Science and the evangelical tribe

RJS at Jesus Creed reports on the recent Theology of Celebration Workshop hosted by the Biologos Foundation, reported on by Christianity Today as a gathering of “evangelical evolutionists.” As RJS notes, that’s an unsatisfying label, but I suppose it works as a reminder that there are, in fact, evangelical theologians who do not deny evolution.

RJS writes:

[CT's Tim] Stafford suggests that the most sobering point in the meeting was the report by David Kinnaman of Barna Research that  more than half of Protestant pastors in the US support young-earth creationism or lean strongly toward that position. The poll includes the entire range of Protestants, so we can safely assume that well over half of evangelical pastors lean toward the young earth view.

The most sobering point for me though, was not this particular finding (which was not unexpected), but the realization that the vast majority of this “more than half” of evangelical pastors, more than three-quarters of them, believe that they understand both the theological issues and the scientific issues involved in the creation/evolution discussion very well.

RJS goes on to discuss the enormous challenge of explaining even basic science to a large category of people who: A) don’t understand or want to understand it; and B) think they already understand it just fine. I don’t share all of the suggestions RJS makes for meeting this challenge, but many of them are good and necessary, if daunting.

My biggest reservation is with this part of the post:

We need scientists; those who can explain the science carefully and clearly for a lay audience. Here I find Dennis Venema’s articles on the BioLogos site to be excellent examples and provide a valuable resource.

My response to this suggestion is “What do you mean ‘we,’ kemosabe?”

For a scientist to be able to “explain the science carefully and clearly for a lay audience” is a rare gift, but it’s a big world and there are a lot of excellent science writers.

The problem isn’t that we lack scientists, the problem is that we are defining “we” in a way that excludes everyone who isn’t already a member of our evangelical tribe.

Whenever the subject of careful and clear science writing for a lay audience comes up, I leap at the chance to recommend one of my favorite books — David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. It’s fascinating, absorbing and utterly accessible to those of us who haven’t spent years studying biology. Quammen offers a lively tour of the insights of Darwin and Wallace and all that we’ve learned since, all while also introducing the reader to some of the strangest and most intriguing places and creatures on the planet. It’s a terrific book.

But if “we” decide that “we” can only read books written by “us,” then Quammen’s book doesn’t count. Nor can we read anything by Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Janna Levin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jared Diamond, Mary Roach, Stephen Jay Gould, Steve Jones, Phil Plait …

Maybe Annie Dillard counts, but it’s a bit of a stretch to claim her as one of us.

It’s no good saying “we need scientists … who can explain the science carefully and clearly for a lay audience” and then to turn around and exclude nearly all of the best writers who can do just that because we cannot claim them as members of our tribe.

That leaves us with precious little to draw from except the sort of books the BioLogos Foundation recommends. Many of the books on that page may be excellent (I’ve not read most of them), but many are also one step removed from actual science writing. They’re about science, but not necessarily on science. I appreciate the need for books intended specifically for evangelical readers — books that can serve to give those readers permission, in a sense, to learn about science. But the universe of good, popular science writing is much bigger than this small bookshelf.

And ultimately it has to include not just books reassuring evangelicals that faith and science aren’t in conflict, but also the books that such reassurance enables one to go on to read. I’m a big fan of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, but if we convinced every American evangelical to read Noll’s book without them going on to read all the vast universe of books he laments that they’re not reading, then we wouldn’t have really accomplished anything. We might have raised awareness of the scandal, but we wouldn’t have corrected it.

If evangelicals are refusing to learn from Quammen and Sagan and the other writers mentioned above, then the solution is not to seek out or create a new, evangelical Quammen or Sagan. That’s the approach that gave us the wretched “contemporary Christian music” industry. CCS would like prove just as awful as most CCM.

That analogy helps point us to a better way forward. The problem with CCM isn’t just that the artists creating this parochial music for the rest of the tribe need to be better at their craft. The problem is that they’re creating parochial music for the tribe and that the members of that tribe regard themselves primarily as members of that tribe, refusing to listen (or pretending not to listen) to the wider universe of good music made by and for the “outsiders” of the rest of the world. American evangelicals don’t need better tribal music. We need to stop approaching music through the lens of tribalism.

