Chomsky, Krauss, and me

By Sean Carroll | March 15, 2006 11:15 am

Science & Theology News was looking for some famous and charismatic scientists to respond to an interview with Noam Chomsky on various issues touching on science and religion. They were able to get Lawrence Krauss to agree, but then they ran out of ideas and ended up asking me. So you have some of the deepest questions we face about meaning and the universe, addressed by someone recently voted the world’s top intellectual, with responses by the author of The Physics of Star Trek and an assistant professor with a blog. What a great world!

You will notice that most of my answering comments are short and sweet. You can take this as evidence that I know how to pack a tremendous rhetorical punch into just a handful of words, or that I was in a hurry as the deadline was approaching. But sometimes I do go on a bit when a nerve is struck, such as this discussion on whether science and religion ever overlap in their respective spheres of interest.

ON STEVEN JAY GOULD AND “NON-OVERLAPPING MAGISTERIA”

CHOMSKY: Steve Gould [was] a friend. But I don’t quite agree with him [that science-and-religion are "Non-Overlapping Magisteria"]. Science and religion are just incommensurable. I mean, religion tells you, ‘Here’s what you ought to believe.’ Judaism’s a little different, because it’s not really a religion of belief, it’s a religion of practice. If I’d asked my grandfather, who was an ultra-orthodox Jew from Eastern Europe. ‘Do you believe in God?’ he would have looked at me with a blank stare, wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. And what you do is you carry out the practices. Of course, you say ‘I believe in this and that,’ but that’s not the core of the religion. The core of the religion is just the practices you carry out. And yes, there is a system of belief behind it somewhere, but it’s not intended to be a picture of the world. It’s just a framework in which you carry out practices that are supposed to be appropriate.

KRAUSS: Science and religion are incommensurate, and religion is largely about practice rather than explanation. But religion is different than theology, and as the Catholic Church has learned over the years, any sensible theology must be in accord with the results of science.

CARROLL: Non-overlapping magisteria might be the worst idea Stephen Jay Gould ever had. It’s certainly a surprising claim at first glance: religion has many different aspects to it, but one of them is indisputably a set of statements about how the universe works at a deep level, typically featuring the existence of a powerful supernatural Creator. “How the universe works” is something squarely in the domain of science. There is, therefore, quite a bit of overlap: science is quite capable of making judgments about whether our world follows a rigid set of laws or is occasionally influenced by supernatural forces. Gould’s idea only makes sense because what he really means by “religion” is “moral philosophy.” While that’s an important aspect of religion, it’s not the only one; I would argue that the warrant for religion’s ethical claims are based on its view of the universe, without which we wouldn’t recognize it as religion.

I was going to say that these guys might be famous, but do they have their own blogs? No! Except, of course, Lawrence was our very first guest-blogger, so that counts for something. And, I remembered, Noam Chomsky actually does have a blog. A funny one that consists of answers to occasional interview questions asked by someone from Z magazine, but I suppose it counts. Man, everybody has a blog these days.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion, Science and Society
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  • http:://combingthesphere.blogspot.com Daryl McCullough

    I think Chomsky’s distinction is a good one. Religions have official beliefs about the existence of God, the creation of the world, God’s various interactions with humans, the divinity of various saviors, etc. But that stuff is decoration. The core of religion is a practice: you go to a special building certain times of the week, you say certain prayers, you celebrate certain holidays. It is possible to complete reject all the beliefs of religion and keep the practice. Why would you want to do that? It’s culture! It’s tradition! Life without tradition would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof, as Tevye says.

  • Eugene

    Chomsky’s distinction sounds like a cop-out to my little naive non-intellectual brain.

  • http://www.radioactive-banana.com/blog Kristin

    I certainly agree that religion begets a form of culture, and I’m willing to grant that a counterpoint to today’s dominant culture of hypercapitalism is a welcome thing these days. But most of Chomsky’s comments are strictly about Judaism, where apparently theology really is separate from practice. Most religions do take the theology quite seriously. In my case, I was instructed against the dangers of being a “cafeteria Catholic”, that only believing what I wanted and rejecting the rest was not what a true Catholic did.

  • Troublemaker

    In the article as a whole, Chomsky’s answers are, as usual, a mixture of genuinely provocative thought and flippant, evasive nonsense. Sean did a good job, though. :)

  • http://www.woodka.com donna

    In the future, everyone’s blog will be famous for 15 minutes….

