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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More confusion in the accommodation debate

John Wilkins has a post on the debate over at Evolving Thoughts. Now, John is a mate, and he makes some good point in this post, but the trouble is that he seems to misunderstand the character of the recent debate. Accordingly, he characterises himself as an accommodationist when he is clearly an anti-accommodationist, as that term has been understood throughout the debate that's gone back and forth in the blogosphere. He says:

Accommodationists hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is in opposition to religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.

Exclusivists, on the other hand, hold that science and religion are incompatible, and that to defend science one must, perforce, assert this incompatibility.


But that is not how the argument has generally being going. The correct situation is this:

Anti-accommodationists hold, for various reasons, that when defending science, such as evolution (but not always), defenders should not assert that science is compatible with religion. Instead, they should merely defend science.

Accommodationists, on the other hand, hold that even if science and religion are incompatible, it is politically expedient to deny this incompatibility when defending science. Moreover, for reasons of political expediency, no one should bring up the incompatibility even while doing things other than defending science.

Actually, we anti-accommodationists are even more liberal than this. We don't mind individuals asserting that science is compatible with religion when they defend science. We merely reserve our right to criticise them. If they put ideas out in the public domain that involve some kind of reconciliation of science and religion, we won't tell them to engage in self-censorship, but we may criticise their actual arguments. Moreover, we are likely to point out that some of their ideas are highly speculative and should not be understood as part of mainstream science - an example is the idea that God directs evolution by manipulating quantum-level events. Still, they can say what they like. It's only organisations such as the AAAS and the NCSE that we insist be neutral on the issue of whether science and religion are compatible. Such bodies should not, for example, explicitly or implicitly support doctrines such as Gould's non-overlapping magisteria.

I still don't see what is so unreasonable about the position that we non-accommodationists are taking.

If John’s definition were correct, I’d be an accommodationist (so would Jerry Coyne, as far as I can see). But I’m not. The position that I take is the one I’ve just set out as anti-accommodationist. The position that I keep criticising is the one I’ve defined as accommodationist. An accommodationist will, for example, say that the incompatibility of science and religion should not be mentioned even if one is doing something other than defending science, such as writing a book review or criticising the political influence of religion.

I am certainly not what John calls an exclusivist, and I find it difficult to think of anyone who is. Perhaps they can identify themselves. The only person I can think of who may be is Sam Harris, but even he might deny taking such a position. I don’t know him, except for having exchanged a tiny number of emails on a different subject, and obviously can’t speak for him. But apart from Harris, I can't think of any serious player in this debate who takes the so-called exclusivist line. I don't think that Richard Dawkins does. I don't think PZ Myers does.

Maybe I'm wrong and there really is a "harder" line than the anti-accommodationist one that I subscribe to (and which John also subscribes to!). Right now, though, I can't see it. Again, any genuine exclusivists can speak for themselves, but I'll state unequivocally that I am not one.

John laments that the debate got nasty very quickly, but he blames this on the so-called exclusivists. Again, I just can't see it. The recent phase of the debate began when Jerry Coyne wrote a civil, substantial, and very thoughtful review of books by Karl W. Giberson and Kenneth R. Miller in The New Republic. Jerry has also criticised science organisations for at least hinting at the compatibility of science of religion (John agrees with Jerry on this point; i.e. John agrees that science organisations should not do this).

For his pains, Jerry was attacked very trenchantly by Chris Mooney. Worse, Barbara Forrest said that Coyne should shut up. She said that "secularists should not alienate religious moderates" and gave Coyne's book review as an example of alienating the these people. If that is not telling someone to shut up, I don't know what is. Chris Mooney expressed full agreement with Forrest (as he represented her - I'm relying on his representation of what she said).

If Forrest said what she is represented as saying, then she believes that Coyne should not have reviewed the books by Giberson and Miller the way he did. Only a completely favourable review would have been appropriate, and Coyne should have self-censored. If that is so, I could not have written my review of Francisco Ayala's recent book in the way I did in Cosmos magazine last year. I should have censored myself. We would all have to censor ourselves, and not express reservations, whenever reviewing a book by what Forrest calls a religious moderate. Surely it is not unreasonable when we anti-accommodationists point out the absurdity of such a position.

Mooney also headed his post in a way that suggested that the people who thus "alienate" the faithful are not civil, though he later disclaimed the implication that Jerry Coyne had been uncivil in his review. But the clear implication was that Coyne's review was an example of incivility (and it also follows that my review of Ayala's book would be such an example).

It is this call to the anti-accommodationists to shut up - to engage in self-censorship and not even write honest book reviews - that has produced anger and inflamed the debate. Mooney keeps denying that he is telling the non-accommodationists to shut up, but it's clear that that is what he represented Forrest as saying and that he totally agreed with her.

The only thing that I can imagine taking the heat out of all this is an unequivocal apology from both Forrest and Mooney.

53 comments:

John S. Wilkins said...

A large part of this debate gets traction from equivocation in both statement and action. Sure, people like Dawkins, PZ, Coyne and what have you state that one should merely defend science, but then they will make claims about religion being fundamentally at odds with science. Sure, accommodationists make strategic claims, but as I said, many of us also think that it doesn't follow that because science cannot talk about religion religion must be excluded from science. As you must know, religion has played a complex and often intimate role in actual science. The equivalence classes "science" and "religion" are either abstracted in some unrealistic purity, or treated as somehow the same, and so on. But the history is that science and religion are neither separate nor identical and their degree of engagement changes over time. If all we are doing here is defending some idealised science, then we defend nothing.

The criticism that science defense organizations should not even hint at compatibility is misplaced. Such an organization should not advocate for compatibility, but there is nothing wrong with stating that the religious organizations themselves hold that science and religion are compatible. Miller is unfairly criticised by Krauss in that respect - if Miller thinks religion is compatible with science, and he does good science, then the NCSE or whoever is entirely justified in pointing out that a religiously convicted person actually does good science. That he also thinks Mary gave a virgin birth is irrelevant to the science.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, John, I still have no idea why you call yourself an accommodationist. You clearly agree with my position, which is the position that the accommodationists keep attacking. I mean, you can call yourself what you like, but the actual position that you spell out is very close to mine and is really the one that Jerry Coyne keeps getting kicked in the head for advocating.

You say:

The criticism that science defense organizations should not even hint at compatibility is misplaced. Such an organization should not advocate for compatibility, but there is nothing wrong with stating that the religious organizations themselves [etc.]

But where have I denied this? If a religious organisation somewhere officially supports NOMA, I have no problem with anyone saying so. I doubt that the Catholic Church is such and organisation, but it does seem that some of its individual hierarchs support the doctrine.

However, we both know that things can be said implicitly (hinting) as well as explicitly. If someone spends a lot of time talking very sympathetically about a doctrine such as NOMA, with no mention that it is controversial, but without actually using the words "NOMA is true" ... someone reading it cold will get the impression that they are being given reasons to endorse NOMA. Surely you don't deny this?I've discussed the point at more length elsewhere, but I don't see why it should even be controversial.

