Why Evolution is True, But Coyne is Wrong About Religion, Part III: Understanding the Limits of Methodological Naturalism

By Chris Mooney | June 9, 2009 9:35 am

The Jerry Coyne debate reached temporary hiatus late last week with Coyne invoking Rosenhouse to defend himself against my charge that he has violated the methodological vs. philosophical naturalism distinction. Coyne doesn’t appear to think he commits this foul; and yet he writes in The New Republic, in a line not quoted by Rosenhouse, that “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science.”

Say what?

If you accept the MN/PN distinction as I have outlined it, or as Robert Pennock does in Tower of Babel, it is hard see how one can claim this. As Pennock writes:

The first and most basic characteristic of supernatural agents and powers, of course, is that they are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers. Indeed, this is the very definition of the term. They are not constrained by natural laws…. (p. 289)

And again:

Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables. We confirm causal laws by performing controlled experiments in which the hypothesized independent variable is made to vary while all other factors are held constant so that we can observe the effect on the dependent variable. But we have no control over supernatural entities or forces; hence these cannot be scientifically studied. (p. 292)

It is hard to see how Coyne thinks he can include supernatural phenomena within the purview of science without directly addressing the whole MN/PN matter, and indeed, wholly rejecting the MN/PN distinction as outlined by someone like Pennock. Let’s face it: “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science” is a pretty extraordinary assertion. Indeed, as far as I can tell it is a contradiction in terms.

Yet in what I have read so far (I have not read his book, so it may be there), Coyne doesn’t directly address the MN/PN matter. Certainly, given that he is dealing with these topics in some detail in the lengthy New Republic article, that would have been an ideal place to take on this philosophical point. But it isn’t there.

Let’s remember why this is important. I have argued that science and religion are at least theoretically reconcilable due to the MN/PN distinction. You can accept all the realities that science reveals through MN, and yet also have supernatural beliefs (not PN), so long as you don’t confuse the two.

I am not arguing that every religious believer actually grasps this philosophical distinction, or is well read in the philosophy of science. I am simply arguing that it is healthy to be aware of it, as it can lead to a more peaceful relationship between science and religion. Indeed, I would add that religious moderates like Kenneth Miller are the ones most likely to get the distinction, and thus to reconcile science and personal faith in a sustainable way. And to the extent that they can bring other believers along and help them to achieve a similar armistice with science, that is a very good thing.

But some scientists, too, fail to understand the difference between MN and PN, and make metaphysical claims that science cannot sustain. At this juncture–tentatively, as I would be happy to hear further explanation–I wonder if Coyne isn’t one of them. Let me close with another quotation from Pennock:

Scientists need to recognize and respect, as most do, the limits of methodological naturalism. If individual scientists wish to dive into deeper waters, then they should be clear when they are doing so…and not suggest that their conclusions are drawn strictly from within science. (Pennock, “God of the Gaps: The Argument from Ignorance and the Limits of Methdological Naturalism,” in Andrew J. Petto and Laurie R. Godfrey, eds., Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond, New York: Norton, 2008.)

P.S.: I will add that I am not a philosopher, and without having read and studied Pennock, probably wouldn’t wade into these waters. But at the same time, it seems to me that MN/PN is a pretty basic distinction, as are the definitions of “natural” and “supernatural.” Furthermore, I suspect most scientists would agree that their work and their methodology does not allow them to make claims about alleged supernatural agents.

Comments (102)

  1. MadScientist

    But what did Jerry mean by “supernatural phenomena”? There are many common supernatural claims – psychic powers, ability to talk to the dead, foresee the future, manifestations of ghosts. These are all considered ‘supernatural’ because they simply aren’t part of our natural observed world. If anyone can ever substantiate a supernatural claim then science seeks a natural explanation because what was commonly believed not to be a natural phenomenon has demonstrated that is can be tested and is therefore a previously unproven natural phenomenon. There are many specific claims and yet none are true – unless we accept the biased premise that “the supernatural are by definition beyond science and are not constrained by physical laws”. In my view that Pennock notion of the supernatural is a very simplistic and incorrect notion which only seeks to introduce a paradox to explain away any scientific investigations of claims of the paranormal. In this case the existence of the paradox between science and the supernatural is easily resolvedwhen we discard the supernatural premise; after all it makes no sense to discard science. Pennock’s notion is biased and with no reason to be so; it makes no sense to accept his notion of the supernatural which is a linguistic dishonesty at best.

  2. What about Rosenhouse’s thesis? If I can paraphrase it correctly, he’s essentially saying that while you’re *technically* correct that one can use the MN/PN paradigm to reconcile science and religion, in practice most religious people in America don’t observe that distinction and make methodological claims with a religious basis that they’ll be loathe to give up just to accommodate science. Coyne makes a similar statement in contrasting pure deism (a philosophical position) to theism which has a methodological component.

  3. Ahh, but if only things were so simple, and subjective and expedient categories stayed where they were put…for strategies sake!

    If that’s the distinction Mooney wishes to make–that supernatural claims cannot be detected or measured by science–then it should also be obvious that any claims about the supernatural cannot be made, period–since methodological naturalism is the only accurate tool humans have developed for measuring and cataloging the natural world, and Mooney, counter to all those millions who believe in miracles, already concluded that the supernatural and natural never overlap.

    Again, I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with supernatural beliefs if the believers stopped arguing that their supernaturalism impinges in very specific and significant ways in the natural world in the form of miracles, psychic ghosts, and other weirdities.

    It’s one thing to simply suggest the supernatural exists out there in some speculative realm, and quite another to state that not only does the supernatural exist but it’s just as real as the natural world, and coexists with the natural world. Here is a distinction, a real distinction, in which Mooney fails to appreciate.

    On the surface Mooney’s argument may seem peachy to religionists, but just under the surface it’s actually as divisive as anything the “New Atheists” are saying. Without perhaps realizing it, Mooney’s relegating the supernatural to irrelevance.

  4. Dennis Junk

    Distinguishing philosophical naturalism from methodological naturalism and arguing that science can only answer to the latter exempts only the most abstract (or stochastic) notions of a god from testing. Sure, there may be a god or gods, this line of reasoning suggests, but the universe with it is indistiguishable from the universe without it (i.e. its presence can’t be measured–it has no effect, no interaction with anything we consider real). Nice try, but I doubt there are many believers out there, Ken Miller notwithstanding, who would find this rapproachment at all satisfactory.

  5. Matt Penfold

    “On the surface Mooney’s argument may seem peachy to religionists, but just under the surface it’s actually as divisive as anything the “New Atheists” are saying. Without perhaps realizing it, Mooney’s relegating the supernatural to irrelevance.”

    This is the crux of the problem. Sophisticated theology may get around the problem by not actually making claims god intervenes in the Universe, but a lot of Christians do think he does just that. But a god nthat intervenes in the Universe is observable, and subject to investigation by science and you then see the type argument that he does not intervene much and so it is too hard for science to investigate. If you have a god that does not intervene then the problem goes away, but you are also left with something more akin to deism that theism and that does not reflect the type of religion practiced by most people.

  6. Strictly speaking “supernatural phenomena” seems like a contradiction in terms, since phenomena is greek (plural) for observable occurrences; and occurences beyond (over?) nature (supernatural) are not per se observable. But they can be “not completely beyond the realm of science” if you are able to observe, and maybe measure, their effect on nature itself. I refer you to BioLogos website, where they speak of divinity intervening on a quantum level to slightly distort mutations to change the course of evolution (as an aside, the most blatant contradiction between science and religion). Divinities are (should be) supernatural, but their (?) effects are testable and measurable.

  7. Anthony McCarthy

    What about Rosenhouse’s thesis? If I can paraphrase it correctly, he’s essentially saying that while you’re *technically* correct that one can use the MN/PN paradigm to reconcile science and religion, in practice most religious people in America don’t observe that distinction and make methodological claims with a religious basis that they’ll be loathe to give up just to accommodate science. Coyne makes a similar statement in contrasting pure deism (a philosophical position) to theism which has a methodological component.

    Is science in any danger of having its professional journals and university classrooms flooded with superfluous material from religion? Where is the evidence that’s happening or even likely to happen in the future? As Charles Rosen said about the alleged death of classical music, the life of science is in the hands of scientists and those who produce their research and publications.

    This fight is essentially about public schools, specifically the evolution units of biology classes and biblical fundamentalists who want to insert their religious ideas, which aren’t even held by a large number of Christians and others who use Genesis in their tradition.

    The rest of it seems to me to be an over reaction on the part of some sincere people but also by a lot of people who just, simply can’t stand that most of the people in the world believe things they don’t believe. This is a trait they share with biblical fundamentalists.

    I’m not impressed with the public understanding of science that is coming from the new atheist fad. I don’t see that the typical ScienceBlog thread demonstrates that the new atheists who comment, and some who own the blogs, really have an understanding of the most basic aspects of science and logic. Since that is now a part of the culture of science to that extent, it is a real danger to science, perhaps as pressing as fundamentalism is outside of the struggle to control the schools. You won’t keep the wall of separation between church and state in place by insulting the majority of people and telling them science is the enemy of their faith.

  8. abb3w

    Since the existence and properties of “Natural Law” are merely provisional inferences, how can any experience be inferred as “Supernatural” rather than just “Previously Unknown Natural” phenomenon? (For example from history, consider the study of radioactivity in the 1890s.)

