July 25, 2006

"The ‘debate’ over teaching evolution is.... about God and whether science somehow threatens one’s belief in God"?

Instead of objecting to that, some scientists want to have that conversation.

47 comments:

nypundit said...

This is a very interesting question and a mailing list that I am on had a similar discussion about a month ago. For me, the answer is that science does not threaten my belief in God

Pogo said...

nypundit,
I think the salient concern instead is: many people seem to fear that belief in God threatens their belief in science.

For them, such belief is at best a quaint concept, but one incompatible with the tenets of science. A believer shows sufficent credulity to require expulsion from the fold. Religion is anti-matter to science, for some.

Read a few issues of the Skeptic or Skeptical Inquirerer to see how heated and hateful this can become. I read the magazines for years until that became a recurrent topic. Why they found God so threatening is beyond me.

Slocum said...

Of course science threatens religion (though it might be shrewd politics for scientists to argue otherwise). The Catholic Church was not crazy to go after Galileo--religious faith was much easier to maintain alongside the idea that the earth is the center of creation rather than a very small planet orbiting a run-of-the-mill star in a 'corner' of an unimaginably vast universe.

And it is harder to maintain if the thousands of years of biblical time account for only a tiny sliver of the age of the universe (and even of the age of humans). How important could such biblical events really be if they came so very late?

And then evolution -- it's not just that there were no Adam and Eve, but that humans came into being *gradually* over the course of vast stretches of time (during most of which, obviously, neither the Christian or Jewish religions existed). At what point along that continuum did they become worthy of being 'given' souls? Did God not care about all those thousands and thousands of 'lost' generations who left their cave paintings and spear tips?

And how do you reconcile conventional Christianity with the strangeness of modern physics -- relativity, quantum mechanics, anti-matter?

Sure, it's possible to devise some form of religious belief to co-exist peacefuly with all this, but not simple, traditional beliefs. I think the fundamentalists see pretty clearly what's at stake.

Editor Theorist said...

The fact that the USA has been for many decades the world's leading scientific nation, with growing church membership and a thriving New Age spirituality-scene - probably shows that these activities are broadly-compatible, despite conflict at the margins.

Of course, the conflicts are real - most obviously where evolutionary biology and Christian theology compete to explain how humans came to be and why.

In the long run this particular conflict will be won by science, because the theory of evoltuion by natural selection is the core concept of biology which is the major world science. We are not about to give up biology. And the social validation procedures of science are much better at generating both regional and international consensus than are those of religions.

So, my prediction is that the religions which at present cannot survive except by rejecting evolution by natural selection will either change or dwindle. Probably they will change.

My sense is that the new Mega Churches (which I understand are the fastest growing churches in the USA) do not insist on theological/ doctrinal orthodoxy, but instead focus on social and ethical behaviour.

Steve Donohue said...

Have any of you ever seen meaningoflife.tv? The site asks leading scientists about their own values and beliefs about the cosmic. It can often be quite interesting to see how religiously-minded thinkers- or at least, non atheistic thinkers- attempt to square science with religion.

al said...

How does something that one doesn't believe in threaten ones own beliefs? I've always wondered that about people who don't believe in God. Then again - like nypundit - science doesn't threaten my belief in any way.

There are a couple of high energy physicists that tour the country having this exact discussion. One's a believer, the other isn't. It's supposed to be a good lecture/discussion to attend.

SteveR said...

My belief in God is not threatened by my understanding of science. My understanding of science is not threatened by my belief in God.
We can't know or understand everything, those who seek to fully understand God or to explain *everything* based on what science can tell us, are going to be frustrated.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't seek more understanding, or more knowledge, in fact that's what we should do.

Anyway, the journey for each person can be so different I see this as a hard subject to teach.

nypundit said...

Pogo,
A good point. A lot of scientist types are very much like that. Although I am not a science type by any stretch of the imagination (nor do I act like one as a blogger or play one on TV), I have always thought that the two can co-exist quite well. There are several books on the subject written by Gerald Schroeder. They are good reads.

Word verification is loplox: What you need to do in order to get some fish on your bagel.

Justin said...

Well, religion could be explained as "anti-matter to science" due to their respective views on empirical thought. Scientists think belief come from empirical observation, while the religious agree to hold a view without any empirical evidence of its veracity. Heresy to a scientist.

I think the conflict between evolution in particular and religion is more historical than logical. There was a time when Christians held firm to their literal belief in Adam and Eve, and evolution rejects that story, just like Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo rejected the Earth is the center of the universe theory. Perhaps the only reason religion ever took hold in the first place is due to our inability to deny their claims, but, now that we know it's bunk, the religious have to fight the scientific to save face.

I'm an practical atheist because I don't think something powerful enough to create the universe/life/humanity/whatever would care at all about what I do.

