The AAAS goes all accommodationist

Yesterday The American Academy for the Advancement of Science had a panel discussion on the science/faith dialogue at its annual meeting. I haven’t heard the outcome, but you can guess what it was given that the number of discussants who find science and faith incompatible was apparently a big fat zero, and that the the Templeton Foundation helped fund the panel. The link in the first sentence leads to a video of astrophysicist Jennifer Wiseman, a religious person who was just hired as “director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion.”

In the video, Wiseman states that she’s “trying to help people see a harmony between scientific study of the natural world on the one hand and also grappling with these bigger questions of, you know, Is there purpose? Is there meaning?  Is there a way of incorporating a faith life in harmony with scientific study?—and I think there is.”

Is that the job of the AAAS—to promote just those theological views that espouse harmony between faith and science?

And, inevitably, HuffPo puffs up the panel with a post, “Science, Religion, and Civil Dialogue,” by Alan Leshner, CEO of the AAAS (I wasn’t aware that any scientific organization had a CEO) as well as executive publisher of Science. The word “civil” here is a tipoff that the dialogue will be only about the compatibility of science and faith, and will ignore the many scientists who feel that these areas are epistemically and methodologically incompatible.  Leshner also—and I’m getting used to this—distorts the recent study by Elaine Ecklund on the religious views of scientists, twisting her findings to make it seem that scientists are more religious than they are:

Of course, some people in sociologist and survey director Elaine Ecklund’s study group, as with the general population, described themselves as atheists. Yet even within that category, many also identified themselves as “spiritual.” This may explain why, in 275 lengthy follow-up interviews Ecklund found only five scientists who said they actively oppose religion.

Some scientists described themselves as atheists? This is, to put it charitably, an understatement of the facts. As Jason Rosenhouse points out about Ecklund’s survey:

Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.

Have a look at Ecklund’s actual data and the analysis by Jason Rosenhouse here and here.

It is disingenuous for an organization like the AAAS to keep putting on these dialogues, and to pretend that faith and science are perfectly compatible, in the face of the palpable facts that:

  • Science and faith are epistemically and methodologically incompatible
  • American scientists are far less religious than the general public
  • A huge number of Americans, including those who feel that evolution subverts their faith, see a real conflict between science and religion.

And the AAAS is a science organization, supposedly devoted to furthering science. Instead it seems to be engaged, like the National Center for Science Education and the National Academy of Sciences, in one-sided, two-bit theology.

As I’ve said many times before, I don’t think it’s the business of these organizations to do theology, let alone promote only theologies of compatibility.  Let them just deal with science.  But if they feel that they must do theology, then by all means highlight the many scientists who find faith and science incompatible. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

Step up to the plate, AAAS. If you’re going to do these dialogues, and represent the world accurately, how about this one: “Science and Faith: The Eternal Conflict”.

You can find a lively discussion of the AAAS business over at Butterflies and Wheels.

109 Comments

  1. Tulse
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    The problem is that the AAAS, like the NCSE, feels that they are “furthering science”, at least in the political sense, by making it more palatable to the god-soaked masses of the US. In the short term they may actually be right. But the long term damage they are doing with their hypocrisy outweighs any short term gain.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Those without visual sight can often see more that those who do not want to see. Elaine Ecklund saw what she wanted to see in spite of her own data. Now the spin doctors use that to justify their irrational conclusions.

  3. Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “The nature of appeasement trumps nature” is becoming the default modus operandi.

    egads.

  4. Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    The trouble of course is that “advancing” science in the political sense is in tension with advancing it in the more usual sense – the substantive sense, the epistemic sense, the cognitive sense. “Advancing” science as cuddly and non-threatening and hospitable to “faith” is not the same thing as advancing science as science.

    • Tulse
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Exactly.

    • Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Jesus loves you anyway, Ophelia, even if he has to cast you into the fire hypothetically prepared for the devil and his angels because you do not believe in him.

      Please note that there’s nothing in either the love or casting-into-hell doctrine that contradicts science (since the eventual heat death of our universe does not necessarily apply to hell, and Jesus’ psychotic nature has never been disproven), and also some scientists hold to these ideas, which proves that they are compatible with science.

      Another noble, Christian-friendly atheist,
      Ray

  5. omvarment
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    What’s very disturbing for a scientific organization is the biased approach- no hypothesis with respect to the science/religion divide, nor even a framing of the topic as a question, is offered. Their approach is no different than the theists’ claim to lay out proof of a deity’s existence when they have already so concluded.

  6. Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    “The [AAAS] also takes no position on whether religion is good or bad.”

    Well, isn’t that special! How about taking a position on if its claims are true or false? And if there is such a thing as guilt by association, then Lanny Davis’ involvement in “civility” is damning for the entire concept.

    Also, I completely separate the issues of global warming from evolution in the accommodationist wars. Dialogue between scientists and religionists on global warming is possible and could be productive.

