Rosenhouse reviews Giberson and Collins

As I noted at the end of February, Uncle Karl Giberson and Francis Collins have issued a new book, The Language of Science and Faith: Straight Answers to Genuine Questions, that seems to comprise material mainly lifted from the “questions” sections of the BioLogos website.

This, of course, is a challenge for bloodhound Jason Rosenhouse, who keeps a sharp nose for all things creationist.  He must be something of a masochist, because he regularly plows through creationist and accommodationist tomes, but in so doing he saves us the trouble of reading them.  Over at EvolutionBlog, Jason’s just reviewed the Giberson and Collins book. As usual, he produces a long and thoughtful review, and without rancor—though he’s quite strong in his judgment. The book is a defense of theistic evolution, and Jason gives it two thumbs down.

Here’s a snippet in which Jason discusses G&C’s pathetic attempts to show why it was of course much better for god to create through evolution than by merely poofing stuff into existence (theology is the art of making religious virtues out of scientific necessities):

Eventually we come to the two most serious issues, the problem of evil and the problem of human significance, and it is here that I believe Collins and Giberson really have not thought things through. Their basic replies are familiar: Evolution ameliorates the problem of evil by distancing God from the rottenness of nature, and evolutionary convergence shows that humans were inevitable.

Of course, there is an obvious reply to that first point. If you set in motion a process that you know will lead to a horrifying end, then you are as morally responsible as if you caused that horrifying end directly. If you drop an anvil onto someone’s head, you cannot absolve yourself by saying, “It wasn’t me! It was gravity!” We must explain, then, why God set in motion a process that he knew would lead to massive pain and suffering. Here is their answer:

“That nature has freedom is highly provocative and theologically suggestive. God created the world with an inbuilt capacity to explore novelty and try new things, but within a framework of overall regularity. … The key point here is that the gift of creativity that God bestowed on the creation is theologically analogous to the gift of freedom God bestowed on us. Both humans and all creation have freedom. Our freedom comes with a moral responsibility to use it properly. But that does not prevent us from doing terrible things. The freedom God gave humans was exercised in the construction of gas chambers at Auschwitz and Dachau, and in the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. But because humans have freedom, we do not say that God created those gas chambers. God is, so to speak, off the hook for that evil.

In exactly the same way, outside of the moral dimension, when nature’s freedom leads to the evolution of a pernicious killing machine like the black plague, God is off the hook. Unless God micromanages nature so as to destroy its autonomy, such things are going to occur. (p. 136-137).”

This, I’m afraid, makes little sense. Their proviso “outside of the moral dimension” effectively kills their argument. As is clear from the discussion leading up to these paragraphs, nature is “free” only in the sense that it lacks causal determinism. That is not at all the sense in which humans can be said to be free. (Of course, there are thorny issues about the meaning of free will, but I think we can leave those aside for now.)

. . . There is plenty more that is wrong with this book, but I think you get the idea. In the end there is not a single thought or example here that is original, and Collins and Giberson repeatedly fail to grapple with the real concerns people have about evolution. All is standard boilerplate, about how to read the Bible, or resolve the problem of evil, or preserve notions of human specialness, or to protect any meaningful role for religion in modern life. They will need to do better if they really want to persuade sincere Christians that their worries about evolution are unfounded.

Inevitably, Josh Rosenau appears in the comments, defending G&C’s efforts to reconcile theology and science, and helpfully suggesting other ways that theology could rationalize god’s creation through natural selection:

There are several possibilities. One is that the prospect of creating through the unwinding of natural processes held some inherent intellectual interest to the creator. Another is that creating through natural law would not inevitably lead to evil, or at least to any particular evil. By the Doctrine of Double Effect, one could argue that the good aimed at is all that matters, and that accidental ill effects are not relevant.

It’s a sad situation when an atheist tries to help people like Giberson and Collins peddle their specious version of evolution.  Rather than envision the creator using natural selection as a form of mental masturbation, why can’t we just short-circuit the whole exercise and admit that there’s not a smidgen of evidence for god?

This book is an embarrassment for its authors, particularly Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.  The spectacle of the country’s most powerful scientist explaining why a nonexistent sky father allows cats to torture mice, or bubonic plague to kill millions of people, is beyond belief. But he and Giberson will be excused because their brand of delusion is socially sanctioned.   Imagined if they explained natural selection as the product of loose thetans set free by Xenu!

127 Comments

  1. Posted March 11, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Oh, gawd…I hate the odor of sanctity that rises off the quoted passage from C and G like steam. I disputed you yesterday about the vocabulary of the Aikin and Talisse article, but C and G are a throbbing example of language used to manipulate rather than communicate. They’re excusing the disgusting cruelty of any agent who intentionally designed natural selection by using creepy sanctimonious language. I hate that.

    “the gift of creativity that God bestowed on the creation” – meaning the blood and screams when animals are shredded by predators. Thanks a lot for the “gift.”

