What did science and religion discover last year?

April 5, 2013 • 5:14 am


“The question of truth is as central to [religion’s] concern as it is in science. Religious belief can guide one in life or strengthen one at the approach of death, but unless it is actually true it can do neither of these things and so would amount to no more than an illusionary exercise in comforting fantasy.”  —John Polkinghorne

“On the contrary, religion is about the deepest of all realities. . . religion, to anyone who takes it seriously, is about what is Most Real.”—John Haught

“Both [science and theology] continue in the quest for truth.  Both continue to make claims and argue for them. A kind of alliance of stubborn truth-seeking is formed here.” —Anna Case-Winters

“A religious tradition is indeed a way of life and not a set of abstract ideas. But a way of life presupposes beliefs about the nature of reality and cannot be sustained if those beliefs are no longer credible.”—Ian Barbour

“In this I am convinced that true Christianity is precisely the same as true science. Both are required to be totally open to whatever is authentically given in each situation. This is no mere coincidence. For it is Jesus Christ who definitively makes it clear that the universe is truly open to truly scientific investigation.”—David Jenkins

“Likewise, religion in almost all of its manifestations is more than just a collection of value judgments and moral directives. Religion often makes claims about ‘the way things are.’”—Karl Giberson and Francis Collins

“Science is not the only way of knowing. The spiritual worldview provides another way of finding truth.”—Francis Collins

“The topic is the claim on the part of many Christians that faith is a source of knowledge or information about the world in addition to reason.”—Alvin Plantinga

“On balance, theism is vastly more hospitable to science than naturalism, a much better home to it. Indeed, it is theism, not naturalism, that deserves to be called ‘the scientific worldview.’”—Plantinga again

“The ultimate test of faith must still, and always, be its truth; whether we can prove it or not, the reality of the perspectives it brings us, and the changes it puts us through, must depend in the end on it corresponding to an actual state of the universe.”—Francis Spufford

“But for this cure to work it appears that at least it must be true that God exists, that Jesus Christ is the son of God, that we are created in the image of God, that God is a creator, that God wants to forgive us, and that God loves us. Hence it seems as if Christianity, and not only science, has an epistemic goal, that is, it attempts to say something true about reality.  If so, a religious practice like Christianity is meant to tell us something true about who God is, what God’s intentions are, what God has done, what God values, and how we fit in when it comes to these intentions, actions, and values.”—Mikael Stenmark


The top 10 scientific discoveries and accomplishments of 2012 (from Wired Science).

  1. The Higgs Boson
  2. The Curiosity Rover lands on Mars
  3. Most human genetic variation is rare and the deleterious variants arose recently, during our expansion out of Africa
  4. The sequencing of fetal genomes using noninvasive procedures, from fetal DNA floating in the mother’s blood
  5. The teleportation of entangled quantum particles over a large distance: 50 miles
  6. The synthesis of XNA, a new polymer that can carry information and evolve via a form of selection
  7. A private company, SpaceX, launched and orbited its own spacecraft, and delivered it to the International Space Station
  8. Discovery of an Earth-size exoplanet orbiting a nearby star, Alpha Centauri B
  9. The reaching of Lake Vostok, an Antarctic lake, which required drilling through more than 2 miles of ice; this may lead to the discovery of unusual forms of life
  10. Government policy has started to end invasive research on chimpanzees in the U.S. (yay!)

and. . .

The top 10 religious discoveries of 2012

Religious discoveries

Well, maybe you can count the discovery of whom God wanted to be the new Pope.

“All knowledge that is not the real product of observation, or of consequences deduced from observation, is entirely groundless and illusory.”

—Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

107 thoughts on “What did science and religion discover last year?

  1. Today is also a very special day for science, and humanity itself. It is the negative 50th anniversary of first contact with the Vulcans and Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight. 5th April 2063 is the first first contact day.

    1. Instead of “negative anniversary”…


      I don’t know Latin roots so just my experimental “coinings”

  2. At first I was preparing myself for just a lot more Sophisticated Theology™ to slog through. But I’ve been saved! We get down to their actual discoveries in 2012! All better now.

  3. Oh, so I see you guys missed the news from the self-labelled “Cutting Edge of Creation Science”, the Answers Research Journal, just out two days ago!!! Talk about grand discoveries, man this tops all the things on the “Science” list for the last ten years:


    They have “evidence” too!!!! Read the comments as well….

