BioLogos argues that religious claims don’t require evidence

After BioLogos wrote a three-part review of my book Why Evolution is True, I wrote a response, and one of their minions, Robert C. Bishop, has taken it upon himself to write a multipart response to my response. I’ve already discussed part one (see here), and now he’s come back with a jargony, postmodern part 2,  excitingly titled “A response to Coyne (and contemporary atheists generally). Part 2.

I hope this is the end of the parts. (This reminds me of a semi-smutty joke my father used to tell about an ad for a fictitious movie: “My Tuchus in Two Parts. Come tomorrow and see the whole!”). In fact, I fear writing even this analysis because it may prompt Bishop to write even more parts.

Bishop, a professor of the history and philosophy of science at Wheaton College in Illinois (a religious school) is pushing a thesis that should now be familiar: scientists shouldn’t ask religious people to provide evidence, because that’s the wrong way to look at the tenets of faith.  His thesis is twofold.  First, the “naive evidentialism” that scientists use in their work cannot be applied to religious truth claims.  Second, evidentialism is itself motivated by a deep ideological agenda:

“Jerry Coyne–along with other contemporary atheists such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell), Sam Harris (The End of Faith) and Victor Stenger (God: The Failed Hypothesis)–writes about and analyzes religion using a fairly crude evidentialist epistemology. This epistemology, however, is animated by ethical ideals that have largely gone unnoticed and unexamined.”

Increasingly among accommodationists, we see these claims of “naive evidentialism” (which simply means that truth claims about the universe require evidence); Bishop also calls this a “fairly crude evidentialist epistemology,” and “unsophisticated forms of epistemology.” What this argument constitutes is, in effect, an attack on science, something that BioLogos isn’t supposed to be doing.  Why is evidentialism misleading? According to Bishop, for two reasons:

  • Science isn’t objective because it requires unjustifiable assumptions about its methods.  And, relying on the senses, it’s also fallible.

” . . .no inquiry is rigorously objective because all inquiry requires some background assumptions. . . Coyne expresses such disguised ideology when he demands that religious convictions about God be formulated in clear, objective, publicly (i.e., scientifically) testable propositions for which “evidence” can be adduced. He cannot defend this adherence to natural science methods based on science or on the model of rationality he adopts because both of these already presuppose the very objectification in question.”

Well, if the desire to find out the truth is ideology, then so be it.  But more important is the recurrent claim that science itself relies on values and practices that can’t be justified a priori.

I’ll admit that I often hear this claim, but I’ve never understood it. Do we really need to justify the scientific method philosophically when it’s proved so successful in understanding the universe?  What is important is that it works! What do I mean by “works”? Simply this: science arrives at conclusions about the universe that everyone who follows the method agrees on, and those conclusions enable us to make further predictions that are fulfilled.  That’s how we get spaceships to the moon, it’s how we can cure infectious disease, it’s how Bishop knows, when he gets in his car on Sunday, that when he turns the key it will get him to the church on time.  There is no need for working scientists to justify their methods through some kind of philosophical analysis.  Those methods work, and that’s all we need.

The rationale behind all this is, of course, that finding the truth is good (granted, a value judgment, but who wouldn’t want to know what is making him sick?), and the way to find the truth is through reason, evidence, empirical testing and observation, and constant questioning.  This method is responsible for nearly all the improvements in human physical well being that we’ve experienced over the past 400 years.  I have yet to meet a person, even a religious one, who claims that she doesn’t want to know what’s true.

Now contrast that with religious “methodology.”  First of all, it also lacks a priori philosophical justification.  The rationale is that adherence to revelation, dogma, and authority will tell us some kind of truth around the universe.  Let us apply to that an epithet resembling Bishop’s: “naive revelationism.”  Has it lead us to truth or understanding of the universe? No.  We know no more about the existence, nature, or will of a god now that we did two millennia ago.  Has it led to any increase in human well being? Well, some people undoubtedly find comfort in religion, just as they find comfort in many manifestly false beliefs.  But the “truths” of different faiths, unlike the truths of science, are multifarious, conflicting, and incompatible. And of course their adherents fight and kill each other over these different interpretations; and even if there’s not outright violence, there’s always mutual suspicion.  When you go to a scientific meeting, though, it’s pretty damn egalitarian, for we don’t differ in how we find out truth.  Nobody kills each other over string theory.

So my question for Bishop is this: “relying as you do on naive revelationism, how can you be so sure that God exists, what he’s like, and what he wants?”

Bishop, of course, while excoriating naive evidentialism, fails to examine his own method of understanding God.  Since it doesn’t work, at least in a way that it produces universal agreement among people, it requires even more justification than do the methods of science.  To counteract this, Bishop simply goes after science, raising the old canard that we don’t understand things directly, but through our senses.  This is, pure and simple, a way to attack science.  It’s as if these people see the universe as one big optical illusion:

“Moreover, no forms of inquiry deal directly with objective realities as objects; rather, humans always experience and deal with their objects of inquiry as interpreted realities, where these interpretations are mediated by our theoretical and experimental practices.3 This holds true for Coyne’s investigations in evolutionary genetics as much as it holds for our explorations human action and God.”

Yes, we perceive the world through our senses.  But that doesn’t make all our perceptions wrong or even questionable.  Bishop questions whether my findings about evolutionary genetics are reliable because they are based on “interpreted realities”. I challenge him to tell me where I’ve gone wrong when I say that the X chromosome carries several genes affecting pigmentation between the two species of flies I work on.  Is that a mistake?  If Bishop repeats my experiment, I’m 100% certain he’ll find the same thing.  In contrast, a Muslim in Saudi Arabia, using naive revelationism, comes up with a concept of God, and God’s will, different from those of a Christian in Alabama.  And tell me this, Dr. Bishop: if you were to get a bacterial infection, would you prefer to take an antibiotic or trust in the ministrations of a shaman? After all, both of those methods rely on “interpreted realities.”

Why is “naive evidentialism” inappliable to religion?  Although Bishop makes a mighty effort to answer, his conclusion is lost in his dreadful postmodern prose:

“Objectification may be a thoroughly appropriate stance to take towards understanding the properties of electrons, molecules and genomes. However, when applied to human activities and our ways of understanding our world, objectification distorts the human phenomena we are trying to understand by treating self-interpreting beings as if we are no different in kind from electrons, molecules and genomes (a value judgment if ever there was one!). For instance, one may be able to investigate and describe the geological properties of volcanoes without implicitly or explicitly judging whether it would be better if the volcano formed in a different way or place. But when investigating and describing human activity and commitment to God, such judgments about what is good are unavoidable. . .

What? God is a “self-interpreting being”? What does that mean? Does it mean that humans can’t interpret him, even through revelation? And if that’s true, then we can we know anything about the divine? What other ways are we supposed to understand it? As we know, naive revelationism doesn’t work.

. . . Coyne’s naive demand for “evidence that there is a god” betrays his lack of understanding that the ideal of objectification towards the human realm, religious practices or God is deeply connected with ethical ideals.5 For instance, Richard Bernstein shows how adherence to natural science ideals of objectification in human inquiry, though purportedly fostering “value-neutral, objective claims subject only to the criteria of public testing,” turn out to harbor “disguised ideology.” These “proposed theories secrete values and reflect controversial ideological claims about what is right, good, and just” reflecting a “total intellectual orientation” anchored in a complete package of tendentious high Enlightenment ideals such as individualism, autonomy, instrumentalism, and emancipation.6

Which brings up Bishop’s second charge against “objectification” and “naive evidentialism”:

  • The demand for evidence for God and for the assertions of faith is based on values, namely, a conviction that religion is bad and should be smited.

“Instead, [Coyne's] reasons for demanding this naively evidentialist line of inquiry are rooted in his desire to free people from what he takes to be illegitimate authorities, superstitions, false beliefs and irrationality. . .”

” . . . These ethical ideals may help explain various tendencies of Coyne (e.g., pursuing naive views of falsification and overly simplistic readings of the Bible in contrast to nuanced readings of nature, adopting unsophisticated forms of epistemology in his treatment of “the God question” that would not otherwise be tolerated in his biology research). The ends of freeing people from what he considers to be false beliefs and irrationality mask the adoption of lower intellectual standards as means to achieving these ends. Although rhetorically effective (perhaps only with the atheist choir!), the cost in intellectual integrity is high and quite damaging to the reputation and understanding of science (and to atheism!).

Here the accommodationist program is laid out.  Attempts to falsify religious claims are useless because they’re based on “overly simplistic readings of the Bible in contrast to nuanced readings of nature” (i.e., if you read the Bible the way Bishop does, you’ll see that there’s no need to get evidence for God.  His existence and character and will are just evident!)  Actually, I would use the same standards for testing religious claims as I do when working on my flies: how do I know what is true? Does it make predictions that can be tested? Can I, or others, repeat my results?  That’s how we know that prayer doesn’t work, a conclusion that came from a purely scientific double-blind study.

Is our demand for evidence in religion contaminated by ideology, as Bishop claims?

A key reason for objectification’s failure when applied to the human domain is that it represents as much a moral as an epistemological ideal. This moral ideal can be seen, for instance, in contemporary atheists’ insistence that moral good comes from objectifying the God hypothesis and religions phenomena in general (e.g., liberating people from antiquated superstition and false authorities, or making the world a safer and less violent place to live). Such moral implications derive from a viewpoint already animated by a moral vision of the good life for human beings, not from a scientific viewpoint.

