More of Stephen Meyer's Bad History of Science

By Chris Mooney | November 19, 2009 1:36 pm

Last week I noted how much Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell is selling and wondered whether I should start refuting it. This almost instantly triggered a comment from Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, saying, please, please, do precisely that.

Oh well, so much for that idea. If this is what DI wants, this is not what DI is going to get.

There is not much to say about Meyer’s “God of the Gaps” argument anyway, now applied to the origins of life just as it has previously been applied to the bacterial flagellum, the Cambrian explosion, and so on. Research is going on into the origins of life, but we have not yet solved the mystery. It just isn’t scientifically fruitful to invoke “intelligent design” in this context, as if it solves a problem, rather than just raising another one (who designed the super-complex designer, and so on).

However, I do want to comment on one aspect of Meyer’s book that’s really jaw-dropping–albeit not in a strictly scientific area.

Meyer is trained as a historian and philosopher of science, not a biologist. So one would think he would know what his own field has to say about the relationship between science, religion, and naturalism.

Yet on the contrary, in Signature in the Cell–and especially in Chapter 6, “The Origin of Science and the Possibility of Design”–he selectively uses historical science research to claim that modern science can still be infused with a sense of the divine. In the process, Meyer selectively ignores important developments from the 19th century and on.

As historians of science like Ronald Numbers have shown, after the Darwinian revolution, science became closely tied to methodological naturalism and a sense of fixed natural laws that are unchanging–and therefore capable of being studied in controlled experiments. In this context, appeals to miracles, divine intervention, intelligent design, and so on, were ruled out by practicing scientists, whether they were personally religious or not–for very good reason. They were seen as an inappropriate hinderance, and not based on testable data or inference. They were vague, and didn’t have any explanatory power. They might be religously satisfying, but as science, they were a cop-out.

Granted, we have to go a bit closer into what Meyer is saying, as there is a grain of truth mixed into the sands of dubiousness. In citing early modern scientists like Kepler, Boyle, Newton, and so on, Meyer rightly notes that these pioneers felt that the order in the nature that they could detect was the work of an organizing intelligence–a great clockmaker for the clockwork universe. Therefore, science itself was, in a very strong sense, inquiry into the nature of the divine.

And so Meyer asks:

How could the act of invoking something so foundational to the history of science as the idea of design now completely violate the rules of science itself, as I had repeatedly heard many scientists assert? If belief in intelligent design first inspired modern scientific investigation, how could mere openness to the design hypothesis now act as a “science stopper” and threaten to put an end to productive scientific research altogether, as some scientists feared?

Clearly, the idea of intelligent design had played a formative role in the foundation of modern science. Many great scientists had proposed specific design hypotheses. This seemed to suggest that intelligent design could function as a possible scientific hypothesis. But many contemporary scientists rejected this idea out of hand. Why?

The answer to this question is obvious, and if Meyer is a historian of science, he should know it.

In the 19th century especially–but it began even earlier–science differentiated itself from religion and decided that supernatural appeals were no longer testable or within the purview of science. Great battles were fought on this head, by the likes of John Tyndall, Thomas Henry Huxley, and many more. “The more we know of the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become,” wrote Darwin in his Autobiography.

This is why, when lightning strikes, we no longer fear it is godly punishment. Rather, we know it is electricity. This is why, if patients’ symptoms improve after they pray or are prayed for, we know it is the placebo effect. Or at least, we know that is all that science can say about the matter.

Meyer is right about how Kepler and Newton thought, but modern scientists have long since decided that they don’t work in the way Kepler, or Newton, or Paley did. Religious or otherwise, they leave claims about the supernatural out of what they do professionally, because there is no way to test such claims, or get other scientists to agree about them. For instance, you couldn’t convince an atheistic scientist, or even many Christian scientists, to accept the idea of supernatural design as a scientific, testable hypothesis. Science has left behind the supernatural for very sound methodological reasons; ID wants to bring it back.

But that just isn’t going to happen. Stronger distinctions have been built between science and religion as science advanced and professionalized, and that’s a good thing. Vast progress has been made in this way; many pointless discussions have been avoided. There is no way that ID is going to pull science  back to the 17th century, and as a historian of science, Meyer ought to know that.

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  1. Darwiniana » How the ID gang destroyed the design argument | November 19, 2009
  1. Sorbet

    Well said. It should be noted that Newton might have sought “design” in the universe but he used strictly scientific methods to uncover it (at least in his bona fide scientific investigations pertaining to motion, gravity, light etc. and not in his kooky mystical explorations).

  2. Gus Snarp

    The real thing about ID is that it provides no framework for further inquiry. It says: “we know the answer is God, so stop asking questions”. The theory of evolution is a framework for inquiry. In answering one question, it opens up many, many more lines of questions. That’s what any answer in science should do. A theory must help us truly understand how things work, not just give us a pat answer. Imagine if Crick and Watson had made their great discovery, but everyone subscribed exclusively to ID. They would all say, wow, look at this amazing design! And that would be the end. The theory provides no help in generating new questions. But maybe that’s what the ID movement is really all about. The fear of genetic engineering, cloning, stem cell research, etc. If we don’t have evolutionary theory, we can’t proceed in these fields.

  3. CW

    I sometimes wonder if it’s even more simple. Religion needs to be relevant in people’s lives, and the advancement of civilization seems to be progressively marginalizing that relevance. Because religion can not offer any thing new (unless more dead sea scrolls are to be found), it must turn to attacking the things that are advancing civilization – scientific knowledge.

  4. Joe Bogus

    Why is it that the entire planet, save this nation, considers evolution to be a fact, and not a theory? Are we becoming an ignorant, back woods, third world nation — excluded from The Real World — because of our refusal to grasp reality? If mankind cannot wake up and see that religion is the single most destructive, divisive force on our planet, we are doomed to follow the Maya into extinction. And perhaps what evolves after we are gone will “get it right” the next time.

  5. Ian

    From a Catholic perspective faith still inspires individuals to undertake scientific enquiry and allows it’s discoveries to be used ethically. For the Catholic scientist, Ws 11:20 “You however, ordered all things by measure, number and weight” told them that science was possible giving birth to Science (see Jaki), and Ps 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God” tells them that are revealing something of God. So, I would agree that science has left the realms of superstition but only because faith says so. JPII built on this in his Theology of the Body when he called for an “adequate anthropology”.

    But I must take issue with your statement “This is why, if patients’ symptoms improve after they pray or are prayed for, we know it is the placebo effect”. Miracles are thoroughly tested by the Church – and not by Catholic medics, but independent secular medics. Can I suggest you follow this up with someone in the Catholic Church – I do mean Catholic because this is the only institution that documents these things and investigates them.

  6. Nicely reasoned and well-articulated piece. Unfortunately, those who are willing to entertain your analysis are probably already members of the choir. Those who agree with Meyer are members of another choir singing a different hymn. I’d be curious as to whether there are truly members of a third choir, the “undecided” or the “not-sure.” These are complicated times.

  7. Guy

    Gus,

    It isn’t true the ID completely turns off inquiry. Instead, it changes the nature of the inquiry to the metaphysical rather than naturalistic. If you propose there is a designer and that designer resides outside of nature, then what you are describing is metaphysics. Thus you enter to realm of what most skeptics refer to as woo. It doesn’t put forward a hypothesis that is testable unless you want to rely on psychic mediums for answers. It is false to say that inquiry completely stops at ID. It is more accurate to say that the search for a naturalistic answer ends when you invoke intelligent design.

  8. Paul W.

    Chris,

    In the 19th century especially–but it began even earlier–science differentiated itself from religion and decided that supernatural appeals were no longer testable or within the purview of science.

    I don’t think this is what happened at all.

    What happened is that the supernaturalist paradigm collapsed.

    There’s nothing intrinscially unfalsifiable about the supernatural, and in fact, supernatural explanations in their basic form usually are falsifiable.

    The problem with supernatural explanations is that the falsifiable ones keep getting falsified, and the unfalsifiable ones are rejected as absurdly paranoid conspiracy theories of reality.

    So, for example, from the 17th century on, scientists often falsified supernatural hypotheses, or at least supplanted them with clearly better naturalistic ones.

    E.g., the supernatural theory of lightning as hurled by a pissed off God just collapsed in light of the evident success of the supernatural theory. We had a better explanation, which was so clearly right that there was no explanatory work left for the supernatural theory to do. (What is Thor’s job if lightning does its thing of its own mindless accord? Nothing, that’s what. Downsize the supernatural!)

    Another example is vitalism. Nobody ever decisively rejected the vital essence, despite the fact that it’s really a supernatural kind of explanation. We just kept finding humdrum naturalistic explanations of biological phenomena until there wasn’t anything left for a vital essence to do. The “life force” became unemployable, so we downsized again.

    After enough of this sort of thing happened, there was a generally recognized shift away from even entertaining supernatural explanations, but it has never entirely gone away.

    Not because of a new rule in science that says supernatural explanations are unfalsifiable or rejected out of hand. It’s not that at all.

    It’s just that the supernatural explanations that actually explain anything generally are falsifiable, and the ones that don’t are obviously ridiculous holdovers from a failed paradigm, kept alive by wishful thinkers.

    Even now, in neuroscience, the evidence is overwhelming that the mind is overwhelmingly something the brain does.

    There might be a little bit of the mind (qualia being the only common purported example) that a brain can’t account for, and there are holdouts against thoroughgoing materialism, but like vitalism, the traditional substance dualistic soul is dead. Not because it’s not falsifiable, but because it is falsifiablle. We understand now that the brain is a meat computer, and that memories, thoughts and even emotions are essentially computational.

    Given that a mind turns out to be a mostly computational thing, any supernatural mind would have to be computational as well—nothing but a computer can host a mind in any sense remotely like our own minds. That leaves little for a soul to do, and raises enormous theoretical problems for souls—e.g., if they’re immortal, what computer hosts them after you die?

    None of this requires a rejection of the supernatural as unfalsifiable. It only requires taking the supernatural seriously, and finding supernatural explanations both unnecessary and insufficient in light of the evident ability of naturalism to explain pretty much everything supernaturalism was contrived to explain.

    At this point, supernaturalism is mostly not taken seriously in science because we’ve already done a bang-up job of explaining all of the big things naturalistically, at least in general terms.

    It’s pretty clear that we can naturalistically explain the origin of life, the evolution of diversity, the mind, emotions and even morality and religion, in at least a general plausible way.

    Our problems in those areas tend not to be a lack of basic naturalistic explanations, but a lack of detail and having too many plausible naturalistic explanations to sort through. We’ve turned what used to be fundamental religious mysteries into plain old scientific puzzles.

    Rather than decisively rejecting the supernatural at any particular point for any unusual reason, we just saw the empirical writing on the wall: supernatural explanations always fail, and naturalism comes through with the goods.

    The overall pattern is to show that not only are specific supernaturalist explanations false, but supernaturalism is a bad paradigm, which systematically gets things wrong.

    That’s the dirty secret about the conflict between science and religion, at least supernaturalistic religion. (Which is almost all religion that any significant number of people believe.)

    Science has generally rejected what religion embraces, because it’s generally false.

    Science has already pretty well debunked religion in general, at least to the extent that religion makes any interesting truth claims.

    They’re almost the furthest thing from compatible.

  9. Anna K.

    @ Reggie Green,

    Yes, there are members of the undecided or not sure, and I speak with them regularly. They are moderate/liberal religious people who are not well educated about the scientific method (though the people I am thinking of are well-educated in general, all college graduates in non-science fields).

    ID is appealing because it seems scientific (they want their kids to have good educations and job opportunities) and it doesn’t seem to have the atheist ‘baggage’ which evolution appears to have through the media and through the New Atheist movement.

  10. John Kwok

    Chris,

    One of your best posts here in some time. What Stephen Meyer wants for modern science is exactly the message that Philip Johnson has tried to convey in his books, especially those from the early 1990s like “Darwin on Trial”, in which he set forth the philosophical ground work for the whole Intelligent Design movement, and which, most notably – or rather, I would say infamously – was confirmed by Michael Behe under oath during cross examination by attorney Eric Rothschild during the 2005 Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial. What Behe, Johnson, Meyer and the rest of the delusional Dishonesty Institute gang want is nothing more than to supersede modern science’s adherence to methodological naturalism with a more expansive version that could account for Divine acts of Providence and other “miracles”. But if science did do that, then it would cease to be science as we know it, and as even Darwin’s immediate predecessors recognized at the dawn of the 19th Century (I might quibble slightly with Ronald Number’s analysis, only because I believe science was firmly immersed in “methodological naturalism” by the time that Darwin and Wallace’s work were read before the Linnean Society of London in 1858.).

    Appreciatively yours,

    John

  11. Paul W.

    Ugh. Of course I meant to say

    E.g., the supernatural theory of lightning as hurled by a pissed off God just collapsed in light of the evident success of the electrical theory.

  12. Vindrisi

    “Religion needs to be relevant in people’s lives, and the advancement of civilization seems to be progressively marginalizing that relevance. Because religion can not offer any thing new (unless more dead sea scrolls are to be found), it must turn to attacking the things that are advancing civilization – scientific knowledge.”

    You seem to be going based on a very constrained concept of religion, just like the promulgators of ID. You are also attributing to religion more of a coherent drive than there is. There is a tremendous diversity to the religious facet of human culture and human approach to the world, and you should always be leery of oversimplifying or seeing patterns where there are none. Religion as a general phenomenon is not really threatened as a general phenomenon that has ongoing relevance in human life in the modern world. Particular religions or religions positions? Yes, definitely. But even there I think that a deeper look makes clear that the difficulties do not originate necessarily in the religion itself, but in the anxieties and fears of the people to which those reactionary religions are responding. After all, there is definitely a reason why religious fundamentalism did not exist until the modern age began just a couple of centuries ago, and came to be more prominent in the fast-changing 20th century. There are very deep, very complex (not to mention extremely interesting and fascinating) issues here, and you should never let your prejudices blind you to them.

  13. Anna K.

    Oh, and re Meyer, clearly he’s about a century or two behind on his theology as well.

    Can’t remember which religious scholar wrote about it, but intelligent design theories work equally well if you substitute aliens for God, which sort of defeats the purported theological purpose.

  14. Gus Snarp

    @Guy – Correction. Replace all instances of “inquiry” with “scientific inquiry”.

  15. Duane

    When I consider Intelligent Design, I feel less like a living, breathing human being and more like a cleverly designed android. Certain people believe the idea that we evolved naturally dehumanizes us. I’d say I.D. is a poor attempt to remedy that.

  16. John Kwok

    @ Duane –

    Actually it was the Klingons who “designed” us, since they trekked backward in time and seeded the primordial Earth with microbes ejected from either a single Klingon battlecruiser or a fleet of Klingon battlecruisers. Of course this makes much more sense than trying to delve into the pseudoscientific, religiously-derived mendacious intellectual porn which Meyer and his fellow Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornograpers attempt to disseminate daily.

  17. It just isn’t scientifically fruitful to invoke “intelligent design” in this context, as if it solves a problem, rather than just raising another one (who designed the super-complex designer, and so on).

    Actually, I agree with Meyer and others of his ilk that the “who designed the designer” is not a show stopper, nor is crediting “intelligence” or “intelligent designer” necessarily a bad step to make. We did this with humans for a very long time, crediting them with making machines, without really understanding how it is done in a physics sense (and we still don’t know it all, not by a long shot).

    The problem with ID isn’t that it credits “intelligence,” it credits an unknown, unidentifiable, uncharacterizable intelligence. The search for extraterrestrials, which they like to pretend is an anology, is nothing of the sort, because we’re looking for rationally designed machines or signals, and if we found evolved aliens in any way whatsoever we would not assume that such life was designed (although if heavily redesigned via genetic engineering we should be able to know that if we get their genetic material along with genetic material from non-engineered life from their planet).

    The supernatural is more of a discarded hypothesis or bias than something we’ve ever “ruled out,” as Paul W notes. Paley’s supernatural intelligence was modeled upon our intelligence (rational, purposeful), and thus was falsifiable when properly configured. The supernatural was never the slightest bit foundational, more of an impediment, save as a pseudo-explanation for a rationally-knowable and ordered cosmos, a bias that existed before it was shown to be generally true.

    The main reason we tend to disregard the “supernatural” a priori (now), though, is that there is no explanation for it, and no obvious effects coming from the supernatural. There is no mechanism, which oddly (?) coincides with ID. A super-complex god is a perfectly good explanation, if it can be observed, especially if it is observed doing things like inventing genetic codes. And yes, Meyer ought to recognize how and the “supernatural” has been shunted aside, for it has never helped us to do any kind of science.