  4. I have never commented on this site before even though I have read it many times over the years. I read this article about the comparison of what science has discovered and what religion has discovered and thought, is this really accurate? I think that the author, Jerry Coyne, can not appreciate the things that some of the authors he quotes are saying. Do people discover through religion? Yes, the very things that are quoted here in the article. Millions of people discover these truths everyday. Now that is discovery! You may think that these discoveries are not worth much to you but to say there is nothing there to discover is fallacious.

    1. There is nothing there to discover except the consequences of others’ imaginations. Prove me wrong.

    2. Milo, if what you say is true then I invite you to post the protocol/methodology that you used to arrive at what you consider your most important discovery but do NOT tell us what the discovery actually was.

      I would then invite other readers to follow this protocol and then a comparison of the individual “discoveries” can be made.

      If your religion is as effective at discovering the truth as you claim this should be a simple matter for you and presumably every one who follows your published protocol will arrive at the same truth.

      1. Nice! (Somehow it never occurred to me that you could test these things on the local level as opposed to the Outsider’s test. But of course it won’t work!)

    3. 1. Yes, it is factually accurate.

      It is much easier to see you replace the invidious and meaningless term of relative “truth” (whose truth? which religion?) with “fact” (one consensus, one public voice).

      Science – millions of facts.
      Religion – 0 facts.

      And note that I am now integrating over the 10’s of thousands of years of religious beliefs in some form or other has circulated in the population.

      Science has shown itself fertile, nay promiscuous, in its few hundreds of years of existence.

      Religion has shown itself barren, nay dead born, in its many thousands of years of existence.

      2. It is obvious to the outsider that there is nothing to discover.

      You run the test for secterism, several public voices, several “truths”, due to the conflicting claims. Christianism is claimed to have spawned ~ 30 000 sects, so that many mutually inconsistent “truths”.

      It should have been obvious within the first generation of these ideas that they were not going to lead anywhere.

      Compare with science again, which originated with the adoption of experiment and theory, and how it integrated into the preexisting consensus building born on the market of ideas of “natural philosophers”.

      Of course such things are harder to accept for the insider. That is the whole point of scams, after all. It should appear to be a punitive value associated with relenting the scam, so that the scammed doesn’t even want to try to analyze their situation. Eg the meaningless “truth” of Pascal’s wager (there are no “souls”, so no factual basis for a wager), et cetera.

    4. Please do expand upon these supposed “truths” one finds in religion. Indeed, tell me what religion is correct in what it claims and do tell me how you know this?

      In religion, there are no truths discovered. If one encounters religion, one discovers that many people make claims about gods, miracles, etc. They claim that they know what their god “really wants” or “really said”, and the next theist over makes an opposing claim. Who are we to believe, all of these people claiming to have the supposed “truth”?

      1. “Please do expand upon these supposed “truths” one finds in religion.”

        Well, some religions have long since discovered how to truly exert control and authority over large numbers of people. And how to condition their flocks to resist outsiders, or even just outsider ideas.

  5. Good news Jerry,

    If you decide to make this an annual event you can use exactly the same content for the The top 10 religious discoveries of XXXX section each and every year.

  6. Very appropriate Lamarck quote at the end there. Quoting a person who accurately summarizes the core of science as a process who was so famously wrong perfectly illustrates the difference between science and religion. The community of scientists can reach a consensus over time that some hypothesis is simply mistaken. Religion doesn’t have a similar procedure for resolving controversies.

    1. I agree with you, but I wonder is Lamarck only a little wrong in that he was describing the wrong planet so to speak?

      Also, perhaps our AI descendants/replacements will evolve in a Lamarckian fashion

      [If I’ve said something really stupid, it’s the fault of the Echo Falls red wine I’m drinking while listening to “Duane Allman & Eric Clapton 1970 – Studio Jams 1 thu 6” on Youtube]

  7. So, we have a bunch of apologists insisting that their religion is the “truth” but as of yet haven’t been able to demonstrate this. Such a lovely stack of baseless claims.

    We have’t even been able to determine *which* of these religions is the “true” one. I wonder, just how does Mr. Jenkins define “true Christianity”. I know his fellow Christians would very likely define it differently.

