On scientism: BioLogos‘s big meeting, in which Francis Collins embarrasses himself and the NIH

Commenter Michael Fugate brought this to my attention: the summary statement of BioLogo’s Theology of Celebration workshop.  The workshop, held last November 9-11, featured all the BioLogos regulars, including Uncle Karl Giberson, BioLogos’s current president Darrel Falk, and the former president and current National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins.  By signing on to the statement,  Collins—who was supposed to stop all this Jesus-testifying after assuming the reins of the NIH—has not only embarrassed himself and the NIH, but violated the terms of his “probation”.  Imagine the most powerful scientist in our country signing on to such a statement!

The statement, resembling those that must be sworn to by faculty at bible schools, immediately surrenders any credibility that BioLogos has as a “scientific” organization:

We affirm historic Christianity as articulated in the classic ecumenical creeds. Beyond the original creation, God continues to act in the natural world by sustaining it and by providentially guiding it toward the goal of a restored and consummated creation. In contrast to Deism, Biologos affirms God’s direct involvement in human history, including singular acts such as the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, as well as ongoing acts such as answers to prayer and acts of salvation and personal transformation.

I can’t imagine scientists affirming, without reservation, that Jesus came back from the dead. (Nevertheless, the next sentence of the statement is, “We also affirm the value of science, which eloquently describes the glory of God’s creation. We stand with a long tradition of Christians for whom faith and science are mutually hospitable.”)

It’s interesting that BioLogos is so anti-deism, affirming that God answers prayers and regularly intercedes in the world.

The worst bit, though, is this:

In contrast to scientism, we deny that the material world constitutes the whole of reality and that science is our only path to truth. For all its fruitfulness, science is not an all-inclusive source of knowledge; scientism fails to recognize its limitations in fully understanding reality, including such matters as beauty, history, love, justice, friendship, and indeed science itself.

I’m not going to belabor the stupidity of that statement; we’ve talked about scientism many times before.  I’m curious, though, why scientism can’t deal with history or with “science itself”.  History is surely subject to empirical investigation (which gives no support for the resurrection of Jesus), and as for “science itself,” well, it was the byproduct of a materially evolved brain that wanted to understand the world.

As for the rest of the phenomena, “beauty” (an evolved neural response), “love” (probably a neural and chemical condition evolved to facilitate bonding), “friendship” (ditto), and “justice” (a byproduct of morality, which we’re working on, and social organization), the statement fails to show why religion provides a “source of knowledge”, especially because different religions have different—and mutually exclusive—solutions.  All they can say is “God made them.”

Meh.

Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can’t answer but other methods of inquiry can—especially religion. So far, despite loud and frequent denunciations of “scientism,” I’ve never seen anything resembling that list.

144 Comments

  1. Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought it was obvious from the beginning, with their very name.

    “BioLogos” literally means, “LifeWord.” If you’ve ever read the first stanza of John, you know that Jesus is the Word of YHWH incarnate. Many churches and Bible translations are called some variation on “Living Word.”

    I’d be hard pressed to think of a more overtly evangelical Christian name for this sort of an organization.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • MadScientist
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

      So the text of a death cult is called the “Living Word” … you owe me an irony meter.

  2. Tulse
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Summary of the summary: “Science explains stuff, except when goddidit, and goddidit a lot.”

  3. Doc Bill
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I think we need our own name.

    How about “Children of the Coyne”

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Jerry’s Kids.

      wait…

      • Posted January 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        Shaking with laughter…tears a starting to roll…. cn’t spll…

      • Kimpatsu
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

        It’s atoss-up. :D

        • Almaviva
          Posted January 14, 2011 at 4:20 am | Permalink

          How about Jerry’s Seed?

    • Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Brilliant. I can envision the children screaming “INTERLOPER” whenever a logical fallacy or unfalsifiable proposition is engaged.

      We could carry amulets made of Drosophila anatomy.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Nice thought, but I think “minions” are inappropriate for an atheist website!

      • Ichthyic
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        why not?

        you can be a totalitarian evil overlord and still be entirely secular!

        I see no conflict.

        well, technically I don’t see anything since you stabbed my eyes out with a hot poker, master.

      • Dominic
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 2:58 am | Permalink

        I thought minions were very small onions?

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 2:52 am | Permalink

      How about calling ourselves “Jerry’s Witnesses’?

      We could have a magazine called WEITPower and take it door-to-door.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:10 am | Permalink

      No – we have to go back to the source – Darwinners & WallACES!

      • Posted January 14, 2011 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        How about “Wallaces & Grommits” then?

        (I’ll get my coat!)

        Cheers,
        Norm.

  4. astrosmash
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    “Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can’t answer but other methods of inquiry can”

    Bingo.

    • daveau
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Don’t hold your breath.

    • Tulse
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Kirk or Picard?
      Beatles or Rolling Stones?
      Toilet paper roll over or under?