    In this sense, I (as an amateur philosopher) would note that phenomena ALLEGED as being supernatural are indeed “in fact, not completely beyond the realm of science”, until someone comes along with a definition to distinguish between “previously unknown natural” and “supernatural”. Since we do not understand natural law by absolute knowlege, but a “best-guess-so-far” basis, defining “supernatural” as “able to violate natural law” does not help. Similarly, “able to violate the pattern of nature” is again useless, since any pattern and some violations can (akin to a composition of functions) itself be regarded as a different pattern. My glance through Pennock leaves me still underenlightened.

    At this point I couldn’t identify the supernatural even if it were to stand in a police line-up or to bite me on the axx; can anyone explain to my ignorant self how the supernatural could be recognized?

  9. can anyone explain to my ignorant self how the supernatural could be recognized?

    I’m pretty sure it can only be experienced, not recognized in the way that you look to identify something in nature. At least that’s my experience.

  10. abb3w

    So then what distinguishes any supernatural experience from any natural experience?

  11. Pennock’s testimony in Dover can be found here:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day3am.html

    Well worth reading, especially in the context of this discussion

  12. I think Michael Shermer put it well:

    “Before we claim something is *out of* this world, we need to make sure that it’s not *in* this world”

    Supernatural phenomena by definition are not subject to scientific explanation. But that’s really more a matter of syntax. In practice, should supernatural phenomena be accepted without evidence because by syntactic definition they are not subject to scientific investigation? Does that mean anything goes?

  13. Matt Penfold

    “At this point I couldn’t identify the supernatural even if it were to stand in a police line-up or to bite me on the axx; can anyone explain to my ignorant self how the supernatural could be recognized?”

    If you look at much of what is regarded as supernatural then you will find it is pretty much stuff that science has looked at and found wanting.

    That gravity could affect personality is not an unscientific claim in the first instance. There is, potentially, some mechanism which means the relative position of planets can affect how people behave. Science has investigated this hypothesis, and the result is that there is no relationship between the position of planets and people’s behaviour. There is a total lack of evidence to support the hypothesis, and so it is rejected. At this stage only the deluded, ignorant or dishonest maintain there is a link. How do those with an interest in astrology cope with the fact there is no scientific evidence ? Well they either lie about the evidence, or they claim that astrology is a phenonoma that cannot be explored by science. In otherwords they claim it is supernatural.

    It is not science that puts things in the supernatural realm, butthe followers of supposed phenonoma that have failed scientific scrutiny. By claiming their phenonoma cannot be explored by science they hope to escape the fact they have nothing but smoke and mirrors.

  14. A random passing physicist

    Science cannot *use* supernatural explanations, but it can reject/falsify specific instances of them, and it is possible that it could identify them, if it was evident from observations that the scientific method could only fail completely.

    For example, if we had regular visits from angels in public, frequent miracles, reliably answered prayers, and clear evidence of superhuman intelligence and limitless power, and all attempts to explain it as visiting space aliens etc. failed, then the scientific method probably wouldn’t be considered useful. We would have to reject science entirely. All scientific hypotheses are falsifiable; so if *all* scientific hypotheses are falsified, the supernatural has been detected. There would be nothing else we could reliably discover should that happen, but it’s not a logical impossibility.

    Note that under this scenario they’re still not compatible, but we would be rejecting science instead of the supernatural as we usually do.

    However, since that doesn’t happen (or at least, apparently hasn’t happened so far), science’s application to the supernatural is solely in rejecting supernatural explanations. For example, if it is claimed that angels cause all bricks to float on water, and observation demonstrates that they don’t, the supernatural explanation has been falsified. Supernatural explanations for things that aren’t true can be rejected, not simply because they’re supernatural, but because they’re not true. If you were to claim that corks float on water because angels hold them up, things are a bit trickier. We have both a natural and a supernatural explanation, and we pick the natural one on grounds of parsimony and methodological naturalism. Science certainly can’t *use* the supernatural explanation, but neither has it proved in any absolute sense that it cannot be true.

    Under this scenario, science still isn’t compatible with religion, because science’s choice of philosophical stance still rejects the supernatural explanation out of principle, but a non-scientific belief system could consistently accept the supernatural explanation, and be considered just as logically valid (albeit a lot less useful). In fact, you could generate a whole system of explanation from a mixture of science and supernatural explanations for true phenomena, and it would be consistent and logically valid. Science couldn’t falsify it – but nor could it accommodate it.

    Most of the scientific arguments against specific religions are based on claims made that are simply not true. That’s perfectly allowable, and science is applicable. As for non-falsifiable supernatural explanations entirely consistent with observation, we have no choice but to leave such rival philosophies to stand, just so long as nobody claims them to be science.

  15. Matt Penfold

    “As for non-falsifiable supernatural explanations entirely consistent with observation, we have no choice but to leave such rival philosophies to stand, just so long as nobody claims them to be science”

    Although the philosophers will be out with Occam’s razor.

  16. Jon

    I liked this Charles Taylor post from a while ago, which discussed the supernatural kind of in passing:

    http://www.ssrc.org/blogs/immanent_frame/2008/09/02/buffered-and-porous-selves/

    Interesting discussion, even if you don’t agree with it. People get hung up on a “supernatural” as necessarily suspending the laws of nature. Is it possible to have a supernatural that doesn’t do that?

  17. A random passing physicist

    Matt,

    Quite so. Parsimony, as I said. But Occam’s razor is a particular philosophical choice, not a logical necessity.

  18. D Bunker Monquis

    You ask the wrong question again.
    It’s not about science v. religion (Christ as Creator)or what’s supernatural.
    You know DNA-stored information is an example of language use. We observe instructions there tell a single fertilized cell to build us a baby step-by-step. Writing takes a conscious mind to select and place characters corectly. Therefore, we are the indirect products of a conscious mind. ID QED.
    IDesign asks how can you get language from inert matter? Do rocks write if you give them enough time? And some water, per the NASA school of Darwinist theology? Science of information says nope, they lack volition and IQ to get ‘er done.
    The door is open to theories of design, because science demands a sufficient cause for every effect observed. Darwinism depends upon skills in creative writing, another field altogether. Evol people use “scenarios”, their stories, to fill the gaps. Their new approach is mere say-so science, based on polling of people they choose to call scienctists. Any who disagree, despite having multiple PhD’s from namebrand shools, are fanatical fundamentalist Bible-thumping hate talkers who like Rush. They advocate suing them into silence for violating their newfound and sacred Wall of Separation between church-attenders and their income tax payments. Some don’t get representation under evolism. What part of science is censorship?

  19. abb3w

    Matt, I’d disagree slightly with the assertion that “There is a total lack of evidence to support the hypothesis”, but only because of the word “total”. More interesting is your remark: “If you look at much of what is regarded as supernatural then you will find it is pretty much stuff that science has looked at and found wanting.”

    Again, I’m not interested in “regarded as supernatural”. I could claim that Tea is inherently supernatural, and thus my enjoyment of my current beverage a supernatural experience. However, most people do not agree with this characterization of the (super)nature of Tea. So, what is it about the “supernatural” that makes it “supernatural”? When a group is “claiming their phenonoma cannot be explored by science”, I ask “Why not? What makes these phenomena different?”

    As to the Random Passing Physicist’s notion that “As for non-falsifiable supernatural explanations entirely consistent with observation, we have no choice but to leave such rival philosophies to stand”, as Matt notes there’s Occam’s Razor (parsiomony) lying about. Even with “regular visits from angels in public, frequent miracles, reliably answered prayers, and clear evidence of superhuman intelligence and limitless power”, while EXPERIMENT would suffer some, the scientific method of observe-think-test need change less than most would expect.

    So, by all means consider a suppositional visit from an Angel. On what basis would I be able to infer that this Angelic visit is indeed a supernatural phenomenon as tradition holds, rather than merely a natural one?

  20. Matt Penfold

    “Quite so. Parsimony, as I said. But Occam’s razor is a particular philosophical choice, not a logical necessity.”

    Quite a good test of which philosophers are worth paying attention to, and which are going in for mental masturbation though.

  21. Anthony McCarthy

    So then what distinguishes any supernatural experience from any natural experience?

    It’s personal and not objective, to start with. you can’t use it for science, as someone else mentioned above. That’s the most absolute difference I can think of right off.

    “Before we claim something is *out of* this world, we need to make sure that it’s not *in* this world”

    You might also want to throw in that the ulterior motive of the person ‘looking’ isn’t to just assert that there isn’t anything there. That counts as an ulterior motive as much as someone wanting to find it there.

    I’m still wondering where the problem everyone seems to think is there, is. You noticed any supernatural in refereed papers in reputable journals or sneaking past peer review? Because if that’s happening you’ve got a lot worse problems in science than the belief in religion.

    Interesting discussion, even if you don’t agree with it. People get hung up on a “supernatural” as necessarily suspending the laws of nature. Is it possible to have a supernatural that doesn’t do that?

    That’s an interesting question, I asked last week if miracles posed more of a problem for science than outliers, mistakes, wishful thinking and a host of other things that can mess things up. As they are, by definition, improbable and rare, I’d guess they’re not an insurmountable problem. If it exists, despite the objections of many here and elsewhere, science would obviously have already dealt with it unnoticed.

