The new Templeton Prize winner speaks again!

I can’t believe it: twice in one day!  Over at the Guardian, you can read “Religion has nothing to do with science—and vice versa.”

I contend that both – scientists denying religion and believers rejecting science – are wrong. Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters.

Here’s the definition of “properly understood religion” : religion that doesn’t contradict science.  This is all nice and neat, because it makes the assertion a tautology.

What I want to know is this: who is in charge of demarcating “properly understood” faith?  And what are we to do with those millions of misguided folks who obstinately refuse to make their faith proper?

Wait! There’s more:

Some scientists deny that there can be valid knowledge about values or about the meaning and purpose of the world and of human life. The biologist Richard Dawkins explicitly denies design, purpose and values.

In River out of Eden, he writes:

“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

William Provine, a historian of science, asserts that there are no absolute principles of any sort. He believes modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society.

There is a monumental contradiction in these assertions. If its commitment to naturalism does not allow science to derive values, meaning or purposes from scientific knowledge, it surely does not allow it, either, to deny their existence.

Dawkins denies purpose and values? I don’t think so.  I know both Dawkins and Provine, and while they believe that there are no moral or ethical laws set out by God, they certainly believe in morals and ethics. And I’m equally sure they believe in “absolute guiding principles for human society.”  They just doesn’t think that those principles come from God.

The rest is straight NOMA (had Steve Gould lived, would he have won a Templeton Prize?):

There are people of faith who see the theory of evolution and scientific cosmology as contrary to the creation narrative in Genesis. But Genesis is a book of religious revelations and of religious teachings, not a treatise on astronomy or biology.

According to Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church, it is a blunder to mistake the Bible for an elementary textbook of astronomy, geology, or other natural sciences. As he writes in his commentary on Genesis:

“If it happens that the authority of sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets Scripture does not understand it correctly.”

But who can say what the book of Genesis was supposed to mean?  I’ll give you ten to one that, when it was written, it was a treatise on astronomy and biology, at least as far as those things were understood by denizens of the Middle East two millennia ago.

And, frankly, I’m tired of Augustine being trotted out in these kinds of discussions, as if his interpretation of the Bible was obviously the correct one.  I could trot out other theologians who would say the opposite.  And, if we’re going to hold up Augustine as the arbiter of Biblical interpretation, there’s that little matter of predestination. . . .

Finally, this:

Successful as it is, however, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete. Matters of value and meaning are outside the scope of science.

Perhaps (although Sam Harris would disagree).  But what is outside the scope of science is not automatically inside the scope of faith.

Accommodationists and Templetonians seem to believe if they endlessly repeat the discredited argument of non-overlapping magisteria, people will accept it.  Their guiding philosophy is Snarkian: “What I tell you three times is true.”

36 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Your link here is NOT the guardian link, but the Standpoint one from the other post.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Fixed. Thank you!

  2. Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    What I want to know is this: who is in charge of demarcating “properly understood” faith?

    Anybody who has won a Templeton prize, of course!

  3. Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Standpoint? Ayala has been mouthing off in Standpoint? It’s an outrage! Standpoint is for Nick Cohen to mouth off in, not some Templetonian.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    First declarative sentence:

    Some scientists assert that valid knowledge can only come from science.

    …is nonsense. No scientists assert that. Straw man argument, Templeton fool.

    Then this:

    Outside the world of nature, however, science has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another. Science has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral; nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose.

    This is partially true but let me fix this for you Templeton lackey:

    INSIDE AND outside the world of nature, however, RELIGION has no authority, no statements to make, no business whatsoever taking one position or another. RELIGION has nothing decisive to say about values, whether economic, aesthetic or moral; nothing to say about the meaning of life or its purpose.

    That is the statement that a rational person should make.

    Religions is usually immoral, just read the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. RELIGION has no authority whatsoever beyond those granted everyone else. Why is this, you ask? This is due to the fantasies that religion is based upon, followed by the house of cards excuses and apologetics that follow on, not to mention the lies, genocide, xenophobia, misogyny, pedophilia and general abuse and attempt to control the average human.

    The rest of the article is just tired old arguments that have been disproved over and over again. Ayala should hide his head in shame.

  5. Stan Pak
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Accommodationists and Templetonians seem to believe if they endlessly repeat the discredited argument of non-overlapping magisteria, people will accept it.

