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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I get mail

"Just read the article that Udo Schuklenk and you wrote about standing up and even mocking Christianity. Go ahead. Christianity can take it and always has taken crap from vermin like you. Now, I want you to look between your legs and see if you have the balls to do it with equal passion to Islam. I bet you won't. Don't give me the line that it hasn't affected governments like Christianity has. Britain is being taken over as we speak. So, big fella, do you got the balls to attack it, well, do ya?"

Nice people, these Christians. You know them by how loving they are.

No, that's not fair. Some of them really are nice. My regular readers will recall that one of the long-running sub-themes of this blog is that genuinely moderate religious people are not the enemies of secular people like me. My Point of Inquiry podcast elaborates on what I mean by that. You have to ask what a person is actually moderate about.

Meanwhile, I must say that in my day as a local youth leader in the Evangelical Union it was not normal for us to refer to opponents as "vermin". We were more likely to pray for them that they'd be touched by God's grace. There seems to be a nastier kind of evangelical Christian around these days.

As for the substance, well ... the article referred to made some fairly nuanced points about the place for mockery of absurd ideas. I think that even my critics, or at least the honest ones, will acknowledge that.

However, for the record, I think that Nazism, traditional forms of Islam, fascism, serious kinds of communism, and all other authoritarian, apocalyptic systems of dogma, of which there are so many, are fair game for mockery and ridicule (in the circumstances that Udo and I discussed).

They all have crazy doctrines and terrible crimes to answer for. I've always said that I see these systems as similar to each other, whereas I see liberal theological systems and tolerant syncretisms as not so bad. You'll never see me defending fascists and you'll never see me shy away from saying that the literal claims traditionally made by Islam are as bad as those traditionally made by Christianity (though doubtless both religions have highly liberal forms, theologically and politically, that I have no terribly urgent problem with ... and I do not see every single Christian and Muslim as an enemy of freedom and reason).

58 comments:

David said...

"and I do not see every single Christian and Muslim as an enemy of freedom and reason"

Well that's mighty white of you.

And certainly fair enough. I don't see all atheists as enemies of freedom and reason.

Although the ones who argue

a) Science and religion are incompatible

b) The way we know what we know is through science

and then fail to offer a scientific demonstration of their creedal statement regarding incompatibility--I do think that their gross internal contradiction is a sign of irrationality.

Flea said...

My warmest felicitations Russell! It looks like you have just received your Atheist Baptism. Next step: Horsemen application!

NewEnglandBob said...

David, I noticed that you offered a volume of evidence to support your claim, which includes a racism ad hominem.

Those statements by atheists have been well discussed with logic and reason. Try a little of it, it will do you some good.

DEEN said...

Fatwa envy all over again...

J. J. Ramsey said...

"There seems to be a nastier kind of evangelical Christian around these days."

I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it does seem that as Evangelical Christians have gotten more politicized, the nastier strains of Christianity have come more to the fore.

David said...

Sorry New England Bob, the phrase is not racist, it means "to appear to make a charitable concession from a position of self-defined moral superiority". But feel free to try your argument from intimidation: You are racist! anytime you have nothing better.

Nor is it ad hominem, since I have not used it to "prove" that Blackford's argument is wrong. Ad hominem would be this: Because Blackford made that comment, his argument must be incorrect.

And I don't have to support my claim, the onus is always on those who claim science and religion are incompatible to support their claim--scientifically. Which they have not done. Ever.

David said...

By the way NE Bob I have at least two ways you can show, scientifically, how science and religion are incompatible.

One is that I'll give you ten peer reviewed scientific papers, five from theists and five from atheists. You a) pick out the five that contain defects and b) explain how those defects result from the author’s theism.

The other is that you describe an actual scientific experiment—one that can be done today, using actual equipment and making actual measurements, that I, as a theist, would perform differently than a non-theist.

Either of those would satisfy me. Or maybe you have some other way to demonstrate it scientifically? I’m all ears. But keep in mind I want a scientific demonstration--because science is the only way we can know anything. I do not want a Coyne-ian psycho-babble pseudoscientific explanation involving "compartmentalization" or "cognitive dissonance." I want a measurement. Science always involves measurement.

Eamon Knight said...

There seems to be a nastier kind of evangelical Christian around these days.

Speaking as another ex-evangelical: what you said. I first encountered these Jerks For Jesus on t.o back in the 90's, and....wow. I'm pretty sure that, back in my undergrad days with the Navigators, someone who engaged in that kind of rhetoric would have been taken aside by the local leadership and firmly requested to change their tune. I hope so, anyway.

MarkP said...

David disagrees with these statements: "a) Science and religion are incompatible"

Most religions rely on divine revelation to explain their holy texts, this means that any time science disagrees with the holy text, the new discovery is incompatible with the religious doctrine. While some theologians and apologists are willing to compromise the faith's original position, that is not the same as being compatible with science.

If a religion were to emerge that said, essentially, there is a greater power but we have no idea what it is/thinks/wants/does- that would be compatible with science as long as they didn't evoke it to make claims about science. However, no organized religion holds such beliefs. The closest thing is the deism held by many of the founding fathers of America. Ergo, organized religions are incompatible with scientific advancement. What about this logical progression do you disagree with?

"b) The way we know what we know is through science"

What does the Bible say about the Higgs boson? How about special relativity? The position of the planets? Plate tectonics? Electronics? Electricity? Germ Theory? Powered flight?

What do you think we can know through the Bible? It seems rather clear that science is the engine of advance for most of society. What about this do you dispute? Was divine revelation a part of designing the space shuttle?

MarkP said...

David said: " five from theists and five from atheists ... as a theist, would perform differently than a non-theist."

The incompatibility between science and religion says nothing about individual theists being able to perform or appreciate science. It is the dogmatic claims made by organized religions which cause the incompatibility.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I got this straight.

You go around mocking and insulting people and are then surprised at a negative response?

Why do atheists insist on being socially retarded boors?

DEEN said...

@David:
you don't seem to understand a few things, things that have been explained many times before:

1) The argument is not that religious people can't be scientists. Your proposed "test" is based on a straw-man and therefore useless.

