The World Science (and Faith) Festival

By Sean Carroll | June 1, 2010 1:25 pm

I have to agree with Jerry Coyne here: the program on Faith and Science at this year’s World Science Festival is a mistake. I went to last year’s Festival, and I have great respect for Brian Greene and Tracy Day for bringing together such a massive undertaking. It would be better if they didn’t take money from the Templeton Foundation, but money has to come from somewhere, and I’m not the one paying the bills. I don’t even mind having a panel that talks about religion — it’s a big part of many people’s lives, and there are plenty of issues to be discussed at the intersection of science and religion.

But it would be a lot more intellectually respectable to present a balanced discussion of those issues, rather than the one that is actually lined up. The panelists include two scientists who are Templeton Prize winners — Francisco Ayala and Paul Davies — as well as two scholars of religion — Elaine Pagels and Thupten Jinpa. Nothing in principle wrong with any of those people, but there is a somewhat obvious omission of a certain viewpoint: those of us who think that science and religion are not compatible. And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right. A panel like this does a true disservice to people who are curious about these questions and could benefit from a rigorous airing of the issues, rather than a whitewash where everyone mumbles pleasantly about how we should all just get along.

I’m not as much of an anti-Templeton fundamentalist as some people are; I won’t take money from them, but I will cooperate with institutions and organizations that do take money from them, even as I grumble about it. (Money laundering as the route to moral purity.) But this event is a perfect example of the ultimately pernicious influence that Templeton has. I disagree with Jerry and others who consider Templeton money a “bribe” to people who are willing to go along with their party line; I have no doubt that Ayala, Davies, Pagels and Jinpa will express only views that they sincerely hold and would still hold in the absence of any monetary reward. What Templeton does is that it hands people with those views a giant megaphone. Francisco Ayala is a respected scientist who happens to believe that science and religion complement each other rather than coming into conflict; that’s fine, although somewhat unremarkable. But then he wins the Templeton Prize, and that exact same opinion gets plastered all over the media.

Panels like this one at the WSF are the same story. Maybe exactly the same event would have been organized even if Templeton had nothing to do with the Festival; but I doubt it. (Update: upon reflection, I don’t know what the process was by which the event was organized, and I shouldn’t cast dark aspersions in the absence of evidence. My real point is that I don’t think that the panel should have happened the way it did, and I don’t want to detract from that.) Plenty of science festivals and museums seem to get along perfectly well without discussing religion at all. And if you did want to discuss it, there’s no way that an honest investigation into how scientists feel about religion would end up leaving out some fully committed atheists who would be pretty uncompromising towards belief.

Four hundred years after Galileo turned his telescope on the heavens, it’s incredibly frustrating that we still have debates over whether the world can be described in purely naturalistic terms, rather than accepting that insight as an amazing accomplishment and moving on to the hard work of articulating its consequences. It’s a shame that the World Science Festival is helping to keep us back, rather than moving us forward.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Religion, Science and Society
  • NewEnglandBob

    Good post. Thanks.

  • http://scienceontap.blogspot.com ARJ

    It would be very rare for ANY panel at ANY conference to actually represent all views (even all major views). Show me a panel (or for that matter a professional journal), and I’ll find you a person with pertinent credentials who feels THEIR view isn’t being adequately aired. Methinkest you protesteth too much.

  • Joachim

    Yes, this is all too much… ARJ: All views? Strawman. All major views? Very rare for ANY panel at ANY conference to represent the major views? False, and still a strawman.

  • http://www.gregegan.net/ Greg Egan

    Sean, this is spot on.

    ARJ, you might find this helpful:

    http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/lady-doth-protest-too-much-methinks

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  • http://www.whyevolutionistrue.com Jerry Coyne

    “And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right.”

    Indeed!

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  • http://theeternaluniverse.blogspot.com/ Joseph Smidt

    I agree Sean. All points of view should be represented, even the view science and religion are not compatible.

  • http://blog.itsathought.net/ Non-Believer

    But then he wins the Templeton Prize, and that exact same opinion gets plastered all over the media.

    Sean, when atheists take this attitude it turns away perfectly rational people like me. You are not the only person on the planet. Your views and those who agree with you are not holy and untouchable. When those intolerant phrases are spoken, the same bells and whistles in my head goes off as when I hear those kinds of thoughts from religious fundamentalist.

    Life is complicated. These issues are complicated. You will never get everyone to agree, nor should you. There would be no forward motion on any issue if we all agreed to one view. Different views and conflicting ideas are the nature of this world and it is a plan that works. Not beautifully, not easily but it propels us forward.

    I don’t say you should not loudly assert your position. You should. But when you take the position that anyone who doesn’t agree with you doesn’t have the right to loudly assert their position, you come into the religious zealot mindset that is dangerous road.

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  • Lonely Flower

    We can get to an agreement point if we said instead of “Religions and Science are compataible” the following statment ” Believing in God and Science are compataible”
    In general believing in God without considering religion doesn’t imply contradiction with for example evoloution,the age of the universe,..

