The Wonderful Thing About Science?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 14, 2010 12:22 pm

This xkcd comic has hit my inbox a few times from readers and was recently mentioned in comments on Chris’ post as well. It highlights an important distinction about where certain religious beliefs matter–and where they do not. The tricky part is figuring out what to do when these areas collide:



Comments (91)

  1. LegendaryTeeth

    “… is science’s a wonderful thing!”

  2. bilbo

    Nice. The only way that could be funnier was if the follow-up was the two people deciding that, since we have a young-Earth creationist Senator on our hands, we should go find all the religious people who accept evolution and blame them for his existence.

  3. Luke Vogel

    Love it. It goes right along with what I just posted in the other thread. Yes, “We do have a bit of a situation”. Beliefs do have consequences, on that we obviously can agree, and this rejection of reality is highly toxic, because not only is the Senator for something, he’s clearly against scientific truths (even as provisional as they are).

  4. Paul W.

    OK, so since astrology isn’t a potent political force with senatorial shills, it doesn’t matter, and it would be okay to follow Chad’s line of argument and have the NAS say science is compatible with astrology?

    Do recall that that follows trivially from Chad’s argument, which Chris praised so highly.

    Funny how you keep stonewalling about that.

  5. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    What science is astrology compatible with?

  6. Paul W.


    What science is astrology compatible with?

    No relevant science, for sure, which is the point.

    The argument from Chad that Chris praises so highly is that “compatible” only means that some people do both—empirically, science and religion are compatible because some scientists are religious.

    Chad explicitly acknowledges that he has no idea how people manage the contradictions—he acknowledges that he thinks science and religion are incompatible in the sense that the New Atheists are talking about. (It would be nice if Chris would acknowledge that, too; if Chad really “nails it” as Chris says, that would be part of it.)

    Chad asserts that “compatible” only means that—-that whether it makes sense to do so or not, some people manage to be scientists and have religious beliefs, too. They are ipso facto compatible.

    Uh oh.

    By the same token, anything that scientists manage to believe or do, and still do science (or even good science) is also “compatible with science.”

    Since some scientists in fact do believe in astrology, homeopathy, Bigfoot, etc., those things are ipso facto compatible with science, too. (And Chad acknowledges that he’s met such people.)

    Chad’s second argument is that since “science and religion are compatible” is an empirical fact, such a statement of fact cannot be unconscionable.

    But by that some token, it could not be unconscionable for the National Academy of Science to trumpet the now-established facts that science and astrology are compatible.

    That follows directly from Chad’s logic, which Chris says “nails it.”

    That’s a problem. Chad’s two arguments are clearly invalid, even ridiculous, because they lead to patent absurdities—something is profoundly wrong with each of them, so Chad’s post is boneheaded from start to finish.

    Yet Chris loves it, apparently because it comes to the “right” conclusion. He doesn’t mind the fact that Chad’s arguments are clearly both fundamentally fallacious.


  7. Political scientists have found that voters are strongly influenced by their religion. Religion plays a much stronger roll in the voting booth than it does in other decisions. This is permanent characteristic of democracy. It is not a current thing, nor is it an American thing.Democracy is and has been for the past two and a half millennium a moderate theocracy that reflects the religion of the average man.

    Furthermore, the past two and a half millennium have shown that democracy is a very good system. From the time of ancient Athens it has fostered an incredible artistic, economic, scientific, and technological creativity. There were no market economies before Athens invented democracy. There are upwards of thirty high income industrial democracies. No high income industrial democracy has ever fought a war with another high income industrial democracy, and no dictator has ever taken over a high income industrial democracy. When Hitler took over Germany its per person income was probably about half of what the World Bank calls high income. Put simply, this moderate theocracy seems to work very well.

    The religion of your nation’s voters is very important. High income countries which have Christian traditions almost always have the highest standard of freedom and democracy according to freedom house, this is a score of one. No country with more than a million population that is not traditionally Christian has that score. Of the traditionally Christian high income nations with more than a million population all are considered free, which means a score of 2.5 or better according to freedom house.

    Of the high income Muslim nations none is free. The Muslims do well on other measures, AIDS has largely skipped them, and the worst oppression from men like Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Il Jong have been in non Muslim countries.

    Non Christian, non Muslim countries high income countries with more than a million population are free with the exception of Singapore which is partially free according to Freedom House.

    Finally, the ideas of the young earth creationists can be relatively harmless because they do not oppose micro evolution. As micro evolution is the only type of evolution that we can directly observe, and type of evolution that has direct policy implications, the creationist point of view is politically pretty harmless.

    We should always remember that many scientists have lost their lives for the cause Darwinian evolution. All were killed by atheists, specifically Stalin and his gang in the Lysenco affair. Compare this with the Monkey Trail where Brian asked that Scopes not be fined and offered to pay the fine out of his own pocket if Scopes was fined.

  8. Chad explicitly acknowledges that he has no idea how people manage the contradictions—he acknowledges that he thinks science and religion are incompatible

    Not exactly surprising, considering that Chad describes himself as a “Neville Chamberlain atheist”. Atheists don’t understand why religious people believe the things they do. Likewise, Baptists don’t understand why Catholics think they’re getting into heaven.

    So what?

    Both Chad and Chris (also an atheist) know scientists who are both successful in their profession and also religious. Therefore, religious belief is compatible with science. QED.

  9. Paul W.


    Both Chad and Chris (also an atheist) know scientists who are both successful in their profession and also religious. Therefore, religious belief is compatible with science. QED.

    OK, if that argument is valid, then so is this one,

    Both Chad and I (also an atheist) know scientists who are both successful in their profession and also astrology devotees. Therefore, religious belief is compatible with astrology. QED

    Please acknowledge that—please say, without hedging, that

    Religious belief is compatible with astrology.

    If you think the argument is valid, you logically have to assent to the latter. If you can’t do that, you’re acknowledging that even if the conclusion is true the argument is invalid.

  10. Jinchi

    Therefore, religious belief is compatible with astrology. QED

    Well, yes.

    But I’m guessing you meant to say that astrology is compatible with science.

  11. Belief in astrology is compatible with some religions. The Catholic church considers astrology a sin. You might be a Catholic, believe in astrology, and be economically and professionally successful. You might however fall short in the only success that really counts on the day of judgement.

    The Catholic Church does not consider science a sin. Copernicus is frequently called the father of modern science. He is also credited with the discovery that the earth orbits the sun. Copernicus was a Catholic clergyman, perhaps a priest. Mendel discovered genetics and is often considered the number two man in biology after Darwin. Mendel was a Catholic monk. Gorges Lemaitre discovered the Big Bang, he was a Catholic priest. One study done early in the 20th century claimed that about one tenth of all the great scientific discoveries were made by Catholic priests and monks. So yes, you can be religious and a good scientist.

    The Protestants have there successes too. The theory that dinosaurs are warm blooded was largely the product of Robert Bakker, a Pentecostal minister. Yes, you read that right Pentecostal, speaking in tongues, prophesy, healing, and miracles. Even Darwin’s theory of evolution was based on the work of Malthus, an Anglican minister.

    Some people seem to think that religion is opposed to science because many religious traditions claim miracles. Actually miracles assume science. There is a normal order of nature known by man. God does something contrary to the known normal order of nature to authenticate his message. Communication comes through contrast: white paper and black ink, a blackboard and white chalk, the normal order of nature and the miracle. To believe in both science and miracles is no more inconsistent than buying both paper and pens.

  12. Paul W.


    Dang, you’re right. (When, oh when, will this site have a preview function?)

    If your argument is valid, then so is this one:

    Both Chad and I (also an atheist) know scientists who are both successful in their profession and also astrology devotees. Therefore, science is compatible with astrology. QED

    Do you see that the argument is not valid?

    (Just to be clear, that doesn’t in itself make the conclusion untrue… it just means that it’s a useless for that conclusion.)

  13. TB


    In that thread, you should know that Chad immediately asked for the names of scientists who believe in astrology. Last I checked (and it’s been a few days), no one named any. Chad bases his statement on the existence of people who are acknowledged and respected as scientists by the scientific community.

    The astrology connection is only a hypothetical. Chad asked for evidence and none was offered.

  14. james wheaton

    Richard Bruce – it is a pleasure to see that some folks who have a religious bent are rational about it. However all you have to do is take a look at the stunts pulled by the likes of James Inhofe (R-OK) or Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) or Joe Barton (R-TX) to see the effect is has on our system of government. A significant block of our congressmen and senators are exactly like what the cartoon depicts. And young earth creationism is only a part of their world view. Invariably included in their recipe is global warming denial and a host of other dangerous lies, all of which in one way or another restrict or block or otherwise impede progress in this country. And these same people insist on the cowboy diplomacy which as alienated the US through out the world and arguably has contributed to the war situation we face today. By the way, did you see the amazing footage of the prayer sessions in Congress some in this block conducted asking God to influence the voting on the health care bill?

    There are variations on the Christian theme that will work OK in a democratic society, if it can be kept clear of policy making decisions. But the insane beliefs of this powerful block of our legislative arm (not to mention some kooks in other parts of our government) are very dangerous for us a nation and as a planet. I shudder to think of a Palin or Huckabee president with a Republican supermajority in both houses and Glen Beck in the state department.

    You would be very short sighted not to see this.

  15. Paul W.,

    Let’s get our definitions straight first.

    When I say science is compatible with religious belief I mean that people can hold religious beliefs and scientific beliefs which do not come into conflict with one another. This does not mean that religious beliefs are scientific beliefs and it certainly doesn’t mean that all religious beliefs are compatible with science.

    So, homeopathy is not compatible with medicine, fundamentalist creationism is not compatible with biology, and believing that the Earth is 6000 years old is not compatible with geology.

    I know many devout scientists, none of whose religious beliefs come into conflict with modern science. I don’t know any scientists who believe in astrology as anything more than a hobby.

    BTW, Here’s what Chad Orzel actually says regarding your “science is compatible with astrology” argument.

    Your devastating argument is, of course, missing the step where you name some prominent scientists who believe in astrology.

  16. Paul W.


    In that thread, you should know that Chad immediately asked for the names of scientists who believe in astrology.

    Yes, and note that Chad immediately wimped out on admitting that his original argument was invalid, or explaining how an apparent argument ad populum can save it. (That has some very awkward implications we can go into if you want.)

    Do you believe that there are no scientists who believe in a astrology? (I could name at least a couple, and at least couple who believe in homeopathy, just from personal encounters. But I won’t, because I don’t want to single them out.)

    Do you think that’s actually relevant to whether the argument is valid? If so, the argument isn’t valid as it stands.

    Before we go on to addressing a new version of the argument that takes popularity of the view into account when determining what “compatible” means, please do acknowledge that if you need to salvage the argument that way, the original version was not valid—i.e., the matter is at least not as simple and clear as Chad made it out to be in the post that Chris said “nailed it.”


  17. Paul W.

    By the way, TB, do realize that when Chad replied the way you quoted about astrology—which I thought was lame—he was ignoring my earlier examples of how his form of argument is invalid.

    He’d dismissed those as “schoolboy sniggering,” but as several people pointed out, they weren’t—they were serious demonstrations that his argument is invalid, and implies absurdities. He never came back and addressed that.

    Here’s what I said, that Chad evaded:

    The AMA could truthfully say that “Smoking is compatible with long life.” After all, millions of people who smoke do live to a ripe old age.