  2. Tim Harris
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    You can argue that ‘accidental ill effects are not relevant’ – how the devil can Josh Rosenau come up with this contemptible and disgusting nonsense on a day like this? I really feel that there is something wrong with the sensibility of petty little people like Rosenau who suppose themselves to be intellectuals and who use what intellectual powers they have in these trivial and indulgent ways.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Yes exactly. I’ve just been fuming about that on Jason’s site.

      I hate this easy unruffled cheerful excusing of a “god” that knowingly created suffering on the scale that we know exists.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      PS – I hope all those bookshelves are all right.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

      It’s not just that a day of destruction and death in Japan reinforces how nasty things can be.

      The problem, as far as the problem of evil is concerned, is that natural selection is not only “a process that [leads] to massive pain and suffering, it is a process that is *built* on pain and suffering (at leas when we get to animals with nervous systems that can process such things). Less-fit organisms are the ones that do not survive and reproduce, and frequently suffer in the process.

      And this from Rosenau: “the good aimed at is all that matters, and [...] accidental ill effects are not relevant.”

      I may not be able to fulfill Godwin’s Law here, but I can come close: those are the sorts of arguments made by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and those they inspired. Since we’re heading for an inevitable Communist paradise anyway, let’s speed up the process so we can get there sooner. If people starve and die in the process? Irrelevant. The Communist paradise is the goal.

      I find it much more comforting and less morally reprehensible to think of the universe as simply indifferent to us on our mote-like planet off in our corner of this galaxy.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        you’re really misreading the argument here, Derek.

        look at what Jason says here:

        This, I’m afraid, makes little sense. Their proviso “outside of the moral dimension” effectively kills their argument. As is clear from the discussion leading up to these paragraphs, nature is “free” only in the sense that it lacks causal determinism. That is not at all the sense in which humans can be said to be free. (Of course, there are thorny issues about the meaning of free will, but I think we can leave those aside for now.)

        re-read that, and see if that helps make it clearer?

      • Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

        No need to invoke the Communist boogeymen when Torquemada serves as a far better example.

        His excuse? Of what significance days or even months of Earthy torture in comparison to the fires of Hell? If even one sinner was redeemed through his reign of terror, all his savagery wasn’t merely justifiable, but the ultimate expression of compassion and nobility…

        …if you’re a fucking sociopathic monster with a profoundly evil and warped sense of morality.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        It’s peculiar how “the ends justify the means” is a perfectly sound approach when it’s God’s ineffable ends and God’s inscrutable means, but if any humans (especially our favourite 20th century tyrants) behave like God as they strive to fulfil their twisted visions, they get labelled “monsters” and, ironically, “atheists”!

        I sometimes wonder if Rosenau reads his comments before clicking ‘submit’. Maybe he should hire a sub-editor. Or just excuse himself from the discussion.

  3. Gayle Stone
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Yes, they all Like to COPY, add a couple of miracles and present a New Revelation; mutatus mutandi.

  4. Ray Thaw
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    This book is an embarrassment for the authors, especially Collins, who is director of the National Institutes of Health.
    Should be an embarrassment to those who put him in that position…he’s using that post to gain credibilty for this religobabble…

    • Circe
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think that is the case: as long as Francis does not let his “faith” affect his work. As long as there is no evidence, for example, that NIH is shifting to mythological grounds rather than scientific in deciding grants, I think this is just fine.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        and how would YOU, personally, go about trying to see if there actually was any influence?

        I know it would be quite difficult even for me, and I actually have connections still at NIH.

        small changes in funding priorities could even be a result, but would easily be disguised as something else.

        • Circe
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          I think I was a bit careless in framing my comment: I wasn’t trying to claim that I know for a fact that it isn’t the case, or even that I would know how to detect changes in funding patterns at NIH(with which I have zero experience). I was just experience that the biology, biomedical and biotechnology communities would be able to point out if a funding structure change appeared motivated by “faith”.

          And also wouldn’t there be independent committees for deciding applications for different fields(a la NSF), so that the influence of any one kingpin is not so large?

          • Ichthyic
            Posted March 11, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

            And also wouldn’t there be independent committees for deciding applications for different fields(a la NSF), so that the influence of any one kingpin is not so large?

            well, ask yourself how far he is getting in achieving his original stated goal of turning NIH into basically a research mill for the biomedical industry.

            if he has made any leeway with that, and it appears he has, then…?

  5. Sigmund
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    “It’s a sad situation when an atheist tries to help people like Giberson and Collins peddle their specious brand of evolution. ”
    Just a point of order. I have never heard Josh Rosenau describe himself as an atheist. I think I´ve seen agnostic or non observing Jew, but never atheist.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Only because Rosenau lacks the intellectual courage to take a position.

      Either he believes in a god or he does not. And the evidence suggests he does not, which makes him an atheist even if he lacks the moral courage to admit it.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

        Um, what?

        An accommodationist has a belief in belief, or he wouldn’t hold up religion as something worthwhile against facts.

        If Rosenau is an agnostic instead, he takes a belief position on nature. I.e. claiming that empirical facts are worthless to assess probabilities of natural processes vs religious creationism.

        Whether Rosenau is a theist or not is immaterial [sic!] to his religious beliefs.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

          Whether Rosenau is a theist or not is immaterial [sic!] to his religious beliefs.