    The teachings of some religions is the source of contradictions with science.

  • Todd

    Sean – While I agree with your perspective (let’s minimize the mixing of faith and science), I think you might be over selling the problem a bit with respect to The World of Science Festival. I counted quickly and saw 37 events (not including the street fair) listed for TWoSF. Perhaps I need to look more closely, but I only saw one event focused on the religion/science nexus. If TWoSF takes the Templeton Foundation’s money and then puts on one event discussing Templeton’s pet project, that doesn’t sound too bad to me.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the event is “sold out”. Seems like there are plenty of people interested in the topic.

    Regards – Todd

  • J.J.E.

    @ Non-Believer (June 1st, 2010 at 4:22 pm)
    @ Todd (June 1st, 2010 at 4:50 pm)

    You two are missing the point. The point isn’t that the “science and religion are compatible” perspective isn’t allowed to have a megaphone or even that “science and religion are compatible” perspective overwhelms everything else. The point is that, all else being equal, let’s let the science events be science events. After all, it is science that the public has a problem with. By and large the public is quite amenable to faith.

    The telling sign in these sorts of events is the omission of any mention of conflict between science and religion. I don’t think a science event need necessarily bring this up, but if faith must be invoked, it is grossly negligent to advocate only the peaceful coexistence.

  • http://blog.itsathought.net/ Non-Believer

    @JJE
    I don’t have a problem with the basic position Sean has written about. I understand why he feels that there should be representation of the – lets keep these things separate. My point is the tone of intolerance over someone who’s opinion differs from his is getting media coverage. That sounds like only one world view counts and its his and people who think like him. That’s the world view that fundamentalists have.

    That is the kind of thinking doesn’t solve problems and will not bring about the result we hope for. It will just divide camps and increase animosity. It narrows the focus on attacking the others instead of working toward a larger process of teaching critical thinking more broadly so that people will respect and recognize rational thought. Long term strategies will change these cultural and intellectual divides. Short term sniping will make that more difficult and only add fuel to the fundamentalists.

  • SteveB

    Good post.

    About one of the panelists, Elaine Pagels. I have read quite a bit of her work and, speaking for myself, she appeals to the skeptic. She is a very good historian and linguistic having worked with the Nag Hammadi scrolls (similar to Dead Sea scrolls but from Gnostic Christian Sects and not a Jewish Sect). She has ruffled a lot of feathers in the traditional camps by questioning the defeat of Gnosticism by the “official” church, described the history of how Satan was invented, and similar topics. Sure her scholarship is religious, but she is definitely a good scholar.

  • http://ghostwood.org/nick/religion.html Nick Howes

    I agree that this is a mistake: the Templeton Foundation has no place at a festival of science, no matter how much they are willing to pay. It may be stating the obvious, but religion is based on faith – i.e. belief without reason – and is fundamentally incompatible with science which is based on rational thought and testable knowledge. The Templeton Foundation’s mission seems to be to blur the distinction between faith and science (at least in the minds of the general public) – an insidious and ignoble goal, in my opinion.

  • J.J.E.

    @ Non-Believer

    “My point is the tone of intolerance over someone who’s opinion differs from his is getting media coverage.”

    His post is not intolerant nor does it have a tone of intolerance nor does it criticize religion. In short, your objection is without a target, period. Which part of Sean’s post exhibits “intolerance” (or any of its synonyms: bigotry, narrow-mindedness, small-mindedness, illiberality, parochialism, provincialism; prejudice, bias, partisanship, partiality, discrimination; injustice)?

    As I pointed out, you missed the point and you continue to miss the point. The point is that such festivals seem to be great without addressing faith and its compatibility with science. And if a presentation at a science festival DID decide to broach the subject, at the very least it should present the balance required when there is no consensus conclusion within the community that is hosting the presentation. In the scientific community, there is certainly no consensus that religion is compatible with science. So why present it as if there were consensus?

    I also take exception to this statement:

    “It narrows the focus on attacking the others instead of working toward a larger process of teaching critical thinking more broadly so that people will respect and recognize rational thought.”

    There is no narrowing of focus and Sean’s post in no way attacks or supports attacking anybody, religious or otherwise. Where does Sean attack someone or suggest that attacking someone is O.K.?

    “Short term sniping will make that more difficult and only add fuel to the fundamentalists.”

    Who is sniping? Certainly not Sean. Unless you are merely using metaphorical language like “intolerant”, “attacking” and “sniping” to simply mean “disagreement or difference of opinion”, you are way off base. If you are just using metaphors, then I completely reject your objection. The moment you forbid airing differences of opinion is the moment you kill science.

    Unless of course you are arguing that the only difference of opinion that need be suppressed is the one that suggests that religion and science are strongly conflicting views of the world. And again, that bit of special pleading doesn’t pass muster.

