The Great Debate: Science vs. Religion

By Sean Carroll | March 28, 2012 8:56 am

Took a little work, but the spark of human willpower was ultimately able to overcome the stubborn resistance of technology, and the video from our science/religion debate at Caltech on Sunday is finally up. Michael Shermer and I took on Dinesh D’Souza and Ian Hutchinson. Short version: we won, but judge for yourself if you want to sit through all two hours.

YouTube comments — always an enlightening read — seem to be mostly about Dawkins and Hitchens, although I don’t remember either of them being there.

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  • Beau

    Honestly, I don’t think there has to be any debate. I am a planetarian/science educator, and a Christian youth pastor. I think any conflict comes from when one side tries to explain the other. In my view, understanding the scientific processes that govern our universe does not mean there is no God. Conversely, believing in God does not give us a free pass to say “God did it,” without acknowledging the scientific processes involved.

  • Adam

    Religion makes claims which can be tested. All of them eventually fail any test

  • unspiek

    Such ‘debate’ is noncupatory. Cogent counterarguments to ‘Science’ are not available.

    Models involving gods are apparently not well-formed; at their cores, they aren’t even wrong.

  • Vlad

    Beau, do you see any hand of “God” in planetary formation? As far as I can tell, natural processes explain formation of our Solar System fairly well. Same can be said for us as humans and theory of evolution. It explains in great detail how we got to this stage as a species. Where is God in all of this? To me, the idea of “God” has shrunk (due to our knowledge) to the point of insignificance.

  • Charlie

    God is often invoked to explain phenomenon we are aware of but don’t understand at a given time (e.g., a volcano, the Big Bang, consciousness). My question: is the later really shrinking or growing?

    I don’t necessarily agree that this is a good reason to invoke god, but my point here is that god will not necessarily “shrunk (due to our knowledge) to the point of insignificance” at any time in the foreseeable future.

  • Beau

    Vlad, you illustrate what I’m trying to say exactly. Everything can be explained through natural scientific process. I don’t think the world is only 6,000 years old. I also fully accept evolution and natural selection. However, how does understanding how these processes work negate God? My views are also not popular with a lot of the people at my church. The example I use with them is human birth. Science can fully explain the process of how sperm meets egg, cells divide, and a child is born. Knowing that doesn’t take away from the beauty of life. And for those that have faith and believe they were created by God, it’s a way to show them that even a creator God uses natural processes that can be explained scientifically when creating.

  • Arun

    Dinesh D’Souza was allowed to desecrate the Caltech campus? What is the world coming to?

  • Arun

    Quote: “The start of the D’Souza phenomenon came in 1995, when he published The End of Racism. Written to ride the wave of books and articles that called for white America to get over its racial guilt, it included lines like the “American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.” It was so sloppy and unconvincing that it killed the genre for a few years; it’s a 700-page doorstop by a one-time AEI scholar that no one cites today. The next D’Souza implosion came in 2007, with the publication of another book that killed its genre. The Enemy at Home consisted of an argument that the “left” was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. That was an irresistible hook for a publisher, especially after the public had turned on the Bush administration and the war on terror. But D’Souza made such a hash out of it that the people who had danced around the left-and-9/11 idea realized how deeply stupid it was. Victor Davis Hanson joined the mob and pointed out, as politely as he could, that D’Souza’s enemies list was “nonsensical.””


    by David Weigel.

  • The Barber of Civility

    While there are many interpretations by religions of how long ago things happened, or even HOW they happened in some cases (Moses parting the Red Sea comes to mind), there is nothing to prove God doesn’t exist. Now, I don’t know if “God” exists or had anything to do with the creation of the universe. I believe that there is no true scientific proof that there is anything called “God”. Belief in God is an emotional construct, while science doesn’t address emotional issues (except that there are scientists trying to understand how and why we experience emotions).

    I know what true skeptics want – rock, solid proof of something, or at least some proof. Just a little something that smacks of something before they will even begin to think something is true. The problem skeptics have with those who have religious beliefs is that the religious don’t have what scientists would call anything but anecdotal evidence of God. “Faith” doesn’t prove anything to a scientist who is a skeptic (even though some scientists have religious beliefs). Religious faith is anathema (I use that word deliberately) to many scientists, some of whom are atheists, while science can be more easily accepted by people of religion, because, inherently, science itself does not refute God.