          It looks odd in print*, but I think you have an interesting point there.

          Which, I take is that the real issue is one of whether or not one accepts the inherent value of empiricism itself, over makebelieve. The details are irrelevant to that.

          *as if one could say that believing or not in the Abrahamic God is irrelevant to one’s religious beliefs.

          • Ichthyic
            Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

            sorry, missed a close tag.

            only the first line should be italicized of course.

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:40 am | Permalink

            Thanks for rewording that in a sensible fashion, I could have put that better; it was a long day and I wasn’t clear headed.

      • Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Whatever Mr Rosenau’s specific position or beliefs, his own words reveal him not only as an apologist for religion but also as an apologist for other apologists.

        For all his meta-apologies and shabby excuses, he may as well be a theologian.

  6. matt
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    doesn’t this sort of contradict his “frozen waterfall” story about when he gained his faith in religion?

    • Circe
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I thought contradiction was par for the course as far as religion is concerned.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      that story, as you rightly note, was just that:

      a story.

      it wasn’t the story he told originally about his re-conversion, which supposedly was related to a death in his family.

      It was the story he specifically invented because it looked better for his book.

  7. Circe
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Forget about Thetans and Xenu. Even if they tried one of the Eastern mythologies(even the rather elastic Rigvedic ones) they would probably not be let off the hook so easily.

    • Sajanas
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Or, you know, Islam.

      • Circe
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Aren’t they already doing Islam? I thought that upto the birth of Jesus, Islamic and Christian mythologies coincide, one considers him a son of God and the other a prophet of Allah.

        • Sajanas
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

          Actually, its surprisingly not. The portions of the Koran that deal with Jesus are actually derived from some of the weird apocryphal gospels, like the Gospel of Mary, where Jesus can talk from birth. And Mary was presented as the sister of Moses and Aaron… Wikipedia writes this off as her being ‘sister in spirit’, but I think it far more likely that this stuff came to Islam as a jumble of stories rather than being copied from texts.

          So, I suppose you could consider them all part of the same family tree, but it seems like its just a cheap ploy by the early Islamic movement to co-opt another religion. Jesus is just their version of a Christmas tree or an Easter bunny.

          But I think my point was more that if they replaced God with Allah, there is no way in hell that Collins would be in charge of the NIH. He might even end up in that commission hearing.

          • Circe
            Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

            But I think my point was more that if they replaced God with Allah, there is no way in hell that Collins would be in charge of the NIH. He might even end up in that commission hearing.

            I think too that there is some truth to that.

  8. Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Oh, dear, how pathetic can you get? The talk about the autonomy of nature is really such a pathetic attempt to get god off the hook. It’s one thing to speak of agents with free will, but you can scarcely speak of the whole of the natural world as having autonomy, since it doesn’t. It’s possible, within limits, for new things to happen, but that does not mean that the process itself is autonomous; it just means that the process itself is not fully determined, since at certain points, depending on the variants that develop, the future may be different. But this is not autonomy. The nomos here is in the process, not in the autos. So, free will may get rid of a few dicey problems with evil — though still it has to be wondered whether freedom is really worth all the evil that results — but they can’t extend this argument to the processes of nature themselves.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      all it is is the continuing effort to remove their concept of god further and further from reality, so those nasty empiricists can’t claim that it doesn’t exist.

      • Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        If they keep moving God further and further from reality in this fashion, they may wake up one day and realise he’s nowhere near reality. And then they’ll be atheists!
        :)

        • Ichthyic
          Posted March 13, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          many would argue, for example, that people like Ken Miller already are based on the dogma they purport to belong to, vs what they say about what defines “god” to them purposes.

          e.g., you can’t be a Catholic and say god only exists in quantum fields.

  9. Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    More important, I think, was Rosenhouse’s observation that the attempt to apply the “free will”-defense to nature completely contradicts their claim that nature is predetermined to yield humans.

    Also, as I posted on Rosenhouse’s blog as well, I always wonder: if “we can’t know/understand anything about God” is an acceptable response to theological questions, why are there still theology departments? Either stop using that argument, or use it and admit that you’re done with all of theology.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      Well quite. If the answer is “we don’t know” then stop talking about it.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        Nitpick: the “can’t” as opposed to “don’t” is what differs from empiricism.

        You can’t have both, don’t you know? :-D

    • Andrew B.
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Theologians only make that claim when you ask them a tough question about God’s motivations: “You’re trying to understand the mind of something which is beyond your capacity to grasp. Now, let me tell you what he thinks of homosexuals!”

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        LOL perfect.

    • Tulse
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      If you can’t understand your god, why on earth are you worshipping it? If it is so beyond human comprehension, if its motivations and interests and powers are unimaginable by petty homo sapiens, how do you even know such a god isn’t evil, or has any of your interests at heart?

      There is an extensive literature on people worshipping beings beyond our kenning, but it was written by Lovecraft, and his works are usually considered horror stories.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        Because skyfathers are loving, and all the evil of the world is *won’t look, won’t look, won’t look*.

    • eric
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      As arguments go, its just a variation on ‘God of the gaps.’