  • Mike

    I think some very fascinating science lies at the intersection of science and religion, especially as science is exploring the ability to build computer simulations of physics + replication + evolution. 1) In every case where both a metaworld and an embedded virtual world are within the purview of science, there is a creator. 2) In such a chaotic simulation, what is the minimum metaworld input (revelation) needed to nudge the direction of evolution toward emergent love. 3) Is there a way out of the Darwinian trap other than salvaging a few virtual creatures into the metaverse. Some of these ideas are addressed in the novel “Darwin’s Dove”. In this sense, science and religion seem quite compatible, but perhaps only to those who write physical simulators or genetic algorithms.

  • Gordon

    It is tiresome reading posts complaining that Sean is strident and that atheists use “invective”.
    All he is saying is that a panel discussing Faith and Science should not consist of all panelists who are believers. After all, a large majority of scientists are atheists (APS, AAAS, etc). Whenever an atheist even mildly criticizes religious belief as irrational, he/she is accused of being rude, aggressive, using invective. Faith and religion are almost unique in getting a free pass about being criticized. Even non-believers have been brainwashed into thinking it is just bad form pointing out that core religious beliefs are crazy.

  • Harry

    Is Davies actually a “believer”?

  • http://michaelnielsen.org/blog Michael Nielsen

    “It would be better if they didn’t take money from the Templeton Foundation”

    Sean, do you also think scientists shouldn’t take money from defense sources (DARPA, Office of Naval Research, GCHQ, etc)?

  • Garth A Barber

    “those of us who think that science and religion are not compatible. And there are a lot of us! Also, we’re right.”

    So no dogmatic assertions there then!

  • SLC

    Re Francisco Ayala

    On a thread on another blog, someone claimed that Prof. Ayala, in an interview with a Spanish newspaper in 2000, admitted to being a non-believer. This would make him a Mooney type accommodationist, rather then a Ken Miller/Francis Collins type of accommodationist.

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    Funny … no mention of the Pontifical Academy of Science’s working group on Atherosclerosis which met earlier this week.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_academies/acdscien/2010/atherosclerosis_booklet_08.pdf

  • http://glendonmellow.blogspot.com Glendon Mellow

    Very well said, Sean.

    I’d find it disappointing not to have the “science & religion don’t mix” view omitted even if this was outside of a science festival.

    I wonder how much of this is sold out by people hoping to line up during question period and bring the incompatibility issue up.

  • beaver fever

    Let’s do some simple math here:
    Sean Carroll’s life=0% religion+100% science, while
    Francisco Ayala’ life=50% religion+50% science.

    In principle, if you allow x dot y=0 to be your definition of incompatability, then clearly the x-axis and the y-axis in the Cartesean plane are incompatible. However, as will be readily recognized, they are equally valid and important. So it is not even worthwhile debating compatability.

    Further, in the (religion,science)-plane, there is one and only one line with coordinates consisting of pure science. As will be readily recognized, the majority of lines are in fact a superposition of a pure-science and a pure-religion line. Therefore, it will be only reasonable to believe that in fact most people live on a line with some weight of religion in it.

    As far as the conference is concerned: I dislike NIKE, but they make the jersey for my soccer team, and my love for my soccer team far exceeds my dislike for NIKE, therefore I will wear my NIKE jersey to show support for my team…I could opt for a non-NIKE jersey too (it costs less, will be ripped off in a month, and I will not be able to sell it on eBAY in 30 years)…

  • Other Sean

    Sean:
    Good post. I appreciate the honesty and share your fears in the potential misunderstanding. But looking at the class of speakers, it seems the risk is mittigated. I don’t see Paul Davies, Brian Greene et. al. offering any risk to scientific understanding- quite the opposite. The issue then is the position that science and religion have nothing in common is not fairly represented. But is it reasonable to insist on this requirement? Does every public gathering related to scientific understanding need to start with a secular invocation? Is this good for science?

  • http://blog.itsathought.net/ Non-Believer

    @ JJE
    I did not miss the point of his post. In general, I agree that it would be best to have all sides represented if the purpose of the panel is to discuss pros and cons of the issue. I also fully agree that science and religion are two separate entities and should not mix. When they do, we arrive at the mess we currently are struggling with. My thoughts are focused off the main idea and on the few sentences in which I felt intolerance.

    I started my original comment with the phrase that I found objectionable. I will repeat it:

    But then he wins the Templeton Prize, and that exact same opinion gets plastered all over the media.

    That, to me at least, indicates an intolerance of a having a different opinion publicized.

    What Templeton does is that it hands people with those views a giant megaphone.

    You are right that Sean doesn’t attack anyone, nor support it. My use of the word attack was more a general idea of how skeptics as a group are moving against people who seem to disdain rational thought. It was only used to suggest the feeling that we have an “us” vs “them” thing going here. And we do have the “us vs them” going.
    I do consider these quotes a type of sniping. Its just more subtle than calling them idiots or something of that nature. And perhaps sniping is too strong a word.

