Responding to Sean Carroll: What If There Had Been a Camera at the Resurrection?

By Chris Mooney | June 24, 2009 3:28 pm

Sean Carroll has an eminently thoughtful post about science and religion that is deservedly getting lots of attention. He notes importantly that semantics are critical here, and if you want to know whether two things are compatible, you first need to know what meaning you’re using for each of them.

I follow Sean until right about this point:

 The reason why science and religion are actually incompatible is that, in the real world, they reach incompatible conclusions. It’s worth noting that this incompatibility is perfectly evident to any fair-minded person who cares to look. Different religions make very different claims, but they typically end up saying things like “God made the universe in six days” or “Jesus died and was resurrected” or “Moses parted the red sea” or “dead souls are reincarnated in accordance with their karmic burden.” And science says: none of that is true. So there you go, incompatibility.

This isn’t the end of Sean’s argument, but I think it’s helpful to pause here and ask, is a claim like “Jesus died and was resurrected” really falsifiable by science in the same way that a claim like “The Earth is 10,000 years old” is falsifiable? I’d submit that at least as held by some sophisticated believers, it isn’t.

In fact, I wonder if Sean has seen what Georgetown theologian John Haught has said about the Resurrection. It was in an interview with Salon.com:

What do you make of the miracles in the Bible — most importantly, the Resurrection? Do you think that happened in the literal sense?

I don’t think theology is being responsible if it ever takes anything with completely literal understanding. What we have in the New Testament is a story that’s trying to awaken us to trust that our lives make sense, that in the end, everything works out for the best. In a pre-scientific age, this is done in a way in which unlettered and scientifically illiterate people can be challenged by this Resurrection. But if you ask me whether a scientific experiment could verify the Resurrection, I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

So if a camera was at the Resurrection, it would have recorded nothing?

If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it. I’m not the only one to say this. Even conservative Catholic theologians say that. Faith means taking the risk of being vulnerable and opening your heart to that which is most important. We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable? Science is simply not equipped to deal with the dimensions of purposefulness, love, compassion, forgiveness — all the feelings and experiences that accompanied the early community’s belief that Jesus is still alive. Science is simply not equipped to deal with that. We have to learn to read the universe at different levels. That means we have to overcome literalism not just in the Christian or Jewish or Islamic interpretations of scripture but also in the scientific exploration of the universe. There are levels of depth in the cosmos that science simply cannot reach by itself.

So, Sean: It really does depend what you mean by “religion.” If we’re talking about the kind of religion that compels a person to reject evolution, to question the age of the Earth, then that religion is most emphatically not compatible with science.

But if we’re talking about Haught’s kind of religion, where there’s no belief that science can refute–just a kind of supernaturalism that, like it or not, is inherently defined as being beyond science’s ability to measure–then I think compatibilism becomes much more possible and real.

Now, would I believe that an event actually happened if it couldn’t be caught on camera? No way. But if that’s a person’s view, and that person accepts the body of modern science, then I simply draw back and say, this guy is my ally on everything that really matters, this is not somebody I ought to be fighting with–he can go about believing what he wants and let’s make common cause in the defense of science. (I chose Haught as an example in significant part because he testified for the evolution side in the Dover trial.)

And when Sean says, “We know more about the natural world now than we did two millennia ago, and we know enough to say that people don’t come back from the dead,” I say–I agree, but science also can’t refute the idea that they come back in the sense that John Haught means, so why bother?

Similarly, I wonder what Sean would say to this quotation from the Dalai Lama, provided helpfully in a comment on this blog by Michael Tobis:

If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.

That’s compatibilism. By all means fight the fundamentalists, but let’s also embrace the Haughts and Dalai Lamas wherever we find them.

Comments (232)

  1. John Kwok

    Chris,

    Thanks for providing the full quote to the Dalai Lama’s observation, since I’ve been paraphrasing it for weeks now. Almost as a corollary, I must note that I have heard Ken Miller say that those who belong to faiths hostile to science should discard such faiths immediately.

    However, the simplest, most eloquent, set of remarks pertaining to this issue I heard a week ago last Saturday from planetary scientist – and Vatican Observatory astronomer – and Jesuit brother, Guy Consolmagno, who observed that science is understanding that is search of truth, while religion is truth in search of understanding (This was at the World Science Festival panel session on Science, Faith and Religion, in which he participated alongside physicist Lawrence Krauss, biologist Ken Miller and philosopher Colin McGinn.).

  2. Walker

    The problem with this debate is that science can never give certainty, only degrees of acceptance or probability. Hume’s critique of empiricism is a very difficult hurdle to overcome. But if you admit this, then anti-science religious fundamentalists will abuse this with a Slippery Slope fallacy and drag us into scientific nihilism. The fact that religion provides us with no degree of certainty (at least in the sense that science does) is irrelevant to the unsophisticated listener who will just view both sides as “equal” and pick the one they like best.

    So from a strategic perspective, scientists cannot afford to admit the limitations of science; everything must be couched in the binary concepts of true and false, even when this is intellectually dishonest. That is why the only sane way to look at this battle is one of pragmatic issues of public policy. However, neither of the extremes wants to look at this way.

  3. Walker

    In terms of Sean Carroll’s article, I think you are on weaker ground by picking the resurrection of Jesus example. Our study of science leads us to believe that the resurrection of a dead person is highly improbable. Yes, we have nothing contradicting this specific event (we do not even have historical evidence he existed). This makes it different than, say, the age of the Earth (where geological evidence contradicts the belief of the Young Earthers). But it is a an account that is potentially falsifiable, if we had more evidence/information.

    As I said in a previous thread, the reincarnation/karma example is better refutation of Carroll, because nothing in that claim is falsifiable.

  4. GinaMel

    How is this different than say psychics who claim their abilities do not work when skepticism is present? Or the faith healers Orac goes after? They care also claiming “being beyond science’s ability to measure”. Are they thus compatible with science? By defining something outside of being studied does not make it compatible with science. It makes it unscientific, not that there is anything wrong with that.

  5. GinaMel

    This makes it different than, say, the age of the Earth (where geological evidence contradicts the belief of the Young Earthers). But it is a an account that is potentially falsifiable, if we had more evidence/information.
    ***************
    Of course if God wants you to believe in Him without evidence (faith), then why would He allow the universe to provide evidence of His existence? Thus if God says the universe is 6,000 years old. He wouldn’t make a universe that is 6,000 years old. He would make a universe that appeared different to test faith. Thus the vast majority of us fail His test. Oh well.

  6. http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/reality.png
    http://www.godchecker.com/
    http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/religion.htm

    1) That which supports religion supports religion.
    2) That which ignores religion supports religion.
    3) That which contradicts religion supports religion – test of faith!
    4) Anybody who criticizes is thereby proven unqualified to comment – and must be destroyed lest god(s) take offense.

    Tthe Crusades, the Inquisition, and Hitler’s Pope, Pius XII. Northern Ireland, East Timor. Extermination of 30 million New World inbred genetic throwbacks by Christ-besotted Spanish psychotic felons. Tens of thousands of reported cases of homosexual pedophilia. This is the One True Church spreading the faith.

  7. SLC

    Re Walker @ Çhris Mooney

    This is nothing new from Prof. Haught. He said the same thing under cross examination during his Dover testimony.

  8. benjdm

    “If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it.”

    What does that even mean? What is he saying?

    A. The camera wouldn’t record anything
    B. Believers would refuse to watch the recording
    C. The resurrection didn’t happen and therefore wasn’t recorded

    ?

  9. Thiago

    Having read the whole post by Sean, your reply’s focus on the ressurection reads a bit like nitpickery. Sean’s arguments goes a lot further than that, dealing even with the sort of relligion belief Haught expresses in the later parts of the post.
    In my opnion this view that some religious claims are somehow beyond science scrutiny, even when they’re claims about the natural realm (like Haught’s views concerning the ressurection) instead of supporting compatibility between science and religion, opens the door to a lot of polemic issues. Where does one draw the line? What prevents a creationist from using Haught’s very argument that there are some claims “science is simply not equipped to deal with” to defend creationism as the origins of life and/or the universe, or at least to support the idea that children should be exposed to both views in science classes?
    Frankly, I find Haught’s stance on that nothing more than a fancy way of saying “don’t question my religious claims about natural phenomenon”, which is basically the same thing part of the creationist movement argues when they turn to defenses based on free speech and the likes.

  10. Palo

    To say that “Jesus died and was resurrected” is not falsifiable by science is to say that “Jesus died and was resurrected” is a statement that cannot be falsifiable, and hence it is not a scientific statement, it is a religious stament. You are simply agreeing with the idea that science and religion are not compatible!

  11. GinaMel, God didn’t say the universe was 6000 years old, that’s a relatively recent invention by Biblical literalists, only, like the rapture, they had to make it up because it doesn’t appear in the Bible.

    You do realize that if things like miraculous cures are real, science would have no choice but to live with their existence.

    I’m really getting interested in the consequences of the materialist-fundamentalist position, that if a miracle was verified, that would invalidate science. Which doesn’t make any sense at all. But we’ve been through that at length. What difference does it make as long as the people who are getting prayed for also receive medical treatment? A lot of whom are probably praying for some way to pay for medical treatment that they can’t get due to the cost of it.

  12. There is no physical evidence in the question of the resurrection of Jesus. It is held to have been a miracle which happened once in the history of the world. Like the virgin birth, there is no way for science to account for it. Belief in it isn’t a denial of science, it’s belief in something which science can’t address.

  13. Brian D

    Anthony McCarthy: We’ve observed virgin births in nature, and it can be accounted for.

    As for There is no physical evidence in the question of the resurrection of Jesus., I’d settle for contemporary accounts. Or, for that matter, physical evidence for anything in that entire story.

    However, it seems Chris’ article is supporting a view that that were scribes writing down what happened, their records wouldn’t exist. I’m with benjdm here when I say DOES NOT COMPUTE.

  14. GinaMel

    You do realize that if things like miraculous cures are real, science would have no choice but to live with their existence.
    ********
    Yes I do understand that, but what faith healers and Haught are arguing is that certain things, even if they involve the natural world, can’t be studied by science. It is beyond the ability of science to study according to them. The argument being put forth is that faith by its very nature can not be studied even when something tangible is happening, like a person being alive after death and the effect that has on the community members or curing cancer. Thus for a miraculous cure, through science we could not be aware it happened. Only by faith could we “know” it happened. What they are claiming is that sometimes there are aspects of the natural world, which normally can be studied by science, are beyond the ability of science to study. Is that really compatible with science?

    As for YEC, it doesn’t matter if it is a recent invention – they still believe. A challenge to that belief, including its recent invention, is but a test of their faith they can argue.

    As for the prayer, what of those that choose to go for this alternative treatment over actual medicine? What if it is a parent choosing this course for their child?

    Those who choose to pray and seek treatment. I really could care less about the former and glad they are getting the latter. My problem becomes when a person who did receive medical treatment and prayed touts the praying as curing them over the medicine.

  15. Haughton’s formulation is nice, but not necessary for compatibilism.

    Let’s look at the alternative – the believer who thinks that a camera at the resurrection would record the re-animation of the body of Jesus.

    The claim that “science says this isn’t so” – I believe – is false.

    Consider the following line of thought, which I think mirrors the more sophisticated Christian thinking of those who are not de facto naturalists:

    ***

    God created the universe, and along with it natural law. Because of God’s created order, this law is discernible to human discovery by careful observation.

    Having created this law, God has the power to supercede it when his purposes calls for it.

    At the resurrection, God did just this. It would have been impossible under the created natural law, but for God, who is sovereign over this natural law, it was possible.

    Had there been cameras at the site, they would have recorded the resurrection as it happened, and scientists would have been able to use this photographic evidence to confirm the miracle, at least in principle. However, since there were no cameras, only those who were present and saw the resurrected Jesus had direct, physical evidence. All that we have today is their testimony as re-told through scripture, and our faith in God and scripture, upon which we rest our hope of salvation.

    ***

    In what way does science show that this doesn’t happen? We don’t have the photographic evidence that might falsify the event. Science does say that natural law doesn’t allow the event, but this belief is not in the natural occurrence of the event, but in the supernatural intervention of God. Science doesn’t say that something transcendent over nature could not cause a resurrection of this sort.

    So, in what respect does science falsify the event?

    Why would this not apply to a believer like the above, just as much as to Haughton?

    No way. But if that’s a person’s view, and that person accepts the body of modern science, then I simply draw back and say, this guy is my ally on everything that really matters, this is not somebody I ought to be fighting with–he can go about believing what he wants and let’s make common cause in the defense of science.

  16. What I want to know is what we would see if there had a been a video camera present in Mary & Joseph’s hut… And I’d like to see re-enactments if possible.

  17. The problem with saying that the resurrection is a miracle that is beyond the investigation of science since it happened only once is that it quickly leads us onto the “anything goes” slippery slope. Anybody can then make any claim about anything that miraculously happened only once and declare it beyond the purview of science. This is not how skepticism and honest debate proceed, do they?

  18. @Curious Wavefunction #17 – religion isn’t about skepticism… Skepticism is about skepticism. Science employs a kind of skepticism in its method, too. I’m for skepticism, and that’s a big part of why I’m not religious. Other people don’t see as much value in skepticism that I (and apparently you) do, and they see more value in faith than either of us do.

    And most variants of religion are not that much about honest debate. But it’s still religion, and science still can’t address the kind of thinking I outlined in #15.

  19. The difficulty with Haught’s claims about the supernatural (“levels of depth in the cosmos that science simply cannot reach by itself”) is that they have no epistemic merit. If you investigate his theology, you’ll discover violations of basic norms about how to arrive at reliable beliefs about reality, see http://www.naturalism.org/projecting_god.htm and other papers on theology at http://www.naturalism.org/theology.htm The basic conflict between science and supernatural religion is about how we substantiate claims about the world, and on this score there’s simply no competition: science, or more broadly, intersubjective empiricism wins hands down. Unless Haught, Francis Collins, Ken Miller and other theists can demonstrate the epistemic competence of their non-scientific way of representing reality – show why we should trust it as the source of reliable factual beliefs – then their claims to supernatural knowledge aren’t credible. Religion has no special authority when it comes to the supernatural, or any other domain, factual or ethical. When religion makes claims that point to a picture of reality at odds with science, or that add entities and properties not found in naturalistic understandings, we have a clear choice: between two very different ways of deciding what’s real. Anyone wanting a reliable picture of the world should stick with science, see http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm#rivals

  20. If god is restricted to abstract statements, then many religious enunciations can be held compatible with science. Unfortunately there is also no use making them part of books like “The Tao of Physics”. One of the most interesting questions for neuroscientists and psychologists is what happens in the human brain when people who are otherwise skeptical about beleief in daily life suspend this kind of thought when it comes to faith. I think it is a very interesting scientific question which could shed light on even some basic processes like the storage of memory and the selective expression of receptors.

  21. Wilm Roget

    Interesting premise. Ironic that it appears along with a report that some 7% of medical tests ‘disappear’. Shouldn’t we conclude that those tests never happened, since there is no concrete evidence of them?

    “Now, would I believe that an event actually happened if it couldn’t be caught on camera? No way.”

    Of course, there’s no shortage of experimental data that can’t be caught on camera – and not just the obvious auditory phenomena. The specificity of the assumption sets it up as a false test – too much of what science assumes as proven, or best working hypothesis, cannot be caught on a camera, but must recorded by other methods.

    Too many scientists, science writers, and people who appreciate science, forget that much of science’s current technology is as remarkable, unbelievable, inconceivable to laypeople, as any religion is to the average agnostic or atheist.

    Just try to prove to any lay person without advanced technical training in any science, say a fundamentalist Christian with a high school education, that CERN’s detectors can ‘capture’ subatomic particles – and prove it to the same degree of confidence required by some scientists and atheists of people of faith about their faith.

    People from the science side of the religion vs. science false paradigm forget that most of science is in practice a matter of faith as well for most of us – no one could perform every experiment necessary to personally validate and confirm every known and assumed process in physics, chemistry and biology, much less the myriad competing positions in the softer sciences. So much of science is built, layer upon layer, upon conclusions presumed and accepted in advance – so and so already proved x, y, or z.

    Whether it is Darwin’s finches, fossils of a primitive proto-lemur/primate, or the spin of exotic sub atomic particles, those of us who do not have the hard data, the actual physical evidence and the experience to evaluate it, have to take the word of those who do have the evidence and the training – just as many people of faith do have to take the word of others about foundational spiritual events. Most of us will have to accept the word of this or that researcher when they claim they’ve found a new species of frog, or measured genetic changes in cats to prove when and where they were domesticated.

    The researcher who has analyzed the radio transmissions from xyz coordinates, and deduced the existence of a rapidly spinning neutron star is asking just a great a leap of faith from lay people as the person who reports a miracle, a vision, communication with a deity. And frankly, there has been no shortage of researchers misinterpreting their data, or faking it, or reporting results that conflict with “established” conclusions and assumptions, just as that has been no shortage of contradiction, fraud, fakery and misinterpretation of religious experiences. Nor is science any freer of abuse and destruction in its subsequent application – the victims of Nagasaki and Hiroshima are no less dead than the victims of the Inquisition for having been killed through the application of science rather than religion -and both were primarily politically motivated events.

    Now, people are more inclined to believe people who believe them in return. So, when those on the science side simply dismiss as delusion the experiences and beliefs of people of faith, they sacrifice their own credibility with such people. Why should Joe Believer trust PhD in Physics Mike about quarks, when PhD in Physics Mike dismisses Joe’s experience of God as delusion or worse?

    At the heart of the war science vs. religion is an issue of belief, but not belief in any deity, but rather, believing other people. The most vocal on both sides simply refuse to believe any person on the other side, refusing to believe people’s accounts of their own experiences. The above quoted question “would I believe that an event actually happened” has become a matter of “it depends on who says it happened”, for too many people from both sides. For too many people from both sides, those on the other side are always wrong first until they prove beyond any possibility of doubt that they are not lying.

    For some of us, there is another way: “I believe you, scientist or preacher, until and unless something proves you wrong”, and since science cannot prove that there is no God, only that certain particular assumptions contradict available evidence, and since religion cannot disprove science, only that certain particular assumptions contradict available evidence – the war between the two is a false paradigm.

  22. NewEnglandBob

    There is no physical evidence in the question of the resurrection of Jesus. It is held to have been a miracle which happened once in the history of the world. Like the virgin birth, there is no way for science to account for it. Belief in it isn’t a denial of science, it’s belief in something which science can’t address.