      In the typical form, ‘god’ gets stuck in whenever the person doesn’t know the anwser to a “how does it work” question.

      In this form, ‘god is unknowable’ gets stuck in whenever the person doesn’t know the answer to a “why does it work this way” question.

  10. Andrew B.
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Everytime I see an example of theodicy, I think of that scene in the Blues Brothers:

    “No, I didn’t. Honest… I ran out of gas. I… I had a flat tire. I didn’t have enough money for cab fare. My tux didn’t come back from the cleaners. An old friend came in from out of town. Someone stole my car. There was an earthquake. A terrible flood. Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!”

  11. Sili
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    This book is an embarrassment for the authors, especially Collins, who is director of the National Institutes of Health.

    Well, the books seems to be as much in touch with reality as the way he performs his job.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Did you want some dressing with that word salad?

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

        the funny thing is, that is one of the CLEARER interviews I’ve seen with Collins, as disturbingly ranty as it was!

        yes, it was word salad, but I could at least identify the kinds of greens in it.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

          …and it sounds to me, like he’s happy to turn NIH into a giant mill for sponsoring the research necessary for biomed companies to turn good profits on certain types of treatments.

          Long gone are the days when we could rely on NIH as being a good source for general science funding.

          I would say, though, that his decision on this front appears to have little to do with his religious leanings, and probably more to do with his personal stock portfolio.

          • Sili
            Posted March 12, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

            I would say, though, that his decision on this front appears to have little to do with his religious leanings, and probably more to do with his personal stock portfolio.

            I didn’t mean to imply that he was motivated by religion in this case. Just that he is most definitely not an exemplar of clearheaded thinking.

          • Posted March 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            Seems to me the trend from pure research to quick-buck product development has been going on in every industry, for the last 20 years or more.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted March 13, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

              sadly, I can’t disagree with that.

              bump that up to at least 30 though.

  12. Posted March 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    How on Earth can these people not understand that the very essence of the idea of omnipotence is that such a being can have its cake and eat it, too?

    That’s the problem at the heart of the common “Free the Willies!” chant we hear from the theidiots. Either their gods are incapable of ending evil while keeping the Willies free, or they could but they’d rather hang on to evil all the same, thankyouverymuch.

    They seem to think that putting a label on the incompetence and / or malevolence of their pantheon is an excuse, rather than an admission.

    And it’s not like this is high-powered logic, either. The only possible excuses the theidiots can have for themselves in their failure to understand is their own incompetence and / or malevolence.

    I swear, the modern theological god is indistinguishable from a parrot pining for the fjords. You see, it could up and do anything it wanted to, but it’s just having a lie-down right now, don’t you see? Come back later and maybe it’ll have re-stocked both the Stilton and the Wensleydale. In the mean time, here’s some lovely Spam to tide you over.

    Eh…sorry ’bout that. I seem to have gotten carried away with the absurdities….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Y’see, Ben never wanted to be a Gnu.

      He wanted to be … a lumberjack!

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        and I used to think he was so butch!

        *sob*

  13. Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    On the religion-vs-science debate I would describe myself as a limited compatibilist, in that I think the God concept is flexible enough to be revised ad hoc to evade any particular set of fact-based objections. However, one of the limitations is that you must give up all claims that you have any idea what the hell God is up to. Science (and I mean the results, not just some supposed presuppositions about naturalism) shows that if God is active in his creation to bring about his own ends, he does it so subtly as to leave no indication of the mechanism of his guidance, nor what those ends might be. And if it’s all leading up to some future consummation in which the Problem of Evil will be magically resolved, all wrongs will be righted, all tears wiped away, all suffering will be seen to have been worthwhile, and “all manner of thing shall be very well”, well, there’s certainly no indication of it. Faith is entirely superfluous to the observed reality of the world; a story people tell themselves to feel better. Tell yourself that story, if you must, but if you don’t mind I’ll wait outside until you’re done.

    Oh, and the Doctrine of Double Effect? It’s a repugnant avoidance of moral responsibility for one’s actions.

    • locutus7
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Yes. It looks like a fair number of “sophisticated” theologians (in fact, an oxymoron) are retreating to the apophatic god of Karen Armstrong. The vaporous god of the mysterium who can’t be known, explained, or understood.

      Of course that is not the god that the flocks worship, because one requires an interfering, judging do in order to extract money from worshippers.

      • locutus7
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

        god, not “do” (following Judging). Oops.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      On the religion-vs-science debate I would describe myself as a limited compatibilist, in that I think the God concept is flexible enough to be revised ad hoc to evade any particular set of fact-based objections.

      how does that make any specific religious dogma compliant with your scenario differ from any fiction I can make up off the top of my head, like say, flying spaghetti monsterism?

      However, one of the limitations is that you must give up all claims that you have any idea what the hell God is up to.

      oh, it’s much MORE than that. You’d have to give up any claim that your belief is even a religious one, as religions are legally and politically defined.

      I have no problems with that, frankly, since it would be the end of religious exemption. But I rather think most of those considering themselves to actually BE religious would object.

      • Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        how does that make any specific religious dogma compliant with your scenario differ from any fiction I can make up off the top of my head, like say, flying spaghetti monsterism?