  • CanuckRob

    Well done Sean, pretty heady company. However I wish the other Sean Carroll (Endless Forms Most Beautiful)had also been included, or at least an evolutionary biologist. Choamsky states “Not to underrate the theory of evolution, that’s a terrific intellectual advance, but it tells you nothing about whether there’s whatever people believe in when they talk about God. It doesn’t even talk about that topic. It talks about how organisms evolve. ”

    Well it is evolution that built the human brain which gave rise to the emergent phenomena of the humnan mind which is where the (bad) idea of religion springs from. So I disagree that evolution says nothing about what people believe in when they talk about god, it’s just that we don’t know how to listen very well yet.

  • citrine

    Sean,

    Could you elaborate on your comment about science being quite capable of making judgments about whether the world follows a rigid set of laws or is occasionally influenced by supernatural forces? The latter doesn’t jive with my idea of what science is about: asking verifiable questions.

  • fh

    The occasional influences are, in principle, meassurable.

    Except of course for a FSM God which maliciously only fiddles when we are not looking.

  • Dan

    I liked your answers, Sean!
    I think Lawrence did a good job too. I was just a tiny little bit dissapointed by Chomsky though…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    citrine, I think that science is about understanding how Nature works through comparison of hypotheses with data. The presence or absence of supernatural influences can certainly be part of an hypothesis. More details are in my paper “Why Almost All Cosmologists are Atheists”:

    http://pancake.uchicago.edu/~carroll/nd-paper.html

    And I think you meant “jibe,” not “jive.” (Although maybe.)

  • Chris W.

    Sean,

    The key question, however, is what happens to the testability of a hypothesis if it includes the possible role of supernatural forces. A closely related question is how one distinguishes supernatural forces from natural ones. It seems to me that “supernatural” is almost always taken to mean “an expression of the intentions of an invisible being of unspecified constitution” (god, demon, angel, spirit, ghost, etc). Inasmuch as intentions are inherently fickle, it hard to imagine any effective strategy for testing an assumption of such an influence.

    Apologists for religion don’t care much about problems of this sort. They figure, well, if one can explain the otherwise mysterious appearance of a hole in one’s backyard by the intentions (and presumed actions) of a neighbor’s dog or child, why can’t I extrapolate that mode of explanation by invoking so-called supernatural beings? The epistemological significance of the fact that dogs and human children are physical beings whose actions are presumably constrained (at least) by physical laws is discounted.

    Of course this is a logical and methodological criticism of supernatural explanations, not an empirical one. One can always respond, “well, yeah, but supernatural forces could still exist and be causing observable events. You can’t prove that they’re not!” Add some religious conviction and you have an irrefutable position, albeit a scientifically sterile one.

  • http:://combingthesphere.blogspot.com Daryl McCullough

    Eugene writes: Chomsky’s distinction sounds like a cop-out to my little naive non-intellectual brain.

    Why a cop-out? Most religious people I know (that is, people who participate in religious services) confess to not really believing in the theology. That includes Catholics, Jews and Protestants.

    Kristin writes: Most religions do take the theology quite seriously. In my case, I was instructed against the dangers of being a “cafeteria Catholic”, that only believing what I wanted and rejecting the rest was not what a true Catholic did.

    I’m not talking about what Church leaders say, I’m talking about what Church members say. Many Catholics that I know don’t care whether they are considered “true Catholics” or not.

  • George Musser

    A historical note: the idea of “non-overlapping magisteria” is sometimes attributed to Gould, but of course the idea is much older, going back at least as far as Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant. In 1923 Robert Millikan convinced a number of scientists and theologians to sign a declaration stating:

    The purpose of science is to develop, without prejudice or preconception of any kind, a knowledge of the facts, the laws and the processes of nature. The even more important task of religion, on the other hand, is to develop the conscience, the ideals, and the aspirations of mankind.

    Although this is, as Sean says, phrased in terms of “moral philosophy”, I should point out that the idea of distinct realms also extends to metaphysics. Science and religion may not be “non-overlapping”, but there are nontrivial areas outside their intersection.

    Geeorge

  • jb

    Thank you, Chris W.!!

    We needed some fresh air in here. I could hardly breathe.

  • Eugene

    Daryl,

    I think religion without theology is not a religion. One can call it “culture”, “moral philosophy”, “spiritual practice” etc, but it is certainly not the religion one claims to practice. There is some element of picking and choosing what you want to believe in any religion, but choosing not to believe in the reason the religion exists in the first place is tantaumount to not believing it. That’s the cop-out I refer to, it is a form of rationalization.