Likewise, American evangelicals don’t need better tribal scientists. We need to stop approaching science through the lens of tribalism.

So to every one of those half-of-all evangelical pastors now trapped by the confusion of young-earth creationism, my suggestion is simply this: Go read The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen. You’ll thank me later. It’s a terrific book.

  • We Must Dissent

    I have no idea how to get there from here, but the US needs a mainstream culture that refuses to describe science in terms of belief, one where science (and other) teachers can call bullshit on nonscience like “intelligent design” as swiftly and with the same repercussions as they can on heliocentrism or math teachers could if students were to declare that pi equals 3.

  • http://mpzrd.blogspot.com/ mud man

    Also works the other way. “They” need theologians who can explain Evangelicalism in a way that doesn’t look obviously stupid to a scientist qua scientist. (Personally, I was raised liberal near-atheist, but I made the journey because faith explained my own experience of myself better than non-faith.) (There are some … NT Wright and Peter Enns come to mind…)

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    To quote Dorothy Sayers, “The only Christian work is good work well done.” 
    http://www.faith-at-work.net/Docs/WhyWork.pdf

  • Mary Kaye

    The thing that frustrates me the very most about this, as a working scientist, is the attempts to shoehorn science into the tribal-conflict mindset.  “Evolutionists” forsooth.  It’s not a political nor a theological position.  I am not a “follower of Darwin” or a “follower of Mendel”.  From within the actual practice of science this way of looking at it *doesn’t make any sense* and is deeply irritating.

    Various branches of science have, on occasion, fallen victim to tribalism; but in my view evolutionary biology hasn’t been a big offender in this regard.  Major challenges such as the neutral theory (the idea that most evolutionary diversity is not due to natural selection but is essentially random) and the discovery of widespread horizontal transfer of genes among unrelated species have been handled quite reasonably, as have unsuccessful challenges such as the apparent discovery of directed mutations (mutations which occur at a higher rate when they are needed than when they are not) by Cairns.

    But I don’t know how to get this across to people trapped in seeing everything as Us Versus Them.  And frankly it makes me sick.  I see my fellow scientists, especially climatologists and evolutionary biologists, constantly being spoken of as if we have neither curiosity nor concern for the truth nor personal integrity, but are just spouting lies because…why?  Because we’re on Team Liars, I guess.  I don’t know how to talk to people who have pre-judged me as caring nothing for what are, in fact, central pillars of my life.  It seems hopeless.  As long as all they see is the team jersey they themselves have slapped on me, they can’t see me at all.

    It must be even worse for the Christians among my colleagues (my lab is incredibly ecumenical, with Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Pagan and atheist members).

  • Mary Kaye

    Just as an aside to my last post:

     Many years ago Francis Crick stuck the name “central dogma of molecular biology” onto the statement that information in cells flows from DNA to RNA to protein, and never backwards.  I have heard people make much of this (unfortunate, in my opinion) name as evidence that science is really a kind of ideology or theology.

    In fact the central dogma is false, and this is well accepted in the field since the discovery of reverse transcriptase, which copies RNA into DNA.  No one went to war over this.  Reverse transcriptase was rather a shocking discovery and required careful testing, but there was no lack of people wanting to test it, and in fact it was fairly quickly accepted.

    Crick was (as he himself acknowledges) something of an idiot to use the word “dogma”–but gosh, it sure hasn’t behaved like a dogma.

  • Cathy W

    I see my fellow scientists, especially climatologists and evolutionary biologists, constantly being spoken of as if we have neither curiosity nor concern for the truth nor personal integrity, but are just spouting lies because…why? 

    The answer that seems to go along with a bad case of Fox Geezer Syndrome seems to be that you’re spouting lies to keep the government money flowing into your lab. Please don’t ask me how that makes sense.

  • http://twitter.com/carolinedyeMISC Caroline Dye Chapel

    Well, if it’s good enough for the “abstinence only” folks….