  7. Sigmund
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I think the accomodationist position of “science and religion are compatible because lots of scientists are religious” is temporarily a winning strategy for them. In order for the anti-accomodationist side to counter that argument we would need the general public to understand what we mean when we speak about things like the scientific method and deistic versus theistic religion. Unfortunately I think this is beyond the grasp, or even interest, of the public at large.
    On the other hand I think the strategy is only a temporary one for accomodationists because, unwittingly to them, they are building a rod for their own backs with the idea that compatibility is equated with a scientist who believes two things.
    How soon before the Intelligent Design movement cottons on to this tactic and starts to use their ‘Dissent from Darwin’ petition to show that ID is compatible with science? How long before we get proponents of climate and vaccine denialism to use this tactic or proponents of astrology or homeopathy?

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      Surely they all already do that. Posing as a scientific challenge to orthodoxy is a standard tactic of denialism. I once located a quote from Dembski saying that ID was compatible with science. Sorry, it’s a long time ago, I’m not going to try and track it down again. I was making the same point as you on Panda’s Thumb, comparing Dembski with the claim that the “theistic evolution” of the RC Church is compatible with science. Panda’s Thumb at that time was generally sympathatetic to the latter proposition – because the RC Church was distancing itself from Discovery Institute ID. I thought then it was an extremely short-sighted accommodationist position to take and said so.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 18, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink

      The one-to-one answer to “science and religion are compatible because lots of scientists are religious” would be that science and religion aren’t compatible because lots of scientists are atheists.

      In fact we can make it stronger: science and religion aren’t empirically or even socially compatible because lots of agnostic scientists (or generally, students) becomes atheist, and lots of religious scientists become agnostic over time.

      If the weaker argument is dangerous for the reasons you note, the stronger one is factual. (Coincidentally, that is the one I use. ;-)

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted June 20, 2010 at 4:04 am | Permalink

      The strategy involves conscious LYING by scientists for illusory short-term gain.
      You might do it, but I ain’t gonna do it.

  8. Gregory S. Chudov
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    When they say “science and religion are compatible”, for me it sounds pretty much like “liberalism and totalitarianism are compatible”.

    Yes, in a sense they are. If you search hard enough, you can even find a politician in a liberal country who would say that North Korean regime has it’s good sides. And you will often hear vague speeches in some UN or EU gatherings about the need for dialogue etc.

    But if some hypothetical organization like American Academy for Advancement of Liberalism and Democracy would waste it’s resources on something like “trying to help people see a harmony between human rights on one hand and also grappling with these bigger questions of, you know, racial purity, loyalty to the great leader etc.”, i’d say they have to change their title.

    • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Which is pretty much exactly what has happened to Amnesty International because of Gita Sahgal’s criticisms of its alliance with Moazzem Begg. AI fired Sahgal and kept the alliance with Begg. Bad AI. No cookie.

  9. Neil
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Wow, that panel sounds like it wants more than mere accommodation. It wants a group hug.

  10. Kevin
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    And again….

    I have no problem with religion keeping its business to itself. You want to pray 5 times a day, wear funny hats, eat only specific foods, pair-bond in a specific manner then knock yourself out.

    I DO have a problem with religion interfering with the following:

    * Any discussion of any topic of any scientific merit. This includes any discussion of the origins of the universe, the origins of life on this planet, the place of homo sapiens sapiens, the “direction” (cough-bullshit-cough) of the evolutionary process, and too many other topics to mention.

    * Any special treatment given to religions in the civic and political arena. That includes, without limitation, all tax breaks, parsonage allowances, unjustified respect and access to the halls of power. And especially any expectation of any right to tell other people not of your religion how to behave or who to love. Let’s be clear on this point: It’s none of your fucking business what two consenting adults do.

    If religion would content itself to stay away from those two small areas, then we CAN come to an accommodation. If not…well, I think we’re going to continue to have a problem.

    • Sigmund
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      In terms of practical relations between religious and non-religious scientists I would suggest that we are all accomodationists of one sort.
      In other words I, as an atheist scientist relate to religious work colleagues in exactly the same way that Ken Miller and Francis Collins do to both atheists and those of different faiths – by not speaking about religion. Keeping religious talk out of science and only speaking of naturalistic explanations for physical phenomenon has been the only way scientific progress has ever been made. I see no reason to change that.

      • Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        I recall Michael Shermer pointing out that as long as religion and science are kept completely separate, there’s no problem. OK, there might be a problem with an individual’s capacity for cognitive dissonance, but if he/she can hold religious ideas but not let them interfere with science work or education, no problem.

        I’m thinking of Jocelyn Bell Burnell as a good example: a great astronomer but still a devout Quaker. I don’t see how she holds to both, but she does, and it doesn’t hurt her science work any since it is amazingly good.

        If she started talking about “the inner light” in context of astronomy, then we’d have a problem.

        • Kevin
          Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

          Precisely so.

          People bifurcate all the time. It’s an inherent capacity of the human brain.

          You can do good science and be religious. But IF and ONLY IF your science isn’t biased by your religious beliefs.

          There is no such thing as “religious science”. There’s science, there are the multiple biases that can confound science, and that’s it.

          Religion is a bias that can confound science. If scientists who are religious recognize this and continue to do solid work, I say “Bravo.”

          It’s when you get Doug Axe, Michael Behe and folks of that ilk chiming in when you get both bad science and bad theology.

          • Friend of Icelos
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

            But what is good theology?