    1. Since we are Star Trekking, “IDIC”. I don’t think you will ever run out of discoveries, since we could actually go out (at fantastic expense) and colonize habitable exoplanets.

      Astronomers and geologists and hopefully biologists will always have something to do.

  8. Being pedantic here … the science list is ‘discoveries and accomplishments’ while the religion list is only ‘discoveries’. Ideally both lists would have the same categorization.

    One could make the science list as discoveries only with a little extra thought. Alternatively if one includes accomplishments in the science list then they could also be included in the religion list. Then we could add stuff like:

    1. Shooting a 12 year girl in the head for wanting an education.
    2. Destroying (more) priceless antiquities (Timbuktu)
    3. Denying appropriate medical care to and thereby causing the death of a pregnant woman (Ireland)



    1. The murder of volunteer medical workers in Pakistan providing polio vaccinations.

      I wonder if the killers based their actions on the discovery of religious “truths” as described by Milo Coladonato (above).

    2. 4. Assassination of atheists in Bangladesh because, you know, atheism and other secular ideas offense God.

      I would like to have Mr. Stemark explaining us what such “religious practice” can tell about “who God is, what God’s intentions are, what God has done, what God values, and how we fit in when it comes to these intentions, actions, and values”. Surely he would not say that this is not a True Religious Practice (like Christianity)? After all, even if he were right, his God let that happens showing that It approves (or It is not so potent, bordering on nonexistent).

      Desnes Diev

    1. That would be nice, and it all depends on how soon one means by ‘soon’. Without having big expertise myself, I do think the blog of Matt Strassler is good on particle physics, and he is somewhat negative about the most recent hype on this. However, that experiment itself is likely eventually to yield very interesting dark matter info (as long as the space station, where it sits, doesn’t run into trouble in the next 5 or 10 years). It would be nice if almost simultaneously, that narrowed drastically the particle candidates for dark matter, and down here the LHC discovered what looked like that particle somehow (both largely European, by the way).

      1. Strassler too? I would characterize Francis, Siegler, Strassler as the one’s “hyping” since after all AMS is the first experiment suggesting a robust source model. (Fermi-LAT’s core peak were never robust re other data.)

        But there is a wide distance between a low confidence “suggestion” to a high confidence ordinary observation. These 2 sigma claims come and go.

        And since DM annihilation would be an extraordinary claim to boot, we need extraordinary evidence beyond the eventual source observation.

        I expect the current “anti-AMS/anti-Ting” hype will turn to “DM” hype between any ordinary observation and a definitive DM observation…

    2. Though I could make a case for saying that Dark Matter has already been ‘discovered’ through it’s effects on cosmology. Now all we have to do is more accuractely describe it.


  9. Of course all those scientific discoveries were only possible because enough religious people prayed for them to happen. 😉

    1. Shows where the christian’s priorities lie, it didn’t pray for any christian discoveries to be made. It didn’t even pray that the true christian be discovered.

  10. Jerry, why do you quote this charlatan Plantinga (a.k.a. Crazy Alvin), who insists that he doesn’t need stinking arguments for his God, and then whines that atheists dismiss religious apologetics without grappling with the arguments!

    1. I quoted him for the same reason I quoted the others: to show that for many theologians (and some influential ones), they see their discipline as being able to produce truth and knowledge about what’s real.

  11. “On the contrary, religion is about the deepest of all realities . . .-John Haught

    These kinds of phrases, so often used by believers, are amorphous bullshit that obscure instead of illuminate.

    . . . religion, to anyone who takes it seriously, is about what is Most Real.”—John Haught

    This is the same mindset displayed by that Bush aid who said this. Sure, you can create your own reality if you want. But it ain’t Real. The more contradictions between your reality and Reality, the more likely your occasional encounter with Reality is going to be unpleasant, or fatal, for yourself and the others around you.

    1. From what I can tell the deepest, “most real” part of reality is the part where the inner world of thought and feeling (‘what I need; what I want’) overlaps with the outer world of object and event (‘what is real; what is true.’) So a cosmos based on consciousness or a universe which is shot through with moral values is Deep. It is More Real because it forms reality into your own image. It is satisfying. It makes you think that the meaning of things is something you can grasp on the personal, psychological, mental level.