    Behe actually likes to claim that ID isn’t a show-stopper, because if we found alien machines on the moon, even without ever seeing the aliens we’d be intrigued in finding out what the aliens are like by inferring from the machines. Well, yes, that’s true for known and knowable causes, not for the ID which is being pushed, because the latter is all about an inscrutable super-intelligent designer whose purposes are unknown, and thus cannot be investigated in any manner whatsoever. It’s a negative “inference” entirely, not just because no one has found the marks of rationality and purpose, but because their God is mysterious and works by unknown means–and whose purposes are not known.

    Their strain has long been in existence in religion, but it tended to be crowded out by Newton’s science, which was inspired in part by religion because they actually believed that God worked by investigable means. Newton was an IDist on life in that sense, and Paley is the best-known IDist to work in essentially the Newtonian strand of thought to understand both that God made life, and how God did it. Darwin worked in the same Newtonian strand of science, however, and showed both that life does not comport with design and that it does agree with evolutionary expectations (he used language evolution as an important analogy, btw).

    One way to look at Darwinian-type evolution is that, indeed, this is how God did it. Many people have seen it that way, of course, and Darwin at least encouraged that view in people, whatever he actually thought. If the IDists really wanted to be like the theists they invoke, they should be working in that line of thought, because if God did do it, there’s basically no honest question about whether or not God did it through non-teleological evolutionary means.

    So yes, I would not say that even today there is any real problem with doing science as Newton did (his ID problem is understandable, given that no alternative was then known) it, for he and his ilk looked for meaningful and identifiable causes from God producing specific effects in the world. The problem with that is that nothing truly identifiable as intelligence acting in this world, save from known evolved beings, has ever been found. As we know, some atheists think that this needs to be brought forward, while the IDists have quit looking for identifiable intelligent activity from their God as Newton most assuredly did, and have resorted to claiming that evolution can’t do it, so God did it.

    As I put the larger problem in another place, “Of course the Designer is an undefined being. Meyer’s not doing science–that is, he’s not matching up specific causes to specific effects, he’s instead generalizing from one thing to another. That’s nothing like science, it’s the old faulty analogical method used prior to the scientific method.” (Spectrum blog, “Signature in the Cell” reviewed by Ken Peterson).

    Glen Davidson
    http:/tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  18. Paul W.

    Anna K.,

    Has theology made any actual progress in the last century or two?

    My impression is that it’s mostly a desperate attempt to salvage a paradigm (and central hypothesis) that failed, and that it gets more desperate and bizarre as the failure becomes more evident and clear.

    As for the core ID hypothesis, there’s nothing essentially unscientific about it—or scientific either.

    It’s all in how you work it into a testable form, which they don’t, and the only big problem is that at present it’s a vague answer in search of a question, which is not a scientific way to go about things. It doesn’t explain anything that isn’t better explained in other ways, and doesn’t really explain anything at all. At present.

    If there were any actual evidence of intelligent design, it’d become a live scientific hypothesis instantly, and aliens would certainly be on the radar. That is, in itself, not a mark against it.

    The big mark against it is the politics around taking that currently implausible hypothesis with no supporting data, and presenting it as anything remotely comparable to evolutionary theory. (Which does actually explain real stuff that needs explaining, and does it really well.)

  19. Paul W.

    Supernaturalistic explanations should not be tossed aside lightly, as though they violated a simple rule of science.

    They should be analyzed as to whether they actually explain anything, evaluated them in light of the general, chronic failure of the supernatural paradigm, and then thrown aside with great force.

    NOMA and anything like it is just wrong.

  20. Paul W.

    Vindrisi,

    Saying that religion in general is not threatened by the failure of particular religions is rather like saying that geocentrism is not threatened by the failure to get particular geocentric schemes to work.

    Chronic failure is often evidence of a basic, central error. (Not proof, certainly, but suggestive.)

    My impression is that that’s the problem with pretty much all religion that has any truth claims—nobody can really get any of them to work.

    And religions without truth claims aren’t very interesting or satisfying to most people—not in the way that religions with truth claims are—to such an extent that it’s not clear that they should be called religions.

  21. Anna K.

    Paul W.,

    What you raise is a discussion much too big to get into in a post or two. Suffice it to say that I am a retired scientist (for all that’s worth, being said by an anonymous poster on the intertubes :-D) and am also a committed religious person. I reject ID as bad science, and bad theology.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree about the validity of religion and theology.

  22. Paul W.

    Anna K.,

    OK. No offense, I hope.

  23. Anna K.

    Paul W.,

    None taken, I assure you. And actually I’d love to discuss those issues with you sometime if the opportunity presents — I’ve enjoyed your comments — but it’d be way off topic here.

  24. Jon

    Paul, you’re forgetting everything said in the Whitehead thread. As I keep saying, New Atheists was to junk Spinoza, Karl Jaspers, ghosties, seance mediums, and everything in between in the same bin and act as if they’re all about the same thing. It’s basically a philistine way to argue.

    We can reject ID without replacing it with philistinism. Metaphysics doesn’t belong in science. That’s not the same as loudly insisting, Bill O’Reilly style, that it doesn’t belong in anywhere.

  25. I’m going to try splitting up a comment I made, hoping it will thus appear while it’s still somewhat timely. First half:

    It just isn’t scientifically fruitful to invoke “intelligent design” in this context, as if it solves a problem, rather than just raising another one (who designed the super-complex designer, and so on).

    Actually, I agree with Meyer and others of his ilk that the “who designed the designer” is not a show stopper, nor is crediting “intelligence” or “intelligent designer” necessarily a bad step to make. We did this with humans for a very long time, crediting them with making machines, without really understanding how it is done in a physics sense (and we still don’t know it all, not by a long shot).

    The problem with ID isn’t that it credits “intelligence,” it credits an unknown, unidentifiable, uncharacterizable intelligence. The search for extraterrestrials, which they like to pretend is an anology, is nothing of the sort, because we’re looking for rationally designed machines or signals, and if we found evolved aliens in any way whatsoever we would not assume that such life was designed (although if heavily redesigned via genetic engineering we should be able to know that if we get their genetic material along with genetic material from non-engineered life from their planet).

    The supernatural is more of a discarded hypothesis or bias than something we’ve ever “ruled out,” as Paul W notes. Paley’s supernatural intelligence was modeled upon our intelligence (rational, purposeful), and thus was falsifiable when properly configured. The supernatural was never the slightest bit foundational, more of an impediment, save as a pseudo-explanation for a rationally-knowable and ordered cosmos, a bias that existed before it was shown to be generally true.

    The main reason we tend to disregard the “supernatural” a priori (now), though, is that there is no explanation for it, and no obvious effects coming from the supernatural. There is no mechanism, which oddly (?) coincides with ID. A super-complex god is a perfectly good explanation, if it can be observed, especially if it is observed doing things like inventing genetic codes. And yes, Meyer ought to recognize how and why the “supernatural” has been shunted aside, for it has never helped us to do any kind of science.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  26. I’m going to try splitting up a comment I made, hoping it will thus appear while it’s still somewhat timely. First third:

    It just isn’t scientifically fruitful to invoke “intelligent design” in this context, as if it solves a problem, rather than just raising another one (who designed the super-complex designer, and so on).

    Actually, I agree with Meyer and others of his ilk that the “who designed the designer” is not a show stopper, nor is crediting “intelligence” or “intelligent designer” necessarily a bad step to make. We did this with humans for a very long time, crediting them with making machines, without really understanding how it is done in a physics sense (and we still don’t know it all, not by a long shot).

    The problem with ID isn’t that it credits “intelligence,” it credits an unknown, unidentifiable, uncharacterizable intelligence. The search for extraterrestrials, which they like to pretend is an anology, is nothing of the sort, because we’re looking for rationally designed machines or signals, and if we found evolved aliens in any way whatsoever we would not assume that such life was designed (although if heavily redesigned via genetic engineering we should be able to know that if we get their genetic material along with genetic material from non-engineered life from their planet).

    The supernatural is more of a discarded hypothesis or bias than something we’ve ever “ruled out,” as Paul W notes. Paley’s supernatural intelligence was modeled upon our intelligence (rational, purposeful), and thus was falsifiable when properly configured. The supernatural was never the slightest bit foundational, more of an impediment, save as a pseudo-explanation for a rationally-knowable and ordered cosmos, a bias that existed before it was shown to be generally true.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  27. Well, that ended up in the moderation cue, too. But here’s the second half, and I’ll let them sort out how they want to allow it in, assuming they do:

    Behe actually likes to claim that ID isn’t a show-stopper, because if we found alien machines on the moon, even without ever seeing the aliens we’d be intrigued in finding out what the aliens are like by inferring from the machines. Well, yes, that’s true for known and knowable causes, not for the ID which is being pushed, because the latter is all about an inscrutable super-intelligent designer whose purposes are unknown, and thus cannot be investigated in any manner whatsoever. It’s a negative “inference” entirely, not just because no one has found the marks of rationality and purpose, but because their God is mysterious and works by unknown means–and whose purposes are not known.

    Their strain has long been in existence in religion, but it tended to be crowded out by Newton’s science, which was inspired in part by religion because they actually believed that God worked by investigable means. Newton was an IDist on life in that sense, and Paley is the best-known IDist to work in essentially the Newtonian strand of thought to understand both that God made life, and how God did it. Darwin worked in the same Newtonian strand of science, however, and showed both that life does not comport with design and that it does agree with evolutionary expectations (he used language evolution as an important analogy, btw).

    One way to look at Darwinian-type evolution is that, indeed, this is how God did it. Many people have seen it that way, of course, and Darwin at least encouraged that view in people, whatever he actually thought. If the IDists really wanted to be like the theists they invoke, they should be working in that line of thought, because if God did do it, there’s basically no honest question about whether or not God did it through non-teleological evolutionary means.

    So yes, I would not say that even today there is any real problem with doing science as Newton did (his ID problem is understandable, given that no alternative was then known) it, for he and his ilk looked for meaningful and identifiable causes from God producing specific effects in the world. The problem with that is that nothing truly identifiable as intelligence acting in this world, save from known evolved beings, has ever been found. As we know, some atheists think that this needs to be brought forward, while the IDists have quit looking for identifiable intelligent activity from their God as Newton most assuredly did, and have resorted to claiming that evolution can’t do it, so God did it.

    As I put the larger problem in another place, “Of course the Designer is an undefined being. Meyer’s not doing science–that is, he’s not matching up specific causes to specific effects, he’s instead generalizing from one thing to another. That’s nothing like science, it’s the old faulty analogical method used prior to the scientific method.” (Spectrum blog, “Signature in the Cell” reviewed by Ken Peterson).

    Glen Davidson
    http:/tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  28. Vindrisi

    There are a number of major problems with ID, and it is difficult to deal with them all in anything short of a large book. However, if we exclude the political origins of the ID movement (i.e. its rise in response to the Supreme Court’s finding that creation science is religious and its teaching a violation of the first amendment, its cultivation as part of the Wedge Strategy, and then the fact that its primary backer is the Discovery Institute, which is a right wing think tank founded and run by Republican party hacks), there are two major scientific problems I have with it aside from the lack of testable hypotheses and decent experimental work. Both of these start from the central jumping off point of ID: when one looks at the biological world, one sees design. That is really undeniable. There is design in the biological world. The thing is, though, design need not have a conscious designer. Under evolutionary theory, the designer of organisms is not some intelligent entity, but instead the biotic and abiotic environment that exerts selection upon organisms, adapting them to fit their niche. The result is a tight fit between organism and its place in the economy of nature, all as a consequence of adaptation by unconscious natural selection of randomly arising variation. ID then proposes that the design is there, and thus there had to be a designer. Well, yes. We just covered that. The problem is that the ID folks never make a logical, clear argument based on empirical data as to how one can determine if the designer is conscious and intelligent, or dumb and algorithmic. Evolutionary theory does predict how to tell: a dumb and algorithmic designer would make stupid design compromises based on exaptation of inappropriate starting materials originally used for other things, and, even at the molecular level, this is exactly what we see. ID counters this by saying that they never said that the designer never makes mistakes, or something like that. So here we have ID going from a central starting point that is based on blind assertion. To the degree that they have justification for choosing to hypothesize an intelligent designer over a blind, algorithmic on, the argument invariably takes the form of: Natural Selection can’t do “x”. Do they check to see if that is true? No. Do they run unbiased experiments to verify? No. And then they simply ignore studies and findings that contradict their assertions about the inefficacy of natural selection. That is shoddy even for high school students, much less for people with pretense to being scientists (or delusions of adequacy, for that matter).

    My second beef goes to something deeper. ID stops science. Once you declare that a given trait or adaptive complex, or what have you, is intelligently designed, where do you go from there? You certainly do not continue to work on trying to figure out if it might have evolved or developed without the intervention of an intelligence. It is equivalent to the declaration that a given phenomenon is supernatural – we can’t study the supernatural (if we could, it wouldn’t really be supernatural – read your philosophy if you don’t believe me), so science stops. This, as Chris mentioned, goes against the methodological naturalism that science developed in the nineteenth century. As we figured out that many phenomena that we previously believed to be supernatural had naturalistic explanations, the rule developed that methodological naturalism was best because it didn’t stop the process. Indeed, I think that methodological naturalism as it developed really does allow the supernatural in in a way, but in a very constrained way that ends up amounting to nothing. That is the rule that the supernatural may only be resorted to as an explanation of a phenomenon after all possible naturalistic hypotheses have been exhausted. However, given that we cannot exhaust all possible naturalistic hypotheses until such time as we fully understand all naturalistic processes, the point at which we can use the supernatural as an allowable explanation (but not a hypothesis – hypotheses must be testable, and the supernatural isn’t) is so far in the future as to be somewhat moot in the present day. ID doesn’t recognize this. They effectively want to bring in the supernatural very early, and this constrains far too much the scope of science. If it is possible to invoke the supernatural in science, it would be far too easy to miss possible naturalistic explanations and phenomena. It really bothers me that they don’t see this and confess to it.
    To me, the really sad thing about the whole ID thing (aside from the frustration it causes me in my own work seeing ID people misinterpreting and lying about my own work) is that it ends up really casting aspersions upon and denigrating both religion and science, discrediting both of the great ways of approaching and understanding the universe in the minds of far too many. And I don’t think they care at all about the damage they do.

  29. Vindrisi

    Paul W. ,

    I have hung around here long enough to know that there really is no point in trying to get you to see outside of your particular, scientistic point of view, but I will point out that it is utterly ridiculous to analyze and attempt to understand religion in the same way as you do science. They are different activities with different ends and different purposes. It is analogous to going and trying to read Shakespeare the same way you read a journal article. If you want to do that, more power to you, brother, but you will completely miss the point, and likely won’t learn much (though I doubt you will see that).
    I really don’t want a reply, given that I could probably compose it myself from what you have written before, but go ahead if you want. I am kinda interested to see how you will work your fetish for the Overton Window in, and what part of speech you will make the term serve this time.

  30. Vindrisi

    We can reject ID without replacing it with philistinism.

    Amen, Jon. Ignorance is not the answer, no matter what some might think.

  31. RickK

    Vindrisi said: “that it is utterly ridiculous to analyze and attempt to understand religion in the same way as you do science”

    That’s fine, until you try to use religion/supernaturalism to explain natural stuff (like Behe, Meyer, YECers, white-hole cosmologists, etc.), then religion/supernaturalism fails. Every time. So many times that it is no longer worth looking.

    The 1000-year consistency with which supernatural causes failed to explain natural events is quite remarkable, given how much of humanity really wanted them to succeed.

    Just as patent offices should reject perpetual motion machines without even bothering to look, so should scientific investigation reject divine causation without even bothering to look.

  32. Adam

    To those who feel ID is bad science. You are right. However it is an attempt to save the souls of the scientific community from discounting God. It is an evangelical mission. And for those who are proponents of ID you are missing the point of faith. Does it matter how God created the earth? No. It only matters that he did. No scientists we cannot prove it, nor do we want to. It is enough for the truly faithful to believe two things. God is the creator and God is not a liar so the evidence presented by science is true. If we as believers can be content with those two tenants of faith, science and Christianity can get along.

    Chris, about your placebo effect comment. It may be true that there is a scientific explanation for what to the believer is a miraculous healing. However, the fact is a healing occurred when none was expected. Let the scientist worry about the how. But for the religious, it was the work of God and that is all that is important to the faithful believer.

