Ken Miller can’t win? P.Z. and me gets pwned.

A few weeks ago both P.Z. Myers and I were interviewed by David Sharfenberg, a journalist for the Boston Phoenix.  Sharfenberg said he was working on a piece about Kenneth Miller, had read my website, and wanted to discuss my views on Miller, on his faith, and on how he reconciled science and his Roman Catholicism.  I talked to him a while, taking care to mention both the good things that Miller does (namely his anti-creationist activities and his widely-used biology textbooks) as well as my disagreements with his conflation of science and faith.  I remember telling Sharfenberg that I thought that, along with Eugenie Scott, Ken Miller was America’s most valuable asset in fighting creationism.

So what did Mr. Sharfenberg do? He publishes a piece that completely omits the praise that both P.Z. and I had for Miller, concentrating entirely on our problems with Miller’s blurring faith and science.  And he calls the piece “Ken Miller Just Can’t Win.”

Well, journalists can slant a piece any way they want, and of course P.Z. and I have been vocal critics of Miller’s accommodationism (see P.Z.’s take on this here), but it would have been nice had Sharfenberger mentioned briefly that both P.Z. and I had nothing but plaudits for Miller’s battle against Intelligent Design.  I think it would only have been fair for a journalist to add that, in one very important respect, we’re on his side.  But you won’t find a single mention of that in his piece. Like many journalists, Sharfenberg has a hook for his story, and anything that blunts that hook is bad.

But:  Ken Miller can’t win?  LOL! What can’t he win?  He’s a primo fighter for evolution, a professor at Brown, an author of several widely used textbooks, which I assume has made him fairly well off, and also an author of  two popular anti-creationist books, Finding Darwin’s God and Only a Theory.  The only thing he hasn’t “won” is the unstinting respect of certain atheists. That’s not very much to lose!

Nor does he deserve that respect.  If Miller kept his faith to himself, neither P.Z. nor I would say a word about it. If he wants to go to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church every Sunday, more power to him.  But when he decides to write books about his faith, and, more important, about how he sees a way to reconcile that faith with science, then he lays himself open to public criticism.  Why should that reconciliation, which after all involves religion, science, and philosophy, be immune to scrutiny? Why should those of us who feel differently have to keep silent?

And it’s the reconciliation itself, not Miller or his personal religious views, that I’ve gone after.  Miller is, after all, a nice guy, and his ideas are far, far less of a problem than those of, say, William Dembski.  So when Sharfenberg says that I “wrote a lengthy essay in The New Republic last year attempting to dismantle Miller and his intellectual ally Karl W. Giberson,” that’s not precisely true.  The point of the essay was not to take apart Miller and Giberson themselves (to whom I offer encomiums in my piece), but to critically examine their views, and related views, that try to forge a harmony between faith and science.

Those who say that I should mute even that non-personal form of criticism don’t understand that my goal (and presumably the goal of P.Z. and other “new atheists”) is not just to defend evolution, but to stick up for science in its purest form, unsullied by superstition, and to defend rationality, of which science is only one branch.  Mixing science and faith can confuse people.

Sharfenberg himself is a good example of how Miller’s finding-God-in-science arguments promotes that confusion:

But the cell biologist [Miller] also makes explicitly scientific arguments: maintaining, for instance, that quantum indeterminacy — the ultimately unpredictable outcome of physical events — could allow God to intervene in subtle, undetectable ways.

If that’s an “explicitly scientific argument,” then the King James Bible is a biology textbook!  How many others have come away from Miller’s books or lectures buying his arguments that the “fine-tuning” of physical constants, or the inevitability of human evolution, are scientific indicators of the divine? (One of the chapters of Only a Theory is called “The World that Knew we Were Coming.”)

I do have one beef with a statement by Miller appearing in the Phoenix piece:

This sort of sly intervention [God acting through quantum indeterminacy], he [Miller] argues, is vital to the Creator’s project: if God were to re-grow limbs for amputees, for instance — if God were to perform the sort of miracles demanded by atheists as proof of his existence — the consequences would be disastrous.

“Suppose that it was common knowledge that if you were a righteous person and of great faith and prayed deeply, all of a sudden, your limb would grow back,” he says. “That would reduce God to a kind of supranatural force . . . and by pushing the button labeled ‘prayer,’ you could accomplish anything you wanted. What would that do to moral independence?”

So let me get this straight.  Some miracles are ok (Miller apparently believes in the Resurrection and the divinity of Jesus), but they can’t be too numerous?  Or too obvious? It’s ok for Jesus to heal the lame, or get rid of Parkinson’s disease (see here), but growing back a limb? No, no, that’s WAY too obvious.  Unlike healing the lame, regrowing a limb would completely ruin moral independence?  How, exactly, is that supposed to happen?  And what about the alternative explanation for why prayer can apparently cure paralysis, deafness and cancer but not excised limbs (no, it’s not that God hates amputees)? Could Miller’s ideas about amputation be making a virtue out of necessity?

Only a theologian could buy Miller’s argument.  Any smart twelve-year old could see right through it.

And that’s what’s so ironic about accommodationists and their religious allies. They’re always accusing atheists of having an unsophisticated understanding of theology.  But when religious scientists like Miller, Giberson, or Francis Collins spout the most juvenile and transparently self-serving kind of apologetics, well, that’s just fine.


79 Comments

  1. Posted March 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    After seeing the impact of the awful journalism described at Deltoid as “Leakegate“, I think it should probably be standard practice for scientists speaking to journalists to seek consent to record the conversation, as a condition of being interviewed. Given how the public trust in science is based on scientists’ accuracy, having credibility undermined by a journalist seeking a particular angle to sell a story doesn’t work out well for anyone except the journalist.

  2. SeanK
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    David Sharfenberg does a disservice to journalism. This is one of the reasons I can’t stand much of the media these days. Their reports are almost always biased and rarely do the journalists do due diligence on the topic, or even display a basic understanding of what they’re writing about.

  3. NewEnglandBob
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    For what it is worth, I and others have posted objections at the Boston Phoenix site of the article.

  4. Scooty Puff Jr.
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Miller’s “explicitly scientific arguments” also work for pan-dimensional aliens:

    But the cell biologist also makes explicitly scientific arguments: maintaining, for instance, that quantum indeterminacy — the ultimately unpredictable outcome of physical events — could allow pan-dimensional aliens to intervene in subtle, undetectable ways.

    This sort of sly intervention, he argues, is vital to the extra-terrestrials’ project: if they were to buzz around in flying saucers, for instance — if the aliens were to perform the sort of feats demanded by skeptics as proof of their existence — the consequences would be disastrous. It would be a serious breach of the Prime Directive after all.

    • Tacroy
      Posted March 5, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

      Someone on Pharyngula pointed out that this is exactly how the Babel Fish disproves the existence of God.

