Hall of Shame

Quote of the week, from the personal website of the Public Information Project Director of the National Center for Science Education  (speaking unofficially, of course):

If the goal of this blog is to be at all educational, one hopes that a vigorous defense of of analogy will serve some salutary effect in the difficulties people have with analogical thinking, whether they be religious fundamentalists bent on Biblical literalism, or atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion.

Comment: I weep for the NCSE if this kind of idea is running the railroad.  We atheists don’t give a tinker’s dam about what the true form of religion might be, because we don’t think there is one! Nor do we have one.  We don’t worship Darwin, nor think that he’s infallible.  Is this part of a strategy to marginalize atheists along with Biblical fundamentalists?

66 Comments

  1. Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    This strawman appears everywhere – from Terry Eagleton to Karen Armstrong to the local bishop. But we don’t insist ‘that literalism is the true form of religion’ – we insist that most believers believe in a personal God who interferes in the world and answers prayers and not in ‘the ground of all being’ or a ‘sign that points to that which transcends all whatnots’ or any other gassy abstraction. We insist that because it’s true.

    • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:00 am | Permalink

      Yeah… it seems to us that you open yourself to the charge by concurrently insisting that science and especially evolution are irreconcilable with religion – which is really only true when religion makes hard claims that are known scientifically to be false. That is only the case with fundamentalist/literalistic readings of scripture. That isn’t actually true of the more general cases that you criticize for not using the scientific approach to establish their beliefs.

      Maybe if your criticisms were more transparent and less high-handed, your views would be better understood by critics, sympathizers, and the general public.

      For instance, you could say that you do not believe there is any special conflict between evolution and religion as understood by non-literalists, but that you feel that the methods of faith generally are opposed to the methods of science. That probably communicates your viewpoint more clearly and more accurately than nebulous and grandiose statements such as “religion and science are IRRECONCILABLE”.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Yeah… it seems to us that you open yourself to the charge by concurrently insisting that science and especially evolution are irreconcilable with religion – which is really only true when religion makes hard claims that are known scientifically to be false. That is only the case with fundamentalist/literalistic readings of scripture. That isn’t actually true of the more general cases that you criticize for not using the scientific approach to establish their beliefs.

        No, it is not only true of those who subscribe to a fundamentalist/literalistic reading of scripture.

        It applies to anyone who thinks their god intervenes in the Universe. A god who answers prayers is incompatible with our scientific understanding of the Universe. Thinking your god started everything off conflicts with science as well.

        Unless the god in question does not, and has not, intervened in anyway in the Universe then belief in that god conflicts with science.

        Do I have to point out to you that such a god might as well not exist. What purpose does a god who can do nothing have ?

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        What exactly is a “method of faith?”

      • Wes
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        For instance, you could say that you do not believe there is any special conflict between evolution and religion as understood by non-literalists, but that you feel that the methods of faith generally are opposed to the methods of science.

        But that is what so many people are saying. It’s not just about literal Genesis. Faith, as a way of forming beliefs, is at odds with reasonable thinking. From what I can tell, this has been the atheist message all the time. It applies just as much to the non-literal forms of religion as it does to the literal.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        But that is what so many people are saying. It’s not just about literal Genesis. Faith, as a way of forming beliefs, is at odds with reasonable thinking. From what I can tell, this has been the atheist message all the time. It applies just as much to the non-literal forms of religion as it does to the literal.

        Yes, it has been the atheist message. And that’s fine, too. I suppose I should have suggested also that all parties be clear about what they are debating. One debate is atheism versus religion – another debate is the character of the scientific endeavor, and what philosophical assumptions are appropriate in science, and what philosophical conclusions we can draw from it.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        What purpose does a god who can do nothing have ?

        It has been debated ad nauseum whether a god could manage to do things and make them inscrutable to the methods of science. You’re assuming that debate to be settled in favor of the position that a god could not. I don’t feel like re-debating that with you right now.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Who is this ‘you’ you’re addressing, smijer? You were replying to my comment, but I don’t recognize myself in any of your uses of ‘you.’

