Why Science Can't Replace Religion

By Keith Kloor | August 24, 2012 12:00 pm

In her book Doubt: A History, the scholar and poet Jennifer Hecht writes about having awe for the universe without being religious.  She talked about this during a radio interview:

It seems that if you have a doctrine, a version of rationalism or a version of atheism that makes it so that you have to be worried about using the word mystery, you’ve got yourself too constraining a doctrine…But mystery, then, doesn’t mean I’ve got to fill in the blanks with, you know, ideas of my own imagination…if we sort of can respect these ideas and say, “Yeah, life is mysterious. It is very strange.” Just the fact that, you know, we are these animals who have these kind of thoughts, it’s all pretty wondrous, and doubters have celebrated it. And that’s the kind of doubt I want to bring into the conversation, because I think we’ve really backed ourselves into a couple of corners, and it’s time to get out.
A similar sentiment was given expression in the pages of Nature this week. It has not been well received by the high priests of New Atheism, or by many commenters at Nature.

I take my crack at this ongoing debate in Discover, in a post titled, “Why Science Can’t Replace Religion.” Check it out.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: religion, science
MORE ABOUT: atheism, religion, science
  • Tom C

    Thanks for being an open-minded atheist Keith.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    Glad I’m an agnostic. I can watch this like a football game I haven’t bet on.

  • Tom Scharf

    As long as religion continues to be a net positive to society, there is little reason for any conflict here.   It is noted that the pile of dead bodies generated in the name of “spirituality and religion” is a heck of a lot higher than the pile of bodies generated in the name of science.  Might want to work on that part of the equation, it aint all wonderment and goodness.

  • steven mosher
  • John F. Pittman

    I dare say the rational atheists dislike that man in specific and general is rationalizing, not rational. The irony of Myers stating it wants to make him puke which shows the visceral response humans have to certain inputs, not him having a rational discourse of the methods to correct this supposed failing and “untruth.”.

  • Matt B

    Orac highlights a tremendous lecture given by Jamy Ian Swiss at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) this year. It’s a wide-ranging (and entertaining) talk that includes why atheists do not need to always be at war with religion (and of course vice versa; he is after all an atheist):

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/08/10/jamy-ian-swiss-on-science-based-skepticism/  

  • BBD

    A sense of the numinous is not directly equivalent to a religious interpretation of reality. It underpins religion but is not owned by it. The same holds for morality.

  • tlitb1

    Input your comments here…

  • tlitb1

    As someone else said probably best not have a button primed to accept an empty comment with a statement of ineptitude – but then again I am willing to imprint some cleverness in the hoops and land mines going on here as being a social science study ;)

  • Matt B

    @3 Tom S – Agreed, the body count on the religious side of the scoreboard is way out in front and religion could use a few scoreless quarters to bring that under control….but don’t discount efforts on the secular side, Mao & Stalin certainly did their best to get the anti-theists back in the game…..

  • tlitb1

    Thanks BBD I like this word …

    numinous

    Yeah seems like a tautology that needs explaining.

    I’m an A.J.Ayers guy or I’d like to have the style of Gilbert Ryle…

    The real religion is agreeing a framework. That is all. Once you agree you won’t put your cock there. Then what else is there?

    Hey Mosher – thanks Tolle !? – I enjoyed and learned. gee I got so depressed I created a religion WTF!? ;)

    Been there done that – er, except create a religion – nice one – basic usual – I was depressed now that is it!

  • tlitb1

    BTW Keith I did follow the link and listen to this new person you exposed me to and wonder about what they said and only found it slightly interesting but nothing more than that. This is *not* the response you wanted here I am expecting?

  • tlitb1

    I means! Any one who says:

    “A similar sentiment was given expression in the pages of…”

    Needs our help to complete, er something!

    ?

  • tlitb1

    as someone who is genetically incapable of having a spiritual thought I do know how to create them for the monkeys – I live amongst them after all;)

  • BBD

    This ten minute clip from a symposium (check the glasses) with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris is fun.