    But this Goebbels strategy works for them so well!
    Besides there is something attractive in NOMA (maybe an appeal to peace?) which causes seemingly intelligent people to buy it without a minute of thought. Templeton prize is just an effective channel to disseminate this “good” revelation and save religion from eradication.

  6. Posted May 28, 2010 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    It’s as though no dialectical progress was made on these issues in the last 5 years. Just goes to show how willfully insular the Simpleton Foundation is.

    • llewelly
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      It’s as though no dialectical progress was made on these issues in the last 5 years. Just goes to show how willfully insular the Simpleton Foundation is.

      More like the last 11 years. Rocks of Ages was published in 1999. Although it is unconvincing, and easily Gould’s worst work, it’s the best defense of NOMA I’ve seen.

      • Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I was referring mostly to the recent critiques of this proposition via the NA movement.

        • Kevin
          Posted May 28, 2010 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Movement?

          I’m a movement?

          Who knew? I thought I was just an argumentative asshole who can’t stand people claiming the truth of a proposition without providing any supportive evidence.

          Movement. I kinda like the sound of that.

          Movement.

          • Posted May 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

            A “mobilization of methodological and philosophical materialists” if you like. Of course, argumentative asshole will suffice in most contexts when civil riposte is not enough.

        • llewelly
          Posted May 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          John Danley
          May 28, 2010 at 12:40 pm:

          Yes, I was referring mostly to the recent critiques of this proposition via the NA movement.

          Well – I’m sure the “new atheists” would appreciate dialectical progress in response to criticism, and go to some trouble to make sure it’s not too difficult, but I think they’re mostly counting on destroying the public esteem of religion.
          I think most of the dialectical progress that occurs in response to affirmative atheists originated criticism comes in the form of increasing public support for those critiques – that is, it doesn’t come from organizations like the Templeton foundation, and I don’t think anyone really expects it to.

  7. Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    What the hell, it’s Friday. I henceforth, by a miraculous power vested in me that is greater than myself, recommend Insane Clown Posse for a Templeton Prize because of their cogently congruent aesthetic adjudications concerning personal incredulity and the wondrous enchantment produced by shiny objects.

    • Jackie
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      And by digital media.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      Oooh, shiny! [/Kiki @ Sluggy Freelance]

  8. Insightful Ape
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    While I do despise Templeton for spending huge piles of money on this fanciful PR stunt, I do take comfort in the fact that it is all for naught.
    Such statements will have absolutely no bearing on the roughly 40% of the public who buy into the young earth nonsense. It will also not sway the 90% of NAS members who are nonbelievers.
    And further, secularization is a reality, whether the Templtonians like it or not. It is even rearing its head in the once-staunchly religious Spain, Ireland and Poland.
    The Templeton people are free to waste their not-so-hard-earned cash this way rather than feed a few hungry mouths in Africa. It doesn’t matter. Few will notice, fewer will care, and in the bigger picture it won’t make an iota of a difference.

    • worried secularist
      Posted May 29, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, secularization seems to be a temporary reality, since there are over 1.2 billion Muslims, a great many of whom are in Europe and seem already to have all the evidence they think they require. Secular people are not breeding; religious – especially fundamentalists – are. It’s scary.

  9. Tulse
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the definition of “properly understood religion” : religion that doesn’t contradict science.

    I’d be fine with that, myself. Then again, as I see it, that would be an empty set (with the possible exception of weak Deism).

  10. rhr
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    How does NOMA deal with the issue of cartesian dualism vs. materialist monism (or idealist monism for that mattter)? Is science to answer the question or religion, or nobody?

    I can’t see either side ever giving up their claims to answer this one. In fact I wonder if there’s an unacknowledged rift between accomodationists on this question.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Science does have an answer for this question. Dualism is an illusion.
      As much as I like S J Gould I think coining “NOMA” was a very bad idea. And it doesn’t reflect reality, as is the case for the question of dualism.

      • Sigmund
        Posted May 28, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        The ‘idea’ of NOMA is not so much the problem compared to Gould’s terrible mistake of handing over the control of meaning and morality to the religious.
        NOMA itself – if followed to its logical conclusion – provides more problems than comforts to religion. It essentially falsifies theism (God, as part of the religious magisteria, does not interact with the natural magisteria and thus could not have communicated His message to us in the form of a holy book of his thoughts and wishes).
        The implications to theism are always ignored by the accomodationists and apologists who use Goulds demarcation simply as a means of attacking naturalists.