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        Sorry Ophelia – I was only addressing you & Jerry in the plural in my first remark. Since, I have been carrying out an exchange with Matt Penfold. Not sure I nested my comments properly. This isn’t the best software for that.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

        Ok… I’m not taking the day all the way off today. I’m going to ask for some feedback. This Sunday, I’m to be leading the religious education group for teens at church. We have a great curriculum this year, but no lesson plan for this Sunday. I’m supposed to bring my own topic.

        This is from Smijer’s blog. Latest entry.

        Why is he so surprised people do not realise he is an atheist ?

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Why is he so surprised people do not realise he is an atheist ?

        I’m not terribly surprised… I just tire of having to repeat the fact in every conversation due to the presumption that I’m not. I am surprised that you could think so after reading the blog post in question. And, no – I’m not the only atheist who teaches religious education to teens at my UU church. Extremely sharp kids.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        1) It could conceivably be true that for some statement X, X happened if it isn’t scientifically demonstrable that X happened

        No.

        It might be the case that in a specific situation it is not possible to arrive at a conclusion because evidence has been lost over time but if an event happens it is in principle amenable to investigation by science.

        According to science, and according to a rationalist it is improper to believe a truth-claim unless there is sufficient evidence (i.e. it is scientifically demonstrable) that the claim is true.

        Yes.

        Now what was your problem again ?

        You are still claiming factual events can be considered true without evidence. And you are still wrong.

        Tell me, are you always such a smug bastard, or is that only here ?

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        You are still claiming factual events can be considered true without evidence.

        Ok, no I haven’t claimed that at all. See, I never said anything about whether they can be considered true. I only said something about whether they can be true.

        Now it’s trivial to demonstrate that they can be considered true no matter what else: even if they are completely incoherent! And of course, it’s simple enough to make an argument that they shouldn’t be considered true unless there is sufficient valid evidence. And of course, it is further possible to point out that science always operates on this latter principle.

        But… what was your point?

      • Posted September 25, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        “For instance, you could say that you do not believe there is any special conflict between evolution and religion as understood by non-literalists, but that you feel that the methods of faith generally are opposed to the methods of science. That probably communicates your viewpoint more clearly and more accurately than nebulous and grandiose statements such as “religion and science are IRRECONCILABLE”.”

        I think I see your point, but the way you phrased it isn’t accurate enough. If you had said “literalist beliefs are contradicted by facts and evidence, and therefore irreconcilable with science. Non-literalist beliefs can fit the facts as observed, but are epistemologically irresponsible\unjustified, and therefore irreconcilable with science.” I doubt anyone would have disagreed with you.

      • Posted September 25, 2009 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Non-literalist beliefs can fit the facts as observed, but are epistemologically irresponsible\unjustified, and therefore irreconcilable with science

        That doesn’t fully capture my meaning. What I would say instead is that supernaturalist beliefs are generally are not justified under a scientific epistemology, and therefore any possible reconciliation will have to acknowledge the non-scientific nature of such notions. I would go further – philosophically speaking – and say that the scientific epistemology is the only one useful for examining truth claims about reality. But I would want to be sure that it was understood at this point that I am speaking as a philosophical materialist – not trying to speak for science.

      • Posted September 25, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        I wasn’t trying to capture your meaning so much as the meaning of the people whose meaning you were trying to capture, i.e. you were trying to provide a statement that Coyne et. al. would agree with but wouldn’t readily lead to the strawman Benson mentioned.

        “be sure that it was understood … that I am .. not trying to speak for science” This is the big difference; Coyne and others do want to speak for science by saying science is incompatible with this or that. The issue was how to correct the misinterpretation of “atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion”, but you tried to push not speaking for science (“less high-handed”?) into your proposed solution for that. I feel that my statement would more accurately represent their views, while making such a misinterpretation difficult.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      It has been debated ad nauseum whether a god could manage to do things and make them inscrutable to the methods of science. You’re assuming that debate to be settled in favor of the position that a god could not. I don’t feel like re-debating that with you right now.

      If the actions of god cannot be differentiated from those of nature then there is no reason for believing that god exists.

