the desert, no healing, no magical dead people becoming alive again, etc. Modern religions are indistinguishable from the dead religions which made *exactly* the same claims and that everyone ridicules.

    This nonsense depends on the delusion that things can somehow magically happen, affect people *and then* vanishing with nothing to show they ever existed at all. What Seussian nonsense to excuse the fact that religion has nothing.

  4. HaggisForBrains
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I seldom comment but follow your site regularly, and usually mark my appreciation by clicking the “like” link. I’ve just noticed that another regular “liker” is Pastor Davis, who describes himself as “the Founder, Pastor and Master Teacher at Vine and Branch World Ministries.” His website vineandbranchworldministries.com would seem to suggest that he is an unlikely follower of WEIT. Perhaps he would be kind enough to come forward and explain his position to us.

  5. dcg1
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Q. “Now explain to me, please, how anyone can look at that data and write this:

    As we journey from the personal to the public religious lives of scientists, we will meet the nearly 50 percent of elite scientists like Margaret who are religious in a traditional sense…. (p. 6) ”

    A. If the author is a pseudo scientist, charlatan or crack-pot; with a creationist or accomodationist agenda.

    The comment casts severe doubt on the credibility of the “study”. Please tell me that this garbage wasn’t published in a reputable peer reviewed journal???.

  6. saguhh00
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Science and religion are not in conflict?
    How about: Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin, Newton’s theory of gravity, Laplace, stem-cell research, etc…

    • Tulse
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Science is not in conflict with the right kind of religion, you know, the fuzzy liberal “belief in belief” kind. No proper essayist holds to that fundamentalist silliness, of course.

      In other words, this is really a theological fight, and not a scientific issue at all. For literalists, science does most definitely contradict their worldview, and for science organizations to take a theological position in such disagreements is absurd.

  7. B.R.
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    How can science, which is the very essence of skepticism, ever be compatible with faith, which is the act of hardening yourself against all alternative evidence and possibilities? If scientists treated their work the same way the faithful treat their beliefs, we’d still be in the Dark Ages.

  8. Peter Beattie
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Apart from the patronizing tone, as if they were talking to a particularly stupid second-grader, I cannot resist this bit of pure horsepuckey:

    MISCONCEPTION: Science can only disprove ideas.

    CORRECTION: This misconception is based on the idea of falsification, philosopher Karl Popper’s influential account of scientific justification, which suggests that all science can do is reject, or falsify, hypotheses—that science cannot find evidence that supports one idea over others. Falsification was a popular philosophical doctrine—especially with scientists—but it was soon recognized that falsification wasn’t a very complete or accurate picture of how scientific knowledge is built. In science, ideas can never be completely proved or completely disproved. Instead, science accepts or rejects ideas based on supporting and refuting evidence, and may revise those conclusions if warranted by new evidence or perspectives.

    Whatever idiot wrote that has never read a single word by Popper himself. To call Popper’s ideas an “account of scientific justification” is incredibly clueless. Popper explicitly rejected any justificationism—indeed the very foundation of his concept is the realization that no theory can ever be justified. It is only through criticism that a preference for this theory over that becomes rational—supporting one theory over another, which the quoted paragraph says is impossible in the Popperian model. Popper even says this explicitly:

    Confirming evidence should not count except when it is the result of a genuine test of the theory; and this means that it can be presented as a serious but unsuccessful attempt to falsify the theory.

    Just this one other mindnumbing bit of blather: “science accepts or rejects ideas based on supporting and refuting evidence”. Oh, no shit, Sherlock? Since they don’t seem to understand what ‘begging the question’ means: what is the criterion for support or refutation, pray tell?

    Oh, and Popper’s theory was not very popular to begin with. The most important scientists to consistently promote ideas along falsificationist lines were in fact Feynman and Sagan, and they never even mentioned Popper. Later, Gould mentioned him a few times. Actual reference to Popper and falsification seems only to have begun being made on an appreciable scale after he died in 1994.

    Anyone who pretends to know about how science works but cannot get a single fact about one of the most important philosophers of science and his ideas right shouldn’t be consulted as a reference on science. Or anything.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      As I understand it, Popper generally rejected the “justificationist model” of any knowledge in favor of a “non justificational philosophy”.

      This means that the sloppy wording of the website could be taken to mean he replaced one form of justificationism with a different one. It doesn’t necessarily mean that, but that is how most uninformed viewers would read it.

      Thanks for pointing this out.

    • Marella
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      A lot of people don’t know what “begging the question” means, they think it means raising the question, rather than assuming a proposition and then using it as a basis for your proposition to be true. Like “I believe in the Bible because the Bible is true”, this begs the question of the veracity of the Bible. Just one of my pet peeves, I’m a bit of a grammar nazi.
      http://epiphenom.fieldofscience.com/2011/02/grammar-nazi-then-youre-probably.html

    • Bebop
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t ironic that Popper also helped to popularize the concept of scientism?

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:39 am | Permalink

        Do you even know what he meant by the term and how that relates to the ‘justificationism’ I talked about in my comment? Which is kind of a rhetorical question, really, as I assume that you don’t, seeing as you seem to be unaware that Popper’s use of ‘scientism’ refers exactly to ‘justificationism’ and the idea that certain knowledge is possible—which is entirely at odds with the way ‘scientism’ is used, for example, by Philip Kitcher or by John Haught and other faithies.