      Surely we don’t need science for these, as the answers here are clear from first principles.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        depends on how you define “answer”.

        • Tulse
          Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

          Identifying the truth of course (which is obviously the first in each of those pairings. I’ll add “Islay or Highland?” to that list, with the same criterion for the answer.)

          • H.H.
            Posted January 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

            You don’t need science to answer subjective questions because there is no such thing as a subjective “truth.” All is opinion.

            • Tulse
              Posted January 14, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

              Nonsense — it is a universal truth that Lagavulin is better than the Glenlivet.

              • Tezcatlipoca
                Posted January 14, 2011 at 8:49 am | Permalink

                Heretic!

      • Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Based on experience with the kittehs TP should roll under. It’s harder for them to roll out bunches of paper. Never had a kitteh do it when it was under.

        Have no kittehs now so I say over because it’s easier for the humanz to roll out the amount needed when it’s over.

        Evidence-based knowing. Science?

      • bric
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Let’s play with the big boys: milk or tea in first?

        • Ant
          Posted January 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          & no milk.

        • Dave J L
          Posted January 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Tea in first of course, then one can judge how much milk to put in to obtain the desired colour.

          • Fraser
            Posted January 14, 2011 at 2:04 am | Permalink

            God created Milk as the Alabaster Liquid of Life; adding it second is tantamount to worshipping Satan, you big apostate you.

            • Notagod
              Posted January 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

              The thing is; there isn’t a god that hasn’t sucked it so Its no help.

        • Dave
          Posted January 15, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          Depends on how hot you make your tea. If really hot then milk first to prevent its being scalded. (Or so I was told by an Englishman).

          • Dave J L
            Posted January 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

            Well actually I do agree milk first if one has made a pot of tea, but as a lonely sort who often brews a single mug I don’t use separate receptacles for tea and milk, and I can’t abide those who ‘brew’ the tea with the milk already in, so the milk gets added into the mug once the tea has brewed.

      • Ant
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        Janeway.
        Queen.
        Three shells.

        • Tulse
          Posted January 14, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink

          In some jurisdictions, the answer “Janeway” will get you involuntarily committed, being sufficient evidence for insanity.

          But props on the Demolition Man reference.

      • Sili
        Posted January 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

        Picard.
        Pink Floyd.
        Over.

    • Brian
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Every heard of philosophy? I’m fairly sure philosophers can offer answers or ideas. Now you can say that is hasn’t offered definitive answers, but neither has science. Science is always correcting itself and asymptotically approaching truth. It doesn’t guarantee certainty.

      • Brian
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Forget it. been done below. Should have read all comments first. My Bad.

    • Halnerd
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, religion can answers any question it wants. That is kinda the point of a belief system, which are presented to explain observable phenomenon. The more direct issue is whether you or I are convinced by their source and methodology. We can only work foward with hope that eventually people will accept science (logic, reason and scientific methodology) as a more fruitful epistomology for living, the way we all do in a court of law. Religions, and all belief systems, do , however, answer questions.

    • Marshall
      Posted January 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      Anything of the form, “What do you want to do?”

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted January 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

        Sam Harris argues persuasively that at least in principle, science can answer these questions as well. (See his book “The Moral Landscape”)

  5. Insightful Ape
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    At last I have some use for Collins’ god:
    The statement is god awful.

  6. Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can’t answer but other methods of inquiry can.

    So would I, and no, I haven’t yet seen one either. I haven’t even seen one such question. However on this occasion they phrased it (doubtless carefully) to avoid that objection – they made it a matter of understanding.

    scientism fails to recognize its limitations in fully understanding reality, including such matters as beauty, history, love, justice, friendship, and indeed science itself.

    That’s a slightly more defensible claim in a way, because it’s arguably true that “understanding” for instance love and friendship requires experience. On the other hand it’s not defensible in another way, because it’s hard to find anyone who would deny that. The version of “scientism” that claims science can provide complete understanding of subjective states look to me like pure strawman.

    • Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      I agree with Ophelia. It seems that for most people in my circle, religion is about the experience, not about the factual claims. For example, my father-in-law is a liberal lay-theologian, and he views the resurrection of Jesus as a description of the experience his disciples had after his death. It wasn’t that his body was resuscitated, but that his teachings and motivations lived on in the people. My wife doesn’t go to church because she believes god wants her to, she goes to experience the service and spend time with friends. So, no, science can’t address those aspects of religion, but (as OB notes) no one ever claims that it does.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        It wasn’t that his body was resuscitated, but that his teachings and motivations lived on in the people.

        OH YAWN!

        seriously, in ten years, you’ll see people with an entirely DIFFERENT interpretation that fits with their current thinking.

        It’s inane.

        the point stands untouched:

        Religion does NOT contribute anything remotely credible to our understanding.

        period.

      • Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        It wasn’t that his body was resuscitated, but that his teachings and motivations lived on in the people.