      If god does things there will be evidence.

      I like how you have decided you do not feel like discussing this though. It is a good policy on your part. If you have no evidence and no argument best not to argue and let the world know that.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        It’s like talking to a wall. Check the archives at this site. I’ve given ample reasoning to support the view that, if there were a God similar to the Christian one, who resurrected Jesus from the dead, we would be unable to show this scientifically – even if it were true. I am not sitting here pretending that I am the judge and jury on the outcome of those tiring and long-winded debates. I’m just pointing out that you seem to be taking the assumption that you are correct on this point as a given. You could at least rephrase your point in terms of “if I am right that God cannot exist and be active, yet still be resistant to scientific inquiry, then…”

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        I

        t’s like talking to a wall. Check the archives at this site. I’ve given ample reasoning to support the view that, if there were a God similar to the Christian one, who resurrected Jesus from the dead, we would be unable to show this scientifically – even if it were true.

        So in otherwords you cannot make any such claim if you want to be considered honest.

        If you cannot tell if your god resurrected Jesus or not, you cannot reasonably claim he did.

        Claims for empirical actions require evidence.

        I explain all this in the hope you might comprehend. However I suspect I am wasting my time. Intellectual honesty is not something you seem keen on.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink

        Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis is full of examples showing that “god” just leaves no trace of his/her/its activities in the universe.

        He says that although there are still logical possible “gods” that could exist, but these are not gods who have interacted with the universe.

        This is completely compatible what what we observe in nature — a callous indifference to the suffering or extinction of beings, including us, with no caring god in sight (outside of religious myths).

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Well… I should point out for the umpteenth time that it isn’t my god or jesus we are talking about. I’m an atheist myself.

        I explain all this in the hope you might comprehend.

        I’m afraid you are arguing past me. I am well aware that one cannot make a scientific claim – or a claim of any sort that I personally will assent to – that God did X if you cannot present valid evidence that it is true.

        You do seem to be failing to demonstrate your further contention that only what can be discerned by science can possibly be true. It seems to me that this is the required assumption for the high-handed arguments that are often made and lead some people to view partisans of your side of the “accommodationism” debate as incorrectly co-opting science to try and discredit religion in more ways than it straightforwardly does. It also probably gives rise to the viewpoint that you are conflating all of religion with the literalistic “creationist” type viewpoints – since your critics may be giving you too much benefit of the doubt… the appearance is that you are making justifiable statements about science and trivializing religionists against whom they wouldn’t apply – rather than making philosophically shaky statements about science to begin with.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        “You do seem to be failing to demonstrate your further contention that only what can be discerned by science can possibly be true.”

        But that’s not the claim. (Can you find an example of that claim by Jerry Coyne? I strongly doubt it. I think that’s a slightly more subtle version of the very strawman that Josh R used.) The claim is more like: if a claimed entity cannot be discerned by any kind of reliable inquiry that we know of, then there is no good reason to believe it exists.

        See? That’s different. Contrary to what you seem to think, we really do know that things could exist that we can’t detect. In fact we know that that’s pretty much a certainty. What we don’t believe is that therefore anything goes.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

        Well… I should point out for the umpteenth time that it isn’t my god or jesus we are talking about. I’m an atheist myself.

        Nope, first time. To me at least.

        I’m afraid you are arguing past me. I am well aware that one cannot make a scientific claim – or a claim of any sort that I personally will assent to – that God did X if you cannot present valid evidence that it is true.

        Your earlier comments suggest otherwise. Example: “I’ve given ample reasoning to support the view that, if there were a God similar to the Christian one, who resurrected Jesus from the dead, we would be unable to show this scientifically – even if it were true”

        You need to make up your mind.

        You do seem to be failing to demonstrate your further contention that only what can be discerned by science can possibly be true.

        Can you offer any other way of knowing the truth of empirical claims ?

        I will ignore the rest of your post since it adds nothing.