        • Bebop
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Quoted from this blog:
          “Scientism (sensu stricto) began as a label for the doctrine that truth is fixed, a priori and universal; that inductive science is the only means to its discovery and certainty is a realistic outcome. This doctrine was rejected by a particular group of philosophers of science belonging to a tradition pioneered by Charles Sanders Peirce in the late 19th c., carried forward by William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead in the early 20th c. and later by Fredrick Hayek, Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, and Thomas Kuhn during the mid-20th c.”

          • Peter Beattie
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            So you are quoting something that says exactly what I said—with what intention exactly? Do you understand the distinction between ‘scientism (sensu stricto)’ and ‘scientism (lite)’ that William Widdowson makes in the post you quoted? Which question translates into: do you understand that Popper was talking about something completely different from people these days when they use the term ‘scientism’?

  9. Schenck
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I’m not so sure that it’s sensible to say ‘if you’re NSF supported, you can’t say ‘religion and science aren’t in-compatible’.

    Regardless, look at the poll data in the graphic, those who attended church less were more likely to say that science and religion are in conflict! People unaffiliated with any church were more likely that catholics and the like to say religion and science were in conflict.
    AND YET, despite that, these groups were less likely to actually say that science conflicted with any of their religious beliefs!?
    Maybe this just shows how useless these sorts of polls really are.

  10. Schenck
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Actually I suppose what I pointed out might be interpreted as people who are more or less faithless, who think “yes, religion does conflict with science, and no, it doesn’t conflict with my beliefs because I don’t really have many/any”.
    I took unaffiliated to mean religious people who are not affiliated with a particular church, or not with a church listed (including those ‘I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious’ types).

  11. RevAaron
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Two things:

    1. Many simply acknowledge that the two institutions deal with different realms of human experience. Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural — hence, the two can be complementary.

    Every once in a while I can’t help but wonder if NOMA is a really clever ruse to trick the average (mostly) pro-science theist. If science investigates the natural world but can say nothing about the claims of religion, then the “spiritual and supernatural” can have no effect on the natural world and effectively doesn’t exist. It’s almost like they’re patting them on the head and saying “Sure Timmy- if you wish *really* hard, you might just get to see a unicorn!”

    2. Because of some vocal individuals (both inside and outside of science) stridently declaring their beliefs…

    If I say that I don’t believe in god(s), I’m stridently declaring my beliefs; if Francis Collins says that a waterfall equals the Trinity and that only a sucker couldn’t see that he’s simply sharing his sincerely held religious belief. Man, fuck those guys.

    • Jer
      Posted June 18, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Every once in a while I can’t help but wonder if NOMA is a really clever ruse to trick the average (mostly) pro-science theist.

      I think that’s exactly what it was. The whole ideas is that you can break the universe up into two parts – the part that empiricism can prove or disprove things about, and the part that we can’t measure or even see so we can’t do anything empirical with it. Then to declare that first half to be the demesne “scientific majesterium” and the other half to be the demesne of the “religious majesterium”.

      Of course it’s a trick – it’s as obvious as the myth of Prometheus helping humans trick the gods into taking bags of skin and fat and bone as their half of the sacrifice (and leaving the good bits for the humans). My only question is whether Gould intended it to be a trick or if he was tricking himself with it as well.

  12. Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural — hence, the two can be complementary.

    The problem is that the natural and the supernatural are at odds. They don’t exist in two different realities; people who make supernatural claims are making claims about phenomena in the real world (i.e. the natural world). Cars aren’t run by both thermodynamics and Gremilins. They are just run by Gremlins thermodynamics.

    This makes me realize that accomodationalism is a form of faith. Accomodationalists don’t care about “what’s true”, they care about social modesty. And once you think that social modesty is more important than “the truth”, a form of deception or self-deception necessarily follows.

    Basically — and this sounds harsh — all accomodationalists are liars. And they’ll rightly feel slighted by that because they care more about social modesty than honesty. But I don’t care about social modesty. Better ugly truths than pretty lies.

    • B.R.
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Well said. To be blunt, who gives a shit if feelings are hurt by facts, data, research, and evidence? Nobody with a perceptible degree of intelligence or integrity cares about the creationists who get butt-hurt when their dogma is smacked down by court order, because all people whose opinions actually matter realize that schools are obligated to teach facts, not pleasant fiction. So why should we try to accommodate superstition in the modern day? We don’t tolerate creationism or geocentrism being taught as science because we know that they don’t qualify, and never have. Likewise with unfalsifiable concepts like souls, karma, heaven & hell, etc.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Although the desire to appear ‘socially modest’ and ‘open-minded’ probably counts for a good part of the motivation, don’t underestimate their ability to fool themselves. Accomodationists need not be deliberately lying. If you lump morals, ethics, meaning, goals, ideals, values, and abstractions into the category “supernatural,” then there is no longer an obvious conflict between being scientific and believing in the ‘supernatural.’ Do skeptics not love their children or feel awe when viewing a sunset?

      Don’t laugh. Or, maybe, laugh and wince. This I think is the ‘deepity’ slide between the spiritual things which are true but trivial, and those that are extraordinary but false.

      Try an experiment. Ask a religious person if “love” is supernatural. Or “beauty.” Or “the belief that humanity has value.” Be sure to keep your tone either neutral — or approving. My experience (especially when I act as if I would value and respect a positive response) is that they will answer “yes.” Deep down, this is what they think. Or, maybe, they think only superficially and veer off quickly.

      Category error — from both directions.