        It doesn’t, and I don’t in the least imply that it does. I regard theology as the construction of an edifice of arbitrary stipulations, constrained only by internal consistency — and that honored as much in the breach as in the keeping.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          I can’t see how in any way that can be described, even rhetorically, as compatibilist?

          perhaps you could define what you mean by “compatible”?
          :)

          • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

            Two things not contradicting each other on the bare facts seems to me to constitute a reasonable definition of “compatibility”. Such a hypothetical theology may have other problems, but I cannot pronounce it false on the basis of *science*.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

              but… it’s useless.

              I could say the color blue and the number 6 are compatible.

              • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                Well, blue and 6 aren’t claims, so there’s not even a potential contradiction there.

                As for useful: well, I don’t find it useful, but that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t like telling themselves stories….

        • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

          So basically, religion as a sort of collective storytelling. Kinda like D&D: as long as you mostly stay within the internal mythology, anything goes. Of course, few atheists would have a problem with religion if it would evolve into this direction. However, the problem for believers is that a religion like this would not get (or deserve) the status and respect it gets today.

          • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

            Never mind the political influence it now has.

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      However, one of the limitations is that you must give up all claims that you have any idea what the hell God is up to.

      And after you’re done admitting this, please explain why calling yourself “religious” is anything more than marketing – associating yourself with a brand name that for many has positive connotations.

      • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

        You’ll have to ask that question of some (hypothetical) believer who has done that, because I very likely agree with you ;-). I occasionally run across people (eg. Gretta Vosper) who seem to me to be atheists hiding behind Jesus-talk. I don’t know why they do that, and I don’t much care: I’m an ex-Christian who finds such border-line “religion” incomprehensible and uninteresting.

        • Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

          Heh, well, I was using the impersonal “you”, the “you” you were using in the part I quoted, not addressing you personally.

          I have asked this question to people, though, but I’ve never gotten a clear answer. And I don’t think I ever will. It just seems to me that many people have never put much thought into the social forces that are at play.

          • Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

            OK, no problem.

            But since I mentioned Vosper, have a look at her answer to the question “Do you believe in God?”, and see if you can figure out what the hell she’s talking about:
            http://grettavosper.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=19&Itemid=9

            • Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

              Oh, it’s perfectly clear what she’s saying there. It’s saying she’s going to evade that question for as long as possible.

              The nematode researcher analogy is completely irrelevant. Even if we accept her argument about expert jargon, the relationship that a minister has with her congregation isn’t that of highly-specialized experts among each other. It would be more like between a professor and her students.

              When she says:

              In other words, what do you mean when you ask me if I believe in god? Without knowing what you mean by that word, I simply can’t answer you.

              She may have a point. But instead of refusing to answer, she could also explain what she means by it.

              To me, it sounds like she knows that she must either lie, or say something that is going to be interpreted (by the non-experts, of course) as “no” – which she can’t, because she’s a minister. So she’s not going to say anything at all.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      On the religion-vs-science debate I would describe myself as a limited compatibilist, in that I think the God concept is flexible enough to be revised ad hoc to evade any particular set of fact-based objections.

      Meh. We observe that nature is a monism in the same way that we observe that masses falls.

      If you want a theory that predicts it like general relativity predicts how masses behave, it is predicted by universes having zero energy so no outside interaction.

      The observation can be based on data from the 70′s-80′s, the theory that predicts it is from 2002 (Faraoni & Cooperstock). (And quantum theory with its “no hidden parameters” is an old tell, which also has grown stronger through the years, by testing many-body systems.)

      Now you can say that you can “flex” a dualism so it behaves like a monism (no interaction, say pantheism). This makes as much physical sense as saying that general relativity is in fact a theory of general relativity + a null spacetime interaction that exist but not really.

      If “evading” is being forthright with claiming “not in fact existing”, so: sure.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 12, 2011 at 4:28 am | Permalink

        Sorry, rereading it today that came off like a strident and aggressive personal judgment. Of course an individual can (will, in fact) think whatever.

        Now I don’t find much of a discussion of the ramifications of what we can learn from empirics. It is perhaps *too* strident, because such a discussion can be had. But if a fact, it will pose an interesting and likely vital societal debate.

        As most that feel out of their depths and uncertain of the value of publicly non-evaluated claims, I take heart from the confirmation, if not test, that is provided.

        Dawkins edged close to the “this question is empirically settled” with his probabilistic analysis in The God Delusion.

        Stenger has evaluated the opposing hypothesis of magic intervention as failed in “God – The Failed Hypothesis”, but is still equivocating on the amount of likelihood achieved like Dawkins.

        Hawking has passed the corner when he notes that gods are unnecessary for getting physics and we have known that for decades.

        And of course Carroll is forthright, if not substantive, with his dysteleological physicalism.

        So if it is a dangerous subject, that the subject of theological study is in all likelihood already dead, killed by empirical study, at least it is touched and even broached.

        What will religion do if it is now time to claim: “Although atheism might have been empirically tenable before the 20th century, 20th century science weight and reach made it possible to be an empirically fulfilled atheist”?