  • tlitb1

    T h e r e  i s  n o   g o d

  • tlitb1

    You know?
    Science will replace religion

  • Joshua

    I’ve read a few books that make a good argument that it is a misconception to see science and religion (or spirituality) as distinct from one another. I definitely lean in that direction.

    That said:

    Rather, I think Sarewitz is saying that certain needs unique to the human condition cannot be satisfied by science alone.

    I have no idea if that is what Sarewitz is saying – but if we’re operating with the view that science and religion can be viewed as distinct, I think that the concept as expressed needs some clarification.

    The statement is probably true for mankind as a whole, as some people do “need” religion. But it is not necessarily true for individuals. Just as some individuals have no particular need for science, others have no particular need for religion.

  • Michael Larkin

    What is spirituality? IMO, it’s an interest in determining the truth. The more interest one has in doing that, the more spiritual one is.

    Can truth be determined by science? To some extent. Can it be determined by religion? To some extent. And equally, both science and religion, in perverted forms, can lead one away from the truth.

    What are the perversions of science and religion? Essentially, the same pattern applies. It is when the truth isn’t being sought, but rather, beliefs are being peddled, and disbelievers are being vilified, marginalised, stigmatised.

    I do question to some extent the proposition that religion has been responsible for more human misery than science as we currently understand the term. As far as I can see, science has for centuries been involved in the evolution of ever-more efficient and effective ways to kill and maim, and not only military personnel. We didn’t see scientists refusing to take part in the Manhattan project, as just one example.

    Neither has religion been all bad, nor science all good. Where we’ve always gone wrong is when we lost sight of the aim of determining the truth, and one way or another, be that in science or religion, the culprit has usually been human ego.

    Science, religion and politics have at least this much in common: they are equally prone to perversion by human ego, despite having the potential to be much more effective in humanity’s search for truth than they often are.

  • tlitb1

    “Science will replace religion”See  what I mean ?Joshua is almost homosexually trying to make love to us all

  • Keith Kloor

    Stop with the asinine comments, @20 or you’ll be put on moderation.

  • tlitb1

    I literally took a photo of your “stop with the” statement

  • Mary

    Meh. Randall conveys my feelings exactly: http://xkcd.com/877/

  • tlitb1

    Hey I forget I actually listened to the radio interview – bottom line is you can be an atheist and respect religious people (I don’t acknowledge even that much myself )   ( like the implicit challenge to popper et al. ;) lets face it the fundamentalist leftists want thesee the concept of awe in the “facts” once you see a fact moving away in the distance see something else closer to your stupid face ;:)

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard
  • tlitb1
  • Howard

    Instant Karma from Eckhart Tolle to forget that everyone owns the body count.  I am become tool.

  • steven mosher

    tlitb1:

    “as someone who is genetically incapable of having a spiritual thought”.

    a “spiritual thought” is an oxymoron. Spirituality happens in between thoughts. Don’t try to think about it.

  • http://planet3.org mt
  • steven mosher

    Nice Mt. very nice. made me remember this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRShWun7Mc4

  • harrywr2

    #3

    It is noted that the pile of dead bodies generated in the name of “spirituality and religion”

    I would think in the name of  is the key phrase. If you want to hold a war then you need to convince your cannon fodder that their sacrifice is for something greater then the value of their individual lives. God, The Motherland, Freedom etc etc etc are simply common motivational themes. 

    Even if I look at the most famous recent person to start a war in the name of Religion,Osama Bin Laden, his father was the absolute definition of ‘Capitalist Pig’.

    It’s not unusual for children to reject the ways of their parents, we have plenty of examples in the US of ‘poor little rich kid’ becoming involved in activities that were at direct odds of what their parents believed.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    > It’s not unusual for children to reject the ways of their parents [...]

    A dark, shiny guy with an asthma problem is strangling me to +1 that.

  • Joshua

    (#15 – BBD)

    Thanks for that clip.

  • Howard

    The Pedantic Path of Spiritualism: Guru’s and Gimmicks.  For those who cannot afford Scientology and find Anthony Robbins too common.