    And MADD should say that “Getting plastered and driving is compatible with getting home safely.” After all, literally millions of people have in fact driven home drunk and gotten home fine—so by Chad’s standard, they’re compatible.

    Similarly, the Catholic Church should be happy with people saying that “Marriage is compatible with extramarital sex.” Millions of people have combined those, too.

    In fact, if “compatible” only means what Chad says it means, the Pope himself should be happy with that statement, and the even stronger statement that “Marriage ought to be compatible with extramarital sex.”—he thinks that somebody being “unfaithful” is not a good enough excuse for getting a divorce, so evidently he thinks you ought not to accept that they’re incompatible, and break up because of it.

    Somehow, I’m skeptical that many people interpret the phrase “is compatible with” in the minimal way Chad claims to. I don’t even believe Chad does.

    Notice what’s going on here. I’m not making any strong analogy between the situations, such that science is like religion, or religion is like astrology, or whatever.

    What I am doing is pointing out that Chad is demonstrably wrong about how people typically understand the word compatible.

    In general, people do not interpret flat statements of the form X is compatible with Y in the minimal way he insists. They evidently don’t. It means more than that some people managed to do both things, or even that some prominent and respected people do both.

    A flat statement like that generally has a normative component of one kind or another.

    For example, if the Pope flatly said that “Marriage is compatible with adultery,” that would be a very weird statement, wouldn’t it? In context, he might be able to justify it like this:

    “While adultery is a terrible sin, marriage is so valuable that if people do fall into sin, we forgive them, and marriage endures. In that sense and that sense only, marriage is compatible with adultery.”

    That would make perfect sense, and be a bit oddly worded but convey nothing suprising.

    But if the Pope made a list of important basic ideas, and “Marriage is compatible with adultery” was on it, with no explanation, it would be utterly bizarre. It would sound like he was endorsing polyamory or swinging or something. WTF?

    Do you see what I’m getting at? If we’re going to worry about communication, as Chris and Sheril insist, then we have to worry about how people actually understand the word “compatible,” and they typically do not understand it in the minimal sense that is all Chad’s argument can justify.

    For his argument to work, he has to fix it, and make a good argument that in the particular statement “Science is compatible with religion,” people actually understand it differently from the way they understand “Marriage is compatible with adultery,” etc.

    Even if you think that in the science/religion case, people generally do interpret it Chad’s way—-which I personally think is incredible—you have to acknowledge that his argument is not valid.

    Here’s a new example that I think directly addresses your concerns so far, including the one about whether any prominent and respected scientists actually believe in astrology.

    Instead of astrology, consider kooky fringe science. Everybody knows examples of prominent, respected scientists who have done great science but have also embraced some very kooky theories that go against the scientific consensus, and which are just wrong.

    For example, consider a certain Nobelist and his exaggerated health claims for vitamin C, or a certain well-known evolutionary biologist questioning whether that HIV causes AIDS, or a couple of other Nobelists’ odd claims about race, or any number of other examples. It’s a very well-known phenomenon, and that’s it’s just the tip of the iceberg—there are more first-rate scientists who believe some wacky kook pseudoscience or other than come out and say so in public and get famous for it.

    I don’t want to argue about whether any particular fringe view is wrong—I think we can all agree that a fair number of very good scientists are also fringe pseudoscience kooks about something. (Often something outside their area of expertise, but sometimes not.)

    So if a fair number of prominent respected scientists believing something makes it compatible with science, as Chad argues, then it also follows that

    Kooky fringe pseudoscientific nonsense is compatible with science.

    I don’t think that’s reasonable, but it clearly follows from Chad’s argument, even the “improved” version that restricts the evidence to prominent and respected scientists. (On a par with the people Chad gives as examples, or better.)

    Chad’s “improved” argument is clearly invalid, too. QED

  18. TB

    Chad ignoring Paul W is actually another vote in Chad’s favor

  19. Paul W,

    Nobody is making the argument that you are accusing them of making. Nobody is arguing that anyone with a Ph.D. by definition holds beliefs that are compatible with science. The argument I made was quite explicit:

    People can hold religious beliefs and scientific beliefs which do not come into conflict with one another.

    That’s also the point being made when the NAS writes “Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith”. Note that they don’t say that religious faith is always compatible with science.

    The overwhelming majority of religious scientists whom I know of or know personally have no conflicts between their religious beliefs and their scientific ones. They work in fields of biology, genetics, geology, astronomy, etc. and yet have no trouble doing research in fields of evolutionary theory, plate tectonics, or the age of the Universe. Chris Mooney and Chad Orzel undoubtedly know many others. (Are you claiming that you know of none?)

    So we aren’t making an argument ad populum, we’re making an argument based on the evidence of our own experience.

    The reason that Chris and Chad and others even bring up this matter is in response to comments like that of Jerry Coyne, claiming that the idea that science and religion can be compatible is “like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers”. By that logic, all religions are in conflict with science, and we can quite clearly see that simply isn’t the case.

  20. Paul W.


    You may not be making the argument I’m talking about, but Chad Orzel clearly is, and Chris Mooney has made it before, repeatedly. Mooney has repeatedly made the same argument in response to “New Atheist” claims about science and religion conflicting.

    The New Atheists claim that science undermines religion far more broadly than undermining biblical literalism, and that the conflicts between religion and science are deep and systematic.
    They have emphatically, explicitly, and repeatedly denied that they’re claiming that all religion conflicts with all of science—of course you can hold some religious beliefs and some scientific beliefs.

    They have also repeatedly affirmed that some excellent and prominent scientists are religious. Everybody involved in this controversy agrees on that, and they always have.

    And yet the accommodationists insist on acting as though the New Atheists were claiming something that could be trivially refuted by pointing to the existence of religious scientists.

    (Usually Mooney does this by quoting somebody else, as in the present case, and in this earlier article where he says “Genie Scott Powerfully Makes the Case for Religion-Science compatibility.”
    Note the bait and switch in Genie’s very first statement:

    A: I don’t have to address that as a philosophical question. I can address that as an empirical question; it’s obvious that it is, because there are many people who are scientists that are also people of faith.

    Notice that they left off the question. She was asked a philosophical question, and then she refused to answer and instead gave an “empirical” answer that presupposes an entirely different question.

    That’s how the accommodationists answer the New Atheist claims that science and religion systematically tend to conflict about what is true and how you can know things. They pull a bait-and-switch, and often imply that the New Atheists are so stupid or ideologically blinded that they can’t see what’s dead obvious to everyone.

    That is framing at it’s finest—the New Atheists are consistently getting framed for something they never did, not even once. The accommodationists have been pumping this bait-and-switch fallacy of four terms for literally years on end, and consistently stonewalling about the fact that they were doing that, and about the actual question.

    (I challenge you to find an instance of Chris Mooney giving a straight answer to the actual question. He has been asked scores of times now, for over two years, and consistently refuses to answer. Instead he repeats the very same bait-and-switch, and professes mystification as to how anybody could fail to see such an obvious truth. Hyeesh.)

    I understand your giving the accommodationists the benefit of the doubt that they can’t be making such a dumb or perhaps transparently dishonest argument, but really, they are.

    I understand your giving Chad the benefit of the doubt that he’s not really saying it’s a simple as “science and religion are compatible,” full stop, with no context required to disambiguate it, but read his posting, and his replies in the comments. He really is. He’s flatly saying that “science and religion are compatible” is a statement of fact, and that such a statement of fact can never be unconscionable. He is clearly avoiding admitting that the statement is at best ambiguous and controversial.

    Your sense that that would be ridiculous is dead on, but I’m not straw-manning them. They really are straw-manning the people talking about how science and religion are incompatible. They do it all the time, and have for years.

    For example, Chad goes on to use the fallacy of the excluded middle and say that “what would be unconscionable” would be for scientific organizations to say that science and religion are incompatible.

    That’s utterly and intentionally missing the point. Nobody is asking any of those organizations to say that. They are asking scientific organizations to stop making simplistic and one-sided pronouncements about something for which there is clearly no scientific consensus.

    The odd thing about Chad’s post and Chris’s over-the-top “nails it” response to it is that Chad gives away the store on the actual bone of contention—he admits he has no idea how religious scientists can deal with the resulting conflicts.

    In other words, so far as he knows, the New Atheists aren’t wrong in what they’re actually claiming.

    To date, Chris has gone out of his way to avoid acknowledging this—he has repeatedly dodged the question for years, and systematically misrepresented the controversy.

    That’s why there’s so much bad blood between the New Atheists and the accommodationists. The accommodationist atheists apparently agree with what the New Atheists are actually claiming, but go out of their way to make it sound like the New Atheists are factually wrong and even stupid.

    That got really, really old a year or two ago, but they’re still at it.

  21. gillt

    Jinchi: “So we aren’t making an argument ad populum, we’re making an argument based on the evidence of our own experience.”

    You mean arguing by anecdote?

    Here’s a more complete version of what the NAS said which better shows their bias.

    “Acceptance of the evidence for evolution can be compatible with religious faith. Today, many religious denominations accept that biological evolution has produced the diversity of living things over billions of years of Earth’s history. Many have issued statements observing that evolution and the tenets of their faiths are compatible. Scientists and theologians have written eloquently about their awe and wonder at the history of the universe and of life on this planet, explaining that they see no conflict between their faith in God and the evidence for evolution. Religious denominations that do not accept the occurrence of evolution tend to be those that believe in strictly literal interpretations of religious texts.”

  22. The Catholic Church says that the Bible does not contain error. What does this mean? Everything that the original authors intended to assert is true. If there is a conflict between solidly established science and what the Bible says then Catholics assume that the original author did not intend to assert the point. If the Bible says, as the sun rose the people of Israel attacked, then the author is probably asserting that the people of Israel attacked at dawn, the author is not asserting that the sun orbits the earth.

    The creation story in Genesis is a commentary on the creation stories of Mesopotamia. One of the central points of Genesis is that God cares about people. This is contrary to the Mesopotamian view that the Gods were pretty indifferent to fate of mere people.

    Atheists today say there are no Gods and nature is indifferent to our fate. People who are trying to follow the God of Israel, (Christians, Muslims, etc.) say what Genesis says, God cares about us. So the ancient message of Genesis remains relevant, because of the level of myth, story, morality, and faith the conflict today is much the same as it was then.

    So as a Catholic I believe what the original author was asserting, and at the same time I do not seen any contradiction between the Catholic faith and evolution.

  23. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    ~”The argument from Chad that Chris praises so highly is that “compatible” only means that some people do both—empirically, science and religion are compatible because some scientists are religious.”~


  24. Luke Vogel

    Oh wait, you said “empirically”, I’m not so sure that’s right.

  25. Luke Vogel

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but can you show me where Chris says that religion is empirically compatible with science, hence they both have empirically compatible ways to truth.

  26. Luke Vogel

    Paul W., I also replied to you in the other thread, the Greg review of UA. Again, I apologize for the delay, I have things to see too.

  27. Luke Vogel

    Before this turns into a headache. I’m not saying religion arrives at truths, of any kind really. If they do or have it is out of something besides a so-called divine edict. As an atheist myself I see that as a self-evident truth in its own right, unless shown otherwise.

  28. Paul W.

    Perhaps I’m missing something, but can you show me where Chris says that religion is empirically compatible with science, hence they both have empirically compatible ways to truth.