      • darrelle
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Yes, the supernatural is verified by emotions that occur within the mind of the believer. For most believers and many accommodationists emotional experiences trump any other kind of data. No real thinking needed, just trust your feelings. After all, that is god “speaking” to you. This seems to lead directly to the “we can create or own reality” belief as well.

        • Bebop
          Posted June 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

          What is subjective doesn’t count? Isn’t real? Let’s keep the supernatural aside (because if it exists, it would then be natural…), and let’s stick to the “real thinking” as you refer to, and which seems to exclude the subjective world. And I’d like you to explain to me how objectivity would be possible without subjectivity..?

          • Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

            Wrong question, I think. A scientifically interesting question is how subjectivity emerges – and that problem itself requires objectivity to study.

            • Bebop
              Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

              Yeah but that objectivity still can’t exist without subjectivity. They both create each other, just like the left brings automatically the right, or evil the good. You just can,t have one without the other.

          • darrelle
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

            Can you show me where I said “what is subjective doesn’t count and isn’t real,” or anything like that at all? You are making stuff up. Putting words in my mouth to give yourself an opportunity to pick the nit that is stuck in your bonnet.

            • Bebop
              Posted June 16, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

              “For most believers and many accommodationists emotional experiences trump any other kind of data. No real thinking needed, just trust your feelings.”

              • darrelle
                Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

                That won’t even get you a “nice try”. All that will get you is a “pathetic”. Or, are you joking? When you blatantly display dishonesty like you have here, why should anybody bother to take anything you have to say seriously?

      • Posted June 16, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        Although the desire to appear ‘socially modest’ and ‘open-minded’ probably counts for a good part of the motivation, don’t underestimate their ability to fool themselves.

        I personally place the vast majority of the explanation of accomodationalism on a sort of belief in belief which is self-deception.

        E.g. an accomodationalist is someone who would, in theory, agree with the statement “I believe people are nicer than they really are”. Someone who follows that sort of reasoning cares more about the social utility or “social lubrication” of a belief instead of being accurate.

  13. stevenjohnson
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    The content standards and objectives required by the WV state department of education mandate teaching the limits to science. I imagine the bureacrats in Charleston have merely copied this, like so much else, from other states. I would be surprised if there is any state that doesn’t explicitly mandate this in some form or other.

    All this site did was to make explicit the meaning, which is, every teacher is bound to teach in such fashion that every student is free to mentally comnpartmentalize their science classes. Thus, “evolution” can be taught but the students can dismiss the concepts as soon as the grades are in. Knowledge about evolution can be treated as just another trivial and meaningless requirement, amongst the many trials encountered on the path to graduation (parole,) on a par with never wearing a cap indoors.

    Of course, students are also free to believe that evidence means something, leading to disbelief in religion. This why believers still fight to smuggle in religion. Many children tend to think of Christianity as the condemnation of profanity and sex, but conformism allows them to profess belief in the tenets of Christianity no matter what they do in practice. The believers still try to enact religion because they put more faith in the power of government than popular opinion. Disbelief and indifference are not atheism, but they are also are not the kind of thing that increases the power of religion (and religious leaders.) And this too is another reason why believers try to smuggle religion into government policy.

    We all know this. The real issue is the fact that many scientists are militantly committed to the notion of limits to science. Not limits in the availability of eveidence, such as difficulties in measurement or the loss of evidence to the vicissitudes of time. Many will boast of adhering to a probabilistic conception of science or deny the possibility of the senses providing knowledge or the possibility of induction or the very existence of a justified concept of knowledge.

    This being the case, the real question is, on what grounds do we object to the interpretation this website places on the notion of limits to science?

    • Caroline52
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      You ask on what grounds we object? On the grounds that they haven’t, contrary to what you said, explicitly defined the assertion “religion and science are compatible” as meaning, as you put it “every student is free to mentally compartmentalize their science classes.” If they simply said that on their website, or even said “science and religion are are compatible, by which we mean every student is free, etc.,” I doubt anyone would be objecting. So your argument is logically fallacious: you’re purporting to show that an objection to something is meritless by a false equivalence between the thing being objected to and something else that is clearly unobjectionable. I’m not sure of the name of the fallacy, so if anyone else does, please say.

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        When they say that science investigates only nature and religion investigates the spiritual and supernatural, they are comparmentalizing reality. (They also falsify religion, which doesn’t investigate but asserts, and whenever politically feasible, compels.)

        But I must clarify: That was a real question at the end, not a rhetorical one. I object to the website because science is what it’s Latin root says it is, knowledge, and there is no supernatural. Therefore, students are not “free” to compartmentalize their science classes, at least not in the sense of successfully mastering the rudiments of science. We are all of us free to ignore reality, whatever our peril.

        Why do we, in the broader sense of people who object to religion being smuggled (even more) into the classrooms, say that it is illegitimate to openly say that the supernatural is to be found beyond the limits to science when so many of us agree that science has these kinds of radical epistemological limits? The situation is bad enough in the natural sciences, but in the social sciences the very notion that there is such a thing as scientific knowledge is wholly foreign to students. I dare say that the larger proportion of the people who by and large agree with this blog whole-heartedly agree with this proposition. But it is difficult to see how it is really logically different to say that there is causality in nature but not in society.

        And I’m sorry, the objection that the claims of the supernatural have been empirically refuted doesn’t address radical critiques of the impossibility of justification, of inducton, of empiricism, etc. It more or less presumes the conclusion. It is why people feel so free to compartmentalize their thinking. Science for nature, especially because good science helps technology which brings me so many good things, but my religion for what I want.