  • Steve Mennie

    Perhaps uneccesary but I want to echo Joshua’s comment and thank BBD for that clip.

  • BBD

    Joshua; Steve Mennie

    Thank you.

    This is all very civilised, isn’t it?
    :-)

  • steven mosher

    Yes BBD all very civilized. I especially liked the clip you posted and mt’s clip. You would think that with this group a discussion about religion and science might get out of hand.

  • steven mosher

    MT.. were you aware that Alan Watts was a seabury western? long before either of us were ever on campus.

  • Tom C

    BBD, Joshua, Steve Mennie – Are you guys atheists?

  • Joshua

    I’m an agnostic. I don’t see how anyone could be certain one way or the other.

  • Steve Mennie

    I would say I was (as I just heard Dawkins describe himself) a ‘tooth fairy’ agnostic. Can’t be certain one way or the other but am pretty certain there’s no tooth fairy.

  • http://planet3.org mt

    #38 huh? Somebody shoot autocorrect. Yes he was at NU for a while.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #39,

    It’s an interesting question – it depends exactly what you mean.

    I generally try to clarify by going through the checklist.
    Do you believe in Thor, Odin, Baldur, Freya, Loki, etc.?
    Do you believe in Thoth, Isis, Ra, Anubis, Set, etc.?
    Do you believe in Zeus, Ares, Hades, Aphrodite, Athena, etc?
    Do you believe in Begtse, Vairocana, Manjusri, Chenresig, Samantabhadra, etc.?
    Do you believe in Shango, Bumba, Obatala, Yemaya, Anansi, etc.?
    Do you believe in Marduk, Enki, Ishtar, Anu, Ereshkigal, etc.?
    Do you believe in Baal, Astarte, Ahura-Mazda, Teisheba, Upelluri, etc.?

    At about this point I usually get interupted and asked if I intend to go through all the many thousands of Gods and Goddesses that humanity has at some point in its history worshipped, prayed to, sacrificed to, or told exciting stories about.

    The point, I tell them, was to illustrate that they don’t believe in Gods either. Are you theist, agnostic, or atheist about Huitzilopochtli? Most believers in one faith would be atheist regarding the Deities of other faiths by doctrine. Even the more syncretistically agnostic will probably draw the line somewhere. There are many assertions in scripture that they are false gods and don’t exist.

    So it’s not a theologically unreasonable position to believe that a particular god or goddess does not exist. Or even a whole range of them. The Zoroastrian requires no proof of Odin’s non-existence to not believe in him. It’s quite natural and normal. Compared to a monotheist, an atheist has simply taken that same principle forward one more step.

    A distinction is sometimes made between specific gods, with names and histories, and the idea of there being gods generally. This is the distinction between theism, which believes in specific, personal, interactive gods, and deism which believes in anonymous, passive, set-it-up-and-leave-it-to-run gods. This is the idea that a creator designed the laws of physics and started the universe going, but does not subsequently interfere or suspend those laws. Or if they interfere, it is only in the most subtle and undetectable way.

    When people say that you can’t prove that god doesn’t exist, it’s usually a deist version of god they’re talking about. Theist gods usually make assertions about the world that can be tested and falsified. But a deist god predicts nothing certain.

    (Some theists dishonestly switch to being deists for the sake of argument, and then switch back to theism again when the atheist has been seen off. However, there are plenty of honest, genuine deists around. I’m talking about them.)

    So I would invent a new word – ‘adeism’ – to mean disbelief in this sort of god. A deist can be an atheist – someone who believes there is no interactive, interfering god – while still believing the universe was created and is cared for. An adeist would not believe in that sort of god either. It might help to clarify debate. I don’t have good terms for ‘theist-agnostic’ and ‘deist-agnostic’, though. Suggestions are welcome.