    That last sentence is a wimp out. It is already addressed in the first sentence and that ends it for rational people.

    John Haught’s pronouncements are nonsense to be laughed at. I guess he was there and KNOWS better than everyone. What specious delusions.

  23. giotto

    Haught’s comments are so filled with gibberish that one scarcely knows where to begin. But what is interesting about them is how predictably the gibberish plays out.

    He begins with a fairly widespread position among contemporary non-fundamentalist Christians–that the narratives in the Bible are not meant to be taken literally. So far so good. But his account loses coherence as soon as he has to address the resurrection narrative. Here he has to dance around, for this is one of those narratives that is essential to Christian doctrine. In some denominations, such as Methodism, a fair degree of doctrinal latitude is allowed, especially in regard to the Old Testament. But the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection are sacrosanct; they are explicitly part of the most fundamental levels of Christian doctrine (see the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds). To see these aspects of the narrative as merely metaphorical accounts of the human condition–and not as literally true– is to not be a Christian. (and before someone comes along asking how dare I presume to determine who is and isn’t a Christian: this how two thousand years of Christian theologians have defined what a Christian needs to believe… Take it up with them, not with me….)
    So Haught HAS to pussyfoot around the resurrection. Leading to the derailment of his train of thought when he says:

    I would say such an event is entirely too important to be subjected to a method which is devoid of all religious meaning.

    He assumes the resurrection happened, and assumes it is of great importance, thereby begging the question (assuming that which needs to be demonstrated). But of course the “event” is of no importance if it never happened, and is certainly of no importance to the billions of people who are not Christian.

    But he really outdoes himself in the second passage.

    We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable? Science is simply not equipped to deal with the dimensions of purposefulness, love, compassion, forgiveness

    Science does not make claims regarding purposefulness etc, so that is just a straw man argument. Science makes claims regarding the workings of the natural world. Religion can, of course, address purposefulness etc, but unfortunately the resurrection story is one that also addresses purported events in the natural world. As do any number of Biblical narratives of miracles. Christ walking on water for example. I would ask Haught: what would a camera have produced when Christ walked on water? And, for comparison: what would a camera have caught when the Buddha walked on water? Why should I take one miracle on faith and not the other?

    And I don’t know even what he is talking about when he says science needs to stop being so literal. If anyone can tell me what this means I would be most grateful.

  24. Erasmussimo

    I just had a realization: we’ve been conducting this entire debate on a single dimension, completely ignoring a second and crucial dimension. The two dimensions are epistemology and ethics. We’ve been arguing as if science and religion are rival epistemologies. But religion encompasses a great deal more than epistemology: it also provides an ethical system. Indeed, for most religions the epistemological aspect is secondary to the ethical aspect. Most Christians will agree that you won’t go to hell for believing in evolution — the central issue is the morality of your actions.

    Science has absolutely nothing normative to say about ethics. There is no scientifically valid argument you can make that concludes with “Therefore, you should/should not do X.” Yet the ethical dimension of religion is its primary dimension in the eyes of most believers. Therefore, while we can agree that science and religion are incompatible in the epistemological dimension, we must also agree that science and religion are perfectly compatible in the ethical dimension. And since religion’s primary emphasis is on the ethical dimension, the incompatibility between science and religion is a secondary issue.

    The militants here have been arguing that science and religion are epistemologically incompatible. The question they have no way of answering is, “Should we bother telling anybody else about it?” Science and logic cannot answer that question. They are bereft of foundations here.

  25. giotto

    Oh hell. Bloody tags. The second italicized quote in @22 should end with “love, compassion, forgiveness.” The bit starting with “Science does not make claims…” is me.
    I should have had that nap after all…

  26. Erasmussimo

    That’s odd: I checked back and I never invoked italics. I think that there’s something wrong with the display software. Shoot the programmer.

  27. giotto

    Is it just me or is everything coming up all italics now??? I put no tags in @24, and @23 is also all italics, at least on my screen….

  28. giotto

    “Shoot the programmer.”

    In the spirit of the debate, might I suggest we blame some supernatural entity? I propose we shoot Quetzalcoatl.

  29. Erasmussimo

    Maybe I can reset it if I invoke italics. Did that work?

  30. NewEnglandBob, I assume from what you say in 21 that you believe in absolutely nothing for which there is no physical evidence. Everything you believe, you believe on the basis of physical evidence. I’m not familiar with the logical fallacy called “whimping out”. What does it consist of and where is it laid out within the literature of logic? Or did you just make it up because you didn’t like what I said but can’t refute it on real grounds?

    Brian D Says:

    We’ve observed virgin births in nature, and it can be accounted for.

    But “The Virgin Birth” of Jesus is said to have been sui generis, a miracle, a child conceived by a virgin through an act of God. Even if there are other virgin births in nature, none of them could fulfill all of these requirements.

    As I had to keep pointing out in a long and futile argument at another blog earlier this month, if you want to debunk the Virgin Birth of Jesus, you have to debunk exactly what those who believe in it say it is or you haven’t debunked what they believe in AND THEY’LL BE ENTIRELY WITHIN THEIR RIGHTS TO POINT THAT OUT. While you don’t have to believe it, I don’t happen to myself, you can assert your case till you pass out and pass on but you still won’t have debunked what they believe in.

    As for There is no physical evidence in the question of the resurrection of Jesus., I’d settle for contemporary accounts. Or, for that matter, physical evidence for anything in that entire story.

    What would you consider to be a contemporary account? It’s pretty likely that some of the gospel narratives are fairly close to those who would have been there. I’m wondering how rigorous your requirements are and which other figures in antiquity would disappear if they were applied to them. Not to mention how much of the career of Daniel Dennett and his hero couldn’t stand even a less stringent requirement. Are you greatly bothered by what he says?

  31. Finally an html incident that can’t have originated in a mistake I made.

  32. 23. Erasmussimo, I’m only really interested in how people behave. I don’t care what they believe. Unless there’s a demonstrable harm in them believing something, that is, they deprive someone else of their rights or cause some other real, physical harm, their belief is of no justifiable public concern.

    The inability of science to address ethical issues is certainly a very serious problem considering what the fact that it is efficacious allows it to do. A lot of scientists get paid to do some pretty appalling stuff without them being drummed out of science. They should have to answer for it as much as the Church should have to answer for the crimes of their clergy and employees.

  33. you’re welcome.

  34. Ah, NewEnglandBob, I assume this is the comment you left at Coyne’s blog on the Quote of the Week post:

    <>

    Irony is the constant companion of the new atheists.

    I also notice that Coyne has three comments on his thread as opposed to eleven times that here.

  35. The software cut off the first part of your comment NEB:

    It is quite apparent that neither Peter M. J. Hess or Chris Mooney understand the meaning of the word truth.

    Jerry is waiting for a respectable answer to this ultimate dichotomy between “ways of knowing.” First there has to be respect for facts, evidence, logic and honesty. Few Religionists or accommmodationists show that respect. Faith is a place to hide dishonesty and obfuscation.

  36. - Yes I do understand that, but what faith healers and Haught are arguing is that certain things, even if they involve the natural world, can’t be studied by science. It is beyond the ability of science to study according to them. GinaMel #14

    If there is evidence to study you might be able to find if there was any sign of a disease or condition and if there was a cure for some reason. You might be able to find a medical reason for the cure to have happened. You might even be able to attribute a medical procedure or natural condition that effected the cure.

    Absent that kind of information there is no way that science can deal with the claim that a cure happened, never mind that it didn’t happen through miraculous means. Even if there was a cure that you could assign to some other cause, you couldn’t say whether or not God or some other supernatural agency wasn’t responsible. Not with science, anyway.

    Where’s the problem if someone who believes in the possible efficacy of prayer is also getting medical care? You are aware, I’d hope, that there has been a considerable amount of medical care given by religious institutions and charities and that secular institutions have been known to deny treatment due to an inability to pay. Sometimes a religious institution is the only alternative for them.

    You guys act as if every person who is religious is opposed to scientific medicine when there’s obviously nothing further from the truth. That’s dishonest.

  37. benjdm

    @smijer:

    “Consider the following line of thought, which I think mirrors the more sophisticated Christian thinking of those who are not de facto naturalists:
    ***
    God created the universe, and along with it natural law. Because of God’s created order, this law is discernible to human discovery by careful observation.
    Having created this law, God has the power to supercede it when his purposes calls for it.”

    Therefore, the Pioneer anomaly is not an indication that our understanding of natural laws is in error. It is a miraculous intervention.

    Or you could go back a number of years, before nuclear reactions were understood. The burning of the sun was not an indication that our understandings of how energy was generated were incomplete – it was a miraculous intervention.

    See how this doesn’t work? If there is good reason to believe a physical law doesn’t hold universally, then you should consider the physical law falsified and work on a better understanding.

    Young Earth Creationism also fits in your description, though it requires a lot more superceding. It’s not like YECs don’t think there are natural laws that apply some of the time – they do.

    Also, I take it no one else can figure out what Haught was trying to say about the Resurrection either (comment 8)?

  38. MFG

    Am I missing something here? John Haught is basically saying that the Resurrection is a story: “What we have in the New Testament is a story that’s trying to awaken us to trust that our lives make sense, that in the end, everything works out for the best. In a pre-scientific age, this is done in a way in which unlettered and scientifically illiterate people can be challenged by this Resurrection.”

    Of course that perspective on the Resurrection is compatible with science: Haught is saying that it’s a metaphor, designed to assure us “that our lives make sense.”

    (Paul thought otherwise: “And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.” 1 Corinthians 15:14-17.)

    Metaphors are fine things, but as so many others have pointed out, that’s not what most Christians mean by the Resurrection.

    On the other hand, if we could go back in time and verify that the Resurrection actually occurred, that would confirm the reality of the supernatural precisely per Coyne’s criteria in his TNR review of Miller’s and Giberson’s books.

    Chris’s bringing in Haught does nothing to address Carroll’s point. And meanwhile the “debate” has cast loose completely from the Coyne’s original question whether it’s appropriate for the NCSE to give a page to Peter Hess (which I think it is for political reasons, but then that’s just my opinion, already expressed in another thread).

  39. wjv

    But included in the resurrection story is a prediction: that Jesus will return. Predictions are verifiable by science. If Jesus never returns then, does that also nullify the claim that he was ressurected?

  40. NewEnglandBob

    Anthony McCarthy @30:

    No need to throw a hissy fit. Be a grown up. Let me know which widdle words I posted that you could not comprehend. I will show you how to look them up.

  41. NEB, I don’t think asking you to account for how you get through life only relying on solid evidence constitutes a “hissy fit”. It’s more of a skeptical inquiry into the implications of what you said and the assertions you made about what I’d said. As to the “hissy”, actually, I’m going to have to confess to being sarcastic. I’m from New England, dear, in my parts we don’t generally get “hissy”.

    You used words you don’t think I’d understand? Which ones?

  42. Therefore, the Pioneer anomaly is not an indication that our understanding of natural laws is in error. It is a miraculous intervention.

    …when his purposes calls for it.

    Yes, if one imagined that mankind might be redeemed by God exerting a supernatural force on a spacecraft leaving the solar system… then sure… A religious person might insist that this effect was miraculous and pay no more heed to it.

    But, remember, this religious person believes that God created order so that we could live and understand. She isn’t likely to believe he would lightly or arbitrarily abrogate that order.

    I’m trying to stick to what people actually believe, not some worst case scenario that exists only in the minds of their opponents.

  43. I’m surprised that theologian John Haught didn’t use the escape clause from the Bible, Matthew 4 on the temptation:

    7. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ “

    I think he was repeating from Deuteronomy 6 :

    16. Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.

    But forget about the advertising hype of “Meek and Mild,” even the dogma-lite Christianity is questionable.

    From Matthew 10 :

    34. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

    Or from Matthew 15 :

    4. For God said, “Honor your father and mother” and “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”

    Any ideas on how to “overcome literalism” for these and “embrace” their proponents? Perhaps put to death means being sent to the naughty corner and missing out on dessert?

    Is any form of Christianity compatible with modern morals, let alone science? Maybe, once it reaches homeopathic dilution levels, i.e. not a single atom of the original remains . . . it’s all water-memory.
    And, yes, I am quote mining for the bits that get missed out of sermons!

  44. MadScientist

    I can’t help but laugh – well, OK, guffaw. “If there were a camera, we wouldn’t see anything.” How quaint – the guy asserting that nonsense has deluded himself into believing he knows the mind of his sky fairy and his sky fairy wouldn’t have allowed a piece of technology to record those moments. But that’s religion for you. I’m usually infuriated by “what if” scenarios (like: what if Hitler wasn’t successful in his takeover of Germany) but this one really had me laughing.

  45. MadScientist

    Oops – I missed out on dissin’ the Dalai Lama

    The Dalai Lama’s statement is a typical religious cop-out; there is nothing new nor interesting in his claim. Christopher Hitchens addresses that specific type of claim in his book “God is not great”. Basically, the Dalai Lama claims that Buddhism is a search for truth – but that is a naked lie. Buddhism is not a search for truth, it is a desire to achieve ‘nirvana’ – which basically means a desire not to be reincarnated. I guarantee all Buddhists are 100% successful in achieving nirvana the first time around; it is rather amusing that they do not realize this and perhaps approach death with a haunting fear that they may return as a cockroach.

    Many religions claim to seek truth, but all lie – they seek to impose mindless belief, not pursue and discern truth. In contrast, science does not seek an absolute truth, it seeks to understand the behavior of the observable universe and to use what we understand to create new things (like new types of medicine). Regardless of the provisional nature of science’s understanding of a truth, there are some things we can’t deny. To steal a quote from Thomas Paine: “These truths we hold to be self-evident” – gravity, for instance.

  46. Erasmussimo

    MadScientist, you write:

    Many religions claim to seek truth, but all lie – they seek to impose mindless belief, not pursue and discern truth.

    Does that include deism?

  47. Dan

    Chris,
    You *really* think that it’s possible for someone dead for three days to just wake up???

    Also, Re: Buddhism, I thought it was more of a deep philosophy than a religion. I’m just not sure that it is an analogy worth talking about, because unlike Christianity or Islam, Buddhism’s core beliefs are consistent with non-theism as best I can tell (I’m not a Buddhist though, and certainly not a scholar on it, so correct me if I’m wrong).

    The Abrahamic religions however, are based on things that aren’t possible – parthenogenesis in mammals producing a male child, creation of the universe (even if age of it can be modified in some views), life after death, mind-body dualism, talking to invisible friends with interventionist abilities, etc. Okay, some of those aren’t falsifiable, but they’re certainly not compatible with any comprehensive view of science. Sure, Christians could recognize that and modify such views, but then they wouldn’t be Christians, would they?

  48. If someone doesn’t believe in the supernatural in any form, including an afterlife or a creator God or any such thing, yet nevertheless prefers to describe themselves as “religious,” there’s nothing I can do to stop them. Such a belief system seems compatible with science, as far as I can tell.

    But it seems completely crazy to equate “religion” with that kind of worldview as a general principle. It’s not what people think when they hear the word, and it’s not the worldview of the overwhelming majority of people who call themselves “religious.” The vast majority of Christians think that Jesus was standing right there in the room the Sunday after he died; they don’t think it’s an allegory.

    Debating about definitions is tiresome. The relevant point is: belief in the supernatural in all its forms, from life after death to the necessity of God to understand the origin of the universe or the special nature of the human soul, is incompatible with what science has taught us about the world.

  49. The Abrahamic religions however, are based on things that aren’t possible

    What astounds me in these arguments is the how often people who are supposedly on the “pro-science” side cite as impossible things that are now perfectly commonplace thanks to modern science.

    When you’re attacking a religious belief you should at least ask yourself whether these things are actually possible today and you ought to remember that the bible was written thousands of years ago for a largely uneducated society, not for a 21st century Ph.D. candidate. Things are described in their terms, not yours. “Miracles” are unexpected events for which they had no explanation.

    parthenogenesis in mammals producing a male child

    If by that you’re referring to the idea of virgin birth, maybe you’ve missed the whole in-vitro fertilization revolution of the last few decades.

    talking to invisible friends with interventionist abilities

    Ever seen a telephone? Or a radio?

    miracle cures

    You mean like a cure for cancer or tuberculosis or leprosy? Pretty much everything in modern medicine would be considered a miracle cure by the standards of the biblical era.

    creation of the universe

    Since science hasn’t yet identified how the universe got here maybe you should hold off on judging whether it can be created or not.

    Sure, Christians could recognize that and modify such views, but then they wouldn’t be Christians, would they?

    You’re confusing fundamentalists with Christians in general. And you’re forgetting that the reason there are Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, … etc. instead of just a single Christian faith is because they’re constantly changing and modifying and disagreeing with each other about their views of the universe.

  50. – Buddhism’s core beliefs are consistent with non-theism as best I can tell Dan 47

    Buddhism’s core beliefs certainly contain aspects of the supernatural, reincarnation, karma, nibbana, parinibbana, etc. It also contains non-falsifiable doctrines such as Dependent origination and No-self. Anyone who read the most basic texts that are common to all of the major divisions of Buddhism, couldn’t fail to see that it is not allegorical materialism. If you, as you say, aren’t a scholar of Buddhism why would you bring that up as a talking point?

    – The Abrahamic religions however, are based on things that aren’t possible – parthenogenesis in mammals producing a male child, Dan

    The Virgin Birth doesn’t talk about parthenogenesis, that’s a modification of the belief that you’ve made in order to discount it. Someone who believes in The Virgin Birth as described in the two gospels which talk about it would be completely right if they said that it had nothing to do with what they believe and so you haven’t debunked it. The “scientific viewpoint” hasn’t superseded the logical requirement that when trying to refute someone else’s assertion you have to refute their assertion or you haven’t succeeded.

    – creation of the universe (even if age of it can be modified in some views), Dan

    The Genesis story has been widely seen as allegorical by many, certainly by most educated Christians and Jews, for centuries. I’d think its religious value was pretty well wiped out by mistaking it for science or history.

    – life after death,

    An immaterial soul isn’t something that science can address since it’s not material.

    – mind-body dualism,

    Maybe out of fashion but there isn’t anything in the idea that isn’t compatible with science being done about the body side of things. I seem to recall even Susan Blackmore admitted she hadn’t demonstrated the “body only” dogma.

    — talking to invisible friends with interventionist abilities,

    You imagine this is clever, I’d guess.