  33. Vindrisi

    ‘That’s fine, until you try to use religion/supernaturalism to explain natural stuff…”

    Yes! You cannot analyze and attempt to understand religion the same way you do science because religion is not science, and you cannot attempt to understand the objective universe with religious explanations in the same way you do with scientific ones because religion is not science. That religion and science are different things is not nullified by the fact that there are so many who either forget, don’t know, or conveniently ignore this. Nor does the fact that religion is not science nullify its value to humanity any more than the fact that Shakespeare is not science nullify it’s value. There is a complex interplay between science and religion because they are both aspects of human culture characterized by human activity carried out by humans (yes, the repetition is intentional), but they are not the same, and cannot be understood or approached the same way in a truly legitimate fashion (though I have noticed that bits of science have come to be pretty mythologized by a good many people who in a way analogous to the mythologization of certain historical events to form religiously meaningful narrative constructs – I think it is unavoidable and understandable, but I wish people for whom this is true would acknowledge it more) .

    And I fully agree with you that supernatural causation should be rejected by scientists because, if they didn’t they wouldn’t be engaging in science. That goes straight to the idea of methodological naturalism. That doesn’t get at my point, however, and it doesn’t nullify the value of religion in general*.

    *so that you don’t mistake me: I don’t think that religion is a good method of finding out about or explaining the objective universe. I do, however, think that it is a very valuable way of approaching the universe as a human, learning to understand what it is to be human, how to live as a human, and how to deal with various questions of meaning that science really does not and cannot address (because there aren’t truly objective answers). I assure you that my views on religion are quite naturalistic even if they don’t agree with yours.

  34. Paul W.

    Glen,

    Actually, I agree with Meyer and others of his ilk that the “who designed the designer” is not a show stopper, nor is crediting “intelligence” or “intelligent designer” necessarily a bad step to make. We did this with humans for a very long time, crediting them with making machines, without really understanding how it is done in a physics sense (and we still don’t know it all, not by a long shot).

    Right. Hypothesizing intelligent agents is legitimate, if indeed there’s good reason to think that intelligence was required for some observed thing. (Paley got it right in the specific example of the watch, anyway.)

    So, for example, when Haldane was asked about the falsifiability of evolution by natural selection, and in particular, what would constitute a falsfication, he said “fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.”

    If we actually discovered Precambrian rabbit fossils, all the sudden a whole lot of crazy hypotheses would suddenly have to be taken more seriously—time-travelling aliens with pet rabbits that escaped, for example.

    Similarly, if we did discover a truly staggering leap of of evolution on truly short timescale, we might have reason to suspect intervention by a superior intelligence from elsewhere, even though that does push a bigger question back a step, raising the question of “how did the intervening intelligence arise?”

    (For example, if we didn’t have any good general explanations of the origin of life, or human intelligence had no evident precursors and just suddenly popped into existence. Then all the sudden 2001-style scenarios, with alien beings of some sort—would become substantially more plausible.)

    Pushing a question “back a step” is a perfectly legimate scientific move if you actually have evidence for that step.

    So, for example, if you’re looking at fossils on one continent, tracing them back and back, and then hit a dead end, it may be because their ancestor didn’t come from that continent—they immigrated from elsewhere via a land bridge or ocean raft.

    That makes your life as a scientist harder—you have to start looking somewhere else for the data—but that’s the breaks.

    Similarly, if we hit a wall with regular earthbound evolution by natural selection and started looking elsewhere for the origin of life or whatever, that wouldn’t be antiscientific or unscientific. If the evidence warranted it, it would be unscientific not to.

  35. Paul W.

    Paul, you’re forgetting everything said in the Whitehead thread. As I keep saying, New Atheists was to junk Spinoza, Karl Jaspers, ghosties, seance mediums, and everything in between in the same bin and act as if they’re all about the same thing. It’s basically a philistine way to argue.

    You seem to be forgetting everything I said in that thread. I really do see Spinoza as different from seance mediums, you know.

    That doesn’t mean that Spinoza or Jaspers can salvage religion in anything like the sense almost every religious person wants.

    And just dismissing me as a “philistine” is a very Courtier’s Response way to argue.

    If you got something, share it, please. Don’t just tell me there’s good stuff I’m dismissing. Tell me what it is.

    I claim you got nothin’.

  36. Last week I noted how much Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell is selling and wondered whether I should start refuting it.

    By the way, don’t overestimate how much it is selling based upon Amazon’s narrow categories and DI propaganda. It isn’t really selling all that well, having been below 1000th in rank on Amazon for a long time, occasionally dipping below 2000. I don’t know how well it’s selling elsewhere, of course, but since the DI was bragging about how it was doing on Amazon, the fact that it’s not all that high on Amazon matters in that context.

    Note, too, that Jerry Coyne’s book is still ahead of Meyer’s, and it came out months earlier. So do we support science books, or is it just a case that Coyne’s book sells because it’s good, while Meyer’s sells because, as we all know, religious books continue to be a profitable and high-volume category?

    What is laudable is that, while Meyer’s book is listed in some bizarre categories like “Cosmology,” it’s also listed where it belongs, in “Creationism.”

    I would say that we probably don’t support atheist and pro-science books like the right wing supports the books they like. But I don’t see that as being an especially bad thing, since we’re more likely to buy books that actually are good (like Coyne’s), rather than sorry apologetics that we might hope will support an agenda.

    Meyer’s book will eventually be seen for the useless piece of junk that it is, and they’ll move on to the next bit of trash apologetics. Meanwhile, the Origin will continue to sell and to be read on the web as the classic that it is. And we’ll move on from our books as well, only for us it will be because even more science supports evolution, and possibly changes some of our understanding of it.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  37. Jon

    One of the things I put in the last thread is this quote from Charles Taylor on Gould:

    Science and religion are not quite totally non-overlapping magisteria, but he is right in the sense that if anybody said, ‘I’m going to solve all the problems of the meaning of life, by only looking at the evolutionary view,’ they would be mad, they do not understand the limitations. Or, on the other hand, reading the Bible to understand how human beings evolved, that’s equally unrealistic.

    You can believe that no religion in the world has anything to tell me about the meaning of life. I think that’s as ignorant as it is arrogant, but fine. But could you please at least get out of my face while asserting that? Especially since you don’t know the first thing about what I believe. I also reserve the right not to argue out the details in New Atheist Klingon if I don’t feel like it. Thank you.

  38. Jon

    For Paul W.: One of the things I put in the last thread is this quote from Charles Taylor on Gould:

    Science and religion are not quite totally non-overlapping magisteria, but he is right in the sense that if anybody said, ‘I’m going to solve all the problems of the meaning of life, by only looking at the evolutionary view,’ they would be mad, they do not understand the limitations. Or, on the other hand, reading the Bible to understand how human beings evolved, that’s equally unrealistic.

    You can believe that no religion or theology has anything to tell me about the meaning of life. I think that’s as ignorant as it is arrogant, but fine. But could you please at least get out of my face while @sserting that? Especially since you don’t know the first thing about what I believe. I also reserve the right not to argue out the details in New Atheist Klingon if I don’t feel like it. Thank you.

  39. Jon

    Whoops, sorry for double posting. Trying to get around the pain in my *** moderation filter.

  40. bad Jim

    The assertion that the natural and supernatural realms are utterly disjoint has some possibly alarming ramifications. It implies that God could not have guided evolution, which would contradict the beliefs of theistic evolutionists. As far as I can see it implies that God could not even hear prayers, much less answer them. Practically speaking, it’s equivalent to asserting that the supernatural does not exist.

    I doubt that most scientists would make such sweeping claims; in my experience they’re not much interested in metaphysical speculations. It’s sufficient to accept that if His Noodly Appendages are tweaking our observations they’re doing so in a fairly consistent and repeatable fashion.

  41. John Kwok

    @ Vindrisi –

    Thanks for summarizing the major problems we have with Intelligent Design of which the foremost one is that it is not scientific, since it can’t generate testable hypotheses. Moreover, as such, Intelligent Design has had more than twenty years to explain how it could be a better, more comprehensive alternative to modern evolutionary theory in explaining the structure and history of our planet’s biodiversity, and not once have I heard or read anything from the ID movement that would demonstrate Intelligent Design’s scientific utility for giving us such explanations. In his book, “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”, Brown cell biologist Ken Miller makes the very point you have with regards to Intelligent Design being a “science stopper”.

    Thanks for trying to interject some semblance of sanity in confronting Paul W.’s breathtakingly inane – and moreover, bigoted – comments that are quite hostile to mainstream organized religion’s ability to cope with and to change with scientific advances. Every devoutly religious scientist I know of – or know personally – do place their scientific considerations way ahead of any religious conceptions of theirs; an observation that was strongly stated by both Vatican astronomer – and Jesuit brother – Guy Consolmagno and Ken Miller at a World Science Festival panel discussion on science, faith and religion that I attended here in New York City last June. Both men are devoted Roman Catholic Christians, but they accept the advice offered by the Dalai Lama, who has said that if Buddhism is wrong and science is right, then Buddhism must conform itself with science. Unfortunately Militant Atheists such as Paul W. seem incapable of accepting the possibility that devoutly religious people like those I have mentioned are capable of making such important logical distinctions.

  42. Vindrisi

    bad Jim,

    I think you are proceeding from flawed assumptions there. There is not necessarily a disjoint between the natural and supernatural (if there is a supernatural), and it requires a hefty assumption to assert that they are. However, the methodological naturalism that characterizes science requires that inquiry be driven by the assumption of no supernatural forces. This has two purposes. First, the exclusion of supernatural causes prevents a recourse to the supernatural in approaching phenomena that might prevent the identification of natural causes for those phenomena. Second, the supernatural, to be supernatural, must be beyond the normal course of nature and not bound by natural laws, making it fundamentally unpredictable, unrepeatable, uncontrollable, and inherently, indeed by definition, not amenable to scientific study. As a consequence, science cannot study the supernatural. It doesn’t play by the rules. Given this, of course the findings of science are not amenable to saying anything about the supernatural (except for definite, testable – emphasis on testable – claims about the influence of the supernatural on the natural world), and, if one takes a scientistic view that only that which is amenable to scientific study is real, then one can come to your conclusions, but that requires a particular philosophical position that is not necessary for understanding the universe. Like it or not, we have to accept that there are epistemological limits to scientific inquiry due to its nature and attendant philosophical assumptions and bases.

  43. Ian

    @18, “Has theology made any actual progress in the last century or two?”

    Yes read Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body to name but two! In fact try reading some theology.

  44. bad Jim

    We seem to be treading in murky waters here. I’m not claiming that the natural and supernatural are necessarily distinct. Others have done so. I don’t have the sort of philosophical apparatus to reach such a conclusion. I was merely commenting on its implications.

    However, if the supernatural, however unpredictable, can influence the natural realm, it is at least in principle detectable. It might be discerned in the error bars. It’s hardly unusual for experimenters to have moments in which they suspect their apparatus is haunted or cursed. The typical history of an industrial process starts with it being a miracle when it starts to work and progresses to the point when a failure is so rare that it’s regarded as a disease. The point is that the hypothesis of supernatural agency is increasingly constrained by the continual improvement of experimental practice and theoretical understanding.

    Newton understood that the planets perturbed each others’ orbits, but threw up his hands and suggested that God kept the system in order. Laplace, a century later, took the time to crunch the numbers and announced he had no need of that hypothesis. So it goes.

  45. So, Mr. Mooney, you want to write a post-dated check, “Give us time and we’ll find that time, chance, and necessity, will explain it all. Give us time.” Well, intelligent design has the money in the bank right now. Design is a can-do principles that explains the presence of information. We infer the design all the time in everyday life and in sciences such as cyptography and archaeology. But you would forbit this infereece in biology, given your materialist philosophy, which is not a deliverance of science, but an a priori, design-forbidding presupposition.

    You are not convincing.

  46. Paul W.

    Yes read Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body to name but two! In fact try reading some theology.

    Like a lot of people around here, you are jumping to conclusions. I have read some theology, including Theology of the Body.

    Can’t say I was terribly impressed, especiallywith the Theology of the Body.

    From reading a fair number of books and articles on theology, the impression that I come away with is of a paradigm failure.

    Even among Catholic theologians, it’s a zoo, with little consensus emerging.

    There are theologians who are basically traditional apologists, arguing for all the same dogmas and the literal truth of stuff like supernatural persons, the trinity, transubstantiation, God’s strict plan for sexual relations, Divine Command theory of morality, etc.

    At the other extreme, there are theologians who are basically existentialists or Heideggerians or whatever, who wrap various philosophical concepts up in religious language and equivocate about any interesting claims.

    There are even theologians who, far from defending the claim that God actually exists, dismiss the question as irrelevant—God is not the kind of thing of which existence is an interesting property, God is an aspect of us that we exemplify in cognizing the world, etc.

    I think the near-universality of the Courtier’s Response is partly an artifact of the fact that even most theologians think that most theology is hogwash. People want to defend theology in general, but almost nobody really wants to give good examples of good theological claims, because there’s no consensus on anything interesting, except of course that “God is good,” for not-agreed-upon values of “God” and “good.”

    So I have a question for the people defending theology as something other than a failed paradigm: do you guys agree with Theology of the Body as an example of good theology, the kind of thing we shouldn’t disparage?

    Is that what we’re talking about when you say I’m a philistine for rejecting theology?

    Or is it the more theologically liberal, less old-fashionedly dogmatic stuff? And if so, could you give an example of a particular point of theology that you think is the kind of thing we’d be worse off without?

    (I personally think that Theology of the Body is atrocious. I suspect that some others here agree.)

  47. John Kwok

    @ Doug Groothis –

    I would contend that there is more proof for the reality of Klingon Cosmology than there will ever be for the mendacious intellectual pornography known as Intelligent Design creationism. How? Here’s how:

    1) We see Klingons on television and in the movies, so they must be real, right (Surely everything you see on television and in the movies must be real, don’t you agree?)?

    2) An official North American-based Klingon Language Institute exists, supporting those who speak Klingon (And there are quite a few around the world who do.).

    3) Marriages and other religious ceremonies have been conducted in Klingon.

    4) Both the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into Klingon.

    In stark contrast to the verifiable existence of Klingon Cosmology, Intelligent Design has done this:

    1) In the twenty-odd years of its existence, it has yet to provide the scientific community any rigorously testable hypotheses that would confirm both its central principles and make predictions that would demonstrate how it is a better scientific theory than modern evolutionary theory in explaining the patterns, structure and history of Planet Earth’s biodiversity (I have asked Michael Behe and William Dembski to explain how Intelligent Design is better than modern evolutionary theory in describing these aspects of our planet’s biodiversity, and neither one has given any convincing, quite persuasive, answer.).

    2) No Intelligent Design “principle”, like Irreducible Complexity or Complex Specified Information, has been subjected to any rigorous scientific test and the results of such test submitted to internationally recognized, well-established, peer-reviewed scientific journals.
    While Intelligent Design “scientists” have had research published in such journals, none of that research has pertained – either directly or indirectly – to Intelligent Design.

    3) Instead of trying to verify the legitimacy of the core principles of Intelligent Design – its advocates, and those primarily at the Discovery Institute – whom I believe, based on their activities should be referred to as Dishonesty Institute mendacious intellectual pornographers – have refused to engage seriously with their countless critics. Instead, they have resorted to gross omissions, distortions, and outright lies in response to their critics, and in one notable instance, even outright theft (which Dembski all but admitted to when he announced to his audiences in the Fall of 2007 that he had “borrowed” a Harvard University video produced by the CT-based XVIVO scientific animation firm; this sordid episode has been featured promptly at a number of other websites around the globe).

    As for your breathtakingly inane assertion that “Design is a can-do principles (sic) that explains the presence of information”, I have news for you. There is extensive scientific literature in several fields that show how “design” can be an emergent property “evolving” from seeimingly random disorder, which, incidentally, noted Intelligent Design critic Kenneth R. Miller has illustrated quite eloquently in his book “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul”, which, is, in part, one “long argument” that tries to treat Intelligent Design as though it was indeed a legitimate scientific theory, exposes its ample flaws, and explains why it poses a major threat to the future of American intellectual and economic life.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I appreciate good design when I see it, whether it is, for example, a well-crafted Zeiss binocular or Leica M 35mm rangefinder camera. But, in Nature, “design” is something that has arisen strictly out of natural processes at work usually for substantial amounts of time. One need not invoke an Intelligent Designer – either Yahweh or the Klingons – to account for the existence of Design in the universe. And last, but not least, I refuse to accept the proposition that any Deity or Deities would choose to mislead us into thinking that the myriad designs present in the Universe were the results of Divine Intervention, but rather, instead, the products of natural processes at work.

    Again, it is for these reasons that I respectfully submit that there is indeed substantially more proof for Klingon Cosmology than there will ever be for the mendacious intellectual pornography known as Intelligent Design creationism.