  • Joshua

    There are many things in the universe that seem difficult to explain without some kind of organizing, directional, or supernatural (from our limited understanding of nature) force. I don’t know how to conceive of them simply a product of random events. On the other hand, there are many things in the universe that seem difficult to explain as the result of some organizing, directional, or supernatural (from our limited understanding of nature)  force. I don’t know how to conceive them as anything other than simply the product of random events.One thing that I know for certain is that humans have a tendency to impose certainty on inherently ambiguous evidence. We don’t like saying “I don’t know.” We don’t like thinking that there is no reason or meaning for our existence. On the other hand sometimes ambiguity becomes a crutch. or a way to (futily) avoid the difficulty of commitment.So in the end, while I don’t know how anyone can know, I don’t think I’m in a position to criticize anyone for knowing. I don’t judge anyone for knowing one way or the other.I respect the power of faith. Faith is (sometimes) difficult to maintain. It is interesting to compare the clip BBD linked and the clip of Tolle. In BBD’s clip, they spoke about how certain Christians believe that the suffering entailed in maintaining faith is a good thing; suffering should be accepted because it  is what will ultimately lead to enlightenment and a lack of suffering. In the Tolle clip, he spoke of how it is when someone is truly sick of suffering, and as a reesult wants to end suffering, that they can reach enlightenment and stop suffering. Those Christians and Tolle are fully convinced w/r/t opposite ways to reach enlightenment and to stop suffering. In other words, they have faith in their convictions. And because of that faith, their experiences confirm their beliefs.I respect the power of ambiguity. Ambiguity is (sometimes) difficult to maintain. In the end, I try to commit to a process of exploring. I try to explore faith and I try to explore ambiguity. Sometimes I hide behind unexplored faith and sometimes I hide behind unexplored ambiguity. And sometimes I don’t have the luxury of being  able to do either.

  • Joshua

    When people say that you can’t prove that god doesn’t exist, it’s usually a deist version of god they’re talking about.

    There are many things in the universe that seem difficult to explain without some kind of organizing, directional, or supernatural (from our
    limited understanding of nature) force. I don’t know how to conceive of them simply a product of random events.

    On the other hand, there are
    many things in the universe that seem difficult to explain as the result of some organizing, directional, or supernatural (from our limited
    understanding of nature)  force. I don’t know how to conceive them as anything other than simply the product of random events.

    One thing that I know for certain is that humans have a tendency to impose certainty on inherently ambiguous evidence. We don’t like saying “I don’t know.” We don’t like thinking that there is no reason or meaning for our existence.

    On the other hand sometimes ambiguity becomes a crutch. or a way to (futily) avoid the difficulty of commitment.So in the end, while I don’t know how anyone can know, I don’t think I’m in a position to criticize anyone for knowing. I don’t judge anyone for knowing one way or the other.

    I respect the power of faith. Faith is (sometimes) difficult to maintain. I found it interesting to compare the clip BBD linked and the clip of Tolle. In BBD’s clip, they spoke about how certain Christians believe that the suffering entailed in maintaining faith is a good thing; suffering should be accepted because it  is what will ultimately lead to enlightenment and a lack of suffering. In the Tolle clip, he spoke of how it is when someone is truly sick of suffering, and as a reesult wants to end suffering, that they can reach enlightenment and stop suffering. Those Christians and Tolle are fully convinced w/r/t
    opposite ways to reach enlightenment and to stop suffering. In other words, they have faith in their convictions. And because of that faith, their experiences confirm their beliefs.

    FWIW, I tend to lean towards Tolle’s perspective. IMO, it is true that suffering comes about from a lack of acceptance for what is, and that desire is at the root of unhappiness. I also think that life without desire would be boring and is beyond my capabilities anyway.

    I respect the power of ambiguity. Ambiguity is (sometimes) difficult to maintain.

    In the end, I try to commit to a process of exploring. I try to explore faith and I try to explore ambiguity. Sometimes I hide behind unexplored faith and sometimes I hide behind unexplored ambiguity. And sometimes I don’t have the luxury of being  able to do either.

  • BBD

    Tom C

    Logically an agnostic, emotionally an atheist.

