Are Top Scientists Really So Atheistic? Look at the Data

By Chris Mooney | April 13, 2010 4:14 pm

Elaine Howard Ecklund is a sociologist at Rice University; we cited her work on the topic of science and religion in Unscientific America. Now, she is out with a book that is going to seriously undercut some widespread assumptions out there concerning the science religion relationship.

The book, soon to be out from Oxford University press, is entitled Science vs. Religion: What Scientists REcklund Bookeally Think. And let me give you just a taste of her answers, from the book jacket (I haven’t dug in yet):

In the course of her research, Ecklund surveyed nearly 1,700 scientists and interviewed 275 of them. She finds that most of what we believe about the faith lives of elite scientists is wrong. Nearly 50 percent of them are religious. Many others are what she calls “spiritual entrepreneurs,” seeking creative ways to work with the tensions between science and faith outside the constraints of traditional religion…..only a small minority are actively hostile to religion. Ecklund reveals how scientists–believers and skeptics alike–are struggling to engage the increasing number of religious students in their classrooms and argues that many scientists are searching for “boundary pioneers” to cross the picket lines separating science and religion.

You can learn more about Ecklund’s book here, and order it here.

Incidentally, the universities whose scientists were surveyed for the book are: Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, Penn, U.C. Berkeley, UCLA, U. of Chicago, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, U. Michigan, U. Minnesota, UNC Chapel Hill, U. Washington-Seattle, U. Wisconsin-Madison, U.S.C., Washington University, and Yale.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Religion

Comments (188)

  1. bilbo

    Interesting stuff. Too bad the NAs will inevitably try to say the study is flawed and that all but 0.000002% of scientists are anything but hostile atheists….

  2. Milton C.

    Absolutely, bilbo. Ecklund has received grants in the past from the Templeton Foundation, so the argument will invariably be that she is lying, made up the data, and is discredit by past associations alone. That’s how the Templeton Crusaders operate, after all….

  3. Sorbet

    So how does this study compare with the well-known 1998 study by Larson and Witham? Of course, being actively hostile to religion is quite different from being an atheist. Most of the scientists I have personally met (as a tenured science professor) are atheists but are not actively hostile toward religion, which I think is encouraging. I think it’s very interesting and important to find out what she means when she says that “nearly 50 percent of them are religious”. The devil would most certainly be in the details.

  4. Tuatara

    What’s the breakdown by field of science?

  5. Now, it’s completely possible to be “unreligious” yet very spiritual, and I wonder if Ecklund hasn’t managed to confuse the two. Considering she’s from Rice (Home of Cold Fusion — remember that one?) and has accepted money from the Templeton Foundation, I would consider her findings only slightly more reliable than those of Glenn Beck.

  6. Milton C.

    …and Joe Bogus is the first to fulfill my prophecy…

  7. kermit

    Yeah, we need some definitions. What is a top scientist? More to the point, what is a scientist? Someone who believes in science, or does it? It’s possible to be scientific without being a scientist.

  8. GM

    There are many things potentially wrong with this study:

    1. How many actual scientists are there? If it is full of mathematicians and computer scientists (the combination of no training in scientific epistemology whatsoever most of the time, plus an inherent abstractness of the field makes for some very twisted thinking among a lot of them), engineers (again, little training in proper epistemological practices), social “scientists” and other more or less legitimate fields that really shouldn’t be lumped together with actual science, then it is not surprising

    2. What is the age profile of those scientists? I bet there is a good overlap between people of advanced age and of white Anglo-Saxon protestant background and what would be described as “top scientists”, especially if a lot of my suspicions in point #1 turn out to be true, which would also explain a lot of the religiosity seen in the study.

    3. It does not really mean much because as I have said before, a lot of the time the people at the very top of science, especially those whose research is leaning less towards the fundamental and more towards the applied and business side of things, really have very little time to be pondering the existence of God and the nature of humanity, so it is not surprising that they don’t have a well formed opinion on the subject, they let the dominant opinion become theirs or they never break out of the dogma of what they were taught as kids

  9. I mistrust her bias.

    Intelligent people are seldom “religious” in the sense most people interpret it. For example, if you ask me if I can accept that the Universe might be “created”, I’d have to answer yes. That “creator” could be a graduate physics student in some other Universe – there’s nothing “religious” about it. I’d also accept “uncreated”, for obvious reasons.

    As to “spiritual”, nobody even begins to know what that means. It’s usually nonsense, but sometimes it just means that the person feels a sense of community or something like it. It definitely doesn’t have to mean anything resembling religious clap-trap.

  10. Chris Mooney

    Folks, it is a whole book, from Oxford. I’d encourage you to read it, I’m sure many of these questions will be answered.

  11. Paul

    Seriously people, the doubt seems to be coming from the conclusions made from the study solely – not about anything substantial. That’s not rational in the least.

    Confirmation bias, anyone?

  12. bilbo

    I’m surprised so many people have read this book that has not come out yet and have fully investigated its claims to the point where they’re self-assured that it’s all bogus.

    Kudos.

  13. Milton C.

    @#5,7,8,9:

    Judging a conclusion based solely on where it leads, without a scrap of evidence…..where have I heard that one before?

    Oh yes, in church.

  14. GM

    There are many things potentially wrong with this study

    This is what I said. The above applies much more to itself in this case

  15. Milton C.

    There could also be many things potentially night with this study. There could also be potentially a magical, flying, three-headed griffin-monster invoked in there somewhere, too.

  16. Milton C.
  17. If I claim to be a Pastafarian, would that qualify me as a religious scientist?

  18. “You don’t believe in Zeus, Apollo, Odin, Buddha, Baal or Krishna, do you?”

    “No, of course not!”

    “Then, you see, we really aren’t that different — I just happen to believe in one less god than you do.”

  19. I think this discussion is mostly irrelevant. I will quote an eminent non-believer, Lawrence Krauss:

    Religion is simply irrelevant to science, and whether or not science contradicts religion may be of interest to theologians but it simply doesn’t matter to scientists. What matters are the important questions science is dealing with, from the origin and future of the universe to the origin and future of life.

    Makes sense to me.

  20. GM

    I think this discussion is mostly irrelevant. I will quote an eminent non-believer, Lawrence Krauss:
    Religion is simply irrelevant to science, and whether or not science contradicts religion may be of interest to theologians but it simply doesn’t matter to scientists. What matters are the important questions science is dealing with, from the origin and future of the universe to the origin and future of life.
    Makes sense to me.

    This is how it should be in an ideal world, where science doesn’t have to deal with religion. The problem is that we live in a quite imperfect world where the fact that >95% of the population are complete morons and this is primarily due to the influence that religion has on society, so we have to deal with it. And because we have to deal with it and because offense is the best defense, scientists should be actively attacking religion, not giving examples of how you can “reconcile” the two (of course they are absolutely incompatible on a very fundamental level)

  21. Scanning the list of universities mentioned, I’m guessing this is really a study of how AMERICAN scientists feel about religion? America, the country where evolution is doubted or outright denied by a significant percentage of its citizens?

  22. Science will ultimately lead to the very solid foundation of beliefs. There were many times when scientific findings are backed by the word of God. God Himself is all-knowing, what we know now is just a speck of dust comparing to the many mysteries of the known universe…

  23. Wavefunction

    I think one would need to read the book and look at details about how the author (and the respondents themselves) define “scientist” and “religious” before drawing any conclusions. I personally find it hard to believe that almost 50% scientists describe themselves as “religious”, but again, best to look at what the term is really supposed to mean and to withhold judgement before reading.

  24. Dave24

    It doesn’t matter what scientists think. It matters what the science tells us.

  25. John Kwok

    I heard vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero refer to polling data from the 1990s, indicating that 56% of evolutionary biologists are religiously devout, during a talk he gave in New York City in January, 2009 (I believe the same statistic is mentioned in his book “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”.). On a more personal note I know – or have known – several prominent scientists who are religiously devout, and, without coming across as an internet troll, will note that I have found them to be far more rational with respect to their logic, especially as it pertains to science, than I have seen from certain New Atheist ideologues posting elsewhere online, of which a certain American evolutionary developmental biologist is a most notorious example.

  26. I don’t see many differences between the personality of a scientist and a religious person. Religion in its simplest form is the golden rule. An ethical code that states one has a right to just treatment, and a responsibility to ensure justice for others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How does it not make sense that half the scientist feel they have a responsibility to good things for all of us? and when in that position they are seen as Wonderworkers doing great things for people other than themselves. I feel that its easier to believe in religion when the things you do to other people don’t have a negative effect.

  27. MartyM

    I’d like to see someone perform a study or write a book (maybe one exists that I’m unaware of) that describes the percentage of biblical scholars that are still religious.

  28. tcmJOE

    @5

    Yes, she’s from Rice. Also home of Buckyballs and excellent research in nanotech, one of the top AMO programs in the US, and a long-standing relationship with NASA.

  29. GM

    I heard vertebrate paleobiologist Donald Prothero refer to polling data from the 1990s, indicating that 56% of evolutionary biologists are religiously devout, during a talk he gave in New York City in January, 2009 (I believe the same statistic is mentioned in his book “Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters”.).

    I will repeat what has been said before, but if this is true (and I doubt it because the polls I have seen show something like 90% atheists among biologists in general, and if anything, this percentage should only be higher among evolutionary biologists), this means nothing else but that the other 44% are doing their job very poorly.

    BTW, it actually may be possible for such a poll to indeed exist, if they polled all the mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists involved in evolutionary biology research, of which there is an increasingly large number because of the way the fields in evolving.

  30. Daniel

    Judging, purely, on the source of funds and the people she moves around with, skeptical thinkers really DO have to be, well, skeptical. The word you’re looking for is “tainted” when it comes to the Templeton crowd; their methods and intent are highly suspect in many cases.

    I find it likely she has misunderstood the word “god”, lumped all deists in with theists and has probably glossed over a lot of the differences between, say, being brought up Jewish and still being Jewish whilst being an atheist, and non-practicing christians and muslims of all flavours who are, nontheless, still in awe about the universe and will anthropomorphize and call on Spinoza’s “God” without worshipping a magical sky-daddy.

    This misunderstanding may not be intentional, and people get a lot of flack in a lot of places for identifying as atheist, so it’s not going to be too surprising she found confirmation bias, is it?

    On the other hand, read the book when it comes out, ‘kay?

  31. When people talking about top scientists being generally non-believers, they’re generally referring to the survey of NAS members mentioned in comment #3 (I think there’s also been a similar study of the Royal Society members). This study doesn’t contradict that. It reports a somewhat higher proportion of belief among scientists in general than other studies, but it doesn’t wildly contradict what people who were previously well-informed about this generally thought was the case.

  32. Gus Snarp

    Ah, typical book jacket statement: designed to be surprising to the intended audience. But of course, if 50% of American scientists are religious, that’s still a lot fewer religious people than in the general populace, so not so surprising. It will be interesting to see how the demographics and scientific fields break down in the research. And even how she defines science.

  33. bioIgnoramus

    ” >95% of the population are complete morons and this is primarily due to the influence that religion has on society”: you starry-eyed optimist.

  34. David

    While I haven’t read the book in question, I don’t know how anyone can look at the data as presented from the post at gene expression (taken directly from the work in question), and not conclude that scientists comprise a profoundly less faith-based community, vastly disparate from the general American population, than said general population. I would be very wary of anyone who concludes otherwise.

    Of course, I have to imagine that Ecklund feels the same way…once you dive inside the book jacket.

  35. Milton C.

    The point here isn’t that scientists are less religious than the general population. The point is that they seem to be much more religious that past studies have shown….and that’s freaking people out.

  36. Steve

    I’m eager to see how she defines “religious”.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/04/scientists-as-spiritual-atheists/

    The data tables mentioned as coming from the book/her research seem to define it a bit more broadly than most might. Some of the figures are actually quite encouraging.

  37. GM

    37. Milton C. Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 8:56 am
    The point here isn’t that scientists are less religious than the general population. The point is that they seem to be much more religious that past studies have shown….and that’s freaking people out

    As it should. If true, it means that the whole educational and academic system even at the very top level is one colossal failure

  38. Jon

    As it should. If true, it means that the whole educational and academic system even at the very top level is one colossal failure

    If you’re someone who believes philosophical differences constitute a “colossal failure”…

  39. Who was it who said, “Lies, damn lies and statistics?” The key point here is that very few of us can be truly objective. We can always find numbers and tweak definitions to fit our preconceptions or a specific argument.

    The bottom line is that scientists are not engaging the public effectively and that the US stands to lose its leadership in science and technology. It’s up to the “religious” (whether scientists or not) to decide what their role will be in helping the US retain its scientific and technological leadership.

  40. rjb

    A study by Greg Graffin (lead singer of Bad Religion and PhD evolutionary biologist from Cornell) done about 5-10 years ago looked at this question as well, and some of his results are posted at http://www.cornellevolutionproject.org/ According to his survey, which more specifically targets evolutionary biologists, over 83% of the respondents classify themselves as “not religious”.

  41. TB

    GM’s just one of those “2 percenters,” an extreme affirmative atheist. Labels are fun! http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2010/04/are_the_newaffirmative_atheist.php#comment-2428235

  42. stann

    Even atheists have not argued that the majority are nonbelievers. This has been the profession of fundamentalists to create a growth through a boogeyman. It, and other tactics, have worked. “Liberal” churches, mosques and synogougues are on a dramatic decrease and the while their fundamentalist counterparts numbers are soaring. The faith of these scientists are in as much dangers as science itself.