        Re the notion that science is methodologically naturalistic (which I believe is by far the favorite position,) I found one philosopher who so far seems to agree with me: Maarten Boudry https://biblio.ugent.be/input/download?func=downloadFile&fileOId=1191287&recordOId=1191286

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Besides the strawman fallacy Caroline52 discusses and Coyne routinely objects to, I think this is a strawman too:

      The real issue is the fact that many scientists are militantly committed to the notion of limits to science. Not limits in the availability of eveidence, such as difficulties in measurement or the loss of evidence to the vicissitudes of time. Many will boast of adhering to a probabilistic conception of science or deny the possibility of the senses providing knowledge or the possibility of induction or the very existence of a justified concept of knowledge.

      This being the case, the real question is, on what grounds do we object to the interpretation this website places on the notion of limits to science?

      The progress of science is not defined by discussed “limits” but what it is doing. There may be inherent limits to science beyond those put by the finite interest and resources of the society, but we don’t know them.

      It is a funny list to me, since having a physics degree I must agree with a frequentist probability interpretation of the important methods of observations and testing, that senses are next to useless in providing knowledge as compared to experiments, that induction are useful only for developing hypotheses and that empirical knowledge are philosophically “justified” as opposed to tested. (See Peter Beattie here on that, interesting comment on the comparable philosophical concept of “falsification”.)

      But that doesn’t mean I see any of that as “limits” or “boundaries” or “defining science” or something equally untestable so unknowable.

      To start to dissect the nature of science instead of imaginary and so far unobserved limits you have to go meta naturally. A test for science is if there is anything testable in it to anchor it to observation and practical usefulness (“do we really see this repeatably”, “does it work or not”).

      • stevenjohnson
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

        It seems to me that going “meta naturally” leads us to believing that the materialist metaphysics are the only ones that have thus far passed testing. Your apparent conclusion that going meta naturally leads to Karl Popper seems to me by contrast forced and unnatural.

        By “probabilistic,” I mean those interpretations that conclude science must draw conclusions only in a conditional form, as in “There is very probably no magic.”

        Again that was a real question: On what grounds do we object to someone who interprets commonly agreed notions about the limits to science as meaning that religion and the spiritual and the supernatural may be found beyond them? I know why I don’t. For one thing, I think we can say there’s no such thing as magic. And for another, I don’t believe there are any principled limits to science, merely practical ones.

        What isn’t clear and never has been, is how people who believe that “there is very probably no magic” can object to someone wagering on the low odds. The assumption that methodological naturalism “works” tacitly assumes the “works” means scientific standards of proof, which seems to me to be question-begging on the grand scale. I’m a naturalist and it doesn’t seem convincing to me. Your agreement that the supposed misconception that science can’t prove anything is in fact a true conception, however, rather seems to assert that you can’t say “There’s no such thing as magic.”

        As for straw men, I’m inclined to think that all refuted arguments from the limits science are either retroactively straw men, or tacitly assume the conclusion.

        • stevenjohnson
          Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

          PS I don’t know what “empirical knowledge are philosophically “justified” as opposed to tested.” At first I thought I did, but the scare quotes on “justified” finished me off

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for identifying the fallacy name for me, Torbjorn 🙂

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      Even if we allow there are limits to science, it doesn’t necessarily mean the gap is to be filled in by any of the classical religions.

  14. DrBrydon
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Perhaps I’ve just had an epiphany. What god is and what religion is are not scientific questions (although science can provide insight into the accuracy of claims made on behalf of both). How can science even comment on whether any particular aspect of science is compatible with god or religion. Science should say, here, this is what we know and think, you decide if it fits your world view.

    • gr8hands
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      DrBrydon, “What god is” is a lie told to oneself over and over in a desperate attempt to come to believe it.

      “What religion is” . . . I don’t think I would go very far without being merely insulting.

      To every question, I could give you the answer: chocolate. The only process by which you can accurately determine whether or not it was the correct answer, is the scientific method.

    • Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      DrBrydon, this sounds like the usual creationist claim that “all opinions are equal”. They are not. a “world view” based on stories with no evidence is called a delusion. And those delusions that theists have can and do kill.

      Science is what we know and a worldview should be based on this; not debating who has the better imaginary friend”.

  15. Karl Withakay
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    If science can’t “test” the supernatural, then the supernatural can’t affect the physical universe.

    “…more than 75% believed that religions convey important truths.”

    I’m sure most readers here see how ambiguous and open ended that statement is. It does not even claim religions uniquely convey important truths, so any religion that says it’s bad to kill, rape, or steal meets this criteria. It says nothing about the sceintists’ options on the accuracy or truthfulness of any religion’s fundamental, foundational beliefs. (ie: whether or not the religion itself is in any sense “true”) It’s like political speak carefully crafted give the impression of conveying useful information while actually saying next to nothing.

    One can be both religious and scientific in much the same way that many of the founding fathers were progressive and enlightened at the same time they owned other human beings as slaves. That one does not recognize (or properly address) a conflict which may be obvious to others does not mean the conflict does not exist.

    As soon as any religion makes any falsifiable claim about their deity and the order and operation of the universe, they are crossing the Rubicon; science isn’t picking the fight.

    “Many religious organizations have issued statements declaring that there need not be any conflict between religious faith and the scientific perspective on evolution.”

    Well that settles it, right? If they actually ISSUED A STATEMENT, it must be so.