JoAnna said...

many people seem to fear that belief in God threatens their belief in science.

Pogo,

I question your use of the word “belief” when talking about science. The only clear distinction I can see between faith and science is the mode of thinking. Faith in God requires “belief” because it lacks logical, provable structure. When trying to prove a tenant of faith you can not set up an experiment with defined variables and await an outcome. I can just as easily “prove” these two theories:

1) If God exists, the Mets will win the 2006 World Series.
2) If God exists, the Mets will lose the 2006 World Series.

While this may sound like a silly example, my point is that there is no method for determining if this is a good experiment which will produce verifiable results – thus it requires us to believe that the experimenter knows what they are talking about.

If you are working with the scientific method of observing an event, forming a hypothesis, setting controls, testing them and drawing conclusions, no “belief” is necessary. I am required to follow a certain procedure and spell out everything that I am doing. In addition, because I have laid all of this out for you and described my method and variables, you can then repeat this experiment on your own and agree, or disagree with my results. No belief is necessary.

While I think discussions about god and people’s faith are important ones, I think we should all realize there is a fundamental difference in thinking about faith than there is in thinking about science and it is dangerous to use the vocabulary of one when talking about the other.

Michael said...

I don't think that quote is a very good characterization of the debate. I can think that evolution is incorrect, but that doesn't mean that someone teaching it has the capability of destroying my faith.

Anyone who would frame it like that doesn't have a very good understanding of religious faith.

Jim said...

The whole debate about science vs. religion is confounded by the careless tossing around of the word "god." Science would have no problem whatsoever dealing with concrete propositions, such as:

1. Prayer works.
2. There is an immortal soul.
3. Religious folks are more moral than the non-religious.
4. Religion makes for more stable marriages.
5. Religion has caused more wars and devastation than anything else.

In fact, if you can set up an experiment that shows that prayer works, I think you can win the $1M prize from CSICOP!

BrianOfAtlanta said...

As a physicist by training, I find kindred spirits in scientists like Collins, Gingerich and Roughgarden. However, the most fascinating thing for me in the article was Dawkins trying to rationalize atheism scientifically. Dawkins asserts that atheism is a brave aspiration? I wonder if he considers smoking cigarettes on a regular basis to be a brave act? From a strictly scientific viewpoint, atheism is the disease, the dead end. History has no great atheistic civilizations. In fact, the greatest scientific civilizations have also tended to be highly religious. From an evolutionary point of view, faith must have clear advantages over atheism for it to be so prevalent in our species. I'm going to check out "The God Delusion", but somehow I doubt Dawkins is going to be able to convince me that the sky is actually orange.

Fitz said...

It has been said – “The believer’s problem with Darwinism is not that man descended from apes…., but that he will descend into them.”

Now, from an ethical position that should be very easy to understand. If we are merely animals, then we can act like them.

As to anti-religious prejudice in the sciences, well obviously its legion. These strict empiricists find it all to be primitive superstition. This has a long track record and is easily discernable.
Pitted against this is a resurgent philosophical battle against Darwinism. ID has strong proponents that play to the weaknesses of Darwinism scientifically and the philosophical strengths of a rigorous epistemological critique.

This is difficult for the scientist to rebuff within his empiricist methodology, and (being already anti-religion) attempts to dismiss this philosophical critique as a Theological critique (i.e.- their creationists in disguise). In as much as they don’t rely on revealed truth, it cant properly be called theologically based.

Troy said...

I agree Pogo... in the last 15 years or so -- and I say this as a lifelong (mostly) Evangelical... we are not afraid of "science" but the politicization of science. There seems to be an abject fear or hatred of God in the discourse of those who outright ridicule the concept of creation.

No doubt many of my brothers and sisters do not help by disclaiming any objectivity, etc. BUT don't those folks usually get all the press anyway? Most Dems are not represented by Kos, most Repubs by Tom Delay and I'm not represented by some snake handler who sues his school board to teach that God created the universe in 144 hours.

A big difference between Evangelicals (at least the reasonable work-a-day folks I've known since I was a kid is that they openly and honestly "just don't know" the specifics. They are interested obviously and curious, but they are OK with the mystery. It's Stephen Gould's fundamentalist belief that he IS right and that we ARE wrong that scares Christians who hold to a traditional Creation (and there is wide debate among Christians).

I thought fundamentalists were those who are so convinced of their rightness that they become unreasonable? Does that not apply to many scientists whether it's climate change, evolution, embryonic stem cells, or archaeology, etc.?

I believe that God and science can and do co-exist -- especially since I believe God created the laws by which nature runs. I don't believe everything my preacher says and I sure as hell don't believe everything my doctor says -- but I mostly do based on faith -- in the theology and science they've learned AND the goodwill they've built up with me over time as responsible and learned persons. If my doctor were ardently andf 100% convinced over every opinion he ever had then I would seem him as unhinged -- a fundamentalist (in the pejorative sense of that word).

miked0268 said...