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I find it hard to imagine a scientist who follows an Abrahamic religion, or at least one who believes in the story of Genesis as it is written while also believing that the Earth is billions of years old and that life evolved from single-celled organisms which may have had their carbon origins from space debris which crashed into the primordial soup. A true scientist must adhere to the scientific method, the steps of which vary from person to person who relates them, but all involve rigorous testing and the gathering of data. More importantly than that, however, the scientific method is very clear on the point that there is no such thing as a definitive conclusion. No matter how much empirical data you collect, you can only report the trends you have observed. A consensus is nothing more than the data a large part of the scientific community has observed enough times to note has little unexpected variation and has agreed follows a core set of predictable behaviors — predictable enough that they don’t need to be constantly reaffirmed in order to demonstrate that the data is still falling within the same margins. This is not the same thing as establishing a fact and calling it the unerring truth. In theory, it can always be proven wrong.

    And in my mind, that’s the principle which separates a scientist from someone who believes in the Bible as the Divine Truth, authored by God Himself, wherein “God enjoys the smell of burning flesh” and “God shall not harbor a sacrifice of animal flesh” is not accepted to be a contradiction. Someone who accepts that the Bible cannot possibly be flawed has already drawn a conclusion and is unwilling to accept that data might disprove it. To them, there is no disproving data, only human error. If the Bible wrote “And if thou dost drop a stone, by THE LORD’s grace, the stone shalt fall upward to the heaven,” the believer would have to reconcile gravity with the Bible and would conclude that the stone does fall upward — by God’s perspective, not their own fragile, flimsy, flawed human perspective. That is not compatible with the scientific method. It is completely at odds with science. At best, the Christian scientist would have to phrase it, “It is accepted that the stone appears to fall downward until such a time as it can be proven that it does, in fact, fall to the heavens above.”

    So I have a hard time picturing a Christian scientist. Having to juggle empirical data and faith that has to be arbitrarily inserted into said data in order to reconcile it with their believes seems like too much of a task for a real scientist, as opposed to someone who isn’t a scientist at all and is merely looking for data to support their conclusion — a complete inversion of the scientific method. Or to put it in a context that is less controversial, what about a cryptozoologist, someone who believes in sasquatch, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or extraterrestrials? No matter what fancy gadgets they wave around, can they really be called scientists when they’ve already irreversibly made up their mind that these creatures exist and are among us in the present day, despite never having found conclusive evidence to indicate this is true?

  • Graeme from BC

    Nothing against Song of the Dodo (I haven’t read it but I’m sure it’s terrific if Fred is recommending it) but the single best book I’ve ever read for explaining evolution to laypeople (i.e. non-scientists) is The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (note: this was written in the 70s back when dawkins was a scientist who happened to be an atheist rather than the world’s most famous atheist who happened to be a scientist, religion or atheism is barely if ever mentioned in the book)

  • Magic_Cracker

    (note: this was written in the 70s back when dawkins was a scientist who happened to be an atheist rather than the world’s most famous atheist who happened to be a scientist, religion or atheism is barely if ever mentioned in the book)

    FWIW, Douglas Adams credits The Selfish Gene for his atheism. Prior to reading it he was agnostic.

    Another accessible book on evolution is The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution In Our Time.

  • Mary Kaye

    Anonymous-Sam, it’s far from the case that all Christians are bible-literalists.  The three Christians in my lab are good scientists and the issues you raise simply don’t come up for them, any more than they come up for the Jewish or Pagan members of the lab.  In general my Jewish and Christian colleagues (and I have a lot of them) see their holy books as sources of moral and spiritual knowledge not scientific knowledge, and have no problem with that.  And they would doubtless be annoyed to hear you claiming that they do not exist.

  • Makabit

    I believe in an Abrahamic religion.

    I am not a Biblical literalist. Nor is the tradition in which I was raised a literalist tradition, nor has it ever been.

    I am not a scientist, because I’m one of those liberal arts types, but I tend to assume that what scientists come up with is probably literally true.

    My synagogue is full of doctors and computer geeks and even a few research scientists of different sorts. They seem to be able to daven and reason with the same brain.

    I think you’re basing too much emphasis on the idea of some all-encompassing Biblical literalism as being the touchstone of faith. As, indeed, do certain religious persons.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira


    So I have a hard time picturing a Christian scientist.

    You haven’t met any? I have. They make a heck of a lot more sense to me as Christians than Rick Santorum. Follow the golden rule, environmental activism, human rights for every person, economic justice, caring for the world and all the creatures in it. Those things are all completely compatible with being a scientist. 