    Of course people who “practice without belief” can call themselves religious, there is nothing to stop them. But I would think that the people who actually “practice with believe” are not going to accept that those people are members of their faith. And I would certainly not call those who “practice without belief” members of their religion.

  • Moshe

    Chomsky’s viewpoint is reminiscent of that of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an Israeli philosopher and scientist who was very influential when I was growing up. Among other things he was famous for promoting his “religion as practice” or “do as you are told” version of Judaism, dismissing any claim for more comprehensive viewpoint as redundant.

    Since Leibowitz was, to say it mildly, a unique personality, I always assumed this point of view is unique also, I now have a second data point (which may not be indpendent)…I am wondering therefore if the story is a bit larger than I had imagined, interesting…

    But of course, religion as practice is not that uncommon viewpoint among practitioners of other religions (I am not that sure about christianity), in that case I see no overlap with science at all.

  • http:://combingthesphere.blogspot.com Daryl McCullough

    Eugene,

    Why do you object to calling it religion? Why do you care what it is called?

    There is some element of picking and choosing what you want to believe in any religion, but choosing not to believe in the reason the religion exists in the first place is tantaumount to not believing it.

    Right. For many people, belief is not relevant to their religious practices. Why do you call it a cop-out? Why do you call it rationalization?

  • http:://combingthesphere.blogspot.com Daryl McCullough

    Moshe,

    I think that for many liberal “religious” people, there is no overlap between religion and science. If there is a scientific question, about how best to cure cancer, or what caused the Tsunami, or where humans came from, the liberal adherent defers to science for the answer. They don’t look to their Holy book or their priest.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    It’s nice that we’ve been instructed on whom to accept as “World’s Top Intellectual”. So when do we find out who’s “World’s Top Emotionalist”?

  • Adam

    If we’re after titles, I’ll be ‘world’s worst zither player*’

    *It’s a safe bet. I’ve never picked one up.

  • Eugene

    Daryl,

    Well, I guess one can redefine religion till it does not overlap with science. I would claim that then it has been stripped off its most essential bit : theology, that it is no longer religion but a set of practices that one follows just because it’s a tradition to do so. I would think it’ll be a bit hard to get everybody on board on the redefinition.

    I am not saying that people who claim they are religious without belief are not sincere. I am just saying that, to me it sounds like a cop-out, for the reasons I stated above. (It’s a bit like Unitarianism, “a feather bed for a fallen Christian” as Darwin recalled his grandfather said.) I am sure these people will disagree with me though.

  • Doug

    Sean seems to have a propensity to raise the religious issues of science more than the scientific issues of religion, but are there really legitimate scientific issues of religion, and legitimate religious issues of science to be considered? If so, what are they? Ultimately, the answer to this question must be no, because the practice of religion does not address its issues scientifically, just as the practice of science does not address its issues religiously.

    However, the purpose of both the practice of religion and the practice of science is the same: to discover the truth of reality. In the case of science, the truth that is sought is limited to the reality of the structure of the physical universe. In the case of religion, the truth that is sought is not limited in this way, but it is limited in another way: it is more expedient to know some aspects of reality than others.

    The biggest issue of science is the true nature of space and time. The biggest issue of religion is the true nature of God. If in the study of the nature of space and time, the man of science declares that there is no God, or, if in the study of the true nature of God, the man of God declares that there is no such thing as space or time, neither can convince the other that this is true.

    This is the epistemological gulf between the two “magisteria.” It is real. The man of science can argue all day long that the evidence that convinces him that the big bang is real and that, consequently, it should also convince us all that God does not live, argues his case with the man of God in vain. Such reasoning will never persuade the man of God that God does not live. This does not mean that the man of God is incapable of logical reasoning, or that he stubbornly refuses to consider the facts and their implications. On the contrary, if anything, the man of God regards the position of the atheistic man of science as illogical and foolish in light of the knowledge he has that God does, indeed, live.

    “Space and time do not exist as you suppose,” he might argue. His argument is based on the implication that, since God exists, the big bang is an incorrect concept stemming from incorrect assumptions about the true nature of space and time. However, because of the epistemological difference between the two seekers of truth, it is only possible that one might throw doubt on the other’s conclusions and in the process establish the superiority of one epistemology or the other.