    He doesn’t say that. He avoids the latter subject—whether the supposed “ways of knowing” are fundamentally incompatible, and systematically tend to disagree on many important particulars—even when that is overtly the subject.

    Chris has repeatedly used the “empirical” argument as an argument that science and religion are compatible, in response to claims that they are philosophically incompatible—and even expressed phony mystification as to why people keep disagreeing with him.

    He refuses to acknowledge that he’s answering the wrong question, and that the people he’s arguing with never disagreed with him that religious people can do science. They’ve been saying that requires compartmentalization and/or ignorance to avoid seeing and/or dealing with the conflicts.

    He does not address the fact that the empirical argument doesn’t demonstrate anything that wasn’t agreed on by everybody from the get-go, and that that has been pointed out to him over and over again for two years.

    He’s arguing against a complete straw man, and consistently stonewalling about the real bone of contention.

    His post above is interesting, because when he says Chad “nails it,” he seems to be acknowledging that the New Atheists are right on a claim he’s misrepresented and stonewalled about for two years.

    Chad says:

    OK, fine, as a formal philosophical matter, I agree that it’s basically impossible to reconcile the religious worldview with the scientific worldview.

    It would be very interesting if Chris explicitly agreed that Chad nailed that, because that’s actually something the New Atheists have been arguing for two years, and Chris has been making them out to be doing non-science and “bad philosophy” for saying it.

    Chris has consistently refused to address the epistemic conflict issues, and pulled a bait-and-switch that only demonstrated what we all agreed on from the start, to make it sound like the New Atheists are wrong. It’s very tiresome.

    It’s also clear by now that this is an intentional misrepresentation to avoid the politically inconvenient facts, in particular the plain truth there is no consensus in science or philosophy that science and religion are any more “compatible” than marriage and adultery.

  29. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    You could have just stopped here:

    ~ “”The argument from Chad that Chris praises so highly is that “compatible” only means that some people do both—science and religion are compatible because some scientists are religious.”~

    It only goes to show that people can contain contradictory beliefs, but the statement is not false. I’ve seen Chris respond to this a few times, once directly to Sean Carroll on this blog and if I’m not mistaken in the comments on Sean’s blog.

    I don’t particularly care what “new atheist” say as “new atheist”, I’ve been reading atheistic literature for a couple decades now and I’ve noted Richard’s and many atheistic arguments are not “new” to me. If we want to say they are completely incompatible on any grounds, even as we’ve noted above, well that’s false. But, as “ways of knowing”, I’ll stick with science and say it’s an extremely good to way to know about the natural world, even if it’s truths are provisional.

    I think Richard and Coyne have evoked bad philosophy on the ground that science is enough to answer the so-called “god hypothesis”. This is simply naive and I’m tired of going over it with “new atheist apologist”. I think I tried once to nail you down somewhat with a question of can science falsify the supernatural. You stated that it depends on the terms and used an example, if I remember correctly that mirrored something like we can falsify the claim the earth was created 6,000 years ago by a God. That only goes to show the limits of science if we pushed it further and everyone seems to admit that, so there’s no big deal, except Coyne just insist his “atheism” is scientific, his so-called “weakest sense atheism”. It is nothing much, again only goes to show he’s not quite getting it. The “other ways of knowing” is a debate that’s fairly worthless to me and I’m not sure we can assume science is the “only” way to know “everything” – to put it blandly, but just to cut to the chase.

  30. Luke Vogel

    I should note, Chris has several time’s that I’ve seen that science and religion are not compatible in many respects. I really think you guys are going to far with this and I think it’s driven by something else then going after the truth.

  31. Luke Vogel

    In a way, this all goes to another reason that I was going to let go in my assessment of Greg’s review. This idea of a one way street approach to criticisms. It has created a hyper-defensiveness that at times is irrational. Though at times completely justified. I think when Chris or anyone else gets it wrong on basic facts or argument, they need to be corrected (which I have even in private emails – its been a terrible distraction from otherwise worthwhile debate). However, the objections Chris has raised on approach are justified, even if viewed as wrong. Greg simply implies approaches should be accepted without question if we are on the same team. An almost astonishing idea since it’s been rejected numerous times by “new atheist”.

    Last week PZ (whom I greatly enjoy most of the time and who I think has posted some of the best defenses of evolution against creationist on any blog) remarked on some crazy prayer vigil by politicians and theologians apposed to the health care reform, that its why religion is a pathology that makes stupid people stupider. As someone so respected and admired as well as such a public persona now, I think that wording is stupid. Same when I saw Richard put up his “just between friends” comments on his site about a call for more contempt and ridicule because noone likes to be laughed at, and wondered alound on his very public site (as an extremely public persona in these debates) whehter we should go along with the nicey nice approach of Eugine Scott, Shermer and others. To me that’s stupid, it comes close yet again of creating an us against them because whether he likes it or not (as I pointed out with the Coyne example on Eugine) this stuff reverberates around the net. I’m not so sure about “cracker gate”, at first I thought it was basically in good fun, but it went further and not just from objections, it came with long list of comments on blogs and forums. The hostility factor mixed in with increased ridicule and contempt can go to far, blanket defense of any of it seems mindless. There is certainly times when it is called for, no question, but people like Greg, to me, think this stuff is limited.

  32. Paul W.

    Before this turns into a headache. I’m not saying religion arrives at truths, of any kind really. If they do or have it is out of something besides a so-called divine edict. As an atheist myself I see that as a self-evident truth in its own right, unless shown otherwise.

    OK. I would hope that you could see the problem with the NAS saying things like this:

    Can I both accept what science teaches and engage in religious belief and practice? This is a complex issue, but theologians, clergy, and members of many religious traditions have concluded that the answer is, unequivocally, yes.

    Theologians from many traditions hold that science and religion occupy different spheres of knowledge. Science asks questions such as “What is it?” “How does it happen?” “By what processes?” In contrast, religion asks questions such as “What is life’s meaning?” “What is my purpose?” “Is the world of value?” These are complementary rather than conflicting perspectives.

    Many if not most scientists in the relevant disciplines would disagree with the theology being endorsed here. They reject NOMA and do not accept that science and religion occupy “different spheres of knowledge.”

    For example, scientists like Scott Atran, Pascal Boyer, and David S. Wilson claim to scientifically explain religion and religious beliefs in naturalistic, materialistic terms. If they’re right, then science and religion do not occupy different spheres of knowledge—personal religious experiences and supposed revelation do not result in knowledge, i.e., justified true belief. Faith is not a “way of knowing”—as you personally seem to agree—but a way of rationalizing certain biased, culturally-endorsed kinds of bizarre guessing.

    If that’s true, then science undermines essentially anything that is clearly religion (including Eastern religions, animism, etc.) as opposed to some religion-like practice that is not clearly religion anymore. Whether it’s a problem for all religion or not is a subtle matter—it depends on exactly what counts as religion—but it is a huge problem for the kind of religion that the intended audience of the NAS statement is used to—mainstream religion in the U.S.

    Whether those guys are right or not is beside the point. The point is that there is no scientific consensus that the theology being discussed is consistent with science, or even that it’s not anti-science in the sense of being inconsistent with some known science. (E.g., cognitive neuroscience, which shows that minds and morals and “the meaning of life” aren’t much like religions say they are in crucial ways.) Liberal theology may be more or less consistent with basic physiological evolution, but it appears to be inconsistent with the kind of mind that evolution actually produced, on that expert view.

    Again, it doesn’t matter whether that’s true and these experts are right for the NAS statement to be inappropriate. It is a popular view among the scientific experts on the subject, and the NAS has no business implying that they’re wrong, and that everything is hunky dory between science and non-fundamentalist religion.

    Basically, they’re throwing cognitive neuroscience, anthropology, and philosophy of mind under the bus to pander to religion. In doing so, they’re endorsing particular theological views and implying that certain respected and popular scientific views are wrong.

    Some people excuse the above-quoted NAS statement on the grounds that what it’s saying is not strictly false—there are in fact theologians who say those things. I think it’s clear what the intent is, though, and that’s to slant things in favor of liberal theology and against any view that says that science and religion generally conflict. (The slant is obvious when you read the whole statement. There’s no mention that any scientists disagree, even though probably the majority of NAS members do.)

    The NAS has no business saying what’s bad theology or good theology, much less implying that a live scientific controversy has been settled, so that you shouldn’t worry that science might conflict with your religion.

    Scientific bodies are not supposed to take sides in live scientific controversies. They’re supposed to let science take its course, and only make pronouncements about fairly settled, consensus science. In this case, the consensus at this point is that it’s still controversial, and if they say anything about it at all, they should be evenhanded.

  33. Paul W.

    I should note, Chris has several time’s that I’ve seen that science and religion are not compatible in many respects.

    Citation please.

    I think that Chris has systematically avoided acknowledging that the New Atheists are right about that, the way Chad effectively did, for at least the last two years, despite being asked the question point blank dozens of times by other bloggers, and commenters on his own blog.

    I know that he’s almost always dodged that issue, if not always. If there’s an exception, it would be quite remarkable.

    If I’m mistaken about that, I’d like to see the evidence.

    So far as I know, and I’ve been paying pretty close attention, Chris tiptoes around that subject, then presents a straw man argument—answering the philosophical question with the “empirical” answer to a different question. And he often implies that the New Atheists are out of line and doing bad philosophy when they seemingly miss his point. (Which of course they conceded all along.)

    I really think you guys are going to far with this and I think it’s driven by something else then going after the truth.

    Sorry, Luke, but I think you are doing something other than knowing what you’re talking about and arguing in good faith.

    Your argument is ad hominem. Mine is not.

    Why don’t you just answer the question about whether Chad’s argument is valid. Not some other argument, but the one he’s clearly making.

    Chad is saying that “compatible” means you can do both, and since some (prominent and respected) scientists are religious, science and religion are ipso facto compatible.

    If that argument is valid, then so is the analogous argument that since some (prominent and respected) scientists also accept some kooky fringe pseudoscience, then science and kooky fringe pseudoscience are ipso facto compatible.


    If the latter conclusion does not follow, then neither does the former, because the argument has been shown invalid by a reductio ad absurdam.

    That does not show that science and religion are incompatible; it just demonstrates that Chad’s argument does not show that they are compatible. You need a different argument to show that.


    How about instead of flinging ad hominems you answer a straight question with a straight answer, for once. Is the argument valid or not?

    If you don’t want me to be long-winded, don’t make me repeat myself. (If you need me to explain the concept of a valid argument, as opposed to one whose conclusion you agree with, I can do that.)

  34. Luke Vogel

    32. Paul W. Says

    ~”OK. I would hope that you could see the problem with the NAS saying things like this:”

    It’s not the way I would word it, but overall it’s not to bad. I’m already familiar with this debate also since Coyne and Blackford went at it for weeks. I don’t really feel like getting back into it. However, I hold it as fairly true when it comes to question of “meaning”, “purepose”, when it comes to science you either say it’s beside the point or remind those they our’s to create. Science per se doesn’t give “is/ought” answers to these. We could follow a Sam Harris line of thinking and say “is/ought” is simply a myth and speak of universals regarding contemptible, I don’t have to much problem with that, however the blanket idea it’s a myth, is a myth. The above quote is not an argument, like with NOMA, that religion is the only purveyer of these things or are even needed, it is a recognition of a demarcation. We can also go the direction of saying, well ok but they’re done (like good done in the name of religion) is actually an outcome ‘despite’ or religion, here again, ok, but that does not make it untrue.