    Faith for the scientists who are Christian whom I know just means they believe in God as interpreted by Jesus Christ, and they believe in heaven. They think the fact that we can discover so many things about our universe is a wondrous gift that God has given us. They don’t believe everything the Bible says. No one actually believes everything the Bible says. Like every other person who sees the Bible as a holy book, scientists who are Christian pick and choose. They’re just more conscious of picking and choosing than certain right-wingers.

    My father (who is Christian, though not a scientist) and I watched a show on evolution-deniers a few years ago. He said something that I think is very apt: if your faith cannot survive in the face of truth, your faith was weak and pathetic in the first place. Faith isn’t about proof, as God can be neither proven nor disproven. Believing in God, for every Christian I’ve known well, means believing we cannot know all of God’s mysteries, but that science can illuminate some of them. For all of the Christians I’ve been close to, evolution, mathematics, all of science — those are things which God had a hand in.

    One thing: no scientist who is Christian whom I have ever known believes in hell. My mom, dad and I went to (Lutheran) church when I was a kid. In Sunday school, the teacher brought up hell. I was five or six-ish. I was worried, and I asked my mom about it. She said, in the same kind of tone she’d use if someone claimed women weren’t as smart as men, “there is no such thing as hell.” I have known there is no hell ever since, thanks to my mother, who is a Christian and a scientist. 

  • Tricksterson

    Problem is that to people like this everything is ideological.  Science, music, literature, you name it.  And because of this they assume everyone else thinks the same way.  They’re basically the right  wing version of doctrinaire Stalinists.  The idea of something being ideolgically neutral, or even trying to be makes as much sense as a football bat.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

     Or to put it in a context that is less controversial, what about a cryptozoologist, someone who believes in sasquatch, bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or extraterrestrials? No matter what fancy gadgets they wave around, can they really be called scientists when they’ve already irreversibly made up their mind that these creatures exist and are among us in the present day, despite never having found conclusive evidence to indicate this is true?
    In a word: Yes.Science isn’t about what you believe.  It never has been and never will be.  The scientific method works independently of your beliefs.Certainly people may be tempted to force evidence to fit their preconceived notions, but that is true of almost anyone.  And it’s also always going to be true that many things are looked into by people who believe that looking into them will yield valuable results.

    So, in the case of a cryptozoologist, does ze have bias?  Yes.  Does that mean ze isn’t truly a scientist?  It depends.  It depends not on what ze believes, but on what ze does.  If ze gathers evidence via scientific means, evaluates it by a reasonable standard, and has zir inquiry guided by the scientific method then (assuming appropriate rigor) ze is a scientist.

    Probably a frequently disappointed one because the conclusion is generally going to be, “Aliens/Bigfoot/Nessie/Sasquatch/Yeti didn’t do this.”

  • Tricksterson

    You think that’s bad try explaining the idea that because it’s called the “theory of evolution” that doesn’t mean that it’s unproven.

  • Tricksterson

    Except that not all Christians take the Bible literally.  The Catholic Church doesn’t (which is why it has no problem with evolution) AFAIK most or all mainline Protestant religions don’t or at least their liberal wings don’t.  Fred obviously doesn’t.

  • histrogeek

     Really it seems that what the evangelical tribe needs is not scientists to explain evolution but teachers and, dare I say it, ministers (in the broad meaning) to explain what evolution is, what it means, what the Bible is, and what the Bible means. Use small words and insist that everyone there keeps their traps shut until you’re done. And close with the line from someone around Galileo’s time (I’ve seen it attributed to GG himself), “The Bible tells us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.”

  • histrogeek

     The disappointed crypto-zoologist thing sort of is explained by a man with very similar experiences. Paul Davies’ The Eerie Silence talks about the history of SETI (he is on the chair of the Post-Contact Taskforce) along with how and why SETI research has been unsuccessful to date.
    It’s an unconventional mix of wild speculation mixed with very legitimate hard science. And Davies doesn’t confuse the two, but his speculations lead to potential lines of inquiry. It also shows that even if how to scientifically explore a literally alien field with no empirical evidence. Plus he has a great sense of wonder and fun that explains why he would continue with SETI research in the face of so little success.

