Evangelicals, evolution and atheism: the 2011 Pew Foundation survey

This is a guest piece by reader Sigmund, who read the entire 100-odd page Pew survey. My thanks for his written take on it.

Compared to most developed nations, the proportion of evangelical Christians in the USA is far higher. In 2004 they comprised 26.3% of the population. At the same time, the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is significantly lower. The question of whether there is a direct connection between evangelicals and the rejection of evolution has been difficult to quantify, however, since most surveys to date have not separated specific religious subgroups.

This issue has now been addressed in a new survey released by the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life, who polled the opinions of evangelical leaders attending last year’s Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization.

A quick background on the Lausanne Congress is in order. The number of evangelical Christians has risen worldwide from about 80 million in 1910, 90% of whom lived in the US or Europe, to over 260 million today—the majority of whom live outside Europe or the USA. The first international congress of worldwide evangelical leaders was organized by Billy Graham in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, followed by the second in 1989 in Manila.

The current survey involved attendees of the third convention, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2010. This congress brought together over 4000 evangelical leaders from across the globe in numbers representative of the proportion of evangelical Christians in each region. Viewing this as the perfect opportunity to gauge what the leaders of the worldwide evangelical community feel about a wide variety of contentious issues, the Pew Research Center devised a questionnaire that was sent to all attendees, the majority of whom completed it.

The full survey summarizes evangelical opinions on a wide variety of topics, and is available from this link. Here I’ll concentrate on the results of a subset of questions of special relevance to the readers of this site.

Evangelicals and Evolution

First, and probably of no surprise to anyone, is the result of the question regarding acceptance of the scientific theory of evolution. The survey posed the question:

“Which statement comes closest to your own views?” -  the options being:

  1. Humans and other living things have evolved over time due to natural processes such as natural selection.
  2. A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.
  3. Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

In other words the choices are evolution, intelligent design of the Michael Behe variety, and standard creationism. It is important to note that the Pew foundation used a wording for the evolution option that, unlike some previous surveys, doesn’t specifically exclude a role for God: for instance, someone who believes that God set up the laws of nature and that biological evolution is just one of the consequences of these laws should answer option A.

What proportion of evangelicals accept the scientific theory of evolution?

The answer is 3%

Almost half (47%) of respondents opted for traditional creationism, while 41% chose intelligent design. Not exactly testament (ahem) to the success of BioLogos in convincing evangelicals to accept biological evolution. Bearing in mind that surveys of this type usually have a margin of error of several percentage points (surveys of atheists occasionally show a similar percentage answering that they believe in God!), one can read this result as a unanimous rejection by this community of the scientific consensus on biological evolution.

To put the 3% figure in perspective, it is the same as the percentage of evangelicals who answered that it is not “essential to follow the teachings of Christ in one’s personal and family life”: pretty much the defining feature of evangelical Christianity. Furthermore, the 3% figure for support of evolution by evangelicals was consistent across all geographic regions.

BioLogos, in trying to convince evangelical Christians to accept evolution while keeping their religion, may be tacking an almost insurmountable problem. Rejection of evolution is not simply a theological side issue in evangelical Christianity, but appears to be a defining feature.

The Problem of Atheism

Evangelical Christianity, as a whole, tends to more prevalent in countries with higher levels of religiosity. Regions such as the USA, South America and sub-Saharan Africa have large numbers of Evangelical Christians in contrast to Northern Europe.  Most evangelicals attending this congress, then, will have come from countries with a low percentage of atheists in their population.

This makes it all the more surprising that the number one issue seen as a threat to Evangelicism was “The influence of secularism” (secularism and atheism/non belief in God is frequently used within the survey as meaning the same thing). 71% of evangelicals saw this as a major threat while 20% viewed it as a minor threat. In comparison, the influence of Islam is seen as a major threat by 47% of evangelicals and government restrictions on religion by 22%.

Taking these figures into account, we can perhaps see why atheists figure prominently in another survey result—the views of other religious traditions.

Atheists are the number one most hated group by evangelicals, 70% of whom say they have an unfavorable opinion of atheists, although Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims (65%, 65% and 67% unfavorable, respectively) are close behind.

Curiously, though, when asked about how they perceive the friendliness of other religious groups towards evangelicals, only a minority of evangelicals (45%) view atheists as unfriendly, with most  perceiving atheists as either neutral (49%) or friendly (8%). The figures for the perceived friendliness of atheists are very similar to those  of Jews, Buddhists and Hindus—Muslims were the exception, with 69% of evangelicals perceiving them as unfriendly towards evangelicals.