    The idea they’re throwing those domains under the bus after saying it doesn’t matter if it’s actually true doesn’t flush with me. It’s true we can find and provide answers or question regarding morality, altruism (though some rationalist outright reject altruism and respect selfishness beyond these debates), but here again they don’t provide an ought unless we chose them to be. This does not making religious dictates correct, though it would and is certainly better when they “evolve” to what Richard may call a evolving Zeitgeist of morality.

    As far as scientific bodies taking sides. Like I note, this has been hashed out repeatedly and agreement seems nowhere in sight. I think Blackford got it wrong in some of his disagreements and they seem pervasive in these debates. For example, he asked that they not offer philosophical naturalism, only an even playing field, but the field is not as unbalanced as he and Coyne has portrayed, simple as that. Then can and have made a statement on religion. If I were you I would concieve a better argument, and I think there’s one to be had, but so far no one listens beyond these stupid polar debates started because I don’t think it’s a question of fairness, it is derived from an anti-religious attitude. Science does in fact have something to say about religion and that field must remain open and the terms defined before scientist see fit to go where science doesn’t, which Coyne has done.

  35. Luke Vogel

    33. Paul W. Says

    ~”Citation please.”~

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

    I actually don’t enjoy going through those blogs. As I’ve said a couple times now, though at the moment I have post in moderation, this debate is worn thin and you’ve don’t absolutely nothing to shed light on it, Period!

    ~”Your argument is ad hominem. Mine is not.”~

    I skimmed through and saw that. I’m afraid that’s it for me on that post. I do think there are in many of these debates something further going on which is in fact motivated more by an anti-religious attitude then honest debate.

  36. Luke Vogel

    Reminder, I do have post in moderation, so if you want to give this some time that would be good.

  37. You mean arguing by anecdote?

    No, gillt. An example of an argument by anecdote is when Tom Friedman tells you about the Pakistani cabdriver with profound insights into the G8 summit, whose worldly knowledge jibes perfectly with Friedman’s point of the day.

    On this side of the debate, those of us working in science have told you that our religious colleagues are able to do cutting edge research in all fields of science, including those (like genetics and evolution) that are considered most controversial. You’d never know from their published work that they go to church on Sunday and they don’t chastise themselves for heresy when they head home at the end of the day. Far from being anecdotal, this observation is so universal that even Jerry Coyne admits he knows scientists who are religious and devout people who believe in modern science.

    And you’ve been given specific names as evidence. Do Kenneth Miller, George Coyne, Karl Giberson, Guy Consolmagno, Bill Phillips, and Francis Collins not exist? They are established enough that anyone with access to Google can look up their research credentials, their published work, and their stated religious beliefs. Feel free to make a counterargument demonstrating that these people have obvious philosophical conflicts, but remember, you have to confine your proof to what these people actually believe.

    On the other side of the debate, we’ve been told of unnamed scientists who are devoted to astrology and believe in Bigfoot. These people may exist, but they are so rare that most of us will never meet one.

  38. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    BTW, who is “Chad” and why am I being asked to answer for that person? I’ve just ignored that but reading back and I can’t help but be curious. Have I mentioned Chad some place?

  39. Luke Vogel

    Look at this, after reading my post on this thread and the other.

    Paul W. wrote: (in the post I was partly ignoring for the B.S. thrown at me)

    ~”Why don’t you just answer the question about whether Chad’s argument is valid. Not some other argument, but the one he’s clearly making.”

    ~”That does not show that science and religion are incompatible; it just demonstrates that Chad’s argument does not show that they are compatible. You need a different argument to show that.”

    Is “Chad” the cartoonist? If so, go back and read my opening remark.

  40. Luke Vogel

    Holy crap, nm.

    It comes from Paul’s reply to my question at the beginning of this thread.

    Paul W. wrote: “OK, so since astrology isn’t a potent political force with senatorial shills, it doesn’t matter, and it would be okay to follow Chad’s line of argument and have the NAS say science is compatible with astrology?”

    For this I’m supposed to have answered that question to Paul’s satisfaction. Are you really serious Paul. I got fed up with you once, but this is it, you’re done! You’re a nutcase – Period!

  41. J.J.E.

    Is really all that hard? Why do people recoil at criticism of religion when they don’t recoil at anything else? It is pretty simple. To my knowledge, nobody is saying that religious PEOPLE are incapable of doing science, and many “anti-accommodationists” in fact willingly concede the contrary.

    What they ARE saying is that at least one consistent and usually necessary component of religion (faith, dogma, doctrine, whatever) is incompatible with science. Faith isn’t the only purveyor of dogma, but exclude religions that lack unverifiable claims taken on faith (whether it be the divinity of Christ, the presence of a creator, the actions of thetans, the reality of reincarnation, etc.) then you are left with almost no religion in absolute numbers and a very depauperate number of remaining religions. In other words, there is a very strong and causative relationship between dogma and most if not all religion.

    Just to make this more concrete, let me reuse an analogy I wrote on Orzel’s blog. This characterizes the fallacy that Orzel and Chris commit (though Sheril won’t speak with her own voice on the matter, so I can’t say if she also suffers this as well). In effect Chad and Chris are saying something analogous to this:

    “Many scientists fail to do adequate control experiments. Dr. X has on occasion failed to adequate control experiments. Dr. X has conducted much credible and even good science. Therefore, failure to do adequate control experiments is compatible with good science.”

    You could even substitute the concepts “fraud” or “plagiarism” for “control experiments”. There are many scientists who have been guilty of fraud, yet have contributed breakthroughs. Consider the work of Hwang Woo-Suk, whose lab was in fact the first to successfully clone a dog, which was up to that time the most difficult mammal ever cloned. And some people have even proposed (R.A. Fisher for example) that Mendel’s experiments were too good to be true in a statistical sense, though this is disputed by defenders of Mendel’s like Novitski. In other words, the “discoverer” of genetics may have either cooked the books or at least suffered from confirmation bias.

    In summary, just because individual scientists can still do good work IN SPITE of problems, does not mean that there aren’t problems. Despite Hwang’s successes, fraud is still opposition to good science. Despite Collins’ successes, faith is not congruous with good science.

  42. Paul W.


    I didn’t realize how lost you were.

    Sheril posted the cartoon in response to the reaction to Chad Orzel’s argument. See the first sentence of the post, which mentions “Chris’s Post,” and click on that. You’ll get to Chris’s quoting and praising Chad’s argument.

    That’s the Chad (and his argument) that I’m referring to.

    And cut it out with the name-calling.

    If you can’t stop getting confused and then calling me a nutcase because you don’t understand something, please do take a break.

    I wouldn’t want you to melt down like you did that other time.

  43. Luke Vogel

    41. J.J.E. Says:

    Since I’m not sure who you’re directing this at, I’ll answer for myself.

    ~”Is really all that hard? Why do people recoil at criticism of religion when they don’t recoil at anything else? It is pretty simple. To my knowledge, nobody is saying that religious PEOPLE are incapable of doing science, and many “anti-accommodationists” in fact willingly concede the contrary.”

    For one, I don’t “recoil” at criticism of religion, never have and haven’t on this blog either.

    Second, the “anti-accomodationist”, as you put it, like Coyne, Richard etc., are the ones Greg should keep in mind when writing what he did in the review. As I’ve pointed out a few times now, the one way street he implies is ridiculously naive. The criticism can go both ways, period.

    As far as scientist being religious, a sharp remark made by Harris answers that when he said: ~ “There is no question but that nominally religious scientists like Francis Collins and Kenneth R. Miller are doing lasting harm to our discourse by the accommodations they have made to religious irrationality.”~

    Yes, acceptance on one level is one thing and outright rejection this way is another. As I’ve noted I took great issue with certain statements made by Chris with regards to his blanket assertion to Coyne’s review, Seeing and Believing, as uncivil (which I won’t go over again here). However, lets not pretend, as it appears many here want to, that statements and sentiments like Harris’ aren’t pervasive and have carried great influence and go well beyond the simple acceptance you seem to want to portray.

  44. J.J.E.

    @ Luke

    I wasn’t directing that particularly at you. However, since you responded, I will clarify.

    The characteristic of religion that gets anti-accommodationists’ blood pumping (Coyne et al. including me, I guess) is the faith part, which is by its very nature dogmatic; the part that suggests it is O.K to accept a hypothesis when that hypothesis is either practically unfalsifiable (did Jesus and much of string theory) or theoretically unfalsifiable (a deist god who does everything in its power to appear not to exist).

    So, in that vein, I would suggest that it is no more reasonable for the NCSE to point out the “fact” of compatibility by pointing out religious believers as it would be for them to point out compatibility with lying by pointing to Hwang Woo-suk. Sure, you can make the argument (under some or even many moral codes) that lying is acceptable. For example, people that successfully hid Jews in WWII by lying would be considered moral by most people. Similarly, OUTSIDE OF science, you might lie or even be personally religious with no damage whatsoever to science.

    That trivial “fact” doesn’t make lying or religion compatible with science.

  45. gillt

    Jinchi: “On the other side of the debate, we’ve been told of unnamed scientists who are devoted to astrology and believe in Bigfoot. These people may exist, but they are so rare that most of us will never meet one.”

    Thank you for making my case for me that arguing from personal anecdote cuts both ways. If you’re not making a reasonable and valid argument it’s little inconveniences like astrologer/scientists that expose an argument like yours as vacuous. By-the-way, your attempts to brush dis-confirming evidence under the rug is hilarious–I’d hate to see your lab notebook :)

  46. gillt

    I suppose next you’ll be demanding names of scientists who believe in astrology.

    Jeffrey Meldrum (born 1958) is an Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology and Adjunct Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University. Meldrum is also Adjunct Professor of Occupational and Physical Therapy and Affiliate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Idaho Museum of Natural History.

    Meldrum has published several academic papers ranging from vertebrate evolutionary morphology, the emergence of bipedal locomotion in modern humans and Sasquatch and is a co-editor of a series of books on paleontology. Meldrim also coedited From Biped to Strider: The Emergence of Modern Human Walking with Charles E. Hilton.
    Meldrum has atracted media attention due to his interest in Bigfoot.[1][2][3]

  47. Luke Vogel

    Perhaps better to understand my position, since I have openly criticized everyone from Chris Mooney, PZ, Richard, Coyne and others, I thought I may try something I was starting to do on this blog months ago. One is definition and then outline “accomodation”, including going right to the coiner of the term in these debates, Austin Dacey.

    I will begin by defining the word: Compatible.


    1. capable of existing or living together in harmony:
    2. able to exist together with something else:

    From Wiki:
    Capable of easy interaction; Able to get along well

    From Princeton:
    # compatibility – a feeling of sympathetic understanding
    # compatibility – capability of existing or performing in harmonious or congenial combination

    Now in this conversation, including the quote I provided by Chris Mooney, it’s not all that simple and there are indeed other definitions which simply would put a lie to the idea of any compatibility between science and religion.