        Is it just me, or is there something seriously warped about adults trying so desperately to convert obvious fantasy into reality?

        I mean, really. We have a story about a dude executed for making a zombie who later — after his own execution — went walking around with holes in his hands and his guts spilling from his sides…and people try to reinterpret that to mean something about getting upset when your friend dies? Get real.

        If it were part of a literary critique, that’d be one thing. But people actually think it actually happened, and that’s what blows my mind.

        Cheers,

        b&

    • Dominic
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      Ah – can – but the immaterial – by that I mean ideas NOT ‘spirits’ – can they be explained? I give an example – green boojums, an invented concept. Don’t get me wrong – I am a pure materialist. Just asking…

      • Ichthyic
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        by definition, imaginary constructs add nothing to our knowledge of the observable universe.

        again, see: Philosophy.

        useful to construct imaginary ideas worth exploring.

        does not add to knowledge unless supported.

  7. Charles Sullivan
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Well, philosophy can certainly play some role as a rational method of inquiry (that’s not necessarily scientific), at least insofar as it involves clarifying and analyzing the concepts we use when discussing love, friendship, beauty, justice, science, etc).

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      …but the only way philosophy contributes to our KNOWLEDGE is if something it proposes has been tested against real world metrics.

      again, Science is the ONLY epistemology capable of doing this.

      • Charles Sullivan
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        See Eric MacDonald @ comment 21

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:04 am | Permalink

        Philosophy is little more than mental masturbation for the pretentious non-scientist.
        It passed its ‘use-by’ date somewhere in the mid 1600s.

        • tmplikeachilles
          Posted January 14, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

          Your comment comes across as lazy minded and dismissive. I suggest you correct your blurred vision by reading some good contemporary philosophy, of which there is a great deal if you care to take a look.

          …Or you could stick to airy generalisations. Your call.

          • Michael Kingsford Gray
            Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

            It is precisely because I *have* read much contemporary philosophy that I have arrived at my conclusion. Any suggestions of what comprises ‘good’ philosophy?
            Or you could stick to airy generalisations. Your call.

            • tmplikeachilles
              Posted January 19, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

              So philosophy is mental masturbation, and you’ve read a lot of it. What can we learn from this, kids?

              • Michael Kingsford Gray
                Posted January 19, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

                Both kids and adults learn that not only are you astonishingly immature, you do not respond to reasonable requests for evidence.

  8. Steve
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Jerry don’t be so naive, at first it may seem like this definition of god trespasses on the territory of scientific inquiry, by making claims about “historic Christianity as articulated by the classic ecumenical creeds”, but this is just an illusion as history, is a matter science fails to fully understand. Therefore, it cannot make pronouncements about history, lest it be accused of being scientism. Therefore, science and religion are not in conflict at all.

    “History” also teaches as that this has never been the case (see, Dark Ages)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

      Science looks at history all the time. In fact, that is all it can do since we can never observe now and there – we see interactions after they happened, at some remote point.

      Astronomy, geology and evolution are the more obvious outcomes of looking at history. I’m sure the list is incomplete.

  9. justsearching
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    “After much dialogue, the following statement emerged, which represents a summary of the discussion, as no attempt was made to develop a binding consensus statement.”

    The statement is far from binding, unlike the sort of things that Bible college faculty sometimes have to sign. And Francis Collin may have participated, but he probably doesn’t endorse all of what the statement included. I don’t think this episode is a serious violation of the stay-more-than-1000-feet-away-from-Jesus parole that is supposedly imposed upon him during his NIH tenure.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      I disagree.

      He participated in crafting a statement that basically says:

      1. Jesus is totally real.
      2. Therefore, all of your other religions are total bullshit. Especially the sort of deism that — oh, say — the FOUNDING FATHERS, practiced.

      The conflict of interest inherent in this position is unmistakable.

      Collins has long past his “use by” date. Time to go.

    • Rob
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Isn’t Collins the founder of BioLogos? I have trouble believing he didn’t support this.

    • Fraser
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 2:11 am | Permalink

      So it’s ok, because Collins signed something he doesn’t actually endorse? Well, that’s alright then.

      • justsearching
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        In my mind there is a difference between signing onto a statement (which Collins did not do) and being included in a list of participants at the end of a summary of a discussion.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted January 14, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

          sorry, but it was indeed presented as a statement, with quite clear summary bullet points.

          I would also note, that it’s not like we don’t praise Collins when he does a GOOD job of separating religious nonsense from science. like during the latest stem cell fracas:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/collins-is-okay/

          of course, one could say since it didn’t directly conflict with HIS personal religious beliefs, and it would probably have resulted in his summary dismissal if he hadn’t defended the previous NIH stand on it, it was pretty much a no brainer for him.

          stress on the no-brainer.

