Nick Matzke posted Entry 2746 on November 26, 2006 10:17 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2737

If you needed another proof that the Founding Fathers were pretty smart guys when they noted that fights over religion are intractable and produce strife because they involve ultimate questions decided according to dictates of conscience, we have yet another proof. In recent weeks there has been a resurgence of internicine fighting amongst the pro-science blogging community over the issue of religion. The Holy Wars threads involve the debate between two camps: I think the camps are neutrally described as follows (feel free to hurl invective my way if you disagree).

First, we have the “religion per se is the enemy” camp, represented by bloggers PZ Myers and Larry Moran, and represented nationally by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Steve Weinberg, etc. Second, we have the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp, represented by Ed Brayton, John Lynch, me (1, 2, 3), Pat Hayes of Red State Rabble, Ken Miller, Eugenie Scott, various national science and science education groups, and probably a majority of PT contributors (although the “Separation of Church and PT” camp, also known as the “shut the heck up about religion/anti-religion and talk about science” camp, may be largest).

This dispute will not be resolved anytime soon. It goes back at least to the different approaches of Darwin and Huxley towards science and religion. Both were basically agnostics – Darwin started out a theist, gradually moved towards Deism which was his position around 1859, and ended up an agnostic later in life; however, he refrained from anti-religion polemics in his publications and went out of his way to reassure correspondants that having a natural explanation for the origin of species did not conflict with enlightened religious views. Huxley invented the term “agnostic” to distinguish himself from atheists, but nevertheless conducted a vociferous public campaign against religion.

With such a long-standing dispute I think a good strategy is to focus the discussion on narrow points. Here is an example. Over at the Kansas Citizens for Science forums, PZ Myers is doing the right thing and talking with the actual people on the ground who have been fighting the ID creationists’ strongest push for years, thus far with success. In the course of this discussion, PZ writes,

Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board.

Edwards v. Aguillard.

McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education.

Scopes.

Each one was the court case to finally stamp down the creationist threat. Each gave us a little reprieve. These were necessary rulings, we’re right to celebrate them, but be realistic: they haven’t changed a thing. Not one thing.

You know the creationists are working just as hard now as they were before any of those rulings. John Calvert did not vanish in a puff of smoke. There will be more court cases in the future.

What are you going to do when we lose one? Give up? Why do you think the other side will be deterred by legal losses?

There is an interesting mistake here. In actual fact, we did lose one of these cases: Scopes v. Tennessee, in 1925. John Scopes was convicted by a jury of his peers of teaching evolution and fined $100. His conviction was later overturned on a technicality, but the constitutionality of Tennessee’s antievolution law, the Butler Act, was never reviewed (which had been the original ACLU plan).

And in actual fact, the consequences were rather dire, supporting PZ’s point about the dangers of losing court cases. Although the fundamentalists “lost” in the national press as they were subjected to humiliating commentary from the pundits, the law banning the teaching of evolution remained in effect in Tennessee. Several other states and many local school districts passed similar bans. As a result, by 1930, textbook publishers had systematically deleted evolution from their textbooks, which they wanted to sell in every state. And this was the status quo for 40 years in this country, until Sputnik inspired the reform of U.S. science education and Susan Epperson successfully challenged Arkansas’ ban on evolution in the 1968 case Epperson v. Arkansas.

Now we come to an important question: why, amongst all of the cases we have won, did we lose Scopes? I won’t pretend there is one single answer, but here is a major factor: Clarence Darrow. The ACLU’s strategy was to focus on the constitutional separation of church and state, but Darrow, a famously in-your-face agnostic, thought differently. Not originally on the ACLU legal team, as the most famous defense attorney in the country, Darrow successfully shoehorned himself into the “trial of the century.” Unlike the ACLU, Darrow wanted to make the trial into a national platform for advancing his views about the validity of Christianity. He succeeded spectacularly when he goaded William Jennings Bryan into taking the stand as a witness for the prosectuation and, in the famous climax of the Scopes trial, spent hours cross-examining him about classic Sunday school Bible puzzlers like the question of where Cain’s wife came from.

It made for a fantastic legend, and when Bryan died a few days after the trial it appeared as though Darrow had personally slain the dragon of fundamentalism. But legally speaking it was irrelevant. The judge excluded all of Bryan’s testimony, the jury voted to convict, and the Darrow-versus-Bryan spectacle completely obscured the serious constitutional issues that the ACLU had been trying to raise. When the case reached the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court dodged the constitutional issue (which would have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court) by overturning the conviction on a technicality which might have been caught earlier had not the world been occupied with the Darrow/Bryan circus. No one else challenged the evolution bans – plaintiffs didn’t want to replay the Scopes circus and serve as a megaphone for the Darrows of the world, and evolution was no longer in the textbooks anyway, depriving teachers of their major reason for teaching evolution in the first place.

Eventually evolution got back into the schools and therefore the court fights began again. This time, we have been decisively winning these fights, mostly because the lawyers and scientists involved have been careful to make the necessary important distinctions, rather than just haring off on another Darrow-esque crusade against religion.

The necessary distinctions are something like the following:

1. Evolution trials are ultimately about the constitution, not about who has the right or wrong religious views.

Science can be taught in public schools precisely because it focuses on questions about the natural world which are resolvable by publicly available and testable data; the core questions of religion, and either positive or negative answers, are conclusions about ultimate questions that are supernatural and beyond empirical resolution.

2. Science education is protected by the Constitution, but only as long as it doesn’t pretend to rule on religious questions.

Hypotheses must be constrained to be testable with physical evidence; but the traditional omniscient, omnipotent, inscrutable God that theists believe in is unconstrained by definition. Science can say that resurrection is impossible according to natural laws, but the whole point of a miracle is that supernatural action suspends natural laws. From the founding of this country we have made a pragmatic decision that these sorts of religious questions should be left outside of the government’s purview.

3. The public, and the judges they indirectly select, will ultimately come down on our side as long as the issue is our real, religiously-neutral science (which, conveniently, is constitutional), versus the creationists’ narrow religious views being disguised as science.

The creationists know that this is the fundamental dynamic at play here, and this is precisely why they try to gussy up their views on religion with scientific trappings. This then leads to endless merriment as we creationism-watchers get to ferret out and expose the deceptions they are putting forward, and this leads to courts declaring antievolution policies to have sham purposes.

The only easy way to mess this up – which fundamentally is a great situation for us – is to have Darrow-types take over and redefine science and evolution to be equal to atheism. I think that deep down, even the Darrows know this is correct, which is probably why we are seeing the current wave of “religion per se is the enemy” only after the Kitzmiller decision and subsequent defeats of the creationists, every single one of them achieved by hard working members of the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp. Of course, when the anti-religion people do this they’re just sowing the seeds of the very thing they most fear – the next creationist wave. To me this seems like unnecessary foot-shooting. But heck, it’s a free country.

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Comment #146580

Posted by plunge on November 26, 2006 1:17 PM (e)

I think there is a lot of personal misunderstanding on both sides. I don’t think PZ realizes that a lot of his statements and claims go beyond the scientific and get into all sorts of sneering at religion for its own sake. And I don’t think others are fair to the actual arguments people like Miller, Dawkins, and PZ actually make, which aren’t so much about getting rid of religion, but rather “it’s simply not appropriate for religious claims to be awarded a special merit badge of protection from criticism, or be granted a reverent authority, simply because they are religious in nature.”

Comment #146582

Posted by Ed Darrell on November 26, 2006 1:37 PM (e)

Nick, your analysis is very good. Scopes lost the case, and the ACLU lost the appeal it wanted (one might argue that the Tennessee Supreme Court saw what it was up against and deflected the case, but the result is the same).

At the same time, I worry that there is something to Myers’ complaints, and it is this: Reason should prevail, and the opposition makes an attractive case (to many faithful) that reason isn’t good. With enough converts to that philosophy, the institutions we depend on to hold up our freedoms are endangered.

I would quibble with PZ, though, about the harms of religious belief, and my quibble is at the heart of my previous concern. I don’t see this as a “Biblical worldview vs. a naturalistic world view” debate. As a Christian, I find that creationists generally do not represent any sort of a Christian world view at all. They endorse yahoo-style attacks on reason and reality, they support and cheer arguments that are based in falsehoods – that’s not a Biblical world view in any way.

I don’t think religion is the enemy of science. But non-reason is an enemy of science, and it’s an enemy of religious freedom, too. It’s an enemy of education, and it’s destructive to the foundation of our civilization’s institutions. Religious people who defend non-reason as a rational position, or even as an irrational but valid, religiously-acceptable position, need to be challenged, directly, constantly, and seriously.

Rationality may be hard work. But irrationality is the quick path to disaster. I’m not anxious to negotiate with wackoes who argue for the quick path to disaster, and then claim to be doing the opposite.

Comment #146583

Posted by QrazyQat on November 26, 2006 1:54 PM (e)

Religious people who defend non-reason as a rational position, or even as an irrational but valid, religiously-acceptable position, need to be challenged, directly, constantly, and seriously.

There’s a big problem with on the one hand recognising that irrationality is a hige problem but not acknowledging that religion, in virtually all its forms, not only endorses irrationality but makes it a virtue – the most virtuous of virtues in fact. This is Dawkins’ main point, I think, in The God Delusion and I agree with it.

Comment #146585

Posted by Corkscrew on November 26, 2006 2:19 PM (e)

3. The public, and the judges they indirectly select, will ultimately come down on our side as long as the issue is our real, religiously-neutral science (which, conveniently, is constitutional), versus the creationists’ narrow religious views being disguised as science.

I think the debate is over what constitutes coming down on “our side”. If I understand correctly, Myers, Dawkins et al would say that, if the masses just say “OK, so creationism can’t be taught in schools” and go back to reading their horoscopes in the local tabloid, that does not constitute an overall victory for “our” side. The battle is over hearts and minds and the scientific method; trials about specific issues such as creationism are merely a means to that end.

On that front, the argument looks a lot less clear-cut. Whilst arguments against creationism are far easier to make stick than a general attack on irrationality, it could be argued that a strong positive stance is better able to gain converts than a disparate coalition aimed at the negative task of stopping creationism. “Reason rocks” is IMO a more attractive message than “creationism sucks”, and in practice I usually find I get the best responses to a pro-science rather than an anti-creationism rant.

To be honest, I’m not sure who has the best arguments here. It’ll be interesting to see how this thread develops.

Comment #146586

Posted by Jim Harrison on November 26, 2006 2:27 PM (e)

Nick is in error if he really thinks that “Eventually evolution got back into the schools” after Scopes. De facto, if not de jure, the traditionalists won the battle to get evolution out of high school curricula. To this day, the cowardice of school boards and the avarice of textbook publishers have ensured that coverage of evolution at the secondary level will be pretty pathetic, which is one of the reasons why so few Americans, even Americans who think they are Darwinists, understand the relevant basic science.

The public debate about evolution, like every battle in a culture war, is and always will be conducted by guys in clown suits bopping each other with pig bladders. That’s just the way things are. Serious science and serious philosophy are and will remain the business of a tiny and largely invisible minority. The culture wars are not politically unimportant, however, and it behooves us to don our own clown suits from time to time. Sometimes the appropriate clown suit is a village atheist outfit.

Philosophically speaking, atheism is a very uninteresting position since it amounts to making a big fuss about something obvious, i.e. that traditional religious ideas are fatuous. As Diderot pointed out long ago, “It is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley; but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.” Atheism, at least the sort of atheism one encounters on public access television, also promotes a version of history which is factual dubious since it endlessly recycles the same banal anthology of religious excesses (Crusades, witch hunts, inquisitions) to somehow prove that organized religion is the root of all evil, a proposition that probably gives the churches too much credit. All that admitted, however, loud and obnoxious atheism is still necessary in a country like the United States, if only to assert the right of people to dissent from the totalitarian conformism to which we are so susceptible.

The argument against public assertions of anti-religious ideas is that such language is politically unwise and will only elicit more intolerance from the religious right. In fact, however, the anguish of the believers is good evidence of the effectiveness of such polemics. They wouldn’t be so loudly denounced if they didn’t resonate. There’s more Cotton Mather than Mark Twain in the American character, but there is some Mark Twain.

It makes a huge difference that skeptical thinking is in circulation. After all, ideas have to be publicized in order to persist since the vast majority of mankind will never find an idea in their heads that somebody didn’t go to the trouble of putting there.

Comment #146590

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 3:13 PM (e)

The argument against public assertions of anti-religious ideas is that such language is politically unwise and will only elicit more intolerance from the religious right.

Nobody cares what the religious right says. This argument isn’t about them or what they think. (shrug)

It’s about the theistic evolutionists who are helping us by FIGHTING AGAINST the fundies. Like it or not, if we want to beat the fundies in a political fight, we need the big mass of moderate theistic evolutionists on our side. And I’m pretty sure that screaming “religion is stupid !!!!” at them is, uh, not gonna win them to supporting us against the fundies. I don’t see any point to it. but then, I’m not remotely interested in stamping out theism wherever it might exist.

On one side, we have those who welcome the help of the theistic evolutionists and are happy to fight alongside them against the fundies.

On the other side, we have the ideological extremists who simply can’t tolerate the very PRESENCE of any theist, of whatever sort, anywhere within smelling distance (or, as their attitude towards *me* shows, anyone who doesn’t share their hatred of theists, whether a theist or not).

Oddly enough, I have noticed, the ones who bitch and moan the loudest about the presence of theistic evolutionists in our camp seem to be those who, um, don’t do any actual organizing or fighting fundies, but content themselves with endless ideological speechifying and preaching, instead.

Comment #146591

Posted by Pete Dunkelberg on November 26, 2006 3:14 PM (e)

Some say there are two or more different debates or ‘fights’ going on; some say the effort to keep deliberate nonsense out of science education is a subset of the larger struggle against irrationality or the like.

1. Evolution trials are ultimately about the constitution, not about who has the right or wrong religious views.

In some countries, they don’t teach things that are false and dumb in science class merely because those things are false and dumb! This may be a hint that a larger struggle is needed in the USA. Nevertheless, when it come to court cases, let those who know what they are doing do it.

Comment #146597

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 26, 2006 3:32 PM (e)

It seems a shame to intrude on such a pleasant little exercise in self-congratulation, but let me just point out a couple of unfortunate facts.

First of all, in terms of articulating the place of evolution in biology, science, and human endeavors, I can’t think of a single accomodationist who can rival Dawkins or Dennett. Dawkins’ oeuvre alone is unmatched. This, I think, is a direct result of the self-consistancy of their positions. unlike, say, Collins, Dawkins does not have to invoke the miraculous, or to misrepresent the current state of evolutionary science, to accomodate religion.

And second of all, while Scopes may have been a failure in narrow, pragmatic, litigious terms, it was an enormous victory in terms of its impact on American culture, presenting the issue as one of science and intellectual freedom against theocracy and superstition. And let’s also remember McLean and Dover didn’t make it up the chain of Appeals Courts either, so their precedental value is limited.

In terms of Nick’s narrow, legalistic struggle, we are no further ahead now than we were 20 years ago; in fact, if a court case similar to Dover were to make its way to the USSC, with its current composition, it’s quite probable we would lose. And in terms of the culture, we are on more dangerous ground. In the last quarter century, the ‘moderate’ churches that do not oppose evolution have gotten far weaker, and overtly anti-evolution denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, have strengthened considerably. Even the Catholic Church, for the last half-century a relatively science-positive denomination, has shown disturbing signs of regression recently. These are dangerous trends, because ultimately the courts follow the ballot box.

Ultimately, the battle has to be fought against those religious denominations that are implacably hostile to an old earth and to evolution. All the accomodationism in the world won’t change that; the denominations I’m referring to certainly aren’t going to forsake biblical literalism. And ultimately, this is an intellectual struggle. The courts are important, but they’re not most important. And the intellectual war is being waged by Dawkins and Dennett, not by the NCSE.

So please, PLEASE stop attacking the strategists on your own side, in the name of short-term tactics.

Comment #146601

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 3:41 PM (e)

Now we come to an important question: why, amongst all of the cases we have won, did we lose Scopes? I won’t pretend there is one single answer, but here is a major factor: Clarence Darrow.

I think there’s two far more important factors than that:

a) the Scopes trial was half a century earlier than all the other cases mentioned, and forty years earlier than Epperson v. Arkansas, and

b) Scopes was actually, factually guilty.

Darrow had a far more difficult job than the pro-science side in any of the later cases.

The judge excluded all of Bryan’s testimony, the jury voted to convict, and the Darrow-versus-Bryan spectacle completely obscured the serious constitutional issues that the ACLU had been trying to raise.

The jury needed to vote to convict. Not just because, again, Scopes was guilty, but because without a guilty verdict the constitutional issues would never have come up. Darrow asked for a guilty verdict.

When the case reached the Tennessee Supreme Court, the Court dodged the constitutional issue (which would have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court) by overturning the conviction on a technicality which might have been caught earlier had not the world been occupied with the Darrow/Bryan circus.

But the Tennessee Supreme Court didn’t dodge the constitutional issue. It met it head-on, and rejected the ACLU argument: We are not able to see how the prohibition of teaching the theory that man has descended from a lower order of animals gives preference to any religious establishment or mode of worship.”

Would the US Supreme Court have reversed this if the case hadn’t been thrown out? Probably. Is Darrow responsible for somehow distracting the entire legal system with his anti-fundamentalist performance so that they didn’t notice that “technicality” in time? You’ll need evidence for that. As far as I can see, sans Darrow the legal trajectory of the case would have been pretty much exactly the same, but the impact on public awareness would have been much less.

To quote Scopes himself:

We did not in fact, get to the federal courts. What, then, did we actually accomplish?

The defense had hoped to call a number of scientists as witnesses. They were to testify in regard to the erroneous belief that there was an irreconcilable conflict between the theory of evolution and the Genesis account. One scientist made it to the stand, but Judge Raulston shortly ruled that scientific testimony was not admissible. I think that was a defeat for us, but only in the terms of our legal goals. The material sent out from Dayton through the news media included the interviews and the affidavits of the scientific witnesses; these made a tremendous impact on the science education of the country and the world.

A second accomplishment was the limiting of the passing of anti-evolution bills in other states. This was achieved through the activities of six groups of people; the defense team and their aids who organized and presented our case; scientists; theologians; educators who worked then and are continuing to work for a better concept of education and the freedom of inquiry; the large numbers of ordinary citizens who thought or were capable of learning to think by the simple process of reasoning from cause to effect; and last, buy by no means least, the news media. The efforts of these groups, I think were responsible for limiting the passing of anti-evolution bills to only two additional states, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The trial created a better climate for understanding divergent points of view. The intermingling of a great number of people from all over our country (where did they find accommodations?) and the news gathered and sent out by reporters from the North, East, South, and West lowered to some extent the barriers of misunderstanding that separated the different sections of our country. By no means were these barriers demolished but the top rails were removed or splintered.

The trial marked a beginning of the development of a national consciousness of the roles played by religion, science, and education. I think the importance of communicating the thinking of the professionals in these fields to the general public was first generally appreciated during and immediately after the trial.

I believe that the Dayton trial marked the beginning of the decline of fundamentalism. Each year—as the result of someone’s efforts to better interpret what the defense was trying to do—more and more people are reached. This, in conjunction with the labor of scientists, educators, ministers and with the dissemination of the results of their efforts through books and news media, has retarded the spread of fundamentalism.

Comment #146606

Posted by Ebonmuse on November 26, 2006 3:58 PM (e)

Lenny Flank wrote:

On the other side, we have the ideological extremists who simply can’t tolerate the very PRESENCE of any theist, of whatever sort, anywhere within smelling distance…

Lenny, I invite you to point out such a person anywhere on our side. I’m pretty sure you can’t, which makes this statement nothing but strawman-thrashing. Richard Dawkins has never said he can’t tolerate the presence of any theist. PZ Myers has never said he can’t tolerate the presence of any theist. What they have said, loudly and clearly, is that they insist that religion itself not be exempted from criticism. They believe that society’s reluctance to directly criticize any religious belief is what has created the problem of creationism and other, similar problems in the first place.

Whether you agree with this or not, I think it is a valid point that deserves serious consideration. We can debate whether attacking religion in general this is a wise strategy all we like, but at the very least, let’s please try to represent everyone’s positions correctly and fairly, all right? The creationists build virtually their entire argument on misrepresenting us and we have first-hand experience of how unfair that is, so we should know not to emulate them in that respect.

Comment #146607

Posted by Chris Lawson on November 26, 2006 4:00 PM (e)

With due respect, Nick, it is terribly unfair to blame the loss of the Scopes trial on Darrow. Scopes was convicted because he broke Tennessee law. It’s that simple. There was no other possible outcome. Scopes, in fact, set himself up *in order* to be prosecuted and convicted to show how ludicrous the law was. Given that he was always going to be convicted, the result (being fined a nominal $100) was the judge’s way of saying that the law was ridiculous, too. You even point out that the ACLU was hoping to take the case further, until the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the conviction on a technicality. That technicality was that the *judge* set the fine instead of the jury.

Given all this, it is hard to see why Darrow was to blame. The cross-examination of Jennings took place without the jury present and was not admitted into evidence. The conviction was overturned on a technicality. That technical error was made by the judge, not Darrow. And, BTW, the constitutionality of the Butler Act *was* reviewed. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional in the same finding that overturned Scopes’s conviction. So the ACLU was stymied by an extremely dubious legal interpretation by the Tennessee Supreme Court that, to me, appears to have been designed to reassert the Butler Act while removing the ACLU’s capacity to appeal it.

So how is all this Darrow’s fault? It wasn’t. The other famous evolution/creation fight that nobody mentioned is the Huxley-Wilberforce debate. This wasn’t a legal battle, but it had the same impact in the UK as Scopes did in the US. And the clear winner in that case, both in the debate and in public opinion, was Huxley the aggressive anti-religious advocate, the Richard Dawkins of his day.

There is no historical evidence to support blaming every setback on the vocal atheists and agnostics. Whether you mean to or not, what you are asking them to do is self-censor. Frankly, I think Dawkins, Huxley, and Darrow have done more for the cause of science and and evolution by forcing people to confront the facts than any number of softly-softly appeasers such as Francis Collins and Paul Davies. And I don’t think it’s right to tell them to shut up because a lot of people don’t like what they have to say.

Comment #146608

Posted by John Pieret on November 26, 2006 4:01 PM (e)

I also fall in the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp (or as Larry Moran would have it, the “wimp camp”). And, while I agree that the prominent push by some atheists to make the issue of science education into an argument between “rationalism” and “superstition” could complicate any future court cases, I don’t see much real threat to the constitutionality of teaching evolution in merely having the discussion. The very vehemence of the argument between the various pro-science sides tends to show that evolution is not in service of any one religious view. If ID could mount a real dispute of this sort, we’d have more trouble keeping it out of public schools.

On the other hand, I think Larry is inexcusably over the top in claiming that “people like Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, and Ken Miller” are “subverting science in order to make it conform to their personal religious beliefs,” which I have confronted him about at his blog and mine. Fortunately, PZ does not seem to be supporting that claim. Nor have many others that I have seen.

Comment #146610

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 4:15 PM (e)

The Tennessee Supreme Court also said,

We see nothing to be gained by prolonging the life of this bizarre case.

…which is not exactly an indication that they are taking the constitutional issues seriously.

Hmm, “theologians” and “ministers” made Scopes’s own list of allies. Another one to add to the Neville Chamberlain list.

Comment #146617

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 4:31 PM (e)

There is no historical evidence to support blaming every setback on the vocal atheists and agnostics. Whether you mean to or not, what you are asking them to do is self-censor. Frankly, I think Dawkins, Huxley, and Darrow have done more for the cause of science and and evolution by forcing people to confront the facts than any number of softly-softly appeasers such as Francis Collins and Paul Davies.

Or Charles Darwin or John Scopes.

And I don’t think it’s right to tell them to shut up because a lot of people don’t like what they have to say.

Disagreement is not the same thing as telling someone to shut up, but for some reason the “religion per se is the problem” people often don’t get that.

Comment #146620

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 4:44 PM (e)

Lenny, I invite you to point out such a person anywhere on our side. I’m pretty sure you can’t

Dude, their message shines through loud and clear. Nobody misses it. Nobody mistakes it.

Comment #146621

Posted by Miguelito on November 26, 2006 4:44 PM (e)

I wrote something like this over at Ed’s blog, but it’s relevant here too:

Saying that we won’t win the creationist battle because we are accommodating theistic scientists is dead wrong.

Since the 1980s, the religious right has made profound recruitment in the United States. Why?

1) The are well organized.
2) They are well motivated.
3) They are excellent at reaching out to the general public.

Science has been awful at these three points for the past 20 years. Ever since Carl Sagan died, there hasn’t been a charismatic voice for science in the public eye. Stephen Hawking approaches this, but his physical disability prevents him from doing much in terms of television interviews. He also can’t make a good narrator for science documentaries.

We NEED somebody at the forefront. When we have evolution documentaries on tv, who narrates? Usually famous actors. We need to get OUR faces and voices out there.

While Tyson is good (personally, I like Brian Greene), we need some biologists, paleontologists, and geologists fighting in the public eye. Unless we can win the confidence in the general public that we know what we’re doing by explaining things in language they can understand, it doesn’t matter that we really do know what we’re doing.

Comment #146622

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 4:49 PM (e)

Dawkins’ rethoric is a major force behind the motivations of the ID movement. Dawkins may have contributed to our scientific understanding but at an incredible and unnecessary cost.

Comment #146624

Posted by Ebonmuse on November 26, 2006 5:01 PM (e)

Lenny Flank wrote:

Dude, their message shines through loud and clear. Nobody misses it. Nobody mistakes it.

Thank you for confirming my point, Lenny. In the future, if you make a claim, I politely suggest you locate evidence supporting it first.

Comment #146627

Posted by Registered user on November 26, 2006 5:16 PM (e)

.Dawkins’ rethoric is a major force behind the motivations of the ID movement.

LOL!!! Is that what Sal told you, Pim?

The Klan used MLK Jr.’s rhetoric to frighten their idiot converts, too. How’d that work out for them, Pim?

Dawkins may have contributed to our scientific understanding but at an incredible and unnecessary cost.

An “incredible cost”??? What did Dawkins cost “us” Pim?

Comment #146628

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 5:24 PM (e)

And second of all, while Scopes may have been a failure in narrow, pragmatic, litigious terms, it was an enormous victory in terms of its impact on American culture, presenting the issue as one of science and intellectual freedom against theocracy and superstition.

If you read about the impact of the Scopes trial, you learn that this was only the case in the eyes of the big-city media. Out in the heartland the effect was exactly the opposite.

For everyone here, the key points to keep in mind here are that the evolution bans ended up being successful, not just in the few states that passed them, but basically succeeded in deleting evolution from textbooks nationwide.

Even if you dispute the notion that Darrow’s showboating had an impact on the final outcome of the Scopes case, ask yourself: why were no other legal challenges filed?

I think it was because people outside of the big cities and halls of academia basically never bought the comforting story that the media told about the trial and Darrow’s moral victory.

Here are some quotes from Ed Larson’s book Trial and Error to illustrate what happened after the end of the Scopes case.

First, the end of the Scopes case occurred when the Tennessee Supreme Court used what Larson and other legal commentators say was a ridiculous legal technicality over who assigned the $100 fine:

Scopes’s defense team expected this decision upholding the locally popular anti-evolution statute – even welcomed it as a necessary step toward a review by the United States Supreme Court – but they cried foul when the Tennessee high court then reversed Scopes’s conviction for a technical error in sentencing. Without a convinction, Scopes had nothing to appeal. Malone’s immediate charge of “a subterfuge on the part of the State of Tennessee to prevent the legality of the law under which Scopes was convincted being tested” appears well founded.

Then, afterwards, what happened across the nation?

Periodic legislative efforts to repeal the existing [anti-evolution] laws failed miserably. At first, the ACLU eagerly sought new court challenges to all three laws, but lost interest after failing to find either willing litigants or active enforcement of the law. Several months after passage of the Mississippi law in 1926, the ACLU’s publicity director reported that we “volunteered to assist the suit of any Mississippi taxpayer to enjoin expenditure of public funds for enforcement. Similar offers were made to Mississippi members of the American Association of University Professors. As yet no Mississippian, professional or lay, has responded.

The Union broadened this search to cover Tennessee after the Scopes litigation reached a dead end in 1927, and on to Arkansas after the 1928 initiative passed, but still without success. “Circular letters and public offers of legal services brought interested inquiries, but nobody willing to make the sacrifice,” the ACLU reported in 1931. […] Finally willing to let a sleeping dog lie, the ACLU announced in its 1932 annual report that the Union was dropping the issue. A pair of legal complaints challenging the constitutionality of anti-evolution laws, one filed with the Knoxville federal court in 1925 by a state taxpayer opposed to the Tennessee statute and the other mailed into a Little Rock state court in 1929 by a New Yorker against the Arkansas law, were withdrawn without further litigation. […] Despite some threats, no other suits were filed until the landmark Epperson case in 1965.

[…]

George Marsden pointed out that the rural, southern image of the anti-evolution movement popularized by Scopes became self-fulfilling. Thereafter, statewide victories were confined to the South. By 1929, most states of the old Confederacy had imposed restrictions against evolutionary teaching by law, legislative resolution, or administrative ruling. The widespread defeats of 1927 showed little to gain from carrying the battle to enact anti-evolution laws north. This futility was shown when the Rhode Island legislature referred its post-Scopes anti-evolution bill to the Committee on Fish and Game. At the same time, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruling in Scopes, the unwillingness of other litigants to challenge the laws, and the failure of all repeal measures showed, in the words of a 1932 ACLU report, “stubborn Southern hostility against Northern conceptions of science and faith.” With each side occupying its territory as delineated by prevailing popular opinion, an uneasy truce descended until battle conditions changed. During the ensuing three decades, further restrictions against evolutionary teaching were left to local school districts.

The terms of the truce decidedly favored anti-evolution forces because existing restrictions and fears of further controversy led commercial publishers to de-emphasize evolution in their high-school textbooks. […]

[…several paragraphs on evolution being deleted from textbooks…]

Other textbooks fell into line and stayed in line throughout the thirty-year lull in anti-evolution activity. “Strong pressure has been brought by Fundamentalists on publishers and authors of textbooks,” pro-evolution science popularizer Maynard Shipley reported in 1930. “Many publishers have instructed their authors to omit all discussion of evolution or even to omit the word altogether.”

[…]

This trend continued through 1959. About that time, two leading biologists marked the centennary of Origin of Species by giving separate addresses, both entitled “One Hundred Years Without Darwinism Are Enough,” [sic – it should be “Darwin“, not “Darwinism”] decrying the inadequate treatment of evolution in high-school biology textbooks. In the earlier of these speeches, Indiana University zoologist Herman J. Muller laid the blame for this treatment on a “vicious circle” of legal restrictions against evolutionary teaching throughout the South and in some local communities elsewhere giving textbook authors and publishers an economic incentive to de-emphisize [sic] the theory.

(Quotes from pp. 82-86 of Ed Larson, 2003, Trial and Error, 3rd edition.)

Comment #146629

Posted by jeffw on November 26, 2006 5:33 PM (e)

Dawkins’ rethoric is a major force behind the motivations of the ID movement. Dawkins may have contributed to our scientific understanding but at an incredible and unnecessary cost.

This is nonsense. His book has been selling well for some time now, up there with the diet and get rich books. And there are more atheist books coming out. Somebody must be reading them. They are having a substantial impact. Atheist books have never been this popular, and that can only be healthy for evolution.

Comment #146630

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 5:34 PM (e)

the Kitzmiller decision and subsequent defeats of the creationists, every single one of them achieved by hard working members of the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp.

Without any help from anyone who thinks religious beliefs are stupid divisive baloney? You really think that, Nick?

Of course, when the anti-religion people do this they’re just sowing the seeds of the very thing they most fear – the next creationist wave.

Booga-booga!!!!! I know that’s supposed to be scary but has it occured to you, Nick, that what you are you witnessing in 2006 is a backlash against the religious diptwits who have screwed up our country royally over the course of the last 20 years with plenty o’ lip-quivering help from the “religion is not the enemy per se” crowd?

If religious people want respect they have to earn it. They can earn it by shutting up about their religious beliefs, whatever they are, because guess what: if those beliefs can’t be justified without reference to an “eternal reward,” they are a waste of time. If they can be justified without reference to an “eternal reward” then let’s hear it. And I’m not talking about what songs to sing at Christmas. I’m talking about creating public policy.

Comment #146632

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 5:40 PM (e)

the Kitzmiller decision and subsequent defeats of the creationists, every single one of them achieved by hard working members of the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp.

RU:Without any help from anyone who thinks religious beliefs are stupid divisive baloney? You really think that, Nick?

Are you having reading comprehension problems? And if you disagree with Nick, state your case.

Of course, when the anti-religion people do this they’re just sowing the seeds of the very thing they most fear – the next creationist wave.

RU: Booga-booga!!!!! I know that’s supposed to be scary but has it occured to you, Nick, that what you are you witnessing in 2006 is a backlash against the religious diptwits who have screwed up our country royally over the course of the last 20 years with plenty o’ lip-quivering help from the “religion is not the enemy per se” crowd?

Totally ignoring Nick’s argument. No wonder since there is good evidence to support this. Hence why not try to change the topic.

RU: If religious people want respect they have to earn it. They can earn it by shutting up about their religious beliefs, whatever they are, because guess what: if those beliefs can’t be justified without reference to an “eternal reward,” they are a waste of time. If they can be justified without reference to an “eternal reward” then let’s hear it. And I’m not talking about what songs to sing at Christmas. I’m talking about creating public policy.

We all understand where you stand. But somehow you seem to be trying to distract from the very good points Nick made. Uncomfortable perhaps but good points nevertheless.

Comment #146633

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 5:40 PM (e)

Here is a tidbit on the ACLU’s concerns about some of its eventual lawyers:

When William Jennings Bryan offered to join the prosecution team – despite having not practiced law in over thirty years – Clarence Darrow, approaching seventy, jumped to join the battle in Dayton. Darrow was not the first choice of the ACLU, who was concerned that Darrow’s zealous agnosticism might turn the trial into a broadside attack on religion. The ACLU first preferred former presidential candidates John W. Davies and Charles Evans Hughes, but neither was willing to serve alongside Darrow. Instead, it dispatched Arthur Garfield Hays, a prominent free speech advocate, to join the defense team. The final member of the defense team was Dudley Field Malone, an international divorce attorney (and another volunteer who the ACLU might have preferred to stay at home).

Comment #146634

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 5:41 PM (e)

If religious people want respect they have to earn it. They can earn it by shutting up about their religious beliefs

Gee, and WHAT was it again that all the evangelical atheists hear say they are complaining about … ? Ohhhhhhhh, that’s right:

I’m afraid that what offends certain people is the very existence of atheists; at the very least, we should shut up and disappear.

Like I said, their message shines through loud and clear.

Comment #146635

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 5:47 PM (e)

This is nonsense. His book has been selling well for some time now, up there with the diet and get rich books. And there are more atheist books coming out. Somebody must be reading them. They are having a substantial impact. Atheist books have never been this popular, and that can only be healthy for evolution.

Why? Is atheism healthy for evolution or irrelevant to evolution? So Dawkins contributes to polarizing rather than to teaching about evolution, is that not what I asserted?

It’s hard to deny that Dawkins has been instrumental in generating much concern amongst Christians and other religious groups, motivating them to get involved in shaping public policy to defend Christianity against Atheism.

Comment #146636

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 5:52 PM (e)

Dawkins latest book btw is not really about evolution so the argument that his book is good for evolution seems somewhat overblown. Yes, there appears to be an increased interest in atheistic books and that is certainly not a bad thing but even Dawkins latest book gets some interesting reviews

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Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
The antireligion wars started by Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris will heat up even more with this salvo from celebrated Oxford biologist Dawkins. For a scientist who criticizes religion for its intolerance, Dawkins has written a surprisingly intolerant book, full of scorn for religion and those who believe. But Dawkins, who gave us the selfish gene, anticipates this criticism. He says it’s the scientist and humanist in him that makes him hostile to religions—fundamentalist Christianity and Islam come in for the most opprobrium—that close people’s minds to scientific truth, oppress women and abuse children psychologically with the notion of eternal damnation. While Dawkins can be witty, even confirmed atheists who agree with his advocacy of science and vigorous rationalism may have trouble stomaching some of the rhetoric: the biblical Yahweh is “psychotic,” Aquinas’s proofs of God’s existence are “fatuous” and religion generally is “nonsense.” The most effective chapters are those in which Dawkins calms down, for instance, drawing on evolution to disprove the ideas behind intelligent design. In other chapters, he attempts to construct a scientific scaffolding for atheism, such as using evolution again to rebut the notion that without God there can be no morality. He insists that religion is a divisive and oppressive force, but he is less convincing in arguing that the world would be better and more peaceful without it. (Oct. 18)

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Comment #146637

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 5:53 PM (e)

sorry for the poor cut and paste job

Comment #146638

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 26, 2006 5:55 PM (e)

Dawkins’ rethoric is a major force behind the motivations of the ID movement. Dawkins may have contributed to our scientific understanding but at an incredible and unnecessary cost.

I think PvM is perhaps overstating the case, but it always boggles my mind that some people– like Registered User, perhaps– fail to see the fact that, when evolution gets linked with atheism in the public eye, it does vast P.R. work for creationism.

A lot of creationist mythology rests on the assertion that the theory of evolution exists because atheists need it. Linking evolution with atheism validates that mythology and lends them an awful lot of strength. Think about it. Why do creationists constantly quote Dawkins, or Dennett, or Provine, or Weinberg, if they don’t get any P.R. benefit from it?

Personally, I’m not sure that the ID movement would have ever happened if it hadn’t been for Richard Dawkins. Does that sound bizarre? Yet, if you trace the history of the ID movement back, its formation in the early years was catalyzed by a few people, chiefly Phil Johnson. Obviously Johnson tapped into an enormous existing anti-evolution infrastructure; obviously his history in the HIV-denialist movement primed him to deny another central scientific idea. But if you read Johnson’s writings, it’s clear that he drew a lot of inspiration from “The Blind Watchmaker”, which he saw as– I’m gonna use the term– evangelical atheism. I think a strong historical case can be made that Johnson kick-started what we came to know as the “ID movement” because he wanted to become a sort of mirror image of Dawkins.

I’ve seen Christians get very turned off by Dawkins. Indeed, the first time I ran across his writings, I was put off enough by its anti-Christian tone that I found it difficult to get past that and see the scientific value of what he was saying. My impression is that many atheists don’t realize how offensive a lot of Dawkins’ work comes across to Christians. My impression is that many atheists underestimate how much Dawkins tends to push Christian listeners away from science.

My position is that pushing anyone away from science is going to harm the cause of science education. I am not saying that religious ideas should be above criticism or that atheists shouldn’t be allowed to speak out about their beliefs. I’m saying that, when evolution and atheism get connected in the public eye, it makes it damned hard to reach out to Christians in the name of sound science and sound science education. This is a fact– in my eyes, a pretty obvious fact, a fact that the intelligent posters here shouldn’t be able to miss– that needs to be taken into account.

Comment #146639

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 5:56 PM (e)

Ultimately, the battle has to be fought against those religious denominations that are implacably hostile to an old earth and to evolution. All the accomodationism in the world won’t change that; the denominations I’m referring to certainly aren’t going to forsake biblical literalism. And ultimately, this is an intellectual struggle. The courts are important, but they’re not most important. And the intellectual war is being waged by Dawkins and Dennett, not by the NCSE.

Then why go after people from with religious views that are not hostile to the old earth and evolution? It’s fine to disagree with their religious views, but why accuse them of being creationists? This is the key issue bugging the “religion per se is not the problem” people.

Comment #146640

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 5:57 PM (e)

somehow you seem to be trying to distract from the very good points Nick made. Uncomfortable perhaps but good points nevertheless.

Huh? Nothing that Nick said made me “uncomfortable”. Are you uncomfortable Pim? You should be. You’ve gone from merely inarticulate to positively ridiculous in the past year or two.

Nick’s “good points” are just the same old same old: atheists scare those rubes in the suburbs so they better stop criticizing those popular magic stories or the creationist will “rise up” and deliver a “backlash”.

Is that a possibility? Sure. Can it happen? Sure. If we let it happen.

Would the Panda’s Thumb let it happen? I’ve no doubt that some of its contributors would let it happen. Heck, some of the contributors to PT recite creationist scripts pretty much verbatim. They are that careless. They care that little.

If this blog were truly focused on achieving a long-term goal, it wouldn’t glance twice at what Dawkins or PZ Myers or any other atheist was saying about religious beliefs. Instead, it would focus unblinkingly on the task of smashing the head of the snake with a heavy rock, repeatedly.

Comment #146644

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 26, 2006 6:04 PM (e)

There was little that could be done in the South in 1925. The era of Scopes was the era of the second Klan, segregationist defiance, and reinforcement of jim Crow laws. They didn’t know or care about HL Mencken. Antievolution laws would have been passed with or without Scopes, and the non-interventionist, pre New Deal Supreme Court did not interfere in ‘states rights’.

The real impact came with ‘Inherit the Wind’ in the late 50s and 60s, when the old Southern order was ripe for overthrow and the USSC was willing to start intervening in state laws. Scopes served to tie in anti-evolutionism with all the other evils of the South.

That’s what I mean by thinking strategically rather than merely tactically.

Comment #146646

Posted by jeffw on November 26, 2006 6:05 PM (e)

Why? Is atheism healthy for evolution or irrelevant to evolution? So Dawkins contributes to polarizing rather than to teaching about evolution, is that not what I asserted?

I don’t know what you’re asserting, but I’ll bet that the more atheists there are, the more evolutionists there are. How many atheists believe in a 6k year old earth? And it’s not “polarizing” since the YEC’s believe what they believe anyway, and Dawkins’s book would tend to move the undecided over to evolution.

We still have freedom of speech. Let’s let the nation see the atheist perspective.

Comment #146647

Posted by Ed Darrell on November 26, 2006 6:08 PM (e)

Let me compliment the post by Anton Mates, especially in the quoting of John Scopes on what Scopes saw as the trial’s accomplishments. Education is a key goal of any of these events – a goal that the Kitzmiller case advanced nicely, and a goal that I wish the 1981 Arkansas trial had been able to advance more, and more like Kitzmiller.

Mates’ post rather focused my thinking on the serious problem with the current intramural sniping. We have a huge education task at hand, and regardless Collins’ or Dawkins’ views on religion, when these guys talk biology the lights go on in brains across America. We need all of these people to be talking biology, not metaphysics.

Jonathan Weiner has a chapter in The Beak of the Finch that discusses the scientists who track the evolution of crop pests across America, in order to refine pesticides almost literally in real time to fight the pests. One of the scientists profiled told about describing his work to an enthralled airplane seatmate, who took it all in right up to the last when the scientist noted that what he does is work in evolutionary biology.

The stakes are real on the ground. Evolution is the basis for much of our medical care, especially the development of modern pharmaceuticals. We need people out in public talking about this every day. A diabetic is much less likely to have a religious conviction that evolution is wrong if she understands that her Humulin was developed with evolution theory (as indeed every advance in the treatment of diabetes is based in evolution theory). This stuff is personal, and people need to know the stakes.

Here is a post I made on PT some months ago, on exactly these issues, that may provide you with more clarity on my concerns: http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/08/one_reason_evol.html#comment-42256

Understanding of evolution isn’t advanced in any significant way when we learn about Francis Collins’ conversion to Christianity (and these stories almost never mention that his mainline sect has no doctrine supporting creationism over evolution, either). But get Collins talking about the benefits we get from the Human Genome project and how those benefits are grounded in evolution – no fundamentalist parent of a kid with cystic fibrosis will stand up and demand that evolution not be taught.

This is a campaign of persuasion. We need to win it one person at a time. There is no great persuasive value in debating whether religion is, overall, a benefit or liability to society; such a debate takes away time that might be used to persuade, and it steals away the people we need to have talking about evolution.

Comment #146648

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 6:09 PM (e)

Would the Panda’s Thumb let it happen? I’ve no doubt that some of its contributors would let it happen. Heck, some of the contributors to PT recite creationist scripts pretty much verbatim. They are that careless. They care that little.

OK, now the Panda’s Thumb is a creationist blog! In other news, up is down, the sky is not blue, the moon landings never happened, and Registered User can find his butt with both hands and a flashlight.

Comment #146650

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 6:10 PM (e)

it always boggles my mind that some people– like Registered User, perhaps– fail to see the fact that, when evolution gets linked with atheism in the public eye, it does vast P.R. work for creationism.

Except that I don’t fail to see the fact.

Linking evolution with atheism (or better yet: Satanism) is the modus operandi of creationists and they will do WHATEVER THEY CAN to create that link in the public eye. Even if every atheist on earth agreed to shut up for ten years, the creationists would just dig up some old quotes to get those rubes in the heartland all afeared o’ dem ol’ godless heathens.

Fortunately for atheists, we aren’t going away and we’re not going to shut up merely because somebody raises the spectre of a “creationist backlash”.

I’d advise the “religion is not the problem per se” folks to reconsider their (literally) holier-than-thou stance on the matter. Let’s look at the George Bush presidency. Let’s look at some of his appointees, e.g., George Deutsch. Is it true that “religion is not the problem per se” with the direction this country is headed? Oh, maybe it’s not “the” problem. But is it one of the problems? Is it, perhaps, more of a problem for America than, say, atheists?

Comment #146651

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 6:11 PM (e)

Ah the smell of ad hominem, very good Registered User, very good. When lacking substance what else is there to do but to attack the person

somehow you seem to be trying to distract from the very good points Nick made. Uncomfortable perhaps but good points nevertheless.

Huh? Nothing that Nick said made me “uncomfortable”. Are you uncomfortable Pim? You should be. You’ve gone from merely inarticulate to positively ridiculous in the past year or two.

As I said, ROTFL

Nick’s “good points” are just the same old same old: atheists scare those rubes in the suburbs so they better stop criticizing those popular magic stories or the creationist will “rise up” and deliver a “backlash”.

As a had surmised, you do not seem to comprehend what Nick is saying.

Is that a possibility? Sure. Can it happen? Sure. If we let it happen.

Would the Panda’s Thumb let it happen? I’ve no doubt that some of its contributors would let it happen. Heck, some of the contributors to PT recite creationist scripts pretty much verbatim. They are that careless. They care that little.

Again, you seem to be arguing strawmen, lacking in much supporting evidence and followed by an assertion about ‘they care that little’ which similarly lacks much supporting evidence.

If this blog were truly focused on achieving a long-term goal, it wouldn’t glance twice at what Dawkins or PZ Myers or any other atheist was saying about religious beliefs. Instead, it would focus unblinkingly on the task of smashing the head of the snake with a heavy rock, repeatedly.

Interesting strawman. What are you trying to say with this? Why should people at PT not speak out against the Dawkins and the Myers and Morans? Why should PT people not point out the effect of Dawkins on the ID movement?

Comment #146652

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 6:12 PM (e)

B. Spitzer wrote:

I think PvM is perhaps overstating the case, but it always boggles my mind that some people– like Registered User, perhaps– fail to see the fact that, when evolution gets linked with atheism in the public eye, it does vast P.R. work for creationism.

I agree, and I dislike Dawkins’ repeated claims that evolution removes the most persuasive argument for God. But I also dislike pro-religion science educators contributing to that PR work, by linking pro-evolutionary zeal to atheist evangelism. If Darrow hammered too hard on Biblical literalism in Scopes, or if Larry Moran is too hard on creationist freshmen, call them on it…but when you publicly ascribe it to their godless agenda, you’re doing the creationists’ job for them.

My impression is that many atheists don’t realize how offensive a lot of Dawkins’ work comes across to Christians. My impression is that many atheists underestimate how much Dawkins tends to push Christian listeners away from science.

My impression is that, if Dawkins only appealed to an atheist audience, he wouldn’t be selling books in the millions. Like it or not–and I much preferred Gould myself–he’s the most popular biology writer alive, possibly the most popular science writer, in several predominantly Christian countries. Clearly he’s doing something right.

Now if a pro-religion science writer can pull off the same trick (and it must be possible, since Gould did it), more power to them; but Dawkins is a very valuable tool to the science education movement at the moment. Let’s make sure he’s got a more effective replacement lined up before we retire him.

Comment #146653

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 6:13 PM (e)

Ah the smell of ad hominem, very good Registered User, very good. When lacking substance what else is there to do but to attack the person

somehow you seem to be trying to distract from the very good points Nick made. Uncomfortable perhaps but good points nevertheless.

Huh? Nothing that Nick said made me “uncomfortable”. Are you uncomfortable Pim? You should be. You’ve gone from merely inarticulate to positively ridiculous in the past year or two.

As I said, ROTFL

Nick’s “good points” are just the same old same old: atheists scare those rubes in the suburbs so they better stop criticizing those popular magic stories or the creationist will “rise up” and deliver a “backlash”.

As a had surmised, you do not seem to comprehend what Nick is saying.

Is that a possibility? Sure. Can it happen? Sure. If we let it happen.

Would the Panda’s Thumb let it happen? I’ve no doubt that some of its contributors would let it happen. Heck, some of the contributors to PT recite creationist scripts pretty much verbatim. They are that careless. They care that little.

Again, you seem to be arguing strawmen, lacking in much supporting evidence and followed by an assertion about ‘they care that little’ which similarly lacks much supporting evidence.

If this blog were truly focused on achieving a long-term goal, it wouldn’t glance twice at what Dawkins or PZ Myers or any other atheist was saying about religious beliefs. Instead, it would focus unblinkingly on the task of smashing the head of the snake with a heavy rock, repeatedly.

Interesting strawman. What are you trying to say with this? Why should people at PT not speak out against the Dawkins and the Myers and Morans? Why should PT people not point out the effect of Dawkins on the ID movement?

Comment #146654

Posted by MarkP on November 26, 2006 6:14 PM (e)

Nick said:

Hmm, “theologians” and “ministers” made Scopes’s own list of allies. Another one to add to the Neville Chamberlain list.

Jesus H. Christ, now you guys are essentially quote-mining items from 80 years ago to bolster your case? Is there any dirty trick used by the IDers that you haven’t coopted in this discussion?

It’s been fun guys, and informative on matters biological, but you’ve lost your collective minds. If I want blinkered bile born of religious blind spots pretendng to be reasoned science, I’ll go read UD and get the real thing. This ID-lite thing you’ve suddenly got going here is neither fun nor informative. It borders on pathetic.

Comment #146655

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 6:16 PM (e)

MarkP wrote:

It’s been fun guys, and informative on matters biological, but you’ve lost your collective minds. If I want blinkered bile born of religious blind spots pretendng to be reasoned science, I’ll go read UD and get the real thing. This ID-lite thing you’ve suddenly got going here is neither fun nor informative. It borders on pathetic.

Why? And this is not necessarily about science either but about how to effectively teach science.

Comment #146656

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 6:17 PM (e)

OK, now the Panda’s Thumb is a creationist blog!

Nice strawman, Nick! I never said that.

The Panda’s Thumb is a de facto anti-creationist blog which too often wastes its bandwidth and stature promoting garbage and over-analyzing worse garbage.

Could it be worse? Yes. Could it be better? Hell, yes.

Comment #146657

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 26, 2006 6:18 PM (e)

Then why go after people from with religious views that are not hostile to the old earth and evolution? It’s fine to disagree with their religious views, but why accuse them of being creationists?

Perhaps we could be more specific here.

I find many things Collins has been quoted as saying to be scientifically problematic. (I tend to let the mystical stuff slide.) Collins’ public statements about evolution, morality, and altruism can most charitably be described as ignorant. In fact, Collins, who has heavily criticized Dawkins by name, would benefit immensely from reading The Selfish Gene.

And it’s also a valid criticism to say that theistic evolutionism is indistinguishable from the weaker versions of ID. In fact, I think one true measure of the insincerity of the IDers is that they do not call themselves theistic evolutionists (although Dembski has indeed wondered why Collins is not regarded as an IDer – a fair question, IMO, and perhaps the only real answer is that Collins says he isn’t).

But as long as I remember, theistic evolutionists have been bashing Dennett and Dawkins. All that’s happened recently is that some of us are firing back.

Comment #146662

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 6:27 PM (e)

OK, now the Panda’s Thumb is a creationist blog!

Nice strawman, Nick! I never said that.

The Panda’s Thumb is a de facto anti-creationist blog which too often wastes its bandwidth and stature promoting garbage and over-analyzing worse garbage.

Could it be worse? Yes. Could it be better? Hell, yes.

I guess this means we should stop responding to you :-)

Comment #146663

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 26, 2006 6:30 PM (e)

PvM:

It’s hard to deny that Dawkins has been instrumental in generating much concern amongst Christians and other religious groups, motivating them to get involved in shaping public policy to defend Christianity against Atheism.

It’s hard to deny that this is yet another evidence-free assertion from Pim.

Who still doesn’t quite grasp what an “ad hominem” is, although he’s had it explained to him as often as Dr. Michael Martin.

Let’s plug this same trite little whine into a couple of other formulas, and see how we like it:

If only you “evangelical” gays would tone down your lifestyles, stop parading and adopting children and seeking equal rights, then those anti-gay bashers would have nothing to get up in arms about!

If only you “evangelical” civil rights advocates would get back in the back of the bus, quiet down, and stop antoagonizing those racists, they’d have nothing to be upset about and they’d probably go back to drinking bourbon and call off the police dogs!

Hard-core YECs, OECs, IDists, and other anti-evolution fundies are going to be against evolution regardless of whether “evangelical” atheist-scientist A, B, or C is doing a great job of educating the public about evolution (and Pim, here’s a made-up fact, but one which I’m convinced you would be hard put to deny–one whole heck of a lot more people in this country have bought and read The Ancestors’ Tale than have ever heard of the NCSE).

The claim that evolution somehow leads to the evil of atheism is a pretext that the anti-science forces have seized upon.

Having good guys like Nick and confused people like Pim buy into this hoax isn’t going to boost science.

I recognize that folks like Nick and Pim and Brian are sincere. But they need to step back and recognize that they’ve been so busy whipping this dead horse that they’ve missed the Derby.

Making America safe for evolution while making it unsafe for atheists and other freethinking rationalists is ultimately self-defeating. Moderate, pro-science theists need to take a stand–first in their own minds, and then in the culture at large–for rationalism and freedom of thought in all its forms, rather than whining at the uppity atheists to tone down their critique of irrationality in all its guises.

If you’re a rational, moderate theist, and your religion makes no evil, irrational, or fundy-ridiculous claims, cool, jump on board. Otherwise, kwitcher bitchin’.

Comment #146664

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 6:32 PM (e)

Why should people at PT not speak out against the Dawkins and the Myers and Morans?

Why would you speak out against Dawkins or Myers? They are two of the most widely read, articulate and passionate supporters of science and anti-creationism. Why would you “speak out against” them, unless they are repeatedly telling lies?

Oh yeah: because they’re all atheists and therefore in the minority. By bashing them you might believe that you don’t lose any significant support but you stand to gain support from the rubes who would otherwise fear that Panda’s Thumb is promoting evolution as a proxy for atheism. By bashing them, you can “prove” to those rubes: “See, we don’t like those loudmouth atheists either!”

How convenient.

Comment #146665

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 26, 2006 6:35 PM (e)

Pim, while you’re learning to cut-and-paste, learn to use the html quote function a little more precisely too, please.

Hmm, doesn’t quote accurately, goes way overboard on the cut-and-paste, and doesn’t understand ad hominem. Could Pim actually be Dr. MM?

Nah…

Comment #146667

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 6:41 PM (e)

Fortunately for atheists, we aren’t going away and we’re not going to shut up

If religious people want respect they have to earn it. They can earn it by shutting up about their religious beliefs

Hmmmmmm …. ….

Comment #146669

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 6:44 PM (e)

We have a huge education task at hand, and regardless Collins’ or Dawkins’ views on religion, when these guys talk biology the lights go on in brains across America. We need all of these people to be talking biology, not metaphysics.

I quite agree. With his latest work, Dawkins has, alas, become a great disappointment to me. He has been, for years, in the position of being able to expose lots of people to science who otherwise would care very little about it, and explain it in a way that makes it alive and vibrant, not just dead theoretical academics.

Alas, he has chosen to use his public position to instead engage in a pointless, futile, unwinnable anti-religion campaign.

What a waste.

Comment #146670

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 6:46 PM (e)

By bashing them, you can “prove” to those rubes: “See, we don’t like those loudmouth atheists either!”

The, uh, loudmouth atheists already do a good job of demonstrating that they are, well, pretty unlikeable.

Rubes or no rubes.

(shrug)

Comment #146671

Posted by Dave Carlson on November 26, 2006 6:48 PM (e)

Is there any chance that we could talk about something else soon? Just curious.

Comment #146674

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 6:55 PM (e)

Steviepinhead seems to have missed the point

PvM:

It’s hard to deny that Dawkins has been instrumental in generating much concern amongst Christians and other religious groups, motivating them to get involved in shaping public policy to defend Christianity against Atheism.

It’s hard to deny that this is yet another evidence-free assertion from Pim.

Who still doesn’t quite grasp what an “ad hominem” is, although he’s had it explained to him as often as Dr. Michael Martin.

Speaking of evidence free assertions… Of course, if the question is can I back up my assertion, which seemed self evident to anyone who has read the literature by Intelligent Design proponents, then I will be more than happy to do so.

Hard-core YECs, OECs, IDists, and other anti-evolution fundies are going to be against evolution regardless of whether “evangelical” atheist-scientist A, B, or C is doing a great job of educating the public about evolution (and Pim, here’s a made-up fact, but one which I’m convinced you would be hard put to deny–one whole heck of a lot more people in this country have bought and read The Ancestors’ Tale than have ever heard of the NCSE).

Your point being?… What has the Ancestors’ Tale done to stop the teaching of creationism in schools lately?

The claim that evolution somehow leads to the evil of atheism is a pretext that the anti-science forces have seized upon.

Having good guys like Nick and confused people like Pim buy into this hoax isn’t going to boost science.

None of us is buying into this ‘hoax’ which is nothing more than a strawman in your own mind. Speaking of fact free and clearly wrong assertions…

So until you can take the time and spend the effort to more accurately present the arguments, I’d say your comments are not just fact free but actually erroneous.

Comment #146675

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 6:59 PM (e)

Why should people at PT not speak out against the Dawkins and the Myers and Morans?

Why would you speak out against Dawkins or Myers? They are two of the most widely read, articulate and passionate supporters of science and anti-creationism. Why would you “speak out against” them, unless they are repeatedly telling lies?

Another logical fallacy. One can speak out against people for other reasons than them telling lies. Indeed, when it comes to science Myers certainly is a passionate supporter of science. I am not sure about Dawkins. I have found his books to be often far more shallow that Myers’ contributions.

Oh yeah: because they’re all atheists and therefore in the minority. By bashing them you might believe that you don’t lose any significant support but you stand to gain support from the rubes who would otherwise fear that Panda’s Thumb is promoting evolution as a proxy for atheism. By bashing them, you can “prove” to those rubes: “See, we don’t like those loudmouth atheists either!”

How convenient.

Noone is ‘bashing them’, so stop creation your strawmen. This has little to do with atheists versus christians, but all to do with policy and how to deal best with teaching science. It’s time that atheists stop whining about being persecuted lest they want to start sounding more and more like their evangelic counterparts in Christianity.

Comment #146677

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 7:00 PM (e)

Why should PT people not point out the effect of Dawkins on the ID movement?

For the same reason that PT people should not point out the “effect” of rigorous high school biology classes on the ID movement: it’s irrelevant and non-productive.

Look, if Dawkins and the other Bad Old Atheists were out there telling legions of bald-faced *lies* about religion and “deeply religious” people and lies about how legislators are on the verge of banning religious expresssion in public, I’d be all for condemning them.

But Dawkins and the atheists aren’t doing that. In fact, it’s the creationist-promoting fundies who tell the LIES about religion and “deeply-religious people” and what legislators are going to do.

Those liars are the targets that Panda’s Thumb should be focused on.

There is simply no point in smearing vocal atheists who criticize or “attack” theological mumbo jumbo when they hear it. That’s what vocal atheists DO and these vocal atheists are not going away. Quite the opposite, in fact. And if you take a close look at what a “deeply religious” Jesus-lovin’ President just did to Iraq you’d understand: THIS IS A GOOD THING.

We need MORE passionate and articulate people to publicly point out the miserable failure of granting undue respect towards “deeply religious” beliefs, not less. Anyone who thinks they need to argue to the contrary in 2006 is simply a coward or an apologist robot.

Comment #146678

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 7:04 PM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank: …we have the ideological extremists who simply can’t tolerate the very PRESENCE of any theist…

We also seem to have an increasing number of ideological extremists who simply can’t tolerate the very presence of any atheist.

From my (admittedly limited) acquaintance of “theistic evolutionists” (the ones I know might be better called “pro-evolution theists”, as the Theo aspect is much more important to them), they seem able to endure the presence of a rather vocal atheist, so long as he’s able to focus on shared goals. Since we wouldn’t have been in the same rooms if not for overlapping concerns on various wars & other human rights violations, taking care of business came naturally to all concerned.

I haven’t yet dealt with allied believers in (admittedly even more limited work with) creo-politics, but I doubt they as a group would be exceptionally atheist-allergic.

So why all the hysteria against atheists in anti-creationist coalitions? Maybe there’s a tactical niche for a formal “Believers for Evo” organization or suchlike, but there can be no realistic expectation that atheists will stay out of this fight.

Nor is there any point in demanding that they fight from within a closet, except for the sheer fun of making demands you know won’t be met. Why not ask the Christians not to talk about that Jesus guy? (Though many of them seem not to need him, while in mixed company, at least verbally.)

Do you know of some pattern where atheists-who-won’t-change-the-subject are fracturing, say, state alliances for better science education? Can you cite any individual incidents of theists being harassed, anywhere? If so, please spill the details, and let’s see how the “teams” line up.

Would you predict an atheist bloc to emerge in favor of ritual denunciations of superstition at each meeting or public event?

Or are you saying that, if the damned scoffers would just shut up, the power of positive theism will at last be unchained, and the hyperchristians will be routed by St. Swithin’s Day?

We’re here. We’re heretical. Deal with it.

The believers can.

Iow: You’re a fine sniper, Lenny, but please point your weapon at the enemy.

Comment #146679

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 7:10 PM (e)

We also seem to have an increasing number of ideological extremists who simply can’t tolerate the very presence of any atheist.

Let me repeat once more, for the hard of hearing:

I do not assert, and I do not accept, the existence of any god, gods, goddesses, or supernatural entities of any sort whatsoever, in any way, shape or form.

So save your “anti-atheist” martyr complex for someone else.

Comment #146681

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 7:24 PM (e)

But Dawkins and the atheists aren’t doing that. In fact, it’s the creationist-promoting fundies who tell the LIES about religion and “deeply-religious people” and what legislators are going to do.

Those liars are the targets that Panda’s Thumb should be focused on.

And we do but that does not mean that this focus is exclusive. So far you have yet to explain why PT should not focus on Dawkins et al? Are they somehow protected from scrutiny?
Isn’t that a bit dogmatic?

We need MORE passionate and articulate people to publicly point out the miserable failure of granting undue respect towards “deeply religious” beliefs, not less. Anyone who thinks they need to argue to the contrary in 2006 is simply a coward or an apologist robot.

Another begging the question assertion. Please explain why we should take your ‘advice’ just because you believe it to be the right thing to do? One would be a coward if one were to take your advice I believe. Deeply religious beliefs deserve as much of our respect as atheistic beliefs. But we agree, granting undue respect towards either extreme will be a failure.

Comment #146682

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 7:25 PM (e)

please point your weapon at the enemy.

Oddly, that’s exactly what I’ve been telling the evangelical atheists for several years now.

Those who support ID, are our enemy.

Those who don’t, aren’t.

Even the theists.

Comment #146683

Posted by Joseph O'Donnell on November 26, 2006 7:26 PM (e)

although the “Separation of Church and PT” camp, also known as the “shut the heck up about religion/anti-religion and talk about science” camp, may be largest

You can count me as one of them.

Comment #146686

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 7:28 PM (e)

Funny how Registered User’s comments seem to be very similar to what one would expect from christian ‘extremists’ as well. And while people have objected to what they believe is linking atheism with evils, it seems that RU has no problem linking religious people with evil deeds.
Somehow consistency seems to be lacking.

Comment #146688

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 7:30 PM (e)

One can speak out against people for other reasons than them telling lies. Indeed, when it comes to science Myers certainly is a passionate supporter of science. I am not sure about Dawkins. I have found his books to be often far more shallow that Myers’ contributions.

LOL! yet another opinion you share with Hannah Maxson, Sal Cordova and the great Allen McNeill.

So why not answer my question, Pim (instead of spouting off with your “logical fallacy” horse hockey, in which you misrepresent what you were actually asked): why WOULD you “speak out against” Myers and Dawkins, unless they were lying?

Not why “can” you? That’s a trivial question that nobody is interested in (and you knew that).

But why would you? Why would you want to “speak out against” them, when they are two of the most widely read and popular writers on the subject of creationist garbage?

Are you going to stick with the “quelling the creationist backlash” excuse? I don’t find it compelling, for the reasons that I and others have explained to Nick, but if that’s the excuse then let’s put it out there for future reference.

Comment #146691

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 7:36 PM (e)

And while people have objected to what they believe is linking atheism with evils, it seems that RU has no problem linking religious people with evil deeds.

It seems that Pim doesn’t understand the difference between an atheist doing something evil with a religious person doing something evil and justifying it by invoking God.

It seems that Pim does not understand, and is likely incapable of understanding, why this is an important distinction.

Comment #146692

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 7:37 PM (e)

One can speak out against people for other reasons than them telling lies. Indeed, when it comes to science Myers certainly is a passionate supporter of science. I am not sure about Dawkins. I have found his books to be often far more shallow that Myers’ contributions.

LOL! yet another opinion you share with Hannah Maxson, Sal Cordova and the great Allen McNeill.

Cool, so we have something in common after all. Perhaps you can also explain why you seem to refer to these people in this thread? Is there anything you are trying to communicate (other than logical fallacies that is?)

So why not answer my question, Pim (instead of spouting off with your “logical fallacy” horse hockey, in which you misrepresent what you were actually asked): why WOULD you “speak out against” Myers and Dawkins, unless they were lying?

Are you really suggesting that lies are the only things relevant to speak out against? Come on RU, surely you jest.

But why would you? Why would you want to “speak out against” them, when they are two of the most widely read and popular writers on the subject of creationist garbage?

your point being? That the Bible since it is amongst the most popular books should extend something ‘magical’ towards the Bible which should prevent us from speaking out against it?

Are you going to stick with the “quelling the creationist backlash” excuse? I don’t find it compelling, for the reasons that I and others have explained to Nick, but if that’s the excuse then let’s put it out there for future reference.

I’d suggest you stop creating strawmen and logical fallacies my dear friend.

Comment #146693

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 7:37 PM (e)

So far you have yet to explain why PT should not focus on Dawkins et al?

It seems that Pim lacks the ability to read comments above in this very thread. Pity.

Comment #146694

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 7:40 PM (e)

And while people have objected to what they believe is linking atheism with evils, it seems that RU has no problem linking religious people with evil deeds.

It seems that Pim doesn’t understand the difference between an atheist doing something evil with a religious person doing something evil and justifying it by invoking God.

It seems that Pim does not understand, and is likely incapable of understanding, why this is an important distinction.

So in other words, you have no answer to your contradictions other than to suggest that I would be incapable of understanding. Double standards indeed

Comment #146695

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 7:44 PM (e)

Perhaps you can also explain why you seem to refer to these people in this thread?

Because when they post on blogs, those people enjoy pretending they are in a freshman debate class. Just like you Pim.

Comment #146696

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 7:45 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke): Disagreement is not the same thing as telling someone to shut up, but for some reason the “religion per se is the problem” people often don’t get that.

Er, just what is it that you’re asking those “religion per se is the problem” people to do, that’s not the same thing as shutting up?