    • articulett
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Clearly you are being brainwashed by Body Thetans.)

      “QM weirdness” is often invoked to say, “since really crazy things are possible, my woo is true!” QM is an all-purpose woo justification argument it seems.

      Miller’s semantics can be used to justify just about any mystical magical belief someone has –including all the ones Ken Miller doesn’t share. Whose to say that quantum weirdness isn’t responsible for a young earth that looks old? God (QM) works in mysterious ways, after all– and it’s “arrogant” to claim too much knowledge on the subject.

      I would think it creates an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance to use QM to claim “my magic could be true” on one hand, while using science to state that some conflicting “magical notion” is not.

      I like Ken Miller a lot, but, of course, we atheists find his beliefs specious, otherwise, we’d be believers ourselves. Science is about discovering what is true for everyone, it’s not a mental game one uses to justify beliefs that could be true (in the sense that they are not “impossible”.) Sagan’s invisible dragon could be true too.

  5. ennui
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    When he first lepton the creation wars scene at Dover, Miller surely hoped that his strange entanglement of science and faith would converge on a Templeton, not a Kw*k. Alas, he has been left to diddle his quarks.

    And Sharfenberg should know that any narrative that loses this much information in the process of being spun, will end in decoherence.

  6. Jason
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    here is the email address to send a letter to the editor. (i’ve just sent one myself):

    letters@phx.com

    i’ve found that i get a better response emailing directly rather than posting in the comments sections. fwiw.

    keep up the good work, Professor.

  7. Screechy Monkey
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    It’s odd to see a journalist take the position that the writing a critical review is some dastardly act that persecutes poor Dr. Miller.

    Oh, poor Dr. Miller! Why, Richard Dawkins once shook a finger at him! The “New Atheists” receive death threats, and get called shrill, fundamentalist, hateful people without any morality, but at least they aren’t subject to finger-shaking!

    • ckitching
      Posted March 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      It’s not that odd. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” This story is living proof of that.

      At least we got that bizarre thing about divine healing of amputees being “disastrous” out of the article.

  8. Posted March 5, 2010 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Enter Lynne McTaggart (stage left): A journalist who finds god through quantum indeterminancy.

    You get the best of both worlds!

  9. Screechy Monkey
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I love this part:

    “I went to college in the sixties — age of rebellion, hippies, anti-war stuff — and I was influenced by that,” Miller says. “But Howard O’Shea made the point that faith itself is an act of rebellion against a secular society — and he attracted a lot of people that way.”

    So Miller regained his religion not because of any evidence or logical argument, but as a way of Sticking It To The Man? That makes Collins’ waterfall seem almost rational.

  10. Jennifer B. Phillips
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    From the article, citing the vitriol heaped upon Miller by the ‘lefty atheists':

    A flush-faced Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, shook his finger at Miller during a tense panel discussion at New York University a few years ago

    Ken’s got to be made of pretty strong stuff to withstand such a violent personal assault.

  11. Screechy Monkey
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I guess Sharfenberg is putting in an early bid for a 2011 Templeton Fellowship.

  12. Insightful Ape
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    If god were to answer prayers with any degree of reliability, that would reduce god to a REALITY, which would be bad.
    But what if some day scientists find an explanation for the uncertainty principle? What if “multiverse hypothesis” for example, turns out to be true? Will Dr Miller abandon hos faith?

    • gillt
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      This is why “god of the gaps” arguments are actually anti-scientific in nature. Their plausibility rests on no further gains in scientific progress.

      In the 21st century a cell biologist speculates publicly on matters far outside his field, and pits his faith against our understanding of quantum physics advancing no further.

      If history is any indicator, in the next century Miller’s claim will be as laughable as saying stormy weather is evidence of the wrath of an angry god.

  13. SLC
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne must realize that controversy sells newspapers. PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne saying Ken Miller is a good guy is not controversy. PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne saying Ken Miller has nutty religious ideas is controversy.

  14. jose
    Posted March 5, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Amputees must be greatly thankful that God cares so much about moral independence.

    They also have to thank God not to have been born when Jesus was hanging around town curing paralytics, making blind people see and resurrecting people back to life. If merely growing a leg put moral independence at risk, resurrection must be like World War III or something. Oh wait, according to catholics, a certain resurrection actually is the very foundation of morality. Funny.

    It’s a good thing we’re living in a world where God behaves exactly as if he didn’t exist at all. So much for moral independence. We’re SO lucky, you know.

  15. SaintStephen
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 2:37 am | Permalink

    Well said, Professor Coyne.

    Sometimes one has to wonder if Laurence Olivier didn’t have the right idea as the Nazi dentist in Marathon Man.

    Is it safe, Ken Miller?”

    Religion, I mean. Is it safe?”

    (Jusk kidding, Colgate Twins!)

  16. Flea
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    Templeton list (work in progress):
    – Mooney
    – Sharfenberg
    – …

  17. Eric MacDonald
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    The really amazing point in all this is not that journalists want a hook for their story. That goes without saying, and in the world of Scharfenbergs it’s negative comment that is going to be taken seriously. Praise is, from a journalistic standpoint, just fluff. What is amazing is the claim that, if god exists, ‘he’ can’t be detectable, otherwise we’d know it, and that wouldn’t serve any purpose. Then everyone would believe and there would no longer be anything to argue about, or feel self-satisfied about. Because, believing has to be costly. You have to sacrifice something, starting with your reason.

  18. oldfuzz
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    On first reading, Coyne’s phrase “on how he reconciled science and his Roman Catholicism” suggests (to me) some psycho-spiritual epicenter within Roman Catholicism, which there is in the view of many –Catholic and non-Catholic–but is nonexistent within Catholicism itself.

    In reading in Search of Darwin’s God, my impression was that Miller has chosen to believe in a transcendent (unknowable) creative source, an original cause, and calls it God.

    Is the argument with his view of whether there is an original cause or with his labeling it God. What if he said, “I believe there was an original cause to the big bang, but don’t have a name for it.”

    That Ken Miller’s stating his views on science and religion opens him to criticism is a given. So too, do those who equate atheism with anti-religion and religion with theism.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Miller is explicitly a theist. In his first book, he says that he believes in a God that interacts directly with the world, not just a hands-off creator god.

      • oldfuzz
        Posted March 6, 2010 at 11:10 am | Permalink

        So? Is he saying everyone should be a theist? If not, what’s the problem? As I read Miller, God is a word he uses to name an idea of that which is beyond knowing.

        • SaintStephen
          Posted March 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Why does he need THAT particular name? I’ve got a better name: unsubstantiated bollocks.

          And what the hell’s wrong with a simple “I don’t know?”

          Miller is being deceptive, full stop. To himself, to us, or possibly both.