So, compared to other non Christian groups, atheists are not perceived as particularly unfriendly towards evangelicals, yet we are by far the most hated group. Perhaps it’s our inherent tendency towards violence that is the problem (remember Stalin!)

Apparently not. The survey asked whether some religions were more prone to violence than others. Despite atheism being one of the possible answers in this question, not a single evangelical answered that atheism was prone to violence. Considering that some of the evangelicals at the conference will have come from countries in Northern Europe with atheist majorities, they would have been aware if the gradual drop in Northern European religiosity resulted in believers getting carted off to the killing fjords.

So, on to the final mention of atheists in the survey.

Guess who evangelicals see as the top priority for evangelization?

Yes! It’s us again!

73% of evangelicals view the non-religious as the top target for evangelization.

This compares to 59% voting for Muslims and 27% for Jews.

Unfortunately, the survey only hints at how this evangelization process might proceed. When asked about their missionary position evangelicals were firm: the vast majority (86%) viewed using local missionaries, rather than sending in outsiders, to try to convert people of a different belief.

In terms of converting atheists, though, this seems problematic.

Evangelicals trying to convert atheists would need a missionary who is an atheist yet agrees with them on many core issues. This missionary would need to have an almost irrational hatred for outspoken atheism, a love of religious belief and an almost uncanny ability to get up atheists’ noses. Where on earth will they find someone like that?

OK, now that we’ve covered the serious stuff in the survey, we can look at the answers to the set of humorous questions that some comedian on the staff of the Pew foundation slipped in for a laugh.

First, remember how everyone agreed that Harold Camping was a lunatic for telling everyone who would listen that Jesus was about to return to Earth to rapture up to heaven a subset of believers,  leaving the rest of us to suffer a seven year period of tribulation? Well apparently ‘everyone’ did not include the evangelical community, an overall majority of whom answered that Jesus will return during their lifetimes (44% say probably and 8% say  he will definitely return) and that the rapture and tribulation will occur (61%  agree).

There also appears to be a curious hatred for “Yoga as a spiritual practice” amongst evangelicals, with 92% saying that it is incompatible with evangelical Christianity. One suspects that an intervention by Chris Mooney and Elaine Howard Ecklund is required (these evangelicals are clearly interpreting the word “spiritual” the wrong way, aren’t they?)

Of particular interest in this survey is the direct connection many of the leadership of the evangelical community appear to have with God Himself.

“Nearly all the evangelical leaders surveyed (94%) say they have received a direct answer to a specific prayer request at some point in the past.”

Is God Confused?

Despite this direct line to the top, there seems to be a curious variation in what God is telling different leaders, especially when you ask evangelicals who come from North America and Europe (Global North) compared to evangelicals from the Middle East and Africa (Global South). For instance God seems very confused about alcohol.

“A majority (73%) of the leaders from the Global North consider alcohol consumption to be compatible with being a good evangelical Christian. By contrast, a similarly large majority of the leaders from the Global South (75%) say alcohol consumption is not compatible with being a good evangelical.”

And that’s not all.

Despite 84% of worldwide evangelical leaders saying that homosexuality should be discouraged, a majority of evangelical leaders (51%) from South and Central America answered that homosexuality should be accepted by society.

What’s more, there appears to be a marked difference in views on how women should be treated.

Among U.S. leaders, 44% agree women should stay at home, while 53% disagree. Leaders in Europe, however, reject the idea of women staying at home by a more than two-to-one margin, 69% to 28%.”

and

“European leaders (62%) and North American leaders (54%) are especially likely to reject the idea that a wife must always obey her husband. On the other hand, upwards of 60% of leaders from sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East-North Africa and the Asia-Pacific region agree that a wife must always obey her.

The secularist might suspect that major differences in fundamental beliefs (acceptance of homosexuality, treatment of women, whether it is acceptable to drink alcohol) might be due, not to revelatory instructions from on high (after all, all of these folks purport to believe in the same Scripture), but to underlying social conditions such as the level of education of the population, whether there is an adequate social welfare and healthcare system in place, and the value placed on knowledge, equality and freedom of expression.

Summary

In conclusion, we can look at this report as an important and informative study of a group we need to take seriously due to their numbers and influence. Harold Camping gets mocked by TV networks and ignored by those in power, while Rick Warren gets a slot on the Presidential podium.