This line of rhetorical attack does seem familiar. Perhaps the closest parallel is the classic “if kids think they’re just a bunch of animals, that’s what they’ll act like!” crowd-pleaser. Declaring a statement untrue because you don’t like its expected social impact is an oldie on the logical fallacy list (implausible extrapolations don’t help much either).

The pro-evolution anti-atheist faction’s case is not identical - for one thing, the target audience being fretted over is largely school board members, PTA leaders, and other educrats, whose capacity for critical thinking is typically below that of kids - but in both cases the claim is that X shouldn’t be asserted because of the consequences of so asserting, not because it isn’t true.

Inarguably, there is a large overlap in the tenets of pro-science theists and of creationists - maybe a much larger one than in the tenets of pro-science theists & atheists. The “theistic evolutionists” themselves, having learned to function in coalitions by bypassing doctrinal disputes, seem uninclined to draw explicit borders between themselves & their fellow believers.

Without a clear dividing line, then, atheists have fair reason to point at that wide shared ideological space and find common attributes there. Perhaps these reports will in time contribute to problems, but will those problems be rooted in the reports, or in the phenomena being reported?

Comment #146697

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 7:52 PM (e)

Perhaps you can also explain why you seem to refer to these people in this thread?

Because when they post on blogs, those people enjoy pretending they are in a freshman debate class. Just like you Pim.

One does try to adapt oneself to its immediate audience. Sorry if my comments were still too complicated. I may consider dropping to the level of a highschool debate class if that makes you more comfortable.

Comment #146699

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 8:04 PM (e)

So in other words, you have no answer to your contradictions

I didn’t contradict myself, Pim.

suggest that I would be incapable of understanding.

Well, prove me wrong, Pim. Is there any distinction between an atheist doing something evil and a religious person doing something evil and justifying it by reference to God?

Can you think of any important distinctions, Pim? And, assuming for the sake of argument that you are capable of thinking of some distinctions, are you willing to articulate all of them for us?

I’m guessing that you won’t articulate any such distinctions, but go ahead and surprise me, Pim. As a helpful hint, you could explore the distinctions as they relate to the behavior of a religious God-invoking President versus the behavior of Jason Connell, an atheist who raped his cousin because she was hot.

Have at it, Pim.

Comment #146700

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 8:08 PM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank: I do not assert, and I do not accept, the existence of any god, gods, goddesses, or supernatural entities of any sort whatsoever, in any way, shape or form.

So why all the atheist-bashing?

Do you actually expect Dawkins, Myers, Moran, or even that ass Butler to just bow their heads and mumble at their rosaries when the sinful urge to deny a deity raises its socially uncouth head?

Did Matzke launch this thread with the Darrow-bashing account above in expectation that the posts would include cries of gratitude from the unbelievers for his salvific flagellation?

What, specifically, would it take to satisfy the critics of “evangelical atheism” in this forum?

Comment #146701

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 26, 2006 8:08 PM (e)

PvM:

Deeply religious beliefs deserve as much of our respect as atheistic beliefs. But we agree, granting undue respect towards either extreme will be a failure.

Nobody’s “beliefs” deserve any amount of our respect, unless they are supported by evidence. We may, of course, extend our respect to believers, according them the right to their beliefs, the right to speak freely about them, the right to attempt to persuade others to their beliefs, etc.

Comment #146703

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 26, 2006 8:13 PM (e)

Pim, you’re still abusing your quotes from Ru and others. When you’re quoting, you’re not only failing to credit the speaker, you’re also stripping the html, which has the effect of failing to distinguish between two different speakers.

I’m confident you aren’t purposely seeking to confuse, but that’s the effect your lack of care with quotes is having.

Slow down, take a breath, quote correctly.

Comment #146704

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 8:15 PM (e)

Again RU responds with a strawman which ignores the topic at hand which is using religious beliefs of people as relevant while on the one hand objecting to people referring to atheism as leading to moral excesses and on the other hand pointing out that our religious president invaded Iraq (with all its consequences).

Comment #146706

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on November 26, 2006 8:20 PM (e)

Dawkins’ rethoric is a major force behind the motivations of the ID movement. Dawkins may have contributed to our scientific understanding but at an incredible and unnecessary cost.

Why is it that not just the expression, but the very existence, of a contrary notion should be such a powerful motivation? I mean, let’s face it, Dawkins’ ideas are not winning in the marketplace; rather, atheism is the minority position (at least in the US) by a wide margin. For people (the faithful) who are supposedly so incredibly sure that they have the Truth, how can such a small minority of “misguided” people represent so great a threat as to motivate the fabrication of such lies? I can imagine only great fear that they’re actually wrong.

Comment #146708

Posted by Jeff D on November 26, 2006 8:21 PM (e)

I have been a practicing lawyer for 27 years, an avid reader of history and science since I was 5 or 6, and a freethinker / agnostic non-theist (or atheist naturalist if you prefer) since I was 8 or 9.

I have studied First Amendment / Establishment Clause jurisprudence extensively during my professional practice, and Nick’s formulation of distinctions 1 and 2 is basically accurate and consistent with case law. However, it doesn’t follow that a public school teacher is either (a) establishing a religion or (b) infringing her students’ free exercise of religion if the teacher tells her class that she is an atheist because there is no physical, natural-world evidence for god, life after death, and immaterial, immortal souls, etc.

“Atheism” or “naturalism” isn’t a religion. However, as scientific and historical knowledge has been expanded, corrrected, and steadiliy improved, there is progessively less and less for the supreme being(s) of ancient superstition to do.

I don’t begrudge anyone his or her religious feelings, inclinations, or opinions that are held or adopted to provide personal comfort or a subjective sense of fitness (i.e., the “fideism” of Mr. Gardner).

What I am especially wary of (and, since 9/11, what I regard as a serious threat to the survival of human civilization) is when religious folks take their religion beyond a simple (but untestable and unverifiable) belief in gods or an afterlife and do either of the following:

(1) make dogmatic, equally unsupportable statements about how a god wants or intends human beings to live their lives, or about the details of the natural world, or

(2) seek to impose their dogmatism and superstition on the rest of by enacting their beliefs into public policy.

Whenever “people of faith” stray beyond simple fideism, they make their religion anti-rational and therefore dangerous to life and to civilized society.

I will mind my own business and keep my godless atheist secular humanist thoughts to myself so long as the religious zealots don’t try to impose their pious fantasies on the rest of us. Life is too short to waste on debates with individuals who don’t understand reason and evidence.

Comment #146709

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 26, 2006 8:29 PM (e)

PvM (notice, Pim, how this little intro allows the reader to identify the author of the quoted material):

Indeed, when it comes to science Myers certainly is a passionate supporter of science. I am not sure about Dawkins. I have found his books to be often far more shallow that Myers’ contributions.

Someday, Pim, I’d be interested in your expressing your understanding of one or more of Dawkins’ theses and then demonstrating, with evidence and logic, how it or they are “shallow.”
Until then, we’ll just chalk this up as another one of your unevidenced assertions.

Comment #146712

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 26, 2006 8:35 PM (e)

What is the connection between Darrow’s questioning of Bryan and our loss at the Scope’s trial? His standard list of “posers” might or might not have been useful PR, but I fail to see what the stricken testimony had to do with actually losing Scopes. Then again, Nick more or less abandons that line for claiming that the whole circus prevented later tests of bans on the teaching of evolution, something that I also doubt he succeeds in demonstrating.

Nick leaves out an important fact, which is that the judge had instructed the court to ignore the “policy or wisdom of this legislation.” Darrow, whether a good or poor choice for the Scopes trial, did not have leave to discuss the scientific merits of the legislation, so he did the next best thing, he attacked literalistic interpretation of the Bible. Does Nick think that absurdly wrong literalism ought not to be attacked by our side? I doubt it, but one might get that impression from his complaints about Darrow’s tactics.

One could perhaps argue that “what Darrow was” did not help the case. But that’s all I recognize as a live possibility in Nick’s thesis. Whether or not he had attacked fundamentalism, Darrow would have been portrayed as a big-city Northern lawyer come to attack poor southerners, their democratic rights, and their religion, simply because of what he was, an agnostic (not an atheist, undermining Nick’s claim that Darrow equated evolution with atheism). Darrow almost certainly did better to at least show how ridiculous Bryan’s defense of literalism was, rather than to simply go down south and say that Bryan and the fundies were wrong merely because Darwin and Darrow say so.

We lost Scopes because the Tennessee courts wanted us to lose Scopes. There isn’t much else to say, except that the Tennessee Supreme Court also managed to derail the appeal to the US Supreme Court because they wanted us to lose. On the PR side, those who were reachable tended to agree with Darrow on Biblical literalism, though presumably most of these already agreed with Darrow. But at least he made the only case he could make, against the absurdities of Biblical literalism which animate all of the ID and creationist opposition to evolution.

We won later cases because of a changed judicial climate and increased activism by secular groups like the ACLU.

Of course later defenders of science in the court rooms have presented better cases than did Darrow, mainly because the courts allowed them to do so. Faulting poor Darrow for being forbidden to argue for evolution in the first place is hardly fair. Darrow did the best he could given the circumstances, by revealing how pathetic a literalistic religious view of the world is in the age of science.

Nick makes other easily debatable claims, such as the one that the public will come down on our side when religiously-neutral science is contrasted with narrow sectrarian views. Has there ever been a poll in which the majority of the public didn’t prefer teaching “both views” in the schools when people were asked? I haven’t seen it. Unquestionably such polls require interpretation, since most people are likely only trying to take the “even-handed approach” when the false dichotomy is presented to them. However, these polls appear to be the only evidence we really have to go on (other than that few non-fundies bother to demand the so-called even-handed approach once the courts decide against it).

One might also ask if the judges are “indirectly selected” by the public in the proper sense of that term (depends on definition, sure). Clearly there is an establishment that provides selective pressures beyond the simple choices of the voters, pressures involving knowledge and skill levels of the judges selected. So far we seem to be relying more for our wins upon the intelligence and learning of the various agencies which validate our judges, than upon a public which, at least in polls, generally default to the apparently “even-handed” (false) dichotomy.

As I said, I will only accept that Darrow may have been wrong for the Scopes job simply because he was an agnostic, and not for any other reasons. On the PR side, he did a reasonable job of demonstrating that Biblical literalism is absurd compared with the enlightenment approach, while he was barred from arguing the merits of the legislation itself. On the legal side, the Scopes trial did what the ACLU wanted, with only the TN Supremes preventing the case from reaching the US Supremes.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #146713

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 8:35 PM (e)

So why all the atheist-bashing?

I am not “atheist-bashing”.

I am “people who want to pick a fight with people who are our allies on a side issue instead of ID” bashing.

We’re here to fight IDers. If you’re here to fight something else (theism, perhaps), this ain’t the place for it.

Comment #146714

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 8:37 PM (e)

What, specifically, would it take to satisfy the critics of “evangelical atheism” in this forum?

Fight IDers. Not people who are fighting IDers.

Comment #146715

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 8:38 PM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank: Those who support ID, are our enemy.

Those who don’t, aren’t.

Haven’t you yourself noted that “Intelligent Design” is likely soon to be replaced by another label, such as “Critical Analysis”? Even in this minor sector of the larger culture war, the enemy is not “ID”, but creationism in all its facets.

Now: just where does (unacceptable) creationism leave off and (acceptable) belief in the supernatural begin? Wherever you make the (arbitrary) delineation, rest assured that future creationists will come from the ranks of the supernaturalists - and the wider & deeper the latters’ influence, the more & stronger there will be of the former.

The strategic implications of this deserve a little more consideration than a Rumsfeldian directive to make no plans for anything but the immediate battle.

Comment #146720

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 8:45 PM (e)

If there isn’t one already, a corollary to Godwin’s Law concerning mention of the Bush gang will surely be needed soon.

Comment #146723

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 8:53 PM (e)

Woo hoo! Aren’t holy wars fun?

Random comments I direct to the “religion per se is the problem” camp (in general, not just this thread):

* I am mystified by the victimization complex that seems to be driving much of the emotion from the anti-religion crowd. Atheists’ rights to their views on religion are protected by the Constitution, just like everyone else’s views on religion. If you want to complain about something, complain about “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Someone explaining that science and evolution are not atheistic is not anti-atheism discrimination, it is simply clarifying the limits of science.

* If you think that evolutionary science really is atheistic, well then, bully for you, but please explain why you don’t regularly hitch modern meteorology, chemistry, etc. to atheism.

* It is far from clear that “religion” is responsible for most of the killing in the world. The 20th century seems to have proven that both religious and anti-religious regimes can kill massive numbers of people, and that the key features are totalitarianism, control of the media and dissemination of propaganda, and us-versus-them rhetoric. The latter includes protestants versus catholics and Christians versus Muslims versus Jews, of course, but it also includes ethnic conflicts like Hutus vs. Tutsis, and innumerable killing sprees carried out in Russia, China, Cambodia, etc. for some communism-related excuse.

* No one objects to mere criticism of the theological claims put forward by theistic evolutionists. Ken Miller and Francis Collins have been doing their thing for years and have been taking criticism the whole way through. Some agree with their theologies, some disagree. This is all fine. What is highly disturbing is the claim that these kinds of folks are no better than creationists, deserve the same opprobrium that the creationists deserve, and are undermining science – even though they explicitly note the difference between science and religion and would never advocate teaching the latter in public school science classes.

* Things get even more ridiculous when the opprobrium is extended to anyone who defends the good name of theistic evolutionists – at this point, the list includes Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and various PT posters, ScienceBloggers, and evolution activists, including basically all of the people most active in the on-the-ground victories over creationists in the last year or two.

* Last but not least, don’t whine about namecalling and being discriminated against when you call us “appeasers” and “wimps” and “Neville Chamberlins.” Seriously, what kind of reaction do you think you will get to this sort of rhetoric? Descriptions like “intolerant” “fundamentalist”, “angry”, and “evangelical” are the completely appropriate response to these sorts of ludicrous insults.

Comment #146724

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 8:58 PM (e)

Haven’t you yourself noted that “Intelligent Design” is likely soon to be replaced by another label, such as “Critical Analysis”? Even in this minor sector of the larger culture war, the enemy is not “ID”, but creationism in all its facets.

Now: just where does (unacceptable) creationism leave off and (acceptable) belief in the supernatural begin?

Why don’t you ask the plaintiffs in the Dover case? They were all theists, ya know.

Does that make them The Enemy, in your view?

Is it REALLY that hard for you to tell who is the enemy and who isn’t? Really?

Wow.

Comment #146725

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 26, 2006 9:04 PM (e)

By the way, if one really wants to equate atheism with evolution, all one has to do is to keep on blogging about it, faulting the radicals for doing essentially what many theists do (notably, some theistic evolutionists at PT do reflexively support religion—then why are the reflexive atheists to be faulted for supporting their own beliefs?), and suggest that one middle of the road approach should be adopted by all.

Do that, and you aid and abet the claim that some atheist conspiracy keeps evolution afloat (sure it’s stupid, but not too stupid for a large fraction of the US public to believe it), and that this atheism must remain hidden in order to inflict itself upon the innocent children. What is so bad about demonstrating that anyone can adopt science, whether these be militant atheists, or theists who believe truth wherever it appears?

The very few militant atheists who are prominent on our side aren’t about to take over the fight against creationism. If they were, then I’d say it’s time to oppose them. Until then, they merely punctuate the fact that evolution is not a “wedge” to get atheism into the schools, quite unlike the wedge of ID which blatantly sought to put magical explanations into the schools by actually changing what is considered to be science.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #146726

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 9:10 PM (e)

future creationists will come from the ranks of the supernaturalists

Future priests who molest choir boys will come from the ranks of gay men, too.

Does that mean, in your opinion, that we need to control gay men in order to prevent future choir boy molestors? After all, the more gays there are and the more influential they become, the more choir boy molestors will appear from their ranks. Right?

Believe it or not, most gay man will not molest choir boys, and most “supernaturalists” will not become creationists.

And treating them as the enemy because they “might”, is one of the stupidest arguments I’ve ever heard.

Comment #146727

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 26, 2006 9:15 PM (e)

The very few militant atheists who are prominent on our side aren’t about to take over the fight against creationism.

Thank God.

(giggle)

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Comment #146728

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 9:24 PM (e)

What is so bad about demonstrating that anyone can adopt science, whether these be militant atheists, or theists who believe truth wherever it appears?

Nothing is wrong with doing this, but the fundamentalist atheists have lately been freaking out and declaring that anyone who says something sympathetic about science-accepting theists is a wimp, appeaser, etc.

The very few militant atheists who are prominent on our side aren’t about to take over the fight against creationism. If they were, then I’d say it’s time to oppose them.

Does Richard Dawkins getting “God vs. Science” on the cover of Time Magazine cross your threshold for response? Actually, us Neville Chamberlins swallowed even that without public complaining. But the Dawkins acolytes promoting “religion is evil and so is anyone who doesn’t vehemently agree” on the blogs have been picking fights with the “appeasers” for months. Eventually we’re going to get annoyed enough to defend ourselves.

Comment #146729

Posted by buridan on November 26, 2006 9:24 PM (e)

Nick,

You’re enjoying this so-called holy war as much if not more than anyone. By the way, when you and “your ilk” continually suggest that us “evangelical atheists” are hurting science’s public image when we speak our minds, you’re telling us to shut up, plain and simple. It’s a little disingenuous at this stage in the game for you to start distancing yourself from your own disparaging remarks.

Comment #146730

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 9:34 PM (e)

Future priests who molest choir boys will come from the ranks of gay men, too.

And the hetero priests who go after the girls will also come from the ranks of men, at least according to the present rules. If we just got rid of the men…

Dammit, man, you used to be a much better debater than this - throwing out irrelevant hot-button non-sequiturs while dodging multiple requests for specific evidence of this Atheistic Menace is - well, there are several Busheviks available for your choice of metaphors.

Does pointing out the errors of a slow (or culturally disadvantaged) learner constitute “treating them as the enemy”?

That’s a scary turn of phrase in these post-Geneva Convention times. (Damn, I did it again!)

Comment #146732

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 9:39 PM (e)

Last but not least, don’t whine about namecalling and being discriminated against when you call us “appeasers” and “wimps” and “Neville Chamberlins.” Seriously, what kind of reaction do you think you will get to this sort of rhetoric?

Defensiveness at first, then a quiet change for the better.

IMHO, the writing by contributors to this blog has mostly improved since its inception. It could be a coincidence or it could be that certain criticisms were taken to heart.

Someone explaining that science and evolution are not atheistic is not anti-atheism discrimination, it is simply clarifying the limits of science.

Sounds more “comforting” than clarifying. Baseball isn’t “atheistic” either but it doesn’t “clarify the limits of baseball” to say so.

The problem with slogans like “science is not atheistic” is that it satisfies only those who need slogans to recite. I suppose that’s a lot of people – a lot of religious people, in particular – but it’s exactly the sort of thing that irritates a lot of scientists (a group which includes a disproportionate member of scientists). It’s hardly evidence of a “persecution complex” or “victimization” to express one’s dissatisfaction with such slogans.

Religious people need to get used to the idea that everything which humans can objectively describe and study is “atheistic.” That fact doesn’t objectively diminish their personal religious beliefs (those beliefs exist entirely in their own brains), and given that it doesn’t objectively diminish their personal religious beliefs, then there is only one logical reason that religious people might object to this fact being widely asserted: the diminishment of the widespread respectability of their personal religious beliefs. I can’t see why a non-believer would give two hoots about such a diminishment, except to cheer on its progress. How could it be otherwise? Should I have shed a tear for disco fans when the Bee Gees broke up?

Comment #146733

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 26, 2006 9:47 PM (e)

One more thing: Dawkins (like Dennett) does have an argument when claiming that evolution is unusually problematic science for the continued existence of religion. Logically and empirically this does not seem to make sense, but it does because of the psychology and history of most of Western theism.

Nick Matzke wrote:

If you think that evolutionary science really is atheistic, well then, bully for you, but please explain why you don’t regularly hitch modern meteorology, chemistry, etc. to atheism.

Atheists, like IDists, etc., don’t hitch the other scientific disciplines to their beliefs because the (typical) ostended basis for the universe’s qualities and existence is that it all exists for the sake of life. Western theology (following Plato, particularly, plus the historical line of Judaism/Xianity) allowed for a desacralization of the world, resulting in the belief that events really might happen all on their own, through simple causal processes. Meaning under this theology (or these theologies) was maintained, however, by the dogma that all was set up (and perhaps maintained) by the Deity for the sake of life. Newton sought to know God’s mind through his efforts, and he and others considered the mechanical workings of the universe (as they conceived them to be) as wondrous productions of the Divine mind for our benefit.

Thus the weather, chemistry, and physics may all exist independently and with “self-sufficiency” (as an evolutionist theist recently argued with me) because these were put into existence by God for our benefit and existence, and would be completely meaningless otherwise according to many (not all, certainly) Xian theologies. IDists are trying to avoid the meaninglessness (in their minds) of “self-sufficient” areas of science by claiming that these have meaning through us, while we have meaning because our origination is not “self-sufficient”. The meaning of the entire universe depends upon the specialness of human origination and existence, in their conception, which is why they resist the reduction of humans to chemistry, physics, and evolutionary history. Reduce humanity to the other areas of science, and you’ve neatly destroyed what gave any meaning and relevance to those sciences, the special (miraculous) existence of humanity.

The specialness of humanity is the linchpin of theistic meaning in the minds of many religionists, then.

I point this out because there is a risk of fundamentally misunderstanding what evolution, life, and the so-called “soul” means to so many theists, and for our purposes, to so many IDists/creationists. Miraculous meteorology and chemistry would not give meaning to themselves/cosmos (they understand cosmos according to themselves/religion), not in their minds. Miraculous weather might somewhat support the idea of God and meaning, but the specialness of humanity/cosmos that they base all of the meaning of the cosmos on would not be so well supported by, say, Hurricane Katrina, or the Diels-Alder reaction.

Theists (many of them) are trying to ground their belief system in themselves, after all, to understand themselves as the purpose of the universe. Their belief that all was made for them by God reaffirms their own beliefs and existence, without the struggle for scientific and philosophical knowledge. Tell them that their beliefs, morality, and very existence comes from an essentially meaningless struggle to propagate their genes, and they cannot accept this. It is too hard on their egos, with their inability to deal with a universe according to its own indifference to their existence.

More mature and philosophical theists have other purported bases for the specialness of humanity/themselves. IDists/creationists have little or nothing to shore up their own egos except the belief that the universe, including inanimate nature, revolves around themselves (we are the actors in the theater that God watches—it is the actors that matter in this theater, not the inanimate props). The inanimate world would lose its meaning as surely as life does to many theists, once their origin was seen to come from inanimate nature. An animate origin for animate life lets them view everything as serving animate life, and thus to understand the universe according to the religion that told them that everything revolves around “human creation”.

Many theists remain fundamentally divorced from science because of this sense that everything was made for the sake of life, especially humanity. To simply understand life as physical causation is foreign to them, since they understand physical causation itself as existing to serve the Cause of life. This is, of course, why it is so very difficult to get such theists to recognize the importance of scientific explanation, since their knowledge even of the science of inanimate processes depends ultimately upon the sense that God made these processes for the sake of miraculously created human life.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #146734

Posted by Registered User on November 26, 2006 9:50 PM (e)

Does Richard Dawkins getting “God vs. Science” on the cover of Time Magazine cross your threshold for response? Actually, us Neville Chamberlins swallowed even that without public complaining.

Dawkins didn’t call his book “God vs. Science.” That was Time magazine’s call and I doubt that Dawkins had veto power.

As I recall, Dawkins thinks that God is a creation of the human imagination. Thus, science or scientists can’t “battle” God because God doesn’t exist except as an idea in people’s brains.

So other than the usual incompetence of the media, what were going to complain about?

By the way, why not complain about Chris Mooney’s book about Republicans and the war on science? Surely his withering analysis must have alienated 50% of the potential “converts” to “our side.” Or is it only religious people that behave irrationally when their choice of allegiances is questioned?

Comment #146735

Posted by Some dude on November 26, 2006 9:52 PM (e)

Wow.

Is there really so little going on in the anti-evolution movement that PT contributors are reduced to talking about themselves? Gotta nuke somethin’, I guess.

Comment #146743

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 10:03 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke): But the Dawkins acolytes promoting “religion is evil and so is anyone who doesn’t vehemently agree” on the blogs have been picking fights with the “appeasers” for months. Eventually we’re going to get annoyed enough to defend ourselves.

Another logical fallacy here: Dawkins is attacking an ideology, or set of ideologies, while you seem to consider that a threat to your “self”. There’s a categorical difference, unless you are so committed to the memes of (your subset of) religion that you would sacrifice yourself for them. (In which case you really would do well to ponder Dawkins’s diagnosis of that condition as a pathological mental infection.)

Comment #146745

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 10:10 PM (e)

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank wrote:

Fight IDers. Not people who are fighting IDers.

Then let’s not fight Clarence Darrow, for pity’s sake….

Comment #146746

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 10:13 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

* If you think that evolutionary science really is atheistic, well then, bully for you, but please explain why you don’t regularly hitch modern meteorology, chemistry, etc. to atheism.

Pretty much everyone around here regularly points out that modern meteorology and chemistry are atheistic, in just the same sense as evolution is–not antitheistic, but atheistic. Of course, usually we’re pointing this out to creationists or ID supporters, who are trying to single out evolution as anti-God. Having to point it out to otherwise pro-science theists, who argue that Larry Moran’s saying “flunk creationists” somehow equates to “atheist evangelism,” is a depressing new twist.

The 20th century seems to have proven that both religious and anti-religious regimes can kill massive numbers of people, and that the key features are totalitarianism, control of the media and dissemination of propaganda, and us-versus-them rhetoric. The latter includes protestants versus catholics and Christians versus Muslims versus Jews, of course, but it also includes ethnic conflicts like Hutus vs. Tutsis, and innumerable killing sprees carried out in Russia, China, Cambodia, etc. for some communism-related excuse.

I’d say Maoism in China was pretty definitely a religion, complete with sacred texts and miracles–it hated all other religions, but that’s nothing new. And I don’t recall the Rwanda conflict having much to do with totalitarianism or a media monopoly. But sure, people kill each other for all sorts of reasons.

* No one objects to mere criticism of the theological claims put forward by theistic evolutionists. Ken Miller and Francis Collins have been doing their thing for years and have been taking criticism the whole way through. Some agree with their theologies, some disagree. This is all fine.

I’ve got no problem with Ken Miller, never read his book but all his interviews & things sound great, although I think he phrased his “Creationists, go argue with the atheists” line badly.
But Francis Collins has been making decidedly non-theological claims about how evolutionary theory can’t explain morality and altruism. Surely you remember this? We had a thread about it. Is that as severe an attack on science as the creationID movement makes? No. Is it still an attack on science, and should he be called on it? Most certainly.

* Things get even more ridiculous when the opprobrium is extended to anyone who defends the good name of theistic evolutionists – at this point, the list includes Stephen Jay Gould

Hold up, now. Gould defends theistic evolutionists? Stephen Jay Gould, king of contingency? Stephen Jay Gould who said,

that nature is often (by our standards) cruel and that all previous attempts to find a lurking goodness behind everything represent just so much special pleading

and

Nature betrays no statistical preference for being either warm and fuzzy, or ugly and disgusting. Nature just is - in all her complexity and diversity, in all her sublime indifference to our desires. Therefore we cannot use nature for our moral instruction, or for answering any question within the magisterium of religion.”

and

It seems the height of antiquated hubris to claim that the universe carried on as it did for billions of years in order to form a comfortable abode for us. Chance and historical contingency give the world of life most of its glory and fascination. I sit here happy to be alive and sure that some reason must exist for ‘why me?’ Or the earth might have been totally covered with water, and an octopus might now be telling its children why the eight-legged God of all things had made such a perfect world for cephalopods. Sure we fit. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But the world wasn’t made for us and it will endure without us.

That Gould? I think you’re confusing “evolutionary theory + theism”, which Gould was fine with, with “theistic evolution,” which he definitely opposed. Incidentally, you seem to be making the same confusion with Neil deGrasse Tyson. I don’t think he has any problem with theism per se, but he drop-kicked “a personal or benevolent god” into the rhetorical wastebasket at Beyond Belief.

* Last but not least, don’t whine about namecalling and being discriminated against when you call us “appeasers” and “wimps” and “Neville Chamberlins.” Seriously, what kind of reaction do you think you will get to this sort of rhetoric?

What kind of reaction do you think you will get when you spin “Flunk the IDiots” as “Stamp out religion by any means necessary, evangelical atheists say?”

Well, exactly the reaction you’re getting right now.

Comment #146747

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 10:14 PM (e)

Nick,

You’re enjoying this so-called holy war as much if not more than anyone. By the way, when you and “your ilk” continually suggest that us “evangelical atheists” are hurting science’s public image when we speak our minds, you’re telling us to shut up, plain and simple. It’s a little disingenuous at this stage in the game for you to start distancing yourself from your own disparaging remarks.

You’re right, I enjoy arguing. I have refrained from blogging this topic for a good long time on PT, despite Dawkins taking the national stage and calling anyone who isn’t an anti-religion hardliner a “Neville Chamberlain”, despite PZ Myers going after Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris (!!), Kenneth Miller (!!!!), and Eugenie Scott (!!!!!) for being creationists or creationist-coddlers – claims which, frankly, border on insanity – and despite what is apparently an organized campaign by the evangelical atheists to attack the moderates on their own side of the science education issue. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore. I know its cliche to say it, but I really, truly, did not start this particular fight.

By the way, when you and “your ilk” continually suggest that us “evangelical atheists” are hurting science’s public image when we speak our minds, you’re telling us to shut up, plain and simple.

This “hurting science’s public image” meme is another thing that is bugging me about the evangelical atheists’ campaign. You guys think we are just craven image-chasers, and that we basically think it is convenient to lie to the public about the atheistic implications of science. But this is simply a misunderstanding on the part of you fundamentalist atheists.

The problem we Neville Chamberlins have is not that atheists are icky and scary to the public, the problem is that the evangelical atheists mistakenly think that religion and evolution unavoidably conflict, and promote their mistake widely. This idea is simply wrong, and saying this misinforms the public – in fact it is the very same misinformation that the ID creationists put out.

Furthermore this is one of the most important points to get right, because the primary motivator of creationism is not the pseudoscientific babble they put out, it is the misconception that evolution unavoidably conflicts with religion. It is no exaggeration to say that this precise misconception is nothing less than the lifeblood that sustains antievolutionism. It is their single favorite talking point, and yet you guys are repeating it for them.

It’s a little disingenuous at this stage in the game for you to start distancing yourself from your own disparaging remarks.

Like I said in a previous comment, those who have endorsed calling us the “Neville Chamberlains” of the evolution/creationism battle have no basis to complain about the evangelical atheist label.

Here is a deal I’ll make with anyone: If you state that it is inappropriate to label pro-evolution theists like Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris as “creationists”, and inappropriate to label Ed Brayton, Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and others who are not hardline anti-religion activists as “Neville Chamberlains”, “appeasers”, etc., then I will happily concede that “fundamentalist atheists” and similar labels do not apply to you.

Comment #146748

Posted by Ebonmuse on November 26, 2006 10:17 PM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

If you think that evolutionary science really is atheistic, well then, bully for you, but please explain why you don’t regularly hitch modern meteorology, chemistry, etc. to atheism.

Because meteorology and chemistry have not historically been offered as proof of the existence of a deity, whereas the existence of intelligent life has. Just consider William Paley, who in the 1800s was famous for arguing that the complex adaptations of living things could only be explained by postulating an intelligent designer. And the thing is, until Darwin came along, there really wasn’t much in the way of a credible alternative.

The argument from design was the last strong argument for God’s existence (and is still regularly offered to that end by apologists who have been a bit slow to catch up), until the theory of evolution derailed it. Darwin was the first person to propose a mechanism by which life could give rise to adaptation without invoking a designer. While that does not prove that a designer was not involved, it does prove that one is not required, giving rise to Dawkins’ famous “intellectually fulfilled atheist” response that creationists have been so quick to misunderstand.

Comment #146753

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 10:28 PM (e)

What kind of reaction do you think you will get when you spin “Flunk the IDiots” as “Stamp out religion by any means necessary, evangelical atheists say?”

I never said this, you have me confused with someone else.

I have not taken up Larry Moran’s flunk-the-IDists (“IDiots” is pretty juvenile IMHO) claim. It has gotten mixed into the multiblog discussion because Larry Moran is also an strident evangelical atheist, but at one point Moran said he was joking about it, so I am inclined to ignore it unless (a) he says he is serious and (b) the proposal is advocated by more than one random blogger.

Comment #146755

Posted by buridan on November 26, 2006 10:36 PM (e)

Here is a deal I’ll make with anyone: If you state that it is inappropriate to label pro-evolution theists like Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris as “creationists”, and inappropriate to label Ed Brayton, Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and others who are not hardline anti-religion activists as “Neville Chamberlains”, “appeasers”, etc., then I will happily concede that “fundamentalist atheists” and similar labels do not apply to you.

Deal!

But it would be nice if you would also admit that our differences with regard to religion and science are legitimate domestic disputes and not the titanic disaster that I hear you saying. I mean what really was your point with this post?

Comment #146757

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 10:38 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

But the Dawkins acolytes promoting “religion is evil and so is anyone who doesn’t vehemently agree” on the blogs have been picking fights with the “appeasers” for months. Eventually we’re going to get annoyed enough to defend ourselves.

Then defend yourselves! If someone says religion is evil, explain why they’re wrong. If someone says religion is necessarily inconsistent with science, explain why they’re wrong. If someone says you’re evil because you don’t agree with those claims–and I haven’t seen either Dawkins or any of the Sciencebloggers do that, so you’ll want to cite an example–then point out how stupid that is. It’s not like some of Dawkins’ anti-religion arguments (“Belief in an afterlife caused 9/11!”) don’t have holes big enough to ride an elephant through, so you can have lots of fun with that. I’ve criticized them on here before.

But exaggerating arguments you don’t like into strawmen, then declaring that they’re just too nasty and their makers can’t be on your team anymore, isn’t much of a defense.

Comment #146758

Posted by Jack Krebs on November 26, 2006 10:39 PM (e)

FWIW, as a member of the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp, here’s what I wrote in response to PZ on the KCFS Discussion forum:

In response to PZ:

Now that we have a couple of years where the standards aren’t our main concern, we plan to work on informing and educated the public about issues in a way that might make the creationists have less appeal at the polls. This will involve helping people understand science and evolution better; it will involve helping people understand things about public policy,public accountability and public education; and it will involve helping people understand some things about religion.

Of course we know that we can’t overturn the culture, but we can, I think, shift the views of enough people in the middle to help us keep from yo-yoing back to having the creationists in control - at least we can try.

Also, this will be have to be a joint venture with contributions from many constituencies: moderate Republicans and Democrats working together, people of many faiths including those with no religious faith at all, people with different core agendas (defending the teaching of good science, supporting the separation of church and state, supporting public education, etc.)

As we have found before, sometimes frictions arise when these various groups are working partially for the same cause and partially for different causes. We can live with this overlap because we have to if we want to be politically effective and because it’s the right thing to do if we truly believe in the value of a diverse and secular society.

Comment #146760

Posted by PvM on November 26, 2006 10:41 PM (e)

But exaggerating arguments you don’t like into strawmen, then declaring that they’re just too nasty and their makers can’t be on your team anymore, isn’t much of a defense.

Now that’s irony

Comment #146766

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 10:47 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

What kind of reaction do you think you will get when you spin “Flunk the IDiots” as “Stamp out religion by any means necessary, evangelical atheists say?”

I never said this, you have me confused with someone else.

I know you didn’t. But since you were addressing an entire “team,” I thought I’d do the same thing. And since the latest round of Neville Chamberlaining and Fundamentalist Atheisting was kicked off by that, you can’t exactly ignore it when complaining about who started what.

Comment #146767

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 10:49 PM (e)

Posted by Ebonmuse on November 26, 2006 10:17 PM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

If you think that evolutionary science really is atheistic, well then, bully for you, but please explain why you don’t regularly hitch modern meteorology, chemistry, etc. to atheism.

Because meteorology and chemistry have not historically been offered as proof of the existence of a deity, whereas the existence of intelligent life has.

This is simply wrong as a matter of history. Atomism was opposed on religious grounds for centuries for being materialistic/atheistic:

Because of its pagan, atheistic origins, atomism had always been viewed with suspicion, but now, its troubles were compounded. Thomas Hobbes was also accused of being an atheist. Gassendi and Descartes, although mechanical philosophers, were exempt from this criticism. In their mechanical universe, Gassendi and Descartes had made room for an immaterial, non-corporeal Divine Being. Both of these philosophers, moreover, admitted that man’s soul, as well, is immaterial and spiritual. Hobbes, however, was more consistent. He insisted that man’s soul, in a material, mechanical universe, must be material. Later, he admitted to Bishop Bramhall that even God is material and corporeal. To all Englishmen, High Church Anglican and Puritan alike, this was heresy; this was atheism.

In addition to its own intrinsic difficulties, therefore, atomism had to bear the burden of having notorious friends. Because of Hobbes, the atomists, most of whom were actually pious Christians, were laid open to charges of impiety and heresy. These more orthodox atomists were greatly disturbed about the situation, and set about to purify atomism and to dissociate it from atheism and impiety.

Online Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Atomism

Now, of course, it seems silly to think that the idea of atoms is theistic or atheistic, but it was a big deal back then.

Meteorology: See this post for Bible quotes and commentary. Also, when Benjamin Franklin discovered that lighting was simply electricity, and invented the lightning rod to divert lightning that would otherwise strike buildings, some churches declared that lightning rods were anti-Christian attempts to subvert the will of God. See: Franklin’s Unholy Lightning Rod.

But again, these days, we have neither meteorologists nor religious people running around telling Time magazine that lightning rods are anti-God.

Comment #146768

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 10:52 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke): … the evangelical atheists mistakenly think that religion and evolution unavoidably conflict…

Religion is a subset of supernaturalism; (the science of) evolution is a subset of naturalism.
The two are non-overlapping, or mutually exclusive, or somewhere along a line between those categories.

It is certainly possible for an individual, or billions of individuals, to hold both naturalist & supernaturalist viewpoints; arguably very few of us don’t (at least in the sense of vaguely accepting some urban legend of unlikely personal consequence). That doesn’t mean there isn’t some degree of cognitive tension, varying with temperament & circumstances, in living in a universe to which one attributes properties it doesn’t seem to have … so, yes, the prognosis for conflict is positive.

Things would be so much easier if the two modes could be reconciled, wouldn’t they?

Comment #146769

Posted by Anton Mates on November 26, 2006 10:59 PM (e)

Jack Krebs wrote:

FWIW, as a member of the “religion per se is not the enemy” camp, here’s what I wrote in response to PZ on the KCFS Discussion forum:

And that’s a bang-up response. Notably, it comes to grips with the substance of PZ’s argument. Kudos, Jack.

Comment #146770

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 26, 2006 11:11 PM (e)

Posted by buridan on November 26, 2006 10:36 PM (e)

Here is a deal I’ll make with anyone: If you state that it is inappropriate to label pro-evolution theists like Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris as “creationists”, and inappropriate to label Ed Brayton, Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and others who are not hardline anti-religion activists as “Neville Chamberlains”, “appeasers”, etc., then I will happily concede that “fundamentalist atheists” and similar labels do not apply to you.

Deal!

Hey cool. Ah, the soothing peace of compromise.

(I think I’ll begin keeping score: Nick Matzke 1, PZ/Dawkins 0. Would anyone else like to be counted?)

But it would be nice if you would also admit that our differences with regard to religion and science are legitimate domestic disputes and not the titanic disaster that I hear you saying. I mean what really was your point with this post?

I think I was trying to say that if the Dawkins anti-religion position really did become the dominant position advocated by e.g. the AAAS, NAS, teacher organizations, etc., then that really would spell disaster constitutionally for evolution education. The only time this kinda-sorta happened was with Clarence Darrow (and I am a big Darrow fan overall BTW) and the Scopes Trial, and indeed the results for public education were poor. Imagining the result of a different Scopes case is doing counterfactual history which is always dubious, but if we’d had, say, the Kitzmiller lawyers running the case I think Scopes’s odds would have been better than even for getting the evolution ban overturned.

As the situation currently stands, no, it’s not a titanic disaster. In many respects what is going on right now is a testament to the fact that us moderates have gotten out the “religion is not the problem” message pretty effectively to the media and public over the last few years. Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al. are reacting to that I think.

Comment #146771

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 26, 2006 11:12 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke): … these days, we have neither meteorologists nor religious people running around telling Time magazine that lightning rods are anti-God….

Time receives press releases every day telling them that various subsets (gays, women unwillingly pregnant & their doctors, secular humanists, nipple-barers, liberals - the usual suspects) of the American population are anti-God.

Hardly any of those messages come from professed atheists.

God’s office has not returned calls.

Comment #146772

Posted by Jedidiah Palosaari on November 26, 2006 11:12 PM (e)

Bryan was also not a great poster-child for Fundamentalism- at least, not the modern kind. He was most famous for his progressive stance and fighting to help the poor and disadvantaged groups, until this little trial came up near the end of his life.

Ed- I’m reminded that Christian apologists like Lewis often use arguments in the form of, “Any argument requires reason to form, therefore one can not say reason does not exist through argument.” Seems like the same approach could be used with Literal Creationists- Any argument against the validity of reason is apriori a false argument, as it relies on reason to form it.

Comment #146780

Posted by Aagcobb on November 26, 2006 11:42 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'BLOCKQUOTE'

Comment #146787

Posted by Aagcobb on November 26, 2006 11:53 PM (e)

To summarize the long post I wrote which I really should have previewed, since the computer boiled it down to “Syntax Error”: This debate is futile since noone can control what Richard Dawkins says, but thats ok, because the Discovery Institute can’t control what their creationist clients sitting on school boards say, either, which pretty much ensures that the ACLU will always have plenty of evidence of those people’s religious motivations, which contrasts nicely with the complete vacuity of whatever anti-evolutionary pseudoscience the DI is trying to sell them. Sure, the ID creationists will use juicy quotes from Dawkins, but even if he started making nice with Ken Miller, the fundies will not stop promoting the notion that evolution=atheism.

Comment #146803

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 27, 2006 1:27 AM (e)

“Registered user” is obviously Great White Wonder. (Note the fixation with Sal Cordova, Hannah Maxson and Allen MacNeill).

Comment #146804

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 27, 2006 1:44 AM (e)

buridan wrote:

…you’re telling us to shut up, plain and simple.

I, for one, do not want you all to put a clamp on your yammering skullcaves; without the lot of you pretentious ultracrepidarians I would not have nearly as many heads to knock.

Comment #146814

Posted by Sir_Toejam on November 27, 2006 4:12 AM (e)

I, for one, do not want you all to put a clamp on your yammering skullcaves; without the lot of you pretentious ultracrepidarians I would not have nearly as many heads to knock.

…or a place where you could continue to post lackwit, nonsensical one-liners.

Comment #146824

Posted by ah_mini on November 27, 2006 5:23 AM (e)

There are two intractable problems here:

1) The correct statements by Nick, Lenny and others that the criticisms of religion by prominent evolutionists gives creationists excuses to distract from the science (in other words, it’s bad politics)
2) The equally correct statements from PZ Myers et al that it is unfair to declare a subject off limits that they feel is fair game for arguing against

Now let’s look at the PT “mission statement” (or at least the text most closely resembling such on the PT homepage):

“The Panda’s Thumb is the virtual pub of the University of Ediacara. The patrons gather to discuss evolutionary theory, critique the claims of the antievolution movement, defend the integrity of both science and science education, and share good conversation.”

There is a nice chunk of vagueness there in the phrase “critique the claims of the anti-evolution movement”. Presumably those in camp 1 think that means “criticise Intelligent Design/creationism” and those in camp 2 take a wider view and can go for any religious claims the anti-evolution camp make (even if they don’t strictly pertain to evolution).

It seems pretty clear to me that the argument is intractable and the lack of a clear blog focus means that it will always keep coming up (when we don’t have moronic comments be creationists to distract us instead). Short of clarifying PT’s reasons for existence, the only “solution” would appear to be for both sides to keep rhetoric and hostility to a minimum and recognise that their opponents have perfectly valid reasons for taking the stand they do.

Andrew

Comment #146827

Posted by JohnS on November 27, 2006 5:30 AM (e)

It is still not clear to me what an atheist is not allowed to voice about theism, if he wants to be considered part of the PT team. Is there even agreement amongst the PT leaders as to what can and cannot be said?

I see that Lenny is on the team and openly non theist, so I guess we can admit that much about ourselves. Also it seems clear we can attack anyone who is anti-evolution, be they theist or not.

As best I can tell any theistic stance someone, somewhere might hold while tentatively supporting evolution is off limits from criticism because we may need their vote. Those who are so confirmed in their understanding of evolution that nothing could sway them would seem not to be of concern.

Are we allowed to say anything we want about the theology of ‘Father’ Moon and his disciple Wells, please?

I await your specific instructions for my future conformance.

Comment #146828

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 27, 2006 6:36 AM (e)

I get pretty amused by the whole “atheists are repressed boo hoo hoo !!!!” thingie.

Dudes, I’ve been tear-gassed, arrested, beaten up, talked to by the FBI, and threatened more times by more people than I can remember. So I find it amusing that so many of the intolerant evangelical atheists whine from their ivory academic towers about their “repression”. Particularly when most of them have never organized so much as a tea party.

But if the evangelical atheists here feel that they are being unfairly picked on, that their contributions (whatever they might be) are ignored, that no one pays any attention to their repression —– then here is my Modest Proposal:

Leave.

Go form your own organization with your own leadership and your own goals, where you’ll never have to collaborate with the theist-accomodators, and can maintain as much ideological purity as you feel is necessary.

You can call your new organization something like “The National Association for the Advancement of Atheist People”, or “The National Organization for Atheists”, or perhaps “The Atheist Coalition To Unleash Power”.

Never again will you have to take guff from us theist-collaborators in your midst. Never again will you have to compromise with peopole whose religious opinions you don’t like. Never again will you have to listen to those Chaimberlains.

Of course, you’d have to, ya know, actually ORGANIZE something, rather than just bloviating and bitching about everyone ELSE’s organizing. But I’m sure you can handle it.

Have at it, and enjoy yourselves.

We’ll go on fighting IDers without you. Heck, other than the precipitious drop in pointless religious wars with our allies, we’ll probably never even notice that you left. (shrug)

Want to whine about your repression? There. Now you have something to whine about.

Comment #146834

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 27, 2006 7:10 AM (e)

Is there really so little going on in the anti-evolution movement that PT contributors are reduced to talking about themselves?

Yep.

ID is dead. Dead, dead, dead. It won’t come back.

All we can do now is stand around and wait for the newest version of Creationism 4.0 to appear (whatever the heck they decide to call it). And given the results of the last election, I think it will be, uh, an awfully long time before the fundies become any sort of serious political threat again.

In the meantime, we’ll do what the progressive movement has ALWAYS done – we’ll attack each other over matters of ideological purity. Fratricide has always been our favorite hobby.

But since the IDers are dead, dead, dead, this time our little internal holy war won’t really help them. They’re dead no matter what. So we’ll fight with each other, friendships will be lost over it, certain people will refuse to enter the same room with certain other people, other people will flatly refuse to work any more with “those people”, lots of hard feelings will be created, and in the end, it will accomplish nothing. Nothing at all whatsoever. (shrug)

Comment #146835

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 7:43 AM (e)

The only easy way to mess this up – which fundamentally is a great situation for us – is to have Darrow-types take over and redefine science and evolution to be equal to atheism.

Since nobody is doing that, nice strawman.

Your strategy is exactly the opposite of what you claim, and I wish you guys would be honest enough to admit it. It is most definitely NOT a strategy of making a clear case that science is independent of religion: it is to constantly, monotonously harp on the compatibility of evolution with Christianity. You are making a pro-Christianity case every step of the way. Now I can quite agree that that is a politically pragmatic tactic in the short term, and yes, it will make it easier for you to win court cases. I’m sure it really encourages the Christian majority in this country when you can spit on Richard Dawkins now and then.

Let’s just gloss over the fact that the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology. Let’s pretend that the only way you can make science compatible with religion is to do a little bait-and-switch, and swap in a vague and fuzzy deism in our public discussions of “religion” – a religion which most Americans do not endorse.

Again, it’s short term expediency. It’s not an honest attempt to show that science is religion-neutral.

My point is that you are doing long-term harm with that strategy. You are basically lying to people to win court cases, and are actively encouraging cultural beliefs that are antagonistic to science. Religious people and even creationist people are not stupid, yet your favored policies all treat them as if they are, and are doomed to defeat for that reason. What we’re seeing in the popularity of Dawkins is that people are interested in seeing different views, even if they disagree with them and even if they don’t instantly convert to atheism – and quite the contrary to the common bias, Dawkins is at least treating religion with sufficient respect to say what he honestly thinks of it. Miller, I think, is similarly honest (just wrong). Nick Matzke…you’re being political.

I’ll be more convinced that you are following a religion-neutral strategy when the next court case (and oh, yes, you know there will be more, with no end in sight) doesn’t just bring up Famous Christian Scientist who says X. You’ll also bring in Famous Atheist Scientist who says X, and you’ll frankly state that Famous Christian Scientist’s weird ideas about Jesus are contrary to good science. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that day.

Comment #146838

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 8:11 AM (e)

ID is dead?

Can anyone name anyone who read Judge Jones decisive conclusion and said “oh, well, then…I guess I’ll accept evolution because the courts say so”? Anyone?

All that has happened is that one foray into the classroom has been stopped. This is when the hard work is supposed to start – we need to educate people now. We have to wake up teachers and get them to start teaching good science in the high schools. We have to stop the backwards slide of the culture into ignorance. And yes, part of that is having wide-open free-for-alls over the role of religion in our society, and trying to change the culture.

Nick claims that the anti-religion people are starting the next creationist wave. What nonsense: the wave is building, nothing has been done to stop it, you could take out all us atheists and shoot us and the next creationist wave will still come. What we have here is a do-nothing, know-nothing willingness to blind ourselves to the problem, and pretend that if we ignore religious fundamentalism, it can’t hurt us.

Comment #146839

Posted by TLTB on November 27, 2006 8:18 AM (e)

The current state of mental vacuity so prevalent amongst American evangelical Christians (who are the social power behind ID) is an exception rather than the rule in historical Christianity. It has interesting and very specifically American roots. That isn’t to say that there aren’t ignorant Christians elsewhere, but I think much insight can be gained by understanding why it is that AECs would so blindly endorse a theory they don’t really understand against another theory they don’t really understand.

I highly recommend the book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” written by a Wheaton professor Mark Noll. It traces the development of the anti-intellectualism so characteristic of AECs today, mourns the lack of a ‘life of the mind’ in evangelical Christianity, and suggests ways for fixing it.

PZ gives Christianity both not enough and too much credit, assuming that it has always been as it is now and that it can never change. It can and will. But the impetus for change won’t be court rulings or the cries of anti-religious zealots.

Comment #146848

Posted by Odd Digit on November 27, 2006 8:50 AM (e)

B. Spitzer said something very perceptive earlier, something that I agree with:

My position is that pushing anyone away from science is going to harm the cause of science education.

I think there are two main agendas here. There are people who are primarily interested in science education, and there are people who are primarily interested in bashing religion in all it’s forms.

These are partly overlapping spheres of activity, in that a lot of people attacking science education also happen to be religious. There are many very effective science educators in the ‘religion bashing’ group above, and there are many people in the ‘science education’ group who aren’t big fans of religion either (to put it mildly).

The religion bashers see the science education issue as a small part of a larger war against religion. The science education types wish the religion bashers would shut up about religion and concentrate on science (and science education).

There could be a middle ground between these two camps, because the high proportion of atheists in the scientific community suggests that having more and better science education may be a very effective way indeed of ‘creating’ atheists. I’ve yet to be convinced that insulting people (calling them ‘child abusers’ etc) will have the same effect. So the rallying call goes out to the religion bashers - tone down the religion bashing, get behind science education and watch our science educators churn out the next generation of scientifically aware graduates, a high proportion of which will be atheists!

(At least I tried…!)

Comment #146850

Posted by Odd Digit on November 27, 2006 8:59 AM (e)

PZ says:

Let’s just gloss over the fact that the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology.

I think there’s a word or two missing:

Let’s just gloss over the fact that the scientific evidence is strongly against a literal Christian mythology.

Comment #146853

Posted by Peiter on November 27, 2006 9:12 AM (e)

What do you figure is the big difference between the US and Europe in these matters? Is it creationism per se, irrationality per se, perhaps an undue respect (as in shutting up about it) towards religion or something completely different?

Do any of you who live in the US really think you’ll get rid of this ID bug before the American population starts to think differently about religion and/or rationality?

Comment #146855

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 9:16 AM (e)

Dead god rises again to save the world from its sins by not being dead is only part of the literal Christian mythology?

Hmmm. Learn something new every day. It’s good to hear that non-literalists reject that bit of illogical nonsense.

Comment #146857

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 9:20 AM (e)

Let’s try rephrasing this, shall we?

There are people who are primarily interested in science education, and there are people who are primarily interested in bashing religion in all it’s forms.

How about, “There are people who are primarily interested in science education, and there are people who are primarily interested in apologizing for religion in all it’s forms.”

Got any more of these? It’s easy to rephrase these dichotomies into statements that support my position, and it really doesn’t matter if they’re accurate or not, apparently.

Comment #146860

Posted by demallien on November 27, 2006 10:12 AM (e)

Tying together what Pieter and PZ are saying:

I hate to point it out to our appeasing-evolutionists, but you guys are losing the war. You keep talking about American schools, the American Constitution, the NCSE etc etc, and don’t feel the need when using the term “national” to specify that the nation involed is the US, so I am going to make the big assumption that the vast majority of you are Americans, and apparently the typical, insular sort that forget that there’s a world outside the US’s borders.

Here’s a thought. You think that appeasing the Christian majority is a tactic that is bearing results, and offer up the recent wins in court cases as evidence. Let me tell you how it appears from the outside. To us (well, at least to me, but apparently I’m not alone, to judge from other comments from Europeans on this blog), it seems that you are getting your collective arses kicked. The fact that public schools could even get to the point of wanting to try to introduce a form of creationism into science classrooms, and have enough popular support to make it happen, is a sure fire sign that you are losing the war. PZ gets it. I think the vast majority of the non-Americans on this blog get it.

It is only a matter of time before the popular support becomes enough to replace the judges that have so far defended our cause with those more willing to put religion ahead of reason. What are you going to do then? PZ (and Dawkins) are trying to head this off at the pass. They are trying to attack the irrationality at the very heart of religion, because without doing that, one day you will lose in court.

From the perspective of an atheist, theistic evolutionists are untrustworthy allies. We can not predict on what issue they are suddenly going to drop the ball, because they decide that “God” has so instructed them. We can’t predict it, because their belief is irrational. To give a personal example, I went to school with two very bright, very devote Christians. We used to role-play a lot, Dungeons and Dragons, that sort of stuff. Then one day, one of these two went to a church meeting where it was declared that role-playing is bad, and is the pathway to the devil. Said Christian spoke about this with the other Christian of our group of 4, and both decide to no longer play, leaving the remaining two of us with no group.

OK, no big deal, it was only a game, but the point is, we could not predict that response. We could not anticipate that these two would buy into that particular argument after they had been role-playing for years, and pertinently knew that it was false from firsthand personal experience!

If firsthand experience can trump religious irrationality, then no amount of polite debate about complex science can. The only other option is to go after religion itself… Not to ban it, but to make sure that children growing up have at least the opportunity to hear how ridiculous religion is, before tey get brainwashed. (heading off criticism at the pass - I am not proposing that we therefore brainwash children into atheism, but as we can’t stop children being taught such nonsense by their parents, they do need to at least hear the other side before it’s too late).

Comment #146861

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 10:12 AM (e)

As I’ve said before, I for one appreciate the vocal atheists for helping me clear the clutter in my brain, which I created during futile attempts to combine theism with science. If evolution is correctly defined, there really is no room left for theology. PT bloggers have made a very good case for this, which I need not repeat here (and probably wouldn’t do justice to).

The only small quibble I have is that my intelligence and personal integrity were attacked repeatedly when I commented about theistic possibilities, which was not necessary. Others who put out theistic perspectives, or anyone who came to my defence, was similarly attacked. I made an honest attempt to look at the arguments presented to me and put aside the insults, and the result was enlightening. I don’t know what other theist bloggers did. But the obstacles, in forms of insults, put downs, and attacks on personal integrity, were totally unnecessary. Those of you who read PT often enough, and follow the religious wars here, know exactly what I am talking about.

And that kind of treatment is legitimate to object to, just as it is legitimate to object to treating atheists as a-moral, valueless, or silly/dogmatic. Nick Matzke is willing to make compromises… let’s see what others do.

Comment #146862

Posted by demallien on November 27, 2006 10:19 AM (e)

Another point, which justifies attacking theistic evolution. If we accept theistic evolution (and a reminder for the appeasers, you claim that such acceptance is necessary if one is not to offend the Christian majority), then we can no longer argue God of the Gaps. Francis Collin’s approach for example is clasic God of the Gaps, placing God in the sub-quantum world, where we can never hope to be able to measure him. Good grief, if you can accept that, why not just come straight out and say that the guy created the world 5 minutes ago? Both claims are based on the idea that God can act on our world without our being able to detect it.

May as well believe in the FSM.

I hereby claim (and expect all appeasers to respect my religious point of view) that His Noodiliness, the FSM created the universe about 1 minute ago. Hence it was he, and not I that actually wrote all of these words. If you have any issues, please take them up with Him.

You see where appeasing can take you?

Comment #146864

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 27, 2006 10:27 AM (e)

What is so bad about demonstrating that anyone can adopt science, whether these be militant atheists, or theists who believe truth wherever it appears?

Nothing is wrong with doing this, but the fundamentalist atheists have lately been freaking out and declaring that anyone who says something sympathetic about science-accepting theists is a wimp, appeaser, etc.

Well, as you noted elsewhere, it’s not like it is anything new. I’ve had my run-ins with these types myself on a number of occasions, people who think that anything other than ripping into religion at each and every opportunity is tantamount to being a religious apologist. Here’s one thread in which this happened:

http://groups.google.com/group/talk.origins/browse_thread/thread/3507995f1f12cb7e/bbee3bfcb6c1c618?lnk=gst&q=%22glen+d%22+PZ+religion&rnum=1#bbee3bfcb6c1c618

Comment #146865

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 27, 2006 10:29 AM (e)

continuing from above:

That link takes one into the middle of a fight I had with, yes, PZ (I think he’s become more reasonable on religion lately) and a couple others over the fact that I don’t simply wish to smash religion. I do think that what Nietzsche wrote about the lack of understanding of religion in his Germany is worth repeating here:

Nietzsche wrote:

“Among those in Germany for example who nowadays live without religion,
I find people whose ‘free-thinking’ is of differing kinds and origins
but above all a majority of those in whom industriousness has from
generation to generation has extinguished the religious instincts: so
that they no longer have any idea what religions are supposed to be for
and as it were merely register their existence in the world with a kind
of dumb amazement. “

But of course Nietzsche recognized the death of God as momentous and dangerous, not as salvation, rather as the chance to become a self-propelled wheel, or to destroy oneself. The progressive dreams of Dawkins are a pale and dull echo of the sparks and lightnings flashing from the anvil upon which Nietzsche destroys his idols (one could argue that Nietzsche went too far, at least in writing such things for the consumption of the bourgeoisie).

Regardless. It looks to me like you’re responding now as I did then, except that it seems to me that you’re not tackling them head-on, instead tending to imply that the atheists ought to be silent for the sake of comity in the pro-science group. It’s only the latter to which I object, not your concerns over the demands that we all seek to smash religion with, apparently, as little understanding of religion as most militant atheists actually have.

The very few militant atheists who are prominent on our side aren’t about to take over the fight against creationism. If they were, then I’d say it’s time to oppose them.

Does Richard Dawkins getting “God vs. Science” on the cover of Time Magazine cross your threshold for response? Actually, us Neville Chamberlins swallowed even that without public complaining. But the Dawkins acolytes promoting “religion is evil and so is anyone who doesn’t vehemently agree” on the blogs have been picking fights with the “appeasers” for months. Eventually we’re going to get annoyed enough to defend ourselves.

Yes, but I think it behooves those of us who are annoyed at such (generally ignorant) demands, to address the offenders, not someone like Clarence Darrow.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #146866

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 27, 2006 10:41 AM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #146867

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 27, 2006 10:53 AM (e)

Odd Digit: I’ve yet to be convinced that insulting people (calling them ‘child abusers’ etc) will have the same effect.

This rather begs the question of whether they’re being called that as a rhetorical gambit, or whether what they’re doing is accurately described as child abuse.

Is “Jesus Camp”-level brainwashing extreme enough to deserve the label? How about implanting visions of eternal hellfire as punishment for touching yourself Down There? Teaching kids only one model of the universe, in which a brooding and arbitrary ultimate father figure has placed a curse on all humanity, redeemable only in blood and groveling? Conditioning them to internalize social roles rigidly defined by gender & sect (often class & race also) as part of the cosmic order? Programming their minds to be haunted by an inescapable superego called Jesus who judges each act and thought according to arbitrary rules, painfully at odds with actual human psychology?

Possibly there is some degree below which religious indoctrination is not child abuse, but so far those protesting against that categorization have omitted to address the merits of the claim. Nobody has yet established a widely-agreed-upon model for The Best Ways of raising human children, but can you seriously claim that such approaches would have reason to include a basis in Bronze Age mythology filtered through neurotic obsessives from the Dark Ages and televangelists with polished teeth?

Comment #146868

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 10:55 AM (e)

ah_mini wrote:

Now let’s look at the PT “mission statement” (or at least the text most closely resembling such on the PT homepage):

There is a nice chunk of vagueness there in the phrase “critique the claims of the anti-evolution movement”. Presumably those in camp 1 think that means “criticise Intelligent Design/creationism” and those in camp 2 take a wider view and can go for any religious claims the anti-evolution camp make (even if they don’t strictly pertain to evolution).

But there’s an asymmetry here, I think, in that camp 2 hasn’t been attacking such claims in Panda’s Thumb posts, at least since the Mirecki business. IIRC the closest they’ve gotten to that is when PZ complained that Ken Miller was telling creationists to focus their attack on atheists. And not only was that not about Miller’s religious beliefs per se, but PZ added a retraction to that post when he was persuaded that he might have misinterpreted him. And PT ran another post by Jack Krebs with an opposing viewpoint on the matter. Other than that, all PZ’s anti-religion stuff has been on his own blog (or in the comments here). And of course Dawkins is Dawkins, has nothing to do with PT, and makes his attacks on religion in his own books and interviews.

OTOH we’ve had at least 5 PT posts in the last month on refutation of Dawkins’ religious claims, support for Christianity in evolutionary theory, and the “evangelical atheist” threat. Which makes it look like it’s only camp 1 which thinks PT is the appropriate venue for a holy war.

(At the level of official posts, at least. There are plenty of commenters who are happy to fight anywhere, anyhow.)

Comment #146869

Posted by Odd Digit on November 27, 2006 11:04 AM (e)

PZ:

How about, “There are people who are primarily interested in science education, and there are people who are primarily interested in apologizing for religion in all it’s forms.”

Got any more of these? It’s easy to rephrase these dichotomies into statements that support my position, and it really doesn’t matter if they’re accurate or not, apparently.

There are also people who take the time to read and understand what was actually said. One line further down I said: “These are partly overlapping spheres of activity” - i.e. this is not a dichotomy I’m talking about. I even used the word ‘primarily’ quite specifically. Twice.

You’re projecting what you think someone is saying rather than what they are actually saying…

Believe it or not, I was actually attempting to establish some common ground. A starting point for reasonable discussion perhaps. Excuse me for trying, please carry on flaming away pointlessly at everyone who doesn’t agree with you 100%…

Comment #146870

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 11:14 AM (e)

Pierce R. Butler wrote:

This rather begs the question of whether they’re being called that as a rhetorical gambit, or whether what they’re doing is accurately described as child abuse.

Is “Jesus Camp”-level brainwashing extreme enough to deserve the label? How about implanting visions of eternal hellfire as punishment for touching yourself Down There?

And, yet again, Dawkins’ position on this is not particularly biased against religion. He thinks it’s abusive to label small children with belief systems they can’t yet even comprehend, much less agree to, and to train them to conform to those labels. He thinks “Christian child,” “Muslim child,” “atheist child,” “secular humanist child,” “Marxist child,” “Republican child,” and so forth are all inappropriate labels–yet most people recognize the inappropriateness in the later labels and not in the first two ones.

I’m not surprised that many people retell this as “Dawkins says religion is child abuse,” but he’s repeated it several times, in print and on camera. It doesn’t seem hard to clear up if you’re interested in actually finding out what he said.

(Independently of this, he’s made the fairly uncontroversial–I hope–claim that some behaviors in some religions are child abuse. For instance, he retells the story of a Catholic woman who was abused by her priest, as well as taught about Hell, and reports far more psychological suffering on account of the second experience.)

Comment #146871

Posted by 386sx on November 27, 2006 11:15 AM (e)

Let’s just gloss over the fact that the scientific evidence is strongly against a literal Christian mythology.

I always liked the part where Jesus and the devil jumped up on top of the mountain. And then there’s that one part where Jesus floated up into the sky on a cloud. And then there’s the story about the walls of Jericho. I had no idea that after the walls fell they went in and slaughtered every living thing in sight until I read one of Carl Sagan’s books. I always thought that the Jericho thing was a happy go lucky Sunday school story! It was quite a shock, and somewhere around that time I realized that people were willing to ignore whatever it takes in order to keep their precious myths seeming like they’re real. Well hey, if they’re willing to ignore the bad stuff and keep the good stuff, then more power to them. (I guess.)

Comment #146872

Posted by Flint on November 27, 2006 11:18 AM (e)

Well, just to add to the general noise level:

If there is any cure to creationism, that cure is effective reality-based education. This is probably analogous in some way to a beneficial trait: some carriers will pass it along to their offspring, who in turn will be less resistant to continued effective education.

The main problem I think we face right now isn’t the rabid creationists themselves, but the omission of any mention of evolution in public education classes, in the interests of administrative tranquility. Most school principals probably aren’t enemies of evolution itself, but they ARE enemies of riling up a bunch of creationist zealots, who can make trouble all out of proportion to their numbers.

Which suggests that our goal shouldn’t be bellowing at one another about whether religion is a curse on humanity or only a wart. Instead, we should focus on finding some way to support public school administrators who permit teachers to present the ToE, and maybe some way to make it more difficult for the most demented parents to cause so much trouble.

I notice that the AiG essay contest winners are nearly all homeschooled. Maybe this is the way to go: send home the children of the most demented parents to be preached at, teach actual scientific knowledge in science class, elect school boards who have some backbone (and brainpower). Creationists need to be neutralized; lobotomy is unlikely to be legalized anytime soon…

Comment #146873

Posted by ah_mini on November 27, 2006 11:21 AM (e)

Hi Anton,

Well I mostly go by posts and comments, which maybe I should have clarified. Despite being a theist myself, I’d rather not too much was made out of evolution “supporting” Christianity. Rather, it’s an irrelevance to my particular interpretation, which I fully realise is an irrational and unfalsifiable argument. ;)

Andrew

Comment #146874

Posted by Odd Digit on November 27, 2006 11:22 AM (e)

Pierce R. Butler says:

This rather begs the question of whether they’re being called that as a rhetorical gambit, or whether what they’re doing is accurately described as child abuse.

Is “Jesus Camp”-level brainwashing extreme enough to deserve the label? How about implanting visions of eternal hellfire as punishment for touching yourself Down There? Teaching kids only one model of the universe, in which a brooding and arbitrary ultimate father figure has placed a curse on all humanity, redeemable only in blood and groveling? Conditioning them to internalize social roles rigidly defined by gender & sect (often class & race also) as part of the cosmic order? Programming their minds to be haunted by an inescapable superego called Jesus who judges each act and thought according to arbitrary rules, painfully at odds with actual human psychology?