          • oldfuzz
            Posted March 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

            For me, the question is how to handle speculation. One way is to do what Coyne and Orr did in Speciation when they identified the controversies regarding the definition of the term species, then proceeded to stake their claim on their preference. This establishes the premise on which they based their book. While they disagreed with others who held differing views I don’t recall their dismissing other views as wrong headed.

            He can use any word he wants. “God” has many meanings. There are probably more women who think George Clooney is a god than truly believe in an anthropomorphic creator. Caesar was a god. It’s a word which can have many meanings. To assume all uses of it must conform to a single definition means all words are candidates for single definitions. Language doesn’t work that way, especially scientific terminology as evidenced by the previous citation. Who said, “If you would debate with me, first we must define our terms.” Waws it Socrates? Whoever it was was correct. It’s the assuming of meanings that cause most of the rancor.

            Saying Miller is being deceptive is to discredit his honesty for which I have seen no supporting evidence other than the opinion of his detractors. Opinion is not evidence.

            • Aquaria
              Posted March 7, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

              Miller is deceptive when he starts making shit up to squeeze his imaginary friend into gaps–quantum? What does he know about quantum? He’s not an authority on it, and just how does he know why his imaginary friend doesn’t heal amputees? Where did he get that data, besides out of his posterior?

              When you make up a sky buddy and try to explain what he’s all about, and then imply that what he just made up applies in the real world to real people–

              Well, that’s deceptive to those of us who live in reality.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      I find it amusing that Dr Miller believes in god on the basis of the “first cause” arguement. And he also thinks the job of gob is to excercise his influence (why can’t it be a her, if it is just a “cause”?) in quantum interactions.
      Of course the minor detail that Dr Miller is missing is that quantum physics refutes the need for a first cause. The laws of causality apply only to the macroscopic world. And the universe itself wouldn’t need a first cause, because it was a quantum particle when it first came into existence. And such particles pop into and out of existence all the time.
      Quite ironical.
      But I would also warn quantum phyisicists against writing biology textbooks.

  19. Artikcat
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Dear Dr Coyne; unless you want this unwanted “publicity”, why insisting in talking to the press-journalists actually? You and Dr Pharyngula bring this unto yourselves. It has nothing to do with open access or freedom of speech or aything else. It has to do with biased-market sales-driven pack of journalists. The reports andinterviews are for money.Science sells mostly as a controversy, or promises, but it doesnt have to be this way. Good lord!. An we all loose in the desinformation quagmire. But some win, at least for a while: Sir Alex Ferguson “Fergie”, coach of Manchester United FC has refused to talk to the BBC for six years for, well,misleading, biased and utterly wrong reporting. I say boycott and sue the Booston Phoenix and the interviewer, get civil damages and will start a fund to support a different kind of reporting, and evolution will be in everybodys life. I cant guarantee will win, but it is a gallant approach. We are all sick of the “media” constructing reality.

    • Aquaria
      Posted March 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      So scientists are just supposed to shut up? Avoid the big bad world because there are jerks in it?

      I think it would help scientists when dealing with reporters to understand that two opposing paradigms are at work when their worlds collide:

      Scientists usually care about the accuracy of data before publishing. Getting it right is the important thing.

      Journalists usually care about getting the story published, and correcting any errors of data only if they have to later (and for some of them, it’s grudgingly or never). Getting something written, and in line with a paper or editor’s decision or position on an issue, is the important thing.

      That’s something important to remember in today’s journalism climate: Most media these days make conscious decisions for “facts” to fit specific narratives, not for narratives to fit the specific and known facts. It’s not true across the board, but the number of media outlets reporting well, accurately and responsibly as often as possible are becoming few in number.

      Until scientists understand these things about the media, they’re gonnna get creamed when dealing with them, every single time.

    • Aquaria
      Posted March 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Also: That the media and science have divergent expectations about facts and publication, it doesn’t mean scientists have to keep getting kicked in the teeth–they can get around it.

      1) Never trust a reporter to tell you the truth. They will lie about deadlines, about talking to other people, about what other people have said about you–nothing is beneath them if they think the method could get them a good story.

      2) When a reporter calls wanting an interview or quote about X issue, scientists need to get off the phone right away with a “get back to you in an hour, m’kay?” Don’t let a reporter get away with that old standby of “No, not later. I’ll just call someone else if you don’t talk now.”

      The only response to this is: “You’ll do what you want but I’m not talking to you without knowing something about your reporting, and your publication.” Well, if the publication is an unknown quantity.

      And then the scientist hangs up and does a bit of snooping about the reporter an media outlet. If either (hopefully not both) is biased and/or sloppy with facts, it usually shows up very quickly. That’s often why reporters will try to bullshit you into talking right then, not later. Yeah, they’re under a deadline, but if they’re calling you at 10 a.m., they’re full of shit. Any reporter worth a damn can call as late as 2 or 3 (or later!), and get an article hammered out in time for a 6 p.m. deadline.

      3) If the reporter or media outlet has little to go on, or could go either way with a story, you have to turn the tables, and make the reporter answer questions, not the other way around. If you can turn questions back on them, you can figure out very quickly what their agenda is, what their own biases are, etc.

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted March 7, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

        Very good advice! Thanks. Now, is there ANY way to figure out how a reporter intends to slant a story? You can’t just ask them this, right?

        • llewelly
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 4:11 am | Permalink

          Of course you can ask them. And if you record their answer, and the slant distortion turns out differently, you call them a liar.

  20. Pete Moulton
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    “A few weeks ago both P.Z. Myers and I were interviewed by David Sharfenberg, a ‘journalist’ for the Boston Phoenix.”

    That’s more like it!

  21. Posted March 6, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    “But when he decides to write books about his faith, and, more important, about how he sees a way to reconcile that faith with science, then he lays himself open to public criticism. Why should that reconciliation, which after all involves religion, science, and philosophy, be immune to scrutiny? Why should those of us who feel differently have to keep silent?”

    That’s exactly what I’ve been asking Mooney for lo these many months. Part of his original demand for ‘civility’ included the claim that ‘religion is a private matter, after all’ (I think that’s a fairly accurate quote), and I have pointed out more than once that Miller and Giberson made their religious claims in published books and that it was the books that you were addressing – so in what sense could that be called private religion? In no sense whatsoever. But did Mooney ever have the decency to admit that he’d made a booboo? Yeah, right.

  22. Joe C
    Posted March 6, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, I would like to suggest to you that you make it a point to view a series of lectures by Dr. Del Tackett, w ho in association with Focus on the Family, have developed The Truth Project. I would think you would find the series interesting. Another comment: about atheist demanding that God regrow a severed arm or leg if He wants to prove that He is for real. Why should He? He doesn’t have to. He has already abundantly proved that He is. Why would a holy sovereign God decide to satisfy the demands of an arrogant person making a stupid demand? Go figure.