    — etc. Okay, some of those aren’t falsifiable, but they’re certainly not compatible with any comprehensive view of science. Dan

    What’s a “comprehensive view of science”? One that comprehends all or science? Because no one can have one of those. One that comprehends every possibility? Because even all of science doesn’t have that. One that comprehends every possible way in which something can be true? Because science certainly doesn’t have and almost certainly never will.

    I think your idea of a “comprehensive view of science” is seriously and fundamentally unscientific and illogical. It doesn’t make matters any better to replace the cartoon version of fundamentalist religion you present with a fundamentalist cartoon of science. Given that science to exist has far more restrictive requirements, your make-believe view of science is the more vulnerable to scrutiny.

    I wish you people would take a more rational and informed view of these issues because it’s really tiring to have to point out your errors about things I don’t happen to believe, and neither do many “members of the Abrahamic religions”.

    - The vast majority of Christians think that Jesus was standing right there in the room the Sunday after he died; they don’t think it’s an allegory. Sean 48.

    And the only way you can refute that is to have evidence that he wasn’t. Which is unavailable and almost certainly always will be.

    – The relevant point is: belief in the supernatural in all its forms, from life after death to the necessity of God to understand the origin of the universe or the special nature of the human soul, is incompatible with what science has taught us about the world. Sean

    Science hasn’t taught you anything about anything except the material universe. It can’t, it doesn’t deal in anything but the material universe, that’s the sole function it was invented to serve, its methods don’t allow any other information in except that which is from the observation, quantification, etc. of the material universe. I’ve never yet had anyone refute that point in years of bringing it up in these discussions. That is all that science can do.

    To assert that science can do what it certainly can’t is as fundamental a distortion of science as the distortions of “scientific” ID. In fact, it begins with exactly the same distortion as ID, pretending that science can address the supernatural.

  51. – science does not seek an absolute truth, it seeks to understand the behavior of the observable universe MadScientist

    Then why are the rest of your comments assertions that science can dispose of beliefs in which there is no observable evidence on the basis of its a priori “absolute truths”?

    – Regardless of the provisional nature of science’s understanding of a truth, there are some things we can’t deny. MadScientist

    I don’t understand how you’re trying to fit this in to the rest of your denials of things science can’t address. You can certainly deny them, if you want to, you might, possibly be right in your denial. But it has nothing to do with science. Though it is certainly contained within the scientism which is the actual faith of many, if not most of the new atheists. It’s a big mistake to mistake scientism for science.

    A small hint, if you want to impress people familiar with him that you’re interested in the truth, you really shouldn’t cite Christopher Hitchens. I’m sure he’d recognize the truth if he saw it, just that he’d snub it if it suits his purpose, as it so often does, or if, for some reason of pure and petty spite, he denies it. Hitchens on Buddhism is about as reliable as Hitchens on invading Iraq.

  52. – Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. cited by Peter Ozzie Jones 43,

    So, where did he have the sword? I’m trying to think and can only remember when the told Peter to put it down when he tried to defend him. I’m kind of surprised you didn’t take the opportunity to present the contradictory gospel passages, like the one where Jesus says that you have to hate your parents to follow him.

    You really want to encourage fundamentalist Christians to concentrate on texts like that instead of the ones where he tells his followers to forgive their enemies and pray for them? Or to give to the poor until it hurts? I’d really rather they not go the places you want to bring them, though many have and the results haven’t been all that much better than the human rights policies of Stalin, though, other than Leopold II I’m having a hard time thinking of one who approached his record of murder.

    If you want to talk about the fact that the gospels and epistles are often figuratively expressed, textually variant and flawed, that large parts of them are of almost certain inauthenticity, and that any meaning you can draw from them has to take into account the cultural context in which it was said, you’d have many serious scholars and readers of the Second Testament to talk to. A few of them agnostics if not atheists. Those difficulties, some of which have been known from at least the time the collections were canonized, are a major reason that many religions have rejected literalism reading of the scriptures. Christian Fundamentalism was strongly inspired by the critical study of the scriptures in order to figure out what they meant.

    While hardly perfect, and they certainly never claimed their efforts would be, the Jesus Seminar’s work has been interesting. Though I think J.D. Crossan has done pretty well on his own. His contextual study is unsurpassed in anything I’ve read about that period in history. Though I’m only a casual reader on the subject.

  53. Davo

    And the only way you can refute that is to have evidence that he wasn’t

    We cannot refute it with 100% certainty but we can of course say how improbable it was, just like how we can say how improbable a specific case of alien abduction, faith healing or psychokinesis is. How is a dead man’s resurrection any different from these other miracles? If we can put forward our best estimates for their occurrence or lack thereof, we should be able to do the same for the resurrection. Isn’t that how we live life and do science, by making the best estimates and building up from them?

  54. Davo

    And do we simply say that “science cannot investigate supernatural claims” and throw up our hands? Accept that anything goes then and is beyond scientific scrutiny and stop making efforts to probe it because it’s declared as supernatural? Give up? These are genuine questions. Also, how do you know that science was invented only to explore the material world? Isn’t this an assumption in itself? And how do you know that supernatural claims upon further investigation would not turn out to be a product of the material world?

  55. @ comment 24 -

    Science has absolutely nothing normative to say about ethics. There is no scientifically valid argument you can make that concludes with “Therefore, you should/should not do X.” Yet the ethical dimension of religion is its primary dimension in the eyes of most believers. Therefore, while we can agree that science and religion are incompatible in the epistemological dimension, we must also agree that science and religion are perfectly compatible in the ethical dimension. And since religion’s primary emphasis is on the ethical dimension, the incompatibility between science and religion is a secondary issue.

    Well said sir – and this is the reason that those of use who are scientists, and Christian theists, are so . . . ticked about this whole arguement in the first place. Personally, I can’t fathom wasting so much time on the whole subject, but if it got us to the point where this sentiment can be acknowledged, then maybe, just maybe it was worth it.

    I would expand the idea a little bit however, to say that while the process of science may not have anything to say about the ethical realm (or the political realm), scientists none the less need to speak out about ethic and on politics. If we don’t, others will, and we’ll end up frying our selves in our own oil.

  56. Dan

    Jinchi (comment 49),

    What astounds me in these arguments is the how often people who are supposedly on the “pro-science” side cite as impossible things that are now perfectly commonplace thanks to modern science.

    When you’re attacking a religious belief you should at least ask yourself whether these things are actually possible today and you ought to remember that the bible was written thousands of years ago for a largely uneducated society, not for a 21st century Ph.D. candidate. Things are described in their terms, not yours. “Miracles” are unexpected events for which they had no explanation.

    Bad analogy. Religion thrives off of counter-factual claims which invoke the clearly supernatural, not mere disagreements over which naturalistic cause is more likely for a given observation.

    If by that you’re referring to the idea of virgin birth, maybe you’ve missed the whole in-vitro fertilization revolution of the last few decades.

    So you’re counter-argument is that Joseph and Mary might’ve just been experimenting with a little IVF????

    —-talking to invisible friends with interventionist abilities

    Ever seen a telephone? Or a radio?

    Since when do Christians think that they have to use a telephone or radio to pray?

    The rest of your responses are similarly moronic.

    Anthony (comment 50),

    Thanks for the correction re: Buddhism. True, they believe in a bunch of things that aren’t so consistent with a rational world. Still, they’re belief in a theistic deity is tenuous at best – not that that makes them perfectly rational – but I digress, you make a good point.

    The Virgin Birth doesn’t talk about parthenogenesis, that’s a modification of the belief that you’ve made in order to discount it. Someone who believes in The Virgin Birth as described in the two gospels which talk about it would be completely right if they said that it had nothing to do with what they believe and so you haven’t debunked it.

    Are you referring to the fact that they actually believe a spirit (a benevolent incubus, for lack of a better categorization, as it were) impregnated Mary? That’s even less compatible with science than parthenogenesis, which I thought was giving Christianity the benefit of the doubt by a large margin.

    The Genesis story has been widely seen as allegorical by many, certainly by most educated Christians and Jews, for centuries. I’d think its religious value was pretty well wiped out by mistaking it for science or history.

    I think that’s a great point for debate – and Sam Harris and Phillip Ball appear to have a great debate online at the Reason Project lately along these lines. The remainder of your comments Anthony appear to reveal that you take great issue with what some have called philosophical naturalism, or the implication that the methodological materialism of science implies a non-theistic universe. First off, I concede that I can’t *prove* any answers to your qualms. They’re non-falsifiable, and not grounded in reality enough to need disproving.

  57. You do realize that if things like miraculous cures are real, science would have no choice but to live with their existence.

    Yes, until such a point that science could figure them out. I’m Catholic, I make no bones about it, but I’m not required to believe in miracle cures. I don’t know if they happen, and I’ve certainly never been witness to one (though I’d like to be, it would certainly be an interesting sight).

  58. Nick

    Haught’s sophisticated religion sounds similar to the fire-breathing dragon in Sagan’s garage.

  59. Are you referring to the fact that they actually believe a spirit (a benevolent incubus, for lack of a better categorization, as it were) impregnated Mary? That’s even less compatible with science than parthenogenesis, which I thought was giving Christianity the benefit of the doubt by a large margin.

    I’m talking about the fact that what they believe is what it says in the gospels attributed to Matthew and Luke. It doesn’t give details except to say that it was by the holy spirit. For all anyone can know it was entirely consistent with science, if the details are known. But that’s entirely beside the point, you can’t use science to say anything about The Virgin Birth as it’s believed because there is absolutely no available data, it is held to be a unique event which happened miraculously. That, as well as the Resurrection of Jesus are beyond the reach of any honest scientific inquiry.

    Philosophical naturalism is an extra-scientific ideology. It’s not in any way a necessary part of science or a logical necessity that has to be drawn from it. I’d love to see an honest survey to see how many successful scientists could even elucidate the concept, never mind endorse it or tell us how often they have recourse to it as they work.

    TomJoe, I’ve been trying to tell new atheists that Catholics aren’t required to believe in any of the alleged apparitions of Mary or Jesus or anyone else, not that they’ve paid the slightest attention. And I’m not a Catholic.

  60. Dan, in your single mindedness you’ve managed to completely miss the point.

    You can’t claim that “The Abrahamic religions however, are based on things that aren’t possible” by citing things that are possible.

  61. - And do we simply say that “science cannot investigate supernatural claims” and throw up our hands? Davo

    Without a clear methodology and clearly observable, identifiable phenomena, yes. You have to throw up your hands. That is if you care about being honest.

    - And the only way you can refute that is to have evidence that he wasn’t
    We cannot refute it with 100% certainty but we can of course say how improbable it was Davo

    No you can’t. You can’t apply probability to it at all since it’s impossible to come up with the prerequisites to infer any range of possibilities. Miracles are IMPROBABLE, they’re held to be improbable for a good reason.
    This is exactly the question I kept putting to Jason Rosenhouse about the proposal of some of his regulars of applying probability to The Virgin Birth. I repeatedly asked him to put his name to either the mathematical demonstration or to admit that it wasn’t possible, to stony silence on his part.

  62. MadScientist

    @Erasmussimo:

    Deism (which may or may not be associated with any organized religion) also suffers that problem with truth. Deism assumes that a god creator exists and isn’t really concerned with how this can be demonstrated. So although deists may not make the explicit claim that they are searching for truth, they do suffer the same credibility problem with their assumed truths. This happens to be the exact same case for religions which do not have a deist philosophy because those religions don’t seek truth either; they only seek to defend what they believe is already known to them and which is true. The “search for truth” bit is really a red herring commonly regurgitated by religion (or should I say the religious).

  63. Dan

    Anthony,
    True enough, Matthew and Luke don’t give much details aside from reference to the holy spirit. I’m just going from there and making the best guess I can at how it might’ve happened in a way that I can take seriously. Parthenogenesis is the best I can come up with, and even that isn’t possible without somatic cell nuclear transfer from ol’ Joseph, which is a technology I really don’t think they had then, *wink*.

    Philosophical naturalism is an extra-scientific ideology. It’s not in any way a necessary part of science or a logical necessity that has to be drawn from it. I’d love to see an honest survey to see how many successful scientists could even elucidate the concept, never mind endorse it or tell us how often they have recourse to it as they work.

    It beats the NOMA, hands down, as a philosophical concept or ideology that’s grounded in reality and rationalism. Or that’s my stance and many other scientists’, anyway – that the non-material cannot exist in a Universe as real. There are only four known forces, and the non-material effects none of them it seems.

  64. gillt

    TomJoe, as a Catholic, it’s not miracles cures, but partaking in a holy sacrament (called transubstantiation for the uninitiated) that might put your beliefs at odds with science. The church considers it a miracle when a priest casts a spell which transmogrifies flour into god-flesh, wine into blood. This happens every day in masses across the world.

  65. gillt @64: How so? Do you even know what transubstantiation is?

    This is what gets me with atheists. They’re horribly ignorant of theology. They must get it from Dawkins. To quote Terry Eagleton: Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster…critics of the richest, most enduring form of popular culture in human history have a moral obligation to confront that case at its most persuasive, rather than grabbing themselves a victory on the cheap by savaging it as so much garbage and gobbledygook.

  66. gillt

    you’re arrogant and ignorant. I spent twelve years going to a private catholic school. I consider myself well-versed.

  67. gillt

    But by all means keep bloviating.

  68. - It beats the NOMA, hands down, as a philosophical concept or ideology that’s grounded in reality and rationalism. Dan

    I would dispute that it was superior to NOMA which isn’t an ideological program but an admission which is more of a political compromise. You do know that Gould was quite a respected scientist, especially before his final illness took its tole. And he was no slouch when it came to rational thinking.

    Put as you have, PM is quite deficient as a philosophical position. It’s more of a codification of some overly simplified concepts of science c. 2009 as the only possible truth than a real philosophy. Forgive me for pointing it out, but put that way, it reminds me of Dr. Pangloss more than rigorous philosophy.

    gillt, you should look up the word “transubstantiation” in that Catholic Encyclopedia you disdained last night, it might help you to get the idea right re. science.

  69. gillt @66: LOL. Then explain it. Twelve years in a private catholic school means nothing if you didn’t retain even a speck of what you learned there.

  70. - I spent twelve years going to a private catholic school. I consider myself well-versed. gillt

    So it’s science you don’t get. That’s not uncommon with new atheists.

  71. gillt

    And I’m also a scientist. McCarthy. What’s your specialization? Music and being a New Englander?

  72. gillt

    Still waiting for answer.

  73. gillt, I’m becoming unsurprised when someone with a career in science doesn’t understand that it can only deal with the material universe and nothing else.

    Aren’t you ashamed that a lowly musician who minored in math can figure that out and you can’t?

  74. gillt

    Ahhh, a minor in math. Impressive. Community College or online?

  75. They didn’t have online when I went to college, gillt.

    Would it make you feel better if someone with an associates degree from a community college knows more about the basic requirements of science that you do?

  76. gillt @72: Still waiting for answer.

    You’re not the only one waiting. You going to explain transubstantiation for us or not?

  77. gillt

    You’re stalling because you can’t address a simple question.

  78. Davo

    So you are saying that we should give up and stop trying to understand miracles and regard every one of them as beyond any rational critical inquiry and therefore immune from scientific criticism? If this is what you are saying I appreciate your honesty, and I am not being facetious. However I think you will agree that that is not in the spirit of skepticism that we have always adhered to, both in science and in many aspects of our everyday life. I ask again; if we cannot apply any scientific standards to the description of miracles, does that mean anything goes? In principle then, why shouldn’t I accept lone accounts of alien abduction, telepathy, faith healing and every single creation myth propagated by every tribe and religion in history? If all of them are miracles, are all of them of equal value? Then why is the resurrection a more hallowed belief than the lady of the forest who dispels bad spirits with her flatulence?

  79. gillt @77: You’re stalling because you can’t address a simple question.

    You’re being hypocrite of the worst kind. Blatantly ignoring a question posed to you while taking Anthony to task for supposedly dodging a question you posed to him AFTER you dodged a question yourself. You obviously know no shame.

  80. gillt

    I did for my purposes.

    I said Catholics consider it a miracle. I said it’s the turning of flour into god-flesh and wine into blood. And it shouldn’t be confused with the Protestant version which is only meant to be symbolic.

    For Catholics, it’s the real deal.

  81. gillt

    I simply asked the question first. So why don’t you respond first instead of asking another question?

  82. gillt @80: I did for my purposes.

    And I said that doesn’t suffice in the slightest. It also reveals that you really are ignorant to the actual theological definition of transubstantiation, which if you knew it, would know that comparing it to “miracle cures” is like comparing an apple to an elephant. Thanks for proving my (and Terry Eagleton’s) point.

  83. – So you are saying that we should give up and stop trying to understand miracles and regard every one of them as beyond any rational critical inquiry and therefore immune from scientific criticism? Davo

    Unless you have what you need to study them with science, you shouldn’t try to use science on them. You could use other, more appropriate, disceplines on them, history, theology, cultural anthropology…. but science has pretty stringent requirements or it’s not science anymore.

    Given how many stupid assertions get made by science folk and the blog wannabees when they allege their handling of such things are scientific, it might be better if they didn’t give in to the urge to pretend that’s what they’re doing. Eagleton couldn’t have written that review of TGD if Dawkins hadn’t pretended like that. But, since that’s what his career in science largely consists of, maybe he can’t help himself.

  84. gillt asked a question of me? What?

  85. gillt

    You still haven’t answer the question TomJoe. Why are you stalling. Why don’t you explain what it means, why I’m wrong and then answer the question. Why keep stalling?

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines this doctrine in section 1376:

    “The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”

    The Following was written by a Catholic priest

    “In other words, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that once an ordained priest blesses the bread of the Lord’s Supper, it is transformed into the actual flesh of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odor, and taste of bread); and when he blesses the wine, it is transformed into the actual blood of Christ (though it retains the appearance, odor, and taste of wine).”

  86. gillt

    I suppose this is what I get for feeding a troll.

  87. gillt, did you ask me a question? What was it, if you did?

  88. benjdm

    The transubstantiation is nothing compared to the doctrine of the trinity. The Catholic encyclopedia pretty much claims that 1+1+1=1. It says God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other, that they are each God, AND that there is only one God.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm

  89. gillt: Exactly where did you ask me a question? Point out the exact comment please, because I’ve looked and I don’t see a question posed by you, to me.

  90. benjdm, Richard Lewontin, a materialist, himself, asked what was inherently more difficult about the trinity than the dual nature of subatomic particles. “two’s company but three’s a crowd”, he asked.

  91. gillt

    Oh my bad, I guess the lack of a question mark through you off. I forgot who I was dealing with. Let me rephrase. I’m inviting you, by name, to address a point I made, or rather an observation–to comment on it. I’ll be more literal next for the Bible quoters.