  22. Matt Penfold

    abb3w,

    You have good points. I cannot see any way of knowing what is supernatural, or even that term means anything when it comes to reality. That was what I trying to get at when I said that people resort calling their pet ideas supernatural in order to avoid the cold light of science. People calling something supernatural tells us something about how they regard that thing, but it does not mean anything in scientific terms.

    How we could know that a phenonoma is something that cannot be explained by science as opposed to be simply being not yet explained is not something I have an answer to. I am not too disheartened by this though, as no one else seems to know the answer either.

  23. abb3w

    Quoth the random passing physicist, “But Occam’s razor is a particular philosophical choice, not a logical necessity.”

    True. However, given a surprisingly short list of prior premises, a mathematical form of Occam’s razor indeed arises as consequent logical necessity. Methodological Naturalism is NOT one of those premises; instead, MN itself may be taken as an inference therefrom.

  24. Jon

    and which are going in for mental masturbation

    You don’t have to agree. But it helps if you know where *they* make a certain turn, versus where you would make a turn. And respect the difficulty of the problems. Otherwise you’re just doing shouting and ridicule right wing radio style.

  25. SLC

    Re D Bunker Monquis

    Although Mr. Monquis’ screed is pure tuna fish, he makes an assertion that is 100% wrong.

    The door is open to theories of design, because science demands a sufficient cause for every effect observed

    Not so; radioactive decay is an example of an effect that has no primary cause, as, in fact, are all quantum phenomena.

  26. Anthony McCarthy

    William of Occam doesn’t seem to have ever cut out God or the supernatural with his razor since he was a strict Franciscan, which almost certainly means he also believed in St. Francis’ stigmata and a host of other things. Not everyone has thought the razor was valid. Liebnitz, as I recall, Kant also.

    http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/2007/05/shield-against-power-rangers-of-occam.html

  27. Matti K.

    Mooney: “Furthermore, I suspect most scientists would agree that their work and their methodology does not allow them to make claims about alleged supernatural agents.”

    Sure, if you mean that these supernatural agents do not interfere with nature in any fashion. But then again, most religious people are sure that there is such interference.

    Why cheat theists that their beliefs are compatible with science, when this compatibility applies only to deism?

  28. Matt Penfold

    “You don’t have to agree. But it helps if you know where *they* make a certain turn, versus where you would make a turn. And respect the difficulty of the problems. Otherwise you’re just doing shouting and ridicule right wing radio style.”

    When someone comes up with a decent reply to Russell’s teapot I will pay attention. I have not seen a convincing reply yet.

    And I agree, overcoming Russell’s teapot is hard. Which may explain the lack of success to date.

  29. abb3w

    Suggests Anthony, “It’s personal and not objective, to start with.” It appears “objective” is just a way a step along towards the Supernatural-Of-The-Gaps to accompany the God-Of-The-Gaps. If I personally feel happy as a result of drinking my tea, does that support it being a supernatural experience? After all, just because other people find it makes them happy doesn’t make my own personal happiness an objective phenomenon, does it?

    What distinguishes “objective” from “personal” seems scarcely more clear than “natural” from “supernatural”.

  30. Anthony McCarthy

    After all, just because other people find it makes them happy doesn’t make my own personal happiness an objective phenomenon, does it?
    What distinguishes “objective” from “personal” seems scarcely more clear than “natural” from “supernatural”.

    abb3w, what makes you think that everything people believe about the supernatural “makes them feel happy”? Why is it always assumed that the religious beliefs people have are welcomed. I haven’t noticed great throngs of people rushing to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor or to forgive people who wrong them.

    Doesn’t the facile characterization of other peoples’ experiences for the purposes of dismissing them give you any pause about your own motives?

  31. But at the same time, it seems to me that MN/PN is a pretty basic distinction, as are the definitions of “natural” and “supernatural.”

    Really, they are not. Many philosophers pay no heed to such notions at all, and especially the continental philosophers do not, as they typically deal with phenomena and ignore what is not “phenomena.” It isn’t just the continentalists that care little about claims of the “supernatural,” though, Quine, just as an example of the analytic philosophers, largely leaves such artificial distinctions alone as well (at least in my reading of him).

    No, the MN/PN notions come from religious and metaphysical claims that existed in the Middle Ages and earlier. Mind was thought to transcend the “natural,” indeed it was a kind of evidence for known phenomena going beyond what we see happening around us. Needless to say, science (and much of philosophy) no longer believe in such fictions, both because of empirical observations and because of evolutionary explanations.

    But religion (and many non-religious ideas as well) clung to the idea that there was a “supernatural” that exists beyond the “natural,” when for most of us who have learned and thought about these things, the distinction utterly falls apart. And this despite the fact that the “evidences” for what went beyond the “natural” no longer were credible.

    And I would say that Coyne does address issues that are supposed to be involved in the “MN/PN distinction,” namely, he points out that theists do tend to claim evidence in the “natural world” for supernatural causation. I agree with Coyne on that issue, too, that it is a misuse of science to do so. What’s interesting is that Collins does so outside of his own area of expertise, mainly, while adhering to causal mechanisms within evolution. He does break even those when he tries to argue for altruism being beyond evolution, but again, that specific issue isn’t really his area of expertise. I think it interesting how they tend to foist god off into other science, yet as Coyne states, this is not legitimate.

    I’m not saying that all theistic scientists do this, and, as I noted previously in comments on this blog, I haven’t seen Ken Miller explicitly move beyond science in his own work and statements (other than where he and I deem it legitimate), nor seek to cordon off any areas to keep them from being touched. The tendency of theists to start “seeing god” in nature that Coyne pointed to does exist, however, and he is right to say that it does.

    Coyne does appear to be well aware that many theists claim that the supernatural does not affect science, he just brings up examples of where this apparently is not so. While it is true that one could keep to making religious claims that really do not affect science at all, no claims of free will, or that consciousness is somehow “magical,” practically theistic scientists haven’t shown themselves to be above that collectively. Those who don’t appear to be the exceptions, not the rule.

    Note how Coyne addressed some of Mooney’s concerns in this brief passage:

    Now I am not claiming that all faith is incompatible with science and secular reason–only those faiths whose claims about the nature of the universe flatly contradict scientific observations. Pantheism and some forms of Buddhism seem to pass the test. But the vast majority of the faithful–those 90 percent of Americans who believe in a personal God, most Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, and adherents to hundreds of other faiths–fall into the “incompatible” category.

    http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=1e3851a3-bdf7-438a-ac2a-a5e381a70472

    Coyne wins this one, I believe.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  32. Anthony McCarthy

    Has anyone ever believed in “Russell’s teapot”? Which, if it existed, would be a phenomenon within the material universe and so wouldn’t have anything to do with any proposed supernatural. Actually, if I recall correctly, even as proposed it’s a part of the material universe.

    I was always kind of surprised a logician as accomplished as Russell would come up with that thing. You wonder how he and A.W. North, who was religious, managed to finish the Principia.

  33. Jon

    A.W. North

    It’s Albert North Whitehead.

  34. Anthony McCarthy

    Now I am not claiming that all faith is incompatible with science and secular reason–only those faiths whose claims about the nature of the universe flatly contradict scientific observations. Pantheism and some forms of Buddhism seem to pass the test. But the vast majority of the faithful–those 90 percent of Americans who believe in a personal God, most Muslims, Jews, and Hindus, and adherents to hundreds of other faiths–fall into the “incompatible” category.

    What’s really remarkable about this quote is where modern science arose and in just those cultures that were dominated by the religious faiths that Coyne holds to be incompatible with science. How does he explain that fact, as well as the number of important scientists who held those faiths, themselves? How does account for that. I’d think that was a fairly high hurdle for his claim.

  35. Jon

    Yeah, I’ve wondered how they got along too. Another strange pairing is A J Ayer and Isaiah Berlin. Very good friends. But they couldn’t have disagreed more philosophically.

  36. Anthony McCarthy

    Albert North Whitehead.

    Don’t y0u just hate it when people have two last names.

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    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2009/traffic

    Portraits of Perception The Human Face

    Friday, June 12, 2009, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM, Baruch Performing Arts Center

    What makes Mona Lisa’s smile so intriguing? What makes Picasso’s portraits so compelling? Kurt Andersen hosts artists Chuck Close and Devorah Sperber, with neuroscientists Margaret Livingstone, Chris Tyler and Ken Nakayama, as they examine the power of brain imaging technology to illuminate how we perceive the most intimate yet public of features, the human face.

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com…f-perception

    What It Means to Be Human The Enigma of Altruism

    Friday, June 12, 2009, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM, NYU Skirball Center Though many animals display cooperative behavior, human cooperation is distinct. Alan Alda hosts E.O. Wilson, Sarah Hrdy and other leading evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and humanitarians as they examine the origins and evolution of human cooperative behavior.