    I am very sympathetic to gillt and Paul W.’s concerns. As I keep mentioning the compatibility argument can and does go to far and leads to false statements. One that came out of these long and partly useless debates was Chris and Barb simply referring to Coyne’s review, Seeing and Believing as “uncivil” (which I also pointed out in the Greg review of UA thread). I go so far as saying it leaves us wondering what role for proper skepticism (a large part of science itself) and is problematic and potentially dangerous. We must allow for free and open skeptical inquiry, which means challenging claims, religious or otherwise – Period! That to me is vitally important.

    However, as in the definitions I chose to use, I do think we can see compatibility as a few have noted here who seem in complete opposition to Chris, Sheril and even UA. I think this is also an important aspect, because in my mind moving forward does mean to let the religious know not only will their beliefs be challenged by scientific theories, facts and provisional truths, but also science is open for them. Modern science is only a few centuries old, and unlike Coyne, I think great progress has been made. Though, as UA makes clear (as well as many ideas out of the skeptical community), we have a long, long way to go. Religious beliefs in many quarters are part of a problem with accepting scientific rationality and instead embrace irrationality.

    I don’t find what I say above to contradict itself. I’ve personally and professionally known many religious people (even when at times it appears their acceptance of what I find irrational seems odd compared to what they are skeptical off) who have been great skeptics and humanist. However, religious beliefs and how they are accepted is wildly varied, even within the same religion. There is certainly a truth to the old argument that the moderates can contribute to the more extreme within religion simply by acceptance and reticence. However, progress to a more humanist aspect to some religious have come from within by moderates and liberals, its simply not as black and white as some portray.

  48. gillt,

    Thanks for proving a point that nobody disputed in the first place. Perhaps instead of joking about reading my lab notebook you could try reading what I posted in this thread, instead:

    Nobody is arguing that anyone with a Ph.D. by definition holds beliefs that are compatible with science.

    So, no, I won’t be demanding names of scientists who believe in astrology, because it’s entirely beside the point.

    The debate here is whether science can be compatible with religious faith. Why you think you’ve said anything that “dis-confirms” this is beyond me. In fact, you don’t seem to have made any argument at all. To do so convincingly, you’ll have to at least make a case that the scientists we’ve named have fundamental conflicts between their beliefs and modern science, or make the case that people like them are so rare as to be the exception that proves the rule, or come up with a reasonable definition of “compatible” yourself.

  49. Luke Vogel

    Notice in my last post that I did not mention rationalist (atheist, agnostics, skeptics) who do indeed speak out for non-belief which hold beliefs that are not compatible with modern science, and some that are clearly in the border area.

  50. TB

    @ Luke 30

    I believe you are correct here.

  51. TB

    @ luke, Jinchi

    Sorry to hijack your thrilling conversation with a couple of trolls, but Luke’s post about motivations got me thinking.

    I have a few people among my long-time circle of friends who are atheists, but they’ve been atheists all their lives – their parents were atheists etc.
    And while I’m sure they have the same problems with religion as many others, there seems to be an x-factor that’s missing with them.
    There’s no bitterness or aura of personal-injury ( although there’s certainly joy when a fundamentalist comes to the door to preach. One year I gave a friend “ken’s guide to the bible” for his birthday – he kept it by his front door to better cite passages).
    Besides legitimate concerns, as pointed out in the cartoon above, I think there’s a note of personal alarm that goes a bit further than the legitimate threats posed by fundamentalism.
    Science doesn’t need belief and it doesn’t need unbelief. A god who is undetectable in the everyday natural world is just as scientifically unnecessary as atheism.
    This isn’t especially thought out, but I wonder if the whole “accomodationist” meme is really just an alarmist exercise – creating a perceived threat to solidify a base, a bit like the war on terror.
    After all, Ken Miller’s long history of defending science should prove that he’s not a threat to science. If you step back from the whole thing, I think it takes a lot of cynical creativity to turn someone like that into a problem to get hysterical over.

  52. gillt

    Jinchi: “On the other side of the debate, we’ve been told of unnamed scientists who are devoted to astrology and believe in Bigfoot. These people may exist, but they are so rare that most of us will never meet one.”

    You’re clearly implying here, as Chad Orzel did elsewhere, that if such people existed (and in significant numbers?) it would be relevant to the issue. I did and now you pretend that you never meant it that way. You’re not arguing in good faith.

    Jinchi: “you’ll have to at least make a case that the scientists we’ve named have fundamental conflicts between their beliefs and modern science…”

    I can hardly believe you aren’t familiar with this, but here’s what you asked for.

    Collins in a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley in 2008:

    Slide 1 – Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time.

    Slide 2 – God’s plan included the mechanism of evolution to create the marvelous diversity of living things on our planet. Most especially, that creative plan included human beings.

    Slide 3 – After evolution had prepared a sufficiently advanced “house” (the human brain), God gifted humanity with the knowledge of good and evil (the Moral Law), with free will, and with an immortal soul.

    Slide 4 – We humans use our free will to break the moral law, leading to our estrangement from God. For Christians, Jesus is the solution to that estrangement.

    Slide 5 – If the Moral Law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?

  53. gillt

    Luke Vogel: Notice in my last post that I did not mention rationalist (atheist, agnostics, skeptics) who do indeed speak out for non-belief which hold beliefs that are not compatible with modern science…’

    Incompatible? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to say what they are instead of trying to be provocative about it?

  54. Paul W.


    The debate here is whether science can be compatible with religious faith.

    No, the debate is about

    (1) What “compatible” means,
    (2) whether the fact that some scientists are religious—which nobody has ever disputed, and everybody has repeatedly affirmed—means that science and religion are “compatible” in that sense, and
    (3) whether that justifies the very broad, flat statement that “science and religion are compatible” (as Chad Orzel actually does clearly argue, in the post that Chris says “nails it”), and
    (4) whether it justifies the somewhat less broad statement that “science and religion can be compatible,” given how the intended audience is likely to interpret “religion” and “compatible”, and
    (5) whether that is the kind of claim that scientific bodies like the NAS ought to be making, given that scientific bodies usually only make such pronouncements about settled scientific issues, not taking sides in live scientific controversies.

    taking those one at a time:

    (1) the reductio ad absurdam about astrology or kooky fringe science shows at least that people typically understand statements that X is compatible with Y as more than an empirical claim that some people do or accept both.

    Most people assume that such an assertion has a normative component, which is why it would be so odd to hear the pope say “marriage is compatible with adultery” or “Christianity is compatible with selfishness” and so on.

    How many people actually combine the two things in question is not actually relevant to the issue of how people interpret statements that “X is compatible with Y.” The fact that many married people commit adultery, and many Christians are selfish does not enter into it—such statements are generally construed as implying more than that, in particular that it actually makes sense to combine the things in question, rather than that some people do combine them and ignore or accept or somehow deal with the contradictions.

    You seem to insist on missing that fundamental point. Chad Orzel is (a) justifying a very broad, flat statement, which is actually ambiguous (at best), and (b) claiming that it is simply a statement of fact—not, for example, a seriously misleading oversimplification—and (c) therefore never an unconscionable thing to say.

    That is BS, and I think you recognize at least part of the BS and give Chad too much credit by insisting he’s not actually saying something so stupid. He is making a clearly invalid argument, even if his conclusion is ultimatley right for other reasons you can fill in.

    As long as you don’t address that—whether “compatible” means only what he says, or is ambiguous and misleading, and whether his argument is therefore invalid—we will continue to go around in circles.

    The “New Atheists” or anti-accommodationists (both bad terms, but whatever) think that science and religion are much less compatible than many other people think, including many scientists adn most religious scientists.

    The fact that you know some religious scientists, and that they think there are no contradictions, does not address that issue at all.

    You haven’t made the case that those scientists are correct in thinking that their religious views are compatible with science. That is a big part of what the argument is about.

    Some of us think that religion can be explained scientifically and naturalistically, and that such explanations are in hand, more or less. We also think that undercuts central tenets of most religion, not just fundamentalism, whether most religious scientists know that or not. Their claim that their religion is compatible with science is false, as we see it—faith is not a “way of knowing” that is complementary to science. It’s a way of making bizarre and biased but culturally-endorsed wild-ass guesses, which science shows to be basically wrong headed and prone to falsity.

    Whether that’s actually true or not is mostly beside the point for the present purpose. We acknowledge that it’s a controversial issue among experts, and that is precisely the point. Scientific bodies should not be putting out propaganda that makes it sound like science and religion are really compatible—i.e., that it actually makes sense to combine them—when there is no scientific or philosophical consensus that it’s true.

    They especially should not be making it sound like religious scientists or liberal theologians are the experts on whether science and religion are in fact compatible.

    Many if not most top scientists and philosophers in the relevant areas think those people are seriously mistaken, and the NAS et al. should not be taking sides against that very common and respected viewpoint. They should not privilege, say, Ken Miller’s and Frank Collins’s ridiculous theodicy over, say, physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg’s opinion that those guys are kooks on that point.

    Sure, some scientists are religious, but that doesn’t in itself prove that science and religion are compatible in any strong sense. It may only show that (a) they’re ignorant of cognitive anthropology and neuroscience, which undermine their naive views of science and religion being complementary, as opposed to science showing that their religious concepts are profoundly mistaken, or (b) they’re willing to live with inconstencies and irrationality, or (c) they are simply in denial about the inconsistencies.

    (3-5) Orzel is really justifying the flat claim that “science and religion” are compatible, and presenting a false choice (a “fallacy of the excluded middle”) with the straw man of the NAS et al. taking the position that “science and religion are incompatible.” (He says the latter would be unconscionable.)

    That is doubly fallacious. As I think you acknowledge, the NAS does not have to make either oversimplified claim. It could be clearer about what kinds of religion are compatible with science, and in what senses of “compatible.” (But that would be messy and still controversial.)

    And besides, nobody is asking the NAS to say the latter. It is the accommodationists who want the NAS to take a side on the compatibility of science and religion, and slanting things in favor of liberal theology. The anti-accommodationists want the NAS to stay out of it—not take a side on something that’s quite controversial among the experts.

    A lot of us wouldn’t be objecting if scientific bodies just mentioned that some scientists are religious, and left it at that. That much is, at least, true. But once they’ve said that, they should not go on and on about how certain experts (both scientists and theologians) think science and religion are really compatible, without also mentioning that about as many relevant experts think that those people are antiscientific denialists about the relevant sciences.

    (E.g., refusing to admit that cognitive anthropology explains religion in naturalistic terms better than religion explains itself in supernaturalistic terms, casting grave doubt on supernaturalism generally, and that cognitive neuroscience strongly suggests that we don’t have souls capable of either an afterlife or truly transcendental experiences that result in justified true beliefs.)

    Please stop running together your own arguments with Chad Orzel’s.

    One nice thing about Chad’s arguments is that they’re simple. That makes it unusually easy to see where the fatal flaws are, and that’s what shows what would really be required to make a better argument work.

    A good first step toward getting clear on the issues would be to analyze the argument he’s actually making and acknowledge the problems with it, before trying to fix it for him with arguments of your own.

  55. Paul W.


    Thanks for that link and quote. The posting (of Chris’s) is indeed interesting, and I’ll say more about it later.

    The quote, however, doesn’t address the point I raised.

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

    This quote doesn’t address the issue of whether religion in general tends to conflict with (some) science—as Orzel basically admits—as opposed to fundamentalism or literalism or specifically Young Earth creationism conflicting with science. We all agree on the latter.