  10. Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I don’t think naturalists should defend or ally themselves with scientism, since there are questions of politics, ethics, aesthetics and other normative domains that aren’t scientifically answerable but that still admit of (debatable, revisable) answers. But of course this doesn’t mean there’s a separate supernatural, non-material realm within which these domains reside – it’s still all natural goings-on.

    Biologos says there *is* such a realm and that there’s a non-scientific, non-empirical way of knowing that reveals it. But they don’t specify what this epistemology is or why we should suppose it’s reliable. That’s what they need to come clean on, but I’m not holding my breath.

    In response to a NY Times review of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell by Leon Wieseltier, philosopher Owen Flanagan said this about scientism:

    “…‘scientism’, as most intellectuals and philosophers understand it, is not the tame regulative hypothesis (which is falsifiable) that science can, in principle, explain ‘all human conditions and expressions,’ but the incredible view that everything worth expressing can be expressed in a scientific idiom. Most naturalistic thinkers, including Dennett and myself, think that science can, in principle, explain the nature and function of art, music, and religion. But no one, save possibly long dead positivists, ever thought that science could express whatever is worth expressing. So let’s accept that what Bach, Mozart, Coltrane, Michelangelo, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed expressed cannot be expressed scientifically. This leaves open the possibility that science can shed light on their musical, artistic, and spiritual productions, including what is expressed and why. This is all Dennett’s important project assumes, not ‘scientism.’”

    • Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      But naturalists should point out that “scientism” usually means something that hardly anyone would subscribe to so it’s really just a boo-word rather than a useful category-name, no?

      • Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Exactly right, which is what I did in response to some hyperventilating about scientism at Michael Lerner’s shop:

        http://www.naturalism.org/scientism.htm

        and see

        http://www.naturalism.org/landscape.htm#scientism

      • Ichthyic
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        yes, shorter:

        scientism=strawman

      • Kevin
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Right. Scientism is a strawperson.

        I don’t know any scientist who subscribes to scientism as a world view.

        It’s an attempt to marginalize people who believe in evidence and reason over “faith”. (Whatever that particular loaded word means — personally, I’ve long contended that people don’t have “faith”, they have “credulity”.)

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted January 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          I do – to tease people.

          More seriously, I think it calls out the strawman if one points out that science is the best (only) working method to sort out facts. It is defensible. And it is really what the posturing of other “ways to know” means on “scientism”, since they feel the need to defend themselves.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted January 13, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

            I recall the first time I tried that approach at Pandas Thumb with the accomodationist-leaning commenters there.

            I asked them to show me what unique knowledge religion has contributed to our understanding of the world.

            They called me…

            a bigot.

            I kid you not.

  11. astrosmash
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    According to Massimo’s last chiding, Jerry is very very very very angry. I see his point…All thse furrious photos and descriptions of bolivian cuisine. His apopplectic love of the cat. His spewing hatred of jazz music and musicians of the golden age of jazz… Jebus, when wdere we required to give up the right to be angry over stupidity

    • astrosmash
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      …and lousy writing…What was I on?

      • Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        No it’s good writing, just bad typing. It’s a good point!

        Srsly. Those travel posts from Colombia were life-enhancing.

    • Blondin
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Not forget those wonderful posts about food, glorious food!

      • Wowbagger
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Let’s not forget the cowboy boots!

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can’t answer but other methods of inquiry can.

    Agreed. Someone on talkorigins wrote a post that attempted to use as an example textual criticism. He argued that it was a way to truth that didn’t rely on scientific methods. Unfortunately, this post won their “Post of the Month” award. Here:

    http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/2009_07.html

    I don’t buy that of course. The apparent lack of scientific rigor is one reason I’m a bit skeptical of textual criticism; I often find their reasoning plausible, but should be only the start of an investigation, not the end of it. It might be hard to verify hypothesis due to the lack of data, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible in principle.

  13. Miika H
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I’ve often wondered why statements against scientism always mention things like beauty, love, justice and friendship but never ugliness, hate, evil or malevolence. It doesn’t seem very plausible that science would be fully able to deal with the latter, but not the former. This might tell us something about the motivations behind these pronouncements. I don’t think there is a serious discussion about epistemology to be had here. Rather, some people just have a hard time combining the results of modern science with an emotionally fulfilling view of life.

  14. Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can’t answer but other methods of inquiry can.

    I think it was you Jerry (though I could have been mistaken) who I read awhile ago talking about this, and if it was you, or whoever that person was, he or she was defining “questions” (although I think he or she used the word “facts” or something) in a way that basically precluded any possibility of there being such a list.

    I would argue that self-asked opinion questions such as, “What is my favorite flavor of ice cream?” are not particularly answerable by science. Well, okay, I suppose in principle they are, but science is an impractical and lousy tool for the job. But if I recall, you are ruling that out as an answer, because that’s not an epistemological question.

    I think there is some interesting philosophy here about what is and is not a knowable piece of information, and whether there are some subjective types of information for which science is a poor tool.