Possibly there is some degree below which religious indoctrination is not child abuse, but so far those protesting against that categorization have omitted to address the merits of the claim. Nobody has yet established a widely-agreed-upon model for The Best Ways of raising human children, but can you seriously claim that such approaches would have reason to include a basis in Bronze Age mythology filtered through neurotic obsessives from the Dark Ages and televangelists with polished teeth?

The problem is that the above is an example of the worst kind of religious upbringing. Yes, you might find stuff like that going on in parts of the US (and yes I object to it), but it’s very rare in the UK and in the rest of Europe. In the UK we actually had state sponsered religious education, where the main take-home message I got from it was ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘do unto others…’!

I’ve never been religious in the slightest, but I know enough about religion not to tar all religious people with the same brush. It’s just as bad as saying all atheists are just like the communists in the Soviet Union (‘cos hey - they were atheists too). I object strongly to this kind of ‘reasoning’. From both sides.

Comment #146885

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 11:42 AM (e)

Believe it or not, I was actually attempting to establish some common ground. A starting point for reasonable discussion perhaps. Excuse me for trying, please carry on flaming away pointlessly at everyone who doesn’t agree with you 100%…

It is not trying to establish common ground when your approach is to strongly mischaracterize my position. If it’s a starting point for reasonable discussion, then you’re just going to have to accept my reasonable statement that you are wrong.

Comment #146886

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 11:55 AM (e)

Religious people who defend non-reason as a rational position, or even as an irrational but valid, religiously-acceptable position, need to be challenged, directly, constantly, and seriously.

Wrong – it’s dangerous and destructive ACTIONS that need to be challenged (and, of course, the specific people and groups doing them), not just people who don’t think the “right” way. (And you atheists wonder why Christians don’t trust you?)

There’s a big problem with on the one hand recognising that irrationality is a hige problem but not acknowledging that religion, in virtually all its forms, not only endorses irrationality but makes it a virtue – the most virtuous of virtues in fact. This is Dawkins’ main point, I think, in The God Delusion and I agree with it.

If that’s Dawkins’ “main point,” then he’s observably wrong. Not all “irrationality” is the same; not all religions are “irrational” to the same degree or in the same ways; and lumping them all under one label, such as “irrational,” does not make them the same, nor does it justify treating them the same. Both the plaintiffs and the defendants in the Dover trial were religious; so were Martin Luther King and Pat Robertson. Any label that lumps all of them together for policy purposes, is – to put it mildly – not a useful label.

The Klan used MLK Jr.’s rhetoric to frighten their idiot converts, too. How’d that work out for them, Pim?

In King’s case, it failed, but that was because King’s rhetoric was actually moderate and sensible: he attacked racism and racial discrimination, but he did not treat all white people as enemies. This is why so many of the white majority were able to support, and still support, his agenda. Other black activists were more radical in their statements, and thus made themselves less relevant or useful in the overall policy debate.

Comment #146887

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 11:56 AM (e)

ah_mini wrote:

Well I mostly go by posts and comments, which maybe I should have clarified.

Ah, I see. Certainly, if you include comments, we’ve got plenty of people on both sides who routinely hash out the “What good/evil has religion done?” argument. That usually gets closed off or teleported to the Bathroom Wall eventually, though.

Despite being a theist myself, I’d rather not too much was made out of evolution “supporting” Christianity. Rather, it’s an irrelevance to my particular interpretation, which I fully realise is an irrational and unfalsifiable argument. ;)

Sounds like you’re in agreement with Dawkins already! Actually, that’s in line with most of the “debates” I’ve seen between him and theists.

Dawkins: “Your belief has no supporting scientific evidence!”
Theist: “I know!”
Moderator: “…I guess we’re done. Movie? No, no more Doctor Who marathons, Richard.”
Spirit of Stephen J. Gould: “I told you! NOMA, bitch!”

Of course this is largely because the theists who do prize supporting evidence, like the creationists, don’t debate him.

Dawkins seems to believe that most theists really do rely on the biological design argument above all else, and they’ll see the error of their ways if they just realize that evolution torpedoes it. So far a metric ton of theist and non-theists alike have pointed out the error in this reasoning, but AFAIK he has yet to change his mind.

Comment #146891

Posted by PvM on November 27, 2006 12:08 PM (e)

Butler wrote:

Programming their minds to be haunted by an inescapable superego called Jesus who judges each act and thought according to arbitrary rules, painfully at odds with actual human psychology?

Truly begging the question. Of course, I can understand why some may have this opinion of Jesus and the Scriptures but to create an overly simplistic view of Christianity only serves to undermine the argument that is based on the description namely that Christianity or at least some aspects of it may be forms of child abuse.

I think the concept of a friendly Santa Claus who will punish those who have been wicked and who knows all the good and bad things you have done also amounts to child abuse?
In the Netherlands there is the equivalent of Santa Claus, Sinterklaas who will take wicked kids with him to Spain. Of course the thought of being taken away from one’s parents is enough of a punishment that a ‘paid vacation in Spain’ cannot compensate for this :-)

One may very well wonder if the concept of a Deity, rather than being disruptive to actually can help enforce a stronger group cohesion, so necessary for survival and indeed much has been written on these concepts.
What if religious people may suffer from lower levels of stress etc?
These issues are just far more complex than the simplistic ‘child abuse’ charges that some raise against religions. Sure, excesses can result in viable child abuse charges and we certainly have seen quite a few examples in the last decades of such.
In general however, child abuse charges are not dissimilar from Christians calling atheists immoral as they lack a perceived foundation for morality. Both are based on very flawed reasonings.

Comment #146892

Posted by jeffw on November 27, 2006 12:15 PM (e)

Spirit of Stephen J. Gould: “I told you! NOMA, bitch!”

As Dawkins points out, watch how fast theists would trash NOMA if a few “miracles” could be proven scientifically true. It’s used to protect theists, not atheists.

Dawkins seems to believe that most theists really do rely on the biological design argument above all else,

I can’t agree. According to his book, they use many arguments, all of which he addresses.

Comment #146893

Posted by Cowardly Disembodied Voice on November 27, 2006 12:20 PM (e)

It is my understanding that there are several countries, the European ones for example, where education is under no threat from creationism, intelligent design, or whatever else it’s calling itself this week.

I was wondering if it were really true that they reached this stage because their scientists HAD decided to attack religion vigorously, the way Dawkins and Myers are doing now.( perhaps sometime in the 1920s when nobody was looking ). I just don’t know.

Perhaps someone could give me a link, because their examples might be worth studying. Particulary if they also once had entrenched religious majorities, like a certain large country has now- and a failure for science education was a real possibility.

Comment #146894

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 12:33 PM (e)

It is my understanding that there are several countries, the European ones for example, where education is under no threat from creationism, intelligent design, or whatever else it’s calling itself this week.

I was wondering if it were really true that they reached this stage because their scientists HAD decided to attack religion vigorously, the way Dawkins and Myers are doing now…

I suspect that part of the reason lies in their history, and the lessons they draw from same: simplistically put, Europe is a more densely-populated, more religiously-diverse continent than America (which is why so many religious zealots left that continent to colonize this one); with a longer history of bloody sectarian strife over Bible-interpretation issues. This could be why Europeans – whatever their personal beliefs – are less eager to try to enshrine any religious belief in law. Also, they’re neither as powerful nor as isolated as America, which means they HAVE to face reality and give their kids a decent education.

Of course, this could change: I’ve been hearing for years that right-wing evangelical churches of the US mold are on the rise in Europe – not to mention radical Islam and leftist spinelessness in the face of same.

Comment #146895

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 27, 2006 12:46 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

If evolution is correctly defined, there really is no room left for theology

Change in allele frequencies over time; yeah, that really crowds out God.

Comment #146896

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 12:53 PM (e)

It is my understanding that there are several countries, the European ones for example, where education is under no threat from creationism, intelligent design, or whatever else it’s calling itself this week.

I was wondering if it were really true that they reached this stage because their scientists HAD decided to attack religion vigorously, the way Dawkins and Myers are doing now.( perhaps sometime in the 1920s when nobody was looking ). I just don’t know.

I don’t think so. I think the decline of religion in Europe basically is the result of (1) for several hundred years they sent all of the religious radicals over here to the colonies, (2) what was left in Europe was state-established churches, which (3) have been slowly declining through apathy and competition with “football” (soccer).

Comment #146897

Posted by Aagcobb on November 27, 2006 1:05 PM (e)

demallien wrote: The fact that public schools could even get to the point of wanting to try to introduce a form of creationism into science classrooms, and have enough popular support to make it happen, is a sure fire sign that you are losing the war.

What you may have missed over there in Europe is that the creationists haven’t just been getting their butts kicked in court; they have been losing at the ballot box on election day, too. You see, lots of people in the US don’t bother to vote, and many don’t have a clue who is on the ballot, especially in what are normally minor offices like school board member. This allows creationists to conduct stealth campaigns in churches, where they garner enough votes to swing the election. The average voter doesn’t know their school board has been taken over by creationists until they read in the paper about how the real estate broker, home schooler and pastor on the local school board just decided to redefine science. Once educated, however, US voters have given the boot to creationists on school boards in Dover, Pa., Kansas and Ohio in the last year, and defeated a creationist running for superintendent of public instruction in South Carolina (the only Republican who lost a statewide election there this Fall)and I can assure you that a majority of those voters were not atheists.
US voters have gotten tired of non-reality based policy making, and the GOP (where almost all creationist candidates reside) got a serious reality check earlier this month. Senator Rick Santorum started running from ID as hard as he could last year, but still couldn’t save himself from electoral defeat. IDism is not a big vote getter in the US, and the ultimate check on pseudoscience here is not the courts, but ordinary voters.
Now the fact is that most of those voters are christians, and they aren’t going to be converted to atheism by Dawkins or anyone else, so I don’t think a campaign to tell them that christianity is incompatible with science is going to help. I also know that in a free society every spectrum of opinion is going to be expressed anyway, so I’m not going to get my shorts in a bunch over whatever Dawkins or PZ Myers wants to say about the subject. What is important is making sure public school students get good science instruction.

Comment #146898

Posted by steve s on November 27, 2006 1:23 PM (e)

Nick (Matzske) [soon to be played by Denzel (Washington)] wrote:

I don’t think so. I think the decline of religion in Europe basically is the result of (1) for several hundred years they sent all of the religious radicals over here to the colonies, (2) what was left in Europe was state-established churches, which (3) have been slowly declining through apathy and competition with “football” (soccer).

I would add another factor. Imposing upon people generates resentment. People resent the government because it imposes taxes and regulations and laws. Europeans have historically been subjected to much more religious imposition through the government than Americans have.

Comment #146902

Posted by tomh on November 27, 2006 1:38 PM (e)

Odd Digit wrote

… a lot of people attacking science education also happen to be religious.

Well, this logic is about as backwards as you can get. They don’t happen to be religious the way they might happen to be vegetarian, they are attacking science education because they are religious. Their irrational beliefs conflict with rational evidence so they attack science education. You would be hard-pressed to find a non-religious attacker of science education. The idea that you will convince them to give up ingrained, irrational beliefs is a hopeless illusion so the only hope is to prevent them from brainwashing the next generation. You can’t do this by saying something like, “it’s OK to teach kids this junk because you believe it,” whether in school or at home. This is the main reason home schooling should not be allowed, by law.

Comment #146904

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 1:44 PM (e)

Europeans have historically been subjected to much more religious imposition through the government than Americans have.

Yes, here in America, we leave such imposition to the Private Sector, which does things much more efficiently than any damn bureaucracy.

There are two problems with the above-quoted statement: first, “historically” does not necessarily mean “still happening in the present.” And second, less imposition of religion “through the government,” does not necessarily mean less such imposition overall. It certainly does not mean that a Pagan is freer to come out anywhere in the US than he is anywhere in Europe.

We Americans don’t need government to make life hard for religious minorities.

Comment #146906

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 1:56 PM (e)

You can’t do this by saying something like, “it’s OK to teach kids this junk because you believe it,” whether in school or at home. This is the main reason home schooling should not be allowed, by law.

Be careful what you wish for. Seriously, if you gave the government the kind of power you are talking about to regulate the religious instruction that parents give their children, the odds are the atheists would be among the first victims.

Comment #146908

Posted by tomh on November 27, 2006 2:01 PM (e)

PvM wrote:

I can understand why some may have this opinion of Jesus and the Scriptures but to create an overly simplistic view of Christianity …

Are you sure you understand this simplistic view? Because your view seems to be the one that shamens have passed down for millenia, namely that, “the gods are so complex that only we can explain them to you simpletons. Pass the collection plate.”

Comment #146909

Posted by David B. Benson on November 27, 2006 2:09 PM (e)

Ah me… This, that or the other is either ‘good for science’ or ‘supports science’ or…

But what is this ‘science’ that is being defended or promoted? Of course analytical philosophers love to argue, but it does seem that Jeffrey L. Kasser (NC State U), for example, has a point that nobody has (yet) properly defined science…

So are you sure you are all defending, one way or the other, the same thing?

Comment #146910

Posted by tomh on November 27, 2006 2:12 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

… if you gave the government the kind of power you are talking about to regulate the religious instruction that parents give their children, the odds are the atheists would be among the first victims.

Another logical disconnect, since atheists are not giving their children religious instruction. The only way atheists would be among the “victims” would be if the government required religious instruction. Also, banning homeschooling would not regulate parents’ opportunity to give religious instruction, it would only prevent them from giving children the parents’ invented version of science. Or at least it would have to compete with the school’s version.

Comment #146911

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 2:14 PM (e)

tomh: I know that you know that you are deliberately misrepresenting PvM’s opinions. Go back and try again.

It’s not just money-grubbing “shamans”* who claim that Chrtistian beliefs are more complex than the Dawkins camp seem to think they are. It’s a huge number of actual Christians, not to mention Jews, Muslims, Pagans and atheists who actually care enough to listen to people of other faiths before judging them.

*(As if you even got the bit about “shamans” right…)

Comment #146912

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 2:16 PM (e)

I think the decline of religion in Europe basically is the result of (1) for several hundred years they sent all of the religious radicals over here to the colonies, (2) what was left in Europe was state-established churches, which (3) have been slowly declining through apathy and competition with “football” (soccer).

Great! Nick Matzke endorses 1) deporting the fundamentalists (as if emigration would or did deplete them), 2) the establishment of a state church, and 3) more football.

Do you really believe the US has a sports-nut deficiency?

Comment #146913

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 2:21 PM (e)

Change in allele frequencies over time; yeah, that really crowds out God

That is only part of the definition and, conveniently for the point you seem to be making, happens to be the part that not even most creationists have a quibble with.

What makes evolution such a revolutionary idea is that it is directionless. There is no target. And yet it is the only good explanation for how simple parts can form immensely complex systems. So if God had man in mind when he started the whole process, whether he guided it or not, that is clearly contrary to a targetless process.

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism. The best they’ve done is a God who is strictly hands-off, and who needs a God like that?

If you know of a good case for TE, please refer me to it. I looked around quite a bit but had no luck.

Comment #146915

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 2:33 PM (e)

Change in allele frequencies over time; yeah, that really crowds out God

That is only part of the definition, convenient for the point you seem to be making, and convenient for most creationists, who have no quibble with this general definition.

What makes evolution such a revolutionary idea is that it is directionless. There is no target. And yet it is the only good explanation for how simple parts can form immensely complex systems. So if God had people, or any of their specific characteristics, in mind when he started the whole process, whether he guided it or not, that is clearly contrary to a targetless process.

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism. The best Miller has done is a God who is mostly hands-off, and who needs a God like that?

If you know of a good case for TE, please refer me to it. I looked around quite a bit but had no luck.

Comment #146916

Posted by Alan Fox on November 27, 2006 2:35 PM (e)

However ill-tempered and littered with strawmen, the great thing is that such a debate can take place. Long live free speech and the free exchange of ideas, (or at least the free offer of ideas).

PZ wrote:

Great! Nick Matzke endorses 1) deporting the fundamentalists (as if emigration would or did deplete them), 2) the establishment of a state church, and 3) more football.

It might be worth a try, just don’t send them back to Europe.

Do you really believe the US has a sports-nut deficiency?

Of the non-armchair sort, yes.

Comment #146919

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 2:37 PM (e)

Another logical disconnect, since atheists are not giving their children religious instruction.

This is the biggest canard in the fundamentalist atheist box. Saying there is no God is equivalent to a religious statement. It is equally protected in personal speech by the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, and it is barred from governmental promotion by the Establishment Clause.

The only way atheists would be among the “victims” would be if the government required religious instruction. Also, banning homeschooling would not regulate parents’ opportunity to give religious instruction, it would only prevent them from giving children the parents’ invented version of science. Or at least it would have to compete with the school’s version.

On this logic, the government can ban private religious schools also. You are employing an extremist and dangerous argument.

Comment #146920

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 2:44 PM (e)

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 2:33 PM

That is only part of the definition, convenient for the point you seem to be making, and convenient for most creationists, who have no quibble with this general definition.

What makes evolution such a revolutionary idea is that it is directionless. There is no target. And yet it is the only good explanation for how simple parts can form immensely complex systems. So if God had people, or any of their specific characteristics, in mind when he started the whole process, whether he guided it or not, that is clearly contrary to a targetless process.

All science can assert is statistical randomness. Metaphysical, cosmic “randomness”, and the interpretation that this means that evolution and the Universe is are purposeless/directionless, are theological claims.

E.g., if God is omniscient and omnipotent, which is rather the point of being God, then he could easily employ a statistically random process to bring humans about.

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism. The best Miller has done is a God who is mostly hands-off, and who needs a God like that?

You obviously don’t even know what theists are saying. Your typical theistic evolutionist would say that God is creating the universe at every instance of its existence.

If you know of a good case for TE, please refer me to it. I looked around quite a bit but had no luck.

Try works by John F. Haught (witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller, BTW).

Comment #146922

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 2:51 PM (e)

Great! Nick Matzke endorses 1) deporting the fundamentalists (as if emigration would or did deplete them), 2) the establishment of a state church, and 3) more football.

That’s only if I wanted to get rid of religion, which I don’t. But if I did, establishing a state church that everyone can then be apathetic about (except the religious dissident, which you drive out to some other continent) is, if history is any guide, a much more effective method than whatever you guys are proposing.

(What are you guys proposing, anyway – that more ignorant, hysterical, and ahistorical screaming about the evils of religion will eventually get rid of religion? Good luck with that.)

Comment #146923

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 2:55 PM (e)

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism.

Theistic evolutionists – as opposed to creationists in their various (transparent) guises – don’t HAVE to make a case for God’s involvement in evolution: we admit that such involvement, if any, is not provable by science. So how is either our theism or our science “compromised?”

The best Miller has done is a God who is mostly hands-off, and who needs a God like that?

A “hands-off” God, or an “unprovable” God whose intervention cannot be assumed or counted on in a given instance? There’s a difference.

Comment #146924

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 27, 2006 2:58 PM (e)

Katarina:

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism. The best Miller has done is a God who is mostly hands-off, and who needs a God like that?

If you know of a good case for TE, please refer me to it. I looked around quite a bit but had no luck.

Well, I’m a biologist, not a theologian, but much of the TE theology that I’ve seen hinges on God working through causes that appear “natural”. At the extreme, the argument goes that nothing is devoid of God’s influence– that “natural laws” are simply God acting in a manner that is objectively consistent. In this view, there is no such thing as a “hands-off” God; there are only times when we mistake His consistency for His absence.

Other theologians have argued that what God is doing is allowing His Creation to be genuinely free, and to create its own novel beauty– or, at least, that He persuades Creation to move toward Him rather than forcing it.

Of course, you may have heard either or both of these views before. I’d be happy to explain more, but this is really rather OT, and might be better suited to a one-on-one exchange of e-mails than to the middle of an online flame war. Let me know if you’re interested.

Comment #146925

Posted by Flint on November 27, 2006 3:01 PM (e)

You obviously don’t even know what theists are saying. Your typical theistic evolutionist would say that God is creating the universe at every instance of its existence.

And by implication, the search for instances of design becomes the search for god’s ERRORS, where this omniscient and omnipotent being screwed up and left contradictions, holes, and flaws in His creation. Oops, He forgot all about hiding the polonium halos!

Good theology can’t usefully separate goddidit from god did NOT do it, so these theologians say their god is doing absolutely everything; the ultimate one-size-fits-all explanation that explains nothing whatsoever.

Katerina, you haven’t correctly interpreted their words, but you’ve nailed their meaning dead to rights. The distinction between a hands-off god and a hands-on-everything-all-the-time god is *in principle* nonexistent. Just two ways of saying the same thing.

Comment #146926

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 3:02 PM (e)

Your typical theistic evolutionist would say that God is creating the universe at every instance of its existence.

I know because I used to say something like that. According to Miller, if he acts in quantum events, which happen all the time, and through other seemingly random events, he would be undetectable by science but also able to mold creation in the most profound ways. But then several people on PT threads pointed out to me that there is no need for that hypothesis. Evolution doesn’t need guidance, that’s the whole point.

I remain open though, I will read Haught’s case before commenting again.

Comment #146928

Posted by Odd Digit on November 27, 2006 3:21 PM (e)

PZ says:

It is not trying to establish common ground when your approach is to strongly mischaracterize my position. If it’s a starting point for reasonable discussion, then you’re just going to have to accept my reasonable statement that you are wrong.

I wasn’t talking about you in particular, although you seem to think I was. I was actually quoting something from Dawkins. You have made your position quite clear:

How about, “There are people who are primarily interested in science education, and there are people who are primarily interested in apologizing for religion in all it’s forms.”

Got any more of these? It’s easy to rephrase these dichotomies into statements that support my position, and it really doesn’t matter if they’re accurate or not, apparently.

I find it interesting - and revealing - that you see the situation as a dichotomy, and misread my interpretation as the same. Apparently either everyone agrees with you… or they’re doing religious apologetics (even if they are scientists and even if they are atheists!). It’s all too black and white for me. Sorry, but I see more shades out there.

FWIW I am very much in favour of better science education. I’m an atheist. I don’t see religion as the root of all evil on this planet (just one of many issues), and I don’t think that a ‘faith-based upbringing’ necessarily constitutes ‘child abuse’ - and I also think that statements like these really do not help anyone anywhere provide a better science education for anybody.

Comment #146929

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 27, 2006 3:23 PM (e)

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Comment #146930

Posted by jkc on November 27, 2006 3:25 PM (e)

So if God had people, or any of their specific characteristics, in mind when he started the whole process, whether he guided it or not, that is clearly contrary to a targetless process.

Ahhh…the old freewill/predestination debate. Christians have been trying to figure that one out for centuries, along with faith/works and the trinity. Religion, unlike science, has learned how to accept paradoxes and apparent contradictions; mainly because we realize (well, most of us, anyway) that we don’t know it all.

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism.

TE is not a scientific hypothesis; it is a position held by people who do not want to give up either side. Perhaps it is a paradox or a contradiction, and perhaps it is somewhat irrational (that’s why it’s called faith). However, it’s not as irrational as literal creationism and it allows me to me maintain beliefs (some rational and some irrational) that I hold dear. Whether my case is airtight or not is “nunya.”

To borrow from Clinton’s campaign team: “It’s about the science, ….”

Comment #146931

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 27, 2006 3:26 PM (e)

According to Miller, if he acts in quantum events, which happen all the time, and through other seemingly random events, he would be undetectable by science but also able to mold creation in the most profound ways.

Miller is a biologist handwaving in a field outside his own.

The Schrödinger equation is deterministic. It gives rise to indeterminism when we segregate system from observer and force a superposition state into one of a number of eigenstates. But the indeterminism is of our making; it’s not a property of the universe.

Comment #146932

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 3:35 PM (e)

But the indeterminism is of our making; it’s not a property of the universe.

So, events have a cause. Is that the point? I don’t see how that is an argument for anythig.

Comment #146933

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 27, 2006 3:45 PM (e)

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 2:33 PM

That is only part of the definition, convenient for the point you seem to be making, and convenient for most creationists, who have no quibble with this general definition.

What makes evolution such a revolutionary idea is that it is directionless. There is no target. And yet it is the only good explanation for how simple parts can form immensely complex systems. So if God had people, or any of their specific characteristics, in mind when he started the whole process, whether he guided it or not, that is clearly contrary to a targetless process.

All science can assert is statistical randomness. Metaphysical, cosmic “randomness”, and the interpretation that this means that evolution and the Universe is are purposeless/directionless, are theological claims.

No, the latter are merely non-speculative claims. They could be wrong, but their virtue is that they don’t go beyond the evidence—which quite plainly shows purposeless processes to dominate up until the point at which human “purpose” (what does that mean in the light of evolution?) is able to affect our corner of the universe.

The fact is that it seems that your argument, Nick, differs primarily in subject matter from the IDist “argument” that unknown and undetectable design (which they resort to once their “obvious designs” are shown to be anything but obvious) might explain life. The other difference is that you’re unwilling to call such speculations “science”. However, if one does not point out the epistemological fallacy of preserving groundless speculation as a kind of “possibility”, one has lost much of the advantage that science has over sheer speculation. Even pious old Kant labeled whatever lacked evidence as meaningless speculation (no matter that he tended to engage in such speculations himself).

E.g., if God is omniscient and omnipotent, which is rather the point of being God, then he could easily employ a statistically random process to bring humans about.

Of course he could, but nothing other than speculation and ex post facto fitting what is seen to one’s prior prejudices would ever link up God and random processes. We should not fear to say so.

Theistic evolutionists haven’t so far made an airtight case for God’s involvement in evolution without compromising either the science or the theism. The best Miller has done is a God who is mostly hands-off, and who needs a God like that?

You obviously don’t even know what theists are saying. Your typical theistic evolutionist would say that God is creating the universe at every instance of its existence.

Actually, I don’t know that theists are saying that. Miller has a God who made everything so that true randomness would prevail, so that free will can exist (well, it doesn’t really explain free will at all, but he thinks it allows for it). Collins and Miller tend to invoke cosmological ID to support their religions, though Miller dances around it more than Collins does. I’m guessing that most theistic evolutionists don’t really know whether to credit God for setting up conditions in the beginning, or if God is constantly working within the universe under cover of statistical randomness. Miller entertained the latter belief in his anti-creationist book, but eventually moved away from that concept.

the interpretation that this means that evolution and the Universe is are purposeless/directionless, are theological claims

A bit more on this, though. What responsible scientist could ever make any claim except that evolution and the Universe are evidently purposeless (I don’t know about ‘directionless’—the Universe definitely is headed in certain “directions”, including higher entropy (in any static system, anyhow) and increasing space)? The trouble is that you are coming very close to hemming in science from making responsible statements based upon sound epistemology, and denying that quite apparent facts in the universe ought not to be stated because hidden (speculative) possibilities cannot be ruled out by science. True, they cannot be, however it is not a theological claim to assert that the universe is overall purposeless, it is a (limited) scientific claim.

Religions can say whatever they desire, of course, about hidden (speculative) purposes, but we have the right and duty to make sound non-speculative judgments which conflict with their desired, but unevidenced, speculations. This is what we assert against the IDists, and what we also assert against any theology which intrudes upon proper cosmological judgments based upon the best epistemology. Religions may make extra-scientific claims based upon faith, revelation, or mysticism, but they have no right to demand that scientific judgments regarding the universe should not be made, in order that we might not tread upon their speculations and prejudices.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #146934

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 3:45 PM (e)

Flint

Katerina, you haven’t correctly interpreted their words

Well, I think Miller gives both possibilities: One is a god who merely started the process long ago and did it so well he didn’t need to do anything else, the other is a god who is all-present. But anyway, I need to leave this discussion for the time being and see what enlightenment John F. Haught will bring me tonight (my expectations are low).

Comment #146935

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 27, 2006 3:54 PM (e)

So, events have a cause. Is that the point? I don’t see how that is an argument for anythig.

If the evolution of the universe is deterministic, it means that a supernatural entity cannot alter that evolution without violating physical laws. The apparent ‘window’ that Miller and others see, whereby a deity might affect events by choosing one of two apparently random, similarly probable quantum outcomes, isn’t a window at all.

Comment #146936

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 27, 2006 3:56 PM (e)

Since this series of posts aimed at complaining about some groups free expression of viewpoint is selfdefeating, it doesn’t matter much if one fans the embers or abstain. Nevertheless, even a pointless discussion can have its fun sides.

Like I said in a previous comment, those who have endorsed calling us the “Neville Chamberlains” of the evolution/creationism battle have no basis to complain about the evangelical atheist label.

Here is a deal I’ll make with anyone: If you state that it is inappropriate to label pro-evolution theists like Ken Miller and Simon Conway Morris as “creationists”, and inappropriate to label Ed Brayton, Stephen Jay Gould, Eugenie Scott, and others who are not hardline anti-religion activists as “Neville Chamberlains”, “appeasers”, etc., then I will happily concede that “fundamentalist atheists” and similar labels do not apply to you.

This text goes to the source of the problem because it shows the conflations and projections driving these posts.

“evangelical atheist”
The conflation between arguing secular separation science-religion and arguing atheism has been noted before. Most atheists are doing the former, while chamberlains hesitate. They may be criticizing religion which chamberlains don’t. They are seldom evangelical. For example, Dawkins are arguing for anti-evangelical upbringing.

On the other hand it is evangelical christians who are driving ID and YEC/OEC. The conflation on the former group and with this group is driven by a projection from christians.

“creationists”
In normal use of language, creationists are arguing special creation, whether it is of the universe, the earth, life, humans or souls. “the belief that humanity, life, the Earth, or the universe as a whole was specially created by a supreme being (often referred to specifically as God[1]) or by other forms of supernatural intervention.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creationism )

Most religions are therefore creationist, from interventionist deism to theism. Theistic evolution is such a theory because it supposes intervention on some level.

“fundamentalist atheists”
Fundamentalism is basically “A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.” ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=fundamentalism )

It is probably a category mistake to characterize a point of view that aim to reject others fundamental principles as fundamentalism. But even if not, most atheists are certainly not rigid. For example, Dawkins expresses a high probability for his view but no certainty and is willing to change in face of contradicting observations. And as noted secularism is sufficient and wished for by most atheists.

Of course I can’t accept a proposal to accept a mischaracterization, even if it is pushed by holding another mischaracterization as hostage.

Comment #146937

Posted by 386sx on November 27, 2006 3:56 PM (e)

According to Miller, if he acts in quantum events, which happen all the time, and through other seemingly random events, he would be undetectable by science but also able to mold creation in the most profound ways.

If he acts outside of seemingly quantum events and through other seemingly non-random events, he could also be undetectable by science too, since he can do whatever he wants and he apparently wants to be undetectable by science for some odd reason. Sounds to me like Mr. Miller wants to hide god inside the gaps for some reason. Well, it’s okay Mr. Miller, god can hide outside of the gaps too if he wants. Lol, sometimes you can be really kooky, there Mr. Miller.

Comment #146938

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 27, 2006 3:59 PM (e)

PZ Myers:

Let’s just gloss over the fact that the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology. Let’s pretend that the only way you can make science compatible with religion is to do a little bait-and-switch, and swap in a vague and fuzzy deism in our public discussions of “religion” – a religion which most Americans do not endorse.

Scientific evidence is certainly against a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis. But, frankly, I don’t think science can be brought to bear on almost any of what most believers would consider core Christian beliefs. Certainly, science can establish that resurrections don’t happen every day– but then again, I think the whole point of Christian doctrine is that the Incarnation wasn’t an everyday event.

Of course, if you feel that there is strong scientific evidence against Christianity, please feel free to cite peer-reviewed scientific articles that state this conclusion.

As for whether or not any religion more palatable than “a vague and fuzzy deism” is compatible with rigorous science– why don’t you let us theists decide what theology we’re willing to accept and whether or not our theology can be compatible with science?

Someone (on another thread, I think) asked what someone else wants from “evangelical atheists”. Personally, I want from the atheists what I want from everyone: don’t claim the authority of science for ideas that science can’t be applied to. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but it doesn’t seem all that complicated.

Comment #146939

Posted by Katarina on November 27, 2006 4:09 PM (e)

Okay, one last thing:

If the evolution of the universe is deterministic, it means that a supernatural entity cannot alter that evolution without violating physical laws. The apparent ‘window’ that Miller and others see, whereby a deity might affect events by choosing one of two apparently random, similarly probable quantum outcomes, isn’t a window at all.

I’m sorry! This made me laugh, because I thought the point was going to be: every event has a cause, therefere there’s a god. I didn’t expect that argument because it makes any sense, only because, believe it or not, I’ve heard it from theists.

Comment #146940

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 4:16 PM (e)

Most religions are therefore creationist, from interventionist deism to theism. Theistic evolution is such a theory because it supposes intervention on some level.

That’s not how we’ve been using the term “creationist.” As I’ve heard it used just about everywhere (including the text of the Dover ruling), believing we were created by some sort of supreme being does not make you a “creationist;” believing that such creation is scientifically provable, and that your creation-doctrine should therefore be treated as legitimate science, makes you a “creationist.”

There are millions of people, of many faiths, who firmly believe we were created by this or that God(s), but just as firmly believe that their creation-stories should not be treated as “science” in any way. They would reject the “creationist” label just as firmly, and just as rightly, as would Dawkins.

Comment #146941

Posted by tomh on November 27, 2006 4:18 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

This is the biggest canard in the fundamentalist atheist box. Saying there is no God is equivalent to a religious statement.

Tell that to the IRS when you try to set up an atheist “church”. Seriously, this is standing logic on its head. Non-belief = belief? If I had never heard of god or religion and therefore obviously didn’t believe in god, would you consider that a religion? This is what you seem to be saying.

It is equally protected in personal speech by the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, and it is barred from governmental promotion by the Establishment Clause.

Many ideas are protected speech that have nothing to do with religion, non-belief among them.

On this logic, the government can ban private religious schools also.

Perhaps the government should ban them. Unfortunately, here in the US we are moving the other way. Many of our leaders favor giving parents money, (vouchers) to parents in order that they may send their children to private religious schools. Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that the voucher program in Milwaukee was constitutional a half dozen states and other districts have followed their lead. More are coming. One of the biggest reasons parents want to do this is to avoid exposing their children to the evils of evolution.

You are employing an extremist and dangerous argument.

Dangerous to whom? Those who want to “protect” children from the dangers of evolution?

Comment #146942

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 27, 2006 4:20 PM (e)

Dawkins seems to believe that most theists really do rely on the biological design argument above all else,

I can’t agree. According to his book, they use many arguments, all of which he addresses.

I think Anton is discussing Dawkins focusing on that argument. Apparently it meant a lot to him when he stopped being religious and became an atheist. But it doesn’t seem all that central to keeping a theist a believer.

There are two problems with the above-quoted statement: first, “historically” does not necessarily mean “still happening in the present.” And second, less imposition of religion “through the government,” does not necessarily mean less such imposition overall. It certainly does not mean that a Pagan is freer to come out anywhere in the US than he is anywhere in Europe.

Resentment against religious impostion from churces is deepseated and present. It will take more generations before it subsides. The old castle canons still points down towards the main church where I live - they where for positioned to remind the clergy who was the government and tax collector.

And the difference between imposed and free religion is of course substantial. Especially as the former is payed by taxes. :-)

Seriously, if you gave the government the kind of power you are talking about to regulate the religious instruction that parents give their children, the odds are the atheists would be among the first victims.

Most atheists are satisfied with a secular school, since the difference between atheism and a religiously independent school is small. Comparative religion classes are excellent, since the amount of religions speaks for itself and atheism would be presented as a view among others. But lacking that, most atheists are satisfied with people making up their own minds on religious issues.

Comment #146943

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 4:24 PM (e)

Nick wrote:

Another logical disconnect, since atheists are not giving their children religious instruction.

This is the biggest canard in the fundamentalist atheist box. Saying there is no God is equivalent to a religious statement.

Perhaps you don’t have any idea how we “fundamentalist atheists” raise our kids. We do not yell at them from birth to puberty that there is no god. We don’t take them to atheist church on Sunday to listen to the silence. In my case, my wife and I encouraged our kids to go with their friends to church or sunday school; we lived in Salt Lake City for quite a while, and they even went off to the Tabernacle and to the LDS temple. We did not sit them down and tell them that when their little friend died some day, worms would eat him and he’d cease to exist (although we did find out that some of our neighbors had told their kids our children were going to burn in hell.)

Nick wrote:

What are you guys proposing, anyway – that more ignorant, hysterical, and ahistorical screaming about the evils of religion will eventually get rid of religion?

Why, no. Informed education about the evils of religion and substitution of rational ideas that are not based on blind obedience to dogma will eventually get rid of religion. Are you relying on ignorant, hysterical, and ahistorical screaming about the evils of atheism to get rid of us? Or do you think it’s enough to just keep pumping up the non-existent virtues of faith?

You do believe that reason and science and empirical knowledge are superior to just believing something because some old guy in fancy robes said so, I hope? So why are you making excuses for superstition?

Odd Digit wrote:

I find it interesting - and revealing - that you see the situation as a dichotomy, and misread my interpretation as the same. Apparently either everyone agrees with you… or they’re doing religious apologetics (even if they are scientists and even if they are atheists!).

That’s just weird. I gave a reductio to show that your dichotomy—that one side has education as its primary goal, and that the other has anti-religiosity as its primary goal—was false. That does not mean I am proposing my absurd reduction of your idea is meant to be seriously held. Are you sure you ought to be engaging in any public arguments if your logic is that weak?

Comment #146944

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 27, 2006 4:25 PM (e)

But, frankly, I don’t think science can be brought to bear on almost any of what most believers would consider core Christian beliefs. Certainly, science can establish that resurrections don’t happen every day– but then again, I think the whole point of Christian doctrine is that the Incarnation wasn’t an everyday event.

Science does an equally poor job disproving Last Thursdayism, or invisible pink unicorns. If you’re going to fall back on the impossibility of disproving solipsism, you have made a very weak case indeed for your preferred alternative.

Comment #146945

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 27, 2006 4:49 PM (e)

if God is omniscient and omnipotent, which is rather the point of being God, then he could easily employ a statistically random process to bring humans about.

As Gerhard notes in the birds eye view, for example in the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, the genuine randomness we see in our isolated world disappears and the whole theory becomes deterministic. This is of course the perspective of any assumed gods.

Even if this interpretation, the most parsimonious of the realistic interpretations, one day becomes distinguishable and falsified so are the remaining probabilities well described by distributions which leaves no room for bootstrapping effects.

For some reason most of nature, and especially quantum mechanics, is surprisingly informative about, and protective against, any outside manipulation. (It seems to tell us something fundamental. Not that everyone listens. :-(

We have the Bell tests experiments that show that local hidden variables are improbable and so any gods must be cosmic cheaters that show us one set of rules and plays by another.

And here we have the bootstrap problem, both in pushing individual random events around inside a probability distribution without noticeable effects except the bootstrap itself and to get the energy to suffice. For example in turbulence, which is driven by energy dissipation from larger scales, the energy in yet smaller eddies disappears long before they reach the minimal scale to be affected by quantum effects.

The gods that fit in this gap are surely minuscule.

Comment #146946

Posted by Raging Bee on November 27, 2006 4:54 PM (e)

Many ideas are protected speech that have nothing to do with religion, non-belief among them.

You’re being dishonest again, tomh. “Science provides no evidence for or against the existence of a God” is a statement of fact; but “There is no God” is an opinion, just like “Jesus is Lord.” For ConLaw purposes, at least, it’s a “religious doctrine;” and taxpayer-funded institutions have no business promoting either of the latter opinions. If a Christian can’t deny the existence of other Gods in a public school, then neither can an atheist.

Comment #146947

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 5:00 PM (e)

jeffw wrote:

As Dawkins points out, watch how fast theists would trash NOMA if a few “miracles” could be proven scientifically true. It’s used to protect theists, not atheists.

Sure, but inasmuch as educated theists live in a world where miracles haven’t been proven, many of them accept NOMA, and it would be help Dawkins to recognize that. I think it probably doesn’t crimp his ability to reach more conservative theists who don’t accept NOMA, which is why their authority figures are so scared of him, but if he’s serious about changing religious moderates’ minds he needs another tack there.

Dawkins seems to believe that most theists really do rely on the biological design argument above all else,

I can’t agree. According to his book, they use many arguments, all of which he addresses.

He may–I haven’t read it. But as Torbjörn says, he repeatedly focuses on the design argument as most important. From HuffPo in October, for instance: “The only one of the traditional arguments for God that is widely used today is the teleological argument, sometimes called the Argument from Design.”

Comment #146948

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 27, 2006 5:02 PM (e)

Ehrm! I made a cognitive jump. Of course, even without MW, the birds eye superposition view is still deterministic. I was going directly into the assured way in our means of detecting foul play with classical measurements - for the insecure doubters of the former view.

Comment #146949

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 5:10 PM (e)

Cowardly Disembodied Voice wrote:

It is my understanding that there are several countries, the European ones for example, where education is under no threat from creationism, intelligent design, or whatever else it’s calling itself this week.

I was wondering if it were really true that they reached this stage because their scientists HAD decided to attack religion vigorously, the way Dawkins and Myers are doing now.( perhaps sometime in the 1920s when nobody was looking ). I just don’t know.

I think that’s probably been a factor. Not in the sense that said scientists were successful in kicking organized religion to the curb or anything–most Europeans are still nominally religious and IIRC churchgoing. But they’re also very comfortable with atheist/agnostic/freethinking authority figures, in science and art and philosophy and politics and even the church itself (Hi, Thorkild Grosboell!), so that arguments like “Evolution leads to atheism!” don’t seem to freak them out as much. And I imagine that part of that comfort stems from a longer period of exposure to such publicly freethinking figures, from (even if apocryphally) Laplace through Huxley through Popper and Russell to, heck, David Attenborough.

Comment #146950

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 5:27 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Theistic evolutionists – as opposed to creationists in their various (transparent) guises – don’t HAVE to make a case for God’s involvement in evolution: we admit that such involvement, if any, is not provable by science. So how is either our theism or our science “compromised?”

By, in the case of many theistic evolutionists, asserting a “gap” in science which begs for a divine intervention to cross it. I don’t think that’s what you do, but I don’t think I’d call you a theistic evolutionist unless you’d called yourself one first–not all theists who believe in evolutionary theory accept that label. My bio professor, for instance, who’s a believing Catholic and taught a class on creationism/ID, explicitly rejects theistic evolution. And that’s precisely because it implies some sort of evidence-based argument for intervention.

Franics Collins is an obvious example. He espouses cosmological ID–he asserts that science can’t provide a good explanation for cosmological fine-tuning, and that supports divine creation. Again, he asserts that evolutionary theory can’t explain morality, and that supports divine creation. He’s not just combining science and theology, he’s claiming a deficiency in one to support the other.

Again, I don’t think that’s what you do, and you have my sympathy if people misunderstand your position based on the “theistic evolution” label. And I know there are a significant number of other theists who combine the same label and position.

Comment #146951

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 5:35 PM (e)

Theistic evolutionists do not typically invoke gaps to support their views. Francis Collins’s argument about altruism being unexplainable by evolution and therefore physical evidence of divine intervention is an exception. (If it really is even true that he makes an argument as crude as that.)

Comment #146952

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 27, 2006 5:38 PM (e)

Odd Digit:… The problem is that the above is an example of the worst kind of religious upbringing.

PvM:… to create an overly simplistic view of Christianity …

Somehow I’m confident you two are not viewing the happening “Christianity”, the two-fisted red-blooded heterosexual American Bible Belt variety that is close to completing its political lock on the only superpower left on planet Earth. That intellectualized, subsidized, let’s-all-get-along treacle still prevalent in Europe and various pockets in God’s Country is an emaciated ghost by comparison.

Americhristianity is the distilled product, not the diluted lite beer served by softspoken bishops who’ve never had to hustle to get the collection plate filled. Living in the Deep South for much of my life (including 16 years as a clinic escort), I can promise y’all that “the worst kind of religious upbringing” in an over-simplified view of reality is not some sort of extreme hypothetical, but an epidemic growing in size, virulence, and political leverage.

There were some individuals for whom the great flu pandemic of 1918-19 was a minor infection which they threw off without great difficulty. Those are not the cases we think of when we think of that pandemic; the clergy of Europe are, as a class, not what history will think of when contemplating our contemporary surge of hyperchristians, And, fwiw, whose literal child-abusive tendencies are documented, though insufficiently so).

Comment #146960

Posted by David B. Benson on November 27, 2006 5:41 PM (e)

From today’s TNYT opinion page, by Richard A. Shweder, professor of comparative human development at the U. of Chicago — “Instead of waging intellectual battles over the existence of god(s), those of us who live in secular society might profit by being slower to judge others and by trying very hard to understand how it is possible for John Locke and our many atheist friends to continue to gaze at each other in such a state of mutual misunderstanding.”

Comment #146961

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 5:41 PM (e)

B. Spitzer wrote:

Scientific evidence is certainly against a literal interpretation of the first few chapters of Genesis. But, frankly, I don’t think science can be brought to bear on almost any of what most believers would consider core Christian beliefs. Certainly, science can establish that resurrections don’t happen every day– but then again, I think the whole point of Christian doctrine is that the Incarnation wasn’t an everyday event.

But science isn’t restricted to commenting on everyday events. Imagine if it were:

“Jimmy Hoffa vanished when he was suddenly teleported to Jupiter.”
“That seems very unlikely, scientifically speaking.”
“Well, it only happened once.”

So long as something like the resurrection has lasting and effects in reality, we can investigate it like any other historical claim. If Jesus really did perform miracles in front of thousands of witnesses, if there really was an earthquake and a zombie plague at the time of the Crucifixion, we would expect some independent awareness of such amazing events. And even if we can’t expect to find direct testimony from the relatively few people who are said to have met Jesus after his resurrection, we can certainly say on grounds of parsimony that they’re as likely to have been mistaken or lying as all the other people who have claimed to meet with the dead.

Now if a Christian says, “That’s true, but it doesn’t constitute a disproof and I still choose to believe,” there’s nothing more to discuss. But IMO science can weigh in on many Christian claims to a degree that isn’t generally accepted by the public.

Comment #146963

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 27, 2006 5:42 PM (e)

“Science provides no evidence for or against the existence of a God” is a statement of fact

While science is a secular activity, it has provided a lot of circumstantial evidence against. Science results have repeatedly debunked gods concepts and specific arguments for them, which forces religions to revise their dogma and gods except for a most rarefied and noninteractive gods concept which few accepts yet.

There are also positive evidence, bayesian or inductive reasoning on observations is supportive and many qualities of nature speaks against it. I noted some of the later above, and there are many more such results protecting us against foul play such as conservation theorems, prohibition of closed timelike loops and destabilization of field theories by nonnatural superluminal signals.

But bayesian and inductive reasoning is weak and not the way to do hypotheses testing. Often you can answer the bayesian argument with an alternative. And in this case a theory must be a negative no-go result, which few theories are and seldom without loopholes. (But there are some robust such, for example that observed spacetime is nowhere shrinking in the large scale.)

So yes, there are no real hypotheses or theory evidence. But there is also no theory that says we can’t ever tell with confidence. :-)

Comment #146964

Posted by Anton Mates on November 27, 2006 5:43 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

“Science provides no evidence for or against the existence of a God” is a statement of fact; but “There is no God” is an opinion, just like “Jesus is Lord.” For ConLaw purposes, at least, it’s a “religious doctrine;” and taxpayer-funded institutions have no business promoting either of the latter opinions. If a Christian can’t deny the existence of other Gods in a public school, then neither can an atheist.

I don’t think most atheists would disagree with that. I wouldn’t want my teacher telling me which gods don’t exist any more than which gods do. Dawkins certainly wouldn’t.

Comment #146966

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 27, 2006 5:58 PM (e)

Odd Digit:…Butler wrote: Programming their minds to be haunted by an inescapable superego called Jesus

Again, this is not an exaggeration. It is the summary of a variety of evidence & experience, refined in conversation with a friend raised by Baptist missionaries, and who eventually freed his mind from their toxic subculture. It seems a very widespread tactic among evangelicals, to instill a mental Big Brother which “advises” the dutiful two-legged sheep on every occurrence large and small, every minute of every utterly christocentric day. Is this among your ideas of positive child-rearing techniques?

Comment #146967

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 27, 2006 6:18 PM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

Francis Collins’s argument about altruism being unexplainable by evolution and therefore physical evidence of divine intervention is an exception. (If it really is even true that he makes an argument as crude as that.)

From his Salon interview

I have trouble with the argument that altruism can be completely explained on evolutionary grounds. Evolutionists now universally agree – I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree – that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. If that’s the case, then it does seem that in any given circumstance, the individual’s evolutionary drive should be to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs

Yeah, I was astonished that a molecular geneticist had such an unsophisticated view of the evolutionary basis of altruism.

Comment #146971

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 27, 2006 6:42 PM (e)

Blah blah blah God. Blah blah blah No God. Blah blah blah God. Blah blah blah No God.

(yawn)

ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzz….….…..

Comment #146972

Posted by tomh on November 27, 2006 6:51 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

You’re being dishonest again, tomh. “Science provides no evidence for or against the existence of a God” is a statement of fact; but “There is no God” is an opinion, just like “Jesus is Lord.” For ConLaw purposes, at least, it’s a “religious doctrine;” and taxpayer-funded institutions have no business promoting either of the latter opinions. If a Christian can’t deny the existence of other Gods in a public school, then neither can an atheist.

I have no idea what you’re talking about. Who said, “There is no God”? Not me or anyone else here. What atheist is denying anything in a public school? You seem quite confused.

Comment #146982

Posted by jeffw on November 27, 2006 7:04 PM (e)

I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree – that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual.

Obviously Collins has never even read The Selfish Gene. A little suprising for someone in his field.

Comment #146984

Posted by jeffw on November 27, 2006 7:16 PM (e)

Sure, but inasmuch as educated theists live in a world where miracles haven’t been proven, many of them accept NOMA, and it would be help Dawkins to recognize that.

Sure he recognizes it, but he’s just forced to be honest. Apart from space and time, we don’t seem to live in a universe divided into compartments. There’s no fundamental dualism. We can question everything, and anything can affect anything else, etc.

Comment #146985

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 27, 2006 7:18 PM (e)

“There are also positive evidence, bayesian or inductive reasoning on observations is supportive and many qualities of nature speaks against it.”

And of course I should note that even if these types of reasoning are used elsewhere, they are not applied for these purposes in currently accepted science.

Comment #146986

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 27, 2006 7:27 PM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank: Blah blah … (yawn) …ZZzzz….….

Welcome back! If I may borrow a tactic from a former master debater at this forum: there are some questions you left unanswered since your last appearance here.

Do you know of atheists fracturing, say, state alliances for better science education?

Can you cite any individual incidents of theists being harassed?

Are you saying that, if those damned scoffers would just shut up, the unchained power of positive theism will rout the hyperchristians?

Where does creationism leave off and harmless belief in the supernatural begin?

Does pointing out the errors of slow (or culturally handicapped) learners constitute “treating them as the enemy”?

What, specifically, would it take to satisfy the critics of “evangelical atheism” in this forum?

Be warned: I am prepared to repeat these questions until I get clear answers.

Comment #146987

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 7:50 PM (e)

Posted by Gerard Harbison on November 27, 2006 6:18 PM

Nick Matzke wrote:

Francis Collins’s argument about altruism being unexplainable by evolution and therefore physical evidence of divine intervention is an exception. (If it really is even true that he makes an argument as crude as that.)

From his Salon interview

I have trouble with the argument that altruism can be completely explained on evolutionary grounds. Evolutionists now universally agree – I think Dawkins and Wilson and Dennett would all agree – that evolution does not operate on the species. It operates on the individual. If that’s the case, then it does seem that in any given circumstance, the individual’s evolutionary drive should be to preserve their ability to reproduce at all costs

Yeah, I was astonished that a molecular geneticist had such an unsophisticated view of the evolutionary basis of altruism.

Actually this sort of misunderstanding of altruism and natural selection is quite widespread. Many people confuse (1) the explanation of a particular individual’s actions, which requires history, psychology, etc. to understand – even poetry and fiction are helpful here – with (2) the explanation of general emotional features of a species, which is the level of organization for which evolution can be explanatorily useful.

There is no particular reason that a molecular geneticist would be alert to the pitfalls here. The only people who regularly “get it” in my experience are ethologists and people who have closely read ethology.

Dawkins comes directly from the ethology tradition but even he gets the issues confused sometimes, e.g. in The Selfish Gene where he says that us humans have to rebel against our selfish genes in order to act altruistically. This is bass-ackwards since the conclusion of evolutionary biology is actually that evolution programmed our genes to make us predisposed towards behavioral altruism and psychological altrusm in various situations. Genetic selfishness can produce behavioral and psychological altruism.

Comment #146989

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 27, 2006 8:23 PM (e)

My earlier post:

But, frankly, I don’t think science can be brought to bear on almost any of what most believers would consider core Christian beliefs. Certainly, science can establish that resurrections don’t happen every day– but then again, I think the whole point of Christian doctrine is that the Incarnation wasn’t an everyday event.

Gerard Harbison:

Science does an equally poor job disproving Last Thursdayism, or invisible pink unicorns. If you’re going to fall back on the impossibility of disproving solipsism, you have made a very weak case indeed for your preferred alternative.

Anton Mates:

And even if we can’t expect to find direct testimony from the relatively few people who are said to have met Jesus after his resurrection, we can certainly say on grounds of parsimony that they’re as likely to have been mistaken or lying as all the other people who have claimed to meet with the dead.

Please don’t forget the context of my point: the claim was made by PZ Myers that “the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology.” My point was that this is falsely claiming scientific authority for an extrascientific position. I’m not trying to make a case for the alternative, I’m pointing out the boundaries of scientific authority.

As for parsimony, Anton, while it’s certainly a useful principle, I feel that it falls well short of being “scientific evidence”. This is especially true since ideas of what is and isn’t parsimonious depend a great deal on prior beliefs. My impression is that those who bring theistic assumptions into arguments like this can’t help but wind up with theistic conclusions at the end; and those who bring atheistic assumptions into these arguments can’t help but wind up with atheistic conclusions.

This is not to dismiss or discount either of your arguments. But I’d like to stay focused on the question of what science has rigorously shown. Just like with the IDer’s, I want to see peer-reviewed scientific articles before I’m willing to call an idea “science”.

Comment #146990

Posted by k.e. on November 27, 2006 8:35 PM (e)

I love it when the desperate repeat this trivial mantra

“Science provides no evidence for or against the existence of a God” is a statement of fact

Strangely NEITHER DOES RELIGION or ANY other human pursuit, not a single one of them.

Whenever someone claims faith is evidence for anything, then it ceases to be faith, it becomes a fallacy and propaganda.

Objectifying Myth and subjectivity is the stock in trade of corporate religion whose whole raison d’être
is to reduce facts and science to nonsense, its the only way they can survive.

Comment #146992

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 27, 2006 8:51 PM (e)

I am prepared to repeat these questions until I get clear answers.

Clever.

But hey, I think I see a theist over there.

Shouldn’t you be, like, going over there and getting him, or something?

Comment #146995

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 27, 2006 9:04 PM (e)

Please don’t forget the context of my point: the claim was made by PZ Myers that “the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology.” My point was that this is falsely claiming scientific authority for an extrascientific position. I’m not trying to make a case for the alternative, I’m pointing out the boundaries of scientific authority.

I think you make a good point, since most of the strictly Xian claims really are beyond the reach of science (an ancient earthquake might not in fact be reported, and could be dispensed with (in all but the literalists’ minds) in any case).

But there’s still something about how charitably religious claims are taken, versus how some lunatic’s ravings on the streets are dismissed, that doesn’t set quite right. When the wrong person relates the “revelation” of aliens or the Virgin Mary, the probabilities of science seem entirely adequate to dismiss the “flake”. When the priest, imam, or prophet, relates not even first-hand “experience” enshrined in religion, the limited nature of science is then invoked.

Yes, science is limited, which is its strength, not its weakness. Science cannot confirm Jesus’ resurrection nor the local schizophrenic’s sightings of phantoms and Mossad agents. Yet science does generalize from its limited knowledge, usually doing quite well in the process.

It’s a minor stock in the sitcom trade for the lying person to say something like “it’s a miracle” when his lies are discovered—the dead aunt whose funeral broke the date shows up, for instance. Somehow we don’t expect anyone to believe that the “miracle” happened, not because we think that science/experience really has documented absolutely all possibilities, but because we need really good evidence that a dead person can rise up again, given the fact that no indisputable case for this phenomenon has ever been witnessed heretofore.

Jesus might have risen from the dead? The thing is that all experience says that he did not, plus we have extremely good reasons (the irrevocable loss of order after death has occurred—or 15 minutes afterward, to be more sure) to believe that this cannot happen. Only the religionists believe in spontaneous generation, we do not (under the normal definition, that is). We believe that abiogenesis probably happened, mainly because a sudden increase in order in a highly complex system appears not to be necessary for abiogenesis.

Science could always be mistaken, as we know. What we have to do is to judge from what we know about possibilities at the present time. As such I would have to agree with PZ, that science declares against the Xian mythology.

For those who truly think religiously and mythologically this should not actually be a problem, since these people are not going to care what science thinks about their accepted truths. The problem we run into with the theists is that virtually none really belong to the pre-science religious train of thought, instead they want exemptions from science judgment precisely where science treads so uncaringly upon their myths.

And unfortunately for believers, science has no business doing anything but treading uncaringly upon the unsupported claims of any religion, politics, or atheistic beliefs, should the latter be at odds with science. Science has little or no business concerning itself with religions that don’t make assertions contrary to the evidence, but it should not be concerned about religious prejudices which are contrary to science.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #146999

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 27, 2006 10:07 PM (e)

Glen Davidson:

As such I would have to agree with PZ, that science declares against the Xian mythology.

I enjoyed your post and I think that you make some very interesting arguments that are deserving of careful consideration. However, I’m going to repeat what I said earlier (at risk of sounding like a one-note band): unless you cite peer-reviewed scientific articles that state this conclusion, I can’t consider that conclusion to be science. Again, that’s the standard we demand from ID, and other claims on scientific authority should be held to that same standard.

If you wish to uphold a belief or opinion, or that you hold to a philosophy or metaphysics related to science or inspired by science or patterned after science, that’s fine. Just be very clear: what you’re saying doesn’t have the authority of science itself.

Comment #147001

Posted by Ebonmuse on November 27, 2006 10:24 PM (e)

Hi Nick,

Nick Matzke wrote:

Ebonmuse wrote:

Because meteorology and chemistry have not historically been offered as proof of the existence of a deity, whereas the existence of intelligent life has.

This is simply wrong as a matter of history. Atomism was opposed on religious grounds for centuries for being materialistic/atheistic…

I’m afraid I don’t see what this has to do with my argument. My point was that evolution undermines one of the classic and still most popular arguments for belief in God, the argument from design, in a way that atomic physics and meteorology do not. While these branches of science were attacked for being materialistic, no one that I’ve ever heard of has ever offered “the non-existence of atoms” as a reason to believe that God exists. On the other hand, “the non-existence of any non-intelligent process that could create well-adapted living creatures” most definitely was considered a major reason to be a theist and in many quarters still is. Evolution knocks down this argument in a way that other branches of science do not.

Does evolution prove that a god does not exist? Of course not, no more than the existence of atoms does. But it does show that a god isn’t required, that miraculous creation is not the only way to explain the diversity of life. Many atheists expand on this argument until they reach the point of believing that there are no good reasons at all to believe in God (and I note that many theistic evolutionists, via their frequent invocations of a god who acts solely through quantum randomness or some other means that is intrinsically undetectable, implicitly agree), and if there are no good reasons to believe in something, the logical response is not to believe in it. Ergo: atheism.

Let me make it clear, for the record, that I don’t think theistic evolutionists are equivalent to creationists, and I’m happy to work together with them to fight creationism. (I am not, however, insulted by being called an “evangelical” atheist; that is exactly what I am.) However, I think we occasionally get the impression - not necessarily from you, Nick - that there are people who would prefer we keep quiet and not criticize religion or otherwise take part in political issues at all. For example (and note, unlike Lenny Flank, that when I make claims like this I offer evidence for them), take Os Guinness:

He hopes there can be a respectful exchange of ideas somewhere between the militant extremes of religious violence and militant atheism.

Did you catch the two groups being presented as polar opposites there? One group is made up of religious fanatics who are willing to sanction torture, slavery, and mass murder in the name of God. The other group is made up of atheists who offer strongly worded critiques of such behavior. Both these groups are labeled equally “extreme”. I don’t think it’s hard to see why atheists feel disgruntled when subjected to invidious comparisons like that.

Comment #147002

Posted by jufulu on November 27, 2006 10:37 PM (e)

And now for something completely different from YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG2xVF4wjfs

Ted

Comment #147003

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 27, 2006 10:57 PM (e)

My sense of the ID controversy is that we declare ID not to be science precisely because the miracles they claim to be “science” have not been properly shown. We demand documented evidence for such design work (perhaps only the usual marks of design: novelty, rationality, and relatively unfettered “borrowing” of ideas) if their assertions are to prevail against the finite repertoire of possibilities so far demonstrated.

In my opinion, the need for documentation that any and every extraordinary (miraculous) claim is actually contrary to science, is too narrow a view of the science enterprise. It seems to put the “burden of proof” upon the well-evidenced claims of science, rather than upon those who claim that science fails at some point or another. They may indeed question scientific generalization if they have some solid evidence that it doesn’t hold in the vicinity of, say, Jesus Christ. However, if they do not have the requisite evidence, we, for instance, consider Newton’s laws (some of which hold in a limited regime, some apparently in general (like momentum)) and the various phenomena which militate against the astonishing increase in order necessary for one to rise from the dead, to hold.

In other words, it is the exception to the known and expected scientific generalizations which has the “burden of proof”, so that we feel free to deny claims as implausible as Jesus’ resurrection, in the absence of strong supporting evidence. This, too, is science, though many are surprised to find that it is.

Hume made a number of pokes at the generalizations of science, for nothing in the repetition of the same aspects of physical processes is able to necessitate that the next attempted repetition of the same aspect (say, momentum) will also prevail. The problem was that Hume was criticising science with the scholastic philosopher’s sense that necessity of some sort is needed in science (though he held to science in despite of this lack of necessity in physical processes), while in science we have learned to trust solidly demonstrated repeats, never minding the fact that necessity does not attend scientifically-investigable phenomena.

The convergences of discovered “regularities” are too strong to be doubted, and indeed, interventions from the outside might be expected to skew the historical sciences vis-a-vis the present. We do not see evidence for the noticeable singularities which might (or, to be sure, might not—who knows?) accompany miracles.

Anyway, that is my answer to B. Spitzer, and I shall not belabor this further (my intention, not a promise), as I have presented my position, and he has presented his in a reasonable and amicable manner. I respect what he has said, and have written how and why I differ from it. So be it.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147004

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 10:58 PM (e)

Posted by Ebonmuse on November 27, 2006 10:24 PM

I’m afraid I don’t see what this has to do with my argument. My point was that evolution undermines one of the classic and still most popular arguments for belief in God, the argument from design, in a way that atomic physics and meteorology do not. While these branches of science were attacked for being materialistic, no one that I’ve ever heard of has ever offered “the non-existence of atoms” as a reason to believe that God exists.

Back in the day, atomism was thought to contradict transubstantiation (the bit during Communion where wine turns into the blood of Christ, bread into the body of Christ). It seems unthinkable now that this was an issue, but a few hundred years ago it was huge.

Ditto for the weather – lightning, praying for rain, whatever.

Let me make it clear, for the record, that I don’t think theistic evolutionists are equivalent to creationists, and I’m happy to work together with them to fight creationism. (I am not, however, insulted by being called an “evangelical” atheist; that is exactly what I am.) However, I think we occasionally get the impression - not necessarily from you, Nick - that there are people who would prefer we keep quiet and not criticize religion or otherwise take part in political issues at all.

Fair enough.

For example (and note, unlike Lenny Flank, that when I make claims like this I offer evidence for them), take Os Guinness:

He hopes there can be a respectful exchange of ideas somewhere between the militant extremes of religious violence and militant atheism.

Did you catch the two groups being presented as polar opposites there? One group is made up of religious fanatics who are willing to sanction torture, slavery, and mass murder in the name of God. The other group is made up of atheists who offer strongly worded critiques of such behavior. Both these groups are labeled equally “extreme”. I don’t think it’s hard to see why atheists feel disgruntled when subjected to invidious comparisons like that.

Sure, I can see your point here. Of course, Os Guinness is an conservative evangelical apologist, not one of the moderates we have been attacking/defending in this thread.

Comment #147005

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 27, 2006 11:24 PM (e)

Aw, c’mon, ‘Rev Dr’ - can’t you come up with a better lame evasion than a caricature of a lame evasion?

You’ve got a nice tidy six-pack of questions there - take your choice, pop one open, try it!

Comment #147006

Posted by Aagcobb on November 27, 2006 11:24 PM (e)

Glen Davidson wrote: I’m guessing that most theistic evolutionists don’t really know whether to credit God for setting up conditions in the beginning, or if God is constantly working within the universe under cover of statistical randomness.

Glen I enjoy your rational and civil posts. I just wanted to point out that the distinction between those two options is only meaningful if time is real, and not illusory, as physics seems to indicate. Thus a theist could believe an eternal God conceived an eternal universe which was complete at the moment of conception, thus God does not either wind a clockwork mechanism and watch it run or constantly tinker with a work in progress. He, and it, simply are.

Comment #147007

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 27, 2006 11:40 PM (e)

And now for something completely different from YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lG2xVF4wjfs

Ted

Watching that gave me the same sense of horror that I felt when I entered the Star Trek Museum in Las Vegas.

Comment #147010

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 28, 2006 1:07 AM (e)

OK, reactions to more silly things the fundamentalist atheists have been saying:

I tell Dawkins what he already knows: He is making life harder for his friends. He barely shrugs. “Well, it’s a cogent point, and I have to face that. My answer is that the big war is not between evolution and creationism, but between naturalism and supernaturalism. The sensible” - and here he pauses to indicate that sensible should be in quotes - “the ‘sensible’ religious people are really on the side of the fundamentalists, because they believe in supernaturalism. That puts me on the other side.”

Wired

So, according to Dawkins, Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, Francisco Ayala, Theodosius Dobzhansky, even Sir Ronald Fisher himself – are on the same side as the fundamentalists.

In other words, focusing only on preventing creationism from entering schools is missing the forest for the trees. We have managed to win a bunch of court cases, the latest one in Dover. But we have not won in the court of public opinion. (Coturnix at Scienceblogs)

I don’t know why this is so hard to understand. We are not winning. We are clinging to tactics that rely on legal fiat to keep nonsense out of the science classroom, while a rising tide of uninformed, idiotic anti-science opinion, tugged upwards by fundamentalist religious fervor, cripples science education. Treading water is not a winning strategy. I’m glad we’re not sinking, and I applaud the deserving legal efforts that have kept us afloat, but come on, people, this isn’t winning. (PZ Myers)

This sort of sentiment, which is so common with you guys it’s almost like there is a talking points memo you are all reading off – completely ignores that we – us “religion is not the enemy” people, I mean – have also won at the ballot box: in Dover, in Kansas, in Ohio, all of them originally the greatest success stories for the ID movement. Once people learn that they are being tricked by someone’s narrow religious view masquerading as science, they vote against it.

Again, the only easy way to screw this up is to let the fundamentalist atheists get away with masquerading their narrow religious view as science.

Posted by PZ Myers on November 27, 2006 7:43 AM

The only easy way to mess this up – which fundamentally is a great situation for us – is to have Darrow-types take over and redefine science and evolution to be equal to atheism.

Since nobody is doing that, nice strawman.

Ludicrous. Basically all of the fundamentalist atheists are doing exactly this. You guys all say that science disproves God. Occasional lipservice is paid to the philosophical point that disproving God is impossible, but then you will say something like “Darwin destroyed the only decent argument for God that there ever was, the Argument From Design.”

Then, without blinking, you will go happily propose infinite varying universes as if this is uncontroversially rational and the God proposal is irrevocably irrational.

In this very post, you say, “the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology,” and advocate for the statement that a “Famous Christian Scientist’s weird ideas about Jesus are contrary to good science”

Your strategy is exactly the opposite of what you claim, and I wish you guys would be honest enough to admit it.