  • Alex

    Elaine Pagels may be a scholar of religion but that doesn’t necessarily mean she brings a religious viewpoint to science. There’s an interesting interview with her at http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pagels03/pagels_index.html
    where she mentions her interest in the psychological basis of religious belief (scroll down to the last page, though the rest is worth reading too).

  • http://kforcounter.blogspot.com Cody

    This post reminds me of a great article/talk given by Steven Weinberg called “A Designer Universe?“, in which he finishes:

    “In an e-mail message from the American Association for the Advancement of Science I learned that the aim of this conference is to have a constructive dialogue between science and religion. I am all in favor of a dialogue between science and religion, but not a constructive dialogue. One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious. We should not retreat from this accomplishment.”

    Of course the rest of the article is excellent too, it is this bit that I think is relevant to the topic; would’ve been nice to have a Weinberg on the panel to balance.

  • Gordon

    Here is one of my favorite Steven Weinberg quotes:

    “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    If religious folks or non-believers take offense at that, great. It is about time that someone told it like it is. Religion has had a ridiculous free pass from criticism, and it is not rude or aggressive or invective to point this out.

  • Ken Pidcock

    Good post. I’m sure if you challenged the organizers on this, they would smirk and point out that the panel had no religious fundamentalists, either.

    Templeton and its allies have been quite effective in framing this in a way that portrays naturalists as extreme and intolerant.

  • Aatish

    Bravo, Sean. I wish they had you on that panel.

    This reminds me of this awkward video they put on after you walk through the Hall of Human Origins in the American Museum on Natural History. They have people like Francis Collins and Ken Miller talking about how they see no contradiction with science and their faith. There is no inclusion of people with contrary opinions — such as Dawkins or Dan Dennett. In my opinion, by presenting only one side of the debate, the museum is being disingenuous. It’s a political move, and it damages their reputation as a scientific institution. (the same reasoning applies to this faith and science panel in the WSF)

    When I visited the Natural History Museum in London, it was quite refreshing to see that they didn’t feel the need to apologize for their exhibitions with these disclaimers.

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  • http://devilwashot.blogspot.com YamaZaru

    This kind of panel selection, which was no doubt influenced directly by the Templeton Fundation’s own preferences, is not too unusual- in the world of political propaganda! Its just the old tactic used in places that have formally free speech but where political discussion is kept within fairly narrow part of the spectrum. Obviously the US is the classic example….

    Let’s not forget, too, how vulnerable these accomodationist arguments really are. They are rife with internal contradictions, don’t agree even between fellow accomodationists, and are mostly dependent on ignoring/minimizing the very non-NOMA history of most religions. Not surprising that the Templetonians can’t allow a compatibility skeptic on the panel; the chances of an embarrassing rout of their propaganda line would be just too high.

  • http://www.catholiclab.net Ian

    @30, You quote Steven Weinberg “One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious”

    Then how to explain the birth of science from Wis 11:21 – “God ordered all things by measure, number, weight”, which blew away the commonly held belief in antiquity that nature was god or gods.

    How do you explain the contributions to modern thinking from medieval bishops and cardinals such as Grossetest and Cusa?

    How do you explain the contributions from the Jesuits to fields of study such as astronomy, meteorology and seismology?

    How can you explain the number of ‘fathers’ of their field being Catholic – Secchi (astrophysics), Agricola (minerology), Steno (geology and stratiography), Versalius,(human anatomy), Egyptology (Kircher and Champollion), Mendel (genetics), Borrelli (biomechanics), Lavoisier (chemistry), Pasteur (bacteriology), Galileo (physics and science), Hauy (crystallography), Fabrizi (embryology) … and the list goes on.

    Funny how the Big Bang, proposed by a Catholic priest, was rejected by those who felt it had philosophical implications which could not be accepted – Hoyle and Einstein for instance.

    Funny how Semmelweis was not listened to when he suggested that something as simple as washing your hands would reduce infant deaths in hospitals.

    Funny how Mendel’s work on Genetics came in for criticism and was ignored for nearly 100 years before his contribution to the field was recognised.

    I suggest you read up on your history of science. Not least Duhem, Jaki, Hannam and Woods and then re-read Weinberg’s quote and ask yourself whether it is true or not, or perhaps ask yourself whether there is a ‘theology’ that does support science.

    .. and let’s ignore the Weinberg’s veiled insult that my faith renders me unintelligent.

  • Rob

    Perhaps the anti-accomodationists are being excluded because, despite their numbers, they are so clearly in error. After all, nobody seems to be upset that astrologers haven’t been invited to participate in the astronomy sessions.

    The anti-accomodationist claim is a philosophical one (no good scientist disagrees with the idea that science is factually incompatible with a long list of religious claims of various sorts, such as a 6,000 year-old earth). Yet it remains largely undefined. Why does (or should) science require philosophical naturalism? The scientific method merely requires following the evidence wherever it leads. Indeed, the embrace of philosophical naturalism might impede the scientific process by precluding, a priori, a “supernatural” explanation to a given set of facts.