    However, though I think you and I would disagree about some of those philosophical points, what we can agree on is that if the list you wanted to see was of questions that science can’t answer, but that religion can… there’s nothing there.

    I happen to disagree that science is the be-all end-all of epistemology (even though clearly it’s far and away the most reliable, and the preferred method for most things). But revealed truth is still epistemologically bankrupt.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      I would argue that self-asked opinion questions such as, “What is my favorite flavor of ice cream?” are not particularly answerable by science. Well, okay, I suppose in principle they are, but science is an impractical and lousy tool for the job.

      If you answered the question, you could of course lie. Which has more potential to accurately catch that lie, science or religion?

    • Tulse
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      I would argue that self-asked opinion questions such as, “What is my favorite flavor of ice cream?” are not particularly answerable by science.

      As a (former) psychologist, I’d completely disagree — one could simply observe what flavour of ice cream you eat most often. It’s possible, of course, that your professed preference doesn’t actually line up with your behaviour, but that too is a common area of psychological research.

      • Badger3k
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        You could also look at physiological responses, perhaps neurological effects and correlate that (along with such things as the release of hormones related to pleasure)to achieve a result that might relate to what is self-avowed as a favorite. Yeah, that’s a lot of disclaimers, but that’s why we’d need experimentation.

        Now, the question of why it might be your favorite is harder for something like that kind of test, but I’m sure there is a way of eventually determining that (I suspect that psychologists and ad writers have some tools available, but how far the explanation goes I do not know).

    • qbsmd
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      “I would argue that self-asked opinion questions such as, “What is my favorite flavor of ice cream?” are not particularly answerable by science. Well, okay, I suppose in principle they are, but science is an impractical and lousy tool for the job.”

      That question seems like a perfect application for a double-blinded taste test.

      • TreeRooster
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        I’ll volunteer for the control group. Do we get double scoops?

  15. daveau
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Reading the comments on that site will make your head explode. For example:

    My point being that Scripture, while it is sufficient for us to find Salvation, it does not begin to reveal all that God has to tell us. Upon Christ’s return, there will be more.

    Plus, you can just make a bunch of shit up. Collins shouldn’t have his name remotely affiliated with woo like this, much less appear to be endorsing it.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      Of course, that’s in direct contradiction to the book — where Christ’s return is a signal of the end of everything.

      Why bother with telling us “more”, when nobody will be around to learn it?

      Silly superstitious twaddle.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      Collins is a bullshit junkie.

    • Dominic
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      “Upon Christ’s return, there will be more.”

      Oh dear… have we not had enough?

  16. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Earth must prepare for close encounter with aliens, say scientists

    You’ll probably want to skip right down to the last 4 paragraphs, which are all about religion.

  17. Kyle Marquis
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I don’t think naturalists should defend or ally themselves with “scientism “for the same reason they shouldn’t defend or ally themselves with “political correctness”: it’s a vacuous attack term long since divorced from any useful definition.

    “Will you stop saying everything’s crypto-fascist? You make me sound like I was a complete git!” -Lister, Red Dwarf

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      I commented on that under #10.

  18. locutus7
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Being the charitable sort, I’m attempting to see things from the BioLogos perspective. You know, science and religion are good buddies, maybe even the same thing.

    Now, as a life-long atheist, I don’t know much about the bible, but wasn’t jesus the dude who changed water into wine? At minimum, he was an alchemist, and if you squint your eyes just so, we could call him a molecular biologist.

    So the bible IS a science manual. I even combed through it and found the letters DNA, not all together naturally, but the letters were in there nonetheless. Even Nostradamus didn’t predict that.

    Of course even I can change wine into urine, but it takes an hour or two. And if I supplement my wine with a couple of pain pills, I can even fly….

    And if I turn on my water faucet and bang my head against the wall, suddenly there are three streams of water, meaning the triune spirit.

    Yeah, this christian/science thing may have traction…if you bang your head enough or take drugs.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Of course even I can change wine into urine

      and, with a little heat and a condenser…

      urine becomes water!

      • terry
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        and the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. ACGT

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      Faith is more like a parasite than a conscious decision to addle one’s mind via psychedelic pharmaceuticals, or wilfully acquired brain trauma.
      In fact, it is a toxic parasite with which one is deliberately infected from a gang of hosts.

  19. Andrew B.
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Scientism: Science can’t tell us everything, so religion can tell us something!

  20. Kevin
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    We’ve certainly been down this road before.

    Maybe it’s useful to once again carve out those questions for which science is the most appropriate epistomological approach, contra religion. Some obvious questions:

    1. Origin of the universe.
    2. Origin of life on this planet.
    3. Diversity of life on this planet (already answered, but really, inserted a magic man in the process is annoying as all get-out).
    4. Origins of human ethics/morality.
    5. After-death experience (seriously, already answered, but the attempt to insert some magical wonderland in there is pitiful and childish.)
    6. Plausibility of a half-god male being born parthenogenically, being self-aware of his half-godhood and mission on this planet, performing of miracles (HA!), manipulating the civil authorities into torturing him to pseudo-death (really, how can an immortal being die?), resurrecting his own self, with ZOMBIES roaming the countryside, and all the rest.

