Friday, October 29, 2010


Ox Bows

Okay, I seem to have set off a mini-contretemps.

Massimo Pigliucci noticed my snide and more than a little tongue-in-cheek comment about Jerry Coyne:

I also have to point out that the mere fact that some "serious philosophers" happen to converge on something similar to one of Coyne's opinions doesn't mean his philosophy isn't still primitive.

Jerry noticed.

Then, Ophelia Benson chided Pigliucci:

Nice, Massimo - and you wonder why anyone thinks you have a vendetta against Coyne.

Pigliucci replied:

Ophelia, one more time: I have no "vendetta." I just think Jerry speaks about thing that he doesn't understand, and apparently I'm not the only one to hold that opinion.

Ophelia sur-replied:

Massimo, one more time, if you keep harping on Jerry in this arbitrary and obsessive way, it looks exactly like a vendetta.

Well, I have two questions:

Why the emotionally-charged word "vendetta"?

Surely, within a community of "rationalists," even serial disagreements are nothing more than the give-and-take of people who are honestly engaging in a rational manner ... right?

If not, then what are we to make about Coyne's multiple posts about "Uncle Karl" Giberson? Is he engaged in a "vendetta" that we can ignore (because of a label that can be thrown around so easily)? If Pigliucci's criticism of Coyne can be dismissed because he criticizes Coyne often, then so can Coyne's criticism of Giberson.

If that's not Benson's point, then maybe she should get her ox to the vet, since it has been so badly gored.


May Poll

Here's an interesting poll:

Americans who are very religious have higher wellbeing than those who are less religious, a relationship that holds even after controlling for several related demographic and geographic variables.

This study does not allow for a precise determination of why this might be the case. It is possible that Americans who have higher wellbeing may be more likely to choose to be religious than those with lower wellbeing. It is also possible that some third variable could be driving certain segments of the U.S. population to be more religious and to have higher wellbeing.

It is also possible that the relationship is straightforward, that something about religiosity, defined as a personal importance placed on religion and frequent religious service attendance, in turn leads to a higher level of personal wellbeing. Religious service attendance promotes social interaction and friendship with others, and Gallup analysis has clearly shown that time spent socially and social networks themselves are positively associated with wellbeing. Religion generally involves more meditative states and faith in a higher power, both of which have been widely used as methods to lower stress, reduce depression, and promote happiness. Religion provides mechanisms for coping with setbacks and life's problems, which in turn may reduce stress, worry, and anger. Many religions, including Christianity, which is by far the dominant religion in the U.S., embody tenets of positive relationships with one's neighbors and charitable acts, which may lead to a more positive mental outlook.

Highly religious Americans' healthier behaviors may have multiple causes, including for example culturally negative norms against such behaviors as smoking and alcohol consumption in a number of religions. It may also be possible that the lower emotional wellbeing of less religious Americans puts them in a state in which they are more susceptible to non-healthy behaviors.

Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport joked:

"We now have the solution to the health care crisis. If we're interested in lowering health care costs in America, we need to increase the prevalence of religion."

But maybe the most surprising result to me is that the "nonreligious," defined as those who report that religion is not an important part of their daily life and seldom or never attend church, synagogue, mosque, etc., comprise 29.7% of the adult population.

Gnu Atheists take heart! ... And then go see your doctor!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Paranoia on Parade

Okay, this is all you need to know about this article, from the Canada Free Press, entitled "The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy's High-Water Mark?":

Because Fox News holds to the traditional journalistic stance of trying to present both sides of an issue (in their news programs), they are equally dissed by both the Far Left, and Far Right, as being either a conservative shill, or a left-wing "wolf in sheep's clothing." Which suggests that they're doing something right, (even though I personally consider much of their coverage to be frustratingly, annoyingly, liberal).

"Reality," much less "reality TV," has no meaning for the author.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Separate Ignorance

This, from the Redding, California Record Searchlight, is kinda funny, especially in light of Christine O'Donnell's former campaign manager's offer of a $1,000 reward "for to anyone who can find the exact phrase 'Separation of Church and State' anywhere in the United States Constitution."