    The real bone of contention is the former. The “New Atheists” think that science undermines religion far more generally than showing that Young Earth creationism is wrong.

    The statement is therefore a red herring, of the kind that Chris is famous for.

    Chris clearly wants to reassure mainstream non-fundamentalist religious people that science won’t challenge their religious beliefs much.

    But many of us think that a real, deep understanding of science will do exactly that, and that scientific bodies have no business saying that it won’t.

    For example, we think that cognitive/brain science and anthropology show basically what kind of thing religion is, and minds are, such that central religious claims about minds, souls, immortality, spiritual insight, revelation, and moral authority are allseverely undermined. And for most moderate and liberally religious people, especially in the intended audience of the NAS statement, that’s the whole religious ball of wax.

    It would therefore be more accurate, in our view, to say that “science and religion are incompatible” than to say that “science and religion are compatible”—especially in a context if you’ve already said that some scientists are religious. That makes it clear that you don’t mean that you can’t do science anyway, if you stick to some area that happens not to conflict with your religious beliefs, or if you adopt a pragmatic stance of methodological naturalism despite not believing in supernaturalism.

    We are not saying that the NAS ought to pick between the statement “science and religion are compatible” and the statement “science and religion are incompatible.” Both statements are at least a little ambiguous—and at least one of them has to be mostly wrong on whatever interpretation the audience assumes is meant—so the best course is for scientific bodies to shut the hell up about it if they’re not going to do the subject justice.

    And clearly they are not going to, for political reasons. They don’t want to dwell on how top scientists and philosophers of science are mostly strong atheists, and half the rest are nontheists, and why. They don’t want to dwell on the fact that even the ones who are religious are mostly not orthodoxly religious—-they’re not only not fundamentalist, they don’t accept most major points of orthodoxy that the large majority of Americans do. They don’t believe in a personal God, souls, an afterlife, or the efficacy of prayer, much less Divine Command Theory of morality, damnation, The Trinity, the virgin birth, or that God particularly cares about sex and you should respect his preferences.

    None of that is specific to fundamentalism. Top scientists and philosophers of science overwhelmingly reject mainstream “moderate” religion and even most “liberal” theology like Haught’s or Karen Armstrongs.

    And there is a reason for that. They don’t see how it’s compatible with the scientific worldview, and many are convinced, like Chad Orzel, that the scientific and religous worldviews are basically impossible to reconcile. They think that religious beliefs of almost all kinds are best explained roughly as Richard Dawkins does—as something like popular delusions. They think that science casts doubt on religion very generally, not just Biblical literalism and Young Earth Creationism.

    Most of us think it’s fine if the NAS doesn’t tout our view that religion and science are pretty incompatible for any interesting sense of compatible.

    We just don’t want the NAS to side against us, and make it sound like scientists generally respect Collins’s and Miller’s religious views, because many if not most of us don’t. We respect them very much as scientists in their own particular areas, but think that their religious views are as kooky and disreputable as Pauling’s views on Vitamin C or Shockley’s views on race.

    It is not the NAS’s job to imply that everything is hunky dory between science and liberal theology, and thereby imply that those of us who disagree are a crank fringe who just don’t get it that “science and religion are different ways of knowing,” that are about “different spheres,” or that “science can’t study the supernatural” and that science can’t tell you about morality and the meaning of life, but somehow religion can.

    It is natural that some of the many scientists who disagree will object, and it’s not unreasonable for them to do so.

  56. Paul W.


    It seems that you agree with me that despite your selected dictionary definition of “compatible,” the word “compatible” means something more that “some people do both” in sentences of the form “X is compatible with Y.”

    If so, please say so. If not, explain why not. Don’t my arguments at least show that sometimes people interpret “X is compatible with Y” to mean it makes sense to combine X and Y?

    It also sounds like you agree with me that Chad Orzel’s flat statement that “science and religion are compatible” is not simply a statement of fact—it is at best ambiguous, right?

    If you agree, please say so. If not, explain why not.

    You seem not to understand the concept of arguing in good faith.

    Arguing in good faith is not a matter of motives. It’s a matter of taking arguments seriously, and addressing the points being raised.

    IMHO, you are not arguing in good faith if you refuse to grant points that I’ve clearly demonstrated, because you question my motives for demonstrating them.

    That is invoking a fallacy—and ad hominem argument or a genetic fallacy—in order to avoid admitting the validity of what I am saying.

    So when you accuse me of not arguing in good faith, it is you who are not arguing in good faith.

    My motives don’t have to be pure for me to argue in good faith, so long as I am willing to address the actual arguments in valid ways.

    And you don’t have to like me and my motives to argue in good faith, so long as you are willing to do likewise.

    If you are not willing to do that, it is you who are not arguing in good faith, irrespective of my motives and yours.

    What you keep doing—and other people here do it a lot, too—is to dodge serious arguments with the excuse that you don’t like the other person’s motives.

    That’s pretty close to saying I don’t have to deal fairly with you because I don’t like you, which is the very antithesis of arguing in good faith.

    So please, cut it out. It’s very freaking tiresome.

    We can seriously discuss my motives if you like—you seem to have forgotten some explanations I’ve given before—but that is no excuse for failing to squarely address the arguments I’m making.

    Frequently changing the subject to me and my motives is arguing in bad faith.

    It is amazing that people around here do not seem to understand very basic concepts of rational discourse, such as

    (1) validity of an argument, as opposed to agreeing with its conclusion for other reasons,

    (2) granting a point that has been made—-e.g., that a particular argument has been demonstrated to be invalid, and that some point has not successfully been made, before moving on to a different argument for that point, or for a different point, and

    (3) not resorting to ad hominems and genetic fallacies instead of dealing with things like 1 & 2.

    It seems to me that you miss something central about the way things go, which should explain some of my behavior.

    You wonder why I care so much about the points I’m making, such that I make them over and over again.

    One major reason is that you guys are not arguing in good faith, chronically refusing to grant a point that has clearly been made, and resorting to ad hominems, arguments from authority, and poisoning the well.

    Since I don’t think that’s how you’re supposed to argue, I make the point again. I reserve the right to repeat any argument and any point until somebody plays fair and acknowledges the point, or successfully refutes it, rather than attacking me and my motives instead.

    Try arguing in good faith and see how it goes. If you’ll do that for a while, we can come back to me and my motives; that’s a fine subject, but if we’re arguing in good faith, it’s off-topic until we’ve addressed the validity or invalidity of the arguments on the table.

  57. Luke Vogel

    52. gillt Says

    Provocative, gillt? Give me a break. I only made a note of something, to at least create awareness I wasn’t purposefully leaving things unsaid because of ignorance or bias. Let me ask, can you name any? If you say no, let me be the first to call you a liar.

  58. Paul W.

    Jinchi, Luke,

    I have longish comments answering both of you in moderation. (Submitted before my most recent comment for Luke, timestamped 3:33 PM, which seems to have gone right through.)

  59. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    ~”You wonder why I care so much about the points I’m making, such that I make them over and over again.”~

    No, Paul W. I don’t care about the points you make, in fact you ignored mine on several occasions in yet another effort. You wanted a citation, you got one of those, did you mention it given what you said following your demand? I’m not answering for anyone else, haven’t you at east got the drift of that (?), I have no reason to. I don’t care who the person is, no I didn’t click the links, I commented on a cartoon, then followed what I thought was a conversation since you even asked me about what I said (suddenly your back to astrology). I’ve already been through this with you and here you go with another lecture, it’s absolutely useless.

    You have a serious problem Paul W., it’s time to grow the hell up. I only comment now to you because that jumped out as I skimmed.

  60. Luke Vogel

    55. Paul W. Says

    I think it’s showing now. What is your problem. I don’t care about you or what you say!

  61. Luke Vogel

    A question to gillt.

    Are you or Paul W. posting this conversation elsewhere, or commenting on it? Are you using my words elsewhere? If so, tell me where.

  62. Luke Vogel

    50. TB Says:

    See my post #35

    Quote: Paul W. -“~”Citation please.”~

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

    There are other such examples, I dug that out because I had previously mentioned the exchange with Sean Carroll – see #29 where I said: ~ “It only goes to show that people can contain contradictory beliefs, but the statement is not false. I’ve seen Chris respond to this a few times, once directly to Sean Carroll on this blog and if I’m not mistaken in the comments on Sean’s blog.”~

  63. Paul W.

    Fine, Luke, you’ve just demonstrated that yes, in fact, it is you that’s arguing in bad faith.

    And no, I’m not posting this conversation elsewhere, or using your words elsewhere.

    But given your tone toward me, I wouldn’t feel any obligation to comply with a demand from you to tell you if I was.

    So maybe I will, you paranoid git.

  64. Paul W.

    Luke, I already addressed that quote, in a comment that’s still in moderation, timestamped 3:03 PM.

    There is some interesting stuff in that post that you linked to, but that quote misses my point.

  65. Paul W.

    see #29 where I said: ~ “It only goes to show that people can contain contradictory beliefs, but the statement is not false. I’ve seen Chris respond to this a few times, once directly to Sean Carroll on this blog and if I’m not mistaken in the comments on Sean’s blog.”

    You seem to be simply ignoring my point that whether a statement is true or false depends on the interpretation of the terms, e.g., “compatible” which demonstrably does not only mean “you can do both” in many sentences of the form “X is compatible with Y.”

    At the very least, you should acknowledge that the statement is not clearly true, even if it’s “not false” in some sense.

    And you should acknowledge that such statements can be misleading and effectively false, such that Chad’s it’s ridiculous for Chad to say that

    1) it’s a statement of fact, and
    2) a statement of fact cannot be unconscionable, and

    At best, it’s ambiguous, and even if it’s only ambiguous, ambiguous statements certainly can be unconscionable, if you ignore how the intended audience will likely interpret them. (E.g., seeing somebody light a cigarette lighter in a crowded theater, and yelling FIRE!)

    Not to mention Chad saying that since Sean’s statement is factually untrue.

    That takes a whole lot of balls. His argument is pure sophistry, hinging on his being able to pick the most convenient interpretation of a clearly ambiguous term—irrespective of how the intended audience would actually interpret it—and he turns around and says that Sean is flatly wrong for interpreting it differently.


  66. Paul W.

    Hmmm… I guess Luke didn’t give a link to the posting from Chris that he quoted; I must have googled it up. Here it is:

    Comments on it later.

  67. Paul W.

    From the linked-to post by Chris, addressing Sean Carroll:

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

    As I noted previously, this doesn’t address any live issues. Pretty much everybody around here agrees that Young Earth Creationism is incompatible with science.

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

    This is far more interesting. The idea is that some very liberal theology posits nothing observable that science could refute.

    I think that this is wrongheaded in a couple of ways.

    Notice that when we agree that YECS are wrong, we pretty much assent to the idea that they are under something like a popular delusion. Their reality-checking has gone astray somewhere due to things like nonrational cognitive biases, social amplification of the failure modes of those cognitive biases, etc.

    In other words, when we concede that the YECS are wrong, we also concede that religious beliefs are not necessarily beyond scientific scrutiny, and that it is valid to come up with some other explanation of those beliefs than that they are true.

    As scientists, we have to assume that at least some religious beliefs are irrational in light of science, and that their persistence is due to ignorance and/or failures of rationality.

    So right off the bat, we know that we can discuss at least some religious beliefs scientifically, and show that they are untrue, and infer that something is seriously wrong with at least some religious people’s reasoning.