    SCIENCE DOES NOT REFUTE GOD. That’s really, in my opinion, where the problem is. It is SKEPTICS who refute GOD, and they do so because there is no proof. I will get back to this in a few paragraphs.

    There is nothing proving that all laws of science WERE NOT created by God, and there is nothing but a couple of books and strong faith by most people in the world that indicates there might be a God.

    I think that many religious individuals fight science because there are some people of science who personally attempt to refute their religious beliefs.

    If I recall correctly, our knowledge of the universe and how things work, and the evidence thereof, has been wrong a lot. My guess is that it has been wrong more than it has been right. It appears to me that we are in the process right now of determining that some of Einstein’s theories were not correct. We KNOW they are not complete.

    Yet, many times in the past, skeptics and many scientists have held very strongly that their evidence proves that some universal property exists, only to be proven wrong a few centuries, or decades, or even just a few years later. They had rock-solid (wait for it…) FAITH that their evidence was correct. They were wrong, but they held what could be construed as a religious faith that they were right. In my opinion, they turned their science into a religion. I think that happens quite a bit.

    One difference between scientists and those who are religious is that true scientists will, eventually, admit they were wrong when new evidence proves them wrong. The reason for that is that true scientists believe that the truth exists and science will eventually find it. Those who are religious require a catharsis before their beliefs can be shaken. It is a point of contention for true scientists. A scientist cannot just accept that, just because the human eye is complex and we don’t understand yet, the eye was created by God. Not understanding something doesn’t mean that we can say, “so God made it”. Scientists believe, as do I, that we will eventually understand everything about the human body and how it works. Therefore, the statement, “so God made it” is useless, because it doesn’t explain anything in concrete terms.

    Scientists aren’t willing to stop looking for answers just because they believe in God.

    So, here’s the rub. Let’s call scientists “Democrats” and very religious people who are not scientists or, at a minimum, don’t accept science, “Republicans”. (Remember, I am speaking in generalities here! You could also call them “Greens” and “Purples”.) When we do that, maybe we can see that most arguments between one side and the other are EMOTIONAL issues. All arguments that become heated are EMOTIONAL issues. They break down into, “I am right and you are wrong”.

    That is the rub.

    Why don’t skeptics just say, “I don’t find any compelling reason to believe in ‘God'”? Why don’t those of religion who feel that science is a futile endeavor just say, “what you’re doing doesn’t make sense to me, because God created all of this, but it’s OK if you want to pursue it as long as you don’t tell me I’m wrong”?

    Why does anyone in this conflict have to be wrong? It seems to me that we would all be better off if we just said, “Well, what you are saying in my mind isn’t necessarily true, I can respect the fact that you think it might be, especially since I don’t have any proof you are wrong”.

    After all, isn’t that the true truth?

  • Ian Liberman

    The weakness of the religious side is that evidence is not based on the scientific method and for same reason it fine to support the existence of the supernatural and God on hearsay , anecdotal writings and witness accounts. Hutchinson would never apply this criteria for his job but for everything else , no problem. Their version of evidence would support any claim from ufos to unicorns to fairies. If I saw a miracle , it must be a miracle. It is amazing that the religious side can not understand that what can not be explained now, would eventually most likely be explained by some scientific theoretical framework based on knowledge we know now. Dinesh D’Souza does not understand that science actually does understand how a body works so we do know what happens after death and they do have a few good ideas of how universes created from quantum fluctuations to cyclic universes. The god gap also is no explanation for where the laws of physics came from . Great debate. Religion never has a leg to stand on.

  • Arun

    Or this:

    Caltech standards must be really falling for them to invite a Dinesh D’Souza. Dredging the bottom of the barrel, it is called. As an alumni, I’m really disappointed.

  • The Barber of Civility

    Yeah. I know. My therapist has labelled me “idealistic”. I know that what I said above isn’t likely to happen in my lifetime. I’ll eventually get over that, possibly even before I die. I just really wish we humans were more accepting of each other.

  • The Barber of Civility

    @Arun, you are an alumnus, assuming you are a male. “Alumni” is plural. (Unless you are a clone, in which case you are correct and I am not.)

  • Arun

    ^^^What if I am in two minds? :)

  • The Barber of Civility

    Heh! That’ll work!