Anyway, we have another blowhard spouting the loony right meme that:

Nowhere in the First Amendment do the words - or the concept - separation of church and state appear.
But, then, Jim Wilson, described as president of PrayNorthState, in an article entitled "First Amendment Protects Faith from Government," proceeds to endorse separation of church and state as it is actually implemented by the Courts, though it's clear he doesn't understand why they do so.

Of course, the First Amendment does provide that Congress shall make no laws to establish religion. But again the intent of the founding fathers - and of the man (Jefferson) who wrote the amendment was to see to it that conscience would never be coerced by government. The United States was birthed in a world in which every other nation had chosen an established religion and imposed penalties and liabilities on citizens who chose another path to faith.
That's essentially correct, although Wilson elsewhere throws in the non sequitur about America being a "Christian nation."

When the First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," it follows that the majority cannot impose a penalty -- taxes -- in order to force others, against their conscience, to fund proselytizing of any particular sect or of religion in general.

He notes that "it is unusual to find a high school in our region without a Christian club or parachurch ministry on campus today," though it seems to escape him that the court decisions requiring such equal access are enforcing the separation of church and state by insuring that the government treats all such views equally.

And then he comes to creationism in public schools:

Although courts - including courts in Delaware - have ruled that the theory has its origins in faith traditions, they have pointedly declined to rule on its truthfulness, let alone its scientific credentials. In other words, the courts admit that they have made a political rather than a scientific judgment. And while evidence piles higher and higher that intelligent design is a viable approach to understanding both nature and the cosmos those non-scientific decisions stand. The good news is that the prohibition only holds for science classes. As a former public school educator I taught creationism in language arts classes and was required only to give equal time to competing viewpoints.
He is, of course, wrong that the scientific credentials of creationism, including Intelligent Design Creationism, have not been ruled on. The Supreme Court and other Federal courts have consistently ruled that creationism is not scientific, though they have not, in full accord with separation of church and state, addressed the "truth" of creationism. And it is true that creationism and other religious concepts can be taught about in public schools, as long as the government remains separate from the question of which, if any, are true by giving equal treatment to competing viewpoints. Creationism cannot be taught in science classes because it is not a competing scientific viewpoint to evolution.

So, although it is trivially true that the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution, the only reason Wilson (and the woeful Christine O'Donnell and her campaign manager who, no doubt correctly, so distrusts his reading skills that he is only willing to wager $1,000 on the exact words "Separation of Church and State" not being in the Constitution) seem surprised when they get laughed at for insisting that our Constitution does not impose separation is because they haven't got a clue what the phrase means.

Wouldn't it be nice if someday we could get the concept of "separation of ignorance and state" in the Constitution?

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Method and Madness

A while back, Larry Moran, the Arthur Murray of the NANAs, touted a paper, entitled "How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions About Methodological Naturalism," by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke and Johan Braeckman ("BBB"), two of whom Larry met recently on a trip to Europe. I was going to comment on it then but real life, not least of all having my throat cut and discovering the fragility of the human body in comparison to speeding automobiles, got in the way. Now Jerry Coyne, still stinging from Massimo Pigliucci's criticism of his primitive philosophy, has seized on the paper as showing that "serious philosophers" share his view that science can produce evidence supporting the existence of gods (and, of course, as far as Jerry is concerned, since it hasn't produced such evidence, we can take that absence as evidence that there are no gods).

Now, the paper is very well written (especially if you assume that English is not the authors first language) and certainly raises legitimate objections to the concept of Methodological Naturalism ("MN"). They propose, instead, Pragmatic Methodological Naturalism ("PMN"), which they describe as "a provisory and empirically grounded commitment to naturalistic causes and explanations, which in principle is revocable by extraordinary empirical evidence." Ultimately, I think that their objections to MN and their recommendation of PMN fail. (I also have to point out that the mere fact that some "serious philosophers" happen to converge on something similar to one of Coyne's opinions doesn't mean his philosophy isn't still primitive.)

The stated aim of BBB is to first show that "the most widespread view, which conceives of MN as an intrinsic or self-imposed limitation of science, is philosophically indefensible" and, secondly, it is also an ill-advised strategy to counter the claims of [Intelligent Design Creationism] and other forms of creationism."

I won't be able to do this all in one go but at the heart of my objection to BBB's proposal is the fact that they fail to take into account that science has (at least) two great objectives. The first (and lesser) objective is to determine which phenomena of the world are real -- that is, to empirically investigate and document what actually happens. The second (and greater) objective is to discover why phenomena happen -- that is, to develop testable theories as to the causes of phenomena that link those phenomena to the regularities of the world that we call "natural law."

This is actually nicely illustrated by BBB themselves (p. 230). In discussing the argument that MN is simply part of science by definition, they state:

The definition argument for IMN sits uncomfortable with the fact that reputable scientists and sceptics have investigated allegedly paranormal phenomena which, if corroborated through repeatable and careful experiments, would point to the existence of supernatural forces, or at least so they claim.
There is no conflict with MN in investigating whether or not a claimed phenomena occurs. Doing repeatable and careful experiments to determine if, in fact, there is some correlation between, say, recovery from illness and prayer, is perfectly respectable science. The issue of MN arises only with the claim that supernatural forces are the cause of the phenomena.

Let's look at BBB's example that Coyne fixed on (even if that's not fair to BBB because Jerry is likely to glom onto their weakest arguments):

... suppose [a randomized controlled trial] in American Heart Journal turned out to confirm the hypothesis of therapeutic efficacy of intercessory prayer. Moreover, suppose that further experimental work following this demonstration, which would arguably mark a complete revolution in science, indicated that this form of supernatural causation is predictable because it exhibits certain regularities. For instance, it works only with prayers officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church, only if the ill person is baptised by a Catholic priest, etc. Though it may be ridiculous to speculate that anything of the sort would ever happen, as no alleged case of miraculous healing has even been authenticated scientifically, if it would, there is no obvious reason why the scientific enterprise would immediately and entirely collapse. The fact that some prayers actually do help people recover would admittedly cause a complete metaphysical revolution in science (imagine the enthusiasm of theologians), but if the range of action of this supernatural power turned out to be restricted, why would it endanger the rest of our scientific endeavours?
Notice anything missing here? They have posited a situation where we have a scientifically confirmed phenomena. But where is the extraordinary empirical evidence that this phenomena is caused by God? There is nothing but an assumption that because the phenomena involves Catholic prayers and Catholic patients that the cause must be supernatural. In point of fact, from a scientific standpoint, all you have is a phenomena that, at this time, is unexplained. We have lots of those and science does not go around assigning their causes willy-nilly to god(s). We still don't know how gravity acts at a distance. But if someone says the reason gravity works is "Intelligent Grappling," is that any different or any more scientific than just assuming "Catholic Healing"?

If such a phenomena was discovered, it might well cause Boudry, Blancke and Braeckman to undergo "a complete metaphysical revolution," but their metaphysics is not the same thing as "science."


Thursday, October 21, 2010


It's Not Easy Being 'Tween

PZ Myearshertz has already noticed that Wild Bill Dembski has admitted to being a "biblical inerrantist" and takes that to mean that Dembski believes "his god actually created the earth in 6 days." Jack Krebs, at The Panda’s Thumb, and Lauri Lebo at Religion Dispatches, based on a more complete source than PZ's, namely an article in the Florida Baptist Witness, have come to similar conclusions.

Not quite, I think.

The whole thing arose in connection with Dembski's book, The End of Christianity, in which he attempts to reconcile the notion that the universe is billions of years old, (as supported by scientific evidence so strong, according to Dembski, as to convince him, despite his druthers, to accept an old Earth) with a belief in the recent creation of humans and a recent "Fall" as the origin of evil in the world. As he said in his book:

For science to trump the most natural reading of Genesis and the overwhelming consensus of theologians up through the Reformation, either science has discovered momentous new truths or science has gone massively awry. In either case, science has raised a crucial challenge to young-earth creationism.