I explained the flaws in the fundamentalist atheists’ meme about us “Neville Chamberlains” being dishonest in a previous comment. We are being philosophically careful in noting that science is limited in its scope. You are not: you are totalizing science to have it rule on ultimate questions.

It is most definitely NOT a strategy of making a clear case that science is independent of religion: it is to constantly, monotonously harp on the compatibility of evolution with Christianity. You are making a pro-Christianity case every step of the way.

Saying science is neutral on ultimate religious questions is not the same as saying that science is pro-Christianity.

Now I can quite agree that that is a politically pragmatic tactic in the short term, and yes, it will make it easier for you to win court cases.

There’s your court case fixation again. We won the key elections also. And we won politically in the case of the Ohio Board of Education. Martha Wise, a Republican, self-proclaimed creationist, ended up changing her mind and the minds of others on the board and voted to teach science rather than the ID movement’s religious views in the science classroom.

I’m sure it really encourages the Christian majority in this country when you can spit on Richard Dawkins now and then.

What is that I hear? PZ Myers, defender against Neville-Chamberlain-imposed censorship, is asking us to “shut up” and not point out when Dawkins makes religious claims disguised as science?

Let’s just gloss over the fact that the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology.

So much for your denial of advocating that science equals atheism.

Let’s pretend that the only way you can make science compatible with religion is to do a little bait-and-switch, and swap in a vague and fuzzy deism in our public discussions of “religion” – a religion which most Americans do not endorse.

This is another misunderstanding shared by the fundamentalist atheists that has already come up. Theistic evolution is not deism, where God created the universe billions of years ago and then went and hid. It is the idea that God is continually creating the universe.

I am becoming convinced that the war you guys have declared on religious moderates is simply one big case of displaced rage. The conservative evangelicals are unresponsive to your tirades, so you direct them at thestic evolutionists instead, because, while you don’t even know what they think, you brazenly assume it must be something similar to what the conservative evangelicals think.

Again, it’s short term expediency. It’s not an honest attempt to show that science is religion-neutral.

If I were into dishonesty for political convenience, I wouldn’t criticize the fundamentalist atheists for violating science’s religious neutrality. It would be much easier to just avoid arguing with friends and allies. But, if I’m going to be consistent I have to criticize scientism from either side – fundamentalist atheist or fundamentalist theist.

My point is that you are doing long-term harm with that strategy. You are basically lying to people to win court cases, and are actively encouraging cultural beliefs that are antagonistic to science. Religious people and even creationist people are not stupid, yet your favored policies all treat them as if they are, and are doomed to defeat for that reason.

Ignoring your already-discussed insult that we are lying to people, and simply addressing the strategy: Like I said above, it’s worked so far. “Intelligent design” is going the way of “creation science.” Both were defeated by a coalition of religious pro-science and non-religious pro-science people.

What we’re seeing in the popularity of Dawkins is that people are interested in seeing different views, even if they disagree with them and even if they don’t instantly convert to atheism – and quite the contrary to the common bias, Dawkins is at least treating religion with sufficient respect to say what he honestly thinks of it. Miller, I think, is similarly honest (just wrong). Nick Matzke…you’re being political.

Bully for Dawkins and his popularity. I wish him luck in starting his own church.

About your repetitive claims that we are lying, yawn, you are repeating yourself.

I’ll be more convinced that you are following a religion-neutral strategy when the next court case (and oh, yes, you know there will be more, with no end in sight) doesn’t just bring up Famous Christian Scientist who says X. You’ll also bring in Famous Atheist Scientist who says X, and you’ll frankly state that Famous Christian Scientist’s weird ideas about Jesus are contrary to good science. I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that day.

Oh, that makes a ton of sense. On what conceivable grounds, in a trial about the constitutionality of introducing creationism in public schools, could it possibly be relevant to have an expert witness give a sermon on how science disproves Christianity? (Ken Miller didn’t make any attempt to prove Christianity in court, after all.)

I can imagine the scene in the hushed courtroom: “Your honor, we call PZ Myers to testify about how embryology supports evolution. But first he would like to testify that science disproves Christianity, mostly because he just wants to spit in the eye of everyone who doesn’t see a necessary conflict, and use this trial to promote his religious views. His testimony will be that resurrections are impossible according to natural laws. Yes, it’s obvious that everyone knew this perfectly well long before science came along, but he wants to say it anyway, because he thinks science and atheism are the same and anyone who talks about evolution without affirming atheism isn’t a real scientist. Real scientists (atheists) also know that the infinite-universes idea is unquestionably rational, but the God idea is completely irrational. By the way, your honor, you’re an idiot for being a Christian, and if you don’t acknowledge this, then you’re no more rational than a Flat-Earth fundamentalist. Oh, and our other expert witness, Simon Conway Morris, is also a delusional fundamentalist idiot because he is a Christian, even though he is acknowledged as the world’s leading expert on the evolutionary origin of the Cambrian phyla. I just thought you’d like to know. Dr. Myers, please take the stand and tell this Court how atheism is the right answer to all of the metaphysical questions people have been debating for thousands of ears. After all, it’s your intrinsic right as a fundamentalist atheist to have all of us help you promote your religious view anytime we discuss science, even if it’s completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.”

The only time something like what you suggest has ever occurred in court is with Clarence Darrow, and like I said in the OP, the results were mixed at best.

Comment #147011

Posted by k.e. on November 28, 2006 1:12 AM (e)

Thus a theist could believe an eternal God conceived an eternal universe which was complete at the moment of conception, thus God does not either wind a clockwork mechanism and watch it run or constantly tinker with a work in progress. He, and it, simply are.

So from conception to birth from an hermaphrodite, in an instant?….…….er giving birth to itself at the same time of course.

If there was a such a beast that somehow happened to be in the same place in time and space at the moment of the ‘Big Bang” I fancy it would have had it’s hands blown off , don’t you think?

The idea of a universe giving birth to itself resembles an old Norse creation tale where a snake constantly creates itself and eats itself at the same time thus repeating one of the themes of mythology, that of life being circular and constantly consuming and renewing itself at the same time.

Which probably explains why people keep making the same mistakes, repeatedly.

Comment #147018

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 2:30 AM (e)

Nick Matzke wrote:

Ludicrous. Basically all of the fundamentalist atheists are doing exactly this. You guys all say that science disproves God. Occasional lipservice is paid to the philosophical point that disproving God is impossible, but then you will say something like “Darwin destroyed the only decent argument for God that there ever was, the Argument From Design.”

No Nick, you aren’t paying attention. We don’t say that science disproves God. We say that science has something to say on the subject of God, and that is that using standard statistical techniques, the existance of a God is extremely improbable. As improbable as, say, the existence of a group of fairies at the bottom of your garden, or that His Great Noodliness the FSM is watching over us. Or that Father Christmas comes down the (mostly non-existant) chimney each Christmas Eve to deliver presents to all of the children of the world. These beliefs are all equally ridiculous from a scientific point of view.

We find the refusal of people such as yourself to state this fact loudly and clearly, as a betrayal of the cause of science. You constantly spout the tired refrain of “Science can’t disprove God”, to appease the religiosly delusion masses, but if you are true to science you know that the existance of a God is extremely unlikely, and has exactly zero supporting evidence (well, maybe the Big Bang, but afterwards, zippo).

You can of course prove me wrong. How about, as an exercise, that you start each of your posts on these topics with a statement along the lines of “Although science is unable to completely eliminate the possibility of a God, it does seem to indicate that such a God is extremely improbable, as improbable as the existance of The Flying Spaghetti Monster”.

Perhaps then we would be able to accept that you are arguing in good faith…

Comment #147019

Posted by 386sx on November 28, 2006 3:24 AM (e)

You can of course prove me wrong. How about, as an exercise, that you start each of your posts on these topics with a statement along the lines of “Although science is unable to completely eliminate the possibility of a God, it does seem to indicate that such a God is extremely improbable, as improbable as the existance of The Flying Spaghetti Monster”.

You show the numbers, and hey maybe they will consider that exercise just out of respect for your being the greatest scientist who has ever walked the face of this planet.

Comment #147020

Posted by ah_mini on November 28, 2006 3:29 AM (e)

We find the refusal of people such as yourself to state this fact loudly and clearly, as a betrayal of the cause of science. You constantly spout the tired refrain of “Science can’t disprove God”, to appease the religiosly delusion masses, but if you are true to science you know that the existance of a God is extremely unlikely, and has exactly zero supporting evidence (well, maybe the Big Bang, but afterwards, zippo).

Ouch! All that rhetoric and then in the last sentence of that paragraph you make a hideous concession to the deluded “God of the Gaps” deists! You’re an appeaser just like the rest of us. Welcome to the world of irrationality ;)

Seriously, maybe you should tone down the “betrayal of the cause of science” and “true to science” nonsense. That really isn’t clever and you know you’re just playing to the creationist strawman filter :P

Andrwe

Comment #147021

Posted by ah_mini on November 28, 2006 3:31 AM (e)

Andrwe

???

Haha, I can’t even spell my own name. Us theists really are morons ;)

Andrew

Comment #147022

Posted by Peiter on November 28, 2006 3:39 AM (e)

With respect to the feasibility of a state church in reducing religious impact on society and legislation, I think Nick Matzke is way too optimistic. Countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi-Arabia do not have a better track record than the US regarding evolution/ID. Of course, in these countries its /even/ less accepted to publicly criticize the dominant religion. IMHO, the major difference between pro-science Europe and anti-science USA is the religious fervor of the American public and constituency. Many Americans view atheists as bigger threats than most anything else, which just goes to show the degree of ignorance on these matters in the American public.

Another issue is the terms “fundamentalist atheist,” “evangelical atheist,” or atheism = religion. Atheism doesn’t make religious claims, because debunking Bronze age mythical claims about the real world is not a religious act. The way I see it, the steady progress of science makes it easier and easier to be an atheist, because science makes gods utterly unnecessary. It’s not the same thing as being a religion anymore than debunking Santa or astrology is a religious point of view. If you need a god lurking in these small crevices left over when science is done, fine. But don’t pretend that science is neutral about religion. Every positive claim in the Bible has more or less been disproved by science, and unless you think it’s all about interpretation and metaphors and whatnot, the Christian position /is/ severely dented because of this fact. But don’t blame us or science, because if Christianity hadn’t made those claims or tried to impose them unto others, there would’ve been no reason for science to even deal with these matters.

Comment #147023

Posted by Peiter on November 28, 2006 3:40 AM (e)

With respect to the feasibility of a state church in reducing religious impact on society and legislation, I think Nick Matzke is way too optimistic. Countries like Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi-Arabia do not have a better track record than the US regarding evolution/ID. Of course, in these countries its even less accepted to publicly criticize the dominant religion. IMHO, the major difference between pro-science Europe and anti-science USA is the religious fervor of the American public and constituency. Many Americans view atheists as bigger threats than most anything else, which just goes to show the degree of ignorance on these matters in the American public.

Another issue is the terms “fundamentalist atheist,” “evangelical atheist,” or atheism = religion. Atheism doesn’t make religious claims, because debunking Bronze age mythical claims about the real world is not a religious act. The way I see it, the steady progress of science makes it easier and easier to be an atheist, because science makes gods utterly unnecessary. It’s not the same thing as being a religion anymore than debunking Santa or astrology is a religious point of view. If you need a god lurking in these small crevices left over when science is done, fine. But don’t pretend that science is neutral about religion. Every positive claim in the Bible has more or less been disproved by science, and unless you think it’s all about interpretation and metaphors and whatnot, the Christian position is severely dented because of this fact. But don’t blame us or science, because if Christianity hadn’t made those claims or tried to impose them unto others, there would’ve been no reason for science to even deal with these matters.

Comment #147024

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 3:48 AM (e)

ah_mini wrote:

Ouch! All that rhetoric and then in the last sentence of that paragraph you make a hideous concession to the deluded “God of the Gaps” deists! You’re an appeaser just like the rest of us. Welcome to the world of irrationality ;)

Ahhh, more comments from the peanut gallery. To paraphase one of my favourite fictional characters of all time - I don’t think God of the Gaps means what you think it means…

Or, more clearly, If I state that there are only a few tiny gaps left in our scientific understanding of the universe, and then proclaim “therefore there is a God, and he lives in those gaps”, that would be a God of the Gaps argument.

If on the other hand I state that there are only a few tiny gaps left in our scientific understanding of the universe, and then proclaim “Therefore the evidence suggests that it’s really unlikely that there is a God, as apparently he conveniently happens to be only there where our scientific studies have not yet been able to go due to technical restrictions”, I am pretty much arguing the opposite of God of the Gaps.

Andrew, feel free to go and learn a little about logic before making nitwit comments. It only increases the already high signal to noise ratio in this discussion.

Comment #147025

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 3:52 AM (e)

386sx wrote:

You show the numbers, and hey maybe they will consider that exercise just out of respect for your being the greatest scientist who has ever walked the face of this planet.

Hmmm, let me see - thousands of observed phenomena in our universe. 99.9% explained by empirical science. 0.1% not yet explained (not surprising, as all are recently discovered phenomena). I don’t know about you 386sx, but when I do the sums, that says that the probability of there being a God is really low…

Comment #147027

Posted by normdoering on November 28, 2006 4:17 AM (e)

I am pretty much arguing the opposite of God of the Gaps.

Call it the “Naturalism of the Gaps.”

I can define naturalism. Can you define God?

Comment #147028

Posted by ah_mini on November 28, 2006 4:48 AM (e)

demallien, I think you do not perceive my sarcasm, I know full well you aren’t proposing a God of the Gaps argument.

I will clarify my point sans sarcasm. Go back and read what you wrote:

…you know that the existance of a God is extremely unlikely, and has exactly zero supporting evidence (well, maybe the Big Bang, but afterwards, zippo).

So you say there is zero supporting evidence (“exactly” no less), but then immediately retract that and make the concession that maybe there is. I found that rather ironic in a post that rails against the simple statement that science does not disprove supernatural deities as a “betrayal of the cause of science”.

Hmmm, let me see - thousands of observed phenomena in our universe. 99.9% explained by empirical science. 0.1% not yet explained (not surprising, as all are recently discovered phenomena). I don’t know about you 386sx, but when I do the sums, that says that the probability of there being a God is really low…

I’d really love to know where you get your 99.9% and 0.1% from.

Andrew

Comment #147029

Posted by ah_mini on November 28, 2006 4:51 AM (e)

demallien, I think you do not perceive my sarcasm, I know full well you aren’t proposing a God of the Gaps argument.

I will clarify my point sans sarcasm. Go back and read what you wrote:

…you know that the existance of a God is extremely unlikely, and has exactly zero supporting evidence (well, maybe the Big Bang, but afterwards, zippo).

So you say there is zero supporting evidence (“exactly” no less), but then immediately retract that and make the concession that maybe there is. I found that rather ironic in a post that rails against the simple statement that science does not disprove supernatural deities as a “betrayal of the cause of science”.

Hmmm, let me see - thousands of observed phenomena in our universe. 99.9% explained by empirical science. 0.1% not yet explained (not surprising, as all are recently discovered phenomena). I don’t know about you 386sx, but when I do the sums, that says that the probability of there being a God is really low…

I’d really love to know where you get your 99.9% and 0.1% from.

Andrew

Comment #147030

Posted by Sir_Toejam on November 28, 2006 4:52 AM (e)

So, according to Dawkins, Kenneth Miller, Simon Conway Morris, Francisco Ayala, Theodosius Dobzhansky, even Sir Ronald Fisher himself – are on the same side as the fundamentalists.

Nick, it seems apparent that you are unable or unwilling to separate arguing against a bad idea, like Collins’ concept of the special creation of humans because of “moral law”, for example, with demonizing the person uttering the concept.

let me ‘splain:

No, Collins as a person would not be considered a fundamentalist evangelical Xian. OTOH, whether you consider him to be a moderate or not, his ideas on special creation as literally as wacky as any the creobots themselves have come up with (and are right in line, when you get down to it), so what should we, as scientists, do about it eh? just leave the poor man alone and stop picking on his nonsense, you think?

well, nobody would have said word one about it if Collins himself hadn’t decided to write half of a book about it, all the more noticeable since the first half of the book on common descent and the genetic evolution was top notch, for the most part, as would be expected from the head of the Human Genome Project.

so, yeah, do we label Collins a supporter of evolutionary theory?
sure.
do we then go on to criticize his attempts at scientizing his personal philosophy?
yup.

It seems a no brainer to me. I can call what Collins says on genetics and evolution to be well supported by the literature. at the same time, i can thumb my nose at his ridiculous notions of morality and special creation, as that is NOT supported by the literature, or even by logic.

It simply would be malfeasance on the part of any decent scientist to let slip Collins’ egregious errors in conceptualization, simply because he’s “on our side”.

likewise, classifying Dawkins as an “evangelical atheist”, paints over the specifics of whatever details you think he gets wrong. It’s silly to paint him with a broad brush like that, as Dawkins has in fact contributed a great deal to the understanding and conceptualization of evolutionary theory, and has volumes of literature that have nothing to do with “atheism” or religion at all, for that matter.

so, from my view, folks like PZ are entirely justified in attacking the pseudoscience of Miller or Collins, and it’s hard to argue with labeling them creationists when you see arguments that very much resemble exactly what special creationists say, and at the same time completely ignores entire fields of endeavor whose published literature does not support what they are saying. It troubles me not that Collins or Miller are ruthlessly attacked for these positions, so long as the great contributions to science these guys make is also pointed out.

most of us have some level of compartmentalization going on, and it seems obvious to me that to label a person based on a single aspect of their personality isn’t exactly “wrong”, but is rather, “incomplete”.

However, PZ rightly points out over and over again, that there are many scientists which do not need to compartmentalize, or justify their “alter egos”. this too, is important to note. It goes to self-consistency, and it is a legitimate question to ask whether it is a good thing mentally to struggle with forced compartmentalization or not.

but, I digress.

Comment #147035

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 6:10 AM (e)

ah_mini wrote:

So you say there is zero supporting evidence (“exactly” no less), but then immediately retract that and make the concession that maybe there is. I found that rather ironic in a post that rails against the simple statement that science does not disprove supernatural deities as a “betrayal of the cause of science”.

The Big Bang is the one phenomenon for which we have absolutely no good theory at the moment, not even really a starting point. If you push most atheists, and say “There was a God, he created the universe with a Big Bang, and then sodded off never to be heard from again”, they are going to shrug, and say “sure, why not”. Of course, as has already been discussed here, such a God is completely irrelevant in today’s world, seeing as he’s “sodded off”, leaving the playground for pure science to rule the roost.

Comment #147036

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 6:14 AM (e)

Imagine this. Australia is in the middle of it’s worst drought in history (by most measures) at the moment. The weather guy announces on the news that “…and good news! There’s a chance of some heavy showers in all drought-affected areas tomorrow afternoon”. A reasonable person hearing that would expect that this means that best estimates have lead meteorologists to assign a relatively high probability of rain for tomorrow (say greater than 10%), and that it may be a good idea to pack an umbrella. That is effectively the claim being made by appeasers when they trot out “science has nothing to say on the existence or not of a God”. Most people hear that, and think “Hah! It’s completely reasonable to believe in the Supreme Being. Even the scientists say so!”. Better pack that metaphorical umbrella.

That is rubbish. Science is quite clear - everywhere that we have looked, and we have looked in an awful lot of places, God has been found to be absent. Same-same for Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, Thor, Jupiter, Father Christmas, pink unicorns, fairies at the bottom of the garden, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can’t just ignore the results of hundreds of years of experiments giving negative results for the existence of a supreme being. Any scientist communicating openly and honestly with the general public on this topic is obliged to say, loud and clear “The odds of there being a God are really, really small”, before adding, as a disclaimer, that the probability is nevertheless not 0.

That is what science is telling us.

Comment #147037

Posted by ah_mini on November 28, 2006 7:04 AM (e)

The Big Bang is the one phenomenon for which we have absolutely no good theory at the moment, not even really a starting point. If you push most atheists, and say “There was a God, he created the universe with a Big Bang, and then sodded off never to be heard from again”, they are going to shrug, and say “sure, why not”. Of course, as has already been discussed here, such a God is completely irrelevant in today’s world, seeing as he’s “sodded off”, leaving the playground for pure science to rule the roost.

You’re missing my point.

My point is not anything to do with whether atheism or theism is correct, or forcing atheists to say anything. I’m simply pointing out that you ridiculed someone for the “betrayal of the cause of science” merely because they stated, disclaimer free, that science cannot disprove supernatural deities.

By your standards, your admission that the big bang could be evidence for God (whether it is or not is again irrelevant) should also be interpreted as a “betrayal to the cause of science”. Both statements can be interpreted as “supporting” religion in some way.

Or you can admit that slapping endless disclaimers about the improbable existence of God(s) on anything that could possibly be construed as “pro religion” is an utter waste of time and effort.

Andrew

Comment #147038

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 28, 2006 7:09 AM (e)

Odd, isn’t it, that since the death of ID, UD has been reduced to arguing with each other over religious opinions.

And so has PT.

Comment #147040

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 8:04 AM (e)

ah_mini wrote:

By your standards, your admission that the big bang could be evidence for God (whether it is or not is again irrelevant) should also be interpreted as a “betrayal to the cause of science”. Both statements can be interpreted as “supporting” religion in some way.

Or you can admit that slapping endless disclaimers about the improbable existence of God(s) on anything that could possibly be construed as “pro religion” is an utter waste of time and effort.

No, your missing my point.

Firstly, Although the Big Bang by itself could be construed as evidence for a deity, as I explained in the last post, we don’t care. If all the Big Guy in the Sky did was set off an explosion, before heading home for dinner, it changes not one jot how one percieves the world. I mean, who really cares? He’s absent, and wether he was absent from t=0, or from a couple of milliseconds later, it really makes no practical difference. If you want to make a case for that kind of God, as I said in my last post, go right ahead. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

But this is not the God that 99.9999% of the population thinks of when they talk about God. Most people’s God worries about how they behave. There are rewards for good behaviour, and punishments for bad behaviour. In times of trouble, they can pray to God, and he will act to make all alright again.

The fact is that that God, according to science, is incredibly unlikely to exist. We don’t catch him playing silly buggers with our experiments. Good grief, when we’ve even done experiments on the efficacity of prayers, and it comes up as zero, there is really not a lot more to say on the subject, from a scientific point of view. The Big G ain’t there. When you pray, you’re talking to yourself, when a “miracle” happens, it was actually just dumb, blind chance.

Secondly, I’m not asking for people to put in “disclaimers” for the low probability of the existence of God. That’s the main statement, not the disclaimer. The disclaimer is that the probability, although very low, is not zero.

To go back to the weatherman analogy, if someone states that there is a chance of rain, but then don’t go on to explain that said chance is actually 0.00001%, and that there is a 99% chance of it being very hot and sunny, and that someone knows that the probability of rain is very low, then as far as I’m concerned, that person is lying. And that is effectively what every “scientist” that stands up and states “Science has nothing to say on the existence or not of a God” is doing - lying.

The evidence is there. The odds of there being a God are low. This needs to be said, loud and clear.

Comment #147041

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 8:23 AM (e)

I am becoming convinced that the war you guys have declared on religious moderates is simply one big case of displaced rage. The conservative evangelicals are unresponsive to your tirades, so you direct them at thestic evolutionists instead, because, while you don’t even know what they think, you brazenly assume it must be something similar to what the conservative evangelicals think.

It’s not just displaced rage – it’s a (correct) sense of their own irrelevance that’s making the militant atheists scream their heads off. They’ve contributed nothing to the recent defeats of the religious right, so they compensate by attacking those whose accomplishments overshadow their tantrums, and thus try to pretend they’re the ones making victory possible. I’ve heard this sort of nonsense before: it’s really no diffeent from spoiled leftist “students” belittling the accomplishments of mushy wussy moderates like Franklin Roosevelt.

What’s really hilarious is when they pretend that their lack of social skills is a virtue:

What we’re seeing in the popularity of Dawkins is that people are interested in seeing different views, even if they disagree with them and even if they don’t instantly convert to atheism – and quite the contrary to the common bias, Dawkins is at least treating religion with sufficient respect to say what he honestly thinks of it.

I could just as easily say the same thing about Ann Coulter:

What we’re seeing in the popularity of Coulter’s books and speaking-tours is that people are interested in seeing different views, even if they disagree with them and even if they don’t instantly convert to Coulter’s brand of Republicanism – and quite the contrary to the common bias, Coulter is at least treating liberals with sufficient respect to say what she honestly thinks of them.

Since when is name-calling accusations unconstrained by reality a gesture of respect? We certainly aren’t praising “al Qaeda Pat” for showing “respect” for people who don’t think exactly like him. Nor do we praise him for adding to the diversity of different views. Is there no limit to militant atheist hypocricy? And you wonder why Christians think atheists are amoral?

These word-games are every bit as dishonest, disrespectful, divisive and destructive as those of the religious right. And every bit as useless to ordinary people; and every bit as contrary to the core values of a functioning republic.

Comment #147043

Posted by Aagcobb on November 28, 2006 8:52 AM (e)

demallien: The evidence is there. The odds of there being a God are low. This needs to be said, loud and clear.

Until science has a falsifiable theory which explains why anything exists at all, you can’t honestly say that, because you have no way of making that calculation. All you can honestly say is that there is no good reason to believe in a God who performs ostentatious miracles on a regular basis. Creationists create strawman versions of evolutionary theory, then trumpet that the strawman they constructed is false; that is all you are doing.

Comment #147044

Posted by ah_mini on November 28, 2006 8:55 AM (e)

I don’t really care about your probability argument (other than you pulled the imaginary numbers out of your ass, but I digress). Many theists will quite happily admit their belief is irrational, so there’s no argument to pursue.

What I do care about is your silly rhetoric concerning the “betrayal” of “pure” science and accusations of people lying. Science assumes that God doesn’t piss around with experiments. It’s one of the few assumptions that it makes. It also doesn’t justify said assumption beyond the necessary practicality that all scientific investigation would be impossible if we had to account for supernatural alteration. How does one prove that some deity hasn’t fiddled your experiment? I certainly wouldn’t like to try!

The above means that the statement “science does not disprove supernatural deities” is correct. No “betrayal” or “lies” involved. It also does not prove God(s) exist either, something else I am quite happy to admit. Maybe that’s why many atheists tend to concern themselves with the more fruitful tactic of disputing testable claims about the natural world stemming from particular religions? Hell, even theists get in on this act from time to time :)

Andrew

Comment #147045

Posted by minimalist on November 28, 2006 9:01 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

I could just as easily say the same thing about Ann Coulter:

Well you couldn’t, exactly, because one is attacking the ideology, while the other makes personal attacks upon the people who espouse it. There is a distinction, and it’s a critical one.

Maybe Dawkins could be a bit more tactful about it. Maybe he is, and the theists are being too sensitive. I don’t know, I haven’t read The God Delusion and I don’t really have a dog in this ridiculous slapfight.

Just pointing out that Dawkins and Myers do make a good point when they say that religion is given too much of a free pass from criticism, and people do tend to react as if they have been attacked personally when their deeply cherished beliefs are attacked.

Then again, that’s human nature, and is true of atheists and theists alike.

I kind of lost track of my point. Um.

Comment #147046

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 9:01 AM (e)

Pierce: here’s some answers to at least some of your questions…

Do you know of atheists fracturing, say, state alliances for better science education?

One of the far right’s most effective talking-points is the “amoral atheistic science” stereotype, which militant atheists now seem intent on reinforcing. Recent political gains for the pro-science camp are based on appeals to pro-science Christians, which are aimed at repairing the damage done by the stereotype.

Can you cite any individual incidents of theists being harassed?

If uninformed and insulting overgeneralizations about “religion” and religious people count, then there’s plenty to be found right here on this blog, and, in fact, on this very thread. If you actually want proof, you can read it yourself before you make your next post – I won’t make it harder for you by pasting repeat paragraphs. I don’t consider these serious threats, of course, since most of the people making them are probably just idiots acting tough on the Web and would never have the guts to act out in the real world; but those are the incidents I can think of.

Are you saying that, if those damned scoffers would just shut up, the unchained power of positive theism will rout the hyperchristians?

Read a newpsper lately? “The unchained power of positive theism” is already starting to win the fight, with no help from ignorant scoffers, thankyouverymuch.

Where does creationism leave off and harmless belief in the supernatural begin?

When believers refrain from pretending their belief counts as science and should be treated as such.

Does pointing out the errors of slow (or culturally handicapped) learners constitute “treating them as the enemy”?

That depends on who, specifically, you count as “slow (or culturally handicapped).” If you count everyone who believes in any sort of god as “slow (or culturally handicapped)” based on that belief alone, then the short answer to this question is “Yes.”

What, specifically, would it take to satisfy the critics of “evangelical atheism” in this forum?

For starters, stop making uninformed over-generalizations about beliefs you clearly don’t understand; stop making statements that any ordinary person can see are false; stop making accusations that are based solely on the fact that the accused has a “supernatural” belief and therefore must be one of “them;” stop pretending that all religious beliefs, all over the world, can be spoken of or treated as if they were all the same; stop aping the fundamentalist mindset; and stop pretending you can’t tell the difference between being tactful and shutting up entirely.

Comment #147047

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 9:06 AM (e)

Well you couldn’t, exactly, because one is attacking the ideology, while the other makes personal attacks upon the people who espouse it.

And Dawkins and Harris have made personal attacks on religious moderates like myself, my friends, and nearly all of my family – not because we’ve done anything wrong, but merely because we have a religious belief, which makes us, in their eyes, “enablers” of religious extremists like Pat Robertson and Osama bin Laden – forget the fact that our beliefs don’t aquare with those of the extremists. Guilt-by-association is every bit as wrong as a personal attack by name. That’s why I lump Dawkins and Harris with Coulter, and I make no apology for it.

Comment #147048

Posted by minimalist on November 28, 2006 9:08 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Read a newpsper lately? “The unchained power of positive theism” is already starting to win the fight, with no help from ignorant scoffers, thankyouverymuch.

Is it really, though? I’d like to believe it to be the case, but I still see moderate and liberal churches, like my parents’, steadily losing parishioners to megachurches – of which the best lack all conviction (ie solid theology), and the worst of which are extremist assholes.

The liberal and moderate factions are mobilizing and learning how to counteract the fundies, but I’m very much afraid it’s at best a holding action. And perhaps the main reason the fundies don’t have a greater foothold in government is that the politicians who pander to them are simply cynical power-grabbers who haven’t the slightest intent of helping their more radical agenda.

Comment #147049

Posted by Katarina on November 28, 2006 9:09 AM (e)

Nick Matzke,

Thank you for the reference to John F. Haught. I thumbed through his Responses to 101 Questions on God and Evolution and found it reasonable, with a few points of disagreement here and there. All in all, it is a great quick-reference resource for deflating heated questions in a biology classroom setting, or a school board setting.

I cannot go through a whole analysis of his book in this comment, especially since I’ve only thumbed through it, but here’s part of his response to the following question,

20. The Bible claims that we are made “in the image and likeness of God.” Doesn’t evolution contradict this idea?

As far as we know… we are the only species on earth endowed with freedom, responsibility, and the capacity to love selflessly. (We may observe a kind of “altruism” in other species, but their apparent selflessness flows from instinctual endowment rather than freedom.) Our biblical ancestors’ intuition of a uniquely human set of characteristics, therefore, clearly justifies a religious anthropology that attributes a great nobility to our species. It is especially in our capacity for making and keeping promises, and for compassionate love, that we can say that we are made in the image and likeness of God.

There are many problems with the above assumptions, not least of which is the anthropocentric tendency to ascribe “nobility” exclusively to human beings. Do noble creatures selfishly destroy every living thing that gets in their way, or worse, merely for the fun of it (think buffalo shooting)? And why does the concept of “freedom” rival the concept of “instinctual endowment”? Anyway, you get the drift.

But to summarize the more important aspects of his book, he repeatedly writes that we must “dig deeper” than either a literal interpretation of scientific, materialistic findings, or a literal interpretation of biblical readings. But to put these two on opposite sides of a spectrum, as if they are equal but opposite in validity, is misleading. Biblical readings are self-conflicting, and various interpretations which are not literalistic, bend to materialist discoveries. Whereas a literal materialistic reading isn’t in the least bit obligated to bend to religious writings or interpretations.

To repeat though, I think it is a very good resource and that it will come in very handy for my purposes.

Sir_Toejam

but I digress..

You remind me of one of my professors, who incidentally said he recognized my name from PT. Could it be? Nah.

Comment #147050

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 9:12 AM (e)

Aagcobb wrote:

because you have no way of making that calculation

Of course we jolly well do! Welcome to the wonderful world of Bayesian inference.

Maybe a few hundred years ago, at the beginning of the modern scientific era, one may have been justified in making a statement such as “I believe that there is a 99% probability that there is a God”. But, every time we do a scientific experiment, we have, as a meta-hypothesis, that the phenomenom that we are investigating has a natural cause, not a supernatural one. So each time that an experiment successfully confirms this hypothesis, the probability of there being a God gets reduced.

We have now conducted so many experiments (literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions) without ever uncovering a supernatural cause. Any which way that you care to look at it, the Bayesian inference to be made is that there is only a very low probability of the existence of God.

You can’t escape the mathematics. There is just no justification for assigning anything other than an extremely low probability to the existence of a God. I’m sorry if that upsets you, but that’s the facts… Take up your griefs with the universe. I’m sure it doesn’t care either.

Comment #147052

Posted by PZ Myers on November 28, 2006 9:24 AM (e)

Nick wrote:

You guys all say that science disproves God. Occasional lipservice is paid to the philosophical point that disproving God is impossible, but then you will say something like “Darwin destroyed the only decent argument for God that there ever was, the Argument From Design.”

You’ve got a completely false statement up there. I don’t say science disproves gods. Dennett doesn’t say it. Dawkins explicitly denies it at length (you did read his book, I presume?)

I hope you understand that there is a difference between saying “X is disproved” and “X has no supporting evidence.” There is no supporting evidence for any gods. You’re free to try and generate some, but until then, we can confidently state that there is no reason to accept the god hypothesis.

You should be aware that you are trying to make the same argument creationists do. We have a body of evidence that supports evolution and denies the general conclusions of creationists; we can take their arguments apart in detail, too, and show that they contradict the evidence. You’re pretty confident in saying that creationism is false, but you don’t seem to see that we can also say with the same degree of confidence that Christianity is also false.

Nick wrote:

On what conceivable grounds, in a trial about the constitutionality of introducing creationism in public schools, could it possibly be relevant to have an expert witness give a sermon on how science disproves Christianity? (Ken Miller didn’t make any attempt to prove Christianity in court, after all.)

You misunderstand me. I’m not saying we need to get an atheist on the stand to rail against religion. I’m saying that instead of harping on the compatibility claim, which is false, I’d be much more impressed if we had a parade of witnesses who defended evolution without everyone gushing afterwards that “Ooh, and he’s a real Christian.” You aren’t religion-neutral. You guys do push the idea that the best defender of evolution is someone who also shares the religious biases of Bible Belt America, you know. It gets old. You’ll have to understand where we get the impression that you are out to defend religion-scented science, but those who don’t compromise or who aren’t deluded by superstition are pariahs, best kept in the closet, or their views on religion minimized at the very least.

The same reasoning we apply to creationism to great effect is equally effective against religion. You have to make an explicit effort to rein in the chain of logic to demolish creationism, as you do well, yet stop short of saying anything about religion. The effort right now seems to revolve around demonizing those who don’t make the same conceptual hiccup you do as “fundamentalist atheists,” but I think the failing is entirely on your side.

Comment #147054

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 9:29 AM (e)

minimalist: my point is that we religious moderates are getting more and better results than the militant atheists could ever get, or have ever got in the past. (I don’t see atheists stemming the growth of those megachurches you speak of.)

Comment #147055

Posted by Flint on November 28, 2006 9:39 AM (e)

Sheesh. One could point out that the most useful default presumption is that what isn’t attested by any known evidence, doesn’t exist until any such evidence surfaces. And nearly everyone here would yawn and wonder where the issue is. OF COURSE science doesn’t make stuff up out of whole cloth. In the immortal words of Isaac Asimov, the most important words in science aren’t “Eureka, I found it!” but rather “…that’s funny…” In other words, science is in the business of trying to explain observations, which means there must BE observations to be explained. Nobody is trying to explain what is not observed, so this entire argument appears pointless.

But wait! What if what’s unevidenced and unobserved happens to be God? Suddenly the above otherwise-trivially-obvious observation becomes “militant atheism”! People like Nick Matzke and Raging Bee rise up to blast anyone with the temerity to point out that gods are simply one of an infinite number of imaginary conceits unsupported by any evidence, for which the most useful default is to assume nonexistence. When we plug “God” in instead of “bloogle”, suddenly lack of any evidence becomes a matter of pressing concern and a SIN, rather than a triviality.

And I’m sorry, but whatever is unattested by any evidence whatsoever is properly presumed not to exist, tentatively and conditionally depending on what evidence may be found someday in the future. Doesn’t matter WHAT is unevidenced. Let’s call this rational attitude “militant indifference.”

Theists, whatever their qualifications outside this special blind spot, are Making Stuff Up. There isn’t any evidence for any deities. It must be made up. Fiction is dandy. Positioning fiction as science is wrong.

Comment #147056

Posted by MartinM on November 28, 2006 9:50 AM (e)

So each time that an experiment successfully confirms this hypothesis, the probability of there being a God gets reduced.

That’s true if and only if P(D|G) P(D|~G), for whatever data D is observed. Can you support that?

Comment #147057

Posted by MartinM on November 28, 2006 9:52 AM (e)

Sodding HTML. Let’s try again:

P(D|G) < P(D|~G)

Comment #147058

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 10:06 AM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank: Odd, isn’t it, that since the death of ID, UD has been reduced to arguing with each other over religious opinions.

And so has PT.

Even odder that one participant’s mode of debate has shrunk from what could be legitimately called “argument” to his former opponents’ usual methods of running, dodging, & self-contradiction (2 days ago, this was all about fighting ID; now, ID is “dead” - and apparently has been since this thread began).

Since you seem unable to choose from the abundance of questions, here’s just one: when, since the days of T.H. Huxley, has an atheist obstructed any campaign for public education on evolution?

Comment #147059

Posted by Anton Mates on November 28, 2006 10:21 AM (e)

B. Spitzer wrote:

Please don’t forget the context of my point: the claim was made by PZ Myers that “the scientific evidence is strongly against the Christian mythology.” My point was that this is falsely claiming scientific authority for an extrascientific position. I’m not trying to make a case for the alternative, I’m pointing out the boundaries of scientific authority.

I understand your point, I just think it’s incorrect in this case. I think there’s a reason why PZ said “Christian mythology” and not “Christian theology.” Science can say absolutely nothing about whether Jesus really was the son of God, or whether thanks to him we’re saved from Hell after we die, but insofar as the New Testament describes Earthly events, it’s just as investigable by science as any historical account.

(Which doesn’t of course mean that we have enough knowledge to evaluate every claim in the NT, but we can certainly comment on the more unlikely ones. We may never know whether Julius Caesar was 5’10” or 6’, but we can be pretty confident he was born in Europe and not on Mars. Even in the absence of a peer-reviewed discussion of this. :-) )

As for parsimony, Anton, while it’s certainly a useful principle, I feel that it falls well short of being “scientific evidence”. This is especially true since ideas of what is and isn’t parsimonious depend a great deal on prior beliefs.

That may be so, but we depend almost entirely on agreement in that area to make any positive scientific claims at all, and in cases much fuzzier than this we have such agreement.

For instance, we don’t have any problem saying that a large object from space struck the Earth toward the end of the Cretaceous, even though an alternative hypothesis (a momentary violation of energy conservation plus a miraculous global iridium deposit, created by a dinosaur messiah) both explains all the evidence and has never been refuted in a peer-reviewed journal.

Again, we don’t have any problem saying that mutations are random, even though the IDer’s alternate hypothesis that a small subset of “important” mutations in our evolutionary history were non-random, fits the evidence and has yet to be refuted.

Again, a science textbook can confidently tell us that Earth has one moon, even though the alternate hypothesis of a second, invisible moon made of a mysterious gravity-cancelling mineral fits the evidence and has yet to be refuted.

Why? Parsimony, so far as I can see. And on exactly the same principle science can tell us that people don’t walk on water (unless it’s frozen or they have pontoon shoes), multiply loaves and fishes or physically rise from the dead. It doesn’t have to add a footnote, “Unless they have the power to violate natural law or natural law has some loopholes we don’t understand,” because that’s assumed for all scientific claims anyway.

Note that it’s not as if most Christians particularly disagree in the case of Jesus and his miracles. They do conflict with the scientific evidence; as Ken Miller would say, that’s why they’re miracles. If the impossibility of Jesus’ feats was less obvious on scientific grounds–if he managed to hold his breath for, say, six minutes, or sneeze without closing his eyes–no one would be very impressed.

My impression is that those who bring theistic assumptions into arguments like this can’t help but wind up with theistic conclusions at the end; and those who bring atheistic assumptions into these arguments can’t help but wind up with atheistic conclusions.

I would say otherwise, actually. My impression is that those who bring theistic assumptions in still end up with atheistic conclusions, unless the argument happens to involve their favored deity. Most Christians do not consider the miraculous stories of Dionysus, Apollonius of Tyana, Muhammad or Krishna to prove their divinity or divine favor–they just think those stories probably aren’t correct. There are New Age devotees that accept pretty much every story of supernatural powers to be simultaneously correct, but they’re pretty rare.

It’s an old chestnut by now that everyone’s an atheist; self-described atheists are just consistent in their disbelief.

Comment #147060

Posted by demallien on November 28, 2006 10:24 AM (e)

MartinM wrote:

That’s true if and only if P(D|G) P(D|~G), for whatever data D is observed. Can you support that?

Well, seeing as you didn’t bother defining what your symbols are, I’d have to say no. But without descending into the arcane maths, I’m assuming your question is that can we say that the probability of God has decreased after the observation of each new event(experiment). The answer to that question is yes.

Every phenomenom that has been observed has been found to be of natural causes. Tides - check. Storms - Check. Lightening - Check. Smallpox - Check. Rain - Check. Earthquakes - Check. The motion of the Moon - Check. Anyway, you get my point. Wherever we look, when we try to explain a phenomenom, we find that it has natural causes. Phenomena that remain unexplained are very rare.

Let’s start of with a neutral hypothesis, that there is a 50% probability that a God exists, and that he may be the cause of the phenomenom that wa are observing. With each investigation, we find that it wasn’t God doing the magic, it was natural causes. With each discovery, the God hypothesis gets weaker (well, unless you want to claim that the discovery of natural causes for a phenomenom strengthens the God hypothesis).

Add up the hundreds of thousands of experiments that have been done to investigate phenomena, each one reporting back that it was natural causes, and the God hypothesis becomes untenably weak.

Comment #147061

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 28, 2006 10:38 AM (e)

ultracrepidarian wrote:

Of course we jolly well do! Welcome to the wonderful world of Bayesian inference.

Maybe a few hundred years ago, at the beginning of the modern scientific era, one may have been justified in making a statement such as “I believe that there is a 99% probability that there is a God”. But, every time we do a scientific experiment, we have, as a meta-hypothesis, that the phenomenom [sic] that we are investigating has a natural cause, not a supernatural one. So each time that an experiment successfully confirms this hypothesis, the probability of there being a God gets reduced.

We have now conducted so many experiments (literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions) without ever uncovering a supernatural cause. Any which way that you care to look at it, the Bayesian inference to be made is that there is only a very low probability of the existence of God.

You can’t escape the mathematics. There is just no justification for assigning anything other than an extremely low probability to the existence of a God. I’m sorry if that upsets you, but that’s the facts… [sic] Take up your griefs [sic] with the universe. I’m sure it doesn’t care either.

Nonsense. Leave probability and statistics to those of us who are properly educated in those subjects.

Comment #147062

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 28, 2006 10:42 AM (e)

Peezee wrote:

Syntax Error: mismatched tag ‘p’

That is the most insightful comment I have ever read from Peezee.

Comment #147063

Posted by MartinM on November 28, 2006 10:50 AM (e)

Well, seeing as you didn’t bother defining what your symbols are, I’d have to say no

I would have thought that blatantly obvious to anyone invoking Bayesian inference. G stands for the proposition ‘there exists at least one deity.’ If you need to ask what D is in this context, you shouldn’t be discussing Bayesian methods at all.

Let’s start of with a neutral hypothesis, that there is a 50% probability that a God exists, and that he may be the cause of the phenomenom that wa are observing. With each investigation, we find that it wasn’t God doing the magic, it was natural causes. With each discovery, the God hypothesis gets weaker

That’s precisely what I’m asking you to support. You’re setting up the hypothesis ‘goddidit’ against multiple separate, specific models of how exactly god didn’t do it. The simple proposition ‘there is no god’ doesn’t allow us to make predictions about any physical phenomenon, any more than ‘goddidit’ does.

Comment #147065

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 11:23 AM (e)

Raging Bee: Thanks for a civil reply; I’ll attempt to respond in kind, though I’ve been instructed my role is to “get” theists…

One of the far right’s most effective talking-points is the “amoral atheistic science” stereotype…

Effective or not, such stereotypes will be used without regard to any basis in fact. Large-scale “coming out” has been an effective strategy for lesbians & gays: whether this will work for non-believers has yet to be shown, but the experiment is irreversibly under way.

…insulting overgeneralizations about “religion” and religious people … to be found right here on this blog…

As you note, blogdom is not fully equivalent with “the real world”; nor, I must add, is contradiction really equivalent to harassment.

“The unchained power of positive theism” is already starting to win the fight…

My local fishwrap is hardly a comprehensive source of world news, but the only victories by theists it reports are in Iraq & Afghanistan.

When believers refrain from pretending their belief counts as science and should be treated as such.

I haven’t read Miller’s or Collins’s recent books, but from various reviews it sounds like they’ve stepped over that line, or at least smudged it pretty good. Are they fair game?

… the short answer to this question is “Yes.”

So there is no way to point out the utter lack of evidence, and typical weakness of logic, on the part of those who insist on the reality of supernatural entities, without being guilty of the equivalent of cluster-bombing their villages and clipping electrodes to their genitals? (NB: those analogies apply to Americans: other nationalities, except maybe Israelis, are restricted by international treaties.)

… stop making uninformed over-generalizations about beliefs you clearly don’t understand…

So nobody can criticize astrology without learning how to cast a horoscope? When True Believers complain that present Middle East policies are not doing enough to bring about the Second Coming, the only allowable rebuttal is a different exegesis of “Revelations”? Gee, that rule would certainly reduce the volume of debate.

Btw, when will you make a similar demand on those abusing the science they clearly don’t understand - and what compliance will you expect?

… stop making statements that any ordinary person can see are false…

We’re right back where I was with the Rev. Dr.: specific examples, please.

… accusations that are based solely on the fact that the accused has a “supernatural” belief and therefore must be one of “them;” stop pretending that all religious beliefs, all over the world, can be spoken of or treated as if they were all the same…

Are you saying that advocates of supernaturalism do not have in common the significant trait of, well, supporting claims that something not to be detected in nature by any reliable means must nevertheless somehow be taken seriously? If you’re saying that such assertions should instead be utterly ignored, I agree entirely on epistemological grounds, but must demur for political reasons. This sort of unsanity has consequences, y’know.

… stop aping the fundamentalist mindset…

Would it be considered an act of war to ask you for a specimen of me doing this?

… and stop pretending you can’t tell the difference between being tactful and shutting up entirely.

Bee, honey, you clearly have never seen me when I decide to get untactful. Pray that you never do - PTSD therapy is prolonged and expensive.

Comment #147066

Posted by Cowardly Disembodied Voice on November 28, 2006 11:33 AM (e)

Lenny Flank said,

Odd, isn’t it, that since the death of ID, UD has been reduced to arguing with each other over religious opinions.

And so has PT.

Maybe ID is dead, and all this unpleasantness about religion is someone’s idea of driving the proverbial stake through the heart so that it doesn’t pick a new name and come back.

Except that, IMHO, unlike Buffy, success isn’t guaranteed, this could be gruesome to the point of freaking out decent, indispensible allies; and is totally unnecessary.

Comment #147067

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 11:58 AM (e)

Effective or not, such stereotypes will be used without regard to any basis in fact.

Such stereotypes become MORE effective when fumble-mouthed atheists reinforce them with their own words. Historically, the most effective lies and stereotypes have been the ones with at least a tiny kernel of actual truth from which to generalize. Why do so many conservative Americans equate liberalism with Communism? Because at one time, enough liberals really were close enough to the Communists to serve as “proof” of this equation. How have blacks fought racism? By, among other things, tailoring their daily actions to avoid reinforcing the racists’ negative srereotypes; the last thing they needed was to make their enemies’ lies true.

Large-scale “coming out” has been an effective strategy for lesbians & gays…

“Large-scale coming out” does not mean acting stupid in public, or unjustly trashing others. It’s possible to say “I’m gay” without insulting straight people who have done them no wrong, so it should be possible to say “I’m an atheist” without insulting theists in general. We Pagans – another unjustly persecuted religious minority – have some experience with this: we’re quite able to say what we believe without stooping to the fundy level of adding “…and everyone else is EVIL!!!”

Are you saying that advocates of supernaturalism do not have in common the significant trait of, well, supporting claims that something not to be detected in nature by any reliable means must nevertheless somehow be taken seriously?

I’m saying they should be taken seriously, or not, based on an informed judgement of their respective words and actions, rather than anyone’s vague, uninformed and unverifiable opinion of what they may (or may not) think. If a theist (or atheist) says something false or stupid, call him on that specific statement; if he behaves decently and sensibly, respect him and don’t waste ahnyone’s time hectoring him over his beliefs. “Thought-policing” is wrong, whether by theists or by atheists. Is this really a hard concept to grasp?

If you’re saying that such assertions should instead be utterly ignored, I agree entirely on epistemological grounds, but must demur for political reasons. This sort of unsanity has consequences, y’know.

Again, judge people by those consequences you speak of. Yes, there are consequences, but not all of them are uniformly bad.

Comment #147068

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 12:11 PM (e)

So nobody can criticize astrology without learning how to cast a horoscope?

I’m saying nobody can criticize astrology without learning the basic principles of what astrology actually is, what astrologers actually say or believe, and how it is “used.” If you (like me) don’t care enough about astrology to learn the basics, then chances are you (like me) don’t care enough to spend time criticizing it.

When True Believers complain that present Middle East policies are not doing enough to bring about the Second Coming, the only allowable rebuttal is a different exegesis of “Revelations”? Gee, that rule would certainly reduce the volume of debate.

WHICH “True Believers” are you talking about? If you have a specific group in mind, name them and attack their specific statements or actions. In any case, try not to confuse the guilty with the innocent – we have enough religious bigots doing that already.

Btw, when will you make a similar demand on those abusing the science they clearly don’t understand - and what compliance will you expect?

I already have, both on PT and in a few posts on my own blog. And the “compliance” I expect of that lot is roughly the same.

Comment #147069

Posted by stevaroni on November 28, 2006 12:12 PM (e)

R O’B wrote
Nonsense. Leave probability and statistics to those of us who are properly educated in those subjects.

This thread is starting to take on an interesting turn (at least to me, I’m not all that into another holy war).

At the outset, I have to admit that my specialty isn’t statistics.

Still, it seems to this outside observer that the “probability of God” simply has to be dropping.

It strikes me that, absent any evidence to the contrary, it is more likely that God does not exist.

God would, after all, be a resource-intensive thing, and nature demonstrates again and again that it’s difficult to gather resources without some driving force (there’s that pesky second law again).

Still, plenty of unlikely things do exist. Take any one of us, for example. The odds of a specific individual existing are slim indeed, but it’s a numbers game, and even if we didn’t exist, someone would.

Unlikely things are, of course, also specifically called into into existence though force of will. My aunts knitted sweaters are, um, famous examples of this.

But neither of these conditions seem to apply to God, at least not the God envisioned in the Bible.

So having an unlikely God, or at least a God with a default probability less than 1, doesn’t seem unreasonable.

So how do you prove God (or at least the Christian God subset of all possible Gods)?

The traditional method seems to be that you demonstrate some phenomenon that requires God, thereby establishing his existence by inference.

Once upon a time, many physical phenomenon were attributed to God. Storms, lightning, seasons, they were all His. But since then, we’ve established that these are natural phenomena that seem to happen without outside intervention.

The last big thing left that seemed to need the hand of God was the existence of man. And now we have a natural mechanism for that.

It seems to me, again as a non-statistician, that as each item that required God went away, eventually dwindling to zero, the probability of God existing in a universe where his probability is less than one anyway, must necessarily drop.

What am I missing?

Comment #147070

Posted by PZ Myers on November 28, 2006 12:13 PM (e)

So your answer to the question, “Do you know of atheists fracturing, say, state alliances for better science education?” is this?

Raging Bee wrote:

One of the far right’s most effective talking-points is the “amoral atheistic science” stereotype, which militant atheists now seem intent on reinforcing. Recent political gains for the pro-science camp are based on appeals to pro-science Christians, which are aimed at repairing the damage done by the stereotype.

There are a couple of problems with that. One is that you’re confusing the lies of creationists with the actions of atheists. Atheists don’t seem to be fracturing state organizations by, say, refusing to work with them or telling scientists to shun them. A lot of us are happily working with them for better science education. Since when is the application of a false stereotype by narrow-minded bigots our fault?

Secondly, please do explain where we’re reinforcing that “amoral” stereotype. I think you’re stooping to a little bigotry of your own with that.

Comment #147071

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 12:39 PM (e)

stevaroni: what you’re missing is that for many, if not most, theists, the evidence for the existence (or rather, the relevance) of this or that God(s) is subjective: if an individual “feels” the presence of a “higher power” acting in his/her own life, then that’s the “proof.” Loudly chanting “There’s no evidence!” at him/her won’t change his/her feeling, especially since many theists nowadays don’t claim their Gods are objectively provable anyway. Heck, there are some theists who don’t even claim their God(s) are real outside of their own heads and hearts.

Comment #147072

Posted by Dan on November 28, 2006 12:57 PM (e)

You are not going to be heard, unless you shout above the din, and what a din it is, coming from the church.

Comment #147073

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 1:01 PM (e)

Secondly, please do explain where we’re reinforcing that “amoral” stereotype. I think you’re stooping to a little bigotry of your own with that.

The stereotype I mentioned was that of the “amoral atheist scientist;” and it’s reinforced by atheists who: repeatedly insist that science reinforces their beliefs (after telling the creationists that science does NOT reinforce any religious belief); attack religious beliefs without knowing, or even trying to find out, what those beliefs are; and engage in exactly the same dishonesty and logical fallacies for which we rightly condemn the fundies. You want evidence? It’s on this very thread, and probably any other thread with more than 200 replies.

Comment #147075

Posted by Sir_Toejam on November 28, 2006 1:30 PM (e)

They’ve contributed nothing to the recent defeats of the religious right,

man, that little closet you live in must be awfully dark.

Comment #147076

Posted by Sir_Toejam on November 28, 2006 1:32 PM (e)

if an individual “feels” the presence of a “higher power” acting in his/her own life, then that’s the “proof.

…and if I “feel” there are blue bugs with pink spots crawling on my arm, is that “proof” of value to anyone, even myself?

your postulate is absolutely ludicrous.

can’t you see where it leads?

Comment #147089

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 2:22 PM (e)

Raging Bee: So all the atheists should just shut up because certain theists like to use stereotypes & guilt by association? Please show me any reason at all why the same “argument” can’t be applied to “moderate” supernaturalists by their more excitable colleagues.

… it should be possible to say “I’m an atheist” without insulting theists in general.

There is a categorical difference between gays and atheists in this regard, though those who oppose both may not be able to see it. This is more than declaring membership in a given group, however: is it possible, or reasonable to expect, that somebody might say “I don’t accept X” without giving any arguments against X?

We Pagans…’re quite able to say what we believe without stooping to the fundy level of adding “…and everyone else is EVIL!!!”

You mischaracterize atheist - that’s too vague, let’s say Dawkinsian - rhetoric here. It may be done with varying degrees of diplomacy, but ultimately, it’s not possible to say “Y & Z are mutually exclusive propositions; Y is true” without at least implying that Z is not true. That is what pagans are doing to christians - at least those who accept the mutually exclusive aspects of their religion & yours, which seems to be most of them - so they correctly perceive that they are being told they’re wrong, and react in their ineffably loving christian way.

What Dawkins has unleashed is not only the assertion that Y & Z are both untrue (hardly a new observation), but that Y & Z are both being given privileged treatment, a social immunity from criticism that neither has earned. Exactly like other groups threatened with the loss of long-held special privileges (compare with males, whites, heteros, et al), believers are responding as if they personally are under assault. Not so - but it’s quite possible that you are going to have to put both feet on the ground and justify your positions to the rest of us. That, in turn, may indeed reduce your ranks as a social institution - though there is always the hypothetical prospect that your justification(s), when finally produced, may add to your collective stature. (I’ll leave it to those with greater statistical sophistication to calculate the probabilities of that.)

…they should be taken seriously, or not, based on an informed judgement of their respective words and actions…

So when someone says that a teenager was made pregnant by a ghost; or the universe is governed by an emotionally insecure Power which can be appeased only by human sacrifice & frequent groveling; or that eternal extreme sadism is guaranteed for any woman who exposes her face/chest/groin; or that the alleged preferences of some putative indiscernible being(s) are to be preferred to fact-based evaluation of consequences in questions of ethical behavior; or that blurry photos of the Loch Ness Monster confirm the first two chapters of “Genesis”… just what basis are we to use in deciding any of these can be taken seriously? What standard of “decency” must be violated before it’s acceptable to question such utterances?

… judge people by … consequences … not all of them are uniformly bad.

The consequences of the habit of accepting unsupported statements from authority figures, without critical assessment, have in the last few years in one country alone included the decimation of constitutional law; two massive illegal & counterproductive wars; the mangling of functional democracy; the theft & wastage of billions of dollars yet to be paid; and numerous other disasters, very probably including more still unknown. No, I’m not saying that religion by itself generated the Bushevik menace - but I am saying that the absence of critical thinking at multiple levels of American society has made it possible for liars and fanatics to seize the wheel.

Comment #147094

Posted by stevaroni on November 28, 2006 2:43 PM (e)

what you’re missing is that for many, if not most, theists, the evidence for the existence (or rather, the relevance) of this or that God(s) is subjective

Bee:

No, I got that point, I understand that for many, if not most, believers, faith is an internal thing that needs no impirical proof and is not bound by impirical “disproof”.

I was wondering about the more mathematical comments this morning , that somehow the apparent lack of evidence for the intervention of God anywhere in human history didn’t (mathematically) diminish the probablility of His existence.

It struck me as a highly suspect statement, but since I slept soundly through most of my statistics classes, I wanted more information.

Comment #147096

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 2:55 PM (e)

If you (like me) don’t care enough about astrology to learn the basics, then chances are you (like me) don’t care enough to spend time criticizing it.

Until such point that you find astrologism is causing harm to yourself or your society - then what?

WHICH “True Believers” are you talking about?

You’re confusing an example of a logical fallacy with a particular event. I’m trying to point out that premises can legitimately be rejected without studying each of their potentially endless ramifications. The more so when those asserting said premises do so on demonstrably fallacious grounds - and so far supernaturalism hasn’t left that territory.

… the “compliance” I expect of that lot is roughly the same.

And you’re probably right there. Do you notice any difference between the motivations of those who continue to insist upon the unreal, and of those who continue to insist on evidence?

Comment #147150

Posted by PZ Myers on November 28, 2006 3:12 PM (e)

I think PvM is perhaps overstating the case, but it always boggles my mind that some people– like Registered User, perhaps– fail to see the fact that, when evolution gets linked with atheism in the public eye, it does vast P.R. work for creationism.

Think about that, though. Why should it? Why should people regard that as harming the cause? This is more of that thoughtless bigotry – seriously, if evolution were linked with, say, philosophy in the public eye, would you be complaining that it does P.R. work for creationism? Would people be damning those philosophers for muddying the waters?

There are associations that are made for very good reasons. Biology and evolution get linked to atheism because historically and in the present day, Darwin’s ideas and observations of the natural world have made religious explanations superfluous on matters we biological beings consider rather important. This is not a bad thing; however, we have way too many people on the side of evolution who still react to the heinous word “atheist” with the same kneejerk horror as some hillbilly hick snake dancer.

Comment #147151

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 3:23 PM (e)

There is a categorical difference between gays and atheists in this regard, though those who oppose both may not be able to see it.

Does this “categorical difference” mean that atheists and gays have to follow different rules of etiquette when talking to other people?

This is more than declaring membership in a given group, however: is it possible, or reasonable to expect, that somebody might say “I don’t accept X” without giving any arguments against X?

Teh same is true for gays: they have given arguments against certain beliefs about gays, without saying that all straights are wrong, irrational and untrustworthy. So maybe there’s something you could learn from the gays about stating your views honestly without causing needless offense. (“Queer Eye for the Unsocialized Atheist?” At least it would be more watchable than “Desperate Housewives”…)

It may be done with varying degrees of diplomacy, but ultimately, it’s not possible to say “Y & Z are mutually exclusive propositions; Y is true” without at least implying that Z is not true.

Is IS possible, however, to state that we don’t fully support Z, without calling everyone in the Z camp stupid or evil.

That is what pagans are doing to christians - at least those who accept the mutually exclusive aspects of their religion & yours, which seems to be most of them - so they correctly perceive that they are being told they’re wrong, and react in their ineffably loving christian way.

This over-generalization proves you have no clue how Pagans interact with Christians. Our experience tells us that different Christians react differently. We simply talk to those who listen and show interest; and debunk the most odious statements of those who don’t. By debunking their most ridiculous assertions, we manage to increase their isolation and decrease their credibility in the eyes of the non-ideological majority. We’re not free from all danger yet, but we are making visible progress.

(And no, we don’t actually assert that Christianity is wrong in its entirety, mainly because very few Pagans actually believe that. We talk of common ground, such as similar moral beliefs and respect for the rule of law, show others the respect we want them to show us, and merely assert our right to practice our beliefs as the Christians practice theirs.)

So when someone says that a teenager was made pregnant by a ghost; or the universe is governed by an emotionally insecure Power which can be appeased only by human sacrifice & frequent groveling; or that eternal extreme sadism is guaranteed for any woman who exposes her face/chest/groin; or that the alleged preferences of some putative indiscernible being(s) are to be preferred to fact-based evaluation of consequences in questions of ethical behavior; or that blurry photos of the Loch Ness Monster confirm the first two chapters of “Genesis”… just what basis are we to use in deciding any of these can be taken seriously? What standard of “decency” must be violated before it’s acceptable to question such utterances?

I just laid out the standard in plain English: judge them by what they say or do, and by the benefit or harm that results therefrom. I really don’t see why you find this so hard to comprehend. (If you want to criticize their beliefs, go right ahead; just remember that you – and your beliefs – will be judged by how honestly and intelligently you behave. If you assert, in the first minute, that their beliefs are wrong in their entirety, without even proving to them that you know what they believe, then don’t expect them to listen to you much longer.)

Comment #147152

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 3:32 PM (e)

…when evolution gets linked with atheism in the public eye, it does vast P.R. work for creationism.

To which PZ replied:

Think about that, though. Why should it? Why should people regard that as harming the cause?

Well, given that the “cause” is the teaching of good and honest science, separate from religious doctrine, and given that the belief in an evolution-atheism link is contrary to this cause, I’d say that a belief contrary to what we’re trying to uphold is, well, harming the cause. There’s no “why” about it – it’s just a fact.

Comment #147153

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 28, 2006 3:34 PM (e)

Well, moving right along, I’m curious if the Roman number (equivalent to arabic 3,127) used in the heading for Nick’s post has any correlate in reality?

That is, did Nick count up using some set of defensible criteria and determine that we have really had that many “religious war” threads here?

Or was MMMCXXVII just picked out of thin air, as an amusingly-high official-sounding type of number?

I know Lenny isn’t responding to specific questions this weak (“I don’t have to stoop to your ridiculous level of detail”), but maybe Nick is…

Or, y’know, Nora.

Or Asta…

Pinheads ain’t picky–whoever’s home can pick up the phone.

Comment #147154

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 3:45 PM (e)

Raging Bee: …atheists who: repeatedly insist that science reinforces their beliefs…

Well, sometimes science does subvert beliefs, rather than reinforce them, and atheists are not immune to this. However, we’re still waiting for science to produce results which undermine atheism to any degree - or is there a new journal article we’ve missed?

…after telling the creationists that science does NOT reinforce any religious belief;

Have we misinformed the poor creos in that regard? How so?

If science does reinforce any belief, in what way can we still call that belief religious?

…attack religious beliefs without knowing, or even trying to find out, what those beliefs are;

Nope, we have found out what those beliefs are. We may not have established their global position within millimeters, nor confirmed the pedigree of the bull which emitted them; but we have, at least, tentatively identified the feed from which those emissions were formed.

…and engage in exactly the same dishonesty and logical fallacies for which we rightly condemn the fundies.

Gee, you haven’t answered my request for concrete instances of this sort of stuff either. This sensation of deja vu is quite eerie - excuse me while I consult my Ouija board on which crystals to wear for protection of my immortal soul.

Comment #147155

Posted by PZ Myers on November 28, 2006 3:46 PM (e)

Well, given that the “cause” is the teaching of good and honest science, separate from religious doctrine, and given that the belief in an evolution-atheism link is contrary to this cause, I’d say that a belief contrary to what we’re trying to uphold is, well, harming the cause. There’s no “why” about it – it’s just a fact.

You are assuming that 1) atheists aren’t fighting to teach good and honest science, 2) that they are interested in teaching atheism in the schools, and 3) that the tautology of saying that they’re harming the cause is evidence of the harm they’re doing the cause.

The harm here is this bigoted opinion that atheists are bad. Simply bad. Gotta get ‘em away. After all, if the cause is teaching good science, and there are these bad people, they would be bad and would harm the cause. That’s just a fact, too.

Comment #147156

Posted by Anton Mates on November 28, 2006 3:48 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Read a newpsper lately? “The unchained power of positive theism” is already starting to win the fight, with no help from ignorant scoffers, thankyouverymuch.

They seemed to appreciate the help of Barbara Forrest and Kevin Padian in Dover, neither of whom have any problem criticizing religion. Though I don’t think either would say that it’s “the root of all evil.” For that matter, neither did Darrow.

Comment #147157

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 3:52 PM (e)

PZ: your assumption about my assumptions is just plain false – I’m not “assuming” anything of the sort. Go back and try again.

Comment #147158

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 4:06 PM (e)

Nope, we have found out what those beliefs are. We may not have established their global position within millimeters, nor confirmed the pedigree of the bull which emitted them; but we have, at least, tentatively identified the feed from which those emissions were formed.

Let me guess…you won’t deal with facts, specifics, cause-and-effect relationships or supporting evidence because you don’t want to descend to that “pathetic level of detail?” Sorry, that dodge didn’t work for the creationists, and it won’t work for you either.

I have repeatedly asked you to back up your reasoning with specific wrong actions resulting from specific beliefs of specific groups (of which there are plenty); and you have refused. Without such specifics, your “case” against religion and religious people is no better than “evolution led to the Holocaust.”

Comment #147159

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 28, 2006 4:11 PM (e)

PZ Myers wrote:

Think about that, though. Why should it? Why should people regard that as harming the cause? This is more of that thoughtless bigotry – seriously, if evolution were linked with, say, philosophy in the public eye, would you be complaining that it does P.R. work for creationism? Would people be damning those philosophers for muddying the waters?

What matters is whether or not “an agenda” is seen to accompany the science of evolution. If people are linking atheists/commies/church-burning ebola boys as one in the same, with the science of evolution, evolutionary science is harmed in the minds of many people (no matter that it is their own prejudices that provide the linkages). If atheists were seen as a various “grouping”, which no doubt they are, the balance of Nietzschean-type atheists, secularists who mostly ignore religion, scientists who find no value in the God question, and the vocal militant atheists, the concern over the linkage of atheism with evolution might be neutral, or even positive.