    Check #64

  92. Davo

    Well, we can certainly use other disciplines; nobody is denying that. But how can we be sure we cannot use science to understand the virgin birth if we have a fair recent understanding of reproduction and biology? I don’t see why we cannot pose the question “Is it possible for a human being to be conceived asexually/from a virgin and what could be the possible mechanism? If this mechanism depended on technological intervention, could it have existed at the purported time of Christ’s birth?”

    Also, miracles (lightning for instance) like the resurrection were quoted for thousands of years until science unraveled the physical mechanisms behind at least some of them. Do you think that science (and human beings)
    instead should have given up saying that by definition these miracles were beyond its purview and done nothing? Are you saying that we should not even try to investigate if miracles could not be possibly explored through the scientific method? Is this compatible with the idea of skeptically investigating the world around us? Do we want to tell our children that some things are off limits to science and they should never consider scientifically thinking about them?

  93. I think the problem with the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation is that they use a specialized meaning of the word “substance” as opposed to “accidental”.

    — Transubstantiation, however, is not a conversion simply so called, but a substantial conversion (conversio substantialis), inasmuch as one thing is substantially or essentially converted into another. Thus from the concept of Transubstantiation is excluded every sort of merely accidental conversion, whether it be purely natural (e.g. the metamorphosis of insects) or supernatural (e.g. the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor). Finally, Transubstantiation differs from every other substantial conversion in this, that only the substance is converted into another — the accidents remaining the same — just as would be the case if wood were miraculously converted into iron, the substance of the iron remaining hidden under the external appearance of the wood.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm#section3

    Once you get by that the idea isn’t that difficult to understand as being quite unavailable for scientific inquiry. Doesn’t, however, mean you have to believe it.

  94. – Well, we can certainly use other disciplines; nobody is denying that. But how can we be sure we cannot use science to understand the virgin birth if we have a fair recent understanding of reproduction and biology? Davo

    If you can find other, verifiable, examples of human reproduction involving a mother who is a virgin, made pregnant by some unspecified action of the Holy Spirit you can. Until then, you might want to consider more productive ways to spend your time.

  95. skinman

    I disagree with the assertion that the Dalai Lama’s quote reflects a compatibility between science and religion.

    “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.”

    That isn’t “compatibilism”. That is the advancement of science and the further deterioration of religion. It is science forcing religion into retreat, shrinking its relevance and usefulness.

  96. gillt

    It sounds a bit kooky when you actually think about it, doesn’t it: like transmogrifying water into wine, except it still looks like water, tastes like water, won’t give you a hangover the next morning, has the same chemical composition and anatomical weight as H20, and is otherwise completely indistinguishable from water. This, lady’s and gents, is what we call faith, the ability to believe in something without a lick of evidence. It’s as anti-scientific as you can get.

    Indeed I was right; it is a miraculous event!

  97. Sean Carroll says:

    The relevant point is: belief in the supernatural in all its forms, from life after death to the necessity of God to understand the origin of the universe or the special nature of the human soul, is incompatible with what science has taught us about the world.

    Here we are gonna get back to the methodological naturalism/philosophical naturalism distinction, and I am gonna disagree. I don’t know if there is any need to rehash that, though….it’s here.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2009/06/09/why-evolution-is-true-but-coyne-is-wrong-about-religion-part-iii-understanding-the-limits-of-methodological-naturalism/

  98. gillt

    It’s not so much rehashing but trying to get at the heart of the matter. If resurrection can be excused from scientific scrutiny as an historical event–that is the argument being made here–then take a miraculous claim in the present, that’s made all the time. Transubstantiation comes readily to mind–I’m sure there are others–and address whether that conflicts with methodological naturalism.

  99. - This, lady’s and gents, is what we call faith, the ability to believe in something without a lick of evidence. It’s as anti-scientific as you can get. gillt

    Where is the lick of evidence that memes exist, gillt? Or any of the “behaviors” attributed to Paleolithic ancestors of ours, which produced “adaptive advantages” that caused a “genetic heritage” which is expressed in a “contemporary behavior”?

    There, I included two question mark so you can’t dodge these questions.

  100. gillt @91: Oh my bad, I guess the lack of a question mark through you off.

    I guess theology isn’t the only thing you forgot in your 12 years of private catholic school. The basic fundamentals of the english language seem to have escaped you as well. Yes gillt, when you don’t put a question mark after your statements, rational people will logically assume it’s another random bleating you’re making. Instead of owning up to that (I don’t really think you were asking a question there, it looks like a flat out statement you were making), you’d rather twist yourself up in this rather pathetic knot we now see.

    At any rate, if you were ever taught transubstantiation in your 12 years of private catholic school I’m sure you would have heard the two words “accident” and “substance“. They are key to the understanding of the Catholic ideas of the Eucharist. In philosophy, starting with Aristotle, objects have two types of properties, the accidental and their essence. Accidental properties are those that can be measured. Colors, taste, texture, mass, atomic formulas … all accidental properties. Substance, metaphysically speaking, is what makes an object that particular object (e.g., A rose by any other name is still a rose.).

    In the Eucharist, the accidents of bread and wine remain. So even after the consecration, if you attempt to measure the miracle, you will be unable to. Why? Because all the measurable properties, the accidents, remain unchanged. Only the substance (hence the term “transubstantiation”) has changed.

    Now, your problem is that you conflate the idea of the Eucharist with miracle cures. Problem is, to extend the idea of the Eucharist, accidents, and substance, to miracle cures one can clearly see that miracle cures deal only with changes to accidental properties. A diseased state (accidental property) to a non-diseased state (another accidental property) can easily be measured, and as such, should easily fall within the realm of science to study. Substance is not a measurable property (those being the accidental), which means that comparing the Eucharist to a “miracle cure” is like comparing an apple to an elephant. Comprende?

  101. gillt

    What are you talking about McCarthy?

    Where did I say I believe in memes or evo-psych? Memes as I understand them act as metaphors, nothing more. Evo-psych is a borderland science that in my personal opinion is seriously flawed. Go read Larry Moran’s thoughts on it; he, like myself, is a geneticist.

    Besides, you’re being superfluous McCarthy. Try and deal with the issue at hand.

  102. gillt

    I see. So by denying the basic properties of matter, and instead resorting to outdated philosophical definitions of matter, you’ve managed to talk your way out of anything resembling reality.

  103. gillt

    Thanks for answering my “implied” question.

  104. gillt, I didn’t say you belived in memes or evo-psy, I asked where there was a lick of evidence that any of the things I asked for exists. Surely, one so ready to express his disdain for other things he doesn’t believe in would have no hesitation before taking on these two articles of faith among new atheists.

    Why aren’t you as ready to take these on gillt? There, another question for you to answer. Could it be because you can’t do so without tarnishing Dawkins and Dennett, and other new atheist “Brights” in the process? There, another question, still. Please answer these direct questions and not as you dodged the last two.

    And I would probably consult almost every other geneticist before looking at Larry Moran because I’m not overly impressed by his grasp of logic.

  105. benjdm

    @Anthony McCarthy #90:

    Here it is, in context:
    “When, at the time of the moon landing, a woman in rural Texas was interviewed about the event, she very sensibly refused to believe that the television pictures she had seen had come all the way from the moon, on the grounds that with her antenna she couldn’t even get Dallas. What seems absurd depends on one’s prejudice. Carl Sagan accepts, as I do, the duality of light, which is at the same time wave and particle, but he thinks that the consubstantiality of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost puts the mystery of the Holy Trinity “in deep trouble.” Two’s company, but three’s a crowd.”

    Wave-particle duality doesn’t contradict itself – it’s a shorthand for describing the observed behaviors. There is no comparison; only if you accept arguments like the Texas woman’s does the comparison work. The trinity contradicts itself.

  106. Davo

    The real question I asked is; why should we automatically put this question beyond scientific inquiry? Is this what we want to teach our children, to automatically consider every reference to a miracle as not within scientific questioning and stay away from it? Is this the tradition of skepticism and inquiry we want to infuse in them? Doesn’t an honest attitute towards the world imply questioning and investigating everything? If miracles are automatically beyond the purview of science, does that mean anything goes and should be accepted as fact or of equal value as anything else?

  107. gillt

    McCarthy, this is tiring. go back and reread #101. I explained my views there.

    New Atheists don’t uniformly believe in evo-psych and memes. Is that really what you think? How laughable. Anyway, that’s why I used Moran as an example. He thinks both are silly. Myers would be another example.

  108. - Wave-particle duality doesn’t contradict itself – it’s a shorthand for describing the observed behaviors. There is no comparison; only if you accept arguments like the Texas woman’s does the comparison work. The trinity contradicts itself. benjdm

    You should concentrate on this point by Lewontin, which is sort of the entire point of the thing “What seems absurd depends on one’s prejudice.”

    - The real question I asked is; why should we automatically put this question beyond scientific inquiry? Davo

    Because science has basic requirements that have to be fulfilled before you can inquire about something using science. Tell me how you can do science in these instances, lay out your methodology for studying The Virgin Birth or The Resurrection of Jesus as described in the Bible, fulfilling all of the aspects of those descriptions, including that they are both unique events and happened through supernatural agency. Oh, and, don’t forget, we have no physical evidence to use. Tell us how you would do it.

  109. - New Atheists don’t uniformly believe in evo-psych and memes. gillt.

    I never said they did “uniformly believe” in them. But Dawkins and Dennett do.

    gillt, I’d say the evidence is looking mighty like you’re dodging answering the question. Certainly you have no problem applying your own standard of evidence to these two ideas, do you? Why ever not?

    There, I’ve asked you six questions in a row. You have yet to answer one.

    PZ instead of Moran? Fat chance.

  110. benjdm

    “You should concentrate on this point by Lewontin, which is sort of the entire point of the thing “What seems absurd depends on one’s prejudice.” ”

    I agree. If your ‘prejudice’ is to accept MN as a reliable method of winnowing out false beliefs, you will find both the trinity argument and the antenna argument absurd. If you reject MN as a reliable method, you will find the trinity argument and the antenna argument perfectly reasonable and wave-particle duality absurd.

  111. gillt

    I said already: “Memes as I understand them act as metaphors, nothing more. Evo-psych is a borderland science that in my personal opinion is seriously flawed.”

    Seriously flawed means I don’t think there’s enough evidence to support a majority of its claims. Metaphor means it’s not tangible, but abstract.

    Done whining now?

  112. It’s not so much rehashing as taking in the many reasonable objections to the Mooney version of the putative methodological naturalism/philosophical naturalism distinction.

  113. benjdm, I’ve got no problem with people using any kind of materialism to reach conclusions for themselves, I’ve got a big problem when they pretend that it’s science when they do it and that other people who don’t start out with their prejudice are unscientific and superstitious when they don’t reach the conclusion which is reached through the ideology of materialism.

    Like I said, you don’t have to believe these doctrines of Catholicism but if you think that they weren’t completely thought out by the best minds of Catholicism within the ideological system they accept, you’re mistaken. I don’t happen to believe them but I’m not so ignorant as to dismiss them out of hand.

    Catholic theologians have gone up against better thinkers that the new atheists have mounted, centuries ago.

  114. - “Memes as I understand them act as metaphors, nothing more. Evo-psych is a borderland science that in my personal opinion is seriously flawed.” gillt

    I didn’t ask anything about as you understand them, I asked if there was a lick of evidence (your term) that they were real. As evo-psych posits the existence of actual, physical genes on the basis of their creation myths (creating flesh out of words) the question is entirely apropos of the issues under consideration.

    So, do they really exist? And if they don’t or are merely metaphors, wouldn’t anyone who believed that they did, actually, exist not immediately fall into the same category that you have put people who believe in transubstantiation or other religious beliefs?

    You’re dodging questions to beat the band, gillt. And if you don’t think I’m keeping track, you’re mistaken.

  115. gillt

    metaphor means they are abstractions of tangible things. Find where Dawkins said he believes that memes are more than just metaphors. I’m really curious if he did in fact say that they actually exist, like a plant or a rock, or a virus exists.

    I already said insufficient evidence for many, maybe most, of evo-psyches claims. You’d have to judge each claim on a separate basis though. So why don’t you get specific about it and ask a good question for a change.

  116. gillt

    In the forward in a reprinted edition of “The Selfish Gene” he says he never meant memes to be taken literally, like they had been by a bunch humanities academics, who made whole careers out of studying them.

  117. Unless Dawkins has repudiated most of his career, I don’t think you can rationally believe he doesn’t believe his creation myths. How could “metaphors” produce genes singly or in combination that could produce a heritable behavior which became common through their conferring an adaptive advantage? Dawkins certainly believes that, if my very long ago skimming of his magnum opus is fresh in my memory.

    Do you find a flaw in that line of reasoning?

    And I also mentioned Daniel Dennett, who is far more credulous than Dawkins who purports to be the member of a somewhat more exigent profession. Dennett, unless he has repudiated his own best seller, definitely believes in memes.

    I’d have to go look up what he, and I suspect Coyne has said about memes over the years to see how that Bright idea has morphed as its internal contradictions and absurdities failed to catch on with scientists. A failed “meme” in itself?

  118. gillt @102: So by denying the basic properties of matter, and instead resorting to outdated philosophical definitions of matter, you’ve managed to talk your way out of anything resembling reality.

    What basic properties of matter have been denied? I also didn’t realize that philosophy (in particular metaphysics) was outdated.

  119. Is that the anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene you’re dodging behind? I’d like to compare that to the original which I read and thought silly when it was first published.

    I’m sure that I heard Dawkins on Terry Gross making some kind of assertion of a “religion gene” not two years ago.

  120. benjdm

    “I don’t happen to believe them but I’m not so ignorant as to dismiss them out of hand.”

    I don’t know what you would call it – ‘dismissal out of hand’ or not. When I was a grade-schooler going to Catholic religion classes I listened to the lessons, asked questions, and concluded they were wrong. It wasn’t close.

    I’m sure there are great minds working out doctrines in Jedi-ism from within their ideology. I take it that out of consistency, you therefore do not dismiss The Force out of hand or consider belief in it to be absurd?

  121. Let me weigh in a bit here since this is of my interest too. So we can examine the varied biological ways in which a virgin could possibly give birth, as an embryologist could postulate in more detail. If IVF is one of those possibilities, we could investigate the prevelance of IVF or other technologies during Jesus Christ’s time and so on and look at the historical record. Nothing should preclude us from asking honest questions.

    However the point here is not whether science can prove or disprove the virgin birth. But just like Davo I do have a problem with automatically assuming that science should not even consider possibly investigating such events. After investigating them science may or may not have anything useful to say about them, but that should not preclude the very questioning of such events.

    Also, it is one thing to say that science cannot investigate a miracle because of one reason or another. Does that mean though that we accept that miracle as established fact? Maybe a dozen described miracles by definition cannot be explored by science because they are not falsifiable. Does that mean they are true? Do we want to teach our children that unscientific events should be regarded as established facts that are beyond rational queestioning? I think these are valid questions. I think one of the points we are missing here is the difference between aims, consequences and processes. The business of science is not to prove or disprove facts but to honestly investigate them. Why should something not be amenable to investigation and skeptical exploration simply because it has been declared to be a one time miracle?

    The Bhagavad Gita says that it’s the process and not the fruits that are of great value. The Bible also has a similar message. And this message is the essential core of the scientific method. Explore. Investigate. And revel in the process of discovery. Hold nothing sacred. There is no hubris in this viewpoint, only a celebration of the human desire to find out more about the world.

  122. What’s Jedi-ism? Are there online texts to look at?

    I’d have to look at the quality of what they wrote before I’d judge whether or not their ideology was absurd. Materialism only becomes absurd when it forgets that it’s an ideology and not absolute truth. Then it can get quite absurd.

  123. gillt

    You’re recall is incoherent.

    We know that epigentic events (environmental cultural., etc.) alter DNA transcription and protein production, and have been shown to be heritable. This is nothing new.

    I think you’re just very confused about the basic science behind genetics is all.

    But go ahead and look it up. You haven’t shown Dawkins ever said anything other than that he was extrapolating from what we know about epigenetic events. Unless you can point to a quote where he does, you have nothing.

    You also seem unable to locate where Dennett says it; you haven’t shown where Harris said, or Hitchens or Myers, or Coyne. What other major new atheists are there?

  124. - If IVF is one of those possibilities, we could investigate the prevelance of IVF or other technologies during Jesus Christ’s time and so on and look at the historical record. Nothing should preclude us from asking honest questions. Curious Wavefunction

    I’d have to hide a smirk before considering that an “honest question”. If you can find the evidence to back it up, as opposed to just making stuff up, go for it.

    - However the point here is not whether science can prove or disprove the virgin birth. But just like Davo I do have a problem with automatically assuming that science should not even consider possibly investigating such events. After investigating them science may or may not have anything useful to say about them, but that should not preclude the very questioning of such events. C.W.

    Would you admit that without the necessary evidence or the ability to make an analogy to other, similar events that science can’t honestly investigate the question? Can science be done on insufficient data?

    If you can get that, go ahead and publish. Just remember to get peoples’ permission before you put their name on it with yours.

    - Also, it is one thing to say that science cannot investigate a miracle because of one reason or another. Does that mean though that we accept that miracle as established fact? Curious Wavefunction

    Of course not, that’s why belief in a miracle is called a belief and not a fact. I’d argue against anyone who called a belief a fact and often have. Both religious believers and materialists.

  125. gillt

    Belief and knowledge–knowledge about the perceived world–is the relevant distinction, not belief and fact.

  126. gillt, I’m beginning to doubt you’ve read Dawkins or really know what he’s written. Not to mention Dennett.

    You won’t deal with the questions because you know you can’t without either showing yourself to be holding people to a double standard or risk angering a large number of the new atheist faithful.

    You, gillt, are not an honest person.

  127. And I’ve got a full teaching schedule this afternoon. So I can’t play anymore just now.

  128. gillt

    So your admitting your can’t quote any of the new atheists claiming that they have evidence for memes?

    I’ve already answer your question. Anyone here can see that. At this point, you’re projecting.

    Today has been one long day of god-bothers stalling, equivocating, and engaging in diversion. Nothing new here.

  129. AM, science is done on insufficient data all the time! We just sent in a paper in which we had a broad justification for asserting something that still leaves questions and still does not provide foolproof evidence without more data. However it is a reasonable start. The paper just got accepted.

    As for making stuff up, postulating IVF and possible technologies (which could actually support virgin birth!) is much better than saying something without any evidence at all.