        Would the fall out be as dangerous as the appeasers believe or worse, or will society eventually come to term with that fantasies are just fantasies and religion is best practiced as knitting is?

        Now I would like to sit down and say that I was there during the magical (/um, what?) years that the recognition of how fast and long science and observation had advanced was starting to made itself heard. But that looks too much like self-elevation and crackpottism at the same time.

        But at least I can say that I *hope* that is what will happen. And still retain bragging rights. :-D

        I honestly don’t see why this would not be so. Of course, as in all matters I could be mistaken.

  14. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    When a great ship of the line is destroyed in battle, it typically sinks with much grinding of metal, drama, whooshing sounds, and so forth. The rapid rise in the speed and volume of information has pummeled the “Religion” on all quarters, and the damage is serious. Earnest (but embarrassingly feeble) attempts to “fire back” from the gun turrets, some already awash with steadily-arising demise, are to be expected. Works such as this Giberson & Collins tome are symbolic rather than substantive. For me, the details of their arguments generate happiness. The “Religion” has less time on the surface of the Sea than I previously estimated. I submit that, by 2018, “Religion” will be beneath the social waves, tumbling toward the abyssal plain. I say this in judgment when I compare these linguistic jump-roping tricks of Giberson & Collins, to the rise of events like NIH’s (irony!) Human Connectome Project and Paul Allen’s Allen Institute of Brain Science, among many unstoppable progressive (and religion-killing) activities.

    The momentum is all ours, fellow realists.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      The rapid rise in the speed and volume of information has pummeled the “Religion” on all quarters, and the damage is serious.

      *envisions making a film out of it similar to: Sinking of the Bismark!*

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      Does the Pope go down with the ship?

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        I think that’s a workable twist.

      • Badger3k
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

        If ship is a code-word for “altar boy”…

        • Ichthyic
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

          ooh.

          badabing!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink

      2018? How much money do ya wanna place on that?

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 12, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

        18 c, and 20 will get you pantheism dragged down in the process.

        Honestly, I wouldn’t set any dates. The last (?) intellectually (if not empirically, see my above comments) acceptable contest will likely stand on the brain-mind connection.

        Nobody can predict today if and when it will be as undoubted (ha!) as the evolution-population connection. Maybe a Turing tested AI will shortcut some of that, but as biology teaches us intelligence is embodied it is a far longer road than the Kurzweil crackpots believe.

        And of course, once that last hurdle is cleared, the remaining religionistas will keep at their favorite pastime of dual-think, see evolution again. All what realism can contribute is barriers towards fantasy acceptance by thinking humans, and of course that momentum that was mentioned. Let us see how far (and fast) that can carry us.

    • Posted March 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      I’ll take a wager on that :-) It may be true for ‘near Berkeley’ but worldwide, I would say there is not a chance. The Pardee Center at the University of Denver does some interesting futures forecasting, and with the emergence in this century of India and China being the number one and number two economies, and with Africa being the most populated continent, I don’t see religion falling out of the picture any time soon.

  15. GordonWillis
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    Talk about making it up. They won’t see that, they won’t shut up. And if they can persuade enough people that their wishful rationalisations make real sense the result will be an increase in their assumed “authority” to bully millions of people and screw up their lives.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

      yup, that would define what many of us are actually worried about with this tactic.

      Still, I myself consider it to be a relatively minor fear, compared to just the continuing placation of the idea that somehow it’s alright to maintain that fantasy is equivalent to reality, if we can just pile on enough rationalizations.

      at some point, it just has to stop.

  16. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    A golden oldie:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    To which we may now add “If he is able and willing but doesn’t hang around to prevent evil why worship an unreliable God?”

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      You have to be careful when quoting Epicurus to believers. They always start chanting their “Free the Willies!” mantra as soon as you do.

      If you want to get through to them, ask them whether their gods fail to prevent evil while keeping the Willies free-range because they’re incompetent to do so, or if it’s because they could do both but prefer to keep the evil around all the same.

      They’ll probably at this point claim that it’s impossible to have both Freedom Willies and no evil; simply observe that that means that either all the Heavenly Willies must be caged or else there’s as much evil in Heaven as on Earth.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Scote
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

        The Free Willies usually go silent when you ask them if there is free will in heaven–and if so, why doesn’t heaven need earthquakes, etc. just like earth does for people to have free will. If heaven doesn’t need suffering for people to have free will then neither does earth.

      • Gabrielle Guichard
        Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        “but prefer to keep the evil around”
        Of course, they prefer. Are you (free-)willing to give up your bread and butter? Without evil, they could not be paid to show the right way to the suffering people. There would not be suffering people. (For some reason, they never take into account the suffering of other animals. Maybe these victims lack the money.)
        All people here, you are far more intelligent than I am, to say nothing about the education you enjoy. But from time to time, you look like forgetting the obvious. It’s not a god-thing, or a science-thing, it is a me me me me me me-thing.

  17. Ichthyic
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Theology is the art of making religious virtues out of scientific necessities.

    Neat; saved in my quotes file.