    Peace and Long Life (as a Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg drone),

    John Kwok

  48. Paul W.

    Jon,

    You can believe that no religion or theology has anything to tell me about the meaning of life. I think that’s as ignorant as it is arrogant, but fine.

    Okay. Of course I never said that. I’ve actually read some theology that I liked parts of. Admittedly, I didn’t see how those parts were best cast as theology, but I have found some things that are called theology meaningful in places.

    But could you please at least get out of my face while @sserting that?

    Who’s in your face? I’m stating my opinion, and you choose to react to it.

    I don’t think I’m out of line here, and it’s not your job to shut me down.

    Especially since you don’t know the first thing about what I believe.

    That might be because you choose to sit back and snipe, and dismiss any serious comment that you don’t like with ad hominems etc.

    If you don’t want to get into it, fine. Do feel free to go away, or to shut up. But if you keep telling me I’m wrong, and condescending to me, don’t be surprised if I keep saying things you don’t like.

    And if you keep making comments—as Chris does—that insult people like me (the dreaded “New Atheists”), you can’t seriously expect me not to respond.

    Get over yourself.

    I also reserve the right not to argue out the details in New Atheist Klingon if I don’t feel like it. Thank you.

    Fine. I’ll say what I think, you’ll disagree and dismiss it in a basically contentless and insulting way, and I’ll call you on it.

    Nothing new there.

    BTW, I think that your quote from Taylor is a nice sounding strawman argument. Care to unpack it and make some specific claims?

    As for the phrase “not quite non-overlapping magisteria,” that’s just flat begging the question here, isn’t it?

    I’ve claimed, and argued that the magisteria overlap almost entirely. (E.g., with respect to dualistic souls that impart a moral sense, the nature of religion itself, a la Boyer in Religion Explained.)

    Do you have any substantive responses to any of the substantive claims and arguments I’ve made.

    If not, do feel free to get out of my face with your condescending, question-begging drivel.

  49. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Jon has ever reason to criticize you for your breathtakingly inane commentary. If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. In plain English, since you find so much here at the Intersection objectionable, then why do you insist on keeping an online presence here? Go back to another website that is better suited to your temperment, such as, for example, Pharyngula….. and good riddance!

  50. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Jon has every good reason I know of to criticize you for your breathtakingly inane commentary. If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen. In plain English, since you find so much here at the Intersection objectionable, then why do you insist on keeping an online presence here? Go back to another website that is better suited to your temperment, such as, for example, Pharyngula….. and good riddance!

    P. S. You still owe me an apology for your absurd comments directed towards me at another Intersection discussion thread, especially when you questioned my ties to my favorite high school English teacher – I still consider myself fortunate to have been a prize-winning student in his junior creative writing class – bestselling memoirist Frank McCourt.

  51. Mato

    “who designed the super-complex designer, and so on”

    And why must the designer be “super-complex” (whatever that means)? It is false to claim that objects can only produce other objects less complex than themselves (and easily refuted), as the case of self-replicating programs demonstrates. (One program produces another program of equal complexity, namely, an exact copy of itself.)

    So we know objects can produce other objects equal in complexity to themselves. However, we can also design a program that produces two sequential copies of itself, creating a string with slightly higher Kolmogorov complexity than itself. So objects can produce things MORE complex than themselves.

    Therefore that “super-complex” designer claim has no relevance. If you find the designer, please measure his complexity so we can settle the question. Until then, there is no necessity to assume he is “super-complex.”

  52. Vindrisi

    If you find the designer, please measure his complexity so we can settle the question. Until then, there is no necessity to assume he is “super-complex.”

    Actually, we do know the designer: natural selection exerted by organisms’ biotic and abiotic environment on randomly arising heritable variation. It is very simple (at least in principle – permutations can get very complicated), algorithmic, and quite unintelligent. There is a vast literature on it – hundreds of thousands of published studies, in fact. Go to your local academic library and as to see the biology journal stacks and spend some time among them. The evidence is really undeniable if it is actually confronted. Your big assumption is that the designer is intelligent and a he.

  53. Paul W.

    John Kwok,

    Jon has every good reason I know of to criticize you for your breathtakingly inane commentary. If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

    Hey, I can take criticism. I welcome actual substantive criticism—that was my point.

    P. S. You still owe me an apology for your absurd comments directed towards me at another Intersection discussion thread,

    That will be a rather chilly day in Hell, John, since what I said was entirely true. You are barking up the wrong tree, to an extent that makes me think you’re just barking.

    As I acknowledged there, I don’t know for a fact that your prima facie attempt to extort an expensive camera wasn’t a bizarre joke.

    I do know for a fact that your sending his colleagues a letter asking for their cooperation in getting the camera from him was just bizarre. Maybe you’re a Dadaist performance art genius, but you can’t expect to be regarded as funny when you do that—and then attribute your peculiar “sense of humor” to your high-school English teacher.

    Seriously, John. Thats pretty darned weird.

    especially when you questioned my ties to my favorite high school English teacher – I still consider myself fortunate to have been a prize-winning student in his junior creative writing class – bestselling memoirist Frank McCourt.

    John, stop digging. We all know you went to the greatest high school in the entire universe and got a pat on the head from the greatest memoirist in the entire universe.

    Your constantly bringing it up does not enhance your credibility.

    I could drop some much interesting names, too, but if I did, I’d look like a loser, because genius just doesn’t rub off.

    This is a serious piece of well-meant advice, John. You look like a loser when you drop Frank McCourt’s name, especially in contexts where it’s irrelevant, and especially if you keep on doing it after people have heard it before, and it’s been pointed out and laughed at.

    I don’t think anybody but you fails to see that.

  54. Marion Delgado

    To answer Meyer’s structural point:

    Alchemical hypotheses and goals were of critical importance across the whole field of chemistry. Alchemy’s contribution to science was enormous.

    But if you invoke “as above, so below” or “once together, always together” or “like calls to like” or “appearances are signatures of attributes” or “the model affects the modeled,” it turns out you can’t get published in the modern chemistry establishment.

  55. Paul W.

    I said I personally think that Theology of the Body is atrocious. I suspect that some others here agree.

    Let me clarify that. I’m not making an argument ad populum there. I’m just honestly curious what people on the other side of the “New Atheist”/accommodationist controversy are actually talking about.

    I can imagine that the theology defenders here are mostly orthodox Catholics like Ken Miller, or mostly very unorthodox theologically liberal Christians who, for example, interpret miracles and perhaps even dualistic souls as symbolic, not literal.

    I honestly do not know what respectable views I’m accused of having insufficient respect for. I only know that I’m supposedly a know-nothing New Atheist philistine.

    Please clarify, thanks.

    For the record, I do have couple of theologically very liberal mainline protestant minister friends I discuss this sort of thing with occasionally. They never call me a philistine, or anything remotely like that… but then, maybe their kind of theology is not what’s being assumed here, and they’d be considered philistines, too, for not considering me a philistine…

  56. Mato

    Vindrisi,

    What does you reply have to do with my point that the designer must not logically be “super-complex”?

    BTW, I use “he” because it is simpler than writing “it/he/she” . You can take the phrase loosely, no need to read it anthropomorphically: I’m not suggesting the designer has reproductive organs or a sex as we’d view it.

  57. Paul W.

    Chris and Sheril,

    I once again request that you renew your call for civility, specifically the ban on gratuitous insults and ad hominems.

    I personally wouldn’t mind the insults so much if there was contentful argument to justify them, but this is a travesty of what you guys say you want here.

    If your side keeps blustering about “breathtaking inanity,” of “militant” “philistines,” who are as ignorant as we are arrogant, and so on…

    Well, hyeesh. I wouldn’t actually mind any of those accusations if there were some rule that people had to make reasoned arguments—without straw men, arguments from authority, etc.

    But failing that unenforceable kind of real civility, could you tell them to dial down the invective?

    Thanks.

  58. Paul W.

    Vindrisi,

    I have hung around here long enough to know that there really is no point in trying to get you to see outside of your particular, scientistic point of view, but I will point out that it is utterly ridiculous to analyze and attempt to understand religion in the same way as you do science.

    There’s a great sentence. You start with dismissive ad hominem, and conclude by begging the question.

    Care to try again, with content and accuracy?

    They are different activities with different ends and different purposes.

    No doubt. Care to elaborate, and show me where my error actually is?

    It is analogous to going and trying to read Shakespeare the same way you read a journal article.

    I don’t think so, but what are you actually saying?

    Are you comparing theology or religion to fiction or poetry?

    I’m not being snarky here. Some theology does indeed make religion out to be pretty much useful, meaningful, mythic fiction. (One of my minister friends is a big Joseph Campbell fan.)

    I have no fundamental problem with that, so long as it’s not masquerading as making truth claims in the sense that religion has traditionally done. I do have a more practical problem with it, in that most such theology is quite psychologically naive—it’s warmed over Jungianism and other psychodynamic theory that I think has been pretty well debunked, scientifically.

    It’s bad psychology of meaning—in particular, it’s ridiculously greedily reductive—and there are better explanations of religion in terms of cognitive psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology.

    If you want to do that, more power to you, brother, but you will completely miss the point, and likely won’t learn much (though I doubt you will see that).

    What is the point of which you speak? Seriously, do try to help me avoid missing it.

    So far as I know, theology is a zoo, and different theologies actually have different points, ranging from roughly traditional literalish apologetics to postmodern poetry appreciation, and spreading out in a variety of oddball directions.

    This is not just unlike science, it’s unlike philosophy, but theologians are fond of making philosophical claims. Conflicting and mostly implausible claims, I think, but claims. (Some of the claims are plausible, but the ones that are don’t usually strike me as particularly theological.)

    I really don’t want a reply, given that I could probably compose it myself from what you have written before […]

    You could give that a stab, and it might actually be productive. I suspect that if you tried to talk like me, it would make it clearer what you think I’m saying, and what you think’s wrong with it.

    It would be better than telling me I won’t listen!

    I am kinda interested to see how you will work your fetish for the Overton Window in, and what part of speech you will make the term serve this time.

    Do I have a fetish for the Overton Window? Hmmm… or does Chris have a fetish for his Big Straw Man #2, such that he can’t bear to ever acknowledge Overton-style arguments about religion, even though he clearly buys them in other domains?

    Yes, I’m shamelessly bringing that back up—thanks for the cue. So long as Chris continues to duck both of the two main bones of contention in the “New Atheist”/accommodationist controversy, and misrepresent “New Atheist” views, as he’s done for literally years on end, I’ll keep pointing it out.

    I think that’s the right thing to do. (I’m apalled that none of his supporters seems to mind that his rhetoric hinges on two big misrepresentations.)

  59. Paul W.

    Sorry for the italics fail. That should have said:

    It’s <ibad psychology of meaning—in particular, it’s ridiculously greedily reductive—and there are better explanations of religion in terms of cognitive psychology, social psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology.

  60. Paul W.

    So we know objects can produce other objects equal in complexity to themselves. However, we can also design a program that produces two sequential copies of itself, creating a string with slightly higher Kolmogorov complexity than itself. So objects can produce things MORE complex than themselves.

    Kolmogorov complexity is not the sort of complexity you want. It’s essentially measuring the amount of random noise.

    Certainly, simpler systems can produce more complex ones in several senses. (Kolmogorov complexity being about the least interesting.)

    But that’s a much better argument for evolution by natural selection than for intelligent design.

    The problem with ID is that an entity capable of designing organisms better than a fairly brute-force search like evolution can is quite high. I think that pretty much everybody on both sides assumes that we’re talking about an intelligence greater than our own, right?

    That level of intelligence requires a fair amount of complexity, which just pushes the question back a step—where the heck did that come from, if not evolution somewhere else, or yet another quite complex designer? Do we have an infinite regress of designers?

    As Glen and I acknowledged before, that’s not necessarily an ID-killer. If we really had evidence of a superintelligence, we’d have to deal with pushing the question back a step and looking for the solution somewhere else.

    But in practice, the popular appeal of ID hinges on missing exactly that point.

    Without extraordinary evidence, such an extraordinary complication is scientifically unwarranted. At present, the central ID hypothesis is a religious answer in search of a scientific problem—and one with huge theoretical baggage.

  61. Paul W.

    Damn, another italics fail. I give up. Sorry.

  62. Vindrisi

    Mato,

    ID holds that there must be an intelligent designer because they hold that an unintelligent, naturalistic, and mechanistic process such as natural selection cannot produce biological design (and then simply ignore evidence that they are incorrect about this). In essence this reduces to the idea that complex design cannot emerge from that which does not have intelligence. However, this requires that the designer to have a complex design, as “he” (and I admit that I was being snarky about that – I do get why you used the masculine pronoun) because intelligence would be complex design of the sort that they would assert cannot emerge from non-intelligent forces. This gets recursive, as the designer must then have been designed and so on. When they are being honest, ID proponents admit that this requires the ultimate designer to be supernatural, if not a god. There are pretty advanced theologies that hold that god is simple, but, as a supernatural entity, nothing about the laws of nature would pertain to god. That goes way beyond science, however, and is beside the point: it has been demonstrated amply that there is no need to posit a designer of biological organisms, as the natural mechanism of natural selection does quite well in explaining biological design (including the rather difficult parts to explain by an intelligent designer – such as the rather ridiculously silly design compromises and bad solutions that anyone in biology sees every day).

  63. Paul W.

    Ian,

    I googled up “Humanae Vitae” and realized I’ve read it before, too. Wow.

    I’m curious whether anybody else here thinks that’s an example of good theology that I’m insufficiently respectful of—or is it the kind of thing that some theology has progressed away from in the last century or two?

  64. John Kwok

    @ Chris and Sheril –

    Ignore Paul W.’s ludicrous comment (58) please. He’s being very hypocritical by his absurd, often ad hominem, attacks on me, Vrindrisi and Jon, among others.

    @ Paul W. –

    If you haven’t noticed, I am quite proud to have been a prize-winning student in McCourt’s class, but that was quite some time ago and I have other, more important, matters to consider, such as Comfort’s latest exercise in disseminating mendacious intellectual pornography. You, however, on the hand, seem incapable of recognizing – or appreciating – that what I had pulled on PZ Myers was a stunt that I did merely to see just how crazy he’d respond and he did so exactly as I had anticipated. You wanted an explanation as to why I did it, and I had to mention McCourt’s name because, knowing Frank, he might have pulled something like that if he was a much younger man.

    However, I am digressing here.

    You seem incapable understanding that there are many theologians – of which perhaps the Dalai Lama is the most prominent example – who recognize that where science and religion conflict, then maybe religion ought to react positively and undergo change so that its theology is more consistent with science. You may claim that you are not a devoted follower of PZ Myers and yet you also acknowledge that you spend a lot of time posting there. Again, please heed my advice. If you don’t appreciate the views expressed here by others posting, as well as set forth by both Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, then please bid us all an adieu with utmost alacrity.

    Whereas I might disagree with, for example, Woody Tanaka and Glen Davidson, I have never once felt that they would ridicule my views or make the incredulous accusation that I am somehow, a “kook”. For someone who resents arguments from “authority”, then isn’t it a bit hypocritical for you to claim, based upon what you read about me over at rationalwiki, that I must be a “kook”.

    Have a good life and trouble us no further.

  65. Vindrisi

    bad Jim,

    I see your point. I think you are correct that we could potentially detect the effect of supernatural intervention in the natural world. However, I see that facing two problems stemming from the nature of sciences, and the definitional nature of the supernatural (again, presuming it exists). First, even if we detected something influencing nature, methodological naturalism would demand that we attempt a naturalistic explanation – even here we would not have the luxury of a recourse to supernatural explanation. Second, even if we were to end up concluding that the influence was supernatural in origin, we couldn’t say anything about it because the supernatural could not be presumed to follow natural laws. So we could say something is there, but that is pretty much it. As to your point about Newton and Laplace, I think you touch on the issue that there is a difference between attributing something we don’t understand to the supernatural and the supernatural itself. If we don’t know enough about a phenomenon, we simply don’t know enough to posit its origin: it may be supernatural or it may be natural. Under science, we don’t assume the supernatural, and must always attempt naturalistic explanation in order to ensure that we fully exhaust all possible natural explanations. In the past, before methodological naturalism was a fully formed approach, this wasn’t really appreciated, and so there was always a tendency to illegitimate and premature attribution to the supernatural (which remains, of course, a typical approach for most people). However, the fact that we have learned that so much of the world operates according to naturalistic processes where we once took recourse to the supernatural says nothing about the existence of the supernatural or its attributes: it merely says that the supernatural doesn’t necessarily do all the jobs we once attributed to it. Is this constraining? Yes, in a way, but it doesn’t do anything to resolve whether or not a supernatural realm exists and has some unpredictable influence on the natural world. For my part, I don’t really think so, but I accept that I can’t exclude the possibility.

