Another flea

Joshua Rosenau, graduate student and Public Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Education, has his knickers in a twist. Perhaps it’s because he lost Professor Steve Steve, or perhaps it’s because I’ve criticized the views of his close colleague Eugenie Scott, and certainly it involves his visceral rejection of my non-accommodationist atheism. (Rosenau is a diehard faitheist, just the type the NCSE likes.)  This week he’s going after me for my claim that religion is not a “way of knowing” that produces truths about the universe.

His argument is woolly and poorly written, and confuses “truth” (whose existence he denies), with “ways of knowing” and “knowledge”.  He gets all balled up in a completely irrelevant riff on vampires.

Fortunately, I don’t have to waste time going after him because Ophelia Benson has already done so at Butterflies and Wheels, obligingly assisted by several commenters, most notably Eric McDonald.

Here’s a particularly good specimen of Rosenau’s ability to sustain a rational argument; it’s a comment he made in response to Ophelia Benson:

I don’t care for golf, nor do I find dance terribly meaningful either as a spectator or a participant. I also don’t personally find religion to be useful in my life. I know, however, that other people get great meaning from golf, from dance, and from religion. How is your indifference to religion any different than my indifference to dance? Would I be wrong to claim that dance is incompatible with science since the insights dance brings to dancers are not empirical in nature? How do we decide that some non-empirical ways of knowing are OK, while others are incompatible with science?

The only basis Coyne offers, and the only one I can recall being offered by other enablers, is that religion and science are incompatible because religions can make false empirical claims.

But so can art. I think that people who would read A Tale of Two Cities as an historical account of the French revolution are being just as bad as those who read the Bible as an historical account of the Bronze Age. It’s perfectly possible to read Dickens or the Bible as true, but not as empirically true. And if the battle is between people who read the Bible in a non-empirical sense and those who don’t, then it seems like we should strengthen the hand of moderate theists, not disparage them.

I wasn’t aware that there was a movement to replace the teaching of European history with the view given in Dickens’s novels, nor a push to deny people contraception because that’s what Dickens would want, or to keep women subordinate because Mrs. Micawber would never desert Mr. Micawber.

Rosenau’s shambling, from-the-hip style of argument doesn’t bode well for the NCSE.  Or maybe it does — if they want somebody who is good at regurgitating ill-considered reasons for coddling religion. As Eric McDonald says:

Rosenau’s piece is so terrible it’s hard to read without holding one’s nose. It’s as though he’s saying that anything that makes me feel good, makes me feel as though I understand something, is, in some sense, a way of knowing. With that debased coinage it’s hard to say what is not a way of knowing. Instead of being an accomodationist, Rosenau is an obscurantist, and that should be a matter of considerable concern, considering that he works for NCSE.

Religious logicFig. 1.  Ways of knowing.

49 Comments

  1. Posted September 16, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Prof Steve Steve wasn’t stolen.
    He ran away. With Josh’s laptop and ipod.
    God told me.
    Its OK, Josh, just a one time miracle, it doesn’t upset the laws of nature or anything.
    I look forward to seeing the list of ‘Bad’ religions that Josh wants people to convert out of to the ‘Good’ religions (a list of those would also be handy).
    Is the NCSE now a missionary organization?

  2. Posted September 16, 2009 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Another “flea.” Geez, you’re an unpleasant piece of work.

    Now it’s true his attack is a bit fuzzy— unnecessarily so because your arguments are self refuting.

    1. The way we acquire knowledge is through science.

    2. We (at least, that is, the elite brites, when they aren’t busy with heady stuff like advocating war, condoning torture, championing eastern mysticism, speaking in dead languages, fiercely arguing evolution with cartoonists, posting pictures of the contents of their trash cans, writing popularizations, etc) ‘know’ that science and religion are incompatible.

    3. This knowledge, by #1, comes to us by science.

    4. Science requires experimental confirmation.

    5. Therefore there must have an experiment that has demonstrated the incompatibility of science and religion.

    What was that experiment, exactly?