  • Jay

    As a former Christian, I found it  very difficult to reconcile Christianity and evolution.  Christianity, as I learned it, posits that scarcity, struggle, and death are temporary aberrations; man was made to be immortal and can be redeemed to that state.  Evolution posits that scarcity, struggle, and death are the furnace in which we were forged, and that any temporary interruption in scarcity will result in a population explosion sufficient to bring scarcity back.  It’s hard to reconcile the two.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    On the subject of Christian scientists, I tend to think that the words of Galileo Galilei are particularly appropriate:

    I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.

  • LMM22

    Christianity, as I learned it, posits that scarcity, struggle, and death are temporary aberrations…. Evolution posits that scarcity, struggle, and death are the furnace in which we were forged, and that any temporary interruption in scarcity will result in a population explosion sufficient to bring scarcity back.  It’s hard to reconcile the two.

    One way to reconcile these two approaches is a sort of Gnosticism: the flesh is separate from the spiritual realm. (The other way, of course, is to point out that life in the past was *not* nasty, brutish, and short — that, in fact, there’s a lot of evidence that pre-agrarian societies were far better off than anyone until very recent times. So, no, misery is not intrinsic to nature. Death may be, selection may be, but that has little to do with quality of life.)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     People rarely mention that Galileo was a deacon.

  • swbarnes2

    “Really it seems that what the evangelical tribe needs is not scientists to explain evolution but teachers and, dare I say it, ministers (in the broad meaning) to explain what evolution is, what it means, what the Bible is, and what the Bible means.”

    Oh, just explain what the Bible means.  Do you honestly think that fundamentalist and evangelical pastors haven’t been doing this all along?

    When you say “teach what the Bible means”, you mean “teach what you personally think the bible means”, right?  Because evangelical and fundamentalist ministers explain what they think the Bible means to people all the time, yet you don’t think that counts?  I presume because you don’t agree with their teaching?

    If you call yourself a Christian, and you believe that evolution is accurate, Creationists think that they need to sit you down, and explain what the Bible is, and what it means to you.  Is that lecture going to change your mind?  If not, why do you suppose yours will be more effective?

    You can not talk anyone out of irrationality.  You can’t not change a person’s mind unless they value accurate understanding over feeling good about themselves, not without a bribe, and “ignore science, and go to heaven” is a much better bribe than anything science can offer.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    People rarely mention that Galieo was a deacon.

    I do not believe that is the case, though I do recall that his father urged him toward the priesthood, which he seriously considered.  He had two daughters that went on to become nuns, though that may have had more to do with them being born out of wedlock (and thus complicate their hypothetical marriage prospects) than anything else. 

  • Graeme from BC

    lol really? I actually didn’t know that. Might I suggest that this is a credit to how well the selfish gene shows how vibrance and complexity exists in the world in the absence of any outside influence?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I would suggest that people living inside “the bubble” need to be forced into objective education on science and sociology.  Do not let them seperate themselves from worldly learning.  Yeah, I know, “cramming down their throats” and whatnot, but it is like insisting that a child cram vegatables down their throats.  They may not like it, but it is essential that they do so, lest their growth progress in an unhealthy manner. 

    Hell, this is not even just about “what’s best for them,” but about what is best for the country.  The more tribalistic they get, the more that they can isolate themselves, the more dysfunctional our “family” becomes.  When they are operating on a completely different basis than the rest of the world, interface and cooperation become impossible. 

  • Jay

     in response to LMM22:

    The Gnostic approach isn’t consistent with what we know of the brain.  For example, if a person’s corpus callosum is severed, the two hemispheres of the brain can’t directly communicate, and each hemisphere is conscious individually (each crippled by the lack of the other, of course). 

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Split-brain 

    The anthropological approach forgets that pre-20th century societies had infant mortality of around 50%.  Pre-agrarian societies are characterized by a violent death rate around 15%, which is over 1000x the rate in modern America.  Typical life expectancy is about 17, although it rises to 35 if you ignore infant mortality. 

    Having said that, you can get used to anything.  There were probably a few happy moments in Auschwitz.  I’m not saying that people in the past were always unhappy.  I’m saying that their natural instinct to reproduce coupled with the limitations on available resources resulted in sporadic war and famine, and that generally they probably would have preferred to be peaceful and well-fed.  Also, I’m saying that a God who creates life using war and famine over millions of years is probably not a God who is greatly concerned about human suffering.