I don't get it. Exactly how does any scientific theory conflict irreconcilably with religious belief? All that evolution says is that the Biblical creation account can't be literally factually true in every detail. As far as I know only a small fringe of Christians insist on complete literal acceptance of all biblical factual claims.

Why can't religious people just assume that biological evolution happened like the scientists say, but all of it took place under God's control and supervision? It's just another non-disprovable claim like all other religious beliefs. Where's the conflict? My very devout Catholic parents don't seem to have a problem with this approach. I don't see why any scientists should, either.

I've been an atheist for a long time, so maybe I'm missing something that's obvious to everyone else. I just don't understand why this whole issue is something for anyone to get hot about.

KLT said...

Father and Son by Edmund Gosse documents his father's way of dealing with this dillemma. As I recall he concluded that the scientific evidence of evolution was undeniable but also incompatible with the Bible, and so must have been "planted" by god as a test. I think I'd rather deny the scientific evidence than to believe in a god that would give man the mind to understand the scientific concepts and evidence, just to trick him into some kind of spiritual error.

joeschmo1of3 said...

Back when I was an astrophysics major at Berkeley, I went to 10 PM mass at the local Catholic church. Because astronomers (apparently) work at night, I would have to leave my lab buddies for an hour and a half, and then come back to keep working on our experiments.

After the first couple of times, some of my atheist friends began to wonder about me, and were genuinely curious if I had a problem reconciling the concepts we were studying and my religious beliefs.

Growing up Catholic (12 years of Catholic school, thanks, no therapy needed) and being of scientific bent, I had already put those questions behind me, especially because of my intended field, cosmology, which studies the origins of the universe itself. You can't get a bigger question than that in all of astronomy, and it's the one that slams right into literal interpretations of creation myths. Not just Judeo-Christian myths in the Old Testament, but all religions' creation myths.

I explained to my colleagues, if you really boil down all that we do in the sciences, the basic question is not why, but how. Using certain equations, we figured out what the color of the sky is at certain times of the day and at certain latitudes (all doing with the thickness of the atmosphere and its gas mixture). But that information answered the question: how is the sky blue? Not: why is the sky blue?

If an astronomer kept going further and further down the "why" line of questioning, he'd end up with the values of certain constants in the universe (the value of pi, the value of e in natural logarithms, the weight of a proton and an electron, the speed of light, etc.). If any of these numbers were changed, just a little bit, our universe would not be here in the way that we perceive it. The astronomer has to stop there. He can't ask, "Why these numbers?" Because he can't devise an experiment to test that. "How did these numbers come about?" That's something we can do something about, because we can mimic the energy levels right after the initial Big Bang and look at all the cool things that pop out after the particle collision in a collider.

But can scientists ask any questions about the state of the universe before its inception? No. Those that dare are messing with metaphysics, not real physics. The scientific method is basically 4 steps: observe, hypothesize, experiment, verify. If we don't do any one of these steps in adding to our knowledge of nature, then we're just making stuff up.

So, I told my buddies, I'm here to see HOW God did it. But where does God fit in with all our equations and our observations of mass, gas, and light? We don't have a "God" force to add to our equations. Well, we're not really done figuring out how fundamental forces of nature really work either.

In every age, or era, or epoch, or however you want to define it, new "myths" are created to explain our origins and they become more complex and take into account new data as we, ourselves, become more complex and able to observe things we never observed before. I told my colleagues, "Creation myths are not lies, they were the truth at that time." So now we have Science and its creation narrative. We should not be naive and think that what we do in the natural philosophies today will not be refined or even discarded in the future.

So, the tools I learned through the sciences did not threaten my belief in God, they bolstered my relationship with God. If I could get just a glimpse of how complex this universe really is, it made the word "mystery" have more meaning, not less.

David Walser said...

Years ago when I was an undergraduate, we need not go into how many years ago, I was taught that the scientific method was based on three premises: 1) That everything in nature is the result of the application of natural law and not some supernatural action, 2) that these laws apply without respect to time or space, and, 3) that, through observation, we can identify and understand the application of these laws. Each of these premises is essential to the seeker of knowledge using the scientific method. Take the first, if you want to know why the volcano erupted, saying "It was god's will." stops all enquiry. Even if you believe, ultimately, such things are consistent with divine will, you have to suspend that belief to make a scientific inquiry. (This is why creationism cannot be science. Creationism violates this first premise.) The same goes for the second and third premises. If whatever you learn is not generally applicable, that it's valid ONLY for that day and that place, any knowledge is of little use. If you don't believe we are capable of understanding something, you are likely to give up the inquiry.