  43. Like Steve (#38), I’d like to know how she defines “religious” (and thanks for that link – good article).

    I also think this discussion – and the (repeated) assertion that started it – is irrelevant, but not necessarily for the same reasons as Dr. Krauss. Rather, I think it’s irrelevant because it doesn’t matter one bit that a scientist can also be religious. After all, a scientist can be a political conservative, liberal, or independent. S/he can also love to fish or hunt, play checkers, be arrogant or humble, play make-believe with a child, read (and write) fantasy or sci-fi novels, visit haunted houses, eat junk food, drive too fast, and much more. The point being that, thanks to compartmentalization, a scientist may enjoy a wide range of activities and entertain a variety of ideas that are factually at odds with particular scientific fields to varying degrees, or even the whole of science in general.

    But this is a very trivial point to make indeed, and says nothing whatsoever about whether the many facts of science are compatible with the many myths (or more charitably, “assertions”) of religion. I don’t know why people make so much of it.

  44. Milton C.

    GM,

    If our top academics and educators are religious, that automatically means they fail at education and academics?

    I call a hearty “BULLSHIT!” to that. Don’t let your activism get in the way of your logic.

  45. bilbo

    As it should. If true, it means that the whole educational and academic system even at the very top level is one colossal failure

    ….because we all know you can’t be an effective educator, scientist, person, or ANYTHING, for that matter, until you’re a confrontational atheist activist.

    Where’s a brick wall? My face needs something to slam against. Repeatedly.

  46. Frank J. Ranelli

    I have recently written articles (see “When Religion’s Apologists Attack!”) and warned about the new cottage industry of apologists for religion masquerading as either impartial journalists or using push polls, which have been done in an ironic, extremely unscientific way, in order to create controversy for pay—remuneration for religious stumping. Well, Chris Money is the original huckster of this hokum, and naturally, the author of this piece of propaganda as well. Mooney is a charlatan and an opportunist looking to cash in on religion’s virulent protestation to the enormous successes of the inroads made by atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and the worldwide trending toward a more secular world in developed nations. Chris Mooney’s tendentious and tenacious opposition to the ‘New Atheists’ is documented concretely, and this is merely the smearing of more mortar to falsely cement his venal and loathsome stance against outspoken atheism. In other words, Chris Mooney has tautologically created a fake controversy, found a venue to his peddle his tripe, Discover Magazine and Point of Inquiry, and is intentionally corrupting the data in order to make himself a wealthy man. Mooney is merely another preacher pounding the pulpit for pay and power, preaching his sermons from dubious sources and manipulating the message to fit his blinkered view.

  47. Milton C.

    I don’t know why people make so much of it.

    Because it’s a validation method, J.C. If you know science is a truth-seeking matter, then it bolsters you as an atheist activist if you can say “see? The overwhleming majority of scientists are atheists, too!”

    If you can’t – if the numbers are still much different from the general public but not as nice and clear-cut – then you actually have to use your brain to make your case.

    The in=depth interviews in this book will be the good stuff, IMHO.

  48. TB

    Bilbo: “until you’re a confrontational atheist activist.”
    You mean an extreme affirmative conflict atheist.

  49. Anthony McCarthy

    I will quote an eminent non-believer, Lawrence Krauss:
    Religion is simply irrelevant to science, and whether or not science contradicts religion may be of interest to theologians but it simply doesn’t matter to scientists. What matters are the important questions science is dealing with, from the origin and future of the universe to the origin and future of life. GM

    You seem to think this is some novel idea that isn’t known by non-atheists. And you’re the one who thinks they should banish mathematicians, etc. because they aren’t sufficiently grounded in the epistemology of science? I dare say that most mathematicians of my acquaintance are probably more aware of it than many of the new atheists I’ve encountered, some of them actually working in science.

    Well, politics, nationalism, patriotism, gender, race, etc. are all issues in life that are supposed to be kept out of science. Does that disqualify scientists from having ideas about them?

    Here’s what Arthur Stanley Eddington a far more impressive writer on scientific epistemology had to say on the subject :

    I daresay that most of you are by no means reluctant to accept the scientific epic of the Creation, holding it perhaps as more to the glory of God than the traditional story. Perhaps you would prefer to tone down certain harshnesses of expression, to emphasise the forethought of the Creator in the events which I have called accidents. I would not venture to say that those who are eager to sanctify, as it were, the revelations of science by accepting them as new insight into the divine power are wrong. But this attitude is liable to grate a little on the scientific mind, forcing its free spirit of inquiry into one predetermined mode of expression; and I do not think that the harmonising of the scientific and the religious outlook on experience is assisted that way. Perhaps our feeling on this point can be explained by a comparison . A business man may believe that the hand of Providence is behind his commercial undertakings as it is behind all vicissitudes of his life; but he would be aghast at the suggestion that Providence should be entered as an asset in his balance sheet. I think it is not irreligion but a tidiness of mind, which rebels against the idea of permeating scientific research with a religious implication.

  50. J.J.E.

    @ Joe Bogus (possibly a troll masquerading as an NA)

    I’m seriously restraining the urge to fling invective at you. First of all, Rice University to my knowledge has almost nothing to do with cold fusion. The only thing that came up on Teh Google is an article in the Houston Chronicle where a Rice University physicist was interviewed regarding a cold fusion story, and who urged RESTRAINT in the interpretation. GFE. Google Farking Exists. Learn that mantra. Rice is however known for producing 2 of the 3 Nobel Laureates who kicked off the field of nanotechnology by discovering the buckminsterfullerene.

    Next up, Rice is a fine university. I’m biased, as I attended Rice, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It is a major private research university top notch undergraduate education and well regarded programs in many fields, among them architecture, music, computer science, to name but a few. It is consistently regarded as the top undergraduate institution in Texas and among the 20 best in the entire U.S. So, basically, you have no point.

    And regarding the Templeton money (which may or may not be true, I’ll not Google it) who cares? Her arguments and methodologies stand or fall on their own merits. Personally, I’m entirely unsurprised that more than half of scientists aren’t religious and that those that aren’t religious aren’t interested in engaging with religion. Duh! What part of “not religious” implies “anti-religious”? That’s a silly fallacy.

    Personally, I think this result was a priori predictable, unsurprising, and if anything, provides a more secular picture of scientists than I was expecting. After all, scientists fail to indentify with religion at rates many fold higher than the population at large. Of course, scientists could be particularly blind to the validity of faith compared to other populations and it may be a brute fact that X (where X is some religion) is actually true and the scientists are wrong.

    But I think it is a stretch to argue that this undermines much of anything about the compatibility between science and religion. Just because I would love to build bridges between those that might reject evolution (mostly religious people FWIW) and scientists doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be tickled pink to also deconvert a Christian or 3. I’d absolutely LOVE to decrease the impact of religion, convince as many religious people as possible to reject their gods, and convince the rest to respect science, and in particular evolution. Which category would I be in in that case? A bridge burner or a bridge builder?

    I’d love to build bridges and undermine religion as surely as a pro-science Baptist minister would love to build bridges and lead a few atheist scientists to Jesus.

    And for the record I do believe that any school of thought or practice that encourages acceptance of one or more dogmas is fundamentally incompatible with any school of thought or practice that discourages acceptance of any dogmas. Does that make me anti-religious?

  51. Anthony McCarthy

    stann Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Even atheists have not argued that the majority are nonbelievers.

    I’m tempted to say that it’s a sin to tell a lie. Just about every new atheist blog I’ve ever been at makes exactly that claim.

  52. Anthony McCarthy

    A study by Greg Graffin (lead singer of Bad Religion and PhD evolutionary biologist from Cornell)

    I’ve heard his music, I’d call it “bad music”.

    That “bad religion” quote, from Steven Weinberg, always seemed rather hilarious coming from a physicist, considering some of the great contributions to a moral life that physics has provided the world since the 1930s, never mind chemistry and other material sciences heavily involved in weapons production. The moral implications of which we’re not supposed to mention in polite company, I’d guess.

  53. TB

    JJE: “Which category would I be in in that case? A bridge burner or a bridge builder?”
    I think this would make you a non-extremist affirmative atheist with combative tendancies. Splitter!

  54. GM

    46. Milton C. Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 12:11 pm
    GM,
    If our top academics and educators are religious, that automatically means they fail at education and academics?
    I call a hearty “BULLSHIT!” to that. Don’t let your activism get in the way of your logic.

    47. bilbo Says:
    April 14th, 2010 at 12:13 pm
    ….because we all know you can’t be an effective educator, scientist, person, or ANYTHING, for that matter, until you’re a confrontational atheist activist.
    Where’s a brick wall? My face needs something to slam against. Repeatedly.

    Given that part of what any real educator should be doing is dispelling Bronze Age myths and teaching students to think rationally, if he himself believes in Bronze Age myths and does not think rationally, then I don’t see what else his presence in that position can be qualified as other than a colossal failure of the system

    Now if you don’t think that the above is part of what educators should be doing, than this is probably because of one of the following reasons: a) you are suffer from an acute intellectual deficiency in some “compartment” of your mind (or the whole of it) yourself and as a result believe in Bronze age myths; b) you understand why religion should be exposed as the bullshit it is but you suffer from severe intellectual cowardice which makes you think that you should keep silent so that you don’t offend anyone c) you are unable to think and see things more than one layer below the surface and farther in the future than the present, which makes you think it is completely OK to let people have their superstitions no matter the consequences (because you don’t understand what the consequences are).

    And BTW, the debate wasn’t at all about how well someone teaches in class, it was about the fundamental incompatibility of religion with any kind of legitimate scientific activity. Which I still have to see someone refute, maybe because people keep avoiding the subject

  55. This doesn’t seem all that surprising. Leuba’s studies in 1914 and 1933, and the replication in 1996 showed belief among scientists hovering under the 50% mark. (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html)

    The only people who think ‘a lot’ of scientists are actively hostile to religion are creationists. And they’re not very reliable sources of information.

  56. gillt

    Mooney: “Now, she is out with a book that is going to seriously undercut some widespread assumptions out there concerning the science religion relationship.”

    Mooney supports the provocative conclusions from the book jacket of a book he has yet to read!

    This is more tendentious than someone criticizing “Unscientific America” based on others’ reviews.

    There needs to be a tag on this blog for “accommodationist propaganda”

  57. Anthony McCarthy

    — Of course, scientists could be particularly blind to the validity of faith compared to other populations and it may be a brute fact that X (where X is some religion) is actually true and the scientists are wrong. JJE

    The scientists might be right about science and wrong about religion. Oddly, they seem to take philosophy pretty well.

    Why is it so hard for people to understand that science simply doesn’t cover the non-material assertions of religion?

    Last summer while arguing here, it came to me that a lot of the refusal of SOME scientists to even entertain the idea that there is something other than the material universe was due to their feeling that if that was true than the supremacy of their subject matter, and so the diminution of their status was the logical consequence. I think a lot of it is filled with enough irrational emotion and even more irrational thinking about historical and other fact that something like that is often involved.

    There was one self-identified scientist who had a very bad emotional reaction to my speculation. As bad as any giltted lover.

  58. Sasha

    50% of scientists are religious? The general population is like ~85% religious. What explains the huge 35% point difference?

    Science teaches ppl to think and seek evidence. It gives one tools to rule out bad ideas and hypotheses. Personally, I would certainty say that science very much pushed me into the realm of atheism, as it has for many others.

  59. gillt

    Razib does a good job of presenting some of the polling data for his readers before making any interpretation.

    The answer, of course, to Mooney’s question is when weighed against the rest of the US, US scientists are significantly more atheistic.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2010/04/scientists-as-spiritual-atheists/

  60. Anthony McCarthy

    Sasha, it could be that the culture of science leads some people to believe that the methods of science have some validity past the point those were ever intended to be applied.

    I’m not really interested in whether or not any one is or isn’t an atheist. I’m far more interested in why so many in the sciences don’t seem to understand the limits of its methods and why a small number of people are so angry with people who do understand that.

    I believe that real belief is based in experience. I have no idea why some people seem to not have experiences that other people have.

  61. Chris Mooney

    Yes, Gillt, that’s a point made in unscientific america, based on Ecklund’s research.

  62. @ Milton C.:

    Because it’s a validation method, J.C.

    A validation of what? That scientists can have more than one area of interest, and that those areas need not be entirely complimentary? Hardly an earth-shattering revelation, Milton. And I don’t really see these types of assertions as helpful, regardless of whether one is an atheist or not.

    Or maybe you were throwing up some snark? I’m tired so sorry if I misinterpreted you.

    I have no doubt that a scientist can go to church in the morning and the lab in the afternoon with good conscience and without a shred of dissonance. But that doesn’t mean that the conclusions of religion and the conclusions of science are compatible. Not without compromising one, the other, or both, anyway.

  63. J.J.E.

    Any chance that my other comment will ever come out of moderation sometime when people are still actually reading this thread?

  64. TB

    @59 gilt

    “Accommodationist” is sooo 2009. It’s all about affirmative, conflict and extreme atheists now.

  65. gillt

    Mooney @64. Exactly, which is why the title of this post is trivially obvious to people who have read your book.