      In other words, if you think the beautiful sunset was caused by clouds and particles and atmosphere, you are shallow. If you think the beautiful sunset was caused in response to your mood … then you are deep. You’re looking below the surface and seeing how you are connected to everything.

      It’s supposed to be a humble, seeking mindset. No. It’s the opposite of a humble, seeking mindset.

      1. There are people who think the sunset is gorgeous as a result of their mind set at the time?

        Never played twilight golf then.

        Hardly humble to believe you can control the weather.

        Or is it these people are always unhappy when it is overcast?

        Why is it arrogant to know things?

    2. On the contrary, religion is about the deepest of all realities . . .

      -John Haught

      On the contrary, religion is about deepities.

      Fixed 🙂

  12. “….For it is Jesus Christ who definitively makes it clear that the universe is truly open to truly scientific investigation.”

    Last night I told Son of Hempenstein about the excellent NOVA program on the Antikythra Mechanism that I’d seen the previous evening. His comment: “When was this made?” And when he heard that it was sometime in the BC timeframe (IIRC, ~50BC), he said something like, “They made that back THEN? Can you imagine where we’d be if religion hadn’t gotten in the way?”

  13. I think I smell a double standard.

    It’s a comparison of discoveries *and* accomplishments for science, but only of discoveries for religion. Why? So one can include “Government policy has started to end invasive research on chimpanzees in the U.S.” for science (It’s not a discovery, but we’ve just gotta fit it in the discussion somehow, so…)

    What would happen if an example of “we stopped doing something we shouldn’t have been doing in the first place” (to generalize science’s #10) were placed in religion’s tally, for a fair comparison (adding “accomplishments” for religion too)? It’d be ripped to shreds; and rightly so. But when it’s “science” stopping something like that, it’s considered a positive thing, something good enough to be listed along with the discovery of the Higgs Boson.

    Can someone explain that to me?

    1. I added one accomplishment of religion: finding a new Pope. But I’m talking about accomplishments that further our understanding of the universe, and religion has none of those, too. Eliminate #10, if you want, or add to religion’s accomplishments all the murders and suicide bombings, terrorization of more children, and so on. The point is to show that science has brought, or is bringing us, closer to the truth, and religion, despite claims it is finding the truth. Does nothing.

      Give me a break.

      1. I understand that it’s rhetoric and made for a good laugh (or sneer, depending on how one’s feeling today). It did make me smile – after all, that’s one reason why I read the blog. I just wanted to note that the comparison is technically fallacious, while implying you have a cognitive bias: stopping a bad practice is to be praised if we do it but looked upon with disdain if they do it.

        Take it or leave it, and have a good one.

  14. and far more of this years scientific discoveries will result in improving the lives on earth.

    Think of the contributions many of those religious leaders could have made to society if they had focused their energy on improving lives based on reality.

    1. also, think of all the lost opportunities for improvements because of the energy that’s necessary to combat the harms of religion on society.

  15. “A private company, SpaceX, launched and orbited its own spacecraft, and delivered it to the International Space Station”

    I’m afraid I don’t see why this is a great accomplishment, except for the people involved.

    1. It’s not my list; I took it from Wired. Take it up with them!

      You can read more if you go to their site.

    2. I don’t see why sequencing the human genome was “a great accomplishment, except for the people involved”.

      You really don’t see any benefit in this accomplishment ?

      1. Did I say otherwise? I questioned the value of a private company doing something governments were doing in the Seventies. I said nothing about sequencing the human genome, which I agree was an achievement.

        1. In general terms, sure, governments were doing it in the ’70’s. But nobody has done it as cheaply as Space X is doing it, ever. And that is the key point. Making it cheaper to get mass off the planet and into orbit. Now, Space X may ultimately fail as a company, it is a very tough business. But so far they have been very successful and have met every goal they have set, within reasonable bounds. And with less delays and failures than anybody else that has attempted to do what they are doing.

          You don’t see the value of a company opening up Earth orbit to a much wider potential client base? Making it much more feasible to exploit space in all kinds of ways dreamed of but never tried because the first huge step of getting into orbit has been too expensive? Government has been in the same business for at least 60 years now and has not managed to achieve or empower that. Should we wait for government to do it?

          Do you doubt Space X’s achievements / capabilities in particular, or do you think this kind of thing is not something that a private company can do as well as government?