A person of faith is likely to disagree with all of these premises. That does not prevent a person of faith from being a good scientist. Indeed, until recently, most scientists were men of faith.

From this point of view, I don't find science to be a threat to my faith. Science, by its own rules, could not recognize the existence of God even if God's hand were "seen" in the eruption of a volcano. The first premise would demand another, alternative, supernatural-free explanation. The problem comes when those of faith think they can dismiss science because science ignores the possibility of the divine. A similar problem arises when we ignore the limits these fundamental premises place on the potential outcomes of scientific inquiry. Just because we adopted the premise god does not cause things to happen in the natural world, does not mean god does not interact with natural world. Just because we think we are capable of understanding everything about the natural world does not mean our finite minds are, in fact, capable of understanding all things. Science, by its own design, can neither prove nor disprove the existance of god.

Richard Dolan said...

The focus on evolution suggests that this isn't an issue about "belief in God," but instead an issue about belief in a particular reading of Genesis. For example, there is nothing in the New Testament, at least nothing that comes readily to mind, that says anything about how the universe came to be -- the creation story is all in Genesis. Nor does anything in the New Testament (or in almost all of the Old Testament, either) turn on one's acceptance at any level of the creation story in Genesis. In short, the Bible would not have been rendered incoherent or internally inconsistent if the first few chapters of Genesis had never been written.

A subtext in the NYT article is that there is a conflict between scientific reasoning and the very concept of faith. That strikes me as a chimera. Faith, by definition, is different from a process of empirical proof. Those who dismiss faith as a form of mental disease, as the article suggests some scientists do, are really kidding themselves. Faith is inescapable; it's just a matter of what one chooses to have faith in. Some prefer the natural order, or Nature romantized in various ways, or the Goodness or Perfectability of Man, or something else. But whatever one's choice, somewhere along the way most people need to find a tether for concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, ought vs. is. Wherever one finds that tether is quite likely to involve belief in something.

Prof. Weinberg's comment, to the effect that only religious belief is powerful enough to get good people to do bad things, is a bit much. Perhaps he has in mind Biblical practices that, if put into effect today, would strike many as barbaric. Or perhaps he has in mind various equally barbaric medieval practices, e.g. the Inquisition, carried out by religious authorities. Less likely, but more apropos today, would be terrorism fueled by fundamentalist Islam -- blowing up a restaurant or wedding celebration in service of some notion of the Will of Allah. But it is doubtful that Weinberg, or anyone else cited in the NYT article, has Islam in mind -- it's not PC to point the finger at religions other than Judaism or Christianity. But whatever the particular object of Weinberg's barb, the real objection is that it is hopelessly ahistorical. (In that regard, it is commonly said, and uncommonly accurate to say, that Islamic terrorists have, at best, a medieval worldview.)

But other than fundamentalist Islam, no one has much to fear from organized religion or religious believers as such today. And if the topic is what gets "good people to do bad things," there are a few things science has given us that might qualify -- eugenics comes to mind (I have in mind Holmes' famous dictum that three generations of imbeciles is enough), to say nothing of "scentific materialism" in the political sphere.

brylin said...

What is the origin of the universe? What is its first cause?

Since there is no proof, the existence of a God is a matter of faith.

The causation question, together with the beauty and complexity of nature, lead me to be a believer. (But, you may ask, then why does evil exist?)

These issues are as old as civilization.

But can't we have a civil discussion? Even Raelians have a viewpoint that cannot be scientifically refuted.

John A said...

Darwin himself was a fairly militant Christian, and held off from publishing for fear of exactly the reaction he eventually saw.

This is largely another teapot being shaken by a sneeze. By far the majority of Judaeo-Christian religions have not found a conflict for decades at the very least. Yes, the strict-interpretation twits make a lot of noise: but no, they are no more a majority than are strict atheists.

And I'd like to see more exposure of their a la carte approach to "strict" interpretation. For one, take the Phelps family. This bunch argues that Leviticus and one of the New Testament letters (Romans: Jesus is nowhere recorded as saying a thing, nor are any of the Apostles - just a guy several generations later who had fairly obvious hangups about sex, whether hetero or homo) state that they must regard homosexuality as an "abomination" and fight against it. Has anyone asked if any of the family ever had a cheese-burger? A bacon cheeseburger? Lobster or shrimp? These too are listed as "abominations" after all. Do they picket McD's? Joe's Bar and Grill? And for all the national publicity they have garnered, how often are we reminded that there are less than two hundred members in total? That's less than one in one million - think eight people in New York City. Why is anyone paying attention?

DairyStateDad said...

I agree with Pogo about the unfortunate and relatively indiscriminate hostility among many card-carrying skeptics toward all theistic religion. (The fact that the The Skeptical Inquirer/CSICOP has a cousin publication, Free Inquiry, put out by the avowedly atheist Coalition for Secular Humanism, may offer some insight into this tendency.)