    Mooney: “Now, she is out with a book that is going to seriously undercut some widespread assumptions out there concerning the science religion relationship.”

    So how can you know this without reading her book? Based on the tables in the appendix, the data is completely unsurprising. Besides Accommodationists, who will have their assumptions undercut?

    Ecklund seems to be interpreting the aforementioned data the same way Nisbett does: atheistic tendencies among scientists may be a result of some ill-defined self-selection, rather than something inherent in learning science.

  66. Milton C.

    Given that part of what any real educator should be doing is dispelling Bronze Age myths and teaching students to think rationally, if he himself believes in Bronze Age myths and does not think rationally, then I don’t see what else his presence in that position can be qualified as other than a colossal failure of the system

    Whoa whoa whoa, pony! Did you just reassert that any educator that is not a confrontational atheist (not just an atheist, mind you, but a confrontational one) is a “colossal failure of the system?”, thus suggesting that we should ask “what are your relgiious beliefs?” prior to hiring teachers, and furthermore suggesting the logical death-pit that all religious teachers MUST proselytize from the blackboard?

    Don’t even address the whole neutrality-in-education issue yet. You just also fostered a false dilemma that teachers must either freely espouse beliefs in the classroom or freely proclaim that all religion is bullshit in the classroom. We can get to that in a moment, but address the primary question first. It’s chock full of holes.

    This (by your words) superficial, idiotic, Bronze-Age coward thinks that you’re being obtusely naive….most likely willingly so in order to whitewash an argument to the point where it only marginally approaches reality.

  67. Gimme a Break

    Given that part of what any real educator should be doing is dispelling Bronze Age myths and teaching students to think rationally, if he himself believes in Bronze Age myths and does not think rationally, then I don’t see what else his presence in that position can be qualified as other than a colossal failure of the system

    Ummm….then I suppose everything I learned about evolution was wrong, since the advisor I learned it from was also a deacon in the Baptist Church and believed plenty of Bronze Age bullshit. I guess that also explains why I’ve had a successful career in evolutionary biology after learning everything I use from him.

    GM: “You’re either religious and a failure as an educator or an atheist and a stunning success.” Could you create a more perfect false dilemma to worship on a gilded pedestal?

    No. You can’t.

  68. GM

    It is by no means a false dilemma, if anything, it is a case of a lot of wishful thinking from deluded people who wish to have their fairy tales safe plus a lot of misunderstanding of the nature of science

    Essentially the claim is that:

    Soft version (i.e. less idiotic): because teaching science or doing research in its current form does not seem to depend on the religious beliefs of the person doing it, it is completely OK for that person to hold beliefs incompatible with science

    Hard version (i.e. complete lunacy): because (my) religion is actually true, then what are we even debating?

    If you hold the second view, I am afraid I can’t help you as brain damage at such an advanced stage is unfortunately quite permanent and difficult to treat, so I will focus on the former. I have said this many many times before, but I will do the exercise once more

    First, there is a huge misconception about what science actually is. It is not the collection of facts that we study in textbooks and teaching science should not be confined to simply drilling in student’s heads what’s in textbooks. Science didn’t begin this way, it wasn’t even called science until quite recently. What people referred to as natural philosophy back in the days was a lot broader in scope and a major portion of it was dealing with exactly the same cosmological questions which religion claims to have an authority over. And it has never been excluded from studying these questions, even if only because for a good part of its existence, the people practicing it were trying to find support for one or another highly influenced by religion cosmological model by studying the natural world.

    What’s important is that in the process it has been realized from experience that certain epistemological rules “work”, while others (“I believe it’s true because my holy books says so” being a notable example) don’t, and those epistemological rules have become the defining characteristic of science. This does not mean, however, that science has stopped dealing with the fundamental questions natural philosophers were asking, quite the opposite, it’s just that we have gotten a lot more technical and sophisticated.

    The reason why at this point of human history it should not be OK to be religious and do science in the same time is that now we know fairly well what works epistemologically and what doesn’t, and the “compartmentalization” argument is pure bullshit because there’s really no such thing – if you are religious, this means that your whole world view is influenced by religion, and this means that in your world view things and practices that run directly against everything that science stands for are completely OK. It may not interfere in practice if you’re studying some obscure signaling pathway in baker yeast but it directly interferes when the deep questions that science is after are asked.

    This is not the same as religion having no influence on how well a bricklayer does his job. We are not talking about something so narrowly defined and mechanistic as bricklaying, we are talking about how we approach understanding the world around us – if you start with the completely unjustifiable and unsupported by evidence assumption that there is a higher power watching you, and that you are going to accept this by faith and evidence doesn’t matter, then you have failed as a scientist. Which is why I make the distinction between “working in science” and “being a scientist”. Religious scientists only qualify for the former, period.

    So stop giving examples if person A holding such and such beliefs, while teaching evolution, it is completely irrelevant

  69. Chloride

    @63: Actually many in the sciences understand its limitations. You only have to take a look at the hundreds of papers published each week and the measured language in the papers that clearly talks about the limitations of the approaches in the paper.

  70. @GM:

    And BTW, the debate wasn’t at all about how well someone teaches in class, it was about the fundamental incompatibility of religion with any kind of legitimate scientific activity. Which I still have to see someone refute, maybe because people keep avoiding the subject.

    You seem to be conflating the origin stories of religion with the moral teachings and code of religion. Religion serves both functions for believers, and where science interferes is with the origin stories, not the moral teachings. Taking a Christian example, Jesus’ throwing the money changers out of the temple as way of teaching allegorically how one should treat one’s fellow man when conducting business dealings has squat, zero, zilch bupkis to do with anything that modern science is working through, big or small. If you wish to attack the origin stories and natural world explanations of religion because they have been superseded by science, then fine, do so. But be clear as to your intent.

    The reason why at this point of human history it should not be OK to be religious and do science in the same time is that now we know fairly well what works epistemologically and what doesn’t, and the “compartmentalization” argument is pure bullshit because there’s really no such thing – if you are religious, this means that your whole world view is influenced by religion, and this means that in your world view things and practices that run directly against everything that science stands for are completely OK . It may not interfere in practice if you’re studying some obscure signaling pathway in baker yeast but it directly interferes when the deep questions that science is after are asked.

    So if I “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”, especially on Tax Day I’m expressing a world view of “things and practices that run directly against everything that science stands for?” Ditto if I accept the notion that the blind, and lepers are all valuable people, and work to lift the poor out of poverty? Really? And what “Deep questions that science is after” are those components of a religious world view interfering with, exactly?

  71. Anthony McCarthy

    The reason why at this point of human history it should not be OK to be religious and do science in the same time is that now we know fairly well what works epistemologically and what doesn’t, GM

    Do you even listen to what you’re saying? All you would need are successful scientists who are religious to show that your statement is complete hogwash.

    The proof required to destroy that new atheist dogma is already available, the only thing that is interesting about the assertion is why even some real scientists, congratulating themselves on their grasp of reality, are so unwilling to see it.

    Your alleged epistemological model is junk, it is out of touch with reality. Your grasping on to it is dogmatic and not consistent with the evidence.

  72. Which is why I make the distinction between “working in science” and “being a scientist”. Religious scientists only qualify for the former, period.

    GM,
    What credentials give you the priviledge of declaring who is and isn’t a scientist? Enquiring, skeptical minds want to know.

  73. J.J.E.

    My other post was never approved. Good thing I know how this blog works and saved a version locally. Links are stripped:

    I’d like to point to Razib’s post at GNXP which is much more data-filled, but I can’t (because my comment gets lost in moderation and the blog managers aren’t actually managing this post).

    Tables 2.1 & 2.2 are quite interesting.

    2.1
    53% of scientists identify with no religion and 16% identify as Jewish. (I include Jewish, because a substantial proportion of them will be secular Jews.)

    2.2
    64% of scientists are either atheistic (34%) or believe god’s existence can’t be determined (30%). The comparable numbers for the U.S. population is 6% (2% + 4%).

    9% of scientists are certain god exists compared to 63% of the general population.

    To be honest, the results of table 2.2 have me worried about the quality of her data. It contrasts pretty strongly with many surveys over decades from Pew, which pegs unaffiliated at ~15%. Unless of course the 10% that believes in a “higher power” that isn’t god makes up the difference.

  74. Anthony McCarthy

    I’m wondering if it will take as long to dispel the idea that being religious makes you bad at science will last as long as the ideas that being a woman or not white makes you bad at science. Because all of those assertions are quite similar when you look at the evidence.

  75. SLC

    It is generally considered, with apologies to the late Richard Feynman who demurred, that the membership of the National Academy of Sciences consists of the cream of American science. According to Neil Tyson, a survey of the membership of that distinguished body indicated that some 14% believed in a personal intervening god (e.g. would be considered theists). The other 86% consisted of Deists, pantheists, agnostics, and atheists.

  76. GM

    74. Philip H. Says:
    GM,
    What credentials give you the priviledge of declaring who is and isn’t a scientist? Enquiring, skeptical minds want to know.

    The credentials of having a brain and using it without conforming to what the majority thinks or would consider taboo

  77. Gimme a Break

    GM, your first misstep is thinking that, simply because I disagree with you, I’m religious (“Hard version (i.e. complete lunacy): because (my) religion is actually true, then what are we even debating?”). I’m not coddling any “fairy tales.” I’m not religious in the least.

    But I’m not naive enough to think that religious people can’t also be scientists – and good ones, at that. I know it’s hard to grasp, because it’s totally contradictory. But a lot of science you read (and benefit from!) is designed, performed, and tested by scientists who actually (the horror!) go to church on Sundays and hold some otherwise completely and utterly irrational and downright wrong beliefs. Closing your eyes and wishing really,really hard that their science is suddenly worthless and meaningless because of this is hopelessly deluded – almost as much so as their beliefs! I’d even wager a bet you’re not actually a practicing scientist. Most of the fellow atheist scientists I know (and even most that I don’t) don’t hold your “kick religious scientists out of science. their science is worthless” craziness.

    You sound like you’re about 2 inches away from asdvocating lining religious people up against a wall and shooting them in the head. Take a long step back and critically examine what you’re saying.

  78. Milton C.

    SIGH.

    GM, if you’re going to pull the “if you disagree with my point, you’re either religious or an appeaser,” then we’re done here, because you’re immune to reason and oulling hopeless conflations.

    And I suggest, in response, you read this.

  79. bilbo

    You sound like you’re about 2 inches away from asdvocating lining religious people up against a wall and shooting them in the head.

    Actually, it sounds like he’s already there. He wants the names of religious scientists so he can go after them without even considering the rigor of their work, from the looks of that last hate tirade.

    You’re the kind of person who can ruin skepticism, GM. I mean that in the nicest way possible.

  80. @GM, #80: Sorry, but how you use your brain does not put you in a place to make blanket determinations for anyone but yourself. You have neither the standing, nor the right, to inflict those determinations on this community or anywhere else on that basis. If you search my commetn history, you’ll find I don’t often conform to the conventional wisdom in the Intersection’s comment threads, but I’ve tried hard not to be a jerk about it.

    Plus, that response is a knee jerk, emotion based response – hardly what we in this forum expect from someone claiming the mantle of rational thought and reason.

  81. GM

    But I’m not naive enough to think that religious people can’t also be scientists – and good ones, at that. I know it’s hard to grasp, because it’s totally contradictory. But a lot of science you read (and benefit from!) is designed, performed, and tested by scientists who actually (the horror!) go to church on Sundays and hold some otherwise completely and utterly irrational and downright wrong beliefs.

    I know that. I am not talking about what is, I am talking about what should be.

    You sound like you’re about 2 inches away from asdvocating lining religious people up against a wall and shooting them in the head. Take a long step back and critically examine what you’re saying.

    Lining people against a wall and shooting them has been proven historically to be a good way to achieve exactly the opposite of what you intended. It will have to be a top down solution, but it needs to be instigated by a concerted effort from scientists to get certain things into and other things out of the classroom, i.e. we need to educate away religion. Why we need to get rid of religion is a long discussion on its own, if you don’t see any reason why this has to be done, and it actually has to be done quick, then you haven’t thought deep enough about the human condition in general.

  82. Anthony McCarthy

    Richard Feynman pointed out that the Nat. A. of Science was a self-perpetuating body. If they come to consist of people with the same attitudes it’s hardly any more to be wondered at than that the Catholic College of Cardinals does, with two exceptions which were all to brief.

    I wonder why it’s considered to be more noteworthy what the majority of scientists think of religion, which is entirely outside of their professional area as something can be, than it would be professional historians or piano teachers.

  83. Anthony McCarthy

    I wonder how many people would be bound to make decisions in the cuisine they ate or movies they watched on the basis of a poll of the members of the National Academy of Sciences.

  84. GM

    84. Philip H. Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 10:04 am
    @GM, #80: Sorry, but how you use your brain does not put you in a place to make blanket determinations for anyone but yourself. You have neither the standing, nor the right, to inflict those determinations on this community or anywhere else on that basis. If you search my commetn history, you’ll find I don’t often conform to the conventional wisdom in the Intersection’s comment threads, but I’ve tried hard not to be a jerk about it.
    Plus, that response is a knee jerk, emotion based response – hardly what we in this forum expect from someone claiming the mantle of rational thought and reason.