    I suppose the statement is true to the extent that the onus is on them in regards to staying out of conflict with science on evolution.

    Don’t make up any points of religious faith that can at any point be falsified by science or you’re setting yourself up for a conflict at some point sooner or later.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “It’s like political speak carefully crafted give the impression of conveying useful information while actually saying next to nothing.”

      That’s exactly what it is, and there are plenty of people who seem to think crafting such speech is a laudable enterprise.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Attempts to reconcile religion and science often break down.

    Such reconciliations remind me of software which is inelegant & clumsy in order to maintain backwards compatibility with earlier versions, so that bits of old software can be recycled instead of starting from scratch. It’s often a misguided money-saving stance.

    Replace “software” with “world picture”/”life stance” and this is a lot of what drives accomodationism.

    Still if the site simply finessed its wording and asserted there are lot of working scientists who are religious in some form, without sweeping statements, I’d be happy with it.

    It’s unclear if the site is taking a specifically theological/religious position or a stance in the field of philosophy of religion and science. Perhaps that’s too hair-splitting a semantic distinction.

    • gr8hands
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Replace “god” with “gravity” and see where this suggestion breaks down.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        ? We can observe gravity, the problem with gods are that they aren’t observed. (Tip: because they don’t exist.)

        Maybe you meant something else entirely though.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I don’t quite see what you are getting at, because I didn’t use the word “god” in my post.

  17. truthspeaker
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    If they had confined themselves to saying that some religious believers believe science and religion are compatible, and linked to (but did not repeat) those believers’ statements about the issue, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

    But to state that those believers are correct goes to far, because it’s dishonest and because an organization receiving government funding shouldn’t pick sides in a religious debate.

    • Caroline52
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      +1

  18. Caroline52
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    My sympathies are all with JAC, but I think part of the problem is with the ambiguity of the word “compatible,” and that JAC and others seem content to keep using the word loosely in the context of this important tussle. It’s an empirical question whether science and religion are compatible. Therefore, we should define what we mean by the word, operationally, and press them to define what they mean, operationally. You can’t test the truth or falsity of a proposition,or demonstrate it persuasively to those who disagree, unless you have first translated that word into something that can be observed and measured. Scientists are so careful to operationally define terms when they do experiments; why aren’t we insisting on starting there, instead of batting the question back and forth: “yes it is” “no it’s not.” By not insisting on operationalized definitions, we’re treating it as if it were a philosophical question that can be answered by introspection – we’re just doing pop philosophy. We’ve given up the home team advantage of treating it as an empirical question and are playing on the philosopher’s turf, using their rules. Maybe the biologists and physicists who I mostly see flying our colors for us in this discussion aren’t used to applying scientific rigors to discussions in the pschological and political realms, so it just hasn’t occurred to them. –On the other hand, maybe it has, maybe they’ve defined it and I’m just being clueless. If so, will someone help me out and tell me what I’m missing?

    • Caroline52
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Politically, it will be easy to lobby these science organizations to change the language on their website if we define what we mean by compatible operationally and ask them to do the same, and if we define it differently we may then agree that each, as so defined, is empirically true, and then get them to put both definitions on their website acknowledging that by our definition it’s false and by theirs it’s true. It seems to me it would be hard for them to defend refusing to define it, though they would probably resist because they prefer the ambiguity for political reasons: deepities have charisma, and it’s a deepity in that in one sense it’s true but trivial (that is, there are people who have both a knowledge of the scientific method and religious beliefs and they compartmentalize. In another sense, it’s obviously false, but if true would be mind-blowing.

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        “it will be easy to lobby” typo meant “it will be easier to lobby.” I don’t claim it would be “easy.”

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      In my paper on science/faith compatibility that just appeared in Evolution (pdf free here), I define what I mean by the term; I see faith and science as incompatible in three senses.

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Thank you!

  19. Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    “Science investigates the natural world, while religion deals with the spiritual and supernatural — hence, the two can be complementary.”
    This suggests that both are equally valid, important, and necessary. (Pause to scream, bang head against wall, pet some cats to calm down…) As a geologist, I run into this idea all the time among people who confuse mineralogy with New Age “crystal power” and think that both are equally valid ways to “study” minerals.

    To many people, “supernatural” suggests ghosts, ESP, and spoon-bending, NOT belief in God (usually referred to reverently as “faith” and enshrined as an untouchable virtue).

    And that cartoon – is it a monk looking through a telescope, representing the supposed compatibility of science and religion? Or is it a scene from Neil Stephenson’s book “Anathem”?

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    That Berkeley site has long been a source of irritation for me, but I haven’t looked this closely at it. And you just know that when someone wrotes “stridently” they are accommodationists through and through.

    Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural entities — like God.

    This doesn’t pass the smell test:

    “Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of supernatural mechanisms* — like astrology.”

    “Because science deals only with natural phenomena and explanations, it cannot support or contradict the existence of non-existent mechanisms — like homeopathy.”

    * IIRC astrology was originally connected with many earlier religions. Or you can just take “superluminal = supernatural”.

    If we can test that nature as we happen to know it, obeying causality, locally closed, self-consistent, whatever, predicts all observations to our ability to test it, it is an objective fact (even if some disagree) that there are no “supernatural entities”.

    Because if something doesn’t interact with the world, it has no objective, realist, or in other words observable, existence. We can imagine it up, but that would be purely subjective and superfluous, like Santa Claus or the christian god(s).