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

    Also? The first steps toward an understanding of genetics came from Mendel, a priest.

  • LMM22

    You know, I was going to try to address some of your (rather one-sided) scientific data, but why bother? This:

    There were probably a few happy moments in Auschwitz.

    Proves that you’re not even *remotely* arguing in good faith. You have a quite firm agenda and you’re trying to assert it.

    I’m not saying that people in the past were always unhappy.

    But we are far happier today than they ever were? Jesus freaking Christ.

    Let me just point out what I seem to be pointing out a lot lately: You judge cultures based upon your own priorities — and what you deem to be morally superior about your own culture. Yes, people would probably prefer to have been well-fed. (Although, again, hunter-gatherers seem to have been quite well fed on the whole.) And people in our society would almost certainly prefer to have a greater degree of social interconnectedness, decreased social stratification, and greater access to fulfilling, meaningful work at all stages of life.

    tl;dr: You’re not pointing out evidence. What you’re doing is actively trying to de-convert people. Why, I have no idea. It’s not particularly productive under these conditions, especially since you neither seem to have a good grasp of the true data nor a good grasp of the theological arguments.

  • hapax

     

    So I have a hard time picturing a Christian scientist. Having to juggle
    empirical data and faith that has to be arbitrarily inserted into said
    data in order to reconcile it with their believes seems like too much of
    a task for a real scientist, as opposed to someone who isn’t a
    scientist at all and is merely looking for data to support their
    conclusion — a complete inversion of the scientific method.

    You’re having a hard time picturing it because your caricature of “Christian” is as much a straw-man as the false concoction called an “evolutionist.”

    If you’d like an actual picture, I suppose I could mail you a photo of my spouse…

  • Matri

    When they are operating on a completely different basis than the rest of the world, interface and cooperation become impossible.

    Different basis? Heck, they’re living in an entirely different reality!

  • hapax

     

    You can’t not change a person’s mind unless they value accurate
    understanding over feeling good about themselves, not without a bribe,
    and “ignore science, and go to heaven” is a much better bribe than
    anything science can offer.

    I dunno. 

    The heavens declare the glory of God;
       the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

     Day after day they pour forth speech;
       night after night they reveal knowledge.

     They have no speech, they use no words;
       no sound is heard from them.
     Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
       their words to the ends of the world.

    “Wanna find out what the stars are saying?”  always worked for me.

  • Tonio

    It doesn’t make sense to me that even scientists would fail to recognize that “do gods exist or not?” is simply another question of fact. If we were talking about whether life exists on Mars, we would verly likely never hear scientists saying they have faith that it exists. It’s as though they see the unanswerable nature of the gods question as making it fair game for belief, a concept that properly belongs to questions of value. If a question of fact is unanswerable, there is still a fact beyond our reach. These scientists would probably acknowledge that they don’t know if gods exist, but by believing that gods exist, they’re deeming that existence to be true anyway.

  • ako

    I’m an atheist and not eager to be preached at, but as long as people are going to be trying to explain their theology to others, it’d be nice if they actually understood the people they were talking to and could avoid explanations that were based on obviously false premises (whether we’re talking about “The Book of Genesis is a literal and factual account of the creation of the world” or “Everyone really believes my religion is true, and people only ever deny it in a deliberate effort to spite God”). 

    While I’m wishing, I’d also like it if there was more “If you want information about these religious beliefs, read this (watch this/come to this group/ask me about this point/etc.)” and less shoving it at everyone.

  • hapax

     It doesn’t make sense to me that even scientists would fail to recognize
    that “do gods exist or not?” is simply another question of fact.

    There are a fair number of folks, Tonio, who do not believe that the word “exist” applies quite the same way for Divine Beings as it does for created ones.

    (In a strict sense, I would argue that “existence” for created beings is merely an imitation of real existence )

    I know that you have difficulty accepting metaphysical concepts, but if the category “gods” is such that even our language is a inadequate tool for analysis, why is prima facie obvious that our scientific tools, let alone such labels as “fact” and “belief”, will be any more useful?