Well, of course I think that, in the main, the effects of religion and superstition are bad.  And although that is a value judgment, it can, as Sam Harris argues, be informed by reason.  If Muslims gave up their faith, and stopped killing infidels (including other Muslims of different sects) and girls who want to go to school, and stopped oppressing women and marrying underage girls, wouldn’t that be a good thing in terms of people’s well being?  And wouldn’t it be good if people in Africa, contrary to the Pope’s orders, started using condoms? Or is it better for them to suffer and die of AIDS? Wouldn’t it be good to stop threatening young children with the idea that they’ll burn in hell if they masturbate?  Or does that threat have some salutary effect on society?

We can test these assertions in principle: simply get rid of religion and see what happens. What you get is what you see in Denmark, Sweden, and much of western Europe: healthy societies that take care of their citizens and aren’t plagued by lunacy about abortions, stem cell research, and creationism.  So yes, it is my value judgment that societies without religion would be better, and that’s why I work against faith.  But at least we can see what happens when faith disappears—and it seems pretty good to me.

In the end, Bishop succeeds only in making ludicrous and misguided attacks on science, not in defending his own “way of knowing”.  And despite his assertion that “naive evidentialism” damages science and atheism (thanks for the advice, Dr. Bishop!), the greater damage is to religion.  For, to the open-minded, naive revelationism is no way to find out anything.  The world is full of people—the religious, the deluded, and the ideologues—who claim that they simply know what the truth is, and don’t require evidence.  Does anybody think that’s a good idea?

h/t: Sigmund

169 Comments

  1. still learning
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    *sigh* “A subjective feeling of certainty provides no basis for knowledge.” I can’t remember who said that but it sums up things very nicely.

    • AT
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      the mind cannot observe itself thinking simply because “the mind” or “ego” is a self-building-software running on a hardware of “brain”

      the pecularity of situation is such that cumulative effect of running specific sub-routines of software (thoughts or mental patterns) do affect the hardware and physical connectivity

      this is why the richness of sensory stimulation of a child’s brain and exposure to logical thinking and reasoning at an early stages in life wehn brain is highly plastic is essential for individual’s later ability to comprehend scientific method and be able to think scientifically

      brain plasticity decreases with age and for many people the window of opportunity to understand what scientific method is is forever closed

      science and religion are _NOT_ compartible and will never be

      religion still is the default human condition but science will superceed it over “deep time”

      when drone/burden overpopulation at the bottom of pecking order will be massively dying out and citadel aristocracy will only think about guarding the resources for viability religion will lose its usefulness for the elites as pacifier for the masses

      an science free of any belief will take over as the sole shepherd of human condition

      as long as we spend our valuable time on anything but learning about what is to come we are doing a disservice to future generations because we do not contribute to the body of knowledge that will be critical for survival and transition to true sustainability

      • Marella
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Learn to English, please.

        • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
          Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

          Learn to be charitable to writers for whom English is a second or later language.

    • Microraptor
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      “There’s no amount of belief sufficient to make something a fact,” James Randi

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Well, it was Denis who observed that “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!” Is that close enough?

      b&

  2. Kevin
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Good grief, what claptrap.

    Of course, one returns as ever to the observation that Mr. Bishop also relies on evidence to reach his conclusions about the existence and nature of his deity. But it’s evidence that rational people find suspect.

    Without the bible, there is no Yahweh. There is no Jesus. There are no tablets with commandments, no burning bushes, no exodus, no kingdom of David, no prohibitions against eating shellfish or pulling out during sex. There is no preacher talking about the meek inheriting the Earth (which in and of itself is pure nonsense), no loaves&fishes, no walking on water, no crucifixion, no resurrection.

    Your evidence, Mr. Bishop, is nothing more than 2000+ year old myths.

    Theism is merely the act of believing that at least part of the tales told large are literally true (I’m positive Mr. Bishop believes in the existence of Jesus and his miracles — even Karen Armstrong believes her goddy-like god-who-does-nothing is existential). And religion is the attempt to force the rest of us to behave in the manner that theists think their deity wants us to behave, whether or not we believe in such a thing.

    • Marella
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      I believe Ms Armstrong has said that her god is so fabulous it doesn’t actually need to exist! WTF that means, who can say?

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
        Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        I think Karen is an atheist who is paid to be a theist.

  3. Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Professor Bishop, if you’re reading this, I’d appreciate your take on a challenge I’ve presented to other believers.

    Please express to us the proper method of determining, for example, whether or not it is true that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by [Jesus].” If you apply that same method to the claim that it is instead Maat who will weigh your soul against her ostrich feather to determine whether or not you will reach paradise, will you reach a different conclusion?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Kevin
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      Yes, precisely so. Good analogy.

      Whatever his answer, he’s using evidence to reach that conclusion.

      Bad evidence, but evidence nonetheless.

  4. Frank
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    This guy is a sophisticated idiot. Either he fully comprehends the hollowness of his arguments (and proceeds to spout this nonsense anyway and hides the vacuousness with needless jargon), OR his level of self-delusion is truly impressive. I wonder if he avoids air travel because he worries that the likelihood that the plane will stay aloft is based on naive evidentialism.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Forgive me Frank, I think you mean sophistical (sounds good but is fallacious) rather than sophisicated (complex) but you are right.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

        “Sophistical”–good word! Hadn’t realized sophistry had an adjectival form…

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
        Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        Love that word. Must use it some time.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Forgive me Frank, I think you mean sophistical (sounds good but is fallacious) rather than sophisicated (complex) but you are right. As Disraeli said of Gladstone, “A sophistical rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity, and gifted with an egotistical imagination that can at all times command an interminable and inconsistent series of arguments to malign an opponent and to glorify himself.”

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
        Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Are you sure this was not a prophecy about William Lane Craig?

  5. Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Excellent demolition of Bishop. He’s been cut off at the knees, when his whole purpose was to lay waste to the whole notion of knowledge and truth. Bishop’s rhetorical technique, put in Stephen Law’s analysis of “intellectual black holes”, is the one Law calls “Going Nuclear.” He’s indulged himself in an attack which assures mutual destruction. For if he succeeds in demolishing science’s claims to know, he has effectively deconstructed the idea of knowing altogether. His continuous use of the idea of “naive evidentialism” obviously undercuts any claim that he can make, on behalf of religion, to know the truth. Speaking of naive evidentialism is a way of undermining the common sense conviction that we all have that in order to be able to speak with some warrant about something, we have to have evidence for it.

    A: “I just saw Jack downtown.”

    B: “Couldn’t have. He’s on vacation in Turkey.”

    A: “Well, if he was on vacation in Turkey, he’s back now.”

    B: “Couldn’t be. He planned to stay a month, and he only left last week.”

    A: “Well, he must have changed his plans, then.”

    B: “Couldn’t be. Jack’s never come back from holiday early. He squeezes out every day that he can.”

    A: “Well, whatever his reason, he’s back.”

    B: “That’s hard to believe. I’d have to see for myself.”

    A: “Fine. Phone him. Pay him a visit. You’ll see I’m right.”

    And so on and so forth. There is no way in which we simply accept “I just know it,” as an answer. We continue to give reasons, and the reasons that turn out to give reliable information about how things are, are the ones that we all accept. There’s nothing naive about this. Naiveté enters the picture with the first, “I just know.”

    The guy’s playing a losing hand, and he doesn’t mind jumbling the deck of cards all together, just so long as he doesn’t have to admit that he lost. And this guy teaches philosophy!!!! Any philosopher who teaches at a religious school where there is a statement of faith — as there is at Wheaton College — cannot be considered a philosopher, who is bound to follow the argument wherever it leads. Bishop clearly not only will not follow the argument, he’s quite prepared to demolish the possibility that any argument can be valid, or securely grounded, in order not to lose one. This is not philosophy but religion.

    • Kiwi Dave
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

      My second thought was he’s gone nuclear, as defined by Stephen Law, but my first thought was biblical: ‘You blind guides who strain out gnats but swallow camels.’

      It’s quite surprising that theistic proponents of the scientists-know-nothing-reliably viewpoint fail to see the implications for their own confident religious beliefs.

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
      Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I do not understand how anyone can be an intellectually honest scholar when their paycheck depends on them NOT coming to certain conclusions.

      • Steersman
        Posted June 26, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        I do not understand how anyone can be an intellectually honest scholar when their pay check depends on them NOT coming to certain conclusions.

        Good point. An example of which is provided by a quote I ran across the other day (possibly here on WEIT) from a “theistic scientist”, Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin:

        As a purely practical matter, I have compelling reasons to believe in God. My parents are deeply committed Christians and would be devastated, were I to reject my faith. My wife and children believe in God, and we attend church together regularly. Most of my friends are believers. I have a job I love at a Christian college that would be forced to dismiss me if I were to reject the faith that underpins the mission of the college. Abandoning belief in God would be disruptive, sending my life completely off the rails.

        Giberson should know that one man cannot serve two masters, in this case those being “Truth” [whatever that means] and religious dogma.

        But I see from Wikipedia that Giberson has a very good article here titled “What’s wrong with science as religion” which seems to have some substantial merit in spite of his biases, although I disagree with some of his conclusions. And foremost among which is his implicit argument – made explicit in the quote above – and echoed by such as Bishop and Wheaton College and Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute, among many others, that it is the Christian conception of god which science, on whom they seem to place most of the obligation, must seek peaceful coexistence with. And this in spite of all of the decidedly odious and onerous baggage it comes with and which is highly deserving of the opprobrium heaped on it.

      • Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:34 am | Permalink

        I do not understand how anyone can be an intellectually honest scholar when their paycheck depends on them NOT coming to certain conclusions

        One word: Cognitive Dissonance.

  6. Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Don’t know how my comment got up there twice. If you’re editing, Jerry, go for the second one. The first one must have just automatically posted itself, before I was quite finished.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Your posts are always good enough to read twice, Eric. :-)

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      Your posts are always good enough to read twice, Eric. :-)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I ditched the first one as per your instructions!

  7. freedtochoose
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    It’s tough for BioLogos to progress when backpedaling. They misrepresent both science and Christianity in that the exclude (excommunicate?)a large part of the Christian community who accept science in toto and reject the BioLogos claim that the Bible is the ‘inspired word of God.’

  8. Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Bishop’s remarks remind me of the quip by comedian Emo Philips: “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realised who was telling me this.”

    LOL, better not trust your own brain. The whole world and all its evidence is an elaborate lie.

    Good response. After reading a dozen or so of these BioLogos exchanges I can’t believe that it still doesn’t sink in.

    • Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:14 am | Permalink

      “The proper study of mankind is man” – Alexander Pope
      “The proper study of mankind is man, says man.” – James Thurber

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

        That’s great! Thanks–saved for future use.

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
      Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Well, actually, the brain is easily fooled. The scientific method is designed to adjust for this. That is why there is an emphasis on such things as repeated measurement, statistical probability analysis, random samples, double blind studies and peer review. Dr Religious Bishop is perfectly happy to let his brain fool him so long as it reaches the conclusions reached by those in his social group and those who pay him money.

  9. Phosphorus99
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Thanks for useful and thought provoking commentary.

    http://academics.smcvt.edu/geography/sweden.htm

    “Sweden’s population grew at a rate of 0.01 percent between 1980 and 1985, and since 1985 it has actually declined”.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1324194/Mohammed-popular-baby-boys-ahead-Jack-Harry.html

    Mohammed has become the most popular name for newborn boys in Britain.

    It shot up from third the previous year, overtaking Jack, which had topped the list for the past 14 years but was relegated to third spot.

    Is Sharia Law the future of European Secularism?

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      Erm…what does any of that have to do with the price of tea in China?

      Neither Jerry, Professor Bishop, nor BioLogos have recently discussed Sweden, favored baby boy names in Britain, or Sharia Law — and certainly not in the context of the post you’re replying to.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        “We can test these assertions in principle: simply get rid of religion and see what happens. What you get is what you see in Denmark, Sweden, and much of western Europe: healthy societies that take care of their citizens and aren’t plagued by lunacy about abortions, stem cell research, and creationism”.

        Second to last paragraph.

        • Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          I’m sorry, but I still don’t see where you’re going with this.

          The native populations of Western Europe have become increasingly secularized; at the same time, they’ve managed to largely ditch the societal ills caused by religion.

          In the past few years, the demographics have begun to shift as a fair number of very religious immigrants have started to sway the secular / religious balance. And the religion of those immigrants is — surprise! — bringing back the plagues associated with religion.

          Are you trying to suggest that secularism is unsustainable and that we’ll be forced forever to live with lunacy? Is this a veiled form of racism, expressing fear that the brown heathen swarm will overwhelm the purity of the (formerly) Christian nations? Are you simply expressing agreement with Jerry’s observation that religion poisons societies? What?

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

            Are you trying to suggest that secularism is unsustainable and that we’ll be forced forever to live with lunacy?

            I am wondering if secularism is sustainable.

            • Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

              I am wondering if secularism is sustainable.

              You’re still not making much sense, I’m afraid. About the best I can figure is that you’re suggesting we need to promote widespread faith in one set of idiotic nonsense in order to somehow inoculate ourselves from the toxic effects of a barely-distinguishable different set of idiotic nonsense.

              If secularism is unsustainable, then so too is civil society. Why then get worked up over whose imaginary friends can win best of two out of three in a cage fight?

              Cheers,

              b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                Secularism appears to lead to behavior which results in decrease in population. Couldn’t this lead to a loss of political influence and a Europe dominated by Muslim ideology ?

              • Chuck
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                Phosphorus99,

                I don’t see how secularism is threatened by birth rates as long as secular principles don’t depend on majority rule.

                A Godless constitution provides for a society governed by the rule of law, including protections towards religious liberty. If Sharia were to be proposed within a secularized society it would be obstructed by the enlightened secular rule of law. The only way a mob mentality like you propose would be possible would be if the mob become violent. One would hope that complementary secular societies would come to the defense of the “infidel” subject to Sharia.

              • Chuck
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                That said, Secular philosophy is always under attack by superstition therefore making the criticism an even more important project.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                “The only way a mob mentality like you propose would be possible would be if the mob become violent”

                Isn’t this the essential prerogative of Jihad ?

              • Chuck
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

                The point of Jihad is “submission” which is the meaning of Islam. If that takes violent action then it is sanctioned but, your proposed fear of majority rule as evidence of secularism’s demise will offer that outcome in a more direct way. Secular principles hold to religious freedom. Moderate religious people, including Muslims, would agree to that. Your indication that birth-rates are a pre-cursor to Sharia seems to be a reductionist perspective that doesn’t take into account all potential outcomes based on the durability of secular principles.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                Time will tell

              • Dan L.
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                Phosphorous, what are you proposing as a solution? Outlaw religion? Or just the religions you don’t like?

              • Marella
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

                If Sharia were to be proposed within a secularized society it would be obstructed by the enlightened secular rule of law.

                I wish this were true but there are already Sharia courts in Britain.

              • Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                There were already Jewish courts too.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      “Mohammed has become the most popular name for newborn boys in Britain.”

      That’s not true. Read the article again.

      • Phosphorus99
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        “Mohammed has become the most popular name for newborn boys in Britain.”

        These are not my words but the headlines in “The Huffington Post”, “Daily Mail”, etc

        Mohammed is now the most popular name for baby boys ahead of Jack …
        28 Oct 2010 – It shot up from third the previous year, overtaking Jack, which had topped the list for the past 14 years but was relegated to third spot.
        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/…/Mohammed-popular-baby-boys-ahead-Jack-Harry.html – Similar

        Mohammed, Britain’s Most Popular Boy’s Name In 2009
        28 Oct 2010 – Britain’s most popular baby names have been released, and Jack, the reigning champ for 14 years, has been replaced this year by Mohammed, …
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/mohammed-britains-most-po_n_775145.html – Cached – Similar

        The substantial -and very real- issue is that Mohammed,in its various spellings,is the most common name for boys in Britain in the context of declining levels of indeginous Europeans so the question remains :

        Is Sharia Law the future of European Secularism?

        • Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          Is Sharia Law the future of European Secularism?

          How is that question any more coherent than, “Is nonreligious secular humanism the future of fundamentalist American protestantism?”

          Really, you’re not making any sense.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Phosphorus99
            Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

            The question was “tongue-in-cheek”

            • Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

              Sorry…my sarchasm detecter might be in need of a tuneup….

              b&

        • truthspeaker
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          Neither of which are reputable news sources.

          Muhammed is the fastest growing new name for boys in the UK. It is not the most popular.

          • Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

            Just to illustrate:

            If in one year there was one baby named, “Slartibartfast,” and the next year there were a thousand babies named, “Slartibartfast,” that would represent a 100,000% increase and make it overwhelmingly the fastest-growing name.

            The number of babies named, “Slartibartfast,” would, however, still only represent about 0.1% of the total population of babies born that year in England — not even a blip on the radar for anything except the “weird random shit” column in some offbeat tabloid best used to line catfood cages and to wrap cold fresh-caught catfood.

            Cheers,

            b&

  10. Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Good breakdown, Jerry.

    I’d just like to offer the suggestion of using pragmatism as the ultimate counter to claims of naive evidentialism. The argument I typically use goes much the way yours did, e.g. pointing out that there’s no alternative to relying on our innate senses, and bringing the topic back to ‘What makes the better predictions?’

    I’ve got an article on pragmatism and prediction here: http://www.atheistnexus.org/group/wonderism/forum/topics/wonderism-pragmatism-and

  11. Gerdien
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    The 10th European Creationist Conference (due 1 August 2011, the Netherlands) is ‘being postponed due to unforeseen circumstances’ (http://www.creationconferences.co.uk/conferences.php?conference=20&PHPSESSID=4edcdb64cc8fa5e83c516e7c660ce57f).
    That is: not enough people have expressed interest in attending.

    • Dominic
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      That IS funny! I wonder which creation they were celebrating?!

    • Dominic
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      That IS funny! I wonder which creation they were celebrating?! poor god – slogs his guts out for 7 days then is so pooped he needs to have a rest, now nobody wants to go to a conference about it?

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 25, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        That’ll teach him for being so modest about it all!

  12. truthspeaker
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I wonder how Bishop knows if his car needs more fuel.

    I mean, he could look at the fuel gauge, but wouldn’t that be naive evidentialism?

    I think there is such a thing as naive evidentialism – if one were to assume that the fuel gauge in one’s car couldn’t possibly develop a fault, and that it was a 100% reliable method of determining whether one’s car needs fuel, that would be naive. It’s an attitude I often run into in the workplace – the computer says it so it must be true.