    The question is, then, can we not infer that most or all religious reasoning is similarly dubious, though also interestingly dissimilar?

    The scientific approach would be to study religion and see if we can identify the patterns of belief fixation. If we can identify obvious failures of rationality in fundamentalists, perhaps we can find the same failures of rationality in non-fundamentalist religious people as well, perhaps in somewhat less obvious forms. And we do.

    That is the approach taken by David Sloan Wilson, Scott Atran, and Pascal Boyer, among others. They claim to be studying religion scientifically, and figuring out what makes it tick in naturalistic scientific terms.

    The idea is that if you can identify the failures of rationality that lead to religious belief, and show that they are in fact the kinds of failures that lead to (and entrench) false beliefs, that is prima facie evidence that religious beliefs tend to be untrue—or at last that people’s subjective experiences, claimed revelations, and commitment to those beliefs are not good evidence that they’re true, and scientific evidence should trump that sort of evidence, just as it does in the case of Young Earth Creationism.

    One of the major conflicts between science and almost all religion is in the nature of the human mind. The dominant paradigm in science and philosophy of mind is that the mind is at least mostly something that the brain does, rather like a computational process running in a computer of a certain sort. (Not much like the serial, binary von Neumann machine on your desk, but still basically a computer.)

    The brain works in certain ways, and not others, and that is what gives us the sorts of minds we have, at least for the most part—that accounts for most or all aspects of what it is to be a person, with long-term memories, drives, instincts, skills, goals, plans, a focus of attention, short term memory and moment-to-moment awareness of its own environment and mental processes, emotions, moral judgment, and a certain limited degree of ability to introspect about those things.

    On the dominant scientific view, none of that stuff is fundamentally mysterious anymore, and all of it happens in the brain, implemented by the functioning of the material brain, in basically computational terms. (Or at least mechanistic, perhaps depending on exactly what you mean by “computational.”)

    This makes orthodox conceptions of the soul—Eastern and Western—about as scientifically implausible as vitalism, or Thor personally hurling thunderbolts. There is no extra immaterial and immortal soul that does most of the things that religions have generally assumed that souls do.

    Scientifically there apparently is no soul that is a spirit distinct from the organization and functioning of your brain as something very like a computer.

    There might be some kind of soul, that does something, but it is evidently not what makes people the people they are in the obvious ways, with personalities, memories, a sense of self, and a point of view. All of that is clearly mainly computational, or something similarly mechanistic.

    A reasonable inference, given this very successful scientific paradigm, is that the soul is like the vital essence of life—it is something that naive, scientifically uninformed people are prone to believing in, which happens not to actually exist.

    And like the vital essence in the 19th and 20th centuries, we have an “of the gaps” theory that is threatened by an entirely different scientific paradigm. Just as we found more and more mechanisms that explained things better and better than a vital essence or “humors,” we find more and more that the brain does, with less and less for a traditional soul to do—apparently nothing at all. If you have a soul, it doesn’t do much, and a lot of the expert, scientific smart money is on the idea that it doesn’t do anything at all, and you don’t have one.

    We also have increasingly clear reasons to think that people are prone to believing in things roughly like vital essences and immaterial souls that have nothing to do with their actually having them.

    To the extent that people have such biases, it is serious evidence undermining almost all religion. It strongly suggests that religious beliefs are typically the result of psychological and social biases, and therefore every distinctively religious belief is suspect, in lieu of any confirmatory non-religious evidence.

    That is prima facie scientific evidence that unfalsifiability of religious beliefs is suggestive of their falsity, or at least the falsity of the confidence people place in them—i.e., religious people are systematically wrong to have faith in distinctively religious propositions. Such faith is demonstrably often misplaced, and appears to be the result of unreliable information processing in the brain, so our first and best guess is generally that it’s bogus.

    Consider paranoid schizophrenics. If a demonstrably paranoid schizophrenic makes an extraordinary and unfalsifiable claim, without good objective evidence or valid arguments, it is scientifically reasonable to discount it almost 100 percent. Not entirely, of course, because the schizophrenic just might be right in this particular case. (Because of a passing moment of lucidity in which they correctly interpreted evidence, or because they just happened to get lucky, or something like that.)

    Likewise, if the processes of religious belief fixation are shown to be unreliable, even in normal, otherwise-sane people, and especially if those processes are shown to be biased toward certain kinds of extraordinary claims and we can explain but not justify those biases, then we should discount extraordinary and unfalsifiable religious claims almost 100 percent as well. Some of those claims might be true—we might be entirely unable to refute them—but our best scientific guess is that they are products of irrational biases and unlikely to be true.

    Chris says later in that post:

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

    This is typical Chris, switching from the argument about epistemic compatibility of science and religion to a completely different argument about strategy, and whether it’s strategically advantageous to disagree with a certain group of religious people.

    I want to separate those issues out.

    Notice that Chris talks about people who “accept the body of modern science.”

    In my view, almost anybody who’s religious doesn’t. If you don’t realize that the brain is basically a computer, and that you are mostly if not entirely the functioning of that computer, then you are scientifically illiterate, full stop. Even if you disagree, you ought to recognize that that is the dominant scientific paradigm of what makes you the person that you are.

    There is no more scientifically important or humanly interesting scientific fact than that, and if you don’t get it, you are as ignorant on that subject as you would be about astronomy if you think the sun goes around the earth, or about biology if you deny evolution.

    Seriously. It’s basic, very basic stuff.

    That doesn’t mean that we know it to be entirely true for a fact. We still have work to do in cognitive neuroscience, anthropology and pyschology of religion, etc., and this emerging paradigm could be substantially wrong. I really don’t think so, but we have to acknowledge at least an outside chance. We might find some function for a soul, and some evidence that it exists. Sure, it could happen.

    Still, it’s clear that typical religious people, and even typical religious scientists are woefully scientifically ignorant on this subject. (And certainly most theologians don’t address the issue at all, and most of the rest don’t really take the bull by the horns; they generally weasel around it. IMHO, their opinion on whether science and religion are actually compatible is therefore moot.)

    Part of the problem is that we systematically soft-pedal the state of the scientific understanding of the human mind/brain, morality, etc.—and I think that is a symptom of pervasive accommodationism. The science of the mind/brain is as important as any scientific discipline, but even most scientists don’t know the crucial basics the way they know the basics of physics, chemistry, and biology. But we don’t require that scientists learn about about that stuff, despite its centrality to human concerns. (E.g., political arguments about “moral” issues.)

    More on Chris’s post later; might as well get this in the moderation queue.

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

  68. Paul W.

    oops… that last paragraph wasn’t supposed to be there

  69. J.J.E.

    For those who agree with Chris and Chad and disagree with “anti-accommodationists” can you please tell me the difference between the following:

    Science is compatible with:
    1) lying/fraud;
    2) dogma;
    3) religious faith.

    I think your response will at least give me (and others like me) some insight into what makes religion so special as to merit special defense.

  70. J.J.E.

    dogma (n.) – An authoritative principle, belief, or statement of ideas or opinion, especially one considered to be absolutely true.

    Example : “Religious faith is identical to lying and fraud.”

  71. J.J.E.


    That’s cute. But you didn’t answer the question. And you slyly imply that someone somewhere even remotely suggests that “faith is identical to lying and fraud”.

    So, I re-reference my post “69. J.J.E. Says: January 18th, 2010 at 8:36 pm” and ask you to actually address it rather than posting a cute non-sequitur.

  72. gillt

    Luke Vogel: “Provocative, gillt? Give me a break. I only made a note of something, to at least create awareness I wasn’t purposefully leaving things unsaid because of ignorance or bias. Let me ask, can you name any? If you say no, let me be the first to call you a liar.”

    My goodness, is this the same Vogel that suffered a self-diagnosed mental breakdown on this very blog, arguing about basically the same things? I sincerely hope you’re feeling better, but you’re also teetering back and forth between sane and paranoid…just like before.

    Lest we witness–and you endure–an embarrassing repeat, take a breath and ask yourself: is it unreasonable for other commenters to insist I justify my own assertions without me taking offense? Am I, Luke Vogel, arguing in poor faith?

    (e.g., Vogel: “Notice in my last post that I did not mention rationalist (atheist, agnostics, skeptics) who do indeed speak out for non-belief which hold beliefs that are not compatible with modern science…”)

  73. magistramorous

    This cartoon reminds me of the film, “Religulous.” Remember Mark Pryor’s remarks on Genesis? He didn’t actually say that he believed in a young earth, but that “it could’ve possibly been” the case, along with the talking snake! LOL I wonder how many of our senators feel the same way. Hopefully, it isn’t 45% or more.

  74. magistramorous

    * other senators

  75. Luke Vogel

    Paul W.

    You crack me the hell up. And no I didn’t read all your garble, but here again we see your tactic in full light. BTW, addressing that far after the fact when you brought up astrology again is lame, obviously.

    ~ “As I noted previously, this doesn’t address any live issues. Pretty much everybody around here agrees that Young Earth Creationism is incompatible with science.”

    Ok, Paul W., name someone “around here” that thinks YEC is compatible with science?

  76. J.J.E.

    Uh, Luke?

    Paul W.: As I noted previously, this doesn’t address any live issues. Pretty much everybody around here agrees that Young Earth Creationism is incompatible with science.

    Luke: Ok, Paul W., name someone “around here” that thinks YEC is compatible with science?

    Does the second statement not strike you as not following logically from the first? Perhaps you read too quickly, just giving you the benefit of the doubt. Reread your own quote. He said “everybody around here agrees that Young Earth Creationism is INCOMPATIBLE with science”.

    Perhaps you OUGHT to slow down and read all his garble. Whether or not it is garble, if you are going to respond, you assume the burden of understanding his argument (garbled or fluent or somewhere in between), so you should at least read what he’s said and don’t invert the meaning 180 degrees.

  77. Luke Vogel

    Oh man, against my better judgement I’m going to rehash part of this conversation.

    Paul W. says: “The quote, however, doesn’t address the point I raised.”

    The point? I know what your point is and I even outlined in fairly broad detail my ideas on what I mean by compatible, twice now. Stop pretending your saying something significant and I’m somehow not getting it, it should appear obvious by now that I do. Remember I already asked you to tell me how science can falsify “supernaturalism” and the problem with Coyne saying is “atheism” was scientific because he defined it as “weak sense atheism”. And yes, we do find agreement, that was something else last time I tried desperately to highlight, but your simply lost in argument, don’t you see that? It’s a fairly common phenomena these days in comment, forum and blog debates. I apologize for being hostile, but you don’t seem to give a shit about my effort here even when I nearly make your argument for you. IMO, you are a nutcase that I’ve once again allowed myself to get tangled with.

    However, this is what I said and how you replied, before repeating yourself. I had mentioned (can’t believe I’m repeating this, that in an exchange with Sean Carroll, Chris had mentioned incompatibility, then again I highlighted this idea as a stand along.

    Here’s how that went:

    I said: ~” I should note, Chris has several time’s that I’ve seen that science and religion are not compatible in many respects.~

    Paul W. responded: ~ “Citation please.

    I think that Chris has systematically avoided acknowledging that the New Atheists are right about that, the way Chad effectively did, for at least the last two years, despite being asked the question point blank dozens of times by other bloggers, and commenters on his own blog.