  • Porlockjr

    The clever saying about how to go th Heaven versus how the heavens go was used by Galileo, but he was quoting Cardinal Cesare Baronio (or Baronius, the name under which he’s in Wikipedia). It’s always fun to give due credit to some person who doesn’t get much, when things attach themselve to the Big Names.

    And all the more fun to get some smart saying like this from a high Church official of that time: they were not all fools and obscurantists, and we supposedly know that, but a reminder is good. BTW, Galileo gave proper credit when he quoted it, so the misattribution isn’t his fault.

  • ako

    What do you mean by forced?  Because you’ve expressed some really creepy ideas about forcing people into things in the past, and based on those past suggestions, I’m inclined to disagree with you when you suggest coercing people for the benefit of society.

  • Tonio

    I didn’t suggest that we should use scientific tools to determine whether gods exist. And I do not suggest that such tools are the only alternative to belief. I’m merely arguing against belief in questions of fact.

    Why would the word “exist” apply differently to divine beings? The notion of “created beings” sounds too much like intelligent design, although I doubt that’s your intention. And I don’t understand your point that the concept of “gods” exceeds the capacity of language to analyze it. I’ve often said that if I grew up not even knowing that other people believed that gods exist, the concept of gods would probably never have occurred to me.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I find it hard to imagine a scientist who follows an Abrahamic religion, or at least one who believes in the story of Genesis as it is written …

    You know that outside the US the latter is a very small proportion of the former, right? So much so that the former sentence fragment is beyond overly reductive.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    You don’t believe that Galileo was a deacon, or you don’t believe that people rarely mention it?

  • swbarnes2

    Forget looking at the stars.  Start reseraching parasites, and their impacts on their hosts.  Viruses that make their caterpiller hosts explode.  Protists that infect the brains of human children, that kind of thing.

    If you are going to draw lessons about what God is like from the evidence of nature, you have to look at all of it, not just the pretty stuff. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    I find it hard to imagine a scientist who follows an Abrahamic religion,
    or at least one who believes in the story of Genesis as it is written
    while also believing that the Earth is billions of years old and that
    life evolved from single-celled organisms which may have had their
    carbon origins from space debris which crashed into the primordial soup.

    Read Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God Schroeder goes to considerable length to explain how Genesis 1, if taken not-quite-literally, is a factual account of the Big Bang et al.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    First of all, very strict oversight of public education to ensure the cirriculum is robust and objective.  Ensure that any private institution that is accredited for high school education must meet those same standards.  Anyone who is home schooled must meet rigorous testing requirements to ensure that that their home education has been likewise objective.  Sufficient failure on those tests will result in mandatory remedial courses that will be taken until they can pass. 

    Willful ignorance in our education system should not be tolerated. 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Can you put together a running sheet on all the things that will not be tolerated? I find it hard to keep track.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I don’t really know what you’re getting at. Maybe it’s the painkillers, maybe I’m just dim. So I’ll write a response to what I think is closest to what you meant, and please forgive me if I’m totally off-base.

    There are different kinds of “beliefs”. One is in facts: 2+2 = 4 (in base 10). Pi = 3.14159 and lots of numbers after it. Evolution happens. The earth revolves around the sun. These are facts, things we know that can be proven.

    Another kind of belief is more complicated. The belief that your (generic “you”) spouse will be faithful, for example. While you can extrapolate from your spouse’s past actions, you can never know that someone will be faithful. Things change, stuff happens, peoples is peoples. If you need constant proof — well, you’re not gonna get it, because it’s the kind of thing that’s not provable. You have to take a leap of faith.  

    Belief in god/s is the second kind of belief. The leap is larger — or maybe, sometimes, shorter — than believing in your spouse’s faithfulness, but it’s in the same group. Scientists are as capable as anyone else of having faith in their spouses, believing others love them, and other unprovable hypotheses. The cold movie scientist who must have every single thing proven to them is a myth.

    My mother would be having fits at all this “scientists this, scientists that” stuff, btw. She is a scientist, and one of her things is that everyone is a scientist. Some people just do it professionally. 

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I’m wondering how the “objective” part of the criteria will be met. Especially in the social sciences and arts.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I stand corrected. Not everyone is a Bible literalist, but whenever I hear the phrase “Christian scientist,” it’s often in the context of someone trying to use scientific concepts (but not much science) to explain how the Bible is, in fact, a 100% accurate portrayal as written of the origin of life. I suppose I could say I place a distinction between “Christian scientist” and “scientist who is Christian,” but I’d still be largely wrong, so I’ll take my refutation as gracefully as I know how and concede.