    • Posted September 16, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      The answer to that question depends on your definition of the word ‘science’.

    • gillt
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      I’ll answer #5 by clarifying it.

      Therefore, there must have been an experiment that has demonstrated the incompatibility of specific scientific claims and specific religious claims about the perceived world.

      There, now the answer should be obvious.

      • Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        No that doesn’t even begin to clarify it. The claim is not: there is an incompatibility between science and some specific religious claims. That would be no big deal. After all, there is also an incompatibility between science and some specific scientific claims.

        No, the claim is that there is an incompatibility between science and religion, period.

        You not only moved the goal post, you replanted them it the next county.

      • gillt
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

        Heddle, you don’t get to throw around the world religion and expect us all to understand what you’re referring to.

        Insisting on keeping terms vague is sophistry.

        What’s relevant to the question is whether specific religious claims are compatible with science. When those claims that are not compatible with science but are central to a particular religion’s dogma, it can be said that the religion in question is incompatible with science.

    • aratina
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      How about this:

      -Religion is a finite set of ideas which are created arbitrarily, unchanging, arbitrary with respect to each other, not actively tested against reality, and in most cases untestable.

      -Science is an infinite set of ideas, continually built up methodologically by contrasting new ideas with old ideas, testing new ideas against reality, and ensuring new ideas do not contradict those already in the set.

      -In the process of scientific progression, science has rolled over and flattened religious ideas whenever it had the chance.

      -Religion, as a set of ideas, is incompatible with science as a set of ideas.

      • Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        Aratina, I think you’ve illustrated an important point – although I happen to completely disagree with your definition.
        “Science as a set of ideas” IS the point being argued about by the accomodationists and theistic evolutionists. They love this definition of science because, so long as you allow for some degree of metaphor in your interpretation of religious ‘facts’ then they are correct – science IS compatible with religion (any of the religious ‘facts’ that contradict known scientific findings are automatically assigned to the metaphor box – even if people in the past were executed by experts in the same religion for raising that very point).
        The other definition of science – ‘a methodology used to tell whether a particular idea about the natural world is incorrect’ is much harder for believers to deal with. Unless you are a pantheist, a first cause deist or a wish-washy obscurantist like Karen Armstrong then you are going to be hard pressed to find compatibility (I’ve never heard a single believer or faitheist try to argue compatibility when science is defined as a methodology).

      • aratina
        Posted September 17, 2009 at 5:15 am | Permalink

        Re: Sigmund

        Thank you for the feedback at my feeble attempt to show how science and religion are incompatible.

        I think I understand what you are saying: under definitions of science and religion as sets of ideas, religions can claim that some of their arbitrary ideas match those of science even though the similarity is only coincidental – religious ideas were never obtained using the scientific method.

        This similarity between particular religious ideas and scientific ideas, no matter how small, allows religious people to lay claim to a revealed truth and mistakenly think their arbitrary ideas are another way of knowing that is equal to science.

        More generally, if a1 and b1 are reasonably similar ideas and set A consists of {a1} and set B consists of {b1}, a1 and b1 being included in those sets respectively through completely different processes, then how can we determine that set A is truer than set B?

        Since comparing the sets is problematic, when showing how science and religion are incompatible, we shouldn’t define science per se as the set of ideas not rejected by the scientific method. Instead, we should focus on the incompatibility of the processes with which we come to know those ideas: the scientific method vs. divine revelation. Which is why it may be better to define science as a methodology for detecting falsehoods about reality (nature).

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted September 17, 2009 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        Indeed, that’s what I did in my earlier New Republic article on Ken Miller/Karl Giberson, where I said the incompatibility between science and faith rests on this question, “How would I know if I were WRONG?”

      • aratina
        Posted September 17, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, blogmeister. I found the article you are referring to, Seeing and Believing, and look forward to reading it.