    Interesting question. Your thoughts?

  66. Vindrisi

    Paul W.

    Thank you for confirming my impression of you.

  67. Paul W.

    Vindrisi,

    Thank you for confirming my impression of you.

    Likewise, I’m sure.

  68. Anna K.

    Paul W., #56, etc

    I debated with myself about getting back into this thread, and — assuming I went ahead and posted this — I doubt I’ll be commenting again, in part because — *looks around, whispers* — I’m actually supposed to be doing something else right now, but mostly because frankly, I’ve found that useful, valuable, courteous and fruitful discussions about religion, atheism and theology are discussions that almost never can be had on the internet.

    Paul, I said above I enjoyed your comments, and I do. You’re a sharp thinker; I also consider many other folks who post here to be sharp thinkers, which is why I visit this site. Clearly you care about the issues of whether or not theology can be said to mean anything or can be considered a valid form of inquiry; and it appears to me you also care about whether or not there can be a valid epistemology that allows for religious commitment and the acceptance of real science, and you also care about New Atheism/accommodationism. I care about those things myself, and am actively engaged with those topics.

    As best as I can tell, I think you are making an honest inquiry. But I also think the internet is hell on these kinds of discussions. It ratchets up the defenseness exponentially and undercuts depth. I post opinions, but I now avoid getting into blog debates about this stuff. In my experience it’s too deep for a few blog posts, which are way too subject to being misunderstood. A worthwhile discussion, in my view, calls for at least the possibility of an extended conversation with the assumption of good will and philosophical charity on both sides, and that’s very hard to find! It requires mutual respect and mutual trust, which is exactly what is so often destroyed in internet discussions. Maybe the fact that there’s an audience has something to do with it; I don’t know. In any case blog debates usually devolve into simplistic talking points and insult fests, and I don’t really care about talking points and have no patience for insult fests (I have kids! And on top of that I have cats that don’t get along! I can hear insult exchanges right here at home). You mentioned that you had some friends in the clergy you could discuss these issues with, and I’m glad to hear it. I’m also glad (but not surprised) that they didn’t resort to name-calling.

    Personally I care about inquiry and dialogue, a genuine exchange of ideas, and interesting conversations where all parties show good will and seek to understand what the other is actually talking about (nearly impossible AFAICT on blog threads), as opposed to trying to score points or one-up or proselytize or whatever. I have an intellectual version of the Lloyd Dobler* disclaimer: I’m not interested in convincing anyone to my point of view, or having someone try to sell me on their point of view. I’m interested in clarifying my own points of view by discussing things with others who think differently. (My motives are actually selfish, I’m trying to improve my own thinking by understanding others, not play intellectual hygienist for anyone else.) I am a slightly embittered ex-Catholic who was an atheist for many years and who is currently religious; obviously my philosophical/theological contentions are open to change but I’m allergic to sales pitches and presume that you are, too.

    So you said you were curious about what theology defenders and accommodationists here thought. Well, I’m both of those (assuming a religious person can be said to be an “accommodationist;” perhaps that term is only properly applied to atheists, hmmm?). I’d be happy to talk theology, atheism, science, epistemology, accommodationism with you off the blog, assuming that can be arranged. If you’re up for it, I have a question for you. You keep mentioning that theology seems to you to be defending a failed paradigm. What’s the paradigm?

    Perhaps Chris Mooney would be willing to forward an email from you to me and we can go on from there if you’d like. Or perhaps there’s some other way this sort of thing gets done; this is out of my general bailiwick.

    And if you don’t have time or interest in that, no offense taken. For what it’s worth, it’s just an offer, because as I said above, I think you’re honestly curious and these are topics I care about as well.

    Cheers,

    Anna K.

    *the Lloyd Dobler original disclaimer: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

  69. Paul W.

    Anna,

    I sent Chris and Sheril an email for you.

  70. Paul W.

    Vindrisi (to Bad Jim):

    I see your point. I think you are correct that we could potentially detect the effect of supernatural intervention in the natural world. However, I see that facing two problems stemming from the nature of sciences, and the definitional nature of the supernatural (again, presuming it exists). First, even if we detected something influencing nature, methodological naturalism would demand that we attempt a naturalistic explanation – even here we would not have the luxury of a recourse to supernatural explanation. Second, even if we were to end up concluding that the influence was supernatural in origin, we couldn’t say anything about it because the supernatural could not be presumed to follow natural laws. So we could say something is there, but that is pretty much it.

    I think you’re operating from a couple of false premises:

    1) That “the supernatural” is the complement of “the natural” in the sense that science “studies the natural world.” This is a common misconception, which isn’t anywhere close to the truth.

    This being a misconception is one of the two main New Atheist points, and one that some accommodationist’s rhetoric intentionally obscures—they conflate two very different senses of “natural,” and create a fallacy of four terms (i.e., a bait and switch argument). This has the effect of narrowing the claimed scope of science to exclude a lot of science that’s already being done—and manufactures a gap for mostly-science-compatible God to fit into.

    Misdefining “supernatural” in this way creates a much-needed gap for God to fill. :-

    2) That the supernatural is not lawlike enough to be studied by science. In general, it is. Supernatural concepts are generally explanatory, and the explanations are generally lawful—otherwise people couldn’t understand them well enough to remember them and pass them on, and religion would die out.

    Supernatural entities are not only lawful by default, they generally obey very familiar laws for the most part. (E.g., traditional souls are minds pretty much like ours, but with no bodies.) If they obeyed very extremely unfamiliar rules, people wouldn’t understand them well enough to tell stories about them and build religions around them.

    (That’s a major, major point of the anthropologist Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained. The major features of supernatural entities and explanations are very similar to natural ones, cross-culturally, and they have to be. They are not the working out deep weird stuff like Jungian archetypes or richly “symbolic” stuff like that, either—they are artifacts of our basic cognitive apparatus that makes us able to think about the real world, particularly inanimate objects on one hand and intelligent agents like people on the other.)

    The basic idea here is that supernatural concepts in their natural form—before you get into apologetics and elite theology—are very much like natural concepst and those versions of supernatural ideas are the ones that really make religion work, in day to day life, for rank-and-file religious believers.

  71. W West

    For clarification :

    Is it that science is unable to detect the activity of intelligent agents ? or that

    Stephen Meyer’s method of detecting the activity of intelligent agents is flawed ?or

    that science should never infer the activity of an intelligent agent ?

  72. Paul W.

    Anna,

    I thought I’d say this here for anybody else who’s curious what I meant by the “paradigm” that I think is failing. Feel free to respond offline.

    Here’s a very rough sketch of the religious/supernatural paradigm I’m talking about; I’ll need to unpack “supernatural” a bit.

    1. There is a god or gods or powerful disembodied spirits who are persons, i.e., intelligent agents with thoughts, beliefs, and desires, OR in a reduced version, common in very liberal theology, there’s at least one “thing we call God” that isn’t really a person—that’s just a human projection—but nonetheless has some interesting human-like properties. (Something like the Force in Star Wars, which isn’t a conscious agent but somehow manages to embody humanlike distinctions between good and evil and truth and skill and so on, and intelligent agents can tap into it. Or it might just be an invisible blue glow of metaphysical “energy” that pervades the universe and somehow “is love” or something.)

    2. These personal gods or a not-exactly-personal “thing we call God” have something interesting and important to do with things of basic human interest—typically truth, beauty, righteousness, love, luck, skill and things like that. Notice that in scientific terms these are high-level phenomena consisting of particular kinds of patterns among patterns among patterns—you cannot simply reduce them to objects, substances, energies, or vibrations in any intuitive sense…

    3. …and yet in the supernatural/religious schema generally does. Complex, very high level things like minds and emotions are typically regarded as relatively simple things with no regard as to how they could actually be implemented in terms of something else. Either they’re explicitly irreducible, or its mostly just not thought about.

    4. These supernatural godlike things typically exhibit or embody or control high-level phenomena fairly directly. So, for example, a God or a goddess of love can be or inspire or create love directly, not the way humans do with sweet talk or the way a powerful space alien might by rewiring your brain in just the right way that constitutes having the appropriate attitude toward the object of affection.

    5. It is important to know about God or the gods or “the thing we call God” because it has privileged access to otherwise unknowable facts or entities, and this access (knowledge or control, or direct embodiment) gives you a relatively reliable knowledge or control that you can’t get by normal human cognition, i.e., learning stuff in the usual ways from sense data in the world.

    6. At least some people have interacted with the god(-like)thing(s). It may have spoken to them, or it might have affected material things, from which they can infer its existence, or it might just have been there in a way that somebody can somehow directly feel its presence.

    (In the latter case, it’s generally not just a puzzling sensation—it’s a felt presence or intuited knowledge of a particular kind of thing, such as a mind, or an emotion. So you might “feel the presence of god” much as you’d feel the presence of another mind when you unconsciously sense another person near you, or you might sense the love or bliss that pervades the universe, or whatever.)

    Most gods or supernatural beings are like superheroes—-they are quite understandable in most ways, the way you’d understand people.

    For example, your typical ghost is just a person who can walk through walls and so on, but mostly sees, hears, understands, plans, and wants something just like a living being. You can think about appeasing an angry spirit, or a friendly spirit doing you a favor, very much the way you’d think about dealing with humans with a few superpowers.

    What makes something “supernatural” in this framework is the combination of the normal properties of some kind of thing with one or a few very abnormal properties—properties normally only belonging to a very fundamentally different kind of thing, in terms of how we normally perceive and think about the world.

    Most of the really interesting entities that you’d evolve a religion around are either intelligent agents like persons with a few very atypical properties, or non-agents with a few very atypical properties normally associated with agents.

    So, for example, you might have

    1. A ghost: person minus body
    2. A talking nonhuman animal: either a person in non-person body, OR a nonperson with the mysterious ability to nonetheless speak (without actually understanding)
    3. A lucky charm: an inanimate object that can affect the very high-level phenomenon of “good” outcomes vs. “bad” outcomes, somehow distinguishing between them as though it understood human desires and which concrete events a human would put in each category.

    A basic idea here is that supernatural entities are not, at root, incomprehensible or fundamentally unpredictable.

    They’re extremely comprehensible, as conceptually minor variations on things we think about every day, and are good at thinking and talking about. (But as with superheroes, the conceptually minor differences have huge effects, making narratives about them interesting as well as comprehensible.)

    And the stories are predictable, to a substantial extent, in the same sense that other human stories are—the characters don’t have random properties or do random things for random reasons.

    And that means that supernatural things generally behave predictably for the most part, in the same basic sense that people do—-we may not be able to predict every individual’s actions any of the time, or any individual’s actions all the time, but we can observe regularities in their behavior and do things analogous to psychology, sociology, or economics of supernatural entities. We can read Shakespeare and understand who is betraying whom, and why.

    Supernatural concepts in their natural form are similarly constrained, because they have to conform to the human mind finds intelligible and interesting, or they die out.

    The supernatural only becomes generally unfalsifiable when people modify basic supernatural concepts to make them unfalsifiable.

    I claim that’s a cheesy, cheating move in theology just as much as in any other domain.

    What apologists for that kind of theology need to do is explain why that kind of move, which is considered crazy if done in any other context, is accepted when talking about the supernatural.

    Unfalsifiability is not part of what it means for something to be supernatural; it has to be added on.

    Why is that allowed, even respected?

  73. Vindrisi

    W West,

    Science can detect the activity of intelligent agents when there is an external reason to posit the existence of intelligent agents. The problem with Meyer, and with ID in general, in this respect is that they essentially note that there is a great deal of information in DNA, as there must be to specify an organism. They then declare that this is evidence of an intelligent agent because, they assert, natural, unintelligent processes like natural selection cannot produce such information. They make two major mistakes here: 1. There is no external reason to posit the existence of an intelligent agent (reference to recognition of human artifacts as products of intelligent agents don’t work because we are well aware of humans and the sorts of artifacts they make). 2. Their assertions about natural selection are false. Study after study has demonstrated the efficacy of natural selection in producing adaptation via the alteration of genetic information over multiple generations of a population. ID advocates have been made aware of these time after time after time, and yet they ignore them. Indeed, they are not above systematic distortion of such studies (I speak from experience. My work own work has been so distorted and even lied about by people high up the ID movement.).

    Finally, science should only infer the activity of an intelligent agent in those instances in which there is reason to expect an intelligent agent. Beyond that, as the intelligent designer of ID ultimately collapses to an appeal to the supernatural, I think the same rule would apply to blind hypothesis of an intelligent agent that applies to supernatural explanations: that is, it cannot be posited blindly unless or until all other possible natural explanations have been excluded on empirically sound grounds.

  74. Paul W.

    Is it that science is unable to detect the activity of intelligent agents ? or that

    Stephen Meyer’s method of detecting the activity of intelligent agents is flawed ?or

    that science should never infer the activity of an intelligent agent ?

    The second one only.

    I have some longer posts in moderation that deal with the “supernatural” and falsifiability.

    There’s nothing intrinsically unfalsifiable or unscientific about a hypothesis of an intelligent agent with observable effects—even a supernatural one.

  75. Paul W.

    BTW, W West’s questions bring up one of the reasons I’m serious about disagreeing with common ideas about the natural & supernatural, and the scope of science.

    Dana Scully.

    If we say that science can’t study the supernatural, it makes us sound like scientists are dogmatic about what can or can’t exist, and will, on principle stick their heads in the sand and ignore evidence of the supernatural.

    We’ll apparently even come up with completely bogus materialist explanations, even after having it demonstrated to us that the assumptions we’re operating under are false—because we follow some “rule” about being unable to study the supernatural, and always looking for a “natural” explanation, no matter what.

    That’s just not how it is, or ever was, or ever should be. If that’s a realistic portrayal of science, then I guess we’re just a bunch of narrowminded geeks who actually refuse to even acknowledge really interesting stuff, on principle.

    And science is a bizarrely neutered endeavor, not allowing itself to follow the evidence where it leads, if it leads to someplace “unscientific” by superficial standards of what counts as a “scientific” explanation.

    Apparently, we’re like Dana Scully on the X-files, willfully ignoring evidence that she’s seen up close and personal because it would rock her little closed-minded “scientific” worldview.

    BLEAH!

    On the The X FilesMulder was actually much more of a scientist and a rationalist than that caricature of a scientist. He knew that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and given extraordinary evidence he was willing to consider what would otherwise be kooky ideas.

    Scully, on the other hand, was a philistine. She didn’t value scientific inquiry in the deep and general sense—she valued the superficial trappings of science, to the point of blindly rejecting actually scientific explanations of actually extraordinary evidence, to preserve her particular scientific beliefs from refutation.

    It bugs me every time somebody says that science has a principle of not considering supernatural explanations—it amounts to saying that we’re blinkered geeks who will ignore the supernatural and never try to explain it, no matter what.

    And I think a lot of people think do think that science is actually that way. I know people who find out I’m a scientist and think that explains why I’m so closed-minded about, say, ESP or astrology, or souls, or lucky numbers—those closed-minded scientists dogmatically reject that sort of thing, don’t they? (And science is just another dogmatic worldview, of course. Gack!)

    Most people don’t realize that science is very broad and deep, and can study anything there’s actually evidence for, including religion, morality, etc.

  76. Mato

    Vidrisi wrote:

    “In essence this reduces to the idea that complex design cannot emerge from that which does not have intelligence. However, this requires that the designer to have a complex design…”

    Why must the designer necessarily have a “complex design”? Just because it/he is intelligent? Again, returning to my one point, logically there is nothing contradictory with something of lower complexity (Kolmogorov, in case we want to be specific) creating something of higher complexity. Therefore, it is completely possible that the designer of complex beings can be simpler than they are and Mooney is without basis in claiming that the designer must be “super complex”.

    Or can you prove that all possible intelligences must be at least as complex as biotic life on earth? I doubt you can demonstrate this and so my point remains.

  77. Mato

    Vidrisi wrote:

    “…because intelligence would be complex design of the sort that they would assert cannot emerge from non-intelligent forces”

    Sorry I snipped before that part of your quote, which explains your reasoning in slightly more detail. I challenge this claim. ID proponents only consider something a possible product of design only if it is contingent (not necessary), complex (in combinatorial terms) and specified/functional.

    Intelligence is functional, I grant this. But is the designer combinatorially complex or contingent? We don’t know. Until we are confronted with those two qualities as well, we would not need to posit a design explanation for the designer, so there is no recursion.

    If we don’t know the intelligence is complex or contingent, why do you assert it must be complex? ID reasoning, consistently applied, would not force the contradiction you seek. Can you now see where your statement goes astray?