While evangelicals’ opinions on social matters vary depending on the social norms of their locality, we find that rejection of evolution by evangelicals is universal. Finally, we note that the greatest perceived threat to evangelical Christianity is the effect of the non-religious.

Well, at least they got that one right!

 

181 Comments

  1. TheBlackCat
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    This would seem to imply that the reason for their hatred of atheists must not stem from our outspoken attacks on religion since so many of them consider us neutral in regards to their religion. So much for that argument.

  2. vel
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    This seems to underline that the likely reason that theists have unfavorable opinions of atheists is that we dare to tell them they are wrong and do not give them the external validation that they need to keep their belief.

    • TheBlackCat
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      I disagree. 70% hate us, but onl 49% consider us unfriendly to them. To me that directly contradicts the argument that their unfavorable opinions are a result of our behavior towards them.

    • ritebrother
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      Indeed. Why else would they give a flying f*** about the existence of atheists? They can’t seem to muster the fortitude to ignore us. It make one doubt the evangelicals’ confidence in their worldview.

    • Marta
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      “This seems to underline that the likely reason that theists have unfavorable opinions of atheists is that we dare to tell them they are wrong and do not give them the external validation that they need to keep their belief.”

      If only that was the case.

      If I’m interpreting Sigmund’s interpretation correctly, an atheist doesn’t have to say anything or do anything to be condemned by an evangelical–all she has to do is EXIST.

      • Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        I think what was intended by this, and what the numbers seem to show, is that our mere existence is a challenge to their beliefs. We don’t need to be mean or aggressive about it at all. Our mere existence is the challenge.

        • Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          This from the PEW report:

          “Seven-in-ten evangelical leaders who live in the Global South (71%) expect that five years from now the state of evangelicalism in their countries will be better than it is today. But a majority of evangelical leaders in the Global North expect that the state of evangelicalism in their countries will either stay about the same (21%) or worsen (33%) over the next five years.”

          I think the reason they hate us so much and feel they need to evangelize us is because, at least to these leaders, we are a threat. So, I’d agree with karmakin. If we weren’t slowly winning this war of ration vs idiocy, they wouldn’t give a shit.

  3. 386sx
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    an overall majority of whom answered that Jesus will return during their lifetimes

    Not very surprising since the whole religion was founded on Jesus returning in their lifetimes. :P Lol.

  4. 386sx
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    Not exactly testament (ahem) to the success of BioLogos in convincing evangelicals to accept biological evolution.

    It looks like they have about as much luck as Gnu atheists. They should team up with each other just in case their ever is any success. That way they can both claim credit.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Um, how about rephrasing your comment? Gnu Atheists have no illusion that they can convince evangelicals to change their minds. I believe, 3000+ years ago, the Greeks first framed it correctly: “A man believes what he =wants= to believe!” Your troll-like comment betrays you, 386sx.

      • 386sx
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Okay I will rephrase my comment in the light of Scott near Berkeley’s comment. BioLogos has a better chance of convincing evangelicals to change their minds than Gnu atheists do, since BioLogos at least will give it a try. Gnu Atheists on the other hand have no illusion that they can convince evangelicals to change their minds.

    • LexAequitas
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      If the Gnu atheists are successful in convincing Evangelicals, then chances are they’re not Evangelicals anymore, and hence not within this survey.

      If accomodationists succeed, they would still be Evangelicals, but with an odd view.

      Moreover, if neither is working, what’s the point of watering down your views?

      • 386sx
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        I could ask the same question: if neither is working, then what’s the point of not watering down your views? Why not go ahead and water them down since it isn’t going to work anyway?

        • Tacroy
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

          I derive more personal enjoyment by tilting at windmills than by attempting to engage them in an interfaith dialogue.

  5. Dominic
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    “Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” – doesn’t that sound like Aristotle, an unchanging world?

    “When asked about their missionary position evangelicals were firm” – deliberate double entendre?!

    Sigemund, how many of the ‘leaders’ were women?

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      I guess all the (male) leaders are upstanding citizens and pillars of their communities…

      /@

  6. Corda
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    2. A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.

    It is rather unfair to label this intelligent design since theistic evolution, which is compatible with evolution, also fits.

    The poll is a terrible one because those two positions are conflated. Thus the number of evangelicals who have views which are compatible with the scientific theory of evolution is somewhere between 3% and 44%.

    • Tulse
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      And how are you distinguishing “intelligent design” and “theistic evolution”?