    • articulett
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      And why should Sagan’s invisible dragon reveal himself to a bozofaced ignoramus like you?

      Atheists don’t really demand anything from god just like you don’t really demand things from Santa.

      We just like to point out how believers can readily be lumped in with the very same people whose claims they don’t believe– using the same arguments.

      • Joe C
        Posted March 8, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        I think you are missing the point of my comment. I had read in the article that one of the things that atheists demand for God to establish His credentials. He is comfortable with what He has done and who He is. He knows that He doesn’t have to jump through hoops to counter the arrogance of the nonbelieving world. And God is not Santa or anything like Santa. Neither is He a sideshow performer.

        What does Sagan’s invisable dragon got to do with anything. So I may be a bozofaced ignoramus. There is one thing I know is that if I am wrong in my belief toward God, when I come to the end of my stay on planet earth, I have nothing to lose. If you are wrong in your belief that God is irrevelent and that He is not the Creator of all there is in the universe, then you have everything to lose. In essence, you are betting you eternal soul that God is wrong. Got a clue for you, articulett, God is not wrong and never will be.

        Yes, I am a believer, but I don’t paint up into a lump of any kind. I am not a group, I am an individual that has a personal relationship with God thru Christ. That seems to be an issue people of your persuation can’t comprehend.

        • articulett
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          Egads… Pascal’s lame-o wager. If you are wrong and the Muslims are right, you lose paradise in exchange for hell. If the Heaven’s gate people are right, then you missed the spaceship. If the Mormons are right, you don’t get to go to the super duper highest heaven. If the Scientologists are right, you will reincarnate as a rock.

          You really are embarrassingly uneducated and very shallow in thought compared to the majority of people who post here. Did you notice that? Or are you one of those religiotards who don’t read others because you presume you know more all ready?– Another fine illustration as to how religion makes many people fabulous examples of the Dunning- Kruger effect (the incompetent are too incompetent to realize they are the incompetent ones.)

          Magical beings, whether you call them Demons, triune gods, or invisible dragons really have no place in conversations about reality. If you cannot understand this, you are on a site that is way over your head.

          You sound as brainwashed to me as Tom Cruise in this link… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFBZ_uAbxS0 and equally unlikely to get a clue regarding reality and the science that best explains it. Equally amusing and mockworthy as well. Don’t get me wrong, I think Tom Cruise is a nice guy and has probably done more for the world and experienced greater success than you. I just think his religion has made him delusional and– dare I say, stupid– just as yours has done to you.

          I know you consider your beliefs and opinions to be more valuable and humble than Tom Cruise’s, but the evidence just isn’t there. Bummer eh?

          If you are very lucky, you may one day realize why you sound like him in many ways and you may have the good fortune to be embarrassed for what your religious leaders have done to your thinking and begin the journey towards rational thought.

          I’ve seen worse cases become deprogrammed, but I am a skeptic. I don’t think you are any more likely to get a clue than Tom Cruise is. I also don’t think you have any greater access to “divine truths” or magical beings than he does. And I don’t think you are more humble either.

          Whatever it is you imagine your religion is doing for you is not translating to your verbiage… or rather, it’s not translating any better than Tom Cruise’s verbiage is. Your apologies as to why your invisible friend doesn’t heal amputees may work well on the brainwashed, but they are just silly to us. I’m sure they sound perfectly rational to your faith addled brain, however.

          Thanks for dropping by and allowing us to remind ourselves why faith is not something one should accommodate if one wants a kinder, more rational world.

    • jose
      Posted March 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry. Did you say that curing amputees is stupid? Really?

      • articulett
        Posted March 7, 2010 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        If a human being could cure amputees but refused to, they’d hardly be considered benevolent.

      • Joe C
        Posted March 8, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        No, Jose, I didn’t say that.

        • articulett
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          Yeah you did.

          Semantic games are common for those of (to quote you) “your persuasion”.

          And I care about your magical relationship with Christ about as much as you care that Tom Cruise is an Operating Thetan 7.

          I think your invisible savior is perfectly capable of fighting his own battles, isn’t he?

    • ennui
      Posted March 7, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Why would a holy sovereign God decide to satisfy the demands of an arrogant person making a stupid demand?

      There was a time, if you believe the Bible, when things were a little different. Eat this, Churchie.

      I’ll also note that the miracles of Jesus were sooo impressive, that people finally got around to recording them, at least 40 years after his purported death, in 4 conflicting accounts.

      Go figure.

      • Joe C
        Posted March 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Ennui, I read your “eat this, Churchie” and I have no doubt that your outlook serves you well. I know that my outlook serves me well and it is not because I am a churchie. I am more than a churchie. I am not a wide eyed deer-in-the-headlights swallower of “koolade” to someone’s radical teachings. I also am not religious or do spiritual things by rote. I have something you probably find difficult if not impossible for you to believe – a personal relationship with God thru Christ. I am not ashamed of that in any way. You can view Jesus’s miracles with disdain if you wish and the 4 gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John are not conflicting.

        • ennui
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          Exactly what evidence do you have, that we all can examine, “proving” the existence of your god? Or does it all take place in your head? Do you hear voices? Does your personal relationship include conversation? Your answers could save millions!

        • articulett
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          Oddly enough, all those who ARE “a wide eyed deer-in-the-headlights swallower of “koolade” to someone’s radical teachings” think they aren’t either. In fact, it’s impossible to distinguish their cultish talk from yours.

          Who are you trying to convince exactly? It sounds to me like you are trying to convince yourself. I don’t think you’ve managed to impress anyone here with whatever it is you imagine your religion has done for you.

    • llewelly
      Posted March 8, 2010 at 4:16 am | Permalink

      Why would a holy sovereign God decide to satisfy the demands of an arrogant person making a stupid demand?

      Of course He shouldn’t. After all, He has Hatians to curse, and the prayers of American football players to answer. He’s a busy God.

      • Joe C
        Posted March 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Scarcasm will get you nowhere. And as far as the comment about the Haitians, I groaned as much about that as anyone. The author of that statement is an individual and does not speak for me. And I am not lumped with him in any way.

        • Notagod
          Posted March 12, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

          Does you haz different godz then he hadz?

          Doesn’t the christian handbook tell you that you are all created in the same lump of sisters and brothers? He gets his instruction from the christian bib. and from braying unto the lard, where does your god soaked instruction come from?

          Have you an accurate count of the multitude of christian Gods?

  23. Posted March 6, 2010 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne, excellent and timely post. I’ve linked to it on my blog. I am a theist, but I do feel that the article in question did you and PZ Myers a disservice. And I have to admit that I was disappointed in the way Ken Miller articulated his views. I say that as someone who deeply admires what Miller has done to promote the teaching of evolution in this country.