    Thus, the scientific cases for a cosmic time-line beginning with the big bang, and for the fossil record found in the earth’s crust, are used to establish that the reality of physical and biological evolution implies that there is no Superior Being involved, especially not the historical one of the Christian-Judeo tradition that so naively explains the creation of Heaven and earth in six days. “Impossible,” cries the man of science, “preposterous.”

    Meanwhile, the troubled man of God, afraid his children will be misled by this attack on his epistemology, reflects on his position in light of the attack. Maybe, six days are actually six periods, or ages, called days. Maybe, … and he then starts to look for a way to explain the disparity scientifically. However, even if he could succeed at this, it will do him no good, because the knowledge that God lives that he possesses, and that he wants his children to obtain, cannot be obtained scientifically. He is using the wrong epistemology. What he must do instead is urge his children to learn to practice the religion, to employ the correct epistemology, to hold in abeyance the conclusions of the man of science, as regards the true nature of God, understanding that he is not in any position to know such a thing.

    Indeed, the man of God will always be better off pointing out the scientific weaknesses of the man of science’s own case. He might ask, “What is making the expansion of the universe accelerate? Does the vacuum have negative pressure?” The man of science has no answer. He might ask, “Does the Higgs really exist? If not, what then is the origin of mass?” Again, the man of science has no answer to this, and many other fundamental scientific issues. Thus, the man of God can conclude that the man of science’s case for the true concept of the nature of space and time, and for the big bang that is based upon it, is incomplete and far from conclusive. How then can he take the position that there is no God? Maybe, his faulty understanding of space and time are at fault, causing him to reach incorrect conclusions about something he is in no position to know the certainty of through scientific means.

    Moral: There is enough work for each to do in his own magisteria that he has no business trying to persuade the practitioners of another magisteria that they are wrong in their own realm. If the man of science wishes to engage religious issues on a scientific basis, his efforts are doomed to fail just as surely as the man of God’s efforts will, if he endeavors to establish scientific truth on a spiritual basis. Both are better off pointing out the weaknesses of their respective arguments based upon the appropriate epistemology. The magisteria are “non-overlapping.”

  • macho

    Re belief vs. practice: it sounds like many of the posters here have not spent much time in the heartland of this country, outside of small academic enclaves. I don’t have numbers but suspect that a large percentage of members of the Protestant faith in this country do sincerely believe — belief is paramount, and practice much less so, even for those who do not attend church regularly. (In a strange reversal, many protestant theologians and ministers are more open to intellectual discussion and debate on theological issues than are their congregants). This is very different from religions which emphasize ritual or practice.
    Thus in attempting to understand the divide, which is essential in order to address some of the issues (such as evolution) that are having a very real impact on our society, it is a mistake to underestimate the strength of the beliefs held by many americans, even those who do not subscribe to strict literal interpretations of the bible. Religious ideas and beliefs bring great comfort to many people, even those with rather vague (usually protestant) beliefs, while science is seen as difficult and incomprehensible, and scientists as arrogant and cold. Those that hold such beliefs and attitudes are for the most part reasonably intelligent, thoughtful, caring individuals (and include individuals with advanced degrees in many fields and professions). Just as those in the science community are for the most part reasonably intelligent, thoughtful, caring individuals.
    Moving between these two communities, with many colleagues and neighbors in one, and many extended family members, friends and former neighbors in the other, the most striking difference is the impression each has of the other.

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  • Torbjorn Larsson

    That was a nice piece. It was also nice IMO that it emerged with critical views in Science & Technology News, who are supported by the Templeton foundation, who I assume is a christian apologist organisation.

    I agree that ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ is an unsupported idea, which sounds like a variant of dualism, but the same can be said about ‘incommensurable’. In fact, someone observed that in several areas science and religion is opposed to each other. When and if religion backs off all claims about natural observations or that science is fundamentally atheistic, it may be the conflict subsides. But we are a long way from that, and it doesn’t seem to happen ever.

    The description of the core of religion as practises are perhaps apt, but it’s disingenious to ignore that beliefs are an important part too. Why else would science be unfairly characterised as atheistic?

    Chris, some people prefer to chose ‘ontological materialism’ (the conclusion that the natural world is all there is) because they argue that natural phenomena seems to be behind all observations, and thus they close off the remainder. This theory can’t be falsified, since all observations must be redefined as “natural”.