    And I say this again and I don’t think I am going to keep reiterating the point, and I urge you to understand it; I am not talking about whether science can prove or disprove a miracle. I am saying that nothing should be held so sacred that it should be considered beyond the purview of science. Again, this is not hubris, it is an honest exploration of the world. Maybe science has something to say about it, maybe it does not, but that does not mean we quit trying.

  130. gillt

    CW. It’s no use. McCarthy hasn’t the first clue of what science is or how it is done. If your goal is a meeting of the minds it can be frustrating, which is why I’ve given up on that and instead settle for pointing out where they’re being daft.

  131. we could investigate the prevalence of IVF or other technologies during Jesus Christ’s time and so on and look at the historical record.

    No you can’t. Nobody claims that Mary went to the local fertility clinic to get pregnant. They claim that an independent actor with a thorough knowledge of the human reproductive system (aka God) made her pregnant without resorting to sexual intercourse. This is not scientifically impossible, which is what people like Dan are saying.

    Furthermore, God is not described as a member of the society, he stands outside of it. So claiming that ancient Israel didn’t have the technology required doesn’t address the fundamental belief any more than demonstrating that Ethiopia doesn’t have rocket technology proves that man never went to the Moon.

    But to your larger point. Of course science can investigate religious claims (even claims of miracles) and even reject them when the evidence is overwhelmingly weighted against them. This is why virtually every scientist (religious or not) rejects creation stories as anything more than allegorical – they don’t read them as literal histories of the universe.

    But there are many religious claims which are too vague, open ended or subject to interpretation for science to even frame a question, never mind find an answer. This doesn’t mean that we accept them as true, or teach them to our schoolchildren. It simply means that we don’t level accusations of hostility to science against those who believe in them.

  132. Bill C.

    What we have in the New Testament is a story that’s trying to awaken us to trust that our lives make sense, that in the end, everything works out for the best.

    I’d just like to point out that I heartily object to this line of thinking by Haught. Bully for him that he accepts evolution, but on a personal, philosophical level, I find this distasteful to the point of being completely f–ked up.

    Everything else Mr. Haught says really does – and I say this without malice, in an effort to honestly communicate – sound like nonsense. It kind of amounts to: “Just because things didn’t happen, didn’t mean they didn’t happen.”

    If that’s honestly the position he’s going to take, what is his justification for putting any special stock in the experiences of those who wrote the Bible as describing something True? What is the basis for their ability to see and describe things Haught acknowledges no one could adequately see or describe?

    The more one travels down this road of interpretation, the more “theology” just sounds like “literary criticism.” I wish the theologians could be more honest about that. As one example, I absolutely fell in love with that senior Vatican priest in “Religulous” who just kind of laughingly insisted re: the Gospels “They’re all just STORIES.”

    If the feelings and meanings an individual derives from the Bible is what’s important, then great – stop trying to exalt it to a level of Truth so far above and beyond the level of a really good Superman comic, from which one can glean all the same transcendental truths concerning selflessness, humanitarianism, quiet confidence or whatever else is vital to the cauldron of human experience. I daresay I find watching an immaculately-crafted film every bit as spiritually fulfilling as many religious people describe their religious experiences – where you lose me is when you start using dualism and supernaturalism to claim your religion is Truth and justify both your beliefs and behaviors. Gah. Just kooky.

  133. - AM, science is done on insufficient data all the time! CW

    How about on data so insufficient as to not constitute data at all?

    - As for making stuff up, postulating IVF and possible technologies (which could actually support virgin birth!) is much better than saying something without any evidence at all CW

    For what’s known about the scientific and technological state of that time and place? I don’t think so. Would you write it up and submit it to review, with your name attached? I wonder what sufficiently reputable scholar in the other fields you’d have to collaborate with would be willing to attach their names to it? I did think we were talking about a level of seriousness a bit more rigorous than Ripley’s.

    - I am saying that nothing should be held so sacred that it should be considered beyond the purview of science. Again, this is not hubris, it is an honest exploration of the world. Maybe science has something to say about it, maybe it does not, but that does not mean we quit trying. CW

    If you can write it up and get a reputable journal to publish it, as something other than satire, I’ll eat my monitor.

    - McCarthy hasn’t the first clue of what science is or how it is done. gillt

    I’ll rely on other people to judge whether or not I’ve made any rash statements about science here. I am fairly confident I’ve made no points that you’ve been able to refute. I’ll look up to find out if Dawkins was just joshin’ about all that gene stuff when I’ve got more time.

    Now, I’ve got to see if my 2:00 lesson comes on time.

  134. Sorbet

    A look at this and other threads makes me jealous of Anthony McCarthy. I too wish I was a retired piano teacher working from home so that I could have so much time for commenting on blogs. Seriously.

  135. gillt

    Ha. Other people is me, McCarthy. I’m a scientist, and I’m saying you fail. You defend a fundamental misconception that MN and PN don’t reside on a continuum. You insist that they be quarantined so your unqualified, evidence-free beliefs sound legitimate.

    Forget the scientists. Philosophers like Greg Laden and Russell Blackford have repeatedly demonstrated what poor thinking the MN/PN distinction is.

    Your specious speculation that most scientists wouldn’t understand PN is a typical McCarthy baseless opinion, an obfuscation of your own ignorance. Everyone of my scientist colleagues gets it because we all talk about how to think scientifically about ours and others research. We still have our biases but do our best to correct for them before someone else comes along and does it for us. That’s the great and awful humility that comes with being a scientist. Your work is under the harshest scrutiny imaginable. We have to look at the world scientifically to get any work done, to generate data, to publish.

    The problem with accomodationists is that they want to accomodate belief in belief as a legitimate way of understanding deeper truths. So, logically, they go off on tangents like evo-psych and memes, and railing against atheists–anything to miss the point.

  136. That’s the great and awful humility that comes with being a scientist. Your work is under the harshest scrutiny imaginable. We have to look at the world scientifically to get any work done, to generate data, to publish.

    So to be a scientist, one must be publishing? If that is your criteria, you better tell PZ Myers he is no longer a scientist. It’s been years, as far as I can tell, since he last published (Scopus (author search for “myers, p.z.”) reveals his last peer-reviewed publication as occuring in 1998). And you can go tell Abbie Smith (ERV) she isn’t a scientist either, since as far as I can tell, she has zero publications to her name right now.

  137. gillt

    Myers runs a teaching lab where they do experiments on zebrafish. I don’t visit ERV, but I’m pretty sure Abbie is a grad student earning her Phd. They both generate data, which was another criteria, if that’s how you want to put. What’s your lame point?

  138. AM, how do you know the data would be insufficient? Have you looked at it yourself? More importantly, how do you know that your assertion that science is not up to the task of investigating such claims is not an ad hoc assumption itself?

    Also, as Coyne has made this point a little simplistically before, some miracles can potentially be scientifically investigated. There is a graded continuum of possibilities. If someone made a statement like “The soul is composed of an all-pervasive continuum of emotions and gets transmitted from one generation to another through multidimensional worlds”, I would probably agree that this statement is a pretty non-scientific statement and not subject to scientific inquiry because it does not really say something about physical phenomena. However to me and I suspect to several others, a virgin woman giving birth is a much more demonstrably physical process that can be at least be investigated scientifically in principle, even if not in practice. At the very least we should make an effort and not simply declare it off-limits to science.

    And again, I am not sure you understand my central point. Maybe the data will be insufficient, maybe it won’t, but that should not stop us from trying to look for data in the first place. You are sidetracking the discussion by focusing on whether a journal will publish it or not and how realistic the data would be. That is a future concern. My focus is not the end result of a scientific investigation of the virgin birth but the very justification for the investigation in the first place. At the very least we have every right to investigate something scientifically irrespective of whether such an investigation will yield positive results; this is upholding the basic spirit of science that teaches is to value skeptical inquiry. I cannot imagine telling my son, “Son, there is this thing called the virgin birth which millions believe in and you are not supposed to ask scientific questions about it or about how it could have happened”.

    If we started automatically putting every supernatural statement beyond the purview of science, we could allow anyone to get away with any statement about the supernatural and conveniently place him or her beyond skepticism and criticism. Sadly history proves that there have been such hucksters who have duped a gullible public by asserting that their private ‘experiences’ cannot be questioned because by definition they are beyond rational inquiry. It’s like Uri Geller saying that he can bend keys, but only when scientists are not doing controlled experiments to investigate whether he does.

  139. Myers runs a teaching lab where they do experiments on zebrafish. I don’t visit ERV, but I’m pretty sure Abbie is a grad student earning her Phd. They both generate data, which was another criteria, if that’s how you want to put.

    Isn’t one of the cornerstones of science the peer-review process?

    My point is that you are consistently a turd to people like Anthony, but by your own standards some of the people you idolize don’t even meet the standards you stringently apply to others. IOW, you are a hypocrite and an intellectual fraud.

  140. – I’m a scientist, and I’m saying you fail. gillt

    The last of the Exobiologists? What’s your field, gillt? While I do, actually, wonder if you are a scientist, you could be one of the clueless kind that seems to be more common than I’d once imagined. I just hope its not in a field that actually might have some effect on lives or the environment because you aren’t too honest.

    You say I fail. That’s the most encouraging thing I’ve read yet today.

    – You defend a fundamental misconception that MN and PN don’t reside on a continuum.

    I don’t recall ever saying anything to that effect. I don’t think I’ve registered an opinion other than that they are ideologies not aspects of science. Would there be any point in requesting quotes, actual ones, not invented ones or instantly typed implications? I’m not especially interested in a distinction between the two, I just see them as two variations on materialism, so your statement is false. I wonder if the distinction might not be the relative integrity and honesty of one side.

    – Your specious speculation that most scientists wouldn’t understand PN is a typical McCarthy baseless opinion gillt

    What I said is I wondered how many scientists could give the broad outlines of the ideology or that if the ones attempted would be sufficiently uniform so as to be the same discrete entities. I still do, and that brings us to…..

    – Everyone of my scientist colleagues gets it because we all talk about how to think scientifically about ours and others research.

    And you know this, how? Published surveys? Show me. Or is it just because anyone who doesn’t agree with you can’t stand to be in your bitter, bigoted company?

    – Your work is under the harshest scrutiny imaginable. We have to look at the world scientifically to get any work done, to generate data, to publish.

    And I’ll bet, just as I actually speculated, that it was worrying about the consequences of publishing something that a colleague could take apart that really keeps science within bounds, at least in the hard sciences. Are you in soc-sci?

    - The problem with accomodationists is that they want to accomodate belief in belief as a legitimate way of understanding deeper truths.

    Within science. You’re claiming that they are asking for science to accomodate religion. I’ve been asking for the evidence that anyone with a serious reputation in science has introduced religious beliefs in their work and you gas bags can’t produce any examples. So, gillt, put up. Prove your charge. You haven’t produced an answer to a single question I’ve asked you on this thread.

    You know exactly why I’m asking you about EP and memes, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the addled fan base on the new atheist blogs. And you can’t answer the points because you’re dishonest and a coward.

    Speaking of Dawkins, all I’m finding is him talking as if those genes he and his pals are always gassing on about are actually there. You got any place where he says those venerable genes are mere “metaphors”?

    Sorbet, I’m hardly retired. Aren’t you ashamed that such sciency guys as yourselves can’t dispose of my unsophisticated arguments?

  141. John Kwok

    @ TomJoe and gillt -

    Nor has Brown University biologist Ken Miller published anything in some time, but he is still a practicing scientist because of his ongoing research in cell biology (which is also true of PZ Myers and Abbie Smith, of which more I will say shortly). In response to Myers’s increasingly bizarre behavior towards me at his blog, I e-mailed him, asking him whether he could try emulating his more prominent colleague, Sean B. Carroll of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Myers, an associate professor of biology, University of Minnesota, Morris, admitted that he’s not nearly as good an evolutionary developmental biologist as Carroll, who is regarded as among our leading evolutionary developmental biologists. Myers’s reputation rests primarily with his various roles as a debator of evolution denialists and for maintaining his popular blog, Pharyngula; in these cases he has become increasingly stranger and stranger as a peculiar agent provocateur on behalf of militant atheism. Abbie Smith is a Univesity of Oklahoma graduate student working on HIV/AIDs and, in particular, with endrogenous retroviruses (ERVs), but to the best of my knowledge, aside from a poster session or two with her Ph. D. advisor, she has not yet produced publishable science.

  142. John Kwok

    @ Anthony and gillt -

    While it is true that once, back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Dawkins was an important researcher in evolutionary biology, especially with regards to the levels of selection (e. g. group and kin), he has not done any publishable science since the early 1990s, if not before. He recently retired as a professor at Oxford University.

  143. – AM, how do you know the data would be insufficient? Have you looked at it yourself? More importantly, how do you know that your assertion that science is not up to the task of investigating such claims is not an ad hoc assumption itself? CW

    What data would you suggest would overcome the three obstacles of no physical evidence, an unknown mechanism of conception and the assertion of an event that was unique in history?

    Can you point to another instance in which a scientific paper successfully overcame those problems and then maybe I’ll be able to tell you how much data might be sufficient.

    I’m always open to being corrected, but you’re the one making the proposal that it’s possible to do it with science so I’d think the onus is on you to produce your evidence.

  144. Sorbet

    We find it hard to dispose of your arguments precisely because of their unsophistication; we have to spoonfeed you every little bit of reason and have to exasperatingly reiterate our arguments to make you understand.

    And exobiology or astrobiology is a pretty respectable field of research. Kevin Plaxco’s book on it for instance is grounded in hard chemistry and thermodynamics. Perhaps if you did not look down so much on science and scientists you would actually take a look at serious work in the field.

  145. gillt

    I’ve called you out before on your denial of calling new atheists bigots before McCarthy. I’m not searching through your braindroppings for more quotes until you provide the quotes I’ve asked for previously concerning memes.

    But I see I’ve ruffled your delicate feathers. Please understand how much that brightens my day.

    I’m a geneticist studying childhood t-cell leukemia for what it’s worth.

  146. It is not a unique event in history. The five Pandavas in the Mahabharata also were purportedly born of a virgin mother. But read my words. I am not making the proposal that it is possible to do this with science. I am stating that it cannot be anathema to even consider investigating such a claim through science. I am not stating whether there is data or not. I am stating that nothing should stop us from looking at it. I am arguing for untrammeled open inquiry, not debunking. I am not saying that science can disprove the virgin birth. I am saying that science should be entitled to investigate everything, because that’s how it progresses.

  147. Curious Waveform, how would you do it? By citing the Mahabharata? I don’t think that’s exactly science, is it?

    You’re not proposing that it’s possible to investegate The Virgin Birth of Jesus with science? Why do I get the feeling of moving goal posts all of a sudden? I don’t quite get the point about Uri Geller then.

    You might not be asking about using science to dispose of The Virgin Birth, though I’m kind of at a loss to understand your point. I certainly didn’t start in on it because I’ve never thought you could. Quite frankly, I was shocked that all those sci-guys thought you could so I asked them how. They tried to weasel out of it by changing the belief around so they could, only proving they’re incompetent logicians in the process.

    You can have all the untrammeled open inquiry you want to but if you want to call it science or logic, those have definite requirements. Or are you denying that in this attempt to twist me in knots. I don’t think you can but keep trying. I like these kinds of puzzles, just I don’t have much time on Thursdays now that school is out here.

    gillt, you’re a geneticist and you want me to consult Moran and Myers on EP? You think you’ve ruffled my feathers? Playing the Bartok Suite op. 14 ruffles my feathers. You haven’t even mussed my hair.

    Sorbet, you can’t dispose of unsophisticated arguments? Wow. Is that all it takes to flummox the new atheists? Ground level arguments? And you expect the new atheism is the wave of the future? See, CW. I warned you about a new dark age in this stuff.

  148. Who is trying to initiate a scientific investigation by citing the Mahabharata. I only used it to illustrate the non-uniqueness of the birth. I am not trying to knot you up in any kind of puzzle. But I don’t want to tell my children that there are supernatural claims that are beyond the scope of science. Your previous assertion made it sound like you are saying that something can be conveniently beyond the purview of science the moment the tag “supernatural” is attached to it. Because then I could make up any supernatural statement I want and it could be considered beyond the scientific pale. That’s against the spirit of open skepticism that a free society should promote. Plus, I think you will agree that many claims which were thought to be supernatural were then scientifically investigated and found to have material cases. Why exempt the current claims from the same scrutiny? One of the wrong impressions that Dawkins and others have given is of science intruding on rudely intruding on everyone’s faith. The oher impression they have given is that science “destroys” faith by providing natural explanation. This is not true, neither for religion nor for aesthetics. The beauty of a flower only increases for me if I know the scientific basis of color, vision and pollination. I like to think of it as a more simple sastisfaction of the sense of curiosity and wonder that we all have, and we owe it to ourselves to sustain this sense and apply it to everything we come across.

    By the way I am curious; if a creationist says that the formation of the first blood-clotting system was a miracle, would you similarly consider such an assertion beyond scientific inquiry?

  149. Sorbet

    Flummox? More like “disgust” or “exasperate”. Not suprising coming from a retired piano teacher. Maybe instead of railing against Dawkins and Harris if you actually read a little more real science you would have more respect for the value of the scientific method.

  150. gillt

    I gave Myers and Moran as two examples of new atheists who criticize EP in response to your assertion that there are all these new atheists out there who buy into EP. They don’t and you’re wrong. Shall we move on or would you like to keep making stuff up?

  151. - Your previous assertion made it sound like you are saying that something can be conveniently beyond the purview of science the moment the tag “supernatural” is attached to it. CW

    My assertion, stated about every time I talked about it was that the three conditions I laid out were the reason those two particular proposed events were beyond the ability of science to address them. I’m surprised you haven’t noticed that. If there was physical evidence of those exact events, they would be open to the purview of science. You do know I said that using history or theology or anthropology, and any number of other desciplines to study the questions would probably be more fruitful. Or you would if you’d read what I said.

    Sorbet, I haven’t noticed you, or gillt, have once attempted to use “real science” in refuting a single point I’ve made. Respect the scientific method? You know something about it?

  152. gillt

    There you go again McCarthy never addressing an actual comment. Always off on some kooky tangent. It takes the patience of a parent to deal with you. Unfortunately for me, I’m not a parent.

    You’ve put on display your complete ignorance of “real science” for all to see (Consider yourself lucky there aren’t more scientists on this thread), so how would you be able to recognize it when someone’s using it? Take fore example my explanation of epigenetics as a basis for meme speculation. It clearly went over your head.