And there are some evolutionary scientists (most notably Richard Dawkins) who are fairly militant in this regard as well.

But not all. It's my recollection that Stephen J. Gould, although perhaps not a theist himself, was far less willing than Dawkins to suggest that evolutionary findings could be used to undermine religious belief, seeing them instead as separate realms.

As for the other side of the coin, the hostility among some religionists to evolution, I've long had a hypothesis about that. It goes like this:

It's no coincidence that the hostility in question is among those who believe the Bible literally, but that's only part of the story. I believe it boils down to the Fundamentalist/conservative Evangelical interpretation very specifically about the meaning of Jesus Christ's mission, life, death and resurrection. In this religious worldview, Jesus is all about the redemption of original sin as brought about by the fall of Adam. That is very much the core of this strain of Christianity. Get rid of Adam, and this interpretation loses all of its meaning. That's why the literal interpretation of the Bible is so important to them, and any deviation from it so threatening. (I grew up in the middle of this sort of Christianity, not in my family, but definitely in my community.)

Mainline interpretations of the Christ material offer a much more nuanced and complex understanding of Jesus that does not rest so literally on the Genesis story. (See the new Gary Wills book, What Jesus Meant, for one such interpretation.) This more nuanced view is not any less supernatural in its understanding, but it can much more easily accommodate an interpretation of the Biblical creation story as allegory and symbol, and integrate itself with the findings of science.

DairyStateDad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
bos0x said...

Pogo: There is nothing heated or hateful about religion in Skeptic--unless you think that debunking alien abuctions is good clean fun, but debunking your own personal ideology is offensive and horrific. You have to be threatened by God in order to point out how ridiculous (and, potentially, dangerous) faith healers and creationists are, or to report on studies about the effectiveness of prayer?

HaloJonesFan said...

"The Catholic Church was not crazy to go after Galileo..."

Actually, the Catholic Church didn't give a rat's ass about some kooky philosopher. It was Galileo's own colleagues who got him declared a heretic. He made them look like a bunch of buffoons; and, in the true Italian tradition, they got even.

joeschmo10f3: A beautiful post. You have neatly stated my beliefs on the subject--that religion is about why, and science is about how.

bosox: "You have to be threatened by God in order to point out how ridiculous...faith healers and creationists are, or to report on studies about the effectiveness of prayer?"

So...studies about the effectiveness of prayer: STUPID! But studies about the effectiveness of placebo: IMPORTANT! Is that what you're saying here?

Daryl Herbert said...

From a strictly scientific viewpoint, atheism is the disease, the dead end. History has no great atheistic civilizations.

Rome was a pretty great civilization. Do you think the Romans really believed all that garbage about Jupiter and whatnot? As time went on, the knew more and more that it was hokum. Christianity was a less-implausible religion (only one magical god-figure, who had only one zany adventure here on Earth, instead of a literal pantheon of gods putting on their own regularly-scheduled X-rated sitcom).

In fact, the greatest scientific civilizations have also tended to be highly religious.

All old civilizations have tended to be religious, so right there your point fails.

American scientists today are largely atheistic (fewer believers than non-believers). The only reason America scores so high in terms of the number of believers is because of all of the... non-scientists who are religious.

How religious is Japan, Korea, China? How religious is the tech sector in Israel? How religious is the tech sector in India? Probably much less so than for the population at large.

From a strictly scientific viewpoint, atheism is the disease

For some reason, it doesn't sound like you're coming from a strictly scientific point of view here...

Daryl Herbert said...

Years ago when I was an undergraduate, we need not go into how many years ago, I was taught that the scientific method was based on three premises: 1) That everything in nature is the result of the application of natural law and not some supernatural action, 2) that these laws apply without respect to time or space, and, 3) that, through observation, we can identify and understand the application of these laws.

That's flat-out wrong. That's not the "scientific method," that's a secular, materialist worldview, and an optimistic one at that.

It's possible for someone to be an devout Christian engineer who designs buildings and runs scientific tests on his designs, and then goes home at night and posts creationist nonsense on web sites. It's possible for a person to use the scientific method for one thing and still reject a wholly scientific worldview. You can't get less scientific than intelligent design, but being deep into ID doesn't prevent someone from having a day job.

Who would be so arrogant as to claim that religious people are incapable of science? That's stupid dogmatism. Look around you. There's a lot of religious people doing science. They (by definition) don't accept a totally materialistic worldview.

Pogo said...

Re: "There is nothing heated or hateful about religion in Skeptic"
Both magazines have over the past 20 years become quite obsessed with debunking religion, although its very basis is something science cannot address. They seem to be weak and afraid, and can only feel better if they 'knock down' God. When that fails, they 'prove' that religious believers are credulous fools whose behavior is worse because of their faith. They are actively hostile to religion, and bent on its demise. I find that hateful; you might disagree. But I stand by my statement that "belief in God threatens their belief in science."