      • Corda
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

        I am using the usual definitions, which you may find with Google. The former is incompatible with evolution; the latter is compatible.

        • Tulse
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:13 am | Permalink

          The former is incompatible with evolution; the latter is compatible.

          That claim is a matter of vigorous debate.

          • TheBlackCat
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

            How about this: one was set up with the intention of being compatible with evolution, while the other was set up with the intention of being incompatible with it.

            • Tulse
              Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:26 am | Permalink

              That seems like the most reasonable distinction to me, although it really has nothing to do with how compatible each view actually is.

          • Corda
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:32 am | Permalink

            There is a debate about whether theistic evolution is a reasonable proposition, but there is no debate about whether it is compatible with evolution.

            Indeed its compatibility is obvious: God works through evolution in a manner that is indistinguishable from natural processes. We may find idea to be absurd, but it’s nonetheless compatible.

            • Tulse
              Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:38 am | Permalink

              its compatibility is obvious: God works through evolution in a manner that is indistinguishable from natural processes. We may find idea to be absurd, but it’s nonetheless compatible.

              I don’t see how it can be both “absurd” and “compatible”. The argument is that a god intervenes in manner that isn’t actually intervention. It’s nonsense, which I suppose is “compatible” with anything, but it clearly is not scientific, and therefore not compatible with the scientific theory of evolution.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

                We find it absurd, so for us it is incompatible. Ken Miller does not find it absurd, so for him it is compatible.

                The “intervention” is not necessarily ongoing or even properly called intervening; I think Miller’s analogy was sinking every ball in a pool table with one shot.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                We find it absurd, so for us it is incompatible. Ken Miller does not find it absurd, so for him it is compatible.

                And “scientific” creationists think that their views are compatible with science. Some homeopaths think their theories are “compatible” with quantum mechanics. Surely the word “compatible” has some meaning beyond just “I think it’s OK”?

              • Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                As usual, this argument stumbles over what people mean by “compatible” and “scientific”. If I stipulate that God works in ways too subtle for science to detect, even in principle (eg. the oft-seen appeal to QM indeterminacy), then it’s certainly compatible in any empirical sense. What I’ve done, in effect, is to hermetically seal off teleology from causation. Is it “unscientific” to claim there exists this parallel — and explanatorily superfluous — domain? Yes, but only in the sense of being extra-scientific rather than anti-scientific. Now, empiricist that I am, I ignore extra-scientific claims as irrelevant (exceptions for mathematics, esthetics, ethics, etc). But I don’t see them as incompatible (ie. contradictory) in the sense in play here.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:19 am | Permalink

                I ignore extra-scientific claims as irrelevant (exceptions for mathematics, esthetics, ethics, etc). But I don’t see them as incompatible (ie. contradictory) in the sense in play here.

                But surely compatibility means more than just “empirically equivalent”. Let’s say that my theory of gravity is that every bit of matter has an invisible fairy attached to it that wants to be with all the other invisible fairies, and so all the fairies try to fly toward each other. I could relatively easily tweak things so that this theory produced outcomes that were identical to more “conventional” theories of gravity, but the notion that this approach is somehow “compatible” with science seem absurd to me.

              • AT
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                Corda,

                You are engaging in “word play”

                Science progresses by refinement of definitions towards preservationof its integrity and non-ambiguity as the whole body of knowledge

                the way you use language is counterproductive to scientific method as described above

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

                AT, you need to be specific about your accusation. As it stands, it doesn’t make sense.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                AT, don’t duplicate the same comment in multiple places. I followed suit, but only after I saw your duplicate.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

                If I stipulate that God works in ways too subtle for science to detect, even in principle (eg. the oft-seen appeal to QM indeterminacy), then it’s certainly compatible in any empirical sense.

                But that is the point of QM: it isn’t, there _are_ no hidden variables. Often people appeal to “local”, but (relativistic) QM is local by definition, or in other words relativity globs local volumes together. This is why people find that extended systems also admits no “god variables”.

            • Corda
              Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

              Surely the word “compatible” has some meaning beyond just “I think it’s OK”?

              Yes, it does. There is scientific evidence which disproves homeopathy and “creation science”. Therefore both are incompatible with science.

              If you have evidence which disproves theistic evolution, then it would be incompatible as well.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

                The evidence I have against theistic evolution is pretty much the same I have against fairies in the bottom of my garden.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

                Right, which is none. There is no evidence disproving theistic evolution, therefore it is compatible. Unnecessary, but compatible.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                There is no evidence disproving theistic evolution, therefore it is compatible. Unnecessary, but compatible.