2) The actual issue is that science and religion as a method of understanding the world are incompatible. This is largely a philosophical issue, not a scientific one. Asking for scientific evidence for this is therefore rather silly.

However, part of the argument for this incompatibility does indeed consist of the observation that science has been vastly more successful in describing how the world works than religion. I'd say the evidence for that is overwhelming.

3) Actually, the burden of proof is on the people who think that religion has anything to add to our understanding of the world, not on the people who think there's nothing of substance in religion.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"Why do atheists insist on being socially retarded boors?"

Overgeneralize much?

DEEN said...

@Anonymous:
"Why do atheists insist on being socially retarded boors?"
Irony fail.

NewEnglandBob said...

No David, the onus is on those who claim it is compatible. Proving the affirmative is the burden of proof.

There have been discussions all over that have shown the fallacy of compatibility. Sorry you do not read them with comprehension.

I did not claim you are racist. My claim is that you used that phrase to imply that Russell is racist.

You like to turn everything around from reality, I see.

It looks like you have a lot of work to do to prove compatibility. I am glad you understand the scientific method, so go get to work.

David said...

MarkP,

"Most religions rely on divine revelation to explain their holy texts, this means that any time science disagrees with the holy text, the new discovery is incompatible with the religious doctrine"

All that demonstrates, accepting it at face value, is that you can invent a religion that is incompatible with science by providing it with a dogma that is incompatible with science. That is certainly true but also beside the point. The New Atheists are not saying some religions are incompatible with science, but the much stronger religion is incompatible with science.

"What does the Bible say about the Higgs boson? How about special relativity? The position of the planets? Plate tectonics? Electronics? Electricity? Germ Theory? Powered flight?

What do you think we can know through the Bible? It seems rather clear that science is the engine of advance for most of society. What about this do you dispute? Was divine revelation a part of designing the space shuttle?"


I have no idea what point you are trying to make. The bible says very little about science. There is no claim that everything you could ever want to know is found in the bible. I use the classic text from J. D. Jackson for E&M, not Leviticus. But to answer all your questions, as far as I know, the bible says:

1) nothing about the Higgs.
2) nothing about special or general relativity
3) nothing about planetary ephemeris
4) nothing about plate tectonics, electronics, electricity, germ theory†, or powered flight.
5) through the bible we can know of God's redemptive plan for fallen humanity
6) I don't dispute anything at all from the statement "science is the engine of advance for most of society"
7) divine revelation was not part of designing the space shuttle

"The incompatibility between science and religion says nothing about individual theists being able to perform or appreciate science"

(Response applies to DEEN's comment too, which makes the same argument)

Well why not? I mean, gosh, isn't that convenient! In spite of this horrific incompatibility that we allege, we regretfully acknowledge that theistic scientists are indistinguishable from atheistic scientists, as far as their science goes! There are no measurable effects of this incompatibility. What does that remind me of.. oh yeah, it reminds me of Intelligent Design, another claim that produces no measurable effects.

---------------------
† What does Bill Maher's award winning atheism say about germ theory? IIRC it is along the lines of: Bad things don't make a swamp icky. The move into a swamp because it is already icky. Is atheism incompatible with science?

NE Bob:

"No David, the onus is on those who claim it is compatible."

That is utter nonsense. Any reasonable person would agree that the recent perturbation of a long-stanging status quo is that people have begun claiming an incompatibility. Coyne even fatuously uses language that this has been demonstrated. The new charge, as any honest person would agree, is the charge of incompatibility.

By your reasoning, if I make the unsubstantiated charge that the internet username "New England Bob" always signals an anti-Semite, I could stop there and the onus would be on you to prove that you were not.

NewEnglandBob said...

"By your reasoning, if I make the unsubstantiated charge that the internet username "New England Bob" always signals an anti-Semite, I could stop there and the onus would be on you to prove that you were not. "

No, David, that is your delusional mind. Go get help. I also know Hebrew and a little Yiddish, so go ahead and make your statement. It will not be any more ridiculous than all the other nonsense you have spouted here like "The bible says very little about science." Apparently you have never read Genesis or the stuff about the earth being the center or the sun standing still.

NewEnglandBob said...

Lets see if David's next post will be all in bold. Those who lose an argument tend to shout louder and louder.

David said...

New England Bob,

The bold was to highlight quotes, since I cannot get the quote or blockquote tags to work--neither can anyone else, apparently.

But feel free to use formatting choice to indicate a weakness in my argument--that in fact is one of your more cogent responses.

Are you taking a day off from hanging around Coyne's site, telling him how smart he is every time he posts something?

Matthew said...

David,

You are aware that no one is disputing that someone can be both religious and a scientist ?

Only your suggestion that it would not be possible to tell scientific papers authored by atheists and theists apart suggests otherwise.

Either you are pretty ignorant of the debate, or you were being less than honest when you made that suggestion.

What might be better for you is to show how belief in an interventionist god is compatible with science. You will need to show how allowing for miracles does not mean that science is being rejected. You will of course already be aware that miracles are defined as events which break the rules by which the universe works, so you will need a philosophical framework that allows for that but also does not allow for it. Good luck with that. Better people than you have tried and failed, but since you think you can do it, go for it.

DEEN said...

David said:
"(Response applies to DEEN's comment too, which makes the same argument)

Well why not?"


This response does not apply to my comment, as my comment contained more than just this one argument. Read it again please.

You still don't get what the debate is about, do you? It's not about whether it's possible that there are some religions out there that never make statements about the world that are contradicted by scientific evidence. I'm sure there are some.

However, there appears to be only one reliable way for a religion to avoid contradictions with scientific facts: always, always yield to what science teaches. I wouldn't call that "compatible", though, I'd call that "submissive". Luckily for science, this is what many religious people do in practice, even if they won't admit to it.

Want more arguments for incompatibility? Do you know the reason that papers published by religious scientists are indistinguishable from atheist scientists? Because they have used science to do their research, not religion, that's why. If they had used religion in their papers, their papers would have been rejected. Even if the conclusions were compatible with science otherwise, their method to arrive at the conclusions would not be. Do you dispute this?

There is also the fact that religious scientists use a standard of evidence when thinking about their faith that they would never ever accept for their research work. Do you dispute this as well?

David said...

”You are aware that no one is disputing that someone can be both religious and a scientist?”

Yes I am aware of that. For the hundredth time: I am aware of that. Are you aware that my response to that is: in that case, the supposed incompatibility is as toothless and impotent as intelligent design. And, as a corollary, you can then never prove the incompatibility, at least not with science, you can only assert it.

You will need to show how allowing for miracles does not mean that science is being rejected.

No I don’t need to show that. All I need to do is agree that in any scientific investigation I will use the scientific method. I will never, ever reject the scientific method. I will never, ever, invoke the supernatural as an explanation for any measurement or experiment. If I can’t explain anomalous data I’ll go to my grave looking for a natural explanation, and never invoke “it must be a miracle.” In fact, if you sent me back in time to investigate the virgin birth, I would investigate it just like an unbelieving scientist. Where is the incompatibility?

Want more arguments for incompatibility? Do you know the reason that papers published by religious scientists are indistinguishable from atheist scientists? Because they have used science to do their research, not religion, that's why. If they had used religion in their papers, their papers would have been rejected. Even if the conclusions were compatible with science otherwise, their method to arrive at the conclusions would not be. Do you dispute this?

I do not. That is exactly correct. And when athletic scientists publish papers, they don’t use sports aphorisms—they use science. So sports and science are not incompatible. And when Democratic and Republican scientists publish papers, they do not use their party’s planks, they use science—so neither conservatism nor liberalism nor Marxism nor Maoism nor Ayn Randism nor pedophilia nor a gambling or alcohol addiction nor religion are incompatible with science. Each and every one is orthogonal to science. Science is an agreement about how to investigate the natural world. If you do not violate that agreement in any way, then in no meaningful way can you be said to be incompatible.

NewEnglandBob said...

David, once again, you add nothing to a discussion except slinging crap.

You have no argument. It is all weak and nonsense. It has been pointed out to you by several here.

I am done responding to your garbage. When you have an argument, I will consider it.

Meanwhile try to find one that supports your refuted compatibility spew.

Matthew said...

"Yes I am aware of that. For the hundredth time: I am aware of that. Are you aware that my response to that is: in that case, the supposed incompatibility is as toothless and impotent as intelligent design. And, as a corollary, you can then never prove the incompatibility, at least not with science, you can only assert it."


If you are aware of it you need to stop making comments that conflict with that awareness.

"No I don’t need to show that. All I need to do is agree that in any scientific investigation I will use the scientific method. I will never, ever reject the scientific method. I will never, ever, invoke the supernatural as an explanation for any measurement or experiment. If I can’t explain anomalous data I’ll go to my grave looking for a natural explanation, and never invoke “it must be a miracle.” In fact, if you sent me back in time to investigate the virgin birth, I would investigate it just like an unbelieving scientist. Where is the incompatibility?"

The incompatibility comes because many people do think miracles happen. Belief in miracles and acceptance of the scientific method are not compatible. You cannot say "God violated the rules of the universe to allow this event to happen" and also say that the rules of the universe are never violated.

Indeed, the central dogma of many religions is that their god can intervene in the universe.

So if you want compatibility you need to resolve that problem. You still need to answer this, if you want to be taken seriously.

DEEN said...

"Each and every one is orthogonal to science."That's quite a strong assertion you make there. Do you have any evidence for that?

David said...

If you are aware of it you need to stop making comments that conflict with that awareness.

I will not. I consider it my duty to point out that the so-called incompatibility is as scientific as ID, as predictive as ID, as falsifiable as ID, and so as useless as ID.

The incompatibility comes because many people do think miracles happen. Belief in miracles and acceptance of the scientific method are not compatible.

No, that’s begging the question. That is just saying “science and religion are incompatible because they are incompatible.” It is a “because I say so” argument. Proof by assertion. Or, in the most charitable light, it is mistaking philosophical naturalism for science. But science never claimed, for itself, “I am all that there is.” Self-appointed spokesmen for science like Coyne say that. In fact science is rather modest. It does not say “I am all there is.” It says: this is the best way to study anything that can be measured.

So if you want compatibility you need to resolve that problem. You still need to answer this, if you want to be taken seriously.

I don’t need to resolve that just because you say so. All I need to say is this: if asked to investigate a alleged intervention by God, I would do so using the scientific method and only the scientific method.

That's quite a strong assertion you make there. Do you have any evidence for that?

Yes. The evidence is that pesky and inconvenient fact that you can be any of those things and do science just as well as anyone else.

Matthew said...

"I will not. I consider it my duty to point out that the so-called incompatibility is as scientific as ID, as predictive as ID, as falsifiable as ID, and so as useless as ID."

Fine. I cannot force you to stop saying silly things. Just be aware that people will think you stupid for saying them, and do not complain when they do.

"No, that’s begging the question. That is just saying “science and religion are incompatible because they are incompatible.” It is a “because I say so” argument. Proof by assertion. Or, in the most charitable light, it is mistaking philosophical naturalism for science. But science never claimed, for itself, “I am all that there is.” Self-appointed spokesmen for science like Coyne say that. In fact science is rather modest. It does not say “I am all there is.” It says: this is the best way to study anything that can be measured."

No, it is not begging the question. It is pointing out that claims of non-natural causes for events are not compatible with a methodology that excludes them.

"I don’t need to resolve that just because you say so. All I need to say is this: if asked to investigate a alleged intervention by God, I would do so using the scientific method and only the scientific method."

Again, I cannot force you to do so, but unless and until you do I will consider you to be wilfully dishonest if you continue to repeat your claim religion and science are not incompatible.

It seems that you have not come here with a view to engaging in a serious discussion. That is a shame, but it is only you that comes off looking stupid and dishonest as a result.

David said...

Fine. I cannot force you to stop saying silly things. Just be aware that people will think you stupid for saying them, and do not complain when they do.

Sure if you think asking to demonstrate rather than assert the incompatibility is silly. And I’ve been on the science/faith wars for years—calling me stupid will not upset me. Go for it.

Again, I cannot force you to do so, but unless and until you do I will consider you to be wilfully dishonest if you continue to repeat your claim religion and science are not incompatible.

Fair enough, I consider people like Coyne dishonest for never addressing the criticism that the supposed incompatibility cannot be demonstrated.

It seems that you have not come here with a view to engaging in a serious discussion.

Now that’s just not true. I most certainly have. Again I ask: what is the measurable effect of this incompatibility? That is the most basic scientific question. You have you theory: they are incompatible. Fine. Let’s run with it. Now, as per science, show me how to confirm or refute that theory with an experiment or a set of experiments. How much more serious can I be? How much less evasive can I be? How much more evasive can Coyne et. al. be when they refuse to address that question—but claim that they learn all they learn by science?

MarkP said...

David said: "All that demonstrates, accepting it at face value, is that you can invent a religion that is incompatible with science by providing it with a dogma that is incompatible with science. That is certainly true but also beside the point. The New Atheists are not saying some religions are incompatible with science, but the much stronger religion is incompatible with science. "

I actually said that all known religions do make claims which are incompatible with later scientific discovery. The creation myth of every religion is incompatible with the scientific discoveries. Many older religions made claims about the earth standing at the center of the universe with the sun orbiting it. To my knowledge, all religions include some form of divine intervention- the examples provided are nearly universally rejected by science- the others are untestable.

My point was that it was possible to create a religion which was not incompatible with science, but that any such religion would necessarily omit the divine explanations that have (until now) been the hallmark of religion.

In another comment David said: "Science is an agreement about how to investigate the natural world. If you do not violate that agreement in any way, then in no meaningful way can you be said to be incompatible."

Agreed. However: all known organized religions do violate that agreement.

MarkP said...

David said: " Now, as per science, show me how to confirm or refute that theory with an experiment or a set of experiments."

Will copious observation suffice? It is generally the first effort by a scientist (see Jane Goodall) before experimental manipulation. How about the Galileo affair? The pope's statements on the effectiveness of condoms? The power of prayer? How about even the virgin birth (which is widely believed to be an accurate representation of a miraculous occurrence)?

All of these statements are incompatible with the scientific evidence. How then can any religion with dogmatic statements be compatible with science?

David said...

MarkP,

To my knowledge, all religions include some form of divine intervention- the examples provided are nearly universally rejected by science- the others are untestable.

Then you too are question begging. All theists and all deists believe, at a minimum, that a god supernaturally created the universe. If such a belief amounts to an incompatibility with science then all you are saying is "religion and science are incompatible because religion and science are incompatible."

The fact that the creation myths are untestable (as you say, not all of them—the YEC creation myth that the universe began less than 10kya is certainly testable and has in fact been falsified.) is irrelevant—unless someone is claiming the creation story is science. That is why YECism is incompatible—they inject it into science.

And your untestable criticism—do you not see that all I am doing is applying the same criticism to the incompatibility argument? You claim (some) creation myths are untestable. I claim that the theory "science and religion are incompatible" is untestable. Why do you give it a free pass?

Will copious observation suffice?

No, those are just observations that religious people can say stupid things. Do Bill Maher’s views on vaccines and germ theory prove that atheism and science are incompatible? Do Sam Harris’s views on eastern mysticism, the efficacy of torture, and speaking in dead languages you never heard spoken prove that atheism and science are incompatible?

MarkP said...

David said: "is irrelevant—unless someone is claiming the creation story is science. That is why YECism is incompatible—they inject it into science."

So essentially, your argument is that as long as the religion says nothing about being scientific, it is completely separate and therefore compatible? I have yet to see a religion that makes no claims about the natural world. Any dogmatic claim about the processes of nature (whether a creation myth or a miracle or the effectiveness of prayer) intrudes into the realm which science investigates.

The Catholic Church's stance on condoms is incompatible with the scientific evidence. All religions which claim prayer (or appeals to ancestors or any other supernatural interference) is effective are not compatible with science because the evidence shows there is no such effect. Similarly, the Church's response to heliocentrism shows that its (previous) dogmatic claims were incompatible with the evidence.

Your argument seems to boil down to: it is possible for a religion to make no claims about the natural world, therefore religion and science are compatible. However, the point I am making is that no such religion exists.

If that is not your position, please clarify. If it is, which religion can you point to that does not violate the intrusion into science?

As to your earlier point (several comments ago): what do you think can be learned from religion which can not be learned in a scientific way?

DEEN said...

"I will not. I consider it my duty to point out that the so-called incompatibility is as scientific as ID, as predictive as ID, as falsifiable as ID, and so as useless as ID."
Except that you have already been informed that this is a philosophical discussion, not a scientific one. Yet you still keep asking for scientific evidence. You start to sound like you are being intentionally dense.

By the way: funny how usually it's the "New atheists" who tend to be accused of confusing science and philosophy.

"Yes. The evidence is that pesky and inconvenient fact that you can be any of those things and do science just as well as anyone else."
According to your logic, criminality and Christianity are compatible. The evidence is that pesky and inconvenient fact that Christians are just as capable of committing crimes as anyone else.

Is it really so difficult to understand? Science and religion have completely different values. Religion values faith, even when evidence is absent. Science values doubt, even when the evidence is there. These two values are pretty much polar opposites.

Just because someone can apply a scientific mode of thought on workdays, and a religious mode of thought on Sundays, does not make those modes of thought compatible, it just means people can alternate between them. Actually, the fact that a religious scientist needs to shelf his religious mode of thinking while doing science is an argument against compatibility, not in favor of it.

NewEnglandBob said...

I guess the word of the Pope is just "religious people can say stupid things". It is not like he represents his religion.

The sayings of David get more inane by the hour. I am enjoying the laughing.

David said...

So essentially, your argument is that as long as the religion says nothing about being scientific, it is completely separate and therefore compatible?

I can't help it if the bible says very little about science. The only really definitive scientific statement in the bible is: Our universe had a beginning. I can't think of any other unambiguously scientific statement it makes. This is reflected in the historic creeds. They say: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. They don't say when or how.

Your examples seem to indicate that I am claiming that nothing a religious person or a religious leader does is ever at odds with science—which is not my claim. Just like Maher's and Harris's lunatic fringe ideas do not mean that atheism and science are incompatible.

As for prayer, my religion (southern, conservative, Baptist, Calvinist) teaches that nothing man does can thwart the will of God. Everything is ordained by God. Prayer is not meant to change God’s mind—it is meant to commune with God. I would never dream that my prayers for a sick person would make them well. I believe that my prayers for a sick person demonstrate that I trust that what God chooses to do is good.

Your argument seems to boil down to: it is possible for a religion to make no claims about the natural world, therefore religion and science are compatible.

No I don't make such a claim. In fact I would say that Romans 1:20 and Ps. 19 instructs: Go forth and do science. That they teach not only compatibility but a mandate to take advantage of that compatibility. And this is fairly orthodox—the view in Christianity has always been that there are two forms of revelation 1) special (the bible) and 2) general (the universe.) The two methods of human study are, respectively, theology and science. Since God is never taught (in my religion) to be a God of confusion, one can deduce that theology and science are presented as compatible. Humans can, of course, make mistakes on either front leading to a perceived incompatibility, for a season. For example, when scientists favored a steady state universe they were at odds with the theologians who argued that the bible favored a beginning. Chock one up for the theologians. On the other hand, chalk heliocentricity up for the scientists. At any rate, these disagreements are between humans: theologians and scientists. Not between religion and science.

what do you think can be learned from religion which can not be learned in a scientific way?

I answered that. From my religion I can learn of God's redemptive plan for a fallen race.

DEEN,

Except that you have already been informed that this is a philosophical discussion, not a scientific one. Yet you still keep asking for scientific evidence. You start to sound like you are being intentionally dense.

That's because I've been told that what we know we know through science! And also because I consider it a victory when it is admitted, explicitly, that it is a philosophical point only. Because, really, who gives a rat's ass if some philosopher says they are incompatible--it then becomes a game of dueling philosophers.

Science and religion have completely different values. Religion values faith, even when evidence is absent.

Where did you ever get that idea? In Heb.11 there is a list of people commended for their great faith. One is Gideon. If you know the story of Gideon he demanded multiple instances of physical proof that God was real before he would act. He was not rebuked. Instead he was placed in the faith hall of fame. Maybe the problem is that you know nothing about religion, and that is why you find them incompatible?

New England Bob,

I worry that your commenting here will prevent you from reaching your obsequiousness quota. Go immediately to Coyne's blog and tell him how clever he is!

NewEnglandBob said...

David, you moronic woo spewer, I produce comments on several different blogs. I participate in one even more that WEIT. You proved that you speak from the other end from your head.

David, your ad hominem comments are even more stupid than your theistic nonsense.

Go play with your bible woo. I am sure it gives you orgasms. Once you justify your woo with "the bible says so" then everyone here laughs loudly at you.

David said...

NE Bob,

Please there are egos to be stroked, go forth! (And insults are insults, not ad hominem.)

MarkP said...

David said: "The only really definitive scientific statement in the bible is: Our universe had a beginning. I can't think of any other unambiguously scientific statement it makes. This is reflected in the historic creeds. They say: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. They don't say when or how."

So the rest of the genesis account (with all of the details of a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of the creation) is... what exactly? How about the part where it says a man was eaten by a whale and survived? The part where it claims a virgin human birth occurred? The part where Lazarus was risen from the dead? A blind man was able to see by splashing some mud and water on his eyes? A story about the sun standing still so a warrior could complete his attack? How about all the parts of the bible where it says things like ask and ye shall receive regarding prayer?

None of those make any statements about how the world works?

DEEN said...

Revealing quote:"Since God is never taught (in my religion) to be a God of confusion, one can deduce that theology and science are presented as compatible."
So you were never here to have a scientific discussion after all? Since you came here with the firm convictions of your religious teachings? That makes your demands for scientific evidence even more dishonest.

"That's because I've been told that what we know we know through science!"
Except that science and philosophy are not independent, nor is there a clear boundary between the two. Scientists use philosophical principles like Occam's Razor every day. Philosophers use scientific principles every day too.

Most importantly for this discussion, you'll need at least a little philosophy to understand why science is more likely to produce usable knowledge than religion. Of course, the empirical evidence of the success of science confirms this as well.

"Because, really, who gives a rat's ass if some philosopher says they are incompatible--it then becomes a game of dueling philosophers."
Then why should I care what some theologian has to say about compatibility? And why should I take you seriously if you're not even willing to support your arguments, or refute some basic logic?

"If you know the story of Gideon he demanded multiple instances of physical proof that God was real before he would act."
Too bad God has refused to provide such evidence for the last few thousand years. Or at the very least since the invention of video cameras. And not because people stopped asking either. Believers keep telling me that that's because God wants us to show faith. Should I believe them or you?

"Maybe the problem is that you know nothing about religion, and that is why you find them incompatible?"
Like most atheists, I was raised with religion. It's very dangerous making such assumptions about atheists.

So let me recap your position, and correct me if I'm wrong. When someone points out it's a philosophical point, you agree and consider it a victory. Therefore, you knew all along that it wasn't a scientific question, but you kept pretending it was anyway. Yet you also refuse to discuss the philosophical arguments.

And now you've started using Bible quotes to support your assertion that science and religion are compatible. Even though you claimed earlier that religion and science are orthogonal.

And yet you still maintain that you're here for a serious discussion. Would it really surprise you if we didn't believe you any more?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it could be more precisely stated that: "The epistemological methods underlying religious knowledge are incompatible with the epistemological methods underlying scientific knowledge."

This is arguable, I realize, but I look at it this way: show me a religion whose "ways of knowing" do not include revelation or ecumenical authority and I will show you a sociological phenomenon that is not a religion. Note that the inverse is not necessarily true. Revelation and authority are not compatible with science, but the scientific method could very well be compatible with religion.