  78. Vindrisi

    Mato,

    It sounds like your real beef with the Discovery Institute and the salesmen of ID. It is their contention that you can’t have increased complexity or information arising from simple processes, and that is at the heart of their attack on natural selection as a designing algorithm.

    And yes, unless you are positing a supernatural, monad-like entity as the designer, intelligence requires a good deal of complexity. Can you have intelligence with less complexity than human in the natural world? Yes, sure. The thing is that even the reduced amount of complexity you are imagining for the designer is still far more complex than ID asserts can arise from natural processes (those folks hardly even admit to rather simple protein evolution, after all). You are left with the same problem of some entity needing to design the designer, which ends up requiring that you have a supernatural original designer. That, or you have to admit that natural processes such as natural selection can produce complex design, in which case one must wonder why you are bothering positing an unnecessary, untestable concept like a designer in the first place.

  79. Jon

    Is it that science is unable to detect the activity of intelligent agents ?

    One thing I always found interesting is every time artificial intelligence gurus like Marvin Minsky, for instance, said that they were on the verge of getting artificial intelligence, they found it much more complicated than they thought.

    I personally don’t think consciousness can be explained as a mechanism. What do I have to back up my point? It’s above my pay grade and way down in my reading queue. But I find it interesting how fundamental the debate is with even hyper-educated people with credentials up the wazoo. For instance here’s Daniel Dennett trashing Francisco Varela’s view of cognitive science:

    http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/varela.htm

    Daniel Dennett invokes Marvin Minsky. I’ve read a tiny bit of Varela, and it’s interesting that what I read included an approving discussion of Charles Taylor, calling Taylor’s *Sources of the Self* “magisterial”. I’m sure Dennett would immediately fling any book by Charles Taylor across the room with force.

    It’s interesting that both camps have completely different interpretations of the phenomenon of mind, and I think it comes down to two different philosophical traditions who tend to contend with each other like a Punch and Judy show. The divide is between Hume’s English *empiricism* (a tradition that Dennett seems to inherit), and Hegel’s German *idealism* (Taylor cut his teeth philosophically on Hegel’s work). It’s also that the German tradition has a very different attitude toward religion than English empiricism.

    Back in college, I remember some of my friends had the English logical positivist A J Ayer as a philosophy professor. Some of the lit professors used to actually give him a two foot berth on the campus paths, they disagreed with him so viscerally. It was almost like a demonstration of the two cultures right there. The literary people with their sympathies for “continental” philosophy (ie, French and German) and the logical positivist who tried to desiccate philosophy to the point where it could speak in pure logic and objective observation, etc.

    So anyway, I’m going to put it really vaguely, but if you have a different view of *mind,* then certain things that empiricists dismiss as mere subjectivity (and the allegedly flightly symbolism that conveys that subjectivity) become a lot more important. And a lot of that sort of thing comprises the “woo” that a certain type dismisses as “supernatural.”

    So at any rate, if all of this stuff is so contended within the *ivory tower* and can’t be resolved after so many decades, my theory is that the elites in the New Atheist ranks somehow think if they can just bring it to the populace in the public square, and then it will become *the way* of looking at things and the other ways will be banished (for instance, religious ones).

    Ah, utopian dreams.

    I think it’s quite the opposite: If it *was* brought to the public square, I think it would be gasoline for the culture wars and make it would bog us down in an intractable conversation that couldn’t be resolved in the academy, and won’t be resolved in the public square either. And worse, it will suck the oxygen from all the other issues that desperately need discussion.

    Anyway, that’s a vaguely formed layman’s diagnosis of New Atheism, formed by someone outside the academy who has little time to cloister himself with all the weighty tomes of Dennett, Marvin Minsky, Francisco Varela, Charles Taylor, etc. etc…

  80. Paul W.

    Jon,

    I’m increasingly doubtful that you have any idea what you’re talking about, and I’m skeptical that there are as many philosophers as appreciative of Taylor as you to think, or like us to think. (Or as critical of Dennett as you seem to think, in ways relevant to our discussions here.)

    If that’s the Taylor book I’m thinking of, the striking thing about it was that it wasn’t mostly written from Taylor’s own perspective—he basically talked about how the world looks from each of about a dozen perspectives only one of which was close to his own.

    That’s the kind of book a lot of philosophers can appreciate, whether or not they agree with the writer’s own peculiar views.

    (It’s a common complaint in philosophy that somebody manages to characterize a controversy very well, and then somehow still manages to come down on “obviously” the wrong side of it.)

    A fair bit of philosophy by Christian philosophers (and others, too, for sure) is like that—you don’t have to agree with the writer’s bottom line to admire their grasp of the nature of a controversy, or the history of a set of ideas. (Many philosophers are more historians of thought than practicing philosophers themselves.)

    It seems to me that you’re casting about for something that gives you grounds for disagreeing with Dennett or shoring up your anti-Dennett position by showing that other professional philosophers disagree with him, or agree with Taylor.

    It seems to me that all you’ve got it is some vague intuitions, a backed by arguments from authority and arguments from lack of authority.

    I could be wrong, and do correct me if I am, but I sorta get the impression that you’re trying to make materialist theory of mind out to be a discipline in crisis, and in particular trying to undermine Dennett’s credibility by linking to an article in which he talks about two dimensions of diversity of opinion about exactly how the mind goes.

    Do keep in mind that the whole East Pole/West Pole thing (roughly classical symbolic AI vs. connectionism) has nothing much to do with anything we’ve been talking about, and that almost all the people Dennett mentions in that regard agree with him (and with me) about both atheism and materialism.

    For example, Lakoff is more East Pole connectionist and Dennett is more West Pole symbolic, but they’re both thoroughgoing materialists and thoroughgoing atheists, and agree on a whole lot of basic facts of neuroscience and psychology. Neither of them thinks there’s much room in the theory of mind for a traditional (Cartesian dualist soul), or in fact any kind of dualism at all.

    Likewise, as I’ve said before, the few dualists left in such fields are mostly property dualists, not substance dualists, and their advocacy of dualism of that weak sort is usually to deal with the problem of qualia—not to salvage any sort of immaterial soul as would be useful for any remotely orthodox religion. They’ve generally discarded that hypothesis, and offer it no support.

    (It’s also not, in general to rescue the brain from the incomputability of mentality—most of these guys think that mental phenomena are computational and the controversies are about what style of computation at different levels of functional organization. Basically they all agree that it’s connectionist at the bottom and something-very-like discrete symbolic schemas at the top, but differ on particular models and division of labor and styles of computation among the levels.)

    Similarly, the stuff about Heidegger, Husserl, and Rod Brooks seems way off the mark if you think it undermines anything Dennett says that is actually relevant to what we’ve been arguing about. That’s not about materialism vs. dualist or orthodox religious conception of the mind, either. It’s basically about more-or-less explicit representations of the world either in the form of discrete symbolic representations, OR as subsymbolic connectionist network configurations versus implicit sorta-representation of the world and “situated activity” where the causal chains cross between the inside and the outside of the organism in a useful way without there being an explicit representation inside that mirrors the world outside.

    There’s a lot more agreement and common ground in the seemingly disparate views Dennett is talking about than you seem to realize. That’s not obvious if you aren’t familiar with all the concepts.

    Most if not all of those guys are thoroughgoing atheists and/or monistic materialists, and the relevant issues are things you don’t seem to indicate that you have any grasp of.

    (In particular, one crucial issue is the extent to which we cognize the world mediated by explicit representations, vs. implicit things that might relate to external regularities in the world and “tune” us to its structure without being anything like a picture of that world.)

    It seems to me that you’re grasping at controversies within cognitive science and neuroscience to support your own uninformed views, and ideally denigrate Dennett’s credibility with respect to completely unrelated matters.

    Most of the people mentioned in that article are more or less like me—they more or less agree with Dennett, about the big picture things that are actually relevant to the New Atheism. (Whether or not they’re sympathetic to the New Atheist program.)

    It might be news to you that I take some continental philosophers seriously, notably Husserl and Heidegger, and think they had things to say that are relevant to cognitive science, especially with respect to issues of explicit vs. implicit representations and Heidegger’s concept of dasein (being-in-the-world). I also agree that Anglo-American positivism was a mistake, and that the split between continental philosophy and Anglo-American “analytic” philosophy was unfortunate.

  81. Paul W.

    Jon,

    I have a long post in moderation, which may sound like an argument from authority. It wasn’t meant that way—it was meant as a counter-argument from authority to rebut what seemed like an argument from authority (and an argument from lack of authority), from you.

    If I misunderstood what you were trying to do, I sincerely apologize in advance.

  82. Jon

    I fully admit I’m an amateur, not a professional, on the subject of philosophy. I haven’t studied it systematically and I’m going “cheerfully barefoot” as a professor of mine used to say. Maybe my argument with Dennett is not ready for prime time.

    I do know there is an idealist position in philosophy. Here’s an interview with Kieth Ward talking about it.

    And about Charles Taylor and the way he presents things in a kind of “history of ideas” approach–I think that’s similar to his mentor Isaiah Berlin (who was definitely not a Christian apologist). For instance, here’s an essay by Berlin on the subject of the “two cultures”: http://berlin.wolf.ox.ac.uk/published_works/ac/divorce.pdf

  83. Vindrisi

    But is the designer combinatorially complex or contingent? We don’t know. Until we are confronted with those two qualities as well, we would not need to posit a design explanation for the designer, so there is no recursion.

    How convenient. So let me see if I have this straight: We have design in nature which is perfectly well accounted for by a naturalistic explanation. But, on the basis of ill-informed arguments of incredulity and ignorance, ID folk reject that explanation, positing that the design in nature must instead be attributed to an intelligent designer not in evidence or supported except on the basis of the “explanatory filter”, which is not supported by any data and really seems to be a baseless assertion. However, because nothing can be known about this intelligent designer save for that it is intelligent and can design, it can’t be argued against on the basis of attributes that it really must have if it is to be natural and not violate ID. Mato, that isn’t science. That isn’t philosophy. That might be really shoddy theology that is a discredit to the field. However, what it most resembles is dishonest sophistry, which is really what I have come to expect from the ID movement in general.

  84. Paul W.

    I fully admit I’m an amateur, not a professional, on the subject of philosophy. I haven’t studied it systematically and I’m going “cheerfully barefoot” as a professor of mine used to say. Maybe my argument with Dennett is not ready for prime time.

    Fair enough. I certainly reserve the right to comment on things I’m not an expert on, and I’m not actually a philosopher either. (Although I have played one on TV.)

    As for Idealism… I’m not sure where you’re going with that.

    (I haven’t listened to that podcast, sorry… I usually find listening to podcasts frustrating, because I can read much faster than people talk, especially in interviews, and because it’s hard to skip over things you already know, or skip back and make sure you got things right when you get confused about exactly what someone actually said.)

    AFAIK Idealism is mostly dead in philosophy, at least anything much like

    Darwin is part of the reason for that. He showed that some of the most important examples of categories (species, larger scale taxa) didn’t involve Ideal types in any way whatsoever—they’re thoroughly contingent categories defined by a fundamentally contingent historical process.

    So for example, there’s no ideal dog. Theres’s just a lot of similar genotypes and phenotypes that we call dogs, which are more closely related to each other than they are to, say, cats.

    What makes a particular species a particular species and not some other species is largely negatively defined as well, in a historically contingent way—it’s a matter of which in-between versions died out at some time in the past, leaving relatively isolated islands of similarity that we call species.

    (Say what you will about Dennett, his discussion of this and the philosophical importance of Darwinism in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea is pretty good.)

  85. Paul W.

    Oops… I guess I inadvertently deleted some text. (My 9 inch netbook keyboard strikes again—a little bit tricky to type on.)

    trying again:

    AFAIK Idealism is mostly dead in philosophy, at least anything much like Platonic Idealism.

    This is one of the huge advances in philosophy and science in the last 200 years.
    Plato was right about a lot of things, like the silliness of Divine Command Theory of morality, but idealism was a big mistake.

    We now know how to understand categories in much more realistic (and scientific) ways. There doesn’t have to be, and usually isn’t, an ideal type that particular individuals somehow participate in, in some top-down way.

    We live in a basically bottom-up universe, where the high-level kinds of things that we observe emerge from the interactions of simpler things. We get species from the historical, contingent process of evolution, simpler phenomena from “attractors” in phase space a la chaos theory and complexity theory, and so on.

    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t interesting high-level categories that cross-classify with the categories we get from historical processes. For example, we get convergent evolution largely due to what Dennett calls the rediscovery of “good moves in design space,” and more generally we get strange attractors—islands of certain kinds of stability, reachable by many different causal paths—in chaos theory and complexity theory.

    Those things explain why idealism is so intuitively appealing, but also why it’s so misguided.

    And they have a lot to do with the concept of the supernatural.

    Supernatural thinking is basically thinking in high-level terms about things that turn out not to be that kind of high-level phenomena. They’re a very different kind of high-level phenomena, that emerge in more or less understandable ways, bottom-up, from low-level phenomena.

    (And that, for my money, is the single most important idea in science, and the most important idea in philosophy for over two thousand years. Nobody is actually scientifically literate who doesn’t understand it, and most people clearly don’t.)

    So, for example, a Goddess of Love who creates some love for somebody and afflicts you with it is just a category mistake, or rather several kinds of category mistake.

    Minds and emotions just don’t work that way, because love is nothing like an object or substance that you can create, and minds are not the kind of thing that an object or substance could affect in the right way to constitute being in love.

    We didn’t know that for thousands of years, so supernatural explanations weren’t obviously nonsensical. Now, in light of modern science, they generally are.

    Thats not because we “disproved” the existence of the goddess, or of love, or of superpowers that would allow a superbeing to do something roughly like that.

    It’s because we have a much clearer idea of what love is, and now we know that trying to make someone fall in love that way wouldn’t work.

    The only thing that would count as making a human be in love is to subtly alter a variety of representations in their brains in just such a way as to make them be in love, as though they’d fallen in love the natural way.

    Tossing a blob of love into their soul just wouldn’t work, for a variey of reasons we now understand.

    Firstly because they don’t have a soul—at least not in the requisite sense of a substance dualist soul which does the love thing; we now know that happens primarily if not exclusively in the neural networks of the brain, and their intercommunication via axon spikes, hormones, etc.

    Secondly because we know that nothing remotely like a simple object or substance or energy could do the job. You’d need something more like a sophisticated software update patch, that went around and fiddled with a variety of knowledge representations, rather like a computer vir.us.

    This wouldn’t count as supernatural, IMHO, at least not in any current sense of the word I’m familiar with. It would make somebody like Aphrodite into an alien cyberhacker, and I don’t think that’s what anybody had in mind.

    When we think of the supernatural, as opposed to the merely fancily technological,
    we generally presuppose certain kinds of categories of things that turn out to be not just unreal, empirically, but impossible in light of empirical facts about what things have turned to actually be.

    Minds and emotions, especially, turn out to be different from what we always assumed, such that most supernatural stories just can’t work any better than the Thor story does in light of electrical theory of lightning.

  86. Paul W.

    OK, I’ve often been accused by some people here of scientism and philistinism. Those people almost always fail to engage with anything I’m actually saying.

    Now that I’ve actually explained my basic point of view, and given some crucial examples, would anybody like to point out the scientism or philistinism in any specific thing I’ve said?

    I do think science can explain a lot, including a lot of stuff normally regarded as subject matter for religion, and out of the reach of science. Is that “scientistic”? Is it “scientistic” in a bad, unjustifiable way? Or are accusations of “scientism” just a pejorative that means I think the scope of science is broader than you do, but you’re not willing to argue the point?

    Examples, please. Give me an example or two of something specific that I get wrong by being too “scientistic.”

    And am I really a philistine? Is there anything I’ve said that justifies such a claim? I try to actually think things through, and explain my reasoning, in light of fairly broad study in a variety of disciplines.

    I don’t think I’m “guided by material concerns” in the bad sense of the word “philistine.” I’m a philosophical materialist, but that’s a very different thing from being a crass materialist in the vernacular sense. I also don’t think that I’m particularly “uninformed,” at least by the standards here, and demonstrably not “uninterested in intellectual pursuits.”

    So where, exactly, is the philistinism in what I’ve been saying?

    Until you guys can back up your charges, please can the insults and ad hominem dismissals. You’re the ones arguing like philistines, who are uninterested in intellectual concerns.

    Actually, I don’t mind the insults as much as the ad hominem dismissals.

    Sure, call me a philistine, call me scientistic, etc.—if you’ll sincerely try to defend the point, and justify the claim civilly and rationally, without broad-brush smears, ad hominem dismissals, arguments from authority, or bait-and-switch fallacies.

    Make my day.