  24. ChicagoMolly
    Posted March 7, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    So let me get this straight. Some miracles are ok (Miller apparently believes in the Resurrection and the divinity of Jesus), but they can’t be too numerous? Or too obvious?

    Ages ago, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore had a theology discussion in one of their ‘Pete and Dud’ sketches, and Dud raised the question as to why the Lord doesn’t manifest himself nowadays the way he used to in the bible? Pete told him (you really need to listen to the recording for the dialect), ‘Well, I asked Rev Stephens about it, and he told me the Lord daren’t. No, he daren’t run about manifesting himself all the time because it would debase the coinage.’

  25. melior
    Posted March 7, 2010 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    if God were to perform the sort of miracles demanded by atheists as proof of his existence — the consequences would be disastrous.

    …but not if God were to perform the sort of intercessory miracles offered for sale at any given time on sixteen channels of my television?

  26. astrounit
    Posted March 7, 2010 at 5:48 am | Permalink

    I hate to be RABIDLY anti-accomodationist, but this is what one might expect to come of attempts to be…erm…ACCOMODATING.

    First of all, “journalists” like David Sharfenberg are, in the clipped estimation and common vernacular unhindered by any further bother over unecessary details, “schmucks”.

    Sharfenberg is a schmuck.

    If this confuses anyone, I will add that people of that stripe merit the characterization simply because they decide to report what they prefer to PROMOTE rather than what information they have been given to pass along.

    We live in a world today where the promotion of an agenda is a serious disease.

    That disease in individuals would be called egomania.

    The disease as established by groups of egomaniacs working together to construct something called a “news serive” for the “edification” of the public would be called propaganda.

    We should all be familiar with the stench of it by now. (Especially since we supposedly were exposed to such a strong whiff of it during the era of NAZI Germany…apparently, people in this country either have a lack of memory, a lack of history, or a lack of smell…because the disease is thoroughly consuming us, and most of us either do not notice or do not give a shit.

    In any case, the hijinck perpetrated by Sharfenberg would be recognized as the antithesis of journalism. Or, at least, once upon a time time, it would have been.

    Somehow, however, within the last half century, despite the efforts of courageous and authentic journalisats such as Edward R. Murrow, which he definitively warned us about, journalism seems to have acquired a definition synonymous with PERSUASION or the MARKETING of a notion to make it appealing to the public…the better to relieve them of their money.

    We all sit back and watch as confidence artists do their thing, being INFINITELY BETTER at persuading the public than honest interests who seek a better and more efficient world without automatic monetary linkages to success.

    Journalism is now simply another word for persuasion.

    The misrepresentation of individuals one has INTERVIEWED (let alone EXPERT individuals) by selective quotation in an article (such as what Sharfenberg committed against Jerry and PZ) is not only a violation against the original principles of journalism, it is every bit as egregious as lying under oath.

    Sharfenberg has thus demonstrated conclusively that he is a liar. As a liar he has turned the venerable occupation of journalism into a farce, revolving around a personal preoccupation to advance his own personal opinions over those of his sources…and that clearly marks him as a schmuck of the first order.

    To be sure, there are indeed lots of schmucks out there pretending to be “journalists”, fishing for “information” from “relevantly” important sources. The question is, just what do “journalists” like Sharfenberg consider “relevant”?

    But Jerry and PZ and others like them know that already, don’t they? They have enough experience by now that they should be able to smell these bastards coming from a mile away…

    As for Ken Miller, I honestly cannot for the life of me understand why anybody can possibly be moved to support his views WHICH ARE QUITE EVIDENTLY BASED ENTIRELY ON THE WRONG REASONS while, in very nearly the same breath, the same folks (properly) lambast a character like Chris Mooney, magnanimous author and, of late, honored by the TEMPLETON foundation.

    Who is merely ignorant as well as hideously wrong.

    AS WRONG AS KEN MILLER IS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN.

    Evidently this anti-accomodationist business is considerably more complicated and runs quite a bit deeper than many of us have been willing to imagine or acknowledge.

    Evidently, some virtuous part of us WANTS to give the jokers and con-artists a sporting chance, if not to come clean, at least in giving them the recognition that they’re human, however they fall within the continuum between vague delusion and the actively dispicable.

    Evidently, after many hilarious hijinks that might inform, some folks still haven’t acquired a sense of who to trust either.

    They still cannot tell the authentic journalists from the schmucks who are good at taking advantage.

    Some mildly interesting “damage” ensues – mostly to reputations – on those who queerly find themselves carrying torches for what may charitably be termed a “movement”.

    It’s easy enough to FIX, however…as soon as certain folks also realize the value and efficacy of being able to change their mindsets from a much vaunted academic platform (which many, including myself, very much respect) to a position more accessible to people whose minds are such easy pickings by the most digusting religious con-artistry…PROVING OVER AND OVER – as if we are oblivious to it – that those con-artists are better at “teaching” the public than some of the finest academic minds are.

    A major shift of mind might also become especially handy closer to home than one might think…and help advance the cause through the empowerment of cultural diversity.

    That culture contained within certain well-healed blogs…which seem good at cultivating anything BUT diversity.

    The HECK with wasting time on niddling away at accomodationists. That’s just another way of playing on THEIR friggin’ playing field, where they call the shots.

    WE NEED TO FIND WAYS TO CALL THE SHOTS.

    WE NEED TO FIND WAYS TO TAKE THAT FACILITY AWAY FROM THOSE WHO CURRENTLY CALL THEM, WHO HOLD SOCIETY HOSTAGE.

    WE NEE TO QUIT BEING SO INADEQUATE.

    Sorry. I’m not a regular and haven’t often posted previously here or over at Pharyngula (fat chance over there, as ScienceBlogs regularly crashes my computer: that place is a disaster designed to promote elitism). But being a long-time reader here and over at PZ’s and trying hard to suspend my growing contempt for commentators on both sites, who have precipitated nothing but a steadily stiffening crust of elitism that cultivates nothing but a powerful repulsion even amongst many like-minded atheists (evinced by constant internecine warfare) as well as a precoccupation with tackling what blog hosts consider to be suitable focii for targets (generally well pointed out but for the fact that subsequent comments almost invariably descend willy-nilly into wastefully irrelevant territory, especially whenever anyone NOT NECESSARILY A “TROLL” expresses a view that doesn’t conform to the controlling commentors, who will immediately shoot such a contrary commentor down with such a practiced venom that makes it hard to believe they have adopted any higher purpose.

    In any case, the forum over at PZ’s, here and several others are completely intolerant to young people – most grievously, to bright kids who could be our greatest future asset: NOTHING WHATSOEVER is done for them, and whenever a young mind shows up, they are inevitably shot to smithereens instead of helped.