  3. Zarcus
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Actually, Joshua Rosenau’s essay is really quite good. It doesn’t surprise me that some commentator’s defending Coyne get into “define nature/natural” – one asking “give me a coherent definition of nature”.

    The essay is written like a blog, by this standard it certainly isn’t poorly written (I’m sure Coyne can understand that point). Of course, Ophelia appears to do what offers including Coyne have done when defending ideas that border on “supernatural phenomena are not beyond the realm of science” and what are truth claims, she slips out of realizing that all we have to talk about his people believing. In the scientific sense we can test the claims, but this in no way means there is a “supernatural phenomena” that we are testing, that includes a talking Mount Rushmore (which is silly talk like Darwin would recognize it as, it simply doesn’t matter that Coyne would be convinced that God exist because “only bad people might get sick”, science would go on doing what it does best, whether Coyne wants to say, ah-ha that’s a supernatural phenomena and stop studying, or not.

    It is Ophelia is confusing what is being said about truth and that of “ways of knowing”. He also doesn’t get off on a “riff” about vampires, that point should be obvious (but, nice try).

    Ophelia writes: “but conveying truths about the world is not the same thing as being a “way of knowing” and religion is not the same thing as either one.”

    Does this mean being told a truth about the world is not a way of knowing? The way I know a truth about the world is by it being conveyed to me somehow, in most cases, like science.

    • Tulse
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Does this mean being told a truth about the world is not a way of knowing?

      Yes, if you have no justification for believing the claim to be true. Science provides justification, whereas a literary or religious text does not.

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        Tulse, we can extract the idea from religion. Using literature to convey a truth does not make the truth untrue. Holding a claim to be true which has no justification for being true is not the same thing, whether it comes from religion or literature. In literature I can convey scientific truths, it can be a way of knowing, this does not mean I am conveying a “absolute truth” or a truth without justification, it does not follow to say the truth I can convey in literature is a priori without scientific justification.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        Using literature to convey a truth does not make the truth untrue.

        But it does mean you don’t know it to be true, in the sense of having a justification for your belief. If a four-year-old tells you “Arcturus is 37.3 lightyears away”, you would not have the same justification to believe that than if an astronomer told you. The truth of the claim would be the same, but the justification for you believing that claim would be different. Arguably, in the former case, you wouldn’t really know that Arcturus is 37.3 lightyears away, or at the very least, wouldn’t know to the same degree of certainty.

        Holding a claim to be true which has no justification for being true is not the same thing, whether it comes from religion or literature.

        But that has never been the question. The issue is what is one justified to believe as true, not whether some particular unjustified beliefs turns out to be true. After all, a stopped clock is right twice a day, but we don’t generally take that to be a reason to use one to tell time.

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        Tulse,

        Response to your first paragraph:

        I am saying the literature can convey truth that has scientific justification. Is reading a novel with good science the same as reading the same science out of Scientific American, no. The claims in the novel can come from good science and can be empirically backed up. I’m not saying that novels are a way of knowing in and of themselves outside of real world confirmation, that’s not what Joshua is arguing. We can go from here to understand why using reason and science tells us claims in the Bible, for instance, are false.

        To your second paragraph:

        I’m not talking about whether an unjustified belief turns out to be true. A scientific truth in a novel, lets say, can be justifiably believed because it is testable, verifiable, repeatable etc. and is within reason (and may already come from proper science – good science fiction can be educational and some of it dependable, but with science its good to be skeptical and know your source). The stopped clock is beyond reason to use because it can be scientifically shown not to keep “time”.

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Tulse,

        Since we are talking about justification for belief and scientifically valid claims etc. I think it would be a good place to ask you these questions I posted.

        If I make this claim; I could be convinced of the existence of God and/or science is studying the “supernatural” by saying; “Only bad people might get cancer”, am I conveying a way of knowing that God exist or science is actually studying the “supernatural”? Is either of my beliefs scientifically justified, and where does that leave such an argument?

      • Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        “I’m not saying that novels are a way of knowing in and of themselves outside of real world confirmation, that’s not what Joshua is arguing.”

        Isn’t it? How do you know that? As far as I can tell (he’s not clear, which is part of the problem) that is what he is arguing or rather claiming (he doesn’t argue it).

      • Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Look, Zarcus, you’re just wrong about what Rosenau is saying – note this sentence from the passage Jerry quoted –

        “It’s perfectly possible to read Dickens or the Bible as true, but not as empirically true.” He is not saying “In literature I can convey scientific truths”; he is saying the opposite. Read the words on the screen.

      • Tulse
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        If I make this claim; I could be convinced of the existence of God and/or science is studying the “supernatural” by saying; “Only bad people might get cancer”, am I conveying a way of knowing that God exist or science is actually studying the “supernatural”?

        You’ll have to explain what you mean here — I’m not sure I follow you.

  4. KP
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Scanning quickly, I read the name as Jason Rosenhouse, and was very confused at him suddenly being referred to as a “faitheist.”

  5. Zarcus
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    That cartoon has nothing to do with what Rosenau is arguing. Eric McDonald, who may inspired Coyne to post the cartoon, is misrepresenting Rosenau’s argument.

    We could keep making things up about nature, like a talking Mount Rushmore, only bad people getting cancer etc., to try to make an argument that “supernaturla phenomena are not beyond the realm of science”, but that is like saying making these things up is a “way of knowing” what would convince Coyne that God exist or there was a “supernatural force”, even though its based on something made up (sound familiar, it should, that borders religion, it is also the kind of argument that IDer’s love, including trying to make naturalism/nature appear to vague to make claims about the nature of science).

    • Hempenstein
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Could you possibly read what you write before hitting send?

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        If I make this claim; I could be convinced of the existence of God and/or science is studying the “supernatural” by saying; “Only bad people might get cancer”, am I conveying a way of knowing that God exist or science is actually studying the “supernatural”? Is either of my beliefs scientifically justified, and where does that leave such an argument?

  6. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Joshua Rosenau is a graduate student where? Clown college?

    That piece of his is nothing but nonsense piled upon nonsense.

    How anyone can refer to golf and dance and art as the same as religion is hilarious.

  7. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    That’s enough for today, Zarcus. You’ve already posted six comments on a 17-comment thread. If you want to write more extensively, I suggest starting your own website.

  8. SLC
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Re NewEnglandBob

    Mr. Rosenau is a graduate student, not currently in residence, at the Un. of Kansas where he is a pre-doctoral student.

  9. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Would I be wrong to claim that dance is incompatible with science since the insights dance brings to dancers are not empirical in nature?

    But those insights are empirical in nature. They are very difficult to measure, but any insights from dancing are about the real/physical world: feeling, sound, anatomy, etc.

  10. Peter Beattie
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Things would be so much easier if the Rosenaus of this world were simply retarded, which I’m afraid they’re not. That would go at least some way towards explaining the thinking and the ideas. Would save us no end of trouble trying to understand what’s going on.

    Okay, for the record: He has a point about the 900-foot Jesus. Certainly not the best example Jerry could have picked. As for the intercessory prayer: He might have half a point, or perhaps a quarter. But what’s more instructive about the prayer argument is that it involves unstated assumptions about “the supernatural” without the inspection of which no serious discussion is to be had. Jerry at least (or rather tellingly) had the good sense to give a definition the supernatural in his argument.

    What it comes down to, as far as I can see, is this: There are two kinds of worlds, the one that is independent of what I think about it (the so-called “real world”) and the one in my head, a representation of the “real” one. Both are, of course, real, but only one will stay the same whatever I think about it. In one of these worlds it might arguably make sense to talk about “truth”; in the other, that would be decidedly odd. More specifically, nobody in their right mind would seriously say that there is a point to the question, “Is Kirk the better captain than Picard?” Nobody talks about these things in terms of “truth”. Unless they’re deluded and/or would like to foist their own interpretation of the world on other people.