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com…/to-be-human

    Notes & Neurons In Search of the Common Chorus

    Friday, June 12, 2009, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM, Gerald W. Lynch Theater, CUNY

    Is our response to music hard-wired or culturally determined? Is the reaction to rhythm and melody universal or influenced by environment? Join host John Schaefer, scientist Daniel Levitin and musical artist Bobby McFerrin for live performances and cross cultural demonstrations to illustrate music’s note-worthy interaction with the brain and our emotions. Special Musical Guests Naren Budhkar, Tabla Parag Chordia, Sitar Amber Docters van Leeuwen, Cellist

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com…-and-neurons

    Avian Einsteins

    Saturday, June 13, 2009, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM, NYU Skirball Center

    How do we learn to speak? What is the connection between language and movement? Join a broad and distinguished panel of biologists, psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, musicians and writers, including leading bird scientists Erich Jarvis and Irene Pepperberg, on an exploration of how striking parallels between bird and human brains are providing sharp new insights into how we acquire language and links between hearing and movement. Featuring a special appearance of Snowball, the dancing cockatoo of YouTube fame.

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com…an-einsteins

    Science Faith Religion

    Saturday, June 13, 2009, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM, Tishman Auditorium, The New School Public debate, pitting atheist against believer, typically yields a polarized picture. Might a more nuanced conversation that transcends simplistic assertions, and weaves insights from physics, biology, and psychology provide a more fruitful exchange of ideas? Bill Blakemore hosts scientists Lawrence Krauss, Ken Miller and Guy Consolmagno, and philosopher Colin McGinn to find out.

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com…ith-religion

    Time the Familiar Stranger Mysteries of Mind and Time

    Saturday, June 13, 2009, 8:00 PM – 9:30 PM, Gerald W. Lynch Theater, CUNY

    Time allows us to live in the moment, reflect on the past, plan for the future. It’s our most familiar, precious, yet mysterious commodity. Celebrated author and neurologist Oliver Sacks and psychologist Daniel Gilbert draw on converging insights from physical, biological and neurological perspectives to reflect on this most vital factor shaping the human experience.

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com…iar-stranger

    For additional information, please look at the World Science Festival’s website:

    http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2009

  38. “Nature does not always shave with Occam’s razor”- Anon.

    Another interesting philosophical-scientific pairing is David Bohm and J Krishnamurti.

  39. And it’s *Alfred* North Whitehead

  40. Jon

    Alfred it is. It’s been a while since I read him as an undergraduate.

  41. abb3w

    Anthony asks “what makes you think that everything people believe about the supernatural “makes them feel happy””… but I’m afraid misses my point. I’m not claiming that “making happy” is the attribute of supernatural (which would indeed seem “facile dismissal”). I’m observing that the happiness I get from drinking tea appears a PERSONAL experience, and being PERSONAL, per his suggestion, Tea is eligible to be a supernatural entity.

    The point of Russell’s teapot is that it is a conjectured natural entity roughly as easy to assert and difficult to “disprove” as any supernatural entity; however, as fortuitously I happen for the sake of argument to be considering Tea as supernatural, being a Tea-pot should make the supernatural nature of Russell’s proposition self-evident. =)

    As for the worry that “What’s really remarkable about this quote is where modern science arose and in just those cultures that were dominated by the religious faiths that Coyne holds to be incompatible with science” appears due to a conflation of Science in both the sense of Philosophical Discipline and of Anthropological Practice, which I feel ought be considered distinct. The latter gave rise to methodologies of science via the social evolutionary advantage to engineering; the philosophical discipline resulted from consideration of the methodologies’ relative results and methods.

  42. A random passing physicist

    “Writing takes a conscious mind to select and place characters corectly.”

    No it doesn’t. All it requires is a hostile environment to progressively delete the cases where characters are placed wrongly.

    (It would be cruel of me to ask whether “corectly” was done by a conscious mind, but I’d like to thank you for a moment’s amusement anyway.)

  43. Anthony McCarthy

    I’ve read somewhere that when he was dying Somerset Maugham sent for A J Ayer to reassure him that there wasn’t any afterlife, for those who think that religious believers are the only ones who are looking for what they want to find.

  44. Anthony McCarthy

    abb3w, trying to abstract and redefine your way out of the reality of where modern science arose and who did it doesn’t change the fact that it was in those places where the much despised Abrahamic faiths dominated. That’s what happens when the real world messes up your desired scenario.

    The Theravada Buddhists did come up with an extraordinary amount of stuff, but not much modern science.

    I think the current popularity of Occam’s razor has more to do with pop-scientism than it does with any understanding of it. It’s like the term of classical logic, ad hominem, which ususally means “I don’t like what you said but I can’t answer it” as used on the blogs. “Straw man” generally means the same thing. Though you do see correct use of all three at times.

  45. xgecko

    A very interesting point that no proponent of the supernatural has ever answered for me…

    If you claim knowledge of the supernatural the only way this is possible is if the supernatural force or entity interacted with your natural body in some way. If so then this can be studied using the tools of science and some understanding of the event can be developed. This can validate that the supernatural event happened which is a very important first step. From that we can gather more data and begin to develop a more thorough understanding of what actually happened.

    The funny thing about this is, as has been previously alluded to, somewhere along the way – assuming the event is indeed shown to be real – we stop calling it supernatural as we inevitably discover it is just another aspect of Reality that was previously not understood.

    A corollary point is that so far no data on the supernatural has ever been produced by any reliable source.

  46. What’s really remarkable about this quote is where modern science arose and in just those cultures that were dominated by the religious faiths that Coyne holds to be incompatible with science.

    That’s sort of like asking how science could ever develop out of academic environments which were not scientific, as it did and had to do. Obviously something can arise from something else with which it is not compatible (not in the sense that Coyne is using, anyway), as people re-think their ideas.

    How does he explain that fact, as well as the number of important scientists who held those faiths, themselves?

    Why? Did he ever claim that Giberson, Miller, and Collins were not good scientists? This is what he writes about Giberson and Miller:

    Giberson and Miller are thoughtful men of good will. Reading them, you get a sense of conviction and sincerity absent from the writings of many creationists, who blatantly deny the most obvious facts about nature in the cause of their faith. Both of their books are worth reading: Giberson for the history of the creation/ evolution debate, and Miller for his lucid arguments against intelligent design. Yet in the end they fail to achieve their longed-for union between faith and evolution. And they fail for the same reason that people always fail: a true harmony between science and religion requires either doing away with most people’s religion and replacing it with a watered-down deism, or polluting science with unnecessary, untestable, and unreasonable spiritual claims.

    He thinks that a person can very well be religious and scientific, but not coherently both at the same time. What of that? “So I contradict myself” could be stated by every scientist and non-scientist, when being strictly honest.

    Was Newton scientific when I said that angels might nudge planets into their correct orbits from time to time? I think not, but that has little or nothing to do with the fact that Newton did great science. And to give Newton some cover, it’s not as if modern science existed full-blown at the time anyway, though it had taken a great leap to achieving that goal with the Principia.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  47. Oops, I should have written a sentence in #46 this way, with the “not” taken out of the parentheses:

    Obviously something can arise from something else with which it is not compatible (in the sense that Coyne is using, anyway), as people re-think their ideas.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  48. Of course, on an etymological-point-of-view, supernatural phenomena are, indeed, beyond the realm of science. But —allow me to try to build a bridge between Coyne and Mooney— maybe what Coyne is saying is that phenomena that APPEARS to be supernatural to some people, are not beyond the realm of science. After all, there has been numerous examples in the past, of phenomenon labeled “supernatural”, that we are now able to explain scientifically.

    So maybe, on this particular sentence (supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science), it is not a philosophical debate, but an etymological one. Maybe Coyne and you are saying the same thing, but (as it is frequently the case in social sciences), it is a matter of definition.

    After all, Coyne is also saying, in this New Republic article: You cannot re-define science so that it includes the supernatural. It seems Coyne and Mooney are here on the same boat.

  49. Jon

    If you claim knowledge of the supernatural the only way this is possible is if the supernatural force or entity interacted with your natural body in some way. If so then this can be studied using the tools of science and some understanding of the event can be developed.

    Actually, this has been tried. There’s a whole series of posts about it here:

    http://www.ssrc.org/blogs/immanent_frame/2008/08/22/is-this-anything-or-is-this-nothing/

    Click on the “cognitive revolution?” link at the top to see the whole series.

  50. abb3w

    Anthony notes “trying to abstract and redefine your way out of the reality of where modern science arose and who did it doesn’t change the fact that it was in those places where the much despised Abrahamic faiths dominated.”

    I suspect I would disagree with you on the definition of “modern science”. However, I deny that trying to “redefine my way out of the reality”; I’ll go so far as to say that from my understanding of the history of science, the rise of modern science appears likely to have been not merely co-located with, but facilitated by the Abrahamic religions in the region. On the other hand, since philosophy is concerned more with ideas than how they came about first, this origin is more relevant to science as anthropological practice (and perhaps as sociological evolutionary development) than philosophical discipline. For the broader question, I’d note that “compatibility” depends on whether you’re talking in context of philosophy or human psychology. Humans are quite capable of inconsistency, as “This statement is a lie” highlights.

    You also may be correct about the popularity about Occam’s Razor, too, especially since most people do not understand the mathematically formal version of it. However, I again note the FORMAL version requires a surprisingly short list of prior premises to give rise… premises which appear necessary to tell a hawk from a handsaw.

  51. That’s sort of like asking how science could ever develop out of academic environments which were not scientific, as it did and had to do.

    That wasn’t what Coyne said, though, is it? If he had proposed an incompatibly between science and an environment outside of academia it would be valid to bring it up but he didn’t.