Michael Fugate said...

It would seem to me only entirely justified for a science defense organization to comment on compatibility if it actually helped defend science. I don't know of any evidence that this is true. It is more an appeal to authority than an appeal to reason to trot out religious scientists who believe in evolution. It is also a bit disingenuous; they don't say that most people will need to substantially change their beliefs to accommodate both, i.e. changing their core beliefs from literally true to metaphorically true.
As a biology teacher, I would be very interested in a study addressing the effects of different teaching methods on student understanding and acceptance of evolution. I have yet to find any really good ones in the literature.

Russell Blackford said...

I should try to answer John's first point, but I'm a bit at a loss: the idea of defending science isn't that difficult for me in this context. It could mean different things in different contexts (e.g. one might want to defend science from some sort of epistemic relativism). But I have in mind such things as the NCSE's superb Expelled Exposed website or Jerry Coyne's book Why Evolution Is True. Actually, Jerry has a rather accommodationist-sounding statement in WEIT at one point, and he has qualified it elsewhere. But I'm not demanding some sort of strict purity of individuals - that wasn't what this was all about in my mind. Of course, what has raised the heat - including mine, though I do try to discuss matters calmly - was when Forrest/Mooney said that it's not acceptable for individuals to write the sort of review of books by allegedly moderate religious folks that Jerry did in The New Republic. If they just realised how silly that claim is and withdrew it unreservedly, things might get back more to normal.

Meanwhile, I suppose it might be said that some of us think we are defending science if we work to undermine the political influence of religion. Perhaps we are in an indirect way (I can imagine Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne nodding). But that's not how I usually think of it. Certainly, I'd never suggest that everyone has to do join in a philosophical program of critiqueing religion, and I've always said openly that there are many other reasons to undermine the political influence of religion. See, for example, the role that religion played in the Henson affair (read Marr's book for more). Or the attempt by the Catholic Church, not that long ago, to prevent the public display of "Piss Christ" in Melbourne on the ground that it is blasphemous.

So, it's true that I have a larger agenda than defending science. I am interested in casting doubt on the moral authority of religious organisations and leaders. Perhaps that would help science in the long run, but it's not what I, at least, have in mind by "defending science".

"Defending science" isn't a very good description of what I do, though it's a good description of much of what Jerry does. In fact, defending science is often a fairly long way from my thoughts, here in Australia, when I contest the epistemic and moral authority of the Church. Here, the problems with religion tend to be other things than an attack on science.

Matt said...

John says: "As you must know, religion has played a complex and often intimate role in actual science."

I'm curious what role it played in "actual" science. Did god help set up the experiment? Did he tally the results? Suggest a hypothesis? Write some grants?

Religion might have played an important peripheral role in funding or supporting (or oppressing) scientific endeavors, but but I doubt very seriously it ever played a role in the actual science.

RichardW said...

One of the problems in this discussion is that a variety of different claims are being made, and on each side there are a variety of different attitudes towards those claims. Add to that the failure of some (like Chris Mooney) to make their position clear, and of others (like John Wilkins) to carefully read the views they are criticising, and we have a recipe for endless confusion.

Personally, I would refrain from taking a strong position on the claim "science and religion are compatible" because it's such a vague one, though that in itself is a good reason why science organisations should avoid making it. On the other hand, I would unequivocally reject the claim that the natural and supernatural are distinct magisteria with science only able to address the former.

In your analysis above, Russell, it seems you've attempted to simplify the issue by leaving out any details of the claims themselves and any mention of whether the claims are true or false. Instead you've concentrated entirely on the question of self-censorship: that accommodationists are telling people not to criticise their claims, for reasons of political expediency.

I think this is too much of a simplification. The truth or falsity of accommodationist claims is an important part of what divides the two sides. I doubt that accommodationists would continue to call for self-censorship if they became convinced that their claims were false: "I know these claims are false, but I think you should still refrain from criticising them."

I'm interested in the reason why you draw a distinction between individuals and science organisations. You're not asking individuals to refrain from making claims they believe to be true. But you are asking these organisations to refrain from making claims their members (or some of them) believe to be true. Is this because you think this subject is in principle an inappropriate one for such organisations? Or do you think they should refrain from making claims that are controversial? I for one would have no objection to these organisations making such claims if I thought they were clearly true.

underverse said...

Russell,

Given your preferred re-definition of the term "accomodationist," what word would you choose for people (such as myself) who are not anti-science, and who make the positive assertion that there is no intrinsic conflict between religion and science? There seems to be a hole in your scheme that leaves this group out.

We don't mind individuals asserting that science is compatible with religion when they defend science. We merely reserve our right to criticise them.

We all reserve this right (at least in democratic countries). But unless you are invoking something more than your legal right to speech I'm not sure why you would be moved to criticize something that you supposedly "don't mind."

Criticism is "minding," by definition. It sounds like you are playing at words to orient the more reasonable-sounding terms around your position. However I am open to a more charitable explanation.

Aaron said...

I really agree that the central issue is Mooney's criticism of Coyne's book review on the basis of it being "poor strategy." Since then, Mooney has launched into discussions of methodological vs. philosophical naturalism, etc., but this is all an a posteriori smokescreen to create the illusion that Mooney's original criticism was somehow directed at the substance of the review (it was not) rather than a suggestion that Coyne should have kept his ideas to himself (it was).

I'm somewhat reluctant to assign any of this mess to Barbara Forrest. To my knowledge, the only report we have of her opinion is the one that comes secondhand from Chris Mooney, and it's easy for me to imagine that her views have not been accurately represented. Of course, it would be nice if she could respond somewhere to clarify her position if she hasn't done so already.

Peter said...

underverse:

"Criticism is "minding," by definition"

Really? Scientists, and I presume philosophers, among others, regularly criticize each other. They even air their ideas with the express hope of receiving criticism, under the assumption that that criticism will help to refine, expand, and correct their ideas.

Now, Mooney's post critical of Coyne's review of Miller's and Giberson's books seemed to be "minding" that Coyne had criticized the religious arguments in those books. Sure, Mooney seems to be claiming merely that Coyne's tone was at offputting, but Coyne and others have protested that his tone was very polite. Mooney hasn't elaborated on what was impolite*.

Blackford, on the other hand, is asking for details, taking pains to clarify where he thinks there might be confusion, etc. He seems to be trying to have a critical discussion of the issue. I think what he's hoping might come out of this is that atheist commentators, and scientists, can learn to better present their arguments to the religious and the general public. You know, win their hearts as well as their minds, avoid confusing language and metaphors, and keep the rhetoric polite and accessible to everyone, especially those who disagree with you, etc. Mooney in particular fancies himself an expert at communicating in that way.

On the other hand, PZ Myers and others have been asking and hoping, fruitlessly, that Mooney, Matt Nisbett, and others will participate in that conversation and provide some concrete advise on how to actually communicate with the public for some time. Myers in particular is notoriously frustrated with the conversation.

So, sometimes one criticizes merely because they "mind," but there are more constructive reasons to criticize something.

*Leaving Coyne, Blackford, et al. to infer that, really, what was impolite was that Coyne tried to make a compelling argument against Miller's and Giberson's attempts to reconcile their science with their religion.

Anonymous said...

John says: "As you must know, religion has played a complex and often intimate role in actual science." I'm curious what role it played in "actual" science. Did god help set up the experiment? Did he tally the results? Suggest a hypothesis? Write some grants?

No, but religion did play a serious role in the development of the fertile mindset that made science possible. "The Soul of Science" by Pearcey and Thaxton make a very strong argument that only Western Christendom (aka Roman Catholocism) provided the fertile cultural "soil" that made the concept of science even possible:

Through sheer practical know how and rules of thumb, several cultures in antiquity - from the Chinese to the Greeks to the Arabs - produced a higher level of learning and technology than medieval Europe did. Yet it was Christianized Europe and not those more advanced cultures that gave birth to science as a systematic, self-correcting discipline. The historian is bound to ask why this should be so. Why did Christianity form the matrix within which this novel approach to the natural world developed?"

This "fertile tone of thought" was present nowhere else but in Western Christendom. (The irony being, then, that even though the Church would oppose what it considered to be dangerous heresies, the very culture created by the Church made the scientific paradigm possible. A classic case of the "Law of Unintended Consequences".)

(cont.)

Anonymous said...

The cultural differences that created this tone of thought and made science possible are summarized as follows:

First, the Bible teaches that nature is real. If this seems too obvious, remember that the Hindus teach that that the everyday world of material objects is Maya, illusion. Any culture that denigrates the real world is infertile soil for the growth of science.

Second, a society must be persuaded that the study of nature is of great value. The ancient Greeks lacked this conviction, equating the material world with evil and disorder. Manual labor was left for slaves while philosophers sought a life of leisure to pursue higher things. Hands on, practical empiricism was alien to the Greeks. In contrast, Judeo-Christianity teaches that the world has great value as God's creation. "And God saw that it was good". There has never been room in either Hebrew or Christian tradition that work was degrading. Science as we know it is hard work, which would make it unacceptable to the ancient Greek philosophers who denigrated hard work as being unfit for a citizen or gentleman. The Greeks were dilettantes; never bothering to do the hard work required to actually test their elegantly logical theories. This is why Aristotle never bothered to actually count the number of teeth a horse has.

Third, in the Christian worldview, God made the world, but is not the world itself. Nature is de-deified — a crucial precursor for scientific study of nature. So long as nature is worshiped, dissecting it would be considered impious, an advantage Christianity had over most Pagans and Animists.

Fourth Christianity established a legacy of a rational God creating an orderly world. To become an object of study, the world must first be regarded as a place where predictable events occur in a reliable predictable fashion. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Christians and Jews did not face a pantheon of capricious, unpredictable, immoral, and often childish gods.

(cont.)

Anonymous said...

Fifth, belief in an orderly universe made possible the belief in a universal, fixed natural law. The use of law in the context of natural events would have been unintelligible to every other culture except Judeo-Christianity.

Sixth, the modern emphasis on the use of mathematics to precisely measure nature can also be traced to the Biblical teaching that God created the world ex nihilo. This is an alien concept to all other cultures, whose gods merely reshaped existing primordial matter. For example, the ancient Greek worldview consisted of eternal matter structured by eternal rational universals called Forms or Ideas. Plato's demiurge did not create from nothing he merely injected Ideas into reasonless matter. As a result, the Greeks expected a certain level of fuzziness in nature, which could never be considered to be precise or represented mathematically.

Seventh, Christianity believed that humans could discover the inner workings of natural order. An orderly precise universe presupposes that it could be interpreted by rational minds. This was absent in other cultures. The Chinese came close, sensing some order in nature but they conceived it as an inherent necessity inscrutable to the human mind.

Eight, by preaching free will as opposed to deterministic fate, Christianity made it possible to believe that humans could actually do something about nature. Instead of being forever the victims of uncontrollable fate, Christianity made possible the belief that Mankind could improve its existence. Contrast this with the Muslim emphasis on kismet and its stultifying effects on progress. Back during the days of Thomas Aquinas, the House of Islam was having a similar debate about whether reason and the scriptures could contradict each other. Christendom chose one way, Islam the other.


The above points can be debated, both those who disagree are left with the task of explaining why science emerged and came to full fruition in Western Christendom only - and nowhere else.

Another intriguing wrinkle is that this theory also provides a neat answer to Fermi's Paradox: the scientific method (and associated mentality) required to build starships and explore the galaxy is made possible only by a rare set of circumstances and cultural mindsets. There may indeed be millions of civilizations across the galaxy, each hundreds of thousands of years older than ours -- but none of them are more advanced than the Iron Age, because the emergence of science is a fluke.

J. J. Ramsey said...

I think that a big part of the problem is that "exclusivists" are perceived as agreeing with the creationists in that the theory of evolution and Christianity are incompatible, and the accomodationists see this perception as a practical threat. Take for example some things that Jason Rosenhouse has said:

"My interest is in the view that there are ways of accepting evolution that are consistent with Christianity.

"This is my main point of disagreement with Miller, and with the numerous other authors who have put forth arguments in this regard. I do not believe that Miller's proposed way of looking at things is plausible."

And later, this:

"But this is a sampling of the sort of thing I have in mind when I say that evolution and Christianity can not be plausibly reconciled."

Now to be fair, Rosenhouse later writes, "I do not think there is any logical contradiction between anything in science and the tenets of Christianity. I accuse religious evolutionists of nothing more serious than making bad arguments in defense of their view." By this point, though, the damage is done, and the reader is likely to come away with the impression that evolution and Christianity cannot be compatible. That's not necessarily a fair impression, and not even one that Rosenhouse wants to convey, but that's likely what a reader will end up remembering.

Whereas Rosenhouse is more nuanced, Larry Moran comes pretty close to saying that science entails "Materialist Evolutionism" outright. He even has a diagram with a bright red line with "religion," "superstition," and "theistic evolutionism" on one side, and "science," "rationalism," and "materialist evolutionism."

I realize that I am speaking of evolution versus creationism rather than science versus religion in general, but in practice, this really is about the political conflict over creationism.

Anonymous said...

Christianity and evolution are incompatible only if Genesis is taken literally.

Only fundies and atheists are that foolish.

ben nelson said...

(Remixed xpost from Butterflies and wheels):

I worry that the claim about "censorship" and "shutting up" made recently by Coyne (and repeated here) is entirely over the top.

Granted, we have reason to believe that *Mooney* doesn't know what Mooney expects of anyone in the atheist community. Mooney's review of Coyne was glib, ill considered, and unhelpful. It's a mystery as to what he expects from civil discourse that hasn't been satisfied. Given that, Mooney-Forrest can be rightfully condemned for their pair of editorials because they're just expressing empty conceits.

Clearly Forrest thinks that Coyne has engaged in some kind of activity that ought not be replicated.

To be sure, if Forrest meant "every time Coyne et al. wants to speak in this way/have this opinion, he should not be", then in some sense it would be effectively telling him to tell himself to "shut up" with respect to changing his manner or content of speech. If this is telling a person to "shut up", then it is in no way distinct from simple disagreement over an ought-claim. When I say, "Your opinion is wrong" to a Republican, I am not telling them to shut up; I am telling them they are in error. By implication, I might be interpreted to be advising them that they ought to direct themselves to another opinion besides the one that they have, but there's not as much force to the locution as there is when one gives a command.

And even still, telling a person to "shut up" on some subject does not constitute censorship. Wittgenstein's final proposition in the Tractatus advised us to shut up when it comes to some range of linguistic activity. Does that mean that Wittgenstein engaged in censorship in any meaningful sense?

Of course not. And so, M-F cannot be condemned for being censors in any sense that is appropriate, since censorship is a morally loaded term that is reserved to condemn those acts that are effective in preventing an act of speech that is otherwise willed to be done. Advocacy of self-censorship on some range of linguistic activity is not censorship at all -- it's just advocacy, an "ought" claim that's been framed as if it had binding force, but is as susceptible to failure as anything else.

underverse said...

Peter,

I was a little sleep deprived when I wrote that and can't now tell what my point might have been or if I even had one. Suffice it to say in agreement that criticism helps clarify rational thinking (which we can widely define in this case to include not just science and logic, but even art and moral reasoning.)

Jason Rosenhouse said...

J. J. Ramsey -

As I've written at my blog, it's fine with me for organizations like the NCSE to reach out to religious people, and I have no problem having theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller front and center in defending science education. I think they are probably right that in fighting local school board battles, people like Dawkins or Myers are too polarizing to be effective.

The problem is that there is a local issue and a global issue. The local issue involves fighting school board battles and other sorts of flare-ups. The NCSE is excellent at that level. The problem comes when strategies useful at the local level are extrapolated to the global level as well. In certain quarters there seems to be the idea that we will win in the court of public opinion by moving everyone to more liberal sorts of Christianity. I don't think we are likely to be successful in that strategy, because I don't think Christians of a more traditional bent are being irrational or theologically unsophisticated in thinking that evolution really does pose an insurmountable challenge to their religion.

The only long-term solution, I believe, is to marginalize religion as a social force. I think that people like Dawkins and Myers perform a valuable service in that direction,

This is why I have said at my blog that I think we need both the NCSE and PZ Myers. Both have a role to play. It is not a question of fact whether science and faith can be reconciled. It is something individual people have to answer for themselves based on their version of faith and their standards of plausibility. Where I object strenuously is when people blame Dawkins and Myers for playing into creationist hands by emphasizing their views on science and religion. I think that's scapegoating pure and simple.

Peter Beattie said...

John Wilkins said:
The criticism that science defense organizations should not even hint at compatibility is misplaced. Such an organization should not advocate for compatibility, but there is nothing wrong with stating that the religious organizations themselves hold that science and religion are compatible.

That's not what they're doing. They also do not mention that many (if polls on personal faith are to be believed, in fact most) scientists think that science and religion are in fact incompatible. But the case that PZ and Jerry have been making is specifically that certain science organisation one-sidedly cater to religion. They have explicitly stated that, in pretty unmistakable terms. The least you could do is represent their views fairly.

John Wilkins also said:
Miller is unfairly criticised ... . That he also thinks Mary gave a virgin birth is irrelevant to the science.

What a glorious red herring. The point Coyne, for one, made was that e.g. when it comes to human evolution, Miller injects completely unwarranted assumptions into his science, for the origin of which there seems to be but one obvious candidate: his religion.

That is, of course, a debatable point, and I don't take Coyne's word for it. But it would suit you to actually engage with this argument rather than a caricature.

Nichole said...

Matthew 5:18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

Yeah, that screams "take me metaphorically" to me. Did Jebus say that before or after he invented science, /b/tard? I thought the Babylonians did astronomy, but I guess not since Jebus wasn't born yet. Same for Pythagoras, I guess he didn't invent the concept of a mathematical proof. How could he without Jebus?

John Pieret said...

I'm behind in the latest round of the great accommodationist / incompatiblist flap (though I hope to catch up and have something to say soon), I don't quite see how arguing that one side or person should be more civil is anymore telling someone to shut up than arguing that another side or person is irrational (as Coyne has) or stupid (as PZ very recently teetered on the edge of) is. The argument in each case is that the object of the criticism should moderate his/her behavior and/or beliefs. Certainly, Coyne et al. (and Wilkins too) have as much as told the NAS and NCSE (made up of people) to shut up. I think you need to go further to demonstrate that what Mooney/Forrest are purported to have said counts as some deadly insult that requires an apology ... especially in the face of the rhetoric from the other side as well.

John Pieret said...

The point Coyne, for one, made was that e.g. when it comes to human evolution, Miller injects completely unwarranted assumptions into his science ...

Could you give one scientific paper or textbook where he does that?

Is simply speaking in public about how he reconciles his faith with science mean he is injecting his faith into his science? (And is that telling him to shut up?)

Or is it that as long as he isn't a philosophical naturalist that is enough to taint his science?

Peter Beattie said...

I seem to have said:
"The point Coyne, for one, made was that e.g. when it comes to human evolution, Miller injects completely unwarranted assumptions into his science ..."

To which John Pieret replied:
"Could you give one scientific paper or textbook where he does that?"

That's from the starting of this whole debate, Coyne's TNR piece. I'm sure you have read that. And Coyne is referring to Miller's books, Finding Darwin's God and Only a Theory. As I say, if you'd like to argue with that, you're very welcome. But please use some arguments.

Peter Beattie said...

*starting point

John Pieret said...

Coyne is referring to Miller's books, Finding Darwin's God and Only a Theory.

Those are works of science? Have you read them?

Are you saying that everthing a scientist writes must be only science? Does Coyne's article qualify?

Miller is quite clear when he is talking about science and when he is talking about theology (or philosophy, social theory, etc.).

I repeat:

Can you give one scientific paper or textbook where Miller uses his theology as part of his scientific results?

Is simply speaking in public about his theology mean he is injecting his faith into his science? (Or is it that his theology cannot take account of the results of science?)

Or is it that, as long as he isn't a philosophical naturalist, that is enough to taint his science?

And for Russell, if Peter is saying that scientists cannot discuss their theology except on pain of tainting their science, is that telling Miller to shut up?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Rosenhouse: "As I've written at my blog, it's fine with me for organizations like the NCSE to reach out to religious people, and I have no problem having theistic evolutionists like Ken Miller front and center in defending science education."