    A greater preoccupation than engaging young people (one might say suckhole of entertainment) over at PZ’s is the absurd Neverending Thread. And nothing presents a greater BARRIER separating us from folks who are NOT academically or intellectually inclined from the reality we pretend we are so good at teaching about than the reigning ATTITUDE exhibited by the commentators.

    Dammitt. I’m sick and tired of the games certain regulars play in order to “establish” their seniority (FUCK the Molly award, gimme a break already). I’m pissed at the spectacle of a bunch of brilliant minds tickling each other with their moist sticks, while ever-ready to take down EVERYBODY one of them deems a target, no matter how much the “insurgent” pleads for help or insight. From my point of view, from what I’ve personally seen, the online atheist community, which I once much admired and counted myself proudly in league with just several short years ago, has turned into a hideous and very nearly good for nothing bastion of what they themselves would characterize in excessively-religious people as “holier-than-thou”, and they revel in a wasteland of effort chiefly stroking the egomaniacal tendencies in themselves.

    I know – I used to be a part of that garbage.

    And after the recent debacle over at Poor Richard’s site (NO FAULT OF HIS OR HIS ASSISTANT!!!) I’ve decided that I’ve had enough. I’m through. I’ll go it alone, as I had before this ridiculous device of “communication” that promised a facilitation between like-minded people. Finished, gone.

    I was able to do more before bloggy distractions, and I will continue to do so.

    Meanwhile, I am saddened by an insurrmountable truth: we can’t even figure out how to be kind to each other, and we pretend that we can instruct people who are being indoctrinated by assholes.

    DISPICABLE. The tragedy of this is that we CAN have been able to utilize the internet towards a decent and progressive purpose…instead of treating it like another means of entertainment, a diversion, a monumental waste of time. I feel sick to my stomach for having to say so…but there it is.

    I DARE anybody to target and knock down my personal opinion, which I have arrived at through my own and independant observations over the years. Wail away. You’ll get no argument out of me. I’m sick to death of it.

    • 'Tis Himself, OM
      Posted March 7, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      As a Pharynguloid, an OM, and a regular at the Everlasting Thread, I am impressed by astrounit’s rant. It was everything one could possibly expect from a fullbore rant. It had anger, pathos, jealousy, whining, frustration, and just a hint of “they won’t let me in their club so I’ll take my ball and go home.”

      Now astrounit, why don’t you take a nap and let the grownups talk?

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted March 7, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        Tis Himself, OM:

        You read the entire rant? Impressive!

        • llewelly
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 4:31 am | Permalink

          Tis Himself, OM:

          You read the entire rant? Impressive!

          Did he need to? Most of it is typical concern troll nonsense. But for added hilarity, he’s quite rude about it, and uses ALL CAPS for emphasis.

    • Aquaria
      Posted March 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      What are you raving about?

      You don’t have to be a brilliant person to fit in at Pharyngula. I’m a regular there, not even an OM, (and so what if I’m never one), and all I have is a measly 25 hours of college. How is it that I can hang in there with people who are way smarter and more educated than I’ll ever be?

      Survival amongst the Pharyngula horde has absolutely nothing to do with age–it’s whether or not you have a thick skin and a bit of humility, when necessary. It also helps to be able to dish it out as well as you take it.

      If you come in as a know-it-all spouting nonsense, you’re gonna get taken down hard. The average Pharynguloid’s tolerance level for that is somewhere near, well, ZERO.

      If you show too little of an ability:

      1) to adapt your thinking when you’re wrong; or

      2) to admit you don’t know what you’re talking about when it becomes clear that you’re full of shit; or

      3) to avoid threads that are over your head or that you can’t comment on intelligently (not saying this was your case, just what I’ve seen there);

      4) to handle any disagreement at all, much less to agree to disagree and move on;

      5) to walk away when you become too frustrated with a discussion or commenter;

      then Pharyngula is not the place for you.

      You’re just not going to be coddled over there. Look, Walton is a young person, and he’s hung in there. We spank him when he’s being an idiot, and his age has zero to do with that. If anything, we understand how that makes him naive sometimes.

      If you’re the astrounit I remember over there, would you care to explain how I would have never know your age because you came in with a lot more of a clue than Walton, you never got raked over the coals the way he did, and yet he’s still there while you’ve run away to cry on Coyne’s shoulder?

    • jfatz
      Posted March 7, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      *golf claps*

  27. Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    I am a theist and I was wondering when science proved that there is no God. Also how do quantum particles popping in and out of existence eliminate the first cause argument?

    • Dan L.
      Posted March 8, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Hi Sologos,

      “Science” can’t prove anything for two reasons:
      1) it’s not anthropomorphic
      2) “proof” only happens in mathematics.

      Which is the point. You can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, any more than you personally can prove I don’t have Sagan’s invisible dragon in my garage. That’s why the existence of God is not a scientific concept, which is why Coyne is saying that Miller’s arguments about God are not scientific.

      The cosmological argument rests on the premise, “Everything that happens has a cause.” A proposition like this — a universal — can be disproven (proving is impossible; disproving is often easy) if we find just one counterexample. The fact that particle/antiparticle creation and annihilation does not seem to be caused by anything in particular but sort of “just happens” provides a counterexample. Therefore, that premise of the cosmological argument is not true and the argument is invalid.

      Another example would be a radioactive atomic nucleus: it will decay eventually, but we can’t say exactly when. The event itself doesn’t seem to be caused by anything in particular.

      Actually, causality is much more problematic as a concept than even these examples suggest. The cosmological argument depends on a shallow, naive view of causality that can’t really stand up to philosophical analysis and gets completely blown away by most of the principles of modern physics.

      If you’re a theist, I would suggest you stop looking for evidence or logical proof of God. It doesn’t exist, and from what I understand, having proof of God would be self-defeating: you’d be a “knower” rather than a “believer.”

      • Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

        Hello Dan,
        An excellent post, and I agree with most of it. I am not, in fact, looking to science to prove God’s existence. About the best it has to offer in that arena is evidence, sufficient evidence as I see it to be consistent with (not compelling to) my faith. The reason, as I am sure you realize, that I asked about proof for the atheistic view is that some here apparently believe that science PROVES atheism, and that, likewise, is not to be had from science. Mathematics, though rather amazingly consistent with an ordered and knowable universe does not, likewise, prove anything about God’s existence one way or the other.
        I do, however disagree with the notion that either quantum particle formation or radiation indeterminacy refutes the cosmological argument. Firstly, you correctly use the phrase ” does not seem” which may simply be a statement of our ignorance of the causal line. More to the point, these examples may call into question our entire concept of scientific causality (which merely declares temporal association) but do not address cosmological causality, the one and only causality that presumably does not require the existence of time (In fact, the posited Deity must be a-temporal for this very reason). This is not to deny that natural causality exists but to point out that we can’t be certain about the causes we have elicited. Science is descriptive; to view it as more requires, ironically, a leap of faith. Such a leap is countenanced quite nicely within a purposive biblical worldview.