    And, if you want to make that kind of statement in order to set up an exclusion that can’t be supported by history or the biographies of many scientists who were members of those religions, you still have to ignore the way it really happened. That history is as much the way things happened as any part of evolution. The way things happened is what you have to deal with, you can’t jump over it in order to come up with a rationale for why they are incompatible when the evidence of real life is that they happened at the same time, in the same places and in the same people.

    Quite frankly, the best sources of information on the subject of the compatibility or incompatibility of those religions and scinece are from successful scientists who held those faiths. They’re the only ones with any direct experience, they are the best authorities on the subject.

    If Coyne wanted to assert that you could only do real science in London, he;d have to ignore what happened in other places.

    I don’t think it’s any different from people who have held that people with African ancestry and who weren’t males didn’t make good scientists, as was in the news a couple of years back. From a scientist who seems to have stolen some crucial research from a woman.

  52. A random passing physicist

    “That’s sort of like asking how science could ever develop out of academic environments which were not scientific…”

    Without in any way meaning to be rude to the founders of science, it’s the same “origins” question as asking how complex, intelligent organisms can develop out of simple, unintelligent ones. Such a complex structure as science cannot spring into being all at once. It must evolve gradually, as false starts and less reliable methods get killed off by debate.

    Although the idea that God must have created it, since unscientific men could not have done so without science, would be nicely ironic. Was science intelligently designed?

  53. Was science intelligently designed?

    I wrote a little piece about the argument that those artificial RNA experiments, think they were at Scripps, disproved “intelligent design”. Of course, unless you think it happened by accident or stupid thinking, those molecules were intelligently designed. Though I thought the descriptions of what happened in as “natural selection” was quite a stretch.

    By God? That’s not part of science, no matter what you conclude.

    Such a complex structure as science cannot spring into being all at once. It must evolve gradually, as false starts and less reliable methods get killed off by debate.

    You haven’t been following the argument I’ve been having at Jason Rosenhouses’ blog, science is taking a real beating from the new atheists who are speaking up on what they think it its behalf.

  54. A random passing physicist

    “You haven’t been following the argument I’ve been having at Jason Rosenhouses’ blog”

    Are you talking about the one about virgin birth? Well, I haven’t thought about it much, but my first thought was to ask where the Y chromosome came from. Statistics on chromosomal abnormalities are available, but I’m not sure it really answers the question.

    The alternative hypothesis isn’t that the virgin birth occurred naturally, it’s that it didn’t occur at all, but was simply made up. To assess that mathematically, we would have to look at how common virgin birth myths are in fiction, whether there were existing myths that could have given them the idea (like Mithras, say…), whether it has psychological appeal so that the myth would persist once started, etc. The spread of myths could be modelled with Markov cellular automata, or percolation theory, for example. That’s where I would start, although the social sciences are fuzzy enough that I would indeed question whether you could get any sort of mathematically precise answer.

    That would have to be compared against the odds of a miraculous virgin birth. Being supernatural, there are obvious problems trying to subject it to law-like relationships. But we could assess that by surveying how many of the world’s thousands of Gods ever did a virgin birth miracle, multiplying by our guess at the probability of any theistic religion being true, and take that as an upper bound.

    You *can* consider such questions scientifically, but few people would bother because they’re so obviously silly questions encouraging silly answers. It’s pretty obviously connected to the Mithras story, and conducting a sophisticated Bayesian analysis to demonstrate that is obviously humorously intended. I’m not sure what, if anything, all of this says about new atheists, though.

  55. Anthony McCarthy

    They might be arguing about the Virgin birth, I’m interested in the scientific competence of the new atheists and how many absurd things they can say on a ScienceBlog about science without having one of their fellow new atheists pointing it out. I don’t happen to believe in the literal Virgin Birth of Jesus.

    Random, you did follow the requirement that you’ve got to actually study what is being proposed in order to study what is being proposed. And one of those is that the Christian belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus is a unique event in human history for which there is no physical evidence. If what is proposed happened exactly once, you can’t compare any or even every single other human birth because those can’t be like the Virgin Birth as it is believed.

    You do know that one of the applications of Bayesian analysis was to try to demonstrate the probability that God existed. Not that I think it worked.

    I’m still waiting for the sci-guys to back up their, and I’ll add here, Richard Dawkins’ assertion that science can be applied to the question of whether or not it is possible.

  56. benjdm

    By these definitions, aren’t radioactive decays supernatural phenomena?

    “The first and most basic characteristic of supernatural agents and powers, of course, is that they are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers. Indeed, this is the very definition of the term. They are not constrained by natural laws….”

    I can’t force a decay, nor can any other natural agents. We have not discovered any laws – only probabilities.

    “Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables. We confirm causal laws by performing controlled experiments in which the hypothesized independent variable is made to vary while all other factors are held constant so that we can observe the effect on the dependent variable. But we have no control over supernatural entities or forces; hence these cannot be scientifically studied.”

    We have not found any independent variable that changes the dependent variable (the decay or non-decay.) So, radioactive decays are supernatural. Also, since they affect the natural world, science DOES take them into account – it doesn’t ignore them.

  57. RickW

    Of course, it would be so much easier if we only knew just what comprised the “natural world” and “natural laws”………

  58. MadScientist

    @gillt: I agree with you. In this specific instance, accepting the supernatural by definition as being beyond science leads to the corolary: “the supernatural is *fundamentally* indistinguishable from nonsense”. If something is fundamentally indistinguishable from nonsense then you have a serious credibility problem.

    In Mathematics, self-referential paradoxes and self-referential sets of statements constituting a paradox (and unresolvable due to lack of further information) served as a very important talking point for over 2000 years. The issue was finally resolved: such paradoxes are inconsequential. And thus, that niggling intuitively nonsensical realm was banished from Mathematics; a very important development in the field because future mathematicians can confidently reject such nonsense!

    However, proponents of the supernatural would like it to be exempt from science yet believed to be true rather than classed, as a consequence of their own proposed delineations, as being part of the realm of nonsense.

  59. Theism, the specific tri-omni thesis, is susceptible to empirical test. I have in mind the problem of evil, which draws an observable consequence from the hypothesis and notes the contradictory data. Of course, theists have all manner of epicyclic apologetics up their sleeves, and it’s a vexed issue when epicycles become too much to bear (see: Quine-Duhem problem and related matters surrounding theory underdetermination). I’m pretty convinced that theism is a degraded research program. Not only does it meat serious empirical tension in the problem of evil, but as Plato pointed out it does no better than relativism at explaining the valuative aspects of human life, which it is principally meant to explain. The divine command theory is just “God relativism” (see: Euthyphro dilemma).

    So, I’m not sure I disagree with the statement “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science”. Sure, you can get that to be a contradiction if you stipulate a meaning for “supernatural”, but the hypothesis of a god or gods is surely supernatural even if it has observable implications or is forwarded as an explanatory hypothesis. I prefer to meet the theist head on in these matters to all this rigamaroll about demarcation. After all, no one really cares if theism “scientific” according to some definition stipulated with the expressed purpose of ruling out theism. We care whether it’s true, and we have no reason to think that it is along with plenty of reason to think it is not.

  60. jrshipleyjr, The idea of studying the question of the existence of evil runs into a huge problem right at the start, the things that people call and consider evil are extremely varied and at times ambiguous. While there are some pretty clear cut cases, sadistic murders, sadism in general, the enslavement of people especially helpless people, things of that nature, most aren’t. A lot of things that are called evil aren’t remotely the same kind of event as other things that are. Experiencing pain would seem to be a common element, though that can go from someone inflicting torture on someone to someone disagreeing with someone’s opinion about something of no real consequence. You might have noticed that last one is rampant on blogs.

    A first distinction might be between things people do that are evil and things that happen without human intent. But even the “evil” things people intentionally are extremely varied.

    Last month on Jerry Coyne’s blog, he had a silly contest up to name a truth that had come from revelation. He rigged the rules so that things like Hillel’s “What you would not have done to you, do not do to others” or it’s more traditional Christian formulation, would be disqualified. As the more useful teachings of religion are exactly those kinds of insights into preventing intentional evil, it was a pretty clear example of bad faith to cut them out of consideration. He didn’t seem to accept the fifth verse of the Dharmapada either. Rule rigging isn’t something restricted to fundamentalist religion.

    You can come to any general conclusions based on empirical observations, its really a problem of philosophy and literature to deal with because it’s too big and varied. There isn’t an objective definition of the problem and there isn’t going to be a general answer to it. Expecting that you can look at something that complex as if it was a science or logic problem is bound to fail. Science and logic depend on isolating and abstracting a part of the whole to study and come to some result, you can’t do that with a range of phenomena and experiences that are as complex as “evil”.

    You might want to start by doing what Jerry Coyne clearly hadn’t when he declared in another post last month, that every religious idea about the presence of evil was ridiculous, you might want to look at the large literature dealing with the subject from various religious viewpoints. It’s an enormous literature.

    In the book of Isaiah God tells Moses that our thoughts aren’t God’s thoughts. If that’s the case, it could be that the question of why God allows evil to happen is something we can’t understand. You might not like that answer and you don’t have to accept it, it’s not science, but science doesn’t have an answer either, it can’t find one either.