From The Skeptical Inquirer
God Is Dead, After Weather and Sports
"The Vatican, now stripped of its treasures, installed a water slide to attract tourists. It didn't work. As for the Pope, he became just another celebrity, famous for being famous. He had a talk show on the USA Network, he did a brandy ad, he cut a country and western album. His infomercial for a vibrating massage chair can be seen on many cable channels at three a.m. He married Linda Evans."

Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die
""Belief" is the name we give to the survival tool of the brain that is designed to augment and enhance the danger-identification function of our senses. Beliefs extend the range of our senses so that we can better detect danger and thus improve our chances of survival as we move into and out of unfamiliar territory. Beliefs, in essence, serve as our brain's "long-range danger detectors."

Are Science and Religion Compatible?
"religion as dramatic existentialist poetry"
"I would add to this the fact that religious systems of belief, thought, emotion, and attitude are products of the creative human imagination. They traffic in fantasy and fiction, taking the promises of long-forgotten historical figures and endowing them with eternal cosmic significance."

Neither Intelligent nor Designed
"Is it any more than an overweening human ego that proposes intelligent design for such a poorly designed creature?"

From The Skeptic:
Religious Belief & Societal Health New Study Reveals that Religion Does Not Lead to a Healthier Society
"Whether religion leads directly to dysfunctionality, or religions merely flourish in dysfunctional societies, neither conclusion from this study flatters religion."
"religion is a hindrance to the development of moral character, and the second that religion hinders progress by distracting us from our troubles (with imaginary solutions to real problems)."

Amy said...

Many of these comments seem to approach the disagreement of science and religion on a case by case basis--theories disagreeing with a specific religious belief. But the disagreement actually goes much much deeper than that. Many religions believe in a diety who actively participates in the world, capable of intervening at any time. This completely undermines scientific goals: to find and define laws that govern the universe. If a diety can change things at will, the world cannot be governed by a specific set of rules; it is ruled by the diety alone.

The book "Quest for Truth: Scientific Progress and Religious Beliefs" by Mano Singham does an excellent job of exploring this point and the philosophy of science behind it. The author (a former professor of mine) was once a minister, and has since moved to theoretical physics. His religious past made him question both science and religion, and whether or not they are compatible. He has since become an Athiest.

J said...

"5. Religion has caused more wars and devastation than anything else."

I suppose that's true f you consider collectivist economic theory a religion.

Forty_Two said...

This debate isn't about education.

It's about power and influence.

David Walser said...

Years ago when I was an undergraduate, we need not go into how many years ago, I was taught that the scientific method was based on three premises: 1) That everything in nature is the result of the application of natural law and not some supernatural action, 2) that these laws apply without respect to time or space, and, 3) that, through observation, we can identify and understand the application of these laws.

That's flat-out wrong. That's not the "scientific method," that's a secular, materialist worldview, and an optimistic one at that. -- Daryl Herbert, quoting me and then commenting.

Uh, Daryl, what's flat out wrong? That I was not taught the things I claimed to have been taught or that what I was taught was wrong?

Quoting Daryl: "It's possible for someone to be an devout Christian engineer who designs buildings and runs scientific tests on his designs, and then goes home at night and posts creationist nonsense on web sites. It's possible for a person to use the scientific method for one thing and still reject a wholly scientific worldview. You can't get less scientific than intelligent design, but being deep into ID doesn't prevent someone from having a day job.

Who would be so arrogant as to claim that religious people are incapable of science? That's stupid dogmatism. Look around you. There's a lot of religious people doing science. They (by definition) don't accept a totally materialistic worldview."

Daryl, please go back and read the rest of my original post. You'll note that we don't disagree. At least I don't think we do. Science, by its very nature, excludes from consideration as an explanation for cause and effect the supernatural. Science is the means by which we examine the natural world. It offers no insight into the spiritual. Science cannot provide ANY insight into the existence or actions of deity -- for the very simple reason science starts with the presumption that nothing happens as the result of some supernatural whim. That does not mean a scientist cannot believe in god. Many do.

Barry Kearns said...

And for all the national publicity they have garnered, how often are we reminded that there are less than two hundred members in total? That's less than one in one million - think eight people in New York City. Why is anyone paying attention?

Err... because people of this ilk were responsible for the creation of anti-sodomy laws? Philosophical opposition to something on religious grounds is one thing, making public policy changes that impact the rights of others is quite another.

These are also the same folks that are using their religious fundamentalism to try to shove so-called "intelligent design" down the throats of impressionable children.

If you're looking for religious fundamentalists that are diametrically opposed to science, you need look no further than Answers in Genesis, which is vastly larger than Phelps' crowd.