    Can I call that an official Coyne quote?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I’m quite proud of that one, which is indeed my own.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        and it is thin on one end, thick in the middle, and thin on the other?
        :)

        • Ichthyic
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          no, seriously Jerry, that is indeed a quotable quote.

        • lamacher
          Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

          The python skit sounds very much like a theologic ‘deepity’ to me.

      • Smith Powell
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        I’ve already put it into my quote file.

      • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

        It’s a nice quote, but unfortunately Google says you’re not the first to coin it. In a blog post from July 2009 titled The Hall of Shame: God, Evolution, and Quantum Mechanics:

        Theology might, in fact, be defined as the art of making religious virtues out of scientific necessities.

        It’s even a blog post about a BioLogos article, coincidentally enough.

        • Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

          Heh, never mind, that was a republish of one of your own :) Should have read till the end.

          • whyevolutionistrue
            Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

            Unfortunately, I said it first, and on this site: here, in April 2011.

            http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/accommodationism-and-the-nature-of-our-world/

            Indeed, one could define the task of theology as making virtues of necessities.

            I’ve refined it a bit since then.

            Oh, I see that you noticed that that was republished from my own pice. My good man Deen, don’t be so hasty to accuse me of plagiarism!
            :-)

            • Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

              Heh, I wouldn’t do that. I figured it was more of a “Great minds think alike” kinda situation :)

            • Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

              But apologies anyway :)

            • Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

              Yes…but…do you weigh as much as a duck?

              You do, don’t you?

              <sigh />

              Excuse me while I go get the fire started. Won’t take but a minute.

              Cheers,

              b&

    • Christian
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      And if you’re not so charitable you can say that theology is just redefining bugs into features.

  18. Stewart
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had this discussion with believers and never succeeded in getting them to see I had a point. If god gives us free will, that’s the end of it; he’s no longer responsible. They don’t see him as in any way connected to whatever propensities for choice we may have. In the interview Dawkins just did at Revelation TV, Doug Harris states “… Adam was made perfect…” If that were the case, where did his weakness for temptation come from? God created a man, perfect, untemptable, who suddenly lost that quality the moment his creator gave him free will? As I say, the believers with whom I’ve discussed this have never even been able to see what it is I find problematic, no matter how explicitly I explain it.

    If I walk into a room and press a button on an enormous Rube Goldberg-type contraption, one so complicated that the result of all the sequential actions cannot be foreseen at a glance, I might not be responsible for the outcome – if I were unfamiliar with the machine and had no possible reason to think the effect might be negative. However, if I not only created the machine, but also the room it’s in and the entire bloody universe surrounding it, down to the tiniest component of every last atom, how can I not be solely responsible for everything that results from my pressing that button? Isn’t that damning enough for god without believers making it worse for him by having him know everything, past, present and future? His last tiny hope of an alibi – gone!

    • Christian
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, free will and an omniscient deity is just the futile attempt by the theists to have their cake and eat it too.

      If you ask them if their omnimax god can create a rock so heavy that not even he can lift it, they protest to no end. On the other hand, wrt free will they do the same without noticing it: they propose an omniscient god who can create a random number generator which not even he can predict.

      • Scote
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes, one does wonder why and all powerful, all knowing god couldn’t create a world that had free will but lacked suffering, after all, that is what both Eden and Heaven are supposed to be. What is it about the in between part that makes it impossible for Him to do the same?

        As to free will requiring the ability to make others suffer, where is people’s “free will” to use our mind power make people’s heads explode ala Scanners? Or to make stars go super nova using only our thoughts? How is it that we can have free will without the innate ability to literally do every cruelty imaginable? Clearly theists think free will is compatible with limitations such as not being able to blow up people’s heads with our minds–strange that they can’t also understand the concept of a world made where we can’t make others suffer yet also still have free will over our own actions.

    • Stewart
      Posted March 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Correction: When I made that comment I’d still only managed to hear about the last quarter of the Dawkins/Revelation interview, without visuals, and thought I had done my homework by ascertaining that the normal presenter for that slot was Doug Harris. Now that I’ve seen it in nearly complete form, I see that it wasn’t Harris I quoted above, but station founder Howard Conder. Doesn’t affect the rest of my comment’s content, but I wanted to keep things accurate.

  19. KP
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    “Imagine if they explained natural selection as the product of loose thetans set free by Xenu!”

    Exactly. Wackaloonery at the highest level of American science…

  20. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    But because humans have freedom, we do not say that God created those gas chambers. God is, so to speak, off the hook for that evil.

    In the local lutheran tradition, their god gets off the hook because is a father of humans. If that were a fact, the god would immediately loose god status as omnipotent et cetera cause of human situation.

    You can’t have it both ways. Which doesn’t stop religious from trying, of course.

    Btw, Mooney can haz Wilbur award.

    I didn’t know, or has forgotten, that Mooney is a “Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow at the Templeton Foundation”, so is seriously in line for Templeton awards too.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      The Wilbur Award, per Mooney’s website, is awarded by the Religion Communicators Council, to

      “individuals in secular media who communicate religious issues, values and themes with the utmost professionalism, fairness and honesty.”

      I’m actually speechless.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      The Wilbur award…

      now why am I all of a sudden thinking of Mr Ed?

      or maybe I’m just reminded of, a horse’s ass that people use to talk through?

    • H.H.
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      I haven’t had any inkling to visit The Intersection in a long, long time, but I have been curious to see how many followers he’s maintained since leaving SciBlogs. Do you see the average number of comments on his posts? Eesh. I think Uncommon Descent can boast a larger readership.

      • Posted March 12, 2011 at 4:55 am | Permalink

        I suspect that you’ll find that a good number of people did follow him to Discover, but that readership only really plummeted after the Tom Johnson affair. Not responding to questions and banning people will do that. It also doesn’t help if your most prolific regulars include a bunch of sock puppets, who were then outed.

  21. anotherJoe
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Am I the only reader who finds it hard to distinguish Josh Rosenau from Jason Rosenhouse? The problem is more acute when only one J.Rosensuffix is mentioned. Perhaps I can solve this problem, if I really put my mind to it.

    • Scote
      Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

      Nope. Not just you. I feel a bit guilty about it, too, every time I have to do a double take over an invocation of either of them. The names aren’t even that similar on the surface but something about them makes me store them in the same place in my brain even though one is a sneering appeaser and the other is a thoughtful, rationally consistent blogger.

      • H.H.
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        I did at first, but then you learn to remember that Josh writes tosh.

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:22 am | Permalink

          Ah, an excellent mGnumonic!

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        Me three. Must try Scote’s mnemonic.

        • Diane G.
          Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          Uh, H.H.’s mnemonic…

      • Posted March 12, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

        See? You’re far from the only one to confuse the two names (in my case, it probably doesn’t help that I read neither of their blogs, and so only encounter them in citations elsewhere). And I think the names are similar enough to, as you put it, get stored close together in one’s internal semantic network.

  22. ckitching
    Posted March 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Okay, then I’ve got a theological question: If God is off the hook for all these atrocities, how does God get on the hook for answering prayers and inspiring people to do good deeds? I’m afraid I’m just not that “theologically sophisticated” and don’t quite understand. Maybe you could get to deism from there, but I don’t know how you get to Jesus.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      seems like a good question to me too.

      I expect an answer that would boil down to something like:

      “God, being perfect, can cherrypick as he likes”

    • Posted March 12, 2011 at 5:07 am | Permalink

      I’be seen “sophisticated” theologians deny that God answers prayers at all, that that is a primitive, literalist interpretation. They have a hard time explaining what prayers *are* for, exactly, though.

      But yes, if god is off the hook for all the bad stuff, then god is off the hook for all the good stuff too. Or conversely, if humans are blamed for all the bad stuff, they should be credited for all the good stuff too.

      • Ichthyic
        Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        I’be seen “sophisticated” theologians deny that God answers prayers at all, that that is a primitive, literalist interpretation.

        ooh, don’t tell the Pope that!

    • articulett
      Posted March 13, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      Magic, silly!

      (How presumptuous of you to even think you can know the mind of God!)

  23. Aj
    Posted March 12, 2011 at 12:37 am | Permalink

    OT – I’m still having problems accessing Science Blogs from this connection.

    Can someone give me that link PZ posted to report if your IP was having problems?

    Thanks.

  24. Matti K.
    Posted March 12, 2011 at 1:06 am | Permalink

    Actually, what is this “Wilbur award”? Christopher Hitchens was awarded as well, so maybe all of those awards are not reserved to appeasears:

    http://www.religionnews.com/index.php?/pressreleases/new_orleans_school_integration_cbs_evening_news_leads_2011_wilbur_awards/

    Well, we’ll see if Hitchens values his award as much as Mr. Mooney does.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 12, 2011 at 3:17 am | Permalink

      Nope, doesn’t seem to be for accommodationism:

      “The Religion Communicators Council is an interfaith association of more than 500 religion communicators working in print and electronic communication, advertising and public relations.”

      “The council has presented Wilbur Awards annually since 1949. They honor excellence by individuals in secular media – print and online journalism, book publishing, broadcasting, and motion pictures – in communicating religious issues, values and themes. Winners receive a stained-glass trophy. The award is named for the late Marvin C. Wilbur, a pioneer in religious public relations and longtime council leader.”

      Yeah, then it is fair to say that it is the recipient’s reaction that will be telling.

  25. Posted March 12, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    If Collins wants to demonstrate that God played a meaningful role in evolution, then he needs to tell us what evolution WITHOUT God would look like, and why.

    • Michelle B
      Posted March 14, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

      Bingo!


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] review of the latest nonsense emanating from the computers of Francis Collins and Karl Giberson. As Jerry Coyne says, considering Jason’s willingness to put himself through the torment of reading books like [...]

  2. [...] going through it on the Jesus Creed. BioLogos has been too. Jason Rosenhouse doesn’t like it. Jerry Coyne likes that Jason doesn’t like it. I’ve got a review copy [...]

  3. [...] incompatible. Expectedly, it has got all of the junior New Atheists jumping with joyous ire, and all over the blogs are stern condemnations: “this is not a good book“; “the authors’s [sic] [...]

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