When I watched James Kennedy preaching about evolution using his quote mines, what most occurred to me was how he is the standard candle for so many in his congregation. They might indeed listen to us, but only with the understanding of us that Kennedy instilled into them (that is, we are liars propping up a failed theory, who are intent primarily upon imposing, say, PZ Myer’s beliefs upon the public). Indeed, the linkage with atheism is the smearing “basis” upon which Kennedy builds his main “case against evolution”. So yes, certainly Raving Ant (really, it’s just a joke now, RB—I’ll be willing to admit it if sometime it is not) has a point, however unfair the situation he brings up may be.

As long as “atheism” means Dawkins, “godless commies” (a fading threat to the religious right, but not one that has disappeared), and the implicit threat that their religion will in fact be banned (remember, many of these people really do think that evolution exists just to avoid the demands that God “rightfully places” upon humans), such a linkage will continue to work against the acceptance of evolution as ordinary and reasonable science. This is simply a fact, a deplorable fact, but a fact nonetheless.

This doesn’t mean to me, though, that militant atheists like Dawkins and PZ should shut up. They may in fact make it harder for IDists/creationists to lump all evolutionists together as “militant atheists”, because, as PZ so willingly points out, many “atheists” in fact are quite unlike he is, and do not share his agenda.

I would even go so far as to say that “atheist” is not a wholly neutral (or positive) term in my vocabulary, as it invokes notions of atheist proselytizers in my mind, while my own position on God makes even entertaining the “God question” rather anachronistic—the intellectual equivalent of debating the effect of St. Christopher upon one’s travels.

So then it is true that I am not really setting forth any conclusion, other than that people do understandably fear an “atheist agenda” when this has been presented as the reason why evolution, and even ordinary empirical science (which they call “materialism”), exist and are taught in schools. This linkage is poison to science, as well as to reasonable apolitical secularism. RB’s prescription do not especially satisfy me (how many religionists honestly do completely divorce their religion from science and the evidence, versus the many who claim to do so?), however he is not wrong that the linkage between atheism and evolution harms the reputation of evolution.

PZ Myers and Dawkins are not, could not be, the source of this linkage, which is an ancient staple of creationism, and which thereby was inherited by the minimalist form of creationism, ID.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147161

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 28, 2006 4:14 PM (e)

They seemed to appreciate the help of Babara Forrest…

Ah, yes, the ignoramus who claimed evolutionary theory “is at the center of…much physical science (as in geology)…”

Are you claiming her as an asset?

Comment #147163

Posted by Anton Mates on November 28, 2006 4:22 PM (e)

stevaroni wrote:

I was wondering about the more mathematical comments this morning , that somehow the apparent lack of evidence for the intervention of God anywhere in human history didn’t (mathematically) diminish the probablility of His existence.

It struck me as a highly suspect statement, but since I slept soundly through most of my statistics classes, I wanted more information.

Well, what’s an “intervention?” Ken Miller, apparently, would say that every collapse of a quantum state constitutes an intervention by God. The average pro-science theist, I think, would say that God “intervenes” at every second by virtue of simply sustaining the existence of the universe–interventions which actually alter the natural behavior of things are unnecessary because the natural behavior of things is what God wants in the first place.

Now when you’re thinking of an intervention, you’re probably thinking of “A bus full of angelic, 8-year-old Catholic school students drives off a cliff and is miraculously set safely back on the road rather than impacting and bursting into flames 500 feet below.” But many theists’ Gods don’t do that kind of intervention, so the actual fiery massacre follows from their Gods’ existence with 100% probability; thus it doesn’t diminish the probability of that existence at all. Again, if you’re Jerry Falwell, maybe you take it as particularly supportive of your God’s existence that all the little Papist brats died in the first place.

Conversely, if a bus drove off a cliff and was miraculously rescued, would that diminish the probability of a godless universe? I don’t think so. There are, after all, an infinite set of naturalistic theories of the universe which account for all scientific evidence so far but also have loopholes permitting the occasional antigravity bus. If no Catholic ever died violently under any circumstances, a powerful Catholic-favoring being would start to look like a parsimonious hypothesis–but it could still just be that a Kryptonian baby crashlanded near the Vatican twenty years ago.

Basically, unless you can compute the probability that a given hypothetical god will intervene in a particular, well-specified way in a particular, well-specified situation…as well as the probability that the situtation will just happen to resolve itself that way under the ensemble of all possible godless theories of everything….statistics is pretty useless here. The only gods I can think of who would be that predictable, like the philosophers’ omnipotent omniscient ultrabenevolent God, are logically inconsistent with the known universe anyway.

Comment #147164

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 28, 2006 4:26 PM (e)

Ah, yes, the ignoramus who claimed evolutionary theory “is at the center of…much physical science (as in geology)…”

Are you claiming her as an asset?

If you knew how to read at college level, lackwit (pardon my use of your term for him, Sir TJ, but I think that it should be the usual modifier for this dolt), you’d have noticed that his point was something entirely different.

I don’t know if it’s really true, though, that Forrest has no problem with criticizing religion, especially in her current role. Has she done so recently?

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147165

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 4:26 PM (e)

Gee, you haven’t answered my request for concrete instances of this sort of stuff either.

I explicitly told you where you could find it. What do you want me to do, paste huge blocks of text already up on this very thread in one more huge post to make it easier for you to read? You sound like a creationist denying the existence of evidence after being shown multiple links to it.

Comment #147166

Posted by Anton Mates on November 28, 2006 4:28 PM (e)

Robert O'Brien wrote:

They seemed to appreciate the help of Babara Forrest…

Ah, yes, the ignoramus who claimed evolutionary theory “is at the center of…much physical science (as in geology)…”

Are you claiming her as an asset?

Uh-oh…now Barbara Forrest is under attack! Clearly her militant atheism has made her a liability to the cause. We’d better jettison her before more harm is done.

Did you alter my quote to misspell her name on purpose, Robert? Normally I wouldn’t ask, but, well, it has a precedent.

Comment #147167

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 4:38 PM (e)

Raging Bee: Does this “categorical difference” mean that atheists and gays have to follow different rules of etiquette when talking to other people?

Nope, it means that gayness, as a personal characteristic, does not call for explanation; whereas atheism, as an intellectual position, does entail a supporting rationale.

… gays… have given arguments against certain beliefs about gays, without saying that all straights are wrong, irrational and untrustworthy.

Their arguments do, however, strongly imply that homophobes are wrong, irrational and untrustworthy - at least in terms of intellectual judgment, the same implication applies to atheophobes, no?

…[It] IS possible, however, to state that we don’t fully support Z, without calling everyone in the Z camp stupid or evil.

When you say that Z is wrong, are you obliged to retract that statement with abject apologies as soon as some Z-ist takes it personally? Does a proclivity toward sloppy thinking immunize one’s assertions against charges of sloppy thinking?

…you have no clue how Pagans interact with Christians.

Not much of one - but I do observe how certain major christian leaders interact with pagans (generally in a negative way, fyi). Since you have very similar evidence (unsubstantiated say-so) to support your worldviews, and those cosmologies do have large areas of overlap, it seems quite possible that you might be able to find common ground. At least, that is, until you become visible enough that some pulpit-pounder decides it would be advantageous to add you to the latest witch-hunt…

… we … merely assert our right to practice our beliefs as the Christians practice theirs.

How cozy, like two peas in a pod. Now, please don’t ever complain again about how non-believers find you to be all part of one big hairy social phenomenon.

… I really don’t see why you find this so hard to comprehend.

I comprehend that you don’t see; apparently, my little flashlight isn’t bright enough to reveal what I’m pointing it at. What the believers currently in power are saying and doing is very toxic, and not just on a somebody’s-feelings-got-hurt level. It is by their fruits that I judge them: they’re howling crazy. More to the present point, they have no right to disregard observations to the effect that they’re howling crazy, even when [gasp!] supporting details are provided.

… If you assert, in the first minute, that their beliefs are wrong in their entirety, without even proving to them that you know what they believe, then don’t expect them to listen to you much longer.

I don’t expect the howling crazies to listen to logical analyses of their craziness, because they haven’t so far, and because their presupposition of privileged discourse contributes to the syndrome under discussion. In the meantime, I have researched religion in many aspects over many years, and have concluded that life is too short to sit through long-winded sermons in the infinitesimal hope that there may be something at the end I haven’t heard (and carefully, comprehensively rejected) before.

Do you have anything new to contribute on the validity of supernaturalism in any form? Spit it out!

Comment #147168

Posted by Anton Mates on November 28, 2006 4:39 PM (e)

Glen Davidson wrote:

I don’t know if it’s really true, though, that Forrest has no problem with criticizing religion, especially in her current role. Has she done so recently?

She wrote a nice article arguing for philosophical naturalism in 2000, and NOSHA’s position seems to be (unsurprisingly) that religion’s unnecessary at best. The ID side tried to attack her on the NOSHA and American Atheists connection at Dover, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

Comment #147169

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 4:46 PM (e)

Do you have anything new to contribute on the validity of supernaturalism in any form? Spit it out!

When you’ve demonstrated that you comprehend what’s already out there, all over the world, new and not so new, then maybe I’ll add something new of my own – if I have anything new. Right now I’m still taking it all in myself, and expect to be doing so for a long time to come.

I am pleased to note that you’re now confining your criticism to “the believers currently in power,” rather than all believers (many of whom are completely powerless). That’s a major improvement.

Comment #147170

Posted by Raging Bee on November 28, 2006 4:53 PM (e)

…it seems quite possible that you might be able to find common ground. At least, that is, until you become visible enough that some pulpit-pounder decides it would be advantageous to add you to the latest witch-hunt…

And what better support will militant atheists provide us should that happen?

As a matter of fact, such things have already happened, and it is our pre-established common ground with moderates that has reduced, stopped, and/or prevented any resulting injustices.

Comment #147171

Posted by Peter Henderson on November 28, 2006 5:30 PM (e)

The harm here is this bigoted opinion that atheists are bad. Simply bad. Gotta get ‘em away. After all, if the cause is teaching good science, and there are these bad people, they would be bad and would harm the cause. That’s just a fact, too.

When I hear the fundies engaging in “gay bashing” PZ, or making accusations that teaching evolution results in all the things that are wrong in society, I often think to myself that one of the worst cases of child sex abuse in NI was committed by a leading member of the church here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/885985.stm

Comment #147172

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 5:31 PM (e)

… Let me guess…you won’t deal with facts, specifics, cause-and-effect relationships or supporting evidence because you don’t want to descend to that “pathetic level of detail?”

Okay, I let you guess. Your guess was wrong. :-(

My turn: I guess that you won’t be able to provide facts, specifics, cause-and-effect relationships or supporting evidence for your own or anyone else’s flavor of supernaturalism. How’m I doing?

Being a greedy amoral atheist, I’ll make another guess: you’ll feel I have no right to pressure you so intolerantly about your personal beliefs. What’s my score?

… I have repeatedly asked you to back up your reasoning with specific wrong actions resulting from specific beliefs of specific groups (of which there are plenty); and you have refused.

Did you miss that part about the current US regime getting away (so far) with multitudinous crimes because nobody (of any influence) bothered to ask them for evidence or logic, as a less faith-befuddled body politic might have? Or are you actually in need of yet another recitation of deaths caused by neglecting medical attention in preference for prayer? For that matter, as you concur that “there are plenty” of “specific wrong actions resulting from specific beliefs of specific groups”, just what is it that you need me to deliver?

…I explicitly told you where you could find it.

“It” in this case being “exactly the same dishonesty and logical fallacies for which we rightly condemn the fundies” being perpetrated by atheists with poor table manners; and “where” being this thread or any other (anywhere?!?) with > 200 comments.

Now, this isn’t fair: you’re letting your own team down, and the thousands of metaphysical fence-sitters desperately scanning this blog to resolve their deep disturbing doubts are all going to conclude that all supernaturalists, when asked to point to specifics, can do no better than vague finger-waving.

Comment #147173

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 28, 2006 5:36 PM (e)

stevaroni wrote:

I was wondering about the more mathematical comments this morning , that somehow the apparent lack of evidence for the intervention of God anywhere in human history didn’t (mathematically) diminish the probablility of His existence.

It struck me as a highly suspect statement, but since I slept soundly through most of my statistics classes, I wanted more information.

I don’t know if I should chime in (Anton gave a good answer), but to me it seems that needs to be a certain, even if low, chance of a phenomenon existing in the first place, before probabilities can even be discussed. That is, we need some evidence in favor of God, the gods, or invisible pink unicorns, to exist and to produce observable effects prior to discussing probabilities in any manner.

What is this Yahweh, when we try to pin down the IDists’ “designer”? Does he have any attributes, any causal force?

Originally Yahweh seems to have been a storm god (the thunderings on Mt. Sinai are given in evidence for this—they diminish in the later Deuteronomy from the earlier Exodus). And as a kind of pre-scientific explanation for storms, Yahweh might have some predictivity, some chance of existing (for all we know, anyhow).

But what is Yahweh today? He (well, his followers) left behind the causal explanation for storms (or whatever he “explained”), yet storms do have causal forces, do they not? Nevertheless God, a spirit (which was the same as “air” at one time) behind the storms seems not plausible any more, partly because we don’t understand the winds as spirits any more. Surely Yahweh, or Boreas (the Greek North Wind), have been made very improbable in their original explanatory roles.

Jews and Xians would not think of Yahweh as being a storm god, or volcano god (perhaps another possibility for his original role), any more. So what is He supposed to be? Many would say, as Anton noted, that He is the deeper cause for all that exists. Well fine, if we think of Yahweh as the god who would make things exist as they do, we might consider Yahweh to be “proven” in that interpretation. The trouble with such a Yahweh is, however, that nothing connects the words about “Yahweh” (which are all that we demonstrably have of this “entity”, along with other human creations) with storms, or with quantum phenomena. There is no independent way to link the probability of Yahweh existing with any phenomenon or phenomena within this universe, because Yahweh entails no effects in this universe whatsoever, at least not to the truly independent observer. If Yahweh may make things entirely as he might desire, while we have absolutely no access to knowledge of his desires, then we know no probabilities of Yahweh’s existence (this is true of the IDists’ “designer” as well, and not accidentally).

It’s the same of invisible pink unicorns. If they cause things to be as they are, existing according to observed regularities, then everything is totally compatible with invisible pink unicorns, just as it is with a God who is presumed to desire what exists. If we knew that invisible pink unicorns would make everything else pink and/or invisible (if we knew this independently of the claims of sacred texts about invisible pink unicorns), then we could judge whether or not invisible pink unicorns exist (apparently not, in that scenario).

The trouble with Yahweh is that whenever predictions of what he would do are falsified, he is made to predict something else. This does make some sense in that no observations made of Yahweh constrain his activity or supply any probabilities. The fact is that “God can do anything” according to many religionists, hence there are no probabilities affecting “what God can do”. He is, then, the ultimate oriental despot, all-powerful, and existing according to his own rules, which we must follow. Such a being could never be held to probabilities or to constraints: he makes the probabilities and constraints. Many theists would even say so, and these people adhere to the claims that this sort of religion doesn’t mix with, or come under, scientific scrutiny.

Yet to any really independent observer, this God is indeed utterly useless, at least in the absence of any ability of humans to persuade him (answered prayer would support the notion of such a deity, though it would not by itself identify him as “Yahweh”). For we simply cannot discover any probabilities as to the existence of a God who makes existence what it is. We might as well look at the world, knowing that it (whatever “it” is—but that’s a philosophical problem, not an empirical one) has a probability of “1”, and treat it as the only thing that allows us to realize probabilities, regularities, and any answers that can mean anything to us. Of course something wholly unknown to us might be behind it all, but unfortunately this phenomenon remains wholly unknown to us.

This, too, is why these discussions must take place among those of us who oppose ID. ID is almost certainly the most religious (if possibly the least spiritual) form of creationism yet, for its “designer” can “do anything”, just like Jesus or Yahweh. The “designer’s” designs are undetectable, for we don’t know how or why this designer might design. True, an observation (extreme complexity in biological systems) is turned into a “prediction”, however this “prediction” isn’t produced through restraint as in ordinary science, but merely on the basis that the “designer can do anything” (they don’t say it that way, but it’s what is behind what they do say).

There is thus no probability whatsoever that this designer is responsible for life, due to the fact that “anything can happen due to this ‘designer’” only states the tautology that “anything can happen” (not true in this universe, but it is their belief based on their premise that “the designer can (or could) do anything). There isn’t even a zero probability that the designer designed life—probability doesn’t have anything to do with a designer that would as readily produce life according to causal evolutionary predictions (which are what we see) as in any other manner. This is why we don’t calculate the “probabilities” that an IDist-type designer designed life, for it is a completely meaningless prediction that “something complex will happen” due to an entity that “could cause anything to happen”.

The God or designer of the IDists could exist for all we know, however we have no tools, including statistics, for knowing if he does, or if invisible pink unicorns do. The “possibilities” which have no evidence for them are endless, because we have no ability to predict how these “possibilities” might intersect with our existence. Thus, to our limited minds and perceptions, “possibilities” such as these are completely meaningless. ID is meaningless because it is religion, and, whether we like it or not, religion is as meaningless as ID is, both within science and outside of it, since essentially the same epistemology rules over both science and the rest of existence (true, we commonly act upon scientifically insufficient data, but we use science to inform us about these things because it more formally and thoroughly builds upon the basic epistemology that reasonable people use everywhere with or without adequate data).

The issue with religion is that while science cannot show religion to be false, it can show that the claims religion makes are beyond the proper use of data, as such propriety is understood outside of any religion or other set of magical claims.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147174

Posted by tomh on November 28, 2006 6:01 PM (e)

PZ Myers wrote:

… however, we have way too many people on the side of evolution who still react to the heinous word “atheist” with the same kneejerk horror as some hillbilly hick snake dancer.

Oh, it’s much more than a few hillbillies. I know it’s different in more enlightened countries but Mr. Gallup tells us that when Americans are asked, Would you vote for a well qualified …Catholic, Jew, Baptist, Mormon, black, homosexual, woman, or atheist, atheist finished last by a wide margin. In addition, over 50% of Americans consider atheists “unamerican”. So why would god-fearing evolutionists be any different than other god-fearing Americans.

Comment #147176

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on November 28, 2006 6:14 PM (e)

there are some questions you left unanswered since your last appearance here.

Sorry, Pierce, I have no interest in either stamping out religion, or in arguing with others about their religious opinions. I have better things to do. (shrug)

Speaking of which …

Allow me to take this time to say “goodbye, farewell and amen” to everyone.

My motive in fighting the IDers was a simple one — I wanted to prevent the fundamentalist wackos from gaining political power, and since ID was the wedge issue that they chose to gain entry to political power, that is the issue where I fought them.

That fight is now over.

ID is dead. Dembski, Behe and the others have gone back to preaching. The fundamentalist organizations are all in disarray. The Republicrats who provided political support for the fundies are now political pariahs. The fundies and the Republicrats are already fighting with each other. And the recent election results make it pretty clear that it will be years, if not decades, before the fundies ever get near real political power again.

Meanwhile, with no longer any fundamentalist enemy to fight, the anti-ID movement has already collapsed into pointless Jihad amongst ourselves over religious opinions. I have no interest in that, nor do I see any utility to it.

So I am moving on to more pressing (and more useful) political matters. The recent election results have shown that the Democrats, while they still haven’t grown themselves a pair, do at least seem to have gained ONE gonad, which is better than the NONE they had before. Hence, I am moving on to the task of forcing the Democratic leadership to *be* Democratic, and not allow them to revert to their previous role as Democans who were indistinguishable from Republicrats.

In my years here, I have made many cyber-friends. Sadly, I also think I recently *lost* some of those cyber-friends over this silly Religious War. Regardless, whether you will miss me or will not miss me, I will miss ALL of you.

It goes without saying, of course, that the fundies will never go away. If, in future years, the fundie anti-evolutioners (whatever new name they choose for themselves) appear again as a semi-effective political movement, I will be back to fight them.

Till then, goodbye, all, and good luck to each of you.

Solidarity forever.

Comment #147177

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 6:16 PM (e)

When you’ve demonstrated that you comprehend what’s already out there, all over the world, new and not so new, then maybe I’ll add something new of my own…

And when you can levitate or teleport (to the proven satisfaction of James Randi or CSICOP), I’ll be waiting for your pearl(s) of wisdom.

…you’re now confining your criticism to “the believers currently in power,”…

As examples, not as the totality of the set under consideration. The pathology does include many of the politically powerless, after all; it seems to contribute to their powerlessness, doesn’t it?

…what better support will militant atheists provide us…

As atheists, very little on an intellectual level. Those scoffers who also support what’s left of the Constitution (scroll _way_ up to see mention of C. Darrow, albeit in a gratuitously disparaging vein), if we can ever pry it away from the Believers, will try to protect you from your fratricidal comrades. Your supernatural entities will, of course, be as much help as ever.

Comment #147181

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 28, 2006 6:27 PM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

She wrote a nice article arguing for philosophical naturalism in 2000, and NOSHA’s position seems to be (unsurprisingly) that religion’s unnecessary at best. The ID side tried to attack her on the NOSHA and American Atheists connection at Dover, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

Thank you, that certainly answers my question.

In reading her article I can’t help but object to terms like “supernaturalism”. While I realize that unpredictability is what “supernaturalists” supposedly “predict” today (and I sometimes answer them on their proclaimed grounds), predictability and regularity do not inherently set any putative “naturalism” or “supernaturalism” apart. Indeed, the old metaphysics invoked God to explain regularity and predictability, since they knew of nothing except animate controllers (notably, idealizations of rulers) who would be able to enforce a predictable regularity onto the universe.

The real problem the old metaphysics brings to science is that it is incompatible with the methods and attitudes of science, which ask why things exist as they, rather than supposing that the universe must be this way because we previously only knew of animate control to be capable of making things regular and intercompatible (it’s another version of animism).

Forrest runs into the problem that our observations do not provide us with an adequate basis for existence or non-existence (perhaps meaningless terms—she acknowledges this but still makes existential claims). Which is to say that explaining the universe according to its investigable nature doesn’t tell us why or how it “exists”, and yet she resorts to telling us that the universe exists according to “nature” (apparently, itself). She infers from our limited knowledge that these knowledge limits are due to a universe which is limited to this ill-defined “nature”, which I do not consider to be a proper inference (we do not know why we know only what we know, nor what we expect we’ll know in the future).

This is important for one reason, which is that one might indeed suppose that her conflation of methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism leads to statements about the universe which cannot possible be backed up by a careful train of thought leading from the evidence. This is, I expect, why we have the distinction of “methodological naturalism” and “philosophical naturalism”, for the methods of science do not give us any ultimate knowledge about the universe—or if they do, we are unable to recognize it to be ultimate knowledge about the universe (at least not yet).

Still I think that the claim that science should stick with “methodological naturalism” seems inadequate unless one assumes that “naturalism” is all that exists, or, that it is all that we can know. We can’t legitimately say that naturalism is all that exists. We might, however, say that we will define all that we do or can know as “naturalism”, though we can’t really define all that we can know as “naturalism” without turning “naturalism” into either a definition or a tautology (isn’t a tautology a sort of definition?). But we didn’t gain anything by using the term “naturalism” when we simply defined all that we can know as “naturalism”. This suggests that “naturalism” itself is a rather superfluous addition to science.

We ought to be more minimalistic, not presupposing any God or gods to somehow be “supernatural” (in the old sense this meant roughly beyond the moon), rather to simply be without perceptual presence and effects. That is enough to regard them (contingently, but quite usefully) as non-existing, when we refuse to speculate (except in our creative thoughts) beyond what is in evidence. Everything really comes down to the prohibition against warrantless speculations being turned into supposed models of what we call “factual”. We don’t make factual claims beyond what the evidence can support, either about the existence or non-existence of “magical entities”. We (ideally) do not say “God doesn’t exist”, because God doesn’t legitimately come up in the first place (well, we might say that God doesn’t exist when it comes up illegitimately, but only in answer to those who mistake speculation for substance).

I can see that Forrest not only makes pro-atheist statements, she seems to move beyond what is proper epistemology to deny the existence of what simply (and fatally) fails to achieve sufficient status even to legitimately ask if it “might exist”. It is doubtful that humans can make proper ontological claims at all, instead religions and other unwarranted speculations fail due to epistemological issues alone.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147182

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 6:28 PM (e)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank: Allow me to take this time to say “goodbye, farewell and amen” to everyone.

My, the lengths some people will go to just to avoid answering questions to substantiate the claims they themselves have made…

That said, I agree with most of your other closing comments (a whole gonad? not just a scrap of testicular tissue?), and hope you’ll apply your considerable talents to giving ‘em hell.

And please maintain your http://www.geocities.com/lflank web site - it’s a very useful resource!

Comment #147185

Posted by Lenny's Pizza Guy on November 28, 2006 6:50 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'b'

Comment #147186

Posted by Bettinke, R.N. on November 28, 2006 6:52 PM (e)

Up-hurry, you fellows!

He’s away getting, that Flank Lenny, before you your nets deploy having!

Comment #147187

Posted by Lenny's Pizza Guy on November 28, 2006 6:59 PM (e)

Nah, ya stoopid degas, I’m sure I got that “b” part right…

Anyway, I wuz just trying to say that some folks seem to have all the luck! You PTers may not have Lenny to kick you around anymore, but he’ll still have me to kick around, every evening at oh-hunger-thirty, rain or shine, tip or no tip…

With the kind permission of the “boss,” I may still be stopping by here, from time to time… I’m not all that interested in polly-ticks, but snarking at the Cree-IDiots can be right relaxing at the end of a tough day in the (pizza delivery bike) saddle.

And, of course, Pizza Woman doesn’t need anybody’s permission for anything. I’m sure if she’s got something on her mind, she’ll out with it.

Hi Ho, Pizza, and away!

Comment #147188

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 28, 2006 7:04 PM (e)

My earlier post:

I think PvM is perhaps overstating the case, but it always boggles my mind that some people– like Registered User, perhaps– fail to see the fact that, when evolution gets linked with atheism in the public eye, it does vast P.R. work for creationism.

PZ Myers:

Think about that, though. Why should it? Why should people regard that as harming the cause? This is more of that thoughtless bigotry – seriously, if evolution were linked with, say, philosophy in the public eye, would you be complaining that it does P.R. work for creationism? Would people be damning those philosophers for muddying the waters?

PZ, did you read my entire post? Here are my next two sentences, the ones that immediately follow the paragraph you quoted:

A lot of creationist mythology rests on the assertion that the theory of evolution exists because atheists need it. Linking evolution with atheism validates that mythology and lends them an awful lot of strength.

To the extent that we “unlink” evolution and atheism in the public eye, we rob creationists of support for this argument. I favor this because it forces them to debate on the scientific merits of the ToE rather than allowing them to distract people’s attention to other subjects. IMHO, anything we can do to keep the debate centered on the science plays to our strengths.

So, to answer your question: yes, if creationists were using the argument that the ToE only persists because philosophers need it, I would try just as hard to separate the ToE from philosophy in the public eye, and for the same (strategic) reasons. In fact, if someone were arguing that the ToE only persists because Christians need it, I’d be trying just as hard to show that the theory stands on its own.

PZ, I agree that atheists are being demonized by many religious folks, and you’re right, much of it boils down to plain bigotry. I oppose that demonization and that bigotry. But you seem to be going out of your way to find offense where a careful reading would tell you that none was intended. I think the chip on your shoulder is making you add imaginary enemies to the real ones.

Comment #147189

Posted by Pizza Woman on November 28, 2006 7:21 PM (e)

Okay, ah’m just settling down with mah first nightly poah of Vikin’ Piss.

As long as ah’m sittin’ still foah a coupla secs, ah may as well staht the bettin’ for how long it takes befoah the folks over on Uncommonly Indecent to staht claimin’ the credit for Lenny’s de-paht-cha.

Ah’m bettin’ it’s befoah tha evenin’s ovah!

What y’all figger?

Comment #147197

Posted by normdoering on November 28, 2006 8:19 PM (e)

B. Spitzer wrote:

To the extent that we “unlink” evolution and atheism in the public eye, we rob creationists of support for this argument.

But you can’t do that and be honest and informed.

Look into your history. Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s Bulldog, made that link way back when all this began. When Huxley debated Bishop Wilberforce, Huxley’s support of the theory of Evolution included arguments for a “scientific” and “rationalist” viewpoint over a viewpoint of “Religion”, “Faith”, and “Belief.”

We didn’t invent the link – we inherited it.

You have to live with the link… Or live with a missing link, and you know how creationists feel about missing links.

Comment #147199

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 28, 2006 8:34 PM (e)

To the extent that we “unlink” evolution and atheism in the public eye, we rob creationists of support for this argument.

But you can’t do that and be honest and informed.

You most certainly can! …Maybe I haven’t been clear. When I talk about “unlinking” evolution and atheism, I mean making it very clear that the argument for or vs. the ToE is a completely different argument than the one for or vs. atheism, and that supporting (or attacking) the ToE is not the same as supporting (or attacking) atheism.

In other, shorter words: the ToE stands on its own.

Comment #147201

Posted by Katarina on November 28, 2006 8:48 PM (e)

Maybe it would be fruitful to re-visit the concepts of various versions of ToE. I hope a new thread will open up, addressing specific ToE attempts.

Comment #147204

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 28, 2006 9:01 PM (e)

I was wondering about the more mathematical comments this morning , that somehow the apparent lack of evidence for the intervention of God anywhere in human history didn’t (mathematically) diminish the probablility of His existence.

I haven’t seen an attempt, but I would think what you do is reason to the best ability, ie try to make your theory as sharp as possible. We are modeling from the science view so it is permitted.

Here it would be to assume (somewhat tautologically, but again, in modeling that is OK) that we are discussing science, which means that the theories *are* the parsimonious natural explanations that we usually think.

So for each data set that gets a natural theoretical description the plausibility for gods goes down by induction or Bayes theorem. Now, I haven’t seen this done, except in specific cases. Ikeda-Jefferys argument explaining finetuning is one such ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fine-tuned_universe ).

Dawkins discusses probabilities so perhaps his latest book has an explicit model. For example, P(N|D) < P(N|D&T); N = Natural, D = Data, T = Theory. Here each time we explain a data set by a natural theory the probability for the universe being natural increases. I don’t think you can introduce gods directly here as MartinM tries to do - what is the theory describing that?

Meanwhile, as I said above, I think bayesian and inductive reasoning are weak and not the way to do hypotheses testing. Often you can answer the bayesian argument with an alternative - see the discussion in the footnote of the linked wiki article. Not that that particular ID argument seems more plausible than usual. :-)

I think Anton and Glen in turn discusses individual miracles and what I call Cosmic Cheaters, playing the whole enchilada with a different rule set (like solipsism) than the one they fool us with. Those are more problematic cases for a bayesian argument, I bet.

Comment #147205

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 28, 2006 9:07 PM (e)

“N = Natural” - N = Natural universe, of course.

Comment #147209

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 28, 2006 9:16 PM (e)

“I don’t think you can introduce gods directly here as MartinM tries to do - what is the theory describing that?”

Actually, assuming gods in the model is a theological model, of course. Can’t have that! ;-)

Comment #147214

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 28, 2006 9:48 PM (e)

B. Spitzer: To the extent that we “unlink” evolution and atheism in the public eye, we rob creationists of support for this argument. I favor this because it forces them to debate on the scientific merits of the ToE…

With no disrespect intended: if you can’t keep the focus on the topic, rather than on irrelevant ad hominems, probably your debating skills aren’t sharp enough for you to confront the opposition in public in the first place. Sly (and crude) misdirection is their bread ‘n’ butter.

Pizza Woman: … staht the bettin’ for how long it takes befoah the folks over on Uncommonly Indecent to staht claimin’ the credit for Lenny’s de-paht-cha.

Now that someone braver than me has mentioned the prospect, I will dare to voice (well, type) a question that’s puzzled me for a few days now:

This brawl has raged across numerous blogs (coturnix lists a bunch of them at http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2006/11/i_like_mms.php), and except for some real jerks at Larry Moran’s blog (where the first bottle seems to have been busted), and D. Heddle being Heddlesome at Ed Brayton’s, the peanut gallery has been strangely silent (particularly here). Where are they? Has someone concocted effective anti-troll ju-ju at last?

Comment #147218

Posted by PZ Myers on November 28, 2006 10:02 PM (e)

PZ, I agree that atheists are being demonized by many religious folks, and you’re right, much of it boils down to plain bigotry. I oppose that demonization and that bigotry. But you seem to be going out of your way to find offense where a careful reading would tell you that none was intended. I think the chip on your shoulder is making you add imaginary enemies to the real ones.

That would be nice, if they were entirely imaginary. However, please look at the posts by Red State Rabble and Ed Brayton that started this mess. They were enemies lists! They declared sides, with the good guys all on “Ed’s Team”…I wasn’t on it. We have the white hats and the black hats, and Ed and Pat got to call the teams, and they had no problem at all deciding I was one of the bad guys.

Are you suggesting that was unintentional offense? Funny. There haven’t been any apologies offered for accidentally listing me with such vile creatures as Larry Moran and Richard Dawkins, and what we’re getting now is John Lynch and Nick Matzke chiming in and volunteering for “Ed’s Team”, and damning those bastards on Not Ed’s Team further. Why, I think they meant it!

“Imaginary.” Sheee-yeah.

Comment #147222

Posted by normdoering on November 28, 2006 10:29 PM (e)

B. Spitzer wrote:

But you can’t do that and be honest and informed.

You most certainly can!

If you’re uninformed, you might try.

When I talk about “unlinking” evolution and atheism, I mean making it very clear that the argument for or vs. the ToE is a completely different argument than the one for or vs. atheism,…

Nope, they’re not. While ToE doesn’t disprove some versions of God, Christianity or other religions, ToE does support “atheism” because ToE stands not on its own as you assert, but on the concept of “naturalism” and most atheism is founded on naturalism too.

…supporting (or attacking) the ToE is not the same as supporting (or attacking) atheism.

Attacking ToE is often an attack on atheism more than it is an attack on ToE. In many ways attacks on ToE are nothing but attacks on atheism in a mask.

Our problem is that you want to let those attacks stand against atheism by making them irrelevant. But they are relevant to us.

In other, shorter words: the ToE stands on its own.

Nope, ToE stands on Naturalism along with atheism – but also some other theologies.

Comment #147237

Posted by demallien on November 29, 2006 2:39 AM (e)

Glen Davison wrote:

I don’t know if I should chime in (Anton gave a good answer), but to me it seems that needs to be a certain, even if low, chance of a phenomenon existing in the first place, before probabilities can even be discussed. That is, we need some evidence in favor of God, the gods, or invisible pink unicorns, to exist and to produce observable effects prior to discussing probabilities in any manner.all.

The reasoning that you are using there Glen is known as frequency interpretation probability. And you’re absolutely right. It has no answer for case where we don’t have a single incidence. That’s why Bayes created his theory.

The basic idea behind Bayesian inference is as follows:

Imagine that there is an urn before you, and we tell you that it is full of marbles. We than ask you to determine what is the probability that there is a black marble in the urn

The thing is, you have no idea. So you guess. Traditionally, when we are talking about urns and marbles, the marbles in question are used for voting and are black or white. So you guess - quite reasonably - that there is a nearly 100% probability that there is a black marble in that urn somewhere.

But when you put your guess to the test, and pull out a marble, it turns out that it was white. No big deal, there was of course a good chance that this would be the case. After all, according to tradition, the number of black and white marbles should be approximatively equal. So you might decide to keep your estimate that there is a black marble in the urn still at 100%.

Now you pull out the next ten marbles. They are all white. We ask you again, what is the probability of there being a black marble in the urn. You think to yourself, well, the urn’s pretty big, but then again, 11 marbles in a row being white indicates that this urn doesn’t seem to have a 50/50 split of white and black marbles. Perhaps this urn isn’t your typical voting urn. Perhaps there aren’t any black marbles at all. You revise your estimate from being 100% to being maybe 99%

You then pull out another 99 989 marbles. They’re all white too. We put the question to you again: what is the probability that there is a black marble in the urn? Frequency interpretation probability says that the correct answer is “Dunno”, but common sense says otherwise. Common sense is telling you that the odds of being able to pull out 100 000 white marbles without ever encountering a black one if there really are black ones in there is really quite low.

That’s a Bayesian inference. Based on the knowledge of events (the extraction of marbles from the urn), you adjust the likelihood of the unseen event. The thing is, Bayesian inferences work in the real world. They are our most effective tool in the toolbox against spam for example, but there are a host of other applications as well.

Torbjorn raises a good point that you can’t use this type of reasoning to exclude a God. But you certainly can use it to conclude that a God is really quite unlikely.

The thing is though, that if I give the example of marbles and urns, everyone nods their head and agrees. But if instead of asking you for the odds of there being a black marble, I ask you instead “Is there a God?”, and the events are not pulling marbles out of an urn, but scientific investigations testing whether a phenomenom is natural or not, there will suddenly be people like MartinM that pop up trying to claim that the fact that the last 100 000 events or so don’t count for anything, and that the existence of a God is still just as likely as when I started out. I mean, honestly! What is it about religion that short-circuits people’s logic centres?!?!

Comment #147238

Posted by Peiter on November 29, 2006 2:47 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

The stereotype I mentioned was that of the “amoral atheist scientist;” and it’s reinforced by atheists who: repeatedly insist that science reinforces their beliefs (after telling the creationists that science does NOT reinforce any religious belief)

I see why this might be confusing, but to many of us atheists, religion was mostly about explaining the unexplained. The same way that heliocentrism, Big Bang cosmology and linguistics made atheism easier (by removing the need for an ‘explanation’ called God), so does evolutionary theory. That is not to say that you cannot combine these sciences with religion, because people like yourself are clearly evidence thereof. But to literalists who insist on divine creation 6,000 years ago, linguistics as per the Tower of Babel, a global flood, the creation of light before the Sun, animals before plants, science clearly is contrary to their beliefs. For us materialist atheists, with every new discovery of Nature taking care of itself, the possibility of God seems ever more distant. Tough luck. Can’t blame the science.

Theists need to evolve their religion as science reveals new, hitherto unknown aspects of the natural world or they will face cognitive dissociation; the most desperate will attempt denial á la ICR, AiG, Disco Institute or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Others cope in ways, we atheists probably don’t understand properly. But since most Christians accept heliocentrism, plate tectonics and linguistics, some evolution of belief is clearly taking place.

Comment #147239

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on November 29, 2006 2:52 AM (e)

I think Larry Moran has gone batty. You can’t get any more like a dreamy-eyed missionary than Larry in what he just wrote:

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins

By Larry Moran

This is the video clip that so many of my colleagues are excited about. They think Tyson has hit the nail on the head. They agree with Tyson that Dawkins is being “insensitive” when he criticizes religion.

I’m not familiar with Neil de Grasse Tyson. Is he famous in America? Is he a good educator? Is he effective? Has he been going around the country giving lectures where he gently and kindly urges his audiences to question their religious beliefs? Has he been softly pleading with Americans to respect atheists? Has he been speaking out, quietly, against the Ted Haggards and Jerry Falwells of this world? Is his strategy working?

Richard Dawkins has done more in the past two months to stimulate a dialogue on religion than all the rest of us have done in five decades. The blogs are full of excitement about atheism and religion. Dawkins has been at dozens of universities, appeared on dozens of TV shows, and been featured in major articles in most newspapers. The debate made the cover of Time magazine. There have been several symposia like the one Tyson was invited to. There wouldn’t even have been a symposium without Dawkins.

People all over North America are questioning religion. I’ve seen it on the streets in my own neighborhood and overheard discussions in the restaurants. All of a sudden, people are realizing there are atheists in their midst—and they’re not so bad after all. Ask yourself this: how does the Dawkins’ form of education compare with the efforts of people like Neil de Grasse Tysons?

Larry Moran

It’s happening on the streets! In the restaurants! It’s almost like the Atkins diet or something.

Comment #147240

Posted by demallien on November 29, 2006 2:58 AM (e)

A quick correction to the conclusions of my last post. Torbjorn is right that a Bayesian inference is a very weak tool for the existence (no more, no less) of a God, but it is a very strong tool for inferring that the probability of ever seeing an act of God is really low. Really, really low.

AS I have started previously, most atheists will accept the possibility that there was a God that created the Universe, and then sodded off never to be seen again. Bayesian inference re-inforces this.

I’m personally guilty of conflating this pseudo-God with the idea of non-God. As I have stated previosuly, for me, frankly, there is no difference. God has no role in the current universe, so who cares if he kicked things off way back when. Totally uninteresting question. Certainly however, Bayesian inference, and hence science, can very clearly state that the God that most people think of when using the word, He of fire and brimstone, He that answers prayers, He that creates miracles, He that rewards and punishes when you die, is someone that is really incredibly unlikely.

Spread the Good News….

Comment #147247

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 29, 2006 5:34 AM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

Did you alter my quote to misspell her name on purpose, Robert? Normally I wouldn’t ask, but, well, it has a precedent.

LOL! Not to my recollection, but it is fitting, as I consider her (like many modern philosophers) to be an ignorable babbler.

Comment #147249

Posted by Sir_Toejam on November 29, 2006 5:39 AM (e)

ya know, i just saw your post appear on the recent posts box, and thought to myself:

“I bet RO just posted another lackwit one-liner.”

…and sure enough, you didn’t disappoint!

you’re remarkably predictable, even for a troll.

Comment #147250

Posted by PZ Myers on November 29, 2006 6:43 AM (e)

Nick wrote:

You can’t get any more like a dreamy-eyed missionary than Larry in what he just wrote

Sure you could. He could be saying you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe what he believes.

I don’t quite see what your problem is. deGrasse Tyson is not well known, except perhaps to readers of Natural History. He’s a good guy and he should be better known, and maybe he will be…but Moran is right that he hasn’t generated the kind of buzz Dawkins has. I know you and the other members of “Ed’s Team” think our goal is to have the tumbrels rumbling through the streets carrying the priests to the guillotine, but you misunderstand everything: all we want is people to talk and think, and if we change the culture at all it is by getting people to recognize that there are people living good and productive lives without having to listen to the priests. That’s a fine start.

You must also understand that Moran and Dawkins are miles apart on specific scientific issues. If you think he’s being a “dreamy-eyed missionary”, you haven’t got him wound up on adaptationism.

Comment #147261

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 29, 2006 9:28 AM (e)

demallien: What is it about religion that short-circuits people’s logic centres?!?!

Remember that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god has always been presented as the ultimate in elusiveness, along with all of its other Platonic archetypalities, and ready to pull out a miracle whenever needed for its wonders to perform. You would ask, “Why didn’t he use his X-ray vision?” in a story where someone pulled off a hoax on Superman, while the question wouldn’t occur to you about the same story with any other protagonist.

Nick (Matzke): It’s almost like the Atkins diet or something.

What remains to be seen, regarding the “Dawkins diet”, is how many of those who have shed that unsightly mental flab are able to remain intellectually lithe and limber.

Comment #147263

Posted by Raging Bee on November 29, 2006 9:36 AM (e)

Yeah, right – when Pat Robertson makes ignorant and insulting statements about people and beliefs of which he knows nothing, we rightly label him an ignorant bigot, and accept no excuse for his sleaze; but when Dawkins makes equally ignorant and insulting statements, he’s “stimulating a dialogue on religion.” If I were an atheist, I’d be embarrassed by such shameless hypocricy. And you wonder why Christians distrust you and consider you “amoral?”

PS to norm: once you’ve adopted “I don’t understand and neither do you” as your guiding philosophy, you’re really in no position to call others uninformed.

Comment #147275

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 29, 2006 12:46 PM (e)

demallien wrote:

The reasoning that you are using there Glen is known as frequency interpretation probability. And you’re absolutely right. It has no answer for case where we don’t have a single incidence. That’s why Bayes created his theory.

Thanks, I appreciate knowing the formal name, and the more mathematical explanation of what is involved.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147276

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 29, 2006 12:53 PM (e)

That would be nice, if they were entirely imaginary. However, please look at the posts by Red State Rabble and Ed Brayton that started this mess. They were enemies lists! They declared sides, with the good guys all on “Ed’s Team”…I wasn’t on it. We have the white hats and the black hats, and Ed and Pat got to call the teams, and they had no problem at all deciding I was one of the bad guys.

Are you suggesting that was unintentional offense? Funny. There haven’t been any apologies offered for accidentally listing me with such vile creatures as Larry Moran and Richard Dawkins, and what we’re getting now is John Lynch and Nick Matzke chiming in and volunteering for “Ed’s Team”, and damning those bastards on Not Ed’s Team further. Why, I think they meant it!

“Imaginary.” Sheee-yeah.

Could you point us to the posts by Red State Rabble and Ed Brayton, which you characterize as enemies lists? I remember one post by RSR a few months back which dealt with these issues, but don’t know if it is the one you mean now. I’m sure that most of us aren’t going to plunge into the internet, and what are probably many pages of posts, not even knowing for sure what to look for. Not that I doubt you, but context would tell us just how offensive the posts were.

And yeah, I think you’d be offending them less if they’d offend you less.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147277

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 29, 2006 1:05 PM (e)

I think Larry Moran has gone batty. You can’t get any more like a dreamy-eyed missionary than Larry in what he just wrote:

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins

By Larry Moran

This is the video clip that so many of my colleagues are excited about. They think Tyson has hit the nail on the head. They agree with Tyson that Dawkins is being “insensitive” when he criticizes religion.

I’m not familiar with Neil de Grasse Tyson. Is he famous in America? Is he a good educator? Is he effective? Has he been going around the country giving lectures where he gently and kindly urges his audiences to question their religious beliefs? Has he been softly pleading with Americans to respect atheists? Has he been speaking out, quietly, against the Ted Haggards and Jerry Falwells of this world? Is his strategy working?

Richard Dawkins has done more in the past two months to stimulate a dialogue on religion than all the rest of us have done in five decades. The blogs are full of excitement about atheism and religion. Dawkins has been at dozens of universities, appeared on dozens of TV shows, and been featured in major articles in most newspapers. The debate made the cover of Time magazine. There have been several symposia like the one Tyson was invited to. There wouldn’t even have been a symposium without Dawkins.

People all over North America are questioning religion. I’ve seen it on the streets in my own neighborhood and overheard discussions in the restaurants. All of a sudden, people are realizing there are atheists in their midst—and they’re not so bad after all. Ask yourself this: how does the Dawkins’ form of education compare with the efforts of people like Neil de Grasse Tysons?

Larry Moran

It’s happening on the streets! In the restaurants! It’s almost like the Atkins diet or something.

Oh c’mon, I’m probably about as little impressed by Dawkins’ “case” against God as anyone (Nietzsche did it much better, though less accessibly to the man on the street), but surely it could be very positive to shake up the old “God issue” once again. I’d like it if people quit discussing football victories, tweedle-dum & tweedle-dee politics, and the Tomkat wedding, to argue for or against God.

On the whole, yes, I would like greater secularization to be the result of this controversy (likely more a tempest in a teapot), but even if it only led to greater understanding on both sides it would likely be a plus. The science side almost always wins when understanding indcreases.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147280

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 29, 2006 1:31 PM (e)

Glen Davidson: Could you point us to the posts by Red State Rabble and Ed Brayton…

As I mentioned above, if you go to http://scienceblogs.com/clock/2006/11/i_like_mms.php you will find a helpful annotated list to the greater part of this free-for-all (except, strangely, this thread).

Comment #147281

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 29, 2006 1:36 PM (e)

A quick correction to the conclusions of my last post. Torbjorn is right that a Bayesian inference is a very weak tool for the existence (no more, no less) of a God, but it is a very strong tool for inferring that the probability of ever seeing an act of God is really low. Really, really low.

I agree with just about everything you say, except that epistemological issues come up even before we broach the question of “whether or not God exists”. If we recognize the probable reasons why the gods were posited in the first place, for explanatory myths, as father (and mother) figures, and as oriental despots in the case of Yahweh, we would only properly be asking how and why humans are prone to turn their little social world into an explanation for the cosmos. Historical and psychological probabilities are what govern the “god question”. That is to say, we have to use our educated judgment to even frame the “God question” right, and then we can deal with evidence which might be manipulated via statistics.

Or as I put it another way:

We ought to be more minimalistic, not presupposing any God or gods to somehow be “supernatural” (in the old sense this meant roughly beyond the moon), rather to simply be without perceptual presence and effects. That is enough to regard them (contingently, but quite usefully) as non-existing, when we refuse to speculate (except in our creative thoughts) beyond what is in evidence. Everything really comes down to the prohibition against warrantless speculations being turned into supposed models of what we call “factual”. We don’t make factual claims beyond what the evidence can support, either about the existence or non-existence of “magical entities”. We (ideally) do not say “God doesn’t exist”, because God doesn’t legitimately come up in the first place (well, we might say that God doesn’t exist when it comes up illegitimately, but only in answer to those who mistake speculation for substance).

AS I have started previously, most atheists will accept the possibility that there was a God that created the Universe, and then sodded off never to be seen again. Bayesian inference re-inforces this.

Well, yes, in the barest of senses we might do this. But it goes against the grain of scientific thought (which, however, may indeed fail at some point—trouble is we don’t know where this could happen), and as I noted above, we know of much more likely causes for the “God concept” to arise from the psycho-social realm, than through any sort of inference from the greater universe. I think that most of us don’t see the “possibility” of God creating the universe any more seriously (in the factual sense) than we do the existence of Middle Earth.

I’m personally guilty of conflating this pseudo-God with the idea of non-God. As I have stated previosuly, for me, frankly, there is no difference. God has no role in the current universe, so who cares if he kicked things off way back when.

I think that very many of us would be extremely interested if God kicked things off way back when, just as we are in the Big Bang and theoretical models of branes crashing around—but we’d need evidence for this God, much as we would for branes.

Totally uninteresting question. Certainly however, Bayesian inference, and hence science, can very clearly state that the God that most people think of when using the word, He of fire and brimstone, He that answers prayers, He that creates miracles, He that rewards and punishes when you die, is someone that is really incredibly unlikely.

Spread the Good News….

Indeed, Bayesian inference is well and good to invoke. However there are judgments which fall outside of, and precede, Bayesian inference, such as the judgment that God was constructed out of the paltry causal modeling that we had millenia ago, as well as the desire to “explain” whatever was baffling, no matter how poor this explanation might be. Science begins first of all out of informed judgment, while its formal methods do much to enhance the discrimination between competing models.

The analysis of intellectual history, above all, is what mostly tells us why and how the God concept exists, even explaining its evolution. This is why we don’t apply Bayesian analysis to the question of God’s existence, though it should be theoretically possible to use Bayesian statistics on the evolution of the God concept through time.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147282

Posted by Al Moritz on November 29, 2006 1:36 PM (e)

Peiter wrote:
“but to many of us atheists, religion was mostly about explaining the unexplained”

That explains some of the confusion about religion. To southern bible-belt fundamentalists religion may be about explaining the unexplained, if you mean the natural world, but I don’t think this is the case for most religions. I have, as a Catholic, always conceived religion to be about the relationship between humans and God (and I guess this is the case for most mainstream religions). As far as the natural world goes, the only explanation I have received from religion and cared about is that it is God’s creation – for all other explanations I have turned to science. It has never crossed my mind that certain scientific explanations must be wrong “because they contradict faith”. If science studies the natural world, and the natural world is created by God, how can there ever be a contradiction?

In becoming a scientist, and in being one, I have never cared if scientific explanations contradict a creation in 7 days (really, for Catholics in general, this is simply a non-issue, and evolution is taught in Catholic private schools) or other biblical details. I guess you can run into those problems only with the protestant “sola scriptura” (only the bible) approach which becomes problematic in the hands of fundamentalists.

As a scientist, I have never expected miraculous intervention by God. If my biochemical experiments didn’t work, I did not pray that they would work: the processes of nature simply worked different than I had envisioned them, and it was my fault that I did not plan better experiments. If the experiments did work, I was happy that I had been smart enough to discover something about the processes of nature. I never hoped for, nor expected divine intervention: on the contrary, I would abhor the idea, since then my experiments would not only not be reproducible by me, but also by others. Luckily, they are reproducible by others -– I would lie if I would not be proud of that. The natural processes simply work with the clockwork regularity that God created them with, and it is up to the scientist to discover them and use them for discovery.

My belief in God in no way diminishes my scientific rigor; in fact, I am notorious in the lab for constantly pointing people to the fact that they need to reproduce their experiments before they can make conclusions and that they need to include the appropriate controls. I do not say that to show off (well, maybe a miniscule bit:-) but to bring home a point, the same that Collins brought up in his Time magazine debate with Dawkins:

DAWKINS: If ever there was a slamming of the door in the face of constructive investigation, it is the word miracle. To a medieval peasant, a radio would have seemed like a miracle. All kinds of things may happen which we by the lights of today’s science would classify as a miracle just as medieval science might a Boeing 747. Francis keeps saying things like “From the perspective of a believer.” Once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific–really scientific–credibility. I’m sorry to be so blunt.

COLLINS: Richard, I actually agree with the first part of what you said. But I would challenge the statement that my scientific instincts are any less rigorous than yours. The difference is that my presumption of the possibility of God and therefore the supernatural is not zero, and yours is.

Indeed, Dawkins’s assertion “once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific–really scientific—credibility” is utterly ludicrous. He shows how little he is qualified talking about religion, a subject he obviously does not understand at all (if he sticks to science proper, he is excellent). And Collins’s answer is the right one.

Comment #147283

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 29, 2006 1:38 PM (e)

Thanks for the link, Pierce.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147286

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 2:09 PM (e)

demallien wrote:

But if instead of asking you for the odds of there being a black marble, I ask you instead “Is there a God?”, and the events are not pulling marbles out of an urn, but scientific investigations testing whether a phenomenom is natural or not, there will suddenly be people like MartinM that pop up trying to claim that the fact that the last 100 000 events or so don’t count for anything, and that the existence of a God is still just as likely as when I started out.

That’s because lots of theists don’t expect events to not be natural (or, equivalently, not to look exactly like they would if they were natural) just because God’s around. Even many of the ones who accept the occasional miracle, like Ken Miller, have loopholes explaining why they’re no longer observable; e.g. Jesus was the Son of God, so even though he rose from the dead we can’t expect any other human to ever replicate that feat.

Comment #147287

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 2:10 PM (e)

Nick (Matzke) wrote:

I think Larry Moran has gone batty. You can’t get any more like a dreamy-eyed missionary than Larry in what he just wrote:

Nuhwha? He just wrote that public dialogue on religion, questioning religious claims and not automatically demonizing atheists are good things; that these are on the increase; and that Dawkins has been partially responsible. What does that have to do with being a “dreamy-eyed missionary?” What is a “dreamy-eyed missionary?”

It’s not like he hailed Dawkins as “the new Carl Sagan,” or anything dreamy-eyed like that….

Comment #147289

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 2:18 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Yeah, right – when Pat Robertson makes ignorant and insulting statements about people and beliefs of which he knows nothing, we rightly label him an ignorant bigot, and accept no excuse for his sleaze; but when Dawkins makes equally ignorant and insulting statements, he’s “stimulating a dialogue on religion.” If I were an atheist, I’d be embarrassed by such shameless hypocricy. And you wonder why Christians distrust you and consider you “amoral?”

Um. Pat Robertson claims that he can deflect hurricanes by prayer, that he can currently leg-press 2000 pounds, and that excessive homosexual activity makes an area prone to meteoroid strikes. When was the last time Dawkins said something equivalently silly?

Comment #147290

Posted by tomh on November 29, 2006 2:18 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

… when Pat Robertson makes ignorant and insulting statements about people and beliefs of which he knows nothing, we rightly label him an ignorant bigot, and accept no excuse for his sleaze; but when Dawkins makes equally ignorant and insulting statements, he’s “stimulating a dialogue on religion.”

Well, you nailed the difference right there, when you say of Robertson, “of which he knows nothing”, but leave it out with Dawkins. There is no doubt that Dawkins does know a great deal about the people and beliefs he’s speaking of. You may take his statements as insulting to your well honed, god-fearing belief system but Dawkins is far from ignorant about it. And though you seem to have a hard time believing it the rest of us know a great deal about it also.

And you wonder why Christians distrust you and consider you “amoral?”

Who wonders about that? Christians (and others, IDers, Hindus, etc., etc.) distrust anyone who points out the irrationality of their thinking. “Amoral” is just another term to demonize those who differ.

Comment #147292

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 29, 2006 2:30 PM (e)

Having looked over the controversy, it really does seem ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous to the people who feel like they’ve been maligned, of course, and these exist on both sides. But the fact is that we all have an immense stake in fighting the anti-science forces. And the diversity of opinions regarding religion on the pro-science side only helps to demonstrate that the force of evidence for evolution persuades theists, anti-theists, and indifferently non-theistic, alike.

The way I see it, indifferent non-theists and evolutionistic theists do sugar-coat the harsh pill of science. Indeed, I believe that I do most of the time (though I don’t usually say that religion and science are compatible—I’ll say that some religionists have made their religion compatible with it), which I justify by the fact that this is a political fight, not a science debate with the proper rules of evidence. And I really do think that sugar-coating is necessary for many people.

But there has been no carrot or stick to push many religious folk toward science. What’s the carrot supposed to be, that religion and science can be compatible? The creationists and IDists already believe that, though they have to destroy science before they can make it compatible with their religion.

Where’s the stick? Haven’t most theistic evolutionists really come to terms with evolution in order to save both their religion and their credibility outside of religion? That works in some circles, but in other circles this credibility is not an issue, and there is only “respect” voiced for their batty religions, with us saying that we just don’t want it to be taught in the schools. In some sense I can’t really help myself except to be in that camp, since I don’t believe in any real free will, hence I don’t see why people should be faulted for being who they are (well, it’s not a matter of actual respect, but at least of tolerance).

Those against religion altogether are the only stick that has appeared lately, and they are needed. Why not ridicule people for ridiculous beliefs? They are not likely to abandon all ridiculous beliefs, however it should be possible to bring pressure on them for saying really stupid things, like that evolution didn’t happen, that humans were designed. And the truth is that science is absolutely no respecter of religion, essentially ruling religious claims to be so senseless as not to be worthy of science’s concern. I write the foregoing because really hitting religion hard and honestly does not allow for coddling religion, allowing that “God created the universe” is a meaningful statement or some such thing.

What is silly about the “schism” is that legally we’re all saying the same thing really. Is anyone saying that atheism should be taught in schools, or that we should even teach the legitimate scientific/philosophical judgment that in science and in linguistic meaning “God” has no referent other than as adaptations of rather ordinary humans and known phenomena? No, they aren’t. Science can and should be taught almost entirely without reference either to religion or to atheism (I can see addressing student’s concerns about ID and creationism briefly in a lecture), and let the chips fall where they may.

It’s only what people are saying outside of school policy that leads to all of this sniping back and forth. I have objected to claims that we all ought to be pushing an atheistic view of evolution, rather than simply pushing for science. And I have objected to the assertion that it is somehow illegitimate to state (using good arguments) that science essentially rules against religion, on epistemological grounds.

No one ought to be telling the others what to say, while critiquing their claims seems to be within the realm of proper dialogue. PZ should tell it like he knows it, and Miller should tell it like he knows it. That’s de facto free speech, which we all presumably favor, over a de jure free speech that pressures some to keep quiet. If the fight was over the best policy, I’d say go ahead, schism and make as hard or easy a fight as you wish out of it. Since we pretty much all agree on policy, I really don’t see why there should be any great fight over who says what. Critique what others say, just don’t question their right to say it as a genuine promoter of good science teaching, for we’re all pushing the same teaching policies.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147293

Posted by normdoering on November 29, 2006 2:32 PM (e)

The censorship on this thread has turned it into a travesty.

Now watch this post vanish.

Comment #147294

Posted by Katarina on November 29, 2006 2:32 PM (e)

If science studies the natural world, and the natural world is created by God, how can there ever be a contradiction?

Al Moritz,

Do you have a theistic evolution belief? If so, is it a god-made-the-natural-laws view, or a god-is-in-quantum-events view, or what? Pretty much all I usually hear is “dig deeper,” but I don’t know what that means. Forgive me if you’ve already addressed these questions earlier in the thread, it’s difficult to pick up a signal sometimes. But I am curious about your perspective.

Comment #147295

Posted by tomh on November 29, 2006 2:42 PM (e)

Al Moritz wrote:

As far as the natural world goes, the only explanation I have received from religion and cared about is that it is God’s creation

Well, if that’s not using religion to “explain the unexplained” I can’t imagine what is.

[Dawkins] shows how little he is qualified talking about religion, a subject he obviously does not understand at all …

Like a few others here you seem to think that the only “qualified” people that can talk about and understand religion are the true believers. Sorry, but religion is just not as complicated as believers would make it out to be.

Comment #147296

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 2:48 PM (e)

Al Moritz wrote:

Indeed, Dawkins’s assertion “once you buy into the position of faith, then suddenly you find yourself losing all of your natural skepticism and your scientific–really scientific—credibility” is utterly ludicrous. He shows how little he is qualified talking about religion, a subject he obviously does not understand at all (if he sticks to science proper, he is excellent). And Collins’s answer is the right one.

But it’s Collins who disagrees with you here about how the world works, not Dawkins. You say that you don’t hope for, expect or even want divine intervention–that the natural world works as it does. Dawkins holds the same position, although his metaphysical rationale is different. But Collins, as an explicit consequence of his faith, does believe in miracles, and hopes to investigate them scientifically. Just look at the part of the debate immediately prior to your quote:

COLLINS: If you’re willing to answer yes to a God outside of nature, then there’s nothing inconsistent with God on rare occasions choosing to invade the natural world in a way that appears miraculous. If God made the natural laws, why could he not violate them when it was a particularly significant moment for him to do so? And if you accept the idea that Christ was also divine, which I do, then his Resurrection is not in itself a great logical leap.

TIME: Doesn’t the very notion of miracles throw off science?

COLLINS: Not at all. If you are in the camp I am, one place where science and faith could touch each other is in the investigation of supposedly miraculous events.

DAWKINS: If ever there was a slamming of the door in the face of constructive investigation, it is the word miracle.

For Francis Collins, religion serves precisely the purpose you think it shouldn’t–it explains the unexplained.

Incidentally, Dawkins has said on more than one occasion that believers in divine intervention can nonetheless be perfectly good scientists, as he did in this interview. He just thinks they have to do it by some sort of mental compartmentalization. This seems to be what Collins does; he sticks the potential interventions off in some other field (like history, or cosmology, or evolutionary psychology) and ignores the possibility in his own work.

Comment #147297

Posted by Katarina on November 29, 2006 2:53 PM (e)

Upon considering this self-organization of material structures in the realm of philosophy, one may conclude that it happens either because the underlying laws of nature simply are the way they are, or because they were designed by God for this purpose. Since we know that the laws of nature are so self-sufficient that, based on them, the complexity of the entire physical universe evolved from fundamental particles, and further, complex life forms from simpler ones during biological evolution, we can reasonably extrapolate that they would also allow life itself to originate spontaneously, by evolution of complex structures – regardless if we believe these laws are designed or undesigned. Therefore, we should expect an origin of life by natural causes from both theistic and atheistic philosophical perspectives.

Sorry, I guess you already answered my question in your TO article. So I guess that would be a god-made-the-natural-laws view?

If you don’t mind me asking, does this kind of a God answer prayers? Is he allowed to violate his laws, or temporarily suspend them for miracles?

Comment #147299

Posted by B. Spitzer on November 29, 2006 2:54 PM (e)

tomh:

There is no doubt that Dawkins does know a great deal about the people and beliefs he’s speaking of. You may take his statements as insulting to your well honed, god-fearing belief system but Dawkins is far from ignorant about it.

And yet when I read what Dawkins says about religion and religious people, I always come away feeling that he misunderstands them as profoundly as creationists often misunderstand evolutionary theory. I don’t recognize myself, or my beliefs, in his descriptions. It always seems to me that what Dawkins calls “religion” is very different than what actual believers think of when they use the term.

This isn’t true for all critics of religion. Some of those critics, I think, “get” what religion is and what it is for, even if they disagree with it. But Dawkins seems to think that religion is meant to play the role that nowadays we assign to science– as a method for discovering empirical facts about the objective world. I don’t know of any actual believers who consider that to be the primary role of religion.

So, tomh, I hesitate to agree with you. It has always seemed to me that Dawkins attacks a “religion” that is largely a misunderstanding or a caricature.

Comment #147300

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 3:00 PM (e)

Server hiccups, or did a bunch of posts just get moved? I don’t think the posts I wrote were particularly inflammatory (at least by comparison with my previous ones)….

Comment #147301

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 29, 2006 3:05 PM (e)

normdoering: The censorship on this thread has turned it into a travesty.

Now watch this post vanish.

I thought I spotted some apparent non sequiturs up above, but thought maybe the lapse was due to my little one-track mind trying to follow a stochastic series of branching tangents.

Assuming that Nick (Matzke) is The Man in this virtual town, he does at least seem to be allowing a variety of whacks at his own position. Can you cite comments that have been disappeared, or other specifics to back your accusation?

Comment #147302

Posted by tomh on November 29, 2006 3:10 PM (e)

Glen Davidson wrote:

… since I don’t believe in any real free will, hence I don’t see why people should be faulted for being who they are …

Do you give any credence to the idea that people are who they are (at least in religious matters) because they were indoctrinated as children by their parents? Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc., mostly beget more Catholics, Jews, Muslims, etc. Or maybe this is what you mean by no free will since small children have no choice in the matter. It’s certainly what I would mean. Unfortunately, until this can end somehow, there seems no end to the religious wars that go on endlessly.

Comment #147303

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 3:11 PM (e)

It may just be server/browser problems; particularly that one deal where you can’t see your own new posts until you, I dunno, clear your cache and revisit the site or some such.

I quit and reopened Firefox and it doesn’t look like I’m missing anything I remember posting. (I don’t always remember, what with the typing through the haze of hashish smoke and all the empty vodka bottles glinting distractingly.)

Comment #147304

Posted by tomh on November 29, 2006 3:26 PM (e)

normdoering wrote:

The censorship on this thread …

Really? With everything posted here what could possibly have been censored? I did notice one of my posts showed up about 30 minutes after I posted it and another hasn’t shown up yet, but I just figured it took a wrong turn on the Net and would make it here eventually.

Comment #147305

Posted by Raging Bee on November 29, 2006 3:27 PM (e)

And yet when I read what Dawkins says about religion and religious people, I always come away feeling that he misunderstands them as profoundly as creationists often misunderstand evolutionary theory. I don’t recognize myself, or my beliefs, in his descriptions. It always seems to me that what Dawkins calls “religion” is very different than what actual believers think of when they use the term.

This is exactly my experience as well. Dawkins may be spot-on in describing the religions, and religious people, whom he himself has dealt with; but most of the religious people I’ve dealt with simply don’t fit his description, and I therefore have no choice but to consider his statements on religion to be worthless. (For starters, even the conservative Southern Baptists I met in NC didn’t count on God to explain natural phenomena.) His habit of over-generalizing about religion is, to put it mildly, not something a competent and honest scientist would do.

Sorry, but religion is just not as complicated as believers would make it out to be.

Even among the religion-bashing drivel I’ve seen here, this statement stands out for its jaw-dropping silliness. If a believer has complex beliefs, then his beliefs are indeed, pretty much by definition, as complex as he makes them out to be. If you’re going to try to pretend you know what other people are thinking, tomh, can’t you at least try to look less clueless?

Comment #147306

Posted by PZ Myers on November 29, 2006 3:33 PM (e)

That’s interesting, because while you claim Dawkins misunderstands you, I see your behavior as reflecting perfectly his explanations of the behavior of religious people.

Comment #147307

Posted by Katarina on November 29, 2006 4:05 PM (e)

In the God Delusion, Dawkins deals with Bee’s accusation by admitting that there are religious groups that aren’t particularly bothersome. Let’s say, the United Methodists, or perhaps a liberal branch of United Methodists. However, while they tolerate science, they nevertheless also support the divinity of Christ (some branches do not, but think of Christ as a Buddha-like, enlightened figure) and associated stories. Since the moderate Christians are so inoffensive to the rest of the world, they “set the stage” for extremists by adding validity to the general outline of Christian beliefs.