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      “Computer says, ‘No.’”

      /@

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
      Posted June 26, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Bishop might argue that the broken fuel indicator was put there by Satan to fool him. The correct procedure is to pray to the Holy Yahweh Jesus Spirit god and then search his inner mind for the divinely implanted answer.

      Of course, he would explain this in sophistical philosophical jargon so that the average person would not understand the idiocy of what he was suggesting and instead worship his awesome defense of their right to their believe whatever pops into their mind when they search it for “divine truth”.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
        Posted June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Damn the lack of an edit facility for I have sinned, grammatically and espellingly.

  13. RFW
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Bishop’s position makes me laugh. Why? Because if religious belief requires no evidence, how can you tell The True Religion(s) from The False? Keep in mind that religious folk of all stripes have internal certainty about their own beliefs.

    Maybe the Baal worshipers of ancient Carthage were the possessors of True Religion and the gods do indeed savor the scent of burnt baby.

    I propose a little experiment for Mr. Bishop to carry out. Every year, adopt and faithfully follow a different religion. Then in twenty years or so, report back which one gave the greater sense of certainty.

    PS: It strikes me that the reason the religious object so strongly to the atheist point of view is that they KNOW they believe in a falsehood. Anyone secure in their beliefs wouldn’t bother responding to criticism.

    • Philip
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Of course responding to criticism is not an automatic indicator of insecurity. When an atheist responds to religious criticism, is it out of insecurity?

      • Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

        Usually when an atheist responds to criticism it’s because they, their position or atheism in general are being misrepresented or flat-out lied about – in fact I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen atheists respond to exactly those kinds of screeds from religionists or accomodationists.

        Given the excerpts Jerry presented from Bishop’s response to him I can see how it would have been impossible to let the repsonse slide. Bishop’s naive double-standard is glaring and needed to be responded to.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
        Posted June 26, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        The essential difference is that the religionist generally acts as if their essential being has been attacked while the atheist generally acts as if logic has been attacked.

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      The faithful always have an “out”:
      Personal Revelation.

  14. Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    After reading Bishop’s piece, I have to admit that he deserves his Ph.D. That is to say, he has piled it higher and deeper than I have previously encountered.

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
      Posted June 26, 2011 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Where PhD means Deviant of Philosophy? Doctor of Philsophistry?

  15. Thanny
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    A quibble: Bishop is referring to humans as “self-interpreting beings”, not “God”.

    Not that there’s anything coherent in there, other than his plain groundless belief that humans are not physical objects.

    I would also not forget to point out that, whatever our moral condemnations of religion are, the overriding reason we are atheists is that the claims of religions are false.

  16. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    “Well, some people undoubtedly find comfort in religion, just as they find comfort in many manifestly false beliefs.”

    …just as they find comfort in other addictive drugs.

    L

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
      Posted June 26, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Or the childish delight of saving Tinkerbell by the clap of one’s hands.

  17. stvs
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Bishop is the one guilty of “naïve evidentialism”. In his post “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science, Part 4“, Bishop tells us that “creation, salvation and sanctification are all mediated by Jesus and the Spirit”. How does Bishop know this? From the Bible passages he quotes in the same post.

    But we all know that for expressing these Christian beliefs, God condemns Robert C. Bishop to burn in hell for all eternity. How do we know this? God Himself tells us so in his final and authoritative message to mankind:

    Surely whoever associates (others) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the garden, and his abode is the fire; and there shall be no helpers for the unjust. Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one God, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve. Original: لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ هُوَالْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَقَالَ الْمَسِيحُ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اعْبُدُواْاللّهَ رَبِّي وَرَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ مَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللّهِ فَقَدْ حَرَّمَ اللّهُعَلَيهِالْجَنَّةَ وَمَأْوَاهُ النَّارُ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنصَارٍ
    لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلاَثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْإِلَـهٍ إِلاَّ إِلَـهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُواْ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّالَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِي —Sura 5:72–73 (The Dinner Table, سورة المائدة)

    God’s Holy Word is our evidence, and Bishop is guilty of of a “naïve evidentialism” in attributing God’s Creation to Jesus, a blasphemy deserving the punishment of eternal torture for Bishop and all other Christians.

    And unlike science, there’s no chance that God’s Holy Word is wrong.

  18. Jim Jones
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Of course science cannot be used to judge religion. AFAIK the scientific method is inapplicable to most sorts of fiction. It can only be applied to peripheral matters such as the efficacy of pigeon blood as a cure for leprosy or the difficulty level of daily removing manure from an animal filled ark tossing in a storm.

  19. Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry and others here have pretty well nailed Bishop, but I’ll add these variations on the theme:

    In claiming that worldview naturalists, in denying God, are biased by their commitment to a hidden ideology of liberal individualism, Bishop implicitly endorses the basic epistemic norm driving the quest for objectivity that theists and naturalists have in common, namely that we should do our best to insulate our claims about reality from the influence of what we might want to be the case, http://www.naturalism.org/projecting_god.htm This applies to understanding both human and non-human affairs, and phenomena ranging from the physical to the psychological to the supernatural, should it exist, which can’t be ruled out a priori, http://www.naturalism.org/Close_encounters.htm

    Bishop is right that we can’t literally take up what Thomas Nagel calls the “view from nowhere.” Knowers are always limited and situated, and reality always appears *as represented by* knowers’ sensory, perceptual and conceptual capacities, including the collective projects of science and theology. Nevertheless, some worldviews are less biased (less wrong) than others to the extent that public evidence available in principle to anyone – as opposed to personal experience, intuitions, hunches, feelings, and hearsay – confirms their factual claims. Requiring such evidence as a constraint on wishful thinking is what takes us from the personal and subjective to the objective, even in understanding such things as subjectivity itself. This of course is the way of science, and more broadly, empiricism, and what justifies it is, as Jerry says, its success in prediction and control. No further foundation is needed.

    There’s no reason to suppose, as Bishop seems to, that a version of Gould’s “two magisteria” doctrine holds: that when modeling reality a *non-empirical* criterion for claims to objectivity applies in certain domains, namely human affairs and the supernatural. Or if there is such a reason, it would be good to have it and the alternative (more sophisticated, less naïvely evidentialist) epistemology spelled out, or at least sketched, http://www.naturalism.org/epistemology.htm

  20. Chuck
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Jerry,

    I know that these criticisms of your work can be frustrating but, as a former Calvinist Christian who became critical of my faith primarily due to Intelligent Design assertions, I find the continued defense of revealed knowledge like Bishop’s helpful in my debriefing. I also find your direct and quick responses to Bishop’s type of argument enormously helpful in reducing the anger, shame and fear associated with a de-conversion process. Religious indoctrination is like all forms of brainwashing so when intricate argumentation like Bishop’s is surfaced the call to obey is triggered (for this former believer at least). Your straight-forward debunking of the over-engineered ideas provided by Bishop helps peel back the curtain and show me the wizard. Bishop’s behavior is common for Christian circles. He elaborates on the emotional experience provided by his preferred myth using technical rhetoric that confirms the bias of his community and, elevates him to an endorsed status within that community. I’d like to study the social dynamics of Evangelical communities and see if the appeal to authority that drives the Christian theology also defines the model of social interaction that provides vocational identity. I know that I heard arguments like Bishop’s all the time when I was a believer and never really understood them but believed that the person making the argument did so I’d defer to their authority as evidence to my faith. When I started to operate with a more empirical mind-set thanks to your writing and the writing of “contemporary atheists generally” I realized that I was simply operating out of confirmation bias to keep me from feeling the full effects of my own cognitive dissonance when facts about the world contradicted my theological assertions. I am a proud atheist and critic of religion today and love atheist arguments but, my atheism is strengthened more by the incoherence of Bishop’s pretension because it can only have meaning to Bishop and that kind of privileged knowledge no longer satisfies my need to know.

    • Phosphorus99
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      I have always found agnosticism ” probably approachable” but what is the intellectual basis for atheism ?

      • Douglas Kirk
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:43 am | Permalink

        For starters read what Jerry just wrote.

        Also, the basis is that I am equally confident gods do not exist as I am confident fairies do not exist or I am confident my friends are not figments of my imagination. There is no evidence to make me believe god is there or fairies exist or my friends aren’t real and tehre is plenty of circumstantial evidence to make me sure of the opposite. I am not 100% certain, but it is impossible to be 100% certain about anything. But the probability of it being true is so small as to be negligible. So to the extent that anything CAN be known, I know gods do not exist.

        Agnosticism, on the other hand, has no sound intellectual basis because as a school of thought it is applied only to one thing (supernatural) and not applied to any other (gravity, senses). Agnostics are not equally as undetermined about the theory that the sun won’t rise tomorrow as the theory that god exists, even though both of the theories have made previous testable claims that have convincingly been proven wrong time and time again.

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

          “There is no evidence to make me believe god is there or fairies exist or my friends aren’t real and tehre is plenty of circumstantial evidence to make me sure of the opposite”.

          What is the circumstantial evidence that God does not exist ?

          • Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

            Which god?

