Evangelicals vs. science

When the Evangelical Environmental Network first launched, the core of our message was simple: If you love the Creator, you ought to care for the creation.

I still find the logic of that message compelling and unassailable. If you believe that God made this world, then love of God ought to entail a corresponding love for the world that God made. To be disdainful of creation is to show disdain for the Creator.

It’s right there in American evangelical Christianity’s favorite Bible verse, “For God so loved the world.”

The original word there in John’s Gospel was “cosmos” — a word that was, for John, as vast and comprehensive as it would be centuries later for Carl Sagan.

John 3:16 isn’t mainly about God as Creator, but about God as Redeemer, which only intensifies the point about God’s passionate love for the cosmos. God created the world and declared it good. Then God redeemed the world, thus dispelling any doubt about the Creator’s enduring love for the creation. (And yes, John 3 teaches, as Paul did, that God is redeeming “the world.” Jesus may be your “personal Lord and Savior,” but Jesus is not only your “personal Lord and Savior.”)

So that was the core of our basic message: If you love the Creator, you must love the creation. And caring for creation must also mean caring about creation. And that means wanting to know more about it — wanting to learn as much as you can learn about every facet and aspect, every realm and region, nook and cranny, quark and quasar.

Imagine someone who didn’t know their spouse’s middle name, or favorite foods, or hobbies, occupation, background or family. You would assume — rightly, I think — that such a person couldn’t possibly really love their spouse, because to love someone is to desire to know them better.

So that core message we had with the Evangelical Environmental Network shouldn’t just apply to environmentalism. It ought to apply to all of science. To all the many practical and pleasurable reasons anyone has to explore the sciences and to be excited and enthralled by science, evangelical Christians can add one more: It’s God’s world, God’s cosmos. God made it. God is redeeming it. God loves it. Anyone who loves God ought to love the world as well — and to love learning about the world.

We Christians ought to be famous for our love and devotion to the best, deepest, broadest and most ambitious science. We ought to be known for the same half-goofy, starry-eyed wonderment that the late Carl Sagan showed toward science.

But that’s not the case. Perversely, the opposite is true. We Christians have a long history of ambivalence and antipathy toward science. Sure, we can point to dozens of examples of devout Christians who were also top-notch scientists — Newton, Mendel, Francis Collins, etc. — but they stand out as exceptions.

And for American evangelical Christians the track record is even worse. American evangelicals tend to treat science as the enemy and to regard scientists as guilty until proven innocent. This is due to a host of reasons, foremost among them being the perception that evolution poses a threat to the Bible. But this unlovely (and, frankly, sinful) antipathy to science preceded Darwin — his work was not the first natural explanation rejected as a perceived threat to supernatural beliefs. And while the Scopes trial got the headlines, the formative main event in the 1920s for American evangelicals was the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy — another dispute in which science, particularly scientific criticism, was engaged in battle as the enemy.

That long history and the many causes and roots of evangelical Christian distrust of science are worth exploring in more detail, because if we want to overcome that distrust, then we need to understand it. I want to return to this topic in future posts to discuss some of the responses and approaches that I think are most promising and/or necessary for challenging and overcoming this anti-science reflex. But since I started thinking about this topic again due to a series of recent articles and posts, let me just wrap up for now by highlighting some of those.

I’m looking forward to reading the new book from Physicist Karl Giberson and historian Randall Stephens, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Scientific Age. Giberson has been on something  of an online publicity tour for the book, publishing a series of articles on its basic themes.

Why Do So Many Evangelicals Prefer to Get Their ‘Science’ From Ken Ham Rather Than Francis Collins?” Giberson asks at science + religion today:

Anti-evolutionists like Ken Ham—and his colleagues at places like the Discovery Institute—constantly bash science as ideology claiming that its conclusions derive from “assumptions” rather than observations. After years of seeing science bashed, many evangelicals simply don’t trust it. And so they embrace a “science” that seems to agree with the Bible, oblivious to the fact that it has no support of any kind.

My only quibble there is with the word “oblivious,” which is inaccurate unless it’s qualified as, say, “mostly oblivious” or “willfully oblivious.” At the very least, this obliviousness is a choice, and having to make that choice means that one cannot ever quite be wholly oblivious.

At The Guardian (UK), Giberson writes that “Millions of evangelicals, including GOP candidates, are trapped in an alternative ‘parallel culture’ with its own standards of truth“:

By the time we were in college our generation of evangelicals had been educated into a profoundly different worldview than that of the secular, anti-Christian, Satan-following Ivy League elites we had been taught to fear. We understood the world to be a spiritual battleground with forces of good pitted against forces of evil. Real angels and real demons hovered about us as we prepared to wage these wars.

And at the Huffington Post, Giberson writes on “Why Evangelicals Are Fooled Into Accepting Pseudoscience“:

Why have evangelicals been so ready to reject the generally accepted conclusions of the scientific community on global warming?

I want to suggest that the reason has nothing to do with climate science per se, but derives from the generally dim view that many evangelicals have of science and scientists — views that make it hard to distinguish credible science from fake challengers.

One of the strategies employed most effectively by evangelicals in their crusade against evolution, which does pose real, although soluble, biblical and theological problems, has been to undermine the entire scientific enterprise. If science is a deeply flawed, ideologically driven, philosophically suspect enterprise, then why should anyone care if almost every scientist supports the theory of evolution? If the scientific community is just a bunch of self-serving ideologues with Ivy League appointments, then we can ignore anything it says that we don’t like.

All spot on and very true, but not the whole explanation for evangelicals’ rejection of climate science. The whole explanation would also include the very important factors of politics and money. Evangelical Christians who say they reject climate science explicitly indicate that this rejection is political, not scientific. And the subject of evangelical hostility toward science has become a hot topic lately for explicitly political reasons. The Republican presidential primary has become a contest to capture the evangelical Christian voting bloc, bringing about the spectacle of what Phil Plait calls “The increasingly antiscience Republican candidates“:

Each candidate on the right is simply scrambling to be even more antiscience than the next.

Of course, if that “next” is Rick Perry, then I doubt anyone could sprint away from reality more than he does. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool creationist … and when it comes to denying climate change he also apparently had no problem with simply making things up. …

Even the candidates people are calling “moderate” are falling over themselves to appease the base when it comes to science and the lack thereof. Mitt Romney tried to eat his cake and have it too about accepting evolution, and even Ron Paul has now distanced himself from evolution.

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  • Jenny Islander

    I’ll just leave this here.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-vDhYTlCNw

    NSFW only if you (a) aren’t allowed to play music at work or (b) work with people who will freak out if they know you’re a librul and/or freak out if somebody mentions religion at all.

    For Reflexive Useful Idiot up the thread a bit there: “strike-slip fault and overthrust/And syn- and anticline” aren’t weird sexual practices, they’re descriptions of what you see in the rock layers when you blast them open to build a highway.  Not that the entire song isn’t full of things you have been trained to freak out about as soon as you hear them mentioned, conveniently shutting off your brain.  Reflexive useful idiocy can be cured, cousin.  Asking questions with the brain God gave you isn’t a sin.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    Can someone help me out?  Anyway, here’s a link to the image I was trying to get:
    http://artfulwriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/dog-whargarbl.jpg

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    That’s one of my favorite internet pictures hehe >_<

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    One of our dogs does it.  As soon as I saw the picture I shouted: “Yes! That’s exactly the noise it makes!” LOLOLOLOL

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    Can someone help me out?  Anyway, here’s a link to the image I was trying to get:
    http://artfulwriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/dog-whargarbl.jpg

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    That’s one of my favorite internet pictures hehe >_<

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    One of our dogs does it.  As soon as I saw the picture I shouted: “Yes! That’s exactly the noise it makes!” LOLOLOLOL

  • patter

    only eight shades of gray because the Bible tells them so

    Or because George tells you so

  • patter

    only eight shades of gray because the Bible tells them so

    Or because George tells you so

  • LL

    Well, when you ask why religious people (it isn’t just Christians or evangelicals, though they do seem to be the standard bearers of late) are anti-science, as far as I can tell, it’s basically two groups:

    1) The dumb people, the ones who actually believe (or want to believe) the various silly explanations for why this science or that science is evil (and they’re usually silly explanations; religion almost never has a good or rational reason for its opposition to scientific advances), and
    2) The people in charge, who find it more difficult to control people who actually know stuff. They like an ignorant populace that doesn’t question the bullshit they spread around.

    The truth is, many people, even unreligious ones, are kinda vaguely anti-science, or at least anti-scientific method. They scoff at proven technologies like vaccination because … hell, I don’t know. I suspect many people just don’t understand, don’t want to take the time to understand and they think they sound smarter by questioning the sciency stuff that all those unmanly science guys come up with. Or they think they’re morally superior in their questioning, because if they don’t understand something, if it doesn’t “make sense” to them, that means it must be wrong. Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women esp.) are more important than facts. “I feel it in my heart” and “If I believe it, it’s true” seem to be even more popular than the religious-based ignorance, at least in America. It’s amusing that these people drive around in cars and communicate with phones that wouldn’t exist without science, but still think that their thoughts and feelings are more important than facts, in a discussion in which facts are more useful (for example, the “debate” about climate).

    Plus, science often tells them things they don’t want to hear. “Whaddya mean, I’m harming the environment by driving a giant car that gets shitty mileage? I love my giant car!” Also, it’s kind of amazing, the power of a crappy idea. Rational people think that good ideas are evident to everyone and that bad ideas are equally evident, but unfortunately, it’s not so. Millions of people (or much smaller numbers of very powerful people) have latched onto many shitty ideas throughout history, and those ideas do terrible damage, and only AFTER they do the terrible damage do most people have the brains to say, “Um, hey, this seems like a really terrible idea, let’s do something else that isn’t terrible.”

  • Mr. Heartland

     “Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women
    esp.)
    are more important than facts.”

    Well no, certainly not women in particular, and not actually beliefs and feelings in general either, only Their beliefs and feelings.  They cannot accept that there is any such thing as truth that exists independent of their own wills, independent of them.  Truth to them is a thing to fight for the right to define and impose upon others.  Whenever you see zealots of either the far left or far right, whenever you see a fascist, communist, or theocratic regime take power, whenever you see the insistence that what a strong man believes is the ultimate force of the universe, there you will see science perverted. 

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women esp.) are more important than facts.

      That right there?  That’s some bullshit.

    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?

    Women are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    This, right here, is sexist shit; and if you doubt for just one second that that’s what it is, let me suggest this:

    Replace women in that sentence with black people.  Replace women in that sentence with Jews.  Replace women in that sentence with any other group and see how it reads.

    Yeah.

    Whenever you treat a group of people that shares a singular characteristic as if they were a monolithic entity all of whom have other traits in common just by virtue of similar anatomy, you are being a prejudiced jackass.

    Don’t be.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?

    Women
    are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable
    as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s
    because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two
    different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    @mistharm:disqus don’t you know that when women base anything on a subjective, emotional response it’s their feeeelings (soft, flaky etc) but when men do the same it’s their gut (strong, tough, roar). Totally different.

    Sarcasm off, I know shitloads of men who think that feelings are more important than facts. They get praised for this approach because they are men of conviction yeah! Women, on the other hand, are irrational and might cry which is awkward and maybe they’re just expressing themselves like that because it’s that time of the month which ew.

    So yeah, sexist bullshit.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women esp.) are more important than facts.

      That right there?  That’s some bullshit.

    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?

    Women are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    This, right here, is sexist shit; and if you doubt for just one second that that’s what it is, let me suggest this:

    Replace women in that sentence with black people.  Replace women in that sentence with Jews.  Replace women in that sentence with any other group and see how it reads.

    Yeah.

    Whenever you treat a group of people that shares a singular characteristic as if they were a monolithic entity all of whom have other traits in common just by virtue of similar anatomy, you are being a prejudiced jackass.

    Don’t be.

  • LL

    Well, when you ask why religious people (it isn’t just Christians or evangelicals, though they do seem to be the standard bearers of late) are anti-science, as far as I can tell, it’s basically two groups:

    1) The dumb people, the ones who actually believe (or want to believe) the various silly explanations for why this science or that science is evil (and they’re usually silly explanations; religion almost never has a good or rational reason for its opposition to scientific advances), and
    2) The people in charge, who find it more difficult to control people who actually know stuff. They like an ignorant populace that doesn’t question the bullshit they spread around.

    The truth is, many people, even unreligious ones, are kinda vaguely anti-science, or at least anti-scientific method. They scoff at proven technologies like vaccination because … hell, I don’t know. I suspect many people just don’t understand, don’t want to take the time to understand and they think they sound smarter by questioning the sciency stuff that all those unmanly science guys come up with. Or they think they’re morally superior in their questioning, because if they don’t understand something, if it doesn’t “make sense” to them, that means it must be wrong. Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women esp.) are more important than facts. “I feel it in my heart” and “If I believe it, it’s true” seem to be even more popular than the religious-based ignorance, at least in America. It’s amusing that these people drive around in cars and communicate with phones that wouldn’t exist without science, but still think that their thoughts and feelings are more important than facts, in a discussion in which facts are more useful (for example, the “debate” about climate).

    Plus, science often tells them things they don’t want to hear. “Whaddya mean, I’m harming the environment by driving a giant car that gets shitty mileage? I love my giant car!” Also, it’s kind of amazing, the power of a crappy idea. Rational people think that good ideas are evident to everyone and that bad ideas are equally evident, but unfortunately, it’s not so. Millions of people (or much smaller numbers of very powerful people) have latched onto many shitty ideas throughout history, and those ideas do terrible damage, and only AFTER they do the terrible damage do most people have the brains to say, “Um, hey, this seems like a really terrible idea, let’s do something else that isn’t terrible.”