Dembski's rather strange answer is that the Fall had "retroactive" effect ... that is, in "God's time," the original creation was perfect and suffering-free but that, because of the Fall, it was made to suffer from the beginning but that Adam and Eve were then put in a little segregated area (the Garden) that was perfect and free from the Fall so they could then go about creating the Fall. If that hasn't made your head explode, you'll be readily able to see that Dembski is desperate to cling to some semblance of science.

Then, Tom Nettles, professor of Historical Theology at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, published a review of Dembski's book in The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. This caused Dembski to be called on the carpet by his employers, particularly over a section of the book that said:

Noah’s flood, though presented as a global event, is probably best understood as historically rooted in a local event.

He was shown the instruments of torture ... err ... threatened with dismissal ... and recanted, confessing his ignorance of the Bible and stating that "[a]s a biblical inerrantist, I believe that what the Bible teaches is true and bow to the text, including its teaching about the Flood and its universality," though we don't know if he went away muttering "E pur si è locale."

But then his employers published a "defense" of Dembski, by David Allen, Dean of Southwestern's School of Theology, where they specifically admit that old-Earth creationism is "a legitimate position simpatico with the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message."

So, he has not necessarily abandoned old-Earthism. But it must be galling, when the evidence against a universal flood is every bit as "strong" as that for an ancient universe, to be made to recant the one, even if he was allowed to keep the rag of the other.

But he had practice at such two-faced belief, having to shelter his more anti-science students with what he calls "pessimistic induction," according to which, one is justified being skeptical of any scientific claim because "most scientific claims of the past have had to be radically revised or jettisoned." Which makes you wonder, if he really believes that, why he would think any scientific evidence was "so strong" as to command his belief.

There is much that is funny in the "defense," not least of all this from Allen:

While Dembski struggles with wearing both the theologian's robe and the scientist's lab coat (Who among us doesn't?), he is clearly committed to the proposition that science cannot trump the Bible.
Not only has Dembski never been near a lab coat, but for Allen, who gleefully admits admits to being a YEC, to include himself in those who are both theologians and scientists is certainly giggle material.

But, surely, nothing is funnier than this from the nearly-Expelled Dembski himself:

Unfortunately, scientific research can be suitably slanted to support just about anything.

From someone who has devoted his entire "career" to doing just that, "irony" is simply not a sufficient word.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Another Revolvin' Development


I saw this a few days ago but forgot to pass it along.

After the Discoveryless Institute's recent promotion of the book and conference entitled "God and Evolution," we now have:

God and Revolution: Protestants, Catholics and Jews Explore Kepler’s Challenge to Faith

Can you be an orthodox Keplerist and an orthodox theist? The plain answer is “no,” according to God and Revolution: Protestants, Catholics and Jews Explore Kepler’s Challenge to Faith, an important new book from Stationary Institute Press. The book provides a thorough examination of the conflict between belief in God and Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.

In the four centuries since Johannes Kepler first proposed his laws, Christians, Jews, Astronomy students, and other religious believers have grappled with how to make sense of them. Most have understood that Kepler’s laws and materialistic theories of planetary motion have profound theological implications, but their responses have varied dramatically.

Some have rejected revolutionary ideas outright; others, often called “theistic revolutionists,” have sought to reconcile materialist theories including Keplerism with their religious beliefs, but often at the cost of clarity, orthodoxy, or both. ...

The book is a response to growing efforts by some Keplerists to enlist the support of the faith community by downplaying Keplerism’s core principles. Chapters of the book detail the failures of theistic revolution, address the problem of retrograde motion, and explain how intelligent design is consonant with orthodox belief in the fixity of the earth.

Thanks to Jeremy Mohn at Stand Up for REAL Science for ... umm ... uncovering this.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


The Garden of Earthly Morals

Primatologist Frans de Waal has an interesting article, entitled "Morals Without God?," at the New York Times that has, as a "hook," the fact that de Waal was born in Den Bosch, the city after which Hieronymus Bosch, the painter of "The Garden of Earthly Delights" shown above, named himself.

For a primatologist, like myself, the nudity, references to sex and fertility, the plentiful birds and fruits and the moving about in groups are thoroughly familiar and hardly require a religious or moral interpretation. Bosch seems to have depicted humanity in its natural state, while reserving his moralistic outlook for the right-hand panel of the triptych in which he punishes — not the frolickers from the middle panel — but monks, nuns, gluttons, gamblers, warriors, and drunkards.

de Waal does a good job of cutting to the chase:

Five centuries later, we remain embroiled in debates about the role of religion in society. As in Bosch's days, the central theme is morality. Can we envision a world without God? Would this world be good? Don't think for one moment that the current battle lines between biology and fundamentalist Christianity turn around evidence. One has to be pretty immune to data to doubt evolution, which is why books and documentaries aimed at convincing the skeptics are a waste of effort. They are helpful for those prepared to listen, but fail to reach their target audience. The debate is less about the truth than about how to handle it. For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss.

This is well illustrated by the Undiscovery Institute's latest project, the conference at Biola (Bible Institute Of Los Angeles) University and a book, both entitled "God and Evolution," that are supposed to "set the record straight about the broader implications of Darwin's theory." You don't have to be an obsessive follower of the advocates of Intelligent Design Creationism to know that de Waal is absolutely correct that the DI's claim that "[o]ur main focus remains on the science," is most charitably described as disingenuous.

de Waal then describes Casey Luskin to a tee:

Deep down, creationists realize they will never win factual arguments with science. This is why they have construed their own science-like universe, known as Intelligent Design, and eagerly jump on every tidbit of information that seems to go their way.

de Waal has a lot of interesting things to say about the evolutionary origins of morality, altruism and the sense of fairness but he then beards the lion:

Over the past few years, we have gotten used to a strident atheism arguing that God is not great (Christopher Hitchens) or a delusion (Richard Dawkins). The new atheists call themselves "brights," thus hinting that believers are not so bright. They urge trust in science, and want to root ethics in a naturalistic worldview.

While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer? Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch. ...

Other primates ... strive for a certain kind of society. For example, female chimpanzees have been seen to drag reluctant males towards each other to make up after a fight, removing weapons from their hands, and high-ranking males regularly act as impartial arbiters to settle disputes in the community. I take these hints of community concern as yet another sign that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity, and that we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good. Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.

Friday, October 15, 2010



A thought:

The man who proposes a theory makes a choice—an imaginative choice which outstrips the facts. The creative activity of science lies here, in the process of induction understood as the making of hypothetical theories. For induction imagines more than there is ground for, and creates relations which at bottom can never be verified. Every induction is a speculation, and it guesses at a unity which the facts present but do not strictly imply. ...

To put the matter more formally: a scientific theory cannot be constructed from the facts by any procedure which can be laid down in advance, as if for a machine. To the man who makes the theory, it may seem as inevitable as the ending of Othello must have seemed to Shakespeare. But the theory is inevitable only to him; it is his choice, as a mind and as a person, among the alternatives which are open to everyone.

There are scientists who deny what I have said—that we are free to choose between alternative theories. They grant that there are alternative theories, but they hold that the choice between them is made mechanically. The principle of choice, in their view, is Occam's razor; we choose, among the theories which fit the facts we know now, that one which is simplest. On this view, Newton's laws were the simplest theory which covered the facts of gravitation as they were then known; and general relativity is not a new conception but is the simplest theory which fits the additional facts.

This would be a plausible view if it had a meaning. Alas, it turns out to be a verbal deception, for we cannot define simplicity; we cannot even say what we mean by the simpler of two inductions. The tests which have been proposed are hopelessly artificial and, for example, can compare theories only if they can be expressed in differential equations of the same kind. Simplicity itself turns out to be a principle of choice which cannot be mechanized.

Of course every innovator has thought that his way of arranging the facts is particularly simple, but this is a delusion. Copernicus's theory in his day was not simple to others, because it demanded two rotations of the earth—a daily one and a yearly one—in place of one rotation of the sun. What made his theory seem simple to Copernicus was something else: an aesthetic sense of unity. The motion of all the planets around the sun was both simple and beautiful to him, because it expressed the unity of God's design. The same thought has moved scientists ever since: that nature has a unity, and that this unity makes her laws seem beautiful in simplicity.

- Jacob Bronowski, "The Creative Process," A Sense of the Future: Essays in Natural Philosophy


The Misadventures of Mindless Idiots

Somewhere on the high plains, a woman, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Tougher than Nails" (that should have read "Dumber than Dirt"), entered a museum in the badly misnamed Loveland, Montana Colorado and attacked an artwork entitled "The Misadventures of Romantic Cannibals" while screaming "How can you desecrate my Lord?"

It seems that any figure sporting a beard and long hair is automatically a depiction of Jesus, even if the figure is also sporting rather bodacious female breasts.

The artist, Enrique Chagoya, specifically denies trying to portray Christ and, according to the curator, Bud Shark, of the exhibit that the work was a part of:

"(The attack) is the direct result of the inflammatory and false descriptions of the piece in the press and by those protesting its inclusion in our exhibition," he said.

"The controversial image has been demonized as 'pornographic,' 'obscene' and 'depicting Jesus in a sex act' when none of this is true."

Okay, I'll take that with a grain or two of salt but why would that justify a violent attack on the artwork? What's next ... an attack on the artist? If some believers feel justified in one, is there much doubt that there are some who would feel justified in the other?

And, by the way, that second panel from the left on the bottom row ...


Via Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Too True Colors

In a follow-up to the Undiscovery Institute's support for conference entitled "God and Evolution" to be held at Biola (Bible Institute Of Los Angeles) University that I recently reported on, Anika Smith, the DI's tankwoman in pink, is now touting a book by the same name that purportedly "provides a thorough examination of the conflict between belief in God and Darwin's theory of unguided evolution" and "detail[s] the failures of theistic evolution, address[es] the problem of evil, and explain[s] how intelligent design is consonant with orthodox belief."

Naturally, it is penned by all the usual DI suspects:

God and Evolution includes chapters by William Dembski, author of The Design Revolution; Stephen Meyer, author of Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design; Denyse O'Leary, co-author of The Spiritual Brain; David Klinghoffer, author of The Discovery of God: Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism; Jonathan Wells, author of Icons of Evolution; John West, author of Darwin Day in America; Jonathan Witt, co-author of A Meaningful World; Casey Luskin, co-author of Traipsing Into Evolution; and Logan Paul Gage, whose articles have appeared in Touchstone, First Things, and other publications.

Incidentally, Logan Paul Gage may not now be a DI employee but he was once "a policy analyst with Discovery Institute in Washington."

But, of course, ID, and by extension the DI, are all about the science and have nothing to do with religion! How do we know that? Why, the DI tells us so!:

"Our main focus remains on the science," says John West, a contributor to the book and a senior fellow with Discovery's Center for Science & Culture. "But it's important to set the record straight about the broader implications of Darwin's theory."

To give them scant credit for honesty, the DI's main focus is on the science of evolution ... distorting it and outright lying about it in hopes they can cause the gullible to disbelieve it in order to protect their narrow sectarian view of religion. It is the damage that science does to their sectarian beliefs that constitute the "broader implications" that are the real impetus for the advocacy of ID.

Maybe someday they'll address the broader implications involved in dissembling in the name of God.

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Monday, October 11, 2010


Incompatible Philosophy

Ah, Jerry Coyne is at it again.

He has a screed in USA Today once again displaying his poor grasp of philosophy and rehashing all the worst arguments in favor of atheism as if they were knockdown truisms.

There is much that could be said about Coyne's failings as a philosopher or even as a rationalist but I think the following is emblematic. First Coyne says:

"But surely," you might argue, "science and religion must be compatible. After all, some scientists are religious."
But only eight paragraphs later he is asserting:

But don't just take my word for the incompatibility of science and faith — it's amply demonstrated by the high rate of atheism among scientists.
If the fact that some scientists are religious is no evidence for compatibility, how can the fact that some scientists are atheists be evidence of incompatibility? More importantly, if Coyne can't keep a consistent thought across a few hundred words, why should anyone pay any attention to opinion about science and religion?

Everything that Coyne says about the incompatibility of religion and science applies equally to the "incompatibility" of science with art and literature. Yet some of us think that those deliver a kind of "truth" about the human condition that make them at least potentially valuable and something that any scientist can engage in with no fear of betraying science simply because they are "incompatible" in the sense Coyne asserts.

The specific examples Coyne recites as coming from the "truth" claims of religion -- "the oppression of women and gays, opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, sexual repression, and of course all those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions" -- are not shared universally by all religions and, therefore, are less likely the result of "religion" instead of being the outcome of particular cultural forces. More importantly, the opposition to those positions are not themselves scientific results but, rather, the outcome of different cultural forces.

Coyne could have argued that his atheism is more moral than theism but that's not what he's claiming. He's claiming that his atheism (which he confuses with science) is empirically true and religion is not.

To say he's failed to make that case is a massive understatement.


Update: See Chris Schoen's excellent comments at u n d e r v e r s e.


Sunday, October 10, 2010


PZ Adopts Methodological Naturalism

PZ Myearshertz has joined those who, unlike Larry Moran, accept that the methodological naturalism of science makes it impossible to scientifically test the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural, at least when those claims do not entail repeatable empiric observations about the world (e.g. that the Earth is only 6,000 years old):

[A]ny evidence of a deity will be natural, repeatable, measurable, and even observable…properties which god is exempted from by the believers' own definitions, so there can be no evidence for it. And any being who did suddenly manifest in some way — a 900 foot tall Jesus, for instance — would not fit any existing theology, so such a creature would not fit the claims of any religion, but the existence of any phenomenon that science cannot explain would not discomfit science at all, since we know there is much we don't understand already, and adding one more mystery to the multitude will not faze us in the slightest.

So yes, I agree. There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let's stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us.
Now, of course, it is perfectly rational to reject the god hypothesis because there can be no evidence for it but it does not follow that science has disproved it or can even be brought to bear on it in a meaningful way.

In any case, PZ, welcome to the club.


Update: PZ follows up with a more detailed explanation.


Update II: PZ replies to Jerry Coyne.


Saturday, October 09, 2010


Common Philosophies

A thought:

It has not always been necessary to choose between one side or the other: science or religion, reason or mystery. In the age before Darwin, many powerful clerics were also notable scientific scholars and leading scientists were often at least conventionally pious. For them, science and religion could share a common philosophical basis with the premise that a careful, rational study of nature, instead of denying God, would confirm that all life is, after all, the product of God's unique creation. Natural Theology and its counterpart in the geological context, Physico-Theology, provided an intellectual framework that both embraced science and kept it at bay. Indeed, natural theologians believed that a study of God's handiwork constituted a proof of the very existence of God. Believers who were scientists welcomed natural theology because it gave their endeavours a framework within which to operate. Deist and Christian alike could find much to favour in a movement that sought to discover God through rational study without depending on a belief in miracles or insisting on the literal truth of the Bible. Some theologians naturally worried that this new movement would risk flirting too seductively with material explanations of the world and preferred to remain with the relative safety of the authority of the Bible and revelation. Nonetheless, in one form or another, natural theology has maintained a currency to the present day. Its last and greatest expression was in the classic work of 1802 by Reverend William Paley, usually known by the short version of its title, Natural Theology. Paley's arguments have never really been improved upon. His book affords a starting point from which to trace a story that reaches from the ancient Greeks to Descartes and to the intellectual environment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century from which Darwin sprang.

- Keith Thomson, Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature


Thursday, October 07, 2010


Evidence; gathering, measuring, analysing

The next section of John Wilkins' Scientist's Operating Manual is being hashed out at Evolving Thoughts.

John starts out explaining two views of science, Francis Bacon's empiricism and Karl Popper's falsificationism.

Naturally, that amounts to a very narrow view of science but this is supposed to be a layperson's explanation of the scientific method and those are probably the best known accounts and, therefore, a good place to start.

The tricky part will be explaining how scientific evidence is gathered, measured and analyzed and what sets that apart from how most of us go about "investigating" the world about us.



If Only It Weren't So True ...

Ben Sargent, October 6, 2010

Wednesday, October 06, 2010


True Colors

Well, well ...

That renowned scientific organization in Seattle is humping a conference at Biola (Bible Institute Of Los Angeles) University entitled "God & Evolution."

As usual in such instances, the focus is the disdain cdesign proponentsists have for "theistic evolutionists," which is second only to their disdain for science.

Amusingly, the DI asks whether: "Is it 'anti-science' to question Darwinian Theory?" while touting a conference advertised to "focus on the conflict between neo-Darwinism and traditional theological views of Protestants, Catholics and Jews."

So, let me answer the question: if you question a scientific theory, such as evolution, because you perceive it to be in conflict with your religious beliefs, traditional or not, then you are being anti-science because you are rejecting science on nonscientific grounds. Simple enough, isn't it? Oh, and trumping up vaguely scientific-sounding "reasons" for not accepting evolution to order to dishonestly cover-up your real motivations (and try to evade the Constitutional separation of church and state to boot) doesn't make your beliefs any more scientific ... if any thing, it makes them even less so.


Via The Sensuous Curmudgeon

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Monday, October 04, 2010


What Can Statements Like These Get You?

What will happen if you say ...

If textbooks state explicitly that human beings' origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don't believe the evolutionary account is correct.

There are those for whom evolution is a religion and are unwilling to hear about anything else. Part of my responsibility, in light of my position with the Education Ministry, is to examine textbooks and curricula.

If they keep writing in textbooks that the Earth is growing warmer because of carbon dioxide emissions, I'll insist that isn't the case.
Well, if you are an American politician something like that can get you laughed at and may hurt your chances of being elected. But if you are the chief scientist of the Israeli Education Ministry, saying the above can get you fired.

Sources familiar with the affair said [Dr. Gavriel] Avital was fired over past statements he had made, in which he questioned evolution and the global warming theory.
Politicians are allowed ... even encouraged ... to be stupid but chief scientists?

On the other hand, Avital is also a politician, having run for a Knesset seat in 2006, so maybe it was that part of his brain that farted.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


The Science of Moving Hot Air

Well, the Ministry of Misinformation over at the Undiscovery Institute has imported new talent and, I must say, given DI's commitment to actually performing science, they have chosen well:

Guy Coe ... graduated from the University of California at Davis with a B.A. in Rhetoric and a minor in political science ... his career has taken him from Executive Salesman, to News Reporter, to U.S. Senate Communications Aide, to Tour Guide, to Retail Management ...

Mr. Coe's resume is a perfect fit for the DI's mission.

His skills at saying little while seeming to say much and covering all in a fog of gobbledygook ... a critical talent for convincing others that religious assertions are "scientific" ... are impressive. I, for one, stand in awe of his somehow managing to make it seem like scientists are using the multiverse to explain abiogenesis!

Despite admitting that methodological naturalism ... that is, science ... with its insistence on explanation through natural processes, has been a wonderful heuristic for understanding the natural world, Mr. Coe proposes abandoning that heuristic. Somehow, however, he never quite gets around to giving any grounds for doing so, much less any sort of criteria for when we should do so. In short, he wants to claim the right to drop the very strategy that has made science so successful whenever he chooses to, while still getting to call his beliefs "science."

I'd suggest he go back for a refresher course in rhetoric but supporting some things is just beyond any amount of slick talk.

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