    Science: you just aren’t good at it.

  153. I invite anyone who might care to compare, my answers to gillts with his to me, or anyone else, for that matter.

    I understood your Lamarkian content perfectly well, though I really think Orr did it better. But he was interested in reason instead of dodging questions with invective.

  154. gillt

    “retired piano teacher”

    Praise Jesus McCarthy’s not filling an administrative post where he can to do some harm.

  155. gillt

    epigenitics is Lamarkian, says the rube.

  156. So then they should be taken as beliefs and not facts as you yourself agreed. Now let’s take a sample; let’s ask religious people who believe in these two unique world events if they also think that they actually happened. That is, let us see if these religious people accept that what they believe are just that, beliefs, and not facts. Then we will understand if the seperation belief and fact is as clear for them as it seems to be for us. I suspect it’s not. And I am not ignoring what you said, but I had to repeat my statements about an application of the process of scientific inquiry several times, so I can level the same accusation at you. Let’s avoid ad hominem.

  157. Sorbet

    Your scornful dismissal of exobiology makes it clear that you are interested only in philosophizing and not actually understanding the scientific method through the study of science. You are not the first wannabe pseudo-philosopher of science who thinks science is simply a subset of his supposedly mature and overarching understanding of life and human beings. People don’t even invoke Popper or Feyerabend in their everyday scientific work. We can be gratified you are sticking to Chopin and Rachmaninov in your professional life.

    If you really know the scientific method, then why don’t you point out the deficiencies in epigenetic explanations of memes? A few references would also be helpful. We are listening.

  158. Your scornful dismissal of exobiology makes it clear that you are interested only in philosophizing and not actually understanding the scientific method through the study of science.

    The biology of life forms not a single one of which is available in even a single organism from any other planet or planetoid. Um hum. I see.

    Chopin and Roachmaninov, please. I teach Chopin only under duress.

    gillt, you’re saying that epigenesis and Larmakian inheritance have nothing to do with each other? Is that what you’re getting at? Please, tell me that’s what you mean, because that’s so, so interesting.

  159. Consider yourself lucky there aren’t more scientists on this thread

    Actually, there are more scientists on this thread and your constant use of ad hominem attacks as a debating style is embarrassing to the rest of us.

  160. If you really know the scientific method, then why don’t you point out the deficiencies in epigenetic explanations of memes? A few references would also be helpful. We are listening.

    I wasn’t objecting to the epigenetic explanation of memes. From what I’ve seen, that’s one of the problem with the idea. I was looking for the copy of The Meme Machine I’ve got around here somewhere because as I recall the whole thing was such a mish mash that I was trying to remember if I remembered it correctly. Alas, I never did find a used copy of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and depended on the library copy. I wonder if its still in circulation.

    So, why don’t you tell us all about the epigenetic properties of memes and how that makes them like genes.

  161. - So then they should be taken as beliefs and not facts as you yourself agreed. C.W.

    I would say that two are believed and not known. You can take something as a fact when it’s a belief. You could make a case that a lot of what we take as fact, even in formal contexts, is actually belief since we are able to verify more than a small fraction of what we consider and use as if it was fact.

    - Now let’s take a sample; let’s ask religious people who believe in these two unique world events if they also think that they actually happened. That is, let us see if these religious people accept that what they believe are just that, beliefs, and not facts. Then we will understand if the seperation belief and fact is as clear for them as it seems to be for us. I suspect it’s not.

    I’d imagine without explaining the difference you’d probably get a lot of inaccurate responses, inaccurate because the participants wouldn’t understand what you were getting at. I’m not finding a lot of appreciation for those kinds of differences here where the participants are, I’d guess, somewhat more sophisticated than a large part of the general population. Though generally there’s a higher proportion of intelligent people here than you find on a lot of the ScienceBlogs. I’d be a lot more interested in what they’d say when they understood those distinctions.

    - And I am not ignoring what you said, but I had to repeat my statements about an application of the process of scientific inquiry several times, so I can level the same accusation at you.

    I’m wondering why you are going through this exercise in opinion polling if you’re interested in finding a scientific way of discerning the possibility of those two proposed miracles.

    - Let’s avoid ad hominem.

    Um, considering where that’s been originating on these threads, I think suggesting that to me could be classified as “rich”. I’ve given mildly sarcastic responses in a few places, I haven’t resorted to ad hominem myself. If you disagree, give me examples.

  162. Oh, sorry, been alternating reading this with reading the news at Buzzflash.

    Didn’t notice this till just now. This should read:

    is actually belief since we are unable to verify more than a small fraction of what we consider and use as if it was fact.

  163. Epigenetics is a biological reality. Larmarkian inheritance has been discredited.

    Internalize that so you aren’t asking me to answer the same question again a few hours later.

    McCarthy providing excuses: “I was looking for the copy of The Meme Machine I’ve got around here somewhere because as I recall the whole thing was such a mish mash that I was trying to remember if I remembered it correctly. Alas, I never did find a used copy of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and depended on the library copy. I wonder if its still in circulation.”

    What? you can’t find a single quote to back up your silly claim that a whole bunch of new atheists claimed evidence for memes?

    Shocking!

  164. You can take something as a fact when it’s a belief.

    Are you sure this is true? So all beliefs are to be taken as established facts?

    You could make a case that a lot of what we take as fact, even in formal contexts, is actually belief

    However there are degrees of belief. I hold the “belief” of the inverse square law of gravitation as more closer to fact than the belief of the virgin birth. I suspect most scientists would agree…

    The problem with religious belief is precisely that it is held to be a fact. In fact we would not believe things if we did not believe that they were true. That’s where a lot of the problems come from. A person who believes in the resurrection of Jesus believes Jesus was actually standing in front of him, the way this chair sits in front of me.

  165. Sorbet

    McCarthy, you again put your ignorance on display by making up your own definition of exobiology as that constrained to whole organisms. In the field the study of chemical reactions that led to life is also usually included under the title of exobiology. Please, read a book or two, perhaps Robert Hazen’s “Origins of Life” or Kevin Plaxco’s “Astrobiology”

  166. gillt, have you railed against the frequent mentions of Larmarckian aspects of epigenesis among evolutionary biologists because I’m checking and finding all kinds of people from all over who have made that connection. How could you fault a mere piano teacher when he’s been led astray by professionals in the field? Am I not to take instructions from my betters? The professionals?

    I wonder if I can find any of Lamarck’s stuff on line. I’m finding the few citations claiming epigenetics for Darwin interesting, Larry seems to be pushing that line. You wouldn’t happen to be Larry would you? I’ll look that up too, it’s got the smell of an interesting fight.

    Re memes. I named Dawkins who invented memes and Dennett and Susan Blackmore, I’ll get around to looking into why Jerry Coyne got so sore when I made that mild, passing joke about them. I vaguely remember he might have written a paper.

    You denying they’ve got a fan base among the many credulous of the new atheists because I’ve gotten into fights at, let’s see, at least five new atheist blogs and the one I used to write for over their existence. Those weren’t faith heads in a frenzy to keep their memes like monkeys getting watching their chicken-wire surrogate mothers taken away.

  167. Sorbet, do they have a single example of extra-terrestrial life? Do they have the first piece of evidence that extra-terrestrial life exists? Until you can find one and find out things like its body chemistry how can you know the first thing about it? Even that there is any?

    How many aliens can dance on the head of a pin? We don’t know unless we can find even one. And if you find one, how do you know the next one won’t be entirely different and maybe much lighter on its, whatever it might dance on?

    You expect me to take this seriously as being science? Produce a specimen.

    - Are you sure this is true? So all beliefs are to be taken as established facts? Curious Waveform

    You neatly forget the sentence just before the line you quoted. “I would say that two are believed and not known”. There is no way you could honestly attribute the idea that “all beliefs are to be taken as established fact” from what I said. Especially as you next quote me:

    ” You could make a case that a lot of what we take as fact, even in formal contexts, is actually belief.”

    I was trying to establish the difficulty of obtaining an accurate picture of what people believed in YOUR proposed opinion poll, the relevance of which I have yet to have explained in relation to the topic.

    - However there are degrees of belief. I hold the “belief” of the inverse square law of gravitation as more closer to fact than the belief of the virgin birth. I suspect most scientists would agree…

    They might, that doesn’t make their opinion on the truth of The Virgin Birth an opinion based in scientific methods. It could have something to do with the general culture of science or that interesting idea I had about why scientists might find materialism attractive due to the status they attain from it. Who know? What it has to do with the question, again, I would like to know.

    - The problem with religious belief is precisely that it is held to be a fact. In fact we would not believe things if we did not believe that they were true.

    Would you say that believing that which is hateful to you you should not do to others is a problem? How about hate is never overcome by hate but only by love? I could make a long list of other such religious beliefs which I doubt you’d see as a problem. What problems can you identify as stemming from the belief in that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God? How about the belief that he was raised from the dead by God the Father? Can you identify specific, actual events that are serious problems caused by these two beliefs, the ones in question?

    - That’s where a lot of the problems come from. A person who believes in the resurrection of Jesus believes Jesus was actually standing in front of him, the way this chair sits in front of me.

    I’ve never met someone who believed the Jesus was actually standing in front of him, though I’m sure there are people who might. There are probably people who believe that someone who is still alive is standing right there in front of them when they aren’t. It’s only a problem if you can identify some harm to themselves or to other people stemming from that belief.

    I think the belief that a petroleum geologist has that the salary they get for creating an ecological disaster is worth doing what they get paid for, or a weapons scientist producing more effective means of killing more people more efficiently are demonstrably and obviously more of a problem than even enormous numbers of people who believe in relatively innocuous religious ideas. Yet the new atheists to take those scientists’ activities with such amazing equanimity in relation to your consternation over people who might say the rosary or other prayers.

  168. Oh, I see. You’ve checked it all out, have you? There’s “all kinds of people from all over” that say epigenetics is Lamarkian in significant ways.

    Do you even take yourself seriously when you say these things?

    Wait! It just dawned on me. Are unnamed evolutionary biologists saying that some aspects of epigenetic transcription has a superficial resemblance to some aspect of Lamarckian inheritance? Because that would seem like some of the drivel you’d pass off as evidence to support your point.

    In any event, you have no idea what epigenetics is. Transcription factor genes, histone binding sites, methyltransferase…these are all foreign concepts to you. I’m not saying this to mock; I’m leveling it as a criticism because the more ignorant you are on a subject the more arrogant you become in your opinions, which is too bad.

    I don’t even understand all of epigenetics and it’s an integral part of tumorogenesis!

  169. gillt, |First, yes or no, there are no significant voices in evolutionary biology who have talked about Larmarckian aspects of epigenesis? Yes or no.

    The second one is that the issue of the Larmackian nature of “memes” isn’t an issue in the premature “science” of “memetics”? Yes or no.

    I know you haven’t answered even one of the questions I’ve asked you above, let’s try one last time.

  170. I’ll make it easy for you McCarthy. Below are 3 accepted definitions for epigenetics gathered from a textbook, published research, and scientists in my lab and others:

    You tell me which definition is most like Lamarckism:

    Epigenetics is:

    1. a chemical modification of the DNA and/or the histone proteins associated with it.

    2. From a molecular standpoint, epigenetics consists of modifications to DNA, other than mutations, or chromatin which changes gene expression.

    3. Epigenetics is the study of modifications of DNA or chromatin that don’t change the DNA sequence, yet have an effect on gene expression that is persistent through replication (either cellular or organismic).

  171. AM, the question is not whether such beliefs cause direct harm; sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. The question is whether such beliefs propagate similar attitudes in cases where harm is caused. More importantly they beg the question of whether we want to raise our children in an atmosphere which nurtures skeptical reasoning or not. Do we want to inculcate an atmosphere of open and free scientific inquiry? Or do we want to tell our children that some things are beyond the scope of science and that they better not dare to question them? Now we are also going to raise children who are going to be taught to respect other people’s beliefs, but that’s quite different from not questioning them. And you really think geologists and weapons scientists are in there for the money? Do you really think weapons scientists invented nuclear weapons for the purpose of killing? How many weapons scientists do you think were involved because they wanted to make deterrence possible? And why do you say that that does not make their opinion on the birth one based on scientific methods? Don’t we understand enough biology to ask the question whether a virgin could give birth or not? Would you also say we should not apply science to every other supernatural story out there considering hobbits, fairies, goblins, unicorns? How are these different in principle from the virgin birth? What makes the virgin birth unique and immune to scientific criticism? Does it hold equal value to every other supernatural story and claim that then is also immune from scientific questioning? And again, is this what we want to teach our children, that there are certain beliefs which science should just stay away from?

  172. I’m going to make a list of the questions I’ve asked gillt today that he hasn’t answered. Apparently he can’t or he would.

    Curious Waveform, I really don’t think this is especially productive. You are obviously just trying to waste my time with this eternal run around. Which is one of the things I wanted to find out from tonight’s exercise.

  173. Sorbet

    McCarthy, your disparaging of whether exobiology and chemistry constitute science only underscore my initial observation that you are far less interested in studying how real science is done than philosophizing and passing judgement on it. If you don’t think this is science, it obviously means you are not up to date; which is fine, but then don’t wallow in the hubris of postulating what you think is and is not science in exobiology. Are you familiar with the hydrothermal vent research of Mike Russell and Jim Martin and their investigation of the Krebs cycle as a central component of possible extraterrestrial life? What about Gunter Wachterhauser’s discovery of sulfur-initiated reactions as key in the origin of life? Are you aware of Jack Szostak’s recent findings that vesicles can form spontaneously, or the research from Manchester that nucleosides and sugars can actually form nucleotides spontaneously? Or Donna Blackmond’s discovery of amino acid stereoisomers precipitating out of melts? If you are saying that this is not legitimate research because it has not discovered an alien on Mars, then you are no different from the creationists who say that evolution is not validated because no one has seen a bacterium mutate into a pig. It is shameful that you regard the research done by all these people as below the level of serious science and such misguided scorn and posturing only highlight your ignorance. Sorry, but this naked display of contempt and hubris is appalling.

  174. That’s your prerogative; you can believe all you want that my express purpose is to waste your time.

  175. Sorbet, where has the application of any of those things been made to an actual example of extra-terrestrial life. I’m sure they’re studying something, just not extraterrestrial life.

    Here’s the list of questions I’ve asked gillt today. I don’t believe he actually answered a single one.

    Where is the lick of evidence that memes exist, gillt?

    Or any of the “behaviors” attributed to Paleolithic ancestors of ours, which produced “adaptive advantages” that caused a “genetic heritage” which is expressed in a “contemporary behavior”?

    Why aren’t you as ready to take these on gillt? There, another question for you to answer. Could it be because you can’t do so without tarnishing Dawkins and Dennett, and other new atheist “Brights” in the process? There, another question, still. Please answer these direct questions and not as you dodged the last two.

    gillt, I’d say the evidence is looking mighty like you’re dodging answering the question. Certainly you have no problem applying your own standard of evidence to these two ideas, do you? Why ever not?

    There, I’ve asked you six questions in a row. You have yet to answer one.

    So, do they ( the genes theorized by EP) really exist?

    And if they don’t or are merely metaphors, wouldn’t anyone who believed that they did, actually, exist not immediately fall into the same category that you have put people who believe in transubstantiation or other religious beliefs?

    How could “metaphors” produce genes singly or in combination that could produce a heritable behavior which became common through their conferring an adaptive advantage? Dawkins certainly believes that, if my very long ago skimming of his magnum opus is fresh in my memory.

    Do you find a flaw in that line of reasoning?

    Is that the anniversary edition of The Selfish Gene you’re dodging behind? I’d like to compare that to the original which I read and thought silly when it was first published.

    gillt- Everyone of my scientist colleagues gets it because we all talk about how to think scientifically about ours and others research.

    And you know this, how? Published surveys? Show me.

    Speaking of Dawkins, all I’m finding is him talking as if those genes he and his pals are always gassing on about are actually there. You got any place where he says those venerable genes are mere “metaphors”?

    First, yes or no, there are no significant voices in evolutionary biology who have talked about Larmarckian aspects of epigenesis? Yes or no.

    The second one is that the issue of the Larmackian nature of “memes” isn’t an issue in the premature “science” of “memetics”? Yes or no.

  176. 1. Stupid question: I have no idea what every evolutionary biologist ever said. First, you asserted New Atheists were making that claim, now it’s all of evolutionary biology. And that question in no way gets at the truth of the matter, which is the majority of evolutionary biologist, it would be safe to say, would not link Lamarckianism to epigenetics and not expect to be highly criticized for it.

    2. It might very well be an issue, which is why memes is a borderland science…at best. I personally don’t know of any biologists who take it seriously.

  177. gillt, you, as every new atheist I’ve ever engaged, has the bad habit of trying to wriggle out of answering questions by some form of evasion.

    And, I’ll point out, you haven’t answered even those two. You can go look if you don’t already know the answer, I’m not really interested in testing your knowledge, just your honesty. Moot though that question might be.

  178. You know what most of the questions amount to? You, McCarthy, derailing the debate by going off on wild tangents. And to what purpose? To disparage people whose beliefs for views I’ve never claimed to defend. Even if Dawkins was saying dumb things, it doesn’t for a second remove the biases from your own beliefs. Your beliefs in god and miracles are still not compatible with science regardless whether Dennett thinks memes exist.

    Let me repeat: McCarthy’s beliefs in miracles are still not compatible with science regardless what any new atheist believes.

    Got it?

  179. I answered your question. You just don’t like the answer I gave. That I refuse to respond in a yes/no format is you being petty, nothing more.

  180. gillt, I have never, once said that I believed in miracles here. Not once. I’ve only said that certain types of claimed miracles can’t be studied using science, though some certainly can. You don’t know if I believe in miracles or not because I have only talked about two which I have expressly said I didn’t believe in, over and over again.

    You didn’t answer any of the questions I asked you, you dodged them because you didn’t like the answers you’d have to give. Which is why I asked them. You are dishonest to the core.

  181. I shouldn’t even be typing, b/c I screwed up my wrist, but duty calls, so… Anthony,

    1) exobiology
    Sorbet, where has the application of any of those things been made to an actual example of extra-terrestrial life. I’m sure they’re studying something, just not extraterrestrial life.

    Uh-huh. I’ve gotta agree with Sorbet here – in fact, this whole sneery ‘Ha HA! Exobiology is so STUPID! Dumb scientists!’ seems to maybe take on a somewhat ugly, even anti-intellectual note to my ear, (although I can be somewhat tone-deaf, so . . .) I don’t know nearly as much about it as they do (though am hastily taking notes) but I can use internet search engines. Why not try, say, http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=exobiology&fr=yfp-t-501&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8 and educate yourself?