  • Mr. Heartland

     “Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women
    esp.)
    are more important than facts.”

    Well no, certainly not women in particular, and not actually beliefs and feelings in general either, only Their beliefs and feelings.  They cannot accept that there is any such thing as truth that exists independent of their own wills, independent of them.  Truth to them is a thing to fight for the right to define and impose upon others.  Whenever you see zealots of either the far left or far right, whenever you see a fascist, communist, or theocratic regime take power, whenever you see the insistence that what a strong man believes is the ultimate force of the universe, there you will see science perverted. 

  • Mr. Heartland

     “Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women
    esp.)
    are more important than facts.”

    Well no, certainly not women in particular, and not actually beliefs and feelings in general either, only Their beliefs and feelings.  They cannot accept that there is any such thing as truth that exists independent of their own wills, independent of them.  Truth to them is a thing to fight for the right to define and impose upon others.  Whenever you see zealots of either the far left or far right, whenever you see a fascist, communist, or theocratic regime take power, whenever you see the insistence that what a strong man believes is the ultimate force of the universe, there you will see science perverted. 

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Some people seem to actually think that belief or feelings (women esp.) are more important than facts.

      That right there?  That’s some bullshit.

    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?

    Women are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    This, right here, is sexist shit; and if you doubt for just one second that that’s what it is, let me suggest this:

    Replace women in that sentence with black people.  Replace women in that sentence with Jews.  Replace women in that sentence with any other group and see how it reads.

    Yeah.

    Whenever you treat a group of people that shares a singular characteristic as if they were a monolithic entity all of whom have other traits in common just by virtue of similar anatomy, you are being a prejudiced jackass.

    Don’t be.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?

    Women
    are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable
    as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s
    because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two
    different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    @mistharm:disqus don’t you know that when women base anything on a subjective, emotional response it’s their feeeelings (soft, flaky etc) but when men do the same it’s their gut (strong, tough, roar). Totally different.

    Sarcasm off, I know shitloads of men who think that feelings are more important than facts. They get praised for this approach because they are men of conviction yeah! Women, on the other hand, are irrational and might cry which is awkward and maybe they’re just expressing themselves like that because it’s that time of the month which ew.

    So yeah, sexist bullshit.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?

    Women
    are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable
    as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s
    because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two
    different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    @mistharm:disqus don’t you know that when women base anything on a subjective, emotional response it’s their feeeelings (soft, flaky etc) but when men do the same it’s their gut (strong, tough, roar). Totally different.

    Sarcasm off, I know shitloads of men who think that feelings are more important than facts. They get praised for this approach because they are men of conviction yeah! Women, on the other hand, are irrational and might cry which is awkward and maybe they’re just expressing themselves like that because it’s that time of the month which ew.

    So yeah, sexist bullshit.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I am wondering if they see statements like this from Carl Sagan as a challenge:  

    Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever it has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?

    I can see them taking that as a “holier than thou” assertion, with which they respond poorly, because of course everyone knows that they are in fact the holiest.  It creates a disturbing cognitive dissonance when one is an authoritarian who believes authority commands them to be humble.  

    Or maybe they see science as a threat, a rival evangelical belief.  To quote Sagan again:  

    How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
    Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

  • Anonymous

    Carl Sagan had a limitless wonder for the universe, and a desire to share that wonder with everyone.  He loved not knowing; he loved the idea that the universe had surprises and had new things for us to learn.  And he was possessed of a magnificent sense of both humility at the vastness of the universe, and pride at seeing humanity reach outward to learn more.  And he had optimism.

    He had a wonderful way with words, too.  “The cosmos is also within us.  We are made of star-stuff.”

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I would not say Sagan “loved not knowing”.  Someone who loves not knowing something has incentive to remain ignorant.  What Sagan loved was discovery, the process of turning ignorance into knowledge, and was reassured by the concept that, vast as the universe is, there would always be more unknown to discover than we could ever find.  

  • Anonymous

    A good point, that’s much more accurate.  Thanks for the correction!

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Sagan’s sagacity shows itself once again. :-D

    What these people forget is that the modern scientific worldview is in fact a direct outgrowth of Judeo-Christian culture and thinking (with a big helping of Aristotle along the way).  The Berean approach to Scripture and ‘rightly dividing’ the Truth lead to the scientific approach.  If the fundamentalists are upset by science, they should remember that the world Christians helped create established modern science in the first place.

    The debate as I keep hearing it is always presents a false dichotomy: do you believe in science or in the Bible?  Nobody ever suggests that human beings may be reading the Bible wrong, or using the Bible in ways it was never intended to be used.  This would imply that leaders of the church have been in error…leading right back to the sin of hubris another poster spoke of.

    I personally would love for Christ’s family to take up the banner of science as Sagan suggested.  Will it happen?  Not without a lot of changes–to public education not least.  Most of the problem is that most people just don’t have enough background knowledge or critical reasoning skills to even understand the issue.  It goes beyond fundamentalism: consider the number of people who fall prey to TV psychics, UFO conspiracy theories, or the supernatural in general.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t UFOs or that there isn’t a spiritual world.  To reiterate Sagan, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’–and most people just don’t truly know what ‘extraordinary’ means.  It’s not their fault; they’ve never been taught.

  • Anonymous

    Some of my favorite prayers have actually emphasized the massive and impressive nature of the universe and its connection to God. “Brother Sun” by St. Francis,  “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” (with one phrase dropped or recast), and the much less well-known Thanksgiving for a Child from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The specific phrase that always strikes me in this context is praying that parents raise their child to have “a spirit of awe and wonder in all Your works.”

  • Anonymous

    Some of my favorite prayers have actually emphasized the massive and impressive nature of the universe and its connection to God. “Brother Sun” by St. Francis,  “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” (with one phrase dropped or recast), and the much less well-known Thanksgiving for a Child from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The specific phrase that always strikes me in this context is praying that parents raise their child to have “a spirit of awe and wonder in all Your works.”

  • http://dragoness-e.livejournal.com/ Dragoness Eclectic

    A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

    Last I looked, that describes the Roman Catholic church, which is over 1000 years old. I guess it has ’emerged’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Islam at the beginning had some promise in that direction, but the Mongols cut them short.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I am wondering if they see statements like this from Carl Sagan as a challenge:  

    Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever it has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?

    I can see them taking that as a “holier than thou” assertion, with which they respond poorly, because of course everyone knows that they are in fact the holiest.  It creates a disturbing cognitive dissonance when one is an authoritarian who believes authority commands them to be humble.  

    Or maybe they see science as a threat, a rival evangelical belief.  To quote Sagan again:  

    How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
    Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

  • Anonymous

    Carl Sagan had a limitless wonder for the universe, and a desire to share that wonder with everyone.  He loved not knowing; he loved the idea that the universe had surprises and had new things for us to learn.  And he was possessed of a magnificent sense of both humility at the vastness of the universe, and pride at seeing humanity reach outward to learn more.  And he had optimism.

    He had a wonderful way with words, too.  “The cosmos is also within us.  We are made of star-stuff.”

  • Anonymous

    Carl Sagan had a limitless wonder for the universe, and a desire to share that wonder with everyone.  He loved not knowing; he loved the idea that the universe had surprises and had new things for us to learn.  And he was possessed of a magnificent sense of both humility at the vastness of the universe, and pride at seeing humanity reach outward to learn more.  And he had optimism.

    He had a wonderful way with words, too.  “The cosmos is also within us.  We are made of star-stuff.”

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I would not say Sagan “loved not knowing”.  Someone who loves not knowing something has incentive to remain ignorant.  What Sagan loved was discovery, the process of turning ignorance into knowledge, and was reassured by the concept that, vast as the universe is, there would always be more unknown to discover than we could ever find.  

  • Anonymous

    A good point, that’s much more accurate.  Thanks for the correction!

  • Anonymous

    A good point, that’s much more accurate.  Thanks for the correction!

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I would not say Sagan “loved not knowing”.  Someone who loves not knowing something has incentive to remain ignorant.  What Sagan loved was discovery, the process of turning ignorance into knowledge, and was reassured by the concept that, vast as the universe is, there would always be more unknown to discover than we could ever find.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Sagan’s sagacity shows itself once again. :-D

    What these people forget is that the modern scientific worldview is in fact a direct outgrowth of Judeo-Christian culture and thinking (with a big helping of Aristotle along the way).  The Berean approach to Scripture and ‘rightly dividing’ the Truth lead to the scientific approach.  If the fundamentalists are upset by science, they should remember that the world Christians helped create established modern science in the first place.

    The debate as I keep hearing it is always presents a false dichotomy: do you believe in science or in the Bible?  Nobody ever suggests that human beings may be reading the Bible wrong, or using the Bible in ways it was never intended to be used.  This would imply that leaders of the church have been in error…leading right back to the sin of hubris another poster spoke of.

    I personally would love for Christ’s family to take up the banner of science as Sagan suggested.  Will it happen?  Not without a lot of changes–to public education not least.  Most of the problem is that most people just don’t have enough background knowledge or critical reasoning skills to even understand the issue.  It goes beyond fundamentalism: consider the number of people who fall prey to TV psychics, UFO conspiracy theories, or the supernatural in general.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t UFOs or that there isn’t a spiritual world.  To reiterate Sagan, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’–and most people just don’t truly know what ‘extraordinary’ means.  It’s not their fault; they’ve never been taught.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Sagan’s sagacity shows itself once again. :-D

    What these people forget is that the modern scientific worldview is in fact a direct outgrowth of Judeo-Christian culture and thinking (with a big helping of Aristotle along the way).  The Berean approach to Scripture and ‘rightly dividing’ the Truth lead to the scientific approach.  If the fundamentalists are upset by science, they should remember that the world Christians helped create established modern science in the first place.

    The debate as I keep hearing it is always presents a false dichotomy: do you believe in science or in the Bible?  Nobody ever suggests that human beings may be reading the Bible wrong, or using the Bible in ways it was never intended to be used.  This would imply that leaders of the church have been in error…leading right back to the sin of hubris another poster spoke of.

    I personally would love for Christ’s family to take up the banner of science as Sagan suggested.  Will it happen?  Not without a lot of changes–to public education not least.  Most of the problem is that most people just don’t have enough background knowledge or critical reasoning skills to even understand the issue.  It goes beyond fundamentalism: consider the number of people who fall prey to TV psychics, UFO conspiracy theories, or the supernatural in general.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t UFOs or that there isn’t a spiritual world.  To reiterate Sagan, ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’–and most people just don’t truly know what ‘extraordinary’ means.  It’s not their fault; they’ve never been taught.

  • Anonymous

    Some of my favorite prayers have actually emphasized the massive and impressive nature of the universe and its connection to God. “Brother Sun” by St. Francis,  “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” (with one phrase dropped or recast), and the much less well-known Thanksgiving for a Child from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The specific phrase that always strikes me in this context is praying that parents raise their child to have “a spirit of awe and wonder in all Your works.”

  • Anonymous

    Some of my favorite prayers have actually emphasized the massive and impressive nature of the universe and its connection to God. “Brother Sun” by St. Francis,  “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” (with one phrase dropped or recast), and the much less well-known Thanksgiving for a Child from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The specific phrase that always strikes me in this context is praying that parents raise their child to have “a spirit of awe and wonder in all Your works.”

  • http://dragoness-e.livejournal.com/ Dragoness Eclectic

    A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

    Last I looked, that describes the Roman Catholic church, which is over 1000 years old. I guess it has ’emerged’.

  • http://dragoness-e.livejournal.com/ Dragoness Eclectic

    A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

    Last I looked, that describes the Roman Catholic church, which is over 1000 years old. I guess it has ’emerged’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Islam at the beginning had some promise in that direction, but the Mongols cut them short.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Islam at the beginning had some promise in that direction, but the Mongols cut them short.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I am wondering if they see statements like this from Carl Sagan as a challenge:  

    Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever it has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?

    I can see them taking that as a “holier than thou” assertion, with which they respond poorly, because of course everyone knows that they are in fact the holiest.  It creates a disturbing cognitive dissonance when one is an authoritarian who believes authority commands them to be humble.  

    Or maybe they see science as a threat, a rival evangelical belief.  To quote Sagan again:  

    How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.
    Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.

  • Matthew Funke

    If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.  (Colossians 2:20-23, NASB)

    Paul wasn’t talking about science here, really, but I think he would have seen the pointlessness of submitting oneself to doctrines that pretend at understanding without experiment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Paul wasn’t talking about science in 1 Timothy 1:3-4 when he counseled against putting trust in ‘fables and genealogies’…but what are the people who advocate young-earth creationism doing??? 

  • Matthew Funke

    If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.  (Colossians 2:20-23, NASB)

    Paul wasn’t talking about science here, really, but I think he would have seen the pointlessness of submitting oneself to doctrines that pretend at understanding without experiment.

  • Matthew Funke

    If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use) — in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?  These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.  (Colossians 2:20-23, NASB)

    Paul wasn’t talking about science here, really, but I think he would have seen the pointlessness of submitting oneself to doctrines that pretend at understanding without experiment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Paul wasn’t talking about science in 1 Timothy 1:3-4 when he counseled against putting trust in ‘fables and genealogies’…but what are the people who advocate young-earth creationism doing??? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    As I’ve said before here, my God is much too great to fit into the imagination of a Fundamentalist. ;-)  If Jesus were around today, I imagine He’d be sitting in on more than a few symposia discussing the laws of the universe with the leading scientists in every field, just as He discussed the Law and the Prophets with the Temple officials as a little boy. :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    As I’ve said before here, my God is much too great to fit into the imagination of a Fundamentalist. ;-)  If Jesus were around today, I imagine He’d be sitting in on more than a few symposia discussing the laws of the universe with the leading scientists in every field, just as He discussed the Law and the Prophets with the Temple officials as a little boy. :-)

  • Anonymous

    I agree when you say that our God is to big for a fundamentalist.