  • Chris O’Neil

    Hi Sean,

    I’ve watched a lot of these debates and based on how clear and concise your first 2 speeches were, I’d love to see you participate in more of these. In Ian’s first response, he weakly didn’t address anything at all that you said (they were all badly directed to points Michael had made), and as usual Dinesh was completely void of any real content – he only has this vague ‘charming’ appeal to people who already have their mind made up. Also, some of the things that Ian said were quite frankly embarrassing. “Do you folks think that people in the 1st century Palestine were ignorant of the fact that water turning into wine just doesn’t happen?” Yeah, right, people 2000 years ago definitely wouldn’t have been more susceptible to believing the claim that some guy rose from the dead, as opposed to people living in this day and age! Isn’t it interesting that there aren’t any new religions that arise nowadays that have this dogma at their core? It would never get off the ground these days.

    I thought the questioning format the debate took after that was pretty bad, it would have been a lot better if it was more open.

    One thing I’d like to know is, when theists invoke God as the first cause of the universe type argument, why don’t athiests on the opposing sides ask them how the hell it is that they get from that god to the one of christianity who cares about human beings? There is just no logical connection at all between these 2 things (I’m sure William Lane Craig has some convoluted philosophical reason, but you know what I mean :)).

    Anyway, you should do more of these!



  • Dennis

    Unfortunately, I agree with the statement that the question before the panel was poorly conceived. No rational person would disagree that one cannot disprove (or refute) a negative. Perhaps a more useful question might have been “For or Against – Religion offers something necessary to human society that we can acquire through no other means.”

    I’d vote against that proposition.

    Regarding the likelihood of modern humans to be more skeptical of “miracles” I’d have to say that as a percentage of the population I’m not sure you can make a strong case. Between people who send money to Nigerian scammers, witch hunts involving disappearing genitalia in Africa, efficacy of magic bracelets, etc. you might be able to prove otherwise.

  • Arun

    FYI: a quote from Swami Vivekananda –

    “”The first sign you are becoming religious is that you are becoming cheerful. When a man is gloomy, that may be dyspepsia, but it is not religion.””

  • Jim B


    You did a great job in the debate! You definitely had the most coherent and logical arguments of anyone in the debate – IMHO.

    Although not your doing – I did not particularly like the format with the debaters posing questions to each other. It was all very predictatible – each side would try to use a line of questioning that would lead the other side into some sort of logical contradiction based on their answers. The time was too limited and I would rather have had more time given for statements and rebuttals.

    I look forward to hearing more from you on the subject – though I know you must grow tired of endlessly arguing against the fallacious assumptions and arguments given by religious apologists.

    Take care,


  • byby

    Miracles. Miracles, as the speaker himself identified, are events of low probability. Science tackles this issue quite successfully.
    But he puts in his argument another weakness-the historical versus the empirical evidence. If the water were turned into wine(or the other way around), and this event were reported by eye-witnesses: 1) how many reports were there 2) did all eye-witnesses saw the exact same thing 3) did all participants in the event were saw awed that left only one record of said miracle 4) did an eye-witness taste said drink to ensure that it is indeed wine and not koolade. People are historically shown to not be very observers and to disagree about things that were not physically present at an event over which they are arguing. So would historical documents be taken as 100% truth or as a document of possible evidence. What if the recorder was a perpetual lier. We don’t know because nobody ever kept a record on him for us to judge. We can assign a probability that he is telling the truth, that he is polishing, that he is completely bananas.

    On the other hand we have the universe which seam to be quite souless. Its evidence is free of judgement and free of pre-judgement. It just does what it does. And we may as well live with it.

    Religion was born out of ignorance and grew into fear. It was a tool needed to control large masses. People had fears when they lived in small groups but they didn’t need the tools of organized religon because they didnt have the need or the conditions for hierarchy in the social pyramid. Once larger groups of people formed there came out the need for organization. Its like a crystal, you give it a little sample and all the atoms arrange in even if a skewed lattice. Society is organized in the same way and the core was religion, and different core configurations gave rise to different fears and different ignorances, the organzational pyramids of people were differently skewed. Nothing wrong with that, if we recognize that this is what happens historically and that this is what is still happening and that we do need order just that we do not have to govern ourselves on the platform of fear and on the platform of superiority. Our lives are insignificantly short and at the very best we may as well try to live as well as possible for the seconds that we have. Our time is so short that it is completely wasted by insuding fear and be fearful.