  61. Oops, that mention of Moses was the result of changing references and bad editing. Sorry.

  62. So, despite his frank admission that “convergences are striking features of evolution,” he rules any possibility that human-like intelligence could also be a convergent feature. His only reason for so doing seems to be that such intelligence evolved “only once, in Africa.” Apparently, to satisfy his standards, it should have evolved many times. Actually, of course, if an observer had checked as recently as 5 million years ago, it wouldn’t have evolved at all. Nonetheless Coyne has absolutely no empirical reason for claiming that what happened once could not happen again-and he surely knows that. But, to borrow a phrase, he is “forced” into that conclusion by his own anti-theist views.

    Tim Broderick, That piece by Kenneth Miller brings up one of the real ironies that come up over and over with some atheists, who are always ready to point at someone and shout “anthropocentric”. Why presume a God could only have one intention for one species or line leading to that species. One would expect a creator God to be capable of multitasking. You could come up with more stories about possible staring roles for who it was all intended for than an eager-beaver evolutionary psychologist. Maybe we’re just a side show.

    Granted we do tend to be rather fixed on ourselves and our experiences, which is probably responsible for why just about all of our literature, including scriptures are rather concentrated on us. Maybe God figured we’d screw up stuff enough and didn’t want to make things worse by coming up with another intelligent species on this planet. It could turn out, biologically speaking, if we manage to destroy ourselves with technology and science, that intelligence could be a mal-adaptation. I can’t remember which of the new atheists saying they couldn’t believe in the scriptures because they didn’t contain any science, maybe God didn’t intend for us to kill ourselves quite that early, and to a huge number of other species and maybe orders, before now.

    It’s also seemed ironic to me that we figure our math, logic and science are the key to the universe when there is no other animal we know which practices those. How much more anthropocentric can you get? For all we know we could be the one and only species in the entire universe who uses those to understand the material world. Of course, having those, finding those efficacious, we’re stuck with them, for better, or worse. And the results aren’t an unmitigated good. Considering how many scientists get paid to produce munitions, ecocidal chemistry, etc. religion isn’t the only field of human activity with something to answer for. These days, it’s a relatively minor player. Even if Harris’ nightmare scenario of an “Islamic” bomb was used, the part played by science in its production would have not been a minor part of the result. It couldn’t even be deployed without science.

  63. abb3w

    Quoth Anthony McCarthy, There isn’t an objective definition of the problem and there isn’t going to be a general answer to it. Expecting that you can look at something that complex as if it was a science or logic problem is bound to fail. Science and logic depend on isolating and abstracting a part of the whole to study and come to some result, you can’t do that with a range of phenomena and experiences that are as complex as “evil”.

    I am afraid I disagree.

    I would refer you to the work of Jon Haidt for a start.

    “The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.”

  64. John Kwok

    @ Tim Broderick,

    Yes, I concur with your assessment of Ken’s excellent rebuttal to Coyne’s commentary. Moreover, I have heard Ken make this rather suprising challenge (It was during a private talk he gave to our fellow college alumni here in New York City last month):

    Those who belong to religious faiths that are hostile to science should terminate their membership in such faiths.

    Cleary, Ken recognizes the important priority that science has with respect to the pursuit of knowledge and a rational view of the universe. Contrary to what others, such as for example, both Coyne and PZ Myers have asserted, Ken hasn’t allowed his religious view to blnd him with respect to what is really most important with regards to science.

    Sincerely yours,

    John

    P. S. Ken is an old friend. I had the privilege of assisting him at his very first debate against a creationist years ago, on the campus of our undergraduate alma mater.

  65. Anthony McCarthy

    abb3w, I only skimmed through that link, you think that in about 20 pages Haidt has come up with an objective definition of the problem of the presence of evil in the world and a general answer to it? I don’t think a rational theologian whose expertise was the literature of theodicy would make that claim for the entire field.

    He might isolate a few issues but I’ll bet he won’t find unanimous agreement from other scholars on even those. I think some of them might prove to be more of an interruption to his work than that blog comment. You aren’t claiming he’s there yet, are you?

    Wish you’d warned that it was a pdf file, they always screw up my system.

  66. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    “And one of those is that the Christian belief in the Virgin Birth of Jesus is a unique event in human history for which there is no physical evidence. If what is proposed happened exactly once, you can’t compare any or even every single other human birth because those can’t be like the Virgin Birth as it is believed.”

    Exactly what hypothesis are you trying to test? That Christianity, and hence the virgin birth, is true? That Christianity is false, but the virgin birth was miraculous and true? That a single unique virgin birth occured non-miraculously? That a possibly non-unique natural virgin birth occurred? What?

    I take the point about people pontificating about science without being able to actually do it, but that’s by no means confined to new atheists. It applies to most people. That’s forgivable.

    “While there are some pretty clear cut cases,…”

    Those aren’t clear cut at all. There have been many people who have regarded all of those as acceptable, in certain circumstances. Especially slavery.
    And what about the concept of Hell?

  67. abb3w

    Anthony McCarthy asks you think that in about 20 pages Haidt has come up with an objective definition of the problem of the presence of evil in the world and a general answer to it?

    Haidt’s not a theologian; he’s a psychologist. He’s overcome the “huge problem right at the start”, since while “the things that people call and consider evil are extremely varied and at times ambiguous”, he’s identified the five underlying frameworks which both liberals and conservatives both use (although with different levels of emphasis) to define “good” versus “evil”.

    I’d say unanimous agreement from other scholars is an unreasonable standard to expect, especially in a world that still has a few flat-earth supporters. His work is, from what I understand, fairly well accepted, even by his critics. (EG: Pinker – not a PDF for this one; sorry about the other.) Within the scientific scholastic community, there seems to be more interest than objection.

    The phrasing the problem of the presence of evil in the world and a general answer to it seems ambiguous. I presume you refer to the question in the sense of “whether evil exists and, if so, why” as Wikipedia puts it, rather than “what should we do about it”. (The latter is not a problem of science per se, but of engineering.) Your reference to “theodicy” suggests you might also be referring to the Epicuran question of “how could God allow evil”, but that presumes that God exists. This presumption is not necessarily valid, especially when addressing the whether-why question via Science (which, unlike most theology and all theodicy, does not take by mandatory premise any position on such existence). Haidt in particular is an atheist, and thus less concerned than you appear with the compatibility of God with Evil, having already concluded (for perhaps other reason) “God probably doesn’t exist”. He’s more concerned with what humans mean by “evil”. So far as I know, Haidt has not published anything to indicate the unified root defining “evil” from his five frameworks, so you are correct that he is not there yet.. and I’ve yet to get my article ready to start peer review. =)

    My point in directing you to Haidt’s work is that it gives a step towards resolving that whether-why question, which step you claimed was itself all but insurmountable: defining what people mean by “evil”. And thus, you appear to be stretching further than you ought with your claim that “science can’t….”

  68. A random passing physicist

    Benjdm,

    “We have not found any independent variable that changes the dependent variable (the decay or non-decay.)”

    My apologies for nit-picking, but actually yes we have. Decay can be stimulated by bombardment – it’s how chain reactions in reactors work – and it can be stopped by certain very odd quantum effects – look up the Quantum Zeno effect.

    But anyway, the laws of probability are sufficiently regular to count as ‘natural’.

  69. Anthony McCarthy

    Exactly what hypothesis are you trying to test? That Christianity, and hence the virgin birth, is true?

    This isn’t exactly the topic of this thread. You can go to my blog if you really want to get into it.

    http://anthonymic.blogspot.com/

    First, I wasn’t the one who said you could apply the Christian believe of the Virgin Birth to scientific testing, it was another person on the thread. I wouldn’t propose to do it because the only means to do that, sufficient physical samples of the mother, child and a proposed human father or a close relative of his are entirely unavailable.

    It is inherent to what is asserted that Jesus was “the only begotten Son of God” conceived of a virgin by the Holy Spirit. You have to satisfy all of those conditions and the condition of it being described as unique means that it is not like any other conception and birth, not another like it in all of the human births in history.

    The only means to test it would be with physical specimens which are lost and not recoverable. You can’t fill in that lost material with some Just So Story and not expect someone to notice.

    Over at Jason Rosenhouse’s blog I asked for someone to say how you could make some kind of test or experiment that could do it and they couldn’t come up with a way to get over those two barriers. If you think you can find a way to do it, go ahead.

    I don’t want to bother people here with the problem.

  70. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    It is a bit off-topic, so I won’t pursue it any further after this.

    What I was trying to say was that the virgin birth *is* subject to scientific testing, so long as you correctly identify the hypotheses you are testing. So far as I can tell, the question of physical samples is totally irrelevant to the standard question – although I can’t rule out that you might have a different hypothesis in mind where it would be, which I why I was asking. It doesn’t matter, though.

    Auguste Comte once said that we would never know what the sun is made of, because we could never go there and collect a sample. Simply being physically inaccessible doesn’t necessarily rule out science.

  71. Anthony McCarthy

    Random passing, I’ll be glad to consider that at my blog.

  72. Anthony McCarthy

    The phrasing the problem of the presence of evil in the world and a general answer to it seems ambiguous.

    If you want to examine a lot of different complex situations in life, that comes with the territory. People aren’t sub atomic particles. Behavior is always subject to ambiguity, you can’t try to study “evil” as if it was one thing and expect the clarity possible in physics. Arguing about something that’s complicated and variable is just harder, eventually the topic gets to hard to subject it to science because you can’t limit it sufficiently.