            Once you discover the difficulty you’ll have in making it over that hurdle, you’ll realize that your question is as meaningless as asking about the circumstantial evidence that faeries don’t exist.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              Let’s take the God of the Bible.
              What do you think of the following :

              <>
              King James Version
              1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

              2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

              3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

              http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/features/world/asia/israel/abraham-text.html

              Was there ever, thousands of years ago, a personage named Abraham whom more than three billion people—more than half of humanity—venerate as the father, patriarch, and spiritual ancestor of their faiths? Two billion of them are Christians, 1.2 billion are Muslims, and close to 15 million are Jews. And had Abraham verily spoken with God and celebrated with him covenants that became the foundations of these religions?

              The National Geographic article is skeptical but this does not take away from the fact that “more than three billion people—more than half of humanity—venerate (Abraham)as the father, patriarch, and spiritual ancestor of their faiths”.

              • Chuck
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

                How do you know that translation is accurate? The King James was translated from the Latin Vulgate which is known by biblical scholars to have been constructed from the weakest of Greek sources. Before you quote the KJV as evidence to your observation of god, you might want to consider that the source is the actual word of god.

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

                The Bible is a faery tale, and unabashedly so. It opens with a story about a magic garden with talking animals and an angry giant, prominently features a talking plant that gave magic wand lessons to the reluctant hero, and ends with an utterly bizarre zombie snuff porn fantasy.

                The story of Abraham is one of those bleedin’ obvious faery tales. His claim to fame was, as an octogenarian, getting his octogenarian wife pregnant after having a chat with the faeries at the foot of the garden.

                I’ll see your three billion people who buy into this particular faery tale and raise you a mere one billion people…who think that there really are giant blue men with dozens of arms who get their rocks off by destroying stuff, or something equally incomprehensible.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Microraptor
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but even among Christians, only a subset of that group, there are many radically different and contradictory ideas of what that god’s nature is like? Is he a distant creator that sparked the existence of the universe billions of years ago and hasn’t done much sense, like the deists believe? A wrathful entity who will punish eternally those who don’t unswervingly believe in the literal truth of the Bible as modern fundamentalists are quick to claim? Is he the loving, eternally forgiving father figure who answers all your prayers as the liberal Christian church I attended as a kid says?

                “Large numbers of other people believe it” is really not a sufficient justification for something. Large numbers of other people once believed that the Earth was flat and orbited by the Sun.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                Surely the Torah would have been available during the days of the Roman Empire when Israel was a province.

                The prophecies about Abraham would have been around for ?? 2000 years by this time and would seem unlikely to ever be fulfilled.
                Yet 2000 yeaars later we have the National Geographic Article.

                Why should Abraham rise to this prominence?

                Isn’t this a remarkable occurrence ?

              • Dominic
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                Just because 3 billon people think that something is so DOES NOT MAKE IT SO!!!

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                Surely the Torah would have been available during the days of the Roman Empire when Israel was a province.

                The prophecies about Abraham would have been around for ?? 2000 years by this time and would seem unlikely to ever be fulfilled.
                Yet 2000 yeaars later we have the National Geographic Article.

                Why should Abraham rise to this prominence?

                Isn’t this a remarkable occurrence ?

                Oh, come on. Really?

                Do you have any clue what kinds of equally-absurd bullshit I could come up with that meets the exact same standard of credibility?

                I mean, there’s pyramid UFO construction schemes, Sasquatch, crystal healing vortexes, credit default swaps, royal Nigerian inheritances.

                It’s good to keep an open mind, yes. But no so open that your brains fall out.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

                “Large numbers of other people believe it” is really not a sufficient justification for something. Large numbers of other people once believed that the Earth was flat and orbited by the Sun”.

                They are not quite the same.

                One is a perception about a physical fact, the other a prediction about a man’s future.

                A man who on the face of it did not and should not have had the capacity to do what was prophesied for himself. In fact some 2000 years after he was dead the prophecies were substantially unfulfilled.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                In response to Ben Goren but addressed to all:

                Does any one know of any similar prediction about an individual from the ancient world ?

                I have always been curious about this.

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

                A man who on the face of it did not and should not have had the capacity to do what was prophesied for himself. In fact some 2000 years after he was dead the prophecies were substantially unfulfilled.

                Jesus Christ, is there no end to your gullibility?

                The Biblical “prophecies” were “fulfilled” in the exact same way that the prophecies of any other faery tale are: because the author would have to be pretty damned incompetent to write a story about prophetic fulfillment without including a few fulfilled prophecies.

                Look. The Gospels are the faeriest of the Bible’s Faery tales. Each and every story is a direct retelling of an ancient Greek myth; for example, the virgin birth is Perseus’s, almost down to the pronunciation of the characters’s names. If you need help matching up the others, read Justin Martyr, who detailed most of them in the early second century.

                And we know that none of it happened, for the same reason that we know that the aliens didn’t blow up the White House on the Fourth of July a decade or so ago: you won’t find any mention in the newspapers. Look through the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo’s collected works, Pliny the Elder, the several Roman satirists, and on and on and on and on; you’ll find nary a peep of a hint that anything out of the ordinary was going on in Jerusalem. These were all people living and writing in and around the area at the same time and who devoted their lives to the exact topics that feature most prominently in the Gospels, so you can bet your bottom dollar they’d have noticed.

                There is absolutely nothing whatsoever to distinguish Christianity from the countless other Classical pagan religions of the time, except that it happened to be the most popular one when the Empire collapsed. That’s it.

                With only a few minor changes in history, you could well have been preaching the blessings of Mithraism rather than Christianity.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Chuck
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                My understanding of your observation seems to place it in the category of a post-hoc fallacy. Just because there is a high correlation of behavior to a written myth does not mean the mythic suppositions caused the events in any real way.

                Let’s look at the promises made to Joseph Smith by Moroni against the LDS faithful today. Do we believe that God provided gold plates in upstate NYC or the confirmation bias of the believers helped engineer the outcomes that were promised?

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

                “Just because there is a high correlation of behavior to a written myth does not mean the mythic suppositions caused the events in any real way”.

                Agreed.

                My question is does anyone know of a prophecy about an individual in the ancient world similar to that given to Abraham and with a similar or nearly as spectacular outcome ?

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

                My question is does anyone know of a prophecy about an individual in the ancient world similar to that given to Abraham and with a similar or nearly as spectacular outcome ?

                Is there a mythic prophecy that isn’t spectacularly fulfilled? I mean, that’s the whole point of prophecy in myth.

                The Oracle at Delphi prophesied that the virgin Danae would bear a son who would one day take the throne. Danae was thrown in a cave in an effort to thwart the prophecy. Zeus, the heavenly father, was smitten with the young virgin and so took on his holy spiritual form of a golden heavenly light…and nine months later Perseus was born. King Herod — sorry, Queen Hera — felt so threatened by the child that the holy mother and child had to flee to a distant land over the seas. Young Perseus became a fisher of men — sorry, fisherman — who performed many great and wondrous deeds. Eventually, his destiny was tragically fulfilled when he became King of the Jews…er, of Argos.

                Is that similar and spectacular enough for you?

                If you need more, Justin Martyr (in the early second century) went to rather some detail in noting the similarities between Jesus and all the other pagan gods popular at the time.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Badger3k
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

                You’re quoting a fictional history as a “prophecy” – seriously? The most common dating for the writing of the Torah seems to be in the 800-500 BCE range. Prophecy fiction was a huge part of many myths, and if you were writing a history of your people, making them destined for greatness, and chosen by their god, would be logical (especially if they were just returning from an exile and needed a PR boost). The fact that people wanted to believe this (and still do) has no bearing on whether the tales themselves are true. Lacking evidence that they are true, what basis do you have for believing them?

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                “Prophecy fiction was a huge part of many myths, and if you were writing a history of your people, making them destined for greatness, and chosen by their god, would be logical (especially if they were just returning from an exile and needed a PR boost)”.

                True.

                However apart from Abraham is there any other such prophecy fiction with a result that a source such as the National Geographic has confirmed or could confirm ?

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

                I’m sorry.

                Which prophecy, exactly, is it that you think that National Geographic article confirmed?

                I skimmed the whole thing, and I found no references to any prophecies.

                b&

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

                King James Version
                1Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:

                2And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:

                3And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

                http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/features/world/asia/israel/abraham-text.html

                Was there ever, thousands of years ago, a personage named Abraham whom more than three billion people—more than half of humanity—venerate as the father, patriarch, and spiritual ancestor of their faiths? Two billion of them are Christians, 1.2 billion are Muslims, and close to 15 million are Jews. And had Abraham verily spoken with God and celebrated with him covenants that became the foundations of these religions?

                The predictions about Abraham were he would produce a great nation (nations was added at other scriptures), he would touch the whole world,His name would be great.

                Doesn’t the first paragraph of the National Geographic article confirm that this is in fact Abraham’s present status ?

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

                Oh, good lord.

                If that’s all that this is all about, you’d be hard pressed to not find such a prophecy that’s been fulfilled. Troy could not fall without Heracles’s bow, Nostradamus “predicted” 9/11, Caesar would be murdered on the Ides of March, Neferti “predicted” Amenenhat I would restore order to Egypt…the list is truly endless.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
                Posted June 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

                The question is meaningless unless you have proof that an actual person corresponding to the biblical “Abraham” actually existed.