        Just so you are totally clear, factual claims require evidence. Claims such as Jesus was born of a virgin, or was resurrected from the dead are factual claims. If god can in way intervene in the Universe then those interventions are amenable to scientific investigation. We see no evidence of such interventions, so it is not reasonable to assume that the god exists. There is no evidence to support the claim.

        Why do you seem to be unable to understand this ?

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Matt… I am going to just suggest for you an exercise. Consider two statements:
        1) It could conceivably be true that for some statement X, X happened if it isn’t scientifically demonstrable that X happened
        2) According to science, and according to a rationalist it is improper to believe a truth-claim unless there is sufficient evidence (i.e. it is scientifically demonstrable) that the claim is true.

        The excercise is this: determine for yourself whether these two statements are mutually contradictory. Try to apply the reasoning you use in this matter to the larger discussion going on here. I am suggesting this because I feel that it will help you clarify your thinking. I don’t think there is much need for you and I to discuss our points further right now.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, again, Ophelia – it was an implicit claim in one of MP’s arguments I was addressing.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        smijer, but could you answer my point? I think it addresses yours.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Ah; cross-post.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        smijer, but could you answer my point? I think it addresses yours.

        I’m afraid I don’t see how it does. I appreciate that you can see this… and nothing you said indicates that you cannot. I brought it up specifically because something that MP said indicated that he could not.

        In fact, I also don’t believe that “therefore anything goes”. In fact, my philosophy is similar to yours, and this is the reason I’m an atheist. My point is that somewhere along the line we muddied the water between the atheist/religion debate and the status of the relationship between science and religion.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        smijer – well let’s go back to your first claim, which you said was addressed to me and Jerry in the plural ‘you.’

        “it seems to us that you open yourself to the charge by concurrently insisting that science and especially evolution are irreconcilable with religion – which is really only true when religion makes hard claims that are known scientifically to be false.”

        I don’t think that “is really only true” is right. It is belief – especially strong, firm, affirmative, assertive belief – in an X for which there is no evidence that is irreconcilable with science, or with the methodology of science (which I take to be the point). Scientists are trained not to form strong affirmative beliefs when the evidence is missing. Religion (of the usual variety) is all about doing just that.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think that “is really only true” is right.

        Perhaps I should have said “is really only clear and uncontroversial”…

        I apologize. But, yes… when you clarify that you mean that science has to abstain from some methods of thought and belief that religion generally indulges in, your point becomes clear, less controversial, and much less high-handed.

      • Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Okay. Sometimes such claims get put into shorthand and then they look more peremptory!

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      In fact, I also don’t believe that “therefore anything goes”. In fact, my philosophy is similar to yours, and this is the reason I’m an atheist. My point is that somewhere along the line we muddied the water between the atheist/religion debate and the status of the relationship between science and religion.

      The problem lies in the fact you think events can happen in the universe for which “goddidit” is a valid explanation.

    • J. J. Ramsey
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

      “But we don’t insist ‘that literalism is the true form of religion’”

      Who is “we”? It doesn’t include Richard Dawkins, who likened religion to a fictional intoxicating drug “gerin oil” and likened religious moderates to those who took less of the drug than hardcore users, i.e fundamentalists. It also doesn’t include Sam Harris, who used a metaphor of concentric circles to identify the least reasonable believers as the truest ones.

  2. Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I’ve spent a lot of time in religious circles, and I can assure everyone that a great many Christians and Muslims take most or all of their holy books (Bible, Koran) and their related doctrines very literally.

    I think it takes quite a bit of religious education or at least imagination to look at these things allegorically. Often people don’t even attempt such an approach until it’s clear to them that a literal view just won’t work in a particular instance — for example, for a literal 6-day creation of the cosmos, which is proven wrong by just about any bit relevant evidence we have.

    Just why would someone expect a holy book to mean something completely different from what it plainly says?

    Until faced with an incompatible reality that can’t be explained away, literalism rules. I think it’s the religious norm.

    Anyway, what the hell is an organisation for science education doing trying to dictate religious norms?

    • Posted September 25, 2009 at 3:53 am | Permalink

      Where’s the edit button?

      Most of my comments above are not very relevant, since most nonliteralist religion also violates scientific principles, as others have pointed out.