  87. Paul W.

    By the way, anyone actually interested in the origin-of-life issue would do well to read Genesis by Robert Hazen (an origin-of-life researcher) and/or At Home in the Universe by Stuart Kauffman.

    I think the origin of life has already been reduced to a scientific puzzle rather than (as the ID folks would have it) a great mystery.

    We don’t know exactly how life did start, but we have a very plausible entirely materialistic framework for it, and several more detailed competing theories.

    This is just not an area where it’s plausible to invoke special creation.

  88. Jon

    Here’s a recent dialog between Jurgen Habermas and Charles Taylor:

    http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/2009/11/20/rethinking-secularism-jurgen-habermas-and-charles-taylor-in-conversation/

    If he were such a nobody, Paul, as I think you’re suggesting, I doubt we’d see him squaring off with Habermas.

  89. Paul W.

    Jon,

    I’m not suggesting he was a nobody; he isn’t.

    I was a little skeptical of your list of people praising him, and your apparent implication that they must take his own philosophy seriously. I’d be surprised if it was true of all of them.

  90. Paul W.

    Of course I think we’re going on a bit excessively about arguments from authority or lack of same.

    If you’re going to defend the reasonableness of Catholicism, as you seem to be doing by talking about Taylor, I’d rather you tried to do it directly.

    Is there something in particular you wanted me to get out of the dialogue between Habermas and Taylor?

    If so, could you state the point and outline the argument in your own words?

    If not, do you just want me to acknowledge that Habermas takes Taylor seriously enough to argue with him in public? Sure he does. (Then again, some philosophers make living out of being people that other people love to publicly disagree with. :-) )

    BTW, will you answer the specific question I asked about Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body?

    Is that an example of the sort of theology I should have more respect for, or is there some other kind of more theologically liberal theology that I should have more respect for, or what?

    I’d really, really like at least one specific example, from anybody, of what I’m supposed to be scientistic about, and therefore a philistine, if I think it’s a load of malarkey.

    (Which is what I do think of those two essays. I can defend that view, if there’s any interest, but only Ian has given those examples as good theology.)

    And I’d really like specific points and arguments brought up, not just links to essays and dialogues.

  91. Paul W.

    BTW, Jon,

    I don’t think we have any difference of opinionworth fighting over about the popularity of theistic/atheistic views among professional philosophers.

    I think I’ve made my point that Dennett’s basic views that are relevant here are at least not unusual in philosophy (about the scope of science vs. religion, the implausibility of dualistic souls, and epistemic conflict between science and religion).

    And you have made your point that some philosophers are orthodox theists and get some respect from philosophers who are nontheist. (A point I never disagreed with.)

    We could fight about whether it’s a majority view in philosophy that god is pretty well dead on scientific and philosophical grounds, or whether it’s a majority view that science can’t pretty-well-kill god, on principle, or whatever.

    But who cares? I don’t think either of us is going to change their minds based on the popularity of views among professional philosophers. Either of us is more inclined to more heavily weight the philosophers they agree with, etc.

    So let’s stop and go back to Chris’s original post, and what he says about scientists ruling the supernatural out of science.

    Have I failed to make my case that

    1) no, that’s not really what happened, because
    2) supernaturalism is not intrinsically unfalsifiable, and in fact
    3) straightforward supernaturalism usually is falsifiable in principle, and
    4) the falsifiable kind of supernaturalism appears to in fact be false in light of modern science (e.g., neuroscience making traditional souls implausible) and
    5) the unfalsifiable kind of supernaturalism seems to be a desperate attempt to salvage a failing paradigm, rather like a holdover of geocentrism.

  92. Paul W.

    Jon,

    If you’d rather go back to the actual issue in the thread where the Dennet vs. Taylor authority weirdness started, you could address the question there. (Mooney’s Big Straw Man #1 of 2.)

    When Forrest or Mooney dismiss the New Atheist critique saying that “you can’t disprove the supernatural,” or something similar about God, isn’t that a big old straw man?

    Because…

    The New Atheists do not claim, and none has ever claimed, to strictly disprove the supernatural in general, or disprove all possible things that somebody might call God.

    What they do claim to do is debunk most religion—the kind of religion that almost everybody who considers themselves religion believes. They do this by showing that there’s actual evidence against typical supernatural claims—at least the ones most religion hinges on—and actual evidence against the kind of god or gods most people are prone to believing in.

    And they’re right. Neuroscience shows that the traditional concept of the substance dualist soul can’t be right—or at least not without introducing huge amounts of bizarre baggage into theology, which makes it look pretty silly.

    And pretty much everything Gods were meant to explain is better explained, at least in a general way, by one science or another. (E.g. electricity explains lightning, neuroscience explains the appearance of souls without the need for actual souls, etc.)

    So aren’t Forrest and Mooney dodging the crucial bone of contention when they oversimplify it to a matter of strictly disproving the supernatural or God, and flatly saying that you can’t?

    (And aren’t they begging the question when they claim that science can’t or won’t study the supernatural, as though that was a basic principle of science, as Mooney does in the original post of this thread? Those two canards are mutually supporting.)

    And when Mooney presents this as common knowledge among the philosophically sophisticated, and paints the New Atheists as philosophically naive, isn’t that just (a) making an argument from authority, (b) misrepresenting the actual consensus or at least the lack of same in philosophy, such that it’s a particularly bad argument from authority, and (c) hypocritically making an unforgivably simplistic argument while misrepresenting the New Atheists as unsubtle and naive?

    (Don’t you think Mooney’s read Breaking the Spell, which clearly lays this all out? And if not, isn’t that horrendously irresponsible?)

    So isn’t that frequent dodge basically dishonest, and very clearly so since the actual issue has been raised and explained scores of times, here and elsewhere, and at book length by some of the New Atheists?

    So far, nobody here seems to be willing and able to address this central issue. Instead they keep bringing up ancillary issues like whether there are any good Christian philosophers, and like Mooney himself, they consistently dodge the main issue, no matter how many times it’s pointed out.

    The point is that Forrest and Scott and Mooney habitually misrepresent the New Atheist position, and misrepresent the consensus in philosophy (there is no consesus that the New Atheists are wrong, certainly), and keep doing it despite the fact that they’ve known better for at least two years.

    This is a chronic pattern of intentional deception and hypocritically dismissive condescension.

    Isn’t it?

    If you grant that, I’ll grant that Chuck Taylor is a fine philosopher, though I disagree with him on crucial issues.

  93. Jon

    OK, I think I’ve figured out how to get a hold of this.

    You said: I think I’ve made my point that Dennett’s basic views that are relevant here are at least not unusual in philosophy (the scope of science vs. religion, the implausibility of dualistic souls, and epistemic conflict between science and religion) … But who cares?

    As I’ve said about fifty trillion times here, the reason to care is *politics.* Do you want to offend all sorts of people who could be our allies, or do you want to acknowledge that people with conflicting but reasonable points of view can disagree amicably, with a degree of comity that allows people to work together effectively?

    To get to the point I want to make in this comment, let’s take a look at Habermas’s comment in the dialog I linked to above:

    Certainly what you have to abstract from if you enter a discussion between Kantians and Utilitarians is that with those doctrines there is not internally connected a specific path to salvation, a path to salvation that enhances considerably religion, as we understand it. A path to salvation means: follow an exemplary figure which draws its authority from ancient origins or testimony.

    …A path to salvation is different from any kind of ethics—ethics in my sense of explaining how you should lead a life that is not only good in the Utilitarian sense, and not even only desirable in the Aristotelian sense or Augustinian sense, but which is a life where you can, the next morning, look into the mirror and not blush—this kind of life. [my emphasis]

    Here Habermas is basically talking about the soteriogy and epistemology that I talked about a couple threads back. Again, soteriology has more in common with Hellenistic ataraxia or apatheia than the Laws of Physics as discovered by Newton. (Indeed, St. Augustine–who I would argue, in many ways invented Christianity as we know it–was heavily influenced by the stoics.) As even Carl Sagan has said, religion and science are two different types of projects, and analogously soteriogy and epistemology are two different types of projects. Epistemologically, we have all the reason to believe the big bang happened, but it is not the same project as the Biblical story of origin and man’s fallen nature and the tradition of Biblical exegesis that discusses it.

    Notice that in this dialog Habermas is not trashing religion or the idea of salvation, but merely wants to seperate it from the public sphere. I think this is because the German philosophical tradition is indebted religious traditions, out of which the German enlightenment came.

    Now, you can say evo psych can tell me all about this “looking into the mirror and not blushing” kind of thing. But is this the same thing as knowing how to “look into the mirror and not blush?” The notion that these two things are alike is something that I strenuously resist. For most people, learning the physics of blushing is a *very ineffective* way of learning how to live a life where no blushing is needed–just like in that Emerson quote from a while back, you don’t get much wisdom out of learning the precise number of eyebrow hairs Confucious has.

    It’s interesting to observe that both Habermas and Taylor are philosophers that comment quite a bit on politics. Dennett, by contrast, comments very little about politics (correct me if I’m wrong). I think this is because Dennett’s implicit politics is that if we think more rationally and scientifically, everything is improved. I think Habermas and Taylor would say more thinking about human beings than that is needed. You can’t just contemptuously dismiss something as culturally pervasive as soteriology as simply meaningless and atavistic. More thinking about human questions is needed.

    Now, you could simply say “I disagree, soteriology is bunk.” That’s fine. But most graduate students when they train they have to learn the important arguments going on in their fields. They get to know even the minority views, and get to know the different arguments and approaches. I think if New Atheists *did* that before their discussions of religion (for instance, ask themselves what’s the difference between a Taylor or Habermas view and theirs), there would be much less of a “Bill O’Reilly” approach among New Atheists. They would realize just how much of the origins of modern thinking came out of religious traditions, and while some religious beliefs may be stupid, religions aren’t *inherently* stupid, and have shown themselves to have at least some potentials that you can respect. Once you’re at that place, I think you look like much more of an adult when you’re discussing religion. And that means a mature level of collegiality when we’re going through life trying to solve common problems.

    (Anyway, this is way too much work for comment number 94 and that’s about it for me.)

  94. Paul W.

    Jon,

    As I’ve said about fifty trillion times here, the reason to care is *politics.* Do you want to offend all sorts of people who could be our allies, or do you want to acknowledge that people with conflicting but reasonable points of view can disagree amicably, with a degree of comity that allows people to work together effectively?

    I’m a little peeved now.

    Have I not made it clear from the very start that one of my two main points is about political strategy?

    Have I not made it clear from the very start that Chris’s Big Straw Man #2 is an oversimplification of the strategic issues in political argumentation?

    Have you not failed to address those issues, which I’ve raised repeatedly, in dozens and dozens of posts?

    Have you not raised all kinds of other irrelevancies over and over again while dodging the two main issues over and over again, never giving me a straight answer about a single pointed question?

    Now you come back and tell me it’s about politics?

    That sucks.

  95. Jon

    Shoot, what I said above was a little confusing in that Habermas was talking about ethics, not religion, when he was talking about “looking in the mirror.” But Habermas would say that ethics and a “path of salvation” do share some things in common (although Habermas is arguing for a clear distinction in the overall dialog…)

  96. Paul W.

    Jon,

    This is ridiculous. It’s not clear to me that you understand what Habermas is saying in the thing you linked to, and it’s pretty clear that you’re misrepresenting Dennett and me.

    You haven’t read Breaking the Spell, evidently. I don’t think he and Habermas are as far apart as you seem to, because neither is as close to Taylor as you seem to think.

    At any rate, I’m not Dennett and don’t want to go off into a defense of Dennett, or Habermas and Taylor in the middle of an argument about something else.

    You have pulled Chris’s usual trick of

    1) ignoring the real issues behind his first straw man, refusing to acknowledge anything I’ve said, i.e., that the New Atheist position on incompatibility of science and religion is not and never has been the position you guys keep refuting, and then

    2) saying “it doesn’t matter, it’s all about politics,” and making the same tired argument about backlash and whatnot that we’ve heard a zillion times before and AGREED with up to a point, and

    3) ignoring the fact that we have seeming counterexamples to the simplistic accommodationist reasoning about backlash, and a crucial counterargument, which justifies a quite different strategy.

    Until you’re willing to address Chris’s two big straw men rather than just parrotting his line and being evasive in exactly the same way, there isn’t much point in continuing this conversation.

    Now, you could simply say “I disagree, soteriology is bunk.” That’s fine. But most graduate students when they train they have to learn the important arguments going on in their fields. They get to know even the minority views, and get to know the different arguments and approaches.

    This is oh so typical of anti-New Atheist accommodationists. First you avoid the actual arguments in the relevant fields, so that you can misrepresent your critics’ position, then you accuse them of being the ones who are avoiding the arguments.

    I gotta say, if you were one of my graduate students, you’d learn to argue seriously, or you’d be gone.

    FWIW, did I ever say soteriology is bunk? No.

    I asked for a clarification of what *you* meant by soteriology, so I could be sure I understood you. You didn’t bother to give one.

    Going on what I take to be the 2 most common senses of the word, I argued that soteriology is at least somewhat less universally important than you made it out to be.

    I presented cross-cultural evidence to that effect, which you studiously ignored.

    I also acknowledged that nonetheless, soteriology is important to many people, and even presented some interesting recent cross-cultural evidence about who those people are.

    This is a far cry from doing what you represent me as doing—simply dismissing soteriology as bunk, like a graduate student who doesn’t know or care about the issue.

    I kept the conversation going. You bailed.

    You seem to get frustrated when I don’t simply agree with what you say, even when you refuse to make it clear just what you’re actually saying.

    That is not the level of argumentation I expect from my graduate students, or graduate students in any field. It bites.

  97. Paul W.

    Shoot, what I said above was a little confusing in that Habermas was talking about ethics, not religion, when he was talking about “looking in the mirror.” But Habermas would say that ethics and a “path of salvation” do share some things in common (although Habermas is arguing for a clear distinction in the overall dialog…)

    Yes, John, maybe now you’re starting to understand.

    Habermas is arguing for a clear distinction.

    Taylor is arguing that it’s just a continuum, and that religious disagreement with secular reasoning is just another disagreement on principles, and in politics you have to compromise with people you can’t reach fundamental agreement with, whether the fundamental disagreement is about religion or not.

    (I think he’s saying there’s no qualitative political difference between, say, an unresolvable difference of moral opinion between a Kantian and a Catholic dogmatist on the one hand, and an unresolvable difference on moral principles between a Utilitarian and a Kantian on the other.)

    I’m not sure because I don’t really care about Habermas’s opinion as Habermas’s authoritative opinion but I think Habermas is at least in part making a point I would make.

    (If I’ve got Habermas wrong, I don’t care. The point I’m making is more interesting than any argument from Habermas’s authority. Please argue the points, not the people!)

    Roughly, Habermas is (or should be) disagreeing with Taylor, because religion generally claims special status for itself, making itself invulnerable to rational critique while simultaneously claiming to know objective truth.

    For example, the Pope does not say that the sanctitiy of marriage and the sinfulness of nonmarital sex is just a rule for Catholics. He says God has a plan for sex, and it applies to everyone, and that’s why God loves all the sinners but hates premarital sex, extramarital sex, and gay marriage, so Catholics should vote against gay marriage and comprehensive sex ed and condoms for HIV-afflicted Africa and embryonic stem cell research and all sorts of other utterly easonable things.

    The Pope explicitly thinks that his “Theology of the Body” applies to people who are not Catholic, many of whom have died already–including several of my friends, God damn it!—and millions more who will predictably die, because of the application of that theology in the larger world.

    So the Pope, like many but not all theologians, thinks that his theological reasoning is binding on people who don’t agree with it, because it’s a factually and morally binding truth whether people accept that or not, and its strictures should be imposed on people who disagree, against their will, even if it sometimes kills them. So Catholics and like-minded people with other theologies should assert themselves and exert political force to make the world the way they like it, disagreement be damned.

    The Pope and like minded theological conservatives do things like making me and my friends felons for sensibly ignoring his bronze-age rules about sex. (Up until recently, there were some pretty strange laws about sex where I live. Luckily, they got overturned by a Supreme Court that takes the constitution fairly seriously.)

    That’s not okay. That is not how a secular society should work, and secular folks should push back against the incredible arrogance of religious people imposing their rules on other people who don’t believe what they do.

    Taylor likes to make it sound like this kind of unresolvable-conflict-and-necessary-compromise is basically the same thing as a nonreligious conflict necessitating compromise.

    It damned well isn’t, and you’d know that if you read books like Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds.

    The difference between Utilitarian and deontological (e.g., Kantian) moral reasoning may be unresolvable in general, because while most people share both kinds of fundamental moral intuitions—probably for evolved-in reasons, perhaps a la D.S. Wilson—the emphasis varies and is to some degree shaped by culture in ways that are very difficult to unpack and resolve.