  • http://ifyouaer Matt B

    @43 NIV – Good post…….& to your point, what is the functional difference between a deist and an adeist?

    Deist – there is an organizing force in the universe that is completely hands off, but it has no interest in mankind and so we’ll never know first-hand if that organizer exists

    Adeist -  there is an no organizing force in the universe but since we have no way of knowing how the universe actually originated (at least for now) we’ll never prove that there wasn’t an organizer 

    Either view is completely on faith with no testable predictions forthcoming. The differences between any “true believers” in these camps is hardly worth fighting over. My guess is that most of the adeists just want to be a little bit farther away from the theists than the deist camp….like that makes much of a rational difference…

  • Keith Kloor

    Many excellent comments on this thread. Of them all, I think I can identify most with Joshua’s @45.

    I’ll just repeat what I just said at the Discover thread: I’m a long-time atheist who nonetheless considers himself a “humanist” in the broadest sense of the term. As such, I’m tolerant of those who find meaning (and comfort) in a spiritual realm or from a particular faith.

  • laursaurus

    I’ve listened to other interviews of Hecht and find her unique insight intriguing. To me, religion vs. science is a false dichotomy. Most people recognize that The Book of Genesis is not nor never intended to be a science text book. Besides evolution, what scientific discipline is rejected in favor of religious teaching? Even the Jehovah’s Witness who will not consent to blood transfusion, understands the underlying mechanism for what makes it an effective treatment. They do so for ethical reasons, not because they reject the science. Same with embryonic stem cell research. Creating human beings for research purposes only is what they find abhorrent. Even atheists place human dignity higher than science because they are quick to condemn the Nazi experiments on the Jews and the Tuskegee prison inmates used to study untreated syphilis. If Darwinian evolution establishes that humans are not special, then there is no reason to compromise the scientific method by using lab mice and guinea pigs. The small insignificant population who will suffer doesn’t compare to the billions who will benefit. Right?   

  • laursaurus

    NiV, Yes, I believe in all those gods. But they are lesser gods. Not THE God!

  • laursaurus

    I only have a problem with atheists who try to ruin Christmas by telling me there is no Santa Claus. ;PNo seriously. Christmas is for everyone. Celebrating the birth of Christ on 12/25 was done for cultural assimilation. No one wanted to go without a big festival to get through the darkest, coldest time of the year. Think of the season depression epidemic if we didn’t have a big celebration. We’re basically obligated to experience some joy.So, yeah! Humans need to put some meaning into life. Science gives meaning to life, in a powerful way too.

  • http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com willard

    I liked your biographical paragraph, Keith.

    It reminded me of a tale an old friend who digs the Bible. He told me that there is a way to interpret the Scriptures quite directly. Hell, for instance, was a very specific place.

    So once upon a time, one could literally go to Hell.

    Not that I suggest we live biblically:

    http://www.ted.com/talks/a_j_jacobs_year_of_living_biblically.html

  • hr

    Kieth your Discover article seems to talk about many different ideas of religion or spirituality which strike me as very different things so the question of whether science will replace any of these seems like a separate question for each.I think modern, enligthened, scientific, urban society has certainly undermined the power base and absolute doctrines of organised religion and will continue to do so as the benefits of this way of life spread globally.

    The Navajo example seems to me to be a separate question and I think that has more to do with the present attempt at equality, self-determination and justice among aboriginal peoples worldwide than to do with faith per se. Given the very different situation a modern and pre-european Navajo find themselves in, it seems cultural traditions have to have completely different meaning for both.

    When  it comes to spirituality as a innate trait in humanity I think this is the more common way the argument of science vs religion usually takes these days. I think it’s worth considering how this has come about in a historical context. Undoubtedly it’s partly to do with the retreat of organised religion from peoples lives but also it fits into a more general outlook in society, something that affects science as well. The tendency to naturalize aspects of individual and social behaviour.