    Our knowledge of science can make our existence better but it can also hurt us. The same as with our fascination with the God. Science at least gives us some confidence that we have events that happen more often than others and we can rely on that to accomodate our wives. We cannot say the same about God. What is the high probability even that he informs us of? There is nothing of high probability that God tells us about. He tells us about hell and heaven, but do these occur, if I don’t have evidence how would I know if death and moving to one of these regions is indeed a high probabiity event, 100% probabilit event.

  • Arun

    Having by chance stumbled on that Vivekananda quote, here’s some more:

    I asked Swamiji one day whether the instruction of Shri Krishna to Arjuna, just on the eve of the battle of Kurukshetra was a historical event. What he said in reply is very charming:

    “The Gita is a very old book. In ancient times there was no such fuss about writing histories or getting books printed; and so it is difficult to prove the historicity of the Gita to men like you. Still I see no reason why you should rack your brains about the truth of the event recorded in the Gita.

    Even if somebody were to prove to you with incontrovertible facts that the Gita represents the actual words of Shri Krishna as told to Arjuna, will you really believe in all that is written in that book?

    Should even God Himself incarnate and come to teach you, you will challenge Him to prove His Divinity, and you will apply your own arguments to disprove His claim. So why should you be worried about the authenticity of the Gita? If you can, accept as far as it lies in your power the teachings of the Gita and actualize them in your life. That will be a real benefit to you.

    Shri Ramakrishna used to say, ‘If you happen to be in a mango garden, eat as many of the luscious fruits as you can; what need have you to count the leaves? It seems to me that any belief or disbelief in the events recorded in a religious book is determined by a personal equation. When somebody falls into certain circumstances and finds that his condition is similar to some incident mentioned in the book concerned, he believes that the incident must be true; and then he eagerly adopts the means prescribed by the book for tiding over the difficulty.”



    “One day he said some very fine things about religion and yoga. I shall reproduce the substance of these as far as I can: “All creatures are ever eager to get happiness. They are eternally engaged in this effort, but they are seldom seen to arrive at the goal. Yet most people do not stop to find out why they fail to. That is why men suffer. Whatever ideas a man may have about religion, nobody should try to shake his faith so long as he himself sincerely believes that he is deriving real happiness thereby. Even if one tries to rectify, it does not yield any good result unless the man himself cooperates willingly. Whatever the profession may be, when you find that a man is eager merely to hear of religion, but not to practise it, you may at once conclude that he has no firm faith in anything.

    The basic aim of religion is to bring peace to man. It is not a wise thing for one to suffer in this life so that one can be happy in the next. One must be happy here and now. Any religion that can bring that about is the true religion for humanity. Sense-enjoyment is momentary, and it is inevitably mixed with sorrow.

    “Only children, fools, and animals can believe this mixed happiness to be the real bliss. Even so, I won’t mind if anybody can have perpetual happiness and freedom from anxiety by holding on to that happiness as the be-all and end-all of life. But I have still to find a man like that. Rather, in common experience, it is found that those who mistake sense-enjoyment for the highest bliss become jealous of others who happen to be richer or more luxurious than themselves. They suffer from their hankering after that kind of more refined sense-enjoyment. After conquering the world, Alexander the Great felt miserable at the thought that he had no other country to conquer. That is why thoughtful men, after long experience and examination, have decided that men can be really happy and free from anxiety only when they have full faith in some religion or other.

    “Men naturally differ in so far as their intellectual equipment and attainments are concerned. So religion also must differ according to men’s temperaments; else they will never have any satisfaction from it, nor will they derive the highest benefit from it. The religion that will suit any particular nature has to be found out personally by the man concerned through a process of careful thinking, testing, and experimenting. There is no other way. Study of religious literature, instructions of guru, company of holy men, etc. can only help him in his quest.”

  • Gene

    Using Isaac Newton in an agrgument against religion seems a little ironic to me.

  • RandomNublet

    “Science is not all the real knowledge there is, scientism is an /unproven/ presumption.” I reckon Hutchinson doesn’t realize that to prove something means to use science, logic. How are you supposed to prove that everything in nature can be proved? As expected, the believer side was obnoxiously hostile… hiding their insecurities behind the condescending attitude, so I give Sean Carroll and Michael Shermer props for being so patient and friendly. Team Science did great :) Very nice video, thanks for posting!