          1. Since private businesses and corporations did a lot of the contracting for the government funded projects, are you saying that those companies were screwing the taxpayers by charging more than they should have?

            1. Having contracted numerous times with various levels of government, I am sure that that happened on occasion but, no, that is not what I am saying.

              I am saying that it is a very difficult problem because of fundamental physical constraints, and that therefore making significant tangible progress on the problem is noteworthy. And I am only commenting on end performance results of the technology and the potential direct economic impact on space utilization. Not, myself, trying to analyze or opine on the political or socioeconomic factors.

              1. Really? It appeared that was exactly what you were doing. I’ll just quote a portion of your comment to remind you:

                Government has been in the same business for at least 60 years now and has not managed to achieve or empower that.

                Yeah, I would suggest that without the prior taxpayer funded projects Space X wouldn’t have any power.

              2. By all of your responses so far you obviously have a biased opinion of what I am saying. And you obviously have something you want to say about what you think I mean. You’re wrong. I didn’t mean anything else but the simple statement of what has occured that I wrote in that excerpt you quoted. You are the one who apparently has an ideological ax to grind. Grind away.

              3. Your latest comment whips up an assumption that you made no ideological claim, while clearly you have. You contrast a private company against taxpayer funding without properly aligning the goals and prior art. Shouldn’t the taxpayers be compensated by the private company for expenses incurred in developing the technology? At least within your analysis? If it were a transaction between two private businesses in a capitalistic economy there would be compensation.

                You may want to reread your comment:

                Posted April 5, 2013 at 10:23 am

                In which you poof Space X into existence and marvel at their accomplishment while contrasting with the “government” without realization that the road was paved by taxpayer funded projects. You may be able to replicate a similar circumstance, I’ve done this experiment myself, it can be surprisingly enlightening. Drive a vehicle to an area where off road travel isn’t illegal, drive a couple of miles on an improved road, return to your starting point. Drive off the improved road about 1/4 mile. Then, drive parallel to the improved road the same distance as you drove on the improved road. Compare the two experiences.

              4. I don’t know or care who you are or what you have to say anymore. The last I will say to you on this topic is that you are completely 100% full of shit.

                It is sort of amusing, though alarming as well, to watch you bloviate on and on about the things that you imagine.

          2. Or is it that, now after much trial and error a fairly acceptable method had been found and thus the costs of trial and error are lower. Like refining the process and machinery for stamping out widgets but all the development costs are borne by the taxpayer with the benefits of commercialization being accrued by the wealthy that are able to exploit it?

            1. No, I don’t think that is an accurate assessment. At least it is incomplete. Of course everything is built, to some extent, on what has been achieved before. But that is not the only ingredient. Innovation, dreaming, drive and luck, are also key ingredients.

              There are other companies that have much more experience in the rocket business than Space X, that have been building rockets for decades. But Space X is the one that accomplished the significant step forward. Exactly why, I wouldn’t try to claim that I know. But among the many factors that surly contributed, one is undoubtedly Elon Musk’s personal characteristics.

              1. I’ve also work for companies that had government contracts, I have some knowledge of how the costs get charged to those projects. I’ve also seen a lot of corruption in the private and corporate sector.

                One of my early employment experiences was working in a shop. There was a group of employees that spend part of their time working on what they referred to as “government work” because they charged the time to government contracted projects. Actually, what they were doing was taking part in the manufacture of knives which were sold and the profits divided among the participants which were working for different companies in order to complete the product. Business in the United States (at least) is corrupted as much as the government is, they are actually, by extension, much the same thing. That is, due to lobbing efforts the government is owned by the businesses. Its run away capitalism in progress.

                Now I haven’t studied the workings of Space X, how it acquired its technology, how much it is charging the taxpayers to carry “mass” into space, etc., I imagine they aren’t allowing their employees to work on “government projects” because in this case they would want any potential for profit to be accrued to the principals at the top of the organization.

                Also, I didn’t criticize you for the obvious incompleteness of your comment, that I responded to, because of course it’s unlikely that a comment on a website would completely cover everything about any complex topic – I thought that would be obvious. However, the concepts that you were presenting distorted what has actually occurred and why. We’ve seen time and time again that for profit companies eventually tend to care far more about the profit than the customers. There are several things that the government has turned over to the “private” sector that have eventually turned into problems – private prisons and private armies as examples.