  • Anonymous

    I agree when you say that our God is to big for a fundamentalist.

  • swbarnes2

    I’m not sure that religion as most people think of it can be compatible with scientific thought.  What makes science special and sucessful isn’t that it thinks the natural world is nifty-keen.  It’s about a process of thought where you accept ideas based soley on how much evidence supports them, and how well they’ve stood up to falsification attempts.  I’ve got reviewer comments to a paper I’m a co-author on , and it’s full of “Your hypothesis isn’t supported well enough…you should do this experiment, and if you get this result, then you’ll know you are wrong”, and “More details on this step please, and there are a bunch of unwritten assumptions in this conclusion, did you test to see that they were all true”?
     
    You start applying this kind of thought to any kind of mainstream religion, what’s left?  If you ask a priest, “What experiment can I carry out to distinguish whether or not souls exist?”  what kind of answer will you get?  If you test the hypothesis “Will God significantly heal patients of heart surgery if they are prayed for, as compared to a control cohort”, what kind of answer do you get?  Not an answer that religious people deal with easily.

  • Rikalous

    Disclaimer: Agnostic here. I may be misrepresenting the views of actual people of faith.

    You start applying this kind of thought to any kind of mainstream
    religion, what’s left?  If you ask a priest, “What experiment can I
    carry out to distinguish whether or not souls exist?”  what kind of
    answer will you get?  If you test the hypothesis “Will God significantly
    heal patients of heart surgery if they are prayed for, as compared to a
    control cohort”, what kind of answer do you get?  Not an answer that
    religious people deal with easily.

    Yeah, and if you asked someone what experiment you’d perform to determine what art is, you’d get blank looks. Science is a wonderful thing*, but it’s not the solution to all life’s problems. Science is not art or philosophy or morality. Science doesn’t tell me what books I should read or whether I should volunteer my time and/or money to charity. I can certainly use observations of the kinds of books I’ve enjoyed previously, or studies about the effects of volunteering or giving to charity, but the choice is down to my preference, not a scientific consensus. Faith and religion are also subjective things that don’t have anything to do with science.

    * Oh look! A halfway decent excuse to post this comic: http://xkcd.com/877/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    …whether or not souls exist is not a subjective thing that has nothing to do with science.  Either souls exist, or they don’t.  Now maybe they’re undetectable, but even that doesn’t make them subjective.

    The same thing is true of heaven.  Or hell.  Or angels.  Or Jesus.  Or an inherent telos written upon the cosmos.  Or an inner yearning for God written on the hearts of mankind.  I mean, I can do this all day.  These things either are or are not.  Whether you believe in them isn’t like whether you prefer sausage or bacon, where its literally impossible for your answer to be incorrect because no matter what subjective opinion you hold, its your subjective opinion.  These are questions about facts.  Even if, through some bizarre coincidence, they are all facts that are somehow completely outside the practical reach of human knowledge, they’re still not subjective.

    Now if someone comes up to you and claims that you’re not allowed to morally approve or disapprove of homosexuality (or murder, of women wearing pants) because science hasn’t demonstrated the answer, then your response will make sense.  Use it then.  But right now, in response to what you quoted, it’s wrongheaded in the most extreme of senses.  Faith healing either works or it doesn’t, end of story.  And we checked, and it doesn’t.

  • Andrew Galley

    Rikalous may have phrased their response clumsily, or they may have it not-quite-right, but they’ve cottoned on to a real fallacy in swbarnes’ post, which is conflating the strong ability of the scientific method to distinguish false from not-false hypotheses, relying on a *utilitarian* brand of positivism, with a moral imperative to apply logical positivism to all beliefs.

    The notion that one cannot be religious and a scientist depends upon the assumption that there is a positive and inescapable moral imperative to adopt positivism as an ethical position, rather than as a pragmatic one. This may be true, but just like the existence of souls, is extremely difficult to test in a rigorous manner. ;) Further, empirical observation suggests that people can, in fact, be both religious and scientists, though for complex reasons scientific education seems to make people — *at least in certain cultural contexts* — less likely to be religious.

  • Rikalous

    …whether or not souls exist is not a subjective thing that has nothing
    to do with science.  Either souls exist, or they don’t.  Now maybe
    they’re undetectable, but even that doesn’t make them subjective.

    The
    same thing is true of heaven.  Or hell.  Or angels.  Or Jesus.  Or an
    inherent telos written upon the cosmos.  Or an inner yearning for God
    written on the hearts of mankind.  I mean, I can do this all day.  These
    things either are or are not.  Whether you believe in them isn’t like
    whether you prefer sausage or bacon, where its literally impossible for
    your answer to be incorrect because no matter what subjective opinion
    you hold, its your subjective opinion.  These are questions about
    facts.  Even if, through some bizarre coincidence, they are all facts
    that are somehow completely outside the practical reach of human
    knowledge, they’re still not subjective.

    Now if someone comes up
    to you and claims that you’re not allowed to morally approve or
    disapprove of homosexuality (or murder, of women wearing pants) because
    science hasn’t demonstrated the answer, then your response will make
    sense.  Use it then.  But right now, in response to what you quoted,
    it’s wrongheaded in the most extreme of senses.  Faith healing either
    works or it doesn’t, end of story.  And we checked, and it doesn’t.

    I guess I was focusing too much on the general thrust of your argument and not enough on the specific points. Lemme correct that.

    First, the souls thing. Once you’ve gotten a bunch of theologians together and got them to agree on a workable definition for souls or heaven or hell, you’ll almost certainly be dealing with something not detectable by our current methods. Evidence of divinity will probably never be detectable by scientific methods, because omnipotence is handy that way and if whatever divinity hasn’t offered proof yet, it probably won’t in the future. So you aren’t going to get any definite scientific evidence of souls or whatever. So what? Science is a tool. It’s an enormously useful and frequently fun tool, but it’s not the sum total of the human condition.

    You know, you could ask an astronomer (or maybe you are one) how many planets have life on them, and zie wouldn’t be able to come up with an experiment we could currently do to find the answer. That’s not a problem. It’s perfectly fine to not know things. Claiming an idea is bunk because people can’t answer every possible question about every possible aspect is something creationists do to attack science. Since we can’t empirically prove the existence or nonexistence of God, we have to go on the best evidence we have; i.e. each person’s subjective introspective journeys or sensations of divine presence or lack thereof or whatever.

    Second, the faith healing thing. Yes, faith healing is bunk and people should get themselves to actual medical professionals. The same goes for homeopathy and all the other myriad forms of woo. I agree with you completely there. I disagree with you that that matters. When you strip away faith healing from Christianity, you’re left with (drum roll please)……..Christianity! Faith healing is a not core tenet of the religion the way loving God and one’s neighbors is. It’s as vital to “religion as most people think of it” as snake handling or speaking in tongues. Strike that, it’s as vital to Christianity as snake handling or speaking in tongues. I don’t know whether or not other religions practice it.

    I thought that last sentence was a tangent, but it looks like it’s a segue. Religion is not a monolithic entity. Christianity is not a monolithic entity. American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christianity is not a monolithic entity, as suggested by the fact that our American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christian host posts about the ways he disagrees with his peers about how God wants them to treat humanity and the world. If you need to find one such post, scroll up. There’s plenty of room in religion for an appreciation of reality. Heck, during Islam’s golden age they were making advances in astronomy and navigation and algebra specifically because of their religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Religion is not a monolithic entity. Christianity is not a
    monolithic entity. American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christianity is
    not a monolithic entity, as suggested by the fact that our American,
    Protestant, Evangelical, Christian host posts about the ways he
    disagrees with his peers about how God wants them to treat humanity and
    the world. If you need to find one such post, scroll up. There’s plenty
    of room in religion for an appreciation of reality. Heck, during Islam’s
    golden age they were making advances in astronomy and navigation and
    algebra specifically because of their religion.

    You know, I really need to make that boilerplate text in any religious discussion I get into, because the number of people who reject these facts is scary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Jesus always directed attention *away* from the miracles and *toward* His teachings and the claims He made.  Jesus would still be Jesus even if He never healed a single person or turned the water to wine…but He chose to do so because Jesus knew some people would not believe without a demonstration.

  • Rikalous

    Whoops. You aren’t the same person my original comment was directed to. Sorry about that.

  • swbarnes2

    No one has said anything about science being art, or morality, or a dessert topping and a floor cleaner either.  Science is about a way of thinking where you attempt to minimize the wrong number of things you believe, by believing in things to the extent that the evidence has failed to falsify your belief, and to the extent that the evidence has supported it.  And no, science can’t tell you whether to support charity, but it can tell you that supporting, say, homeopaths who are trying to “treat” refugees is not going to actually heal anyone.  Surely that’s relevent.

    If my co-authors are wrong about the gene in question being the target of their new antibacterial compound, there are experiments which will demonstrate to them that they are wrong, and then they will stop believing that wrong thing.  Doesn’t everyone agree that that’s a good thing?

    If I have an inaccurate belief about souls, how do I determine that, so I can stop believing that wrong thing?  How am supposed to believe accurate things about the soul if I have no robust way to distinguish between true facts about the soul and false facts about it?

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible? 

  • hapax

    How am supposed to believe accurate things about the soul if I have no
    robust way to distinguish between true facts about the soul and false
    facts about it?

    I have never ever personally encountered a person of faith who feels that their religion is about distinguishing “accurate facts about the soul.”

    Generally speaking, the question of importance is “I already *know* I have a soul [or accept some other supernatural entity — personally, I’m not terribly interested in “souls” myself] — so how then should I live?”

    What “robust” method does the scientific “way of thinking” offer to answer THAT question?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    hapax:

    The fundamental thing, I think, is that science has been developed as a way to ask questions of nature. This of necessity requires the willingness to discard wrong hypotheses and in this way seek an accurate description of what it is we can sense (by means both direct and instrumentally) in this universe.

    I don’t think faith of any kind, be it religious or otherwise, is obligated to do the same thing, since the questions faith answers aren’t ones necessarily easily answerable by science (a simple one being “Why is all the life on this planet here, today?”)

    Science can answer the how. It’s up to each of us, individually, in the end, to answer the why as we see fit.

  • Mark Z.

    I don’t think faith of any kind, be it religious or otherwise, is obligated to do the same thing, since the questions faith answers aren’t ones necessarily easily answerable by science (a simple one being “Why is all the life on this planet here, today?”)

    I don’t disagree with you, exactly, but it’s extremely weird that you describe faith as a way of answering questions.

    I have something that I would describe as faith, and it has never answered a question for me. Not once. What my faith does, mostly, is poke me with a stick.

  • Tonio

    Now you’re confusing me. The question “Why is all the life on this planet here, today?” is essentially a restatement of “How did all the life on this planet come to be?” with the presupposition that the life is here for a purpose. And again, that presupposes that a governing intelligence is at work. But when you say that it’s up to each of us individually to answer the why as we see fit, that suggests you’re treating “why” as really meaning “Now what?” or “What shall each of us do with our lives?” Is that your intention? If so, that’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone using the word “why” that way, and that use would never have occurred to me.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Well, the “why” implies some kind of overarching cause. Like “Why did you do Thing X?”

    “How” you did Thing X can be easily described – but why? Not always so much.

    Here’s another “why?” question:

    “Why is it that the electromagnetic interaction, upon breaking symmetry with the weak interaction, lose all parity nonconserving behavior while the weak interaction keeps it?”(*)

    We know the “how”; it’s in stuff I’m not going to quote here to avoid breaking brains —

    But the “why” is pretty much answerable only with the unsatisfying “Well, it seems to have just been the nature of our universe that causes this.”

    —–

    (*) A little bit extra: Basically the weak interaction can tell matter from antimatter, while the electromagnetic cannot. It is bound up with a thing called nonconservation of parity. The electroweak unification produces two unphysical gauge bosons which mix together to create the photon and the Z0. Somehow the photon “loses” all the ability of the weak interaction to violate parity while the Z0 retains part of it.

    Blew my mind when I first saw it.

  • Tonio

    But the “why” is pretty much answerable only with the unsatisfying
    “Well, it seems to have just been the nature of our universe that causes
    this.”

    “We don’t know” isn’t a satisfying answer, either, but the answers to such questions have nothing to do with the emotional reactions we have to them. I would argue that if we find a proposed answer to be satisfying, we should subject it to extra scrutiny, to avoid choosing an answer simply because we like it. We shouldn’t expect answers to any questions to be satisfying for us. The universe may or may not care how we feel, but we shouldn’t expect it to care.

  • Ross

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible?

    I’m sure there are valid moral systems where this is not the case, but as a general rule, I don’t find moral imperatives to be especially good when they can be best met by doing nothing.

    It seems like the surest way to meet your moral imperative is to *never believe anything*.

  • Tonio

    No one has said anything about science being art, or morality, or a dessert topping and a floor cleaner either.

    Even Francis Collins is guilty of using that pointless straw man when he points out that science cannot answer questions such as “why are we here” and “what is the meaning of life.” He’s smart enough to know that his colleagues aren’t expecting science to answer such questions. What’s more, he’s smart enough to know that the phrasing of those questions presupposes the existence of a governing intelligence to the universe. Can the questions be reworded so as to treat that existence as an open question, or would that negate the basis for the questions themselves? It may be that “what is the meaning of life” is nothing more than a matter of opinion.

  • hapax

    Tonio, the straw man in this conversation is constructed by those (very few) who took Fred Clark’s post as an opportunity to say, once again, “You can’t have “science” without rejecting “religion”.”