  11. Eric MacDonald
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    This guy really gets my goat! I mean, really, he should just stick to biology, which, I understand, he is quite good at. But when he starts to expound on this silly theme of the compatibility of religion and science, he has no idea what he’s talking about. But now, he’s been paid a million pounds for his opinions, so he thinks they matter!

    What does he mean, for example, by calling Genesis revelatory? In what way is it a revelation? Who is the revelation from? What on earth does it mean? There are any number of possible interpretations of the first two chapters of Genesis, anywhere from primitive science (as likely as not, why not?) to awestruck wonder looking up at the night sky and wondering poetically where it all came from.

    The first chapter of Genesis is often thought to come from the priestly writer, and to reflect some of his particular beliefs and prejudices. The purpose of making the sun and the moon later creations, for example, may be to demote them from divinity, as they were often regarded in antiquity. They become just things – which is helpful, of course, if you want to do science and not theology. But that doesn’t mean that the writer didn’t think it happened this way.

    The second chapter is a second creation story, and it is almost certainly an effort to understand how life on the earth may have appeared and why. In this story man is created first (of course there had to be water first, so a stream appeared), for there had to be someone to till the earth (of course!), and then the plants and the animals, all named by Adam… etc.

    Clearly, take the stories how you please, the assumption is that there was order and purpose, intelligence, out there in the constitution of things. And this, surely, is just the nub of the matter. Religion has to claim that there is meaning and purposeful order out there. Science disagrees. There may, indeed, be order, but there is no obvious purpose in the order, no direction, “just blind, pitiless indifference,” just as Dawkins says. And why does Ayala insist on misunderstanding what Dawkins means? He thinks scripture is the answer, and he can’t understand plain English prose!

    Since there is no obvious intelligent purpose or order out there in the universe, and since we do have intentions, purposes, values and all the rest of the apparatus for meaningful life, it stands to reason that it all comes from us. Where else could it come from? Does he really think that scripture (and which one?) provides a better source of value and meaning than us? Where does he think the stories came from? In what way do they show that they are from a superhuman source? How could he show this?

    And for this they gave him a million pounds!!!!!!

    • H.H.
      Posted May 29, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      What I hate about the apologists and “liberal theologians” is that many of them will basically admit that all they’re doing is “playing pretend” when it comes to this religion stuff, but that it’s okay because this farce holds some dubious value to humanity. Yet, at the same time, the apologists have a deep aversion of actually telling the public that it is all a game of pretend. There are lots of people out there taking this religion shit seriously! You’d think a word of warning might be in order. Oh, at most, the apologists might cluck their tongues at the fundamentalists and pronounce that they aren’t practicing “properly understood religion.” But that’s because they refuse to proclaim that religion, properly understood, is nothing more than soothing bullshit.

  12. Kevin
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    This argument is way past its “use by” date.

    God doesn’t disagree with science?

    And which god would THAT be?

    Certainly not Yahweh. Nor Shiva, not Quetlcoatl, nor Thor, nor Chtulu (AFAIK).

    Even the deist god who blithely shoves universes into existence seems perfectly absent when one looks about for any indication of it.

    But, of course, this NOMA position is meant specifically to appease the middle-of-the-road Christian views. It’s OK to keep tithing, because lots of people do it.

    Feh.

    One shred of EVIDENCE in favor of the proposition that any god exists and that it is the obligate creator of the universe and/or life on this planet.

    EVIDENCE!!!!!

    EVIDENCE!!!!!

    • llewelly
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      And which god would THAT be?

      Didn’t Karen Armstrong write a book about that god? You know, the god that is “a metaphor”, and “a transcendence”? The one that is “no being at all”?

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted May 28, 2010 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      I have to say that the god proposes by original deists does not really fit the data either. It wasn’t really the kind of god that poofs the universe into existence and then goes away.
      For example, Tom Paine says in the Age of Reason that god speaks to us through his creation. He considered the biosphere (without using the word) the most eloquent statement made by god.
      Tom Paine can be excused for thinking that, since he lived decades before the publication of the Origin of Species. But goes to show, the deistic god, of Paine and Voltaire, was still a far cry from anything “consistent with science” according to Francisco Ayala.

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Soe, da open eye curious science majesteeria is da lab rat. Maybee, but da atheist is da cat! (Scratch test: you can’t heerd atheists.)