    I believe we can make a better theory. We can’t make theories about supernatural phenomena in the absence of observations that helps us define them. We know however that natural phenomena obeys energy and probability conservation laws. Let’s call the remainder anatural phenomena. The anaturals will include all possible supernatural phenomena.

    By testing a massive amount of different systems (for example chemical and gravitational ones) one can confirm or falsify “beyond reasonable suspicion” whether anaturals can be observed as breaking conservation laws. If they aren’t, the best theory will be that they don’t exist. I can’t see why “methodological naturalism” can’t eventually show “ontological materialism’ as a correct theory by observations?! So perhaps I’m going to be a crank. ;-)

    Doug, apart from naive assumptions about modern cosmology and other scientific questions, your idea that your god rests in the gap of our knowledge isn’t only pitiful, but to paraphrase Krauss: “it is bad theology”.

  • http://www.guydickinson.com/sheep evano

    Eugene, Daryl: How does Buddhism fit into the ideas of religion being discussed? As a religion, it really has no God, as most religions seem to define it. It seems that Buddhism is solely a religion of “practice.” The practice is mainly that of meditation and “right” living. One can follow the practice, attempting to rid the self of all desires and individual consciousness and thereby reach nirvana without even subscribing to the belief in karma or reincarnation.

  • Frumious B.

    That is a pretty interesting view, that religion is more about practice than about belief. Practices are, after all, something that people can choose to do or not. If we accept “the practices you carry out” as a working definition of religion, doesn’t that pretty much throw the social taboo against mocking religion out the window?

  • Doug

    Larsson wrote:

    Doug, apart from naive assumptions about modern cosmology and other scientific questions, your idea that your god rests in the gap of our knowledge isn’t only pitiful, but to paraphrase Krauss: “it is bad theology”.

    That God “rests in the gap of our knowledge” is your phrase, not mine. I’m not even sure what you mean by that phrase. My point is that the knowledge of God comes by revelation from God. One must seek it from God through faith and obedience (practice). “Ask and ye shall receive.” and “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

    Doctrine is a belief, or a system of beliefs, accepted as authoritative. The doctrine of Christ is that God lives, is our Father, and that Jesus is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of all mankind, and that no one can come to the Father but by Him.

    The generally accepted doctrine of science, on the other hand, is that all knowledge is from experience, that there is no real understanding other than that based on observed facts, and that there is an unchanging order in things. Thus, we see the opposition inherent in these two doctrinal positions. On the one hand, the knowledge that Peter gained, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, he gained by following the doctrine of Christ, as Jesus immediately pointed out to him, in the presence of all His disciples: “Blessed are you, [Peter], for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

    However, the accepted doctrine of science is that this conviction of Peter’s does not constitute real understanding, because it is not based on observed fact. Hence, it denies that revelation from an unseen heaven (remember the Cosmonaut’s remark from space in the early days?) qualifies as the kind of experience that can convey knowledge. Nevertheless, the knowledge that Peter obtained was the knowledge that God lives and that Jesus is the Son of the living God, something that he did not see with his natural eyes. Obviously, such knowledge of God is something unobtainable by science as long as the scientific doctrine that “there is no real understanding other than that based on observed facts” is the accepted doctrine.

    What this really means is that there can be no privileged view of the facts permitted. The accepted doctrine of science is that observed facts are defined as only those observable by anyone without special qualification, other than that available to any man (woman) through ordinary scientific training. On this basis, the doctrine of Christ that obedience to the commandments of God is a requirement to know the truth about the things of God is totally irrelevant, since such doctrine applies only to the unseen things of God, not to the things we all can see with our eyes and hold with our hands.

    Yet both Enoch and Moses testified that they saw the true order of things, not through their natural eyes, but through a higher means. It is Moses’ testimony that he spoke to God face to face(see here), as one man speaks to another, and God showed him the workmanship of His hands, but only a part of it, because his works are without end. Moses was amazed and wanted to understand the purpose of it all and how it was accomplished, but God wouldn’t tell him everything, presumably because it wasn’t expedient at that time. However, he said to him, “Worlds without number have I created…but only an account of this earth and the inhabitants thereof give I unto you…there are many worlds that have passed away, and there are many that now stand and innumerable are they to man, but all things are numbered by me, for they are mine and I know them… And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof, even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

    Such knowledge is completely beyond the reach of science. The only way that one may know for oneself that it is true is through religious practice, not scientific practice. Therefore, again I say, the “magisteria” is non-overlapping.