    Which is just the flip side of the silly anti-science platform certain Evangelical leaders are encouraging the Republican party to adopt.

    NOBODY in this thread — either the OP or any of the commenters — are saying “You must accept some form of religious faith, or be devoid of ethics or morality or meaning or art or anything else.” 

    I want everyone to find a world view — atheist, theistic, agnostic, or I-don’t-care-ic — that keeps them healthy and happy and leads them to make the world better and more joyful.
    If they want to explain it to me, I’m interested.  If they want me to accept it, I’ll give them a hearing, but reserve the right at any point to say, “Nope, sorry, not for me.”  If they want to force it on me, by legislation or other means — well, I’m going to resist that by every means my pacifist beliefs allow.  And I expect — no, I INSIST — that those who share my basic beliefs extend the same courtesy to others.

    I cannot see any way that Fred Clark is saying here, “Hey, all people who care about science must accept my brand of Evangelical Christianity.”  The only possible reading I can make of this post is, “Hey, all you Evangelical Christians who already share the basic tenets of my faith:  if we agree that we worship a God who is like THIS, and who told us THAT, how can we do other than eagerly embrace science as a technique for learning about the natural world, and using what we learn to inform our policies?”

    If there is something that I am missing in the OP, or in any of the posts that followed, I’d truly appreciate someone showing it to me.

  • Tonio

    NOBODY in this thread — either the OP or any of the commenters — are
    saying “You must accept some form of religious faith, or be devoid of
    ethics or morality or meaning or art or anything else.”

    I wasn’t accusing anyone of saying that, so I don’t know why you brought it up.

    I want everyone to find a world view — atheist, theistic, agnostic, or
    I-don’t-care-ic — that keeps them healthy and happy and leads them to
    make the world better and more joyful.

    I would make a small but significant exception for people like LaHaye, if he finds happiness in believing that others who don’t share his beliefs deserve excruciatingly painful deaths in an apocalypse. That’s a big if, by the way, because I have difficulty imagining that someone who is capable of the hatefulness in the LB series would be all that happy.

    If they want to explain it to me, I’m interested.  If they want me to
    accept it, I’ll give them a hearing, but reserve the right at any point
    to say, “Nope, sorry, not for me.”  If they want to force it on me, by
    legislation or other means — well, I’m going to resist that by every
    means my pacifist beliefs allow.  And I expect — no, I INSIST — that
    those who share my basic beliefs extend the same courtesy to others.

    No disagreement there.

    The only possible reading I can make of this post is, “Hey, all you Evangelical Christians who already share
    the basic tenets of my faith:  if we agree that we worship a God who is
    like THIS, and who told us THAT, how can we do other than eagerly
    embrace science as a technique for learning about the natural world, and
    using what we learn to inform our policies?”

    That more or less matches my reading of Fred’s post as well. That’s partly why I brought up Francis Collins, who is certainly not a creationist, and has forgotten more about genetics than I’ll ever know. That doesn’t stop me from pointing out that Collins uses faulty god-of-the-gaps reasoning in rejecting the suggestion that morality arose through natural selection. My issue is not with his conclusion but with the method he used to reach it.

    No, I don’t see acceptance of science as rejection of religion. I’ll attempt to explain what I do see as the conflict…No one asserts that science can answer the question “Who is the greatest guitarist of all time” because it’s a matter of opinion, even though some opinions on the subject are more informed than others. Similarly, “what should the purpose of my life be” is a matter of opinion formed partly through knowledge and experience. But when the question of meaning presupposes the existence of a governing intelligence, that takes the question out of the realm of opinion. That doesn’t necessarily mean it enters the realm of science. However, it does bring up the additional question of whether that intelligence exists or not, and I see no way that new question can be a matter of opinion even if there’s no way to verify either answer.

  • Rikalous

    If I have an inaccurate belief about souls, how do I determine that, so I
    can stop believing that wrong thing?  How am supposed to believe
    accurate things about the soul if I have no robust way to distinguish
    between true facts about the soul and false facts about it?

    You can’t. That’s kind of my point. We’re incapable of making tests about any aspect of souls or gods or afterlives, from their existence on down. The vast bulk of religious teachings are not testable claims.

    Yes, claims of the usefulness of homeopathic “remedies” are testable. We can, and have, determine that homeopathic medicine is bunk, and we can determine that using homeopathic medicine is harmful if it means the poor sucker isn’t getting real medical care. We can’t determine if souls are bunk, but we can determine, to an extent, if believing in them has good or bad consequences. Some people derive strength and comfort and a willingness to help others from a belief in a loving god. Some people derive strength and comfort and a willingness to help others from a belief that this life is all we got, so we better make it count. Some people derive asshattery from both sources. Neither side consistently produces better or worse people. It’s silly to say that picking one side or the other is incompatible with science.

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible?

    It’s certainly not bad to not want to believe false things. Hell, I’m agnostic because I’m not interested in taking a stand on an issue that doesn’t have evidence on either side. Thing is, I may be guaranteed not to believe anything false on the issue, but I’m also guaranteed not to believe anything right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    “You can’t. That’s kind of my point. We’re incapable of making tests
    about any aspect of souls or gods or afterlives, from their existence on
    down. The vast bulk of religious teachings are not testable claims.”

    And the point people are trying to make is that these facts have consequences for the reasonableness of having committed beliefs about a topic.  When someone tells you that they have no good reason to believe something, that they KNOW they have no good reason to believe something, and yet they still believe it, then either that person is the literal definition of irrational, or else they are using “belief” in a non standard manner.

    See, the fact that these claims aren’t testable doesn’t mean we can’t prove that believing them is irrational.  Its actually quite easy- observe that for any given 100 people, you can probably come up with 50 equally supported, largely incompatible beliefs about religion, all gleaned through roughly the same mechanism of internal subjective examination and acceptance of communal tradition.  When you’ve got multiple equally well supported possibilities, believing one of them to the exclusion of the others is again the definition of irrationality, unless you’re using “belief” in a non standard manner.

  • Mark Z.

    Its actually quite easy- observe that for any given 100 people, you can probably come up with 50 equally supported, largely incompatible beliefs about religion, all gleaned through roughly the same mechanism of internal subjective examination and acceptance of communal tradition.

    Different religions have different practices–that’s how we know they’re different. So if you look at a hundred people of a mix of different religions, they didn’t all develop their beliefs through the same mechanism. Though they might look like the same mechanism from far enough away, especially if you have an ideology that divides everything into “science” and “ridiculous fairy tales”.

  • Anonymous

    We’re incapable of making tests about any aspect of souls or gods or
    afterlives, from their existence on down. The vast bulk of religious
    teachings are not testable claims.

    Sez who? How do you know that?

    If the soul is supposed to be a real thing housed in each person, why wouldn’t you be able to devise a test for it? Why should it be any harder than detecting quarks?

    There are also many claims of fact in the Bible and other religious books. Some of these are certainly testable.

  • Rikalous

    Sez who? How do you know that?

    If the soul is supposed to be a
    real thing housed in each person, why wouldn’t you be able to devise a
    test for it? Why should it be any harder than detecting quarks?

    There are also many claims of fact in the Bible and other religious books. Some of these are certainly testable.

    Well, my understanding of religion comes from cultural diffusion rather than any actual study, so it’s possible I am talking entirely out of my ass here. However, from what I’ve gathered the important things about any given religion aren’t the testable claims, but the parables and unfalsifiable claims. It’s not important that the bible says that pi = 3, but it is important that it says that you should love even those who hate you, and that the righteous will be rewarded after death.

    WRT your question about souls, I don’t have a clear understanding of what a soul is supposed to be, so I have no idea if it should be detectable or not.

  • hapax

    It’s about a process of thought where you accept ideas based soley on
    how much evidence supports them, and how well they’ve stood up to
    falsification attempts

    This is a lovely ideal, and is how science should work, no question.

    Will I find myself pilloried in this conversation if I point out that fallible human scientists, in contrast, are about as good at living up to this lofty mission as… well, as well as most of the adherents of the world’s various religions do their principles?

    There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints.  And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days.  But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity.  There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder.  And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    So can we please stop confusing “priests” with “religion”, and stop condemning different disciplines for not providing good answers to the questions they aren’t really interested in asking?

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    The key phrase here is ‘as most people think of it’.  Most people unfortunately have been led to believe they want safe answers without using a lot of thought.  This way leads to disaster with both religion and science.  As others have pointed out better than I, there is much in this world that does not lend itself to objective observation.  Faith can instruct us in how we should use our science, and science should inform the direction of our faith, but substituting one for the other does a disservice to both.

  • swbarnes2

    I’m not sure that religion as most people think of it can be compatible with scientific thought.  What makes science special and sucessful isn’t that it thinks the natural world is nifty-keen.  It’s about a process of thought where you accept ideas based soley on how much evidence supports them, and how well they’ve stood up to falsification attempts.  I’ve got reviewer comments to a paper I’m a co-author on , and it’s full of “Your hypothesis isn’t supported well enough…you should do this experiment, and if you get this result, then you’ll know you are wrong”, and “More details on this step please, and there are a bunch of unwritten assumptions in this conclusion, did you test to see that they were all true”?
     
    You start applying this kind of thought to any kind of mainstream religion, what’s left?  If you ask a priest, “What experiment can I carry out to distinguish whether or not souls exist?”  what kind of answer will you get?  If you test the hypothesis “Will God significantly heal patients of heart surgery if they are prayed for, as compared to a control cohort”, what kind of answer do you get?  Not an answer that religious people deal with easily.

  • Rikalous

    Disclaimer: Agnostic here. I may be misrepresenting the views of actual people of faith.

    You start applying this kind of thought to any kind of mainstream
    religion, what’s left?  If you ask a priest, “What experiment can I
    carry out to distinguish whether or not souls exist?”  what kind of
    answer will you get?  If you test the hypothesis “Will God significantly
    heal patients of heart surgery if they are prayed for, as compared to a
    control cohort”, what kind of answer do you get?  Not an answer that
    religious people deal with easily.

    Yeah, and if you asked someone what experiment you’d perform to determine what art is, you’d get blank looks. Science is a wonderful thing*, but it’s not the solution to all life’s problems. Science is not art or philosophy or morality. Science doesn’t tell me what books I should read or whether I should volunteer my time and/or money to charity. I can certainly use observations of the kinds of books I’ve enjoyed previously, or studies about the effects of volunteering or giving to charity, but the choice is down to my preference, not a scientific consensus. Faith and religion are also subjective things that don’t have anything to do with science.

    * Oh look! A halfway decent excuse to post this comic: http://xkcd.com/877/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    …whether or not souls exist is not a subjective thing that has nothing to do with science.  Either souls exist, or they don’t.  Now maybe they’re undetectable, but even that doesn’t make them subjective.

    The same thing is true of heaven.  Or hell.  Or angels.  Or Jesus.  Or an inherent telos written upon the cosmos.  Or an inner yearning for God written on the hearts of mankind.  I mean, I can do this all day.  These things either are or are not.  Whether you believe in them isn’t like whether you prefer sausage or bacon, where its literally impossible for your answer to be incorrect because no matter what subjective opinion you hold, its your subjective opinion.  These are questions about facts.  Even if, through some bizarre coincidence, they are all facts that are somehow completely outside the practical reach of human knowledge, they’re still not subjective.

    Now if someone comes up to you and claims that you’re not allowed to morally approve or disapprove of homosexuality (or murder, or of women wearing pants) because science hasn’t demonstrated the answer, then your response will make sense.  Use it then.  But right now, in response to what you quoted, it’s wrongheaded in the most extreme of senses.  Faith healing either works or it doesn’t, end of story.  And we checked, and it doesn’t.

  • Andrew Galley

    Rikalous may have phrased their response clumsily, or they may have it not-quite-right, but they’ve cottoned on to a real fallacy in swbarnes’ post, which is conflating the strong ability of the scientific method to distinguish false from not-false hypotheses, relying on a *utilitarian* brand of positivism, with a moral imperative to apply logical positivism to all beliefs.

    The notion that one cannot be religious and a scientist depends upon the assumption that there is a positive and inescapable moral imperative to adopt positivism as an ethical position, rather than as a pragmatic one. This may be true, but just like the existence of souls, is extremely difficult to test in a rigorous manner. ;) Further, empirical observation suggests that people can, in fact, be both religious and scientists, though for complex reasons scientific education seems to make people — *at least in certain cultural contexts* — less likely to be religious.

  • Rikalous

    …whether or not souls exist is not a subjective thing that has nothing
    to do with science.  Either souls exist, or they don’t.  Now maybe
    they’re undetectable, but even that doesn’t make them subjective.

    The
    same thing is true of heaven.  Or hell.  Or angels.  Or Jesus.  Or an
    inherent telos written upon the cosmos.  Or an inner yearning for God
    written on the hearts of mankind.  I mean, I can do this all day.  These
    things either are or are not.  Whether you believe in them isn’t like
    whether you prefer sausage or bacon, where its literally impossible for
    your answer to be incorrect because no matter what subjective opinion
    you hold, its your subjective opinion.  These are questions about
    facts.  Even if, through some bizarre coincidence, they are all facts
    that are somehow completely outside the practical reach of human
    knowledge, they’re still not subjective.

    Now if someone comes up
    to you and claims that you’re not allowed to morally approve or
    disapprove of homosexuality (or murder, of women wearing pants) because
    science hasn’t demonstrated the answer, then your response will make
    sense.  Use it then.  But right now, in response to what you quoted,
    it’s wrongheaded in the most extreme of senses.  Faith healing either
    works or it doesn’t, end of story.  And we checked, and it doesn’t.