    Incidentally, I had been reading this at the time of posting and it likely didn’t help my attitude. I apologize if I have offended anyone.

  • swbarnes2

    “Another kind of belief is more complicated. The belief that your (generic “yospouse will be faithful, for example. While you can extrapolate from your spouse’s past actions, you can never know that someone will be faithful.”

    I don’t think that the difference between a scientific conclusion and a predictions of a person’s behavior is all that different, and I think you are drawing the scientific categories so broadly that they don’t properly compare.  Evolution is true, but that doesn’t mean that I can predict exactly how a population of bacteria inside a person will react when they start taking antibiotics, and a single person’s behavior is more like that scenario than the global “gene frequencies in populations change over time”.

    The more sensible distinction to draw is between beliefs which are adequately supported by evidence, and those which are not.  Evolution, yes.  For most people, the conclusion that their spouse will not cheat is well supported by the evidence of their actions.

    Heaven…sorry, no evidentiary support.  That humans are all going to hell unless they have a personal relationship with Jesus?  Not supported.   God?  Sorry, not supported.  The universe looks exactly like we would expect if no God were doing anything.

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

    I go back and forth on the notion of an objective reality.

    The problem is that the perception of the world by any being with sense organs is inherently solipsistic. To that extent, reality is inherently subjective.

    However, given that there are mutually agreed upon ways to communicate observations about what is around us, humans, at least, can derive concepts of shared-solipsistic-realities that behave largely the same way regardless of the individual observer.

    Thus a quasi-objective reality begins to emerge, as long as we’re talking about phenomena for which one does not need to invoke particularly credibility-straining rationales for such (i.e. trying to claim that God causes lightning, when the principles are now fairly well-understood). When we start trying to discuss aspects of quasi-objective reality for which there is no reliable way to reproduce the phenomenon, that is where science must stop and other forms of world-analysis/world-description* come into play.

    An example is the term “religious/conversion/faith experience”. Such are not objectively reproducible**, and no consistent method of doing so yet exists as far as I know.

    On the other hand, there are aspects of interactions between objects we don’t fully understand, yet there are subsets of those interactions which can be understood and reproduced no matter the observer. An example is the strong interaction. Under conditions of high energy, it behaves in a tractable way, but under conditions of low energy, it behaves differently in a way our mathematical methods as yet find hard going***.

    Anyone who tried to seriously claim (as I once saw) that this lack of knowledge about the strong interaction proves that God is running the show behind the scenes would be looked at quite askance. That is the classic case of trying for a credibility-straining interpretation when a simpler one will do: our mathematical systems need to be refined to understand what our experiments are telling us.

    The point is, any reasonable scientist depends on:

    1. Invoking physical explanations for physical phenomena, and
    2. Being prepared to prove that certain assumptions that go into the physical explanation are wrong.

    An example of 1 and 2 was the idea that you needed two sets of transformation laws, the Galilean and the Lorentz, because of the luminiferous aether that required electromagnetism to be handled using the Lorentz transformations.

    The example of 2 is that the assumption of an aether was wrong.

    The result was that it could be shown that in fact that Galilean transformations are a subset of the Lorentz transformations and that in reality, you only need one set of transformation laws.

    People who try to pooh-pooh science usually de-emphasize #2 in favor of claiming #1 indicates that scientists want to destroy faith, religious or spiritual – and that is just not true.

    —–

    * I particularly like these Germanic word-constructs in English. I think I will use them in preference to “religion” or “faith”.

    ** Anybody who disputes this with me is welcome to refuse to accept my
    plain statement that I never experienced one no matter how I fervently
    wished to be converted from being a sinner, and prayed as such. I
    certainly fulfilled all the preconditions for obtaining one, and if
    anyone dares tell me my “faith was insufficient”, we will be having a
    strongly worded discussion in which I will discuss my exact feelings
    upon this selective perception and dismissive treatment of what happened
    to me.

    *** It has to do, loosely speaking, with the energy dependence of the coupling constant and the fact that it’s bigger than one on room temperature scales.


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