    • articulett
      Posted March 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      Science can’t prove there is no god in the same way that we can’t prove that there are no demons or sprites, or invisible wormhole space alien visitors.

      Science can’t prove the emperor is not wearing magical robes that only the chosen can see.

      Science can’t prove that we’re not brains in vats in a Matrix.

      But most rational people don’t believe in things just because they are unfalsifiable. Science is interested in what is useful and “true no matter what people believe”.

      The earth was never flat despite eons of belief by humans who certainly thought so. The sun never moved across the sky though humans once believed it was pulled by gods. Science shows us that the sun “rising” is an illusion caused by our planet rotating towards the sun. You might not find this proof– but it’s good enough for most rational people. The evidence for gods (or ANY invisible conscious beings) are not.

      That’s why most scientists don’t use science to justify belief in supernatural ideas.

      • Posted March 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

        Hello Ariculett,

        >>>But most rational people don’t believe in things just because they are unfalsifiable

        Rationality occurs in all sorts of endeavors outside of science.

        >>>Science is interested in what is useful and “true no matter what people believe”.

        Unfortunately, it doesn’t touch on the things that are generally most important to all of us.

        >>>That’s why most scientists don’t use science to justify belief in supernatural ideas.

        Or disbelief?

        • articulett
          Posted March 8, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

          I’d say most supernatural ideas are best disbelieved until evidence warrant belief since there is no evidence that anything supernatural exists… much less that any person could tell us about it.

          Do you disbelieve in gremlins? Or are you “on the fence” about such things…?

          • articulett
            Posted March 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            In other words… science won’t be proving there are no gods just as we won’t be proving there are no gremlins. But that doesn’t mean either warrant belief.

            If an entity cannot distinguish itself from the nonexistence of said entity or an imaginary version of said entity, then disbelief is the rational default position for any person not wishing to fool themselves (unless they fear that nonbelief will cause them to suffer forever).

            We don’t believe ALL invisible undetectable entities exist until they prove their non existence, so I cannot see how one justifies believing in ANY such entities (except for fears and hopes produced by indoctrination). Myself, I would first like to see evidence that consciousness CAN exist absent a material brain before I can belief such a thing is less nonsensical than “sound in a vacuum”. And for the same reasons.

            Ken Miller’s reasoning is unlikely to work on someone who has thought deeply about the subject and come to the conclusion (as I have) that gods are as unlikely as demons and souls are as unlikely as Thetans.

            I think you have to be very susceptible and/or indoctrinated from childhood to reason as Ken Miller does.

      • sinz54
        Posted March 8, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Secularists like you seem genuinely ashamed of the non-rational parts of human existence. As if you secretly wish you were all supra-logical Vulcans or androids from Star Trek or something.

        We are supremely non-rational every time we fall in love or mourn the death of a loved one. We are non-rational when we react emotionally to beautiful music or beautiful art. And we are non-rational when we experience spirituality.

        Our entire lives are NOT run according to the dictates of scientific truth. And it’s a good thing too, or we would have long ago replaced Rembrandts with mathematical diagrams.

        Many human beings have refused to abandon their goals and dreams even after having had it “explained” to them, with persuasive evidence and logic, that any chance of achieving those goals were hopeless. And it’s a good thing they did, because the few of them who managed to succeed anyway could change history.

        I don’t like this implication that the epitome of human existence should be scientific. There will always be emotional, spiritual, and other non-rational parts to us. Rather than be ashamed of them, you ought to be proud of them.

        • articulett
          Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          I’m not ashamed of anything, you self-righteous troll– especially not your straw man. Secularists tend to be a little brighter than theists so we don’t confuse things like human feelings and invisible beings (which have no brains to have feelings, btw. But I can see why your faith might have muddled your thinking on the subject. One is detectable and the other isn’t. You can tell the former from the imaginary; you can’t do so with the latter.

          Oh by the way, emotions evolved for rational reasons… they evolved to enhance the survival and reproductive success of those that had such things.

          Atheists appreciate art and music and poetry like the faithful, we just don’t imagine that it’s source is divine.

          We don’t think faith is a valid way of knowing anything objectively true.

          Objectivity– you theists lack that. You need to imagine that atheists don’t feel what you feel so you can pretend believing crazy things is “good”–that it’s given you something that the godless lack. But most non-believers have been believers before, and we have the same transcendent poignant feelings we had then– we just don’t imagine that they came from a magic guy in the sky (nor do we imagine that negativity comes from demons!) Despite what your programmers may have lead you to believe, people don’t stop feeling even though they stop being manipulated by those who would indoctrinate them. We don’t lose our morality when we lose our faith either– though YOU might.

          You also confuse some hypothetical people being told that something is impossible with someone not believing in your invisible friend. Some things truly are improbable and even impossible– no matter how much faith you have. (Notice, faith doesn’t literally move mountains– and all the faith in the world never made the earth flat–it just “appeared” that way. And faith doesn’t make the sun rise. In fact, science shows us that the sun rising is an illusion caused by our planet rotating towards the sun. Faith is unnecessary for the process and this was going on long before there were people to have “faith”, and it’s likely to continue long after people become extinct –or evolve into new species.)

          No one said your god is impossible– it’s just that there is no more evidence for him/her/it/them then there is evidence for fairies, and so most rational people will disbelieve. It takes evidence (and or indoctrination) to decide which, if any, invisible undetectable beings you are going to “believe in”. A dash of fear and a sprinkling of confirmation bias help too.

          No one made the “implication that the epitome of human existence should be scientific.” That’s just the voices in your head making straw men so you can feel righteous about believing silly things. We weren’t talking about the epitome of human existence, were we?

          Congratulations on stopping by to confirm your faith-based biases against atheists. You win 2 heaven bonus points on the pass/fail life game. Thanks for playing. Come again.

    • El Guerrero del Interfaz
      Posted March 9, 2010 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      > I am a theist and I was wondering
      > when science proved that there is
      > no God. Also how do quantum
      > particles popping in and out of
      > existence eliminate the first
      > cause argument?

      What first cause argument?

      You mean that thing that theists do searching for a first cause and, when one known first cause has been found, postulate another unknown first cause and label it god?

      Nobody usually denies that there is a first cause. What unbelievers don’t accept is that there is an unknown previous cause named God to any known first cause.


      El Guerrero del Interfaz

      • sologos
        Posted March 9, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Hello El
        By first cause I mean the cosmological argument for the existence of God that posits a Being capable of creating the universe out of nothing. The argument denies an infinite universe as every effect must have a cause; thus the universe in whatever primitive state it might have been requires a cause. This is particularly compelling to science whose experimental method relies on cause and effect. This Being must be atemporal (or eternal, as cause requires time, and time only begins with a natural something), omnipotent (as all power must derive from this creation), omniscient ( as the putative agent must know how to create such a universe)Infinite ( as creation implies infinite potential) etc. All attribute of this agent who most of us call God. Considering the beauty, abundant provision, and the potential for redemption and love at so many levels of existence, a good argument can be made that this One is also all loving.
        You mention that a first cause has already been found. What is it?