    Wrong picturz. Religion has a dog.

    Some scientists deny that there can be valid knowledge about values or about the meaning and purpose of the world and of human life. The biologist Richard Dawkins explicitly denies design, purpose and values.

    Besides the problem that the quote on Dawkins doesn’t support that he denies values, there are sciences that explicitly study values. Even biology do so, say in anthropology.

    The problem Ayala has, which he share with religions, is that he denies some characteristics if they aren’t general for no good reason; they are all or nothing for him. But purpose and meaning is empirically observable for goal-oriented agents such as ourselves. They are therefore local and contingent.

    To ask for general characteristics is the usual special pleading of religion: because this is what religion demand.

    As for apparent design, I thought Ayala of all people knew better. Or is he now denying evolution, the only known source for apparent design? This one should earn him a revoked license in rational assessment.

    Some scientists assert that valid knowledge can only come from science.

    Again with that confusion between universal and local characteristics.

    If you by valid knowledge mean tested universal knowledge that is a possible, but not so constructive, claim.

    If you by valid knowledge mean learned and/or tested contingent knowledge, it is a universally applicable claim that holds for empiricism inside and outside science. That knowledge is less robust against change since it is dependent on the data set among other things. But it is nevertheless “valid” in a constructive enough sense.

    [The problem comes when statistics of data is replaced by "plural of anecdote". The cherry-picked data (or worse, "data") based model is then not at all robust when data changes, and "valid" is a non-constructive label. I.e. learning by trial-and-error becomes replaced with "learning" by indoctrination.]

    • Jonn Mero
      Posted May 29, 2010 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      Some scientists assert that valid knowledge can only come from science.

      Or better still:
      Some scientists assert–correctly–that valid knowledge can only come from science.

      That is of course taking the term ‘science’ in its widest possible context, not limited to just what scientists do.
      And if you can’t explain something doesn’t make it a goddidit by default, – as theists claim.
      Even the most ephemeral of all, dreams, can no doubt be explained in scientific terms, – eventually.
      Meaning is a different problem, because that is, so far as I can see, a human construct, a wish for an a priory intention (as in believers’ ‘god’s will‘).

      • Jonn Mero
        Posted May 29, 2010 at 2:55 am | Permalink

        Ugh, a priori of course.

        • artikcat
          Posted May 29, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          “science not limited to what scientists do”?????

  14. MadScientist
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    “But what is outside the scope of science is not automatically inside the scope of faith.”

    Not only that, but since scientists don’t know everything, religion necessarily must know everything! The usual pot of shit from the religious – yet another clear example of how faith rots the brain.

  15. oldfuzz
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    “…who can say what the book of Genesis was supposed to mean?” Excellent question. There is(was) a round table study group in New York led by a Rabbi for at least twenty years which discussed Genesis (the JPS version). Bill Moyers produced a TV documentary on it and published a book, Genesis: A living conversation.

    My reading of it is that nobody could what Genesis meant then and were careful in offering their views as to its meaning today. A more interesting question to me is, “How many centuries or millennia, was it in the making?”

  16. jose
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    These people don’t live in the Earth I guess.

    If you redefine religion as anything that won’t cause trouble, then obviously you won’t see trouble caused by religion. duh.

    The problem with science and religion is not about abstract philosophy, but about people saying the Constitution is based on the ten commandments and teachers teaching goddidit in science class.

    Science is necessary in any country. Religion -I mean actual religion, as Christianity in the US- wants to take over science class. As adults, those children who were taught goddidit will perform poorly in science jobs, and the country will suffer for it.

    Questioning the goverment is neccesary in any democracy. According to goddidit, if you question the Creator, then you go to hell. Thus religion is against democracy. What happens with abortion and gay marriage in the US? What about don’t ask, don’t tell? Religion makes people lose constitutional rights.

    Those are examples of real problems in the real world that affects actual countries and actual religions today. Nothing to do with the hazy, unreal workaround these people win prizes talking about.

  17. Dave
    Posted May 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Rationalizing isn’t rationality.

  18. Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    According to Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church, it is a blunder to mistake the Bible for an elementary textbook of astronomy, geology, or other natural sciences.

    Sure. It’s also a blunder to mistake the Bible for an elementary textbook of philosophy, ethics, morality…

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      It’s also a blunder to mistake the Bible for a textbook of any kind or for guidance for anything.


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