    But the difference between a secular Utilitarian and a secular Kantian is qualitatively different than the difference between either one and a dogmatic Catholic who buys “Humana Vitae” and “Theology of the Body.”

    Neither secular moralist can make an argument from authority, and both are in principle at least open to scientific facts about the nature of the conflict, and how they may reveal a true necessity of compromise.

    So, for example if Hauser is scientifically right, there may be no objective truth as to whether Kant was more “right” about what’s right than, say John Stuart Mill. They may recognize that people really do have unresolvable moral differences in certain fairly fundamental respects, but that for most political purposes it doesn’t matter. Neither will see the necessity for keeping condoms away from HIV-infected Africans, although they will justify the distribution of condoms in somewhat different ways.

    Even better, if they can sort out the objective, scientific facts about the nature of morality, their moral schemes may tend to converge. I think we actually have seen that in philosophy over the last couple of hundred years, especially the last fifty years.

    Except for a few die-hard Benthamite (straight) Utilitarians, most Utilitarians have come to recognize that Kant got something right that Bentham didn’t, and like Mill, they have adopted Rule Utilitarianism. There are some deep and subtle differences between deontological morality and Rule Utilitarian morality, but in practical terms they’re broadly similar, and very often end up in the same place on concrete issues relevant to politics.

    Even when they can’t agree on things like moral rules—say a Benthamite vs. a Kantian, secular moralists often do still agree on the bottom line that matters to politics.

    As long as you keep supernatural religion and especially divine revelation out of it, that is.

    Divine revelation screws many things up. There is no way around God Says So.

    There is no way in hell a secular moralist of any common kind is going to agree that secular homosexuals should have to live according to the Pope’s ideal of The Good Life. The scientific facts show that the Pope is wrong about the nature of homosexuality, and the nature of marriage as a social institution, and the nature of morality itself. The Pope is simply and obviously in error on several levels, and has scored a hat trick of fractal wrongness.

    Likewise, any dogmatic Catholic who recognizes the authority of the Church in moral matters is never going to agree with, say, Peter Singer about gay marriage. Never ever ever.

    This is an example of what I’m talking about when I say that religion makes a lot of things worse by making otherwise difficult—but still potentially tractable—problems less tractable.

    Because of that, the only way for secular moralists to help our society is for them to oppose religion in some sense. (Like it or not, we have a culture war going on, and it wasn’t the secularists who started it.)

    One way to do that is to get out the non-religious or not-very-dogmatic vote, and vote against the orthodox religious folks who feel obligated to impose their views on other people’s lives.

    But that only goes so far, so long as many people are orthodoxly religious—not just fundamentalist, mind you, but accepting simplistic dogma about souls, divine revelation about the nature of morality and particular moral issues, etc.

    You can’t outvote the majority.

    The only way to seriously reduce the problem of dogmatic folks who interfere with other people’s reasonable choices and matters of public policy is to reduce the prevalence of dogmatism. Not just fundamentalism, but “moderate” orthodoxy.

    And that means that you have to attack a couple of central ideas of most popular religion—dogma about souls, and dogma about divine revelation about morality. You have to increase the prevalence of skepticism about souls, skepticism about revelation, etc.

    Refusing to do so is giving away too much ground. For example, if you flatter people’s scientifically false views of the nature of the immaterial soul, you lose your best refutation of religious arguments against birth control, embryonic stem cell research, AIDS prevention, gay rights, and a host of other things it’s not polite to hammer on, because it reflects so very badly on religion.

    And if you refuse to deny the validity of religious revelation, you’re mostly giving away the store.

    The Pope is wrong because there is no God who whispers in his ear, and he’s just not a great philosopher. The fundamentalists are wrong because there is no God who dictated the scriptures inerrantly. The Dalai Lama is wrong because he is not an ancient being with wisdom accumulated over many lifetimes.

    The assumption has to be that such things are a crock. Even if some theology might be right, and we “can’t disprove the existence of the divine,” we sure can show that theology systematically tends to lead you into error. You can demonstrate that scientifically, but really it’s just simple philosophy.

    Most theologies disagree with each other about major points. (Is there a god? Is god a person? Is there more than one? Are you morally culpable for things that happened before you were born? Are you morally culpable for those things because you lived before and you did those things, or because you bear the responsibility for other people’s actions that you had no possibility of control over? Do you have free will? Are you predestined? Is homosexuality a sin? )

    And most theologies are not relativistic, either factually or morally. They make truth claims about what does or doesn’t exist (e.g., souls, gods, demons, divine revelations, sources of true divine revelation, justice, karma, hell, miracles…) and what is right or wrong (the existence of objective moral truth, the nature of objective moral truth, whether it’s a matter of what a god wants, patriarchy, revenge, premarital sex, particular sex acts, particular foods, meat eating, slavery, killing apostates, killing infidels, gay sex, revenge, collective guilt, substitutional sacrifice…).

    This isn’t really “judging theology by the standards of science,” as has been scoffed at here. You don’t need strict scientific analysis to see that theology is a zoo, by the standards of theology.

    Theologians mostly disagree with each other on important, theologically defining points, except to the extent that they agree with science and secular moral reasoning at the expense of revelation and orthodoxy.

    If that’s not a discipline in crisis, I don’ t know what is. Not by the standards of a scientific paradigm, but by the internal standards of theology and almost any theological paradigm.

    Even within Christianity alone, in the U.S. alone, it’s a freaking zoo. Even if you just look at the broadest currents, such as conservative (orthodox) theology and liberal (heterodox) theology, there’s no consensus on anything important that secular folks don’t already know from science and secular reasoning.

    So, for example, you have a range of opinion on scriptural errancy ranging from strict literalism through nonliteral inerrantism through views where the bible is mostly divinely inspired but has a lot of archaic junk in it, or mostly archaic junk but partly divinely inspired, to thinking that it’s basically just myth (but our myth, so work within that tradition).

    And in each of those categories, along that single spectrum, the theologians think that people elsewhere are seriously in error, both factually and morally.

    Clearly, most theologians think that most theologians are mostly wrong, by the standards of theology.

    It isn’t just me and the New Atheists. On that point, we’re just pointing out the obvious.

    Theology has had thousands of years to get its act together, without science to help it. It failed, consistently, with no emerging consensus on anything important.

    It’s had hundreds of years to get its act together in light of science, and it has failed, pretty consistently, except to the extent that it has ceded authority to science over issues that were previously considered to be in the domain of theology.

    There’s a pattern there, I think. It looks just like a failing paradigm with a faulty central hypothesis or two.

    That kind of pattern doesn’t prove that the central hypotheses are in error, but it’s a big heads up that we should take the possibility really seriously.

    But of course theology proliferates and ramifies largely by distracting people from the forest and focusing on all those varied trees.

    And Jon, you’re right. Politics is crucially important. That’s been one of my main points all along, which you ignore when it’s convenient, and oversimplify when that’s convenient.

    My position, and most New Atheists’ position, is that religion is important in politics, in the way I’ve outline above, and that’s why we can’t be complacent and just compromise, compromise, compromise.

    In the long run we have to push back, not just on particular issues, but against the moral and political authority of religion in general.

    The middle of the political spectrum is crucially important. At this point, it’s mostly fairly religiously orthodox, and that will always be cause many political problems until it changes.

    Respect for religion makes people pull their punches about moral and political issues, and compromise too much, in too many ways.

    Millions of people are quite predictably dying because of that, and I don’t think accommodationism is going to stop that sort of thing from happening.

    We have to shift the Overton Window about religious orthodoxy, which is one of the root problems with our political discourse. Too many people are pushing public policy the wrong ways because of their orthodox religious beliefs, and we have to change their minds.

    As I’ve always said, I could be wrong—maybe Overton-style reasoning is wrong, or the argument doesn’t usually outweigh accomodationist arguments at the bottom line.

    But you will never convince me (and Chris will never convince New Atheists) of that if you just avoid the argument.

    We know and understand your side of the argument, and we always have.

    We take it more seriously than it probably seems to you and we always have.

    You will not pull us in your direction by making the same tired arguments we’ve heard so many times before, as though you were telling us something we don’t know.

    You can only pull us in your direction if you acknowledge our arguments and show us they’re not as good as yours, and that the apparent counterexamples to your strategic reasoning aren’t fatal.

    Two words: Overton Windows.

    Deal with it.

  98. Vindrisi

    Jon,

    Please don’t reply Paul. There are two reasons: 1. I don’t think it is worth your time or effort. 2. It is fun to see how much verbiage he is able to throw up on his own. It is really amazing. Look at just how much of there is of it already! It just keeps going up, long, disjointed, vituperative. Truly amazing. He clearly doesn’t want to discuss, but wants only some semblance of an excuse to write endlessly of his point of view. Reminds me of John A. Davison more than anyone, with Overton taking the place of Mivart.

  99. Paul W.

    It is really amazing. Look at just how much of there is of it already! It just keeps going up, long, disjointed, vituperative. Truly amazing. He clearly doesn’t want to discuss, but wants only some semblance of an excuse to write endlessly of his point of view. Reminds me of John A. Davison more than anyone, with Overton taking the place of Mivart.

    Whatever. I happen to know that there are at least a few people still reading this thread who disagree with your assessment, and are actually interested. (On both sides of the accommodationism thing.) And if people like Jon and you keep repeating the same two basic evasions while criticizing the New Atheists, I’ll keep pointing it out.

    I’ve also been asked to guest blog about this topic on a group blog, where it’ll be more visible than in comments here. I’m happy to try out the rhetoric here—and demonstrably give Chris and Sheril and their defenders plenty of chances to respond—before I take it to a much more public place.

    So here we go again, just for you

    1. Vindrisi, isn’t it true that Chris systematically misrepresents the “New Atheist” position (epistemic incompatibility between science and religion), and commits a fallacy of four terms by presenting a rebuttal to a different position (brute force compatibily, like marriage and adultery are compatible).

    Isn’t it true that the New Atheists have always acknowledged brute force compatibility and the latter and Mooney has always dodged the argument about their actual claims, i.e., epistemic incompatibility. (Big Straw Man #1.)

    2. Vindrisi, isn’t it true that Chris Mooney has always misrepresented the strategic argument between accommodationists and New Atheists, by failing to acknowledge that they agree with his arguments up to a point, but have countervailing arguments and counterexamples, which they’ve stated many times over at least 2 years, but he pretends not to notice? (Big Straw Man #2.)

    3. Vindrisi, isn’t that a bit disingenuous on Mooney’s part, and now on your part?

    Sure, you can evasively dismiss me, but you guys have been systematically avoiding the two main issues the whole damned time, choosing to call me “vituperative” or whatever the latest smear is, rather than give a straight answer about either of the two main bones of contention.

    Lightweight.

    You got nothin’. You don’t address either of major issues, because you know those are straw men, but they’ve all you’ve got.

    And yes, I can do a stunning amount of this. I’ve thought this stuff a fair bit for decades, I understand the issues, and can reel it off on a keyboard about fast as I can talk, no sweat.

    No extra charge.

  100. Last week I noted how much Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell is selling and wondered whether I should start refuting it. This almost instantly triggered a comment from Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, saying, please, please, do precisely that.

    It’s a tad late, but there is a pretty good set of criticisms out on the web now. Here’s my cross-post about it from the Spectrum site:

    I ran into an apparently quite competent set of criticisms of Meyer’s book.

    I actually kind of dislike getting into the details like he does, since the glaring problem with Meyer’s book is that, like pretty much all IDists, he opts for the vague analogical method of religion and sympathetic magic, not the rigorous match-up of cause and effect that classical science utilizes. Still, I’ve already brought up such factors, which, predictably, the IDists completely ignored in order to continue with their obsolete and faulty means of reasoning.

    So, on to the specifics at:

    http://arrowthroughthesun.blogspot.com/2009/11/book-review-signature-in-cell.html

    As far as I can tell, this Christian believer knows what he’s talking about.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  101. Paul W.

    Vindrisi, was it you that expressed interest in how I’d bring up the Overton Window, and as what part of speech?

    How about this:

    I’m trying to Overton Window the Overton Window Overton Window.

    (Translation: I’m trying to shift the window of publicly acceptable opinion about Overton Window arguments, using an Overton Window strategy.)

    So verb, adjective, and noun right there. I could add another instance as an adverb I think, and keep it grammatical, but nobody’d be able to parse it intuitively. (Like Chomsky’s “Bulldogs bulldogs bulldogs fight fight fight.” sentence.)

    :-)

  102. Jon

    I’ve also been asked to guest blog about this topic on a group blog

    Tell the echo chamber I said hi.

    By the way, here’s PZ Myers’ take on Charles Taylor:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/03/spirituality_another_word_for.php

    Just because you call aggressive know-nothingism “rational” doesn’t make it so.

  103. Vindrisi

    Remarkable. Truly remarkable (not to mention quite entertaining in a train wreck kind of way).

  104. Paul W.

    Tell the echo chamber I said hi.

    From one echo chamber to another, huh?

    Funny how none of the accommodationists here will ever give a straight answer to an important question, and they keep parading around in the same circles with the same two straw men.

    Remarkable. Truly remarkable.

    P.Z., I’m not P.Z. Myers, and you’re doing it again. Of course.

  105. Paul W.

    That should have said P.S., of course. :-)

    P.Z. knows I’m not P.Z.

  106. John Kwok

    @ Glen,

    Thanks for your excellent contribution (@ 101). Love how this devout Christian scientist exposes Meyer’s woeful understanding of not just basic biochemistry, DNA, but even fundamental Chemistry…. and it is especially stunning since Meyer has a Ph. D. in the history of science from Cambridge University.

    But more importantly, I found your terse comment far more insightful than anything I have read from PZ posting here at this thread.

  107. Paul W.

    John,

    But more importantly, I found your terse comment far more insightful than anything I have read from PZ posting here at this thread.

    Um… Have you mistaken me for PZ?

    If I bought you $5,000 worth of photo equipment, would you forgive me?

  108. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    In your case, you’d have to spend at least $15,000 so I can afford the brand new Leica M9 and 50mm F0.95 Noctilux lenses. I was kidding about PZ, but in your case, I honestly don’t know…….

  109. John Kwok

    @ Chris –

    Am almost through reading the first hundred pages of Meyer’s dreadful mendacious intellectual pornography and am astonished with his overly simplistic portrayal of a “dichotomy” between historical sciences like biology and geology and experimental sciences such as chemistry and physics, especially when the situation is far more complex than he himself is willing to admit. For example, with regards to biology, there are a lot of instances where it is substantially far more experimental than historical in its emphasis, and even its historical components (e. g. ecology and paleonotlogy) have had substantial experimental research conducted within it. One can think of the elegant field experiments done by John Endler with Trinidad guppies and Richard Lenski’s ongoing lab experiment with the E. coli bacterium as important experiments which have demonstrated how quickly natural selection can act on populations.

  110. Paul W.

    John,

    Apparently the moderation policy allows you to habitually insult me and use almost exclusively ad hominem arguments—often explicit, and often in the form of arguments from authority.

    You can even take purely gratuitios swipes at me in conversations I’m not involved in, praising somebody else by saying they’re not like me.

    Apparently the moderation policy does not allow me to quote you, in context, or link to such quotes, or even suggest that people google “john kwok sends email” to see just who it is that’s constantly condescending to me, and calling me “inane” and worse.

    Funny, that. I wonder if it just might have something to do with the fact that you’re on board with Mooney’s two big straw men, and I’m not.

  111. Paul W.

    Ah, cool. Looks like one got through moderation. Thanks.

  112. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    Chris hasn’t posted some of my own comments simply because he thought they were too insulting. So please don’t cry to me like a big baby. Just grow up. If you don’t like Chris’s views or his moderation policy, then go back whence you came from (Pharyngula) and trouble us no further.

    I remain in close contact with two of PZ’s closest friends and neither one has made an issue about my “demand” for expensive photographic equipment from him, simply because they realized that I was joking. Now if that is an issue that doesn’t bother them, then why should it concern you? However, maybe the reason why you are concerned is because you may be PZ himself in disguise….

  113. John Kwok

    @ Paul W. –

    I think I will ask you for a brand new Leica M9 and 50mm f0.95 Noctilux. Maybe you can ask Leica USA if they could arrange for a discounted academic professional price so you won’t have to spend so much. After all, Christmas is coming and I need a brand new digital Leica M-mount rangefinder camera….

  114. Paul W.

    John,

    Your interpretation of events isn’t plausible in light of what you actually wrote in emails to PZ’s colleagues and followup to him. That wasn’t a joke.

    No cameras for you.

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About Chris Mooney

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

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