    As for the necessity of arguing about the problem of evil in relationship to God, as jrshipley introduced it at 60, you have to approach the question in terms of there being a God.

    It’s really coming into focus as this goes on that a lot of people don’t seem to realize that in order to address questions about religious beliefs, you have to argue the beliefs as they are believed, not as they’re not believed. You can only argue a proposition by arguing that proposition, not one that you change to make it easier or more to your liking.

  73. Rules For

    Are science and religion philosophically compatible? The history of the science/religion relationship has no bearing on this question.
    For example, most would probably agree that slavery and the U.S. Declaration of Independence are philosophically incompatible; the historical fact that Jefferson wrote the Declaration and owned slaves does nothing to refute this view; it is merely a distraction.

  74. Mattie

    I started to read this and right off the bat, Chris Mooney,there is a problem with premise. The problem with science AND with religion is preconceived notions about what is or what ought to be. Perhaps your definitions need serious examination. In medicine, the four-letter word in an examination is that the patient’s complaints are “subjective.” Duh – my right elbow hurts (subjective). YOU figure out WHY it hurts (objective, e.g. tendinitis). It is the same with the so-called supernatural. Did you ever consider that it isn’t super and it is natural and that we have been soooo religiously brain-washed that we do not believe (we choose to be superstitious about) natural things that occur within the realm of our existence. There is no “scientific experiment” that can CONTROL (bad word) an “experiment” that deals with feeling. Science needs to come down off it’s high horse and out of the ivy cluttered academic halls and listen, observe and refrain from judgment. Louis Leakey supported Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute in their studies of chimps, gorillas and orang-utans, respectively, BECAUSE they had not been pre-programed and brainwashed by the academic process and BECAUSE they could observe without judgment. The very first amazing thing to come to light was the observation of the overwhelming number of tools the chimps used, those that were handy and those that were either modified or created. Leakey’s comment was that we would now have to either redefine tool or redefine man [paraphrase]. Step out of the box into the open light of day Mr. Mooney. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Things are not always what they seem nor are they what religion, science and politics would have you see. Get outside of the box. Otherwise you simply perpetuate the blind and ignorant superstitions of several thousand years and the “accepted premises” of academe and politics and you can never move beyond the ridiculous to even begin to approach truth.

  75. John Kwok

    While this is a bit off topic, I am still surprised that Coyne didn’t seize the opportunity that was handed to him by the World Science Festival here in New York City, by agreeing to participate in its roundtable panel discussion on Science, Faith and Religion (Those participating include physicist Lawrence Krauss – perhaps best known for his book, “The Physics of Star Trek” – and Ken Miller. I will be in attendance as one of several hundred in the general audience.). Coyne could have used this opportunity not only to make a persuasive case why science and scientific organizations should not have an “accomodationist” stance towards religion, but also explain why the Templeton Foundation – which is providing substantial financial support to the World Science Festival – should be scorned by all.

  76. Physicalist

    Pennock:

    Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables. . . . But we have no control over supernatural entities or forces; hence these cannot be scientifically studied.

    1. It’s not a priori that supernatural entities can’t be influenced. If Zeus cares about my offering of a hecatomb, and then intervenes on my behalf, this can (in principle) be scientifically studied — precisely because we are influencing supernatural entities.

    2. There is a great deal of good science in which we have no practical control over the variables whatsoever. Evolutionary biology and cosmology are two obvious examples.

  77. Auguste Comte once said that we would never know what the sun is made of, because we could never go there and collect a sample. Simply being physically inaccessible doesn’t necessarily rule out science.

    I wouldn’t draw your second sentence as a logical necessity of the first one, I’d just have said that Comte didn’t have access to the physics necessary to know that you could find out what the sun consisted through the analysis of light of because he lived too early.

    You do know that the idea of subjecting something that isn’t part of the material universe to science does, actually, destroy the meaning of science. Since there will never be any way to detect something that is supernatural, never mind quantify it, etc. any theories that you might cook up won’t be tested, replicated or falsified. Ironically enough. What science would you point to that has been done to back up this silly idea.

    Apparently that doesn’t matter when the target is religion. Ironically, it’s the claim that science is in danger from religion that is the excuse of the new atheists. But it’s really just old fashioned bigotry looking to use science to forward its aims. Not any different from William Schockley or the scientific racists, when you get down to it.

    Its the zeal of the new atheists that’s a danger to science. Unlike the creationists, they’re already in the building in large numbers and duping a bunch of waanabe sci-guys who are entirely clueless.

  78. JimV

    I’ve always understood the supernatural to mean things that are accomplished by some agent that has the ability to affect physical reality by sheer will. They want things to be a certain way, and poof, things are that way. Mountains move, people walk on water, etc. not because they have lots of earth-moving equipment or floatation devices, but because they just think it and it is so.

    I see this as a natural (no pun intended) starting point for trying to understand the universe, because our bodies seem to act this way. Without understanding the nervous system, muscles, ATP, and so on, it seems like we will our hands to type our garbled thoughts into the Internet, and poof!

    If amputated limbs were restored instantaneously by prayer, or psychics could predict the future with specificity, I would accept those provisionally as supernatural events, since I can’t off-hand conceive of any physical mechanisms for them, but would reserve the right to study them scientifically.

  79. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    “You do know that the idea of subjecting something that isn’t part of the material universe to science does, actually, destroy the meaning of science. Since there will never be any way to detect something that is supernatural, never mind quantify it, etc. any theories that you might cook up won’t be tested, replicated or falsified.”

    If it’s not detectable, it has no effect on the material world so it’s not an issue.

    As I’ve already explained (somewhere or other) what science can do is to show that supernatural claims about physical events can be falsified if the physical event can be shown not to happen. (With sufficiently high probability.) If I claim that magic pixies have painted all the clouds red, that’s a supernatural explanation. It can be scientifically falsified by pointing to a non-red cloud. So a supernatural explanation has been subjected to scientific examination. And yet science survives.

    What science *can’t* do is to address supernatural explanations for things that *do* happen. So if you claim that the laws of physics are just so because The Great Sky Weasel made them that way, it’s not something that can be falsified.

  80. Anthony McCarthy

    If it’s not detectable, it has no effect on the material world so it’s not an issue.

    What you might be able to detect is the effect, which might seem to be entirely natural. This is like the thing about a religious person saying “I believe that God designed the universe exactly as it happened”. What if everything that we know about the natural universe is part of that design?

    I’ve been saying that science can’t address the supernatural from the beginning, I don’t think that what science can address is the total of the universe, even large parts of the material universe can’t be addressed by science, though even the most orthodox materialist would say that it is and was real. Most of evolution, for a start.

    Maybe part of the failure to understand is that I’m not as comprehensively impressed with science as the new atheists are. Actually, the most obvious ideological position of them isn’t atheism, it’s scientism. And the ones who fall for that superstition generally don’t quite get the limits of science thing. They look on it more as a magical universal acid that answers all questions. Come to think of that, Daniel Dennett comes mighty close to that position, only he calls his fantasy in which everything is known, Darwinism. Which he believes answers everything from the structure of matter to human behavior. Funny, I don’t know of too many new atheists who have trouble with that insanity.

  81. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    Science certainly has limits. But by the same token, do you have the corresponding understanding of the limits of supernatural explanations? Do you think of them as a magical universal acid that answers all questions that science has left unanswered? Do you think they have anything at all to tell us about the structure of matter, or human behaviour?

  82. JoeT

    I haven’t waded through all the posts here, but it is obvious to any scientist that Pennock’s statement, “Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables.” is clearly false. You’ve just thrown out astronomy and geology. The statement that we can only test the supernatural by controlling all the variables is just loopy. Coyne is correct on this.

  83. Science certainly has limits. But by the same token, do you have the corresponding understanding of the limits of supernatural explanations? Do you think of them as a magical universal acid that answers all questions that science has left unanswered? Do you think they have anything at all to tell us about the structure of matter, or human behaviour?

    Have I made those claims here or anywhere else that you know of? No, of course I don’t assert that because I don’t know. No one does. I don’t make stupid claims of the kind Dennett and Dawkins do because those are pretty transparent fictions.

    Wanting absolute knowledge doesn’t excuse pretending you’ve got it when you don’t and can’t get it. Most of the questions that are important to religion aren’t susceptible to science because like most of life they are too complex to treat with science. Science only delivers its level of advertised reliability when it limits its scope pretty drastically. When it does that it sometimes finds a principle of matter that has universal applicability. But when it can’t do that, either for the present time or for all time, it can’t do it. If you knew what you were saying about religion, you’d have read many theologians and other writers on the subject who have talked about how much isn’t known by religion, how much will remain mysterious.

    You do know you have to know what you’re talking about, or doesn’t that matter to the “rigorously scientific” new atheists?

    JoeT, you don’t think astronomy and geology are based on physics that are based in observation and control of variable? I’d have thought they were pretty dependent on those kinds of things. You do have to get something to back up those theories eventually. Even string theory is beginning to get some heat over its failure to produce.