                You should be aware that the consensus of modern archeologists who study the middle eastern region is that the further back in history one goes, the less reliable are the biblical stories and the more fictitious they are. Contrary to what would be expected if the biblical accounts were true, there is absolutely no evidence that there were a bunch of Jews living in Egypt, either as free people or as slaves. There is also no evidence that the Jews were wandering around the deserts for 40 years.

                OTOH there is ample evidence that the Jews originated as a sub population of Canaanites from the land of Canaan. The archeological evidence does not allow any gap of time for the enslavement of Jews in Egypt or for a roam around the desert for a couple of generations.

                There is also evidence that, contrary to the biblical stories, the Jewish people were originally polytheistic and that the desert war god, Yahweh, who was originally a “bad” god from the Elohim pantheon, won out over the rival El god who the book of Genesis credits with the first creation of the universe (chapter 1) followed by the second one (chapter 2) credited to the Yahweh god. The fact that there are several gods involved in the creation of the universe is not evident from reading the poorly translated King James Version of the Protestant biblical cannon.

                BTW, there is archeological evidence that the Jewish version of the Yahweh god originally had a wife. She has been conveniently edited out of the currently remaining Jewish biblical texts but ancient artifacts ascribed to the two of them have been found.

                In other words, you should not accept the tales of Abraham as anything other than redacted, edited and loosely combined versions of ancient Jewish myths obtained from the north and south of Israel.

                The “prophecies” then become utterly meaningless. All biblical prophecies are either so vague that they can be interpreted after the event to conform to whatever people want to see in them or sufficiently specific that they can and have been soundly disproved.

      • Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        [W]hat is the intellectual basis for atheism?

        At its heart, I suppose, would be Ockham’s Razor.

        The religious response is typically, “It’s simpler to propose that the Universe had a Cause (and that Cause is one or more of the gods in our pantheon) than to propose that the Universe is without a cause.” However, this fails on two fronts: first, the First Cause argument trivially falls to either infinite regress (what Cause Caused the gods?) or to special pleading (gods don’t need Causes, but everything else needs a Cause).

        But, more importantly, it fails the first test of empiricism.

        When you don’t know the answer to something, you admit that you don’t know. You don’t make shit up and declare that, because you have an answer, you’re better than those without an answer. “Having an answer” is not a better condition than “Not having an answer” — especially when the “answer” you have was pulled out of your ass.

        So, it’s up to those claiming that there are gods running amok out there creating heavens and earths and freeing our willies and what-not to support their claims and prove their cases. When pressed to do so, they fall back to the exact same bullshit hard sales tactics as all other conmen throughout history, all of which boil down to, “Trust me and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

        Since the only ones proclaiming religious explanations are using snow jobs to further said “truths,” the default intellectual position should be that they’re worng.

        That, and the fact that I’ve yet to encounter even a definition of the term, “god,” that made sense, and that nobody’s ever presented even a shred of evidence supporting the existence of anything that could remotely be considered a god even if you squinted really hard, and that everything that’s ever been claimed to be only explainable by presupposing the existence of gods has always been shown to have much more mundane explanations, and….

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          Thanks

      • truthspeaker
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:59 am | Permalink

        “what is the intellectual basis for atheism”

        The lack of evidence for the existence of any of the gods described by any of the world’s religions.

      • Chuck
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        The intellectual basis of my atheism is the falsification of religious doctrines I once believed. I am agnostic to the possibility of god but I am atheist to the Christian god I once believed real. Like all things, I am open to having my mind changed but the durability of falsification of the Christian god and other historic gods with naturalistic explanations makes the positive probability of a god hypothesis low.

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          Thank you

      • PeteJohn
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Religions make extraordinary claims and provide not a shred of evidence to support the claims. Until they do, there’s no reason to believe in any of them. That is the intellectual basis of my atheism. I refuse to speak for others because atheism is not a series of dictates we must all believe.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          Also important components of atheism and of arriving thereat. Thanks.

      • Kevin
        Posted June 25, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

        What is the intellectual basis for not believing there is a “real” Santa?

        Once you find that answer, you’ll have the other.

        There is no rational basis for adults to believe in mythology.

        Seriously, if you’re trying to invoke some “we can’t know for sure” paradigm, then you also have to use the exact same logic for Santa, Satan, invisible pink unicorns, and the Icelandic huldenfolke.

      • Explicit Atheist
        Posted July 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

        [W]hat is the intellectual basis for atheism?

        Lets start with addressing what are the fundamental factual claims of theism? People don’t always define their theism properly, but we a need definition in order to have something to believe or not to believe, so lets define it this way: A non-material mind and agency.

        So why would atheists not believe in theism so defined? Atheists try to evaluate factual assertions on the overall weight of the evidence. So what is happening here is that atheists are people who evaluate the overall weight of the available evidence as favoring the conclusions that mind and agency exist exclusively in a material context.

    • Douglas Kirk
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      Religious indoctrination is like all forms of brainwashing so when intricate argumentation like Bishop’s is surfaced the call to obey is triggered (for this former believer at least). Your straight-forward debunking of the over-engineered ideas provided by Bishop helps peel back the curtain and show me the wizard.

      This is so true. The penchant for obfuscation among theologians is maddening in both its frivolity and effectiveness. Gnu Atheists seem to write and speak in the perfect manner to be the antidote to the poison in the well.

      • Chuck
        Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        I am ashamed to remember how much satisfaction I enjoyed during my Christian days through the practice of group-think and appeal to authority.

  21. Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    The disenchantment gambit: “If we understand how something operates in the natural world, we’ll lose our sense of magical enchantment.”

    • gillt
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      “Beyond this point there be dragons” was born of fear and ignorance as the early cartographers wrote the warning on the edges of maps. Now it is used by the cynical to perpetuate the same feelings over modern-day explorations in science.

  22. Dan L.
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I think where Bishop is going wrong is in assuming that scientific methodology is premised on the notion of objective knowledge — and I think it’s fair to say so given the frequency with which the word occurs in his post.

    This isn’t quite accurate, though. Scientific methodology is premised on the idea of intersubjectivity, not objectivity. Kuhn made a very strong argument that even empirical science is not objective, that even basic instrumental observations are interpreted through the lens of whatever theory is dominant. While some people are still trying to resist Kuhn’s conclusions, I don’t really think there’s any need.

    From the scientific perspective, there are thousands of people working on thousands of different problems in thousands of different ways. The probability of so many different approaches coincidentally arriving at the same conclusions is vanishingly improbable as the number of researchers and research programs increases. Thus, if many different approaches lead to the inference of some consistent set of underlying principles, it is overwhelmingly probable that something like those underlying principles really do constitute a set of objective, universal constraints.

    It’s completely analogous to a researcher in a single experiment making multiple measurements and performing statistical analysis on the results. When thousands of different scientists investigate natural phenomena in different ways, the measurement errors cancel out and we narrow in on reliable knowledge about the world around us.

    The two greatest examples of this on a large scale: the laws of chemistry and the laws of quantum mechanics were discovered through almost completely distinct empirical research programs. And yet the theories derived from the distinct programs dovetail better than anyone could have expected. And due to the deeper understanding of chemistry that is given by QM, huge advances in materials science have been made in the decades since this synthesis. And then, there’s the synthesis of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian theory with the discovery of DNA thrown in. Perhaps the evidence within the fields of Chemistry or population genetics somehow beg the question by making premises of the theory implicit in the observations. But if that’s the case, then it’s difficult to see why these theories would dovetail with independently derived theories to form a more robust edifice than any of its parts.

    Sorry about the long comment.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Sorry about the long comment.

      Don’t be. I appreciated it.

  23. 386sx
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Religion is like the Bugs Bunny cartoons where they go back and forth with “No it isn’t” “Yes it is”, and then one of them switches mid stream from “No it isn’t” to “Yes it is” which tricks the other guy into completely reversing his former position. And then they congratulate each other for being freaking geniuses. This is religion in a nutshell.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      No it isn’t.

      • Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it is.

        • Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

          No, it is.

          b&

          • Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

            Yes! It isn’t!

            • Tulse
              Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

              Duck season!

              • Microraptor
                Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

                Elmer season!

              • Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

                Well, unless you want to go all out with Peking pressed duck — which is fantastic, to be certain — you can get excellent results by seasoning the duck with salt and pepper and roasting it like a chicken.

                b&

  24. Rob
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    These apologists are such hypocritical clowns with their sophistical arguments for “other ways of knowing”.

    My favorite example of this is from William Lane Craig. He claims that he knows the bible is true because of “the self-authenticating inner witness” of a ghost. He unashamedly claims that no evidence could ever dissuade him of this belief. But what does Craig do if confronted by a Mormon who likewise claims a burning in the bosom that she takes to be the infallible sign of Truth? Well then Craig starts providing empirical evidence against the Mormon.

    But if Craig’s beliefs are immune to evidence, he is hypocritical to expect the Mormon’s beliefs to be modified by the evidence.

    Deep down, Craig is an evidentialist. Just like all living organisms must be. Just as Bishop is.

    Just watch the way he lives. He can make empty gestures at other more sophisticated and nuanced “ways of knowing”, but when it gets down to brass tacks, he relies on his eyes and ears just like the rest of us cretins down here in the dirt.

  25. Dominic
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    As the actress said to the Bishop…

    I made a couple of notes while I was reading… I wrote this – “If the use of evidence is wrong, how can we judge between religions to ‘know’ the right one?” just before I got to your paragraph saying the same thing.