                The general public seems to lose something either way but at least there is some public accountability demanded of the government. With business, involved in the activities in space, it becomes more of an exploitation process than an exploration process. The costs seem to become artificially high either way.

            2. but all the development costs are borne by the taxpayer with the benefits of commercialization being accrued by the wealthy that are able to exploit it?

              Not all of the development costs, no. But the basic scientific and engineering challenges of space travel were solved using mostly taxpayer dollars, yes. But so what? Are you suggesting that the commercialization of space should therefore be prohibited? Or what?

              1. What in the world are you on? Trying to gain an advantage by criticizing my use of the word “all” in regard to the funding by taxpayers of the exploration of space. I have no idea how you derived your questions from my comment so I’ll just ignore them.

                You seem to like looking for an argument with the only purpose being to have an argument. A complete waste of time in my opinion.

              2. What in the world are you on?

                Why in the world do you try to use every thread as a political soapbox?

    3. AFAIK this list has been beaten over the head many times, especially the part of the “Higgs boson” at the time. (IIRC spin-2 can be more or less excluded _now_ but not then).

      Personally I miss WMAP’s pretty much unambiguous observation of inflation (scalar spectral index < 1 @ 5 sigma)*, which it did before Planck redid it this year (@ 7 sigma).

      But, give this a break: the point of the list is that *we can make a list FWIW*. Religion can't.

      *You have to add several layers of epicycles to other theory to go there.

    4. Well technological achievement. Getting something like that outside the domain of deep pockets governments is a fundamental step towards a widespread civilization changing access.

      1. It’s already been done, so it isn’t anything special. It doesn’t matter that it was first done by governments with deep pockets and these people are small time. If I could run a four minute mile that would be an achievement I would be proud of but it isn’t something that is important in absolute terms.

        1. Getting it done cheaply enough that we can begin to economically develop space is very difficult compared to doing it at such high costs that only a few countries in the world have the pockets to do it on a very limited basis. It is so difficult because we are right up against hard physical constraints. Space X is the first entity, private or government, that has made a significant step in achieving that. That is what makes it significant. That the entity is also a private company just makes it more impressive.

        2. It’s already been done, so it isn’t anything special.

          No, it’s a major accomplishment because the key to large-scale expansion of access to space and to the vast economic potential of space is commercialization.

    1. 2. Quantum superposition explains the Triune Godhead (as in Ceiling Cat/Son of Ceiling Cat/Dead Ceiling Cat). Or maybe that’s “quantum superstition”?

  16. “Most human genetic variation is rare and the deleterious variants arose recently, during our expansion out of Africa”

    This clearly refers to the Fall of Adam and Eve. Wait – don’t look at the studies, especially what “recently” means in this context, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

    Wow, religion is a lot easier than science. Shoulda’ been a preacher.

  17. I propose a different (and fast done) list that show how misleading is to compare science and religion since they will never solve their OWN matters…
    Eternal religious UNdiscovery
    1. Why buddhism with no-god is false?
    2. Which God(s)’s version is true (monotheism, pantheism, panentheism, pandeism, panendeism, henotheism, deism, theism, etc…)?
    3. Are the historical time linear (creation to judgement) or circular (ciclic universes)?
    4. Why are religions with book(s) revelation and their contradictions more trustful than others without revealed book(s)?
    5. Why is the Buddhist’s impermanent 5 aggregates (no eternal soul) idea wrong?
    6. Etc…
    7. Etc… (put your own here…)

    1. Errr . . . what? No comment on your religious examples. But what are you trying to say in your number 3? Cyclic universe models do not require circular time. Also, while the maths of current physical theories that are quite useful and accurate seem to work just fine whether you model time “moving” forwards or backwards, the empirical evidence to date overwhelming indicates that the arrow of time points only in the “forward” direction.

      There are no absolutely 100%, no possibility of error, Truths. All that is possible for us is determining probabilities based on our empirical experiences.

      Those things that are so highly probable that it would be foolish not to believe them we often refer to as facts. Sometimes facts change due to subsequent empirical experiences. That is a scientific view, to change our facts / truths / beliefs based on our empirical experiences.

      A common religious view is that we should adhere to our facts / truths / beliefs regardless of any conflicting empirical experiences. Faith. Utility in supporting the religious beliefs is the primary concern when evaluating new data.