  • Torbjorn Larsson

    “That God “rests in the gap of our knowledge” is your phrase, not mine. I’m not even sure what you mean by that phrase.”

    This is a very common mistake among religious people. In philosophy it’s called “god of the gaps”, or “the argument from incredulity”, or “the argument from incredulity”. ( http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA100.html ).

    You use it when you say “Indeed, the man of God will always be better off pointing out the scientific weaknesses of the man of science’s own case. … How then can he take the position that there is no God?”. Your entire argumentation supposes that one worldview (science) must show more than the other (religion).

    The reason it’s bad theology is that it’s appallingly weak. Whenever a gap in the scientific knowledge is filled, your faith will be weakened. It was weakened since you claim a gap is evidence of your faith. To firm up your theology you have to back off from making any claims about nature, and stop claiming scientists can’t be religious (“the man of science”). Especially since there are many of them who are.

  • Doug

    Larsson wrote:

    This is a very common mistake among religious people. In philosophy it’s called “god of the gaps”, or “the argument from incredulity”, or “the argument from incredulity”. ( http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CA/CA100.html ).

    Thank you for clarifying this, but it’s a straw man, because I’m not arguing that the knowledge of God’s existence is founded in the fact that there is no other explanation for some aspect of nature. While one may argue that the wonders of the physical universe are evidence of a divine Creator, evidence is not knowledge. In like manner, discovering the power inherent in the logical relation of numbers, or the fundamentals of physical laws that underlie the order of things, does not eliminate the possibility of intelligent intervention, and a change in the order of things.

    Albeit, there is a sense in which man should not presume to think in all things, because there are worlds beyond this world. However, this is a matter of wisdom and discretion. It is not really germane to the epistemological issue of the non-overlapping magisteria. Again, my point is that man cannot answer the religious question, does God exist or not, unless he accepts that there is more than meets the eye in the experience of life. As long as he accepts the doctrine that there is no “real understanding other than that based on observed facts,” and observed facts are to be limited to what the natural eye can behold, then it is impossible for him to discover knowledge that is obtained by the practice of faith and based on the evidence of things unseen by the natural eye.

    Peter’s conviction transformed his life, but it was not based on knowledge obtained from witnessing miracles such as healing the sick, transforming chemicals, walking on water, or raising the dead. It was based on a knowledge obtained from a higher source, not from flesh and blood, but from a Supreme Being. This is not knowledge based on a logical argument. It is not a position justified by a gap in empirical knowledge, but it is a position justified by the experience of divine communication, revelation from a Supreme Being.

    That such knowledge will never be acceptable to those who adhere to the doctrine that no such thing can exist is not surprising, but neither should it be surprising that no logical argument has power to prevail against it. This is only a consequence of the non-overlapping magisteria, not an indication of lunacy, stubbornness, or weak brains. As you rightly point out, the man of God, and the man of science, are often one and the same. However, in that case, the man of science does not subscribe to the accepted doctrine of science that insists that only facts that can be observed with the natural eye can lead to real understanding.

    He knows that to be learned is good, and while he seeks wisdom by earnest study out of the best books and courses he can find, he also seeks it by faith as Enoch, Abraham, and Moses also sought it. He knows that he can learn more about the things of heaven and earth by a few seconds of revelation, than he can learn by studying all the books ever written on the subject. However, it is not given unto man to know all things as soon as he wants to know them, but, by and by, all things will be revealed. In the meantime, he studies things in the earth and beneath the earth, and he seeks a knowledge of things which have been, and things which must shortly come to pass, the wars and perplexities of the nations, the judgments upon the land and a knowledge of countries and kingdoms.

    But if a man uses his learning to deny the existence of God, all his learning is vain and is turned into foolishness and folly, because he has cut himself off from the source of all light and truth.

    Hence, the non-overlapping magisteria motivates the man of God and science to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things of God unto God. He does his best to understand the true nature of space and time, but he also knows that what has been discovered, no matter how difficult to understand in the current context, will eventually be reconciled with what was revealed to the ancient prophets. For instance, he knows that this earth and its heaven were not created in six days, but he also knows that that is how it was explained anciently to a people who were not as prepared to understand things formerly, as we might be today.