    And there’s your incompatibility between science and typical religions right there. Science is the tried and tested (and working) way to arrive at reliable information about the real world. Religion either doesn’t care for that world or it has never come up with a way of reliably finding out things about it. Any religion that knows dogmas is in direct opposition (hence incompatibility) to the rational way of thinking. And another possible way to be imcompatible with, viz. actively controverting, science is to keep blurring the line between the two kinds of world we’re dealing with on a daily basis. The way to do that is to use words like “truth” with respect to Star Trek and to keep insisting that “I know that Jesus loves me” is comparable to “I know that it’s raining outside”.

    I just discussed this with a mildly religious person, and we arrived at exactly the same conclusion. Since the only thing Rosenau’s ideas might have going for them would be their motive (not to alienate religious people), I think he fails on pretty much all counts.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      Let me defend the 900-foot-Jesus bit. Peter, are you telling me that if a 900-foot Jesus apparition appeared in New York City, and was amply photographed and documented by everyone, and precautions were taken to ensure that it wasn’t a hoax (e.g., asking the Great Randi to investigate)–that you wouldn’t consider THAT at least tentative evidence for the supernatural? And suppose that Jesus told you how the Dow Jones average was going to fluctuate over the next month. (Anyway, as you note, I adduced a lot of other potential evidence.)

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        That bit was a little sloppy, my bad. I know what you wanted to say, and I happen to agree. Josh never even paid attention to your “convincingly documented” and instead chose to make fun of the idea. That’s neither nice nor honest. On the other hand, the bit about falling on knees and the hosannas was at best distracting. :)

        On yet another hand, Josh isn’t entirely wrong about something like that becoming a natural phenomenon by definition. That’s why I said that your example about intercessory prayer might work a lot better.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Anyway, I think it’s a distraction. The important stuff I talked about in the “two worlds” part. That’s what Rosenau doesn’t seem to get, or doesn’t want to be true. And that idea actually has some explanatory power. I’d much rather have a discussion about that.

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        That’s just silly talk. It’s hard to believe you will defend making up something like that as evidence for the “supernatural”. Can’t we all just make something up then say it would be “supernatural” if it was scientifically verified?

        That’s the point, Jerry. What you’re proposing has no basis in reality, nor does a talking Mount Rushmore – they are made up events that you then simply say they are confirmed scientifically and that supposedly proves the point about science and the “supernatural”.

        The difference now is that you’re saying “tentative evidence for the supernatural”, whereas you all along have been calling these things “supernatural phenomena”.

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        Jerry,

        Sorry, forgot, that was an Oral Roberts claim of seeing a 900-foot Jesus you used to make your argument. Does that not tell you anything about this claim you keep making. Your claims have been about “only bad people getting cancer” and still someone else’s of a talking Mount Rushmore.

        Darwin’s reminder of “silly talk” that closed the quote you used in that TNR review would be wise for you to keep in mind. This crazy argument you’ve latched onto does not make you a more of a “vociferous atheist” or the claims of the religious more ridiculous, it just confuses basic understanding about nature and science.

    • ennui
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      I would only worship a 270 meter Jesus if he brought crayons and cookies for Zarcus.

      • Zarcus
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Ha! Very good.

        Ok. I’m wrong about Coyne’s claims he conjures up (sometimes with Oral Roberts help)to makes his point of “supernatural phenomena are not completely beyond the realm of science”, he’s being perfectly reasonable.

        It’s also true that “science can study the supernatural” and defining “natural” can be very complicated, especially where science and “supernatural” are concerned (after all saying God is in the realm of the “supernatural” doesn’t tell us if God exist or not and if he does, science can deal with it).

        There, that explains why a talking burning bush and a person rising from the dead are beyond reason to believe and why science can study the supernatural.

        I apologize, I’m clear on it now, thank you.