            • Kevin
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

              Good question. I happen to think that the only difference between theology and mythology is the number of current adherents to a particular belief.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted June 18, 2010 at 6:43 am | Permalink

              On the originating comment: spot on!

              On this, there seems to be two measures. Internal consistency or, as Kevin notes, the ability to appease or at least hold as many adherents as possible.

              The internal measure is for those who think theology is another philosophy. The external measure is for fun! (Thanks, Kevin!)

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted June 20, 2010 at 4:06 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget that churches steal our taxes to peddle their outrageous moral piracy.

  11. Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Anyone know if they’re equating “faith” with “Christian faith”? If so I’d imagine there are more than just the atheist/agnostic scientists who will be put off by such gestures.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      They’ll never admit as such, but you merely have to look at the notable absence of Hindi, Muslim, Jain, or an adherent of any religion other than Christianity on such panels to be able to draw your own conclusions.

      Special pleading for the 2000-year-old zombie.

  12. SLC
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Guess who one of the granters is. You guessed it, the John Templeton Foundation.
    Talk about letting the fox into the chicken coop!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Oh dear, I forgot to put that in! I’ve fixed it now–thanks.

      • Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

        Don’t worry about it, Jerry. You have to leave some Templeton bashing for the rest of us. Don’t spread yourself too thin!

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      The historical list of funders is pretty much of a muchness. Science selling its soul to religion for a mess of pottage.

  13. Sigmund
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Nearly 70 years ago another physicist gave his views on practical measures that could be taken to harmonize the relationship between science and religion.

    “To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. But I am persuaded that such behavior on the part of the representatives of religion would not only be unworthy but also fatal. For a doctrine which is able to maintain itself not in clear light but only in the dark, will of necessity lose its effect on mankind, with incalculable harm to human progress. In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests. In their labors they will have to avail themselves of those forces which are capable of cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in humanity itself.”

    Science and Religion (1941)
    Albert Einstein

  14. Insightful Ape
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    So who were the scientists at this survey? Because among the most prominent of scientists-member of the NAS-the percentage of believer is much lower, as much as the academy may have lowered itself by getting mixed up with Templeton.

    • SLC
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      1. Jennifer Wiseman, and astrophysicist and devout Christian believer.

      2. Howard Alan Smith, an Orthodox Jew who is apparently into Jewish mysticism as he has written a book about the “relationship” between the Kaballah and cosmology! Shades of Madonna!

      3. Reverend David Anderson. Nuff said.

      4. Rick Potts. Not able to find any information or Dr. Potts religious views, if any.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

        Ecklund found that 75% of Jewish scientists were atheists. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so awful. This is the AAAS, for God’s sake!

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    This is, IIRC, how AAAS always handled it (accommodationism), so no surprises there.

    Ecklund found only five scientists who said they actively oppose religion.

    Again, no surprises. I’m as “militant” an atheist there can be without being religious, because I take dualism is falsifiable and falsified, but I’m willing to change my understanding if contrary facts would emerge to change the outcome of my prefered test. But I wouldn’t exactly describe my stance as “actively opposing religion”. Freedom of religion is a necessary human right.

    I would rather describe myself as “actively opposing anti-science”.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      “I take dualism is” – I take dualism as

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted June 20, 2010 at 4:07 am | Permalink

        Forest Gump, OM?

  16. Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Well, let’s look at those palpable facts:

    “Science and faith are epistemically and methodologically incompatible.”

    I could probably say the same thing about philosophy and science. So? How does that relate to them being incompatible in an inherent and interesting way? Or can you show how they are incompatible in a manner that philosophy and science aren’t?

    “American scientists are far less religious than the general public
    A huge number of Americans, including those who feel that evolution subverts their faith, see a real conflict between science and religion.”

    Both of which, by your own reasoning, are irrelevant to the debate since if scientists being religious is not relevant to whether or not science and religion are compatible, neither is scientists — or anyone else — thinking that they are incompatible.

    • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      Well sure, you could say it, but it wouldn’t be true. Philosophy and science are not incompatible; they work together much of the time; there is even such a thing as experimental philosophy.

      • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        That some philosophies may put a higher emphasis on science — naturalistic is a better example than experimental — there are major epistemic and methodological differences between them. Naturalistic philosophies, for example, are CONTENDERS in various fields, but there are those who reject them flat-out and therefore use other methodologies and other epistemologies — ie ways of knowing, I’m presuming — than science.

        So, if some religions do — or at least could — allow themselves to conform to science, and some philosophies reject the scientific methodologies, how can you say that philosophy and science are not incompatible but religion and science are?

        • Posted June 17, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

          The fact that religions could “conform to” science doesn’t make them compatible now. Religions could simply turn into science, but religion as it is now isn’t compatible with science.

          And philosophy doesn’t use ways of knowing that are antithetical to science. Religion does.

          • Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

            Again, you have to demonstrate inherent incompatibility to make the incompatibilist point. That some or even all current religions are incompatible in some way — even if true — wouldn’t be sufficient. And I disagree that they all are.

            As for philosophy, it rejects scientific methodology in general and uses methodologies that aren’t allowed in science (say, analytic proofs of existence). I fail to see how that isn’t antithetical. They can’t be completely distinct since it was from philosophy that science appeared, but it might be enough to be as strong an incompatibility as you claim religion has.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 18, 2010 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      I could probably say the same thing about philosophy and science. So?