    Ecklund

    Are the University of California at Berkeley, or at least the UC Museum of Paleontology, really a science institution?

    While I can see Ecklund’s erroneous articles printed in sociological journals, I really don’t see how someone can adopt them inside the natural sciences. Even a cursory overview shows her using demagoguery over facts.

    I think they should be admonished for using religiously motivated political pamphlets instead of references, and be petitioned to take the site down or at least change the obvious erroneous stuff.

    Because science is worth the facts, all the facts and nothing but the facts.

    • Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Are the University of California at Berkeley, or at least the UC Museum of Paleontology, really a science institution?

      Isn’t that, like this one, a rhetorical question?

      If it isn’t, then the answer is: yes, they are.

  21. darrelle
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    JAC and many others have most certainly made it very clear exactly what they mean by “not compatible” in there arguments against “science and religion are compatible.” Clearly defining that is actually central to their argument.

    The people who don’t clearly define what they mean by compatible are on the other side of the argument. Their argument is that since a single human being can do science AND believe in gods that therefore science and religion are compatible. They don’t want you to think to hard about that since you might realize that it is pretty much a non sequitur when the context of the argument is “methods of discovering useful information about reality”. What they are trying to do is change the context mid argument, to “what beliefs the human mind is capable of”, and hope you won’t notice.

    Sure, many of the believers and accommodationists that use the compatible argument aren’t intentionally trying to deceive, they just believe it. But, the ones that write articles, papers and essays about it, and argue with the likes of JAC damn well should know because it has been explained to them many many times. And they never answer directly, ever. That is the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty. I am sure that many of them know that they are lying. To them it is just a rhetorical tactic.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Crap. This is supposed to be a response to Caroline52 at comment number 18.

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Got it, thanks. I’m not convinced that my approach has completely been tried, but I’m much clearer now on how much HAS been tried. I appreciate being brought up to speed!

  22. steve oberski
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    One person can be both religious and scientific.

    One person can be married and adulterous.

    One person can denounce marriage for homosexuals and indulge in drug-fueled homosexual trysts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Haggard).

    One person can be a successful petroleum geologist using radiometric dating to determine the age of groundwater and sediments and a young earth creationist (http://biologos.org/blog/author/davidson-gregg).

    One person can claim to believe in primacy of human life while at same time aiding an abetting child abusers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XVI) and condemning millions to death by AIDS in sub Saharan Africa by the promulgation of edicts against birth control (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Benedict_XVI).

    Yes, we are very, very good at compartmentalizing but that does not mean that compartmentalizing is a good thing.

    “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact than a drunken man is happier than a sober one” – George Bernard Shaw

  23. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Poor Francis Collins.

    History will show that he was nothing but a willing pawn of elite politicians who pandered to a pathetically educated public in the early 21st century.

    Collins might indeed be correct if he believes that deceiving the American public is the only way to keep the Democrats in power, but unless he is truly deluded by religion, his personal integrity as a scientist will surely be questioned — and rightly disparaged — by future historians.

    Collins is just weak. He obviously holds power and money in higher regard than science and truth, because as NIH director he could be replaced tomorrow by any garden-variety religious science administrator and the Democratic political machine would hardly squeak; the public, especially the religious public, wouldn’t know the difference.

  24. Marella
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.”

    WTF does this mean? The Great Pumpkin?
    The only higher power I can think of is physics!

    • Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      With apologies to Douglas Adams, it could be the inter-dimensional aliens whose projections in our inverse look like mice. I don’t think there is anything in current science that can completely negate that possibility.

    • Posted June 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Deism? Pan[en]theism?

      /@

      • Caroline52
        Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        Pascal’s hedge?

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

          The Force™

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      I’ve read that AA members are required to profess belief in and seek help from a ‘higher power’, which skeptics often find quite tricky but may manage with some vagueness or sophistry.

      Could that account for 8%?

  25. Ty
    Posted June 15, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    The government has no principle and no beliefs. It just wants to water everything down to make our lives bland and uncontroversial.

  26. religionenslaves
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Sharing my ignorance on a slightly tangential matter: I learned today that the apartheid regime in South Africa banned the *word* (let alone the teaching of) EVOLUTION. Some nice bed-fellows for creationists …

  27. ctcss
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    “science can either support and contradict the existence of supernatural entities: all we need to do is test for the effect that those entities are claimed to have on the world. We can look, for instance, at the efficacy of prayer”

    OK, here is another area where there seems to be confusion based on very imprecise definitions. The studies I have read have shown mixed or negative results regarding prayer “as defined by the person designing the experiment”. In other words, what has been tested is the designer’s conception of what might constitute “prayer”. Therefore, if the designer doesn’t actually have any useful experience in such an area of life (or tries to amalgamate other people’s differing approaches to prayer into some generic “vanilla” version), then the designer may very well be shooting in the dark. In other words, the negative results of the experiment don’t prove that “prayer” doesn’t work, it simply proves that the designated methodology of “praying” allowed for by the designer didn’t work as the designer expected. (There are many, many ways of praying, some of which aren’t in the least compatible with the experimental setups I have read about.)