    2) memes
    What’s your criticism of memes? Seriously – there are a fair number, some of which are extremely interesting in their own right (for example, perhaps shedding unexpected light on the degree to which people do or don’t serve as “meme machines”). But you go on about them with scorn virtually oozing off your (metaphorical) voice like acid off the Alien alien’s jaws – yet I’m not sure I’ve seen you offer any explanation why. So, do you have a actual criticism of the idea, or is it just that they’re associated with some favorite hate-objects (ie, Dawkins, Dennett, “New Atheism” generally, if not entirely accurately)? Actually asking here – I do think the first explanation is more likely, and would be interested to hear it.

    3) evo psych.
    (You’re making me defend, however abstractly, evo psych, given the nature of so much of what one encounters under that name. Damn. You.)
    Look, a lot of pop evo psych is horrible, barely warmed over attempts to justify sexism, etc. And quite a lot wasn’t that hot before it hit the sensationalistic media filter. No question ’bout that. But let’s take a step back and look at the basic idea: that over human evolution there was selection for certain adaptive behaviors, with results that continue to influence modern-day human behavior. Is that in itself unreasonable? Certainly the nature of the beast – both cultural complexity and ingrained ongoing prejudices – means that one has to be extremely careful here, something a lot of folks forget (or gleefully discard), but . . . And the whole ‘we don’t know nuthin’ ’bout the Pleistocene, dumbass!’ bit often rubs me the wrong way – there are legitimate issues here about overreach, but a lot of times it sounds a little too similar to Ken Ham’s constant braying about “Where you there?”. Remember – make hypothesis, test hypothesis. At issue is explanatory and predictive power. (Do you understand the point I’m trying to make right here -whether or not you agree – or do I need to expand on this?)

    Virgin Birth etc. etc. etc.
    Ok, first off, yes, it’s entirely legitimate to say, hey, science can’t really address that. What I would say is that we’re not talking just about science; rather, a larger world view that involves words like “Enlightenment”, “empiricism”, and (a very certain kind of) “education”). Was (for example) Danaë impregnated by the god Zeus in the form of a golden shower*, despite being locked up in a tower? Well, very strictly speaking science can’t answer that – we have no evidence (and of course, it’s at best quite doubtful that the mythological Danaë had an actual historical equivalent, while “Mary” may very well have existed), we have no idea how exactly it might have happened, it would have been a unique event (at least there’s no mention of Zeus siring a child via relations of dubious or worse consensual-ness with this particular woman in this particular form), and to top it all off, would presumably have been a supernatural event** outside the purview of science. Yet, the way I figure it, we can draw on these other resources and say, y’know what? there simply isn’t any reason to think that happened – there are much better, simple explanations that fit in with what we know and what has worked – very much in the same way that we can very reasonably rule out witches (of a supernatural sort), or boggarts, or etc.

    using history or theology or anthropology, and any number of other desciplines to study the questions would probably be more fruitful.

    I’m a big fan of using history and/or anthropology to learn more about historical and cultural contexts, the intellectual, social and imaginative matrixes the meanings and functions of such beliefs. Whether theology would be fruitful – well, to the degree that it acts as a social science (+lit crit), sure.

    (And you do understand that gillt doesn’t support memes or evo psych, right? Are you making some point with your requests that they defend ‘em?

    re:the catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. Oh jeez. (Literally!) Hard to respond to this; I understand that it’s important to some people, but quite honestly, if I didn’t know better I’d assume it was a parody (Area man believes he practices ritual cannibalism). Can’t you just see some well-meaning person claiming that this idea is just an example of mean New Atheists ignorantly blathering on, with their inaccurate and crude misrepresentations of religion, until someone takes them aside and whisper-explains that no, that (with caveats) actually is the doctrine propagated by “the world’s largest single religious body . . . comprising . . . . 1.1 billion Christians and one-sixth of the world’s population” (wikipedia, and without getting into the beliefs of other Christianities). What’s strange is there isn’t any obvious reason for it nowadays – it’s a perfectly good – indeed, deeply powerful – symbolic act, and while the Church hasn’t been notably progressive in terms of recognizing that women and gay folks are full people, it does try to accommodate science – they have astronomers, don’t deny (theistic) evolution, etc. What’s interesting is if it makes a difference – what would change if they started going, well, look guys, we’re really doing this in memory, it’s not actually mystically transforming into . . . .? Is this plugging into something real about human belief and behavior? (This may suggest a way of interpreting Haught’s non-candid camera argument that doesn’t have it just as a deeply meaningful metaphor – that the resurrection is being described not as a physical but rather metaphysical event, with the apostles briefly gifted with the ability to peek below the surface of things to their substance – but this doesn’t seem esp. well supported by what he says. Anyway, I agree it’s certainly outside the realm of science, but again, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to believe it – it gets outside the realm of science by booking a trip to the realm of . . . .well, utterly unsupported stuff., in this case an aged philosophical distinction in part based on obsolete ideas of matter (and in part based on entirely other kinds of ideas) <- do I have this right, or have I sunk beneath the intellectual surface again? Serves me right for trying to swim in the deep end of the philosophical pool . ..
    *oh, stop giggling.
    ** Although both classical and Norse polytheism had references to the gods being ultimately subservient to other, bigger forces – even the Greek gods are (in some accounts) subject to the Fates, and Thor is unable to beat an 'old woman' in wrestling, who turns out to be – well, spoilers, spoilers . . . – in some sense they're within the natural order (insofar that this isn't a wildly anachronistic way to think about it), unlike the monotheistic god/s. It's interesting to wonder how this would be thought about in a society that had modern science and widespread belief in one of these pantheons . . . .

  182. And that should be “there’s no other mention of Zeus . . .

  183. You neo-aths need some new lines, your routine is more stale that bread that’s turned blue.

  184. Well, that’s an in-depth rely . . .

  185. And you’re comparing new atheism to Penicillium chrysogenum? Flattery will get you nowhere . . .

  186. No the mold might have some value, it’s the old bread that your act is like.

  187. On second thought, you know the Exobiology issue is interesting because, while some of the individual research projects are probably worth while, the idea itself is silly. At least at this point.

    If it’s not obvious, I’ve been heavily influenced in my thinking by Gould and Lewontin through their critique of Sociobiology and evo-psy.

    Now, I was always taught, and the new atheists never seem to tire of asserting, actual evidence is essential for finding THE TRUTH, or, as I would have it, the kind of truth that science was made to discover. As I’ve asserted the only reason science is more useful for finding that kind of truth than, say, going on a hunch, is that it has developed methods and practices that are based in the rigorous study of actual, physical evidence. Without that kind of examination of the physical evidence, you might stumble on the truth, but your chances of getting reliable information is low. With science, for those things it investigates, the chances go up with the quality of the observations and the analysis of those observations and the rigor with which the conclusions are arrived at. Review by competent peers is another level of quality control in science, the stage that, in time, weeds out mistakes and wrong conclusions. One hopes.

    In the course of science, there have been many kinds of folly, sometimes based in quite legitimate ideas, at least at the time. Sometimes on the basis of a partial misunderstanding of correct information or inferences. You can be part right.

    But when science is stretched to the point where what’s being asserted is based on, literally, story telling, it has reincorporated explanatory myth and hunches into its processes. Richard Lewontin, in a fascinating talk available online “Internal and External in Biology” talks about the extent to which storytelling has become incorporated into science, evolutionary biology, in his case. Making up adaptive scenarios and using them to “explain” things about the reproductive cycle of water fleas was one of the more interesting things he talked about. In being questioned on that point by a student, he generously said that the story might be right but it was still a story. In talking about niches in the same talk he pointed out that you could construct an infinite number of scenarios but that those weren’t niches unless they were actually occupied by a species for which your scenario was relevant.

    Exobiology is, on the face of it, in late June 2009, a silly idea. It takes legitimate science, even, apparently, generating some of it within its limits, and making up stories about how those MIGHT, might be relevant to some actual life form that began and, we expect, evolved on other planets. Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett have, at times, been rash enough to say that there is a high probability that Darwinism (their word, so don’t complain when I use it) was the mechanism for that life’s evolution. And they might, possibly be right. Without the actual information we would need to test that idea, we can’t know if it’s right in another, many, most or all cases when life arises on other planets independently of life here on Earth. They might have it entirely right. But today, as we carry on this conversation, that hunch isn’t science, it’s certainly not a legitimate application of the concept of probability, not even on an informal level.

    If you listen to Lewontin’s interesting talk, pay close attention to his section on the attempt to find life on Mars and why the approach of trying to match a possibly different life form’s biology with what we know about the metabolism of sugar here on earth was wrong-headed.

    All of this is relevant to this discussion because it’s such a good demonstration that many of the grave sins the new atheists lay at the feet of all religious believers, are fully present within science today, as practiced by full blown new atheists and other more liberal atheists, such as Carl Sagan.

  188. Sorbet

    McCarthy, there is every reason to believe that life on another planet would have evolved by Darwinian selection. It does not take a Dawkins to say this. Of course we might be wrong but that is the best guess for now. Selection definitely operates at the molecular level; hundreds of laboratories have validated this, whether you believe it or not. I have quoted a few examples above. For some reason you want to tar and feather everything if it has some connection to Dawkins and Dennett. Why don’t you get over your obsession with these people for a second and independently review the research in the field and then make up your mind?

    Dawkins is hardly an expert on exobiology and I don’t really care what he says, but his quotes about Darwinian selection being the most probable mechanism have been reiterated by others who have demonstrated similar selection at the most basic chemical level. Have you heard of Alexander Graham Cairns-Smith’s theory about life arising on clay, a theory that has now been supported by research from Jim Ferris and Jack Szostak’s group? One of the beautiful things about natural selection is that it is almost logical, constrained as it is by the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry. A chemical reaction with a higher rate constant producing an autocatalytic cycle will outcompete other similar reaction. There, that is an example of natural selection. Please, get over Dawkins and Dennett and look at the evidence that started with Manfred Eigen, Sidney Fox etc. and which is now vigorously investigated by Szostak, Ferris etc. and published in respected peer-reviewed journals. This is science and has nothing to do with Dawkins or Harris or atheism.

  189. - McCarthy, there is every reason to believe that life on another planet would have evolved by Darwinian selection. Sorbet

    Apparently every reason except actual evidence that it did.

    - Dawkins is hardly an expert on exobiology and I don’t really care what he says, Sorbet

    Ah, but I do, which is the reason I introduced the topic in the first place because I knew what it would come to. We are discussing new atheism and a person who has thrown himself enthusiastically in with Dawkins and Dennett by name. You do remember the topic is the new atheism and some of its central figures’ assertions about science, don’t you?

  190. The example of exo-biology and evo-psy are also remarkably relevant to the title of the post.

    Just as we have no real idea of what alien life might be like or how our Paleolithic ancestors behaved or if their behaviors were a beneficial adaptation, resulting in the greater frequency of (entirely theoretical at this point) genes in the contemporary population, who knows what you’d see from a tomb camera that wasn’t available way back then?

    In terms of reliable knowledge that can be had about them, they’re pretty much equivalent topics.

  191. On second thought, you know the Exobiology issue is interesting because, while some of the individual research projects are probably worth while, the idea itself is silly.

    See, I would say that what you’re missing is how the soundness of individual research projects can mean (in this case) that the idea itself isn’t silly, as opposed to a situation where a) the individual research projects were all merely idle speculation cut off from anything real at all, or b)they had value individually, but no even potential ability to illuminate the broader issues.

    Remember (just looking at the otherwordly aspects) we’re not talking about a situation where we’re hopelessly stuck on earth, armed with only low-power telescopes and musing about Martian canals. We’ve visited the moon, sent robots to Mars, have done all sorts of in-system flybys, and can gather (limited) data from incredibly far away. Would be nice to we’re in some (if, again, limited) position to detect, interpret, and recognize any evidence of life that we might come across, no?

    pay close attention to his section on the attempt to find life on Mars and why the approach of trying to match a possibly different life form’s biology with what we know about the metabolism of sugar here on earth was wrong-headed.

    Haven’t heard the talk yet (while I can obviously just google it, links are nice, I always think [actually, I can't find it, just a posted 'video to come' - link?]) – but, well, is your complaint that folks don’t have any information, or that they’re pragmatically & conservatively (perhaps too conservatively, I dunno) sticking to what information and experience they have at hand? Indeed, in that case the problem would be that we hadn’t tried harder to work out what life might look like in different forms – and what would a discipline that examined that be called?

  192. gillt

    I think its clear by everyone who has ever taken college level biology that McCarthy has such a piss-poor understanding of basic science and attitude toward scientists that it would take more years of education than he has life left to correct the deficiency.

    He has such a deep-seated hatred for New Atheists, that anyone who disagrees with him must be a New Atheist.

    Seriously question: Did Richard Dawkins run over your cat?

    The poor soul is only interested in derailing debates, never answering questions, making stuff up as he goes, not backing up what he says with actual quotes, demanding we answer yes / no questions, then whining when someone gives a fuller, better explanation.

    Pathetic.

    The high school kids I tutor for SAT are less ignorant of science than McCarthy and much less arrogant. What we clearly have hear is an anti-intellectual huckster.

    His credibility unsalvageable.

  193. Sorbet

    So according to you, in the absence of foolproof, certain evidence science cannot be done and has no meaning and is not even science? Do you realise that these are exactly the kind of objections creationists raise toward evolution? Do you realise that you are trashing the work of dozens of scientists like Szostak without having a modicum of credentials yourself? Would you equally trash Dirac’s work on monopoles, Gold’s theory of abiogenetic origin or Witten’s work on string theory? What gives you the authority to do this considering that you haven’t even read up on research on exobiology, let alone contributed a smidgeon to the field? Are you familiar with even a little of the research I quoted above? Can you actually critcise the substance of the research instead of making sweeping and ill-informed statements about its validity? How then are you any different from Richard Dawkins who you accuse of pontificating on a field in which he is not an expert?

    Again, you put your ignorance on display by lacking a knowledge of even basic research in the field and I hope this ignorance is apparent to other readers. I am not going to quote the sources I quoted above again; if you actually want to learn more you would look at a few of them. This discussion is worthless unless you actually care to read up on some of the research in the field instead of railing against something you are not familiar with. And then you accuse others of being ignorant.

    You may have been discussing the new atheism but you then splattered mud over exobiology, a completely uncalled for action regarding a field whose current research you are not familiar with. I don’t care what Dawkins does or does not say about exobiology and you can trash him all you want, but you better not dare to ignorantly mar the credentials of those who have been working in the field for years.

  194. John Kwok

    @ gillt -

    There are other, far more prominent, voices who strongly reject Dawkins’s rhetorical blitzkrieg against all religions. Eminent philosopher of science Philip Kitcher believes that Dawkins’s condemnation of religion is quite counterproductive, and indeed, he may be right, if you read recent polling data that shows that 40% of Britons reject both Darwin’s work and the fact of evolution. I have heard similar comments from another British expatriate, historian of science Janet Browne, and other notable historians and philosophers of science.

  195. gillt, a research geneticist who does SAT tutoring AND this level of new atheist hate blogging? How accomplished can one bigot be? You might actually be more accomplished than William Schockley.

    Your declarations about me don’t matter to me. They aren’t interesting and they won’t keep me from commenting. I’ve run up against tougher guys than you and smarter. My motives in doing this don’t involve my reputation, which isn’t important. The ideas are and I’d imagine anyone who finds anything useful there will be free to use it.

    Your own dishonesty was quite well established yesterday. And just like you kept dodging questions then, you’re hiding behind that “yes-no question” dodge now. Anyone who wants to see can look at # 176 for the entire list and judge for themselves. You didn’t answer those or any of the other questions in that list because you are inherently dishonest.

    Sorbet, look at comment 191, do you have any actual physical evidence of the applicability of any science to an actual specimen of alien life? No, you don’t. How do you know that every last speculation made by exobiology won’t turn out to have been about, actually, nothing or wildly inaccurate? It could be in the same category as phrenology someday. Or it might not, my point is it’s just speculation now. The two areas of evo-psy (which gillt doesn’t seem to remember he dissed here yesterday) and alien biology have exactly as much physical evidence to apply the “tomb cam” speculations to. And any “scientific application” about what that camera would pick up is just as baseless. That’s really not a difficult idea to pick up on.

    Do you work in that area or are you just a fan?

    Dan S. Didn’t we get into a fight on the blog thread where I posted a link to the talk? It was, actually, the subject of that post. Look up Richard Lewontin Internal and External in Biology with google, for crying out loud. It’s worth the hour and a half listening time.

    John Kwok, don’t forget that some prominent creationist have thanked Dawkins for being such a useful foil for them.

  196. John Kwok

    @ Anthony -

    Rightly or wrongly, Dawkins has become the “poster child” (with PZ Myers running a close second) for militant atheism, and so, therefore, creationists (including Intelligent Design creationists) believe they can construct this equation:

    Belief in Evolution EQUALS Denial of GOD

    Sadly, Dawkins and Myers are making their task one that’s all too simple for them.

  197. It looks like the Lewontin video’s beem temporarily taken down, just at first glance.

    Just as we have no real idea of … how our Paleolithic ancestors behaved

    This isn’t really accurate. Not a great idea, sure, but there’s things we can tell, and yet still others we can reasonably surmise.

    … do you have any actual physical evidence of the applicability of any science to an actual specimen of alien life? No, you don’t. How do you know that every last speculation made by exobiology won’t turn out to have been about, actually, nothing or wildly inaccurate? It could be in the same category as phrenology someday. Or it might not, my point is it’s just speculation now.

    You don’t seem to understand what exobio is, how it works, or what it’s trying to do, seems to me. Have you clicked on my link (above) to a web search for it, or simply plugged it into google yourself and learned more yet?

  198. – This isn’t really accurate. Not a great idea, sure, but there’s things we can tell, and yet still others we can reasonably surmise.

    Dan, a behavior, in order to be a behavior has to actually have happened. If you don’t witness it and have no results you can’t know about the behavior that happened. A surmise in this case is more honestly called a guess.

    Any statement made today about any alien life form might be worse than a guess. Who knows if alien life is even material? Huh? You going to prove me wrong on that point? You and whose evidence?

  199. gillt

    McCarthy, your ideas, stunted and fickle as they are, are entangled in your palpable hatred for a very small group of people that can, when the mood suits you, expand to those you don’t agree with.