    I guess I was focusing too much on the general thrust of your argument and not enough on the specific points. Lemme correct that.

    First, the souls thing. Once you’ve gotten a bunch of theologians together and got them to agree on a workable definition for souls or heaven or hell, you’ll almost certainly be dealing with something not detectable by our current methods. Evidence of divinity will probably never be detectable by scientific methods, because omnipotence is handy that way and if whatever divinity hasn’t offered proof yet, it probably won’t in the future. So you aren’t going to get any definite scientific evidence of souls or whatever. So what? Science is a tool. It’s an enormously useful and frequently fun tool, but it’s not the sum total of the human condition.

    You know, you could ask an astronomer (or maybe you are one) how many planets have life on them, and zie wouldn’t be able to come up with an experiment we could currently do to find the answer. That’s not a problem. It’s perfectly fine to not know things. Claiming an idea is bunk because people can’t answer every possible question about every possible aspect is something creationists do to attack science. Since we can’t empirically prove the existence or nonexistence of God, we have to go on the best evidence we have; i.e. each person’s subjective introspective journeys or sensations of divine presence or lack thereof or whatever.

    Second, the faith healing thing. Yes, faith healing is bunk and people should get themselves to actual medical professionals. The same goes for homeopathy and all the other myriad forms of woo. I agree with you completely there. I disagree with you that that matters. When you strip away faith healing from Christianity, you’re left with (drum roll please)……..Christianity! Faith healing is a not core tenet of the religion the way loving God and one’s neighbors is. It’s as vital to “religion as most people think of it” as snake handling or speaking in tongues. Strike that, it’s as vital to Christianity as snake handling or speaking in tongues. I don’t know whether or not other religions practice it.

    I thought that last sentence was a tangent, but it looks like it’s a segue. Religion is not a monolithic entity. Christianity is not a monolithic entity. American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christianity is not a monolithic entity, as suggested by the fact that our American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christian host posts about the ways he disagrees with his peers about how God wants them to treat humanity and the world. If you need to find one such post, scroll up. There’s plenty of room in religion for an appreciation of reality. Heck, during Islam’s golden age they were making advances in astronomy and navigation and algebra specifically because of their religion.

  • Rikalous

    …whether or not souls exist is not a subjective thing that has nothing
    to do with science.  Either souls exist, or they don’t.  Now maybe
    they’re undetectable, but even that doesn’t make them subjective.

    The
    same thing is true of heaven.  Or hell.  Or angels.  Or Jesus.  Or an
    inherent telos written upon the cosmos.  Or an inner yearning for God
    written on the hearts of mankind.  I mean, I can do this all day.  These
    things either are or are not.  Whether you believe in them isn’t like
    whether you prefer sausage or bacon, where its literally impossible for
    your answer to be incorrect because no matter what subjective opinion
    you hold, its your subjective opinion.  These are questions about
    facts.  Even if, through some bizarre coincidence, they are all facts
    that are somehow completely outside the practical reach of human
    knowledge, they’re still not subjective.

    Now if someone comes up
    to you and claims that you’re not allowed to morally approve or
    disapprove of homosexuality (or murder, of women wearing pants) because
    science hasn’t demonstrated the answer, then your response will make
    sense.  Use it then.  But right now, in response to what you quoted,
    it’s wrongheaded in the most extreme of senses.  Faith healing either
    works or it doesn’t, end of story.  And we checked, and it doesn’t.

    I guess I was focusing too much on the general thrust of your argument and not enough on the specific points. Lemme correct that.

    First, the souls thing. Once you’ve gotten a bunch of theologians together and got them to agree on a workable definition for souls or heaven or hell, you’ll almost certainly be dealing with something not detectable by our current methods. Evidence of divinity will probably never be detectable by scientific methods, because omnipotence is handy that way and if whatever divinity hasn’t offered proof yet, it probably won’t in the future. So you aren’t going to get any definite scientific evidence of souls or whatever. So what? Science is a tool. It’s an enormously useful and frequently fun tool, but it’s not the sum total of the human condition.

    You know, you could ask an astronomer (or maybe you are one) how many planets have life on them, and zie wouldn’t be able to come up with an experiment we could currently do to find the answer. That’s not a problem. It’s perfectly fine to not know things. Claiming an idea is bunk because people can’t answer every possible question about every possible aspect is something creationists do to attack science. Since we can’t empirically prove the existence or nonexistence of God, we have to go on the best evidence we have; i.e. each person’s subjective introspective journeys or sensations of divine presence or lack thereof or whatever.

    Second, the faith healing thing. Yes, faith healing is bunk and people should get themselves to actual medical professionals. The same goes for homeopathy and all the other myriad forms of woo. I agree with you completely there. I disagree with you that that matters. When you strip away faith healing from Christianity, you’re left with (drum roll please)……..Christianity! Faith healing is a not core tenet of the religion the way loving God and one’s neighbors is. It’s as vital to “religion as most people think of it” as snake handling or speaking in tongues. Strike that, it’s as vital to Christianity as snake handling or speaking in tongues. I don’t know whether or not other religions practice it.

    I thought that last sentence was a tangent, but it looks like it’s a segue. Religion is not a monolithic entity. Christianity is not a monolithic entity. American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christianity is not a monolithic entity, as suggested by the fact that our American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christian host posts about the ways he disagrees with his peers about how God wants them to treat humanity and the world. If you need to find one such post, scroll up. There’s plenty of room in religion for an appreciation of reality. Heck, during Islam’s golden age they were making advances in astronomy and navigation and algebra specifically because of their religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Religion is not a monolithic entity. Christianity is not a
    monolithic entity. American, Protestant, Evangelical, Christianity is
    not a monolithic entity, as suggested by the fact that our American,
    Protestant, Evangelical, Christian host posts about the ways he
    disagrees with his peers about how God wants them to treat humanity and
    the world. If you need to find one such post, scroll up. There’s plenty
    of room in religion for an appreciation of reality. Heck, during Islam’s
    golden age they were making advances in astronomy and navigation and
    algebra specifically because of their religion.

    You know, I really need to make that boilerplate text in any religious discussion I get into, because the number of people who reject these facts is scary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Jesus always directed attention *away* from the miracles and *toward* His teachings and the claims He made.  Jesus would still be Jesus even if He never healed a single person or turned the water to wine…but He chose to do so because Jesus knew some people would not believe without a demonstration.

  • Rikalous

    Whoops. You aren’t the same person my original comment was directed to. Sorry about that.

  • swbarnes2

    No one has said anything about science being art, or morality, or a dessert topping and a floor cleaner either.  Science is about a way of thinking where you attempt to minimize the wrong number of things you believe, by believing in things to the extent that the evidence has failed to falsify your belief, and to the extent that the evidence has supported it.  And no, science can’t tell you whether to support charity, but it can tell you that supporting, say, homeopaths who are trying to “treat” refugees is not going to actually heal anyone.  Surely that’s relevent.

    If my co-authors are wrong about the gene in question being the target of their new antibacterial compound, there are experiments which will demonstrate to them that they are wrong, and then they will stop believing that wrong thing.  Doesn’t everyone agree that that’s a good thing?

    If I have an inaccurate belief about souls, how do I determine that, so I can stop believing that wrong thing?  How am supposed to believe accurate things about the soul if I have no robust way to distinguish between true facts about the soul and false facts about it?

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible? 

  • hapax

    How am supposed to believe accurate things about the soul if I have no
    robust way to distinguish between true facts about the soul and false
    facts about it?

    I have never ever personally encountered a person of faith who feels that their religion is about distinguishing “accurate facts about the soul.”

    Generally speaking, the question of importance is “I already *know* I have a soul [or accept some other supernatural entity — personally, I’m not terribly interested in “souls” myself] — so how then should I live?”

    What “robust” method does the scientific “way of thinking” offer to answer THAT question?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    hapax:

    The fundamental thing, I think, is that science has been developed as a way to ask questions of nature. This of necessity requires the willingness to discard wrong hypotheses and in this way seek an accurate description of what it is we can sense (by means both direct and instrumentally) in this universe.

    I don’t think faith of any kind, be it religious or otherwise, is obligated to do the same thing, since the questions faith answers aren’t ones necessarily easily answerable by science (a simple one being “Why is all the life on this planet here, today?”)

    Science can answer the how. It’s up to each of us, individually, in the end, to answer the why as we see fit.

  • Mark Z.

    I don’t think faith of any kind, be it religious or otherwise, is obligated to do the same thing, since the questions faith answers aren’t ones necessarily easily answerable by science (a simple one being “Why is all the life on this planet here, today?”)

    I don’t disagree with you, exactly, but it’s extremely weird that you describe faith as a way of answering questions.

    I have something that I would describe as faith, and it has never answered a question for me. Not once. What my faith does, mostly, is poke me with a stick.

  • Tonio

    Now you’re confusing me. The question “Why is all the life on this planet here, today?” is essentially a restatement of “How did all the life on this planet come to be?” with the presupposition that the life is here for a purpose. And again, that presupposes that a governing intelligence is at work. But when you say that it’s up to each of us individually to answer the why as we see fit, that suggests you’re treating “why” as really meaning “Now what?” or “What shall each of us do with our lives?” Is that your intention? If so, that’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone using the word “why” that way, and that use would never have occurred to me.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Well, the “why” implies some kind of overarching cause. Like “Why did you do Thing X?”

    “How” you did Thing X can be easily described – but why? Not always so much.

    Here’s another “why?” question:

    “Why is it that the electromagnetic interaction, upon breaking symmetry with the weak interaction, loses all parity nonconserving behavior while the weak interaction keeps it?”(*)

    We know the “how”; it’s in stuff I’m not going to quote here to avoid breaking brains —

    But the “why” is pretty much answerable only with the unsatisfying “Well, it seems to have just been the nature of our universe that causes this.”

    —–

    (*) A little bit extra: Basically the weak interaction can tell matter from antimatter, while the electromagnetic cannot. It is bound up with a thing called nonconservation of parity. The electroweak unification produces two unphysical gauge bosons which mix together to create the photon and the Z0. Somehow the photon “loses” all the ability of the weak interaction to violate parity while the Z0 retains part of it.

    Blew my mind when I first saw it.

  • Tonio

    But the “why” is pretty much answerable only with the unsatisfying
    “Well, it seems to have just been the nature of our universe that causes
    this.”

    “We don’t know” isn’t a satisfying answer, either, but the answers to such questions have nothing to do with the emotional reactions we have to them. I would argue that if we find a proposed answer to be satisfying, we should subject it to extra scrutiny, to avoid choosing an answer simply because we like it. We shouldn’t expect answers to any questions to be satisfying for us. The universe may or may not care how we feel, but we shouldn’t expect it to care.

  • Ross

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible?

    I’m sure there are valid moral systems where this is not the case, but as a general rule, I don’t find moral imperatives to be especially good when they can be best met by doing nothing.

    It seems like the surest way to meet your moral imperative is to *never believe anything*.

  • Ross

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible?

    I’m sure there are valid moral systems where this is not the case, but as a general rule, I don’t find moral imperatives to be especially good when they can be best met by doing nothing.

    It seems like the surest way to meet your moral imperative is to *never believe anything*.

  • Tonio

    No one has said anything about science being art, or morality, or a dessert topping and a floor cleaner either.

    Even Francis Collins is guilty of using that pointless straw man when he points out that science cannot answer questions such as “why are we here” and “what is the meaning of life.” He’s smart enough to know that his colleagues aren’t expecting science to answer such questions. What’s more, he’s smart enough to know that the phrasing of those questions presupposes the existence of a governing intelligence to the universe. Can the questions be reworded so as to treat that existence as an open question, or would that negate the basis for the questions themselves? It may be that “what is the meaning of life” is nothing more than a matter of opinion.

  • hapax

    Tonio, the straw man in this conversation is constructed by those (very few) who took Fred Clark’s post as an opportunity to say, once again, “You can’t have “science” without rejecting “religion”.”

    Which is just the flip side of the silly anti-science platform certain Evangelical leaders are encouraging the Republican party to adopt.

    NOBODY in this thread — either the OP or any of the commenters — are saying “You must accept some form of religious faith, or be devoid of ethics or morality or meaning or art or anything else.” 

    I want everyone to find a world view — atheist, theistic, agnostic, or I-don’t-care-ic — that keeps them healthy and happy and leads them to make the world better and more joyful.
    If they want to explain it to me, I’m interested.  If they want me to accept it, I’ll give them a hearing, but reserve the right at any point to say, “Nope, sorry, not for me.”  If they want to force it on me, by legislation or other means — well, I’m going to resist that by every means my pacifist beliefs allow.  And I expect — no, I INSIST — that those who share my basic beliefs extend the same courtesy to others.

    I cannot see any way that Fred Clark is saying here, “Hey, all people who care about science must accept my brand of Evangelical Christianity.”  The only possible reading I can make of this post is, “Hey, all you Evangelical Christians who already share the basic tenets of my faith:  if we agree that we worship a God who is like THIS, and who told us THAT, how can we do other than eagerly embrace science as a technique for learning about the natural world, and using what we learn to inform our policies?”

    If there is something that I am missing in the OP, or in any of the posts that followed, I’d truly appreciate someone showing it to me.

  • Tonio

    NOBODY in this thread — either the OP or any of the commenters — are
    saying “You must accept some form of religious faith, or be devoid of
    ethics or morality or meaning or art or anything else.”

    I wasn’t accusing anyone of saying that, so I don’t know why you brought it up.

    I want everyone to find a world view — atheist, theistic, agnostic, or
    I-don’t-care-ic — that keeps them healthy and happy and leads them to
    make the world better and more joyful.