        That’s it, I’m done. Unfortunately for all, I will discontinue entertaining with my childish talk on this site.

        Last note; I honestly didn’t care much about Rosenau’s post, although not to bad, it is rather sloppy in several parts. What I wanted, because he brought it up, was to get to Coyne’s claims. So, it worked out anyway.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

        He can’t ennui, Zarcus is not real.

  11. Posted September 16, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    As an aspiring hack novelist, I wholeheartedly endorse the promotion of novels to Another Way of Knowing(TM).

  12. Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I humbly submit the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtdoEN90eG8

    Full credit goes to Matt Dillahunty for his inspirational script.

    • ennui
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      i counter with this

      • Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        QualiaSoup is brilliant. Good response :)

  13. Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    What most strikes me about all this is two things:

    1. It’s a pity that the NCSE people are unwilling to respond constructively to civil, thoughtful criticism. This diatribe from Rosenau just looks defensive, not constructive in any way.

    2. When pressed, they attack a straw man.

    As to the latter, Jerry and others make quite clear what they mean by the idea that science can have much to say about supernatural claims. Remember, our objection is to the broad claim that science can having nothing to say about the supernatural. We don’t claim that science can say everything about every supernatural claim. For example, science cannot refute deism.

    However, science can offer many facts that are relevant to the acceptability of specific supernatural claims. For example, if a religious person makes the claim that suffering came into the world 6000 years ago as a result of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, science can respond that suffering actually came into existence many millions of years ago, and was an inevitable feature of the evolution of animals with complex nervous systems.

    If a religious person says that lightning is caused by Zeus hurling thunderbolts, science can say that that is unlikely since we have a perfectly good (though still refinable) explanation of lightning, and it does not require the involvement of a deity such as Zeus.

    If a religious person says that God created the Earth 6000 years ago, science can reply that even if God created the Earth it was not 6000 years ago, so the claim is incorrect.

    Someone who is willing to go on defending a certain amount of supernatural content by ad hoc justifications, etc., may indeed end up with a thin set of supernatural claims that science cannot refute.

    For example, a Zeus-believer could say, “Aha! You must understand that Zeus creates thunderbolts by means of using electrical discharges in the atmosphere, resulting from turbulence in storm clouds, etc.” Well, yes. Science can’t rule out that an invisible, undetectable Zeus is involved somewhere behind it all. However, it can certainly undermine the motivation for believing in this god, by offering a naturalistic explanation for one of the phenomena that Zeus explained in the first place.

    Again, a Young Earth Creationist can say: “Aha! The Earth was created by God 6000 years ago but in a pre-aged state so that it appears to empirical investigators to be several billion years old.” Again, science can’t prove that this is wrong. But it is ad hoc, and most people who really understand the science, even at a superficial level, are likely to reject the ad hoc claim and accept that the Earth really is billions of years old.

    Thus, the relationship between science and supernatural claims is quite complicated, and although science can say a fair bit about supernatural claims, there are always ways that someone sufficiently desperate can protect some degree of supernatural content from science-based arguments. Different people will find different levels of plausibility in these attempts, which will often look very ad hoc, or otherwise implausible, to anyone who is intellectually honest.

    But that complicated story, which I’ve only sketched, is what people like Jerry and I want to tell. For some reason, our accommodationist friends come out with simplistic nonsense to the effect that science simply has nothing to say about the supernatural. The only motivation that I can see for this is that they want to create an impression that science is no threat at all to religion. But that is simply wrong.

    As for Rosenau’s examples, most of them are nonsense. E.g., no one denies that various truths can be conveyed through, say, a novel. That was never what this debate was about. Nor was it about whether distinctively scientific investigation is the only way that any truths can be obtained about the world. Clearly not. For example, if I want to know what happened at a dinner that I was unable to attend, but which a friend attended, then I simply ask her. There is nothing distinctively scientific about this (though science can draw on knowledge that is obtained by such means as testimony; it does this all the time).