    The anti-accomodationist claim also runs afoul of the evidence in that there are significant numbers of good scientists who are believers of various sorts. I know that people like Jerry Coyne say that facts like these only suggest something like the idea that marriage and adultery are compatible because so many adulterers are married. Forgive me for being blunt, but that claim is just plain stupid. The qualifier of “good” scientists demonstrates the obvious. Does Jerry really wish to assert that an adulterer is a good spouse? On the other hand, were there a significant list of good scientists who were also astrologers, or alchemists, or some such, the anti-accomodationists might have some evidence.

    But they don’t.

    Unless and until they produce some, the anti-accomodationists have a philosophical predisposition in search of an argument, no matter how strongly they believe it and no matter how loudly they shout it. Nothing more. Without some evidence, there’s no reason to include them in a scientific endeavor such as the WSF.

  • Sigmund

    “Funny how Mendel’s work on Genetics came in for criticism and was ignored for nearly 100 years before his contribution to the field was recognised.”
    Yes, very funny.
    He published a single paper on his work in german in an obscure journal “Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn” in 1866 before abandoning the work for his pastoral duties.
    His work was not ignored for a century. It was rediscovered at the turn of the last century when several others such as de Vries and Corren made similar findings to Mendel, but unlike him they realized the significance of the results to the general concept of heredity and evolution.
    The rest of your list simply shows one thing – that it doesn’t matter whether you are religious or not if you make scientific discoveries – just so long as you keep your religion out of your science (you will notice that none of the great discoveries of the founding fathers of these various scientific disciplines involves religion).

  • Gordon

    Actually, Rob, there are very few good scientists who are believers, and the more citations and prominence, the fewer believers who are left in the cohort.
    Ian—in those times, one had to be a stealth Catholic to do science. For example, the only way
    Mendel could afford to study was through the Church. I would hope that Mankind has grown up since. Just as there were a lot of “communists” in the old Soviet Union, there were a lot of scientists in the church. Yes, most, like Newton, were also believers, but the entire worldview was different then, more supersitious, less knowledge. Name some current good scientists who
    are now abbes, monks etc.

  • Rob

    Gordon — The studies I’ve seen roughly range from 25-50% (though I’m aware of the 1998 re-do of the Leuba studies re the NAS which suggest lower numbers). That’s not “very few.” Given the inherently subversive nature of science, I think those numbers are actually surprisingly high. What percentage do you suppose are astrologers or alchemists?

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  • Gordon

    Rob: That is a straw man argument. Astrology and alchemy have been effectively debunked.
    Religion continues to be societally acceptable in so-called educated circles, so even if it is basically as looney as astrology, it persists because people can partition their beliefs and hold incompatible
    views. Certainly, religion is completely incompatible with a scientific mindset.

  • Rob

    “Certainly, religion is completely incompatible with a scientific mindset.”

    Then you should be able *certainly* to demonstrate it. All I’ve seen so far are embarrassed and whining demands for philosophical comformity. “You can’t be one of us and think *that*.” The horror! But I may have missed something, so go ahead, present your evidence.

  • Kevin

    Rob: A supernatural explanation can never be a scientific explanation. Anything that has an effect on the universe can, in principle, be measured and found to exist; anything that exists in the universe is, by the correct definition, natural.

    As for the constant and irrelevant “religious scientists” argument: that some people can both do science and believe in religion does not in any way imply that the fundamental philosophies are compatible, because the human brain does not (unfortunately) require a logically consistent philosophical framework to operate. If we define a good scientist as someone who acts and thinks consistently with the principles of science, as opposed to someone who merely does good science in one compartment of his or her life, then yes, a good scientist cannot be religious.

    Also, Newton was an alchemist.

  • Rob

    Please, Kevin, you’re embarrassing yourself.

    “Anything that has an effect on the universe can, in principle, be measured and found to exist; anything that exists in the universe is, by the correct definition, natural.”

    You’ll note that I put “supernatural” in quotes in #37.

    “[T]hat some people can both do science and believe in religion does not in any way imply that the fundamental philosophies are compatible, because the human brain does not (unfortunately) require a logically consistent philosophical framework to operate.”

    Of course it does. Your off-handed reference to cognitive dissonance merely suggests that the inference isn’t a mandatory conclusion. It can be overcome by better evidence. Got any?

    “If we define a good scientist as someone who acts and thinks consistently with the principles of science, as opposed to someone who merely does good science in one compartment of his or her life, then yes, a good scientist cannot be religious.”

    Argument by assertion. What a joke.

    “Also, Newton was an alchemist.”

    Indeed he was. He was a product of his times and limited by his situation and by the facts available to him. Of course, your having to play the Newton card makes my point about the lack of good scientists today who are astrologers and alchemists. Thanks so much.

  • Mike from Ottawa

    “But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    I would think anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the 20th Century would know Mr Weinberg is mistaken.

    If religious folks or non-believers take offense at that, great.