    There is a further testing problem (perhaps the main one) that, unless “prayer” is actually some mysterious power exercised by one human being that can affect inanimate objects or systems, or that can affect animate objects such as another human being (in other words, without God being involved in the process), then the designer has left out a very important part of the experiment’s setup. Unless the designer has God’s explicit co-operation in the specific experiment being conducted, then any “praying” being performed by the participants will be lacking in the ability to have any useful effect. (God’s participation would be missing.) It would be akin to trying to test the functionality of a light switch without any electrical power being present in the system. Thus, one cannot “test theism” (your words) if one does not have the explicit co-operation of God. (Unlike say, gravity or particle streams or chemical interactions, God is not a blindly operating mechanistic force that can be measured or directed or turned on and off by human effort or volition, in other words. So to regard God as such is to make a proundly mistaken conceptual error IMO.)

    Although I personally believe in the power of prayer (and rely on it in my everyday life), I don’t really think this is something that can effectively be tested experimentally in a lab setting. And if controlled laboratory testing cannot be performed on it, then the “effectiveness” of prayer really cannot be said to be disproved (or proved, for that matter.)

    • darrelle
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Though you did a nice job laying out your arguments, they are or course not new. Each has quite a long history and each has been countered many many times.

      What you really need to do is first present some good evidence that your god exists in the first place. After that you need to show how you came by the data that your god does not answer prayers if he is being tested.

      If you manage to get that far then you need to figure out how to reconcile the idea of a loving benevolent god with a god who also lets his faithful believers die rather than letting some secular scientists gather any data on him. Any decent human being would regard such behavior by another human being as reprehensible. Why would you give your god a pass on something like that? Surly not because “his ways are mysterious” and humans are incapable of understanding them?

      • ctcss
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        1. The reason I posted anything at all was because Coyne made the rather bold (and untrue) assertion that “theism could be tested” and that the effectiveness of “prayer” had been dis-proven. Both are false statements as I demonstrated in my post because of very lax and inexact definitions. Thus, nothing has been proved other than that some particular hypothesis put forward in the the various “prayer” experiments may not have provided positive results but, as I said, if God needs to be the main player in such an experiment and God has not consented to participate, the whole question is moot anyway.

        2. I have not, and am not, proposing any test for, or proof of, God’s existence. As my post indicated, I don’t think such a test is even possible, so why bother? (I also don’t care whether anyone believes in God or not. Believing or not believing is a rather personal decision for anyone to make and I don’t care to interfere with anyone’s life in that regard.) The whole idea of being able to conduct a test for the existence of an intelligent entity that cannot be directly detected by any material means, but somehow making the assumption that its effects could be detected as though it were a mindless force like gravity is ludicrous. A Turing test, for example, is meant to see whether a computer could effectively mimic the responses of a human such that another human would not be able to tell the difference. The problem is, humans can also choose not to respond. (I have gone months and even years without responding to emails.) Since not responding is a valid human “response”, is the lack of a response proof of a human’s existence? (No, it just means that such a result is inconclusive.) Thus God’s existence cannot be determined by experiment if God decides not to participate and our information on God’s decision is inconclusive.

        3. As I pointed out in my post (or should be obvious from the various praying tests that have been conducted), the participants in each experiment (both pray-ers and pray-ees) gave explicit consent to being part of the experiment. God, however, gave no such explicit consent and (ignoring any reasons for such a decision on God’s part), why would an experimenter even proceed with such an experiment without making sure of the full cooperation of such a critical participant? (In other words, this was the experimenter’s fault for conducting and then publishing the results of what was obviously a flawed experimental procedure, and anyone who drew any “useful” conclusions from such an experiment (such as Coyne seemed to be) were foolishly doing so.)

        4. Your third paragraph gets into questions of theology. My post was actually trying to comment strictly on the scientific basis of performing tests in this area rather than get into theological questions about God and God’s nature. Scientists must do their part to make sure that whatever it is they are testing is clearly defined and carefully controlled. Since that obviously was not done, questions of God’s nature are rather moot and simply dodges the obvious question of “Why didn’t you check before proceeding?”

        5. But since you seemed to like the idea of blaming God here, please note that each participant (of their own free will and consent) decided to go along with the experiment and were presented with the procedures that would be followed. “Prayer” (being as multiply-defined or ill-defined a thing as it is, and also (according to human history) often lacking in what might be considered to be a positive result), obviously was not going to be considered the primary force behind whether the patients did better or worse. In essence, the patients were trusting more in medical science and medical practices than they were in the prayers offered for them. Since they considered this rather lop-sided arrangement to be acceptable, they were obviously not expecting to rely very much on God at all for their recovery, and thus should not complain about being let down very far by God should events go in a negative direction. (Small distance upside = small distance downside. Baseline is determined by the main medical procedure or treatment being used for the condition being treated.) In essence, they were (in this instance) regarding God to be little more than a small, additional, experimental drug regimen that might (or might not) help with their recovery, but the main effort towards their well being would be applied elsewhere. The point is, if they thought about the ramifications of this agreement to participate, they still would very likely have accepted since the odds seemed reasonable to them and they weren’t really relying on God to any large extent in the first place, if at all. However, they did not have to go along with this choice and could have refused if they wanted to. (I know that if I were presented with such a choice, I would refuse.) So the idea of blaming God for one’s freely arrived at choice of deciding not to rely very much on God seems to be rather ingenuous.

        • darrelle
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

          I must admit, you are pretty good at making shit up to support your beliefs.

          “But since you seemed to like the idea of blaming God here . . .”

          You just don’t get it, do you? I don’t believe in your god in the slightest. In my particular case I never have and never will. I don’t blame your god for anything. I blame you and your religious brethren.