      That is a key difference between religiously derived and scientifically derived knowledge. It is not misleading at all, but it is very damning for one of these “Ways Of Knowing.”

      1. I may be misreading Emerson, but I think he simply means that religions don’t discover things. They’re not in the business, so to speak, of discovering things (or at least they shouldn’t be!).

        His examples show that when religions do go so far as to make claims about reality, they can’t even reach consensus among themselves.

        In number 3 he is apparently comparing a Hindu conception of time with a Christian one.

        1. I think you may well be right. I had trouble parsing what he wrote, and should have, therefore, probably just kept my mouth shut.

  18. If religious people were asked to come up with a list of “The Top 10 Religious Discoveries of 2012” I think the list would be very revealing. It would probably demonstrate the differing (and opposing) ways they think about God.

    It might be the case that they would put some empirical evidence on the board. We might see something like “neurologist finds proof of heaven” or “New tests show Shroud of Turin is real” or some other poorly argued piece of pseudoscientific propaganda. And of course they might add in examples of what Jerry has called “making theological virtues of scientific necessities. “Biologos demonstrates how you can comport the Bible with evolution.” That sort of thing.

    But I suspect that a religious believer’s list of “The Top Ten Religious Discoveries of 2012” would be playing a sly trick. It wouldn’t be a list of discoveries having to do with demonstrating the factual truth of supernatural agency. It would be a list of moral advancements. That country stopped their war; this neighborhood cleaned up its crime rate; this great leader said something inspiring; the pollution in this lake went down; little girl survives cancer and showed us what it is to trust in the love of divine spirit. It would be a list which shows:

    “We found new ways to notice and thank God, and live out his image in ourselves.”

    Uh huh. Cute, but no dice.

    Atheists notice that little bait ‘n switch there. We are not going to be distracted into thinking of God like we think of moral commitments and good deeds. The existence of God is a hypothesis and no you cannot blur together what you think God inspires and whether God actually exists.

    I hope some theist reads Jerry’s post and responds indignantly with their own list of “The Top Ten Religious Discoveries of 2012.” I would love to check my prediction. I could be getting indignant here without cause. How lovely to be proved wrong.

    1. Yes, in a succession of unprecedented experiments conducted late in 2011, Dr. Haught managed to isolate the desire for tea as a one of several possible contributing factors in the hitherto poorly understood phenomenon of boiling water.

      I sneer, but really, I’d tolerate (and perhaps even warm to) all the tea metaphors in the world if theologians and their ilk would just drop the business about religion providing access to objective truth. Just relegate it to the same realm as subjectivity in art or poetry or something. Sure, you sacrifice some political muscle, but just think of the savings in dignity!

  19. The christian doesn’t even put forth a valiant effort, they have discoveries just waiting to be formalized yet they are wont to even put in the effort to write it down.

    Biscuits and wine contain the same components after hand waving as before hand waving.

    1. No no no – science just can’t see the change in the crackers and wine because science doesn’t know everything and it’s a mysterious magical change in the crackers and hooch.

  20. The idea that “science proves God” or “science indicates the existence of God” (or is just on the verge of doing so, any minute now it’s coming just you wait) often vies neck and neck with the contention that “science is not capable of telling us anything about God.”

    They go back and forth — between different religions, between different interpretations in a religion, between different believers, and within the same believer having different moods or responding to different criticisms. But it’s very hard to not just say but believe that there are two realities — one which we all deal with every day and then a super-special one which only insiders know about and outsiders can’t.

    But the temptation to want atheists and other non-believers to have to admit they were wrong, admit the believer was right, and eat crow is just too damn strong to keep God forever inside that part of Reality which only insiders can ever know about. If some day all people will be able to know that God exists then you are into the area of empirical evidence which convinces all.

  21. This is pretty hilarious. 🙂

    Or pathetic.

    I can imagine a cartoon that involves a very frustrated director of grant proposals at the Institute of Experimental Religion Studies…

    The Never Ending Search for Religious Knowledge has yet to begin…

  22. I don’t know if this qualifies for 2012, but didn’t the religionists recently affirm that god is officially outside the space-time continuum?

  23. Alvin Plantinga’s argument for religion can be summarized as “I feel pretty.” This is the “truth” discovered through religion, as this wonderful clip from Anger Management illustrates.

    You’re welcome.

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