    Science has played a role in this in ‘discovering’ a gene for just about everything. So when we look for explanations for the omnipresense of religion in human cultures there is a tendency to  take these things out of historical or cultural context and have them reside within us. In part that arises from the perception of the failure of the enlightenmrnt, humanist project by the intelligenia. The holocaust, the degeneration of communism into stalinism, environmental and climate castastrophy tell us humanity is flawed. something reason will never overcome.

    It seems the best of us and the worst of us resides inside us and there is nothing we can do about it

  • Steve Mennie

    It seems that being a deist – believing that there is an organizing principle at work in the universe – is the same as being non religious as a faceless and passive unknowable force doesn’t really help to explain things and is difficult to pray to. I really don’t care what people believe (we all need something to help us through the night) except when it comes to condemning other people to eternal hell-fire for failing to buy in. Or when it is used to start pre-emptive wars.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #47,

    It’s more of a philosophical difference. Do you find it harder to accept a universe with no explanation as to how it got there, or a creator being with no explanation as to how it got there? Some see the supernatural as not requiring an explanation, while the natural does, and so invoking the supernatural answers all questions. Some expect any explanations to have to apply to everything, and think their chances of finding one are better with a natural rather than a supernatural cause.

    From the point of view of the philosophy of science, there is an aesthetic preference. But science isn’t everything in life, and there are other ways to decide what to belief or disbelieve. Even in science and mathematics, there are choices – do you believe in the Axiom of Choice or not? Even more than the god question, this is one with no answer – you can’t prove it or disprove it. So whether you accept it or not depends on your aesthetic preferences.

    The question of tolerance is a completely different one – there are people on both sides who are tolerant or intolerant of the other, and even people of one religion tolerant or intolerant of those of other religions, or even their own. Given my political beliefs, you can work out which side I come down on on that question.

    But there are also questions of power and persuasion – people who believe seek to put their beliefs into practice in society as a whole, people who believe differently often resist. To the extent that it is not just a matter of individual conscience, but affects what other people can and can’t do, the beliefs (religious or otherwise) that justify the rules become part of the political debate. (It’s even more of an issue in other societies such as with Islamist fundamentalism than it is in the Christian/secular West.) Religious belief has to be as as subject to harsh criticism as political belief, or economic belief, or any other belief/non-belief. You can’t expect to have political influence and at the same time to make criticism of anybody’s religious beliefs taboo. That’s a recipe for theocracy.

    It’s not a problem special to religion. But I personally have rarely had a problem with others believing things I don’t; it doesn’t bother me either way. It makes the world a more interesting place.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Now some, not Eli to be sure, suspect that Scott Eric Kaufmann nails it

    If ever there were a time to slam conservatives for their
    selective belief systems, it is now. If they truly don’t believe in that scientists can accurately account for climatological events, we should hold their feet to the fire and demand mandatory attendance for all planned speakers. Doesn’t matter if Jindal wants to stay in Louisiana, because by the standards he otherwise champions there’s no proof that Hurricane Isaac will hit New Orleans. It’s only a “theory.” If Isaac does hit New Orleans, it won’t mean anything other than weather. Pat Robertson won’t go on national television and declare that Isaac’s landing is God’s Punishment. The optics of Republicans partying at their convention while New Orleans drowns again
    won’t be indicative of the Party’s disregard for Americans who are poor or black, it’ll be a creation of the liberal media intended to make the Republicans look callous. “We’d planned this convention for months and removing Obama from office is paramount to the plight of an already drowned city,” not a single one of them will say. But some conservative bloggers will note “” as they did during Katrina “” that New Orleans deserves its death because it’s low-lying and within a common hurricane track, and they’ll base their conviction on solid evidence, by which
    they’ll mean the same geological record and climate modeling that relegates global warming to the status of “theory.”
    Just like the Holocaust.

    No true

    (a) conservative (b) libertarian (c) Scotsmanwould ever act so

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=13JK5kChbRw”>NIV and the three Toms</a>

  • steven mosher

    Niv

    you might enjoy this. I had the pleasure of sitting in a few of his lectures. Interesting guy

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7377jU2a8Y

  • Marlowe Johnson

    sorry Mosh, but i give that one a  -1

    it’s big leap from the ‘other minds’ problem to ‘there is a god’.