        • articulett
          Posted March 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

          Considering the danger, inhospitability towards life of most of the universe, death, suffering, cruelty, despair, poor design, lack of any scientific prescience in any scripture and general waste at so many levels of existence, a good argument can be made that this “One” is a dick.

          Or maybe he just doesn’t exist.

          It’s one thing to imagine a first cause (before there was time to have a “first” anything)… it’s a bit more wacky to imagine this first cause has an invisible undetectable mind that wants and thinks things that only material minds are known to want and thing… it’s way way wackier to tie all this in with this “one” having a son who was really him that needed to be killed because this “one” made imperfect creations that ate from the tree of knowledge.

          And it’s beyond all believability to think that you or some other mortal has come to know this invisible undetectable mind.

          But that’s just my opinion.

          • sologos
            Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

            Articulett
            Actually if I had heard of this God from you, I would agree entirely. I have encountered these ideas you express, but I find it difficult to reconcile with the God of the Bible. Reading the Bible as a whole gives you an different slant, though I can see why some of these ideas might yet troubler. Reading it a second time answers many more ideas but continues to bring up notions that trouble. Reading it a third time begins to establish that most of your arguments agasinst it are destined to fall. Even though you have to remain critical to approach the Bibler, one’s skepticism may simply be be unassailable, because of something much more persuasive than reason, IE. one’s own belief system. I’ve been reading the Bible for over thrity five years, and I have entertained all these notions, sometimes with concerns for mmy faith. Nevertheless, All of these arguments and notions have satisfactory answers and my own belief system has not only survived but deepened in worship for a God that is both just and loving. It may take a few readings though to fully appreciate it. Meanwhile the compatibility with science (well done and empirical) remains intact when one applioes a proper hermeneutic.

            • articulett
              Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink

              But if there was no god, would you WANT to know? Or would you prefer to keep believing?

              Do you think bad things might happen if you question the idea of god?

              Why do you think you’ve stumbled into “the truth” (born into the right family in the right era, etc.) when we know there have been eons of people with all sorts of supernatural beliefs that they thought were equally as true as you think yours are–but they weren’t.

              If you have come to believe that some book is a source of divinity, you will find divinity there rather there is anything that is truly divine or not.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

              Sorry, no. Please realize that many here has read your religions texts several times. This has been explained many times to many visitors. To suggest that further reading is needed is therefore either supreme ignorance or supreme arrogance. [This happens so often that my conclusion is that it is both; it is a well known fact that post-semitic religious often displays both.]

              What immediately jumps out of them is that they blatantly contradict and promote magic. (Say, herding sheep over a cliff after “luring” a “demon” on them.) Both are irreconcilable with science. So are hermeneutics, which is untestable crap as regards science. [That would be before, but especially after making claims on it.]

              The first part of articulett’s comment is presenting the facts and drawing a simple conclusion of them. If you have a satisfactorily answer to the post-semitic religions explanation for their idea of suffering (“problem of evil”), you are the first in history to do so. The world awaits with bated breath. (But not really.)

          • oldfuzz
            Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

            “Considering the danger, inhospitability towards life of most of the universe, death, suffering, cruelty, despair, poor design, lack of any scientific prescience in any scripture and general waste at so many levels of existence…”

            These are human assessments based on eons of reason. If there was a creator and this universe is his/her first creation, where’s the validity in a critique?

            • articulett
              Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

              I don’t understand the question.

              A critique would be useful in positing the nature of said creator or whether s/he is likely to exist at all.

              For example, if one posits a creator whose “goal” was humanity, then that creator seems to have wasted the majority of time and space in this universe.

              If one posits an all loving creator, then the creation of suffering was unnecessary. There’s no suffering in “heaven” right? Suffering makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, but not much from a creator perspective.

            • oldfuzz
              Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

              articulett, “I don’t understand the question.”

              I probably posed it poorly and will try to do better this time.

              When you state “the danger, inhospitability towards life of most of the universe, death, suffering, cruelty, despair, poor design, lack of any scientific prescience in any scripture and general waste at so many levels of existence…” I read that as a critique. By what reference are you making this assessment? It’s a purely human view, one made by a biological form which appeared in its near present form some 200,000 years ago or so, some 13,699,800,000 years into evolution of the universe (99.99854 % into the process).

              The universe functioned just fine without us. The idea of a creator is fairly universal within prescience cultures.

              It’s hard for me to make this point succinctly, but in summary, I think the view you presented requires a human judgment which I view as egocentric.

            • articulett
              Posted March 15, 2010 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

              Yes, it is a human centered point of view… but so is the idea of a creator.

              I don’t believe in a creator, and I don’t believe the universe was made to bring forth me or any other human. I think it’s funny and childish to think so (see Douglas Adam’s mud puddle analogy).

              I think the whole idea of a god is egocentric –especially a god that cares about humans. To me it’s obvious that gods were created in man’s image and not vice-versa.

              ‘This reminds me of a Jimmy Karr joke: “if we’re all created in God’s image, why aren’t I invisible?”

              In any case, I find the gods people believe in to be far more “egocentric” beliefs than any critique an atheist might do of proposed gods. I’m not the one claiming to know of such divine entities. I’m the one who thinks that all proposed gods are as mythological as the Greek Gods are to us today.

              I find nothing noble about any of the gods people claim to believe in and I find such beliefs egocentric. I’m not really making an assessment any more than I’d be making an assessment of superman if I commented on things that made him less than “super”. I don’t believe in gods any more than I believe in “Superman”. To me, “critiques” of both would be similarly “valid”.

            • oldfuzz
              Posted March 16, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

              articulett, “Yes, it is a human centered point of view… but so is the idea of a creator.”

              Agreed. I am working on the assumption that your view of “danger, inhospitality…etc” references God as depicted in the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh, which no Jew I know reads as a literal reference, although some Christians do.

              Contemporary theologians do not equate creator and God. The definition of God has more variety than is possible to describe here.

              A current example is Lloyd Geering’s Coming Back to Earth which opens with an essay on the Secular Trinity wherein he traces the evolution of the God term through history citing the diverse differences used by many including Tillich and Cupitt.

              The objectification of god violates its essence, which is that which is “beyond word and form” as Joseph Campbell put it. The dilemma is that if one believes there exists something, some essential, beyond knowing, what name should it have?

              God is the term of choice and it has as many meanings as there are users.

              Thanks for taking the time to make your thinking clear.


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