  84. JoeT

    Science is based on observation, that’s correct. But as any working scientist can tell you — I’m a physicist — cotrol of all the variables is just hogwash. You formulate your model and test it against the observed data, but more often than not you are constrained with what variables you can vary. This is the problem having science defined by a philosopher. They imagine you’re sitting in a lab with a black box and 5 input valves and then you slowly turn one valve and record what changes. Maybe this happens somewhere, but never in my experience. This artificial definition of experimentation was purposefully cooked up to exclude the supernatural, but the result is that you’ve tossed out most science as well. Can you formulate a theory of evolution by controlling all the variables? Of course not. In fact, this is one of the arguments put forth by creationists that evolutionary biology or cosmology aren’t sciences because no one was there to control all the variables. Coyne, who is a scientist, unlike Mooney, understands this well and that’s exactly his point. And this is why science can also say something about the supernatural and the existence of god. If you posit a theistic god who has influence over human events, then science can say something about that. Of on the other hand, you posit a deistic god who keeps to itself, then science really can’t say anything about this. Quite frankly, this whole argument is silly — I don’t undertand why Mooney doesn’t give it up already.

  85. Larry Donn

    I spent almost fifty years studying evolution, and I found it to be the most ridiculous piece of nonsense I’ve ever heard. I thought those who believed in it were just stupid until I read the Bible. It says those who don’t believe in God are being “deceived” by Satan, the chief devil of the Bible. It says he “blinds” those who do not believe in God, so that they can’t see the truth. That certainly explains the idiocy of evolution. It isn’t a good scientific theory…in fact, it isn’t a theory at all, but propaganda, based on the premise that God does not exist. Any theory that leaves out part of the evidence, or has the conclusion already decided, isn’t worth a bent farthing.
    The whole universe literally reeks with proof of intelligent design, but those who are being “blinded” can’t see it. They don’t want to see it. Oh, they agree that there is intelligent design in the universe, but they ascribe this intelligence to something called “nature”, and to make it more palatable to children, they even call it “Mother Nature”. We hear “nature planned”, “nature designed”, “nature decided”…all requiring conscious intelligence. They can’t believe in a supremely intelligent being called “God”, but they can believe in a supremely intelligent being called “nature”. What’s the difference? “Nature” has no standard of morality. “Nature” preaches “kill or be killed”. If there is no God, they don’t have to answer for their behavior. Ask your favorite “evolutionist” how the two sexes came about, and notice his answer carefully. All you’ll find are assumptions and guesses…not one shred of proof of any kind that it actually happened the way he claims to believe.
    Those who are being deceived by Satan cannot know they are being deceived, so they will continue in their desperate search for a “missing link”, or anything they can call “proof”. So far, they’ve come up with nothing that could even remotely be considered proof that evolution is anything more than a fantasy designed to cast doubt on the existence of God.

  86. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    “Most of the questions that are important to religion aren’t susceptible to science because like most of life they are too complex to treat with science.”

    But are any of them susceptible to religion?

    “If you knew what you were saying about religion, you’d have read many theologians and other writers on the subject who have talked about how much isn’t known by religion, how much will remain mysterious.”

    So what *is* known by religion? And how?
    Assuming science doesn’t and cannot know, how can religion?

  87. Anthony McCarthy

    So what *is* known by religion? And how?

    How about what what they’ve actually said and done. The good along with the bad. Though, as I not five mintues ago typed elsewhere, the new atheists hold that they don’t actually know about something before declaring that it’s not worth knowing about.

    Assuming science doesn’t and cannot know, how can religion?

    That’s why I don’t talk about religious belief as knowledge, I call it belief.

    What did you have by way of a liberal education? You must have heard these ideas somewhere else.

  88. abb3w

    Quoth Anthony, If you want to examine a lot of different complex situations in life, that comes with the territory

    However, this isn’t complexity of the situation, nor ambiguity of the behavior; it’s merely ambiguity of the question you’re asking. Your further remarks indicate that you’re referring to the problem of evil in relationship to God. However, your claim that you have to approach the question in terms of there being a God overlooks that (as jrshipley pointed out at 60) this leads to an apparent contradiction, for which one resolution dates back to Epicurus: recognize the initial assumption is wrong.

    This leads the broader “question of evil”, on this lines of “what is the defining nature of ‘evil’ if there is no God”, and “does the object of that definition actually exist in the universe”.

    Further Anthony adds, You do know that the idea of subjecting something that isn’t part of the material universe to science does, actually, destroy the meaning of science.

    The ultimate scope of science is not “the material universe” but “the source of experience”. Which means, if you claim to experience God, Science can study your claim, and compare it to competing claims such as “You’re a looney!” and “You’re trying to sell snake oil, hain’tcha?” The underlying philosophical metric allows such comparison; and all three are (conceptually) possible verdicts… even if the first would (in the Kuhnian sense) overthrow the prevailing paradigm. The Experimental Method isn’t the only tool Science has in its philosophical arsenal for such competitive testing. It’s just usually handy for getting easier math, and thus one most common in the anthropological practice. As noted earlier, in addition to the rule of Falsification, science also uses the rule of Simplicity, which has recently been formally expressed with a philosophical foundation as solid as (and partaking of) that underlying “1+1=2″.

    The passing physicist notes Science certainly has limits. Indeed. It is constrained by the assumptions that propositional predicate logic is valid for inference between concepts, that the concept of the joint affirmation of the ZF axioms (skipping Choice) is self-consistent, and that reality and evidence have “some pattern” (of formal complexity recognized by some level of hypercomputation). It is also subject to the other constraints, such as being limited to only considering the descriptions of experience (aka, evidence) that have been suggested, and the computation for consideration may be at times be hefty.

    These, however, do not preclude considering descriptions involving “gods” and deciding that the descriptions are not the most probable for the evidence. Science does not have “absolute knowledge”; what it does have is the absolute best tool for evaluating between alternative descriptions, to identify which is most probably correct.

    Philosophy of science has included the concepts of Context of Discovery and Context of Justification. (I would make some finer demarcations, but they’re not generally accepted, nor really necessary here.) Religion is still a perfectly valid tool in the Context of Discovery of science as a philosophical discipline, even if it’s considered less fruitful than other approaches in Science as anthropological practice. If you wish to consult a pack of Tarot cards or await a vision of Golden Tablets delivered by Seraphim Choir, these are legitimate in the former context. The playing field here is level.

    In the Context of Justification, however, there at least philosophically is no royal road placing ideas of any source ahead of any other. They are all measured, and those not strongest are dismissed until there is further evidence to change the balance of measure.

  89. John Hill

    If it exists, it’s natural. If it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist.

  90. A random passing physicist

    Anthony,

    I didn’t follow either of those comments. What do you mean?

    abb3w,

    Well, yes, but I’m not aware of any religion passing comment on the truth of the axiom of choice. (Ramanujan might have, but so far as I know didn’t.) I had different sorts of limits in mind.

  91. abb3w

    Actually, what I meant by “skipping choice” is that Science takes no position on it one way or another; thus, there is not a limiting requirement on science to only work within the Assertion of Choice (or the Refutation). The Power Set Axiom might be in a similar boat. However, Science seems stuck with working within most of the rest of ZF… which is my point.

    You indicated you had other limits in mind on science beyond those; care to detail?

  92. A random passing physicist

    abb3w,

    I was thinking of Hume’s guillotine, etc.
    But I agree with you about ZF, too.

  93. abb3w

    I wasn’t familiar with Hume’s guillotine. (I’ve not read Hume; I’ve merely been pointed to a few of his ideas.)

    Quoting wikipeida, Many modern naturalistic philosophers see no impenetrable barrier in deriving “ought” from “is” believing an “ought” can derive from an “is” whenever we analyze goal-directed behavior, and a statement of the form “In order for A to achieve goal B, A ought to do C” exhibits no category error and may be factually verified or refuted. I’d roughly fall in that category of (amateur) philosopher.

    I also would say that this restricted and contingent sense of “ought” –explicitly invoking particular consequences of choice to give the term meaning– is not entirely incompatible with Science. That is to say, given the suggestions of actions C, D, and E,the results of Science may be used to try to evaluate which of the three is most likely to lead to goal B being achieved.

    However, that does edge across the border from Science to Engineering, as the selection of the goals and the choices made for seeking them appears the essence of the Art of Engineering.

  94. “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science” is a pretty extraordinary assertion. Indeed, as far as I can tell it is a contradiction in terms.

    Yes. And that’s really all that needs to be said. For precisely that reason, the term “supernatural” is a somewhat redundant modifier. If one observes something that is ostensibly behaving outside the natural laws as they are currently understood, then one must clearly assume that one’s understanding of the natural laws are either dead wrong or incomplete and in need of refining.

    Even so, PN is a barely coherent philosophical position because it amounts to circular reasoning anyway; “All that is must be natural, and so nothing that is supernatural is” That doesn’t really get us anywhere when it comes to extraordinary claims.

  95. Luke Lea

    Dear Chris Mooney: I am late to this discussion but would like to ask you a question: in your opinion is there any room in the universe for “supra-natural” as opposed to “super-natural” phenomena, by which I mean phenomena that fall within the probabilistic limits of natural law but are not accessible to scientific investigation. I am thinking of a lot of human behavior motivated by various subjective beliefs, ideas, purposes, etc? I am not saying that supernatural phenomena exist by the way, or even suggesting as much, but rather asking if there is any “space” between natural and (and perhaps non-existant) supernatural phenomena?

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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