A couple of statements from AiG's "statement of faith" points out good examples of both their clash with science as well as their intent to meddle in public policy to the detriment of others:

B) 1. The 66 books of the Bible are the written Word of God. The Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant throughout. Its assertions are factually true in all the original autographs. It is the supreme authority in everything it teaches.

...

3. The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the Earth and the universe.

...

C) 12. The only legitimate marriage is the joining of one man and one woman. God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of marriage.

...

D) 2. The days in Genesis do not correspond to geologic ages, but are six [6] consecutive twenty-four [24] hour days of Creation.

...

6. No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.


The last point is probably the most important. AiG operates from the premise that they categorically rule out in advance any evidence that science may wish to present which contradicts Scripture... declaring it as false before it is ever presented.

This is the organization that the pastor (of the church I attend) recommends as the prime source for church members to go to for "evidence" as to why the scientific arguments against creationism are wrong. And he hews tightly to that line... that anything that science produces which contradicts Scripture is de-facto false.

The church I attend is a part of a much larger set of churches, and their membership is definitely not small.

bos0x said...

HaloJonesFan: ..no...I guess my sentence was unclear. What I meant was "You have to be threatened by God in order to report on studies about the effectiveness of prayer?"

As for Pogo's quotes...

"God Is Dead, After Weather and Sports": Skeptical Inquirer writers are "weak and afraid" about God because they write articles like this?! Are you so insecure in your beliefs that you feel the need to be offended by something which is clearly a joke? Did anyone prove that God is fake? No. Does the Pope have a talk show? No. Is this article going to destroy Christianity? Well, it's been seven years since it's publication and the vast majority of Americans still believe in God, so I'd say no.

"Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die" and "Are Science and Religion Compatible": I can't read the articles right now, but please, point out the hate in either of these two quotes. I see writing that is mild and reasonable. So you don't agree with it; that doesn't mean it's hateful.

"Neither Intelligent nor Designed": Creationists are "overweening"?!! Oh no!!!!!!!!!!!!! *gives you soft pats* :)

"Religious Belief & Societal Health...": The entire article has graphs illustrating things like the number of homicides, abortions and teen pregnancy in various countries. The United States has some of the highest rates of the three, and also has a larger percent of Bible-believing people than many of the other countries included. Why should the writers be expected to sugar coat this correlation? And would you be offended if someone said that being religious is the only way to be truly moral? Then why is it so inacceptable to say the opposite?

J said...

"He has since become an Athiest"

Which raises a question - do you really mean agnostic? I ask because I've seen the words used interchangeably in a lot of cases, and they don't mean the same thing. It's one thing to doubt that God exists and/or question the evidence for that belief. It's another thing entirely to insist that He doesn't; something we can't possibly know for certain and every bit as irrationally dogmatic as any belief mocked by those who criticize religion.

JorgXMcKie said...

Ripping off someone I don't quite remember, "Science is what we think we know right now, pending further testing and evidence, written in pencil."

Religion is *knowing* about certain things.

To the extent that there is an overlap, there'll be difficulties for one side or the other.

On the issue of atheism though (I am more technically a-religious, I think -- don't even know enough to ask the right questions or question the right answers), I don't see why some atheists get so worked up about religion. If you don't believe God exists, why should you care if someone else does? Also, all the atheists I've known or read about apparently started in a monotheist culture. Has anyone here heard of or known a Hindu atheist, or a Zoroastrian atheist, or a Daoist atheist? That is, someone raised in a non-monotheist culture/society/family who now is an atheist? Just wonderin'

T J Olson said...

People here who do not see an conflict bewteen science and religion do not seen to know or grasp that in the 19th century, a literal understanding of Genesis was the norm; if you did not beleive in the seven day creation story - that the earth was only some 6-thousand years old - then you were not a Christian!

What people today accept as "Chirstian Belief" such matters really is a triumph of liberal religion over literalism. This is a radical re-evaluation of textual literalism, and the findings of science forced the shift upon literate, educated people.

A similar shift is going on the Muslim world, which also embraces a literal view of the Koran, and for Sunni, of the Haditha. This threat and the nativist reaction undergirding Islamism is very much behind what's driving terrorism today, necessitating the GWOT.

What's past is prologue to today. We too easily forget how violent change is whn it is thrust upon us.

Synova said...

j: ""5. Religion has caused more wars and devastation than anything else."

I suppose that's true f you consider collectivist economic theory a religion."

;-) I wasn't going to bring up communism but I did feel the need to dispute #5 because it's a "belief" that is presented as accepted fact so often. Of *course* a war taken up by a society that is religious will be described with religious language. This doesn't make religion the source of the carnage.

forty-two: "This debate isn't about education. It's about power and influence."

Well said.

And I agree with those who said that fundamentalism can be defined as "I'm right, therefore you must be right as well."