      So the initial claim, outside of the strawman you derive, is still that accommodationism is wrong.

      [As for your strawman, I agree completely. So?]

      Both of which, by your own reasoning, are irrelevant to the debate

      Well, obviously we have to thank you for confirming the point of the article!

      The interesting fact is that accommodationists try to inject irrelevancies. Why is that?

      • Posted June 18, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        On the first comment, it’s hardly an incompatibility worth worrying about if things like philosophy are incompatible in precisely the same way. Especially since science came from philosophy in the first place.

        On the second comment, you point out irrelevancies by saying “That’s irrelevant”, not by using it in what seems to be an argument over facts that are supposed to be proving the incompatibility of science and religion. In short, you do it in ways that don’t look like you’re using the same sort of irrelevant arguments that you dislike when your opponents make them.

  17. Kirth Gersen
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Russell Blackford has an exceptionally well-written post on this, in which he spells out (in quite some detail for those who still haven’t figured it out) that when we say “science and religion are incompatible,” we mean that the conclusions about the natural world that they reach don’t agree (unless of course the religion is, in his words, a “watered-down deism.” Great stuff there, which neatly dovetails with your comment that “these areas are epistemically and methodologically incompatible,” but makes it into bite-sized chunks.

    • Posted June 17, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      But why does that matter that much? Many religions conform — sometimes after a long time — to what science says about the natural world. How can science and religion be considered inherently incompatible just because some religions don’t always agree with science?

      To get to inherent incompatibiity, you have to be able to say this: For all X, if X is a religion, then X and science are incompatible. So you have to go beyond some religions are incompatible or say some things that don’t align with science. But if someone took, say, Catholicism and said “We conform to every scientific fact, and will update our religion to conform to every scientific fact” (scientific FACT is important, here, since it avoids people saying “Then the resurrection couldn’t have happened” when there can be no such scientific fact), then that would clearly be compatible with science, but would also clearly be a religion. That sort of religion, then, is CLEARLY compatible with science, so science and religion are, therefore, not inherently incompatible.

      That settled, now we can start asking which of the existing religions really are incompatible in principle with science, and which have simply not adopted all of the theories of science yet (which is not an inherent incompatibility, see above).

      • Sigmund
        Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Religion has no way of determining whether any of its claims are true or false -in contrast to science. Your example of the resurrection is a classic case where religion tries to hide the evidence for God in a gap that science cannot reach. The trouble is that there is no better reason to believe the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus than any other miracle in the bible, koran or other religious story. On what basis does one rule that the resurrection was true and all those other hundreds of thousands of miracles were false? Faith? That sort of thinking is incompatible with the way science works.
        I shouldn’t have to explain the problem that accepting miracles creates for science.

        • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

          We do theology. Theology is at least associated with — if it is not a subset of — philosophy. That means that it has the same ways of determining whether or not its claims are true or fase as philosophy does. And through theology — informed by science — we get at the truth. And the truth might be that you’re correct, and we can’t accept any miracles. Or we have to accept all. Or only some.

          That miracles cause problems for science is not an indication that we should dismiss them out of hand, any more than if scientific theories cause religion/philoosphy problems we should dismiss those theories out of hand.

          • Sigmund
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

            Theology!
            Yes, that has been so successful in coming to an consensus, hasn’t it.
            Would you mind listing the top three things that theologians from Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism agree upon?

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

              We’ve had thousands of years of moral philosophy, and they haven’t had a consensus either. Does that make moral philosophy bad, or just demonstrate that the questions are really tough ones?

            • Sigmund
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              I asked you an easy question. Just the top three things they agree upon.
              Why the hesitancy?

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

              Because, as I said, it’s irrelevant. It’s like naming the top three things that Aristoelean moralists, Kantian moralists, and Humean virtue theorists agree on. There aren’t any such things, but that doesn’t mean that moral philosophy is useless or pointless or whatever it is you wanted to say with that.

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

            Theology is at least associated with — if it is not a subset of — philosophy.

            This is a joke, right?

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

              You’re claiming it isn’t? What do you think “Philosophy of Religion” does?

              Or are you just out to denigrate philosophy while you’re at it?

          • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

            No, that’s wrong. Theology is not associated with philosophy, and it’s not a subset of it. There is philosophy of religion, of course, but that is not theology.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

              Oh, sorry – complications of threading – I hadn’t seen NEB’s comment or vs’s reply.

              VS: philosophy of religion is quite separate and distinct from theology. The terms are not interchangeable.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

              Philosophy of religion discusses, examines, and even invents theological arguments. Seems to be at least a case for “associated”; I’d find it hard to credit a claim that says that theology isn’t philosophical.

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

              Ophelia has it correct, V. Philosophy is related to theology just the same as astronomy is related to astrology – not one tiny bit.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

              Then I suppose one of you will do more than simply assert it? I talked about theological arguments and how they are discussed and even invented in philosophy of religion, thus, it seems to me, justifying at least “associated”. Where’s your evidence or argumentation?