    I know that he’s almost always dodged that issue, if not always. If there’s an exception, it would be quite remarkable.

    If I’m mistaken about that, I’d like to see the evidence.”~

    Read your own words Paul W. ! So, I offered something from the exchange, a dreadful experience since those debates sucked, period. I didn’t have the opportunity to Google them because I didn’t memorize the quote, Paul W. So, now what do I see. It’s not good enough, it doesn’t address the ideas of religous beliefs in general, well to bad, you’re reading beyond me again to repeat ad nauseum an argument “pretty much everybody” gets.

  78. J.J.E.

    Ooops. I meant to say: Perhaps you OUGHT to slow down and read all his ‘garble’.

    I didn’t mean to second Luke’s accusation of garble. Sorry I left off the scare quotes.

  79. Luke Vogel


    I know the argument. I have a longer post in moderation where I go over the damn quote again and what Paul W. is doing.

  80. Luke Vogel

    Well, I just lost a very long post :(

    Let me sum it up.

    Well Paul W. says: ~”Part of the problem is that we systematically soft-pedal the state of the scientific understanding of the human mind/brain, morality, etc.—and I think that is a symptom of pervasive accommodationism.”~

    This doesn’t speak to me. I’m not even sure it’s completely correct, it’s more like hyperbole.

    I’ve gone over morality.

    Then on went on about science and the supernatural. I was about to illustrate something, which has to do with the limitations of science and why we need to accept we must use our scientifically informed philosophical mind.

    It’s an extension of Clarke’s third law – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. A few years back Michael Shermer argued even further to highlight a problem with these debates and replaced magic with “god”. Why so? Well, first off how would we tell from a relative to an absolute omniscience etc.?

  81. J.J.E.

    @ Luke

    My post is still in moderation. Wait for it. In short, you didn’t appear to notice that he said: ““everybody around here agrees that Young Earth Creationism is INCOMPATIBLE with science”.

    I’m not going to repeat the post. It will show up in due time.

  82. Luke Vogel

    Since I brought up Michael Shermer, let me give another example how frustrating these “conversations” are.

    Recently Jerry Coyne did a blog title: “Michael Shermer, theologian”. Wherein he labeled Michael and “accomodationist” because he felt Shermer had gone to far in explaining to believer how they can accept science and basically keep the faith. Now, Michael has responded to that already. What’s striking is the labeling and the argumentative style to begin with. Michael has pulled apart religious beliefs by applying neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, natural moral instinct etc. Just last week he repeated his argument regarding Neurobombs. Basically the idea of killing in the name of religion. None of this is new, Michael has been making such arguments for the past 16 years I’ve been reading him (plus a constant parade of articles in Skeptic much like them). But, now he’s an “accomodationist”, now how right does that make Coyne’s or Paul W.’s argument?

    That’s partly what I mean that there’s something else at play going on going unnoticed by people like Paul W. They simply don’t give a shit what they say beyond believing their own argument no matter how beyond the facts they go in some cases. Again, to possibly avoid another headache, I’m NOT saying Paul’s arguments are incorrect at a base level, I think I’ve shown that several times. He’s simply lost in argument. Coyne is lost in wanting to appear a certain way. Doesn’t make him wrong always, just partly blind to even his own arguments about “accomodationism” and his view his atheism is scientific only (even though in his own argument he shows that to be not the case).

  83. Luke Vogel


    No, you missed my point. You left out “pretty much”. Get it? Don’t take yourself so seriously.

  84. Luke Vogel


    I now have two post in moderation and I lost a long one :( Let’s kick some ass!

  85. Luke Vogel


    I now have two (three, including this original – I think cuz of my last word) post in moderation and I lost a long one :( Let’s kick some …!

  86. Luke Vogel

    Ok, looks like my post – #77, 80 and 82 – are posted.

  87. Paul W.


    Jeez, Luke, you’re about to strain yourself over the “pretty much”?

    Take a stress pill and think this over. You’re losing it again.

    I’m not even sure what your problem is with it, and since you didn’t bother to ask me why I put that qualifier in, and started imply something nefarious that I’m not clear on, and demanding proof of something I never asserted…


    Wanna try again and ask me rather than accusing me?

    Or do you want to continue being a paranoid troll?

  88. Paul W.

    Luke, the “pretty much” was just a qualifier to make sure I don’t overstate my case, and start an irrelevant flame exchange with some YEC who might be lurking, having dropped in to argue against AGW or whatever.

    It was certainly not meant to imply that anyone involved in this discussion so far is a YEC. Of course not.

    Perhaps I should have spelled that out, but whaddya want, egg in your beer?

    Stop reading stuff into my posts that isn’t there. It’s really, really tiresome.

    Stop worrying so much about my motives, and pay closer attention to the arguments.

  89. Paul W.


    You seem to be missing a really major point in this discussion, and running certain things together that I am trying, perhaps not hard enough, to keep separate. (I could be wrong, and if so, I’m sorry, but that’s how it seems to me.)

    Please recognize that I’m not trying to convince anybody, here and now, that science and religion are generally incompatible. I am trying to sketch one common and respected position among the relevant scientific experts, and show basically how they see science and religion as incompatible—not just fundamentalism and YEC, but mainstream Eastern and Western religion involving belief in souls, an afterlife, and/or transcendental mystical experiences that bypass rationality and get Deep Wisdom or an experience of the Ultimate Reality from something involving introspection.

    The point I’m making is that yes, many scientists really do see science and religion as typically if not always incompatible. Rightly or wrongly, they do see any claim that science and religion “are compatible” or even “can be compatible” as pretty much wrong—they see even very liberal theology as in conflict with the relevant science.

    You may not realize it, but in addressing that, I’m addressing stuff that Chris said in the post that you quoted—stuff that is far more interesting and relevant to our argument than the quote you pulled out.

    In particular, Chris says that Haught’s theology is unfalsifiable. I do not think that is true; like a lot of experts on the subject, I think that even the current sciences of the mind strongly indicate that Haught’s concepts of mind an the supernatural are just mistaken, and are mistaken for explainable reasons that obviate actually proving them false. It is not unscientific to dismiss a contrived, paranoid theory without, strictly speaking refuting it.

    One of Chris’s arguments (AFAICT) is that we can’t “refute” such hypotheses, if they’re sufficiently contrived to make them unfalsifiable, so we should treat the unfalsifiable hypotheses as beyond the reach of science.

    But that is not how science works. Chris is using the wrong standard of refutation. Science does not operate by strict logical disproof of hypotheses, and agnosticism toward the ones that can’t be strictly disproved.

    For example, we never disproved geocentricism. You can always salvage geocentricism by saying that the sun and planets orbit the earth in just such a way that the results are observationally indinguishable from the earth and planets orbiting the sun. (Mathematically, the resulting theory isn’t even much more complicated—you just toss in a couple of extra axioms to relativize the motions.)

    That was actually proposed in Galileo’s time—saving geocentrism while using Galileo’s model for prediction, by tweaking the model.

    Galileo didn’t fall for it, and neither should we. We should reject unfalsifiable supernaturalism for the same reason we reject unfalsifiable geocentricism—they are both ad hoc, contrived theories, and ad hoc, contrived theories are typically false.

    That’s also the same basic reason we reject Young Earth creationism. You can make that irrefutable in Chris’s sense, too, if you’re willing to throw in enough miracles. So what? It’s still bunk.

    I don’t really want to argue about whether we should dismiss unfalsifiable theology like Haught’s as bunk—you can disagree if you want to, and I know many other people will. And that’s okay, for the present discussion.

    I’m not trying to convince anybody that it’s true—I’m only trying to explain that many scientists and philosophers of science really, really do think that religion is bunk, scientifically speaking, even if it can’t be “refuted” in the sense of strict logical disproof.

    Moreover, they think that any other approach is unscientific. Religion’s supposed alternative “ways of knowing” have been demonstrated to be woefully unreliable, and granting them a special exception that we do not grant to other contrived and unfalsifiable hypotheses is philosophically inconsistent with the basic scientific approach.

    Again, I don’t want to argue about that. If you don’t think that consistency on that point is required by the basic scientific outlook, fine—just acknowledge that, rightly or wrongly, many scientists and philosophers do think that.

    That is all I need to make my main argument.

    My main argument is that organizations like the NAS should not be in the business of implying that science and religion “can be compatible,” much less Chad’s “science and religion are compatible.”

    Scientific bodies are not supposed to make pronouncements about live scientific controversies, and it is a live scientific controversy whether religion is compatible with science.

    Nobody—NOBODY—doubts that religious people can do science. Nobody doubts that religious people can accept most science.

    But many scientists and philosophers do indeed think that science and religion are incompatible in basic ways—at least in the sense that if you

    (1) ditch all the stuff that science shows is likely not true, including souls, transcendental experience of The Ultimate, or even just ineffable Deep Wisdom gained by mystical insight, and
    (2) adopt the scientific attitude of skepticism toward contrived unfalsifiable hypotheses of all sorts, then

    what you’re left with is not clearly religion anymore.

    Given that many scientist and philosophers really really do think that, rightly or wrongly, even saying that “science and religion can be compatible” is controversial. There’s no scientific consensus that it’s false, but there’s nowhere near a scientific consensus that it’s true, either.

    It’s controversial because many if not most people—including many scientists and philosophers of science—simply do not interpret the statement “science and religion can be compatible” in the minimal the way Chad says they should, meaning only that “some people manage to be religious and do science.”

    They just don’t, and I think that’s pretty obvious by now.

    Many if not most people, including many if not most scientists and philosophers, think of science and religion as (real or purported) “ways of knowing.” When they hear claims about whether they’re “compatible” they immediately think about whether these ways of knowing complement each other or contradict each other, and whether the purported knowledge from each is consistent with the purported knowledge from the other.

    It’s not just fundamentalists who do that. It’s basically everybody including Chris Mooney. That’s why supposedly irrefutable theology is signficant to him in the first place.

    If he didn’t think that consistency of purported “knowledge” was significant, he wouldn’t think that unfalsifiable theology like John Haught’s was the least bit relevant, and wouldn’t drag him into the discussion.

    He argues that Haught and other very liberal theologians don’t believe anything inconsistent with scientific knowledge.

    Rightly or wrongly, for the reasons I sketched above, many of us really really do think that Chris is right that Haught’s a relevant example, but he’s quite wrong that Haught’s theology is consistent with science.

    Chris apparently can’t come up with any examples of religion that is consistent with science, on our view.

    He can’t convince us that there’s any theology that’s really consistent with science, so the claim that “science and religion can be compatible” remains controversial.

    Since scientific bodies are not supposed to take sides in live scientific controversies, and are only supposed to make pronouncements that reflect an expert scientific consensus, the NAS ought to stop pandering to such views that many scientific experts think are scientifically wrong.

    I should probably quote what I consider the worst part of the NAS statement—the concluding paragraph—and why many experts think every sentence is either false or grossly misleading.

    That might clarify things, but I’ll save it for another post.

  90. Paul W.


    I posted something addressing Chris’s post that you got that quote from. (I think the quote was off-point, but the post wasn’t.)

    Unfortunately, it seems to have vanished into the flickering void. (I doesn’t show up as in moderation.)

    Maybe it will show up eventually. This system is flaky.

  91. Paul W.

    Ah, it finally showed up as in moderation. Stay tuned.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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