Fair enough, but that was beside my point. I just wanted to try to clear out the brush. We've gone on and on about civility, and methodological vs. philosophical naturalism, and throwing around suitcase words like "science" and "religion" as if we were always clear about what we meant. This is confusing the debate--especially that last bit about the suitcase words.

Practically speaking, this is about creationism. The "exclusivists" are perceived, both rightly and wrongly to varying extents, of undermining the message that theistic evolutionists are trying to send to the people in the pews. That is the issue, and the rest is static.

Peter Beattie said...

Sorry, John Pieret, but a string of rhetorical questions doth not an argument make. And what a resplendent red herring they are: Science is, of course, not just about the stuff that goes on in labs and journals, it's also, in Carl Sagan's memorable words, "a way of thinking". And that's exactly what Jerry is critizising: core scientific thinking in relation to the evolution of humans and their higher cognitive functions. He says that's what's compromised in Miller's scientific accounts of evolution. By all means, argue against that; it's not gospel.

John Pieret also said:
"I repeat"

Well, repeat all you like, but unless and until you come up with some real arguments, that'll have to be a monologue.

John Pieret said...

... a string of rhetorical questions doth not an argument make.

They were not rhetorical. They were meant to elicit your knowledge of what you were criticizing and your position on these issues. An inability/unwillingness to answer them suggests that you don't have a cogent position on them.

... it's also, in Carl Sagan's memorable words, "a way of thinking"

Ah, yes ... the "science is a life philosophy" meme. Sorry, some of think more of science than to make it just another "worldview" (including Sagan, I suspect).

The argument is simple. If you are going to claim that something is incompatible with "science," you have to do more than just wave vaguely in the direction of some "way of thinking." To have a cogent objection, you have to give cogent definitions of what "incompatibility" you are talking about and what is supposed to be in conflict with what. Otherwise, people have every reason to take the objection as really saying "his thinking is incompatible with mine," which may be interesting to you but not to anyone actually thinking in a systematized (even scientific) way.

PZ at least attempted to do that recently. When you do, then maybe your opinion will become interesting.

Nichole said...

John,

I think Peter was forgetting to state the obvious, which I will do for him.

You're confusing cause and effect: Religion was the effect of the cause of people trying to understand the world. Science is the evolved form of religion. Like, people just used to make shit up to explain the things they saw about the world? And now we have the "scientific community" that demands you have "evidence" if you want to make claims. Look those words up if you're still confused and bored.

Peter Beattie said...

@ John Pieret:

Your questions were completely irrelevant, especially as I was not making an argument of my own but merely trying to explain Coyne's argument to you so that you might actually engage with it. That you can't or won't do that and instead dance around the issue in progressively more bizarre moves seems to suggest that we should just leave you to it and move on.

J. J. Ramsey said...

There's one big problem of using the word "science" to refer to a way of thinking: It's not how we ordinarily use the term. We generally use it to mean one of two things:

1) A discipline whose practitioners use a combination of reason and experiment to find out facts about the world and how it works.

2) The body of knowledge uncovered by such discipline.

Now when scientists do their work, they typically engage in certain ways of thinking, but while these may be described as "scientific," they are generally not called "science" on their own. The proper names for these kinds of thinking are "skepticism," "rationalism," and "empiricism."

Also, the discipline of science does not require that scientists engage in rationalism or skepticism full time. Indeed, the reason for doing peer review, repetition of experiments, etc., is that scientists are seldom perfect at scientific thinking even on the job, let alone off of it.

Based on this, speaking of a conflict of science and religion can mean a couple different things:

1) If "science" is taken to mean a body of knowledge, then one is speaking of the knowledge gained by science contradicting the supposed knowledge from religion, that is, religious beliefs.

2) If "science" is taken to be a discipline, then speaking of a conflict becomes downright confusing, even meaningless. If religion is taken to be a set of belief systems, then comparing them to a discipline such as science is like comparing apples and frying pans, a category error. There are certain practices within religion that might be described as disciplines, such as the study of theology, and one might compare those to science, but that's comparing certain aspects of religion to science, rather than comparing religion in general to science. One may compare scientific ways of thinking to religious ways of thinking, but then one is comparing a part of science with a part of religion, and what constitutes religious ways of thinking is far from clear, and again, there is nothing in the discipline of science that disallows a scientist from engaging in different modes of thinking at different times.

Steve Zara said...

Actually, we anti-accommodationists are even more liberal than this. We don't mind individuals asserting that science is compatible with religion when they defend science. We merely reserve our right to criticise them. If they put ideas out in the public domain that involve some kind of reconciliation of science and religion, we won't tell them to engage in self-censorship, but we may criticise their actual arguments. Moreover, we are likely to point out that some of their ideas are highly speculative and should not be understood as part of mainstream science - an example is the idea that God directs evolution by manipulating quantum-level events. Still, they can say what they like.

There is quite a bit here that I disagree with, or at the very least find a problem.

I think you have misused the phrase 'We don't mind'. That suggests to me a somewhat relaxed attitude. I happen to mind quite a lot when someone asserts that science is compatible with religion, because it think it is false in many ways. But that is a very long way from insisting that someone should shut up. And I would go further than just saying that 'we may criticise their actual arguments'. I think we should certainly criticise their arguments, and vigorously.

As for 'speculative ideas', I think we can justifiably go much further. Ideas such as God directing quantum-level events are simply laughable. They are nothing more that a last-ditch and rather sad attempt to defend theism against science. I suspect that if a theist from centuries ago could see that believers had to resort to such tricks they would despair.

To me this is an important political debate, and I do worry that the discussion is getting too deep into fine details of definitions (or it may be that I am finding things a bit hard to follow!)

My view is that the pro/anti accommodationism issue is actually rather simple: We should not lie to protect science, and we should not defend others when they tell what we believe are lies to protect science. Science is about the search for truth, and it is tarnished if it is defended by falsehoods. The reason why I am not an exclusivist is that although I have no doubts that science and religion are factually incompatible, I don't believe religion needs to be mentioned in any way in the defence of science. Science can stand up for itself on its own terms.

Perhaps I am a at least a semi-exclusivist though, because of my dislike of statements about compatibility.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Hmm, looking back at my earlier post, I realized that I made the mistake of presuming that things had to be in the same category for them to conflict, which actually doesn't make much sense.

Peter Beattie said...

@ J.J. Ramsay

I'm glad to see some real engagement with the idea of science as a way of thinking. You should, however, address your objections to the idea as Sagan expressed it, not just the one-phrase outline that I cited. I think you will see that there's quite a lot to be said for Sagan's view, especially since the way of thinking, on a number of different levels, is inevitably the starting point of any truly scientific inquiry.

Peter Beattie said...

Sorry, that should have been "Ramsey".

J. J. Ramsey said...

Beattie, the full quote is "Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." That's not the same as saying that it is a way of thinking, full stop. Indeed, what Sagan says hardly contradicts the idea of science being a discipline whose practice involves certain ways of thinking, or that a scientist is expected to think in those ways all the time.

John Pieret said...

Nichole:

Like, people just used to make shit up to explain the things they saw about the world? And now we have the "scientific community" that demands you have "evidence" if you want to make claims.

The "scientific community" (rightly) demands that you have evidence when you make scientific claims. When a scientist claims to love someone or that Mozart was the greatest composer, does it demand evidence? I've been asking for some reason why (at least some forms of) religion falls in the former category instead of in the latter. JJ explained it well. There is a lot of equivocation going on about what "science" means in this context.

Peter:

I was not making an argument of my own but merely trying to explain Coyne's argument to you so that you might actually engage with it.

You did no "explaining," you simply invoked Coyne (not unlike how some believers might quote the Bible) and I can't "engage" his argument on this point because he did the same thing you did and vaguely waved at some "way of thinking."

JJ:

I made the mistake of presuming that things had to be in the same category for them to conflict, which actually doesn't make much sense.

But they need not conflict and understanding the categories is important to map where we should look to see if they do. Clearly, religions or religious beliefs that deny scientific results are in conflict with at least some important meaning of "science." What is less clear, and which few, if any, of the incompatiblists have addressed, much less made a case about, is the situation of religious believers who accept all the results of science and who do nothing more than point out areas where science does not (or perhaps cannot) determine whether or not a god is active -- without making a god-in-the-gaps argument by claiming our lack of knowledge proves that a god is active. Coyne simply dismisses such people as not representing most believers but that doesn't explain why the NAS statement (I actually agree with him that the NCSE has gone too far) is wrong. If it is "wrong" because Coyne, et al. want to use "science" in a political/social battle against religion, it is they who are muddying categories and are (it can be at least cogently argued) in conflict with "science."

Peter Beattie said...

@ J.J. Ramsey

Beattie, the full quote is "Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." That's not the same as saying that it is a way of thinking, full stop.

The first bit I'm fully aware of. The second bit is obviously true but irrelevant since I didn't say that. I said this:

Science is, of course, not just about the stuff that goes on in labs and journals, it's also, in Carl Sagan's memorable words, "a way of thinking".

I hope you're not joining John Pieret in trying to derail the discussion, whose initial point was "compatibility" and John Wilkins's failure to see that Coyne has actually made a fair case in Giberson and Miller's case that such incompatibility could be observed. As I said earlier:

"The point Coyne, for one, made was that e.g. when it comes to human evolution, Miller injects completely unwarranted assumptions into his science, for the origin of which there seems to be but one obvious candidate: his religion."

As I have also said earlier: this is not gospel, John Pieret's ludicrous remark about quoting Coyne like the Bible notwithstanding.

If you want to seriously discuss this, cite evidence that a) Coyne misrepresents one of the books, b) all of that has nothing whatever to do with science, or c) there's another explanation for their curious account of the science behind evolution except their religion.

RichardW said...

John Pieret wrote: "What is less clear, and which few, if any, of the incompatiblists have addressed, much less made a case about, is the situation of religious believers who accept all the results of science and who do nothing more than point out areas where science does not (or perhaps cannot) determine whether or not a god is active -- without making a god-in-the-gaps argument by claiming our lack of knowledge proves that a god is active."

John, it's not enough to point to areas where science doesn't explicitly say anything. Scientists don't try to list all the imaginable phenomena that are scientifically implausible. Just because scientists don't (with their professional hats on) deny the existence of unicorns, that doesn't mean that unicorns aren't scientifically implausible.

Perhaps you would make an argument like Miller's:
"Claims of demonstrative miracles in the past, such as the virgin birth or the resurrection cannot be tested empirically, because there are no data from which to work. On such claims, science has nothing to say one way or the other."
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/coyne09/coyne09_index.html#miller

But we can make judgements about the scientific plausibility of a claim without necessarily carrying out any tests. We don't need any specific tests of the unicorn hypothesis to judge it implausible. In the absence of any new data science can judge a claim by how well it coheres with our existing scientific understanding of the world, without making ad hoc exceptions or unparsimonious additions.

Perhaps you will argue that claims involving "supernatural" entities are different because they aren't bound by the laws of physics. But there is no relevant difference here because the laws of physics given by science are only provisional. It's always possible there may be entities that are not bound by the laws of physics as we know them. Science normally rejects claims involving exceptions to the known laws of physics, unless justified by evidence. Why should "supernatural" claims be treated differently? If a claim requires unjustified exceptions to the known laws of physics it seems perfectly reasonable to me to describe that as "inconsistent with science".

I think the onus is now on you to give a valid reason why miracle claims (or whatever religious claims you're thinking of) should be considered immune to judgements of scientific implausibility.

John Pieret said...

I think the onus is now on you to give a valid reason why miracle claims (or whatever religious claims you're thinking of) should be considered immune to judgements of scientific implausibility.

Who is making that claim? Not even Miller does. All claims of miracles are "scientifically implausible." Science by it's most basic philosophy -- since at least the time of Hume -- assumes that the universe is regular -- that it operates by "natural law." Miracles break natural law.

The point is that Miller does not claim that what he is proposing is science. It's theology. He is quite clear on that point, if you read his books, which either Coyne did not appreciate or chose to ignore.

We're just back to my original question: does a "scientist," by some definition, fiat, genetic trait or whatever, have to treat everything she does or thinks, in every aspect of her life, as a scientific research project in order to be a scientist? I've given a couple of areas -- family and art -- where it is uncontroversial for scientists (and everybody else) to make unscientific claims but there are many more.

We know -- it is an objectively determinable fact -- that everything that Miller himself labels as part of his scientific work he does with exemplary method and integrity -- he is a good scientist in at least that sense of the word. If you want to argue that there is a broader definition of "scientist" -- that it encompasses more than his output of scientific papers and texts -- I think the onus is on those that make that claim to give a cogent definition of what a "scientist" is that draws some sort of reasonable line between the uncontroversial nonscientific claims that scientists make and religious claims. Simply handwaving with "a way of thinking" (or, as Coyne has recently cycled through "worldview" and "attitude") doesn't cut it by just the sort of measure that Coyne wants to impose.

And, absent that divide, absent some demonstration of a conflict in holding both scientific and nonscientific ideas at the same time (which all scientists do), I don't see a cogent sense in which it can be said that science and religion necessarily are in conflict. There may be such a divide, but no one has yet laid it out that I've seen.

RichardW said...

John, accommodationists generally insist that science cannot say anything about miracle claims, e.g. the quote from Miller I gave above. However, if a miracle claim is implausible by the standards of science, then science can say something about that claim. It can say that the claim is implausible. Judging the plausibility of claims (hypotheses, theories) is what science is all about. Science cannot determine that a claim is absolutely false, only that it is so implausible we should judge it false. So, if you concede that science can make judgements about the plausibility of a miracle claim, you are conceding that science can (at least in principle) judge them to be false.

All claims of miracles are "scientifically implausible." Science by it's most basic philosophy -- since at least the time of Hume -- assumes that the universe is regular -- that it operates by "natural law." Miracles break natural law.

I disagree with this account of _why_ miracle claims are scientifically implausible. If a miracle is claimed to be the work of God, and if there were sufficient evidence for God and for his ability and inclination to perform miracles, then in principle a miracle claim could be scientifically plausible.

The point is that Miller does not claim that what he is proposing is science. It's theology.

This is a different argument from the one I responded to (the one which you said incompatibilists don't address). By this second argument, if a biblical literalist claims that his young-earth belief is based on theology, not science, his belief would be compatible with science. Is that your position?

Steve Zara said...

John,

Scientists as people obviously make all kinds of claims about the world based on non-scientific criteria. Food is nice, art is pretty, wives are beautiful and so on. But what they don't, hopefully, claim is that these are objective facts about the universe.

I think the true science/religion divide is actually very simple to explain.

It isn't to do with naturalism or supernaturalism. It isn't to do with different magisteria. It is to do with feelings.

Religion privileges feelings as a way to determine truth about reality. Those feelings can be an appreciation of tradition, some personal sense of the presence of God and so on. Science recognises that such feelings come from the workings of fallible brain and can't be trusted. Heck, some people confuse feeling in love with indigestion!

Incidentally, science doesn't really assume that the world is regular. Science is just a method, not really a philosophy.

Science works, therefore we can assume that the world is regular.

Funny how miracles and magic have faded as science explores the world.

Peter Beattie said...

» John Pieret:
The point is that Miller does not claim that what he is proposing is science. It's theology. He is quite clear on that point, if you read his books, which either Coyne did not appreciate or chose to ignore.

Okay, maybe we can actually get somewhere here. But first can I ask you to provide a quote that backs your interpretation of what Miller says? I would, of course, ask Coyne the same thing—only he already has a quote in his TNR piece that at least seems to be relevant to his point:

» Ken Miller:
The scientific insight that our very existence, through evolution, requires a universe of the very size, scale, and age that we see around us implies that the universe, in a certain sense, had us in mind from the very beginning.... If this universe was indeed primed for human life, then it is only fair to say, from a theist's point of view, that each of us is the result of a thought of God, despite the existence of natural processes that gave rise to us.

Now, to me that sounds as if Miller is talking about science, at least in the first part of this passage. Coyne characterises Miller's account as giving the science a "theological spin". Do you think that would be fair to say?

Steve Zara said...

As often happens on such blogs, it seems conversations are between those who are familiar friends/adversaries in such media, and what is posted by those who aren't regulars is ignored. That is fine by me. I know how such communities work. But it is clearly a waste of my time posting.

So, I shall cease posting on Russell's blog, although it will continue to be a very valuable and enjoyable source of rational debate for me.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Steve Zara: "So, I shall cease posting on Russell's blog"

That seems a shame. I haven't always agreed with you, but you made some good points back in the comments about banning the burka?

Peter Beattie said...

Hey Steve, maybe that's just what happens when you're making too much sense. ;>

This sentence right here, for example:

» Steve Zara:
To me this is an important political debate, and I do worry that the discussion is getting too deep into fine details of definitions (or it may be that I am finding things a bit hard to follow!)

I would agree that it's a debate that should feature even more prominently in the public sphere. Has it even left the blogosphere?

To me, it seems that two things have contributed to the debate straying somewhat from the original path. First, there's a lack of a workable understanding of "compatibility" that has allowed for all sorts of red herrings to be thrown into the debate that really aren't the issus. Second, I think the personalization ("told me to shut up") didn't exactly help. In that respect, I'm with Dan Dennett and the idea that you should try to aim for the most sympathetic reading of what somebody else said and engage with that instead of something that is perhaps more emotionally charged.

RichardW said...

Steve: "As often happens on such blogs, it seems conversations are between those who are familiar friends/adversaries in such media, and what is posted by those who aren't regulars is ignored. That is fine by me. I know how such communities work. But it is clearly a waste of my time posting."

I don't think it's the case that people only respond to regulars, and anyway I'd consider you a regular here. People don't have time to respond to every post, and, while it's nice to get a response, you shouldn't assume that people aren't reading your post just because they haven't responded. If you want a response, perhaps you need to say something more controversial!

John Pieret said...

Richard:

... if a miracle claim is implausible by the standards of science, then science can say something about that claim. It can say that the claim is implausible. It can say that the claim is implausible. Judging the plausibility of claims (hypotheses, theories) is what science is all about.

There is, I think, a subtle equivocation of terms here. Science can judge the "implausibility" of hypotheses and theories because they are (assumed) to relate to regular natural processes that can continue to be tested, though may not be possible to directly test them (see: Duhem–Quine thesis). The claim that there is a singleton, non-natural event in the past cannot continue to be tested. In the first instance you are using the word to mean "the results of testing that may not be definitive" and in the second to mean "judgment." Judgments are neither facts of the world nor the results of testing and are often wrong (Einstein's about quantum mechanics simply being the most spectacular example).

I disagree with this account of _why_ miracle claims are scientifically implausible. If a miracle is claimed to be the work of God, and if there were sufficient evidence for God and for his ability and inclination to perform miracles, then in principle a miracle claim could be scientifically plausible.

Then Miller statement is correct about the individual miracles. There must be some (as yet undefined) "sufficient evidence for God and for his ability and inclination to perform miracles" before there can be scientific testing? I doubt that any such testing could ever untangle the auxiliary assumptions from the hypothesis of a non-natual agent to be anything more than a personal judgment. There is a somewhat objective way of telling if you've reached that level, however, publish a test of the existence of god the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Isn't that the challenge we always give the IDers?

This is a different argument from the one I responded to (the one which you said incompatibilists don't address).

No it isn't. I specifically stated that we were discussing "religious believers who accept all the results of science."

John Pieret said...

Steve:

I don't disagree much at all with what you say, including this:

Incidentally, science doesn't really assume that the world is regular. Science is just a method, not really a philosophy.

The philosophy of science is generally recognized to be a process of coming along after scientists have done their work and figuring out what they've done. Still, there is much truth in the proposition that there is an assumption of regularity, as embodied in that J.B.S. Haldane quote Lawrence Krauss and PZ recently featured. There is also what Coyne says in preface to that quote Peter is asking about. In discussing the multiverse hypothesis, he says it "represent(s) physicists' attempts to give a naturalistic explanation for what others see as evidence of design."

P.S. Steve, I hope you continue to comment here. Like Peter, I think you should take people not directly responding to you as evidence that you've made so much sense that even a contentious bunch of arses like us can't find anything wrong with what you've said. ;-)

Peter:

The scientific insight that our very existence, through evolution, requires a universe of the very size, scale, and age that we see around us implies that the universe, in a certain sense, had us in mind from the very beginning ...

You're right. The first part of the passage is, at least, a reasonable conclusion from scientific results and pretty uncontroversial. Coyne doesn't give the page number and I don't have the time to search for the quote but I'll bet it is part of the book that is clearly a theological discussion. At the very least, Coyne himself recognizes it is a theological discussion.

So? Are religious people barred from recognizing that the Earth is an oblate spheroid or that the speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 m/s? Are they prohibited from taking those facts into account when formulating their theology? Must all theology assume the Earth is flat?

Moreover, in the context of a theological discussion, does "implying" something from a fact of the world mean he is claiming his theology is a scientific result? I can't see how that would be a reasonable reading of the passage. Certainly, questioning (not rejecting) "attempts to give a naturalistic explanation" for some fact about the world that, itself, has not been established to be a fact of the world, is not rejecting the results of science. There are plenty of non-religious scientists who question the multiverse.

John Pieret said...

Wait, Steve, wait!

Here's something I can disagree with:

Science works, therefore we can assume that the world is regular.

Ah, but this runs afoul of Hume's Problem of Induction. Science critically depends on induction which, in turn, critically depends on the world being regular. But "science works" is, itself, an induction. Thus, using an induction to justify using inductions is circular.

Of course, I agree that, set adrift in a world bereft of intellectual certainty, the results of science are still our most reliable knowledge, even if how we come to that conclusion suffers from a logical fallacy.

But, hey! It's disagreement!

RichardW said...

John: There is, I think, a subtle equivocation of terms here. Science can judge the "implausibility" of hypotheses and theories because they are (assumed) to relate to regular natural processes that can continue to be tested, though may not be possible to directly test them (see: Duhem–Quine thesis). The claim that there is a singleton, non-natural event in the past cannot continue to be tested. In the first instance you are using the word to mean "the results of testing that may not be definitive" and in the second to mean "judgment."

No, I'm not. You and Miller are the ones who apparently think that specific testability is a critical criterion. I'm arguing that it's not. To repeat what I said to you above:

But we can make judgements about the scientific plausibility of a claim without necessarily carrying out any tests. We don't need any specific tests of the unicorn hypothesis to judge it implausible. In the absence of any new data science can judge a claim by how well it coheres with our existing scientific understanding of the world, without making ad hoc exceptions or unparsimonious additions.

John: Judgments are neither facts of the world nor the results of testing and are often wrong (Einstein's about quantum mechanics simply being the most spectacular example).

I don't know what you mean by "judgement". I'm just referring to scientific inferences. Every scientific inference is a potentially fallible judgement.

John [explaining why your argument applies to miracle claims but not young-earth claims]: I specifically stated that we were discussing "religious believers who accept all the results of science.

My point is that there is no fundamental epistemological difference between miracle claims, unicorn claims and young-earth claims. They all fail to cohere with our scientific understanding of the world. Of course, scientists explictly state that the Earth is billions of years old, whereas they don't explicitly state that miracle claims and unicorn claims are untrue. But this is not a critical difference, as I argued above:

John, it's not enough to point to areas where science doesn't explicitly say anything. Scientists don't try to list all the imaginable phenomena that are scientifically implausible. Just because scientists don't (with their professional hats on) deny the existence of unicorns, that doesn't mean that unicorns aren't scientifically implausible.

The more general point is this. You want to make a distinction between some reality claims that are inside the purview of science and others that are outside it, and you've offered criteria like testability, natural/supernatural and explicit contradiction of accepted scientific results. Since you're the one making the distinction, the onus is on you to justify your criteria. I still haven't seen you (or any other accommodationist) do so. You just keep stating your criteria but not justifying them, apart from appeals to authorities.

John Pieret said...

... You and Miller are the ones who apparently think that specific testability is a critical criterion. I'm arguing that it's not. ...

But we can make judgements about the scientific plausibility of a claim without necessarily carrying out any tests. We don't need any specific tests of the unicorn hypothesis to judge it implausible. In the absence of any new data science can judge a claim by how well it coheres with our existing scientific understanding of the world, without making ad hoc exceptions or unparsimonious additions
.

One issue is the "we" here. You are claiming to speak for "science" but is that true? Is your judgment about "scientific plausibility" the same thing as "science"? If your judgment is a scientific result why hasn't it been published in the credible peer-reviewed literature? Certainly, the issue of the existence or nonexistence of God is a real dispute, unlike any unicorn hypothesis, and a matter scientists would be interested in publishing on ... if they could.

If testing isn't the sina qua non of science, how can we deny that ID is science? It too seeks to judge a claim in the absence of testing by an "inference to the best explanation" (IBE). In this connection, Occam's Razor is neither a rule of logic nor an infallible guide ... it is, in fact, a way of making a guess. As Samir Okasha's Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (a reference I happen to have on my computer) states:

The idea that simplicity or parsimony is the mark of a good explanation is quite appealing, and certainly helps flesh out the idea of IBE. But if scientists use simplicity as a guide to inference, this raises a problem. For how do we know that the universe is simple rather than complex? Preferring a theory that explains the data in terms of the fewest number of causes does seem sensible. But is there any objective reason for thinking that such a theory is more likely to be true than a less simple theory? Philosophers of science do not agree on the answer to this difficult question.

These are all matters of dispute in the philosophy of science. You are free to ignore the philosophy of science, of course, but they are the people who study what have been, in empiric fact, used as the "criterion" of science and ignoring that study seems contrary to your main point. At the very least, Miller's position on the extent of science is well within the range of acceptable academic opinion on the nature of science and, therefore, cannot be said to be unscientific. If you want to say your version of "science" is the "true" one, you're going to have to better than to merely make assertions and claim the burden is on other people to disprove your assertions.

My point is that there is no fundamental epistemological difference between miracle claims, unicorn claims and young-earth claims.

The difference between having observable evidence and not having it is not an epistemological difference?

RichardW said...

John, I've argued why the burden of proof is on you, and you haven't addressed that argument.

Your view seems to be a falsificationist one, which is popular among scientists, but less so these days among philosophers of science, or so I believe. Still, however popular your view may be among philosophers of science, I can argue that they're wrong, can't I? Again, you're just falling back on an argument from authority (and a rather vague one at that) instead of addressing my argument.

I think this will be my last post on this thread. I just wanted to respond to your claim that "few, if any, of the incompatiblists have addressed, much less made a case about, is the situation of religious believers who accept all the results of science and who do nothing more than point out areas where science does not (or perhaps cannot) determine whether or not a god is active". I for one have now addressed that issue, though clearly not to your satisfaction.

John Pieret said...

I think this will be my last post on this thread.

Fair enough. I'll just clear up a few things then. No, I'm not arguing for falsificationism, though it isn't a totally defunct position, since much of what Popper proposed is clearly true, just not as universal as he claimed. As to my invoking authorities in the philosophy of science (not so specific because comment threads are not conducive to multiple references), you can hardly claim that I have a burden of proof on a philosophical position and at the same time deny me the right to the expertise of those knowledgeable in the field. You are free to argue that the experts are wrong but the question is then why you don't have the burden of proof. Lastly, I remain unconvinced that the position you maintain actually goes to the nature of science rather than the personal philosophy of some practioners of science.