    So, if all that were being alleged were that there are ways of getting information that are not distinctively scientific, then there’d be no debate. The question is whether there are spooky “other ways of knowing”, such as genuine revelation from a god or mystical insight into the universe, that can give reliable knowledge that could not be obtained by naturalistic means (gathering evidence, testing hunches, applying logic, asking people what they saw, checking historical records, and so on).

    So, of course there are ways of getting information that are not distinctively scientific. But the accommodationists are not content to put it that way. E.g., they want to suggest that there might be supernatural “ways of knowing” that could give us information about a divine realm. Again, the motivation seems to be that they want to create an impression that science is no threat to religion.

    For better or worse, that is just not true. Some religious positions are not threatened by science (deism, if it counts as a religious position; various non-literalist positions; perhaps some kinds of Buddhism), but others most assuredly are.

    • Posted September 16, 2009 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      “Some religious positions are not threatened by science (deism, if it counts as a religious position; various non-literalist positions; perhaps some kinds of Buddhism),”
      Therefore science is compatible with religion QED.
      Accomodationist thinking mode off.
      It always strikes me that the accomodationist conclusion I’ve just written above sounds so much like the classic courtroom snare “Have you stopped hitting your wife, Yes or No?”
      It’s one of those questions that cannot be answered with a single word without really defining the points at hand (what we mean by ‘science’, ‘religion’ and ‘compatible’).

  14. Wowbagger
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    The problem (well, one of many) with depending on the ‘other ways of knowing’ method currently being pushed by theists (and by forelock-tugging faitheists) is that different religions make contradictory and mutually exlcusive claims.

    Let’s say theist one asks you to help him sacrifice a pig because that is what his faith requires him to do and you will be offending him if you don’t.

    Seconds later, theist two steps forward and insists that you not kill the pig because pigs are sacred to his religion and you will be offending him if you do so.

    What do you do? Both cite ‘other ways of knowing’ to justify why their religion is the correct one; according to theists, you must accept this as a valid justification.

    But if you accept one you deny another and are being intolerant to faith.

    If all religions claimed exactly the same things – or even somewhat similar things – then perhaps we could accept ‘other ways of knowing’ as somewhat worthwhile. But as it is we can’t, because accepting one means accepting all – and as any of them (outside of a forum like this where the tenets of their faith tend to differ substantially from those they hold in church) will tell you, that just ain’t gonna work.

  15. Zarcus
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    I can’t agree more.

    “Remember, our objection is to the broad claim that science can having nothing to say about the supernatural. We don’t claim that science can say everything about every supernatural claim.”

    So, science has something to say about the supernatural – not just supernatural claims? It’s not science (scientist) simply offering naturalistic explanations for the claims that there is/has been supernatural causation? I thought science does not assume supernatural causation to explain natural phenomena in any case, to science there is only natural phenomena. So, science may not be able to refute deism, for example, but it can refute the supernatural? Of course, of course. Thank you!

    • Wowbagger
      Posted September 16, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Zarcus,

      I’ll assume you misinterpreted what was written – and aren’t just Lying for Jesus™.

      Try reading it again – the emphasis is on the world every. Science cannot test every supernatural claims – i.e. deism (as was specified) – but it can test some supernatural claims – faith healing, the age of the earth, the reasons for diversity of life and so forth.

  16. Bryan
    Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Zarcus seems to have defined “supernatural” as “that about which science has nothing to say”, which makes his entire line of reasoning rather uninteresting.

    • Posted September 17, 2009 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

      True, but I’ve been pointing out for months how he and the people he worships do this. As I understand it, he has two, ahem, powerful points in reply: (1) This is pernicious sophistry which I’m using to muddy the waters; (2) I’m an idiot.

  17. Peter Beattie
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Speaking of lightweight nuisances, Chris Mooney has a post up about Sam Harris’s longer treatment of Francis Collins. It’s the same unsupported nonsense all over again, plus calling the Undeluded Atheists fundamentalists. Fun!


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