  3. AdamK
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Atheist-bashing is a cheap way to strike a “reasonable” pose.

    It’s a science-promoting politician’s/lobbyist’s version of the extremists-on-both-sides line taken by politicians and mediaheads who want to pretend they’re in the mythical middle “mainstream.”

    It’s cheap and stupid. It is what it is.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      It’s a science-promoting politician’s/lobbyist’s version

      of the extremists-on-both-sides line taken by politicians and mediaheads who want to pretend they’re in the mythical middle “mainstream.”

      Which why I suspect Josh Rosenau has adopted that position. I have no idea whether he actually believes it or not.

  4. Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Actually, we just say that literalists typically make testable and meaningful claims, as did Paley (though he seems not to have been a Biblical literalist).

    And those, or any other that makes testable and meaningful claims, can be taken seriously. They end up proving to be false in their claims, but at least that’s something.

    Religious ideas that cannot be tested are, well, exampled by ID. And they are as worthless to most people as ID is worthless to science.

    Glen Davidson

    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  5. Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    The “true” form of religion is nebulous and vapid. No matter where one is bent.

    • Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Or how. Or where the bending takes place. Or the malleability of bending potentiality. The bendiness of all bends. That bend of which none greater can be conceived.

  6. Pete UK
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    But this is just so not meaningful. We only prod literalists to show that they haven’t got a leg to stand on between the lot of them, but the main point is …. it’s ALL bunk. There are no gods.

    It seems to me the NCSE is completely missing the point in a way I would not have thought possible of them.

    • Chayanov
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Maybe Rosenau should go to Sunday service and ask people if they believe in a literal God with whom they have a personal relationship, or an amorphous metaphorical god who has no direct contact or influence on the Universe. But I suspect he really doesn’t care.

  7. NewEnglandBob
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    Where is this mythical non-literal, ‘liberal’ religion?

    No one practices it. It is not written down anywhere. But it sure gets referenced a lot by people who have little of substance to say like Rosenau, Armstrong, et al.

    • Chayanov
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      It only seems to exist in the writings of apologists, philosophers, and theologians. Quite the little cottage industry.

  8. Matt Penfold
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Ok, no I haven’t claimed that at all. See, I never said anything about whether they can be considered true. I only said something about whether they can be true.

    Of course they could be true.

    However no one has been disputing this, so that will not have been your objection.

    I would also point out religios people do not claim their beliefs could be true, they claim they are true.

    It could be there is an invisible pink unicorn in your room. All manner of things could be true. Arguing things could be true is pointless. What matters is what can be shown to be true.

    Why should I pay any more attention to claims that Jesus was born of a virgin, or died and was resurrected than to claims of people who think they have been abducted by aliens ?

    You still have not offered an explanation as to why it is reasonable for people to assume events for which there is no evidence occurred.

    • Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      You still have not offered an explanation as to why it is reasonable for people to assume events for which there is no evidence occurred.

      And I will not explain that, because I do not believe that it is true. I enjoyed talking to you, but unless you are willing to read and understand what I have said, then I have no desire to correspond further with you.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

        And I will not explain that, because I do not believe that it is true. I enjoyed talking to you, but unless you are willing to read and understand what I have said, then I have no desire to correspond further with you.

        I think you will need to be clearer about what you are saying.

        At the moment you are making Rowan Williams look like a model of clarity.

      • Matt Penfold
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        I’ve given ample reasoning to support the view that, if there were a God similar to the Christian one, who resurrected Jesus from the dead, we would be unable to show this scientifically – even if it were true.

        Seems to me you are not being consistent.

        That looks very like a claim that you think material events can occur for which there is no possibility of evidence.

  9. Posted September 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    “or atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion.”

    Let’s all together now fling around accusations that everyone else is erecting straw men! I’ll join in.

    Yes, I think that the “true form of religion” is anthropomphisation, but that is not the same as thinking that it is biblical literalism.