  • Phil h

    Ive seen a lot of atheist/religious debates and I have to say Sean you really represented our side far better than anyone else Ive seen. Great arguments, articulate and likeable, please do more, In particular you need to take on WLC, most atheists do not do well against him, but I think you would put him in his place very easily.

  • JakeR

    @4. unspiek, please explain “noncupatory.” I cannot find either it or “cupatory” in the Oxford English Dictionary.

  • Sean Carroll

    I do appreciate the compliments, even correcting for the fact that they come from a sample of people already reading our blog. :)

    I’d be willing to do more debates, if the conditions were right (which they aren’t always).

  • Black Sun Emperor

    My friends, here’s my best argument against science, let me know what you think:

    Science is a bad idea, because the truth about our universe is so horrifying and toxic to human minds that it will drive us to nihilism, despair and self-destruction. In such a universe, in which truth itself has no inherent value, it is therefore better to believe comforting myths which make our lives bearable. If it isn’t stopped, the reckless march of science will drive us all mad or to technological destruction, just as Lovecraft prophesied:

    “Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species — if separate species we be — for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world.” –H.P Lovecraft, Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family

  • GM

    2. Beau Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 9:22 am
    Honestly, I don’t think there has to be any debate. I am a planetarian/science educator, and a Christian youth pastor. I think any conflict comes from when one side tries to explain the other. In my view, understanding the scientific processes that govern our universe does not mean there is no God. Conversely, believing in God does not give us a free pass to say “God did it,” without acknowledging the scientific processes involved.

    This has been beaten down to death at this point but I will point it out once again – there is a fundamental epistemological incompatibility between faith and science and since all religion is based on faith, religion is 100% incompatible with science. It’s not that complicated, once you start believing things on faith, things that are not supported by evidence, you have firmly moved into anti-science territory.

    Note that this incompatibility arises when we (correctly) define science as a set of proper epistemological practices developed over time to help us understand the world around us, not as simply the knowledge derived following these practices as mot people (erroneously) think.

  • GM

    7. Beau Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 10:44 am
    Vlad, you illustrate what I’m trying to say exactly. Everything can be explained through natural scientific process. I don’t think the world is only 6,000 years old. I also fully accept evolution and natural selection. However, how does understanding how these processes work negate God? My views are also not popular with a lot of the people at my church. The example I use with them is human birth. Science can fully explain the process of how sperm meets egg, cells divide, and a child is born. Knowing that doesn’t take away from the beauty of life. And for those that have faith and believe they were created by God, it’s a way to show them that even a creator God uses natural processes that can be explained scientifically when creating.

    1. As I said above, faith is inherently anti-science and that’s an irreconcilable conflict.

    2. Understanding of evolution is 100% incompatible with the religious idea of a God that has intervened in it, which in turn is an inseparable part of all religions even in their softest form. Only a strictly deist view of God is compatible with evolution but that’s not the God of any religion (and there is no evidence for him either and there can be no evidence for him in principle, the interventionist God can at least in principle be detected by those very interventions).

    Merely saying that you accept the fact of evolution is not enough, because if you claim that God intervened to create humans or that God created the universe and had the appearance of humans planned all the time as Francis Collins does, you run into an irreconcilable conflict with the neutral theory of molecular evolution as currently understood, i.e. you deny the theory. This gets rather technical which is why even people like Francis Collins who should know better either don’t realize it or are able to sweep it under the rug and get away with it, but basically on the molecular level the process of evolution is truly random, that is well established and supported by lots of evidence, and if you posit that God directly intervened or had it all set up from the beginning, you deny that fact. And if you posit that God intervened, that’s essentially creationism anyway, just not of the truly crazy young earth kind.

  • Craig McGillivary

    You say in “Why almost all Cosmologists are Atheists” that :””The essence of materialism is to model the world as a formal system, which is both unambiguous and complete as a description of reality.” I don’t think that is true. I don’t think you or anyone else imagines that such a description is something people can produce. Physicists do lots of work to figure out how different aspects of the world work and to fit those descriptions into the larger scientific framework. But you will never get a full and complete model of the universe. You won’t even get a complete model of a cup of soda pop. The goal of theoretical physics isn’t a complete description of reality but rather to reduce the percentage of physicists that are theoretical physicists by developing theories that work well enough for everyone.