            • NewEnglandBob
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

              Just because you talk about something doesn’t make is true. Islamic martyrs talk about 77 virgins as a reward. Those are not true either.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

              So, you’re claiming that theological arguments are NOT discussed and even at times invented in philosophy of religion? I can point you at philosophy of religion texts to get the former, and to Platinga — and discussions of him — to get the latter.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

              Philosophy of religion works on philosophical arguments for a god. Theology is a separate discipline, with separate standards and criteria and methods.

              Theology assumes god and goes on from there; philosophy of religion doesn’t.

              Who knows – maybe Templeton will start to fund Theology & Philosophy of Religion conferences and then pretty soon there will be Theology & Philosophy of Religion departments, and then you’ll be right, but you’re not right now.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              Um, some arguments in philosophy of religion do presume god and go on from there, and they do discuss all of those. That being said, whenever I hear that phrase I grit my teeth, because often it’s used against people simply saying “Okay, so presume that the Abrahamic God exists, what would the consequences be?” which is a fair and reasonable philosophical approach.

              However, I do think we are talking past each other. I never claimed — or, at least, didn’t mean to claim — that philosophy of religion and theology were the same thing. I only meant to show that they were at least related.

              I also don’t think it incredible to consider even your definition of theology a subset of philosophy of religion. The only caveat I’d have is presumptions of specific gods (and their existence) but then there is such a thing, if I recall correctly, as “Comparative theology”.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

              Well, you said this:

              “Theology is at least associated with — if it is not a subset of — philosophy. That means that it has the same ways of determining whether or not its claims are true or fase as philosophy does. And through theology — informed by science — we get at the truth.”

              And that does claim way too much. Theology does not have the same ways of determining whether or not its claims are true or fase as philosophy does, and it’s not generally informed by science, either.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

              And, while wiki is not definitive, here’s all the evidence I need to shift the burden of proof [grin]:

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theology

              In the history section:

              “The Latin author Boethius, writing in the early 6th century, used theologia to denote a subdivision of philosophy as a subject of academic study, dealing with the motionless, incorporeal reality (as opposed to physica, which deals with corporeal, moving realities).[20]. Boethius’ definition influenced medieval Latin usage.[21]
              In scholastic Latin sources, the term came to denote the rational study of the doctrines of the Christian religion, or (more precisely) the academic discipline which investigated the coherence and implications of the language and claims of the Bible and of the theological tradition (the latter often as represented in Peter Lombard’s Sentences, a book of extracts from the Church Fathers).[22]
              It is in this last sense, theology as an academic discipline involving rational study of Christian teaching, that the term passed into English in the fourteenth century,[23] though it could also be used in the narrower sense found in Boethius and the Greek patristic authors, to mean rational study of the essential nature of God – a discourse now sometimes called Theology Proper.[24] ”

              I’m excluding the even clearer ones from Aristotle et al [grin].

              (That being said, since a claim could be made that science is a subset of philosophy, I’m not sure how much that matters [grin]).

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

              Okay, I’ll concede that the last point should include a “should”.

              That being said, for the first part theology clearly uses all the same sorts of arguing techniques as philosophy, including logic — deductive at that – and reason.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

              My last comment was directed at Ophelia, and was meant to claim that theology SHOULD be informed by science. Hope that’s clear …

          • Kevin
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

            Ahem…miracles cause no problem whatsoever for science.

            Honestly and truly, they do not.

            What causes problems for science are unverified and unverifiable, unfalsifiable, unrepeatable, unobservable CLAIMS of miracles by the religious.

            It should be science’s job to discern miracle from not-miracle. After all, science should be able to determine whether or not the laws of nature have been violated. Or if some rare phenomenon is just happy coincidence.

            I read that the Catholic Church acknowledges something like 21 “true” miracle healings from Lourdes. But when you consider the fact that MILLIONS of people go there yearly, and then do the math, the conclusion reached is that traveling to Lourdes REDUCES your chances of a spontaneous remission of dread diseases.

            No. I’m quite sure science has no problem whatsoever with miracles. Religion has problems with science debunking its claims.

          • Michael De Dora
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

            Theology is not associated with or a subset of philosophy.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

              It was my understanding that theology is _exactly_ as philosophy, in that it takes an area of study and tries to arbitrate on internal consistency.

              So I would be interested in understanding why someone would claim the exact opposite.

              Now, I know these arguments are raised by Ophelia Benson above, but that part of the thread is both busy and not served by discussing this point:

              “Philosophy of religion works on philosophical arguments for a god. Theology is a separate discipline, with separate standards and criteria and methods.

              Theology assumes god and goes on from there; philosophy of religion doesn’t.”

              There is no actual difference here, as the theology I see uses exactly philosophical arguments like “first cause” et cetera, and as philosophy in general assumes claims and study them (metaphysics, ontology, et cetera).

              “Theology does not have the same ways of determining whether or not its claims are true or fase as philosophy does, and it’s not generally informed by science, either.”

              Theology as well as philosophy uses the same means to arbitrate internal true-false values by way of logic applied to its assumptions (areas of study). None of them has any means to arbitrate between areas or arbitrate facts and theories.

              The claim that philosophy is generally informed by said facts, and theology isn’t, is dubious. What we can see is different rate constants for the process over time, wherein philosophy have had the same order of small acceptance rate as theology (philosophy of Aristotle, say).