    Actually it is quite a rational response. When I say that you need to get rid of all the assumptions you have been conditioned into believing in by the society you grew up in, I really mean it. At some point you ask yourself “Why is it that I see it while others don’t?” and the answer is that they haven’t really examined the assumptions behind a lot of what they unquestionably accept as true, while you have done that and you have found them not to hold.

    BTW, I am not trying to inflict anything on anyone, I repeat, I state what I think things should be, not what they are, and I will readily admit that the probability of things becoming what they should be is negligibly small.

  85. Anthony McCarthy

    — When I say that you need to get rid of all the assumptions you have been conditioned into believing in by the society you grew up in, I really mean it. GM

    You have to do that in order to produce valid science? How come that’s only true about religion and not other assumptions you have been conditioned into believing by the society you grew up in? Or do you mean all of them? In which case, I think you’ve just disqualified the entire human species from producing science.

    GM, I think you share a common assumptions many in the new atheist body have been conditioned to believe in, that is that your presumed reasoning trumps evidence. No matter how much sense it might make to you, no matter how irrational the alternative seems to you, there are people who have produced valid science who are religious. There are, actually, people who have sustained careers in science who are quite conventionally religious, even some of them quite fundamentalist. You don’t have to like it for that to be a fact, one which falsifies your hypothesis.

  86. GM

    89. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 10:54 am
    — When I say that you need to get rid of all the assumptions you have been conditioned into believing in by the society you grew up in, I really mean it. GM
    You have to do that in order to produce valid science? How come that’s only true about religion and not other assumptions you have been conditioned into believing by the society you grew up in? Or do you mean all of them? In which case, I think you’ve just disqualified the entire human species from producing science.

    Science has the right to claim epistemological authority because it works and nothing else does. End of discussion

    GM, I think you share a common assumptions many in the new atheist body have been conditioned to believe in, that is that your presumed reasoning trumps evidence. No matter how much sense it might make to you, no matter how irrational the alternative seems to you, there are people who have produced valid science who are religious. There are, actually, people who have sustained careers in science who are quite conventionally religious, even some of them quite fundamentalist. You don’t have to like it for that to be a fact, one which falsifies your hypothesis.

    I clearly said above that I don’t want to see this “argument” again because it is completely irrelevant to the points I am making, yet I keep seeing it

  87. We are not talking about something so narrowly defined and mechanistic as bricklaying, we are talking about how we approach understanding the world around us – if you start with the completely unjustifiable and unsupported by evidence assumption that there is a higher power watching you, and that you are going to accept this by faith and evidence doesn’t matter, then you have failed as a scientist. Which is why I make the distinction between “working in science” and “being a scientist”. Religious scientists only qualify for the former, period.

    GM,
    Perhaps I missed something, but that is not a statement about what should be, but what is, at least in your view. Can’t have it both ways, friend.

    And as to trashing all the assumptions that society has conditioned us to believe, again, religion is NOT JUST ABOUT EXPLANING NATURE. Religion is also about guiding human behavior. It has been perverted by humans through out history – just as every philosophy or dogma has. But since humans seems to need a code of conduct to live by, and religions offer one such code, why not worry more about the effectiveness of that instead of whether the Genesis story is factually true? Oh wait, you can’t – moral codes and allegorical teachings aren’t epistemologically testable are they? Can’t be framed with statistics can they? Makes one just as “good or bad” as another. Rats, theres goes my rational reasoning again.

    Finally, we’ll pick which arguments and which parts of your posts we want to respond to, and in what manner. Just as you have no standing to define who is and isn’t a scientist, you have no standing to tell us how this dialog should proceed.

  88. Anthony McCarthy

    Science has the right to claim epistemological authority because it works and nothing else does. End of discussion GM

    Not quite, science doesn’t work at all in any aspect of life in which there is insufficient data, or data of the wrong kind, or where there is a complete inability to collect data. It isn’t possible to apply science to larger parts of life and the universe.

    I think your problem begins by having a romantic notion about something you call “science” while you haven’t got the first idea of what science actually is.

    While being quite relevant to it, epistemology, itself, happens to fall quite far outside of science. Which you obviously don’t understand either.

  89. Sorbet

    It’s worth noting that the late Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman actually withdrew from the NAS because he thought that NAS members were too cliquish and seemed to spend most of their time in deciding who else was “worthy” enough to become a member of the NAS. It’s also worth noting that the NAS never made Carl Sagan a member, which was a travesty. There is no doubt that many NAS members are outstanding scientists, but I don’t think we should hold results from an NAS poll scared, whether they are pro or anti religion. For that matter I think we should always be skeptical of any such polls.

  90. gillt

    If you want to poll some of the greatest scientists in the country, NAS members are an easy and obvious go-to group.

  91. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ Sorbet

    The issue that was raised by Mr. Mooney in his post had to do with the religious opinions of a group of scientists as evidenced in a book by Prof. Ecklund of Rice, Un. I merely pointed out another data point for what it might be worth. Certainly the membership of that organization is at least as prestigious as the sample from which Prof. Ecklund is citing.

  92. Sorbet

    I agree. If you want to poll the leading scientists in the country, the NAS would still be your best option.

  93. GM

    91. Philip H. Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 12:52 pm
    Perhaps I missed something, but that is not a statement about what should be, but what is, at least in your view. Can’t have it both ways, friend.

    It is exactly a statement of what should be, have you seen it applied in practice?

    And as to trashing all the assumptions that society has conditioned us to believe, again, religion is NOT JUST ABOUT EXPLANING NATURE. Religion is also about guiding human behavior. It has been perverted by humans through out history – just as every philosophy or dogma has. But since humans seems to need a code of conduct to live by, and religions offer one such code, why not worry more about the effectiveness of that instead of whether the Genesis story is factually true? Oh wait, you can’t – moral codes and allegorical teachings aren’t epistemologically testable are they? Can’t be framed with statistics can they? Makes one just as “good or bad” as another. Rats, theres goes my rational reasoning again.

    Morals are subjective cultural constructs, they are not immutable, and they should not be (contrary to what the culture teaches you as an indisputable truth). Having them being guided by religion is a receipt for disaster, because this means that they will be guided by a world view that has very little to do with they way the real world works, and not only that, most of the time it actively works against us understanding it.

    Finally, we’ll pick which arguments and which parts of your posts we want to respond to, and in what manner. Just as you have no standing to define who is and isn’t a scientist, you have no standing to tell us how this dialog should proceed.

    There is no point wasting everyone’s time by repeating arguments the huge holes in which I have already pointed out.

  94. GM

    92. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 1:32 pm
    Science has the right to claim epistemological authority because it works and nothing else does. End of discussion GM
    Not quite, science doesn’t work at all in any aspect of life in which there is insufficient data, or data of the wrong kind, or where there is a complete inability to collect data. It isn’t possible to apply science to larger parts of life and the universe.

    Are you serious? So if there is not data, what is there to prevent us from collecting it? Or if data can’t be collected, does this mean that we can just make up an explanation and take it as truth? You make zero sense.

    Which exactly are the “larger parts of life and the universe” that science can’t be applied to? And what the hell do you mean by “larger parts of life and the universe” anyway?

    I think your problem begins by having a romantic notion about something you call “science” while you haven’t got the first idea of what science actually is.
    While being quite relevant to it, epistemology, itself, happens to fall quite far outside of science. Which you obviously don’t understand either.

    In case you didn’t read it, what I was saying in the beginning is that what defines scientific practices as such isn’t the body of knowledge accumulated, but the epistemological rules employed. If you define it as just a body of knowledge with no methodology attached, you can claim whatever you want about its supposed compatibility with faith, which is very convenient for people with a (not so) hidden agenda, but it simply isn’t that

  95. Anthony McCarthy

    Are you serious? So if there is not data, what is there to prevent us from collecting it? GM

    Are you serious?

    Let’s take one of my favorite examples, The Separation of Church and State. Account for that scientifically. I hope you can because according to your faith, if science can’t then it’s not valid and they’ll have to open the public schools up to all manner of stuff. Which would put a real crimp into science classes.

    Another one? You ever heard about this “dark matter” idea?

    I think you’ve pretty well established yourself as a person who no one needs to take seriously.

    For people who might be more serious, Though I’m sure they are uniformly fine scientists in their fields, the NAS is hardly representative of the universe of professional scientists because they don’t constitute a random sample of scientists. Whatever they’ve got to say about religion isn’t any more valid than any other group of professionals in another profession. I hadn’t thought a lot about it but the idea that they’d have something of definitive importance to say on a religious topic is a pretty odd idea. Just goes to show you how none of us can escape our cultural background.

  96. Passerby

    Comment no. 100

  97. Passerby

    Prove that science cannot account for the separation of church and state. Go ahead, let’s see you come up with an airtight argument why science will never be able to do this. At the very most it’s an open question whether science can or cannot. The ones who think that science cannot account for all sorts of things are themselves buying into an unproven assertion and are at least as arrogant as the ones they claim to criticize.

  98. GM

    Are you serious?

    Do not quote mine please, there were more than one sentence in that paragraph

    Let’s take one of my favorite examples, The Separation of Church and State. Account for that scientifically. I hope you can because according to your faith, if science can’t then it’s not valid and they’ll have to open the public schools up to all manner of stuff. Which would put a real crimp into science classes.

    Where is the question here? Please state it, otherwise I can’t answer it.

    Another one? You ever heard about this “dark matter” idea?

    If what you’re aiming at is the fact that a lot of the things currently being talked about in theoretical physics and cosmology would greatly benefit from more data, this is certainly true. And guess what, physicists will be the first to point this out. Nobody is claiming that string theory must be true because it was revealed to them. I am not sure why exactly you chose “dark matter” as an example though, because its existence necessarily follows from available data.

    I think you’ve pretty well established yourself as a person who no one needs to take seriously.

    That’s quite an easy but no very elegant way to avoid having to actually refute me, which I have yet to see someone do here.

  99. GM

    101. Passerby Says:
    April 15th, 2010 at 4:07 pm
    Prove that science cannot account for the separation of church and state. Go ahead, let’s see you come up with an airtight argument why science will never be able to do this. At the very most it’s an open question whether science can or cannot. The ones who think that science cannot account for all sorts of things are themselves buying into an unproven assertion and are at least as arrogant as the ones they claim to criticize.

    The question that has to be asked first is what is there to be accounted for. I see no such thing.

  100. The Separation of Church and State. Account for that scientifically.

    Actually, I’m waiting for a scientifically based argument to back up his conclusion that religious scientists may qualify for “working in science” but fail at “being scientists”. Despite GM’s complaint that the rest of us are “unwilling to get rid of all the assumptions you have been conditioned into believing in by the society you grew up in”, his argument is in fact nothing more than a collection of unsupported assumptions of his own.

    Assumptions about what the word science really means.
    Assumptions about what religious scientists actually believe.
    Assumptions that those beliefs are inherently refuted by evidence to the contrary.
    Assumptions that those of us who disagree with him are either intellectually deficient, intellectual cowards or incapable of complex thought.

    Rather than applying scientific rigor to his own claims, he simply rejects all evidence to the contrary. He feels no need to deal with the fact that there are successful religious scientists, he just redefines the word to his liking. He knows in his gut that they cannot truly be scientists regardless of the depth of their knowledge or the quality of their work.

    In other words, he’s using his own personal religious beliefs to make his argument, apparently oblivious to the fact that his argument is no more credible than that of a fundamentalist preacher trying to refute the theory of evolution with verses from the Bible.

  101. Chris Mooney

    what an overflow of opinion. clearly this book is going to get people fired up. Perhaps i should have Dr. Ecklund on point of inquiry….

  102. Tristan Croll

    Right now I feel like collating the comments in this and similar threads on this blog, and using them as the basis of a book titled Illiterate America. The standard of reading comprehension displayed by the majority of the posters here is utterly abysmal.

  103. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Prove that science cannot account for the separation of church and state. Go ahead, let’s see you come up with an airtight argument why science will never be able to do this. Passerby

    Which branch of science do you propose I try first? And which part of mathematics should I use to do the quantitative analysis of it? Bayesian Statistics?

    As to whether or not science will never be able to do this, it certainly can’t now and I really don’t want to have to do without the Separation of Church and State because it’s worked well in the instances it’s been in effect. History and philosophy and law and, yes, theology are quite able to support the idea of the Wall of Separation quite well, science, not at all.

    As always, it’s so funny to see how little the greatest adherents of scientism actually know about even the foundations of science.

  104. GM

    Jinchi @ 104

    As I had the unpleasant opportunity to state several times, people aren’t reading and understanding what I posted, they like to show their loud dissatisfaction with the conclusions.

    For the 14567th time: the existence of people who are both religious and who have made a substantial contribution to science does not mean that religion and science are compatible, because the incompatibility as at a different level.

  105. Anthony McCarthy

    GM, don’t make the mistake of pretending that people can’t understand you and see that you’re wrong all at the same time.

    Different levels of incompatibility. Account for that scientifically, GM.

  106. Reginald Selkirk

    Ecklund has received grants in the past from the Templeton Foundation

    The research on which the book is based in funded largely by a Templeton grant.

    Since Mooney also receives Templeton money, isn’t he ethically bound to mention this possible conflict of interest when he is reporting on the book? Why did I have to wade into the comments to find this out?

  107. Reginald Selkirk

    You can verify my claim be searching the book on Amazon.com. This is from page 201: “Full disclosure: Much of the research on which this book is based was funded by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.”

  108. As I had the unpleasant opportunity to state several times, people aren’t reading and understanding what I posted

    No, we’ve read your argument and it’s nonsense. You haven’t made a rigorous case to back up your point. If you expect us to agree that religious people are incapable of “being scientists” you have to argue using scientific standards. And to do that, you have to explain how religious scientists can do high quality research, while being incapable of thinking rationally. The evidence suggests that they are perfectly capable of thinking rationally, whether you understand how they do it or not.

    Instead you’ve given us a philosophical argument and by philosophical standards you have no case at all. It’s like listening to a debate between Lutherans and Catholics over which is the “true” faith. The answer lies entirely in the worldview of each individual. It doesn’t matter to us that you think you have the divine truth on your side, your argument is only convincing to those who already agree with you.

  109. Passerby

    Go ahead, use Bayesian statistics to prove that science cannot say anything about the separation of church and state. Let the absurdity speak for itself. All the history, philosophy and law that you mention are all products of the human mind, which is governed by the scientific laws of physics and chemistry. A little something called Occam’s Razor will rescue you if you are willing. As always, it’s so funny to see how the greatest opponents of scientism seem to pretend they know it all.

  110. J.J.E.

    # 60 Anthony McCarthy

    “Why is it so hard for people to understand that science simply doesn’t cover the non-material assertions of religion?”

    Anything that is “non-material” (whatever that is) is something nobody has any epistemological access to, so for all intents and purposes is equally as irrelevant as if it didn’t exist. Unless of course we’re going to go all in on dualism and claim that the mind isn’t a material part of the body. Of course if we did that, we’d have to make special exceptions for the cases we have already discovered that ARE material, (I’m speaking of the causal relationship between brain lesions or drug treatments to thoughts and emotions, which is very large literature.)

    So, why IS it so hard to understand that science doesn’t cover non-material aspects of religion? It isn’t hard. Scientists do it all the time. However, my question is, when will the religious people stop pretending that any phenomenon that they have epistemological access to is “non-material”? Even thought Zeus’s thunderbolts were thought to be “supernatural” (as useless as a term as I can imagine) humanity persisted and finally found a good explanation for them. Those vague, numinous feelings that everyone has? Many of them have already been explained by neuroscience, and many more will be in coming days. That isn’t “non-material”.

    To repeat, if it isn’t material, we as material beings cannot know about it.

  111. GM

    J.J.E @ 114

    I have yet to see someone demonstrate the existence of anything “non-material”.

    It’s not just that we can’t know about, it is that no such things exist as far as we know

  112. Anthony McCarthy

    JJE, some scientists express their opinions about such things as the possibility that their is a creator God or a deist god or a supernatural of some description but they certainly aren’t using their science to do it, they’re doing what we all like to do, play philosopher. And there are some scientists who, when doing that, are fully aware that they are doing something akin to what theologians do, speculate. But there are some who seem unaware of the compartmentalization they engage in when they do it. I used to think I discerned some of the same sloppy thinking that is rampant in the behavioral sciences in some of the big names that do that, I at one time speculated that the lack of awareness was most common among those engaged in the softest of science. It was a surprise to find that even some eminent physicists are quite as able to display a lapse in that kind of awareness of the actual difference in the two activities.

    As to there being explanations in neuroscience, I don’t believe they’ve located exactly where the individual who has experiences and thinks and lies resides in the objects they study, they don’t know what it means that we carry around representations of parts of the exterior universe inside our heads, they are unable to even solve the fundamental conflicts between various branches of epistemology. If you know of published papers establishing, uncontroversially, any of these ideas about US I’d love citations.

    And that doesn’t even get to the idea of something as relatively abstract as the benefits of the Separation of Church and State. I think I’ve seen signs that the line I was pushing here last summer, from Eddington, that science can’t deal with “ought” statements. Without that ability, I’m afraid that the question will always elude the methods of science, scientists wishing to have an idea about that will have to dismount from that pedestal and much about down here in real life.

    If you can’t see that the question of whether or not the Separation of Church and State is a quite non-material part of our lives that is quite beyond the grasp of any scientific instrument, you might be too wedded to Anglo-American philosophy from the 20th century. I’d suggest taking the Idealists a bit more seriously than analytic philosophy thought we OUGHT to.

    Since it can’t deal with whether or not there is a Self somewhere that consists of who I am, you’ll understand that I’m not ready to surrender the question of whether or not there is a God or the nature of God to neuroscience c. 2010.

    GM, the question of existence isn’t a scientific question, it’s a philosophical question. Your statement above declaring the absolute supremacy of science “because it works and nothing else does,” would sort of dispel the validity of any considerations concerning existence because, since science isn’t engaged in that endeavor, it can’t be settled at all.

  113. Anthony McCarthy

    Editors are most needed in the early hours of the morning. I think you get what I meant, JJE typos and editing defects and all.

  114. Anthony McCarthy

    —- A little something called Occam’s Razor will rescue you if you are willing. Passerby

    You surely aren’t mistaking Occam’s Razor as a tool of science, are you? Which should be a rhetorical question but obviously isn’t.

    Occam was a devout Franciscian. Consider that.

  115. J.J.E.

    “As to there being explanations in neuroscience, I don’t believe they’ve located exactly where…”

    It is unarguable that we’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to know about the brain. Perhaps we can’t explan how the brain mechanisms work, but I think we’ve demonstrated that a human nervous system is necessary and sufficient for human thought and emotion. We don’t know HOW the brain thinks or feels emotion, but we know that it is the brain that does the thinking and feeling. The studies of brain impairment show this for a whole range of thought and emotion ranging from almost normal to vegetative states.

    “…abstract as the benefits of the Separation of Church and State…”

    That is a social decision and relies on definitions of how “benefit” and “cost” are defined. This sort of thing is CERTAINLY done in behavioral biology. So, it seems as if you are claiming “it is impossible to investigate the consequences of setting certain conventions of benefit and cost scientifically”. This is clearly wrong. The hard part would be how to define “benefit” and “cost”. Regarding the more interesting question of whether one can derive “ought” from “is”, I wonder if I could ask you to put the shoe on the other foot for a moment and answer: where do YOU derive “ought” from? Let us pre-emptively reject “is” as falsified (for the time being). What then is the alternative?

    “Since it can’t deal with whether or not there is a Self somewhere that consists of who I am”

    With the caveat that theories are provisional and are subject to revision in light of additional data, I’m happy to put my money on the theory of self that says: “who ‘you’ are right now is currently encoded in tissue residing primarily inside your skull.” The data supporting this are legion, and there are no phenomena that suggest any alternative. The current preponderance of positive evidence combined with the complete and utter lack of falsifying evidence is pretty convincing. Of course, I’m open to new observations that suggest an alternative.

    “I’m not ready to surrender the question of whether or not there is a God or the nature of God to neuroscience c. 2010. ”

    Neuroscience c. 2010 is imperfect. But there are tons of data within that field that positively identify certain broad aspects of the interaction of consciousness with the brain, as incomplete as it may be. And those ideas are testable and explain many phenomena and we have a blueprint for explaining the next step. Maybe we’ve come only a mile and can only see another mile in front of us. And perhaps we’ll need to travel a light year. But we are already on the journey. So, it isn’t a dead-end. We may not be taking the shorest path, and we may have to backtrack from time to time, but at least we are making progress.

    On the other hand, can you suggest just one solitary single shred of positive evidence that uniquely specifies god as the cause of ANYTHING, even provisionally? If so, you will get the Templeton prize next year. You need only write a book, series of news articles, or do a documentary. It will be the biggest breakthrough in humanity. If you can’t do that for god as the cause of anything, why on earth would you refuse to provisionally cede authority to neuroscience c. 2010 (or c. 1970 for that matter) while holding out for an ill-defined entity that can’t even be shown (even provisionally) to interact with anything that we can observe?

    And if you do take the leap of faith that god is somehow causally associated with self, can you please explicate that theory a bit and tell me how that idea enables us to increase our knowledge abou the “self”? What utility would a explanation of self involving god have? And why would even a woefully incomplete theory of self (courtesy of neuroscience c. 2010) be inferior to that?

  116. SLC

    Mr. McCarthys’ example of the separation of church and state is, of course, totally ludicrous. However, there are subjective questions that science can’t answer. One that I have pointed out elsewhere is the following: who was the greater composer, Bach or Beethoven? I would be interested in how a scientific investigation could shed light on this topic.

  117. Anthony McCarthy

    SLC, the idea that Bach or Beethoven is the “greater composer” is an absurd question to start with. As any thinking musician could tell you. And, lest you forget, I’m not the one who is asserting that science can do things it clearly can’t.

    You really should read Eddington, he put it in terms of deriving the square root of a sonnet.

    Science, it can do what it can do, it can’t do what it can’t do. And there’s a lot more in life than it ever has or ever will be able to deal with.

  118. Anthony McCarthy

    On the other hand, can you suggest just one solitary single shred of positive evidence that uniquely specifies god as the cause of ANYTHING, even provisionally? JJE

    Of course I can’t, no one can. That’s been known since at least the time they were writing the scriptures of several of the major religions. And that’s not why anyone who really believes in a religion really believes it.

    I could follow up with half a dozen questions about the numbers system that have no ultimate foundation and the consequences of which are mysterious and paradoxical. One that recently took up some of my attention was just what numbers were and, at a simple level, whether the numbers used to count discrete objects and the numbers we use to measure distance and time are really the same things. And yet I have no trouble accepting mathematics, based on my experience and the extension of that experience with logic, which seems, through experience, to be the right way to find belief about mathematics. Whether or not the numbers really exist or whether they’re the product of human imagination, well, that’s a really interesting question, the one I’d follow up the response I’d predict you might make to what I just said.

    I’m more inclined to take what someone who behaves well says about religion than I am about what a scientist says about religion, that is unless it’s a scientist who is the one behaving well. It’s my hunch that’s the way to deal with the questions of religion.

  119. GM

    118. SLC Says:
    April 16th, 2010 at 10:40 am
    Mr. McCarthys’ example of the separation of church and state is, of course, totally ludicrous. However, there are subjective questions that science can’t answer. One that I have pointed out elsewhere is the following: who was the greater composer, Bach or Beethoven? I would be interested in how a scientific investigation could shed light on this topic.

    It’s a meaningless question unless you can define what “great” means here. If you can give an accurate and unambiguous definition, then the question can be answered using the kinds of reasoning and methodology that science uses.

  120. GM

    122. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    April 16th, 2010 at 11:31 am
    I could follow up with half a dozen questions about the numbers system that have no ultimate foundation and the consequences of which are mysterious and paradoxical. One that recently took up some of my attention was just what numbers were and, at a simple level, whether the numbers used to count discrete objects and the numbers we use to measure distance and time are really the same things. And yet I have no trouble accepting mathematics, based on my experience and the extension of that experience with logic, which seems, through experience, to be the right way to find belief about mathematics. Whether or not the numbers really exist or whether they’re the product of human imagination, well, that’s a really interesting question, the one I’d follow up the response I’d predict you might make to what I just said.

    From which follows that religions isn’t silly nonsense because…?

    I’m more inclined to take what someone who behaves well says about religion than I am about what a scientist says about religion, that is unless it’s a scientist who is the one behaving well. It’s my hunch that’s the way to deal with the questions of religion.

    And we know that “behaving well” is correlated with whether that person’s position is correct or not, because…?

  121. J.J.E.

    @ Anthony McCarthy

    My question is, whatever in the world even makes you think that religion has anything to offer in terms of understanding anything? Why not just pay attention to people that behave well and toss out religion altogether for ethics? Why not pay attention to scientists for our origins?

    Religion provides nothing unique that can’t be provided through other means(philosophy, ethics, science, epistemology, nutrition, etc.), with the solitary exception of apologetic theology. Post hoc justifications of an oranization’s reason for being is necessarily a very personal thing, specific to that organization.

    And regarding mathematics, I think people think that this argument has more weight to it than it does simply because it involves “math”. The axioms for mathematics can be “derived” (since they are axioms, they aren’t derived in the mathematical sense) from our experience with the natural world. I rather think that the development of mathematics would be rather different to non-discerete intelligences like those fictional energy- or cloud-beings imagined in Star Trek.

    In fact, there is ample evidence that the way we interact with numbers (and therefore the way we formalize our understanding of them) is HIGHLY dependent on our experience. (Google “the bizarre tambourine alex in numberland” to get a link that explores this*.) I see little difference between a formal system of mathematics or a formal system of colors or any other formalization built on underlying sensory experience. If we couldn’t put blocks into boxes or decorate a path with equally spaced markers I doubt we’d counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing would come so naturally to us that we’d seek to formalize it. The same goes for differentiation (slope of a curve) and integration (area under a curve). I suspect that the most “difficult” mathematics are the ones that relate to concepts that are most distantly removed from our sensory experience.

    * I refuse to use links on this blog until CM&SK or their representatives actually bother to moderate in a timely fashion.

  122. It’s a meaningless question unless you can define what “great” means here. If you can give an accurate and unambiguous definition, then the question can be answered using the kinds of reasoning and methodology that science uses.

    The question is no more meaningless than the question “Can a religious person be a good scientist?”.

    You’ve argued that the answer to that question is categorically “no”, despite the fact that you cannot give us an accurate and unambiguous description of what that religious person believes.

  123. Sorbet

    -It’s a meaningless question unless you can define what “great” means here

    GM, that’s precisely the point. Everyone has their own definition of what “great” means and that’s exactly why people’s opinions about whether Bach or Beethoven is greater are different. That’s why it’s not a scientific question, and there’s nothing wrong with it.

  124. Passerby

    -Occam was a devout Franciscian. Consider that.

    So what? Newton believed in the Trinity; that does not mean his scientific pronouncements were flawed.

  125. TB

    “Religion provides nothing unique that can’t be provided through other means(philosophy, ethics, science, epistemology, nutrition, etc.), ”
    That may be true, but the fact that it may not be unique doesn’t mean religion isn’t successful at producing individuals prepared to participate in our society. It’s a useful, accessable and family-friendly system that’s really replicated by the secular side of society.

  126. TB

    That should read “not easily replicated.”

  127. Anthony McCarthy

    Religion provides nothing unique that can’t be provided through other means JJE

    What religion provides to people is an individual matter, it’s not something that has one universally valid outcome. It doesn’t bother me that people decide different things about it anymore than it does that some people like one flavor of ice cream and others don’t and that some people don’t like ice cream and some people are indifferent to the question. I’d guess most peoples’ experience of their religion is more based on their local community, cultural continuity and occasions for moral reflection. Others have other motives and find other things. Nothing I get from religion is available in any other way but as you may have guessed, I’m far from being an orthodox adherent of any tradition.

    — The axioms for mathematics can be “derived” (since they are axioms, they aren’t derived in the mathematical sense) from our experience with the natural world. JJE

    Every single thing we think is based on our experience, not a single part of our thinking is unconditioned by our experience. If we had no experience of the natural world we would have not the first idea about numbers, if you want to tell me how we would I’ll retract that rash statement. And what goes for numbers goes for logic and, with absolute certainty based on its definition, science. The individual’s experience is primary to all thought and mathematics, logic and science are comprised of thought.

  128. Anthony McCarthy

    — From which follows that religions isn’t silly nonsense because…? GM

    If you think that’s what I was getting at, you don’t understand what I was getting at.

    — And we know that “behaving well” is correlated with whether that person’s position is correct or not, because…? GM

    Actions speak louder than words. I’m sure if I wanted to get shirty you’d think you knew I wasn’t behaving well towards you. If you are able to do the inverse operation, I’ve got my doubts.

  129. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, sorry, I left out a point JJE, you know there are people who hold that science has made philosophy superfluous. And, from reading The God Delusion, some seem to think that even history is as nothing in the presence of some imaginary universal acid. I think, as the Wall of Separation question shows, they’re wrong about the power of what they take to be science.

  130. Absurdist

    -Religion provides nothing unique that can’t be provided through other means

    That’s subjective. The problem is that there are always specific individuals who get some things only from religion. For instance, consider that a religious person says that he is good because of religion. Now we may argue till the cows come home that one can be good even without religion, but that does nothing to refute the fact that that person specifically is good because of religion. That’s why religion is always going to be around, because it’s always going to be relevant for specific individuals even if we may rightly argue that it generally does not need to be so.

  131. Robin

    Anthony McCarthy:

    Let’s take one of my favorite examples, The Separation of Church and State. Account for that scientifically.

    Not sure what you mean by “account for that scientifically.” If you mean why was it put in place then we look at history. If you mean what are its effects then we can compare theocratic and secular governments. Its certainly a suitable topic for anthropology or sociology.

  132. J.J.E.

    @ AM

    “Every single thing we think is based on our experience, not a single part of our thinking is unconditioned by our experience. If we had no experience of the natural world we would have not the first idea about numbers, if you want to tell me how we would I’ll retract that rash statement. And what goes for numbers goes for logic and, with absolute certainty based on its definition, science. The individual’s experience is primary to all thought and mathematics, logic and science are comprised of thought.”

    Genuine clarification question (no rhetoric here): I think either you missed a negative word or left out a clarifiying point. Because it appears to be couched as a counterpoint, yet I agree almost wholeheartedly with you here. I gather you were instead trying to draw a distinction. If instead you were showing a point of agreement, then great. :-) We have a meeting of the minds in at least one sub-point. Regarding this point, perhaps we agree on the background but differ on the implications? Not quite sure.

    “What religion provides to people is an individual matter”

    I do agree with this, though not necessarily with all of the downstream implications. One thing I think that secular organizations do a spotty job of fulfulling is providing an emotional appeal on an indidual + community level. There is actually abundant evidence that the sense of community that churches (not religion, but the organized churches) provide is unique or at least much more common in religion than in secular clubs/organizations.

    It is my opinion that secular institutions should try to emulate the sense of community that churches provide, though without the supernatural bits. Credit where it is due. Religion isn’t worthless, and as a blanket statement isn’t even bad (though in individual cases, I certainly reserve my right to call certain religions evil). I’m a little fuzzy at where religion provides anything of value outside of community, as my de-conversion was probably the most important and spiritutally fulfilling time in my life. I was finally free of accepting dogma that couldn’t in principle be questioned, I could finally pursue science without considering its implications for my faith, my loved ones didn’t risk hell, blah blah (I’m sure you’re not interested in my personal testimonial about my deconversion and even if you were, this is probably the wrong thread).

    Trying to tie this back to the original thread and the general “compatibility” question which is the elephant in the room that impelled CM to make this post…

    I don’t think that the “truth” of religion or its “compatibility” with science is proven or disproven by Poles (Czechs). But I do think that the stark differences in the numbers between laymen and scientists (7x difference in certainty that god exists and a 10x difference in atheism+agnosticism) does show that disproportionate numbers of scientists find religion unappealing. One wonders why this is. And when you select for people who make research their sole burning occupation (the NAS) these numbers go even more extreme.

    To me, that says that science in particular (and not just education or age or whatever) and religion have an antagonistic interaction on an aggregate level. Now this doesn’t establish causation beyond correlation and certainly doesn’t imply that scientists can’t be religious.

    However, when I view this data through my personal lens, the following hypothesis lends itself to me:

    1) Most religions (though not all of them) encourage (or even demand) acceptance of one or more dogmas;
    2) What we call the scientific method discourages (but often fails to prevent) the acceptance of any dogmas;
    3) Any system of thought that encourages acceptance of dogma at least exists in tension with (if not being outright incompatible with) any system of thought that discourages acceptance of dogmas.

    And in light of this suggestion (point 3, religion and science are at least minimally in conflict), I find that the less religious bent of scientists compared to the general population to be entirely unsurprising. And notably, scientists are a fairly non-judgmental lot. Even though they have personally determined (in great numbers) that god isn’t for them, they aren’t antagonistic towards others. They are very much a live and let live bunch. But I wonder how much of this is indicative of accepting that religion has something offer and how much of it is simply a “people are allowed to make their own mistakes; it’s a free country” ethos. I suspect that the latter is more prevalent than the former, though of course they aren’t mutually exclusive.

  133. Anthony McCarthy

    But I do think that the stark differences in the numbers between laymen and scientists (7x difference in certainty that god exists and a 10x difference in atheism+agnosticism) does show that disproportionate numbers of scientists find religion unappealing. JJE

    It could have something to do with the difference in concepts of what is and what isn’t certain and what criteria you depend on for calling something certain. If scientists, trained, one hopes, in the methods of science, use those criteria for answering a question of religion, then, of course, they would come up with a different answer from someone who was relying on personal conviction to answer it.

    If you’re going to assume that the scientists’ attitudes can tell us something about the truth of religion then why wouldn’t their attitudes about other matters, in agreement or conflicting with the general population, not be determinative of those questions. And why would you assume that their ideas about religion would be of more validity than, say, their feelings about memes or other issues? I’m not overly impressed with the moral erudition of many scientists, I’d never take anything Edward Teller had to say about most topics as valuable. I’ve become very skeptical about the adulation that the culture of science seems to assume is its right. From what I’ve seen science, while it’s essential to rescuing the biosphere from us, is even more potent in the destruction of the biosphere. I don’t think the prevailing dogma among the most fashionable atheists, The Dawkinsites, is going to do anything but accelerate that destruction. Which would have the ironic effect of proving, in terms of evolutionary biology, that science was maladaptive in the long run.

  134. TB

    Consider adding 4) Science professions may be more likely to attract non-religious individuals.

  135. J.J.E.

    “Consider adding 4) Science professions may be more likely to attract non-religious individuals.”

    That was actually the point. It isn’t the point that science makes you non-religious, though that would also support my thesis. Instead, the idea was that those that see no conflict are less likely to avoid science.

    And of course, you might have surmised this with a more thorough reading:

    “Now this doesn’t establish causation beyond correlation and certainly doesn’t imply that scientists can’t be religious.”

  136. GM

    128. TB Says:
    April 16th, 2010 at 1:12 pm
    “Religion provides nothing unique that can’t be provided through other means(philosophy, ethics, science, epistemology, nutrition, etc.), ”
    That may be true, but the fact that it may not be unique doesn’t mean religion isn’t successful at producing individuals prepared to participate in our society. It’s a useful, accessable and family-friendly system that’s really replicated by the secular side of society.

    You can only say this if you are completely blind to the extremely negative impact of religion, including and primarily to the species as a whole

  137. Anthony McCarthy

    You can only say this if you are completely blind to the extremely negative impact of religion, including and primarily to the species as a whole. GM

    Well, money has had an extremely negative impact including and primarily the species as a whole. I assume you’re going to divest yourself of yours right away now that this has been pointed out to you.

    H. Allen Orr has pointed out that the 20th century was largely an experiment with secularism. The Soviet Union and the United States didn’t conduct a single war (official or unofficial) on the basis of religion, the United States has never gone to war on the basis of religion. If your assertion is to be followed consistently, we’d have to give up on secularism as well.

    You are aware of the munitions industry and that it employs vast numbers of scientists and contracts with yet more in order to come up with ways to more efficiently kill more people (and animals) aren’t you? I’d guess that modern science in the last century has killed far more people than were killed in all of the religious wars in the history of Europe, if not the entire world, and if they haven’t yet, they very likely will.

  138. SLC

    Re Passerby @ #128

    So what? Newton believed in the Trinity; that does not mean his scientific pronouncements were flawed.

    Absolutely and totally incorrect. Quite the opposite in fact. Newton was an Arian who rejected the notion of the Trinity as a theology of Roman Catholicism, which he considered an abomination (Newton was a notorious and vehement anti-Catholic). Fortunately for him, this was not known in his lifetime or he would have been in serious trouble with the Church of England authorities who considered Arianism heresy.

  139. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ $141

    I’d guess that modern science in the last century has killed far more people than were killed in all of the religious wars in the history of Europe, if not the entire world, and if they haven’t yet, they very likely will.

    Actually, the number of people killed in the 30 Years War, which was a religious war between Catholics and Protestants, as a fraction of the total population of Europe at the time was greater then the number of people killed in both in Europe in both World Wars combined. And this was accomplished without the modern weapons available to the combatants in the 20th century. The Flying Spaghetti Monster only knows how may people would have been killed during the 30 Years war if Count Tilly, Count Wallenstein,and King Gustavus Adolphus had had machine guns, strategic bombing aircraft, etc!

  140. Anthony McCarthy

    as a fraction of the total population of Europe at the time SLC

    As vulgar as it is to quibble about units of measure in such matters, you have very little to stand on.

    Wouldn’t bet my pay on it the last word but…..
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_disasters_by_death_toll

    And it took modern science to give us the wonderful concept of Megadeath.

  141. GM

    Anthony McCarthy @ 141

    Only if you are completely deluded and in denial about the actual state of the human species would you think that I had wars in mind.

    And wars have not killed people because of science, wars have been fought because of the same kind of animal instincts that dominate our behavior, are currently leading us towards extinction, and have made religion possible and have been in turn codified into unquestionable dogma by it.

  142. J.J.E.

    No time to respond just right now (heddin’ to a weddin’), but in terms of human suffering, the 20th century brags too much, especially in terms of PROPORTIONS, not just raw numbers.

    http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/DBG.CHAP3.HTM

    The Mongol Khans alone were reportedly responsible for 40,000,000 alone. That’s a high bar, especially if you consider the proportion.

  143. J.J.E.

    Sorry, 30,000,000…

  144. Anthony McCarthy

    —- And wars have not killed people because of science, wars have been fought because of the same kind of animal instincts that dominate our behavior, are currently leading us towards extinction, GM

    If you choose to ignore the role that in and the profits from weapons development and manufacture that science has held since before the 19th century there is nothing I can do to force you to do it. If you choose to ignore the role that, for example, petroleum geology plays in the hastening of climate catastrophe there is also nothing I can do to force you to. Rational people who might happen to read this are another matter, they can at least consider the issues and, perhaps, look at the facts. I don’t have any hope for the voluntarily ignorant, I do have some hope in rational people who can look past their self-interests and personal preferences.

  145. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorry, 30,000,000… JJE

    Imagine if WWII had gone on as long as the 30-years-war. Or WWI.

  146. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ #143

    My mistake, of course I meant the fraction of the total population of Europe that was killed in WW 1 and WW 2. That fraction was much lower then the fraction of the total population that was killed in the 30 Years War. Mr. McCarthy should consider what that fraction would have been in the 30 Years War if they had had modern weapons. The entire population of Europe might have been wiped out in that case. By the way, the numbers that the Wikipedia article cited includes the numbers killed in the Asian theater, mostly Japanese and Chinese. Can one imagine Albrecht von Wallenstein with a nuclear weapon?

    Mr. McCarthy raises the issue as to what would have happened if, say, WW 2 had lasted 30 years. That’s one thing one can say about modern wars. They can’t last too long as compared with wars in the past as they are just too darn expensive to conduct. It is completely impossible for a war like WW 1 or WW 2 to last 30 years as everybody would be totally bankrupt long before the 30 years was up.

  147. GM

    If you choose to ignore the role that in and the profits from weapons development and manufacture that science has held since before the 19th century there is nothing I can do to force you to do it. If you choose to ignore the role that, for example, petroleum geology plays in the hastening of climate catastrophe there is also nothing I can do to force you to. Rational people who might happen to read this are another matter, they can at least consider the issues and, perhaps, look at the facts. I don’t have any hope for the voluntarily ignorant, I do have some hope in rational people who can look past their self-interests and personal preferences.

    As I said, you lack the necessary knowledge and awareness of the current state of humanity and as a result you totally fail to understand what I have in mind when I say that religion has an extremely negative influence on us wars are a minor portion of the reasons why.

    So I guess I will have to state it more clearly. In order to prevent global civilizational collapse, and possibly extinction of the species as a whole, the following needs to be done:

    1. Acknowledge and appreciate the fact that humans do not exist independently of the ecosystems of the planet, that we are entirely dependent on them for our survival, and that the same ecological principles that apply to all other species apply to us too.

    2. Acknowledge and appreciate the fact that our behavior is driven in large part by primal subconscious urges having to do mostly with ensuring our evolutionary success (i.e. get food, reproduce, make sure progeny survives)

    3. Acknowledge and appreciate the limits to growth in their totality, interrelatedness, and the timescale at which they are going to hits us if continue with B.A.U.. Understand the consequences of hitting those limits.

    4. Take the necessary measures to prevent collapse and possible extinction. Which means the following: reversing population growth so that the global population is safely within the carrying capacity of the planet. This means in the hundreds of millions at most, probably even less than that. More importantly, this will have to be done starting tomorrow and with the goal of accomplishing it ASAP, i.e. within a few decades, which means that it will involved almost complete ban on procreation, mass sterilizations and more unpleasant stuff of that sort, but there is no other way at this point.

    5. Completely revise the sociopolitical system and the set of moral values so that a society can be built where no more cycles of growth and collapse will happen in the future. This means slaughtering a lot sacred cows, such as democracy, money and free markets, a significant portion of what we consider basic human rights and others.

    You may not see why we have to do this, which is understandable, but If you don’t see how religion prevents us from doing it, you are a complete idiot, and I do not feel sorry for saying it.

  148. TB

    @140 GM

    No, I can say that quite reasonably as an observation of reality. To assign responsibility for the sins of some individuals to others who have no connection to the ones at fault is irrational.
    And JJE’s thoughts in this are fair and notable.

  149. Passerby

    Infectious diseases like smallpox and influenza which killed many more people in the twentieth century than all the wars combined were eradicated thanks to science. Science has saved hundreds of millions more than it has killed.

  150. Anthony McCarthy

    —- Science has saved hundreds of millions more than it has killed. Passerby

    Just think of how many more could be saved if it had promoted the idea “that which is hateful to you you should not do to others”.

    I’m not the one pretending that science is either a total evil or an unmitigated good and you would be hard pressed to find a single religious person who isn’t fully aware that “religion” is also a mixed bag.

    – If you don’t see how religion prevents us from doing it, you are a complete idiot, and I do not feel sorry for saying it. GM

    You are a very deluded cultist.

  151. Anthony McCarthy

    —– That’s one thing one can say about modern wars. They can’t last too long as compared with wars in the past as they are just too darn expensive to conduct. SLC

    You must be entirely unaware of little things like what gets called The Vietnam War. I’ve got a family member who was drafted and sent there, the health problems he’s had from the defoliants (the wonders of modern chemistry) he was exposed to for two years have been the foremost feature of his life ever since, I can only imagine what it was like for the populations those were dropped on.

    You might want to do some reading about the history of Fritz Haber, the uses he and others put his chemistry to. With full knowledge. You might notice that at a time you might suspect he’d be up on war crimes charges his colleagues gave him the Nobel prize and you might look at the use his insecticide was later put to. You might also want to look at the story of his first wife, Clara Immerwahr, who shot herself in shame over his role in creating modern chemical warfare. Oh, don’t miss that he destroyed her career in science, too.

    Sciencey guys really should get a more liberal education, including history, which has a far better track record of accounting for human societies than science has so far managed. And recent history in the form of current events, made possible by what is one of the least appreciated of professions, when it’s practiced with integrity, journalism.

    I think realizing that it’s irrational to put so much weight on the opinions of scientists about topics they aren’t any more able to talk about than the average person is what I’m taking away from this discussion. Unless they show some kind of profoundly good behavior, I don’t think it’s necessary to consult them on religious topics not covered by their professional competence.

  152. GM

    You are a very deluded cultist.

    As I said, most people lack the mental habits and the kind of education required to understand complex systemic issues.

    You also happen to be very short of usable arguments when trying to have a discussion on most things.

  153. Anthony McCarthy

    As I said, most people lack the mental habits and the kind of education required to understand complex systemic issues. GM

    I’ll frame that thought. I collect cartoons.

  154. GM

    I guess it is a good occasion to also mention the Dunning–Kruger effect

  155. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ #135

    Mr. McCarthy apparently has a reading comprehension problem. I would doubt that any military historian would compare the Vietnam War with WW 1 and WW 2. As I stated, neither WW 1 or WW 2 could possibly have lasted 30 years because it would bankrupt the participants long before the 30 years expired.

  156. Anthony McCarthy

    Mr. SLC apparently thinks the United States has been running a continuous surplus since its misadventure in Vietnam.

    As for WWI or WWII bankrupting the participants, that would have little to do with the far larger number of deaths from the scientific and technical advances since the 16th century. And as the most potent science stemming from physics of the early decades of the last century, Tom Lehrer implied the Megadeaths would be measured in M/hr, not year. Though I doubt anyone would be around to tabulate the grim results.

    Really, if you’re going to judge religion at its worst you don’t get to compare that with science at its most beneficial, not unless you want to come up with an invalid comparison.

  157. GM

    This is getting really ridiculous – how exactly is science responsible for wars?????? It’s such a complete bullshit yet there will always be someone to bring it up. When exactly have scientists started a war? And for what exactly reason do you think that what is usually called “defense-related research” is something inherent to science? It isn’t even science most of the time, it is engineering (and yes, most people are dumb enough not to get the difference between the two, I know).

    It takes complete lack of understanding of what science is to make that claim. Science’s job is to understand the world around us. This includes figuring out such things as the structure of the atom, synthesizing and examining the properties of various compounds, cataloging organisms and understanding how some of them cause disease. This knowledge gives you the power to generate nuclear energy from nuclear fission, to make all that useful plastic stuff around us, to find treatments for infectious diseases, yet it also gives you the power to make nuclear bombs, chemical and biological weapons. But we choose to do the latter not because of some inherent evilness in science, but because war is a behavior characteristic of humans, inherited from our common ancestor with chimps (chimps do it too, bonobos don’t). Which we know because, you (maybe didn’t) guess it right, scientists went out and studied these things. Now when we know it, it is up to us to use that knowledge and figure out a way of successfully inhibiting this behavior, but this is not going to happen if we think that we are a special creation of the bearded man in the sky and he will take always care of us

  158. SLC

    Shorter Anthony McCarthy: All scientists are good for is to build bigger and better bombs.

  159. Anthony McCarthy

    Actually, if you want the short of it, the cultists of scientism are only good for distorting and misrepresenting what other people say because they’ve got nothing real.

  160. Jay

    I’m a student of hers at Rice, and a lot of these questions commenters have raised are well addressed in the book. She’s a methodologically rigorous sociologist, and judging the book by the jacket blurb is woefully inept.

    “Religious” is well defined in the book, and includes qualitative, in depth descriptions of the different types of spirituality present in the scientific community. Adherence to what is considered “evangelical” Christianity is extremely low, and even those who adhere to more moderate faith traditions are using those beliefs mainly to 1) motivate their scientific work towards a the higher purpose, such as relief of suffering and human advancement and 2) inform the topics that they choose to research.

    The greater point of the book is that the way scientists are currently responding to religious controversy is counterproductive and will be detrimental to science in the long run. Responding to religious beliefs in an informed way is important (according to Ecklund) for a cornucopia of reasons, the most important being funding, fundamental education issues, and public science literacy. Her (rather idealistic) hope is that by recognizing the often overlooked spirituality and religiosity of mainstream scientists, the science community might be better able to engage with the public to the benefit of everyone.

    Just to clarify, I’m an atheist myself, and am not a huge fan of the accommodationist perspective. But that doesn’t mean her numbers or her objective analysis are incorrect.

  161. Chris Mooney

    Dear Jay,
    Thanks so much for your comments. This is what I was trying to say to the commenters as well. There is an unfortunate tendency online sometimes to criticize books without having read them. Fortunately, I think Dr. Ecklund’s book will generate a big debate and the details of her position and research will become much more widely known.

  162. Jaime A. Headden

    I wish the lot of you would learn to differentiate the arguments made by agnostics and religious (and I am fairly certain you do not use these terms as I do) and also learn to differentiate “religion” and “Christian,” unlike a certain US evolutionary biologist professor.

  163. GM

    Are you somehow implying that Christianity might be bad but religion isn’t? If that’s the case, I don’t see how something totally nonsensical can be less nonsensical than something else totally nonsensical

  164. Anthony McCarthy

    Two words: gnothi seauton

  165. Jaime A. Headden

    In this case, the argument to be made is that “religion” is not synonymous with whatever Christianity is. “Religion” would be the profession of a set of beliefs that are taken for granted without hesitation. Science, in this case, assumed a few things in general, but it generally allows most doubts to worm its way through to its core, apple-wise; but even then, some assumptions are held despite contradictions. Look at the Linnaean system, the most horribly unscientific portion of organismal biology and its been standing for over 200 years … because as some claim, “it’s the only thing we have.” That is pure, hardcore religiosity there. In some cases, such standards/pillars are held in the face of fear of the unknown, about what may happen should it fall.

    I should note that I am excessively agnostic … about everything (even the above). Most scientists are taught to be agnostic (about their work) but the question about how to apply the scientific process to other things is left as a personal choice. Those who do become personally agnostic are different, some quite clearly, than those that do.

    The first and prime example are those that declare themselves right and others wrong, as though the following statement were to be feared: “Open-Mindeded: If you open your mind, you don’t know what might enter.”

    In this case, it is religious to claim God does not exist just as it is religious to claim the reverse; it is agnostic to claim that you cannot say God cannot exist, because you cannot test the hypothesis “God exists.”

  166. GM

    The fallacy of open-mindedness is quite tired at this point. Yes, you can not know with 100% certainty whether God exists or not, because it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis. But this does not mean that you should think that it is true, quite the opposite. And you can have a rough probability estimate of the chance of it being true and give everything we know about human cultural evolution, and everything we have learned about how the world works, it is quite safe to say that we made up all the Gods we have worshiped during human history and they all don’t exist in the form the religion that was built around them described them.

  167. Anthony McCarthy

    because it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis.

    Falsify existence. Falsify The First Amendment. Falsify the axioms of plane geometry.

    This falsification fetish isn’t even one that is universally accepted as valid for science, yet a smattering of pop philosophy and the credulous believe it’s even applicable for most things and those things it can’t be applied to are beyond the pale.

    Organized skepticism, as it asserted itself after WWII is among the more serious purveyors of secular garbage. It’s cultists are an obnoxious presence all over the blogs browbeating people for not kow towing to their preferred positions.

    I am afraid I’ll have to blame Carl Sagan for a lot of it. He provided a few terms to his fans without giving them any real understanding of them.

  168. Jaime A. Headden

    This is Science: If A, then B; otherwise, not B. Science works by the hypothesis that it can know a thing it can perceive, but if another person cannot test the hypothesis what can be said about said hypothesis is nothing. Therefore, you move on. There is a growing culture of people who have — religiously — argued the premise that all things can be observed, and if something cannot, then it doesn’t exist. It is not enough to say “I cannot test it,” and like the caveman who lit a torch against the darkness 10,000 years ago, he pushes back aginst his not knowing with a fiction that falls outside of science, a doctrine if you will, of “What I cannot perceive does not exist,” and proceeded to push it onto others. Hence my premise that there are only two schools of thought here: Religion and agnosticism.

  169. GM

    171. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    April 18th, 2010 at 9:00 pm
    because it is an unfalsifiable hypothesis.
    Falsify existence. Falsify The First Amendment. Falsify the axioms of plane geometry.

    Those are not hypotheses

    This falsification fetish isn’t even one that is universally accepted as valid for science, yet a smattering of pop philosophy and the credulous believe it’s even applicable for most things and those things it can’t be applied to are beyond the pale.
    Organized skepticism, as it asserted itself after WWII is among the more serious purveyors of secular garbage. It’s cultists are an obnoxious presence all over the blogs browbeating people for not kow towing to their preferred positions.
    I am afraid I’ll have to blame Carl Sagan for a lot of it. He provided a few terms to his fans without giving them any real understanding of them.

    FYI, I happen to have been raised both after Sagan was most active on TV and in a place where Sagan was never televised.

  170. GM

    172. Jaime A. Headden Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 1:32 am
    This is Science: If A, then B; otherwise, not B. Science works by the hypothesis that it can know a thing it can perceive, but if another person cannot test the hypothesis what can be said about said hypothesis is nothing. Therefore, you move on. There is a growing culture of people who have — religiously — argued the premise that all things can be observed, and if something cannot, then it doesn’t exist. It is not enough to say “I cannot test it,” and like the caveman who lit a torch against the darkness 10,000 years ago, he pushes back aginst his not knowing with a fiction that falls outside of science, a doctrine if you will, of “What I cannot perceive does not exist,” and proceeded to push it onto others. Hence my premise that there are only two schools of thought here: Religion and agnosticism.

    We can not perceive atoms, yet we know they exist. This whole bullshit about “science can’t tell anything about things that can’t be seen or measured” is exactly this – bullshit. It is nothing more but an excuse used to keep believing in completely made up fairy tales. What exactly gives you a basis to claim that certain things exist if you can’t show in any meaningful they they exist. You can’t even show that you didn’t make them up, while cognitive science and anthropology have collected plenty of evidence that this is exactly the case, i.e. we made them up all due to the cognitive characteristics/deficiencies of the species combined with our ignorance about how the world really works.

    It is almost a thought experiment because pretty much none of use have been raised in an environment free of any religious influence (although I can claim that I happen to have been lucky enough to come as close to this as possible and as a result when I first met people who were seriously believing in God, I could only laugh at them, and this was when I was 6; but these are rare cases), but I highly doubt it that if you had a group of people that were given a certain amount of basic scientific knowledge (elementary physics, chemistry, biology, geology, cosmology) they would ever seriously consider the idea of God. The only reason we are debating this is that it has been the dogma for so long and it has that exceptional characteristic of making people immune to reasoning, that it is extremely difficult to eradicate it now.

  171. Anthony McCarthy

    Those are not hypotheses GM

    Neither is the belief in God that most people have. The only people I’m aware of who put it in those terms are new atheists and old philosophers foolish enough to think the question is vulnerable to their methods.

    As for Sagan’s influence, I’m afraid that your, personal, experience isn’t sufficiently influential to negate what I said. Though you clearly have been influenced by those who were influenced by some of his less fortunate material. The man often went into territory he wasn’t outfitted for. One of the dangers of that kind of thing, as The God Delusion shows.

  172. Anthony McCarthy

    J.A.H. It’s quite possible for someone to be an intellectual agnostic and to believe in religion. I’m quite versed in agnosticism and called myself one for a long time. However, I am a religious believer based on experience, not on the methods and tools of logic. Experience is prior to logic just as logic is prior to mathematics and science.

  173. Jaime A. Headden

    GM, you’re making my point for me. You are arguing that some of your beliefs, however founded, are so apparently right that I would not question them. You use the case of the atom to prove your statement, but fail to provide proof of the atom. It is not hard to accept the existence of any atom, when the given evidence is verifiable. Do you know how to verify the existence of an atom? They have been directly observed, using at least Scanning Tunneling Microscopes. bservation of microparticles like quarks and muons eludes us, and we formulate theories as to their existence and relationship to matter/energy, and I am agnostic about them as I am about unicorns. This does not mean that I do not apply levels of inference to how far I’d go to test the concept of the existence of said unicorn, but it would require more effort on the part of a beleiver to prove it to me than anyone discussing subatomic particles.

    The reasoning here is simple: Unicorns, as it goes, are products of stories of creatures perceived by folklorists and such, and we have data that some of them were at least the product of people seeing rhinos, fossil or living, as well as some Europeans seeing narwhals. There would then be some grounding to the myth of imaginary creatures, even if it were ephemeral insects like mayflies that give rise to faeries in England or fossil Protoceratops to the myth of the Griffon, or of giant predatory birds to the stories of the Arabian Roc.

    But even when I cannot see what others believe, I do not reject it: I attempt to disprove it, and if I fail at that, I cannot reject it. It doesn’t mean I have to try to prove it exists, and nor should you, and I do not require a priest to validate his beliefs to me should I doubt (and I do).

    Anthony: I get what you say about relative agnosticism.

  174. GM

    177. Jaime A. Headden Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 7:53 am
    GM, you’re making my point for me. You are arguing that some of your beliefs, however founded, are so apparently right that I would not question them. You use the case of the atom to prove your statement, but fail to provide proof of the atom. It is not hard to accept the existence of any atom, when the given evidence is verifiable. Do you know how to verify the existence of an atom? They have been directly observed, using at least Scanning Tunneling Microscopes. bservation of microparticles like quarks and muons eludes us, and we formulate theories as to their existence and relationship to matter/energy, and I am agnostic about them as I am about unicorns. This does not mean that I do not apply levels of inference to how far I’d go to test the concept of the existence of said unicorn, but it would require more effort on the part of a beleiver to prove it to me than anyone discussing subatomic particles.

    I was referring to your use of the word “perceive” so I brought atomic and subatomic particles as an example of something that you can not perceive but you can measure and we have plenty of evidence for the existence of. Not the case with God

    The reasoning here is simple: Unicorns, as it goes, are products of stories of creatures perceived by folklorists and such, and we have data that some of them were at least the product of people seeing rhinos, fossil or living, as well as some Europeans seeing narwhals. There would then be some grounding to the myth of imaginary creatures, even if it were ephemeral insects like mayflies that give rise to faeries in England or fossil Protoceratops to the myth of the Griffon, or of giant predatory birds to the stories of the Arabian Roc.

    One big difference – these do not contradict the laws of nature and are trivially explained. Not the case with religion, which requires repeated breaking of the laws of nature, which as far as we can tell has never been reliably observed

    But even when I cannot see what others believe, I do not reject it: I attempt to disprove it, and if I fail at that, I cannot reject it. It doesn’t mean I have to try to prove it exists, and nor should you, and I do not require a priest to validate his beliefs to me should I doubt (and I do).

    How do you know that they didn’t make it up / were indoctrinated into believing it from others who made it up? If it was real, wouldn’t we all believe in it because we feel like it? Why didn’t Christ ever reveal himself to the Incas? The most likely explanation is that people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East made up the Judeo-Christian god while the Incas made up their own

  175. GM

    175. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 5:35 am
    Those are not hypotheses GM
    Neither is the belief in God that most people have. The only people I’m aware of who put it in those terms are new atheists and old philosophers foolish enough to think the question is vulnerable to their methods.

    Someone suffers from serious inability to work with proper terminology and logic here. How exactly is the belief in God not a hypothesis? That some 5 to 6 billion of cretins believe it with 100% certainty with zero evidence to back it up does not change the fact that it is a hypothesis (unfalsifiable and unsupported by evidence)

  176. Anthony McCarthy

    Because belief is personal conviction based in experience and not on any level of evidence susceptible to verification by another party.

    I’m sure your declaration of your superiority to five to six billion people (though I’d have expected the number is greater) will go a long way to force people to acknowledge the credibility of your assertions.

    Though I think you’ve exposed the real motive of the new atheism, just as its parent organized “skepticism” which is the religious belief in your superiority and your right to rudely bash people whose experience you don’t approve of.

  177. Jaime A. Headden

    When did the argumentum ad hominem start? GM, your response to Anthony indicates you have stopped arguing about the details of the discussion and turned intead to the personalities of the majority of the people on this planet and to some posters here. I can hardly think this benefits your own argument.

    You wrote:

    How do you know that they didn’t make it up / were indoctrinated into believing it from others who made it up? If it was real, wouldn’t we all believe in it because we feel like it? Why didn’t Christ ever reveal himself to the Incas? The most likely explanation is that people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East made up the Judeo-Christian god while the Incas made up their own

    First, I don’t know things were made up, so I look to auxillary evidence. Most people, when confronted with the question “Where?” have a tendency to do either of two things: They’ll make up a just-so argument from the beginning, to justify their fantasy, and these people are obvious (see Chaucer!); or they will actually attempt to show by way of illustrating or dynamically portraying their recollection (see Nessie myths, some of which were invented by hoaxers, others phenomena such as logs, but nonetheless investigated by intellectual agnostics as well as “believers”).

    Second, Why “[Blank] didn’t do [Blank]” is a red herring, and irrelevant. Why didn’t the sun go down three hours after rising? Huh Huh Huh?

    I was referring to your use of the word “perceive” so I brought atomic and subatomic particles as an example of something that you can not perceive but you can measure and we have plenty of evidence for the existence of. Not the case with God

    I was using the term as it was intended: perceive, from Latin percipere, to grasp or to hold. In this case, having to do with the senses. And we can perceive atomic and (to a degree) subatomic particles, this being a distinction I think you are not quite understanding here. Even their theorists argue that quarks are theoretical, and likely unobservable, objects, but their maths are explanatory in their use (unlike phlogiston), so we leave it alone (yet there are still people out there trying to develop machines to perceive them, and we don’t call these guys religious nutjobs, we call them scientists).

  178. GM

    180. Anthony McCarthy Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 3:26 pm
    Because belief is personal conviction based in experience and not on any level of evidence susceptible to verification by another party.
    I’m sure your declaration of your superiority to five to six billion people (though I’d have expected the number is greater) will go a long way to force people to acknowledge the credibility of your assertions.
    Though I think you’ve exposed the real motive of the new atheism, just as its parent organized “skepticism” which is the religious belief in your superiority and your right to rudely bash people whose experience you don’t approve of.

    Personal conviction based on experience means absolutely nothing. Objective independently verifiable evidence does. Many people have the “personal experience” of being Napoleon. We classify them as having a psychiatric disease because of a lot of objective evidence that their personal experience does not reflect reality and is instead product of a sick brain.

    The reasons why I call the vast majority of people idiots, cretins and other such things are simple

    1. This description fits them quite well
    2. At some point I get quite frustrated arguing with the radio so I really start calling things with their real names

  179. GM

    181. Jaime A. Headden Says:
    April 19th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
    When did the argumentum ad hominem start? GM, your response to Anthony indicates you have stopped arguing about the details of the discussion and turned intead to the personalities of the majority of the people on this planet and to some posters here. I can hardly think this benefits your own argument.

    Where exactly have I used an ad hominem argument?

    You wrote:
    “How do you know that they didn’t make it up / were indoctrinated into believing it from others who made it up? If it was real, wouldn’t we all believe in it because we feel like it? Why didn’t Christ ever reveal himself to the Incas? The most likely explanation is that people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East made up the Judeo-Christian god while the Incas made up their own”
    First, I don’t know things were made up, so I look to auxillary evidence. Most people, when confronted with the question “Where?” have a tendency to do either of two things: They’ll make up a just-so argument from the beginning, to justify their fantasy, and these people are obvious (see Chaucer!); or they will actually attempt to show by way of illustrating or dynamically portraying their recollection (see Nessie myths, some of which were invented by hoaxers, others phenomena such as logs, but nonetheless investigated by intellectual agnostics as well as “believers”).

    Well, we have looked at the “auxillary evidence”, we have done this many time and with an open mind, the inescapable conclusion is that we made God in our own image due to our ignorance of how the world works.

    Second, Why “[Blank] didn’t do [Blank]” is a red herring, and irrelevant. Why didn’t the sun go down three hours after rising? Huh Huh Huh?

    Why is it a red herring? Again, I am not sorry to say it, if you think that the creations story of any tribe makes sense given that it does not explain at all why exactly the Gods of that tribe chose to reveal themselves only to that tribe and not to the tribes on the other side of the world, you are a certified lunatic with a completely amputated reasoning capability. And this is especially true for the Judeo-Christian version that has been over the centuries carefully adapted to look as it it wasn’t the creation myth of one particular tribe but instead its God was a God of everyone. Well, nobody in Australia, Oceania, Eastern and Southeastern Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Americas knew about it until they were forced to learn about him. Does this make any sense in the light of Christian ideology. None at all. Does it make a lot of sense if it was just another creation myth – absolutely yes.

  180. Anthony McCarthy

    Personal conviction based on experience means absolutely nothing. Objective independently verifiable evidence does. GM

    Well, I think the only thing this proves is that you have a very shallow conception of what “objective independently verifiable evidence” is based in. Ultimately everything a human being knows of the outside world, including “objective” evidence is experienced. Tell me how someone knows anything without having an experience of it.

    I doubt that many people experience being Napoleon, I’ve never experienced meeting one, though I’ve encountered the fantasies of new atheists and self announced “skeptics” who seem to suspect every third person they encounter of having such fantasies. In fact, trying hard to remember all the odd balls I’ve met in more than sixty years of life, I can’t remember a single one with those kinds of delusions.

    I think you boys have all scared yourself rather silly with stories like that one. Most everyone I know who is religious functions at at least a normal level of reason, many at a high level. Most of the new atheists and “skeptics” I’ve encountered have, however, been real pills.

  181. Monkey Man

    How many biologists believe in virgin birth? How about virgin birth where the child is male? I’d like to see a study where these questions are asked outside of a religious context.

  182. Villeppii

    “only a small minority are actively hostile to religion.”

    That is in no way a relevant thing to point out. Atheism doesn’t require one to be hostile to religion. So what difference does it make how many scientists are? LOL!

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About Chris Mooney

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

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