Comment #147308

Posted by AC on November 29, 2006 4:16 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Yeah, right – when Pat Robertson makes ignorant and insulting statements about people and beliefs of which he knows nothing, we rightly label him an ignorant bigot, and accept no excuse for his sleaze; but when Dawkins makes equally ignorant and insulting statements, he’s “stimulating a dialogue on religion.” If I were an atheist, I’d be embarrassed by such shameless hypocricy. And you wonder why Christians distrust you and consider you “amoral?”

I’m glad tomh has already responded to this - particularly the rhetorical question at the end - because I got pretty irritated just reading it. I’m not following this whole silly soap in detail, so I have no comment on any real or imagined hypocrisy by anyone. But I can tell you that those who distrust atheists and consider them amoral are no different than any other bigots. It is simply their way of demonizing a perceived Other. This is a mindset that does not value evidence. They want it to be true. Therefore, they do not, pursuant to the meaning of the word “amoral”, examine the Bad Old Atheist’s actual beliefs/standards/morals. To do so would risk seeing, firsthand, that the Bad Old Atheist is not so bad - producing a hefty attendant dose of cognitive dissonance for the bigot. Which reminds me…

tomh wrote:

In addition, over 50% of Americans consider atheists “unamerican”.

While this is usually a merely thoughtless sentiment, some of them actually argue: “If you don’t believe in a Creator, how can you believe in, support, or defend inalienable rights endowed to all men by that Creator?” Such a glaring logical error is too typical, and often exhaustingly difficult to alleviate.

Comment #147309

Posted by normdoering on November 29, 2006 4:23 PM (e)

tomh asked:

With everything posted here what could possibly have been censored?

I made some comments to B. Spitzer about how ToE and atheism were linked and how often attacks on ToE were really not attacking ToE but atheism through a mask of attacking ToE and thus required a response in defense of atheism.

Those posts are no longer here.

B. Spitzer responded before they vanished. So, he knows.

Comment #147312

Posted by AC on November 29, 2006 4:34 PM (e)

tomh wrote:

Sorry, but religion is just not as complicated as believers would make it out to be.

To the extent that all religion springs from some of the most basic facets of human psychology, yes. Man’s thoughts easily wander into realms of incoherence far beyond what is physically realizable or logically consistent.

Comment #147316

Posted by normdoering on November 29, 2006 4:51 PM (e)

I wrote:

Those posts are no longer here.

They’re back! What gives – I know they weren’t here earlier.

At any rate, I think the point is important:

Often when the creationists and IDiots attack ToE, they’re not really attacking ToE, but atheism through a mask. That requires a defense of their usually false charges against atheism, not just saying “ToE isn’t atheistic.”

Why can’t there be a two pronged response:

1) defend atheism from the attack.
2) point out ToE isn’t explicitly atheistic.

Problem is a lot of defenders of ToE are buying into the phony attacks on atheism. We see it here – in Raging Bee and Lenny.

Comment #147319

Posted by Katarina on November 29, 2006 5:01 PM (e)

Norm is not Making Stuff Up,) I saw the comment about ToE. Is it Comment #147222, Or is there another one?

Comment #147324

Posted by normdoering on November 29, 2006 5:09 PM (e)

AC wrote:

To the extent that all religion springs from some of the most basic facets of human psychology, yes. Man’s thoughts easily wander into realms of incoherence far beyond what is physically realizable or logically consistent.

That reminded me of some dialog from the movie “Harvey.”
http://www.tigersweat.com/images/harvey1.jpg

I can’t do it justice from memory, but there is a scene where James Stewart (Elwood P. Dowd) tells the psychiatrist: “I know it’s impossible, but he’s still here.”

For Elwood P. Dowd, coherence and a logically consistent view of the world were impossible.

Comment #147370

Posted by Steviepinhead on November 29, 2006 7:05 PM (e)

Anton Mates:

typing through the haze of hashish smoke and all the empty vodka bottles glinting distractingly

Well, at least you’re not inhaling…!

And, actually, it’s probably easier to see to type through those things than it is through the litter of opaque cardboard pizza boxes.

Sniff! Just thinking about pizza and I miss Lenny already.

(Even if this thread was not his finest hour.)

Comment #147374

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 29, 2006 7:44 PM (e)

demallien:

Bayesian inference, and hence science

Well, it isn’t peer-reviewed or worked on, but I agree that the methods and observations are used within science. And the demarcation problem makes it difficult sometimes to tell where science stops and philosophy begins.

One can see that on the Ikeda-Jefferys argument, where the complaint is that it isn’t peer-reviewed published yet. IIRC it is a critique of a similar argument arguing that finetuning must imply gods.

However, I am not sure about your interpretation of the model of predicting that the future probability for seeing unexplained data goes down as the probability for a natural universe goes up. I doubt that one can make that conclusion from the model as presented.

My remark on weakness has several bases - hypothesis testing is stronger, bayesian inference have often conflicting alternatives, and bayesian inference isn’t frequentist probability (as you note).

Frequentist probability is based on observable properties and obeys Kolmogorov’s axiom, which makes it a measure on countably infinite sets of events.

Bayesian methods are similar except that they are finitely additive. The probability becomes stuck on zero if one asks for probability on an infinite domain since the priors smears out to zero.

Physicists seem to prefer frequentist probabilities because of in principle observability and ability to handle infinite domains. The later I believe is needed for infinite dimensional aspects of quantum field theory.

These differences makes me call what bayesian methods use “plausibilities”, though I think this has prior use in methods similar to probabilities.

Here there is no difference since we are discussing the finite amount of observations and theories we will ever make in practise. Ikeda-Jefferys can likewise discuss the probability for each life-containing universe at a time, since obviously they exist which partitions their model.

I will also amend my earlier comment.

First, the short philosophy discussion can be taken out. I, like Ikeda-Jefferys, was discussing a model based on (in their case assumed) observations which is intended to speak for itself. The framing can always be discussed. :-)

Second, I sketched an idea for a model. Ikeda-Jefferys universes are independent so they can simply sum probabilities. Here the dependencies between different data and theories may be complex. But the barebone idea was enough to show the possibility for a proper formalization and the result, I think.

Comment #147375

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 29, 2006 7:56 PM (e)

Often when the creationists and IDiots attack ToE, they’re not really attacking ToE, but atheism through a mask.

Ah, yes! That problematizes the insistence that atheists should not defend atheism in such a discussion.

One can as well say that the default reaction must be to do just that defence. Assuming we are all in this together, of course. ;-)

BTW, is there any pizza left?

Comment #147379

Posted by Lenny's Pizza Guy on November 29, 2006 8:10 PM (e)

One round of hot pizza, coming right up!

Say, who’s that good-looking older woman in the nurse’s uniform? She keeps looking under the tables and behind doors, and stuff, like she’s misplaced something…

Comment #147403

Posted by Anton Mates on November 29, 2006 9:37 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

Dawkins may be spot-on in describing the religions, and religious people, whom he himself has dealt with; but most of the religious people I’ve dealt with simply don’t fit his description, and I therefore have no choice but to consider his statements on religion to be worthless. (For starters, even the conservative Southern Baptists I met in NC didn’t count on God to explain natural phenomena.)

I can only imagine that you spent all your NC time on the Duke university campus. Lots of religious people I’ve met, and (more significantly) lots of religious people responding to a truckload of polls all over the Western world say that, yes, God explains some observable phenomena. As in miracles, and prayers being answered, and that sort of thing. For that matter, so does Ken Miller: “A key doctrine in my own faith is that Jesus was born of a virgin, even though it makes no scientific sense….Miracles, by definition, do not have to make sense. They are specific acts of God, designed in most cases to get a message across.”

His habit of over-generalizing about religion is, to put it mildly, not something a competent and honest scientist would do.

As others have mentioned, he recognizes that many self-described believers don’t fall in the above category–in fact, I’ve seen him say that almost all religious scientists don’t.

Comment #147407

Posted by tomh on November 29, 2006 11:34 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

If a believer has complex beliefs, then his beliefs are indeed, pretty much by definition, as complex as he makes them out to be.

Considering the tens of thousands of gods, demi-gods, saints, devils, ghosts, and the myriad of other apparitions, the uncountable stories, creation myths, and on and on, not to mention the rituals associated with most of them, then yes, I guess you could call religions complicated. Of course, it all boils down to some sort of Supreme Being somewhere. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by complex since you never give any examples, just the same old hocus-pocus. I will say that religion has proved one thing. Beyond any reasonable doubt, religion has shown that there is no limit to Man’s imagination. I’ll give it that.

Comment #147411

Posted by k.e. on November 30, 2006 12:48 AM (e)

tomh said

Beyond any reasonable doubt, religion has shown that there is no limit to Man’s imagination. I’ll give it that.

Nor any limit to Man’s ability to
1. Promote the imagined as reality within his particular tribe.
2. Believe it to the point where his entire identity is wrapped up in it.

The culmination of 3000+ years of western civilization’s ability to organize masses of glassy eyed believers in one place at the same time in modern times would have to be the Nuremberg rallies or Billy Graham rallies.

Ancient sheep herders or war lords would have no difficulty understanding the phenomenon, people just need a little motivation.

The threat of death even symbolic, such as no entry to a putative heaven, thus removing their ability to join their ancestors is enough. No herder can be effective without dogs. The dogs translate that to ‘we will make your life hell here if you decide the tribes version of reality is not –real’. Just look at the threats that surrounded the Dover trial, people actually believe creationism as though it were real the simpler the idea the better.

Their belief makes them instant martyrs, as that originator of modern political propaganda Herr J. Goebbels revealed.

People will always line up to die for words.

Comment #147420

Posted by demallien on November 30, 2006 2:08 AM (e)

Torbjorn Larsson wrote:

However, I am not sure about your interpretation of the model of predicting that the future probability for seeing unexplained data goes down as the probability for a natural universe goes up. I doubt that one can make that conclusion from the model as presented.

Really? Well, let’s put that to the test. Imagine we’ve just done the marbles and urn experiment again, and you have just pulled out the 100 000th white marble. At this point I say to you “Torbjorn, I have $US1million here to give you if you can correctly guess the coour of the next marble to come out of that barrel.”

You’re trying to tell me that you would throw your hands up in the air, say “Well, you know, I don’t know, we don’t have any frequency information for the black marbles, so I really just don’t know what’s going to come out next. Guess I’ll just flip a coin to pick.”

What a load of rubbish. Like anyone with half a brain, you would bet on the next marble being white. Why? Well, the thing is, when we encounter situations like this in the real world, experience tells us that the last 100 000 events are generally a pretty good indicator for the next event.

If you don’t like the marbles analogy, you could always consider the case of the dropped apple. Every single time that someone has dropped an apple on the planet Earth, it has fallen down to the surface beneath it. It is considered sublimely scientific to say that apples fall because they are attracted by the Earth’s gravity. But of course, there’s nothing stopping the next apple from falling upwards, especially if God’s decided to muck around, because little Lucy down the street prayed that apples fall upwards.

Science implicitly excludes all things supernatural for exactly this reason, they can’t be predicted, and anyway, the models work if we assume there is no God.

I’m an engineer. I’m very interested in what works, as opposed to philosophical hair splitting. Bayesian inference works. It’s been shown to be applicable in the real world. Paul Davies likes to say that a good measure of whether an effect is real or not is can you make honest money out of it. You most certainly can create valuable applications using Bayesian inference, so it passes the Money Test of reality.

Kind of reminds me of a story I heard the other day on a Podcast. There’s an engineer and a philosopher debating over who should go and talk to the gorgeous woman alone at the bar. The philosopher points out that because of Zeno’s paradox, he’ll never be able to reach the woman anyway, so why bother. The engineer nods his head in agreement, then replies “sure, but in 3 steps, I’m close enough for all practical purposes!”

Comment #147480

Posted by MartinM on November 30, 2006 5:03 AM (e)

Torbjorn is right that a Bayesian inference is a very weak tool for the existence (no more, no less) of a God, but it is a very strong tool for inferring that the probability of ever seeing an act of God is really low

I see you got your logic centre working. Congratulations.

Comment #147493

Posted by demallien on November 30, 2006 5:37 AM (e)

MartinM wrote:

I see you got your logic centre working. Congratulations.

Ahhh, yet another comment from the peanut gallery. Martin dear, my logic centre never stopped working. It’s just that I’m a practical person, and I for the life of me can see no practical difference between the idea of a God that never manifests Himself, and no God at all.

Perhaps you can explain to us all in detail why these two things are so vitally different that the hair needed to be split? Or would you prefer to continue in your established pattern of making snide one-liners rather than actually adding anything to the debate…

For what it’s worth, Bayesian inference says that you will continue with snide one-liners.

Comment #147503

Posted by Peiter on November 30, 2006 6:59 AM (e)

Al Moritz wrote:

Peiter wrote:
“but to many of us atheists, religion was mostly about explaining the unexplained”

That explains some of the confusion about religion. To southern bible-belt fundamentalists religion may be about explaining the unexplained, if you mean the natural world, but I don’t think this is the case for most religions.

I have no doubts that this is what it looks like from the inside, but looking from the outside in a historical light, thunder, disease, earthquakes, celestial events, or just good fortunes have been ascribed to the musings of one or more deities who take particular interest in our lives and (curiously often, sexual) behaviour.

To me, Christian belief is no different than a belief in the Norse gods or any other, now extinct religion (including the myriad hero-saviour religious figures of the Middle East that went before Jesus). No doubt 2,000 years onwards, much else is included in the package, but that takes nothing off my original claim. I am fairly convinced that you think that a belief in Jupiter or Thor or tree spirits or cargo cults is more or less ridiculous, or at least wholly unsupported by reason. I merely exclude your religion from the set of religions, whose claims we both find very unconvincing.

To re-iterate, I was objecting to the claim that atheism itself or debunking religious claims of the real world is in itself an act of religion. I don’t understand the terms militant, fundamentalist or evangelical atheist, either. We’re not wielding firearms, and we’re not “stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles” and we’re not proselytizing. Not very efficiently, at least.

Comment #147514

Posted by Anton Mates on November 30, 2006 8:59 AM (e)

demallien wrote:

If you don’t like the marbles analogy, you could always consider the case of the dropped apple. Every single time that someone has dropped an apple on the planet Earth, it has fallen down to the surface beneath it. It is considered sublimely scientific to say that apples fall because they are attracted by the Earth’s gravity. But of course, there’s nothing stopping the next apple from falling upwards, especially if God’s decided to muck around, because little Lucy down the street prayed that apples fall upwards.

Unless Lucy’s a sinner or a heretic, so her prayers are ignored. Or a holier and more deserving person prayed for the apple to fall, or for gravity to work consistently in general. Or God doesn’t heed prayers to temporarily change the laws of physics, because that would (somehow) conflict with free will. Or God doesn’t heed them because he designed the laws of physics to help achieve his ideal universe in the first place, so temporarily altering them would conflict with the divine plan. Or God arranged at the beginning of the time that if Lucy was deserving, the apple wouldn’t have fallen in the first place. Or any of the other reasons advanced by theists to explain the general absence of miracles.

If any of these are part of a particular theist’s conception of God, all the falling apples in the world provide no evidence against their belief. Neither Bayesian analysis nor any other scientific tool can falsify a hypothesis that has no real-world consequences whatsoever. All you can do is discard it on the grounds that it’s unnecessary.

Comment #147519

Posted by demallien on November 30, 2006 9:32 AM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

If any of these are part of a particular theist’s conception of God, all the falling apples in the world provide no evidence against their belief. Neither Bayesian analysis nor any other scientific tool can falsify a hypothesis that has no real-world consequences whatsoever. All you can do is discard it on the grounds that it’s unnecessary.

Yes I know Anton. But I’m not trying to convince theists one way or the other. Trying to convince theists is a lost cause. The best we can do is get them to acknowledge that their belief is un-scientific, and irrational, but they’ll still hold it, because they are unable to do the brainwashing of their childhood…

No, I’m arguing against the proposition that science has nothing to say on the existence or otherwise of God. Quite clearly science does have something to say, to wit: It is really, really, REALLY unlikely that God will ever manifest Himself in any way whatsoever, if He exists at all.

Comment #147520

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 9:47 AM (e)

People say it’s cruel to voice one’s disbelief, thereby robbing someone else of “hope.” But hope of immortality seems rather selfish, and even amplifies the fear of death. Not just because of the fear of hell, but because of the fear of being wrong about the immortal soul. The question -What if there’s nothing afterward?- would be constantly nagging. Once you decide there really will be nothing, you can focus more of your energies on the something that is. What actually is cruel is giving false hope.

I am so grateful to present-day atheists for their voices. Darwin changed our view of religion; why deny it? If religious thought has yet to evolve to fit our new understanding of the world, I haven’t seen it do so adequately yet, except for a vague sort of deism.

Comment #147522

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 9:50 AM (e)

Trying to convince theists is a lost cause.

Hello? Am I invisible?

Comment #147525

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 10:08 AM (e)

In the God Delusion, Dawkins deals with Bee’s accusation by admitting that there are religious groups that aren’t particularly bothersome. Let’s say, the United Methodists, or perhaps a liberal branch of United Methodists. However, while they tolerate science, they nevertheless also support the divinity of Christ (some branches do not, but think of Christ as a Buddha-like, enlightened figure) and associated stories. Since the moderate Christians are so inoffensive to the rest of the world, they “set the stage” for extremists by adding validity to the general outline of Christian beliefs.

This is nothing more than guilt-by-association, pure and simple(minded) – another thing competent and honest scientists don’t do. Dawkins is saying that because religious moderates have something in common with the extremists, like believing in some God or other, therefore they “enable” the extremists, regardless of what those moderates may actually believe, say or do. Who cares if many of those moderates have explicitly and repeatedly attacked the behavior of the extremists? Actual words and deeds don’t seem to matter to Dawkins – his mind is made up, and he doesn’t want it confused with inconvenient facts.

What Dawkins fails – or refuses – to understand, is that religious extremists attack moderates using almost exactly the same “reasoning:” by not being sufficiently militant and intolerant, the intolerant militants say, the moderates – however good or committed they may be in their deeds – are “enabling” the atheists, compromisers, Pagans, Devil-worshippers, and all other enemies of their God. How does Dawkins address that similarity between the extremists and himself?

Dawkins is no better than the Christians who equate Paganism with Devil-worship.

Comment #147527

Posted by MartinM on November 30, 2006 10:14 AM (e)

Perhaps you can explain to us all in detail why these two things are so vitally different that the hair needed to be split?

Sure. Let’s take your apple example:

Every single time that someone has dropped an apple on the planet Earth, it has fallen down to the surface beneath it. It is considered sublimely scientific to say that apples fall because they are attracted by the Earth’s gravity. But of course, there’s nothing stopping the next apple from falling upwards, especially if God’s decided to muck around, because little Lucy down the street prayed that apples fall upwards

Well, I don’t have an apple to hand, so a pen will have to do. I’m going to pick it up and let it drop. What predictions can I make about the outcome from the hypothesis “there is no god?”

None, of course. Let’s suppose for a moment that we can partition the set of all possible models into a “goddidit” and a “goddidn’tdoit” set. Let’s further suppose that all natural models go into the “godless” set. This is assuming we have a coherent definition of the terms “god” and “supernatural,” of course. It’s not at all clear that “supernatural” is even meaningful. We’re also assuming that the dichotomy we’re drawing between natural explanations and “goddidit” ones is valid; many theists would argue that point. But let’s leave all that aside, and assume that our partition is valid.

Now, the observations happen to support a particular “godless” model for the dropping of apples called “general relativity.” So whatever our prior probability for the truth of that model, every successfully dropped apple, pen, or whatever increases GR’s share of the posterior probability. Since we’ve assigned GR to the “godless” set, does that mean that this set also increases its share of the posterior?

Not necessarily, no. For every “godless” explanation that passes any given observational test, there are many which fail. What matters is whether or not the “godless” set as a whole constrains our observations to a greater degree than the “goddidit” set. That’s what I was asking you to support.

What the apple example really supports is consistency, not naturalism per se. Our observations allow us greater and greater certainty that the laws of physics we observe are not about to change on us. One can (sort of) construct natural models in which that isn’t the case, however, so it’s not a good proxy.

All this is somewhat academic, since I don’t accept that one can draw the distinction between “natural” and “goddidit” explanations in the first place. Supernaturalism is fundamentally incoherent, and so playing “natural” models against…well, anything is to engage in a false dichotomy. In my view, the only kind of “gods” one can meaningfully discuss at all are super-powerful natural beings. In that case, one can make a strong Bayesian argument against such beings intervening in our affairs, and (in my opinion) a strong argument for a low prior probability of a non-interacting version.

For what it’s worth, Bayesian inference says that you will continue with snide one-liners

Only if you’re working with some really stupid models ;)

Comment #147528

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 10:24 AM (e)

How does Dawkins address that similarity between the extremists and himself?

I agree with you that “enabling” is a poor reason to dislike any group. It’s guilt by association, and it isn’t fair.

Yet I disagree with your comparison between the two extremes. Like I said before, it isn’t fair to put both sides on the same spectrum, thereby granting equal validity to both. Dawkins’ side is grounded in science and realism, whereas (Christian) religious extremism is grounded in systematic reality denial in favor of 4000-year old fantasy.

Comment #147530

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 10:39 AM (e)

Dawkins may be a perfectly good scientist, but his views on religion are NOT “grounded in science and realism;” they are factually incomplete and based on faulty logic. The fact that Dawkins is a scientist does not make those views “scientific.” Argument from irrelevant authority doesn’t work, remember?

Comment #147532

Posted by AC on November 30, 2006 10:47 AM (e)

tomh wrote:

Considering the tens of thousands of gods, demi-gods, saints, devils, ghosts, and the myriad of other apparitions, the uncountable stories, creation myths, and on and on, not to mention the rituals associated with most of them, then yes, I guess you could call religions complicated. Of course, it all boils down to some sort of Supreme Being somewhere. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by complex since you never give any examples, just the same old hocus-pocus. I will say that religion has proved one thing. Beyond any reasonable doubt, religion has shown that there is no limit to Man’s imagination. I’ll give it that.

I propose using “ornate” instead of “complex”, to better indicate that such endless religious intricacy is superficial compared to those basic facets of human psychology that give rise to it. It’s a sort of mind-lensed window dressing for what’s really going on in the brains of believers.

Comment #147536

Posted by Robert O'Brien on November 30, 2006 10:57 AM (e)

Dawkins’ side is grounded in [narrow empiricism].

That’s more like it.

Comment #147539

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 30, 2006 11:13 AM (e)

Katarina: …“enabling” is a poor reason to dislike any group. It’s guilt by association…

The clearest recent example of “enabling” that comes to my mind is that of the ignominious Colin Powell, who sacrificed his (undeserved) credibility by parroting Bush regime lies to the world. Without him, quite possibly no Iraq disaster today - does he share the guilt?

Closer to the point, you probably won’t have to go too far to find some admirable little clutch of Catholics feeding and caring for (some of) the local homeless population: undeniably among the Good Guys, yet by working under the Church’s auspices, rather than doing the same charity on their own, providing support to a ferociously neurotic and sexist agenda promulgated by the hierarchy. Confronted individually, a few of these individuals may concede the connection - and even respond with an exquisitely honed sense of guilt - but most are likely to rationalize a hasty defense and continue as before.

Or, to put it another way: would you care to bet that, when members of the “moderate” and, um, “immoderate” sects within a given tradition meet, they won’t agree on some variation of “in the end, we have more in common than in conflict”?

Comment #147542

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 11:53 AM (e)

The clearest recent example of “enabling” that comes to my mind is that of the ignominious Colin Powell, who sacrificed his (undeserved) credibility by parroting Bush regime lies to the world. Without him, quite possibly no Iraq disaster today - does he share the guilt?

No, because if he had stood up to Bush earlier, Bush would have fired him earlier, and done what he had already decided to do anyway. This is Bush Jr. we’re talking about, not someone who actually listens to other people.

…Confronted individually, a few of these individuals may concede the connection - and even respond with an exquisitely honed sense of guilt - but most are likely to rationalize a hasty defense and continue as before.

A FEW might do this; a FEW others might respond differently; as in “We don’t support that sort of insane crap, but we work within the Church because they have the best organization for this sort of charity, and what the Hell’s wrong with working with others when they’re doing the right thing?”

Or, to put it another way: would you care to bet that, when members of the “moderate” and, um, “immoderate” sects within a given tradition meet, they won’t agree on some variation of “in the end, we have more in common than in conflict”?

They might indeed say such a thing. They might also go on to use their common values to attack those opinions or policies that conflict with those values. It’s been done before, and it’s being done now.

Bottom line: SOME “moderates” are every bit the spineless enablers that Dawkins says they are; but not all moderates are like this, and anyone who simply assumes they’re all the same is no better than Pat Robertson.

Comment #147544

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 12:17 PM (e)

Thanks, Robert, that IS a good bit more like it.

Comment #147548

Posted by normdoering on November 30, 2006 12:47 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Trying to convince theists is a lost cause.

Hello? Am I invisible?

Wait… Are you the same Katarina who had a drug addicted sister saved by Jesus?

Oh my (metaphorical) God! You sound like one of us now.

What happened?

Comment #147551

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 30, 2006 1:20 PM (e)

Raging Bee: …if he had stood up to Bush earlier, Bush would have fired him earlier, and done what he had already decided to do anyway.

But without Powell’s collusion, Shrub might have had to proceed in the face of UN opposition. How much difference that might have made is anyone’s guess. Otoh, I s’poze Powell, as an active participant, may not be a good example of an “enabler” after all.

…what the Hell’s wrong with working with others when they’re doing the right thing?

[Godwin alert!] The Nazis ran charities too - real ones, that fed & clothed hungry & cold people.

…SOME “moderates” are every bit the spineless enablers that Dawkins says they are; but not all moderates are like this, and anyone who simply assumes they’re all the same is no better than Pat Robertson.

Now, perhaps, we’re getting somewhere. How can we distinguish between these categories?

Comment #147552

Posted by tomh on November 30, 2006 1:21 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Hello? Am I invisible?

You are a rare example of someone who decided to use their head for something besides a hatrack.

Comment #147553

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 1:23 PM (e)

You sound like one of us now.

That is a very high complement indeed. I am so excited about “shedding the excess flab” of religion, but I do regret having wasted so much time and effort on it. I was raised atheist and thought I was missing something… but I was wrong.

Are you the same Katarina who had a drug addicted sister saved by Jesus?

Yes!

After our heated “holy wars (part IV?)” conversations here on PT, I decided to get more familiar with the atheist position, so I could improve my arguments. I read Before the Dawn and then The God Delusion. Halfway through The God Delusion, I decided to come out of the closet. I guess I always thought I owed God my belief since I credited religion with saving my sister, but I was plagued by doubt. After talking to my sister about it, I realized she didn’t even think God had a thing to do with it. The religious guy that helped her did all kinds of things, including hypnosis, regular exercise, excursions in nature, and social pressure. Anyway, I always had trouble reconciling Christianity with science, but I thought it was worth trying. After The God Delusion I decided to stop trying. I was mostly familiar with most of Dawkins’ points, but there were some new ones too. Like that study involving Jewish schoolchildren who applied one set of moral standards to their group, and a different one to other groups, especially Muslims. The hatred evident in their essays was really touching. Then when I told my husband that I decided to stop trying to believe religious things, he acted like I suddenly turned evil and treated me like a leper for days. That only convinced me more how deeply divisive religion is. I am still not convinced it’s all bad, but I’m pretty close to it.

Honey Bee:

I responded to your comment but my comment apparently hasn’t shown up. In short though, since I have to go now, Dawkins’ opinions are a helluva lot better supported than the religious extremists. They are not equal and opposite.

Comment #147557

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 1:37 PM (e)

The Nazis ran charities too - real ones, that fed & clothed hungry & cold people.

Yes, and I think it’s safe to suppose that many of the people who gave to those charities also opposed the killing of Jews and other innocent people as effectively as circumstances allowed. Your point?

How can we distinguish between these categories [of religious moderates]?

Um…by observing their actions? I did mention that concept before, didn’t I?

Comment #147560

Posted by normdoering on November 30, 2006 1:52 PM (e)

tomh wrote:

You are a rare example of someone who decided to use their head for something besides a hatrack.

She read Dawkins’s book. She may be a sign of things to come.

Comment #147563

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 2:06 PM (e)

Two of my comments apparently failed to post, but sometimes I only see the old comments after I post a new comment, and much to my embarrasment, the new editing is there for all to see. So forgive me if, after I’ve posted this, it looks like a (slightly revised) double.

Bee:

[Dawkins’] views on religion are NOT “grounded in science and realism;”

Can you be a little more specific? He has lots of views about religion.

His view that religion is divisive is supported by tons of evidence apparent in most places of the world today. His view that religion has human origins is being strongly supported by the blossoming science of evolutionary psychology. His views about “selfish genes” are strongly supported by scientific observation.

Compare that with Christian Fundamentalist views about creation, the submission of women as a basic principle of marriage, the view of homosexuals as perverted and mistaken in their lifestyle, that natural disasters are God’s punishment, that devils, wiches, ghosts and Satan exist, and tell me they are still equally insane. You can’t do that honestly, can you Bee?

The fact is that, if Dawkins is making a metaphysical leap, and you haven’t shown that he has, he is not making nearly as gigantic a metaphysical leap as the religious people. His starting point is based on physical phenomena that have been studied. Their starting point is.. what, exactly? You rather blatantly decided to neglect defending ther views, and with good reason: They are indefensible.

Norm:

You sound like one of us now.

That is a very high complement indeed. I am so excited about “shedding the excess flab” of religion, but I do regret having wasted so much time and effort on it. I was raised atheist and thought I was missing something… but I was wrong.

Are you the same Katarina who had a drug addicted sister saved by Jesus?

Yes!

After our heated “holy wars (part IV?)” conversations here on PT, I decided to get more familiar with the atheist position, so I could improve my arguments. I read Before the Dawn and then The God Delusion. to start. Halfway through The God Delusion, I decided to stop trying to defend religion. Of course, I still have a lot of mental execrise to do before I can properly defend my new position. You know, flab and all. Of course, reading PT helps.

Comment #147564

Posted by normdoering on November 30, 2006 2:09 PM (e)

Pierce R. Butler wrote:

Raging Bee wrote:

…SOME “moderates” are every bit the spineless enablers that Dawkins says they are; but not all moderates are like this, and anyone who simply assumes they’re all the same is no better than Pat Robertson.

Now, perhaps, we’re getting somewhere. How can we distinguish between these categories?

First, I think it was Sam Harris, not Dawkins, who came up with the enabler concept. What he means is multilayered, on one level everyone who doesn’t challenge or question the cultural myth contributes to the impression that this myth is an unchallenged (by “reasonable majority”) fact.

At the most reeking and spineless layer you’ve got those boys in the White House who call Pat Robertson “a crazy psycho” behind his back, (see book “Tempting Faith”) but then give him our tax dollars through faith based initiatives.

Raging Bee and Lenny would be enablers simply by not wanting the cultural myth so deeply questioned here.

Comment #147565

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 2:35 PM (e)

Can you be a little more specific? He has lots of views about religion.

The views I’ve discussed in previous posts above.

Comment #147566

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 2:47 PM (e)

Raging Bee and Lenny would be enablers simply by not wanting the cultural myth so deeply questioned here.

So Lenny and I are “enabling” 9/11 and other religiously-justified atrocities simply by what we’ve said here? And all this even though we’re not even of the same religion as the perpetrators of such acts? Damn, who woulda thunk our words had so much power?

If you’re going to accuse me of complicity in a crime as serious as 9/11, perhaps you should act like a decent prosecutor, and provide some evidence, and maybe a specific cause-and-effect relationship while you’re at it. If you can’t do any of these things, then you’re really no better than those halfwits who say I’m “enabling” terrorism by criticizing Bush. Or, for that matter, those other halfwits who say YOU’RE “enabling” Stalinism by being an atheist like he was.

What goes around, comes around, chump.

Comment #147572

Posted by Raging Bee on November 30, 2006 2:55 PM (e)

First, I think it was Sam Harris, not Dawkins, who came up with the enabler concept. What he means is multilayered, on one level everyone who doesn’t challenge or question the cultural myth contributes to the impression that this myth is an unchallenged (by “reasonable majority”) fact.

Which “layer” are you refrring to, norm – the one where you can make any bigoted claim you want without having to prove anything? Glad to see you’re finally getting the concept of non-literal thinking.

And yes, both Dawkins and Harris use guilt-by-association to trash religious moderates. Both were interviewed in Salon and in Wired, and both sounded almost equally dishonest and stupid with Harris just a little closer to the bottom.

Comment #147573

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 30, 2006 3:09 PM (e)

Raging Bee: …it’s safe to suppose that many of the people who gave to those charities also opposed the killing of Jews… Your point?

My point was to shoot down your “what the Hell’s wrong with working with others when they’re doing the right thing?” argument. Sometimes the nature of the “others” overrides the “right thing” they may be doing.

…by observing their actions?

When someone’s actions contribute to more than one end, of more than one moral category, does the good part oblige us to overlook the harmful part?

Comment #147574

Posted by normdoering on November 30, 2006 3:16 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

…perhaps you should act like a decent prosecutor, and provide some evidence,…

You’re soaking in it.

The evidence is the culture that we’re all soaking in. A culture where an atheist would have a hard time getting elected dog-catcher, a culture where our president can say Jesus was his favorite political philosopher and set up faith based initiatives, a culture where the atheist critique is only now, and slowly, breaking through the cracks, a culture where this critique is attacked by you, Bee.

You’re only a tiny rain drop of influence, but put enough of them drops together and you’ve got an ocean a man can drown in.

Comment #147577

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on November 30, 2006 3:26 PM (e)

normdoering: …I think it was Sam Harris, not Dawkins, who came up with the enabler concept.

I’m sure that notion circulated pre-Harris, but I can’t cite any specifics. He gets credit for bringing it to the foreground, at least (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Dawkins was found to have mentioned it before End of Faith was published).

Just who could be declared such an enabler is clearly a matter of degree at best. Sometimes I think the “E-Prime” people have the only viable solution here: abolish all forms of “to be” and see how much clarity that imposes on one’s thinking.

One can still say, “’Moderate’ religion provides social cover for irrational thinking” and debate the proposition without thereby claiming a solid equivalence between moderate and irrational persons. Of course, for the purported moderate people not to take excessive personal offense, they too would have to think in E-Prime…

Btw: Kudos to Katarina! Bravissima!!!

Comment #147583

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on November 30, 2006 4:13 PM (e)

Darrow asked for a guilty verdict.

Where would I find that in the transcript (which I have handy)?

Comment #147584

Posted by Anton Mates on November 30, 2006 4:20 PM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

What Dawkins fails – or refuses – to understand, is that religious extremists attack moderates using almost exactly the same “reasoning:” by not being sufficiently militant and intolerant, the intolerant militants say, the moderates – however good or committed they may be in their deeds – are “enabling” the atheists, compromisers, Pagans, Devil-worshippers, and all other enemies of their God. How does Dawkins address that similarity between the extremists and himself?

I don’t think there’s any inherent problem in such a similarity. As a science supporter I would say that IDers are enablers for YECs, while I’ve seen YECs say that IDers are enablers for the Darwinian orthodoxy. The two claims are not contradictory–the existence of a moderate can validate the more extreme positions on both sides. That doesn’t mean that the two sides are factually or morally equivalent. Religious moderates enable extremists by validating faith, and they enable the non-religious by opposing the application of that faith in most practical areas.

The question Dawkins & Harris need to address is, which “enablement” has more of an effect on balance, and how can you tell? I haven’t read the God Delusion and I’m just starting The End of Faith, so for all I know they have reams of quantitative sociological research backing up the claim that moderates enable extremists more than the non-religious…but I certainly haven’t heard about it so far. (And in Harris’ case in particular, I’m not very hopeful–he seems to throw a lot of claims out there without doing any supporting research whatsoever. Arguing that Islam is somehow explosion-philic, he writes, “Where are all the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers?” The Christian suicide bombers were in Lebanon, Sam, and there were a lot of them….)

Katarina, I hope your husband has come to terms with your new position? You may want to warn him to behave; most freethinkers’ groups have lots and lots of single guys….

Comment #147586

Posted by Anton Mates on November 30, 2006 4:26 PM (e)

Wesley R. Elsberry wrote:

Where would I find that in the transcript (which I have handy)?

Day 8, just before sentencing:

Clarence Darrow said, but that doesn't work in this formatting so let's just say he wrote:

May I say a few words to the jury? Gentlemen of the jury, we are sorry to have not had a chance to say anything to you. We will do it some other time. Now, we came down to offer evidence in this case and the court has held under the law that the evidence we had is not admissible, so all we can do is to take an exception and carry it to a higher court to see whether the evidence is admissible or not. As far as this case stands before the jury, the court has told you very plainly that if you think my client taught that man descended from a lower order of animals, you will find him guilty, and you heard the testimony of the boys on that questions and heard read the books, and there is no dispute about the facts. Scopes did not go on the stand, because he could not deny the statements made by the boys. I do not know how you may feel, I am not especially interested in it, but this case and this law will never be decided until it gets to a higher court, and it cannot get to a higher court probably, very well, unless you bring in a verdict. So, I do not want any of you to think we are going to find any fault with you as to your verdict. I am frank to say, while we think it is wrong, and we ought to have been permitted to put in our evidence, the court felt otherwise, as he had a right to hold. We cannot argue to you gentlemen under the instructions given by the court–we cannot even explain to you that we think you should return a verdict of not guilty. We do not see how you could. We do not ask it. We think we will save our point and take it to the higher court and settle whether the law is good, and also whether he should have permitted the evidence. I guess that is plain enough.

Comment #147614

Posted by Popper's Ghost on November 30, 2006 6:47 PM (e)

On the other side, we have the ideological extremists who simply can’t tolerate the very PRESENCE of any theist, of whatever sort, anywhere within smelling distance

No matter how many times our resident moronic ahole puts forward this strawman, it remains untrue.

Comment #147615

Posted by Popper's Ghost on November 30, 2006 6:54 PM (e)

I haven’t read the God Delusion and I’m just starting The End of Faith

I strongly suggest that you switch your priorities; Harris comes disturbingly close to being the strawman, whereas Dawkins is calm and rational and doesn’t resemble the way he is constantly misrepresented (here as well as by creationists).

Comment #147616

Posted by Popper's Ghost on November 30, 2006 7:07 PM (e)

The only small quibble I have is that my intelligence and personal integrity were attacked repeatedly when I commented about theistic possibilities, which was not necessary. Others who put out theistic perspectives, or anyone who came to my defence, was similarly attacked. I made an honest attempt to look at the arguments presented to me and put aside the insults, and the result was enlightening. I don’t know what other theist bloggers did. But the obstacles, in forms of insults, put downs, and attacks on personal integrity, were totally unnecessary. Those of you who read PT often enough, and follow the religious wars here, know exactly what I am talking about.

What I know is that you took the role of victim then and you continue to do so. But congratulations on letting Dawkins et. al. challenge your assumptions rather than digging in yet again.

Comment #147618

Posted by Popper's Ghost on November 30, 2006 7:20 PM (e)

But then several people on PT threads pointed out to me that there is no need for that hypothesis. Evolution doesn’t need guidance, that’s the whole point.

This is a critical insight. Yes it’s logically possible for some external -to-the-universe agency to be choosing quantum events in a fashion completely undetectable within the universe, but then why believe in such an agency? Why have “faith” in it? Not because of any evidence, but because one was indoctrinated as a child. One can choose to continue to believe, but one has no reason to believe. If there were no God, the universe would be just as it is, so one can drop the belief without explanatory loss.

Comment #147619

Posted by Popper's Ghost on November 30, 2006 7:32 PM (e)

If the evolution of the universe is deterministic, it means that a supernatural entity cannot alter that evolution without violating physical laws.

Since physical laws are descriptive, they can’t be “violated”. If this is meant as an argument against the existence of God, it’s not a valid one.

Comment #147620

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on November 30, 2006 7:42 PM (e)

demallien:

Imagine we’ve just done the marbles and urn experiment again, and you have just pulled out the 100 000th white marble.

I see the point of your analogy, and I agree with your claim on that.

But that is not what my model says. It says that it is finding a theory that will explain data increases the probability that the universe is natural: P(N|D) < P(N|D&T). But it gives no quarantees that we will find a theory to explain data.

This is depending on the performance of science (which goes up) and the difficulties of the problem we tackle (which also goes up). I hope we will always find T - but my model says nothing here what I can see.

Perhaps we should puzzle out the difference of the model in your analogy and my backside-of-the-envelope model?

I believe it is in that you assume that you always will detect the color, ie explain the data into some category T or not-T. So perhaps your model is P(N|D) < P(N|D&T) & P(T|D) + P(not-T|D) = 1. (We should not have to assume naturalness in that last relation, I think.)

This seems reasonable. Certainly we see P(T|D) ~ 1 so it is a good approximation to think we can do the sorting.

As always, I’m not sure what a philosopher will make of the difference. :-) Perhaps they will say that P(not-T|D) is impossible to prove. I have made several comments elsewhere on ideas how to do that, so I have personally no problems. (But if we can do that, I would definitely do hypotheses testing instead!)

But perhaps my model is more parsimonious and less controversial.

Bayesian inference works.

Oh, yes. Filters for Markov processes et cetera.

I’m concerned with problems of inference on non-observables or infinites. Continuing your analogy I don’t want to throw good money after bad. But that is not the case here.

Comment #147621

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 7:59 PM (e)

I ran accross an interview of Dawkins on YouTube where he addresses the question of moderate theists. Here is the link, it’s about half-way through the interview. I like his answer here, which has to do more with the problematic outcomes of teaching children that faith in a “sacred” text, or in an unseen god, is a virtue.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v3RWRyNq3w&mode=related&search=

What I know is that you took the role of victim then and you continue to do so.

And you continue to be as charming as you were in all your previous personas, which you had to discard once your charm… got a little too great for the rest of us to handle.

Comment #147622

Posted by Popper's Ghost on November 30, 2006 8:34 PM (e)

What I know is that you took the role of victim then and you continue to do so.

And

At least you admit it.

you continue to be as charming as you were in all your previous personas, which you had to discard once your charm… got a little too great for the rest of us to handle.

I did not have to do anything. You continue in your false assumptions and ad hominems – some things don’t change, I guess.

Comment #147623

Posted by Katarina on November 30, 2006 8:49 PM (e)

Hmmm.. I wonder what ever became of Great White Wonder?… ts?…. morbius?…

I truly miss their unmatched wit, their stinging insults, and their addiction to PT threads, where they happily sniffed out and tore apart anything with the slightest air of creationism.

If anyone knows where they went, please tell them not to worry; we have a fine substitute.

Comment #147631

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 30, 2006 9:20 PM (e)

From an apparently closed thread:

Glen Davidson wrote:

certainly God cannot be proved not to exist

This is not “certainly” so – since when do scientists talk like that? As Cholling noted, there are (alleged) “proofs of the non-existence of God that attempt to display that the existence of such a being is a logical impossibility”. All such attempts at proof may be flawed, but they are not “certainly” all flawed – not without providing some reason to think so. Proofs of logical impossibility are not empirical and thus are not the sort of universal negative that isn’t provable.

Any scientist with a command of the evidence and its meaning talks like that. Dawkins:

In an article today on The Huffington Post’s blog, Richard Dawkins repeats an argument that he presents briefly in his new book, The God Delusion, an argument which he uses to justify his position on the existence of God. He writes, “We cannot, of course, disprove God, just as we can’t disprove Thor, fairies, leprechauns and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. But, like those other fantasies that we can’t disprove, we can say that God is very very improbable.”

http://uberkuh.com/taxonomy/term/34

Comment #147632

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 30, 2006 9:21 PM (e)

continuing from above:

What you seem to be doing is mistaking possible disproofs of constrained and defined gods, with the open-ended “disproof of god”, which god might be some vague spirit floating around in the environment, a highly talented alien, Yahweh, Jesus, Thor, the philosopher’s God, “the Good” (Plato—not that he called it God), “the One” (Plotinus—not that he called it God (in fact he had quite another role for those he called “gods”, however his “One” is closer to the monotheistic conception of “God”)), or just about any other magical or metaphysical beings who just might be defined as a “god”.

Dawkins may not be a “deciding authority” on the matter, but yes, the open-ended statement “god exists” cannot be disproven. I use him because he’s a “scientist” (which you asked for, and who supplied a close approximation of my “certainly” with his “of course” (I knew he would)), and is reasonably conversant with what might be “proved” or “disproved” regarding ill-defined “deities”.

I don’t deny that using certain reasonable premises one might conceivably be able to disprove some philosopher’s gods, for instance. But it is understood in both science and philosophy that an poorly defined “god” will not be “disprovable”. Russell:

As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertrand_Russell

Comment #147633

Posted by Glen Davidson on November 30, 2006 9:25 PM (e)

continuing from above:

Russell uses more cautious words (he’s being “philosophical”, and if you pay attention to context, my “certainly” was closer to “I agree with you, Sandefur), but it’s the same thing, really. His teapot example does exactly what Dawkins or Thomas Huxley would do, shift the burden of “proof” onto the proper party, rather than trying to “prove” an open-ended negative.

I like his point about the Homeric gods as well, since it points up what I am getting at, the open-endedness of the phrase “god exists” in the context of Sandefur’s thread. Indeed, in that instance he is more emphatic than when he mentioned that he thinks “God” can’t be disproved, perhaps because he was thinking of “God” as the perhaps vulnerable philosopher’s god, not the essentially impossible to disprove Homeric gods (which I would include in the open-ended statement “god exists”).

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147641

Posted by Anton Mates on November 30, 2006 9:49 PM (e)

Popper's Ghost wrote:

I strongly suggest that you switch your priorities; Harris comes disturbingly close to being the strawman, whereas Dawkins is calm and rational and doesn’t resemble the way he is constantly misrepresented (here as well as by creationists).

I’ll definitely end up reading Dawkins’ latest just so I have an informed angle on discussion, but I’ve just been hearing for so long about such bizarre claims apparently made by Harris that I really have to see this for myself….

Katarina wrote:

I truly miss their unmatched wit, their stinging insults, and their addiction to PT threads, where they happily sniffed out and tore apart anything with the slightest air of creationism.

If anyone knows where they went, please tell them not to worry; we have a fine substitute.

You’re far too nice, Katarina. Don’t play the victim! A vicious stream of abuse is the only way to go!

Comment #147651

Posted by demallien on December 1, 2006 2:00 AM (e)

katarina wrote:

Hello? Am I invisible?

Lol, no, you’re not invisible :-) But then, I don’t think that we waffling commentators of PT did anything to convince you one way or the other. The thing is, “convincing” doesn’t work. Either you put your brain into first gear, and figure it out for yourself, or you stay in neutral, and deny any evidence presented to you…

You obviously figured out that first was to the left and up.

Comment #147652

Posted by demallien on December 1, 2006 2:09 AM (e)

MartinM wrote:

What the apple example really supports is consistency, not naturalism per se. Our observations allow us greater and greater certainty that the laws of physics we observe are not about to change on us. One can (sort of) construct natural models in which that isn’t the case, however, so it’s not a good proxy.

Brilliant! You’ve just defined God as being the laws of physics, no more, no less. I suspect you’ll find that most atheists will be thrilled to learn that the Church of Martin will be preaching from physics textbooks rather han the Bible. I promise you that we won’t make any complaints ;-)

This is of course the problem with the attempt to exploit philosophical loopholes in the argument from statistics. All of the loopholes finish be defining God away, either as non-acting, departed, or without free-will(slavishly interacting with the Universe at all moments to reproduce the laws of Physics). Which is fine by me. Anyone that wants to say that “yes, science has nothing to say about the existence of a God, provided said God either does nothing, or only does what the laws of physics predict, and even after all of that, Occam’s Razor suggests that we should just get rid of the concept” is just fine by me.

But if you want to tell a Christian that believes in the God of the Bible that science has nothing to say on His existence or not, you’re being intellectually dishonest (aka lying). That is all.

Comment #147656

Posted by demallien on December 1, 2006 3:18 AM (e)

THE SCIENTIFIC PROOF THAT GOD DOESN’T EXIST

Torbjorn Larsson wrote:

I believe it is in that you assume that you always will detect the color, ie explain the data into some category T or not-T. So perhaps your model is P(N|D) P(N|D&T) & P(T|D) + P(not-T|D) = 1. (We should not have to assume naturalness in that last relation, I think.)

I’ve tried really hard to understand where you trying to go with this Tarbjorn, but I’m not sure that I’ve succeeded. Anyway, I’ll answer what I think you were trying to say, and my apologies in advance if I end up attacking a strawman :-)

Anyway, the classic formula for a Bayesian inference is

P(H|E) = P(E|H)P(H)/P(E)

where in our case, H is the hypothesis that God exists, and E a newly observed event. P(E) is calculated as the sum of all the alternative hypothesis possibilities P(E|Hx)P(Hx). In our case, there is ony one other hypothesis - that the universe is completely natural, giving us the sum of probabilities as

P(E) = P(E|H)P(H) + P(E|Hn)P(Hn)

where Hn is the No God hypothesis

We’re trying to figure out the probability that god exists, faced with a long line of experiments that have never shown any external influence.

OK, so at the beginning, 3000 odd years ago, before scientific investigation began, our philosopher says - “Hmm, I really don’t know. There may be a God, or there may not be a God, we have exactly zero information. I’m going to assign equal probability to them both”

Our equation now looks like the following:

P(H|E) = P(E|H)P(H)/(P(E|H)P(H) + P(E|Hn)P(Hn))

As we have defined the two possibilities as being equal at this stage (0.5), that gives us

P(H|E) = P(E|H)/(P(E|H)+P(E|Hn))

Here’s the crunch. Religious types postulate that God interferes in the Universe from time to time. But the event that we have just observed was the result of natural causes (this is the result of every experiment that we do, so I’m going toassume that it’s the same for saome ancient Greek natural philosopher…). The probability of observing this natural event must be less than 1 if God exists, because if God decides to fiddle, the event wouldn’t happen. If you want to put this probability to 1, you’re effectively taking the philosophical position that God never acts. So, something less than one. But God isn’t supposed to interfere all the time, so we’ll say that the probability is 0.9999

On the other hand, the probability of seeing a natural event if the hypothesis is that God doesn’t exist, is evidently 1. You have to see the event, because the non-God hypothesis doesn’t have any other mechanism to act.

This gives us P(H|E) = 0.9999*0.5 / ((0.9999*0.5) + (1 * 0.5))

= 0.499975 (approx.)

In other words, the probability of H has decreased because of the occurence of a natural event.

In the real world,we observe only natural events, and that for an awfully long time. As each event is observed, the probability of God decreases bit by bit. By now, we have more than enough evidence to say that God is just really really really unlikely….

You can qualitatively check that the above equation is correct. Note for example that if we observe just one non-natural event, the probability of God goes to 1. All we need is one miracle folks.

Note also that even if you start off with a hypothesis that God is really, really, really likely, probability 0.999999 for example, this probability is still reduced by the observation of each natural event.

Anyway, that’s the mathematics behind it all. Qualitatively it looks right, intuitively it feels right (the $US1million bet), and no matter what probabilities you assign, the probability of God must decrease with each natural event observed.

Comment #147659

Posted by MartinM on December 1, 2006 3:43 AM (e)

Physicists seem to prefer frequentist probabilities because of in principle observability and ability to handle infinite domains

The WMAP team used Bayesian methods for analysis of their results. The infinite domain didn’t seem to be a problem there.

And of course Bayesian probabilities obey Kolmogorov’s axioms. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be probabilities.

Comment #147670

Posted by Katarina on December 1, 2006 8:08 AM (e)

damellien:

I don’t think that we waffling commentators of PT did anything to convince you one way or the other. The thing is, “convincing” doesn’t work. Either you put your brain into first gear, and figure it out for yourself, or you stay in neutral, and deny any evidence presented to you…

I can say this, if I know myself: I would not have picked up The God Delusion if it weren’t for PT comments. The title is too provocative, and calls attention to itself by shining bright silver, so that anyone who glances over can tell exactly what is being read. I am not one to risk my reputation - nay, my life! - at the local library!

Anton Mates:

Don’t play the victim! A vicious stream of abuse is the only way to go!

If the abuse keeps flowing back and forth, when will it ever end? I understand that it’s easier to call someone else a “victim” than it is to call yourself an “abuser.” I have no hard feelings, nor bones to pick with anyone here, but I do think minds can be shaped and influenced more effectively without abuse. Personally, I am emotionally mature enough to look at the ideas, past the insults.

Comment #147677

Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on December 1, 2006 10:36 AM (e)

One small problem with the transcript quote: It doesn’t show Darrow asking for a guilty verdict. It shows him saying that he can’t explain why the jury should return a not guilty verdict, and that he does not ask for a not guilty verdict. That is NOT the same as asking for a guilty verdict.

I was, of course, already familiar with the passage. Got any others that actually do show Darrow asking for a guilty verdict (he asks, expecting the answer, “No.”)?

Comment #147678

Posted by Raging Bee on December 1, 2006 10:38 AM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

As a science supporter I would say that IDers are enablers for YECs, while I’ve seen YECs say that IDers are enablers for the Darwinian orthodoxy.

On the one hand, IDers are not “moderates,” they’re charlatans pretending to be moderates as part of a well-known “wedge” strategy. (I make this judgement, not from a vague general principle, but from the observed actions of IDers.) This isn’t the best example of “moderates vs. extremists,” but at least you’re trying to get specific. And the fact that the extremists in this case (the creationists) are trying to pretend to be moderate (by disguising their BS as ID), kinda reinforces my argument that the extremists need moderates to win, but can’t count on their support and have to work for it.

The two claims are not contradictory–the existence of a moderate can validate the more extreme positions on both sides. That doesn’t mean that the two sides are factually or morally equivalent.

As used here, the term “validate” is so vague as to make the above claim, in the absence of more specific evidence or examples, untestable and therefore scientifically vacuous. And the various factions’ factual or moral equivalency can be judged by observing their specific actions.

Religious moderates enable extremists by validating faith, and they enable the non-religious by opposing the application of that faith in most practical areas.

I notice an imbalance in this statement: moderates “enable” extremists by “validating” “faith” (all words in scare-quotes are so vague as to make the claim untestable); while moderates also “enable” the non-religious by “opposing” (a more concrete term) the “application of that faith in most practical areas” (generalized, but at least hinting at reference to specific actions).

Comment #147679

Posted by Flint on December 1, 2006 10:41 AM (e)

Anyway, that’s the mathematics behind it all. Qualitatively it looks right, intuitively it feels right (the $US1million bet), and no matter what probabilities you assign, the probability of God must decrease with each natural event observed.

This is all rather cloyingly precious. If any gods existed, and if they ever did what gods are supposed to be able to do, this present discussion would be so impossible it would never occur to anyone - kind of like why we don’t debate whether there’s a sky. The only possible context for a debate like this one, is where people very strongly WANT something to be true that is not. Because if their wishes came true, no debate would make any sense anymore.

Comment #147681

Posted by demallien on December 1, 2006 10:50 AM (e)

Flint wrote:

This is all rather cloyingly precious. If any gods existed, and if they ever did what gods are supposed to be able to do, this present discussion would be so impossible it would never occur to anyone - kind of like why we don’t debate whether there’s a sky. The only possible context for a debate like this one, is where people very strongly WANT something to be true that is not. Because if their wishes came true, no debate would make any sense anymore.

Yes Flint, I know Flint. Evidently. Look at what happens to the equations if you feel that you “know” that God exists and hence P(H) = 1. The result is that the probability never changes, no matter how many non-God events occur.

But then, my target wasn’t theists, my target was scientists(who may or may not be theists). I mentioned this earlier. One would like to think that most scientists, when faced with the complete absence of evidence for God would admit that there is at least a possibility (however slight) that said God doesn’t exist. For those people, I was simply demonstrating that the probability calculations show that God is actually really improbable, when faced with the huge body of evidence that doesn’t need Him.

That’s all. If you’re trying to refute “Science has nothing to say about the existence of God”, then it’s an extremely valid point.

Comment #147712

Posted by Anton Mates on December 1, 2006 1:26 PM (e)

demallien wrote:

Here’s the crunch. Religious types postulate that God interferes in the Universe from time to time. But the event that we have just observed was the result of natural causes (this is the result of every experiment that we do, so I’m going toassume that it’s the same for saome ancient Greek natural philosopher…). The probability of observing this natural event must be less than 1 if God exists, because if God decides to fiddle, the event wouldn’t happen. If you want to put this probability to 1, you’re effectively taking the philosophical position that God never acts. So, something less than one. But God isn’t supposed to interfere all the time, so we’ll say that the probability is 0.9999.

Except that, again, if you believe that natural law is God-given and God-approved, then the probability of God upholding the laws he came up with in the first place is 1, exactly. You’re not taking the position that God never acts but that he acts all the time, which of course works out to the same thing in practice but certainly need not from a philosophical point of view.

Furthermore, even if you believe in obvious, exceptional divine intervention, the probability can be set as close to 1 as necessary by constraining the times and places at which God works blatantly-known-laws-of-physics-violating miracles. Say you follow Collins on altruism and Miller on Jesus. Then you believe that, a million years ago or so, God kicked a couple of nucleotides around to give our ancestors a moral sense; and again, two thousand years ago, God incarnated as one particular person and performed various miracles. What probability does that give for God performing miracles in the last century, say, or the near future? As close to 0 as you like. None of us are the son of God, so we’re not supposed to have supernatural powers; and since we already have free will and morality and whatever else is supposed to make humans special, God’s not supposed to screw with that free will by further mental tweaks. Sure, it’s totally ad hoc and unjustified, but it is Bayesian-immune.

To use the vase analogy, if your hypothesis is, “There are both white and black marbles in this jar, but the black marbles only come out when another star passes within half a light-year of our Sun,” you can pull out all the white marbles you want without injuring this hypothesis in the slightest.

You can qualitatively check that the above equation is correct. Note for example that if we observe just one non-natural event, the probability of God goes to 1. All we need is one miracle folks.

I don’t think that’s the case at all. There’s an infinite set of currently indistinguishable variations on known natural law which would account for any “miracle” without the need for God. If someone walks on water, first we try to rule out the skyhooks and submerged platforms and that sort of thing, then it’s on to tractor beams and telekinesis, and–who knows?–maybe certain people just have antigravity powers or surface-tension-enhancement powers or something. There’s a long, long line of hypotheses before we get to, “Well, the being that created and rules the universe temporarily suspended the laws of nature to pull this off.”

Comment #147713

Posted by Steviepinhead on December 1, 2006 1:28 PM (e)

GWW may still be found, in full dragon-breathing take-no-prisioners form, at Pharyngula and, probably, other places. He left here with an *assist* because he was at times over-the-top explicit for a family blog.

In my pinheaded opinion, Popper’s Ghost ain’t the same guy. ts and morbius are much closer in style and tone–this has been asserted several times and not yet (to the best of my recollection) denied by PG.

Unlike some here, I generally have no problem with PG’s stinging precision. (The day he turns it on me, of course, might be the day I change my mind…!)

In the specific case of Katarina vs. PG (that may be stating more of a diametric opposition than really exists: there’s no direct argument about a substantive position taking place; rather there’s a side-discussion about approach and tone), I think I’ll just stay the heck out of it, beyond noting that–

–I’m in general agreement with the substantive statements Katarina has made here. And I applaud her courage in coming to some tough realizations. Whether the rough and tumble of PT debate helped or hindered, I’ll leave to PG and Katarina to thrash out between themselves.

Comment #147714

Posted by Anton Mates on December 1, 2006 1:33 PM (e)

demallien wrote:

This is of course the problem with the attempt to exploit philosophical loopholes in the argument from statistics. All of the loopholes finish be defining God away, either as non-acting, departed, or without free-will(slavishly interacting with the Universe at all moments to reproduce the laws of Physics).

The last one seems pretty unjustifiable to me. There’s no reason to think God couldn’t choose to constantly embody the laws of Physics–it’s not a free will-relevant thing. (Particularly to a Christian, many of whom believe that Jesus simultaneously had/has the freedom to sin, yet never did and never will.)

Comment #147715

Posted by Anton Mates on December 1, 2006 1:49 PM (e)

Wesley R. Elsberry wrote:

One small problem with the transcript quote: It doesn’t show Darrow asking for a guilty verdict. It shows him saying that he can’t explain why the jury should return a not guilty verdict, and that he does not ask for a not guilty verdict. That is NOT the same as asking for a guilty verdict.

Legally I’m sure there’s a difference, but it’s hard to see how the jury could hear Darrow say, “You saw strong evidence that my client is guilty, and my client can’t deny it, and I don’t see how you couldn’t convict him, and I’m not asking you not to, and we want to appeal this in a higher court anyway, so just go ahead and bring a verdict,” and not interpret this as “Find my client guilty.”

After all, Darrow couldn’t formally demand a guilty verdict, could he? Scopes himself pleaded not guilty, which (so far as I understand the law) he had to do so that he’d have the right to appeal the conviction. If Darrow had asked for a verdict contrary to his own client’s plea, wouldn’t the Tennessee Supreme Court have tossed out the case on that ground alone?

So far as I can see, the defense did exactly what they needed to do in order to secure an appeal. Scopes formally pleaded not guilty, but then they encouraged the jury as strongly as possible to convict him anyway.

Comment #147716

Posted by Anton Mates on December 1, 2006 1:55 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Don’t play the victim! A vicious stream of abuse is the only way to go!

If the abuse keeps flowing back and forth, when will it ever end?

I know, I know. I was kidding. I far prefer your relentless niceness, though I can’t manage it myself.

Comment #147718

Posted by Alan Fox on December 1, 2006 3:44 PM (e)

Steviepihead wrote:

In my pinheaded opinion, Popper’s Ghost ain’t the same guy. ts and morbius are much closer in style and tone–this has been asserted several times and not yet (to the best of my recollection) denied by PG.

ts and morbius were definitely the same poster. Poppers ghost, for all his erudition, misuses ad hominem in exactly the same way. It is the same poster, no doubt of it. I know I’m right and I have this overwhelming sense of schadenfreude. BTW ts, that stands for “truth seeker”, no?

Comment #147719

Posted by Steviepinhead on December 1, 2006 3:48 PM (e)

Anton Mates:

I far prefer your relentless niceness, though I can’t manage it myself.

Indeed, on the spectrum from PvM’s turn-up-your-belly “civility” through Katarina’s feisty niceness to PG’s stinging precision, I’m probably somewhere close to the wish-I-could-be-that-stinging, wish-I-could-be-that-precise end of the scale…

Although the imperturbable knowledgeable indefatigability of such as stevaroni and Flint has its attractions also.

And the there’s just the straight-ahead WTF call-it-as-you-see-it approach of Sir_TJ.

Gosh, it’s hard to know just who to style-mimic around here, with so many choices.

Maybe “janiebelle”? She was certainly, ah, refreshing.

Comment #147726

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 1, 2006 4:43 PM (e)

And the there’s just the straight-ahead WTF call-it-as-you-see-it approach of Sir_TJ.

LOL. you nailed it!

been that way since i was knee-high to a grapevine.

Comment #147727

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 1, 2006 4:47 PM (e)

All we need is one miracle folks.

well, one independently verifiable miracle, anyway.

I’m sure there are many who claim there is an endless list of miracles over the last several thousand years.

Comment #147728

Posted by David B. Benson on December 1, 2006 4:52 PM (e)

Those employing Bayesianism (more than Bayesian logic) are encouraged to see what analytic philosophers have to say about ‘The Problems with Bayesianism”…

Comment #147729

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 1, 2006 5:02 PM (e)

Can you be a little more specific? He has lots of views about religion.

The views I’ve discussed in previous posts above.

which ones? the ones from the books you admit you never read, or the media interviews you selectively interpret?

why anybody here takes you seriously is beyond me.

Comment #147732

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 1, 2006 5:10 PM (e)

Posted by Popper’s Ghost on November 30, 2006 7:20 PM (e)

But then several people on PT threads pointed out to me that there is no need for that hypothesis. Evolution doesn’t need guidance, that’s the whole point.

This is a critical insight. Yes it’s logically possible for some external -to-the-universe agency to be choosing quantum events in a fashion completely undetectable within the universe, but then why believe in such an agency? Why have “faith” in it? Not because of any evidence, but because one was indoctrinated as a child. One can choose to continue to believe, but one has no reason to believe. If there were no God, the universe would be just as it is, so one can drop the belief without explanatory loss.

exactly.

what more needs be said, really?

it’s at the basis as to why ID is vacuous, for example, and the question no IDer has ever asked when posed:

“Say everybody accepted that your non-theory was actually viable. What then?”

it’s at the basis for every postulate ever made regarding attempts to make apologetics into science.

If we accept ANY apolegetics as science, where do we go from there?

nowhere.

it’s a very short dead-end culdesac, that leads you right back to naturalism as the only logical choice.

Comment #147733

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 1, 2006 5:11 PM (e)

er, change “asked” to “answered” in the above.

Comment #147736

Posted by Katarina on December 1, 2006 5:25 PM (e)

GWW may still be found, in full dragon-breathing take-no-prisioners form, at Pharyngula and, probably, other places.

Dragon-breathing, lol, yup, I saw him there.

schadenfreude

Interesting word. I wouldn’t use it, but I can kinda see how it applies. I get more of this sense of a bulldog who won’t let go of my pant leg because he once sniffed something suspicious about me.

Notice that PG hasn’t explicitly denied the connection with the string of personas mentioned, but merely wrote he didn’t have to do anything. I could be wrong, of course, and after all, everyone is entitled to their masks.

I far prefer your relentless niceness, though I can’t manage it myself.

Thanks, but I don’t really deserve the characterization; haven’t always been the perfect lady here.

Why did I bring it up in the first place? Certainly not because I am intent on “thrashing it out” with anyone. Please, no, not again!

I’m not advocating a particular style, that would be silly, as demonstrated by Steviepinhead’s comment. BTW, I’m sure we all admire stinging precision. I really didn’t mean to single PG out, especially since he’s probably helped me more than anyone else here.

When the atheist is talking to a person who has a holy cow, while the atheist doesn’t have a holy cow, is it not difficult to know when the cow is being touched? I have been having this problem with theists lately, since I’ve lost my holy cow. It’s like we’re speaking different languages. For anyone who’s bilingual, you’ll know the feeling if you are talking to someone who speaks your second language and you find yourself stopping to translate your first language thoughts in your head before you can speak them and be properly understood. I have to stop and weed out certain inflammatory words, which are not inflammatory to me but are to the other person.

So why has there been all this division among you, and whence sprigeth the two “camps?” Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like there is a translation problem somewhere along the line. Of course the atheist is not obligated to sugar coat his message, but it can’t hurt, can it?

Comment #147738

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 6:03 PM (e)

demallien:

I’ve tried really hard to understand where you trying to go with this Tarbjorn, but I’m not sure that I’ve succeeded.

I think it is a misunderstanding here, since I wasn’t trying to go somewhere with my last comment. I showed the difference between my model and your model contained in the analogy, since you had claimed that my model could do something it couldn’t. That was before you presented your analogy.

My model shows that the probability for a natural universe without gods goes up for every theory, your analogy does the same and also has the power says that the probability for miracles goes down. Now you have developed a proper bayesian model of the analogy, which gives even more information. “Note for example that if we observe just one non-natural event, the probability of God goes to 1.” Swell!

(On a side note, there are advantages and drawbacks with both. My model wasn’t susceptible to miracles for good and for worse, see the “occasional antigravity bus”, assuming miracles are rarer than natural events. Your model is stronger.)

This makes me even more eager to know how Dawkins reason though. As I noted, there are often several inference models possible.

Comment #147742

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 6:40 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'kwickxml'

Comment #147743

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 6:43 PM (e)

What a difference a / makes:

what analytic philosophers have to say about ‘The Problems with Bayesianism”…

Is that the same argument that are leveled against induction, since they are two of a kind?

If it is, I don’t think it is very relevant since science isn’t induction. Induction and bayesian inference may propose hypotheses, but hypotheses testing and falsification is reductio respectively modus ponens from data. IIRC there is even a philosopher working on hypotheses testing as a theory of science. can’t remember her name, though.

Of course, if you mean an isolated hypotheses such as those discussed here, sure. It is weak.

Comment #147744

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 6:46 PM (e)

Okay, let us try without all refernces. If it becomes a double post, so be it:

MartinM:

The WMAP team used Bayesian methods for analysis of their results. The infinite domain didn’t seem to be a problem there.

I think this is another misunderstanding. Perhaps I should have explicitly said “infinite data”, though I think my comment on countably infinite vs finitely additive hints at this.

Yes, it seems Charles L. Bennett is the principal investigator on the team, and certainly he is on papers referencing bayesian methods. I can’t access those, but I see two common usages I heard of: signal analysis on finite data to find maximum likelihood estimators [ref removed] and bayesian estimators among others to choose parsimonious parameter sets in models [ref removed]. So there are no infinite problem here.

(On a side note, I’m not familiar with bayesian methods, but I have heard that Monte Carlo methods have revitalised bayesian statistics. The first paper seems to be an example of that.)

And of course Bayesian probabilities obey Kolmogorov’s axioms. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be probabilities.

I’m not familiar with bayesian methods, but during discussions with bayesians they have refered to Cox’s axioms. And indeed I can find: “Cox’s theorem has come to be used as one of the justifications for the use of Bayesian probability theory. For example, in Jaynes (2003) it is discussed in detail in chapters 1 and 2 and is a cornerstone for the rest of the book.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cox%27s_theorem )

I can’t see how priors make a sigma measure possible - if you have an infinite number of objects each object will have prior 0 to be picked. And again: “The laws thus derived yield finite additivity of probability, but not countable additivity. The measure-theoretic formulation of Kolmogorov assumes that a probability measure is countably additive. This slightly stronger condition is necessary for the proof of certain theorems, however, it is not clear what difference countable additivity makes in practice.” (Ibid.)

It is exactly because different probability theories gives slightly different probabilities, and widely different range (only observed frequencies vs unobserved properties on unobserved domains permitted), which makes me uncomfortable. Physics puzzled out the exact similarity between inertial and gravitational mass. Should we do the same equivocation here? I’m not sure.

Comment #147745

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 7:10 PM (e)

FWIW, since the latest PIGDID thread closed just before I was going to post a lengthy comment, and we now are discussing hypotheses on the naturalness of the universe here too:

[Now irrelevant comment on post removed.]

Since as I understand it the post is part of a review series that should be suitable for neophytes, I welcome the opportunity to pick at what the absence of “philosophy 101” makes me uncertain about here.

Proving a negative is only problematic when the being in question is not obviously a logical or physical impossibility.

The description “proving a negative” is a little vague. That some negative assertions can be proven seems to follow from the otherwise instated paradox that TomS described.

Often this seems to be about claiming the universal absence of a set. I have a box filled with chocolates (probably not for very long though), members of a universal set S, and a table without chocolates, filled with not-S. Is there any place outside the box that could have more of S? (I sure hope so.)

Okay, it was my impression that Popper showed that science often advances by disproving things. He seems to have discussed modus ponens to falsify whole theories. And in the common case of hypothesis testing we seem to use reductio with observed data to reject one of two alternatives.

Further, it seems to me that if not-S is the dual set of current data or follows from a theory, it is proved.

Ideas that shows non-existing objects not-S includes phlogiston. And data not-S that can’t exist includes large scale contractions of spacetime in the observable universe (the dual set of the universal expanding spacetime S in bigbang).

Is it possible that the expression is specifically an attempt to describe the particular problems of using induction to assert a universal not-S?

(If so, I will promptly append ‘nothing can prove a negative’ to my pet peeves - science may propose hypotheses by induction, but it is not the method with which we verify them.)

BTW, doesn’t TomS argument [on http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/11/the_politically_14.html ] constitute a simple way to assert the epistemic statement that we can not in general prove what science is able or not able to show?

Comment #147749

Posted by David B. Benson on December 1, 2006 7:14 PM (e)

Torbjeorn — Sober’s paper entitled “Problems with Bayesianism” comes up near the top of a web search. He mentions, for example, the difficult problem of objective priors (which so far have not come up on this thread). There are other difficulties with equating ‘science’ with Bayesianism in the form you have stated it, Bayesian reasoning + empirical data + logic…

Comment #147755

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 8:30 PM (e)

David:
Ah, I see. Well, when I have been arguing with bayesians (which I probably soon must complement by going and study it as you have) they have said that priors are a solved problem. I will go and look on Sober’s paper, maybe he shows cases where it is a problem. Perhaps it bears on the problem I have with seemingly permitting most anything to study in gedanken experiments.

Comment #147757

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 1, 2006 9:30 PM (e)

David:
What comes up is Sober, Elliott, “Bayesianism—Its Scope and Limits”, in Richard Swinburne, ed., Bayes’s Theorem (Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2002).

The web copy discusses objective vs subjective bayesianism based on such problems as objective priors. It also discusses an alternative “likelihoodism” and its problem with nested models.

As a note, I don’t have Sober’s problem with priors, and demallien showed why it was irrelevant here.

But it did point out the difference between “legitimate” and subjective bayesianism - it is the same solution I have though of. Sober makes it a frequentist probability. :-)

Consistent with this objection to (strong) Bayesianism, there remains an important domain of scientific problems in which Bayesianism is entirely legitimate. When the hypotheses under consideration describe possible outcomes of a chance process (Hacking 1965, Edwards 1972), it can make perfect sense to talk about objective prior and posterior probabilities. If you draw at random from a standard deck of cards, the probability that you’ll draw the six of spades is 1/52.

This is a “valid prior”, but not because it is obtained a priori from some version of the Principle of Indifference, and not because it reports your subjective degree of belief. The prior is legitimate because it is based on empirical information about the process at work.

There are many contexts in which Bayesianism has important applications – medical diagnosis and legal proceedings provide plenty of examples. My point is just that Bayesianism can’t be the whole story about scientific inference.

And for the biologists:

There is a special case in which I think this pessimism is misplaced. Cladistic parsimony is a method of inference used in phylogeny reconstruction. I suspect that this method makes sense to the extent that it reflects likelihood considerations; see Sober (1988, 2002b) for discussion.

Comment #147766

Posted by demallien on December 2, 2006 12:48 AM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

Furthermore, even if you believe in obvious, exceptional divine intervention, the probability can be set as close to 1 as necessary by constraining the times and places at which God works blatantly-known-laws-of-physics-violating miracles. Say you follow Collins on altruism and Miller on Jesus. Then you believe that, a million years ago or so, God kicked a couple of nucleotides around to give our ancestors a moral sense; and again, two thousand years ago, God incarnated as one particular person and performed various miracles. What probability does that give for God performing miracles in the last century, say, or the near future? As close to 0 as you like. None of us are the son of God, so we’re not supposed to have supernatural powers; and since we already have free will and morality and whatever else is supposed to make humans special, God’s not supposed to screw with that free will by further mental tweaks. Sure, it’s totally ad hoc and unjustified, but it is Bayesian-immune.

Congrats on slaying your strawman Anton, he’s lying headless at your feet.

Going back to where this discussion started, I remind you that I was attacking the claim that science has nothing to say about the existence or not of God. Considering that the target audience of said claim is your middle-of-the-road Christian, I have decided to use the middle-of-the-road Christian definition of God. This God answers prayers, inflicts punishments for sinful acts (Hurricane Katrina anyone?) and generally mucks about in the day-to-day running of the universe.

This God does not only restrict himself to a couple of specially chosen miracles a few thousand years ago, or to only obeying the laws of physics. He is omnipresent and omnipotent, and he knows it (evidently, as he’s also reputedly omniscient…)

I have also explicitly stated that my “proof” will never convince a hardcore believer, as their P(H) is at 1, and according to bayesian inference, will never move no matter how many natural events you show them (note: another fine demonstration of the correctnes of the model). But If you are a scientist, you are obliged to at least have some doubt on the Big Guy in the Sky. What my proof demonstrated was that as soon as P(H) 1, no matter by how little, the crushing record of non-God(as defined above, not your philosophically emasculated God) events drives P(H) down to negligeable levels.

So, when a scientist stands up in public and says “Science has nothing to say on the existence or not of God”, what s/he is actually saying is “Science does not exclude the possibility of a Supreme Being that does not interfere in the way that the Universe is run”, but what the audience hears is “Science takes no position on my God of prayers and punishment”. The dissonance between what is being said and what is being heard is huge. As I have shown, science really does have something to say on the existence of prayer-God: he has a very low probability of existence.

Comment #147769

Posted by Anton Mates on December 2, 2006 2:15 AM (e)

Raging Bee wrote:

On the one hand, IDers are not “moderates,” they’re charlatans pretending to be moderates as part of a well-known “wedge” strategy. (I make this judgement, not from a vague general principle, but from the observed actions of IDers.)

Which observed actions? I’ve seen no evidence that, for instance, Dembski or Behe actually want a perfectly Biblically literalist version of science. They want more God in Western society, sure, and they’re charlatans about that, but I don’t think they’re just YECs in ID clothing. They are, literally, moderate about the amount of Christian mythology they want in the classroom–they’re not telling botany classes to list the mustard seed as the smallest of all seeds, or telling agricultural colleges to teach the spotted/striped rod method of livestock breeding.

And the fact that the extremists in this case (the creationists) are trying to pretend to be moderate (by disguising their BS as ID), kinda reinforces my argument that the extremists need moderates to win, but can’t count on their support and have to work for it.

I think that’s quite true.

As used here, the term “validate” is so vague as to make the above claim, in the absence of more specific evidence or examples, untestable and therefore scientifically vacuous.

That’s why I said “can validate.” It was you who claimed that there’s a problem if Dawkins says religious moderates validate extremists while extremists say moderates validate Dawkins. Now you need to explain what you think “validate” means to each of them, and provide evidence to show that their claims are therefore crap.

And the various factions’ factual or moral equivalency can be judged by observing their specific actions.

Right. And therefore your claim that Dawkins is equivalent to a religious fundamentalist, because they’re both extremists who accuse the moderates of “enabling,” is untenable. You have to see what they do, and Dawkins’ behavior is undeniably very different from Jerry Falwell’s. Unless, again, you can tell me the last time Dawkins threatened a city with meteor strikes if they didn’t outlaw religious activity.

I notice an imbalance in this statement: moderates “enable” extremists by “validating” “faith” (all words in scare-quotes are so vague as to make the claim untestable); while moderates also “enable” the non-religious by “opposing” (a more concrete term) the “application of that faith in most practical areas” (generalized, but at least hinting at reference to specific actions).

Any imbalance is merely semantic. I could have as easily said, “Religious moderates enable the non-religious by validating scientific reasoning, and they enable extremists by opposing the use of that reasoning in particular areas, such as personal mystic experiences, the efficacy of prayer, and the historical lives and feats of their holy figures.”

The degree to which each of these was true would be different for each individual moderate, of course, which is why I said Dawkins and/or Harris need to marshal some actual sociological research here.

Comment #147792

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 2, 2006 9:29 AM (e)

On Sober, I should also have noted that he seems to be a philosopher, so MagnusM’s concern applies: eppur, si muevo. Sober is mostly criticizing the meaning of methods that work, not the result. So I tend to believe that bayesians know what they are doing with the priors.

Comment #147806

Posted by David B. Benson on December 2, 2006 11:44 AM (e)

Torbjeorn — I am an advocate of Bayesian methods for a variety of purposes. Nonetheless, for the philosophically minded, there are difficulties. Sober, in prehaps another paper than you cited, suggests that Bayesianism fits with parsimony rather poorly.

I have not found this so myself, but I’m not a philosopher and I only partially followed his argument, being in a hurry the day I read the paper…

Comment #147822

Posted by Peter on December 2, 2006 4:42 PM (e)

This is all very exciting and painful. I step away for a week and look what happens.

What astounds me in all of this is something that PZ stated and I completely agree with. That Nick Matzke, Eugenie Scott and Ken Miller (all people I admire for their tireless advocacy of the teaching of evolution and the natural sciences in American classrooms) repeatedly try to pander to theists. As PZ said “it is to constantly, monotonously harp on the compatibility of evolution with Christianity.” For examples, see Eugenie Scott’s book Creationism vs. Evolution.
I’m sorry, but it is simply not true at all. Religions make scientifically testable claims throughout their texts and maybe I’m going to sound like Sam Harris but the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead, that he walked on water, raised a man from the dead, cured a leper with his bare hands, that Jonah survived in the belly of the whale, that the Prophet Mohammed flew into the sky on chariot, had conversations with an angel named Gabriel and any other number of miraculous things are either a) physical impossibilities or b) so statistically improbable as to be practically impossible. Just because science can’t disprove to an absolute zero that God doesn’t exist does not mean that is somehow reasonable to believe them. It’s not and stepping around the issue is, as PZ, Harris, Dawkins and Dennett all say, dishonest and misleading.
It is painful to watch otherwise reasonable people pander to the fatuousness of the theistically minded.
All that being said, I think there is a big functional difference between Miller and an IDist. Miller is overwhelmingly reasonable. But his belief in God still is a God of the gaps in some way.
NOMA is a politically expedient, but ultimately vacuous concept.

Comment #147824

Posted by Arden Chatfield on December 2, 2006 5:22 PM (e)

That is rubbish. Science is quite clear - everywhere that we have looked, and we have looked in an awful lot of places, God has been found to be absent. Same-same for Allah, Buddha,

Can you please point me towards a reference where ‘science’ has proved that the Buddha didn’t exist?

Comment #147839

Posted by Peter on December 2, 2006 7:26 PM (e)

The Buddha, so far as I know, is off limits. Real guy,
Plus, Zen Buddhism is a method/practice not a religion. No extradimensional transcendental beings.

Comment #147859

Posted by Anton Mates on December 3, 2006 1:27 AM (e)

demallien wrote:

Going back to where this discussion started, I remind you that I was attacking the claim that science has nothing to say about the existence or not of God. Considering that the target audience of said claim is your middle-of-the-road Christian, I have decided to use the middle-of-the-road Christian definition of God. This God answers prayers, inflicts punishments for sinful acts (Hurricane Katrina anyone?) and generally mucks about in the day-to-day running of the universe.

I’m not sure I’d define a Christian who thinks Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment as “middle of the road,” but sure, the average Christian probably believes in the power of prayer and such. But:

But If you are a scientist, you are obliged to at least have some doubt on the Big Guy in the Sky. What my proof demonstrated was that as soon as P(H) 1, no matter by how little, the crushing record of non-God(as defined above, not your philosophically emasculated God) events drives P(H) down to negligeable levels.

Now you’re talking about a believing scientist, who is not the average Christian. Especially because this scientist apparently accepts the data showing that prayer doesn’t work and miracles don’t happen; otherwise there wouldn’t be a crushing record of non-God. Remember, plenty of Christians think they have experimental evidence of the power of prayer. It’s not just that they don’t understand Bayesian reasoning–they consider Uncle Fred’s sudden recovery from illness and the boss’ inexplicable decision to give them a raise to be prayer-induced miracles, of the sort you said would be good enough to prove God.

So…who’s left in the target audience? Scientifically well-educated people who are also middle-of-the-road Christians, who believe in a God of answered prayers and earthly punishment but also recognize the mountain of evidence against such prayers and punishment and complete lack of evidence for? Isn’t that a pretty small demographic?

So, when a scientist stands up in public and says “Science has nothing to say on the existence or not of God”, what s/he is actually saying is “Science does not exclude the possibility of a Supreme Being that does not interfere in the way that the Universe is run”, but what the audience hears is “Science takes no position on my God of prayers and punishment”. The dissonance between what is being said and what is being heard is huge.

But that dissonance is no less if the theist/deist/agnostic scientist says, “Science says that God probably does not exist.” Because what the scientist hears hirself saying is, “Science rules against my definition or definitions of God, even though my God is not a God of prayers and punishment.” In which case, the scientist is, from hir point of view, deliberately telling a lie. You can’t really expect hir to do that. Moreover, the only way to clarify at that point is to start explaining differences between the scientist’s God and the audience’s God, which IMO is massively counterproductive; the last thing you want the audience to think is that science education is just a ploy to lure them away from their faith into your heresy instead.

So, unless you’re talking to an audience whose religious beliefs you know very well, why not simply say, “Science takes a position on prayers and punishment–the former don’t get answered and the latter doesn’t happen?” Then everyone can decide on their own time whether or not their current version of God is inconsequential enough to survive the evidence.

Comment #147878

Posted by Katarina on December 3, 2006 8:26 AM (e)

“Science takes a position on prayers and punishment–the former don’t get answered and the latter doesn’t happen?”

Wouldn’t “Answering of prayers, punishments, and performance of miracles have never been empirically observed,” be a fairer choice?

For me the most persuasive argument against god(s) is not offered by probability or absence from science, because there are too many loopholes. I mean, god may want to hide from science for reasons other than cowerdace, and the probability arguments are based on what science has/has not found, right? Neither is the deterministic argument a reliable one, for it can be used both ways. The theist is just as fond as the atheist of using determinism to point to a god who set things into motion at the beginning and let them all unravel according to plan. As for Hurricane Katrina (no relation), I’ve heard the middle-of-the road Christians, as you call them, call it the work of the devil. I know that is just as ridiculous as the other claim, but we can no more show there’s no devil than we can that there’s no god (or angels, or fairies, or trolls).

For me the most persuasive arguments against god are the same ones that have always nagged me: The existance of so many religions in the world, whose followers all think they have exclusive rights to the Truth, and the specific formula that Christians have of getting into heaven: believing in the deity of an ancient person, who did not even claim himself divine but had words put into his mouth by scribes, and reciting certain words that affirm this belief.

Then, the argument against design begs the question too, but falls short of resolving it. In a deterministic universe, god can be argued to have set things in motion at the beginning, as Ken Miller wishes. But then as Dawkins points out, such an infinitely complex being had to have a designer that is even more complex, and that one would have to come from an even more complex one, and so on, so you can see where that leads.

Then again, probabilistic arguments are way over my head, so maybe I’m missing something here. Would someone please explain it in baby words for me, if I’ve misunderstood?

Comment #147879

Posted by demallien on December 3, 2006 8:50 AM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

Now you’re talking about a believing scientist, who is not the average Christian. Especially because this scientist apparently accepts the data showing that prayer doesn’t work and miracles don’t happen; otherwise there wouldn’t be a crushing record of non-God. Remember, plenty of Christians think they have experimental evidence of the power of prayer. It’s not just that they don’t understand Bayesian reasoning–they consider Uncle Fred’s sudden recovery from illness and the boss’ inexplicable decision to give them a raise to be prayer-induced miracles, of the sort you said would be good enough to prove God.

So…who’s left in the target audience? Scientifically well-educated people who are also middle-of-the-road Christians, who believe in a God of answered prayers and earthly punishment but also recognize the mountain of evidence against such prayers and punishment and complete lack of evidence for? Isn’t that a pretty small demographic?

Anton, you get a big fat F for logic on this one. There are two claims, and two audiences in this discussion. The first claim was mine, addressed at appeasing scientists, people that almost by definition are required to harbour at least a little doubt on the existence of God. To this audience I have made the claim, backed up with mathematics, that the prayer-answering God’s existence is highly improbable.

But there is a second claim, this time made by the appeasing scientists, which goes along the lines of “Science has nothing to say on the existence of God”. Their target audience is Mr Average in the street that does believe in a prayer-answering, interventionist God.

Geddit?

But that dissonance is no less if the theist/deist/agnostic scientist says, “Science says that God probably does not exist.” Because what the scientist hears hirself saying is, “Science rules against my definition or definitions of God, even though my God is not a God of prayers and punishment.” In which case, the scientist is, from hir point of view, deliberately telling a lie.

Another F for logic. If a scientist says “Science says that a God probably doesn’t exist”, even if said scientist does belief that such a God exists, it does not make them a liar. they prefaced te remark with “Science says…”, and hence the comment is not an avowal of one’s personal belief.

Anton, I’m not asking them to say that God probably doesn’t exist. I’m asking them to say that a prayer-answering, interventionist God probably doesn’t exist. If there is any dissonance in this statement for the scientist making it, it can only be because s/he believes that an interventionist God does exist. But at this point s/he is no longer speaking for science, but for him/herself, and hence shouldn’t be prefacing remarks with phrases such as “Science says…” On the other hand, if they want to speak as a scientist, even though they are a theist, then yes, you are right. Said person is going to have a rather strong dissonance. But then this dissonance has already been noted ad infinitum by Dawkins and the other usual suspects. I actually thought to have seen you espousing this point yourself…

Anyway all of this is besides the point. It seems to me that most scientists that make this claim aren’t believers in an interventionist God anyway. Most seem to be agnostics. Such a statement shouldn’t cause them any personal grief. Trouble is, instead of doing science, they are playing politics - which is fine, I don’t have any problems with scientists that want to play politics. But if they are going to do that, they need to cease making unscientific claims on behalf of science. So no more “Science has nothing to say on the existence of God” rubbish. Science has something to say, and that something is that the man-on-the-street’s interventionist God is a highly improbable creature.

Comment #147880

Posted by demallien on December 3, 2006 9:03 AM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Then again, probabilistic arguments are way over my head, so maybe I’m missing something here. Would someone please explain it in baby words for me, if I’ve misunderstood?

Yup, you’re missing something, but not in the probabilistic argument. The probabilistic argument is not designed to convince believers of the non-existence of their God. As you point out, there are better arguments for this, such as the existence of multiple mutually-exclusive religions. The argument is targetted specifically at scientists making the claim that “Science has nothing to say on the existence of God”, and as such is a scientific argument using a calculation of probabilities as it’s basis.

As you also point out, there are loads of fun little loopholes, such as God always obeying the laws of physics (hence no miracles, no prayer-answering etc etc), a non-interventionist God that contents himself with just watching, or an absent God that went home to husband and dinner after creating the universe. But none of these Gods are the God of Joe Blow on the street. These Gods are almost impossible to argue against from a scientific point of view - they are invoked for just that reason - to appeal to people that want a God, but want science too. Then again, even diehard atheists such as myself find the belief in such a God as relatively harmless, provided that it is understood taht it is not reasonable to base one actions in this world on the believed desires of said unprovable-God.

Comment #147881

Posted by Katarina on December 3, 2006 9:19 AM (e)

Thanks demallien, for your explanation. I’m just gonna play god’s advocate here for a second, even though it will get me into trouble in present company.

(hence no miracles, no prayer-answering etc etc),

Maybe you should qualify that with the phrase “empirically observable” miracles, prayer-answering, etc etc. As I’ve argued here before (in previous threads), it makes theistic sense that god wouldn’t put himself on a lab bench, or allow himself to be peer-reviewed into certain existance. God would understandably want to hide from science, giving us the freedom to believe or not believe in him. We’ve already determined that belief itself is a virtue, no? In fact, it is the virtue that gets Christians into heaven.

Besides, each miracle is a one-time occurances. They won’t be repeated for the next observer(s), even if they set up the experiment in exactly the same way. And if we were to look for forensic evidence of a miracle, what would we look for, exactly? God wouldn’t really have to break the laws of physics, only to use the tip of his finger to nudge sub-atomic particles and waves of radiation this way or that, or cause some other chance events that result in a miracle, or an answer to a prayer. In short, too many loopholes.

Comment #147883

Posted by tomh on December 3, 2006 10:26 AM (e)

Peter wrote:

The Buddha, so far as I know, is off limits. Real guy,
Plus, Zen Buddhism is a method/practice not a religion. No extradimensional transcendental beings.

There are many flavors of Buddhism of which Zen is just one, one that came long after Buddha. While they have no Creator God there are many supernatural beings, such as devas, that are able to affect earthly events and are part of the reincarnation cycle. Any Buddhist temple will have images of them.

Comment #147888

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on December 3, 2006 11:46 AM (e)

Katarina: …such an infinitely complex being had to have a designer that is even more complex…

That part seems debatable. I haven’t had much practice in universe-forming, but it’s at least conceivable that, given a basic kit, the process may not be all that complicated. Consider, say, the formulas used in generating fractals (see http://scienceblogs.com/chaoticutopia/), John Conway’s famous “Game of Life” (sorry, no worthy url at hand), or Dawkins’s own artificial-life software (oddly not available, it seems, at http://richarddawkins.net/), in which a relatively simple algorithm can generate amazing, unpredictable, and complex results (while leaving the option of further intervention open but not necessary).

This does beg the question of whence came the designer and her kit, and leaves the infinite-regress rabbit hole still waiting for us to fall into it, but may at least zap the exponential-complexity problem.

Katarina: God would understandably want to hide from science, giving us the freedom to believe or not believe in him.

This argument is much flimsier, particularly if you accept Judeo-Christian documentation. Supposedly the Jews spent 40 years wandering around across a peninsula of 140 miles across its longest axis, being (mis)guided by a pillar of fire, fed by heavenly manna, and otherwise provided with unambiguous evidence of divine existence and involvement. For them, god’s reality should’ve been as Flint put it above:

Flint: …kind of like why we don’t debate whether there’s a sky.

Nonetheless, they retained enough freedom of will to go absolutely ga-ga over a golden calf as soon as opportunity allowed. Likewise, even Jahweh Junior was reported to have expressed doubt under stress. So, why - assuming Jahweh gives a damn any more, of course - can’t he provide any representation better than a raggedy old collection of bronze age myths and a gaggle of fanatics & con artists?

Comment #147895

Posted by normdoering on December 3, 2006 1:06 PM (e)

For me the most persuasive arguments against god are the same ones that have always nagged me: The existance of so many religions in the world, whose followers all think they have exclusive rights to the Truth,…

That’s a devasting argument against religion when you add the athropological evidence for all those weird and varied religions that no longer exist. Religions evolve. But it’s only weakly and indirectly an argument against God (because God is mostly a construct of religion).

Remember, the deists (Voltaire, Thomas Paine) were using that argument and they believed in a “God.”

It’s easier to argue against religion than it is to argue against God.

What you want to argue against is man knowing what God wants. That’s when religion gets dangerous. It’s always a trick the religious pull – to turn arguments against religion into arguments against God.

Comment #147900

Posted by demallien on December 3, 2006 1:45 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

it makes theistic sense that god wouldn’t put himself on a lab bench, or allow himself to be peer-reviewed into certain existance. God would understandably want to hide from science, giving us the freedom to believe or not believe in him.

Umm, well OK, let’s imagine that I’m a theist that is seriously ill with a life-threatening disease. Said disease is under much research in labs around the world, but I’m praying like crazy that the Big Guy In The Sky is going to pull a few strings and make it happen in double time.

Am I just out of luck here? God can’t go answering prayers in a lab so I guess I’ll just have to die? Do scientists have power over God? By setting up a world-wide lab, could we prevent him ever interfering in our lives again?

Get my point? It’s not a very satisfying answer from a theistic point of view.

God wouldn’t really have to break the laws of physics, only to use the tip of his finger to nudge sub-atomic particles and waves of radiation this way or that, or cause some other chance events that result in a miracle, or an answer to a prayer.

You yourself have answered this one. Sure, a God-of-the Gaps may be mucking about in the sub-quantum world. Such a God isn’t necessary. If you can’t detect Him, then He isn’t doing anything nature wouldn’t do all by it’s lonesome. Otherwise you could detect the deviation from what would be “natural”

Besides, each miracle is a one-time occurances.

Miracles are problematic. In principle, science wouldn’t say “Hey, that was a miracle”, but rather “hey, there goes an event for which we have absolutely no explanation, and which seems to violate the known laws of physics”.

Nevertheless, if a scientist came across a big trench “dug” in the waters of the Red Sea, leaving a dry path on the sea bed to walk along, he would most likely be feeling pretty comfortable on admitting that it may just be God at work. This sort of thing happened all the time in the Old Testament (at least that’s what they say!). But we just don’t see that kind of thing when there is a camera around to record it… Suspicious, isn’t it?

Comment #147903

Posted by Katarina on December 3, 2006 2:16 PM (e)

Pierce Butler:

Katarina: God would understandably want to hide from science, giving us the freedom to believe or not believe in him.

This argument is much flimsier, particularly if you accept Judeo-Christian documentation. Supposedly the Jews spent 40 years wandering around across a peninsula of 140 miles across its longest axis, being (mis)guided by a pillar of fire, fed by heavenly manna, and otherwise provided with unambiguous evidence of divine existence and involvement. For them, god’s reality should’ve been as Flint put it above:

Flint: …kind of like why we don’t debate whether there’s a sky.

Flint’s is a pretty strong atheist argument. Still, there are loopholes left for the determined theist even here. Maybe god performed these miracles for them to assure them they were the chosen people. Maybe it was a crucial step in his plans. The word got passed down, the bible got written, and now that most people have, or can get, access to biblical stories, they don’t necessarily need big miracles.

Pierce Butler:

Katarina: such an infinitely complex being had to have a designer that is even more complex…

That part seems debatable. I haven’t had much practice in universe-forming,

:)

[but] a relatively simple algorithm can generate amazing, unpredictable, and complex results

That “simple algorithms can generate amazing, unpredictable, and complex results,” is the argument that evolution demonstrates, which crushes the argument from design. That complexity can only arise from higher complexity (i.e. an intelligent agent) is the argument from design. Obviously Dawkins wasn’t advocating an argument from design, but simply following it to its logical conclusion - going to higher and higher levels of complexity with each step backward gets you into impossible land. If on the other hand, we consider an evolved creator, we may as well just believe in an evolved us, and no creator. This seems to me like the best logical argument against god.

The probabilities don’t seem like they would convince any target group, theists, deists, or agnostics, because they are based on the natural events that science has observed. Of all the natural events that have taken place since we started scientific observation, what percent of them have been scientifically observed? I will venture a guess of 0.0001 per-cent. I just pulled that number out of a hat, but I don’t see how anyone can come up with a better guess, since we don’t know how many natural events have occurred in the universe, or even earth.

Comment #147905

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 3, 2006 2:29 PM (e)

As I’ve argued here before (in previous threads), it makes theistic sense that god wouldn’t put himself on a lab bench, or allow himself to be peer-reviewed into certain existance.

hmm, then why did the Hebrew god decide to appear as a pillar of flame and lead the israelites?

seems at least in the OT, the old boy was decidedly more corporeal (and testable) than after he became a dad.

too busy at work to make an appearance?

what do YOU think the more likely explanation is, eh?

Comment #147913

Posted by Katarina on December 3, 2006 3:33 PM (e)

Sir TJ:
Has the temperature just gone up a degree in this thread? Are you in need of a fan? In case you missed my (god’s advocate) answer to your question in my previous comment, we now have the widely accessible written word, so miracles don’t have to be so grand anymore. They can be more modest now. God doesn’t have to treat us the same way he treated our ancestors, or the same way he (supposedly) treated the early Jews.

demallien:

Miracles are problematic. In principle, science wouldn’t say “Hey, that was a miracle”,

Yes, that does make it hard for science to claim authority on the probability of god.

but rather “hey, there goes an event for which we have absolutely no explanation

OK so far..

and which seems to violate the known laws of physics”.

Why should that be so? Do you mean, prayers getting answered, as in someone miraculously recovering from cancer? Or do you mean a virgin birth? If you mean the latter, I have no good explanation for that. I have trouble understanding whether or not theists believe god is above the laws of physics, but it seems most of them do think so. So if you mean a miracle that does break the known laws of physics (or biology), well, there only needed to be one virgin birth, right?

More devastating to the virgin birth than the fact that we don’t observe it happening all the time, is that it is also a story common in other ancient religions, and was likely handed down from previous myths to Christianity. Wasn’t it rumored of Alexander the Great that his father was a god?

I don’t think science delivers the mortal logical blow to supernatural belief, at least in a logical or probabilistic sense. What it does do is furnish explanatory power for the way our world is, often by filling in the gaps where supernatural belief has failed us. And insofar as it is applied to the evolution of religion itself, it does make any specific religious doctrine look pretty silly.

The problem I have with the probabalistic argument is: How does one come up with a good probability argument with only a tiny fraction of all the possible data?

Comment #147915

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 3, 2006 3:41 PM (e)

They can be more modest now. God doesn’t have to treat us the same way he treated our ancestors, or the same way he (supposedly) treated the early Jews.

you point at the more reasonable answer without even realizing it, apparently:

we can make up stories that seem more reasonable, based on the times and awareness level of the audience.

that’s why they call it “apologetics”

Comment #147916

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 3, 2006 3:42 PM (e)

How does one come up with a good probability argument with only a tiny fraction of all the possible data

all of observed experience is all the data we have to work with. not enough for you?

Comment #147926

Posted by Katarina on December 3, 2006 4:26 PM (e)

all of observed experience is all the data we have to work with. not enough for you?

Do you mean all of scientifically observed experience, as in experiments that can be repeated or forensic evidence that can be checked? If the data available to us accounted for at least 50% of all the possible data, then I might be convinced that a probabilistic argument could be made. But of all the natural events that could possibly shape the world in which we live? How many of these events occur in just a single day, on just one earth? A mutation here, thunder striking there, someone stumbling and falling down, etc etc. Of all these events, what per-cent are observed scientifically, in a single day, on a single planet? Not enough to make any probability estimates, not even close.

The most we can say from all the data available to us is that if there is a god, he doesn’t want to be discovered using the scientific method, which delivers a high degree of certainty for observed events.

Comment #147927

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 3, 2006 4:29 PM (e)

The most we can say from all the data available to us is that if there is a god, he doesn’t want to be discovered using the scientific method, which delivers a high degree of certainty for observed events.

…and all I’m saying is that the logic behind your premise is faulty, and smacks of circular reasoning.

I’m surprised you can’t see that.

Comment #147931

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 3, 2006 5:30 PM (e)

I realize that we’re not discussing much of any importance now, so understand my comments to be in line with this observation, not as hostile or anything like that.

Has the temperature just gone up a degree in this thread? Are you in need of a fan? In case you missed my (god’s advocate) answer to your question in my previous comment, we now have the widely accessible written word, so miracles don’t have to be so grand anymore. They can be more modest now.

Then why the miracles in the New Testament? Didn’t the word coming down from the Exodus make “less modest” miracles sufficient at that time? Mark even states that the reason for Jesus’ miracles was for a “sign”, “for signs”.

God doesn’t have to treat us the same way he treated our ancestors, or the same way he (supposedly) treated the early Jews.

Then why does Jesus tell his disciples that they will heal the sick, etc.?

demallien:

Miracles are problematic. In principle, science wouldn’t say “Hey, that was a miracle”,

Yes, that does make it hard for science to claim authority on the probability of god.

Well, I don’t know. Science might do so, especially if the miracle seemed truly “out of this world”. The Fatima phenomenon wasn’t so much said to be either a “miracle” or to be “explanable via science”, but then it wasn’t on the level of a mountain being cast into the sea or some such thing, either. It seems not to be explained, though perhaps some mix of atmospheric phenomena, perhaps even some sort of intoxication, and group suggestion, might be as good or bad a hypothesis as any miracle would be.

but rather “hey, there goes an event for which we have absolutely no explanation

OK so far..

and which seems to violate the known laws of physics”.

Why should that be so? Do you mean, prayers getting answered, as in someone miraculously recovering from cancer? Or do you mean a virgin birth? If you mean the latter, I have no good explanation for that.

I don’t think we’d have much explanation either for apparently-answered prayers (repeatedly and reliably answered, that is, so that correlation implies causation), or for the virgin birth. What is perhaps interesting is that there would be no convincing theistic explanation for these either.

I have trouble understanding whether or not theists believe god is above the laws of physics, but it seems most of them do think so. So if you mean a miracle that does break the known laws of physics (or biology), well, there only needed to be one virgin birth, right?

Yes, but demonstrating that it was a virgin birth would be difficult to do, unless it was parthenogenesis or something like that (JAD’s evolutionary “hypothesis”).

More devastating to the virgin birth than the fact that we don’t observe it happening all the time, is that it is also a story common in other ancient religions, and was likely handed down from previous myths to Christianity. Wasn’t it rumored of Alexander the Great that his father was a god?

I don’t think science delivers the mortal logical blow to supernatural belief, at least in a logical or probabilistic sense. What it does do is furnish explanatory power for the way our world is, often by filling in the gaps where supernatural belief has failed us. And insofar as it is applied to the evolution of religion itself, it does make any specific religious doctrine look pretty silly.

It’s more like philosophy and practice in both the scientific and judicial realms kept on running up against the problems of magical claims. Science doesn’t so much disprove miracles and the like, as find it necessary to be skeptical of all claims with insufficient evidentiary backing. The overall success of science bears out this skepticism, but it doesn’t demonstrate that miracles on the side are impossible (however, science has problems with miracles busting into the apparently rock-solid principles of science, which might render scientific prediction to be useless in at least some cases (unless somehow God makes it so that interventions don’t mess with the universe). Since science works so well, miracles appear to go against the continued success of science).

The problem I have with the probabalistic argument is: How does one come up with a good probability argument with only a tiny fraction of all the possible data?

God isn’t really amenable to probabilistic tools, as it seems that either He intends for everything we see to take place, or he refrains from intervening sufficiently for statistics to prevail. That’s why science finds the “God hypothesis” to be so useless, and hence worthy of no more consideration than any other god, religion, magic, or creation myth. It is when something does have at least some probability that courts, science, and the usual understanding among people (aside from religion, that is), takes this something seriously.

Miracles have the problem that ID has, no identifiable connection with the supposed “actor” in each case. That is why organic complexity and “miracles” are at best observations in the hands of the IDists and pro-miracle religionists, because there is no meaningful connection with the “causes” (or evidence that these “causes” even exist) to which the theists want to ascribe these phenomena.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147934

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 3, 2006 5:49 PM (e)

all of observed experience is all the data we have to work with. not enough for you?

Do you mean all of scientifically observed experience, as in experiments that can be repeated or forensic evidence that can be checked? If the data available to us accounted for at least 50% of all the possible data, then I might be convinced that a probabilistic argument could be made.

Actually, if we had that much data, and could process it properly, we wouldn’t need to use statistics (much, anyhow) in order to make our extrapolation, which is how science is commonly done. We utilize statistics partly because we can use and process so little of the total possible data.

The point is that we do have enough data to make extremely reliable claims about the world, and are able to data-mine collections of information in order to find new correlations. Naturally not every last active process or entity is discernable in all of these data, but they are enough that we deny most extra-scientific claims, and would not bother with the Benny Hinn’s claims that God changed his tax return, if he were hauled into court on tax charges.

But of all the natural events that could possibly shape the world in which we live? How many of these events occur in just a single day, on just one earth? A mutation here, thunder striking there, someone stumbling and falling down, etc etc. Of all these events, what per-cent are observed scientifically, in a single day, on a single planet? Not enough to make any probability estimates, not even close.

No, in fact probability claims are made with respect to these phenomena all of the time. Your argument is simply that causal phenomena could hide out within these data, without our ability to detect them. And yes, I agree with that, and new phenomena affecting mutations and the weather are sometimes found.

Of course I think that what is happening here is that I’m arguing that God, as far as we can “define” him, doesn’t show up in the statistics and is therefore a meaningless claim. What you seem to be arguing is that probabilities don’t rule out God, which of course they do not. However, I don’t think that science really does care about giving the “God hypothesis” any credence (at least in scientific explanation) unless and until there was something which would point to God, rather than worrying about whether or not we have enough data to rule God out. We will probably never be able to process that much data.

The most we can say from all the data available to us is that if there is a god, he doesn’t want to be discovered using the scientific method, which delivers a high degree of certainty for observed events.

You couch your statement in apologetic terms, I assume because you were fairly recently doing apologetics (well, are now, too). The fact is that, like fairies or leprachauns, it isn’t that we conclude that they don’t want to be detected from their lack of detection, but that there is no evidence at all for their existence. We then treat them like they do not exist, though existential claims aren’t necessary to do science or philosophy. If gods or leprachauns are intent upon hiding we have no reason to think so, as we have no evidence that they exist/affect the universe.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147939

Posted by Henry J on December 3, 2006 6:34 PM (e)

Re “The existance of so many religions in the world, whose followers all think they have exclusive rights to the Truth,…”

That strikes me as an argument against the notion that there’s a God that wants to be worshipped, or at least that wants any one particular form of it.

Henry

Comment #147940

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 6:40 PM (e)

Peter wrote:

I’m sorry, but it is simply not true at all. Religions make scientifically testable claims throughout their texts and maybe I’m going to sound like Sam Harris but the claim that Jesus was resurrected from the dead…and any other number of miraculous things are either a) physical impossibilities or b) so statistically improbable as to be practically impossible. Just because science can’t disprove to an absolute zero that God doesn’t exist does not mean that is somehow reasonable to believe them. It’s not and stepping around the issue is, as PZ, Harris, Dawkins and Dennett all say, dishonest and misleading.
It is painful to watch otherwise reasonable people pander to the fatuousness of the theistically minded.

Anyone who claims the resurrection is a scientific or physical “impossibility” deserves to be knocked in the head; there are legitimate criticisms of the resurrection narrative but the question-begging “it is impossible” is not one of them.

Comment #147941

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 6:48 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

Actually, if we had that much data, and could process it properly, we wouldn’t need to use statistics (much, anyhow) in order to make our extrapolation, which is how science is commonly done. We utilize statistics partly because we can use and process so little of the total possible data.

Bull****. You would still have to use statistical inference with 50% of the data. Find another subject you know nothing about (shouldn’t be hard) to blather on.

Comment #147944

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on December 3, 2006 6:54 PM (e)

Katarina: …there are loopholes left for the determined theist even here.

Since the d.a.’s god can fit into the tiniest of gaps, that will always be the case.

If on the other hand, we consider an evolved creator, we may as well just believe in an evolved us, and no creator. This seems to me like the best logical argument against god.

Back to Occam’s Razor. Just think how appalled William of Ockham, and Rev. Alfred Bayes, would be if they could have known their primary contributions to human thought would be considered as leading arguments for atheism… If there is a god, she’s a cruel ironist.

…we don’t know how many natural events have occurred in the universe…

Somehow I doubt anyone’s come up with an adequate universal definition of “event” (or “natural”), for that matter.

…a virgin birth?… I have no good explanation for that.

There have been numerous recorded childbirths where opening a hymen was a necessary part of the procedure. Sfaik, in each case an ejaculation somewhere near the outer side of said hymen was implicated.

Wasn’t it rumored of Alexander the Great that his father was a god?

Yes, but with a twist. His mother’s reputation was (ahem) such that any story of her virginity would have been met with guffaws, so Big Al’s press agent apparently had it leaked that she had been struck in the (ahem) groin by lightning.

Fwiw, I agree with your complaint that “all of observed data” as a set does not exclude the possibility of exceptions - but any argument based on such possible exceptions is only an inverted “gap” claim.

Comment #147945

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 3, 2006 6:59 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

Actually, if we had that much data, and could process it properly, we wouldn’t need to use statistics (much, anyhow) in order to make our extrapolation, which is how science is commonly done. We utilize statistics partly because we can use and process so little of the total possible data.

Bull****. You would still have to use statistical inference with 50% of the data. Find another subject you know nothing about (shouldn’t be hard) to blather on.

Dear lackwit, why are you so incredibly dense, and unable to read what is written? Why do you think I wrote parenthetically, “much, anyhow”? Of course I know that statistics would still be needed, but the issues like error bars and the like wouldn’t be nearly as important if we had 50% of the data. And I left it as open as I did because if we had 50% of the data, we don’t know if we have almost 100% of the data in many areas, with a few areas rather more lacking, or if it’s supposed to be 50% across the board.

I guess you couldn’t think through any of that, you being almost completely ignorant and stupid. I’m not an expert in stats, but I know enough to write about them more intelligently than you do, you being sensibly illiterate and a prejudiced ignoramus. One has to know everything oneself, as Nietzsche noted, which is why I take the trouble to understand these things, and to write with the modifiers that you either don’t bother to read or are too much of a lackwit to understand.

Can you back up anything you say, or do you persist in simply telling lies where you are so utterly incapable of understanding or of relating anything intelligent?

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147947

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on December 3, 2006 7:10 PM (e)

Oops - pls make that -

Since the d.t.’s god can fit in the tiniest…

Comment #147949

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 3, 2006 7:36 PM (e)

To expand a bit more for someone as sparing in knowledge as the malignant O’Brian is, the real question to be asked is, “what is 50% of the data”? If you’re really talking about all of the data that ever existed, then 50% of the data would be more than enough to tell us just about anything about the world that we need to know without statistics. Even if we narrowed the data pool considerably, and only had comprehensive genetic and phenotypic knowledge about 50% of the organisms throughout the entirety of evolution (randomly distributed), we could (theoretically, and with extreme (yes, impossible) computing power), relate just about everything important about the evolution of earth without using statistics. So the other question would relate to what I kept writing (and that the malignant lackwit didn’t or wouldn’t understand), “if we could process the data”.

Indeed, if we had to process the data using statistics (for lack of ability to deal with each and every datum “causally”), then we’d need statistics. If we could process such an enormous amount of data otherwise, then we wouldn’t use statistics. It’s a question that I passed by with a few hedges (lost on fools), as any reasonable person wouldn’t bother me over it. The terms “50% of the data” and “if we were able to process it” leave so many holes that it is difficult to really discuss the need for statistics under those conditions.

And of course my main point had been that statistics give us very solid knowledge without the need for comprehensive information about the world. O’Brian simply obscures that with his vile little attack on the necessarily inadequate descriptions I used in a region that had not been defined originally, rather than adding to the knowledge here.

Now in some physics, as in QM issues, statistics might be unavoidable (then again, that we could have 50% of the data in that area would be doubtful indeed). 50% of all of the data in most of the sciences would relieve us of using statistics in many areas where it is now needed (if it could be processed according to “causality”), as we never achieve a full 50% of the total data even in a single extremely thorough observation.

Btw, has anyone seen O’Brian add meaningful knowledge to a discussion, or is it always just ill-informed, unjustified, and evil attack?

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147951

Posted by Anton Mates on December 3, 2006 7:38 PM (e)

demallien wrote:

Anton, you get a big fat F for logic on this one. There are two claims, and two audiences in this discussion. The first claim was mine, addressed at appeasing scientists, people that almost by definition are required to harbour at least a little doubt on the existence of God. To this audience I have made the claim, backed up with mathematics, that the prayer-answering God’s existence is highly improbable.

Okay. So are these scientists believers in an interventionist God or aren’t they? If they are, they almost certainly believe that miracles have happened, as Collins and Miller do, so they won’t accept your claim–not because they dispute the math, but because they dispute the data. If they aren’t, then there’s no need to convince them.

Another F for logic. If a scientist says “Science says that a God probably doesn’t exist”, even if said scientist does belief that such a God exists, it does not make them a liar. they prefaced te remark with “Science says…”, and hence the comment is not an avowal of one’s personal belief.

I think maybe you missed the “not” in “my God is not a God of prayers and punishment.” The point is that the scientist who believes in a scientifically untouchable God cannot honestly say that “Science says God probably doesn’t exist.” He can only say “Science says your God probably doesn’t exist, oh uneducated audience of mine.” And, in response to the inevitable next question, “Well, my God, on the other hand, is doing great.” And now it’s become a religious dispute instead of a scientific one.

Anton, I’m not asking them to say that God probably doesn’t exist. I’m asking them to say that a prayer-answering, interventionist God probably doesn’t exist.

That’s a more accurate formulation. But why not take it all the way to “Answered prayers and supernatural intervention probably don’t happen?” That in itself torpedoes any notion of interventionist Gods or interventionist energy beings from other dimensions or, for that matter, interventionist humans with psychic powers.

On the other hand, if they want to speak as a scientist, even though they are a theist, then yes, you are right. Said person is going to have a rather strong dissonance. But then this dissonance has already been noted ad infinitum by Dawkins and the other usual suspects. I actually thought to have seen you espousing this point yourself…

Oh, sure. I don’t see much of any way Ken Miller, say, could articulate his worldview so that it makes sense to affirm miraculous virgin births and resurrections from the dead around 0 AD, but reject miraculous prebiotic chemical events and mutations anytime in the preceding 4 billion years. OTOH, it’s perfectly consistent for Martin Gardner to shoot down every supernatural claim that comes his way, while simultaneously admitting he’s a fideist deist.

Anyway all of this is besides the point. It seems to me that most scientists that make this claim aren’t believers in an interventionist God anyway. Most seem to be agnostics. Such a statement shouldn’t cause them any personal grief.

As an atheist, I wouldn’t have any problem denying the existence of an interventionist God if someone asked me about it specifically, but it would annoy me if I was expected to default-assume that version of God whenever I used the word. I think it’s rather important to illustrate the limited imagination of most popular religions as to what sorts of supernatural whatevers could be out there…they’re not even making up good fantasy. (I’ve seen Dawkins make this point as well.)

Comment #147952

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 7:38 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

Dear lackwit, why are you so incredibly dense, and unable to read what is written? Why do you think I wrote parenthetically, “much, anyhow”? Of course I know that statistics would still be needed, but the issues like error bars and the like wouldn’t be nearly as important if we had 50% of the data. And I left it as open as I did because if we had 50% of the data, we don’t know if we have almost 100% of the data in many areas, with a few areas rather more lacking, or if it’s supposed to be 50% across the board.

I guess you couldn’t think through any of that, you being almost completely ignorant and stupid. I’m not an expert in stats, but I know enough to write about them more intelligently than you do, you being sensibly illiterate and a prejudiced ignoramus. One has to know everything oneself, as Nietzsche noted, which is why I take the trouble to understand these things, and to write with the modifiers that you either don’t bother to read or are too much of a lackwit to understand.

Can you back up anything you say, or do you persist in simply telling lies where you are so utterly incapable of understanding or of relating anything intelligent?

I noted the caveat; even with it, your claim is still bull****. You see, my background is in probability and statistics, so I suggest you tuck your non-prehensile tail in between your legs and slink off because you are way out of your league.

Comment #147953

Posted by Anton Mates on December 3, 2006 7:42 PM (e)

Glen Davidson wrote:

Btw, has anyone seen O’Brian add meaningful knowledge to a discussion, or is it always just ill-informed, unjustified, and evil attack?

Well, he did pass on the valuable information that the Dutch are not to be trusted.

Comment #147954

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 7:42 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

Dear lackwit, why are you so incredibly dense, and unable to read what is written? Why do you think I wrote parenthetically, “much, anyhow”? Of course I know that statistics would still be needed, but the issues like error bars and the like wouldn’t be nearly as important if we had 50% of the data. And I left it as open as I did because if we had 50% of the data, we don’t know if we have almost 100% of the data in many areas, with a few areas rather more lacking, or if it’s supposed to be 50% across the board.

I guess you couldn’t think through any of that, you being almost completely ignorant and stupid. I’m not an expert in stats, but I know enough to write about them more intelligently than you do, you being sensibly illiterate and a prejudiced ignoramus. One has to know everything oneself, as Nietzsche noted, which is why I take the trouble to understand these things, and to write with the modifiers that you either don’t bother to read or are too much of a lackwit to understand.

Can you back up anything you say, or do you persist in simply telling lies where you are so utterly incapable of understanding or of relating anything intelligent?

Glen D

I noted the caveat; even with it, your claim is still bull****. You see, my background is in probability and statistics, so I suggest you tuck your non-prehensile tail in between your legs and slink off because you are way out of your league.

Comment #147955

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 7:46 PM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

Well, he did pass on the valuable information that the Dutch are not to be trusted.

LOL! Yes, but for the record I think Pim is tolerable. :D

Comment #147956

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 3, 2006 7:47 PM (e)

To be sure, in even 50% of all of the data, trends and processes might still be extracted using statistics. What’s hard to know in such an open-ended “hypothetical” is whether or not one would need statistics even then, or if one might know what one wished simply by understanding the whole (again, if it could be processed in such a manner). The point had been that we can know so much without such odd hypotheticals, by statistical (and other) extrapolation which is why I wrote “much anyway” (stats wouldn’t be so necessary in this odd hypothetical situation, so it seems).

Just never expect O’Brian to respond honestly to what is written, instead of to the strawman that he wants to attack.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147957

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 3, 2006 7:55 PM (e)

I noted the caveat;

Which is simply a lie. You included it in the quote, then attacked stupidly as if it weren’t there.

even with it, your claim is still bull****. You see, my background is in probability and statistics, so I suggest you tuck your non-prehensile tail in between your legs and slink off because you are way out of your league.

Your background is in attack and lies, and you want to simply claim expert knowledge where you are so incredibly ignorant. I learned the philosophy of science, where we learned about the need to extract knowledge from very partial amounts of data, due to the fact that we can’t gather or process (non-statistically) so much information as we’d need without statistics. You, not knowing anything beyond your narrow little information base (and I have little cause to think you know much there, either), come in with your stupid attacks based on your lack of understanding of the issues in science.

I suggest that you quit exhibiting your extreme lack of knowledge of science, your malignant and evil mind, and your incapacity to deal even on the border of what you claim to be expert on. And learn to read properly, so that your illiteracy doesn’t so obviously explain your lackwit status.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #147958

Posted by Anton Mates on December 3, 2006 7:58 PM (e)

Robert O'Brien wrote:

You see, my background is in probability and statistics

I look forward to the day you actually make use of it in a PT post.

Comment #147965

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 8:33 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

Which is simply a lie. You included it in the quote, then attacked stupidly as if it weren’t there.

No.

Glen D wrote:

Your background is in attack and lies, and you want to simply claim expert knowledge where you are so incredibly ignorant. I learned the philosophy of science, where we learned about the need to extract knowledge from very partial amounts of data, due to the fact that we can’t gather or process (non-statistically) so much information as we’d need without statistics. You, not knowing anything beyond your narrow little information base (and I have little cause to think you know much there, either), come in with your stupid attacks based on your lack of understanding of the issues in science.

Wow, a philosophy of science class! That certainly trumps all of the probability and statistics classes I have completed to date as an undergraduate and graduate student.

Glen D wrote:

I suggest that you quit exhibiting your extreme lack of knowledge of science, your malignant and evil mind, and your incapacity to deal even on the border of what you claim to be expert on. And learn to read properly, so that your illiteracy doesn’t so obviously explain your lackwit status.

And I suggest you seek out a mental health professional to address your histrionic outbursts.

Comment #147970

Posted by gwangung on December 3, 2006 9:10 PM (e)

Wow, a philosophy of science class! That certainly trumps all of the probability and statistics classes I have completed to date as an undergraduate and graduate student.

Yes, it does, when you’re doing science.

That you don’t recognize it shows the abysmal ignorance you operate under. You need BOTH.

Comment #147988

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 3, 2006 10:09 PM (e)

Yes, it does, when you’re doing science.

That you don’t recognize it shows the abysmal ignorance you operate under. You need BOTH.

Uh, no. I’d wager most scientists do not take a class in philosophy of science and they get along just fine. (I certainly do not need it in the mathematical sciences.)

Comment #147992

Posted by tomh on December 3, 2006 10:16 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

Btw, has anyone seen O’Brian add meaningful knowledge to a discussion …

No. Such ignorance is often best ignored.

Comment #148003

Posted by demallien on December 3, 2006 11:21 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

The problem I have with the probabalistic argument is: How does one come up with a good probability argument with only a tiny fraction of all the possible data?

Ahhh, that would be why we invented statistics Katarina. When the newspapers tell you that support for such and such a candidate is at 53%, it’s not because they asked everyone in an electorate of millions of people. Normally they only ask a few thousand, which is enough to get relatively small error bars on the result. See Glen D’s recent comments to Troll O’brien for more detail.

But of course, as others have noted in response to you, we are in a unique situation when talking about God. We just don’t observe supernatural events. We’ve made bucketloads of observations, but none show God. From that you can make a fairly strong Bayesian inferencethat the Big G doesn’t exist. Go back and read the posts from a few days back on this thread. They explain all of the mathematics in a fair amount of detail.

Comment #148008

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 4, 2006 12:05 AM (e)

demallien wrote:

I’ve tried really hard to understand where you trying to go with this Tarbjorn, but I’m not sure that I’ve succeeded. Anyway, I’ll answer what I think you were trying to say, and my apologies in advance if I end up attacking a strawman :-)

Anyway, the classic formula for a Bayesian inference is

P(H|E) = P(E|H)P(H)/P(E)

where in our case, H is the hypothesis that God exists, and E a newly observed event. P(E) is calculated as the sum of all the alternative hypothesis possibilities P(E|Hx)P(Hx). In our case, there is ony one other hypothesis - that the universe is completely natural, giving us the sum of probabilities as

P(E) = P(E|H)P(H) + P(E|Hn)P(Hn)

where Hn is the No God hypothesis

We’re trying to figure out the probability that god exists, faced with a long line of experiments that have never shown any external influence.

OK, so at the beginning, 3000 odd years ago, before scientific investigation began, our philosopher says - “Hmm, I really don’t know. There may be a God, or there may not be a God, we have exactly zero information. I’m going to assign equal probability to them both”

Our equation now looks like the following:

P(H|E) = P(E|H)P(H)/(P(E|H)P(H) + P(E|Hn)P(Hn))

As we have defined the two possibilities as being equal at this stage (0.5), that gives us

P(H|E) = P(E|H)/(P(E|H)+P(E|Hn))

Here’s the crunch. Religious types postulate that God interferes in the Universe from time to time. But the event that we have just observed was the result of natural causes (this is the result of every experiment that we do, so I’m going toassume that it’s the same for saome ancient Greek natural philosopher…). The probability of observing this natural event must be less than 1 if God exists, because if God decides to fiddle, the event wouldn’t happen. If you want to put this probability to 1, you’re effectively taking the philosophical position that God never acts. So, something less than one. But God isn’t supposed to interfere all the time, so we’ll say that the probability is 0.9999

On the other hand, the probability of seeing a natural event if the hypothesis is that God doesn’t exist, is evidently 1. You have to see the event, because the non-God hypothesis doesn’t have any other mechanism to act.

This gives us P(H|E) = 0.9999*0.5 / ((0.9999*0.5) + (1 * 0.5))

= 0.499975 (approx.)

In other words, the probability of H has decreased because of the occurence of a natural event.

In the real world,we observe only natural events, and that for an awfully long time. As each event is observed, the probability of God decreases bit by bit. By now, we have more than enough evidence to say that God is just really really really unlikely….

You can qualitatively check that the above equation is correct. Note for example that if we observe just one non-natural event, the probability of God goes to 1. All we need is one miracle folks.

Note also that even if you start off with a hypothesis that God is really, really, really likely, probability 0.999999 for example, this probability is still reduced by the observation of each natural event.

Anyway, that’s the mathematics behind it all. Qualitatively it looks right, intuitively it feels right (the $US1million bet), and no matter what probabilities you assign, the probability of God must decrease with each natural event observed.

This is a good example of the concept of “junk in, junk out.” This guy, with his pedestrian knowledge of probability, starts with fallacious hypotheses and ends up with a fallacious conclusion. Quite to the contrary of his bogus assertions, I see an ordered, rational, comprehensible universe as evidence of God’s existence, which is an idea at least as old as Plato.

Comment #148025

Posted by demallien on December 4, 2006 1:37 AM (e)

Dimwit O'Brien wrote:

This is a good example of the concept of “junk in, junk out.” This guy, with his pedestrian knowledge of probability, starts with fallacious hypotheses and ends up with a fallacious conclusion. Quite to the contrary of his bogus assertions, I see an ordered, rational, comprehensible universe as evidence of God’s existence, which is an idea at least as old as Plato.

1. What fallacious hypothesis? Care to like, oh, I don’t know, name one? Or are you unable to because you don’t know what the phrase “fallacious hypothesis” actually means?

2. What bogus assertions? Again, care to give examples, or is that beyond your (decidely limited) debating skills.

Sweetie, you need to start thinking logically, rather than frothing at the mouth… It’s just a tip, before the men in white coats come to put you away….

Comment #148042

Posted by normdoering on December 4, 2006 5:04 AM (e)

I predict that in a few months or a year Robert and Glen will look back at their posts and whack themselves on the side of their heads for taking these ideas so seriously. It’s really silly and pointless.

Comment #148068

Posted by Katarina on December 4, 2006 7:59 AM (e)

Perhaps apologetics is the only way I know how to argue, and as I’ve said, I’m playing god’s advocate. The purpose is to clarify my own ideas, so I sincerely thank you for the responses.

I understand that probability doesn’t need to have all the data, only a fraction of it. I still have trouble seeing how 0.0001% of all data can capture something that is supposed to be rare, though. Or does someone have a better number?

Maybe there is some confusion here on the type of miracle, which is my fault. I’m just letting my imagination run here, since we’re talking about nothing of importance anyway. Let’s say there are two types of miracles, ones that don’t obviously subvert the laws of physics, and ones that do. Raising of the dead, supernatural pregnancies, and curing of lepers and the blind would fall into the latter category. Manipulation of chance events for a specific outcome would fall into the former category, and couldn’t be traced. The first category of events could happen as often as you like without our ability to confirm, except to say, “Wow, that was a freak coincidence.” The second category would be much more rare miracles, a special event with a special purpose for a select group of people. Like the miracles of the old and the new testaments both.

I am completely convinced by all the atheist arguments put together. I am more convinced by some than by others. The probability argument isn’t convincing, because there is a theologically satisfying way around it that wouldn’t bother the Abrahamic God. Although I can see how anyone who trusts that the data we examine is the same as the data we’ve not examined should be the same. Anyone practicing science would have to have that assumption, or they couldn’t trust their results. Which is where Forrest’s description of methodological materialism comes in.

But then we get to the question that someone raised earlier, why would a god who performs special miracles not perform special creation? Got me there.

Next semester I will take my first statistics class, and hopefully I won’t be as much work for the rest of you.

Comment #148080

Posted by Katarina on December 4, 2006 9:13 AM (e)

Here’s my attempt to answer some of the more specific points:

Sir TJ:

…and all I’m saying is that the logic behind your premise is faulty, and smacks of circular reasoning.

I’m surprised you can’t see that.

Is “He isn’t detected because he doesn’t want to be detected,” the circular reasoning I’m guilty of? Which is my premise? Help me out.

Glen:

What you seem to be arguing is that probabilities don’t rule out God, which of course they do not.

Not exactly. I’m not arguing that probabilities don’t rule out God, but that the probability argument against god is not convincing for a determined theist of the Abrahamic stripe. At least not by itself.

However, I don’t think that science really does care about giving the “God hypothesis” any credence (at least in scientific explanation) unless and until there was something which would point to God,

Does anyone, save the creationists and ID-ists, want science to consider the “God hypothesis?” No.

..rather than worrying about whether or not we have enough data to rule God out. We will probably never be able to process that much data.

Agreed!

Glen:

Then why does Jesus tell his disciples that they will heal the sick, etc.?

Excellent question. I wondered this when I was still trying to get myself to accept Christianity, and my father in law, a Methodist pastor, said he didn’t know, but maybe today’s disciples just don’t have enough faith to make it happen. Very unsatisfying answer, because then, why should we bother to try?

Pierce:

Somehow I doubt anyone’s come up with an adequate universal definition of “event” (or “natural”), for that matter.

That does present a problem.

His mother’s reputation was (ahem) such that any story of her virginity would have been met with guffaws, so Big Al’s press agent apparently had it leaked that she had been struck in the (ahem) groin by lightning.

Re he heally?

Fwiw, I agree with your complaint that “all of observed data” as a set does not exclude the possibility of exceptions - but any argument based on such possible exceptions is only an inverted “gap” claim.

An inverted gap claim? Are you saying that the gap is now huge instead of tiny? Then again, I doubt theists think any of their gaps are actually tiny.

What I would sincerely like is that, instead of whipping around my unsophisticated theistic explanations, a real theologian would join our discussion and set us straight, or better yet, that a new thread would open up exploring TE arguments. The rest of you probably think that would be a waste of time.

Comment #148081

Posted by Katarina on December 4, 2006 9:22 AM (e)

I wrote:

The rest of you probably think that would be a waste of time.

But how do I get that probability statement if I can only know 0.0001% of the thoughts in your head, the ones you wished to express in this thread, assuming you expressed them honestly? Guess I will have to assume the little data I have is representative of the rest of your thoughts.

See, I get it.:)

Comment #148087

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 4, 2006 9:53 AM (e)

Wow, a philosophy of science class! That certainly trumps all of the probability and statistics classes I have completed to date as an undergraduate and graduate student.

I didn’t say “a” philosophy of science class, mindless fool. And you apparently have no idea of how much 50% of all possible data actually are. I learned what the totality is, which would require a godlike mind even to know 50% (in which case stats would be secondary, at least).

So you mumble and drool, evincing no intelligence whatsoever, including in the area in which you claim to be expert.

And I suggest you seek out a mental health professional to address your histrionic outbursts.

Wow, that’s, like, so incisive, and meaningful. Well, it’s as brilliant as you’ve ever been, a canned comment from one who has never posted an intelligent comment so far (even the IDists can’t stand him, he’s even too rude, stupid, and ignorant for them, hence they banned him at UD).

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #148088

Posted by demallien on December 4, 2006 9:53 AM (e)

Katarina wrote:

I understand that probability doesn’t need to have all the data, only a fraction of it. I still have trouble seeing how 0.0001% of all data can capture something that is supposed to be rare, though. Or does someone have a better number?

But is it rare? I mean sure, if you’re talking about the big gun miracles, such as flooding the planet, parting the seas, immaculate conception, resurrection etc etc. But these are such big miracles that they aren’t going to quietly slip under the radar. They are self-selecting events which practically guarantee themselves that they will be studied.

On the other hand, if you want to talk about the other type of “miracle”, the one where after much prayer, little Johnny miraculously recovers from leukemia for example, then the rarity has to be called into question. If I am to believe what my church-going bretheren tell me, these types of thing happen all of the time, and are God’s Work. Except that every time we do an investigation into the efficacity of prayer on a third party, it comes back as saying that prayer (and hence God) does not influence events. Worse still, even with prayer being out of the loop (although without it, how can we claim a miracle), if God is interfering all of the time, we should see it in medical results, and scientific studies. We don’t.

Just a reminder to finish off. As I noted during the discussion of formulas, even the equations say that if someone is certain about the existance of God, then an infinite string of non-God events will do nothing to sway that person. The maths agrees with you there, the probabilistic argument cannot sway a person that has no doubt. But then, as I have also noted, the argument by probability is targetted more at agnostic scientists that wish, for political reasons, to claim that science has nothing to say about the existance of God. As such, these people should be open to this type of argument.

Comment #148089

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 4, 2006 10:07 AM (e)

tomh wrote:

No. Such ignorance is often best ignored.

Got to admit that, all right. Trouble is that it’s hard to ignore a troll who attacks someone who has mostly ignored him. Perhaps I should learn to do so, however.

normdoering wrote:

I predict that in a few months or a year Robert and Glen will look back at their posts and whack themselves on the side of their heads for taking these ideas so seriously. It’s really silly and pointless.

I suspect that you haven’t observed O’Brien’s trollish behavior on AtBC. He’s shameless, and indicates no knowledge of anything. Sir TJ took it upon himself to constantly put in a short response (something I need to learn with respect to such trolls) to his idiocies and mendacities, which included the epithet “lackwit” directed at him, probably because he never makes sense and rarely shuts up (they don’t all go away when ignored, you know).

And I don’t recall ever regretting an angry response to the constant lies of these dolts. Would I be here if I did?

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #148090

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 4, 2006 10:18 AM (e)

Oh, another neverending thread. But it’s a neverending subject, or so they say.

demallien wrote:

These Gods are almost impossible to argue against from a scientific point of view

BTW, here is another difference between the model I proposed and yours. Since in my case the probability for a natural universe, explained by parsimonious theories, goes up the elimination of non-interacting agents is naturally included.

Katarina wrote:

God would understandably want to hide from science, giving us the freedom to believe or not believe in him.

Interesting. I’ve also heard exactly the opposite, that gods would like to make themselves known. For example, the sacrifice of Jesus didn’t pass unnoticed. Perhaps I didn’t get that from theists, though.

Another argument I like to make is that gods that show us one rule set (natural laws) and use another (supernatural ‘laws’) are Cosmic Cheaters. I’m not thinking of one-off miracles as you probably are but for example the recurring guiding hand of many theistic evolutionists to lead to human-like intelligence or specifically humans. I think it is bad ‘science’, but also bad religion.

Katarina wrote:

How does one come up with a good probability argument with only a tiny fraction of all the possible data?