    I would make a small but significant exception for people like LaHaye, if he finds happiness in believing that others who don’t share his beliefs deserve excruciatingly painful deaths in an apocalypse. That’s a big if, by the way, because I have difficulty imagining that someone who is capable of the hatefulness in the LB series would be all that happy.

    If they want to explain it to me, I’m interested.  If they want me to
    accept it, I’ll give them a hearing, but reserve the right at any point
    to say, “Nope, sorry, not for me.”  If they want to force it on me, by
    legislation or other means — well, I’m going to resist that by every
    means my pacifist beliefs allow.  And I expect — no, I INSIST — that
    those who share my basic beliefs extend the same courtesy to others.

    No disagreement there.

    The only possible reading I can make of this post is, “Hey, all you Evangelical Christians who already share
    the basic tenets of my faith:  if we agree that we worship a God who is
    like THIS, and who told us THAT, how can we do other than eagerly
    embrace science as a technique for learning about the natural world, and
    using what we learn to inform our policies?”

    That more or less matches my reading of Fred’s post as well. That’s partly why I brought up Francis Collins, who is certainly not a creationist, and has forgotten more about genetics than I’ll ever know. That doesn’t stop me from pointing out that Collins uses faulty god-of-the-gaps reasoning in rejecting the suggestion that morality arose through natural selection. My issue is not with his conclusion but with the method he used to reach it.

    No, I don’t see acceptance of science as rejection of religion. I’ll attempt to explain what I do see as the conflict…No one asserts that science can answer the question “Who is the greatest guitarist of all time” because it’s a matter of opinion, even though some opinions on the subject are more informed than others. Similarly, “what should the purpose of my life be” is a matter of opinion formed partly through knowledge and experience. But when the question of meaning presupposes the existence of a governing intelligence, that takes the question out of the realm of opinion. That doesn’t necessarily mean it enters the realm of science. However, it does bring up the additional question of whether that intelligence exists or not, and I see no way that new question can be a matter of opinion even if there’s no way to verify either answer.

  • Rikalous

    If I have an inaccurate belief about souls, how do I determine that, so I
    can stop believing that wrong thing?  How am supposed to believe
    accurate things about the soul if I have no robust way to distinguish
    between true facts about the soul and false facts about it?

    You can’t. That’s kind of my point. We’re incapable of making tests about any aspect of souls or gods or afterlives, from their existence on down. The vast bulk of religious teachings are not testable claims.

    Yes, claims of the usefulness of homeopathic “remedies” are testable. We can, and have, determine that homeopathic medicine is bunk, and we can determine that using homeopathic medicine is harmful if it means the poor sucker isn’t getting real medical care. We can’t determine if souls are bunk, but we can determine, to an extent, if believing in them has good or bad consequences. Some people derive strength and comfort and a willingness to help others from a belief in a loving god. Some people derive strength and comfort and a willingness to help others from a belief that this life is all we got, so we better make it count. Some people derive asshattery from both sources. Neither side consistently produces better or worse people. It’s silly to say that picking one side or the other is incompatible with science.

    Why is it a bad “moral imperative” to want to believe as few false things as possible?

    It’s certainly not bad to not want to believe false things. Hell, I’m agnostic because I’m not interested in taking a stand on an issue that doesn’t have evidence on either side. Thing is, I may be guaranteed not to believe anything false on the issue, but I’m also guaranteed not to believe anything right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    “You can’t. That’s kind of my point. We’re incapable of making tests
    about any aspect of souls or gods or afterlives, from their existence on
    down. The vast bulk of religious teachings are not testable claims.”

    And the point people are trying to make is that these facts have consequences for the reasonableness of having committed beliefs about a topic.  When someone tells you that they have no good reason to believe something, that they KNOW they have no good reason to believe something, and yet they still believe it, then either that person is the literal definition of irrational, or else they are using “belief” in a non standard manner.

    See, the fact that these claims aren’t testable doesn’t mean we can’t prove that believing them is irrational.  Its actually quite easy- observe that for any given 100 people, you can probably come up with 50 equally supported, largely incompatible beliefs about religion, all gleaned through roughly the same mechanism of internal subjective examination and acceptance of communal tradition.  When you’ve got multiple equally well supported possibilities, believing one of them to the exclusion of the others is again the definition of irrationality, unless you’re using “belief” in a non standard manner.

  • Mark Z.

    Its actually quite easy- observe that for any given 100 people, you can probably come up with 50 equally supported, largely incompatible beliefs about religion, all gleaned through roughly the same mechanism of internal subjective examination and acceptance of communal tradition.

    Different religions have different practices–that’s how we know they’re different. So if you look at a hundred people of a mix of different religions, they didn’t all develop their beliefs through the same mechanism. Though they might look like the same mechanism from far enough away, especially if you have an ideology that divides everything into “science” and “ridiculous fairy tales”.

  • Anonymous

    We’re incapable of making tests about any aspect of souls or gods or
    afterlives, from their existence on down. The vast bulk of religious
    teachings are not testable claims.

    Sez who? How do you know that?

    If the soul is supposed to be a real thing housed in each person, why wouldn’t you be able to devise a test for it? Why should it be any harder than detecting quarks?

    There are also many claims of fact in the Bible and other religious books. Some of these are certainly testable.

  • Rikalous

    Sez who? How do you know that?

    If the soul is supposed to be a
    real thing housed in each person, why wouldn’t you be able to devise a
    test for it? Why should it be any harder than detecting quarks?

    There are also many claims of fact in the Bible and other religious books. Some of these are certainly testable.

    Well, my understanding of religion comes from cultural diffusion rather than any actual study, so it’s possible I am talking entirely out of my ass here. However, from what I’ve gathered the important things about any given religion aren’t the testable claims, but the parables and unfalsifiable claims. It’s not important that the bible says that pi = 3, but it is important that it says that you should love even those who hate you, and that the righteous will be rewarded after death.

    WRT your question about souls, I don’t have a clear understanding of what a soul is supposed to be, so I have no idea if it should be detectable or not.

  • hapax

    It’s about a process of thought where you accept ideas based soley on
    how much evidence supports them, and how well they’ve stood up to
    falsification attempts

    This is a lovely ideal, and is how science should work, no question.

    Will I find myself pilloried in this conversation if I point out that fallible human scientists, in contrast, are about as good at living up to this lofty mission as… well, as well as most of the adherents of the world’s various religions do their principles?

    There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints.  And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days.  But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity.  There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder.  And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    So can we please stop confusing “priests” with “religion”, and stop condemning different disciplines for not providing good answers to the questions they aren’t really interested in asking?

  • hapax

    It’s about a process of thought where you accept ideas based soley on
    how much evidence supports them, and how well they’ve stood up to
    falsification attempts

    This is a lovely ideal, and is how science should work, no question.

    Will I find myself pilloried in this conversation if I point out that fallible human scientists, in contrast, are about as good at living up to this lofty mission as… well, as well as most of the adherents of the world’s various religions do their principles?

    There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints.  And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days.  But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity.  There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder.  And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    So can we please stop confusing “priests” with “religion”, and stop condemning different disciplines for not providing good answers to the questions they aren’t really interested in asking?

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    The key phrase here is ‘as most people think of it’.  Most people unfortunately have been led to believe they want safe answers without using a lot of thought.  This way leads to disaster with both religion and science.  As others have pointed out better than I, there is much in this world that does not lend itself to objective observation.  Faith can instruct us in how we should use our science, and science should inform the direction of our faith, but substituting one for the other does a disservice to both.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    The key phrase here is ‘as most people think of it’.  Most people unfortunately have been led to believe they want safe answers without using a lot of thought.  This way leads to disaster with both religion and science.  As others have pointed out better than I, there is much in this world that does not lend itself to objective observation.  Faith can instruct us in how we should use our science, and science should inform the direction of our faith, but substituting one for the other does a disservice to both.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Orac, a blogger who writes about woo in medicine, has a term for this that I can’t quite remember… maybe someone else can add it in a reply.

    Its a term he uses for the way that all practitioners of woo tend to group themselves together even if many of their beliefs are very different, and the way that someone who gets introduced to one type of woo will eventually start adopting multiple types.

    It happens because, when your goal is to sell people a falsehood, you have to attack reality.  And while there may be many falsehoods, there’s only one reality, so every woo practitioner uses many of the same arguments.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Orac, a blogger who writes about woo in medicine, has a term for this
    that I can’t quite remember… maybe someone else can add it in a reply.

    I believe that would be ‘Crank Magnetism’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Orac, a blogger who writes about woo in medicine, has a term for this that I can’t quite remember… maybe someone else can add it in a reply.

    Its a term he uses for the way that all practitioners of woo tend to group themselves together even if many of their beliefs are very different, and the way that someone who gets introduced to one type of woo will eventually start adopting multiple types.

    It happens because, when your goal is to sell people a falsehood, you have to attack reality.  And while there may be many falsehoods, there’s only one reality, so every woo practitioner uses many of the same arguments.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Orac, a blogger who writes about woo in medicine, has a term for this
    that I can’t quite remember… maybe someone else can add it in a reply.

    I believe that would be ‘Crank Magnetism’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-Hickey/30117548 Patrick Hickey

    Thanks.

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints. And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days. But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity. There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder. And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    Yes.  But the construct of science as a discipline is such that these ideas and attitudes will eventually be weeded out.  It’s self-correcting.

    Granted, one has to be very patient for the self-correcting arc to bend towards the truth sometimes, but the very fact that one gains notoriety by showing demonstrable evidence for why the current line of thinking is mistaken means that error is gradually extricated.

    For example, when creationists came up with frauds that seemed to show evolution false, it was scientists who found out why their “evidence” should be disregarded.  When scientists came up with frauds to make their findings seem ahead of the pack, who found out what the reality of the matter was?  Scientists again.

    This whole concept is why peer review is so vital to the process.

    Religion is not always so fortunate.  One often gains notoriety by hewing to the official dogma in a particularly winsome fashion, and opportunities for peer review are not always forthcoming.

    Granted, since people are people, dogma and untruth and prejudice and so on will be unavoidable.  Even so, as inefficient as all that is, science is the most efficient system yet devised for replacing bad ideas with good ones.

    (I’m reminded of when Winston Churchill opined that democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.  It’s like that.)

  • hapax

    But the construct of science as a discipline is such that these ideas
    and attitudes will eventually be weeded out.  It’s self-correcting.

    Oddly enough, so is “religion.”  The history of the faith I have studied the most — Western Christianity — begins as a “correction” of the dominant religion of the founder’s culture, and went through constant periods of expansion and pruning, openness and “purification”, reformation and counter-reformation…

    Just because *right now*, the noisiest Christians in one country on Earth have decided to pitch their tent on a particularly vile, cruel, and ignorant patch of barbarism and self-deception, doesn’t mean that defines Christianity, let alone “religion.”

    But I think your absolute faith in “peer review”, while touching, is a bit naive.  Yes, it certainly can operate the way you describe; it definitely should;  but it doesn’t have to.  I have seen many many times the peer review process used to enforce institutional biases and traditional assumptions, not to mention being used as a vehicle for personal vendettas.

    And as far as “notoriety” as a corrective mechanism — well, I can’t think of *any* living scientist who is exactly a household name in the USA, but the nearest equivalent I can think of are those who are quoted in the various pseudoscientific “documentaries” that clutter up cable television.  And if we’re talking money, not fame… all I can think of is spouse, who has spent decades building up a certain reputation in his field, but who literally cannot afford to send his children to college on his income.  However, he knows for a fact (because he’s had former colleagues who have done exactly this) that he could quadruple his earnings if he were willing to go work for the cryptozoological hunters, and add a whole ‘nother zero to his salary if he was willing to shill for the Discovery Institute.

    So yes, I have great respect, admiration, and appreciation of the discipline of science, its accomplishments, and many of its individual practicioners.  Just as I do for the tradition of Christianity. 

    But I see no particular reason why I have to choose one or the other.

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints. And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days. But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity. There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder. And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    Yes.  But the construct of science as a discipline is such that these ideas and attitudes will eventually be weeded out.  It’s self-correcting.

    Granted, one has to be very patient for the self-correcting arc to bend towards the truth sometimes, but the very fact that one gains notoriety by showing demonstrable evidence for why the current line of thinking is mistaken means that error is gradually extricated.

    For example, when creationists came up with frauds that seemed to show evolution false, it was scientists who found out why their “evidence” should be disregarded.  When scientists came up with frauds to make their findings seem ahead of the pack, who found out what the reality of the matter was?  Scientists again.

    This whole concept is why peer review is so vital to the process.

    Religion is not always so fortunate.  One often gains notoriety by hewing to the official dogma in a particularly winsome fashion, and opportunities for peer review are not always forthcoming.

    Granted, since people are people, dogma and untruth and prejudice and so on will be unavoidable.  Even so, as inefficient as all that is, science is the most efficient system yet devised for replacing bad ideas with good ones.

    (I’m reminded of when Winston Churchill opined that democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.  It’s like that.)

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints. And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days. But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity. There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder. And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    Yes.  But the construct of science as a discipline is such that these ideas and attitudes will eventually be weeded out.  It’s self-correcting.

    Granted, one has to be very patient for the self-correcting arc to bend towards the truth sometimes, but the very fact that one gains notoriety by showing demonstrable evidence for why the current line of thinking is mistaken means that error is gradually extricated.

    For example, when creationists came up with frauds that seemed to show evolution false, it was scientists who found out why their “evidence” should be disregarded.  When scientists came up with frauds to make their findings seem ahead of the pack, who found out what the reality of the matter was?  Scientists again.

    This whole concept is why peer review is so vital to the process.