  • steven mosher

    Well Marlowe. before you make a snap judgement I would suggest that you do a bit a back ground reading on plantinga

    Then I would get this book. It’s somewhat dense and requires a background in philosophy.

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds/

    “Despite the above proposals, and allowing for philosophy’s notorious lack of common agreement, it remains worth noting that philosophy provides no generally agreed solution to the problem of other minds.”

    Note, that I’m not taking a position on his argument, but it might do you well to engage with an open mind, rather than contempt prior to investigation. It is an interesting argument. Basically, you can employ the same argumentative tactics used to solve the problem of other minds, to answer the the God question. That’s a very clever argument.

    http://www.amazon.com/God-Other-Minds-Justification-Paperbacks/dp/0801497353

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_and_Other_Minds

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alvin_Plantinga

  • Nullius in Verba

    #58,

    Thanks for the link. Yes, I’ve come across Alvin Plantinga before – I asked people what the best arguments for the existence of deities were, and his papers and arguments were quite commonly referenced. But I hadn’t seen that interview before.

    In one sense I think he’s correct – humans don’t always have to have reasons for the things they believe, and there’s nothing morally wrong about that. It’s a logical necessity – you can’t get anywhere without a set of axioms to start from. (Although there’s no reason not to pick a different set of axioms.) And people don’t have the time or training to build everything from the ground up. It’s justified by the fact that it works pretty well, most of the time.

    It means people are fallible, though, and that they will inevitably believe lots of things that are just not true. That’s just human nature. There are ways to make people a little less fallible at a cost in time and effort, if you think it’s important, but even those methods are far from perfect.

    But people being wrong is not something I get worked up about. Freedom of belief, if it means anything, means the freedom to hold beliefs that are not true.

    As for the rest of it, I noticed a fair number of logical gaps in Alvin’s arguments. I’m not about to start picking it apart in detail, though – that would be boring. But if you watch it again, listen to his arguments with the example of optical illusions in mind. You look at a diagram and see moving lines or coloured blobs where there are none. Everyone sees them, it’s perfectly normal, their existence is ‘obvious’ (you have no choice over whether to perceive them), and the arguments against their existence purely intellectual. Do you have ‘warrant’ for belief in their existence? Is there perhaps a sense in which they do?

    There’s a similar consideration with regard to the ‘other minds’ problem, in that humans from earliest childhood routinely ascribe minds and mental states to things that obviously don’t have any. It may be true, but our perception of it is an illusion.

  • http://ifyouaer Matt B

    @ 56 Eli – So let’s assume there is a stock analyst that has a model which projects the range of prices for GE’s stock over the next 5 days, and over the last 20 years this model has been pretty accurate in that 5-day window (with the occasional “oops” of course). This analyst also has a model that projects GE’s stock price in 25 years which hasn’t predicted very well at all & after the fact (for hindcasts) needs adjustments for special events like recessions & new competition that were not known or forseeable at the time. Is it irrational to rely heavily on the short-term GE forecasts while pretty much discounting the long term projections, at least until they show skill?  

  • Tom C

    Well, this thread had a sort of “WWI Christmas Eve Armistice” feel to it until Eli showed up with #56.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    mosh just because i don’t find a youtube interview convincing doesn’t mean i hold the man in contempt. project much?

  • harrywr2

     #56 Eli

    that New Orleans deserves its death because it’s low-lying and within a common hurricane track, and they’ll base their conviction on solid evidence, by which they’ll mean the same geological record and climate modeling 