              In sum, I find no effective way to discern theology from philosophy but to note that the beliefs of the former are associated with main religions, while the beliefs of the later aren’t.

            • Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:25 am | Permalink

              Well, I think I’ve provided more than enough arguments to say that a claim of association is at least justified, and you haven’t given an argument, but let’s skip this and get down to a real example:

              Imagine that I’m sitting in my armchair and come up with a great new argument for or against the existence of God. Presuming that it is deep enough, would that topic be considered valid for a Master’s or PhD thesis in Philosophy? I think it would.

              So, the only other claim would be that that sort of argument is not theology. But if arguments like the Ontological Argument are not theology, then what IS theology?

            • Michael Kingsford Gray
              Posted June 20, 2010 at 4:12 am | Permalink

              Philosophy is the bastard love-child of theology & the enlightenment.
              It is clearly associated with it, in the same way that a child is associated with its ancestors.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink

            This confuses science with philosophy.

            Philosophy can only arbitrate internal consistency on the area of study, exactly as theology. Science can arbitrate on facts and theories. Totally different methods (and only one works).

            Which goes back to the incompatibility of course.

            • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
              Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:03 am | Permalink

              Funny threading. My comment was in response to “We do theology. Theology is at least associated with — if it is not a subset of — philosophy.” waaay up.

            • Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:23 am | Permalink

              I think you’d find that most philosophers disagree that it can’t arbitrate on facts and theories. It can’t do that on scientific ones — or else it’s doing science — but most philosophers would agree that it can arbitrate facts about, say, what it means to know or what it means to be moral.

      • Tulse
        Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        How can science and religion be considered inherently incompatible just because some religions don’t always agree with science?

        Because all religions with the exception of Deism posit a god or gods that intervene in the physical world.

        scientific FACT is important, here, since it avoids people saying “Then the resurrection couldn’t have happened” when there can be no such scientific fact

        Right, so I can say “Napoleon was actually a large rabbit”, and that can’t be contradicted? I can say “The pyramids were constructed by lizard people who dwelt in Atlantis”, and that can’t be contradicted? I can say “The evil galactic tyrant Xenu sent political enemies to earth in spaceships that looked like DC-3s and implanted their incorporeal essences in volcanoes”, and that can’t be contradicted?

        You have a very narrow view of what science is — by your criterion, any historical event (including a vast amount of geology and evolution) isn’t a “scientific fact”. Your position is little better than the creationist taunt that “you weren’t there at the beginning of the world, so how do you know?”.

        • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

          Since science has not shown that they don’t, how is that inherently incompatible in an interesting way with science that they claim there are? In short, how is that different from something that can be settled with a claim of “You’re wrong”? Claims of “You’re wrong” get settled and are not an indication of inherent incompatibility.

          As for my view of science, my comment there was referring to claims like “Science says that no one can come back from the dead”, not a specific claim. Thus, your comments aren’t really addressing what I was saying. And the point of that is simply to say that science has a very hard time saying that something simply can’t ever be done, being both empirical and inductive (with don’t allow for such claims).

          • Tulse
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            Since science has not shown that they don’t, how is that inherently incompatible in an interesting way with science that they claim there are?

            So when the Bunyanists claim that the Grand Canyon was created by Paul dragging his axe, geologists have no response? That explanation is just as scientifically valid as the claim that it was formed through millions of years of river erosion?

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

              I’m presuming that geologists have far better evidence that that wasn’t happened than scientists do for the idea that there is NO interaction in the world from any sort of god? Heck, they don’t even have a general theory that says that no interaction occurred. At best, they have a statement that they think no such interaction necessary, which is a far cry from the claim you made.

              Please don’t overstep the bounds of what the scientific evidence can support.

          • Insightful Ape
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

            Oh, the V troll, again.
            Well the concept of afterlife/heaven and hell has been scientifically excluded. I have presented the evidence to you before and you have ignored it.
            Science and religion will remain incompatible as long as religion continues to make a false claim.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              Actually, I did address it in the last comment thread. At this point, I’m done talking to someone who clearly is only interested in asserting his positions and not addressing global issues.

              Translation: I don’t feel it useful to talk to you anymore. Take of that what you will.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

              You are the most boring troll I have seen recently, V.
              Translation: As long as you keep coming back with rubbish I will present the evidence that you are wrong. It is for the benefit of anyone else that maybe looking, since I have known for some time that you are not comfortable with reality.

          • Kirth Gersen
            Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

            “Since science has not shown that they don’t, how is that inherently incompatible in an interesting way with science that they claim there are?”

            Two reasons that I can think of, and hopefully these address the larger point you’re making:

            1. Science hasn’t shown that “they don’t,” true, but science does, a priori, (a) expect some mechanism to be presented as to how this works — a mechanism other than claims of undetectable supernatural intervention that (b) not only leaves no trace of the truth, but which meticulously leaves plenty of red herrings that do point to viable physical mechanisms.

            2. Science is also amenable to additional evidence and/or falsification — and this is the primary point of incompatibility. The hypothetical religions you posit that agree with science on all established facts are not, as Jerry often points out, religions that are actually practiced by the vast majority of humanity — and are indeed derided as being “not religions” by the religious (Cf. claims by Protestants that Thomas Paine was a “dirty atheist”).