For example as I did, looking only on experimental data and theories. The remainder is not evaluated. It doesn’t need to be, it is enough that any explanation of a dataset by a theory adds up. Though one could probably call it circumstantial data if everyday observations seems consistent with known science. (The model makes the implicit simplification that miracles are rare, of course.)

Robert O'Brien wrote:

starts with fallacious hypotheses

You mean like the hypotheses that gods exist? Yes, whatever gave him the idea to propose such a stupid hypotheses?!

Comment #148097

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 4, 2006 10:38 AM (e)

Perhaps apologetics is the only way I know how to argue, and as I’ve said, I’m playing god’s advocate. The purpose is to clarify my own ideas, so I sincerely thank you for the responses.

Yes, thanks in turn for a good cool discussion of these matters. They’re rare here.

I understand that probability doesn’t need to have all the data, only a fraction of it. I still have trouble seeing how 0.0001% of all data can capture something that is supposed to be rare, though. Or does someone have a better number?

It’s hard to talk about what 0.0001% of the data are, since the totality of information is so huge, while it seems (from collective experience) that the data relevant to science could be considered to be so very much smaller.

That caveat out of the way, no, we don’t capture something that is supposed to be rare. Indeed, that is one of the problems with Behe’s demands that we know all of the steps of the evolution of the flagellum, that contingencies are beyond the scope and resolution of present-day (and likely all to come) science.

This is what makes discussing ID/creationism so difficult, because the IDists and creationists, and sometimes even theistic evolutionists, claim a space in our knowledge for the rare “miracle” or some such thing, and say that if science doesn’t make specific allowance for the rare, or one-off, claim of a singularity written in their sacred texts, that science is being close-minded.

No, science is not being close-minded by essentially dismissing singular events. For we know that neither science nor religion, nor anything else, has any means of verifying these events, and that by standard rules of evidence (as used in practical, judicial, and scientific affairs), they should be treated as non-events.

Maybe there is some confusion here on the type of miracle, which is my fault. I’m just letting my imagination run here, since we’re talking about nothing of importance anyway. Let’s say there are two types of miracles, ones that don’t obviously subvert the laws of physics, and ones that do. Raising of the dead, supernatural pregnancies, and curing of lepers and the blind would fall into the latter category. Manipulation of chance events for a specific outcome would fall into the former category, and couldn’t be traced. The first category of events could happen as often as you like without our ability to confirm, except to say, “Wow, that was a freak coincidence.” The second category would be much more rare miracles, a special event with a special purpose for a select group of people. Like the miracles of the old and the new testaments both.

If something outside of the universe is manipulating chance events, it subverts the laws of physics as much as anything. One should ask what “chance” you’re talking about, however, since there are many arguments about whether or not quantum events are irreducibly random, or if they might even be fully deterministic. I’m staying out of that debate. I’m addressing classical randomness here, for “chance” in the classical realm relates to our ignorance, not to a lack of deterministic causes (apart from the generally small effect of QM events, at least) operating within the classical realm. If an “outside entity” were manipulating classical randomness, it would be as sure a violation of physics as raising of the dead would be (in the quantum realm it isn’t so certain).

I am completely convinced by all the atheist arguments put together. I am more convinced by some than by others. The probability argument isn’t convincing, because there is a theologically satisfying way around it that wouldn’t bother the Abrahamic God. Although I can see how anyone who trusts that the data we examine is the same as the data we’ve not examined should be the same. Anyone practicing science would have to have that assumption, or they couldn’t trust their results. Which is where Forrest’s description of methodological materialism comes in.

But see, you’re saving the Abrahamic God using its culturally (or religiously, anyway) privileged position in this argument. As apologetics, I suppose that’s okay, though I wouldn’t say that apologetics is really okay. If I said that my personal demon were operating in the world, my demon wouldn’t be given the benefit of all doubt, rather I’d be pressed to prove that my demon exists. Somehow, when “God” is involved, all benefit of the doubt is to be given to him (according to many), without anyone ever bothering to show that the Abrahamic God exists in the first place

But then we get to the question that someone raised earlier, why would a god who performs special miracles not perform special creation? Got me there.

Yes, but then it is a given that God’s ways are mysterious (mainly because he’s supposed to be all good, without conferring this goodness on the supposed objects of his love, us). That’s the dodge taken by IDists whenever the “obviousness of design” is shown not to be obvious, they turn around and say that we wouldn’t be able to expect anything from God’s designs (except, apparently, a complexity that has never been seen in designs that have been observed to have been produced). At least the theistic evolutionists really act like we wouldn’t know how and why God would design as he did. They simply accept that evolution was the way in which it was done (that is, they say God created through evolution because we see evidence for evolution, and we have no reason to say he should have done it otherwise).

Next semester I will take my first statistics class, and hopefully I won’t be as much work for the rest of you.

My claim is that you could never show God to exist via statistics, which by normal standards of evidence would leave any “God hypothesis” completely dead. When apologists turn it around and say that God can’t be ruled out by statistics, I agree, but I think it’s rather beside the point.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #148099

Posted by demallien on December 4, 2006 10:50 AM (e)

Glen D wrote:

If I said that my personal demon were operating in the world, my demon wouldn’t be given the benefit of all doubt, rather I’d be pressed to prove that my demon exists.

Hey! No fair! How come Glen get’s a personal demon?!

Comment #148100

Posted by demallien on December 4, 2006 10:57 AM (e)

Torbjorn Larsson wrote:

BTW, here is another difference between the model I proposed and yours. Since in my case the probability for a natural universe, explained by parsimonious theories, goes up the elimination of non-interacting agents is naturally included.

Umm, Torbjorn, unless I missed a post a while back, you haven’t actually presented a model. On top of that, this sentence doesn’t actually make any grammatical sense. I understand that communicating in a second language isn’t easy (I speak French at work…), but if needs be, use a few more words to make sure that your ideas are clear…

Comment #148106

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 4, 2006 11:48 AM (e)

demallien wrote:

Torbjorn, unless I missed a post a while back, you haven’t actually presented a model. On top of that, this sentence doesn’t actually make any grammatical sense.

Sorry, I am posting on sugar fumes. I see there is a missing comma and other problems.

Anyway, unpacking more fully what I meant to say is that in my model (see below) the probability for the universe being fully naturalistic goes up. It does so when we are able to demonstrate theories, which by their nature are parsimonious. This parsimonity naturally kicks out non-interacting agents.

Okay, my model was presented a couple of comments up, and since we had a discussion comparing my proposal and yours, I assumed you remembered.

In short:
For each data set that gets a natural theoretical description the plausibility for gods goes down. For example, P(N|D) < P(N|D&T); N = Natural universe, D = Data, T = Theory. Here each time we explain a data set by a natural theory the probability for the universe being natural increases.( From comment #147204 & 147205.)

Also, it is assumed miracles are rare. We parsed out the other differences between this model and your proposal in a few comments summarised by comment #147738.

Comment #148109

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 4, 2006 12:20 PM (e)

Glen D wrote:

I didn’t say “a” philosophy of science class, mindless fool.

Even if you have taken several, it makes no difference; they are worthless.

Glen D wrote:

And you apparently have no idea of how much 50% of all possible data actually are [sic].

I have an idea.

Glen D wrote:

I learned what the totality is, which would require a godlike mind even to know 50% (in which case stats would be secondary, at least).

Yeah, that’s why they don’t bother hiring statisticians at the census bureau.

Glen D wrote:

(even the IDists can’t stand him…they banned him at UD).

That is news to me.

Comment #148110

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 4, 2006 12:27 PM (e)

Torbjorn wrote:

You mean like the hypotheses that gods exist? Yes, whatever gave him the idea to propose such a stupid hypotheses [sic]?!

Torbjorn:

This may be difficult for your Viking mind to wrap itself around, but the hypothesis that God exists is perfectly reasonable.

Comment #148114

Posted by Katarina on December 4, 2006 12:42 PM (e)

Glen:

You bring up some good points. It’s true that the theistic evolutionists often cross over into ID/creationist territory. This makes sense since without the act of creation, the conventional concept of god is pretty much meaningless.

..you’re saving the Abrahamic God using its culturally (or religiously, anyway) privileged position in this argument…without anyone ever bothering to show that the Abrahamic God exists in the first place.

Indeed. You’ve nailed the biggest flaw in my argument, that I’m starting from the position that cuts a lot of slack to theological assumptions. But where do these assumptions come from in the first place? They have no basis in reality, and shouldn’t be granted special treatment, just like your own demon.

While it may still be possible, if one puts the mind to it, to console a person who was raised a moderate Christian, that he can still salvage his religion from scientific scrutiny. But try to convert someone who is science-savvy, but without a religious background, and you’ve got a big problem. There’s neither a convincing logical argument nor material evidence in favor of a supernatural being to start with, and all things written in the Bible look like the folk legends that they are.

Comment #148120

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 4, 2006 12:49 PM (e)

Glen:

What you seem to be arguing is that probabilities don’t rule out God, which of course they do not.

Not exactly. I’m not arguing that probabilities don’t rule out God, but that the probability argument against god is not convincing for a determined theist of the Abrahamic stripe. At least not by itself.

I think that’s why I don’t (typically) use it. It’s tempting to do so, as that is for what many of them ask. But that is the problem, the traditional religious position presumes any counterclaims to their religion to be on the exact same level as their own religious assertions, and they won’t even consider other methods unless you first “disprove” their own concepts.

If one observes UD, virtually the entire mode of “argumentation” revolves around the supposedly false superiority of “materialism” over their own religious predilections, their belief that their claims have every bit as much legitimacy as those of science. The trouble is that science and its more widely applied epistemology is indeed very superior to a priori commitment to a religious tradition, and most of them cannot even see how we believe this to be true—despite the fact that they prefer the epistemology used in science for everything (especially in the courts) except where epistemology and their religion collides. Many of them can’t even imagine how this inconsistent approach is a problem (a few, though, push for actual evidence in favor of ID).

We aren’t accomplishing anything unless we supplant the presumptions in favor of traditional concepts with the view that a concept is worth considering only if it is entailed by some evidence. Yet the oppositional mode of thought is not only traditional, it seems to be natural to humans (us vs. them), a tribal prejudice. Telling virtually tribal minds that their oppositional mode of thought is wrong and may have dire consequences generally provokes an oppositional reaction, in which they claim that we aren’t open to their viewpoint. They’re right about that, since their mode of “thought” is to protect themselves, their egos, and their ideology from the “other”, in this case science.

No question that it is very hard to get through the entrenched beliefs of so many people, and no probabilistic argument is going to even touch a belief system which automatically gives the benefit of any doubt (even if this “doubt” doesn’t exist outside of their own system of beliefs) to their beliefs and to the supposed source of their beliefs, God. Probabilities do not speak to anything that doesn’t even enter into the realm of the data, however we cannot grant any real meaning to anything that does not have a modicum of data to back up what is claimed about it.

However, I don’t think that science really does care about giving the “God hypothesis” any credence (at least in scientific explanation) unless and until there was something which would point to God,

Does anyone, save the creationists and ID-ists, want science to consider the “God hypothesis?” No.

I’d qualify that “No.” Francis Collins, theistic evolutionist, evidently thinks that fine-tuning is reasonable for him as a scientist to consider, and to conclude that it is evidence pointing toward God. Ken Miller is more cagey about “fine-tuning”, but at least uses it for apologetics, and seemingly implies in some writings that non-religious people ought to consider “God” in relation to “fine-tuning” as well.

Glen:

Then why does Jesus tell his disciples that they will heal the sick, etc.?

Excellent question. I wondered this when I was still trying to get myself to accept Christianity, and my father in law, a Methodist pastor, said he didn’t know, but maybe today’s disciples just don’t have enough faith to make it happen. Very unsatisfying answer, because then, why should we bother to try?

Benny Hinn says that Xians must take Jesus’ words seriously, upon which he bases his “faith healing”. Oddly, though, miracles happen only for sick folk, while he has to obtain vast quantities of wealth, and recently an airplane ($6 million downpayment, according to rumor) from relatively poor folk. Ask and ye shall receive—from the gullible anyhow.

I think that the “not enough faith” explanation is one of the more oppressive aspects of too much Xianity today. I grew up with all of these grand claims about what is “possible with God”, while evidently I, a child (I was seriously doubting at 15, out of religion at 16), was what prevented the wonders from happening. The guilt and anxiety is hardly warranted for some poor defenseless primate, and I now alternate between a degree of anger at those who perpetuate it (which, unfortunately, usually includes nearly all “believers”), and sympathy for those who really don’t know any better. I resolve this mainly by being reasonably sympathetic toward the relatively passive sufferers, and can be hostile toward those who perpetuate the untruths as hostilely as so many of them do (here, at least).

I know that not all Xianity is an endless round of guilt, and exhortations to oppose all honest people who have gotten out, or who have never gotten in. But I think that the religion we oppose here is predominately exactly that, and, while it does have some good, mixed in with it is a good deal of psychological harm. The responsibility for the lack of miracles (even if they do take place they hardly dent the suffering of the world) rests solely upon God. Or more to the point, God does not satisfy the soul, or spiritual longing, without providing evidence and relieving suffering.

If he does exist, his virtue evidently exists solely in leaving us alone, for either good or ill. And it is difficult to see how he is of some consequence (or more exactly, that he exists) to some past or future life, if he leaves us so exposed during the life upon which future rewards are said to depend.

And is this not what really brings about the death of God, individually or collectively? Arguments really are inadequate to the task, useful only to weaken the hold of religious arguments over the people. For if one seems to experience God as a positive force, why would anyone gainsay one so apparently beneficial? Then if God, by contrast, appears to be inadequate to one’s life, or a detriment to it, how is one to credit God for “fine-tuning”, or existence, when nothing prevents the sparrow from falling (God sees—why doesn’t he act?), nor the supervolcano from causing widespread starvation and misery to his “cherished ones”?

No, we ceased to believe in positive effects from God and his angels, or any effect. That’s the evidence that matters most of all, while formal arguments allow one to articulate and rationally consider what one experiences.

That’s all about the “heartache/and the loss of God” (Jim Morrison). To ID we’re all, “give us the evidence, finally, if you want to be considered science.” They’ll whine and moan until the Messiah comes about how we consider “materialism” (their curse-word for science) to be superior to their religious (‘but it’s not about religion’—however the chant grows weaker and weaker) notions of “design”, even though they’d sue the scientist (and the scientist’s employer) who caused an equipment failure because he believes that “poof” happens.

The judge would laugh us out of court if we used probabilities in a foolhardy attempt to show that design doesn’t exist at all in nature (what about in as-yet undiscovered archaebacteria in uranium mines?). That unknown versions of “design” have no value to science can be demonstrated in various ways, including statistics, providing us with a much more pliable task. Science has produced convincing evidence, explanations, and theories. Religion has produced none of these, except insofar as it fairly imitated scientific, judicial, and practical, means of discovery.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #148127

Posted by Glen Davidson on December 4, 2006 1:10 PM (e)

(even the IDists can’t stand him…they banned him at UD).

That is news to me.

That’s as I recall. If I’m wrong about the banning, well I’m sorry that my memory failed in that case (true, I don’t bother keeping track of someone like him). Possibly Robert had complained about posts not getting through, or being pulled, instead. I don’t doubt the first part of my quote above, but then there’s little brotherly love at UD at all.

I think it’s fair to say that UD has banned more IDists than PT has, even though I haven’t kept count.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

PS: yep, I at least can’t find via Google any info that O’Brien was banned at UD, which (perhaps) tells you something about them. I did find that Ed Brayton has a “Robert O’Brien Trophy” for imbecility above and beyond the call of ordinary pseudoscientists.

Comment #148131

Posted by Pierce R. Butler on December 4, 2006 1:20 PM (e)

Katarina:Re he heally?

Her name was Olympias, and she was known for (among quite a few other things) participating in Dionysian rites of the Maenads, whom modern Wild Wimmin have not caught up with even yet (to tabloid disappointment & law enforcement relief).

Katarina:An inverted gap claim? Are you saying that the gap is now huge instead of tiny?

Not to get too Rumsfeldian about it, but in the category of things we know that we don’t know about are not just the gaps, such as the incomplete fossil record, but things as yet far beyond our grasp (exact nature of Big Bang, “branes”, popularity of televised bowling, etc). If you represent the totality of human knowledge (however defined) as a circle even slightly smaller than the entire universe, then the larger that circle, the longer its circumference - so, the more we know, the more we know we don’t know. Thus, though the gods may be in headlong retreat, they always have a place to hide.

Katarina:What I would sincerely like is that, instead of whipping around my unsophisticated theistic explanations, a real theologian would join our discussion and set us straight, or better yet, that a new thread would open up exploring TE arguments.

I suspect you’d be more likely to find such a person on some other blog. Unfortunately, Ken Miller doesn’t seem to engage in a lot of dialog on his, and I for one have no clue where else to look. Maybe the Nat’l Ctr for Science Education’s “Science & Religion) links http://www.ncseweb.org/link.asp?category=12 would be a good starting point…

Comment #148135

Posted by tomh on December 4, 2006 1:26 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

While it may still be possible, if one puts the mind to it, to console a person who was raised a moderate Christian, that he can still salvage his religion from scientific scrutiny. But try to convert someone who is science-savvy, but without a religious background, and you’ve got a big problem.

All true, but I think you can leave out the “science-savvy”, or perhaps substitute “common sense”. A friend of mine who has little education and zero science-savvy, a construction worker, laughs at religious types. He’s fond of telling them that Jesus, Moses, Mary, and Bugs Bunny all have one thing in common - they’re all fictional characters.

On a similar note, there was a recent letter to the New York Times about a particulary stupid op-ed piece they ran. The letter said something like, “Atheists can prove that Dennett, Harris and Dawkins wrote their books. Who can prove that there are books “dictated or co-written by God”?

Comment #148192

Posted by Zarquon on December 4, 2006 2:21 PM (e)

the hypothesis that God exists is perfectly reasonable.

No.

Comment #148194

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 4, 2006 2:24 PM (e)

(even the IDists can’t stand him, he’s even too rude, stupid, and ignorant for them, hence they banned him at UD).

banned at UD… disemvoweled on sight at Pharyngula… banned from Brayton’s blog too, IIRC.

RO already has a trifecta, why does he keep pushing?

Comment #148195

Posted by entlord on December 4, 2006 2:26 PM (e)

We must always remember that the radical right Christians (Christo-fascists?) have a broad agenda, of which Creationism is just one theatre. Basically the broad goal appears to rewrite reality as we know it. (Don’t laugh; it has been done in the past)
We have seen this in science with the conflating of Creationism to be on a par with evolution and in history we have seen history rewritten so that the reason the US lost in VietNam was a national lack of will. Other areas will follow as the necessary template for this alteration is the concept of the US being founded as a Christian nation. Visit Americablessgod.com if you wish to see history the way Newt Gingrich sees it.

Comment #148198

Posted by Torbjörn Larsson on December 4, 2006 2:37 PM (e)

but the hypothesis that God exists is perfectly reasonable.

Sigh! Moving on to more of the same yap, forgetting to back up the old.

And your claim that destroys my perfectly reasonable conclusion from models above, that the universe is fully natural, is what?

So I forgot - never ever engage a troll, there is no, nada, nix argument. May the FSM forgive my brief transgression.

Comment #148211

Posted by normdoering on December 4, 2006 4:31 PM (e)

A better debate to follow for the atheists here:
http://www.edge.org/discourse/bb.html

Comment #148221

Posted by Katarina on December 4, 2006 5:05 PM (e)

The trouble is that science and its more widely applied epistemology is indeed very superior to a priori commitment to a religious tradition, and most of them cannot even see how we believe this to be true—despite the fact that they prefer the epistemology used in science for everything (especially in the courts) except where epistemology and their religion collides

This is a point that it took me a while to get. It’s so much easier, isn’t it, to claim one’s own subjective view more superior, more insightful, more spiritual, deeper? There’s much comfort in that illusion.

Like you, most atheists I know say they grew up with some kind of religion which they rebelled against, usually as teenagers. I had the opposite situation. All superstition was frowned upon in my family, and we had communism as our guiding philosophy. We celebrated New Year’s day each year, never Christmas or Easter. Schoolchildren like me were called “Pioneers” and we sang each morning at school: “Comrade Tito, we pledge allegience to you”, etc. etc. I was taught to love the man, and I think I still do without knowing why, exactly. When Yugoslavia fell apart, this philosophy was also in tatters. My dad still clung to it, but it didn’t make any sense to me. I thought about Zen Buddhism and Abrahamic religions. Christianity was the friendliest for converts, so I tried it. From one dogma to the next. What a goof!

Comment #148231

Posted by David B. Benson on December 4, 2006 5:57 PM (e)

Katarina — Zen is not a religion, being actually about something else that many (well, several anyway) find helpful. I certainly encourage you (and everyone else) to learn something about and from it…

Comment #148234

Posted by Katarina on December 4, 2006 6:14 PM (e)

Dave - I did get a lot out of Zen.
Norm - Great link. Would you recommend In Gods We Trust? Atran seems to be in the tolerant camp.

Comment #148256

Posted by normdoering on December 4, 2006 9:26 PM (e)

Would you recommend In Gods We Trust?

Can’t say, I haven’t read it yet – but I probably will.

The fact that he has done actual research and interviews puts him head and shoulders above Harris and Dawkins. He’s doing it scientifically.

However, Harris does seem to be catching a few of his blind spots.

Comment #148258

Posted by Henry J on December 4, 2006 9:34 PM (e)

Re “I see an ordered, rational, comprehensible universe as evidence of God’s existence,”

Do we even know that the universe is all (or any) of those three things? We know that portions of it appear so, but it also appears that the parts we’re presently able to analyze may be a very tiny fraction of even this space-time, which itself may be only one in a (huge number) of space-times.

Plus, why would a non-God universe necessarily be inconsistent with having order, rationality or comprehensibility?

Henry

Comment #148260

Posted by Anton Mates on December 4, 2006 10:12 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Let’s say there are two types of miracles, ones that don’t obviously subvert the laws of physics, and ones that do. Raising of the dead, supernatural pregnancies, and curing of lepers and the blind would fall into the latter category. Manipulation of chance events for a specific outcome would fall into the former category, and couldn’t be traced. The first category of events could happen as often as you like without our ability to confirm, except to say, “Wow, that was a freak coincidence.”

However, if they happened sufficiently often, and had some consistent result, we could confirm them statistically. That’s what the prayer studies try to do. They don’t usually worry about whether the recovery of the prayer target was truly miraculous–they just check whether sick people are more likely to recover, via any mechanism, if they’re prayed for. Of course results so far have been negative.

But it’s true that if such “small miracles” had endlessly varied results whose larger purpose was incomprehensible to us mere mortals–if, like Ken Miller, you thought every quantum state collapse was a potential miracle–we’d never be able to demonstrate their existence.

Excellent question. I wondered this when I was still trying to get myself to accept Christianity, and my father in law, a Methodist pastor, said he didn’t know, but maybe today’s disciples just don’t have enough faith to make it happen. Very unsatisfying answer, because then, why should we bother to try?

Also rather contradictory to the way the Apostles are presented in the New Testament. Denying Jesus three times before the cock crows, lacking mustard-seed-sized faith in their own water-walking ability even after seeing Jesus pull it off, doubting Jesus’ physical resurrection; they’re remarkably faithless compared to pious modern Christians. Heck, that priest in Gabon drowned this summer by voluntarily walking into the ocean until it passed over his head, trusting until the end that his faith would let him walk on top of it. If he didn’t have a high enough SPI stat to work miracles, nobody does.

The Methodist pastor I’m closest to has an alternate explanation–they never happened. So far nobody in his church seems to mind.

Comment #148306

Posted by tomh on December 5, 2006 12:47 AM (e)

normdoering wrote:

The fact that he [Atran] has done actual research and interviews puts him head and shoulders above Harris and Dawkins.

That’s certainly debatable. Carolyn Porco points out the anti-science bias of Atran, (not to mention the misrepresentation of her words), but Daniel Dennett, the deepest thinker on that page, sums it up perfectly with, “It seems that perhaps he thinks the first step is to pile up lots of unrelated facts about all the complexities, so that, with any luck, people will be distracted and forget that you’re an atheist.”

Comment #148333

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 5, 2006 2:45 AM (e)

I see an ordered, rational, comprehensible universe as evidence of God’s existence

I would love to play three-card Monty with you.

Here’s a clue: lots of people saw Saddam Hussein’s denial that he had WMD’s as evidence that he had them.

Comment #148343

Posted by normdoering on December 5, 2006 3:33 AM (e)

tomh wrote:

The fact that he [Atran] has done actual research and interviews puts him head and shoulders above Harris and Dawkins.

That’s certainly debatable.

It’s not that debatable. He is part of a team developing a global jihadi database under a defense department contract. He writes about interviews he himself has conducted. He has got papers on religion published in scientific (psychology and anthropology) journals:

http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/selected_scientific_articles_

Carolyn Porco points out the anti-science bias of Atran, (not to mention the misrepresentation of her words),…

And as I already said – so does Sam Harris catch him overlooking the obvious.

… but Daniel Dennett, the deepest thinker on that page, sums it up perfectly with, “It seems that perhaps he thinks the first step is to pile up lots of unrelated facts about all the complexities, so that, with any luck, people will be distracted and forget that you’re an atheist.”

That might not be such a bad strategy. I’m sure he does want the Muslims he interviews to not think about his atheism. If a Muslim asked him what he believed he would probably say something only half honest like “I don’t know what to believe. Do you? Can you tell me how you know?”

If rational thought is suppose to lead to atheism, then let us just teach people to think rationally rather than tell them what reason must say.

But would that have worked with Katarina?

Comment #148350

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 5, 2006 3:58 AM (e)

Katarina wrote:

I really didn’t mean to single PG out, especially since he’s probably helped me more than anyone else here.

Thank you. I admire your contributions to this thread (the substantive comments, not the ones about you being the alleged victim of slights, insults, and attacks, which I think undercut your power).

Steviepinhead wrote:

In my pinheaded opinion, Popper’s Ghost ain’t the same guy.

I am definitely not GWW. I was under the impression that GWW isn’t even a guy (I am).

ts and morbius are much closer in style and tone–this has been asserted several times and not yet (to the best of my recollection) denied by PG.

I continue not to deny it.

Unlike some here, I generally have no problem with PG’s stinging precision. (The day he turns it on me, of course, might be the day I change my mind…!)

I seem to recall having one or two critical but amicable exchanges with you. Of course, I’m biased because on more than one occasion you have defended the content of my comments in response to ad hominem talk about “tone” – notably from PvM and Allen MacNeill.

In the specific case of Katarina vs. PG (that may be stating more of a diametric opposition than really exists: there’s no direct argument about a substantive position taking place

There was in the past, but not in this thread.

rather there’s a side-discussion about approach and tone

It’s not really a discussion about approach and tone, as if we were debating what approach and tone are appropriate. Rather, Katarina made claims about past events, claims that I hold are, at least in part, self-serving mischaracterizations; that rather than Katarina being insulted for her views, she turned to discussion about me, my intent, my tone, etc. when I challenged those views (which is ad hominem, despite what that twit Alan Fox (who seems to have nothing to contribute to PT on any subject other than whether ts, morbius, and PG are the same person) says).

I’m in general agreement with the substantive statements Katarina has made here. And I applaud her courage in coming to some tough realizations.

Same here. I’m very impressed at both her willingness to change her views and at what seems to be a significant maturing of her reasoning. More likely she hasn’t changed all that much and I misjudged her in the past, for which I apologize.

Comment #148351

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 5, 2006 4:11 AM (e)

I don’t deny that using certain reasonable premises one might conceivably be able to disprove some philosopher’s gods, for instance. But it is understood in both science and philosophy that an poorly defined “god” will not be “disprovable”.

God as creator of the universe is arguably (some have argued it) not a coherent concept, and that’s the most salient characteristic, certainly in the discussions here.

You’re right that scientists say “certainly” in this context – but I don’t approve. However, point taken about your “certainly” being agreement with Sandefur rather than proof by assertion. I appreciate your expansion of your argument.

Comment #148352

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 5, 2006 4:47 AM (e)

If rational thought is suppose to lead to atheism, then let us just teach people to think rationally rather than tell them what reason must say.

But would that have worked with Katarina?

It seems to have. It seems that when she was being told, or felt she was being told, which reason must say, that she didn’t accept it – after all, she had her own reasoning, and it told her something different (or rather, it told her that something different was possible). It was only through her own rational delving that she reached it. As I understand it, she wanted to be better at defending her theistic position against atheists and decided she needed to study their arguments carefully to better understand them. Although she believed that there was – or had a bias toward there being – a valid argument for theism, she was committed to finding only valid arguments, and it was that commitment that led her to where she is now. And I think it’s that commitment that should be taught. Quoting Quine,

The desire to be right and the desire to have been right are two desires, and the sooner we separate them the better off we are.The desire to be right is the thirst for truth.On all accounts, both practical and theoretical, there is nothing but good to be said for it. The desire to have been right, on the other hand, is the pride that goeth before a fall. It stands in the way of our seeing we were wrong, and thus blocks the progress of our knowledge.

Comment #148380

Posted by Katarina on December 5, 2006 8:43 AM (e)

More likely she hasn’t changed all that much and I misjudged her in the past, for which I apologize.

.. (the substantive comments, not the ones about you being the alleged victim of slights, insults, and attacks, which I think undercut your power).

Wow. An apology for old misjudgements, coupled with the reiteration of at least one misjudgement. How to respond?

Of course I accept. But (and here’s the point I was getting to earlier, which was construed as “playing the victim”) if I, without strong prior commitments to religion, was insulted by the comments made about the nature of my god and my character, then I can only imagine how hurtful they would be to someone who did. So much so, that they would probably close their ears and refuse to even consider the meat of the important arguments.

That being said though, it is likely that, under my false suspicion that he was GWW when he was ts, and through the lense of my theistic premises, I probably felt more insulted by his comments than was warranted, at least the ones about my god. Since my change of mind, it has been difficult for me to know how to proceed with Christians when talking about religion. Anti-religious sentiment is now such a strong current that I would rather take the easier path of challenging them to simply read for themselves. Sam Harris and others have done the difficult part. Of course if they question me further, I will oblige them as much as I am able to.

Comment #148399

Posted by Dayan Smreca on December 5, 2006 9:38 AM (e)

Caution is needed in stating the premises ‘If rational thought is suppose to lead to atheism’, especially not to be concluded ‘then not-rational thought is suppose to lead to not-atheism’.

Einstein, by many one of the most ‘intelligent’ persons that ever lived was realistic in his thoughts. Studying his work, it eventually gets to the point where his conclusion in not being able to give the so-called ‘realistic’ answer is ‘not-realistic’, to make you wonder are you sitting in Astrophysics Department or Church School.

No one knows why he went on such reversed road for a rational thought to lead him to not-atheism. People of mentioned Holy Wars are not representatives of either party, they are exclusive individuals by their own conviction.

Comment #148402

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 5, 2006 10:01 AM (e)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

I would love to play three-card Monty with you.

Sorry, but I don’t gamble.

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

Here’s a clue: lots of people saw Saddam Hussein’s denial that he had WMD’s as evidence that he had them.

That’s nice, but it has no bearing on this discussion. I realize, though, that complete irrelevancy is the hallmark of modern philosophers, so you are forgiven. By the way, which fast food establishment are you doing your postdoc at?

Comment #148405

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 5, 2006 10:25 AM (e)

Henry wrote:

Do we even know that the universe is all (or any) of those three things? We know that portions of it appear so, but it also appears that the parts we’re presently able to analyze may be a very tiny fraction of even this space-time, which itself may be only one in a (huge number) of space-times.

I have yet to see mathematics fail to describe our universe.

Henry wrote:

Plus, why would a non-God universe necessarily be inconsistent with having order, rationality or comprehensibility?

A physicist once said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is incomprehensible,” and I agree. I should think a “non-God universe” would be more likely to be chaotic, incomprehensible, and not bound by any laws we can articulate.

Comment #148406

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 5, 2006 10:30 AM (e)

“The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is incomprehensible.”

Should be

“The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.”

Comment #148407

Posted by Henry J on December 5, 2006 10:33 AM (e)

Re “I have yet to see mathematics fail to describe our universe.”

Same here, but what fraction of all-there-is (the literal meaning of the word “universe”) have we observed to date?

Re “I should think a “non-God universe” would be more likely to be chaotic, incomprehensible, and not bound by any laws we can articulate.”

And an athiest might say the same about a God created universe. But both of those inferences are guesswork.

Henry

Btw, how come the “preview” feature is no longer showing the already posted notes on the thread? Or is it just this thread that’s doing that? Or is it just really long threads that are doing that?

Comment #148410

Posted by tomh on December 5, 2006 11:35 AM (e)

normdoering wrote:

It’s not that debatable. He is part of a team developing a global jihadi database under a defense department contract. He writes about interviews he himself has conducted. He has got papers on religion published in scientific (psychology and anthropology) journals:

I’m not debating that he has conducted research, I just disagree that it “puts him head and shoulders above Harris and Dawkins.” I agree with Dennett that all this research amounts to “lots of unrelated facts about all the complexities”. In my opinion, a lot of noise, signifying very little. If it’s true that he has wangled a contract from the Defense Department, I congratulate him. Better my tax dollars go to him than Halliburton.

If rational thought is suppose to lead to atheism

I would never agree with this proposition, except perhaps in isolated cases. I have long held that the only way to break religion’s stranglehold on modern culture is to slow down the indoctrination of children.

Comment #148414

Posted by normdoering on December 5, 2006 12:10 PM (e)

Dayan Smreca wrote:

Einstein … went on such reversed road for a rational thought to lead him to not-atheism.

This is one reason that a frontal assualt is sometimes needed, we have to correct what seems to be a lie (though Smreca states it so vaguely it’s hard to tell what he meant or knows about Einstein). Einstein was, for all intense and purposes, an atheist.

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it. (Albert Einstein, 1954)

I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings. (Albert Einstein)

Richard Dawkins wrote about it in the first chapter of his book:
http://richarddawkins.net/godDelusion#firstChapter

Comment #148417

Posted by Anton Mates on December 5, 2006 12:26 PM (e)

Dayan Smreca wrote:

Einstein, by many one of the most ‘intelligent’ persons that ever lived was realistic in his thoughts. Studying his work, it eventually gets to the point where his conclusion in not being able to give the so-called ‘realistic’ answer is ‘not-realistic’, to make you wonder are you sitting in Astrophysics Department or Church School.

Uh, maybe if your Church teaches that there is no afterlife, and that God never intervenes in the universe nor has any morality, regard for humans or even conscious will, but merely “reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists.”

No one knows why he went on such reversed road for a rational thought to lead him to not-atheism.

Einstein’s rather well-known for not being rational when it came to the nature of reality–he was, rather, strongly driven by intuition. Hence his initial hostility to quantum mechanics and lifelong conviction that it was merely an approximation of a deeper and fully deterministic theory. What he called “God” was precisely that principle of order and determinism to which he felt the universe must conform.

Comment #148418

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 5, 2006 12:30 PM (e)

Wow. An apology for old misjudgements, coupled with the reiteration of at least one misjudgement. How to respond?

Um, by not claiming there was a misjudgment where there was none? By not yet again playing the victim when in fact you were the perpetrator virtually every time?

I probably felt more insulted by his comments than was warranted

Gee, ya think?

Comment #148419

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 5, 2006 12:39 PM (e)

Robert O'Brien wrote:

I would love to play three-card Monty with you.

Sorry, but I don’t gamble.

It’s not a gambling game, moron, it only resembles one.

Robert O'Brien wrote:

Here’s a clue: lots of people saw Saddam Hussein’s denial that he had WMD’s as evidence that he had them.

That’s nice, but it has no bearing on this discussion.

Rather, you’re too stupid to understand the relevance.

Comment #148420

Posted by Bill Gascoyne on December 5, 2006 1:01 PM (e)

FWIW, a few more from Albert E.:

“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”

“I cannot conceive of a god who rewards and punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I–nor would I want to–conceive of an individual that survives his physical death. Let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egotism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”

“I do not believe in the immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.”

“I do not believe in a God of theology who rewards good and punishes evil.”

Comment #148421

Posted by Katarina on December 5, 2006 1:02 PM (e)

Gee, ya think?

Can anyone make out the faint sound of violins in the background? Looks like he wants me to apologize too, for accusing him of hurting my feelings (perhaps it’s my own fault for having them), but then why his apology? I am confused, and I’m not sure what I need to apologize for. A false accusation? Yes. I apologize for my false accusation about the parts he did not apologize for, although not for my true accusations about the parts he did apologize for. Oy.

I should also say thanks for the complements, which are remarkable considering who they’re coming from, but perhaps not so remarkable, considering that one must share his conclusions in order to get a complement. I will let you have the last word PG, if you want it, and then let’s move on, please.

Comment #148427

Posted by Anton Mates on December 5, 2006 1:47 PM (e)

Robert O'Brien wrote:

I have yet to see mathematics fail to describe our universe.

What would a mathematically indescribable universe be like, and how would we know if we were in one?

A physicist once said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is incomprehensible,” and I agree. I should think a “non-God universe” would be more likely to be chaotic, incomprehensible, and not bound by any laws we can articulate.

Why?

Comment #148429

Posted by Katarina on December 5, 2006 2:23 PM (e)

Anton:

However, if they happened sufficiently often, and had some consistent result, we could confirm them statistically. That’s what the prayer studies try to do. They don’t usually worry about whether the recovery of the prayer target was truly miraculous–they just check whether sick people are more likely to recover, via any mechanism, if they’re prayed for. Of course results so far have been negative.

There is still a way around this: perhaps the people praying in those studies weren’t sincere, or perhaps god didn’t listen because he was unhappy with them in other areas, or perhaps the sickness and dying was all part of his plan. The obvious problem with these excuses: that’s not a very nice kind of god. And of course, the Abrahamic God isn’t either, so it fits perfectly!

Comment #148430

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 5, 2006 2:38 PM (e)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

It’s not a gambling game, moron, it only resembles one.

I know. It is like how a philosopher of science is not a scientist; he only resembles one (from afar, with both eyes half-closed.)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

Rather, you’re too stupid to understand the relevance.

No. Like you, it simply has no relevance.

Comment #148435

Posted by Katarina on December 5, 2006 3:10 PM (e)

Apparently Rob finds trolling more enjoyable than answering Anton’s questions.

Comment #148438

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 5, 2006 3:27 PM (e)

Anton Mates wrote:

What would a mathematically indescribable universe be like, and how would we know if we were in one?

I should think it would be chaotic, unpredictable, and incomprehensible; we would know we were in such a universe because we could not apply mathematics to it. ;)

As for your other question, the idea of an explosion of space within itself sans a First Cause does not strike me as the sort of thing that would lead to our ordered, rational universe.

Comment #148439

Posted by Steviepinhead on December 5, 2006 3:32 PM (e)

Gosh, ROB, how something does or does not “strike” you is of passing little interest to anyone else here.

Comment #148440

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 5, 2006 3:32 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Apparently Rob finds trolling more enjoyable than answering Anton’s questions.

‘Tis true! :D

Comment #148447

Posted by Zarquon on December 5, 2006 3:44 PM (e)

Order is a subset of chaos just like a Mozart string quartet is a subset of white noise. Therefore the order of the universe may be no more than a temporary manifestation of infinite chaos.

Comment #148455

Posted by normdoering on December 5, 2006 3:56 PM (e)

Zarquon wrote:

Order is a subset of chaos just like a Mozart string quartet is a subset of white noise. Therefore the order of the universe may be no more than a temporary manifestation of infinite chaos.

Wait! Stop that, reverse it.

People only understand order in terms of patterns they can detect. There is no chaos, there are only patterns too complex for the human mind.

So, chaos would be a subset of order. It’s just more complex than we can deal with – like a random number generator that uses a simple equation to generate numbers we can’t see a pattern in.

Comment #148483

Posted by tomh on December 5, 2006 7:58 PM (e)

Today’s New York Times has letters from Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. “When Atheists Have Their Say.” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/05/opinion/l05kristof.html?n=Top%2fOpinion%2fEditorials%20and%20Op%2dEd%2fLetters

Registration required but it’s free and you don’t even have to use a real email address. At least you didn’t last year when I did it.

Comment #148524

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 6, 2006 12:36 AM (e)

Can anyone make out the faint sound of violins in the background? Looks like he wants me to apologize too, for accusing him of hurting my feelings (perhaps it’s my own fault for having them), but then why his apology? I am confused, and I’m not sure what I need to apologize for. A false accusation? Yes. I apologize for my false accusation about the parts he did not apologize for, although not for my true accusations about the parts he did apologize for. Oy.

I should also say thanks for the complements, which are remarkable considering who they’re coming from, but perhaps not so remarkable, considering that one must share his conclusions in order to get a complement. I will let you have the last word PG, if you want it, and then let’s move on, please.

I’ll make it simple for you – you put on airs of being the victim. But it has been you who has been the ass, in every one of our encounters, the same sort of ass you are in your comments above.

Comment #148526

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 6, 2006 1:04 AM (e)

I should think it would be chaotic, unpredictable, and incomprehensible

This universe is full of chaotic and unpredictable phenomena – which does not put them beyond mathematics. And a great deal of it is incomprehensible, especially to dull-witted ignoramuses like yourself.

we would know we were in such a universe because we could not apply mathematics to it. ;)

Apparently we would have brains that were orderly enough to allow perception, judgment, and inference, so the universe wouldn’t be all that unorderly after all. And that’s the point: since, for us to exist at all, we necessarily exist in such a universe, that fact about the universe can’t be evidence of anything – tautologies can’t be evidence, as they are equally implied by all hypotheses. Particularly silly is the idea that an orderly universe is evidence of God, since it presupposes that God only makes orderly universes. Surely if you awoke to find yourself in a universe where there appeared to be no patterns, no consistency, other than the coherence (such as it is) of your own thoughts, you would take that as evidence of God – what else, after all, could explain your existence? And that is the point of my comment about WMD’s; as the Downing memo stated, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. You start with a prior commitment to a belief in God; everything else is just spin.

Comment #148536

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 6, 2006 1:25 AM (e)

Note that the ID view of the world is that it is chaotic, unpredictable, and incomprehensible. Imagine tiny creatures living on a Jackson Pollock painting. The only explanation they could have for why their world is as it is, is that it was “designed”; they might form hypotheses as to the nature and motivations of the designer, but this would give them very little insight into any “rules” that the designer may have used to construct their world; they would be reduced to explaining similarities among different parts of their world by talking about “repetition of a theme”, without having a clue as to when or where it might be reproduced or with how much or what sort of variation. Now imagine these creatures transported to a snowflake, but persisting in their conceptualization of “design”, failing to ever grasp the regularity and structure of their world.

Comment #148547

Posted by Katarina on December 6, 2006 2:31 AM (e)

the same sort of ass you are in your comments above.

I’m truly sorry. You too are an ass, but it doesn’t take (much) away from your brilliance, which I always enjoy, as I’ve enjoyed all our encounters. Please don’t take my teasing too seriously.

Comment #148579

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 6, 2006 6:10 AM (e)

Gee, and I thought I was going to get the last word.

Comment #148588

Posted by Katarina on December 6, 2006 7:40 AM (e)

Robert Browning wrote:

And yet thou art the nobler of us two
What dare I dream of, that thou canst not do,
Outstripping my ten small steps with one stride?

William Shakespeare wrote:

In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes,
For they in thee a thousand errors note;
But ‘tis my heart that loves what they despise,
Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;

Comment #148609

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 6, 2006 10:30 AM (e)

You’ve got it backwards; I’m a handsome cad. But too old for you.

Comment #148621

Posted by Katarina on December 6, 2006 11:30 AM (e)

LOL! And here I thought it was an American peculiarity to read romantic implications wherever the word “love” appears.

Comment #148692

Posted by Lenny's Pizza Guy on December 6, 2006 2:07 PM (e)

[Recite factual observation] Pizzas exist in our universe. [/factual observation]

[Begin salespitch] …Wonderful, hot, droolingly-scrumptious pizzas, which–by sheer serendipity!–we deliver hot and on-time, when you want ‘em! [/salespitch]

[Begin spiritual rhapsody] How unlikely this universe must be, for such improbable, temperamental, incomprehensibly-delicious, but highly-perishable pizzas to exist! [/spiritual rhapsody]

[Begin philosophical maundering] Our universe is remarkably well-tuned to permit, nay encourage, the existence of pizza! [/philosophical maundering]

[Begin religious rant] Clearly, this universe has been complexly and specifically designed to provision us with pizzas! Given the existence of pizzas in this, our one and only universe, we can be quite confident–nay, deleriously ecstatic!–that our universe was designed by none other than his most profound noodliness, the Flying Spaghetti Monster… [/religious rant]

See how *impeccable* this “logic” is?

Comment #148696

Posted by David B. Benson on December 6, 2006 2:25 PM (e)

Lenny’s Pizza Guy — Boy are you in trouble!

HER noodliness…

Comment #148709

Posted by Bettinke, Head Nurse, Tr.Sa.&Ph. on December 6, 2006 4:30 PM (e)

Please explaining being how, hrrumph, gender of this deity of the noodles is the logic of the argument of this guy’s pizza affecting?

Comment #148717

Posted by normdoering on December 6, 2006 6:20 PM (e)

HER noodliness…

Indeed! How could any rational person think that a deity composed of limp phallic symbols and two huge (and spicy) meat balls is anything but male is simply beyond the pale.

Comment #148720

Posted by David B. Benson on December 6, 2006 6:34 PM (e)

normdoering — Ah ha! Rationality, is it? ;-)

Comment #148723

Posted by Steviepinhead on December 6, 2006 7:25 PM (e)

Just when I was beginning to wonder what ever in the world the Nordic Nursie could have meant by this latest leap into fractured verbiage–

this guy’s pizza

normdoering comes along and clarifies what perhaps should have been obvious:

limp phallic symbols

Please, let’s everybody avoid waving anything at anybody!

Now, if I could just remember that movie line that’s teasing at my mind…

Let’s see, James Coburn, that’s it: “assault with a friendly weapon”!

Comment #148727

Posted by Katarina on December 6, 2006 7:33 PM (e)

I thought the url formatting worked.

http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/beyond_belief06/beyond_belief06_index.html

Comment #148728

Posted by Katarina on December 6, 2006 7:37 PM (e)

Oops, wrong thread. Methinks I’m losing it.

Comment #148735

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 6, 2006 8:30 PM (e)

No. Like you, it simply has no relevance.

as usual, RO confuses personal projection with rational argument.

Comment #148760

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 7, 2006 1:13 AM (e)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

This universe is full of chaotic and unpredictable phenomena – which does not put them beyond mathematics. And a great deal of it is incomprehensible, especially to dull-witted ignoramuses like yourself [sic].

“Chaos,” as used in mathematics, does not correspond to common usage, which is what I had in mind when I wrote “chaos.” “Mathematical chaos” is deterministic, despite appearances to the contrary. (That the difference is lost on you is not surprising, given your worthless philosophy background.)

Comment #148761

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 7, 2006 1:18 AM (e)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

And that is the point of my comment about WMD’s; as the Downing memo stated, “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. You start with a prior commitment to a belief in God; everything else is just spin.

I would have thought that even in your worthless discipline they would have taught you that analogy is the weakest form of argumentation.

Comment #148763

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 7, 2006 1:22 AM (e)

Toejam:

I am surprised you would take time away from picking on a sixteen-year-old (along with the other rabble at Peezee’s blog) to comment further on this thread. Surely, that is a more gratifying outlet for a frustrated bachelor, no?

Comment #148765

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 7, 2006 1:35 AM (e)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

Particularly silly is the idea that an orderly universe is evidence of God, since it presupposes that God only makes orderly universes.

That is a perfectly reasonable postulate, Pill Popper. Incidentally, do you regale your coworkers with tales of the differences between analytic and continental philosophies as you supersize an order? Or, perhaps, you wax eloquent about logical positivism to a customer as you ring him up for a happy meal?

Comment #148775

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 7, 2006 2:22 AM (e)

I am surprised you would take time away from picking on a sixteen-year-old (along with the other rabble at Peezee’s blog) to comment further on this thread. Surely, that is a more gratifying outlet for a frustrated bachelor, no?

and you speak of irrelevance…

apparently nobody knows how to be more irrelevant than yourself.

good job demonstrating such.

Comment #148852

Posted by Katarina on December 7, 2006 5:31 AM (e)

“Mathematical chaos” is deterministic, despite appearances to the contrary

Didn’t I warn both sides are fond of citing determinism? Yet it is an argument for nothing: neither purpose nor lack of.

Comment #148868

Posted by Katarina on December 7, 2006 6:43 AM (e)

Andrei Linde wrote:

..in the context of the multiverse theory, one can consider all possible universes with all possible laws of physics and mathematics. Among all possible universes, we can live only in those where mathematics is efficient.

Inflation, Quantum Cosmology, and the Anthropic Principle, p29

Comment #148878

Posted by Katarina on December 7, 2006 7:37 AM (e)

a handsome ol' cad wrote:

…they would be reduced to explaining similarities among different parts of their world by talking about “repetition of a theme”, without having a clue as to when or where it might be reproduced or with how much or what sort of variation. Now imagine these creatures transported to a snowflake, but persisting in their conceptualization of “design”, failing to ever grasp the regularity and structure of their world.

Linde, in an interview wrote:

At first I imagined that the creator might be able to send information into the new universe—to teach its creatures how to behave, to help them discover what the laws of nature are, and so forth. Then I started thinking. The inflation theory says that a baby universe blows up very quickly, like a balloon, in the tiniest fraction of a second. Suppose the creator tried to write something on it surface, like ‘Please remember I created you.’ The inflationary expansion would make this message exponentially huge. The creatures in the new universe, living in a little corner of one letter, would never be able to read the whole thing.”

See http://www.slate.com/id/2100715/ for more.

Comment #149046

Posted by Katarina on December 8, 2006 9:19 AM (e)

Anonymous wrote:

Though close enough for all who see
It flew too high above me
A star that glows too brilliantly
Would rather fly than love me

It penetrated in a moment
Rays silk’d into dogma’s night
Not a star, instead a comet
Flew near but past admiring sight

Comment #149121

Posted by Popper's Ghost on December 8, 2006 8:02 PM (e)

LOL! And here I thought it was an American peculiarity to read romantic implications wherever the word “love” appears.

[Scratches head] a) I’m an American. b) The sonnet you quoted from Shakespeare – who was not American – expresses his love-sickness for the dark lady; hard not to read romantic implications there. OTOH, according to http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Troy/4081/DarkLady.html:

Shakespeare’s relationship with the Dark Lady is almost exclusively described in a sexual context. There are no parties, functions, marriage or children. She is the inspiration for Shakespeare’s most graphically sexual sonnets.

Your place or mine?

Comment #149122

Posted by Popper's Ghost on December 8, 2006 8:06 PM (e)

“Chaos,” as used in mathematics, does not correspond to common usage, which is what I had in mind when I wrote “chaos.” “Mathematical chaos” is deterministic, despite appearances to the contrary. (That the difference is lost on you is not surprising, given your worthless philosophy background.)

“mathematical chaos” describes a physical theory, moron.

Comment #149123

Posted by Robert O'Brien on December 8, 2006 8:11 PM (e)

Pill Popper's Ghost wrote:

“mathematical chaos” describes a physical theory, moron.

Yes, it has applications to the physical world. Thank you for stating the obvious.

Comment #149127

Posted by Popper's Ghost on December 8, 2006 9:03 PM (e)

Didn’t I warn both sides are fond of citing determinism? Yet it is an argument for nothing: neither purpose nor lack of.

Quite so, as I have noted several times. For instance, above with “Since physical laws are descriptive, they can’t be “violated”. If this is meant as an argument against the existence of God, it’s not a valid one.” and “Particularly silly is the idea that an orderly universe is evidence of God, since it presupposes that God only makes orderly universes.”

This is the problem with the notion of a creator with unspecified powers: since it could have made anything, it could have made this universe. But since it could have made anything, this universe isn’t special; nothing about it argues for having been created by this unspecified creator.

Entities with unspecified characteristics don’t really have any ontological status, they are more like grammar tricks. “An entity with unspecified characteristics caused the wind to blow” says no more than “the wind blew”. “An entity with unspecified characteristics created the universe” says no more than “the universe came into being” – which is itself a highly dubious claim. I was just reading an interesting article suggesting that our universe is one of two branes that are close together, and are colliding in 5-space every trillion years or so; the collisions result in the formation of fermions (matter) throughout our space, and the “big bang” is the result of the latest such collision. This theory apparently produces the same consequences as the inflationary model, except that the latter predicts gravitational waves in the background microwave radiation, and the colliding brane theory doesn’t (apparently it hasn’t yet been determined whether there are such gravitational waves). I find this sort of thing far more interesting to contemplate than whether God exists, when the latter is just a semantically nonsensical grammar trick.

Comment #149145

Posted by Ollie on December 9, 2006 12:07 AM (e)

I should think a “non-God universe” would be more likely to be chaotic, …

Why should you think that? On what do you base your evaluation of the probability that a universe would be chaotic rather than ordered? In any case, perhaps there are many universes and most of them are chaotic. Per the anthropic principle, it’s not surprising that we live in one that is not. And positing that the universe was created by God is no answer to this supposed problem. If chaos is more likely than an ordered “non-God universe,” why isn’t chaos more likely than God?

… incomprehensible, and not bound by any laws we can articulate.

The ability to recognize regularities in nature and to use that understanding to make predictions and to manipulate one’s environment to one’s benefit has obvious adaptive value, so it is hardly surprising that we have evolved that ability.

Comment #149162

Posted by Katarina on December 9, 2006 4:49 AM (e)

Your place or mine?

You’ve got me all figured out!

Comment #149217

Posted by Anton Mates on December 9, 2006 6:25 PM (e)

Robert O'Brien wrote:

I should think it would be chaotic, unpredictable, and incomprehensible; we would know we were in such a universe because we could not apply mathematics to it. ;)

Our universe apparently is unpredictable and chaotic; most of the laws we’ve worked out are merely statistical averages. How does one calculate the amount of determinism you’d expect in a godly vs. a godless universe?

Meanwhile, ID luminaries make precisely the opposite claim; they take order and predictability to be a sign of unintelligent processes. Jonathan Witt tells us that bizarre and unexpected phenomena are the mark of an “exuberantly imaginative, even whimsical designer,” and Dembski characterizes intelligence itself as anti-deterministic: “Causal specificity is about finding antecedent circumstances that account for and thus predict (whether deterministically or probabilistically) an event, object, or structure. But intelligences are free. In the act of creation they violate expectations. They create as they choose to create. There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations.” Who’s right–Robert or Witt & Dembski?

As for whether or not the universe is comprehensible…if most of it wasn’t comprehensible, how would we know? Inasmuch as we couldn’t, y’know, comprehend it.

As for your other question, the idea of an explosion of space within itself sans a First Cause does not strike me as the sort of thing that would lead to our ordered, rational universe.

Why would an explosion of space within itself sans a First Cause lead to anything different from an explosion of space within itself with a First Cause? If it doesn’t “strike you” that way, great, but that’s not an argument.

Comment #149303

Posted by Sir_Toejam on December 10, 2006 3:56 PM (e)

If it doesn’t “strike you” that way, great, but that’s not an argument.

au contraire - that is the WHOLE of the argument for creationism and ID.

it’s just a pathetically bad argument.

Comment #149324

Posted by Katarina on December 10, 2006 7:05 PM (e)

Anton:

There’s nothing that required Mozart to compose his Jupiter Symphony or Bell to invent the telephone or Shakespeare to write King Lear. And there’s no way to have predicted these creative innovations.”

You guys can wipe the floor with me on this, and forgive me, but Anton’s comment intrigued me. Does our power, or lack of, to predict an event, change the fact that the event had a cause? Or the cause of its cause?

It was no accident that Mozart was trained to create music. Mozart had a choice: to use his energy, emotion, talent, and training to create something, or to use it in another way and suffer the disapproval of his father. And in the act of creating, he had many specific choices in the form of notes and instruments. Many of those choices were a toss of the coin. But the way the coin falls, how fast it was thrown, its micro-shape, wrist motion, and the texture of the ground all have a bearing on the outcome, giving the outcome not one but a series of interacting causes. It’s more difficult to decide whether cognitive events are deterministic, but I’m sure we’d prefer to think of ourselves as having free will. Besides this preference though, I don’t know how we could come to decide.

The natural history of earth was also impossible to predict, but it wouldn’t have unraveled if not for specific conditions and events. If ocean temperatures hadn’t dropped, and the Antartic wasn’t isolated by tectonic movement, icefish wouldn’t have evolved.

How does one calculate the amount of determinism you’d expect in a godly vs. a godless universe?

How does one calculate determinism at all?

Not that this in any way changes what PG was arguing (I being but a drooling fan), that determinism has no bearing on the question of the supernatural.

Comment #149571

Posted by Katarina on December 11, 2006 9:00 AM (e)

But I neglected to consider the Uncertainty Principle (Note to me: read Wiki before inquiring on subjects you are ignorant about). That dealt a great blow to determinism, but I’m not sure if it’s completely dead. If not, why?

Comment #149774

Posted by Popper's Ghost on December 11, 2006 3:13 PM (e)

You’ve got me all figured out!

That will never be the case … nor will it be for you about me. Hey, we have a common basis! (For misunderstanding, if not anything else :-)

Comment #149778

Posted by Dayan Smreca on December 11, 2006 4:48 PM (e)

In ‘Just-so stories’ article a person wrote how ‘agnostics, creationists should be put in camps’ and ‘one group of people hinders another group of people’s evolutionary progress’, it reminded me on ‘The Holy Wars’ article. Here, now I read ‘frontal assualt’. It really sounds like a ‘warlike’ vocabulary.

Regarding Comment #148414: I was refering on Einstein’s astrophysical explanations of large-scale structure of the Universe, among others, I’ll quote Einstein from Wikipedia:

“Quantum mechanics is certainly imposing. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the Old One. I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.

Letter to Max Born (12 December 1926); quoted in Einstein: The Life and Times ISBN 0-380-44123-3. This quote is commonly paraphrased “God does not play dice” or “God does not play dice with the universe”, and other slight variants.”

Further more, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein quotes of Einstein:

I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.
Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot.
No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.
A Jew who sheds his faith along the way, or who even picks up a different one, is still a Jew.

Taking those quotes in consideration, I appeal on the author of Comment #148414 to edit his post and define my conclusions as incorrect if they were (or review his conclusion), not call them a lie. Scientific values are: correct - incorrent, lie is the social one.

Regarding Comment #148417: I didn’t join the discussions as a representative of any Church, more as a student of Astrophysics who was welcomed this summer to visit Penn State Astrobiology Research Center, in my opinion the best AB program there is.

Quote of Alan Dershowitz: I consider myself a committed Jew, but I do not believe that being a Jew requires belief in the supernatural.

I have come across of quotes where people of Jewish faith or origins have different view of what ‘God’ is, or represents, to people of Christian faith, Einstein often used to say ‘that is your representation of God, this is how I percept’, often he was among people of Christian faith. Innovate as he was in everything, he gave ‘physical’ impressions of God.

The following quote seems like he talks about God as a ‘person-like’ not a ‘physical law’:

“I see only with deep regret that God punishes so many of His children for their numerous stupidities, for which only He Himself can be held responsible; in my opinion, only His nonexistence could excuse Him.”

Also, “Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside. Our Planck (Max Planck) is one of them, and that is why we love him.”

Regarding Comment #148420: One should not be selective in choosing Einstein’s quotes. Definition is conclusion based upon accessible premises, not subjectiveness to prefered ones. I’ll add more of his quotes from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein, http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Religious etc…

“God is slick, but he ain’t mean”
“Before God we are all equally wise - and equally foolish”
“In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognise, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views”
“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God”.

I was opposed in my Comment #148399 because of not taking sides in ‘The Holy Wars’ but suggesting openness for all perspectives to be considered, in a way I was paraphrasing Einstein. I don’t believe no one would oppose a man of such authority in science so I’ll quote him as my closing lines:

“A conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors.”

The church prosecuted people of science in the Middle Ages (also known as the Dark Ages), as a comment on vice-versa process or ‘Holy Wars’, I’ll quote Einstein’s:

“no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force”

“What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.
What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.”

“I do not think that it is necessarily the case that science and religion are natural opposites. In fact, I think that there is a very close connection between the two. Further, I think that science without religion is lame and, conversely, that religion without science is blind. Both are important and should work hand-in-hand”.

Comment #149804

Posted by Katarina on December 11, 2006 8:40 PM (e)

If not, why?

Oh, now I (kinda) get it. Well then. I was innocently seeking to answer my own question above, when what should I encounter…

The determinism implied by Newtonian mechanics was challenged by quantum mechanics, but only to be challenged in turn by none other than… the Popper-inspired two-photon “ghost” diffraction test! His expectations came true if the experiment was good, but are his assumptions good? This is the source of a current and interesting debate that I was clueless about (well still am, except the knowledge of its existence) till now. Not that this is news to PG (I being but a glossy-eyed pupil).

Comment #149808

Posted by Anton Mates on December 11, 2006 9:37 PM (e)

Katarina wrote:

Does our power, or lack of, to predict an event, change the fact that the event had a cause? Or the cause of its cause?

“Cause” is a hazy and philosophical concept AFAIK, but it seems to me that both uncaused but predictable, and caused but unpredictable events are conceivable. An example of the former might be stars and planets’ acquisition of a spherical shape; an example of the latter might be a stimulated emission event, as in a laser.

It’s more difficult to decide whether cognitive events are deterministic, but I’m sure we’d prefer to think of ourselves as having free will. Besides this preference though, I don’t know how we could come to decide.

Got me. I’ve never even encountered a coherent definition of “free will;” “random” doesn’t seem to equate to the way most people use it, but I don’t see any other alternative to “deterministic.”

But I neglected to consider the Uncertainty Principle (Note to me: read Wiki before inquiring on subjects you are ignorant about). That dealt a great blow to determinism, but I’m not sure if it’s completely dead. If not, why?

The uncertainty principles (there’s more than one, each relating a different pair of quantities) do not directly rule out determinism. They prevent us from measuring certain quantities to perfect precision, but it could still be possible that other, unmeasured quantities–“hidden variables”–determine a system’s behavior exactly.

Bell’s Theorem rules out local hidden variable theories, but still allows determinism if particles can influence each other no matter what their relation is in space and time. It also allows determinism under the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which all measurement outcomes occur simultaneously in different worlds.

I don’t think there’s any way we could possibly rule out determinism completely, based on empirical evidence.

Comment #149875

Posted by Katarina on December 12, 2006 7:13 AM (e)

I’m a handsome cad.

There’s another thing we have in common.

That will never be the case

Especially if you’re too cowardly of a dimwit to try.

Comment #149879

Posted by Katarina on December 12, 2006 7:30 AM (e)

Anton,

Thanks for taking time to answer.

I don’t think there’s any way we could possibly rule out determinism completely, based on empirical evidence.

Perhaps you don’t think we’ll ever decide.
I will look at those links.

Comment #150289

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 14, 2006 1:31 AM (e)

That will never be the case

Especially if you’re too cowardly of a dimwit to try.

That looks like a non sequitur – perhaps I’m missing some context that would lend a humorous or sarcastic interpretation (or perhaps someone has stolen Katarina’s identity). Taken literally, neither cowardice or dimwittedness have anything to do with the fact that I have inadequate information to get you “all figured out”.

On free will and determinism, I recommend Daniel Dennett’s books “Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting” and “Freedom Evolves”.

Comment #150320

Posted by Katarina on December 14, 2006 7:00 AM (e)

No one has stolen my identity; I was being silly, just like in some of my other comments on this thread. What, you expect me to be as rational as you? P’sha. Call it slow to mature.

Hey, I am curious about the Popper’s quantum ghost experiment. Why does he expect the two photons are entangled if they’re going in opposite directions? This discussion is premature for me, as I’ve yet to take second semester physics, but maybe it’s possible you could still shed some light.

Sorry about the name calling.:) I’ll behave.

Comment #150341

Posted by Katarina on December 14, 2006 9:40 AM (e)

I’m missing some context

Actually, yes, I left a clue in another thread. But I realize it was a little too much to expect you to look. Oh well, forget it.

Comment #150413

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 14, 2006 6:32 PM (e)

No one has stolen my identity; I was being silly

I was hoping as much, as we seemed to have gotten onto friendly terms (and yes, it helps that you share my conclusions – color me fickle).

What, you expect me to be as rational as you?

That’s just one of my masks.

P’sha. Call it slow to mature.

Slow? I don’t think so. Remember, I’m way older than you.

Hey, I am curious about the Popper’s quantum ghost experiment. Why does he expect the two photons are entangled if they’re going in opposite directions? This discussion is premature for me, as I’ve yet to take second semester physics, but maybe it’s possible you could still shed some light.

Unfortunately, those memories were left with Popper’s earthly body; this wraith hasn’t a clue. From a quick bit of googling, it seems that the entanglement a prediction of QM, and Popper’s thought experiment was aimed at invalidating the Copenhagen interpretation, but I’m not clear on the details.

Actually, yes, I left a clue in another thread. But I realize it was a little too much to expect you to look. Oh well, forget it.

My curiosity is piqued; could you at least tell me which thread? I don’t have the time to sift through thousands of posts.

Comment #150414

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 14, 2006 6:45 PM (e)

This paper argues (successfully, I think, but I’m no physicist) that Popper was wrong – the outcome of his experiment, while being what he predicted, does not invalidate the Copenhagen interpretation.

Comment #150415

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 14, 2006 6:58 PM (e)

Arrgh, this site sucks so. Best science blog? Certainly not in its current condition.

Did I manage to post this? Well, if not here it is again. Popper’s thought experiment apparently doesn’t show what he thought it showed, and the Copenhagen interpretation of QM remains unfalsified.

On “too cowardly a dimwit to try” – perhaps that refers to IDists like Robert O’Brien?

Comment #150479

Posted by Katarina on December 15, 2006 8:09 AM (e)

Pops wrote:

Remember, I’m way older than you.

Since you bring that up again, be warned: just because you may have no teeth left and you need a walker to get around, doesn’t mean you can go around putting on airs of a victim!

On “too cowardly a dimwit to try” – perhaps that refers to IDists like Robert O’Brien?

Well, that’s who I should have directed my silliness at.

This paper argues (successfully, I think, but I’m no physicist) that Popper was wrong – the outcome of his experiment, while being what he predicted, does not invalidate the Copenhagen interpretation.

Yes, I’ve seen that paper. Not that I’ve done a lot of sifting through papers, (one doesn’t always need to sift;) but there are other interpretations too. I’m no physicist either (it hurts my brain), so I’m not sure why one argument is better than another.

P.S. If and when you do figure it out: forget it.

Comment #150485

Posted by Katarina on December 15, 2006 9:14 AM (e)

Maybe this thread is causing the server problems.

Comment #150547

Posted by Popper's ghost on December 15, 2006 10:13 PM (e)

Since you bring that up again, be warned: just because you may have no teeth left and you need a walker to get around, doesn’t mean you can go around putting on airs of a victim!

That’s not why I brought it up. Did you bother to read what I wrote and comprehend what I meant by it? If this is what I get for complimenting you, I will no longer bother to. And seeing how you responded to me on the IC issue, I think that’s the end of my compliments anyway.

Comment #150562

Posted by Katarina on December 16, 2006 5:03 AM (e)

Comment #150563

Posted by Katarina on December 16, 2006 5:21 AM (e)

Um, can you take a joke? Of course I know what you meant. Unless it is really the case that you need a walker to get around and have lost all your teeth, in which case my apologies.

My response is incomplete on the IC issue since several of my comments were lost by the server. I think we were talking past each other, and our comments had different objectives. That doesn’t mean they were in opposition, but even if they were it wouldn’t have to mean that one of us is stupid or unreasonable (and by default that would have to be the person other than you, wouldn’t it?).

Please don’t let me get in the way of your usual dick-waving.

Comment #150565

Posted by Katarina on December 16, 2006 6:03 AM (e)

I’m a handsome cad

I don’t believe it; I don’t believe you have any luck with women at all. Except maybe with perfectly submissive ones who bow to your ego and agree with your every thought.

I just don’t know why I bothered trying.