  • imnobody

    Well, I think a well-formed debate would have been Religion vs. Atheism or Science vs. non-Science. I don’t get people who want to hijack Science to further their philosophical assumptions about reality. Then, they are SHOCKED when people reject Science.

    Having said that, D’Souza is a bad debater. I don’t know about you, but beating D’Souza is a piece of cake. Try other theists.

  • Arun

    ‘All religion is based on faith’ – I disagree.

  • Josh

    It really would nice to see a William Lane Craig debate, but I think that it is likely he might not agree to it seeing as how he likes to be the expert in cosmology in the room.

  • GM

    32. imnobody Says:
    March 28th, 2012 at 9:05 pm
    Well, I think a well-formed debate would have been Religion vs. Atheism or Science vs. non-Science. I don’t get people who want to hijack Science to further their philosophical assumptions about reality. Then, they are SHOCKED when people reject Science.

    Atheism is very much a part of science. As I said above, science is methodologically incompatible with faith, therefore you can not be a good scientist and believe in God in the absence of evidence for his existence. So science is inherently atheistic if one defines it as a method for understanding the world and not just a body of facts about it

    But even then, that body facts is the main reason people do not believe in God, because it not just contradicts the majority of the factual claims about the world that holy books make, but it makes them look just stupid for how disconnected from reality they are. Then believers have two choices – either dig in their heels and deny all science or start doing some very fancy footwork and goalpost moving to make it seem as if their holy books are “metaphorical” in those parts that have been shown to be false by science, but the rest is still true.

    The only reason there are so many people trying to divorce atheism from science is political – they are afraid that if the two are seen as inseparable, the majority of brainwashed religious fanatics in society will get scared and funding and societal support for science will dry up. Which may or may not be true, but the problem is that it is short-term, and ultimately self-defeating thinking that ignores the larger reality that in the long run there is no running away from the battle between rationality and superstition, it will have to be fought and won, and religion will have to be pretty much completely eradicated, if that same society is to survive into the future. But they either don’t see it or are too horrified by the thought; the main thing that characterizes people like Chris Mooney, Eugene Scott and the rest is shallow thinking and/or intellectual cowardice.

  • Igor

    I enjoyed the debate, and particularly Sean’s performance. Great job! Sean’s answers to Ian’s cross-examination questions were all awesome.

    Speaking of performance, it is frustrating how much the outcome of a debate depends on the debating skills of the participants. Sometimes, having facts on your side even seems like a liability because it commits you to a particular position.

    On the other hand, the religious debaters seem to be happy to change positions as convenient. When asked about the best evidence for Christianity, Ian brought up the supposed historic evidence for divinity of Jesus. When pressed on it, he goes for a cheap and easily refutable point (New Testament has withstood years of analysis), but won’t commit to defending the position and when uncomfortable will instead retreat and defer to “lots of other evidence”.

  • robert landbeck

    The ‘great debate’ hasn’t even started yet, but it’s getting close!

    For the first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise, predefined and predictable experience and called ‘the first Resurrection’ in the sense that the Resurrection of Jesus was intended to demonstrate Gods’ willingness to real Himself and intervene directly into the natural world for those obedient to His will, paving the way for access, by faith, to the power of divine transcendence. Ultimate proof!

    Thus ‘faith’ is the path, the search and discovery of this direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, Law, command and covenant, while “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious teaching, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists.

    Nothing short of an intellectual, moral and intellectual revolution is getting under way. To test or not to test, that is the question? More info at,

  • Charles White

    Excellent job on both sides! Sean, especially well done.

    As a preacher’s kid with a scientific turn of mind, this was a special pleasure. I watched all 2 hours + and loved every minute of it. No one struck a “killing” blow (which was a bit of a bummer), but then again, I suspect that was never in the cards.

    Also, this was the first formal debate I’ve seen. That too was a revelation. Unlike political “debates” this was fair and respectful. It was a revelation (nothing religious meant :).

    A job well done by all. Of course, we all know that God doesn’t exist regardless of the whooplaa (just kidding).