    To me, atheism means that I think that when people pray, there is nothing on the other end of the phone. The soul of theism is that God not only exists, but that cares for us – or at least has opinions about us. He has emotions towards us, he has intentions, he thinks and feels. That he (or they) is, at the end of the day, a person who communicates and whom we can communicate with.

    That is: God may not have a human-shaped body, as does the primitive deity of genesis, who lives on top of the sky and came down to walk in the garden with Adam in the cool of the evening, but he *is* a human-shaped soul. A person.

    Sure, philosophers and theologians construct notions that they call “God”, but yes – you are right – I think it’s all a load of old hooey with very little to do with the real world and with what people actually believe. If you can’t pray to it, if you can’t petition it for help, if it doesn’t have ideas on how you ought to behave, then what you are practising isn’t really religion.

    And yes, I think that many of these theologians and philosophers are being dishonest – mainly with themselves. Because I think that when trouble strikes, when their kids are ill or missing for two days, they’re on their knees praying to their father who art in heaven.

    It doesn’t have to be biblical literalism to be nonsense. But religion – the *practise* of religion, is devotional.

  10. Flea
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    In view of all this confusion I’m going to take a rest and do some non stamp collecting.

  11. Janus
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    To be fair, I do think that, given the premise that a theistic God exists and it was his intent to communicate his will in a book such as the Bible or Qur’an, ‘literalism’ is the most plausible form of religion, if by literalism you mean reading the word of God as if God meant what he wrote. It’s the way most theists have interpreted most of their holy texts for the vast majority of the history of their religions, and it’s still a very popular form of religion.

    Of course, none of this changes the fact that the premise that there is a theistic God is false.

  12. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    If the goal of this blog is to be at all educational, one hopes that a vigorous defense of of analogy will serve some salutary effect in the difficulties people have with analogical thinking, whether they be religious fundamentalists bent on Biblical literalism, or atheists bent on insisting that literalism is the true form of religion.

    Oh my. How ironic that Rosenau defends analogical reasoning with a failed analogy.

    Because that is both the evil and the sin of analogy. It is easy to botch, therefore theists and faitheists routinely hide behind attempts of analogy. Meanwhile, in the real world we are warned to make conclusions made on the clay feet of analogy.

    Not that Rosenau spends a dime on thinking this through. He refers instead to Hofstadter, which by the looks of it proposes to use analogy where it has its place. The link is to Hofstadter’s book “Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought” [my bold].

    Maybe Rosenau secretly, or not so secretly, thinks of theology as of creative book-keeping. If that is case, he got the analogy right. (o.O)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      “made on the clay feet” – standing on the clay feet. However, there is something to say about correct metaphor. :-/

  13. Eric MacDonald
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I had to shake my head and squint my eyes to see if I had read it right. Josh is doctoral student! Since he’s from Kansas (at least for now), perhaps we should see if there’s anything behind the curtain!

    The odd thing is that he apologises for crappy blogging and then goes on to do it again! It’s marvellous! One doesn’t see this every day.

    But, really, how did he get to that last little paragraph from what went before – which says virtually zip?! No examples of analogy as a rhetorical strategy not working on the internet – no evidence, in other words. No connexion at all with the final swipe at atheists. And none at all either with ways of knowing.

    I suppose he is thinking that analogy is a good way of knowing religiously? That’s basically Aquinas’ point. We can know God by analogy. But as Antony Flew – not the latest Flew – says, in order for an analogy to work, you have to start with something. He distinguishes two types of analogy, analogy of attribution, as when we speak of a food that makes one healthy as healthy food. But the relevant analogy in the case of God as creator, is whatever the creation is, and it is not clear that this helps. The other analogy, the analogy of proportionality, as in the heart is to the body as (say) financial liquidity is to a corporation. But in this case the question, as to the nature of God, since God is infinitely greater than anything we can imagine, what is one to use by way of analogy? Is there any reason to use one finite word referring to some finite thing rather than another?