    It’s a much longer list, of course.

    Science questions. Not religion questions.

  21. Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I think, as Ophelia points out, that ‘scientism’ is a boo-word, and it would be better to steer clear of it — although Massimo accuses a lot of people of doing it. Not that no one has ever taken something close to this position, but, in general, a scientist is not, therefore, a believer in scientism. It’s an important distinction, and there’s no need to fall into that particular trap.

    There are all sorts of questions that science (strictly understood — and you always have to add that qualifier) can’t answer. In particular, the nature of the scientific pursuit itself. Scientists know what they’re doing, but to actually put it down in black and white, as anyone who has spent a rainy afternoon reading some philosophy of science will tell you, is devilishly difficult.

    Is it important to be able to do this? I know a lot of scientists think that philosophy is a waste of time, but the conceptual task of analysing just what it is that scientists do, and what actually qualifies as science, and where the boundary, say, between religion and science is to be drawn, is really quite difficult and really quite important. It has to do with the clarity of our thinking about these things, and as people like Carnap and Hempel and Popper and Quine have shown, in their different ways, it can lead you down so very narrow and winding streets. But, nevertheless, when it’s done — and, like science, it’s never completely done — it turns out to be quite important. Because if we can’t clarify our concepts — and doing this is not (strictly speaking) science, by the way — we will find it very difficult to make some of the distinctions that we want to make. It would be hard for us to say exactly what is wrong with the Biologos statement of faith (or whatever it’s called). That seems easy on the face of it, but when we come to the different claims that religions try to make, it’s important to make those distinctions as sharply as we can.

    However, here is what the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy says about scientism (qv): “A successful accusation of scientism usually relies on a restrictive conception of the sciences and an optimistic conception of the arts as hitherto practiced. Nobody espouses scientism. Among the accused are … [the] Churchlands, …Quine, and Logical Postivism.”

    • Alex SL
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Very well said.

      Of course it all boils down to definitions – if you expand the meaning of science to include all that can be known, then there is no way to know things outside of science.

      But as we usually understand it, science deals with empirical evidence, and if there is no empirical evidence, then it is not science. As such, here is a short list of forms of rational inquiry that provide justified true beliefs where science is powerless:

      1. mathematics
      2. logic
      3. epistemology

      Of course, “accepting a mass delusion on blind faith” does not make it on my list, but there you are.

      What annoys me about Massimo Pigliucci is his insistence that science cannot know things when, to decide the matter, it is necessary to employ cognitive instruments as part of the toolbox of science that are not themselves founded on scientific knowledge, like the principle of parsimony. But they are part of what science is! Without parsimony, for example, science could not decide on anything whatsoever.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:38 am | Permalink

      There are all sorts of questions that science (strictly understood — and you always have to add that qualifier) can’t answer. In particular, the nature of the scientific pursuit itself.

      This is of course not in evidence, and the current evidence points to that it should be rejected. Its statement reminds of agnosticism, also making unsupportable statements on science. To coin another “boo word” (but see my comment under #10), this could be called philosophism.

      Trivially many scientists (and engineers) study measure theory the first year of university, the quantifiable side of the nature of science is well understood. Similarly there are several theories of science, say testing (falsifiability), which also permits qualitative characterization above and beyond predicting the quantification.

      It is easy to be confused here. For example, I’ve recently seen the (probably correct) statement that each and every procedure of science is not cognizant of such theory, testing the chosen example. That isn’t what the theory says though, it says something of the basis of science. (Why we can say that things are wrong, so we eventually know what is correct.) The relationship may be more like between classical mechanics, which are used daily for convenience while known to be not exactly correct, and relativity, which is usually bothersome overkill.

      [Btw, neither of the pairs classical mechanics - relativity and classical mechanics - quantum mechanics seems to be precise analog fits. The first because we know that relativity is an effective theory so not fundamental, which we know nothing on regards theories of science. The second because quantum mechanics is too obtuse for daily work, which again isn't the case. But neither of those affect matters as grounds for rejecting the analogy.]

      I know a lot of scientists think that philosophy is a waste of time,

      Well, yes, trivially. If we take science seriously we will have problem with philosophy in the same way that we have problem with religion. It makes claims on reality (see the beginning of this comment for a grave example) that it can’t verify.

      In the same way that the plethora of religions trivially tells us that most or all of religion is wrong, and so the whole enterprise, the plethora of philosophies tells us the same thing.

      The basic reason for this is the same, and easy enough to understand, philosophy has no way of knowing when it is wrong. So again, there is no way to know anything using it. Internal consistence is not engaging external reality, and as I just noted the whole area doesn’t seem to use even that.