    Historians might take some offence at having their subject treated with such cavalier disregard for reality.

    It is about time that someone told it like it is.

    Or in Mr Weinberg’s case above, tells it like it isn’t, eh.

    It is amusing how even folk who pride themselves on their devotion to reason and evidence as sole arbiters of all so readily swallow a false quip so long as it is amenable to their beliefs.

    And, Shorter Sean Carroll:

    Shock! Horror! Other people organize discussion that isn’t the discussion Sean Carroll wants to have! Pictures at 11!

    I’m here all week, folks. Try the veal!

  • Kevin

    A reference to cognitive dissonance by itself, in regards to any two different philosophies, would only suggest that the inference wasn’t mandatory. Such a reference in this specific case, where the existence of “religious scientists” is your _only_ support for making the inference and any rational comparison of scientific and religious philosophies shows them to conflict, certainly does more than just suggesting.

    You clearly missed the point of my definition of a good scientist. I specifically prefaced it with “if,” knowing that such a definition is not the commonly used one. That definition was presented to support further the point that someone’s description of himself as following a philosophy may rely on only a compartmentalized conception (the person who just does good science) rather than a coherent worldview (the person who acts and thinks with the principles of science).

    Finally, you did not ask about a list of scientists _today_, you asked for a list of good scientists who _were_ also astrologers, alchemists, etc. Your response to my example, in fact, shows Gordon’s point (#42) to be even more valid than it already was.

  • Rob

    “I would think anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the 20th Century would know Mr Weinberg is mistaken.”

    Actually, it’s quite simple to make the claim (though keeping a straight face is tough). You simply label that which is evil “religion,” as in “Josef’s Stalin’s brand of communism, while virulently anti-religion, was actually based upon a cult of personality committed to stamping out all opposition and was thus effectively a religion; thus it wasn’t anti-religion per se, but was *really* anti-opposition.” The League of the Militant Godless should have been called “The League of Those in Love with Josef.”

    See, it’s easy. Philosophical predisposition and presupposition trump the actual facts much of the time.

  • Rob

    “Such a reference in this specific case, where the existence of “religious scientists” is your _only_ support for making the inference….”

    It is not my only support, but it’s not my burden of going forward and not my burden of persuasion. Those who claim that one can’t consistently be a believer and a good scientist bear the burden of supporting and demonstrating the claim. I don’t need to offer any support for my position for your claim to fail by default.

    “[A]ny rational comparison of scientific and religious philosophies shows them to conflict, certainly does more than just suggesting.”

    You keep *saying* that, but you don’t *support* it and certainly haven’t *demonstrated* it. Argument by assertion isn’t evidence. Hand-wave all you want, but nobody should be fooled.

    “Finally, you did not ask about a list of scientists _today_, you asked for a list of good scientists who _were_ also astrologers, alchemists, etc.”

    I did, but I also specifically used the present tense in #37 (“there are significant numbers of good scientists who are believers of various sorts”) and in #40 (“What percentage do you suppose are astrologers or alchemists?”), so I thought the context was clear.

  • Gordon

    Rob: You need evidence that religion is looney and incompatible with science?—-read the Bible,
    version of choice (or the Koran, or…). Sure a scientist with cognitive dissonance can do science, but core religious beliefs are magical thinking, superstitious–scientific beliefs are not, they follow cause, effect chains mostly, and make verifiable predictions. Whenever religion tries to do this, it is a huge embarrassment.

  • Rob

    “You need evidence that religion is looney and incompatible with science?”

    You need reading comprehension instruction. Specific examples of incompatibility are readily available and conceded. The claim is that religion and science are *philosophically* incompatible. That’s a very different thing and yes, it needs to be supported. Can you support it?

    “[S]cientific beliefs are not, they follow cause, effect chains mostly, and make verifiable predictions.”

    Science is different, surely. But are you not claiming scientism — that only science is a beneficial road to discovery? If so, you’re on a very dangerous road.

  • Gordon

    Well we disagree. Certainly religion isn’t the road to discovery, only the road to self-delusion.
    I think that YOU need to provide evidence that they are compatible when, quite clearly, they are not.

  • Rob

    “Well we disagree.”

    You have the right to hold whatever views you like, not matter how demonstrably wrong.

    “Certainly religion isn’t the road to discovery, only the road to self-delusion.”

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but that hasn’t been my experience.

    “I think that YOU need to provide evidence that they are compatible….”

    Your inability to support and defend your position doesn’t eliminate your proof burden.

    “[Q]uite clearly, they are not.”

    So you keep saying. But no matter how often you claim it, no matter how loudly you shout it, and no matter how fiercely you cling to your dogma, the fact remains that you *still* haven’t supported (much less demonstrated) your position. That repeated failure ought to give you pause before you claim that *others* are delusional.