    Ohh please Eli…one doesn’t need a computer model to see that an area is flood prone…there are usually such things as ‘historical high water marks’.Here we go…a story from Cranston Rhode Islandhttp://cranston.patch.com/articles/fema-declines-all-but-one-flood-buyout-applicant37 homeowners apply for a FEMA buyout because they are fed up with repeated flood damage and all but one is refused because FEMA’s ‘computer models’ don’t have flood damage data going back any further then 1980.We have a historical record of repeated flooding in New Orleans going back to 1719. The levee’s built in the 1720′s failed in 1734. The levee’s failed again in 1816 , 1849, 1871 and 1927. Hurricane Betsy flooded New Orleans again in 1965 and what was the solution…build higher levee’s.History of flooding and levee failure in New Orleans -http://www.ce.berkeley.edu/projects/neworleans/report/CH_4.pdfWe have almost 300 years of experience trying and failing to protect New Orleans from flooding. A reasonable person might say we are just not smart enough to figure out how to protect New Orleans from flooding.

  • Ed Forbes

      Tom Scharf Says: “..August 24th, 2012 at 2:23 pm It is noted that the pile of dead bodies generated in the name of “spirituality and religion” is a heck of a lot higher than the pile of bodies generated in the name of science….. ”I would not be to quick to assert this. The mass killings in Europe by Germany in the 1940′s was based on “Science”….And one can not automatically count the deaths of the 30 yrs war as over “Religion”. Most were over pure politics. The biggest supporter for Protestant Sweden in the 30 yrs war was Catholic France. 

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    63: Care to tell Eli what those models are based on?

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    #67:  Ed, you are perhaps another believer that God will know his own?

  • http://arthur.shumwaysmith.com/life/ Arthur Smith

    Coming late here – discussions of religion are always difficult because the central aspect is one that is “from the inside” and cannot be communicated in any adequate form to another except through some form of shared ceremony that evokes the same experience; analogies help, but those are often weak. Daniel Sarewitz’s expression of his feelings in Nature is a great example. Objective science is a very different thing from internal subjective experience.From what I’ve seen those who criticize science from a religious perspective almost always have a weak and simplistic understanding of how science works, they criticize a strawman caricature. Unfortunately, the same happens in the other direction. Yes, there are many who believe in science/religion for the wrong (“tribal”) reasons, without having given any great thought to the justifications for their beliefs. But there are also some who, over the centuries, have thought very deeply, on “both” sides. Read Pascal for example, and you will find much that resonates with recent “debates”. I have personally met and talked with many scientists who both love their science and also have a deep personal faith based on their own religious experience, something which gives direction and meaning to their lives, a purpose beyond the pure self-interest that seems to be the natural morality of the unreligious (but I caricature! Actually I’ve read Derek Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons” recently and recommend it for its deep discussion on how to, possibly, establish moral reasoning on non-religious principles – but it’s not easy).Is religious feeling dying from the world? Perhaps. But it would be a deeply sad day for the world if all such experience were to disappear.

  • Ed Forbes

    Eli Rabett Says: August 27th, 2012 at 9:00 pm #67: Ed, you are perhaps another believer that God will know his own?…………..Nope……very little interest in religion one way or another….Just a general knowledge of history that knows this statement that religion has piled up more bodies than science is BS. The mass deaths of the 20th century by the Germans, Russians, and Chinese all were grounded in “science”….Not that most of it was not normal politics, they just used a different rationalization for expansion and war seen through out human history. And the total deaths based on “science” in the 20th century far exceeds the totals for the “religious” wars of the 8th through 17th centuries for the so called wars of religion.

  • http://ifyouaer Matt B

    @67 Eli – since the theoretical stock value model is, well theoretical, let’s say they’re based on 19th century chemistry………

  • ivp0

    An interesting discussion.  I’ve gotta go with Newton, Kepler, Pascal, Tesla, Pasteur, Herschel, Messier, Einstein, John Glenn and many others.  Each of these extraordinary scientists pondered these questions and came to the conclusion in different ways that science and faith are quite compatible and in fact, two sides of the same coin.  They felt that mankind needs both.  That one is empty without the other.  But of course, the devil is in the details…

  • DoesItReallyMatterAnyway

    I’m an Atheist and I celebrate Christmas for merely illogical traditional reasons. I put up a tree and everything but I stop short on telling nativity stories as facts. I have no beef with Santa.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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