  • zbob

    “Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.” -David Bohm

  • Adrian Morgan

    I wish I had an Internet connection reliable enough to load two hours of video without service interruptions that terminate the transmission. In my numerous attempts to load the above video, I’ve managed a record of eleven minutes (video time, not load time).

    It’s beyond my comprehension why, even in 2012, if an Internet connection is interrupted in the middle of downloading a Youtube video, mp3 file, or similar item, the item does not automatically resume downloading where it left off as soon as the connection is restored. Surely it can’t be that difficult for the people who program browsers, in cooperation with the people who program online video players etc, to implement it so that it does. It sounds so easy, such an undemanding thing to ask, merely a matter of passing index numbers around. So why I can’t I have a more robust Internet?

  • Ian

    Science vs Religion? Science and Religion!

  • jk.fausnight

    Dinesh makes an error in stating that the Jewish religion is the only one to claim God created the heavens and earth from nothing. This is not explicit. Genesis says only that God created the heavens and the earth, and then proceeds to describe how earth was created from a formless, water-filled chaos. He then creates a vault or firmament to separate the waters above from the waters below, and pushes back the waters below to form hard ground. He then goes on to affix the stars to the firmament. Science has definitely refuted this scenario.
    Dinesh’s claim stems from the way Christians interpret the first line, because it does not explicitly state that God created the heavens and the earth from an earlier state, especially if we conclude that ‘in the beginning’ means in the beginning of the created earth, rather than in the beginning of existence itself. The truth is that the ancient Hebrews who wrote this stuff down simply did not think things through to the philosophical depth that later readers had to if they were to assume it is a true story in light of current evidence.

  • jk.fausnight

    Dinesh again makes an error in stating there is no scientific explanation for his desire to make tea, the ‘why’ to explain the boiling water. From the chemical balance of his body, the firing of synapses, the contraction of muscles, while it is all way to complex to immediately grasp, is never the less scientifically understandable without invoking supernatural intention. The question ‘why’ is only applicable to events caused by intelligent beings. There are many events, from volcanoes on Io to supernovas in M31 which have no ‘why’, only causes. It is not until intelligence arises that there is any need for a ‘why’ or that ‘why’ makes logical sense to ask. And a human need for a ‘why’ is in no way evidence that there is a ‘why’, only that psychologically we find it hard to deal with the fact that stuff just happens.

  • jk.fausnight

    In the end, has Science refuted Religion? No. It hasn’t. It also has not refuted unicorns and leprechauns. Science has only made Religion unnecessary to explain what we see. Science has definitely refuted some specific religious beliefs, but Religion is far too slippery to be refuted. If Science refutes one interpretation of religious scripture, one only has to reinterpret it. Take Mark Ch13, for example, which clearly describes Christ’s return within the lives of the apostles. And yet Christians do not read it this way.

    (Aside to Dinesh: Please do not try to explain away Atheism as anger at God. It just does not fly, with so many atheists and agnostics who continue to participate in their church because they enjoy the social aspect and ceremony, family harmony, etc. My own primary reason for not believing is because when I did try to maintain belief, it simply felt like a childish game of pretend. I did not choose Atheism. I admitted it.)

  • Thomas

    Very well done, Sean.

  • Mike D


    You guys did a fantastic job, but there was one point I was a bit disappointed you guys didn’t really hammer on. Dinesh and Ian both claimed that there were several questions beyond the epistemic boundaries of science, like…

    – Where did the universe/laws of physics come from?
    – What happens to us when we die?
    – What is the meaning of life?

    All these types of questions are predicated on assumptions, like…

    – The universe/laws of physics had to have come from something else
    – Something happens to us when we die
    – There is a meaning to life

    I would have simply asked them what their basis was for making these assumptions. I don’t think they would be able to give a straight answer.

  • Sean T

    Matt Dillahunty would have destroyed both of these buffoons.

  • James Goetz

    Sean Carroll Says:

    “I’d be willing to do more debates, if the conditions were right (which they aren’t always).”

    Hi Sean,

    May I propose a focused written debate that could be more like an engaging dialogue? For example, I support belief in an animate first quasi-cause:

    I cannot find an atheist or agnostic to serious dialogue with me about the. I would appreciate your help.