  • Gordon

    This is typical of believers–saying that we have to “disprove” that a god exists (or in this case, to prove that religion and science are incompatible.) No, you
    have to prove existence. It isn’t up to me to prove that fairies or unicorns don’t exist either.
    Just what sort of “proof” were you wanting me to provide—religion is faith based, relies on magical thinking, isn’t falsifiable, isn’t capable of prediction that is replicatible, etc etc etc
    I am sure it would be possible for an intelligent 8 year old to supply an adequate essay on the reasons, since it is so obvious that science and religion operate by entirely different rules of evidence (thats “evidence” when it comes to religion).

  • Rob

    “This is typical of believers….”

    This is typical of people who bite off more than they can chew — obfuscation and misdirection.

    “…saying that we have to ‘disprove’ that a god exists….”

    Had I made such a claim (that God exists) and were it the object of discussion here, it would indeed be my burden to support and demonstrate it. But that’s not at issue right now.

    “…or in this case, to prove that religion and science are incompatible.”

    That’s the claim that has been made and it is an entirely separate question. Moreover, it is a claim that, as of yet, you have been unwilling or unable to support.

    “Just what sort of ‘proof’ were you wanting me to provide—religion is faith based, relies on magical thinking, isn’t falsifiable, isn’t capable of prediction that is replicatible [sic], etc etc etc.”

    Blah, blah, misdirection, blah. Where’s your evidence of philosophical incompatibility?

    “I am sure it would be possible for an intelligent 8 year old to supply an adequate essay on the reasons, since it is so obvious that science and religion operate by entirely different rules of evidence (thats “evidence” when it comes to religion).”

    You may be right. It’s entirely possible that there is good evidence of philosophical incompatibility of which I am unaware and that nearly any intelligent 8 year-old could readily point to it. The question is, can *you* point to it?

  • count nukem

    Science and faith do not mix. Yes, with all our faith in scientific method established by Francis Bacon we need no other faith. In fact it is only their faith is faith and ours is objective reality.

    Poor American academic savages! All these non-issues of faith and science you are talking about could have been seen for what they are (that is “non-issues”) if only history of philosophy was part of curriculum in US universities teaching science and you had chance to learn a bit of conceptual self-reflection. To say the truth, I am not the first who made this observation. Here is the earlies source:

    Paul Feyerabend wrote : The withdrawal of philosophy into a “professional” shell of its own has had disastrous consequences. The younger generation of physicists, the Feynmans, the Schwingers, etc., may be very bright; they may be more intelligent than their predecessors, than Bohr, Einstein, Schrodinger, Boltzmann, Mach and so on. But they are uncivilized savages, they lack in philosophical depth — and this is the fault of the very same idea of professionalism which you are now defending(from wiki on Paul Feyerabend).

    Recommended reading:
    • Realism, Rationalism and Scientific Method: Philosophical papers, Volume 1 (1981), ISBN 0-521-22897-2, ISBN 0-521-31642-1
    • Problems of Empiricism: Philosophical Papers, Volume 2 (1981), ISBN 0-521-23964-8, ISBN 0-521-31641-3
    • Farewell to Reason (1987), ISBN 0-86091-184-5, ISBN 0-86091-896-3
    • Three Dialogues on Knowledge (1991), ISBN 0-631-17917-8, ISBN 0-631-17918-6
    • Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend (1995), ISBN 0-226-24531-4, ISBN 0-226-24532-2
    • Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction versus the Richness of Being (1999), ISBN 0-226-24533-0, ISBN 0-226-24534-9
    • Knowledge, Science and Relativism: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3 (1999), ISBN 0-521-64129-2

  • Gordon

    lol and you accuse me of misdirection and obfuscation. Religion=belief in supernatural
    explanations without evidence and enshrinement of these supernatural beliefs in a holy book that cannot be changed and is perfect Science= belief in natural laws as demonstrated by evidence, congruence with reality, and
    explanatory power which can be changed if proven in error. They are incompatible . QED–easiest proof I have ever given.
    BTW, when Stephen J Gould wrote his essay “Non-overlapping Magisteria” about the cultures of Science and Religion, he was being accomodationist, but the title says it all. They are non-overlapping, ie incompatible. It is like a Venn diagram without an intersection and one
    circle is rationality, and the other, superstition.
    Dawkins has a great line for monotheists. Paraphrasing, he says that they dont believe in Zeus or Baal or Ra or Vishnu etc—just go one god further…

  • Tim

    The footprint of the pernicious influence of the Templeton Foundation in their continued apologist’s effort to elevate religious doctrine to respectability in “rational” society. The Templeton Prize is indeed merely a large bribe and their funding of scientific initiatives and conferences are an attractive lure to encourage their agenda to be promoted in respectable venues. Augustine’s “City of God” is not only incompatible with his “City of Man” but his reasoning is still faulty as well as obsolete, just as are any modern day Christian apologists who continue to repeat his errors. But not the Templeton Foundation, they’ve discovered that to “beat them” you merely need to “join them” and has worked long and hard to found “fifth columns”. Just ONE example;
    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-templeton-bribe/

  • Kevin

    Dawkins is actually paraphrasing the historian Stephen Henry Roberts, who said:
    “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    The fundamental incompatibility between science and religion is as follows. Science is concerned with the study of objective reality via empirical evidence and the formulation of theories based on that evidence. Religion is concerned with the belief in given concepts despite a lack of evidence, or even in spite of evidence to the contrary. The opposition between these two concerns could not be clearer.