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

              My favorite take on it is Victor Stenger’s:
              “Believers can always come up with a god that fits the data”.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              1) This boils down to “science has certain presumptions and methods, and religion doesn’t follow them.” Sure, that’s true, but I don’t see that as being an interesting compatibility, since other things — philosophy, every day or folk reasoning — don’t either, and yet we don’t really worry about whether or not those things are compatible with science. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t (folk reasoning is generally considered incompatible, philosophy, for good reason, is considered compatible) but no one cares that much. It’s different for religion which, if true, would likely mean that it’s the vocal opposition and political power that bothers people, not the inherent qualities of religion, in general.

              2) That people wouldn’t consider it a religion doesn’t matter; we should be able to define what a religion is, what qualities matter to it, and then see if there are compatible religions. However, in case you were tryin to claim that only deistic religions could be so compatible, I disagree (since they only have to conform to scientific fact). But that’s something that can be argued over.

              My two big frustrations with the incompatibilist side are:

              1) A tendency to make arguments that would make other things that religion also incompatible with science without realizing it.

              2) A general dearth of arguments for how religion is INHERENTLY incompatible with science and how that incompatibility is one that we should really be concerned about.

              This is probably what’s driving my major points here.

            • Kirth Gersen
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

              Let me also mention — at the risk of being attacked by a number of others here — that I’m getting the sense from you, verbosestoic, that you’re a philosophically-minded person who maybe hasn’t thought these things totally through yet, but who enjoys discussing them.

              If so, I for one wouldn’t refer to that as “trolling” — which to me implies a cessation of discussion and descent into name-calling or blatant threadjacking, which hasn’t happened at this time.

            • Kirth Gersen
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

              “This boils down to ‘science has certain presumptions and methods, and religion doesn’t follow them.’ Sure, that’s true, but I don’t see that as being an interesting compatibility.”

              Yes, I see what you’re driving at. The thing is, if two methods start from different assupmtions, and then arrive at different, mutually exclusive conclusions, then that’s a pretty good definition of “incompatible,” to my mind.

              As far as things other than science and religion getting caught in the crossfire, I think most other disciplines are under cover because they don’t make strong claims about how reality actually works. Science and religion both unabashedly do.

            • Sigmund
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

              If v is asking is religion ‘inherently’ incompatible with the scientific method then the answer is no – any religion can be made compatible – all you need to do is remove the supernatural elements and correct the natural/historical parts so that they agree with the evidence from history and science.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

              I’ve made a ton of posts about this on my blog, so you might want to look there (most of the “Theism” category are these, I think. Or maybe “Philosophy would be better) just because I can go into a lot more detail than I can in a comment thread, while I’m sitting around waiting for it to be time to go home.

              However, I took on Larry Moran’s idea of “ways of knowing” and argued that that might occur as long as two things have different assumptions. If they are not NOMA (ie not dealing with completely different things), we’d expect that they’ll come to the same conclusions eventually, as long as the methodologies both reach for what they think is true. So, my example was with rejecting skepticism from his triumvirate definition of science as “rational, evidence-based, and skeptical” and pointing out that if I simply rejected skepticism, I’d have a valid way of knowing that would contradict what science says a lot of the time, but that might still be useful.

              I also argued in another post on “The poverty of the incompatibilist position” that if science makes a naturalistic presumption and another method simply doesn’t, and that means that science accepts a conclusion because it is natural (even if it is somewhat improbable) because science’s presumptions are to accept any natural explanation before accepting any supernatural one, then I could simply not make that presumption — without presuming that there are supernatural things — and accept a completely different conclusion. Again, one would hope that eventually we’d all come to and get to the same truths, and so wouldn’t be incompatible.

              Oh, and thanks for defending me as not being a troll, although I do want to make some slight amendment. It may be true that I have not thought out the science, but not that my main purpose for posting — both comments and posts — would be based on the idea that some of the scientists haven’t thought out the philosophy [grin].

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

              “and yet we don’t really worry about whether or not those things are compatible with science.”

              Yes we do, or if we don’t we should, at least sometimes. Folk psychology can be dead wrong and that can matter. And so on.

            • Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              Ophelia,

              We do worry whether or not folk psychology is CORRECT or useful, but we don’t really worry about whether or not it is compatible with science. As near as I can tell, we’ve already pretty much claimed that, methodologically, it ISN’T compatible. So the only question is whether or not it is useful.

              Some will argue that it might be compatible, though. That’s the fun of philosophy; ideas don’t go away all that quickly.

            • Insightful Ape
              Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

              V, you just don’t get it, do you.
              Science doesn’t start with a naturalistic assumption. Science doesn’t start with assumptions-period.
              The reason the supranatural is not science is there is no evidence of it.
              Oh, and if we removed skepticism from science, we would still believe epilepsy is caused by evil spirits, as the New Testament claims.
              But scientific study of epilepsy did NOT begin with the assumption that evil spirits cannot exist.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink

            how is that different from something that can be settled with a claim of “You’re wrong”?

            Because quite simply it isn’t the same to claim that the results are the same (by one method being to accept the other method’s results, say) as to claim that the methods are the same.

            For example, homeopathy may once in a while leave a remission in a patient. That doesn’t mean it works or is medicine.

            However, you are trying to make that claim by analogy.

            • Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

              Actually, my argument is indeed more that two different methods may disagree — at least for a time — on something without them being interestingly incompatible. Your example of homeopathy is something that is settled by “Homeopathy is wrong” not “Homeopathy is incompatible inherently with science as a method”.

              Can anyone deny that if homeopathy actually worked, it would be part of science?

    • Oedipus Maximus
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Hi Kirth, this is Oedipus Maximus, the guy banned from YNH. Since I haven’t found any way to contact YNH, I thought I’d try relaying a message through you. I would much appreciate if you could send or direct YNH author(s) to the following, which is my last blocked comment at YNH:

      This looks like a textbook example of cognitive dissonace. See “Mistakes Were Made” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

      After I had been straightforwardly critical of a particular thread, a suggestion was proffered that I was a deep-cover troll. The blog admin then jumped to conclusions based on my IP address, believing I was a “poe” with “allegiances”, whereupon I was banned. For those who had invested time in running and commenting on the blog, it was easier to believe in an implausible, evidence-free conspiracy about a deep-cover troll than it was to receive a simple criticism at face value. That’s cognitive dissonance in action. All this despite the fact that one member had agreed with me. (Be careful, Kirth.)

      The site admin is simply mistaken, especially about my IP address. If he wishes to clear things up in good faith, he may contact me at oedipus.maximus@gmail.com.

      • Oedipus Maximus
        Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        Well, to the folks at YNH, it’s simply not true. I made no socks; I am not a “deep cover” troll; I was not “warned”; I never “kept at it”. The above is the first comment I’ve made anywhere in 3.5 weeks since the ban.

        Again, I offer my details which will clear my name. You are simply mistaken.

      • Kirth Gersen
        Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        Oedipus, while very sympathetic to your aim, from a larger persepective, I’ve come to the conclusion that YNH is simply not worth the trouble of posting at. It’s self-imploding for exactly all the reasons it’s jeering at everyone else for, and has in essence become little more than the online gathering place of the “We Hate Greg Laden and Ophelia Benson So Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo” club.

        In all honesty, any good faith effort on your part to clear your name will most likely simply result in it becoming the “We Hate Greg Laden and Ophelia Benson and Oedipus Maximus Club.”

        I think you might find other blogs a more constructive use of your time; you might check out Russell Blackford’s Hellfire Club at http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/, for example. Hope to see you there!

        • Oedipus Maximus
          Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          I am more curious from a technical standpoint. They have a bug in either their software or in their reasoning. If they have the courage to doubt, my offer is still on the table to examine the evidence and figure out what is happening.

          Their mistake may be as simple as not knowing that 24.*.*.* is a common IP address held by millions of Comcast customers.

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

          I’ve come to the conclusion that YNH is simply not worth the trouble of posting at.

          I go one step further. It is simply not worth the trouble reading YNH.

        • Posted June 20, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          I’ve attempted shine a constructive light on the incident here.

    • Posted June 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      Okay, I call “blog foul” on this long-ass thread. My scroll wheel is overheating!

      • Posted June 18, 2010 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        Hey, the “verbose” in my blog name ain’t there for nothing[grin].

  18. Gregory S. Chudov
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    I remember when we had a debate here in Russia, the topic was – can the democratic opposition engage in dialogue with the authoritarian regime. And the best answer i heard was, and i think it applies here – Yes, we can, but the only possible topic for this dialogue is the terms of their surrender. Until they are ready for this, there’s not much else to discuss.

  19. Leigh Jackson
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Alan Leshner:
    “I was not surprised by the findings of a recent Rice University survey that half of the top 1,700 U.S. scientists described themselves as religious.”

    The survey reported that 52% of scientists professed no religious affiliation. However, a further 11% or so identified themselves as Jewish atheists. (75% of those identifying as Jews – 15% – say that they are atheists: see links to Rodenhouse).

    These figures tally with others mentioned by Rodenhouse: “Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don’t believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That’s 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.”

    So the AAAS is content to parrot the spin which the author is putting on her survey. Just how low can they sink, I wonder?

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted June 17, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I ought to have said 75% of those professing to being Jewish.

  20. Adey
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    I can stil only access the first page of comments (a total of 19). Is there a problem?

  21. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I don’t want the comments to be dominated by just one or two individuals. Could you please limit your comments on this thread (and all threads) to three per day?

    kthxbye

  22. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted June 20, 2010 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    Into the fecking sack!

    With the NCSE and the CFI.

    Share your infantile delusions, not about fairies, but about how godly-coddling will now suddenly take traction after two and a half thousand years of spinning its wheels.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] AAAS panel on science and faith As I predicted yesterday, the AAAS panel on science and faith turned was a warm, snuggly love-fest between the magisteria, [...]

  2. [...] met Leshner before posting accommodationist sentiments on HuffPo (aka Accommodationism Central), and he’s just done it again with a post called [...]

  3. [...] statements by three other people: science popularizer Michio Kaku, astrophysicist and Christian Jennifer Wiseman, and Father William Stoeger.  These people added nothing to the dialogue and I found Kaku annoying [...]

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