    Religion is not always so fortunate.  One often gains notoriety by hewing to the official dogma in a particularly winsome fashion, and opportunities for peer review are not always forthcoming.

    Granted, since people are people, dogma and untruth and prejudice and so on will be unavoidable.  Even so, as inefficient as all that is, science is the most efficient system yet devised for replacing bad ideas with good ones.

    (I’m reminded of when Winston Churchill opined that democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.  It’s like that.)

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: There are heroes of science, no question, just like every faith can produce its saints. And the vast majority do pretty well, on most days. But there are a fair number who will blindly abandon empiricism for their deeply held prejudices, biases, and preconceptions, all the while staunchly asserting their absolute objectivity. There are far too many who will cheerfully sell out evidence and logic to the highest bidder. And there are (thankfully) those few who will pervert their discipline to callous cruelty, in the pursuit of power.

    Yes.  But the construct of science as a discipline is such that these ideas and attitudes will eventually be weeded out.  It’s self-correcting.

    Granted, one has to be very patient for the self-correcting arc to bend towards the truth sometimes, but the very fact that one gains notoriety by showing demonstrable evidence for why the current line of thinking is mistaken means that error is gradually extricated.

    For example, when creationists came up with frauds that seemed to show evolution false, it was scientists who found out why their “evidence” should be disregarded.  When scientists came up with frauds to make their findings seem ahead of the pack, who found out what the reality of the matter was?  Scientists again.

    This whole concept is why peer review is so vital to the process.

    Religion is not always so fortunate.  One often gains notoriety by hewing to the official dogma in a particularly winsome fashion, and opportunities for peer review are not always forthcoming.

    Granted, since people are people, dogma and untruth and prejudice and so on will be unavoidable.  Even so, as inefficient as all that is, science is the most efficient system yet devised for replacing bad ideas with good ones.

    (I’m reminded of when Winston Churchill opined that democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others.  It’s like that.)

  • hapax

    But the construct of science as a discipline is such that these ideas
    and attitudes will eventually be weeded out.  It’s self-correcting.

    Oddly enough, so is “religion.”  The history of the faith I have studied the most — Western Christianity — begins as a “correction” of the dominant religion of the founder’s culture, and went through constant periods of expansion and pruning, openness and “purification”, reformation and counter-reformation…

    Just because *right now*, the noisiest Christians in one country on Earth have decided to pitch their tent on a particularly vile, cruel, and ignorant patch of barbarism and self-deception, doesn’t mean that defines Christianity, let alone “religion.”

    But I think your absolute faith in “peer review”, while touching, is a bit naive.  Yes, it certainly can operate the way you describe; it definitely should;  but it doesn’t have to.  I have seen many many times the peer review process used to enforce institutional biases and traditional assumptions, not to mention being used as a vehicle for personal vendettas.

    And as far as “notoriety” as a corrective mechanism — well, I can’t think of *any* living scientist who is exactly a household name in the USA, but the nearest equivalent I can think of are those who are quoted in the various pseudoscientific “documentaries” that clutter up cable television.  And if we’re talking money, not fame… all I can think of is spouse, who has spent decades building up a certain reputation in his field, but who literally cannot afford to send his children to college on his income.  However, he knows for a fact (because he’s had former colleagues who have done exactly this) that he could quadruple his earnings if he were willing to go work for the cryptozoological hunters, and add a whole ‘nother zero to his salary if he was willing to shill for the Discovery Institute.

    So yes, I have great respect, admiration, and appreciation of the discipline of science, its accomplishments, and many of its individual practicioners.  Just as I do for the tradition of Christianity. 

    But I see no particular reason why I have to choose one or the other.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Wait, religion is supposed to involve getting answers to questions? I’ve been doing it all wrong…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Wait, religion is supposed to involve getting answers to questions? I’ve been doing it all wrong…

    I think that was unnecessarily condescending.

    If you choose to answer life questions through faith or religion or whatever, fine. But you don’t have to.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If you choose to answer life questions through faith or religion or whatever, fine. But you don’t have to.

    If that’s “you=one”, fine. But if you mean no one has to then no. *I* do have to. I don’t work properly without my faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I think that was unnecessarily condescending.

    If you choose to answer life questions through faith or religion or whatever, fine. But you don’t have to.

    I’m sorry, that obviously came across poorly. I should have gone into detail instead of trying to be pithy.

    For me, personally, religion has involved asking lots of questions that lead to more questions. It’s a process, not a manual, and it has led to my continued growth as a person.

    I worry about anyone who does view things, or at least needs to view things, as a binary “here is the answer to your question and anything else is false.” Because such a lack of critical thinking, or simple willingness to ask followup questions, is how authoritarianism flourishes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Wait, religion is supposed to involve getting answers to questions? I’ve been doing it all wrong…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Wait, religion is supposed to involve getting answers to questions? I’ve been doing it all wrong…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Wait, religion is supposed to involve getting answers to questions? I’ve been doing it all wrong…

    I think that was unnecessarily condescending.

    If you choose to answer life questions through faith or religion or whatever, fine. But you don’t have to.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    If you choose to answer life questions through faith or religion or whatever, fine. But you don’t have to.

    If that’s “you=one”, fine. But if you mean no one has to then no. *I* do have to. I don’t work properly without my faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I think that was unnecessarily condescending.

    If you choose to answer life questions through faith or religion or whatever, fine. But you don’t have to.

    I’m sorry, that obviously came across poorly. I should have gone into detail instead of trying to be pithy.

    For me, personally, religion has involved asking lots of questions that lead to more questions. It’s a process, not a manual, and it has led to my continued growth as a person.

    I worry about anyone who does view things, or at least needs to view things, as a binary “here is the answer to your question and anything else is false.” Because such a lack of critical thinking, or simple willingness to ask followup questions, is how authoritarianism flourishes.

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: Oddly enough, so is “religion.”  The history of the faith I have studied the most — Western Christianity — begins as a “correction” of the dominant religion of the founder’s culture, and went through constant periods of expansion and pruning, openness and “purification”, reformation and counter-reformation…

    Let me be more plain.  Science, when practiced correctly, uses evidence-based self-correction.  Newtonianian mechanics were undermined by Einsteinian mechanics when the latter proved more capable fo making accurate predictions.

    I suppose one could argue that religion makes evidence-based corrections periodically, too; when its members are thoughtful, they can often see that certain interpretations or rules aren’t “working” (for whatver value of “working” is deemed important), and seek to change their understanding or their teaching when necessary.  That seems a little slipperier when we’re talking about other aspects of religion, though, like which gospels should be considered canonical.

    For the record, I should also mention that I think faith and science have important parallels, and that both are better practiced according to similar attitudes: being willing to humbly wait and observe and follow wherever the truth goes, being willing to change one’s mind in the light of newly revealed information, acknowledging that the truth is independent of your feelings about it, and so on.  The same attitudes that are supposed to keep you humble and curious as a scientist should make you humble and curious as a religious adherent.

    Science and religion generally occupy different spheres, but I also think that in those places where their subject matter does intersect — e.g., the reason for the diversity of life on this planet — we would do well to allow one to inform the other in a way that preserves truth as best as we can manage.

    hapax: Just because *right now*, the noisiest Christians in one country on Earth have decided to pitch their tent on a particularly vile, cruel, and ignorant patch of barbarism and self-deception, doesn’t mean that defines Christianity, let alone “religion.”

    Re-reading my most recent message, I can see how you came away thinking that I meant to characterize religious folk as blindly ignorant folk who have no way to determine whether or not they are advocating complete nonsense.  I apologize for that; it was never my intention.  Frankly, I consider myself quite religious, and think it would be a grave mistake to claim that reason and evidence-based self-correction can only exist in the sphere of science.

    At the same time, though, I acknowledge that it’s not as easy to falsify many of my religious ideas as it is to falsify many scientific concepts (assuming that it’s even possible).  Science makes falsifiability a desirable thing, and frankly, I think that’s a virtue.  It’s at least an attempt to keep people honest.  (Obviously, it’s not perfect, but I still think it’s nice to have.)

    hapax: But I think your absolute faith in “peer review”, while touching, is a bit naive.  Yes, it certainly can operate the way you describe; it definitely should;  but it doesn’t have to.  I have seen many many times the peer review process used to enforce institutional biases and traditional assumptions, not to mention being used as a vehicle for personal vendettas.

    As have I.  I think I was clear that some ugly things still come out of scientific endeavors and scientifically-minded people, and that the eventual resolution to eliminate that error can be frustratingly slow.

    hapax: And as far as “notoriety” as a corrective mechanism — well, I can’t think of *any* living scientist who is exactly a household name in the USA, but the nearest equivalent I can think of are those who are quoted in the various pseudoscientific “documentaries” that clutter up cable television.

    That is an excellent point.  I meant notoriety among one’s peers, though I wasn’t perfectly clear about that.  And, as you point out, this path to “notoriety” is not perfectly practiced, and is not a guarantee that you will become notorious for following the truth.

    hapax: And if we’re talking money, not fame… all I can think of is spouse, who has spent decades building up a certain reputation in his field, but who literally cannot afford to send his children to college on his income.  However, he knows for a fact (because he’s had former colleagues who have done exactly this) that he could quadruple his earnings if he were willing to go work for the cryptozoological hunters, and add a whole ‘nother zero to his salary if he was willing to shill for the Discovery Institute.

    That, I am afraid, is something I’m familiar with as well.  I enjoy critical thinking, and the landscape is littered with people who make a quick buck by repeating the same lies that people have fallen for for centuries.  It’s pretty obvious that I could get rich if I were to invent a substance-free medicine that one applies directly to the forehead, for example.  I respect the scientists and inventors who don’t fall prey to charlatanism.

    hapax: So yes, I have great respect, admiration, and appreciation of the discipline of science, its accomplishments, and many of its individual practicioners.  Just as I do for the tradition of Christianity.

    As do I.  At the same time, I have great anger and frustration for people who, in the name of my Savior and my faith, deliberately blind others to the truth or manipulate them emotionally and financially.  It seems that got in the way of my my admiration of real scientists and genuinely thoughtful Christians in my most recent missive.  I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

    hapax: But I see no particular reason why I have to choose one or the other.

    And I did not desire to imply that that choice is a necessary one to make.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I suppose one could argue that religion makes evidence-based corrections
    periodically, too; when its members are thoughtful, they can often see
    that certain interpretations or rules aren’t “working” (for whatver
    value of “working” is deemed important), and seek to change their
    understanding or their teaching when necessary.  That seems a little
    slipperier when we’re talking about other aspects of religion, though,
    like which gospels should be considered canonical.

    For the
    record, I should also mention that I think faith and science have
    important parallels, and that both are better practiced according to
    similar attitudes: being willing to humbly wait and observe and follow
    wherever the truth goes, being willing to change one’s mind in the light
    of newly revealed information, acknowledging that the truth is
    independent of your feelings about it, and so on.  The same attitudes
    that are supposed to keep you humble and curious as a scientist should
    make you humble and curious as a religious adherent.

    This is pretty much how Faith and Practice and other Quaker “Books of Discipline” get revised.

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: Oddly enough, so is “religion.”  The history of the faith I have studied the most — Western Christianity — begins as a “correction” of the dominant religion of the founder’s culture, and went through constant periods of expansion and pruning, openness and “purification”, reformation and counter-reformation…

    Let me be more plain.  Science, when practiced correctly, uses evidence-based self-correction.  Newtonianian mechanics were undermined by Einsteinian mechanics when the latter proved more capable fo making accurate predictions.

    I suppose one could argue that religion makes evidence-based corrections periodically, too; when its members are thoughtful, they can often see that certain interpretations or rules aren’t “working” (for whatver value of “working” is deemed important), and seek to change their understanding or their teaching when necessary.  That seems a little slipperier when we’re talking about other aspects of religion, though, like which gospels should be considered canonical.

    For the record, I should also mention that I think faith and science have important parallels, and that both are better practiced according to similar attitudes: being willing to humbly wait and observe and follow wherever the truth goes, being willing to change one’s mind in the light of newly revealed information, acknowledging that the truth is independent of your feelings about it, and so on.  The same attitudes that are supposed to keep you humble and curious as a scientist should make you humble and curious as a religious adherent.

    Science and religion generally occupy different spheres, but I also think that in those places where their subject matter does intersect — e.g., the reason for the diversity of life on this planet — we would do well to allow one to inform the other in a way that preserves truth as best as we can manage.

    hapax: Just because *right now*, the noisiest Christians in one country on Earth have decided to pitch their tent on a particularly vile, cruel, and ignorant patch of barbarism and self-deception, doesn’t mean that defines Christianity, let alone “religion.”

    Re-reading my most recent message, I can see how you came away thinking that I meant to characterize religious folk as blindly ignorant folk who have no way to determine whether or not they are advocating complete nonsense.  I apologize for that; it was never my intention.  Frankly, I consider myself quite religious, and think it would be a grave mistake to claim that reason and evidence-based self-correction can only exist in the sphere of science.

    At the same time, though, I acknowledge that it’s not as easy to falsify many of my religious ideas as it is to falsify many scientific concepts (assuming that it’s even possible).  Science makes falsifiability a desirable thing, and frankly, I think that’s a virtue.  It’s at least an attempt to keep people honest.  (Obviously, it’s not perfect, but I still think it’s nice to have.)

    hapax: But I think your absolute faith in “peer review”, while touching, is a bit naive.  Yes, it certainly can operate the way you describe; it definitely should;  but it doesn’t have to.  I have seen many many times the peer review process used to enforce institutional biases and traditional assumptions, not to mention being used as a vehicle for personal vendettas.