    Today, God’s revelations to a modern Moses might be more sophisticated, because a modern Moses might be more prepared to understand that when He said that he caused darkness to come up upon the face of the deep, when the earth was void and without form, and that His Spirit moved upon the face of the water, because He is God, that he was not referring to the darkness of the night, but to something else, that He was not referring to the “deep” of the sea, but to something else, that He was not referring to “water” as we know it, but to something that ancient people were in no position to understand, so he put it in terms that they could understand.

    Anyway, taking this ancient account of the creation and trying to understand it in modern terms of science is useless, unless one knows the mind of God with respect to these matters, and as far as I know, no one does. Yet, by the same token, no one should think that because God revealed the act of creation to ancient people in a manner adapted to their understanding, that He cannot provide a more advanced explanation to a people who today might be more prepared to understand it.

    Indeed, all of what we are learning may be a prelude to just that. Stay tuned.

  • http://1034:Incorrectkeyfilefortableusers;trytorepairit sisyphus

    Anyone for Religion and Theology as non-overlapping magisteria?

    How do cause-and-effect believers deal with the ultimate origin of the natural world? Eternity? Some other existence-without-cause provenance?

    Science seems to be running faster and faster toward an endlessly receding horizon; perhaps we’re marooned on our little planet of expanations, isolated from a much bigger, inconceivable reality.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2006/03/if-its-not-soccer-ball-what-is-it.html Plato

    How does Buddhism fit into the ideas of religion being discussed?

    I know I wasn’t asked, but the question has some importance to me. Not to tout “irresponsibility” in our assessments, but on how such theoretcial ideas can change the way in which we see things now.

    What was “spooky,” now becomes a legitimate science in regards to Zeilinger.

    Because he entertains the Leader, opens oneself to other ideas, does not mean “his science” is any less relevant.


    Zeilinger says that the Dalai Lama did not have a problem with photons having both particle and wave-like properties, but was reluctant to accept that individual quantum events are random. For example, he refused to accept that we cannot know which path a photon takes in a two-path quantum interference experiment. Zeilinger notes that continuity of existence is very important to Buddhists because it leads to reincarnation.

    However, observation plays a key part in what we can know in both quantum theory and Buddhism, and Zeilinger was surprised to learn that the Dalai Lama agreed that there are not only limits on what we can measure, but also limits on what we can know, even in principle.

  • Torbjorn Larsson

    Doug,

    You say here:
    “I’m not arguing that the knowledge of God’s existence is founded in the fact that there is no other explanation for some aspect of nature.”

    You said earlier:
    “Indeed, the man of God will always be better off pointing out the scientific weaknesses of the man of science’s own case. … How then can he take the position that there is no God?”.

    Which amounts to demanding us to believe that the knowledge of God’s existence is founded in the fact that there is no other explanation for some aspect of nature.

    I can’t make this any clearer to you, at least without you spouting your endless commentaries needlessly, so I will stop now.

  • http:://combingthesphere.blogspot.com Daryl McCullough

    macho writes: it sounds like many of the posters here have not spent much time in the heartland of this country, outside of small academic enclaves. I don’t have numbers but suspect that a large percentage of members of the Protestant faith in this country do sincerely believe — belief is paramount, and practice much less so, even for those who do not attend church regularly.

    I’ve spent time in the heartland—I grew up there. And yes, belief is important to most protestant Christians, but not all. My mother, in particular, told me from the time I was very young that she doesn’t really believe in life after death or the miracles of Jesus, or the resurrection. Yet she attended Methodist services every Sunday, sang in the choir, took us to Sunday school, etc. Of course, she didn’t express these opinions to other Church members. For her, religion is practice. It’s about striving to take care of the world, and each other, and to constantly remind ourselves how wonderful it is to be alive.

    evano writes: How does Buddhism fit into the ideas of religion being discussed? As a religion, it really has no God, as most religions seem to define it. It seems that Buddhism is solely a religion of “practice.”

    Yes, I think that is right. Especially Zen Buddhism (Tibetan Buddhism has a fair amount of theology to it, it seems to me.)

    Frumious B writes: If we accept “the practices you carry out” as a working definition of religion, doesn’t that pretty much throw the social taboo against mocking religion out the window?

    Why should that be the case? There is a similar taboo against making fun of other cultures, isn’t there?

    I see “respect for religious conviction” and “respect for cultural differences” to be the same sort of thing. I see our lives as having “public” and “private” aspects, just like a well-structured program. I think that criticism of another person should be limited to the public aspects of their lives—how they do their job, how they treat their fellow humans, how they carry out civic and legal responsibilities.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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