      The main difference to religion may be that there is less dogma (but again, see the beginning of this comment) and special pleading. But in each case enough to threat with a “boo word”. :-D

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink

        Prezackerly, Sir! :)

      • Brian
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

        Similarly there are several theories of science, say testing (falsifiability), which also permits qualitative characterization above and beyond predicting the quantification.

        Which is philosophy. Way to shoot yourself down.

        • Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

          Thank you, Brian. I would have pointed this out, had you not done so. Theories of science comprise philosophy, not science, and this is a particularly important thing to notice. Being able to distinguish science from other pursuits is quite important, as this itself shows. The idea that science can do this itself is, I suppose, scientism, and no one professes this, but may wander aimlessly into thinking it.

  22. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I’ll agree that there are questions that science can’t answer *yet* – but that doesn’t mean that science will not be able answer them in the future.

    Of course if science does become able to answer moral questions, or questions of experience, we may not find the answers comforting.

  23. Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I took a little peek at the Biologos “Statement of Faith”. It’s even worse than one might have thought. Where do these guys come from anyway? You can see Alexander’s muddy boots all over it, but none of it could be considered to be in any sense thoughtfully theological. Take:

    We affirm without reservation both the authority of the Bible and the integrity of science, accepting each of the “Two Books” (the Word and Works of God) as God’s revelations to humankind.

    Without qualifying the word ‘authority’, what could this possibly mean? Or this:

    We acknowledge the challenge of providing an account of origins that does full justice both to science and to the biblical record. Based on our discussions, we affirm that there are several options that can achieve this synthesis, including some which involve a historical couple, Adam and Eve …

    And then they go on to speak of the compelling conclusions (surely they meant evidence?) that the earth is four billion years old. Of course, they have to say conclusions, because the Bible simply does not provide evidence. But bringing ‘biblical record’ and ‘science’ together in this way is simply silly, since ‘account of our orgins’ is clearly equivocal between metaphor and fact. What is so wrong here is the linking of the two as if there is some sort of commonality, which is, to put it bluntly, simply a polite way of telling a lie.

    They end by saying, in true missionary fashion:

    We commit ourselves to spreading the word about such harmonious accounts of truth that God has revealed in the Bible and through science.

    So the attempt to yoke science and religion together is not a misreading. It was the purpose. And there is no basis for doing it.

    The whole thing is clearly laughable. It’s hard to imagine people getting together and actually, in all seriousness and solemnity, coming up with this stuff.

    • Kevin
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      What angers me about this is the time and money wasted in support of superstitious nonsense.

      Are you listening Massimo? Am I allowed to be angry at the consequences of superstition without having to have been raised in abusive-fundamentalist home?

      • Kevin
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Wow. My HTML fail spilled over into downstream comments.

        Weird.

      • Tulse
        Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        Kill the bold?

        • Tulse
          Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          I guess not.

    • qbsmd
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Based on what the Biologos people claim to believe, their purpose could be either to convert Christians to science or scientists to Christianity. Based on the actions I’m aware of, they always seem to be focused on the latter. I would probably give them a pass if they showed any results in getting preachers to stop preaching creationism, but have they even tried?

  24. Posted January 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    “… resembling those that must be sworn to by faculty at bible schools.”

    Including an allegiance to that egregious Ark in Kentucky.

  25. Andy Dufresne
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    For the BioLogos crowd, anyone who passionately defends the integrity of science (plain-old science, free and apart from all superstition) is the same as someone who engages in scientism. They are truly a pathetic organization.

    • Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I think what Biologos thinks is that anyone who does not allow for the existence of religious knowledge is a practioner of scientism. That is not the original meaning of the word, but, hey, never mind, these guys make it all up as they go along anyway, obviously!

      • Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

        practitioner — I do know how to spell.

      • Michael Kingsford Gray
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:31 am | Permalink

        Yet they steadfastly refuse to define “religious knowledge”.
        (We all know exactly why they so refuse!)

        • Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

          Precisely, if they did that they wouldn’t be able to go on with their project, since it would be seen clearly that there is no project to carry out. Accommodationism only works if you fail to define your terms. Once you see the conceptual differences between doing science and “doing” religion, you will see at once that they are completely different pursuits. Notice how they say that religion and science are “mutually hospitable”. What does that mean? Delegates of warring nations may be mutually hospitable even as the guns are blazing on the battlefield.

  26. locutus7
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    BileLogos

    • Doc Bill
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

      BioBogus

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

        BotchedLogic

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      VileLogos

  27. Brian
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    “Some day I would love to see a list of questions that science can’t answer but other methods of inquiry can. So far, despite loud and frequent denunciations of “scientism,” I’ve never seen anything resembling that list.”

    Fancy professor, with your letterhead paper! Common folk buy such reams at a time in stores.

    One day you will turn a piece of paper over onto its blank side. Then you too will see the list.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

      Your’s was pretty funny on “other ways of knowing”, as far as white papers go. [Actually, it was hilarious.]

  28. anon
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Science need not explain everything and still be a powerful engine of truth. Science, for instance, cannot explain math; that does not mean that either are false, but rather that the two magesteria do not correspond at the elemental level.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:33 am | Permalink

      Science cannot “explain” mathematics???
      Are you sure?

      • Brian
        Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        How would you quantify mathematics without assuming it? Science is not help.

        • Michael Kingsford Gray
          Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          How did you get “quantify” from “explain”?

    • Dominic
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      ‘Magesteria’ – such a pompous term.

  29. Grendels Dad
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    The kind of questions that religion answers best are begged questions.

  30. dsdquilts
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    “Biologos affirms God’s direct involvement in human history, including singular acts such as the incarnation and resurrection of Christ, as well as ongoing acts such as answers to prayer and acts of salvation and personal transformation.”

    OMG, then it is all true!!
    ESP, telepathy, alien abductions, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, homeopathy, Muhammad, Mormon religion, reincarnation, possession by demons, acupuncture, phrenology, faith healing, vampires, shape shifting, pots of gold at the end of the rainbow.
    I will never doubt anything again!!

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 13, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      well then, I’ve got a great many things to sell you!

      no, wait, too many to list here.

      just post your credit card number and I’ll have fantastic things shipped straight to your door!

      and, if you’re worried about how much it will cost, don’t!

      I’ll include maps that will lead you to every pot of gold at the end of all the rainbows!

  31. MadScientist
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    “… answers to prayer and acts of salvation …”

    What a disgusting delusion. I didn’t see any answers to prayers or acts of salvation in Haiti, Brazil, or even Australia. Why did this benevolent fairy of Collins kill so many people and make so many suffer?

    Augustine the Hippo spent a lot of time writing apologies for evil – but even before the Hippo’s era people were already aware of the problem that evil posed to the christian doctrine.

  32. Michael Kingsford Gray
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Theodicy sounds the Death-Knell of Theocracy.

    • Posted January 14, 2011 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Very true.

    • Posted January 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately, most fundamentalist Xians don’t even know what the term means. Having recently had the unpleasant experience of attending a cousin’s funeral, I was again reminded that evil is of the devil, and God will save you from anything bad, no matter how nasty.

  33. Dominic
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    “a restored and consummated creation”
    What the hell is that?

    Interesting that they completely exclude non-christian religion.

  34. ridelo
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    Name one thing in this world that would be better explainable if there was a god.

  35. Sigmund
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    I was going to suggest that Biologos is Intelligent Design-Lite but reading the above descriptions it is obvious that their position on the ID continuum is actually closer to standard ID than that of Michael Behe.

  36. Posted January 14, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Apparently Collins is unfamiliar with Nietzsche’s excellent critique of not only the origin and history of morality, but also of consciousness and other distinctively human capacities.

    Of course, in his book “The Language of God”, he says that he looked into other religions and philosophies, but they turned out to be to hard to study, so he read the “Cliff Notes” version. Not only can I not take anything he says seriously, I can’t respect someone who admits that.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      if you want to see a nice summary review of Collins’ “Moral Law” argument, and some of the problems with it, I would recommend Gert Korthoff’s review from when the book first came out:

      http://home.planet.nl/~gkorthof/korthof83.htm

      He needs to rethink his Moral Law argument, which is not a coherent argument and ignores animal behaviour research as well as a lot of modern theoretical research in the evolution of altruism.

      which is the tame version of how I reviewed it at the time:

      “How the fuck did Francis Collins manage to ignore not just one, not two, but THREE entire fields of science that have been extant for over a hundred years!”

      • Gene Genie
        Posted January 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Francis isn’t director of NIH because he’s a good scientist. Neither was he director of NHGRI because he was a good scientist. What he is, is a good salesman. And that is what we need – someone who can convince congress to give us money to do science.

  37. Ichthyic
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Judging by how fast the Biologos community is deleting posts presenting a view critical of the summary statement, I find it highly ironic they name the forum:

    “Science and Faith in Dialogue”

    But then, they simply COULD NOT have written such an inane summary statement if they were intellectually honest to begin with.

    seriously, it’s just “NOMA”, rehashed.

    It’s a bandaid on a festering wound, with a smiley-faced Charles Darwin painted on it.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Jerry Coyne has brought to our attention what might be called Biologos’ Statement of Faith. I think it is worthwhile taking a closer look at this statement, phrase by phrase, since all the problems of trying to relate religious faith and science show up here. Also of concern, as I shall point out at the end, are the moral consequences of the kinds of irrationality shown in the formulation of Biologos’ Statement of Faith. [...]

  2. [...] No shock here, but Jerry Coyne goes overboard… [...]

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