    As have I.  I think I was clear that some ugly things still come out of scientific endeavors and scientifically-minded people, and that the eventual resolution to eliminate that error can be frustratingly slow.

    hapax: And as far as “notoriety” as a corrective mechanism — well, I can’t think of *any* living scientist who is exactly a household name in the USA, but the nearest equivalent I can think of are those who are quoted in the various pseudoscientific “documentaries” that clutter up cable television.

    That is an excellent point.  I meant notoriety among one’s peers, though I wasn’t perfectly clear about that.  And, as you point out, this path to “notoriety” is not perfectly practiced, and is not a guarantee that you will become notorious for following the truth.

    hapax: And if we’re talking money, not fame… all I can think of is spouse, who has spent decades building up a certain reputation in his field, but who literally cannot afford to send his children to college on his income.  However, he knows for a fact (because he’s had former colleagues who have done exactly this) that he could quadruple his earnings if he were willing to go work for the cryptozoological hunters, and add a whole ‘nother zero to his salary if he was willing to shill for the Discovery Institute.

    That, I am afraid, is something I’m familiar with as well.  I enjoy critical thinking, and the landscape is littered with people who make a quick buck by repeating the same lies that people have fallen for for centuries.  It’s pretty obvious that I could get rich if I were to invent a substance-free medicine that one applies directly to the forehead, for example.  I respect the scientists and inventors who don’t fall prey to charlatanism.

    hapax: So yes, I have great respect, admiration, and appreciation of the discipline of science, its accomplishments, and many of its individual practicioners.  Just as I do for the tradition of Christianity.

    As do I.  At the same time, I have great anger and frustration for people who, in the name of my Savior and my faith, deliberately blind others to the truth or manipulate them emotionally and financially.  It seems that got in the way of my my admiration of real scientists and genuinely thoughtful Christians in my most recent missive.  I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

    hapax: But I see no particular reason why I have to choose one or the other.

    And I did not desire to imply that that choice is a necessary one to make.

  • Matthew Funke

    hapax: Oddly enough, so is “religion.”  The history of the faith I have studied the most — Western Christianity — begins as a “correction” of the dominant religion of the founder’s culture, and went through constant periods of expansion and pruning, openness and “purification”, reformation and counter-reformation…

    Let me be more plain.  Science, when practiced correctly, uses evidence-based self-correction.  Newtonianian mechanics were undermined by Einsteinian mechanics when the latter proved more capable fo making accurate predictions.

    I suppose one could argue that religion makes evidence-based corrections periodically, too; when its members are thoughtful, they can often see that certain interpretations or rules aren’t “working” (for whatver value of “working” is deemed important), and seek to change their understanding or their teaching when necessary.  That seems a little slipperier when we’re talking about other aspects of religion, though, like which gospels should be considered canonical.

    For the record, I should also mention that I think faith and science have important parallels, and that both are better practiced according to similar attitudes: being willing to humbly wait and observe and follow wherever the truth goes, being willing to change one’s mind in the light of newly revealed information, acknowledging that the truth is independent of your feelings about it, and so on.  The same attitudes that are supposed to keep you humble and curious as a scientist should make you humble and curious as a religious adherent.

    Science and religion generally occupy different spheres, but I also think that in those places where their subject matter does intersect — e.g., the reason for the diversity of life on this planet — we would do well to allow one to inform the other in a way that preserves truth as best as we can manage.

    hapax: Just because *right now*, the noisiest Christians in one country on Earth have decided to pitch their tent on a particularly vile, cruel, and ignorant patch of barbarism and self-deception, doesn’t mean that defines Christianity, let alone “religion.”

    Re-reading my most recent message, I can see how you came away thinking that I meant to characterize religious folk as blindly ignorant folk who have no way to determine whether or not they are advocating complete nonsense.  I apologize for that; it was never my intention.  Frankly, I consider myself quite religious, and think it would be a grave mistake to claim that reason and evidence-based self-correction can only exist in the sphere of science.

    At the same time, though, I acknowledge that it’s not as easy to falsify many of my religious ideas as it is to falsify many scientific concepts (assuming that it’s even possible).  Science makes falsifiability a desirable thing, and frankly, I think that’s a virtue.  It’s at least an attempt to keep people honest.  (Obviously, it’s not perfect, but I still think it’s nice to have.)

    hapax: But I think your absolute faith in “peer review”, while touching, is a bit naive.  Yes, it certainly can operate the way you describe; it definitely should;  but it doesn’t have to.  I have seen many many times the peer review process used to enforce institutional biases and traditional assumptions, not to mention being used as a vehicle for personal vendettas.

    As have I.  I think I was clear that some ugly things still come out of scientific endeavors and scientifically-minded people, and that the eventual resolution to eliminate that error can be frustratingly slow.

    hapax: And as far as “notoriety” as a corrective mechanism — well, I can’t think of *any* living scientist who is exactly a household name in the USA, but the nearest equivalent I can think of are those who are quoted in the various pseudoscientific “documentaries” that clutter up cable television.

    That is an excellent point.  I meant notoriety among one’s peers, though I wasn’t perfectly clear about that.  And, as you point out, this path to “notoriety” is not perfectly practiced, and is not a guarantee that you will become notorious for following the truth.

    hapax: And if we’re talking money, not fame… all I can think of is spouse, who has spent decades building up a certain reputation in his field, but who literally cannot afford to send his children to college on his income.  However, he knows for a fact (because he’s had former colleagues who have done exactly this) that he could quadruple his earnings if he were willing to go work for the cryptozoological hunters, and add a whole ‘nother zero to his salary if he was willing to shill for the Discovery Institute.

    That, I am afraid, is something I’m familiar with as well.  I enjoy critical thinking, and the landscape is littered with people who make a quick buck by repeating the same lies that people have fallen for for centuries.  It’s pretty obvious that I could get rich if I were to invent a substance-free medicine that one applies directly to the forehead, for example.  I respect the scientists and inventors who don’t fall prey to charlatanism.

    hapax: So yes, I have great respect, admiration, and appreciation of the discipline of science, its accomplishments, and many of its individual practicioners.  Just as I do for the tradition of Christianity.

    As do I.  At the same time, I have great anger and frustration for people who, in the name of my Savior and my faith, deliberately blind others to the truth or manipulate them emotionally and financially.  It seems that got in the way of my my admiration of real scientists and genuinely thoughtful Christians in my most recent missive.  I’ll try to be more careful in the future.

    hapax: But I see no particular reason why I have to choose one or the other.

    And I did not desire to imply that that choice is a necessary one to make.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I suppose one could argue that religion makes evidence-based corrections
    periodically, too; when its members are thoughtful, they can often see
    that certain interpretations or rules aren’t “working” (for whatver
    value of “working” is deemed important), and seek to change their
    understanding or their teaching when necessary.  That seems a little
    slipperier when we’re talking about other aspects of religion, though,
    like which gospels should be considered canonical.

    For the
    record, I should also mention that I think faith and science have
    important parallels, and that both are better practiced according to
    similar attitudes: being willing to humbly wait and observe and follow
    wherever the truth goes, being willing to change one’s mind in the light
    of newly revealed information, acknowledging that the truth is
    independent of your feelings about it, and so on.  The same attitudes
    that are supposed to keep you humble and curious as a scientist should
    make you humble and curious as a religious adherent.

    This is pretty much how Faith and Practice and other Quaker “Books of Discipline” get revised.

  • eyelessgame

    Apropos nothing except mentions of Galileo and Kepler, the more I read about those two fascinating people the more I think there ought to be a biopic made of the two of them — such an amazing study in contrasts. They were total opposites in virtually every way (incidentally each one approaching science in a way at odds with their own life and personality, and much like the others’), but they converged on the same discovery/realization at the same time. The two are such mirror images that a good filmmaker could do wonders with it.

  • eyelessgame

    Apropos nothing except mentions of Galileo and Kepler, the more I read about those two fascinating people the more I think there ought to be a biopic made of the two of them — such an amazing study in contrasts. They were total opposites in virtually every way (incidentally each one approaching science in a way at odds with their own life and personality, and much like the others’), but they converged on the same discovery/realization at the same time. The two are such mirror images that a good filmmaker could do wonders with it.

  • Bayes

    That’s really a nice a nice way of looking at things, and I think a reasonable way to interpret christian doctrine. So by all means spread it, hopefully it will catch on. But here’s why I think some people fear it: if you truly love creation in the way the compels you to understand the truth of it in every way, you will learn things that test your faith. A true understanding of quantum and classical physics leaves no room for “free will” in the sense it used used to solve many theological problems. We continue to search in vain for any evidence of an extra-physical  “soul” or any sort of god particles/forces (higgs boson excluded). This is not to say that accepting such things forces you to be an atheist; as long as you have faith you’ll find a way to either reject scientific evidence or incorporate it into your understanding of the world and of god.

    But a lot of people see this potential and reject science. While I know you can be religious and still be a good scientist, I think there’s something to these worries. If you love reality so much that you pursue the truth as far as it takes you, you will not be able to dismiss the evidence. You will know that anything that has an effect on the universe must in some way be measurable, so the soul or evidence of god’s intervention must be somewhere, or else you must constrain yourself to some sort of deistic theology. Even if you can somehow account for the clear rejection of theodicy in modern philosophy and meta-ethics, your god becomes a god of the gaps, significantly deflated. I think many people of faith have a right to fear that.

    But I still think some good can be done by encouraging a cautious, creation loving approach to the love of science, so I wish you the best of luck.

  • Bayes

    That’s really a nice a nice way of looking at things, and I think a reasonable way to interpret christian doctrine. So by all means spread it, hopefully it will catch on. But here’s why I think some people fear it: if you truly love creation in the way the compels you to understand the truth of it in every way, you will learn things that test your faith. A true understanding of quantum and classical physics leaves no room for “free will” in the sense it used used to solve many theological problems. We continue to search in vain for any evidence of an extra-physical  “soul” or any sort of god particles/forces (higgs boson excluded). This is not to say that accepting such things forces you to be an atheist; as long as you have faith you’ll find a way to either reject scientific evidence or incorporate it into your understanding of the world and of god.

    But a lot of people see this potential and reject science. While I know you can be religious and still be a good scientist, I think there’s something to these worries. If you love reality so much that you pursue the truth as far as it takes you, you will not be able to dismiss the evidence. You will know that anything that has an effect on the universe must in some way be measurable, so the soul or evidence of god’s intervention must be somewhere, or else you must constrain yourself to some sort of deistic theology. Even if you can somehow account for the clear rejection of theodicy in modern philosophy and meta-ethics, your god becomes a god of the gaps, significantly deflated. I think many people of faith have a right to fear that.

    But I still think some good can be done by encouraging a cautious, creation loving approach to the love of science, so I wish you the best of luck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Well, I’m a panentheist, so I don’t see God as being apart from the universe. Transcending it, yes, but also part of every subatomic particle of creation. We are star-stuff, the entire universe is God made manifest.

    This is also where I get heretical about the whole “Jesus as the Incarnation of God” thing, because I think everything that exists is part of God. Jesus was much better at seeing and acting on That of God in All of Us, but for the the important thing about Jesus is not that he performed miracles, or died, or rose and ascendended (maybe?). The important thing for me is that he loved and taught.

    Probably another reason I’m a Quaker, since this kind of thinking doesn’t sit well with most American Protestantism. Especially since I reject the whole “eternal torture” thing so many of them are fond of.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Well, I’m a panentheist, so I don’t see God as being apart from the universe. Transcending it, yes, but also part of every subatomic particle of creation. We are star-stuff, the entire universe is God made manifest.

    This is also where I get heretical about the whole “Jesus as the Incarnation of God” thing, because I think everything that exists is part of God. Jesus was much better at seeing and acting on That of God in All of Us, but for the the important thing about Jesus is not that he performed miracles, or died, or rose and ascendended (maybe?). The important thing for me is that he loved and taught.

    Probably another reason I’m a Quaker, since this kind of thinking doesn’t sit well with most American Protestantism. Especially since I reject the whole “eternal torture” thing so many of them are fond of.

  • Anonymous

    That right there?  That’s some bullshit.
    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?
    Women are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    It’s not essentialist.  The correlation is precisely what you state at the bottom – if the general culture states that women *are* and should be more emotional than rational… eventually, exactly that is going to happen.

    If the soul is supposed to be a real thing housed in each person, why wouldn’t you be able to devise a test for it? Why should it be any harder than detecting quarks?

    So what, you’re proposing we ram people against each other at relativistic speeds and see if souls come out?  What would the detection mechanism even *look* like?

  • Anonymous

    That right there?  That’s some bullshit.
    What kind of gender essentialist garbage is that?  No seriously, how the fuck do you justify that kind of crap?
    Women are no less rational than men, and men are just as emotionally capable as women – if there is a correlation at all (and I doubt there is) it’s because society spends our entire lives trying to ram us into one of two different boxes, no matter who or what we really are.

    It’s not essentialist.  The correlation is precisely what you state at the bottom – if the general culture states that women *are* and should be more emotional than rational… eventually, exactly that is going to happen.

    If the soul is supposed to be a real thing housed in each person, why wouldn’t you be able to devise a test for it? Why should it be any harder than detecting quarks?

    So what, you’re proposing we ram people against each other at relativistic speeds and see if souls come out?  What would the detection mechanism even *look* like?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=807845190 Cheryl Hopper

    Yes!  My thoughts exactly.  I’m passionate about conservation and taking care of the earth because God told us to be good stewards of what we were given, and I cannot understand why so many Christians don’t see that and why, because of disagreement on a few things, they reject 99% of what science has to say.  Faith and science aren’t incompatible.  Quite the opposite.  The more I’ve learned about the world and how things work at all levels, the deeper and more vibrant my faith has become.


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