Everyone should be allowed to believe they are right and try to persuade others... that's not it. It's the need to *make* other people believe the right things. And while teaching evolution shouldn't be that way it is often percieved that way and I think for valid reasons.

I forget what it's called... naturalism, maybe. If teaching evolution is teaching, not that science is confined to the natural, but that *everything* is confined to the natural... that's an assault on religious belief.

There are evangelical fundamentalist religious people on *both* sides of the God/science debate. You can tell who the "science" ones are because when you use religious terms for their crusading (like pointing out that they are on a crusade) they get really *really* mad.

The Exalted said...

as slocum said, conventional religion does not make a heck of a lot of sense in light of a universe that is 16 billion years old and an earth that is some random planet in an infinitely large universe. how important to a creator could the 200,000 year old man be to this creator, so that he would personally watch over them and then send them to a heaven or hell after their relatively miniscule lives?

Paddy O. said...

"And how do you reconcile conventional Christianity with the strangeness of modern physics -- relativity, quantum mechanics, anti-matter?"

I suggest you have a go at Polkinghorne or Pannenberg. Or Nancey Murphy or Moltmann. Or, well, the list can go on and on. It actually coincides quite well. This is a religion that believes 3 = 1 after all, which requires twisting the Newtonian world a little bit. Indeed, Pannenberg's Systematic Theology is quite filled with conversation that follows much contemporary physics.

One major problem for many in this discussion the Science side is represented by Oxford or Harvard scientists/philosophers, while the theology side is represented by an undereducated baptist.

There are immense amount of discussions of how science and faith can interact and inform each other, only getting into the theology side of things might require getting into some fairly advanced and difficult reading.

Paddy O. said...

Amy, oddly enough John Polkinghorne moved the entirely opposite direction. He was a physicist of note and became a minister/theologian.

It goes to show that faith is one of those stark, bare choices we are given in life. What we do, or what we know, can be padding for our choice, but these only serve for after the fact excuses.

Amy said...

J: Yes, there is a distinction between agnostic and athiest. From my conversations with Professor Singham, I believe his beliefs to be of the latter. Of course, I don't want to put words in his mouth here. This is my understanding of his beliefs.

As I was saying in my original comment, for some, the problems between science and religion arise from the existence of an active diety. Agnostics would not necessarily be able to overcome this obstacle. To eliminate the possibility of a diety's interference in natural laws, athiesm is the more clear-cut belief, as it denies the existence of any such diety. (There are, of course, other religious beliefs [such as the clock-maker interpretation of God] that would avoid this conflict.)

AlaskaJack said...

Somebody once defined faith as knowing that something is true even if you don't believe it.

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what this means.

Pogo said...

bosox,
I'm not going to debate whether you find the anti-religion articles of the Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer (among others) to be, in fact, anti-religious. That is a value judgement, not a 'fact' as such.

Thus, you're falling into the same error commtted by militant atheists. Science has no way of applying their tools to the question of God, or spiritiuality, or love, or feelings, or values. The things that count cannot be counted.

The 'scientific article' purporting to show the 'effect' of religion on societal behavior are, moreover, really badly done. They neglect a few interesting data points which ruin their data. The number of people killed by their own government reached 100 million in the 20th century, all under the auspices of avowed atheists. No other group even comes close.

Further, I would argue that the 'social sciences' are rarely scinece at all. Instead, they operate more nearly as a faith.

J said...

"Agnostics would not necessarily be able to overcome this obstacle. To eliminate the possibility of a diety's interference in natural laws, athiesm is the more clear-cut belief, as it denies the existence of any such diety"

Are you saying belief in God requires us to believe in his interference in natural laws?

DairyStateDad said...

T J Olson said...

People here who do not see an conflict bewteen science and religion do not seen to know or grasp that in the 19th century, a literal understanding of Genesis was the norm; if you did not beleive in the seven day creation story - that the earth was only some 6-thousand years old - then you were not a Christian!

It's not quite so cut-and-dried as that. A writer interviewed on NPR's Speaking of Faith yesterday says that another evolutionary theorist, whose work paralleled that of Darwin (but who was beaten to publication by Darwin), traveled the US in the late 19th century giving lectures on Darwinism and was quite calmly received. This writer, Darwin biographer James Moore, attributes the fundamentalist backlash to Darwin more to the social, economic and cultural upheaval of the turn of the century than anything else.

Barry Kearns said:

This is the organization that the pastor (of the church I attend) recommends as the prime source for church members to go to for "evidence" as to why the scientific arguments against creationism are wrong. And he hews tightly to that line... that anything that science produces which contradicts Scripture is de-facto false.

The church I attend is a part of a much larger set of churches, and their membership is definitely not small.


It's none of my business, but I must admit I'm fascinated with why you continue to attend a church whose outlook you so clearly disagree with.