    Josh really should try to get his ducks in a row before he zings something out into the ether. Because what he did say doesn’t make any sense. If, as Dave W says over on Josh’s site, Josh is really talking about ways of learning rather than ways of knowing, well, folks, he clearly didn’t know! I share Jerry’s concern, if this is the mind that is ‘running the railroad’ over at NCSE. But why would he do something stupid in an attempt to marginalise atheists? Doesn’t make sense. Oh, I get it. He didn’t know it was stupid. Oh, yes, of course. Now it all makes sense, right?

  14. Michael K Gray
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    The NCSE appear to me to be promoting willful falsehoods.
    For what purpose, one can only guess, but in my book, uttering ‘willful falsehoods’ is covered by a much shorter word starting with ‘L’.

    I take it lying for short-term political advantage is not in the charter of the NCSE?

  15. Tom Johnson
    Posted September 24, 2009 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    That makes about crap for sense, Jerry. If there’s anything you’re guilty of on a regular basis here, it’s broadbrushing religion as biblical literalism.

    Good strategy though – it makes religion easier and more fun to debunk that way, and it requires much less effort on your part.

    • bad Jim
      Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

      79% of Americans believe in miracles and 68% in angels and demons, while only 33% believe the Bible is the literal word of God.

      The problem is the widespread belief in supernatural beings interacting with the natural world, for which there is no credible evidence, not the regard in which believers hold their sacred texts.

      Rosenau and others postulate that the natural and supernatural realms are strictly disjoint, which is a view shared by a negligible fraction of the religious.

      • Tom Johnson
        Posted September 24, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        So in other words, you just backed up what I was saying: Biblical literalism is NOT all religion (at least, last time I checked, 33% didn’t constitute a majority). That doesn’t hide the fact that a lot of atheists would like it to be, because then it would require much less argument. That’s what the NCSE quote was saying: pretending there are two sides to this issue (either you’re a creationist or you’re an atheist, and only one side accepts evolution) is a pathetic dodge of the issue.

        Heaven forbid (bad word choice) that an atheist ever be a little too zealous with a statement *rolls eyes*

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 4:40 am | Permalink

      “If there’s anything you’re guilty of on a regular basis here, it’s broadbrushing religion as biblical literalism.”

      Tell that to the Muslims.
      Form one of your responses, you appear to be under the impression that the USA is the entire world.

    • Posted September 25, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      “If there’s anything you’re guilty of on a regular basis here, it’s broadbrushing religion as biblical literalism.”

      Really?! Got one single quote to back that up? Because I think it’s flat wrong.

  16. bad Jim
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    The issue isn’t literalism, it’s the belief in supernatural intervention which pervades American society. Whenever a catastrophe occurs, reporters proclaim a miracle whenever anyone survives (though they ought to regard deaths resulting therefrom as equally miraculous).

    From the point of view of a biologist, the assumption of purpose is a fallacy. Unfortunately, it’s a nearly universal presumption even among the educated public, perhaps as a relic of our agricultural history: earthworms are good, beetles are good, and so forth. I’ve been asked “What good are ants?” The standard non-teleological reply doesn’t satisfy the average person who thinks everything happens for a reason, which is to say God’s will.

  17. Posted September 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Just in case it might help clarify – biblical literalism is one thing and literalism is another. I think non-literalist theism is a very small minority in the US and much of the rest of the world – but I also think literalist theism covers a much larger group than does biblical literalist theism. Tom Johnson seems to be conflating the two.

    • Posted September 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      I’d be interested to hear the distinction you have in mind. I don’t remember hearing “literalist” used except as synonymous with “biblical literalist”. Just guessing what you might mean, that might be a distinction that deserves to be better highlighted.

      • J. J. Ramsey
        Posted September 26, 2009 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        I think Ms. Benson probably has in mind religious believers that take a book other than the Bible as holy and interpret it literally.

  18. Hempenstein
    Posted September 25, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    It’s probably way too late to post on this thread and expect anyone will see it, but just in case, isn’t “analogical” redundant. A thought process thru analogy should be analogic, not analogical. Ophelia??

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted September 25, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Anyone who is subscribed to the thread will see your comment.

      Not redundant:

      Adj. 1. analogical – expressing, composed of, or based on an analogy; “the analogical use of a metaphor”


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