    • Sean Carroll

      James– To be honest, given my schedule these days one of the major factors in “conditions being right” is that the debate would have considerable bang for the buck — i.e. it wouldn’t take that much time commitment, but it would reach many thousands of people. It’s hard to imagine a written debate of any sort fitting that model, unless it was in the NYT or something. You might check out one of the atheist/secular/skeptical discussion boards.

  • James Goetz


    I understand your desire about “bang for the buck.” And I see a dilemma. For example, if we had a dialogue, then the only way the dialogue might make the NYT is if I proved you wrong and successfully supported a reasonable conjecture of an animate first quasi-cause who deliberately kicked off the beginning of time from eternity with a long-term plan for resolving the problem of evil.

    Incidentally, I checked out various atheist discussion boards, but they never give me an academic response. And some non-theists see me as engaging instead of stubborn.

    Do you think that you could quickly refute my mere 1,140 word icebreaker or would that take a large portion of your time? I could copy and paste it below for you if your comments accept comments up to 1,200 words.

    • Sean Carroll

      I’m afraid not, sorry. Just too many other things to get done.

  • GM

    48. James Goetz Says:
    April 2nd, 2012 at 6:26 am
    Sean Carroll Says:
    “I’d be willing to do more debates, if the conditions were right (which they aren’t always).”
    Hi Sean,
    May I propose a focused written debate that could be more like an engaging dialogue? For example, I support belief in an animate first quasi-cause:
    I cannot find an atheist or agnostic to serious dialogue with me about the. I would appreciate your help.

    You see, it is completely pointless to debate such things, for the simple reason that you, Dinesh D’Souza, Ian Hutchinson, Francis Collins, and pretty much anyone else who is not an young earth creationist, are always talking about things that have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity then they turn around and say not only “Therefore God” but “Therefore Jesus Christ is our Lord Savior and we should be Christians”. But it simply does not follow. None of those arguments, irrespective of whether they actually are good arguments for the existence of a God (invariably, they aren’t, but we leave the door open for the appearance of good such arguments), relevant arguments in support of actual Christian beliefs

    Because all those people are Christians and believe some very concrete things that define Christianity, yet all they talk about is fine-tuning, how science can not explain everything, how scientism is evil, how morality can not be explained by evolution, etc. etc. None of which has anything to do with Christianity….

    At least the young earth crowd is honest about their motivations…

  • smali

    Thanks Beau, I agree 100% and need not to add any thing as it is all & well said in No.2 & 7.

  • Mikio

    D’Souza boasted that most religious believers are intellectually honest, recognize that faith falls short of knowledge, and so would readily admit they don’t know God exists. But he completely contradicted this claim later on in his snide little allegory.

    He said that 95% of the villagers (i.e. theists) “know this guy Bill” (i.e. God). So D’Souza let slip in his example that he thinks God exists as clearly and obviously as a regular guy to the 95% of theists and the 2% of Bill deniers (i.e. atheists) are plainly fools.

    One wonders if D’Souza could even be made aware of such massive piles of self-contradiction he puts forth, much less concede any of them. I doubt it.

  • Mikio

    To substantiate my previous post and before I delete them, here are the two time marks I didn’t get around to mentioning but will now since I went through the trouble of hunting them down.

    1 hr. 5 min. mark
    1 hr. 23 min. mark

  • dswift

    Sean, we listened to the debate driving cross country. A delightful way to knock off 140 or so miles. My takeaway is your brilliant “instruction manual problem” bit, which I shall transcribe and memorize.

    I do object to the inclusion of D’Souza. It sickened me to hear him he pretend to be civil while among a civil crowd. He’s proven himself to be at heart a knee-jerk right winger, using his overabundant vocabulary to make vicious, ridiculous (albeit fancy-sounding) assertions such as the “anti-colonial Kenyan mindset” attack on the president which another ridiculous politician has since adopted.

    D’Souza was kind enough to warn us, however, that the moment he decides that gods do not exist, he’ll likely become a raping serial-killing toxic mortgage dealer.

    One point I’d like to see addressed: isn’t the popular concept of “god” rather puny and unimaginitive considering the enormity and complexity of our universe?

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  • David Santo Pietro

    The cake is a lie.

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  • sievemaria

    The live of the universe depends on the pudendum. As soon as the Word was made flesh, man was unable to be quiet, or work, or think until he had dropped his seed.

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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] .


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