    As for “tendentious high Enlightenment ideals such as individualism, autonomy, instrumentalism, and emancipation.” Tendentious?! Widely acceped as the proper bases of modern society, hardy ‘tendentious’ unless you are a tyrannous bigot.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that “tendentious” really stuck in my craw, too!

  26. Posted June 24, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I notice that Bishop (like Alister McGrath, Mark Vernon and John Polkinghorne) is an ex-physicist.

    Why is the change always from physics to theology? How come you never get washed-up theologians becoming physicists?

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      Because of the Second Law of Theodynamics.

      /@

    • Rod
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Beacuse they’d have to work, and think. Pretty tough for even former god-botherers.

    • Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Going down hill is always easier, especially if you have first gone over it. ;)

  27. Egbert
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Although the piece is titled in a way as to be speaking to Coyne and atheists, that is not the intended audience. Rather, the piece is written for the satisfaction of the Biologos community.

    The apologetics is all too common and repeated: science and religion are separate but co-exist. Science answers ‘how’ questions and religion answers ‘why’ questions. That’s the mantra, that’s the denial at work.

    It is this repeated denialism that prevents actual dialogue from taking place. Essentially, it’s saying that no dialogue is possible because science (as represented by atheists) and religion (as represented by Biologos) are in different realms.

    This denialism comes from the Biologos side, but atheists don’t see any such wall preventing criticism. No amount of rational dialogue from the atheist or scientific side is ever going to get through this wall.

    As Eric so eloquently says, the Biologos side do not see that this stance is self-defeating, for it brings down their own ability for self-criticism.

    What is interesting in this response is the strangely paranoid remarks about liberal individualism. So now, the wall of denialism not only extends to all science and rationality but to individuality and liberal ethics. So all possible ethical considerations are ignored too. There is simply no getting through this wall of denial, neither intellectually or ethically.

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Regarding your last paragraph–yes, I thought that was especially interesting myself!

  28. YourName's notBruce?
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I wonder how quickly would Bishop succumb to the temptations of “naive evidentialism” if evidence supporting the veracity of his own faith were to arise?

  29. Sastra
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Simple rule of thumb: if the explanation for why religious claims don’t require evidence sounds like a precocious child trying to talk you out of checking to see if he really did spend all morning cleaning his room (“How can we know that anything is real? No inquiry is rigorously objective because all inquiry requires some background assumptions! We might be living in the Matrix! The room could just look dirty: Buddha says reality is just an illusion!”)

    Bishop is also indulging in the usual apologetic of category error:

    “Objectification may be a thoroughly appropriate stance to take towards understanding the properties of electrons, molecules and genomes. However, when applied to human activities and our ways of understanding our world, objectification distorts the human phenomena we are trying to understand by treating self-interpreting beings as if we are no different in kind from electrons, molecules and genomes.

    He is deliberately mixing up the claim that God exists with the claim that people ought to value God. Or, perhaps, why people do value God.

    I think he also gets confused here:

    “Instead, [Coyne's] reasons for demanding this naively evidentialist line of inquiry are rooted in his desire to free people from what he takes to be illegitimate authorities, superstitions, false beliefs and irrationality. . .”

    No, Coyne’s reasons for demanding good evidence for the existence of God is a desire to discover whether it’s likely that God actually exists. The desire to free people from the false belief in God only follows from the conclusion of his inquiry. It’s not the motivation for the inquiry.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Somehow I lost the rest of the sentence:

      “if the explanation for why religious claims don’t require evidence sounds like a precocious child trying to talk you out of checking to see if he really did spend all morning cleaning his room” … then we needn’t take the explanation too seriously. We can tell when someone is pleading desperately in order to save themselves from otherwise certain discovery.

      I like the term “Going Nuclear” which Eric at #5 said he got from Stephen Law. I’m going to adopt it for this move. It fits.

    • YourName's notBruce?
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      Something that people supporting claims of the paranormal/religion/woo against the corrosive scepticism of science fail to appreciate is that scientists would LOVE it if any of this shit were true because it would mean that there would be more new stuff to study and find out about.

  30. YourName's notBruce?
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Why is it necessary to read the bible (or any book for that matter) to know the alleged wishes of the alleged creator of the universe we are born into? If our personal relationship of this entity is really that important to this god, why put it into a book? Why not encode this desire into the very fabric of the physical universe? Why should the world be constructed in such a way that one’s eternal reward or punishment should depend on the accident of what reading material happens to be at hand? I suppose that in Bishop’s view you’re screwed if you happen to have a book other than the official, authentic, honest-to goodness, accept no substitutes word of (his)god.

    A book seems an awfully fragile vessel for an all-powerful god to use as a method of communicating such an important message, considering that there is no other evidence of any gods whatsoever in our observations of the world. Bishop’s need to decry “naive evidentialism” is telling; he has to downplay the need for evidence because he doesn’t have any.

    Bishop’s god seems to be in hiding despite the stories in his chosen holy book showing Bishop’s god to have been constantly meddling in human (particularly Hebrew) affairs in the past. Back in those days, it would seem, that the actions this god was actually an observable fact of the real world, what with all the walking in the garden, burning bush, parting the sea, various and assorted smitings, plagues and floods, etc. One could simply rely on “naive evidentialism” to know that this god existed (at least, according to a “literal” interpretation of huge swathes of this holy book). One would have no need of faith if there was evidence of a god’s existence. But somewhere along the way this book started to become metaphorical and this god stopped making personal appearances that could be reliably witnessed by….anybody. Why is that?

    • Sastra
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      A book seems an awfully fragile vessel for an all-powerful god to use as a method of communicating such an important message …

      Only if you look at the big picture and consider all the people in the history of the world who either never saw the book, or were taught the wrong interpretation. Then it’s a shockingly inefficient method.

      If, on the other hand, you are using the Playpen Theory of Reality, then the fact that YOU got the book, and YOU were put in a position where it ended up that you got its interpretation “right,” is all that matters. The divine story is framed to resemble the most familiar relationship in our experience. The universe is your playpen, and everything in it was placed there by the Parent for your edification, enjoyment, correction, discovery, reward, punishment, and appreciation. He made sure that you got the book, didn’t He? So you could find out about Him and love Him.

      Secondary characters only move that plot along.

      • Diane G.
        Posted June 25, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        …the Playpen Theory of Reality…

        Love it!

        Damn, this is a good thread.

    • PeteJohn
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Ever heard the one about the priest and the eskimo?

      Eskimo: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to Hell?”

      Priest: “Not if you did not know.”

      Eskimo: “Then why did you tell me?”

  31. PeteJohn
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read Bishop’s piece three times now and have yet to see a clear reason to believe anything he says has any merit. I think he’s trying to justify a rather blatant attempt to move the goalposts. Evidentialism works when we’re talking about the mechanical nature of a volcanic eruption or a cell or something purely scientific, but is insufficient when we’re talking about “human experience” and anything like the “human experience” because it then becomes a reflection of an individual’s values and predispositions, or so I read his argument.

    It seems, however, that if one strips any need for evidence in even daily, mundane affairs, that person is left in a state where they must either wait for knowledge to be granted to them OR wallow in stupifying ignorance. Or perhaps both simultaneously. Sounds a bit like the Dark Ages to me. Anyone interested in signing up for that field trip? There will be rotten, salted goat legs available if you’re hungry! However, Bishop seems to have gladly signed up for the field trip. He does not really need evidence. That’s naïve apprently.

    Besides this goalpost-moving, he seems unable to grasp that his position, that of more-than-merely-evidentialism, absolutely reeks of predisposition. The last line of his next-to-last paragraph reads like this:

    “Instead, his reasons for demanding this naively evidentialist line of inquiry are rooted in his desire to free people from what he takes to be illegitimate authorities, superstitions, false beliefs and irrationality.”

    What Bishop forgets is that he might as well have said this next:

    “My reasons for demanding this more-than-evidentialist line of inquiry are rooted in my desire to keep people in the thrall of legitimate authorities, superstitions, true beliefs, and rationality.”

    These folks who fancy themselves theists seem to have no clue that these arguments they cook up expose the flaws in their own thinking more than in that of their not-theist adversaries. It’s all just a way to cook up arguments to defend their point of view at this particular moment, they can always cook up another one later. Rules, logic, evidence, reason, consistency do not apply.

    • Sastra
      Posted June 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. For an example of an exposed-flaw-in-his-own-thinking own goal, note how he illustrates the difference between an objective thing vs. human experience with a volcano vs. God analogy. That equates God with a “human experience.” Why, yes. Welcome to atheism, Mr. Bishop.

    • Steersman
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      “My reasons for demanding this more-than-evidentialist line of inquiry are rooted in my desire to keep people in the thrall of legitimate authorities, superstitions, true beliefs, and rationality.”

      Seems like rather tendentious set of medieval, Dark Ages ideals including such as group-think, feudalism, slavery, and thralldom to The Body

  32. Corda
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    As a faculty member at Wheaton College, Robert C. Bishop is required to “reaffirm annually” a Statement of Faith which includes:

    WE BELIEVE that God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race; and that they were created in His own image, distinct from all other living creatures, and in a state of original righteousness.

    This suggests a possible reason why Biologos is so equivocal about Adam and Eve.

    • Steersman
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      As a faculty member at Wheaton College, Robert C. Bishop is required to “reaffirm annually” a Statement of Faith which includes:

      A rather odious and damning obligation. Particularly so is the last article:

      WE BELIEVE in the bodily resurrection of the just and unjust, the everlasting punishment of the lost, and the everlasting blessedness of the saved.

      It seems that that is somewhat of a universal failing – schadenfreude – although many Christians seem to have developed the concept to a fine art. For example Wikipedia has this on an English cleric, Frederic William Farrar (1831-1903):

      Farrar was a believer in universal reconciliation and thought that all people would eventually be saved, a view he promoted in a series of 1877 sermons. He originated the term “abominable fancy” for the longstanding Christian idea that the eternal punishment of the damned would entertain the saved.

      Along the same line and justifying the “longstanding” adjective, Dawkins also quotes St. Thomas Aquinas who said in his Summa Theologica:

      That the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell. [The God Delusion; pg 360]

      Dawkins’ comment to that was “nice man”, which he followed up with a more contemporary manifestation of that attitude with a quote of Anne Coulter: “I defy any of my coreligionists to tell me that they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell.” [Note, pg 360]

      Little difficult to see how that attitude provides much of a basis for dialog and rapprochement and synthesis and the advancement of our “ultimate concerns”.

  33. Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    What with his wading through all the little chestnuts like “naive evidentialism” and the thick-as-pea-soup freshman-level postmodernist evasions, I’ve developed great respect for the resilience Dr Coyne employed to get through the whole article.

    Bishop’s argument basically boils down to a dismissive, hipsterish “evidence is SO mainstream”. OK, fine, Mr Bishop: if you disparage the very concept of having a good reason to believe in something, why don’t you and all your brethren cease & desist trying to foist your unevidenced beliefs and attendant behaviours on the rest of the “naive evidentialist” world and just be comfortable with your faith? It seems a little insecure to be on the defensive so much; especially going so far as to demand a double-standard of the very concept of evidence.

    It also sounds awfully to me like the existence and character of your god is self-evidently NOT self-evident, seeing that all you chaps have differing, erm, “evidence” that informs your discordant theologies. Perhaps if your One True Religion could come to some agreement on whether your God is a loving father, a wrathful tyrant, an uninvolved designer, a numinous ground of all being, a fuzzy feeling when watching a waterfall etc., we’d start taking you seriously – or at least be able to make one counter-argument against your one argument. At the moment, it’s like we’re playing a game of football against a dozen different teams who each play by different rules, who each shift the goalposts to different places and who frequently play against each other.

  34. Alex SL
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ll admit that I often hear this claim, but I’ve never understood it. Do we really need to justify the scientific method philosophically when it’s proved so successful in understanding the universe? What is important is that it works! What do I mean by “works”? Simply this: science arrives at conclusions about the universe that everyone who follows the method agrees on, and those conclusions enable us to make further predictions that are fulfilled. That’s how we get spaceships to the moon, it’s how we can cure infectious disease, it’s how Bishop knows, when he gets in his car on Sunday, that when he turns the key it will get him to the church on time. There is no need for working scientists to justify their methods through some kind of philosophical analysis. Those methods work, and that’s all we need.

    Beautifully put! But don’t let Massimo Pigliucci see that :-)

  35. steve beck
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Naive revelationism, yes! Touche, Dr Bishop!

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      I know, I practically stood up and cheered when I read that phrase! Hilariously brilliant; esp. given its inevitable redundancy.

  36. Rick Litherland
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    These “proposed theories secrete values and reflect controversial ideological claims about what is right, good, and just”

    I am very taken with the idea of theories secreting values. Do they do this against trees and lampposts? And what do dogs think about this? (Cats, I’m sure, pass on in silence with tails raised.)

  37. jose
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    TL;DR: “Alright we have no evidence, BUT we don’t need evidence because of some bs!”

    Bah. Get in the sack.

  38. Posted June 25, 2011 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    “Naive evidentialist” is a phrase that typically is used by presuppositionalists. Though this one seems to stay with one foot in the closet.
    Maybe he’s worried about being flat-out dismissed if he reveals that he does not actually subscribe to rationalism.

    • Your Name's not Bruce?
      Posted June 25, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      I think Bishop suffers from “naive evidentialist envy.” I’m sure he wishes he had evidence; I’m sure he would embrace it with gusto and relief. In the meantime he gets to pat himself on the back for having the courage, fortitude and discipline to exercise the austere mental practice of believing in something without evidence. He also gets to do some very athletic mental gymnastics by demonstrating the superiority of his position versus those of us who grub around in the dirt for pitiful scraps of evidence. But if evidence supporting his beliefs were to be found I’m sure he would be enthusiastically wallowing in the “dirt” in a flash.

  39. Steve
    Posted June 25, 2011 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Greatly enjoyed the article , although Bishops arguments see little more than a verbal smoke screen.

    Being a former Mormon and former student of Mormonism doctrine I think there is additional ways we can test how religions prove the truth. Mormonism has an approach in which it encourages to read ponder and pray. Mormonism relies heavily on feelings, when a missionary I actively encouraged others to pray and promised they would feel a burning in their bosom as evidence of the truth.

    This burning of course is nothing more than the warmth we all feel in intimate and agreeing discussion. I have felt it in every situation of
    life, including meditation.

    It also claims that you will feel the evidence as you live your life. Naturally investigators feel good when they live the family life Mormonism has at it’s hearts. No such feelings are felt when focussing inequality of women, homosexuals and past racial barrs to holding priesthood office.

    Strangely these things are screened out of conscious thinking.

  40. Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Bishop does a neat trick, coining “naïve evidentialism” and immediately using it (without defining it), as though it were an already-discredited fallacy.

    If you didn’t keep your wits about you, you’d think that “evidentialism” had already been thoroughly discussed somewhere and raised to a sophisticated level.

    That evidentialism, you would suppose, can be used in some highly restricted fields (such as science) but it may not be relied on in its lesser, naïve manifestations, such as sniffing the milk to see if it has gone off, or looking for anything to indicate that supernatural beings exist.

  41. Steersman
    Posted June 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Bishop’s article is simply incredible and brings to mind the phrase “special pleading” and something from P.B. Medawar’s review of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man: “Its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself”.

    BioLogos argues that religious claims don’t require evidence

    I really wouldn’t give a tinker’s dam – as I expect would be the case for most atheists and agnostics – if the religious claimed that they were friends with an invisible 6 foot rabbit. (“I’ve struggled with reality for 25 years doctor and I’m happy to say I won out over it” – a classic pyrrhic victory). But when they tell us that it is the creator of the universe and that in consequence we have to bend society and reason and humanity and sanity itself to its supposed pronouncements and promulgations that is the time to start demanding some hard evidence for its existence. Failing which would seem to call for pointed comments about sanity and delusions and Emperor’s clothes.

    There is no need for working scientists to justify their methods through some kind of philosophical analysis. Those methods work, and that’s all we need.

    While there is obviously some truth to that it seems that some reference to the philosophy of science, particularly relative to the possible limitations of those methods and to the scope of the endeavor, may be of some value. While Richard Feynman himself quipped that “Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds” that does seem to be shading into ideology, into scientism.

    The world is full of people—the religious, the deluded, and the ideologues—who claim that they simply know what the truth is, and don’t require evidence. Does anybody think that’s a good idea?

    As one who apparently didn’t, the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.” Many in the accommodationist and religious camps seem to wax passionate on the need for dialog and bridges and a search for common ground – for which there is some merit – yet seem decidedly unwilling to consider the wisdom of Moynihan’s prescription as a necessary precursor. Maybe the great divide, the gap – unbridgeable except maybe by realism and common sense, is between facts and fantasy.

  42. Posted June 25, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Science isn’t objective because it requires unjustifiable assumptions about its methods. And, relying on the senses, it’s also fallible.

    Is it just me, or does that sound like: “You can’t know anything; knowledge is merely opinion”? All of Bishop’s arguments remind me of Storm…

  43. Quinn
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s always entertaining when folks who build their entire lives around belief systems that they have not a shred of evidence for accuse others of being “naive”.

    • Steersman
      Posted June 26, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      It’s always entertaining when folks who build their entire lives around belief systems that they have not a shred of evidence for accuse others of being “naive”.

      Entertaining and illuminating and somewhat depressing.

      But it reminds me of the play and movie The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds which describes a young girl’s school science experiment which is used as a rather moving analogy to the environmental stresses that the characters were exposed to and the consequences in their lives.

      And one might suggest that religious dogma – and the efforts of the religious to make their “science” consistent with it – produces the same sort of twisted and non-germinating “flowers”. For examples of which you might want to take a look at this site from which a relevant quote is this:

      Can we see the hand of the Creator in our new physics? Can we find meaning in our studies that brings glory to God? If we can answer yes to each of these questions, then these new theories ought not to be a problem for the Christian.

      Rather remarkable example of putting the cart before the horse and an explanation for how their science frequently gets so badly twisted as a consequence of that unjustifiable requirement …

  44. abb3w
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Do we really need to justify the scientific method philosophically when it’s proved so successful in understanding the universe?

    Even if there is a need, it can be justified philosophically from more basic assumptions. From the assumption that there is a pattern, the scientific method can be derived as an algorithm.

    Of course, that’s a non-mathematical oversimplification.

  45. Boothby171
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    Wait…is Bishop attempting to use the scientific method to show that the scientific method is invalid?

    “See! I just proved that the whole concept of syllogisms is false!”


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