          I can assure you, however, that even if I were presented with clear evidence that your god really existed, I sure as hell would not worship such a reprehensible entity. Just the opposite in fact. The only reason I don’t think of you as a monster for worshiping it the way you do is because I believe you are not competent enough to be held responsible for such a charge. Like an ignorant child, you have no clue.

          • ctcss
            Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

            I never once said anything about wanting you or anyone else to want to believe in God. Quite the opposite in fact. (See point #2 above.) Yet somehow you seem intent on labeling me unfairly without evidence or further investigation of the facts about me or my specific beliefs. Is this an example of your careful, skeptical approach towards gathering evidence before coming to a conclusion? If so, it’s not very convincing.

            Furthermore, as I noted in point #4 above (heck, all the points above), I wasn’t at all trying to comment on anything theological about God or God’s nature, so no, I am not making up stuff about my beliefs. I was strictly pointing out flaws on the very-easy-to-determine-and-control human side of the equation. Perhaps you didn’t notice it, but point #5 above wasn’t talking about God’s nature, it was talking about the fact that (whether or not God even exists), the people participating in the test made their choice based not on their trust in God, but rather in their trust in the major medical drug or procedure being used for their care. Any “trust” in God (whether they believed in God or not) was relegated to the possibility of obtaining minor improvements in their condition. In essence, the patients were playing with what they believed to be rather safe odds. Once again, this has nothing to do with God’s nature but rather has to do with how the patients’ arrived at their choice to participate.

            If you are trying to make a case for the non-believing side’s ability to do good, careful thinking (at least in this instance regarding this particular point), you’re not succeeding. Both sides (believing and no-believing) need to be intellectually careful, honest, and fair if we ever expect to work in harmony where we can, and to “agree to disagree, as friends” where we cannot. Any lesser approach between us is simply going to lead to needless strife, rancor, and tragedy.

        • Karl Withakay
          Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          “but, as I said, if God needs to be the main player in such an experiment and God has not consented to participate, the whole question is moot anyway.”

          Which begs the question, why would an all powerful, all knowing, loving, and maximally good being be affected by prayer at all?

          Does it make sense that such a being might alleviate my pain and ease my suffering if another person petitioned it to do so whereas it would have otherwise let me continue to suffer in agony if that person had not petitioned god on my behalf?

          Why would such a loving god insist we beg for our supper? (or the supper of those we care about)

  28. Leigh Jackson
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Whether science and religion are compatible or not is a controversial question. Science organisations should not take one side or the other on what is a highly polarised political, theological and philosophical question. Scientists as individuals should, of course, be free to express their personal opinions. The National Science Foundation should teach the controversy not preach accommodationism.

  29. Tulse
    Posted June 16, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I also don’t care whether anyone believes in God or not. Believing or not believing is a rather personal decision for anyone to make and I don’t care to interfere with anyone’s life in that regard.

    That makes you monstrously callous to he point of psychopathy. If you genuinely believe that religious faith and actions can save people from an eternity of torture, how can you possibly say that you don’t want to interfere? You would honestly stand aside and let other human beings do things that would cause unendurable pain forever? What kind of cruelly indifferent beast are you?

    • ctcss
      Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Before you go making such a bold accusation against someone else, shouldn’t you at least try to find out whether or not they believe such a thing? You’re not even trying to be careful of the facts. As it happens, I believe in universal salvation, so how am I being callous in simply trying to let another person live their own life without interference?

      • Tulse
        Posted June 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

        Fair enough, but then you’ve just abandoned the notion of religion providing a reason for moral action, since if everyone is redeemed, no matter how depraved, why bother to be moral?

        • ctcss
          Posted June 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

          OK, you guys all seem to be fighting against someone else, not me. However, let me restate what I said because I didn’t make the point entirely clear. (I apologize for that.) One of the major religious beliefs I was taught include “conditional universal salvation”. That, of course, sounds odd and a bit suspicious but you have to couple it with another major teaching that I was taught which is that God is all-loving and infinitely, universally patient.

          So what “conditional universal salvation” means is that God has standards that absolutely need to be met by us, so sin (i.e. depraved action or incorrect action or even incorrect thinking of any sort (in other words anything un-God-like and therefore not suitable for existing in God’s kingdom)) is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. However, God, being infinitely loving and patient, will not allow anyone to fail. Thus, no matter how long it takes, everyone will be redeemed (all that depraved and incorrect stuff will be expunged by our voluntary, willing, sincere, and explicit request and desire to have it go), thus winding up with what in essence is unconditional universal salvation. (In other words, it’s a bit like going to a high school where you cannot graduate until you meet all of the academic requirements. In essence, that’s not a punishment for the student, it’s actually the only loving thing to do for the student.)

          Does that help make my belief standpoint clearer?

          • Karl Withakay
            Posted June 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            “all that depraved and incorrect stuff will be expunged by our voluntary, willing, sincere, and explicit request and desire to have it go”

            So putting prisoners in The Box until they break is conditional, universal salvation.

            Would this be in some sort of purgatory like or limbo status if it does not happen while we are alive?

            Forcing a student to remain in high school their whole life until they meet all the requirements is not only not the only loving thing to do for the student, in fact, that would be quite cruel.

            Also, you haven’t really address why someone should bother to try to meet what you or anyone else assert are god’s standards in this lifetime.

            with conditional, universal salvation, live however you think is acceptable and if it turns out to have been wrong or bad, no big deal; god is is all-loving and infinitely, universally patient. Presumably after you die, it will made made more explicitly clear what is expected of you and you can conform to the confirmed expected standards then.


%d bloggers like this: