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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Science/religion compatibility yet again

H/T Ophelia Benson and her commenters.

This topic is, of course, never ending. It's been brought up this time over at the Huffington Post, by Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Executive Publisher of Science, .

As usual with accommodationists, there is no real understanding of what non-accommodationists actually say, which has its nuances. What we say isn't just "religion and science are incompatible", which is ambiguous, and could mean various things that are false. We do say that, but we go on to gloss what we mean by it.

In my case, what I say is something like this: they are incompatible in a sense. Accordingly, it is misleading to state simply “science and religion are compatible” as if there's no problem. If you say that, you'd better gloss it, and you'd better acknowledge that, in the sense that actually matters to traditionally religious people, they may not be compatible, and that there's thus a big problem. When I was a religious person, I didn't care whether it was psychologically possible for some or even many people to be both (a) scientists and (b)religious. I cared about the consistency between (1) the truth claims of the sort of the religion I subscribed to and (2) the more robust truth claims of science, and inferences that could be reached from these together with other fairly plausible premises.

The position as I see it is something like this: viewed historically, religion needs to thin out its epistemic content, or to introduce notions of the capricious way supernatural beings act, or to adopt intellectually unacceptable ad hoc tactics of various kinds, in order to maintain a formal compatibility with the scientific picture of the world; the advance of science pushes God into smaller gaps; and some religious views are plainly inconsistent with robust scientific findings. All this reflects a general mismatch between the scientific approach to the world and the religious approach, which follows from (1) the fact that they use different methods for discovering the truth and (2) the methods of science do not, historically and contingently, reach the same conclusions as previously reached by religion. It turns out that religion needs to adapt constantly, thinning out its original truth-claims or making various ad hoc manoeuvres, or it find itself plainly contradicted by science.

All of this then feeds into arguments that the religions of the world are probably false across the board. The evidence is that they use unreliable means of looking for knowledge - but why, if they have access to gods, angels, etc.? Meanwhile, various specific religions are already falsified to the extent they are plainly or less plainly inconsistent with robust elements of the scientific picture of the world.

As far as I know, non-accommodationists like me, Jerry Coyne, and Ophelia Benson all see it much the same way. We are not clones of each other, and our views may have minor differences. Jerry and Ophelia might not sign on to every word in this post. But we are all prepared to spell out something like the above story – and we have done so on various occasions. We don’t claim that no religious view could ever be logically consistent with what is known by science at a particular point in history - that's palpably false because some religious views, such as an extreme Deism, are so thinned out as to be unfalsifiable - but we do object to simplistic, misleading claims that “science and religion are compatible”.

Nothing about the non-accommodationist accounts is falsified by telling us, over and over, that a lot of scientists are religious. That's really about psychological compatibility. Note, though, that the evidence suggests that a far higher proportion of scientists are not religious, compared with the general population.

Moreover, those who are religious tend to have a very thinned out view - in this survey data only 3.7 per cent of scientists found most truth in a particular religion! By contrast, 73.5 per cent thought there was basic truth in many religions, but one must wonder what those basic truths are, since 62.2 per cent either just plain do not believe in God or say they don't know and there's no way of finding out. Those figures must overlap heavily, so it looks as if the sort of truth that many scientists find in religion is most likely some kind of generic morality or the like. (Only 9.7 per cent believe in God without any doubts and only about 23 per cent attend church more than 1-5 times per year.)

More research needs to be done, but the data we have is totally consistent with the non-accommodationist idea that science tends to push people either away from religion entirely or into some sort of "thin" religion with little of the traditional content. That is not going to comfort religious people who are suspicious of science, and nor will it comfort those accomodationists who want to paint the picture that there's just no problem. For what it's worth, the data we have favour the non-accommodationist position, once the latter is understood - and not represented by a straw man version.

Frankly, I think the better evidence is what you get when you simply place the claims of various religions side by side with the more robust findings of science. Given what we now know, do the religious claims seem plausible or not?

54 comments:

DM said...

I want to see you SUFFER, you little babbling idiot...

NewEnglandBob said...

Your post can be further strengthened by pointing out that morality and guidance in how to live one's life is among the larger claims of the "benefits" of religion. But in practice (as well as within dogma) the opposite is true. Religions have, in the past, (and some still have, in a big way) a distinct lack of morality when it pertains to xenophobia, misogyny, slavery (Islam, even today), racism and bigotry. Some religious practices today, as in the past, continue to interfere with freedoms of individuals and groups and try to control the thoughts and actions of their own members as well as forcing their immoral and arbitrary rules upon others. These behaviors also conflict with science since they tend to squelch and/or eliminate free thought, education and the pursuit for objective truth via observation and experimentation.

Sigmund said...

Russell, the other results in Ecklund's 2007 paper are also interesting so I've linked them in the same thread on Butterflies and Wheels. I think there is a problem with the term "science and religion are incompatible" since all three elements are subject to various interpretations. We, on the non-accomodationist side of the fence, mean "the scientific method of gaining knowledge of the natural world is incompatible with the religious method of gaining knowledge of the natural world" when we say science and religion are incompatible.
I think we are at a disadvantage from the start on this one since the term "science and religion are incompatible" is ideal for someone to argue in a misleading manner. It doesn't even require religious people - just look at how the NCSE behaves. You cannot say that they don't know what the non-accomodationists are saying - they are smart people but even they find it politically necessary to avoid the specific points we are raising.

Tyro said...

I think you, Ophelia, Jerry and others have made yourselves very clear yet several people persist in pointing to religious scientists as proof that you are wrong. At this point, I'm almost more interested in why your (to me) lucid writing is so consistently ignored or misunderstood.

(And John at Debunking Christianity has dealt with DM for ages. He makes death threats and makes many replies to each post. Is there any way to ban trolls/mentally damaged people like him?)

Ophelia Benson said...

I'm almost more interested in why your (to me) lucid writing is so consistently ignored or misunderstood.

As far as I can tell, it's because the people who do the ignoring or misunderstanding are engaging in politics instead of and to the exclusion of real argument or inquiry. They don't give a shit about accuracy because they're trying to win, not to figure out the truth.

This pretty much mirrors the tension between science and secular inquiry in general, and religious epistemology (aka "faith").

DM said...

ophelia - the truth is you are liars...

DM said...

GOD 1 - Atheists 0

Rocket Stegosaurus said...

Hello, Dr. Blackford.

I noticed you use the word "gloss" in the sense of "making more apparent," whereas in the States, we tend to use "gloss" in the idiom "gloss over," which means something like "not explain well intentionally and hope that no one notices."

Tulse said...

Rocket, in academics a "gloss" is an explanation of a text, and this is true in most of the English-speaking world, including the States.

Anonymous said...

@Tulse:

I had the same reaction Rocket did. I picked it up from context easy enough, but I've never heard the term used that way.

I think it's worthwhile to at least point out the word could be misinterpreted by large swaths of people, even if Russell decides that on balance he'd rather use the word at the risk of being misunderstood.

-Dan L.

Deepak Shetty said...

"In my case, what I say is something like this: they are incompatible in a sense. Accordingly, it is misleading to state simply “science and religion are compatible” as if there's no problem. "
This has been my observation as well -That the new atheists mostly qualify the sense in which they believe the two are incompatible and the accommodationists do not.

@Rocket I had that reaction too for the word gloss but the phrase would be *gloss over* then, the word gloss is not used by itself.

mryana said...

NewEnglandBob,

You should see Expelled, The Movie in full.

It'll help you appreciate the magnamity of "political" (in)-orrectness and lack of Tolerance for any other thoughts than their own--- (to the point of firing prominent, intelligent, honest scientists/professors,) etc of those leaders in the field of Science...

tomh said...

Ophelia Benson wrote:
As far as I can tell, it's because the people who do the ignoring or misunderstanding are engaging in politics instead of and to the exclusion of real argument or inquiry.

That's exactly right. Which makes trying to discuss the subject with them somewhat futile. All one can do is point out their tactics for the benefit of others.

Kirth Gersen said...

@ mryana -- you might also look at this:

http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth/challenging

In short, in an attempt to make its point stronger, Stein's movie makes quite a few claims that don't match the facts -- indeed, outright lies in a number of places.

Russell Blackford said...

Thanks to those who've let me know that the verb "to gloss" is unfamiliar to them. American usage is not always obvious to me, and of course, to make matters more difficult, usage varies quite a lot within America. I'll try to bear in mind that "gloss" as in "annotate" is not familiar to everybody who may read or hear me.

John Pieret said...

Since you are talking about evidence, what evidence do you have that scientists who think that science and ... oh, let's call it "theism" to separate it from "traditional" religion (which you haven't defined) ... are "compatible," are talking about "psychological compatibility" instead of a different philosophical view of what "science" is?

I agree that the fact that some scientists are also theists does not go to the question of whether science is compatible with religion. However, I don't see why it does not go to the question of whether "science" is a method, that is not the equivalent of a "worldview," that can be done ...and done well ... by people of very different "worldviews."

Unlike many on the "incompatibilist" side (if you think not, I think you need to read more of Coyne's blog), you acknowledge that the claim that "religion and science are incompatible" is ambiguous. I'd like to have a clearer statement of what incompatibility you think there is than just the old (unevidenced) claim that these particular people are merely psychologically capable of holding inconsistent ideas.

P.S. I see you are being infested by DM. If it is any comfort, us "accommomationists" suffer from the same problem. ;-)

Deepak Shetty said...

@John Pieret
"Unlike many on the "incompatibilist" side (if you think not, I think you need to read more of Coyne's blog), you acknowledge that the claim that "religion and science are incompatible" is ambiguous"
Did you miss the very next statement by Russell in his post?
"We do say that, but we go on to gloss what we mean by it."


Jerry Coyne isn't ambiguous on the incompatible topic, but he also defines the ways that he thinks Science and Religion are incompatible
e.g.
"Science and faith are epistemically and methodologically incompatible"

John Pieret said...

"Science and faith are epistemically and methodologically incompatible"

And that means exactly what?

As PZ recently admitted recently admitted (after an initial hiccup), love are epistemically and methodologically incompatible. Does that mean that science and love are "incompatible"?

If you want to say that science and religion are as "incompatible" as science and love are, I could live with that. Can you?

John Pieret said...

That should have been:

As PZ recently admitted (after an initial hiccup), love and science are epistemically and methodologically incompatible.

Allan C Cybulskie said...

I think that the most basic accomodationist position really is nothing more than "There is no reason to think that religion and science are inherently incompatible". Thus, you ought to be able to see why they might be taking your position as that, and while you do take a stab at it here, it seems a bit disingenuous to blame it all on them. Jerry Coyne, for example -- and as demonstrated here -- is in no way as clear as you seem to claim, and even your attempts here are a little vague.

For example, you say "they are incompatible in a sense" and then move on to "Accordingly, it is misleading to state simply 'science and religion are compatible'". The problem is that until you really flesh out and argue for that "in a sense", there's really nothing stopping them from saying that, because there'd be no reason to think them incompatible.

Now, where you start to get into this discussion is at the end, where you say:

"I cared about the consistency between (1) the truth claims of the sort of the religion I subscribed to and (2) the more robust truth claims of science, and inferences that could be reached from these together with other fairly plausible premises."

But this simply, to me, boils down to you making the claim that what you thought science implied meant that you couldn't believe that the religious claims were true. You go on to talk about "God of the gaps" arguments and essentially say that you don't really like them. Which is fine. But it doesn't get at any sort of interesting or inherent incompatibility. Essentially, it boils down to you saying that your personal Web of Belief can't incorporate both religion and science. But to get an interesting notion of incompatible, you'd essentially need to show that there is no way to incorporate them. Deists gods demonstrate a clear way (in some cases) but there are other ways that are more or less creative and non-standard. So, in short, some people disagree with you. And so the fight, then, would be over whether or not they really can be held compatibly. But even then we're getting into "Is religion right about the world?" and not "Is religion compatible with science?", since at this level until we show direct contradictions with real scientific facts it's all about whether those "gaps" really are places to fit a God or not.

So you need a stronger version of non-accomodationism if you want to say something that, say, religious scientists should be worried about, in my opinion ... and even for your weaker position you need to outline more arguments and evidence.

NewEnglandBob said...

Cybulskie, your comment is one long apologetic excuse that is full of straw man arguments, inconsistencies and untruths.

You want a simple definition? Here it is:

There is no evidence of any god. There is no evidence of any miracles, there is no evidence of the existence of most of the characters in the fables of the Old or New Testament or the Koran or any other book of fables.

Religion operates of faith and not evidence or observations or experimentation.

Religion rarely changes its dogma and operates on faith. It only changes when forced by the entire world seeing that religious propositions are completely wrong.

Science is a process that operates on evidence, observations and experimentation. Change is built-in to the process.

Scientists change their theories when the evidence shows the old theories to be wrong or less exact.

As one can see from the above, science and religion are completely incompatible.

Allan C Cybulskie said...

All you're saying. Bob, is that science and religion are different. Which isn't all that interesting an incompatibility. Additionally, you can get all of that behaviour by simply pointing out that science is skeptical and religion is not, which again is not all that interesting an incompatibility.

Deepak Shetty said...

@John
"And that means exactly what? "
Use a dictionary. That's not completely sarcastic since I had to do the same for the word "epistemically" when I had read the post. You can disagree with Jerry Coyne but you cant claim he is being ambiguous.

"If you want to say that science and religion are as "incompatible" as science and love are, I could live with that"
Does love make truth claims save one? Does love attempt to be a body of knowledge? Does love make counter claims to those science makes? Love is also a subjective claim , not an objective one.
For the sole truth claim that love makes , yes, in general, science and love is as incompatible *methodologically* as science and religion is.

Again my personal viewpoint is that for answers to questions (And both Science and Religion make a lot of claims here as opposed to love) a faith based system is incompatible with an evidence based one. For truth claims , a faith based system is incompatible with an evidence based one.

Finally for non overlapping, non verifiable or supernatural claims a system based on authority and revelation is inherently flawed.

I can live with this, can you?

Tyro said...

All you're saying. Bob, is that science and religion are different. Which isn't all that interesting an incompatibility.

So you admit they use incompatible methodologies to arrive at conclusions/beliefs and the conclusions they finally reach are likewise incompatible. How is that not interesting?

Well, as surprised as I am to hear you dismiss this, these are the real issues at debate here and they are denied by many people.

BTW: you're right that there wasn't a big argument in this post about what incompatibilites exist, but if you've read this blog much, you'd know it has been hashed out several times in long, detailed posts. Check back a few weeks and you'll see.

Deepak Shetty said...

Allan C Cybulskie
No what we are saying that if you have a claim e.g. "God exists"
The methods you use in science are completely different from those you use in religion to verify the claim and the conclusions you reach are different. Hence incompatible.
The other specific claim we make is that as a means of determining truth in our universe, science is better than religion.

Allan C Cybulskie said...

I've fleshed it out elsewhere, but if all you're saying about them being incompatible is that they don't do the same things the same way, that's not any sort of incompatibility that anyone should worry about. Any field that isn't science or scientific will have a different methodology than they will, so all that boils down to is "They aren't the same thing". Yeah, but unless you want to claim that science is the only field worth having -- which would be bad because of that big field known as "philosophy" that is not science -- that they aren't the same thing is, in fact, covered by saying "This isn't science". Not particularly interesting or one that anyone -- for example, religious scientists, as I said in my first post -- should worry about.

And if we have two different fields that can, in fact, cover the same things, then if they use different methods eventually there will be a conflict between what they hold as being true or the most likely true thing. What we hope is that each field's methods will eventually allow them both to collapse to the same truth eventually, but that they don't agree at any one point in time is, again, not an incompatibility worth worrying about. It's only an incompatibility of "You and I are not the same".

Allan C Cybulskie said...

Deepak,

Philosophy has in fact evaluated that precise same claim of "God exists" differently than science will (since it allows for the possibility of analytic/non-empirical proofs of existence). Does that make philosophy and science interestingly incompatible?

As for saying that science is better than religion ... fair enough. I have no problem with your opinion on that and it's an interesting question. It's NOT, however, a statement of an interesting incompatibility, though, at least in the sense that religious scientists should care about it. Especially if some of them are NOMA, or even hold a view that science's skepticism is not appropriate for evaluating religious claims.

Tyro said...

Allan,

I've fleshed it out elsewhere, but if all you're saying about them being incompatible is that they don't do the same things the same way

If religion and science deal with overlapping subjects (they do) and they use incompatible methods to reach incompatible conclusions then they are not compatible. Call it uninteresting if you wish, dismiss it if you can, but at least you personally admit that they are not compatible. That's a lot more than the AAAS is doing. You may not find this interesting but many do and this is all we're talking about.

I don't understand why you're arguing so vehemently when you agree with all the premises and the conclusions.

Allan C Cybulskie said...

Tyro, all fields that are not the same -- as I rather verbosely pointed out in the post you quoted from -- will have that precise character. If that's all you mean by "incompatible", it's an incompatibility not worth mentioning. And certainly not worth the oodles of posts and comments that seem to indicate that that sort of compatibility is in some way a problem for anyone.

Tyro said...

If a methodology such as the one religion employs reaches conclusions which are at odds with empirical observations then yes, that I have to disagree, that is a very important problem. You say that philosophy uses different methods but I think that just shows that some forms of philosophy (eg: religious apologetics) suffer from the same critical flaw.

Separating the conclusions, if the methodology does not allow us to resolve internal conflicts such as when two people use the "divine revelation methodology" to reach two mutually incompatible conclusions then yes, this is another interesting and critical flaw. Science has a means of weeding out failures, flaws and mistakes where religion does not. This is a huge incompatibility as this is a corner-stone of scientific investigation, yet people continue to say that religion as a "means of knowing" is compatible with science.

You admit that it is not. As far as I'm concerned that's the end.

Deepak Shetty said...

Allan C Cybulskie
I don't treat Philosophy different from Science, I see that they have significant overlap , and good philosophy is always informed by good science as well as both use similar tools.

If philosophy was the same as speculation combined with faith then yes I would find it as incompatible as religion.

Im not sure in what sense you use the term interesting? Religion and science are obviously incompatible in the sense that people have described and that obviousness doesn't make for any interesting conversations or debates. The problem is that some don't acknowledge this.
As for practical applications of this observation, I don't see any, as I don't believe a creationist or Intelligent designer will be convinced by this and religious scientists are usually capable of compartmentalizing.

Allan C Cybulskie said...

I would reply that science and religion are, in fact, precisely as compatible as science and philosophy are (at least inherently). To claim that science and philosophy are incompatible in any meaningful and interesting way -- ie more than just "they aren't the same thing" -- makes no sense since science came from philosophy. So if they are to be held compatible, then I'd say that religion is compatible in precisely that sense.

My view -- argued for -- is that if any accomodationist can argue non-accomodationists to the point where their only claim of "incompatibility" is "Science and religion are not the same thing", the accomodationist wins, since that's nothing more than a nitpicky, technical incompatibility that no one does or should worry about at all.

Now, you make comments about religion's methods. You don't like them, and you like science's better. As I've said, that's a fair claim. But being able to come up with clear, definitive answers may be something that science has, but many other fields don't. Moral philosophy, for example, isn't even close and it's had thousands of years (philosophy in general has this problem). There are still clear differences in historical interpretations where no clear answer is forthcoming or expected (for example, did Davy Crocket die in battle at the Alamo or was he captured and executed?). This is not, therefore, a universally bad issue, and doesn't necessarily indicate a flaw in the methodology, but we can argue over that.

But again, that it has a different methodology that may not lend itself to conforming to answers all that easily reduces, again, to "These fields are not science". Again, I argue that if that's all that you can say about their incompatibility, accomodationists win.

THAT'S why what I concede is not a big issue; I concede a form of incompatibility that clearly cannot be the one you are concerned about. It is, in fact, similar to John Pieret's charge here that he's okay with saying that religion and science are compatible in the same way as love and science are; if he's correct -- and he may not be, I concede -- that's clearly an incompatibility that does not justify the comments made about religious scientists -- ie that they have cognitive dissonance, and so on -- or about how religion and science should interact in society. Mine is precisely the same sort of argument: if all you can say is that they're not the same, that doesn't support conclusions about religious scientists or what should happen in society.

Now, you CAN make arguments about how we should do things based on arguments about science being better, and I'd welcome those.

Allan C Cybulskie said...

Deepak,

Actually, only some philosophical schools allow for science to be used or inform philosophy, at least in terms of method. Philosophy is careful not to contradict scientific facts, but only naturalistic philosophies (naturalized ethics, naturalized epistemology, etc) make any attempt to follow a methodology that is compatible with science, and in those fields there is still a strong reaction that says that naturalized approaches don't work for those fields.

So, even if they inform each other, their methodologies are generally quite different. That hits Coyne's definition -- but maybe not the one expressed here -- that makes them incompatible by his standards. So how come you feel that you can just declare them compatible?

I've gone into huge detail over "interesting", more in specifics. We can judge how interesting it is by looking at the consequences of that incompatibility. Again, John Pieret's comments about love fit in well here: if religion and science were incompatible in the same way that love and science are (in that argument) we could clearly say that there are no real consequences and no real need for the compartmentalizing that you claim occurs, or at least no compartmentalizing that we didn't already have to do anyway. I maintain that if the incompatibility reduces to "They aren't the same thing" all you're saying is the trivial idea that religion and science are not the same field. Everyone -- even the accomodationists -- agrees with that already. It's unimportant as that also applies to all different fields, none of which we are concerned about. Thus, it is not this incompatibility that is causing the concern, and thus it is not this incompatibility that is of interest in the debate.

(As an aside, I think I may be not busy enough today and so might be taking this thread over too much, so I'll throttle back replies for a while.)

Allan C Cybulskie said...

I do hate to hawk my own blog, and the moderator can delete this if he wants, and I did say I'd throttle back, but this post sums up my entire position on this, including why it's uninteresting:

http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com/2010/05/15/the-poverty-of-the-incompatibilist-position/

Moses said...

Religion's don't have "truth" anymore than Lord of the Rings has "truth." That is, their may be "truths" expressed in these fictions, but the truths do not originate from them.

The fact is the "truths" are just behavioral conventions adopted by a group of people that were codified in religious text then (frequently) modified over time as time and circumstances changed.

Judaism and it's daughter religions of Christianity and Islam are wonderful studies there. A fair reading of those religious tracts will show these changes, over-time, quite well.

So, while certain human truths may be present in fictional devices, such as religion (or the Lord of the Rings), these are not because of the fictional device. These are, instead, products of a particular society at a particular time in a particular stage of awareness/development.

Deepak Shetty said...

@Allan
When philosophy makes claims that can be verified , it does so using science or the tools developed by science. When religion makes claims that can be verified , does it use the tools science provides?

When philosophy or religion makes unverifiable claims, yes they are equally incompatible. However I believe such philosophical claims do not claim to be an absolute truth nor do they demand that it be imposed on all correct? So the degree for harm is different. But yes in principle , system that make unverifiable claims (unverifiable in principle, not in practice) are incompatible with science.

It is a bit silly to compare religion to love. This analogy might have held if religion was a personal thing that one went home and prayed/thanked his version of God. While there might be people who do indeed practice this form of religion , its not mainstream, if it does become mainstream , you can make your love/science differences same as religion/science differences argument.

"religion and science are not the same field. "
No - there is significant overlap.How did we get here? How did life begin? How did the universe get created? Does prayer work ? Can humans be born of virgins? Can we transmute water to wine?. If you want to make the claim religion and science are not the same field then religion must change. Get back to us when it does. This is what frustrates me about the NOMA crowd. They target the scientists while clearly science defines its boundaries well, its religion which keeps infringing on science. They should be convincing the religious to change or reinterpret their religion.

To reiterate religion and science use different means to address the same questions and arrive at different conclusions. They aren't just separate fields as you keep trying to make them.

Moses said...

And if we have two different fields that can, in fact, cover the same things, then if they use different methods eventually there will be a conflict between what they hold as being true or the most likely true thing. What we hope is that each field's methods will eventually allow them both to collapse to the same truth eventually, but that they don't agree at any one point in time is, again, not an incompatibility worth worrying about. It's only an incompatibility of "You and I are not the same".

Oh, bad job there. You see, religion doesn't find truth. PEOPLE find truth. Religion just codifies what some people to believe is truth. Regardless of it being "true" or not...

Science comes along later, and to the extent any independently derived truths (origin myths and interpretations of reality usually) are said to be contained in any relgious tract, science can support or disprove them. (Remember, one of the characteristics of "truth" is that it has to in accord with fact and reality -- and that's what science does: test truths to their accord with fact and reality.)

At this point in time, the Abrahamic faiths have been so thoroughly destroyed in so many areas that it takes a massive set of delusions and rationalizations to believe in something that is clearly false.

For example, Judaism is a cobbled-up religion that originated, primarily, from the the religion Canaanites. However, there was at least one (possibly two) separate religion from which it borrowed heavily. At least one of those religions was polytheistic. SCIENCE teaches us that through archaeological evidence.

Religion claims a truth. Science disproved the claim. This does not translate into "compatible."

Exodus, another specific set of claims, is a load of manure that has been debunked through the SCIENCE of Archeology. There were not 600K Jews wandering the desert for 40 years. There are two reasons, VIA SCIENCE, we believe this story to be impossible.

First, the Egyptians had forts (all within one days walk of each other) all over the Sinai desert at that time in history. Six hundred thousand people couldn't have dodged all those forts without being seen.

Second, never mind the observation issue, these 600K people also failed to leave even ONE SCRAP of evidence of their 40-year wandering. Births, deaths, coprolite's, pottery, waste.... NOTHING.

You have have to be seriously gullible to believe that 600,000 people (the size of a small city) somehow could avoid all those forts while simultaneously leaving NOT ONE SHRED OF EVIDENCE. I should think that since it's so silly and inconceivable that in such a small (230 by 130 miles) area there would be no evidence.

Science shows us the "truth" of Exodus (a major event in the Abrahamic faiths) to be false.

I can go on. The Flood (stolen). Genesis (two incompatible stories from two separate religions).

But you'd refuse to believe that religion is nothing more than bronze/iron age MYTHS. And, like Lord of the Rings or any other work of fiction, any truths contained came from the minds of men, not some unproven, non-existent creator deity.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Deepak Shetty: "No - there is significant overlap."

Yes and no. Religions do have flexibility to decrease the overlap -- and accommodationists tend to encourage that decrease.

"How did we get here? How did life begin? How did the universe get created?"

Creationists obviously have bad answers to these questions. Theistic evolutionists? Well, the whole point of theistic evolution is to cede to the scientific answers of at least the first two questions, and at least in the Judeo-Christian religions, there's not a lot said about how the rest of the universe came to be.

"Does prayer work?"

Okay, how do you empirically distinguish between the answers "no" and "Yes, but the answer to prayers is often 'no'"? The capriciousness or aloofness of gods provides an easy out.

"Can humans be born of virgins?"

Oh, good grief. There's an overlap of sorts, but not in the way you think. If you give it a moment's thought, it's obvious that science and Christianity provide the same answer to that question: Generally, no. The Virgin Birth is treated as an unusual event that required divine intervention in order to happen, not as a normal capability of human women.

Deepak Shetty said...

@ J J Ramsey
"and accommodationists tend to encourage that decrease."
Sure, some of them do. However my anecdotal experience is that acommodationists tend to
a. Push NOMA without achieving that decrease and Blame the scientists for infringing on religion?
b. Dont actually decrease anything (for e.g. drop Genesis from the Old testament). Instead they say oh Genesis has a timeless/allegorical truth which isnt the same as the literal truth or some other such diversion. How many accomodationists actually state it is no business of religion to determine how humans were created or that it is no business of religion to make truth claims about the natural world?(phrased non confrontationally ofcourse :) )

You seem to have a different concept of prayer than believers. Let me ask a narrower question then "Does a selfless prayer by a devout religious person work?" - If people say "yes, but the answer to the prayer is most often no ", then fine I will cede the point (though I would find an answer of the form Yes prayer works but mostly the answer is NO! endlessly amusing). The claim people make is that prayer works, it often works and you must be devout and unselfish for it to be so.

As far as virgin births go the question was related to the Y chromosome and how the holy spirit actually managed to get that into Mary. The answer is not "Generally , no" The answer is cant be done by humans yet without artificial means v/s God can do anything including appearing to do nothing at all.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Deepak Shetty: "Dont actually decrease anything (for e.g. drop Genesis from the Old testament). Instead they say oh Genesis has a timeless/allegorical truth which isnt the same as the literal truth or some other such diversion."

Saying that Genesis has only a non-literal truth is a decrease.

"How many accomodationists actually state it is no business of religion to determine how humans were created or that it is no business of religion to make truth claims about the natural world?"

The idea that it, as you put it, is no business of religion to make truth claims about the natural world is a key part of NOMA.

Deepak Shetty: "You seem to have a different concept of prayer than believers."

From C.S. Lewis, who was not only a believer, but an influential one, even to this day:

Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

The view on prayer that I mentioned is a bog-standard one, even among evangelicals.

Deepak Shetty: "As far as virgin births go the question was related to the Y chromosome and how the holy spirit actually managed to get that into Mary."

No, you are moving the goalposts. You had posed the question, "Can humans be born of virgins?" implying that you were talking about more than just Mary but humans in general.

Kirth Gersen said...

The virgin birth is an interesting case, because we have no evidence of anyone alive at the time believing this to have happened, and fair evidence that a mistranslation -- from "young woman" to "virgin" -- DID happen. Subsequently, a literal reading of the mistranslation spawned a major aspect of the mythology.

As corroborating evidence, this myth is part and parcel of Catholocism and those Christian sects descended from it (Protestantism), but does not appear in other Christian sects that co-existed with Catholocism early on (e.g., the Greek Orthodox church, which explicitly rejects the virgin birth).

Tyro said...

re virgin births - lest we forget the bigger picture, Christians aren't saying that there could, maybe, possibly be the remote chance that a virgin birth could possibly, maybe, under some circumstances occur. No, they're saying that Jesus (a male) was born to Mary who was a virgin, impregnated by God. They're saying that this isn't merely a possibility but that they're virtually certain it occurred. It's this certainty detached from observation or empirical support that is most disturbing.

If a Muslim claims certainty that Jesus was not born of a virgin because this was revealed to Muhammed (I don't know if this is actually what they believe, but suppose) and an evangelical who claims certainty that Jesus was born of a virgin because of divine revelation, what then? In science you can have two scientists draw opposite conclusions but if the evidence is inadequate, at least they acknowledge the conclusion is uncertain.

So we have on the one hand a process which leads us to verifiable facts about the world, which increases our knowledge and leads us to genuine confidence and on the other hand we have a process which leads to mutually incompatible conclusions with absolutely no means of resolution yet which still claims that all beliefs are 'certain'.

If this isn't incompatible, what is?

Allan, seriously, what is an interesting difference if this isn't one?

Deepak Shetty said...

@J. J. Ramsey
"Saying that Genesis has only a non-literal truth is a decrease."
Perhaps. But you violate NOMA dont you? Why should religion have any say on how humans or animals came into the universe or indeed how the universe was created? literal or otherwise?

Also what NOMA advocates say and what they do aren't the same. If they could convince Religious people that religion shouldn't make truth claims I'd be all for it. However in practice they seem to be targeting scientists and saying keep off Religion! Look at Mooney or Ayala.. Are they telling religious people keep off the natural world?

With regards to prayer , Ive never made the contention that religious people don't have excuses for why prayer doesn't work. I'm merely making the assertion that does prayer work? is amenable to scientific testing - and it is different and incompatible from what religion tells you about prayer. Apply whatever you tell me about prayer say for healing a person to a medicine. Well the medicine works but your body must make a request for it, and well sometimes (often) the request will be denied. Also the probability of the medicine healing you is the same as that if you hadn't taken the medicine in the first place. But yes the medicine works because I have this other way of knowing.
Pull the other leg, mate.
C.S. Lewis et al make an a priori assumption that prayer works and fit their explanation to match the data. Can you in all honesty tell me that if you dont go in with the assumption that prayer works, then given the data, you will come out with the conclusion that "Prayer works, but the answer mostly is NO?"

Alright if its goal shifting Ill ask the virgin birth as "Can a female have a male offspring via a virgin birth?" - Again my only point is that this IS a scientific question.

Its curious why the accomodationists like you do not ask for a non literal reading of these accounts?

J. J. Ramsey said...

Deepak Shetty: "Perhaps. But you violate NOMA dont you?"

Depends on how allegorical the interpretation of Genesis is. In any case, it's a retreat by various religions from science's sphere -- heading toward NOMA, not away from it.

Deepak Shetty: "If they could convince Religious people that religion shouldn't make truth claims I'd be all for it. However in practice they seem to be targeting scientists and saying keep off Religion!"

The NCSE's Faith Project is an outreach to the religious to discourage them from making empirical truth claims, at least on the issue of evolution, pushing them towards NOMA.

Deepak Shetty: "With regards to prayer, I've never made the contention that religious people don't have excuses for why prayer doesn't work. I'm merely making the assertion that does prayer work? is amenable to scientific testing"

Trouble is, those excuses mean that scientific testing is problematic because they protect prayer from falsification. Worse, those excuses are based in an idea inherent in the very concept of prayer, namely that prayer is a request and doesn't have a guaranteed outcome, so the excuse isn't simply an ad hoc condition added after the fact. Testing can only show a lack of action on the part of a purported deity, and can't distinguish between a deity that doesn't act because it doesn't wish to and a deity that can't act because it doesn't exist.

Deepak Shetty: "Its curious why the accomodationists like you do not ask for a non literal reading of these accounts?"

You mean accounts like the virgin birth? It's at least in part because such accounts are treated as singular incidents by believers and aren't likely to have testable consequences that could be contradicted by science. No one takes the account of the virgin birth as a template for how human reproduction normally works. That would be completely missing the point. Nor is the story of the virgin birth expected to leave traces behind to be studied after the fact -- something that cannot be said either for the creation stories or the Noahic flood accounts. So it's not as if such accounts are likely to mislead anyone about science, even if they are taken literally.

Deepak Shetty said...

@J J Ramsey
"In any case, it's a retreat by various religions from science's sphere "
I guess we differ here. My impression is that accomodationists are saying that you can have two different interpretations of the same thing , science is literally true and genesis is true(!!!) in some sense. My impression of NOMA is that the things science has a say on and the things religion has a say on don't overlap. Am I mistaken?

I have a similar opinion of the NCSE faith project , basically that religious people can have their cake and eat it too. They link to the clergy letter project which has this absolute gem
"Many of the beloved stories found in the Bible – the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark – convey timeless truths about God, human beings, and the proper relationship between Creator and creation expressed in the only form capable of transmitting these truths from generation to generation. Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. "
I cannot see how you can read the above and say that this is towards NOMA.

"so the excuse isn't simply an ad hoc condition added after the fact."
Uh yes it is. The bible was read literally till it became untenable to do so. The excuses are later additions.

"because it doesn't wish to and a deity that can't act because it doesn't exist."
But Im not attempting to do that.

Im making a specific claim that even a selfless prayer is not answered and that you can use scientific means to test it(for e.g. please feed all the hungry children for a day in the entire world). You can say that God does not exist, does not want to or cant answer the prayer or insert your reason. But the end result is that the prayer is NOT answered.
However religion insists that prayer works, but doesn't say which ones or under what conditions. Hence *methodologically* incompatible.

"So it's not as if such accounts are likely to mislead anyone about science, even if they are taken literally."
In the case of the virgin birth? Maybe not science, but science is not the end of everything.

Why was a virgin birth needed? Because somehow the normal process of sex and conception passes *some sin* down to each and every one of us right? That somehow sex is unclean? And doesn't this view then encourage an attitude towards sex, which then has harmful effects? (Admittedly this is a non scientific argument :) )

In any case that's probably my last comment for a while.

Kirth Gersen said...

"The bible was read literally till it became untenable to do so. The excuses are later additions."

Reading people like Augustine, I'm not sure this is true. Indeed, it appears scriptural inerrancy as a doctrine wasn't instituted in Catholocism until Leo XIII, in the 19th century. It seems more likely they were a mixed lot, with the proportions of the mix varying in terms of time, place, and specific sect.

Not to pour gasoline on a fire here; it's just that, living in the U.S., I've become too used to "facts" being stated point-blank by radio personalities -- facts which upon examination turn out not to be facts at all. In this case, you might be largely correct, but the limited evidence I've seen struck me as otherwise.

Russell Blackford said...

What those who are asking for more have to remember is that there are books and full-length articles and so on which go into this in much more depth. I'm not going to write a book-length blog post. I think I've said enough to explain why it won't wash to say, simply, "Religion and science are compatible" (or not incompatible in any serious sense) usually followed by "because there are lots of religious scientists" and then a reference to Ken Miller or, as in the case before us, to Ecklund's study.

I've also said enough to make clear that non-accommodationists are putting much more subtle arguments than are attributed to us.

Yes, I could go on, er, glossing this post at greater and greater length until it turns into a book. That wasn't the point. The point is that bland claims about religion and science being compatible don't work because they don't address the kinds of science-based arguments that non-accommodationists refer to, and that that are are actually developed by philosophers and scientists in their books and articles, e.g. by Philip Kitcher in his book on the subject or in his essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief. (I even talk about this a bit in my own article in 50 Voices.)

The case before us, which the post responds to, um, glosses over all this. We get, as support for the "religion and science are compatible" claim, reliance on Ecklund's figures! But Ecklund's figures don't and can't address arguments such as those of Kitcher, and they don't even show that there's no problem about psychological compatibility.

What they actually show is that scientists are much less likely than the general population to be religious, and only a very small percentage of them have the kind of religion that says, "Truth is mainly found in one religion." Ecklund's figures are at least consistent with the idea that science puts pressure on people to thin out and/or abandon religious claims. As I said in the post, I don't think this is the best kind of evidence, but it's certainly not evidence that science changes nothing about the psychological plausibility of religion.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"I guess we differ here. My impression is that accomodationists are saying that you can have two different interpretations of the same thing , science is literally true and genesis is true(!!!) in some sense. My impression of NOMA is that the things science has a say on and the things religion has a say on don't overlap. Am I mistaken?"

Sort of. You seem to think there is a contradiction between the idea that "science has a say on and the things religion has a say on don't overlap" and the idea that Genesis is "true" in some allegorical, spiritual fashion that doesn't conflict with the science. Rather odd, since the latter idea is basically an instance of NOMA in action.

"I cannot see how you can read the above and say that this is towards NOMA."

Read one sentence further along your quote from the Clergy Letter: "Religious truth is of a different order from scientific truth. Its purpose is not to convey scientific information but to transform hearts. [emphasis added]" That sentiment in italics, especially the part about "religious truth" not being about conveying scientific information is very much in line with NOMA. Bear in mind, too, that this means that the religious can't have all their cake.

"Uh yes it is. The bible was read literally till it became untenable to do so."

We were talking about prayer, were we not? Even Jesus got a "no" answer to his prayer at Gethsemane, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, and that was in spite of all the stuff he said about having faith the size of a mustard seed.

"Why was a virgin birth needed? Because somehow the normal process of sex and conception passes *some sin* down to each and every one of us right?"

Depends on how you interpret the virgin birth. The idea of sin being passed down through conception is hardly an inherent part of the virgin birth accounts, and it's quite likely that the idea you mentioned post-dates the accounts. One can also see the virgin birth accounts as a contrast to the accounts of Alexander the Great's or Caesar Augustus' births, which were supposedly due to being begat by Zeus and Apollo, respectively. The virgin birth one-ups that by sidestepping the whole issue of adultery -- and that has nothing to do with sex being bad at all.

"(Admittedly this is a non scientific argument :) )"

Good point. Accommodationism doesn't really have much to do with matters pertaining to values such as sex-positivity versus sex-negativity. That's not its purview.

Halnerd said...

Science and Religion both make claims about reality and natural phenomena respectively.

Some claims are not observable or experimentally verifiable and therefore not commented on by science as a discipline, though individuals may have personal opinions about them. Religion though can operate within this nonobservable, nonempirical framework and come up with any answer they see fit, though none are provable. For instance, Science as a tool cannot approach verifying a statement such as "God is Love". This statement may have some personal meaning for individuals, and religion may give them a satisfactory framework for contextualizing it's meaning. In this instance there is really no incompatiblity between science and religion because science accepts it's limitations and refuses to build an argument without proof.

On the other hand, some claims about reality such as the statement "the earth is 6 thousand years old" is an assertion about physical reality and phenomena that can be observed and experimentally/empirically verified. Science does have the tools to claim for or against the truth of this assertion. Science of course, with the backing of all physical sciences can confidently say not only that the assertion "the earth is 6 thousand years old" is false, but that a more accurate assertion can be drawn from observation and experimentation. "The earth is some 4.5 Billion years old, and this is why we know it" In his case, religion and science are irrevocably incompatible. One cannot REASONABLY believe that both assertions are simultaneously true.

So ask yourself two questons when confronted by any assertion of truth. "Does Science have the tools to answer assertions of this nature?" and if not, "Does the type of answer I get without the aid of observationa and empirical experimentaton have any objective truth or meaning"

One must define, case by case, whether or not scientific or religious explainations are compatible. One cannot logically make a broad swipe, yes or no answer of compatiblity. Sorry, its not that simple.

Paul Wright said...

On prayer:

What is testable is the Christian (say) claim that prayer works. Christians do make such claims, sometimes as part of their "testimony". They might talk about answered prayers for healing, for example.

If a study shows prayers for healing don't improve outcomes, the Christian might respond that God sometimes says "no" or "wait". They might add that God has a mind of his own, so prayer is not guaranteed to get what the petitioner asks for.

But something odd has happened here: earlier the Christian claimed that they did know that God answered prayers. In the case where they claim God answered their prayer, how to they know God did it?

The fact that God is a person doesn't help the Christian here: clearly, when they claimed God answered their prayer, they based that claim on some knowledge of God's character: they might think that God is more likely to find a prayer for healing a child worthy than a prayer for a new Ferrari, for example.

As far as the believer has some claim about what sorts of prayers God is more likely to answer, that claim is testable.

To invoke Lewis's response to all such tests implies not just that God is a person, but that God is totally capricious or totally unknowable.

Anonymous said...

Science vs. Religion
Again And Again And...


A. "Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think by Elaine Howard Ecklund"
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/60362/title/Science_vs._Religion_What_Scientists_Really_Think_by_Elaine__Howard_Ecklund


B. "Inception And Prevalence Of Western Monotheism"
http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2SF3CJJM5OU6T27OC4MFQSDYEU/blog/articles/53111

Several additional science/religion titles are included in the link
http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2SF3CJJM5OU6T27OC4MFQSDYEU/blog/articles/53049

some dealing with the role that AAAS has been playing in the science/religion subject...


Dov Henis

Life is, by our sensory conception, a virtual reality affair, and religion is a virtual reality tool for going through life.

mryana said...

I wish a truly honest and educated atheist could be on this blog.
He or she would admit that science and religion go hand in hand much ,much more than they are at (seriously clouded and trumped up) odds!
Why do atheists, on the whole, not meant to stereotype all atheists, "seem" to constantly be on the ready to either deny, debate or debase the beauty in the reality of things so as to drum up adversity and a "us against them" mentality all the time? I mean, really, it smacks of elitism, and of a desire for non-unity in the world when there could acutally exist some peace for God's sake!

mryana said...

I wish a truly honest and educated atheist could be on this blog.
He or she would admit that science and religion go hand in hand much ,much more than they are at (seriously clouded and trumped up) odds!
Why do atheists, on the whole, not meant to stereotype all atheists, "seem" to constantly be on the ready to either deny, debate or debase the beauty in the reality of things so as to drum up adversity and a "us against them" mentality all the time? I mean, really, it smacks of elitism, and of a desire for non-unity in the world when there could acutally exist some peace for God's sake!

mryana said...

sure hope this doesn't double post!

"In short, in an attempt to make its point stronger, Stein's movie makes quite a few claims that don't match the facts -- indeed, outright lies in a number of places" (Kirth)

Sorry, Kirth, your evidence is, unfortunately off-point. Dawkins' flub in reply to a straight question at the end of the movie speaks for itself.