  200. gillt

    Why do you hate them so? We’re all dying to know!

  201. Sorbet

    Anthony McCarthy, it’s speculation, but like a lot of other science (and unlike phrenology) it’s speculation founded on extremely sound principles of physics and chemistry. You are creating a straw man by equating exobiological studies with evo-psych. Again, perhaps you should talk to a dozen scientists who actually do exobiology in their daily lives in the lab and you will understand. I have already noted names and references above, so no use doing it again. If you were interested in truly learning you would take a look at a few.

    Sadly, after arguing with you for this long and thinking about it, I have reached the conclusion that you have let your bitter and deep hatred of a subset of atheists spill over into condescension toward not just other atheists but toward fields of science and scientists in general, and especially those which you don’t know about. You are not interested in knowing the nature of science as it’s practised by everyday scientists and want to dismiss fields as baseless speculation just because you don’t know enough about them. There’s nothing wrong in being ignorant about a field, but you want to cast your ignorance as some kind of superior philosophizing. To be honest, your lack of understanding of well-grounded speculation in science puts you into the creationists’ ilk.

    I don’t know what you want to project yourself as; probably as some kind of lone philosophical underdog, the piano teacher working from home who is taking on all of science and scientists. Whatever it is, it’s not working since your ignorant pronouncements lambasting fields of science about which you know next to nothing keep on laying your ignorance bare. If I were you I would not go further down that road and stick to Dawkins-bashing.

  202. Sorbet, how do you know that those speculations out of who knows what others people could come up with would be the right ones? It’s not ignorance to point out you don’t even have evidence that life exists anywhere else and, as they find whenever they find something unexpected within the solar system, you might have a lot of surprises in store if it ever is available.

    You know I’m not especially impressed with your continual harping on my profession. If I can pose questions you can’t answer and reduce gillt to a puddle of seething spleen you’re the guys who should be ashamed.

    Borodin is a lot better remembered as a composer today than he is as a chemist.

  203. Sorbet

    As usual, you demonstrate your lack of scientific understanding. You deal in absolutes whereas science deals with probabilities. You keep on railing that life if found elsewhere might be completely “unexpected”. You keep on demanding direct evidence without knowing that most evidence in science is indirect and speculation based on sound principles is taken seriously. Again, you don’t seem to have the first idea of how professional scientists work in their daily lives, of how real science works.

    Anothony McCarthy, I challenge you to give me a sound scientific reason why life found elsewhere would not best be dictated by natural selection. I dare you to do it. I want to see if you can actually back up all those general pronouncments with evidence. And I mean scientific evidence. No general statements. No baseless philosophizing. What we are discussing is a scientific problem, so I want a scientific argument from you. I want to see arguments based on physics, chemistry and thermodyanmics because that’s what life is based on. If you cannot muster such arguments then your criticism of astrobiology is ignorant posturing. I will gladly swallow my words if you put up even a reasonably good case based on scientific studies that all the research I quoted above runs a good likelihood of being wrong. Put up or shut up.

    In any case, it is pointless to argue with you any further. As a retired piano teacher you clearly have a lot of time on your hands to comment away to glory on blogs all day long, a luxury that the rest of us with normal day jobs don’t share. You are not interested in taking a look at even a single reference or the work of even a single scientist that I cited. You are interested in calling exobiology as pseudoscience without knowing the first thing about it, without even admitting that you would go and look up even one of the above references. I think I respect my time better now than to keep arguing with a non-scientific and irrational hack for whom science is a matter of rhetoric and philosophizing. Again, your hatred of a subset of atheists has distorted your view of all of science. You are no different from a creationist who keeps on claiming he is right and evolution is wrong because there are ‘gaps’ in evolutionary knowledge. And as I rule, I don’t argue with creationists, sorry.

    And I am not harping on your profession. I think Rachmaninov’s 3rd and Mozart’s 20th are two of the greatest pieces of music ever. Goodbye.

  204. gillt

    Aw, you cantankerous old man you, how about a hug.

  205. gillt

    I warned BillC not to bother with McCarthy. I should have said the same to you Sorbet. I feel partly responsible for wasting your time since I was aware of McCarthys cretinous pathology.

    I, on the other hand, get a weird enjoyment out of watching someone’s unadulterated ignorance in raw display on the page. It’s kind of exhilarating, like that moment right before you take a crap.

  206. —- Anothony McCarthy, I challenge you to give me a sound scientific reason why life found elsewhere would not best be dictated by natural selection. I dare you to do it. Sorbet

    Because it evolved as only one surviving species as the result of genetic drift.

    Because its reproductive mechanism is governed by blending inheritance but for some mechanism that we have yet to discover that wasn’t any problem.

    Because it isn’t material at all.

    Because it exists with the nth dimension and enjoys the benefits of qualities we can’t fathom.

    There, prove any of those impossible.

    See what you can do when you untie yourself from that pesty and so inconveniently unavailable requirement to have physical evidence. Though I strongly suspect that evo-psy was quite willing to retreat back into the unknowns of Paleolithic behavior just for that reason.

    gillt is upset because I asked him a bunch of simple questions that he knows the answers to but he’s afraid to give the answers because they don’t go along with new atheist dogma and hagiography. That’s why he’s so mad at me and is pouting.

  207. Sorbet

    Gillt, point well taken. I was suddenly reminded of a saying; “Do not argue with fools; they drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience”. I came to this blog expecting a debate with people who actually know how science is done, who are familiar with the literature. I guess I will have to keep on looking.

  208. How uncanny, I’ve seldom argued with a new atheist without thinking of Blake’s proverb from hell to the effect “Cherish the fool’s reproach for it is a kingly title”. I’ve thought it about what gillt’s called me over and over again.

    What’s wrong Sorbet, you can’t refute my answers? At least I gave you one. More than one. More than gillt did.

  209. Davo

    I have been following this thread for a while and I agree. It is sad to see that McCarthy even once won’t admit that he is not familiar with the literature on exobiology. No use arguing with people who are not willing to admit their lack of knowledge and engage in honest debate. When McCarthy is asking us to prove supernatural things impossible, he is doing the same thing that the creationists do when they ask us to disprove the existence of God. Therefore God must exist. Therefore extraterrestrial life must be immaterial. McCarthy is clearly a closet creationist, although I have to admit he does a better job of hiding his shameful credentials than most creationists do. But at least they are honest.

  210. Sorbet

    McCarthy, I cannot refute your answer just as you cannot refute my statement that there is a pink unicorn in this room that only I can see, and only when nobody else is looking. There, can you refute that? Therefore both my pink unicorn and your immaterial life on Mars exist, no? Now how about that critique of what exactly is wrong with the work of Fox, Eigen, Szostak, Ferris, Wachterhauser, Russell and Martin? Do you want to actually talk about the details? What do you think is wrong in positing natural-selection enabled life from autocatalytics processes on iron-sulfur catalysts?

  211. Sorbet

    In any case, I am sorry I was compelled to reply. As I said before, I don’t argue with creationists. McCarthy is an embarrassment to himself and to piano teachers all over the world who at least don’t claim to have expertise in science. This is where I will stop.

  212. – McCarthy is clearly a closet creationist, although I have to admit he does a better job of hiding his shameful credentials than most creationists do. But at least they are honest. Davo

    A creationist who isn’t a Christan and who, I seem to recall, on this very thread said believing Genesis is either science or history destroys its religious usefulness? Who fully accepts evolution, to the point that he tries to never say here merely believes in it since it’s so well established in evidence, who strongly suspects that it’s so much more complex than we know now that many more mechanisms will be discovered in the future and is on record as having said so in detail. Really, what a silly thing to say,Davo, Dishonesty worthy of gillt.

    – When McCarthy is asking us to prove supernatural things impossible, he is doing the same thing that the creationists do when they ask us to disprove the existence of God.

    Actually, when creationists claim that they can use God in science, I say almost exactly the same things to them. You guys are remarkably alike.

    — McCarthy, I cannot refute your answer just as you cannot refute my statement that there is a pink unicorn in this room that only I can see, and only when nobody else is looking. There, can you refute that? Sorbet

    Are you trying to make my point about the inability to prove anything about anything you can’t observe on purpose? Or is it just that you’re really mad at me and can’t come up with something that doesn’t make my point? I wonder if its invisible how that unicorn can reflect a color, though. Maybe its a trick of the light.

    Actually, I got a hunch the first two of those possible life forms that didn’t need Darwinism would have too much problem with exobiologists if expressed in longer form. I wonder if anyone has ever published up a paper to either effect. You do understand that a life form which arouse through blending inheritance would pretty much leave Darwin’s discoveries about evolution on earth in the …. well, whatever kind of surface they’d have on that planet.

    As to life in the nth dimension, I’m kind of intrigued with the idea that those dimensions impinge on us in ways we can’t perceive. Shame there’s no way to know. Yet. Sort of like what life forms on another planet might be like.

    I never claimed to have an expertise in science, though I know a thing or two about logic and some topics in math. Stumped you boys, though, didn’t I.

    Dan S. I know damned well that Lewontin’s talk is up because I watched a bit of it again. Stop tergiversating around the issue and learn something about real science.

  213. Davo

    So you are saying that it is more probable that life on other planets did not arise by natural selection rather than it did? What scientific evidence do you have to back up that assertion? Scientific belief requires positive evidence. Positive evidence that natural selection is the best bet for life to arise comes from the research quoted above. Could you please tell me what is your positive scientific evidence that it is more probable for life not to have arisen by natural selection?

  214. Davo

    And don’t say you did not claim expertise in science. You claimed that exobiological research is pseudoscience, and you are not even aware of the work actually being done in the field. Then what gives you the right to say this?

  215. Davo

    And I thought you were a Catholic. Do you believe in evolution the same way the Popo believes in it?

  216. Davo, I’ve said several times that I’m not a Catholic and don’t believe either of the miracles in question that are central to that religious faith.

    I’ve said exo-biology is pseudo-science, Exobiology seems more like a geek hobby to me, like being a Trekie only with math and physics and stuff required.

    You guys are such fun to tease.

  217. Dan S. I know damned well that Lewontin’s talk is up because I watched a bit of it again

    Google search for “Internal and External in Biology”

    3 hits; #2 and #3 are a google group post/topic feed announcing the talk, no videos or links to same.

    #1
    Reading Group: Internalist Explorations of Meaning — Program
    ['that sounds promising' - clicks] http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~dott/internalism/program.html

    Thursday, December 13th
    Richard Lewontin (Harvard)
    Internal and external in biology
    6:30pm, Fong Auditorium

    Video coming soon..

    [‘Oh. Hmm…’ Clicks on “Home”: http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~dott/internalism/index.html

    Internalist Explorations of Meaning
    Fall 2007
    Department of Linguistics
    Harvard University
    Thanks to all participants! The website will remain online for a while.
    Richard Lewontin’s talk will be online in a bit. Sorry for the inconvenience.

    Where are you watching it?
    —-

    Anthony isn’t a creationist; rather, judging by his comments and posts here and elsewhere, he has little feeling or sympathy for it, and little understanding (vis-a-vis science-philes, though better than the general public). His take on it seems to be largely a political, politicized, and personalized one, formed by the Sociobio Wars and left-wing criticism (important, but here unfortunately not balanced by any positive sense of science or recognition of it as a genuine pursuit that provides the best – however flawed & limited- window into our natural world), and re-inflamed by the “new atheism”. He’s also acting rather ignorant here. I would be curious if he has, as I had hoped, searched online to find out some actual stuff about exobiology; Unfortunately, it seems more like what’s going on, just based on what I’ve seen, is:
    1) Carl Sagan liked exobiology – I don’t like Carl Sagan! (mentioned previously, elsewhere)
    2) Richard Dawkins talked about how life on other planets almost certainly would have evolved in a Darwinian fashion – I don’t like Richard Dawkins!
    3) Profit!
    Wait, no – 3)Richard Lewontin criticized an approach used to find life on Mars – I like Richard Lewontin!
    4) Exobiology is a pseudoscience!

    Hopefully I’m wrong, because that’s kinda depressing.

    Because it evolved as only one surviving species as the result of genetic drift.

    I’m not understanding – everything else dies off, and the species just, well drifts along, with gene frequencies changing as a matter of random chance in survival and reproduction, yet no role for selection? A world of pure randomness? How would that happen?

    Because its reproductive mechanism is governed by blending inheritance but for some mechanism that we have yet to discover that wasn’t any problem.

    As you seem to recognize, blending inheritance (in the sense of the 19th C. pre-genetics idea) doesn’t work as an evolutionary mechanism – any changes just get diluted away: it’s homeopathic evolution! My uninformed guess is that a form of blending inheritance that worked wouldn’t actually be blending inheritance as commonly understood, but whatever. Maybe this is possible, but there’s not much going for it at the moment.

    Because it isn’t material at all.
    How would that work out? If science deals with the material world, how is this a sound scientific reason?

    Because it exists with the nth dimension and enjoys the benefits of qualities we can’t fathom.
    Whatever.

    There, prove any of those impossible.

    Sorbet didn’t say, hey, betcha can’t gimme me a reason I can’t prove as impossible (which isn’t science, incidentally). They said “ challenge you to give me a sound scientific reason why life found elsewhere would not best be dictated by natural selection. “. Your #1 and #2 are at least attempts, which is something.

    Can you explain in your own words why folks think it’s pretty likely that life elsewhere (if existing) would evolve ‘using’ classic evolutionary principles (regardless of if you agree or disagree)?

    Actually, I got a hunch the first two of those possible life forms that didn’t need Darwinism would have too much problem with exobiologists if expressed in longer form.

    What are you talking about?

    You do understand that a life form which arouse through blending inheritance would pretty much leave Darwin’s discoveries about evolution on earth in the …. well, whatever kind of surface they’d have on that planet.

    What are you talking about?

  218. I’ve said exo-biology is pseudo-science, Exobiology seems more like a geek hobby to me, like being a Trekie only with math and physics and stuff required.

    You know what else is really dumb? Volcano monitoring. Perhaps you can vote for Bobby Jindal in 2012. After all, NASA’s spending taxpayer money on exobiology research – maybe he’ll stop it! (And yes, I understand you wouldn’t actually do this).

  219. Anyway – Anthony, you might like this post discussing some recent criticisms of (and criticizing) evo psych and general genetic determinism, over at Jerry Coyne’s place. (Of course, he’s a critic of evo psych, so this would only be unexpected to anybody who just assumed all “new atheists” were evil sociobiologist oppressors. What’s kinda freaky is that one of the quoted critics is David Brooks. (Although that’s been brewing for a while now).

  220. RNA world

    Mr. McCarthy, looking up stuff about my old field brought me here and I don’t want to get into some kind of debate. But I actually did my graduate work in the lab of one of the people mentioned above and I am sad to see that you would consider our work as pseudoscience. Let me just say here that people doing exobiology are as careful in avoiding unfounded speculation as people in any other scientific field. If you visit any lab which does exobiology you would find people doing the same kind of experiments and work using the same standards and techniques as in any other more traditional biochemistry or physics lab.

    Sure, exobiology might be more inherently speculative than some other fields, but as someone above mentioned, natural selection has very much been observed at a molecular level by several groups, and it is not immodest or a tall claim to say that there is a good chance that it might be operating in other environments, since it seems to follow some fundamental laws of chemistry and physics. Of course this might be wrong, but based on everything we know this seems to be our best bet right now.

  221. RNA World. I came back here because the gillt , the phony brought this thread up on a later one. I said I didn’t doubt that there was science being done, but without any application to actual lifeforms other than our own it’s alleged focus is more than a little cockeyed. Your professional career path doesn’t provide one, if it’s science you’re talking about.

    While you’ve been polite, it does seem pretty funny to get lectured about my impiety by a bunch of neo-atheists who’ve been calling me all kinds of names and making up all kinds of stuff that I’m alleged to believe even as I point out that I’ve already said those ideas are bunk.

  222. Dan S. If you could hear how hard I’m laughing over your psycho-analysis of me. I wish I’d seen it before.

    This AM in the gaps is hilarious. I’m going to print it out and show it to people who know me. They’ll think it’s a riot. I think I’ll e-mail it to an old friend from my Science for the People days.

  223. RNA world

    Mr. McCarthy, I am not a new atheist and I am not even really interested in religion. I am not interested in debating anyone here about religion. The reason for my commenting was strictly scientific. I just thought I would mention that scientists actually working in exobiology understand the speculative nature of their work but also apply the same standards to their work as people in other more traditional scientific fields. At least some of their work gets published in journals like Science and Nature. The way I understand it, one of the points here was about whether life in other worlds could have arose by natural selection. Strictly at a molecular level based on what we have seen, I would say there is a good reason to believe that it did, even though actual life may look quite different. I would be happy to provide you with some peer-reviewed journal articles based on which this assumption is founded. I guess what I am saying is that the scientific basis for believing in life arising by natural selection anywhere is not related in any way to Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan or anyone else.

  224. mike

    Haven’t read all the comments, but I got to here and paused:

    This isn’t the end of Sean’s argument, but I think it’s helpful to pause here and ask, is a claim like “Jesus died and was resurrected” really falsifiable by science in the same way that a claim like “The Earth is 10,000 years old” is falsifiable? I’d submit that at least as held by some sophisticated believers, it isn’t.

    Some “sophisticated” believers claim that God created the earth 6000 years ago so it would look at though it were 5 billion as a test of our faith. That’s as strong a claim as those theologians you cite for some sort of non-physical resurection. As far as I can tell, the only one with any sense in the whole resurrection story is Thomas who insists upon putting his fingers into the nail holes and his hand into Jesus’ side, a clearly physical act. Of course this was reported second hand, and the very scientific Thomas left us no lab notes to help us repeat his experiment. Unreproducible results mean I’ll have to discount it as fraud, just like cold fusion. Unless you think we should let those who have faith keep believing in that too?

  225. RandomActsOfReason

    This is simply an argument from authority, one of the most basic logical fallacies. It is revealing that Mooney is so emotionally and irrationally committed to defending his position that he would commit such a basic error.

    The veracity of a claim does not depend on the identity of the claimant. Haught saying something does not make it any more correct or incorrect than if anyone else says it, and his testifying in favor of evolution has no bearing on the validity of the assertions about Jesus that Mooney quotes in this post.

    Really, is is so disappointing when people with a track record of reasonable and insightful and critical review of the world get caught up in self-justification and abandon their critical thinking abilities in service of an irrational emotional argument that they desperately want to be true.

    That’s not how science works.

  226. Thank you very much for your help, this has been a great reprieve from the books,

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »