Science and Religion on the Cam, Part II

By Chris Mooney | June 10, 2010 8:33 am

800px-KingsCollegeChapelWestIn my last post, I mentioned that I would be addressing some criticisms of the Templeton-Cambridge fellowship. There is, for instance, the take of former fellow John Horgan, which is widely cited and certainly critical (although it also acknowledges the value of the fellowship–which, after all, Horgan applied for and accepted).

Among other things, Horgan writes the following:

My ambivalence about the foundation came to a head during my fellowship in Cambridge last summer. The British biologist Richard Dawkins, whose participation in the meeting helped convince me and other fellows of its legitimacy, was the only speaker who denounced religious beliefs as incompatible with science, irrational, and harmful. The other speakers— three agnostics, one Jew, a deist, and 12 Christians (a Muslim philosopher canceled at the last minute)— offered a perspective clearly skewed in favor of religion and Christianity.

First, I do not agree that I have heard skewed perspectives here. I don’t think any of the talks during the past two weeks could be said to have delivered arguments “in favor of religion and Christianity.” If anything, some of them–a presentation by Petr Granqvist that interpreted religion from the viewpoint of “attachment theory,” suggesting it might merely fulfill a psychological need from childhood; or a presentation by Kathleen Taylor on morality, which gave an evolutionary view that deeply undermined the workability of religious moral systems–could be taken as quite corrosive to traditional religion.

Yesterday, meanwhile, we heard from Robin Le Poidevin, a philosopher who is the author of (that’s right) Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. And we heard from Dame Gillian Beer, who has written with tremendous insight about the relationship between Darwin and literature (including the literary aspects of The Origin of Species) but whose talk was not really about religion at all, and certainly not about promoting either Christianity or atheism.

So to claim this fellowship is some kind of religious Trojan horse strikes me as pretty untenable. To be sure, most of the speakers presenting to us here haven’t been atheists, so far as I can tell. But all have spoken in a scholarly fashion,  presenting expert takes on their respective fields. None have been preaching. I get the strong sense–and after all, this is Cambridge, a scholarly environment–that to do so would be deemed quite unseemly and inappropriate.

But let’s go on to the other aspect of Horgan’s point. When it comes to the modern conflict between religion and atheism–which, I must emphasize, comprises only one part of the broader subject of “science and religion”–I fully agree that journalists should hear both sides of this issue.

Indeed, I get the sense that from the Templeton perspective, that’s a no brainer. After all, Dawkins himself came to speak here and present his arguments during Horgan’s fellowship year (an experience Dawkins relates in The God Delusion). It sounds like he got into some fantastic debates, and that he vigorously disagreed with lots of folks–which, after all, is precisely what is supposed to happen in a university setting.

But since then, the New Atheist approach appears to have changed. New Atheists like Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and A.C. Grayling have taken to slamming the fellowship and (apparently) refusing to cooperate or participate. Dawkins reports that he was invited back the next year, and declined to come.

But here’s the problem: You can’t both denounce the fellowship for being intellectually tilted and also boycott it, thereby refusing to help lend it more of the balance you claim it needs.

* * * * *

Of course, these New Atheists do present an argument for their stance. To quote Daniel C. Dennett:

Many years ago I made the mistake of participating, with some very good scientists, in a conference that pitted us against astrologers and other new age fakes. I learned to my dismay that even though we thoroughly dismantled the opposition, many in the audience ended up, paradoxically, with an increased esteem for astrologers! As one person explained to me, “I figured that if you scientists were willing to work this hard to refute it, there must be something to it!” Isn’t it obvious to you that the Templeton Foundation is eager to create the very same response in its readers? Do you really feel comfortable being complicit with that project?

Dennett is suggesting that he doesn’t want to lend credibility, through his participation, to views that are intellectually equivalent to astrology. But I haven’t heard any such views here.

It would be one thing if the Templeton Fellowship were involved in undermining real, established science in some way. But it isn’t. There is no creationism to be found here in the Cambridge program. There is no climate denial (quite the opposite, in fact; one of the directors of the program, Royal Society fellow Sir Brian Heap, is a biologist who is very concerned about climate change). And last I checked, the University of Cambridge does not have an astrology department.

So it seems to me that whatever issue one may have with this fellowship, it can’t really be about the betrayal of science. Rather, it seems to be about whether to engage in dialogue and debate with those who have religious beliefs but also accept cutting edge research–and indeed, may be scientists themselves. And I really do not understand why there could be a problem with atheists engaging with religious scientists like Alasdair Coles (religion and the brain) or John Barrow (cosmology), any more than with Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller.

Granted, there is also the matter of theology, which does have some presence in the Templeton Cambridge program. As mentioned in the last post, I feel much as the New Atheists do towards this field. It is hard for me to see how it can possibly achieve the kind of universal knowledge that science offers. In a sense, it is inherently sectarian, and inherently dependent upon taking various ancient religious texts as if they are in some sense true (a leap an atheist is never going to be able to make, for it is essentially an argument from authority).

But that doesn’t make theology absolutely worthless, because even if you don’t accept the premises, the field does feature rigorous attempts to clarify and explicate religious views and doctrines–views and doctrines embraced by much or most of humanity. We need to understand these views, if only because they are so prevalent. And as atheists, shouldn’t we want religious arguments to have their most articulate and nuanced presentation before we reject them? Academic theology is valuable for these reasons, and worth at least listening to and understanding.

* * * * *

On the journalistic side, meanwhile, there are also a few points to make about what is happening here.

First, I don’t know what the New Atheists gain by slamming a journalistic fellowship, or how it helps get their word out. But I doubt they are inclined to take media advice from me.

Also on the journalistic front, it is important to note that the work which emerges from this fellowship is not editorially controlled in any way. We are not required to reach particular positions or defend particular views. The idea is merely to get a chance, which one might not have otherwise, to study one or more aspects of the science and religion question in an academic context–and then write about them.

To be sure, the fellowship certainly helps to generate more journalism about science and religion than might exist otherwise.  But I would say that more journalism on this subject is a good thing, given the vast misunderstandings and tensions around the issue. (Most of this journalism, once again, will not be directly about the New Atheist/reconciliationist divide. The topic of science and religion is far broader than that.)

In any event, such is my take on science and religion from Cambridge–which I have waited to compose until I’d experienced the bulk of the fellowship itself. I may have more to say, but with the last post and now this one, I think I’ve pretty much covered it. I greatly enjoyed the fellowship, considered the experience very intellectually serious, and look forward to returning to Cambridge in late July for the second half.

Comments (153)

  1. GM

    Dennett is suggesting that he doesn’t want to lend credibility, through his participation, to views that are intellectually equivalent to astrology. But I haven’t heard any such views here.

    So basically you’re saying that religion is not on the same intellectual level as astrology, is that correct?

  2. Jon

    And as atheists, shouldn’t we want religious arguments to have their most articulate and nuanced presentation before we reject them?

    Absolutely not. You should only attack its weakest defenders and pretend that’s everybody. [/snark]

  3. James

    A scientist that does not understand the value of religion also does not truly understand science. Likewise, the religious who do not understand the value of science does not truly understand religion. This religion vs. science argument is only a debate of the second rate scientists and theologians. The true leaders of science and religion see no dispute between the two.

  4. James –
    What do you base your opinion on? A hunch? Faith? Or have you researched the matter, you know — engaged in scientific-ish behavior?
    In my opinion, anyone being honest about the real nature of religion (as is practiced today and historically) should recognize that religions include claims about the universe: where it comes from, how it formed, how it works, what causes calamity and ill-health, etc. Science, meanwhile, studies these phenomena, and much more often than not comes to conclusions that conflict with those of many (most?) religions.
    It seems to me that the only way the historical and ongoing conflict between science and religion can be explained away is through a bogus re-defining of religion and/or by misrepresenting of science. Science is not confined to astronomy, physics and chemistry. We have biology, we have history, sociology, psychology, anthropology, etc. These, too, are sciences, although they may reasonably be called “softer science.” Again, so much of what these fields have to say about the (human) world directly conflicts with religious teachings.

  5. Milton C.

    As I said on another comment thread recently, criticism against Templeton often has little to do with being valid and more to do with being a release mechanism for frustrated atheists. A lot of it is becoming quasiconspiratorial and mostly unfounded, and it’s making us (atheists) look ridiculous.

    Thanks for clearing some of the water with some facts.

  6. Mort

    @ Jon
    “A scientist that does not understand the value of religion also does not truly understand science. Likewise, the religious who do not understand the value of science does not truly understand religion.”

    How philosophical. Only, how can adhering to superstitious rituals benefit science? I can understand how religion may benefit a scientist in a personal sense, but it shouldn’t affect his work. If it does, there is a problem.

    If not for works of man, and legend, we would have no real knowledge of any god (much less several of them), other than what has been observed through diligent research and observation. Yes, there were, are and always will be unanswered questions, but we can’t continue in the tradition of our primitive ancestors forever, and still expect to advance as a species.

    There may be a god, but I doubt he told some guys to write books for him because he wanted to trick skeptics out of believing in him.

  7. Mort

    Oops, I meant to question James, not Jon. Sorry, Jon.

  8. John Kwok

    Well said, Chris. Again, I wish I had heard similar sentiments expressed from the organizers and the administrative staff of the World Science Festival, but I heard none, period.

  9. Mike

    I find it so frustrating that so many of my fellow atheists are completely ignorant to what religion is, and yet proclaim to dismiss it from a position of understanding. I feel like picking off loony religious traditions is the equivalent of someone using Andrew Wakefield as the model scientist.

    @Andrew. I think you’re conflating superstitions and pre-scientific misunderstandings of nature with religion. Very few of the major religions make claims on the material world the way science does – hence the inherent compatibility of the two. In fact some encourage understanding of the material world through scientific processes, including Buddhism, Judaism, and Catholicism. Catholicism explicitly makes it a sacred duty to understand materialistic processes as a way of understanding God’s glory – see Thomas Aquinas. There are fringe exceptions like Creationists, but they are strawmen representations of religion. The best argument of incompatibility with religion and science is where religion make ethical and moralistic claims on some research (eg. embryonic stem cells). But I think its fair to say that society in general needs to continue make ethical decisions when it comes to some scientific research.

    @Chris. You wrote: “When it comes to the modern conflict between religion and atheism–which, I must emphasize, comprises only one part of the broader subject of “science and religion”–I fully agree that journalists should hear both sides of this issue.” I cannot disagree more with the premise of this statement. Conflict between religion and atheism cannot be conflated with religion vs science. Science is a methodology of rational discovery. Atheism is a metaphysical claim on the state of the universe, as is religion. Science does not deal with metaphysics. Once you link atheism and science, it becomes inherently incompatible with religion, which, personally, I totally reject.

  10. Jon

    Very few of the major religions make claims on the material world the way science does – hence the inherent compatibility of the two.

    This is well said. Something interesting that Carl Sagan once argued: the Bible contains 2000 year old science, so it can’t claim to be up to date the way modern science is. This is true, and just as true is that it isn’t fair to judge the Bible completely by the lights of modern science, as if the only thing it was trying to do was document things scientifically. Now you can say that the Bible does a lousy job in addition to its science, but then you’re no longer making a scientific argument, and you’re fair game to compete with other philosophical or theological views, most of which new atheists are completely unfamiliar with (or maybe better than “unfamiliar” are the words “indifferent”, “apathetic”, or “aggressively hostile to the point where they refuse dialog.”)

  11. Milton C.

    The Templeton Fellowship is a “bribe” in the New Atheist world because it allows in scholars to talk about all sides of religion and science (including atheism), but PZ Myers and commenters posting the personal information of 18-year olds (complete with sexually-explicit remarks) who ask questions about atheism in what are assumed to be personal emails (as is all happening on that blog currently) is the “correct” way to go about thinking of science and faith and those involved.

    I think I’ll take the Templeton Foundation any day when viewing those two side by side…

  12. Really Mike? Christianity makes no predictions about how their God affects and has affected the material world? Islam makes no claims about the efficacy of prayer? Even Buddhism makes no claims about the nature of the material world? For some reason, I think that is provably wrong.

    I have no problem with saying religion and science do not conflict, if said religion makes no testable predictions about the influence of their respective gods. If someone chooses to believe tehre is a God that does not affect the world with the possible exception of it’s creation and even that there is an afterlife, they’re deists; and deists I am completely comfortable with. From what I’ve read and heard, the Templeton Foundation is comprised mostly of deists.

    The problem, and the conflict, is when a religion does make testable predictions about their god, predictions which are invariably proven false, and then either modified after the fact so that they’re vague enough to apply in all circumstances (hello astrology) or just completely ignored by the followers (prayer, prayer and prayer again). Those people are Theists; theists I (and agnostics in general) have a problem with.

  13. Mike

    @Doug. Note that I said they do not make predictions about the material world the way that science does. That is they explicitly avoid testable predictions. You may consider it moving the goal posts, silly, disingenuous, etc., but that may also be what lead you to reject religion in the first place.

    This is why creationism is so outrageous – it tries to make materially substantive claims. Biblical literalism, generally is not what I’d consider “mainstream”. I’m sure there could be a survey out there that proves me wrong, though.

    If your question is whether religious people have tried to lay claim to knowledge of the material world, of course its happened – Galileo springs immediately to mind. That’s distinct from religion making those claims. That’s akin to the specious claim that religion is at the heart of wars – as though two secular cultures that had a dispute over land/resources would have solved their differences any differently. I’m sure that before early humans come up with the concept of religion there was peace. Appeal to religious superiority in times of conflict is common, if not natural. Its sociological, not religious.

    The concept of Divine intervention is a sticky trap because its inherently untestable when you define the divine power as one that cannot be understood or swayed, ie. cannot be tested or controlled for. I’m not sure I’m convinced that appeals to divine intervention constitute a material claim on the world any more than a secular hope for a specific outcome. I’d also add that prayer does have some effect, albeit not supernatural. Studies that suggest prayer has personal health benefits akin to meditation practice.

  14. Mike-
    Have you been to a church service lately? Have you watched religious television, listened to religious radio or podcasts? Have you read the polls about contemporary belief? It seems to me you are holding in your mind a very liberal/educated idea of religion.
    Here in the south, Satan is alive and well. Go to the churches, listen to the radio.
    By defining religion as you see fit, you and many others are pulling a fast one.
    I am NOT conflating superstition with religion.
    Pat Robertson is not the only person who believes that his god intervenes in the world.
    Millions of US citizens everyday pray for health, pray for financial reward. Why? Because they think it works. Although you may want to put your own slant on their behavior. Does it work?
    Please.

  15. Jon

    Mike: “That is they explicitly avoid testable predictions.”

    So with T.S. Eliot and the Old Testament on the “still small voice”–is it “still” and “small” only because it’s trying to avoid being testable?

  16. Mike

    @Andrew.
    I’ll readily admit to not understanding American conservative christianity. I’m an atheist, a scientist, a former catholic. I’ve spent most of my life in the north eastern US and western europe. I spent a lot of my non-science classes in religious studies (eastern, jewish and christian philosophies). I have a lot of respect for theology.

    If I had to make a personal judgement I’d say that that what you’re experiencing is crazy land and I readily admit it doesn’t fit well with what I understand to be religion. I’ve known christians of all stripes that are perfectly well adjusted to a modern world. I have no idea how to account for mega churches, the extreme evangelicals, creationists, etc.

    I totally submit to being utterly and totally sympathetic to arguments against whatever you want to call that morass. I’d just add that it doesn’t represent the totality of religion.

  17. Eric the Leaf

    I don’t really have much interest in these debates. Just an anecdote. As a doctoral candidate and as a post-doctoral fellow at a catholic university in Belgium, my sponsor was a Jesuit Priest whose research encompassed early man in Europe and Africa. I never heard him mention religion in the 3 years that I spent at the Institute of Earth Science, except once–when he briefly suggested that I might enjoy reading the bible. So what? Nothing really. Just an anecdote. Jesuits, I guess. Sorry for my non-contribution.

  18. gillt

    Mooney: “I may have more to say, but with the last post and now this one, I think I’ve pretty much covered it.”

    Actually, there is more.

    From an article in The Nation:

    “What seems to have people there most on edge right now, though, is not so much science as politics. In this respect too, the younger Templeton differs in kind from his father. He has financed a right-wing organization of his own, Let Freedom Ring, which once promoted the “Templeton Curve,” a graph he designed to advocate privatizing Social Security. Now Let Freedom Ring lends support to the Tea Party movement. Jack Templeton’s money has also gone to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and to ads by the neoconservative group Freedom’s Watch. In 2008 he and his wife gave more than $1 million to support California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.”

    I understand though, that doesn’t fit well with the narrative of your post.

  19. Milton C.

    Seeing as how the focus of the piece was on Chris’s personal experiences at Cambridge as a Templeton Fellow, it’s not any narrative that it doesn’t fit but just simple context….

  20. gillt

    Did Mooney not say he was responding to criticism leveled against the Templeton-Cambridge Fellowship, particularly claims of bias? Does the Templeton Foundation not sponsor his fellowship?

    Rhetorical questions Milton, we already know the answer.

  21. Jon

    Actually, gillt, the other parts of that Nation article had nice things to say about Templeton Senior, so I can see why you didn’t include a link with your quote.

    In any case, do you really think Chris is tempering his account so he doesn’t offend the Templeton Foundation and he can get more Templeton goodies next time?

  22. John Kwok

    @ Milton C. –

    Am not surprised that that’s the current level of discourse over at Pharyngula, considering that PZ thought that a threat posted by one of his acolytes a few months ago, threatening to rape and to kill Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney was a joke.

    I will take Myers seriously when he starts adhering to some sense of morality as outlined by atheist philosopher Austin Dacey in his book “The Secular Conscience”. But I’m not counting on that happening any time soon. However, on the other hand, you’ve just provided us with an additional reason why Science Blogs needs to pull the plug on Pharyngula ASAP.

  23. John Kwok

    @ Milton C. –

    I presume you are referring to this bit of nonsensical depravity:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/06/i_get_email_arrogant_insinceri.php

    But it’s not the only one. Fervent Dodgers fan PZ Myers has another entry on Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and, not surprisingly, a few of his resident morons can’t tell the difference between him and the late Frank McCourt, bestselling memoirist, whose literary debut was “Angela’s Ashes” (And oh yeah, I’m mentioned too, since I had mentioned that I was once a student of his.).

  24. Ian

    Chris, Can I suggest you read ‘The Origin of Science and the Science of its Origins’ by Fr Stanley Jaki? This may help in your desire to understand the necessity of theology – Christian theology – in science. The last two lectures are particularly good, but you need to read it all to understand the development of Jaki’s argument – one proposed by Duhem some years before.

  25. Anthony McCarthy

    I assume Gillt would condemn anyone who had money from the Ford Foundation considering the political views of Henry Ford, only I don’t really assume that because gillt’s agenda doesn’t include the focus of the Ford Foundation and gillt isn’t honest.

    A foundation can be entirely dishonest in its funding in its pursuit of an agenda, the supporters of many a PBS series has been comprised of many of those, but, depending on the bylaws and those making the funding decisions, they can be quite independent of the ideology of those who founded it or their descendants. And the same foundation can fund things of variable quality.

    Looking at the sidebar of John Horgan’s post I notice that he lists one of his books as being published by Free Press. I assume that’s the same Free Press that publishes right wing garbage like The Bell Curve and The Real Anita Hill. Both of which have been attacked for their honesty, The Real Anita Hill by David Brock— who was then part of the Scaife funded Republican lie mashine — is so bad that its author has disavowed it and changed his political ideology. Should that reflect on Horgan? I wouldn’t have thought so automatically, but I’m opposed to letting ideologues set up double standards and different rules for themselves than those they apply to other people.

  26. @Mike.

    Bible Belt belief is not a morass of unusual/atypical crazy. It’s religion that has yet to adapt to the more modern, scientific worldview. And that is the issue. Call it less evolved religion. And it is alive and well today.

    Until roughly the time of Augustine the Bible god was believed to have physical properties. (Thus this Exodus verse, 33:23, with “God” talking: “And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”) The idea that religion is about the supernatural realm vs. the natural is a historically new one, one believed by only the most educated groups of believers.

    Recent national surveys reveal what religion is like outside the ivory tower. Check Barna.org, Galluppoll.com, Beliefnet.com, Religioustolerance.org and you will find evidence of widespread belief in Satan, a belief in an actual Noah’s flood. Etc.

    Attend churches and/or turn on one of the many religious television stations and you will hear statements that belief in a god will result in blessings in this life. And that a lack of belief, or straying from a god, results in failure to be a good citizen. Both of these general claims, by the way, can and have been tested. The verdict: false. Non-believers experience the same good and bad fortune and have no worse rates of divorce, crime, etc.

    It seems to me that many of the “religion and science are compatible” camp have ingeniously and/or disingenuously defined religion as simple metaphysics and/or a system of values/morals. Really? That’s what religion is? Maybe in academia (industrialized world academia, at that), but not outside it.

    By they way, I spent some time in academia as a psychology professor and I have no general qualms about it. For more on this topic you may want to check out an article of mine that appeared in Skeptic magazine: Religion and Behavior. (You can find a full text version at andrewbernardin.com)

  27. Anthony McCarthy

    Until roughly the time of Augustine the Bible god was believed to have physical properties. Andrew

    John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. KJV

    Liberal Christianity is a bit better at acting in accord with the teachings of Jesus than conservative Christianity is. I’m not a Christian but Jesus said it was those who DID the will of God that were his people, not the ones who professed that they were doing that. I’d have no problem living in a country governed by the tenants of most of liberal Christians, I’d never consent to living in one governed by those of conservative Christianity or the pseudo-christians which are promoted as the authentic Christians.

    And, I’ll point out, liberal Christians would seem to have a lower divorce rate than they do in the Bible belt.

    Science and religion are compatible as the existence of many religious scientists with successful careers in science demonstrates to the point of certainty.

  28. John Kwok

    @ ian –

    Does Jaki’s book refer at all to scientific notions of progress, that time is directional, or that there is a sense of deep time (a chronologic view of some long, vast, and old amount of time) which was inspired in part from Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Perhaps the most compelling argument I had heard Saturday from astrobiologist Paul Davies was his invocation of this (though he did not speak using the term “deep time”, but I concluded that this is what he meant) in explaining why scientists can’t disengage themselves from religion, because if they do, to be logically consistent, they would have to reject these temporal concepts that have become ingrained in science.

  29. @Anthony
    -“John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. KJV”

    From the online etymological dictionary:

    “spirit — c.1250, “animating or vital principle in man and animals,” from O.Fr. espirit, from L. spiritus “soul, courage, vigor, breath,” related to spirare “to breathe,” from PIE *(s)peis- “to blow” (cf. O.C.S. pisto “to play on the flute”). Original usage in Eng. mainly from passages in Vulgate, where the L. word translates Gk. pneuma and Heb. ruah. Distinction between “soul” and “spirit” (as “seat of emotions”) became current in Christian terminology (e.g. Gk. psykhe vs. pneuma, L. anima vs. spiritus) but “is without significance for earlier periods” [Buck]. L. spiritus, usually in classical L. “breath,” replaces animus in the sense “spirit” in the imperial period and appears in Christian writings as the usual equivalent of Gk. pneuma. Meaning “supernatural being” is attested from c.1300 (see ghost); that of “essential principle of something” (in a non-theological sense, e.g. Spirit of St. Louis) is attested from 1690, common after 1800. Plural form spirits “volatile substance” is an alchemical idea, first attested 1610; sense narrowed to “strong alcoholic liquor” by 1678. This also is the sense in spirit level (1768).”

    Allow me to highlight the important part: “Meaning ‘supernatural being’ is attested from c.1300 (see ghost); that of ‘essential principle of something.'”

    But, hey, let’s airbrush those physical attribute out of the picture. Shall we? Either that, or, point stands.

    By the way, anyone can play the tit-for-tat Biblical verse game. It’s tedious and usually leads nowhere. This is the essential point: As religion has evolved its physical assertions and implications have been air-brushed away. Why? The advance of scientific knowledge. Do spirits cause disease? Oops, erase that physical implication/aspect of belief. Does god reward his people with rain and abundant crops? Oops, erase that.

    Was woman created from Adam’s rib? Oops, call that metaphorical. You, some scientists, and many modern believers have advantageously re-defined religion so that it doesn’t conflict with science. The result: an artificial compatibility.

    What about the believers who flock in legions to sacred places, to say prayers, to be touched by “holy water,” so that they will be healed? Mind you, they are not thinking “metaphorical healing.” That’s the work of the minds of more educated apologists.

    -“And, I’ll point out, liberal Christians would seem to have a lower divorce rate than they do in the Bible belt.”

    This correlation of variables, the research has shown, is most likely best explained by the fact that liberal Christians are, on average, better educated and better off financially than Christians of more conservative groups. On average. (The influence is actually that of other variables, also correlated.) This is why atheists also have lower divorce rates. It’s due to other factors that science has helpfully pointed out.

    You strike me as a ‘true believer’ in the way you seem to be saying that “those other religions, they’ve mixed some falsity in with their religion. But I understand true religion.”

    That’s convenient b.s., but still b.s.

  30. Mike

    @Andrew. I believe you have your historical theology wrong. Early christians certainly believed in a physical Jesus – in that sense you could argue for a physical god, but I can’t come up with an early christian sect that believed in a physical God. The Nazarenes were essentially Jewish christians – believing in a jewish god, the apostolics rejected a physical god and even a literal interpretation of what’s become the old testament (they believed it was unserious to take it literally) – they were mostly gentiles after all. You might argue the gnostics believed in a physical god, but they believed we were encased in crystal spheres and that god lived beyond the crystal sphere of the heavens. I don’t think its even fair to say that they meant ‘beyond’ in a physical sense.

    I’m fine to acknowledge that I have a bit of an ivory tower view of religion, but I’m not convinced that that means my definition or religion is irrelevant. You have clearly argued for the “way religion is practiced” which is a fair distinction. All the same, you’re pointing to an example on the fringes of religious expression.

    I just think you’re puffing out your example to represent “religion” when its not fair. I don’t mean that every other religious person can cite early christian theology and understand Augustine or Thomist thought. Many believe Satan exists and angels are real, etc. They may attribute the unexplained to divine intervention – but a God in the gaps is not a threat to secular society. The central question is whether the mainstream believe that the bible trumps science or leads to rejection of modern society. I just don’t think we have evidence for that. I think, for the most part, where you find disagreement between the religious and established science you find confusion (often intentionally cultivated), not religious ideology.

    This basically brings me back to the point I made earlier – religion and science is fundamentally compatible. Pointing to specific group does not nullify that. If you want to say “X group of christians” are hostile to science, I take no issue (as long as its accurate of course). But religion is not hostile to science any more than its hostile to rock climbing or accounting or tech support. Am I making an academic argument? Sure. But if you try to start a war between “religion” and “science”, science will likely lose out.

  31. @Mike

    I am not trying to start a war. I think we should more honestly define religion. And no, I am not highlighting fringe beliefs. Look at the actual numbers. In a sense, the airbrushed view of religion that you are promoting could be viewed as the fringe. Sure, they both fit under the big tent of “religion.” If we are going to speak honestly about the compatibility of science and religion we must be sure to be honest in how we present these. “Religion as many people view and/or practice it today is compatible with science” . . . sure. I would accept that. But not the global assertion that “religion is (essentially) compatible with science.” That’s bogus.

    As for the originally physicality of the Bible god – that’s debatable. Belief in an embodied god . . . a number of verses suggest this. Belief in a hidden god with physical powers? To deny this would be insane.

    Am I being unfair? I don’t think so. I think I’m being realistic. Not to start a war. Rather, being accurate is key element of the scientific endeavor. And that endeavor has lad to a clearer understanding of how the universe works. That’s my aim. Clarity.

  32. @Mike
    P.S. For centuries now there has been and continues to be a “war” between science and religion. Ask Galileo. You say science will likely lose. Um, religion has lost battle after battle after battle. You might say it has had its arms and legs amputated. Now all that remains in the minds of many believers is some vague notion of a Divine Creator. No ancient Israelite would have bothered to worship that anemic idea of god, by the way.
    Is Earth the center of the solar system, and 6000 years-old at that? Does demon-possession cause disease? Etc., etc., etc.
    Great track record in that battle. Got any better evidence it will likely win?
    Methinks you have tethered your mind to a sinking ship.

  33. Mike

    @Andrew. What exactly is your point re: the evolution of religion? That religion has adapted to modern understanding of the material word? Do you oppose the idea that the more we understand about our world, the less control superstition has? Your central example is of a religious group that refuses to adapt, making your central argument less relevant to the whole.

    We can all agree that rejecting science is a bad thing. You seem to have convinced yourself that its somehow disingenuous that religion makes room for science as our knowledge expands. But that concept is built in to centuries of doctrine. The central role of religion is to make metaphysical claims and to explain what science does not. Why is that a problem for you? It sounds like you made up your mind about religion before you understood what it was.

  34. Mike

    @Andrew 31 – you and I have completely incompatible understanding of the central tenets of our argument. You see a battle of science and religion where I see a battle between rationality and superstition. Those are not the same. Religion will continue to evolve into the future for many generations and continue to accept science as it was intended to do.

  35. Anthony McCarthy

    Andrew, if you want to play the etymology game, what was the concept of the physical universe in the period before science developed? Among people who were unaware of even the proto-science of the time? Was the author of John an atomist? I could go on and on to make all kinds of airy speculations about implications of contemporary physics but that would be as unfounded and unknowable as your assertion.

    You wonder, if his concept of God wasn’t separate from what WE term the physical universe, why that distinction would have been made or how the qualities attributed to God, invisibility, high among them would have made God just another physical entity, in our sense of that idea. I don’t know of anything in the Gospels that indicate that God had mass, though I’ll resist the temptation of making puns.

    “A true believer”, how can you tell? Because I’ve said I wasn’t a Christian? It’s my understanding of being a Christian that admitting you are is a requirement to be one, I’m certainly not in a life or death situation here.

    I can see how you’d fit in at “Skeptic” magazine. I’ll have to confess, I’m not a believer in their prime commandment “You must believe in Skepticism”. Or the alleged facsimile of it that “skepticism” sells.

  36. Jon

    At a certain point, new atheist commenters start to remind me of right wing trolls. It’s like they’re on automatic pilot. They’re on a mission to argue–there’s no possibility of discovering anything they didn’t already know.

    Also, their understanding of the thing they claim to know is peculiarly flat–it’s like there’s no difference between Spinoza’s religion and seance mediums. Both believe in the supernatural, right?

  37. Anthony McCarthy

    For centuries now there has been and continues to be a “war” between science and religion. Ask Galileo. Andrew

    Let’s let the man answer that himself,

    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/galileo-tuscany.html

    I’d think you were more on the side of the inquisition than of Galileo.

  38. JMW

    Dennett is suggesting that he doesn’t want to lend credibility, through his participation, to views that are intellectually equivalent to astrology. But I haven’t heard any such views here…It would be one thing if the Templeton Fellowship were involved in undermining real, established science in some way. But it isn’t. There is no creationism to be found here in the Cambridge program. There is no climate denial…the University of Cambridge does not have an astrology department…So it seems to me that whatever issue one may have with this fellowship, it can’t really be about the betrayal of science. Rather, it seems to be about whether to engage in dialogue and debate with those who have religious beliefs…

    If your interpretation is correct, Dennett, Dawkins et al are dismissing the legitimate scientific work of individuals and an organization because those individuals have non-scientific beliefs they disagree with, and that organization is partly religious in nature.

    If this is so, then that strikes me as unprofessional of them.

  39. Anthony McCarthy

    — At a certain point, new atheist commenters start to remind me of right wing trolls. It’s like they’re on automatic pilot. Jon

    On a new atheist blog recently, I said they all drank from the same plastic cup.

  40. @Mike

    “Do you oppose the idea that the more we understand about our world, the less control superstition has?”

    Not at all, why would I? Of course, what you are doing is favorable re-drawing the issue as that between irrationality and superstition. But it’s “science and religion.” You are moving the goal posts.

    “Your central example is of a religious group that refuses to adapt, making your central argument less relevant to the whole.”

    I didn’t, and wouldn’t say “refuses to adapt.” “Yet to” maybe.

    “The central role of religion is to make metaphysical claims and to explain what science does not. Why is that a problem for you?”

    It’s a problem for me in that it is YOUR idea of the central role of religion. Metaphysics? That’s why people go to church on Sundays? I doubt it. Part if it, sure. But there’s so much more.

    “Religion will continue to evolve into the future for many generations and continue to accept science as it was intended to do.”

    As it was intended to do? How do you know that? What percentage of believers in religion would agree? How many religious verses express that sentiment. How many the opposite. I wonder.

    @Jon

    “new atheists . . . right wing trolls.”

    Ad hominems.

    By the way, is this a fan site? How could a person be a troll here? You must have a particular viewpoint to be welcome?

    “their understanding of the thing they claim to know is peculiarly flat–it’s like there’s no difference between Spinoza’s religion and seance mediums. Both believe in the supernatural, right?”

    I would not put mediums in the category of religion. They can be, but I believe in using words correctly. I’m not picking and choosing what to include IN religion. I’m simply insisting that people not be dishonest by throwing legitimate religious behavior and beliefs OUT.

    What are the core elements of religions – plural — all across the world? That is an important question. Does religion – as practiced – conflict with science? Another important question.

    Can it not conflict? Of course. But the statement “science and religion are compatible” is a global one.

    @Anthony
    “I’d think you were more on the side of the inquisition than of Galileo.”
    Are you kidding?

  41. Anthony McCarthy

    @Anthony
    “I’d think you were more on the side of the inquisition than of Galileo.”
    Are you kidding? Andrew

    Read him yourself. You’re the one who said to ask Galileo and he happened to write the answer.

  42. Jon

    ” How could a person be a troll here?”

    I didn’t say you were a troll. I said there are similarities with new atheist commenters and right wing trolls. Also, I think the generalization that new atheists tend to lump all theology and supernaturalism (like seances) together in the same category is a warranted one. It’s an epistemological dogma: empirical science is good, everything else is worthy of deep suspicion if not contempt. Daniel Dennett spells it out explicitly in his philosophical work (eg, his gruff dismissal of the distinction German philosophy makes between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften).

  43. I think the religious commentors here, Anthony, Mike, Jon etc. espouse the kind of religion that atheists don’t have a problem with. The problem is that *most* followers of religion do not believe that their religion is an entirley metaphorical construct designed to tell you how to live a good life and what the spiritual world is.

    Even Christianity, in it’s basest most spiritual form, still says that God came to Earth as a man, Jesus Christ, and through him performed miracles taht violate the laws of physics, leaving behind no evidence but through the eyes of his desciples and gives us gifts, tangible gifts that come from nothing other than the will of God, through his Holy Spirit both because of prayer and inherently when we are baptised (and if you’re catholic, confirmed). That is a testable prediction right there; do christians world-wide have an excess of good luck compared to non-christians? Nope. Do christians have inherent abilities not present in non-believers? You’d be laughed at if you said that. Does prayer have tangible effects? One study says yes, a bunch of others say no. Which do you go with?

    The point is, I disagree with the premise that religion inherently conflicts with science AND I disagree with the premise that religion and science are compatible because there are examples and counter examples of both. Certain forms of religion (namely 90% of christianity and islam) conflict on some level with our knowledge of the natural world. Other forms (that other 10% that says it’s all a metaphor and God is not part of the world nor does he affect it) do not. I believe the templeton foundation does not conflict with the scientific method, because most of the belief held by their scientists falls in that last section of the pie.

    BUT just because the scientists here and you eprsonally do not fall within that last section, does not mean that the majority of religious followers also concur with you. It’s a simple human fallacy to assume what I have experienced others have experienced as well. If you feel that religion does not conflict with science then good for you, some may disagree but if you’ve reached the conclusion that nothing in religious texts is literal then by all means keep believing, but you cannot defend those who do not espouse that narrow view. By defending them, you endorse those incorrect beliefs. Defend your own position, but don’t say that outside of your sphere of influence everybody else by association ahs it right.

  44. Anthony McCarthy

    It’s an epistemological dogma: empirical science is good, everything else is worthy of deep suspicion if not contempt. Jon

    It’s been my experience that’s the high end of it. Even the middle rung is more like boy-pack fraternity animal house stuff. You might as well be speaking Logan ubbi-dubbi about that to most of them if you want to discuss ideas. Even on the level of philosophy that I’m able to hold a side in.

    What I get from it, mostly, is how profoundly ignorant of the basis of science, what it was invented to do and how it does it, that the new atheists and their allies are. Which is profoundly ironic.

  45. Jon

    By the way, Chris– I bet Keith Ward (one of the speakers at your fellowship) would have some interesting things to say about that opinion of Dennett’s.

  46. Jon

    Doug: By defending them, you endorse those incorrect beliefs.

    I don’t think that’s true, or even that we are defending them (for the record, I’m an agnostic on the existence of God).

    What we’re doing–and this is squarely in the liberal tradition– is defending the right for people to make decisions by the lights of their own conscience, and have some modesty about what we dictate to them about that. You have to be careful when you attack religion’s weak defenders, as the New Atheists do. Remember, this is can be partly an education, and even a class, issue. What a lot of us “accommodationists” are most afraid of is a political backlash.

    Take a look at this recent bit by NYT book editor Sam Tanenhaus (ignore the first sentence or two):

    http://www.slate.com/id/2231128/entry/2231131/

    When we attack religion’s weakest defenders, that kind of action can be exploited politically. So I think what we’re advocating is for thoughtful atheists with some amount of *modesty* in the public square. Because if you hadn’t noticed, there’s no shortage of people willing to take advantage and distort… On the other hand, elites would be a fair fight–but atheists don’t seem to be rushing out to debate strong defenders like Reinhold Niebuhr, etc. because that’s much less fun, I guess.

  47. @Anthony –

    “how profoundly ignorant of the basis of science, what it was invented to do and how it does it, that the new atheists and their allies are. ”

    Atheists ignorant of science?

    Are you kidding? Maybe your version of science. In fact — and you can look up it — time and again more education in the sciences has been linked to lack of belief and atheism.
    Do think of science only as a noun — as the “facts of science?” That’s a limited view, in my opinion. There is the whole verb part of it to consider. The part Einstein described as the mere “refinement of everyday thinking.” Nothing requirement a laboratory and coat to partake in.

    Somewhat echoing Doug from Dougland, I have no problem with the statement, “there are religious creeds, behaviors, and personal beliefs that conflict little with science.” But “all” religion? That is my issue.

    As for Galileo, I am familiar with his life story and writings. When I wrote “ask Galileo” I was speaking of the battle, not his beliefs. He certainly could tell you something about his experience “battling the church” and or acquiescing to its demands.

  48. gillt

    Jon: “Actually, gillt, the other parts of that Nation article had nice things to say about Templeton Senior, so I can see why you didn’t include a link with your quote.”

    Did the fact that Senior is not around anymore escape your attention?

    Milton C., Jon, McCarthy, bilbo where-ever he is, is Mooney paying you guys to defend him every single time someone criticizes him? Besides being a little less intelligent, I don’t see how your differ from the pharyngula crowd you obviously envy.

  49. gillt

    Andrew: “Do think of science only as a noun — as the “facts of science?””

    Yes, McCarthy thinks that. It’s why no one takes him seriously on any of the science blogs. In fact he has a strong anti-science streak that’s been well established in the archives of this site.

  50. Anthony McCarthy

    Well, I did point out that gillt wasn’t honest this morning.

    So, adopting your own standards, gillt, you still endorse The Bell Curve?

  51. gillt

    Your comments McCarthy are becoming more and more irrelevant as time goes on. The Bell Curve is not under discussion here so why would I criticize it out of the blue?

    You’re entire complaint amounts to unfounded suggestions as to my motivations.

  52. Jon

    My views on political aspect of this track closely to Damon Linker’s. But I go further, in that I think Daniel Dennett is a kind of philosophical fundamentalist…

    I don’t envy the Pharyngula fanboys, gillt.

  53. Mike

    @Andrew. This is my last post, I promise – the final strands of conversation have gotten so twisted as to be illegible. Forgive me if I drop the civility i’ve tried to maintain so far.

    Re: Goalposts – I have not moved the goal posts. You put them in the wrong place to begin with. You’re frothing at the mouth over some description of religion that is so narrow as to describe a minuscule subset of faithful people. You’ve already demonstrated such a broken understanding of theology. I wonder why you think religion is the one changing when its simply that you misunderstand it. For some reason you think theology has no role in faithful belief. I wonder if you even understand the basic tenets of what you are arguing against. Your best argument seems to be that if you talk to some layperson on the street they can’t articulate these arguments. How have you not set up a permanent strawman scenario? Pick on someone of your intellectual weight class.

    Yes – the primary role of religion is metaphysical. I’m pretty sure if you ask people why they go to church – or believe what they believe – the answer will have something to do with – why we are here, what the meaning of life is, what happens when we die. I can’t even believe you would question that. You really think people join churches to get answers to a chemistry test?

    Who says that religion is intended to evolve? Every sensible, thoughtful religious person I’ve ever met. Who in their right mind would argue that religion is unchanging. Enduring – sure. Slow to react – definitely. But unchanging? That’s blatantly ahistorical. From the very earliest christian writings their faith has been founded on the idea of discovering the world through rational engagement – not listening to dogma handed down that was to be interpreted as material description of the world. This is such a broken foundationless argument I wonder if you’re just trolling.

    If you continue to make your arguments you should speak from a position of knowledge and sound rationality. Maybe stop reading new atheist books with their 2nd grade theological arguments. Even read secular or atheist philosophers that attack religion from a position of understanding.

  54. Jon,

    The problem with attacking religion’s elites is that the elites do not espouse the same beliefs as the common denominators. Most educated religious people fall more in line with Deism than Christianity.

    I am not an accommodationist in the respect that I think we should give equal weight to religion and science, because we shouldn’t. I believe we should question religion and in the times that it conflicts with science we should show the evidence that it is wrong publicly while educating people about the scientific method. But on that same hand, I don’t feel that we should “attack” religion in the sense that we should ridicule and demean it or its followers, simply that we should demonstrate the evidence that it is wrong. We should also, however, pound the drum about our findings and reveal them to as many people as possible as many times as possible.

    The energy of New atheists, the temperance and political awareness of accomodationists without the bile or compromises.

  55. Jon

    The energy of New atheists, the temperance and political awareness of accomodationists without the bile or compromises.

    If you hadn’t noticed, that’s difficult to achieve. And I don’t think PZ Myers and Dawkins achieve it by going off half cocked all the time the way they do. We need smart smart people, not dumb smart people, both atheist and non-atheist…

  56. Anthony McCarthy

    Atheists ignorant of science? Andrew

    Yes, ironic, you’d think. Only most people don’t agree with the new atheists that atheists have an exclusive franchise on science.

    But, yes, quite profoundly ignorant. Starting with the fact that science was only ever intended for finding out more reliable information about the physical universe and not as an ideology of materialism. And that once you get to the point of ideology, it’s not science you’re doing. I’m not sure but I think that scientists holding a non-scientific ideology might present at least as much of a compartmentalization problem. I mean, we know that there have been scientists who have put their science at the service of political ideology quite often, often to disastrous results.

    And, uh, gillt, I don’t care if people “take me seriously on the science blogs” as long as they find some of my ideas useful and some seem to. If you meant the “Scienceblogs”, in general, I couldn’t care less.

  57. Anthony McCarthy

    The Bell Curve is not under discussion here gillt

    I did say by your standards. I wasn’t aware that Templeton jr. was either, unless you’ve got some evidence that he was the one who made the funding decision.

  58. Jon,

    I completely agree, and I don’t much care for PZ Meyers. Dawkins, though, is usually able to walk that line. But it is definitely not easy.

  59. gillt

    @ McCarthy:

    No, you called me dishonest for not criticizing the Bell Curve. The absurdity of it signals to everyone that you’re a clown.

  60. Jon

    Dawkins, though, is usually able to walk that line.</i.

    I disagree with you on Dawkins. I think this guy has it about right.

  61. Jon

    Dawkins, though, is usually able to walk that line.

    I disagree with you on Dawkins. I think this guy has it about right.

    (Sorry, missed an angle bracket.)

  62. gillt

    @ Jon
    So this is why you don’t like Dawkins then?

    1. He speaks of “Truth” with a straight face and a dearth of humility
    2. He calls himself a “Bright” and people of faith: “faithheads” or “faith-sufferers”
    3. He calls Christian Theology “vacuous” despite the centuries of contribution by some of history’s biggest brains
    4. He’s a pompous prick (see no. 5)
    5. He separates out the good Awe and Spirituality (his and Einstein’s) from the shallow: most people’s.

    1 and 2 are the typical whining over “tone,” and disposition, nothing substantive.
    3. Because something is centuries old means it automatically has intellectual value? Aside from historical perspective, the answer is “NO, not necessarily.” Number 3 is failed logic and a distraction.
    4. Relevant for a popularity contest, and nothing more. Pompous pricks can still get their message out.
    5. So he’s not a populist! Who cares?

    What a cry-baby.

  63. Jon

    Who cares?

    It helps if you actually read my previous comments. Maybe you can figure out my arguments why you should care.

  64. Anthony McCarthy

    No, you called me dishonest for not criticizing the Bell Curve. gillt

    There is nothing so ridiculous as someone who feigns imperious superiority with transparent dishonesty, gillt, and I was pointing out your assigning guilt by association re Templeton.

    Though I’d imagine it’s hard to follow that line with your nose up in the air.

    You are dishonest to the core.

  65. gillt

    You didn’t make an argument. You said you agreed with some link, then went on to make assertions about the political awareness and temperance of Dawkins. If you agree with something someone else said back in 2007, you shouldn’t have a problem stating it in your own words here for us to read.

  66. TB

    Andrew said: “I am not trying to start a war. I think we should more honestly define religion”

    well, that’s fine but we don’t define science by how it’s popularly understood. Yet that’s what you and others here seem to be arguing for regarding religion.

  67. Gillt,

    Ignoring tone and disposition is a criminal mistake among the whole New Atheist “movement.” Tone is remarkably profound when it comes to arguing with people, ESPECIALLY if you are questioning long-held beliefs. You can’t logically expect “You’re an idiot, now let me explain to you why you’re an idiot…” to work when you’re trying to persuade someone, can you? I’s fine to say “I disagree” or even “you’re wrong” and say it with tact, but when you let the vitriol fly you immediately alienate the person you’re arguing with.

    For example, a young man says to you, “I respect that you have an opinion, but I think God exists. here’s why… Can you refute that?” You’ll naturally argue his points rationally (I hope) and you’ll be able to find evidence disproving all but the existence of a God that doesn’t do anything, you know this, I know this. Alternately a different man says, “You atheist, baby-eating, morally corrupt scum-bag. OF COURSE God exists. Here’s why…. Can you refute that?” Those two ask the same question, but by the tone, you would tune out the second man. You probably wouldn’t even bother arguing with him, would you? Or if you did, would you be civil in the face of his hostility?

    By no means do I think we shouldn’t question religion, we should just question it with civility.

    @Jon has a point about Dawkins talking about truth. There is no truth in science, only theories that have not yet been disproven. I suspect Dawkins uses truth to appeal to the majority of people who do not understand the scientific method, but he should not do that.

    Most of the time though, I think Dawkins walks the line. He doesn’t spew vitriol like PZ Myers and he doesn’t try to bend science into something it shouldn’t be like Sam Harris. When he comes across a creationist (a la Australian Candidates), instead of attacking them, he just asks questions.

    And #3 on that list I also don’t agree with, since most of the contributions have been in spite of the church rather than because of it, but that may be picking nits.

  68. gillt

    @TB. Religion isn’t just one thing and there is absolutely no agreed upon criteria that establishes why one form or religious belief is more factually accurate than another. Sorry, but your comparison doesn’t work.

  69. Anthony McCarthy

    Religion isn’t just one thing gillt

    Knock me over with a feather if I haven’t pointed that out at CFI at least a dozen times. So why do you talk about it as if it was just one thing? Or is this just bad spacing?

  70. gillt

    DfD: “You can’t logically expect “You’re an idiot, now let me explain to you why you’re an idiot…” to work when you’re trying to persuade someone, can you?”

    This example is idiotic now isn’t it? Show me where Dawkins or Harris or Myers go around saying this when they’re trying to persuade religious people. Do your fellow accommodationists a favor and to the work of providing ACTUAL quotes in context next time.

    @McCarthy: I’ve never said one religious belief is better than another. Accommodationists do this all the time however. For them, it’s only liberal religious views that are the acceptable ones. That is their failing, not mine.

  71. Anthony McCarthy

    It was the exact phrasing that you used, I’ve said it on John Shook’s and probably other blogs at CFI a number of times, probably here as well, probably to you, gillt. How’s it feel, sharing an idea with me? Maybe I’ve influenced you.

    I’m not an “accommodationist” I’m a realist.

  72. gillt

    Doug: “There is no truth in science, only theories that have not yet been disproven.”

    Then if Natural Selection or gravity or the Big Bang are just theories and no where near anything resembling a truth, then please define what truth means to you. Apparently, truths have nothing whatsoever to do with accuracy . Maybe to you it’s just some abstract thingy floating in the ether that transcends all real world phenomena. If that is so then its usefulness as a term is severely limited.

  73. “Pompous pricks can still get their message out.” -gillt

    For one, that is the point I am refuting. For two, I said Dawkins doesn’t do this and I never said Sam Harris does this (my beef with Sam harris is that he says science provides morality, when that isn’t true. Religion doesn’t either, pragmatism and social ideals do, neither of which are objective) For two, if you think PZ Myers DOESN’T insult people, it’s pretty obvious you have never read him and only listen to his speeches.

    “You’re a perfect example of why I am rude — I am really tired of pretentious twits who’ve barely got a high school education, which isn’t much to begin with, and who think they’re brilliant because they can answer everything with “goddidit.” Am I rude? You bet. It’s not going to change, either.” -PZ Myers

    And he admits it.

    Finally, I would love for you to tell me why I’m an accommodationist. I’m an atheist, I do not believe in God because there is no evidence for him. I advocate questioning religion openly and holding it to the same standard we hold snake-oil peddlers, namely that whenever they make a claim that we can test we should test it and debunk it in a very very public sense. I just don’t think spewing bile is an effective way to argue, ESPECIALLY if you have the right points. You disagree, so I would like you to give me examples in context of an atheist getting someone to turn away from flawed thinking by telling them repeatedly and with increasing maliciousness how stupid that person is.

    I’m waiting.

  74. Jon

    There are *physical* truths in science–some well established, some provisional. Does that mean science and scientific thinking corners the market on Truth, and all other viewpoints should be laughed and/or browbeaten out of polite company?

  75. “Then if Natural Selection or gravity or the Big Bang are just theories and no where near anything resembling a truth, then please define what truth means to you. Apparently, truths have nothing whatsoever to do with accuracy . Maybe to you it’s just some abstract thingy floating in the ether that transcends all real world phenomena. If that is so then its usefulness as a term is severely limited.”

    Truth to me means those theories that have not been disproven, e.g. Natural Selection, Gravity, Relativity, the big bang etc. that have been postulated from empirical evidence. God, to me, doesn’t count as a truth because there has never been any evidence to suggest his existence, and in the case of every single god on the planet that does anything at all for his followers (read, all of them minus the god of Deism, the god that doesn’t do anything). The problem, of course, is that in science we cannot call these things truths, because if evidence is found to disprove them they will be modified or discarded. The truth, by definition, is not allowed to change. Most people are not scientifically literate, like I said, and don’t get the distinction, so Dawkins should stop using Truth to describe it. Because truth brings with it unreasonable standards and thoughts that science has worked hard and long to slough off.

  76. TB

    Gilt the troll tries to redefine the criticism and make it go away!
    Nope, Andrew wants to argue that religion is defined by people outside the “ivory tower,” but I’ll bet he wouldn’t apply that standard to science. Or shall we teach in science class that the seasons change because the earth gets closer to the sun?

  77. TB raises a good point about being consistent in how we define both religion and science. I would definitely be okay with defining them as they are both practiced today. That seems realistic to me.
    A big part of this dispute seems to hinge on two points: one, what I see as the defining of religion so as it doesn’t conflict (or at least little conflicts) with science as we know it.
    Two, considering only the noun element of science, the facts generated, and not the verb: the methods and processes and types of thinking engaged in.
    Is it possible to define both science and religion so we can come to the conclusion that science (facts) and religious (claims) don’t conflict? Sure.
    Yet religion as it is practiced across the land includes claim/propositions that do conflict with a scientific understanding of how the world/universe works.
    Then we get to the whole “doing science” part. One might ask, are “doing science” and “doing religion” compatible? Can you think like a scientist while thinking like a true religious person?
    I would say “no.”

  78. @Mike

    Re:“Re: Goalposts – I have not moved the goal posts. You put them in the wrong place to begin with. You’re frothing at the mouth over some description of religion that is so narrow as to describe a minuscule subset of faithful people. You’ve already demonstrated such a broken understanding of theology. I wonder why you think religion is the one changing when its simply that you misunderstand it.”

    You have not moved the goalposts by claiming the dispute is not between science and religion (as is named and referred to) but between superstition and rationality?
    Get real.
    “For some reason you think theology has no role in faithful belief.”
    I didn’t say that. Of course it has a role. How big a role, that is an important question.

    Re:”Your best argument seems to be that if you talk to some layperson on the street they can’t articulate these arguments. How have you not set up a permanent strawman scenario? Pick on someone of your intellectual weight class.”

    Have you not set up a sort of reverse strawman? Defining religion in such a streamlined (and largely bogus) fashion so that it tilts the argument in your favor . . . . .

    And no, I haven’t talked to some layperson on the street. That would be anecdotal evidence. And I know better. So I consult nationwide polls, etc, to understand what religion actually entails.

    Where do you get your information? Or do you just make it up?
    Etc., etc., etc.

  79. gillt

    Dough: “There is no truth in science, only theories that have not yet been disproven.”

    Doug: “Truth to me means those theories that have not been disproven, e.g. Natural Selection, Gravity, Relativity, the big bang etc. ”

    Doug: “The truth, by definition, is not allowed to change.”

    You’re making no sense.

    Here’s what I prefer. All scientific “truth” is provisional and/or tentative. Absolute truths, like absolute morality is nonexistent.

    2. I can’t imagine anyone mistaking the quote from PZ Myers as an attempt to persuade a theist. Is that what you were trying to do?

    3. Many accommodationists are atheists, so why would proclaiming your atheism exclude you? But if you don’t like being called an accommodationist, start by stop misrepresenting NA positions.

    4. When NAs use that tone you find so disagreeable, why do you automatically assume they’re trying to persuade people? You must have some imagination, so why can’t you think of any other reason why a minority group yells to be heard?

  80. Anthony McCarthy

    Absolute truths, lie absolute morality is nonexistent.

    Then how can you fault someone for not placing the same value on science that you do? How can you determine that it’s better to know what’s real than illusory? How can you fault anyone for having a different evaluation of what’s good and what isn’t than you? Pure egotism?

    I think there is no such thing as absolute anything, I think that’s a humanly devised conception, something that is endlessly discussed but which means only what people agree on it meaning and that changes.

    Science is constructed of agreed to terms and procedures, it has no objective existence outside of that agreement. It is as humanly invented as the Bible is.

  81. Jon

    You must have some imagination, so why can’t you think of any other reason why a minority group yells to be heard?

    You mean like patting themselves on the back? And if you’re equating atheists with other minority groups throughout history, I don’t think there’s much of an equivalence. Atheists tend to be highly educated, with plenty of opportunity. Again, there are striking similarities between New Atheist commenters and right wing trolls. Both are very excited about their own righteousness, and both are very quick to claim victim status even when such claims are patently absurd…

  82. gillt

    McCarthy: “Science is constructed of agreed to terms and procedures, it has no objective existence outside of that agreement. It is as humanly invented as the Bible is.”

    It has no objective existence outside of that argument? What does that even mean?

    We’ve been over this before. Those terms have been show to work, which is why they’re agreed upon. Science isn’t like morality in that different agreed upon terms work for different times and different cultures. Scientific thinking work universally and this is why we value it.

    Science is better at making sense of our universe than superstition because accuracy matters. You can have a religion informed by science but not a science informed by religion. Science will simply cease to exist if that ever happens.

  83. gillt

    Jon: “And if you’re equating atheists with other minority groups throughout history, I don’t think there’s much of an equivalence. Atheists tend to be highly educated, with plenty of opportunity. Again, there are striking similarities between New Atheist commenters and right wing trolls.”

    So in your opinion, what defines other minority groups in history is their medium to low education level, (are gays and lesbians aware of this?) which is why atheists do not deserve the status of minority group, because they’re mostly over-educated and well-to-do egg-heads, just like all those well-to-do right-wing trolls.

    Yes, I always thought the problem with right-wing trolls was their exceedingly high level of education.

  84. Jon

    Science is better at making sense of our universe than superstition because accuracy matters.

    Forgetting the loaded word “superstition” for a moment, describing the universe is simply a matter of accurate measurement?

  85. Anthony McCarthy

    It has no objective existence outside of that argument? What does that even mean? gillt

    gillt, maybe a course in remedial reading would be a good thing.

    Science is constructed of agreed to terms and procedures, it has no objective existence outside of that agreement.

    Those terms have been show to work, gillt

    In the context of your statement “Absolute truths, lie absolute morality is nonexistent,” what do you mean “to work”? You mean that it produces, what, good? Well, I don’t find anything good about the Gulf oil gusher, which was brought to us with science, it wouldn’t have happened without science. Though maybe you don’t agree that is the result of an objectively immoral act. Science didn’t “work” for most people or animals or plants or the ecosystem in that case.

    And what can be said of that can be said of all kinds of things that are done by scientists with science.

    I’ve often noticed that arrogance, selfishness and conceit are great levelers among even the well educated and refined, turning them into jerks, brutes, thugs and liars.

  86. gillt

    Did I say accuracy or accurate measurement?

  87. Jon

    …what defines other minority groups in history is their medium to low education level…

    No, what defines a minority is lack of privilege and oppression. I think for the New Athiests this is a bit of a fever dream… Not that it never happens, but please–people who don’t believe in God are the equivalent of African-Americans, Jews, or homosexuals? Please. That’s an awfully big heap of self-congratulatory drama, even for the Internet…

  88. Anthony McCarthy

    Science is better at making sense of our universe than superstition because accuracy matters. gillt

    Science is entirely unable to make sense of huge parts of our universe because it can’t measure them, because it can’t define or observe or encompass or reach them. It can’t tell you why it’s preferable to make sense of the universe than to not make sense of it. It can’t tell you why it’s better to not be what you would call “superstitious”. It can’t only tell you what it can about the things it can. It can’t tell you why being a materialist (a concept invented by human beings) is more in line with the universe than being an idealist (another human invention). It can’t tell you which of any two ideas is better and more worthy of being held.

    If that fact makes you unhappy and uneasy, that’s too bad but science can’t tell you why you should be unhappy about it to begin with.

    You can have a religion informed by science but not a science informed by religion. Science will simply cease to exist if that ever happens. gillt

    Again with repeating things I’ve said here and in your presence. Why, gillt, I’m touched. I didn’t know I’d had that effect on you.

  89. gillt

    What do you mean by objective existence? You mean objective purpose?

    McCarthy: “Well, I don’t find anything good about the Gulf oil gusher…”

    Is that all you got? Earlier you were blaming the H-Bomb on scientists. And you left out the Holocaust? What about that? Or taxes. This is a fun game. You can blame anything you want on science because science is so pervasive in our culture. Let’s blame cancer on science, all that GMO food and high tension power lines and pollution in the air. Science did it! If it wasn’t for the combustion engine–science again!–there would be no auto fatalities. How about Nigerian email scams? Computer scientists invented the internet after all. Scientists should be locked up immediately and tortured to death for their sins against humanity.

    But then mere fact that the bubonic plague was able to wipe out a third of the population of Europe is a direct result of a lack of modern medicine. That was also science.

  90. gillt

    Jon: “No, what defines a minority is lack of privilege and oppression.”

    I’m not here insisting that atheists get special treatment, and I’m not making demands as to their minority status.

    But see how far running on an atheist platform will get you in American politics. And not just for president…try your local schoolboard.

    That is a problem.

  91. Anthony McCarthy

    Is that all you got? Earlier you were blaming the H-Bomb on scientists. gillt

    Are you suggesting it spontaneously generated? I don’t recall it being invented by anyone other than scientists, unless you’re suggesting that all of that stuff about Edward Teller, much of it generated by him, somehow got it wrong. Or the Manhattan project before that. I seem to recall there were some grave misgivings on the part of some of the scientists after they saw their work put to use on that one.

    You should read a bit of history now and again, gillt. I’m finding a lack of knowlege of history leads you boys into saying some of the most incredible things some times. Though, as my recent experience has shown me, even a knowledge of history doesn’t overcome arrogance and macho egotism, or do I repeat myself. And these days the culture of science seems to encourage that arrogance and macho egotism almost like sports do.

    That the products of science are of varying degrees of benefit to humanity and, I suppose you might make the ever more tenuous case, the world, is no more to be marveled at than that those of religion have been. Both are, after all, manifestations of human experience and the product of human minds and cultures.

    Maybe if both took some of those moral positions as absolutes, telling the truth, suppressing selfishness and ego, maybe they’d never have produced the H bomb or the Gulf oil gusher (Tony Haywards has a PhD in geology, his predecessor, Lord Brown one in physics) or the various sins of religious institutions. Perhaps there’s something MORE that’s required of scientists and of religious authorities than the invention of ideas and the assertion of authority. Maybe, as I’m expecting to see you also say sometime soon, there is something in the institutional nature of both that produces blindness to other necessities.

  92. A few final points:

    Tone:
    First, arguing that there is “a” proper tone for discourse is ridiculous. One size does not fit all. And, in terms of the validity of an argument, tone just doesn’t matter.

    Theology and the evolution of religion:

    From the bestseller lists (i.e., not hard to find and to thus acknowledge the possibility) –
    Robin Wright’s Evolution of God
    Karen Armstrong’s History of God

    Religion doesn’t evolve? Only have to read the Bible to realize it does. What was Christianity but a new species spawned from Judaism?

    Old Testament: Thou must circumcise as a sign of our Covenant. New: Well, maybe just be circumcised “in your heart.”

    Old: Follow all these laws, including dietary. New: Be a good person.

    Old: I promise you a kingdom. A real kingdom. Land, offspring and the numbers to protect it . . . New: I promise you a kingdom-to-come. One of the heavenly sort.

    Etc., etc., etc.

    The “physicality” of the Bible god:
    Augustine argued for a non-sensate god, one not of the physical world. One not simply out of sight and up there in the heavens, one existing even outside of time. This was radical. Why was it radical? Because it contrasted with the sensate conceptions of god. Of course, a god need not have actual arms and legs to be of the physical world.

    By the way, why would earlier conceptions of god lead to such things as the Mercy Seat for Yahweh atop the Ark of the Covenant?

    For bible quotes about the physicality of that god (for there are many conceptions of gods across the globe and through history) consider this small sample (gleaned from some of my records; not a complete list by any means):

    Genesis 16 – Hagar sees her god.

    18 — Abraham stood before his Lord.

    32 – Jacob wrestles with his god. And is seen by him.

    Exodus 19, 24 – the Lord is visible and can be seen (no, not “seen” – that would be a later interpretation)

    33 – “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” (NIV)

    1 Samuel 3 — The LORD appears to the leaders of his people. Speaks to them.

    Job 11 – God will stand upon the Earth. And can be seen.

    Etc.

    And finally, defining science and religion:
    It seems that many want to limit the definitions in their favor. While we shouldn’t take religion to mean only Satan-grade thoughts and behaviors such as praying for miracle, these should not be ruled out by limiting the definition to only metaphysical and deistic beliefs. Same for “science.” Science is not simply cold facts generated by the “hard” versions of it. There is much more to science than that. We should use more inclusive definitions so that our own biases don’t slant the debate from the get-go.

  93. Anthony McCarthy

    Andrew.

    Exodus 33:20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.

    Clearly any reference to the other texts by people who believed that wouldn’t refer to what we would call the physical act of sight of just another physical entity.

    Jesus was rather explicit that we couldn’t see God. John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

    I’d suggest you make the most out of the ambiguous and seeming contradictions instead of following up on your original brain storm.

  94. Richard of Nazareth

    So the basic argument here is that science and religion ARE compatible. Ok, how is that? Nobody has really defined this concept. There has been talk of some amorphous idea which might, possibly see science and religion skipping away hand in hand into the sunset. I find the notion that because two schools of thought want to know why we, humans, are here in the world to be a pretty thin line of compatibility.

    If that’s the case then philosophy may as well join in. We can all have a big ol’ what-if party, I’ll bring the brain vats! Astrology come on in, you must be equally valid by this definition. And don’t let the apologists say differently, they like to separate religion from the ‘riff-raff’. (yeah, I went there! sorry but you can’t define the terms of the argument by disqualifying points which don’t suit your view).

    Science and religion are not compatible. Science has drawn and will continue to draw inspiration from religion, as it has drawn inspiration from many sources. Religion, on the other hand, has been forced to redefine its basic tenets in light of scientific progress. Deny this all you want but when the Pope cancels Purgatory and Intelligent Design is dressed in the guise of legitimate science and fundamentalists embrace rocket launchers while shunning shaving razors you know the goal posts have been placed on some seriously shifty sand dunes. This is not to say that a scientist can’t be a religious person (I personally don’t get it but that is an opinion). Just don’t confuse the two and tell me you’ve found god in a drop of water. One is a profession, the other is an ideology.

    Please stop trying to dress religion in petticoats and pigtails. If your argument is that god was never meant to be a physical reality for people, well you are wrong. I don’t know how to put it any differently and it doesn’t deserve politeness: you’re just wrong and I think you know it. God(s) was created as a way for people to explain the mysteries of the world (though it does a mighty poor job of it). In order for him/her to do that god has needed to be a physical presence acting on the human world, the only notable exception being Taoism (maybe Druidism but we don’t know enough about it to be sure). Muslims believe god’s face is too beautiful to look upon, Brahma is a celestial bull, the Christian god’s face has been pictured countless times. Michelangelo didn’t pull the image of a bearded old man living in the clouds out of his arse. The bible describes heaven as a ‘real’ place. People believed it then and they believe it now.

    The goal posts have been moving as surely as the apologists have moved them. They have had to. Failing to find god anywhere they have mashed him into the gaps. Imagine the power of humans able to push a god into the dark recesses of the universe. How humiliating. In your zeal to be right, to be part of the illumination of the world you apologists have taken god’s name, his face, his original essence and buried it. Yet you keep on proclaiming science should be watered down to make room for god cause its not fair. You demand more proof of science than you do of a god you yourselves diminish. You demand science and religion be seen as compatible when in fact it is you who keeps moving god into the shadows in a vain attempt to find a place for him.

    Science and religion are not compatible. Science dwells in the real, religion you can keep in your heart if you want to even though the heart is not a thinking organ but I digress. It may be the last place in the universe you can claim he resides.

    As to all you so called atheists here: go to church already. You’re righteousness is tiresome. I know, I know all your best friends are religious. If you don’t know why atheists should be mad then you ain’t an atheist. Its not cool to be an atheist so just go back to church, ‘k. Every argument you lowercase ‘a’ atheists have made here have been made by the devout elsewhere. I’m shocked no one has brought up the Croci-Duck. I can’t stomach one more ‘I’m an atheist but …’ Grow up or go back to mama’s house of the lord. I don’t care who you are or what degree you have just grow up.

  95. gillt

    McCarthy: “It can’t tell you why it’s preferable to make sense of the universe than to not make sense of it. It can’t tell you why it’s better to not be what you would call “superstitious”. It can’t only tell you what it can about the things it can.”

    Ok, collect your thoughts and try again, because this is complete gibberish…even for you.

    Though remember, you can never undo the stupid in this sentence: “it can’t (can?) only tell you what it can about the things it can.”

  96. Anthony McCarthy

    Well, gillt, demonstrate how you would find out why its preferable to make sense of the universe than to not make sense of it?

    Don’t like that one, how about the one A. S. Eddington posed, how can science show that 7×6=42 is a better answer than 7×6=45? I said a better answer, not the correct answer.

    You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your pronouncement about my speaking gibberish seriously as you seem to be lifting arguments from me directly.

    Richard of Nazareth, show how being a member of a political party is compatible with science. Show how playing poker with the guys is compatible with science.

    Why not require scientists to live like vestals in a sterile and pure condition unsullied by all un-scientific thoughts? Only, if they speak English, they’ll be subject to all kinds of un-science like modes of thought… or French or German or Spanish or Latin… I could go further but I’ve yet to seriously study another one.

    I think I’ll start analyzing there pronouncements for statements incompatible with science which impeach the reliability of those making htem.

  97. gillt

    It would be a waste of my time discussing things with someone who types such things as hopelessly devoid of content as this: “it can’t only tell you what it can about the things it can.”

  98. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, now gillt’s hiding behind an obvious typo. I noticed one or two of yours above. Oddly enough, I was able to navigate them.

    Don’t be a coward, deal with the logical disconnect of your position.

  99. Richard of Nazareth

    Well, we have reached the natural and predictable conclusion to this discussion. To justify his position Mr. McCarthy has jumped the shark. He has landed in the philosophical land of what-ifery.

    @A. McCarthy: why its preferable to make sense of the universe than to not make sense of it?
    Don’t like that one, how about the one A. S. Eddington posed, how can science show that 7×6=42 is a better answer than 7×6=45? I said a better answer, not the correct answer.

    Now, I like philosophy as much as the next person but I do prefer to know that my sun doesn’t have a smiling infant’s face on it and that the correct answer is the better answer especially during the construction of, say, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge or the Titanic or Challenger. Right now I bet Toyota and BP wish they had gone with the better and correct answer. Speaking of bets, any good poker player knows statistics win while ‘luck’ (god) has nothing to do with the game.

    @A. McCarthy: Richard of Nazareth, show how being a member of a political party is compatible with science. Show how playing poker with the guys is compatible with science.

    I can and I will when the situation is appropriate for me to do so (as in above example;). I wont, however when the object is desperate distraction on your part. Neither of these points is relevant to the fact that science and religion are not compatible.

    Quite frankly, the only reason I am responding to this obnoxious gibberish is so I can repeat “science and religion are not compatible”. Funny how I can stay on point with the simple assertion of science and religion are not compatible. I and others have made the case while staying with the basic premise that science and religion are not compatible. Mr. McCarthy and his ilk have chosen to dip into the rhetorical shoulder bag and in grabbing they have produced nothing but a fist. For this I have only one answer.

    Science: Religion, Enlightenment: Ignorance.

    You have chosen ignorance, I can’t help you. I can be there to demand you stop forcing me and others to follow your choice. Especially, doubly especially, when it comes to the innocent. School is for science, church is for religion. If your churches are failing in their primary duty that is not an open invitation to come into schools. You undermine science because you know it is the correct choice and the better choice. Hiding behind A. S. Eddington’s ethereal conundrum is no justification for ignorance.

  100. John Kwok

    @ Richard of Nazareth –

    If your assertion that “Science and Religion are not compatible”, then explain why we have seen consistently in modern science, notable scientists who were also devoutly religious (if not for their entire adult lives, then at least for a significant part), such as for example, the great Russian-American evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, his doctoral student, Francisco J. Ayala, invertebrate paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris, ecologist Michael Rosenzweig, and many, many others.

    Your formulation, as expressed in your final paragraph in your latest comment (@ 99), is utterly simplistic. With one swift rhetorical stroke, you have denied the existence of religious studies and the countless academic departments devoted to it at many colleges and universities worldwide. Have you also denied too, modern science’s debt to religious thought, since our notions of the linearity of time, of what geologists view as “Deep Time”, and related issues, have all sprung from a common Judeo-Christian religious tradition (which may not be surprising since, many clerics from the 17th through early 19th Centuries, were also keenly interested in science from the viewpoint of “Natural Philosophy” – or rather, what we might dub today as Natural History – and were interested in trying to address such interests from a more scientific than religious perspective, in stark contrast to the so-called “scientific creationists” of today.)?

    By no means should my remarks be construed as an endorsement of “accomodationism” (though I do consider myself one) or of the John R. Templeton Foundation’s interest in funding scientific research and efforts at public outreach and understanding of science (I reman an agnostic with respect to both, but will observe that, in his recent posts, Chris Mooney has offered far more persuasive arguments in support of the Templeton Foundation’s interest than I heard recently at this year’s World Science Festival here in New York City.).

  101. John Kwok

    @ Richard of Nazareth –

    Forgot to add something to the first sentence of my latest post (@ 100), now corrected:

    If your assertion that “Science and Religion are not compatible” is true, then explain why we have seen consistently in modern science, notable scientists who were also devoutly religious (if not for their entire adult lives, then at least for a significant part), such as for example, the great Russian-American evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, his doctoral student, Francisco J. Ayala, invertebrate paleobiologist Simon Conway Morris, ecologist Michael Rosenzweig, and many, many others.

  102. Anthony McCarthy

    Richard of Nazareth, you’ll excuse me if I take one of the foremost scientists of the first half of the 20th century and a very sophisticated writer on the epistemology and philosophy of science as my guide over “Richard of Nazareth” and “gillt”. I mean, he did have the endorsement of Einstein, who I still take to be a few steps up from the new atheist coalition. And even if you don’t, that isn’t going to upset me in the least.

    Demonstrate how science can answer any of those questions. If you can you’ll have made your name in science. I notice gillt isn’t pretending he can, he’s reduced to hiding behind a typo.

  103. SLC

    Folks, the discussion about Richard Dawkins betrays considerable ignorance as to his position on the existence of god. His position is that the existence of god is a scientific proposition and that thus far, the proponents of the existence of god have not produced any scientific evidence of such. Furthermore, he points out that the Christian and Hebrew scriptures, which are supposed to be the word of god, make a number of scientific claims that can be shown to violate a number of well established scientific theories and principals.

    Prof. Dawkins points to claims made in the Christian bible relative the Yeshua of Nazareth. Thus it is claimed that he was born of a virgin, that he healed individuals afflicted with fatal diseases, that he walked on the surface of a lake without sinking, and that he rose from the dead after being executed. All of these claims violate what is known about biology and physics.

    I would point to scientific claims made in the Hebrew scriptures such as the claim that Joshua (supposedly an ancestor of Yeshua) prevailed on god to stop the sun in the sky for a day. Aside from violating the laws of physics, this event was somehow unobserved and unnoted upon by inhabitants of other civilizations known to be contemporaneous with Joshua.

  104. Jon

    OMG, something written 2000 years ago has inaccurate science?

  105. Anthony McCarthy

    His position is that the existence of god is a scientific proposition SLC

    Which only shows how far you can go in science without understanding what science can and can’t do. Given his fondness for science based on story telling instead of evidence, it isn’t surprising. Dawkins seems to think that when the evidence is missing you can just fill it in as best you figure. And then you defend that with ridicule.

    Any claim in religion that is susceptible to the real tools and methods of science on the basis of evidence can be the subject of science, any which aren’t susceptible to those cannot be the subject of science. The existence of a supernatural God isn’t in any way susceptible to science, though many claims made by people about a supernatural God could be. That people can be wrong about something doesn’t negate its existence. Look how many people have had ideas about evolution that turn out to be wrong, yet evolution is as established a fact as exists in science.

    Richard Dawkins, fine writing ability at the service of marketable intellectual folly.

  106. Anthony McCarthy

    OMG, something written 2000 years ago has inaccurate science?

    There seems to be a current fad among some new atheists to complain about Aristotle being dissed. You wonder why they don’t hold Aristotle to that same standard.

  107. @SLC is right about Dawkins. End of story.

    @Anthony McCarthy and @Jon, saying that it’s acceptable for the bible to have inaccurate science because it’s so old works just fine if you’re talking about a secular work of philosophy along the lines of Aristotle, but the Bible claims it is the word of God and the word of God is inerrable. Aristotle didn’t claim he was inerrable, did he?

    I said before, it’s fine if you believe in a God that exists only in the metaphysical world and has nothing to do with reality. Really. Science is cool with that because it falls outside the realm of science. But MOST PEOPLE do not believe in that “god.” They believe in a god who helps them, who answers prayers, who CAME TO EARTH AS A MAN, died and was RESURRECTED and HEALED PEOPLE MIRACULOUSLY and STILL PERFORMS MIRACLES TO THIS DAY. That “god” is provably wrong.

    To say science and religion conflict is obvious, but some religions have gotten out of the realm of science. To say those religions conflict with science is conflating science into something it isn’t. That’s like saying you’re a humanist because science says it’s the right thing to do; incredibly flawed logic. On the same hand, saying the predominant incarnation of religion today doesn’t conflict with science is flawed in it’s own right. It obviously is, and saying it isn’t requires phenomenal leaps of judgement and moving the goal posts off the reservation.

    For @Gillt and @Richard, you still don’t get that rabidly insulting people isn’t the best way to be taken legitimately? Growing up doesn’t mean spewing more bile into people’s faces than you were capable of as a child. It doesn’t mean ad hominem-ing every argument you come across because you don’t know how to argue a point. Growing up means being considerate and logical even in the face of your own anger. Am I angry about religion? Hell yeah, it’ps barbaric and is holding us back as a society, but that doesn’t mean I think every religious person is an idiot; nor do I think that you can’t be religious and a proper scientist. Absolutism is the domain of children and narcissists.

    @John Kwok, scientific contributions throughout history have more been IN SPITE OF religion that because of it. And if you look closely at the beliefs of these nameless and countless scientists, you’ll find that they don’t believe in the same “god” that most people do, they believe in a god that created the universe and sat back and watched. NOT a “god” who helps and guides them and works miracles for them. With that out of the way, saying “look at the religious scientists!” to defend religion is the same as defending slavery by saying “look at the kind plantation owners!” It holds no weight, and not as much as you think it does.

    In short, it’s possible that religion and science cannot conflict, but most of the time they do. I feel that conflict is not the case with the templeton foundation. If New Atheists really want to “stick it to the fundies” they should stop treating the Templeton foundation like conspiracy theorists and accept their invitations. Isn’t the central tenet of science to question everything, especially the things you want the most to be true? Isn’t that what we tell religious people the world over?

  108. Lost a paragraph in there (damn!), but the last one addresses the templeton foundation, per the subject of this post and the origin of the debate. Sorry about the lack of segue.

  109. Anthony McCarthy

    @SLC is right about Dawkins. End of story.

    Who died and made you the story editor?

    Doug, the claim isn’t about Aristotle’s philosophy, it’s about his science. Or what would have been the equivalent of science.

    And you don’t get to make that call either.

    As to the “conflict between science and religion”, I’ll have to take the word of the only people who could actually tell us, people with a successful career in science who are also religious. When they start reporting crippling conflicts in their lives and work, I’ll take that seriously. Not when people without a record in science but with a record in anti-religious bigotry make assertions about the mental states of their scientific betters.

  110. John Kwok

    @ Doug from Dougland –

    Apparently you missed this observation I made rebutting Richard of Nazareth’s breathtaking inanity:

    “Have you also denied too, modern science’s debt to religious thought, since our notions of the linearity of time, of what geologists view as ‘Deep Time’, and related issues, have all sprung from a common Judeo-Christian religious tradition (which may not be surprising since, many clerics from the 17th through early 19th Centuries, were also keenly interested in science from the viewpoint of ‘Natural Philosophy’ – or rather, what we might dub today as Natural History – and were interested in trying to address such interests from a more scientific than religious perspective, in stark contrast to the so-called ‘scientific creationists’ of today.”

    I agree with you that much scientific progress has been made in absence of any consideration from religious sources, but many need to recognize that religious thought did influence the development of science in Western Civilization.

    As for the Templeton Foundation, I agree with your observation that New Atheists should cease treating it with contempt, especially since its record with relationship to science is substantially better than the Discovery Institute’s (And, moreover, New Atheists should refrain from attacking those like Chris Mooney and Brian Greene (and his World Science Festival), who have received Templeton Founation support.). Unlike the Discovery Institute it has no a priori agenda to determine what is valid science from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

  111. Jon

    Doug, I think the miraculous is part of religion, for better or worse. What can you expect from something that claims to deal with the transcendent? You’re going to have a hard time stripping the miraculous out of it. And I’d argue that you’re not going to stop people from wanting something that deals with the transcendent in their lives.

    The next thing I’d say is that before you say “most of the time they conflict,” as people above have pointed out, not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally. A lot of it is more along the lines of poetry (think of a “metaphysical conceit” for instance). You can read St. Thomas Acquinas and already see a pretty sophisticated understanding of non-literal interpretation all the way back in the 13th century…

  112. Anthony McCarthy

    Not all miracles are the same. Some can be subjected to science because they leave physical evidence or would require that the physical evidence match the description, some leave no physical evidence and are described in a way that precludes science comparing them to any other known physical evidence. The Virgin Birth is the prime example of one that if you had evidence you might find out something about it but you don’t and since it is held to have happened exactly once in the entire history of the world by miraculous means, no other instance is applicable. Though I’m not going to that argument again for those who will never, ever get the point.

    You’re not required to believe in them but the idea of the Virgin Birth is 100% innocuous in so far as science goes. Same goes for The Resurrection. There have been and are scientists with eminently successful careers who believe in both.

    Literal Genesis style creation is both refutable and injurious to science. But you’re never going to convince the convinced with the new atheist style arguments which have been failing since the beginning of modern evolutionary science. I think the belief that those tactics are going to suddenly start working after so many years of futile application is on par with the belief in spontaneous generation in 2010, flies in the face of all the available evidence.

  113. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    1. Modern biology says that a virgin birth among mammals can’t happen. In particular, a male child (all accounts seem to agree that Yeshua of Nazareth was male) would require the inheritance of a Y chromosome. Females don’t have Y chromosomes to pass on their offspring.

    2. Modern physics understands the theory of surface tension which precludes the possibility of a human walking on liquid water.

    3. Modern medicine and biology indicates that a dead body begins to deteriorate shortly after death. Thus, the notion that a dead body could arise from the dead after 48 hours violates everything we know about these subjects.

    4. As I stated, not only does the notion of the sun standing still in the sky violate the laws of physics, we can be quite sure that it never happened as it was unobserved by any contemporary civilization.

    5. Given his fondness for science based on story telling instead of evidence, it isn’t surprising. Dawkins seems to think that when the evidence is missing you can just fill it in as best you figure. And then you defend that with ridicule. What is the basis for such a ridiculous statement? On the subject of science, never have I heard anyone such as Mr. McCarthy speak so knowledgeably from such a vast fund of ignorance.

  114. Anthony McCarthy

    Modern biology says nothing about a virgin birth as described in the bible. Not the first thing. Nothing. Parthenogenesis isn’t miraculous it is a natural event that isn’t unique, it happens millions of times a year. It is also silent on the Resurrection of Jesus, as described in the bible and other miracles described as unique and which don’t leave evidence that science can look at. Though, as in the example of Richard Dawkins, evidence free “science” is a fad among the new atheists.

    I’ll give you the simple answer. The statement that is made here that “religion is incompatible with science”, without distinction, is a meaningless statement. Neither the statement itself is meaningful, since it has no actual substance but is merely an assertion, and what evidence that is possible refutes it. That evidence, as stated, are the people who produce successful science who are also religious. That science exists, it is produced by people who also hold religious beliefs. That evidence could only be refuted by the testimony of those scientists, en masse. You go get that evidence and we can look at it. Until you do you’re just blowing smoke.

    Now, if you want to be accurate and say there are a bunch of scientists and an even large number of sci-jocks who just HATE religion and just can’t stand that there are religious scientists and they just can’t tolerate that FACT, that statement is both meaningful and supported by the evidence.

    I was inaccurate above about biblical fundamentalism being incompatible with science, it is with some science and not with some other science, there being fundamentalists with successful careers in science. They just don’t tend to make the best evolutionary biologists or scientists in allied fields. They damage science only to the extent they give those who oppose legitimate science teaching in public schools propaganda with which to attack the teaching of evolution. Of course, new atheists have also provided them with propaganda material with which to do that, so to the extent they provide fundamentalists with that useful propaganda, they also are bad for science.

    SLC speaks from a tired strain of ideological hackery.

  115. I’m going to say, I feel, that picking and choosing what to believe from the bible and what not to believe is the same as the cherry picking of data on conspiratorial websites.

    The fact of the matter is, whenever a religion makes a testable claim and is refuted, it is then later said that it is not meant to be taken literally but still true, rather than making a testable claim and when it’s disproven abandoning it. This is the nature of Gillt’s rant about truth above, because by definition the “truth” is indelible. Truth cannot be changed or abandoned because it’s true, while theory is much more malleable.

    I agree and understand that people want to believe in God; it’s a wonderful safety blanket to think there’s somebody out there watching over us and what’s more, we’re so good at seeing cause and effect that confusing it with correlation is a necessary evil of our brains and our evolution. I mean, superstition is a part of life for everyone, atheists and believers, scientists and non-scientists alike. Of course, the purpose of science is to understand the natural world, and to do that it has to separate correlation and causation. When you identify the causes, religion’s blanket “god did it” excuse becomes muddied.

    I’m not saying that in order to do worthwhile science you can’t be a theist, lots of them have been. Even the smartest people are wrong sometimes. But if you turn a critical thinking eye toward religion, it’s impossible to be a theist afterwards without living in denial or rationalizing your belief in such a way that it no longer resembles your belief. Saying “God helps those who help themselves” and “God answers prayers in three ways: yes, no and wait.” and “The Lord works in mysterious ways” when thought about critically and while looking at the evidence are the exact same thing as saying “god doesn’t help.” and “God doesn’t answer prayers.” and “The Lord does no work.”

    This doesn’t, of course, rule out the existence of God or disprove him. You can say God made the universe and sat back and watched thereafter; atheism is just the leap saying that it’s most likely not the case. That’s Richard Dawkins’ view, that if all of these other things attributed to god have been proven wrong, why should we take it on faith that this last thing is right? In true scientific methodology, it is more likely that God does not exist than it is that he does. This is because the theory that there is a God that affects the natural world directly has been disproven time and time again. It is also because the primary texts from which this incarnation of God extends have been proven logically problematic at best. It does not say God cannot exist, and in fact if God showed up at my door saying “I’m God” and then proving it to me by violating natural laws I would believe in god. It’s just saying it’s most likely he does not exist. That in the steps to make the universe, since there has never been magic observed before that hasn’t been properly explained, the likelihood that it was magic is insignificant.

    But the converse of this, that something started it but no longer affects the world, is Deism. It is not what any major religions preach, but it is a viable outlook on the world because it cannot be proven or disproven right now. Deism is something one can disagree with; theism is something one can prove wrong until it becomes deism.

    The foundation of religion being so incredibly un-sound from a rational standpoint is why I advocate questioning it; because it’s only by removing the illogical that we can grow as a people. It was only by abolishing slavery that our tenets of freedom made sense, and it’s only by getting people to choose against theism that we will continue to move forward as a people. Let’s not forget what happened to Islam; one of the most progressive and pro science religions in the world until more hard line theists took over the governments and plunged every Muslim country into what they are today. (note I do not Count Turkey. Turkey is a country of muslims, not a muslim country) I’m all for letting people believe what they believe, but that doesn’t free them from questions about their beliefs. Especially when they try to impose those beliefs on others, which inevitably happens when one group feels they know what the “true” way is.

  116. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    1. Modern science says that parthenogenesis is not possible in mammals. That’s a fact. It can’t happen. By the way, Mr. McCarthy fails to explain where Yeshuas’ Y chromosome came from.

    2. Modern science says that a body that has been dead for 48 hours undergoes biological changes that would make it impossible for it to be resurrected. In particular, the brain deteriorates after a little as 5 minutes without oxygen.

    3. I am totally unimpressed with the obvious fact that many scientists are religious. There are distinguished scientists who believe in all manner of stupid ideas. For instance, Nobel Prize winning physicist Brian Josephson believes in cold fusion, PK and ESP. The late astronomer J. Allen Hynek, who at one time was president of the American Astronomical Society, believed that the earth had been visited by aliens and that many alien abduction stories were true.

    4. Obviously, Mr. McCarthy rejects the notion that the existence of god is a scientific proposition . That, of course, this being a free country, is his right. By the same token, it is our right to opine that Mr. McCarthy is full of prunes.

  117. Anthony McCarthy

    Parthenogenesis produces sterile females, not males. Everything in the Biblical accounts identifies Jesus as being male, his circumcision is mentioned in the bible. There is no account given for where the Y chromosome would have come from. Since the people who believe in the Virgin Birth also believe that God created the universe, including Y chromosomes, I don’t see how you’d imagine that would give God any problem.

    Modern science says absolutely nothing about a miraculous resurrection of anyone without physical evidence, nevermind Jesus. It just simply doesn’t.

    Do you have references to research papers in reputable journals that contradicts the biblical accounts, as they are written, of the two miracles in question? I’d really like to know how they did the math dealing with the miraculous parts of those. What kind of math did they use?

    You do know that the Psi phenomena you dismiss aren’t claimed to be supernatural by the researchers who have looked for them. Since they have used statistical analysis of their results they’d have to presume that they are natural and not miraculous phenomena. Statistical analyses would throw out miracles as outliers, I’d have thought. Oddly, I seem to recall that arch CSICOP member and hero of many a new atheist, Carl Sagan apparently felt compelled to say that the research showed there was significant evidence for at least two of the phenomena you mention. You going to try him posthumously and kick him off the honor roll?

    As to the issue of what you find impressive, I’m not especially impressed with your thinking on these subjects. And as to your opinion of me, I always recall one of Blake’s more useful of the Proverbs of Hell and consider it an indication I can’t be all wrong.

  118. Anthony McCarthy

    The fact of the matter is, whenever a religion makes a testable claim and is refuted, it is then later said that it is not meant to be taken literally but still true, rather than making a testable claim and when it’s disproven abandoning it. Doug

    Whenever? You mean in each and every instance? In every religion? That’s a pretty sweeping statement. Can you back it up?

    I’m extremely skeptical as to the existence of deists, certainly not in large numbers. I don’t have any interest in a god that doesn’t do anything for anyone. Too indifferent or self centered for me to care about. But I have nothing against anyone else believing in one as long as they aren’t like that.

  119. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    Mr. McCarthy is really quite dense. Modern science says that natural processes cannot produce parthenogenesis in mammals. Attributing it to god is just begging the question, since there is no scientific evidence for the existence of god. Nothing but a circular argument. By the way, where did Mr. McCarthy get the notion that female mammals could produce sterile female offspring via parthenogenesis? Citation please. And cites of in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination are not acceptable as these techniques were not available 2000 years ago.

    Modern science says that the human brain is fatally damaged if it is deprived of oxygen for as little as 5 minutes (Terri Schiavo anyone). Again, no natural process could possibly resurrect a human who was dead for 48 hours. Again, Mr. McCarthy just begs the question by attributing it to an action of god when there is no scientific evidence of the existence of god. Just another circular argument.

    Would Mr. McCarthy care to cite a reference to Carl Sagan making any such statement. The recently deceased Martin Gardner has demonstrated in a number of articles that there is not the slightest credible evidence for either PK or ESP and that researchers such as Joseph Rhine, Harold Puthoff, and Russell Targ were sloppy in their protocols. See also articles by James Randi on this subject. In particular, when Rhine improved his protocols, the statistical evidence for PK and ESP disappeared. Puthoff and Targ were just incompetent. In the case of cold fusion, Un. of Maryland physicist Bob Park wrote an entire chapter in his first book debunking it.

  120. Jon

    I’ve read a theologian who speculated that “virgin” is a mistranslation of Aramaic. However, even if this was shown to be true, it would not stop people from being religious. People are not religious primarily because of a “truth claim” like the virgin birth. (This is the thing the New Atheists really don’t get. There are aspects of religion, indeed to life in general, that are irrelevant to microscopes, bench tests, etc. Not even all philosophy, let alone religion, has a strictly empirical approach…)

  121. Anthony McCarthy

    Mr. McCarthy is really quite dense. Modern science says that natural processes cannot produce parthenogenesis in mammals. SLC

    SLC should look up the definition of parthenogenesis and notice there is no mention of males being produced by it and absolutely no mention of conception by the Holy Spirit. I know that’s not in his script but would have at least expected he’d have that level of improvisatory skill.

    Begs the question of attributing it to God? SLC, that’s the entire point of the claimed miracles. I’m not begging any questions, I’m merely doing what honest discussion requires, NOT DISTORTING THE CLAIMS UNDER DISCUSSION. You can’t change the claims to suit yourself, dispose of what YOU’VE just created and then pretend you’ve disposed of the original claims. Unless you’re fundamentally dishonest.

    I’m not going to get into the side track of Psi or Martin Gardner (who was religious and, as I recall declared he believed prayer was efficacious and that there was an afterlife, and so, I’d have expected discredited by SLC’s line). Though I suspected that SLC bringing it up was some kind of bait for the purpose of having “evidence” with which to declare me utterly discredited. However, I had my own agenda in talking about it.

    I look it up online in “The Skeptics Dictionary” and find this passage, for whatever you want to make of it.

    At the time of writing, there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “projected” at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation (Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, Random House, 1995, p. 302).

    Radin calls this “an astonishing admission” and goes on to crow about “other signs of shifting opinions regarding the reality of psi phenomena “cropping up with increasing frequency in the scientific literature.” However, Radin fails to note that Sagan went on to write: “I pick these claims not because I think they’re likely to be valid (I don’t), but as examples of contentions that might be true.” They “have at least some, although still dubious, experimental support. Of course, I could be wrong.”

    I’m not surprised that the CSICOP of many years would hedge his statement so oddly. I suspect he actually read Utts’ meta analysis and was horrified by it, though that is a guess on my part, and he might have been rather shocked by some of her other papers, though that is rather complex to go into. But that’s not why I said what I did.

    My motive in nibbling SLC’s bait?

    To be able to point out that the controlled research into these areas would be entirely unlike the many and mulitplying Tales of Behavior in the Pleistocene so beloved of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett and assorted heroes of new atheism, which have the distinct advantage of not being phenomena at all, since they have never, even once been seen or known to have happend, but they are so absolutely facile in their manipulation and invention. That is if creating evidence free “science” is your goal. Unlike the card guessing and random numbers generator experiments that were, actually, documented and quantifiable phenomena known to have happened.

    I was, at one time, rather impressed with Gardner and Hansel, until I looked closely at their stuff for what they actually said, getting past their spin. I’m not any more.

  122. Anthony McCarthy

    Better add, I have absolutely no opinion or ideas about cold fusion because I’ve never read anything substantial about it. Though I’ve never read anything that claims it’s anything but a natural phenomenon.

    I think SLC, you might be guilty of basic confusion about what the difference between “natural” and “supernatural” but, then so do a lot of “skeptics”.

  123. Anthony McCarthy

    I should have added above that parthenogenesis isn’t conception “by” anyone but the mother and so the biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus rule out that being a consideration because both of them attribute the birth as being by God.

    Shouldn’t you guys put that one aside, it’s such a meat handed approach to it.

  124. Anthony, there’s no confusion between the natural and the supernatural. The supernatural doesn’t exist because there’s no evidence for it (and never has been outside of a few stories recorded in a book filled with provably false claims), the natural does. There goes the “confusion.”

  125. Anthony McCarthy

    Doug, you shouldn’t tell me there’s no confusion between the natural and supernatural and then demonstrate that you’re confused about them. Read Eddington on the subject of existence, then we can talk.

  126. LRU

    I’m glad you are enjoying Cambridge and the fellowship. I hope you went punting, had interesting conversations over Formal dinner, and drank too much port afterward. :-)

    As for the Templeton Fellowship, the Foundation’s desire to include atheists to speak on secular philosophies and to allow atheistic criticism, is, I think, an interesting and very well-thought out one. I agree with your point:

    “And as atheists, shouldn’t we want religious arguments to have their most articulate and nuanced presentation before we reject them? Academic theology is valuable for these reasons, and worth at least listening to and understanding.”

    In addition, I would say the same argument holds true for theists when presented with the secular viewpoints. In any case, a good opponent will expose flaws or weaknesses in an argument. Each side can learn more about the other as well as further innovate stronger, more comprehensive philosophies. Understanding a philosophical blind spot or shortcoming is important and can be very hard to do without intelligent and solid opposition.

    I also find it disappointing that Dawkins, himself an Oxbridge man, refuses to engage in discussions or lectures because he may not want to lend ‘credibility’ to theistic philosophical applications to science. Hmm. It is an interesting point. Yet, another argument can be made that without representative atheist thinkers, the public may assume the Foundation does not find atheists or secularist though credible enough to participate. It appears to me, it would be to the atheists advantage to take their place at the table and advocate their position. Philosophical thought and its application to science and innovation is sparking some of the most interesting and fascinating debates in the modern world right now.

    I hope you do write more about it.

  127. SLC

    Re Jon @ 3120

    I’ve read a theologian who speculated that “virgin” is a mistranslation of Aramaic

    There is a discussion of this issue in an appendix in Richard Dawkins book, “The Selfish Gene.” The point is that the Hebrew/Aramiac word used in the Hebrew Bible is used elsewhere therein to refer to women were were manifestly not virgins. I got into an extended discussion on this topic on a thread on another blog in which an individual claimed that there is no Hebrew/Aramiac word that translates as virgin; thus, he claimed that one must interpret its meaning by the context. Unfortunately, the context surrounding the prophecy of the appearance of the Jewish Messiah doesn’t seem to provide any determinative context.

    As an outsider in such discussions, it seems to me that the Resurrection is a far more important event for Christians then the Virgin Birth. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then the entire basis of Christianity collapses.

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    I would be willing to bet the ranch that the legacy and reputation of Martin Gardner will survive the negative opinions of a nonentity like Mr. McCarthy.

  128. Jon

    Check this out from an earlier post of Chris’s:

    Take a man like John Haught, the Georgetown University Catholic theologian and prominent defender of evolution, who argues that had a camera been present at the scene of Christ’s rising from the dead, it would have recorded nothing. “We trivialize the whole meaning of the Resurrection when we start asking, Is it scientifically verifiable?” Haught has commented.

  129. Anthony McCarthy

    SLC, I’m sure that people will remember Martin Gardner, that doesn’t make his remarks about Rhine and Pratt any less mean spirited and dishonest. I showed a friend who follows those subjects your statement. He said that you didn’t have the slightest idea what you were talking about but he listed the sources he was certain you were depending on. Once the fans of his puzzles are gone, I think Gardner willl be a trivia item, but, then, his work was essentially trivial. I have a slight suspicion that Rhine’s reputation will outlast his, based on what I’ve read of him. Though this isn’t a major area of interest to me. Jessica Utts is certainly more accomplished in what she does than Gardner was in serious work.

    How come Gardner’s religiosity gets a pass from you and the new atheist cult? Someone who believed prayer was effective?

  130. Anthony McCarthy

    If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then the entire basis of Christianity collapses.

    And watch the new atheists continue with their pseudo-scientific “scientific” debunking of something that can’t be the subject of science for all of the reasons mentioned. Only proving, to anyone who isn’t one of their cult, that they don’t care about science any more than IDers, seeing it as a mere tool of their ideological assertions.

    You’re quite a bit out of date about your assertions, you should read J. D. Crossan and what he had to say on that topic. There are any number of Christians who have said they didn’t believe that the Resurrection was a mere resuscitation of a corpse. Crossan has said on many occasions he thinks Jesus’ body rotted in a ditch. Yet his faith doesn’t seem to have evaporated.

  131. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ #129

    Relative to Martin Gardner, I value the opinions of Phil Plait, Jason
    Rosenhouse, and James Randi far more then anyone that Mr. McCarthy can name.

    As for the late Mr. Gardners’ religious beliefs, as I recall, very late in his life, he described himself as a non-Christian theist, (just like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin) although in earlier periods of his life he would be more accurately described as an agnostic. See, for example, his view of Robert Hutchins and Mortimer Adler in, “Fads and Fallacies in Science, and his view on them expressed some 40 years later. His view of Yeshua of Nazareth was expressed in an essay about the fable of the Wandering Jew. The Christian Bible quotes Yeshua as stating that he would return while one or more of his followers was still living. Gardners’ comment was that the Galilean carpenter turned itinerant preacher was mistaken.

    I have never heard of Mr. Crossan before but if Mr. McCarthy is correctly relating his views, I find them rather interesting. According to the Christian Scriptures, Yeshua was entombed in an enclosure provided by Joseph of Arimathea. Two days later, the tomb was reopened and was found to be empty. If, indeed, the body ended up in a ditch, it would seem that somebody is lying here. Either the tomb was not empty and the body was removed and deposited elsewhere or somebody entered it during the two day hiatus, either through some backdoor entrance or with the connivance of his followers who were camped at the entrance and removed the body and deposited it elsewhere.

    Relative to the Resurrection, I will quote Calvinist Physics Prof. David Heddle who admitted on Ed Braytons’ blog that he would lose his faith if it could be shown that Yeshua was not resurrected on Easter
    Sunday. I would also point out that a similar view as to the relative importance of the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth was expressed by the late Episcopal Bishop of California, James A. Pike.

    Re Jon @ #128

    I am aware of Prof. Haughts’ views which were also expressed during the Dover Trial under cross examination. I wonder if the good professor expressed such views when he taught religion classes at Georgetown, although the Jesuit fathers who run the place seem to take a rather liberal view on issues of theology. By the way, Prof. Haught also opines that the Virgin Birth is allegorical, a view that, apparently, Ken Miller is now espousing.

  132. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, odd. I seem to recall in his Scrivner book he identifies himself as a “theist” but it’s been a while. Though, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see him taking his “switchblade” to shave the facts about himself rather finely, having seen how he could do it with other things.

    Rosenhouse and Randi, well, much as I have had my differences with Rosenhouse I really think he deserves better than to be put in the same category as Randi.

    “Mr. Crossan”, well he is only one of the most prominent New Testament and Early Christian period scholars at work today, still, the name Phil Plait doesn’t ring a bell with me. I always get a kick out of being “Mr”ed by you guys.

    As to someone else and what they would lose their faith over, well I lost my faith in Gardner reading his defense of Hansel. Applying the principles of skepticism to the claims of fraud, where there is no evidence of fraud presented and none detected over a period of many decades of minute oversight doesn’t leave much of a reason to believe the assertion of them. I’m convinced that Rhine was an unusually careful and honest researcher and the charges of fraud are dishonest and unproven. I have wondered ever since how much of the psychology that Hyman taught during his career would stand up to that level of demanded verification. My guess is next to none of it.

    James Randi, really? You want to put his known record of honesty against J. B. Rhine’s?

  133. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    1. Prof. Rosenhouse would in no way, shape, form, or regard be in any way upset to be paired with James Randi. In fact, he would consider it a great honor. I think that Mr. McCarthy is just bent out of shape because Mr. Randi waited 81 years to come out of the closet. My personnel opinion is that his sexual preferences are nobodys’ business.

    2. Martin Gardner never made any accusation that Joseph Rhine was dishonest or fraudulent that I know of. He certainly did not make such accusations in his book, “Fads and Fallacies in Science,” where an entire chapter was devoted to PK and ESP. He said that Prof. Rhines’ protocols were inadequate to prevent cheating by his subjects or the testers. When Rhine tightened up his protocols, the statistical significance of his findings disappeared. Gardner was much less sanguine about Puthoff and Targ. Nobody denies that Prof. Rhine was an honest researcher. He just was naive about the propensity for human beings to cheat.

    3. Phil Plait is known as the “bad astronomer” and is a blogmate of Mr. Mooney and Ms. Kirshenbaum on Discovermagazineblogs. Link below. And by the way, Dr. Plait is a personal friend of James Randi, as is physics professor Bob Park., and Nobel physics laureate Murray GellMann.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/

  134. SLC

    Here’s another take on the pseudosciences PK and ESP by Sean Carroll, a professor of astrophysics at Cal Tech.

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2008/02/14/american-association-for-the-advancement-of-pseudoscience/

  135. Anthony McCarthy

    If Jason Rosenhouse would be proud to be paired with James Randi, I’m sorry to hear it. I thought better of him. Many of Randi’s escapades are well known, some with transparently absurd cover stories spread by him and his acolytes. Some, oddly enough, seem to be accurately featured on the web, if anyone wants to look. There are signs that more will be known and verified in the near future. I’ll revisit them when they are.

    The old goat was assumed to be gay for ages, it was mentioned in circles I’m familiar with two or three decades ago. That lawsuit he was involved in certainly didn’t do anything to disprove the rumors.

    I couldn’t care less if he waited till after that recent article in the Anomalist was pending to belatedly try to make an honest man of himself. It’s not as if gay men needed him as a figurehead. He’s no representative for me. Being indifferent, it hasn’t ever occurred to be before now, but I’d just as soon he’d stayed in the closet.

    I haven’t read the article yet, by the way. Probably won’t buy it and probably won’t get to it till it’s posted online somewhere.

    Martin Gardner’s F&F came out a long, long time ago. It’s almost as old as I am. He never produced any evidence that there was cheating in Rhine’s lab, he made veiled assertions which I’m sure he knew his many uncritical admirers would understand as gospel. He defended Hansel’s phony “evidence” that cheating was likely even when the absurdity of the claims were pointed out to him. Reading about it was what opened my eyes to the nature of “skepticism”. Gardner knew that his fans would accept any tripe he cooked up.

    Neither ever produced evidence of fraud or that Rhine’s lab results were anything but an accurate record of valid tests. After Rhine’s death he expressed the wish that he had said worse about him while he was alive, I strongly suspect Gardner realized that eventually the lack of evidence would catch up with him and he wanted to forestall that day. That Rhine was dead didn’t stop him from doing it so I don’t feel any qualms about saying what I am. It’s nothing I didn’t say before he was dead.

    If the kinds of rules they applied to Rhine’s work were applied to conventional psychology, it would probably disappear. If Randi’s style of debunking was applied to science, little of it would stand up. Nothing in the social sciences would. Where else do unproven hints of fraud and cheating get accepted as a definitive refutation of research?

    I blame Gardner for making an absurd level of dishonest pseudo-skepticism an accepted intellectual pose for anyone who wants to launch an attack with no evidence, no integrity and without honesty. Skeptical claims shouldn’t be any more exempt from skepticism than any other claims. You shouldn’t get a pass because you declare yourself a “skeptic”. There was a time you didn’t have to put quotes around the word to stay honest about it. Martin Gardner’s is the man who started skepticism on its decline into the frat house it currently is. It’s too bad as honest skepticism is an essential tool of thought.

    I don’t know who Phil Plait is and so have no opinion of him. I assume he’s old enough to decide who he’s going to be friends with, that’s none of my business. I’m told that some people find Randi charming but I’m pretty charm resistant. To me he’s just obnoxious and repulsive.

  136. Anthony McCarthy

    I notice Sean Carroll didn’t produce any information in his diatribe, he just made assertions. Jessica Utts, one of the better statisticians in the country, is on the AAAS board

    American Association for the Advancement of Science

    * Member, Committee on Council Affairs (Executive Committee of the Council) (2006-08)
    * Council Member representing Secction U (2006-08)
    * Secretary of Section U (1995 – 2003)
    * Chair, Section U (Statistics) Nominating Committee (1994 – 1995)

    http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jutts/activities.htm

    and bothered to provide some information in her assessment.

    http://www.ics.uci.edu/~jutts/air.pdf

    But, then, she actually looked at the evidence instead of just ranting out of the common received knowledge . Such as that is.

  137. If Mr Mcarthy is so sure of the existence of ESP, miracles and other forms complete bull crap, I would encourage him to go get his million dollars:

    http://www.randi.org/site/

  138. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    Ah gee, Mr. McCarthy makes the logical fallacy of argument by credentialism relative to Prof. Utts. Let’s examine why this is fallacious.

    1. The late Nobel Prize winning chemist Linus Pauling argued that vitamin C was a cure for cancer and claimed to have the evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, research physicians specializing in cancer research, who actually knew something about the subject matter were quite unimpressed. But of course, according to Mr. McCarthy, we should believe Pauling because he had exemplary credentials, which are at least as prestigious as those of Prof. Utts.

    2. The late Nobel Prize winning physicist William Shockley argued that the black population of the United States had a statistically lower IQ then did Caucasians, and that he had the evidence to prove it. Oddly enough, research psychologists who actually knew something about the subject matter were quite unimpressed. But of course, according to Mr. McCarthy, we should believe Shockley because he had exemplary credentials, which are at least as prestigious as those of Prof. Utts.