But are they?

First of all, I am assuming that IF the thing we are talking about is a religion, then the doctrine of that religion contains claims known only through either ecumenical authority (e.g. an infallible pope) or divine revelation.

Now assume some subset of such claims made by the doctrine of a particular religion are at odds with knowledge derived through scientific sources. How do adherents of the church reconcile the contradiction?

They can A) reinterpret those doctrines that conflict with scientific knowledge, B) drop those elements of the religious doctrine which contradict scientific findings, or C) dismiss the scientific knowledge contradicting the religious doctrine.

It should be clear that should adherents of the religion choose C, that religion is incompatible with science. What of A and B? Once could argue that any religion that alters or reinterprets their doctrine in light of knowledge derived through secular means is no longer the same religion. But that means that the original religion, the religion that had to change, was in fact incompatible with science, and that only by changing into a new and subtly different religion is it suddenly compatible with science.

We have not considered the case of the "One True Religion," the doctrine that got everything right the first time. David may assert that this is Christianity, but we know better. How? Because Christianity has been morphing and schisming for centuries as secular-derived knowledge was found that contradicted the claims made through revelation and authority. Not only that; sometimes it was merely the moral preference of individuals, such as Martin Luther, that caused the doctrine to change. Sometimes it was simply copy errors or translation errors made by nameless scribes from the early iron age. The incredibly complex sociological phenomenon pejoratively lumped under "Christianity" has gotten where it is today only by its willingness to change what it calls "eternal truth" to coincide with conventional wisdom.

That is to say, David, that you seem to be willing to worship a new religion as soon as an inconsistency between your current religion and scientific knowledge is found. Not that your religion is currently compatible with science (which can only be known after the fact, right?).

I'm still not convinced that there isn't a deeper incompatibility between religion and science -- I need to think a little more about it -- but I can at least say that the "ways of knowing" that are unique to religion (and I would argue necessary for religion) are incompatible with science. At the very least, it seems we can agree that any religion whose doctrine DOES contradict scientific knowledge is incompatible with science (at least tentatively, until such a time as further evidence forces us to reappraise what constitutes scientific knowledge).

David said...

MarkP,

For the Genesis account I favor the so-called framework hypothesis. Now of course you can take the standard line: You are not allowed to do that! You *must* interpret it like the YECs do, even though I think they are idiots, because in this one case, the interpretation of Genesis, they are clearly exegetical savants, and so that I can show you, trivially, how you are incorrect and how your beliefs are incompatible with science!

As for the miracles, we already discussed that. All theists and deists believe in the most miraculous miracle of all: some god created, supernaturally, the universe. If a belief in miracles makes science and religion incompatible, then you are just engaged in trivial argument-stopping question begging: Religion (which always has at least the creation miracle) is incompatible because a belief in miracles is incompatible. QED.

And if that is the totality of your argument, you might ask yourself why it took until the arrival of uber geniuses Dawkins and Coyne until the incompatibility of science and religion was proved for no other reason than theists believe in miracles. I mean really, this has been known for quite some time. And some pretty smart atheists were aware that theists believed in miracles. You would have thought that, say, Betrand Russell, just to name one, would have used this killer argument.

Now if the fact that theists and deists believe that a god supernaturally created the universe is not the totality of you argument, then we have the precedent that a belief in miracles per se does not prove the incompatibility. So why muddle the discussion with miracles that won't even fit on a log plot with the creation of a universe miracle? What is a virgin birth compared to creating a universe ex nihilo? It has to be in the noise.

Miracles, I submit, are incompatible with science only if you invoke them to explain data. That violates the rules of the scientific method. And any scientists who does so should be fired.

David said...

DEEN,

So you were never here to have a scientific discussion after all?

Yes that is what that it means. If follows, inescapably, that If I mention in one of about 10 or 15 comments that God is not a god of confusion that the cold, hard, unforgiving rules of logic dictate that I could not possibly have an interest in a scientific discussion. I’m so busted.

Then why should I care what some theologian has to say about compatibility? And why should I take you seriously if you're not even willing to support your arguments, or refute some basic logic?

You should not care. For the same reason philosophers can’t really prove anything (such as science and religions are incompatible) neither can theologians. They are really birds of a feather.

I’m sorry, I am willing to support my arguments. You are not—you are not willing to support the claim of the great incompatibility. As least not the only way that matters—scientifically. Or did I miss that?

Should I believe them or you?

Well it doesn’t really matter. Perhaps their religion is incompatible with science and mine isn’t. That’s sufficient to disprove the claim: religion and science are incompatible and weaken it to the manifestly true: some religions are incompatible with science.

Like most atheists, I was raised with religion. It's very dangerous making such assumptions about atheists.

So they all say. Of course when a scientist like Collins (or a lesser scientist, like myself) says that we were atheists until adulthood, and in my case until after I was a practicing physicist, the claim is always greeted with loud skepticism. But the nearly universal claim of every atheist that they were once a devout born again believer (who probably knows the bible better than I do) until they escaped by pure rational thought should be accepted without question.

So let me recap your position, and correct me if I'm wrong.

You are wrong. And orthogonality is a form of compatibility. At least in the sense that it implies they are not incompatible.

And yet you still maintain that you're here for a serious discussion. Would it really surprise you if we didn't believe you any more?

Nothing you believe would surprise me.

David said...

Anonymous,

Once could argue that any religion that alters or reinterprets their doctrine in light of knowledge derived through secular means is no longer the same religion

An interesting point, but no you cannot conclude that, in my opinion. You have to recognize something I wrote earlier—but let me apply it to an individual. As an individual believer I am both a theologian (I interpret scripture or special revelation) and a scientist (I explore creation, or general revelation.) I’m am speaking generically, about any believer, not just about a believer such as me—who really is a scientist.

If my theology and science are not in tension I sail along with no worries. It doesn't mean both my theology and science are correct—they might both be wrong. For example, had I lived in the early 17th century and worked on the King James translation. Having no reason to believe differently I might have happily translated the Hebrew yom as day. And I might have believed it meant 24-hour day. So far so good.

Fast forward a bit and soon the geological evidence for and old earth comes in. Now I look back and say: Hmm. Maybe it would have been better to translate yom by another acceptable word: age.

In other words, it is fair game that the theology and science inform one another—after all they are both (in my perspective) exploring part of God's revelation. In my view they have to be compatible—so I consider it fair game that, after due consideration, I adjust my theology to be harmonious with new things I learn in science.

Of course the text has to reasonably allow for such a modification—if it doesn't then you have a real incompatibility.

In the case of Genesis I believe there is room to make it compatible with an old earth. And if you do you have not changed your religion—for Christianity is not defined by the age of the earth. It is defined by the redemptive work of Jesus.

That is to say, David, that you seem to be willing to worship a new religion as soon as an inconsistency between your current religion and scientific knowledge is found.

No, in the manner I described above I deny this. My theology has changed dramatically since I became a Christian—maybe a little due to science but overwhelmingly because I adopted Calvinism—and yet it is still at its heart the same orthodox Christianity I began with. I affirmed the Nicene creed as the minimal statement of my faith then and I do now.

MarkP said...

David said "For the Genesis account I favor the so-called framework hypothesis."

This fits nicely into one of the choices suggested by the Anonymous post above yours "A) reinterpret those doctrines that conflict with scientific knowledge"

The framework hypothesis was adopted to accommodate scientific knowledge. The religious doctrine until then held for a much more literal reading of the account. You are free to interpret it in any way you want, but even the most loose reading of the account has the events out of order based on scientific understanding (e.g. the earth being created before the sun or stars).

As Anonymous points out, how is your assertion that a maker created the universe compatible with science? Particularly when you invoke the Christian deity as that maker. If science were to show, definitively that no such designer were involved in the creation of the cosmos- how would that affect your religion?

As to your argument "are incompatible with science only if you invoke them to explain data": makes no sense. Either miracles happen, in which case you must consider them a possible source of data, or the do not, in which case you are safe to ignore them. I do argue that a belief in any interventionist deity precludes adherence to the scientific method.

MarkP said...

David said: " Having no reason to believe differently I might have happily translated the Hebrew yom as day. And I might have believed it meant 24-hour day. So far so good.

Fast forward a bit and soon the geological evidence for and old earth comes in. Now I look back and say: Hmm. Maybe it would have been better to translate yom by another acceptable word: age
"

Fair enough, but in that example, your special revelation failed. Yet many religions rely on such special revelation, and will only back off of it after years (heliocentrism comes to mind). Here, you have adapted your belief to conform to scientific understanding, but the initial special revelation was incompatible with the evidence.

I ask again: what knowledge should we expect to gain from religion that we can not gain from scientific efforts?

David said...

MarkP,


This fits nicely into one of the choices suggested by the Anonymous post above yours "A) reinterpret those doctrines that conflict with scientific knowledge"

See my comments to Anonymous above. There I do not run away from but rather defend as utterly reasonable the practice of modifying your theology to be in harmony with your science. Not that it happens much beyond the age of the earth question.

You are free to interpret it in any way you want, but even the most loose reading of the account has the events out of order based on scientific understanding (e.g. the earth being created before the sun or stars).

No it doesn’t. You need to study the Framework Hypothesis. And not only that, some supporters of the Day Age View (such as Hugh Ross) argue that the light on day four refers to the atmosphere achieving a sustained level of transparency (sometime after the impact that created the moon). He even goes further and argues that the Day Age View is a literal view. Now, I do not support the Day Age theory and have no intention of defending it, I merely point it out Ross (and other Day Age followers) is quite happy that he found an interpretation that he believes is literal and scientifically accurate.

As Anonymous points out, how is your assertion that a maker created the universe compatible with science? Particularly when you invoke the Christian deity as that maker. If science were to show, definitively that no such designer were involved in the creation of the cosmos- how would that affect your religion?

It would destroy it. I would renounce my faith. If you can demonstrate from first principles that not only did the universe begin from a quantum foam, but also demonstrate why the pre-universe was pregnant with a quantum foam, and why the pre-pre-universe was pregnant with that pregnancy, etc., I will ask Russell Blackford for permission to write a guest post where I renounce my faith. (Saying "that's just the way it must have been or always was" is not a demonstration from first principles.)

David said...

MarkP,

Fair enough, but in that example, your special revelation failed.

Special revelation and general revelation are what they are. They cannot fail. What failed was my science. My 17th version incorrectly concluded that the earth contained no scientific evidence of great age. And also failing was my theology. My 17th version incorrectly concluded that the days of Genesis were literal days. They failed in concert. But the bible and the universe are the same now as they were then. I failed, not revelation.

As an aside I would argue that the failure is inconsequential from the standpoint of salvation—which requires neither a passing grade on a theology exam or a cosmology exam.

I ask again: what knowledge should we expect to gain from religion that we can not gain from scientific efforts?

I’ll answer again: from my religion I have acquired knowledge about God’s redemptive plan for a fallen race. If you ask me again, I’ll give the same answer.

DEEN said...

"You are wrong."
No I'm not. You keep demanding a scientific answer to a question we both know is philosophical. You claim compatibility for your religion, but you don't have any scientific evidence for that either, only theological - or philosophical, if I'm being really generous.

"And orthogonality is a form of compatibility. At least in the sense that it implies they are not incompatible."
First of all, you have never established that religion and science are indeed orthogonal. Second, you don't even appear to believe so yourself! You're actually arguing at Anonymous that theology and science inform one another, so they can't be independent.

But even if they were orthogonal, as I said before, by applying your logic, Christianity is compatible with criminality. And clearly, also with dishonesty.

MarkP said...

David: I am not suggesting that I can prove such a thing, merely that changing your beliefs in the light of scientific evidence is changing your underlying religion. In this case, it is obvious that removing your view of a creator fundamentally changes the religion. My suggestion is that even smaller changes make appreciable changes to the dogma of the faith, and thus that the original faith was incompatible with science.

If religion never made any claims to infallibility of special revelation, you would have a great point. However, in your faith structure, the presence of a creator is known through special revelation and claimed to be infallible (or else you wouldn't need to renounce over such a change). I am sure there are other aspects of the Calvinistic teachings (and certainly of other religions) which are similarly deemed infallible (Catholics on contraception, Mormons on the golden plates, etc.).

How much must a religion change its teachings before it is acknowledged that the initial doctrines were incompatible with science?

NewEnglandBob said...

Nothing sensible here from David except theistic dogmatic woo to laugh at.

David is devoid of logic and reason. He is just a prostitute for Yahwah.

He is here to suck up to his god.

I wonder if he prefers the murder of entire nations called for by his bible or the approval of rape or maybe the sanctioning of slavery. I wonder which of these gets his rocks off.

MarkP said...

David said: "Special revelation and general revelation are what they are. They cannot fail. What failed was my science. My 17th version incorrectly concluded that the earth contained no scientific evidence of great age. And also failing was my theology. My 17th version incorrectly concluded that the days of Genesis were literal days. They failed in concert. "

The difference in this case is that science kept accumulating evidence to more accurately describe the world. What role did special revelation play in renouncing the initially revealed translation of yom as 24 hour day?

Science, at least good science, never stops seeking evidence and questioning theories. It makes no claim of infallibility- it measures what it can and advances understanding. We believe that we are moving closer to understanding, but I know of no scientist who believes a stopping point will ever be reached.

Special revelation, on the other hand, seems to take its stab and then declare itself truth. What is the value of special revelation if it can only be verified by science?

David said...

MarkP,

I am not so sure why you are working so hard to prove that I have changed my religion when I adapted it. After all it is rather at odds with the fact that there are thousands of Protestant denominations, so if I adapted and moved to a more accommodating denomination—aren't they all still, Christian denominations?

At any rate I don’t see the value in arguing the point. Let me concede it. Just to see what it wins you. Because I’ll just argue that maybe my old religion was incompatible, but not my new. Yeah, maybe I’m wishy washy, but that doesn’t negate the fact that my new religion is compatible.

Yes in my church special revelation is deemed infallible, but any particular interpretation is not. We have numerous disagreements within my church—while all agreeing that the bible is infallible. This is not a problem—we simply know that one or more or all of us are interpreting incorrectly.

How much must a religion change its teachings before it is acknowledged that the initial doctrines were incompatible with science?

None that I have been in. While I have only been in conservative churches that declare biblical infallibility, I have never been in one that had anything about science, including a definitive statement about the age of the earth, in its doctrinal statement. Each one always said something like: the bible makes no clear statement on the age of the earth; we do however proclaim that the universe was created by God. or words to that effect.


New England Bob,

I wonder if he prefers the murder of entire nations called for by his bible or the approval of rape or maybe the sanctioning of slavery. I wonder which of these gets his rocks off.

Well, those are all good choices, but if you force me to pick one I guess I’ll have to go with genocide. Joshua and his crew always seemed to have a good time when annihilating some race of ites—especially when they were allowed to partake of the spoils. So it’s a tough choice but yeah, I have to go with genocide. Final Answer.

Mark P,

What role did special revelation play in renouncing the initially revealed translation of yom as 24 hour day?

None. Special revelation is agnostic here. The word yom is in the Hebrew. It is and well know to mean many things including a 24-hour day or an indeterminate long period. But the manuscripts did not provide their own translation guide.

Russell Blackford said...

By all means keep this up. From my viewpoint it's a bit off-topic, and it deals with issues that have been done to death in discussions I've been involved in lately. Still, they are important issues.

Do try to play nice. It's one thing to make fun of views that you consider absurd, in order to try to bring out their absurdity (Christian apologists do this - it's not just atheists). It's another thing to be insulting to individuals with whom you're directly interacting.

For the record, although I have only skimmed the thread and have certainly not read every comment closely, I don't see anything wrong with how David is commenting. He's more interesting than most Christian apologists and usually doesn't write a lot of comments for the sake of taking over the blog or just plain spamming, but actually addresses comments that are made to him. That's okay.

Everyone try to be civil to each other so I don't feel I have to read every comment closely to see if there are any I want to delete.

I'll have a bit more to say that's slightly relevant in a post up above the line.

Laterz.

Anonymous said...

"As Anonymous points out, how is your assertion that a maker created the universe compatible with science?"

It's not. A creator perfroming a deliberae act of creation is necessary to give existence meaning and purpose (accidents, no mater how fortunate, are by definition meaningless).

Meaning and purpose are not scientific concepts.

Eamon Knight said...

A creator perfroming a deliberae act of creation is necessary to give existence meaning and purpose (accidents, no mater how fortunate, are by definition meaningless).
Meaning and purpose are not scientific concepts.


To the extent they manifest as psychological events in human brains, they (in principle) are. We certainly ascribe meaning to phenomena, and devise purposes for our actions.As universal metatphysical concepts, however -- no, they are not scientific (and I would say, are non-existent).

Jay said...

With all due respect, Russell, you look like you're backpedaling here. Don't you think it would have been useful to put these qualifications into your original article (and have made the title a bit less inflammatory)?

Fortuna said...

You will need to show how allowing for miracles does not mean that science is being rejected.

No I don’t need to show that. All I need to do is agree that in any scientific investigation I will use the scientific method. I will never, ever reject the scientific method. I will never, ever, invoke the supernatural as an explanation for any measurement or experiment. If I can’t explain anomalous data I’ll go to my grave looking for a natural explanation, and never invoke “it must be a miracle.” In fact, if you sent me back in time to investigate the virgin birth, I would investigate it just like an unbelieving scientist. Where is the incompatibility?


Sounds to me like you just laid it out pretty succintly. While you have your scientist hat on, the supernatural isn't invoked as an explanation....the way it is when you have your religous hat on.

Fortuna said...

Ughh, "religious" hat on.

Also...genocide, is it? Interesting choice. I gather you're being facetious, but perhaps you could explain your stance on that somewhat more seriously.