  • Rob

    #57: “Religion=belief in supernatural explanations without evidence and enshrinement of these supernatural beliefs in a holy book that cannot be changed and is perfect….”

    Your commitment to this point of view is noted (again). It’s obviously false (think Deism or non-theistic Buddhism, for example). But even if it were true, we’re still waiting for you to support the idea that religion necessarily (philosophically) conflicts with science.

    “BTW, when Stephen J Gould wrote his essay “Non-overlapping Magisteria” about the cultures of Science and Religion, he was being accomodationist, but the title says it all. They are non-overlapping, ie incompatible.”

    Actually, it was a book and it was entitled “Rock of Ages.” Moreover, the point of the book was that there is *no* necessary conflict. Have you even read it?

    “Dawkins has a great line for monotheists. Paraphrasing, he says that they dont believe in Zeus or Baal or Ra or Vishnu etc—just go one god further…”

    Yes, and to the extent that it is an argument, it is a spectacularly poor one. The argument seems to go something like this:

    1. Every believer in a given religion regards the gods of other religions as bogus.

    2. The atheist adds just one more item to the list of deities denied by the believers in a given religion.

    Therefore:

    3. Religious belief of every sort is nonsensical.

    Quite obviously, it is invalid as (3) does not follow from (1) and (2). Indeed, it is difficult to see how (3) is so much as *relevant* to (1) and (2). Even if the premises are both true, it is easy to see how the conclusion could be false.

    #59: ” Science is concerned with the study of objective reality via empirical evidence and the formulation of theories based on that evidence.”

    Okay.

    “Religion is concerned with the belief in given concepts despite a lack of evidence, or even in spite of evidence to the contrary.”

    I disagree, but even if I accept it for the sake of argument…

    “The opposition between these two concerns could not be clearer.”

    …does not follow. They are different, surely, but difference is not the same as philosophical incompatibility. My view of human rights posits that all persons deserve equal legal and moral standing. I can’t demonstrate it and I’m not even sure that there is evidence for it. Is science incompatible with human rights? Moreover, *every* system of thought requires undemonstrated assumption to get started.

    Even science.

  • Gordon

    Oh, I see, Rob, you are a philosophical hair-splitter–a sophist. Yes, I have read Gould’s essay.
    So what if it was in a book. His books are collections of his essays,
    In demanding “evidence” you are pulling the same disingenuous crap that the IDers do.
    In rejecting what to rational folks is reality, you represent the sort of useless speculation and
    verbal jousting that Feynman hated. I tend to the sort of evidence that persuaded Samuel Johnson. When confronted with Bishop Berkeley’s solipism that reality is in the mind, he kicked a large stone saying “I refute it thus.” BTW, I did take a philosopy of science course as an elective ages ago—what a waste of time.

  • Rob

    “Oh, I see, Rob, you are a philosophical hair-splitter–a sophist.”

    No, I’m simply asking for care and precision in analysis. If the claim were merely that religion is a lousy bet because the results aren’t often good enough, or that science contradicts religion claims often enough that religious claims ought to be suspect, or something similar, we could discuss those claims and argue about them, but the argument would be a perfectly legitimate one. However, the incompatibility claim is a perfectly illegitimate one.

    “Yes, I have read Gould’s essay. So what if it was in a book. His books are collections of his essays.”

    His books often are, but “Rock of Ages” is not. So it’s pretty clear you haven’t read it and are simply making [stuff] up as you go along.

    “In demanding ‘evidence’ you are pulling the same disingenuous crap that the IDers do.”

    That’s an unwarranted slur, Gordon. And, if it matters, I object to ID as vociferously as I suspect you do.

    “BTW, I did take a philosopy of science course as an elective ages ago—what a waste of time.”

    Then you clearly didn’t understand it. In this instance, Dennett is correct (from DDI, p. 21):

    “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”

  • Gordon

    NOMA was reprinted as an essay, which I read. If I didn’t understand the course, I certainly fooled the professor with my mark. This whole discussion with you is degenerating.
    IMO science and religion are incompatible, and that is legitimate. So legitimate that it is almost a tautology. Philosophy of science
    often is about as edifiying and useful as Alan Sokal’s paper published in “Social Text”

    http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/transgress_v2/transgress_v2_singlefile.html

    Religion=unsupported statements that often contravene physical laws(supernatural) and are incapable of modification.
    Science= statements about objective reality that are predictive, capable of in theory being
    tested,have explanatory power, and are subject to modification.
    Thats incompatible.

  • Pingback: VA-bloggen · Vem bör delta i dialog om vetenskap och religion?()

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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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