    3. The late astronomer and former president of the American Astronomical Society, J. Allen Hynek, argued that alien visitations and abductions had occurred and that he had the evidence to prove it. Oddly enough, his colleagues were quite unimpressed. But of course, according to Mr. McCarthy, we should believe Hynek because he had exemplary credentials, which are at least as prestigious as those of Prof. Utts. By the way, Prof. Hynek was the subject of a number of caustic articles by Martin Gardner which should boost the formers’ credentials in the estimation of Mr. McCarthy.

    4. Prof. Peter Duesberg, a candidate for the Nobel Prize in medicine for his groundbreaking work on ERVs in the 1960s argues that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that is, when he finally got around to admitting that HIV exists, and further argues that gay men shouldn’t bother to use condoms when engaging in anal sex. Oddly enough, his colleagues have followed the evidence and are quite unimpressed with the good professors’ arguments. But of course, according to Mr. McCarthy, we should believe Duesberg because he has exemplary credentials which are at least as prestigious as those of Prof. Utts. In the interest of delicacy, I will refrain from posing the obvious question to Mr. McCarthy.

    5. Prof. Lynn Margulis, a member of the American Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious such organization in the country, is a troofer, a Holocaust revisionist, and an HIV/AIDS denier, even though she admitted to me on a thread on PZ Myers’ blog that she didn’t know anything about the subject matter relative to HIV (her opinion was based on her association with Prof. Duesberg). Needless to say, her colleagues are unimpressed. But, of course, according to Mr. McCarthy, we should believe Prof. Margulis because she has exemplary credentials which are at least as prestigious as those of Prof. Utts.

  139. Anthony McCarthy

    Doug, I didn’t say anything about believing in ESP or miracles, that’s not my reason for appearing to fall for SLC’s bait at all and I did warn you boys about that.

    As to playing the credentials game, what was SLC doing? I wasn’t arguing that Utts’ paper was credible because of her professional accomplishments, impressive as those are, I was pointing out that she cited evidence whereas what he cited didn’t.

    You up on Randi’s take on climate change, SLC?

  140. Anthony McCarthy

    Oh, and, Doug, if you can’t see through the fraud of Randi’s challenge you are out of your depth. His fellow skeptics have been reporting that he’s told them he’s always got an out since at least the early 80s. Like the bulk of his stuff, it’s PR garbage meant to impress the very easily impressed.

    What do you make of Dawkins’ recent pontifications in this area, SLC?

  141. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ #139

    Gee, Mr. Randi is mislead about climate change. He subsequently admitted that he had spoken before making a careful study of the subject. If Mr. McCarthy had bothered to visit Phil Plaits’ blog, he would have seen a full discussion of this issue. By the way, the only thing that Prof. Utts can legitimately pontificate on is that the studies that she reviewed used standard statistical methods in arriving at their conclusions and that these conclusions are based on standard statistical inference. She has no competence to comment on whether the data that was collected and on which the statistical analysis was based is good data. Ever heard of garbage in, garbage out? Incidentally, in researching this topic, I discovered that Dr. Puthoff is a Scientologist. Doesn’t do much to provide confidence in his research abilities.

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ #140

    1. Would Mr. McCarthy care to identify those “fellow skeptics” who have made such a claim and provide a link to a source. This argument is the same one that phony physics and third rate conjurers like Uri Geller provide as their excuse for declining to accept the challenge.

    2. I don’t follow all the perambulations of Prof. Dawkins so I am unaware of what Mr. McCarthy is talking about. Is Mr. McCarthy claiming that Prof. Dawkins believes in ESP? I’ll believe that when I see it.

  142. Anthony McCarthy

    So many worth while blogs, so little time. Oh, I think you’ll find all kinds of interesting twists in Randi’s CV.

    It is clear to this author that anomalous cognition is possible and has been demonstrated. This conclusion is not based on belief, but rather on commonly accepted scientific criteria. The phenomenon has been replicated in a number of forms across laboratories and cultures. The various experiments in which it has been observed have been different enough that if some subtle methodological problems can explain the results, then there would have to be a different explanation for each type of experiment, yet the impact would have to be similar across experiments and laboratories. If fraud were responsible, similarly, it would require an equivalent amount of fraud on the part of a large number of experimenters or an even larger number of subjects.
    Professor Jessica Utts: AN ASSESSMENT OF THE EVIDENCE FOR PSYCHIC FUNCTIONING

    She didn’t mention that a lot of those experiments also had impartial outside observers who would have either had to be in on a fraud or would have had to have been a lot of their colleagues hoodwinked as to their competence. Too many to have kept up that big a conspiracy for so long.

    And if you don’t like her then there is Robert Rosenthal, who is a specialist in experimental analysis, the one whose study was put in the file drawer by Ray Hyman, after he commissioned the study for the National Research Council study he was co-chairing. That Rosenthal’s conclusions, along with just about everyone who looked into the matter, didn’t agree with Hyman’s skeptical conclusion was, I’m certain, just coincidental. I do know of only two real instances in which I’d fault Hyman’s conduct, that’s one of them. I do think that Hyman tries to be honest.

    I didn’t happen to cite Putoff. I don’t happen to be a Scientologist. What’s your reason for bringing him into it? Randi is a professional slight of hand artist, Gardner was an amateur one. As such, both were known to be able to create deceptive illusions. Why the fame and income both have derived from their “skepticism” couldn’t be imagined as a temptation for them to do that in this area doesn’t seem to have ever been a question their fellow “skeptics” have conceived of. Maybe that’s a coincidence too.

    Fellow skeptics? Why not start with arch-skeptic, CSICOP co-founder, Dennis Rawlins. His account of Randi’s role in the infamous and only CSICOP attempt at science is hardly an endorsement. I believe he mentions Randi’s declaration he has an out in his challenge is contained in his “sTARBABY” article which you can easily find online by a search. I’d recommend anyone read it to watch the “skeptics” in action when they’re caught trying to fake science. Martin Gardner’s cameo as an amused and self-absolving onlooker is an interesting contrast to his tenacity in going after pseudo-science by those he didn’t like.

    I didn’t mention Uri Geller either. I never was interested in stage magic so I never followed him. I did hear an atrocity of pop music he was involved in on The Annoying Music Show, for which I’d have penalized him. But I am a musician by profession.

    I’ll leave the Dawkins issue till later.

  143. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy @ #142

    This the same Dennis Rawlins who launched a smear campaign against Polar Explorer Robert Peary, making a claim that was subsequently discredited, that Peary did not reach the North Pole. Not a very reliable individual it would seem. Incidentally, in looking over an article by Dr. Rawlins on the subject of Starbaby, I did not see any claim that Mr. Randi “had an out” relative to the 1 million dollar award issue.

    http://polarcontroversy.com/rawlins.htm

    Relative to the Starbaby controversy, here’s a response by Philip Klass that basically says that Rawlins is, shall we say, less then truthful.

    http://www.freeinquiry.com/skeptic/resources/articles/klass-crybaby.htm

  144. Anthony McCarthy

    You do know that there was an investegation of Klass’ ‘Crybaby’ article published in Zetetic Scholar #10, December 1982.

    In short

    In “The Status of the Mars Effect,” Abell, Kurtz and Zelen simply re-hashed all the statistical errors that Rawlins (Gauquelin, Scott, Hyman, Tarkington) had protested. I did not see this, however, until I had spent hours analyzing four years of published statistics–the errors were even worse than Rawlins had stated, but most Fellows would never learn this.

    “Crybaby” was written by Councilor Philip Klass. Although it offered to refute the cover-up charge, it ignored practically every specific point that Rawlins had made. Instead it offered blatant ad hominem attack on Rawlins’ motives and personality, bolstered with rhetorical ploys–including crude mis-quotation.

    Believing that a full understanding would still get this fiasco straightened out, I sent in a 28-page report called “Personal Assessment of the Mars Controversy.” I came to three conclusions: (a) the scientific errors were gross, (b) Paul Kurtz was not guilty of a cover-up on grounds of lack of statistical understanding, (c) CSICOP was guilty of a cover-up by not taking Rawlins seriously, while “Crybaby” was a disgrace.

    http://www.discord.org/~lippard/kammann.html

    You shouldn’t miss Jim Lippard’s footnote at the end:

    CSICOP has continued to demonstrate that it has problems dealing with internal criticism, most recently with its mishandling of reports of unattributed copying in the work of CSICOP Fellow Robert Baker. — Jim Lippard, 16 December 1995

    It was a long time ago that I read “sTARBABY”. I’ll go check it again, though I could have sworn that’s where I FIRST read about Randi bragging that he always had an out. If you look HONESTLY at the “rules” of the challenge, it means pretty much whatever he decides it means at any given time. If that isn’t an out, the term has no meaning.

    Imagine I’ll have even more time to devote to this when I finally retire.

  145. Anthony McCarthy

    And you should also note this passage of the same:

    The Klass letter started a long and exasperating exchange in which he talked about everything but the statistical errors and the real cover-up. He kept me busy for a while answering irrelevant questions, while periodically attacking my objectivity, intelligence or integrity. From time to time, he threatened to expose my cover-up of scientific evidence he imagined he had uncovered. After he regularly ignored all my serious answers and questions, I nicknamed him T.B. Diago–the best defense is a good offense. He eventually fell back on the traditional Council stance–he didn’t understand statistics.

  146. Anthony McCarthy

    Ah, I love these new fangled text search features, so much easier to find things:

    Next Randi (and soon afterwards Bob Sheaffer) tried to get me involved in new projects, i.e., diversions. As part of this effort Randi asked my advice on the Helmut Schmidt parapsychology experiment which some CSICOPs had been investigating. I simply urged that it be approached with all the caution KZA had thrown to the winds in 1975 and 1976. He assured me how cautious he was in the testing for his well-publicized $ 10,000 prize for proof of psychic abilities (for which he acts as policeman, judge and jury — and thus never has supported my idea of neutral judgment of CSICOP tests. “I always have an out,” he said.

    Dennis Rawlins: sTARBABY FATE Magazine (No. 34, October 1981,)

    Maybe you were looking for $1,000,000. It’s so easy to put up money on those terms I wonder why he didn’t make it a billion dollar challenge.

  147. SLC

    Re Anthony McCarthy

    1. FATE Magazine was founded by Ray Palmer who was the subject of strong criticism in Gardners’, “Fads and fallacies in Science,” book so it is no surprise that it would publish negative articles about Mr. Gardner.

    2. It is not to Dr. Rawlins credit that he published his article in FATE magazine, purveyor of all manner of pseudoscience such as alien abductions, UFOs, Scientology, Dianetics, Orgone Boxes, etc. Even Murdock publications have greater credibility then FATE.

    3. It is perfectly clear that Rawlins is a crank, just like his fellow astronomer J. Allen Hynek eventually became. This is demonstrated by his smear campaign against Robert Peary which was motivated by his racist views about Pearys’ partner, Matthew Hensen.

    4. Just for the edification of the 1 or 2 individuals still following this thread, the entire episode that Mr. McCarthy is making such a big deal about was a study to determine whether astrology had any basis of statistical support. I would criticize the folks who carried out this study on the basis that it was a gigantic waste of their time from the get go. The argument by Dr. Rawlins is over the fact that a statistically significant effect was found for the placement of the planet Mars at a particular location in the Zodiac and he has accused the folks who did the study of covering up this finding. The entire pseudoscience of astrology has been thoroughly debunked in Phil Plaits’ book, “Bad Astronomy. Astrology is even dumber then ESP and PK and almost as dumb as alien abductions.

    The bottom line here is that Mr. McCarthy doesn’t like Martin Gardner and James Randi and won’t be attending any Amazing meetings. That puts him in bed with Sylvia Browne and Uri Geller and that appears to be an appropriate bed for Mr. McCarthy to occupy. I think that Gardner and Randi are estimable fellows which puts me in bed with Phil Plait, Jason Rosenhouse, Murray GellMann, and Bob Park among others. Much better company.

  148. Anthony McCarthy

    1. FATE Magazine was founded by Ray Palmer who was the subject of strong criticism in Gardners’, “Fads and fallacies in Science,” book so it is no surprise that it would publish negative articles about Mr. Gardner.

    Oh. So someone whose work appeared in FATE magazine is discredited by that venue. Including the folks listed here?

    For instance, the popularly written magazine Fate has carried full articles by CSICOP members Susan Blackmore, L. Sprague de Camp, Kendrick Frazier, Martin Gardner, Philip Klass, Larry Kusche, Lawrence Jerome, David Marks, Joe Nickell, James Oberg, Dennis Rawlins, Robert Sheaffer, Gordon Stein, and Marcello Truzzi.

    http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/CSICOPoverview.htm

    You will notice the one I put in bold, I hope. Though he’s hardly the only one who is relevant to my purpose. The list is almost twenty years old. I’m sure there might be others by now. I’m surprised Randi isn’t on it, but maybe he wasn’t up to their standards.

  149. Anthony McCarthy

    Sorry, I should probably have put Philip Klass in bold too.

  150. Anthony McCarthy

    The argument by Dr. Rawlins is over the fact that a statistically significant effect was found for the placement of the planet Mars at a particular location in the Zodiac and he has accused the folks who did the study of covering up this finding. SLC

    You don’t understand what the dispute was about, do you. It was about an incompetently framed challenge to neo-astrological claims. Rawlins saw, just about immediately, that the challenge was so badly framed that it could end up appearing to confirm the original published claims of neo-astrology. HE WAS AFRAID THAT CSICOP WAS GOING TO BE EMBARASSED BY SEEMING TO CONFIRM NEO-ASTROLOGY, not that the “Mars effect” was going to be disproved. The idea that Rawlins was arguing for neo-astrology is hilarious. Rawlins is an extreme skeptic supreme. He’s nastier than Randi about the “paranormal” and religion, but unlike Randi and Klass he also understands the science AND STATISTICS.

  151. Anthony McCarthy

    I’ll add, not being at all interested in UFO or science fiction, and so not knowing much else about Klass than that he’d written that “Crybaby” hit piece and that he, as so, so many of the other Brights lights of “skepticism” demonstrated shocking ignorance of statistics*, reading around on the web, he could be a real jerk. While Rawlins can be too, I don’t remember ever reading about him trying to get a people fired and having their security clearances removed because he’d had an ideological brawl with them.

    * It simply impeaches someone’s competence to be a critic of Psi or most of modern science if they don’t understand statistics. You couldn’t possibly understand these issue without some knowledge of that branch of mathematics because all of the serious, controlled, investigation of the subject requires you to understand what’s being looked at. No one who doesn’t have a grasp of it or who has taken a serious look at the statistical evidence should be misaken as having a serious opinion on the subject.

    I seem to recall even the great Gardner himself poo-pooed statistics when it was, properly, used by Rhine and others. He isn’t the only one, Randi and others have said the same. I don’t think Randi or Klass or the other, various CSICOPers who demonstrated statistical incompetence so publicly and so embarrassingly ever did remedial repair of that huge hole in their credibility. You’ve got to wonder how their colleagues who did understand it could maintain their phony facade of credibility. Real scientists keeping up phony cover for them in the name of reality is just as shocking.

    Their demotion of statistics is astounding, considering what other sciences would be damaged and cease to exist if statistical analysis wasn’t there. Among others, it provides the genetic support for classical, Darwinian evolution and post-darwinian evolution. Genetics wouldn’t ever have developed without the use of statistics. Neither would modern physics.

    This is really, really shocking that such ignorant, illogical and fundamentally anti-scientific ideologues could become the public face of science. And I hope some actual scientists consider just how troubling this is. It’s the kind of dishonest denial of reality that eventually has unpredictable effects and causes serious damage.

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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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