                But then arguably all of science is evidence against the existence of the supernatural, as no successful accounts of nature require it. I suppose one could argue that such negative evidence is not evidence, but that seems like special pleading.

              • Notagod
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

                As soon as one or more of the christian gods are assign to the mechanisms of evolutionary theory, no matter what Its or Their input or lack thereof, the incompatibility is inherent. All the christian gods are unnatural by definition. Ground dwelling sheep herders aren’t even considered agents of naturally occurring evolution.

              • Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                But then arguably all of science is evidence against the existence of the supernatural, as no successful accounts of nature require it. I suppose one could argue that such negative evidence is not evidence, but that seems like special pleading.

                Now this I actually agree with. I indeed assert that there is no particular conflict between (the moderate, compatibilist variety of) religion and evolution that is not also a more general conflict with all of science — the issues, in my mind, come down to causation and evidence, and thus are universal. And I further grant that my kind of compatibilism is an exercise in special pleading — make God so small that you can’t find him, while asserting that he hasn’t been definitively disproved. But rejection of special pleading is not a *scientific* decision, per se.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                Tulse, you are saying that Kenneth Miller, a theistic evolutionist, does not really accept the scientific theory of evolution. You are free to advance that proposition as much as you like, but let’s not pretend that you have some sort of unassailable opinion on the matter.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                First of all, science never “disproves” anything because it does not deal in proof.

                Secondly, creationism cannot be disproved in the same way that theistic evolution cannot be disproved. For instance, some creationists suggest that god created a fully mature Earth with apparent age, just as he created Adam as a mature adult. Thus, no matter how much evidence we have that the Earth is old, it doesn’t contradict the belief that the Earth is actually young but made to look old. Kooky? Yes, but also an unfalsifiable assumption in the same way that theistic evolution is.

                Any hypothesis can be saved from disproof with enough ad hoc excuse-making. Theistic evolution is not a special case in that respect. It’s unscientific in the exact same way that creationism and homeopathy are unscientific–that is, they are positive beliefs unsupported by evidence.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                First of all, science never “disproves” anything because it does not deal in proof.

                Science does not deal in proof, but it sure as hell deals in disproof. It has been disproved that the mass of an electron is three kilograms.

                When a proposition cannot be disproved, science simply ignores it. The proposition is not “unscientific” but simply orthogonal and useless.

                Even Last Thursdayism is compatible with science. The arguments against it involve appeals to consistency, probability, and reasonableness. But you can’t make a scientific argument against it. Occam’s razor removes it in practice, but it has no disproof.

                The Good Book of Wikipedia says about Last Thursdayism: “The concept is both unverifiable and unfalsifiable through any conceivable scientific method—in other words, it is impossible even in principle to subject it to any form of test by reference to any empirical data…”

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

                Theistic evolution is in the same category as Last Thursdayism: unverifiable and unfalsifiable.

              • Notagod
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                Coda, it is also incompatible with the methodology of science. Incompatible in the same way the mormon christian death crosses cannot be added as a method for shaping the ears of mammals.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                When a proposition cannot be disproved, science simply ignores it. The proposition is not “unscientific” but simply orthogonal and useless.

                I would disagree — a proposition that cannot be tested is indeed not scientific.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                Science does not deal in proof, but it sure as hell deals in disproof. It has been disproved that the mass of an electron is three kilograms.

                No. If you cannot think up a rationale for why the mass of an electron could still be three kilograms after all, then that’s merely a failure of imagination on your part, not some ironclad proof of science. ANY idea can be saved from disproof with enough additional assumptions, making any notion one can dream up “compatible” with science in the manner you are defining compatible.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                According to Corda, last Thursdayism is “unverifiable and unfalsifiable” and therefore “compatible” with science. Ok, let’s try some examples.

                –A supernatural trickster changes the results of scientific experiments so that humans falsely belief that the mass of an electron is not three kilograms.
                Unverifiable and unfalsifiable, therefore compatible with science.

                –Bigfoot is an interdimensional being that can never be accurately recorded or leave physical evidence because of the way it interacts with our plane of existence. Unverifiable and unfalsifiable, therefore compatible with science.

                –Homeopathy works, but not when tested by skeptics because their negative energy disrupts the delicate vibrations contained in the healing solutions. Unverifiable and unfalsifiable, therefore compatible with science.

                Corda, are you seeing the problem yet?

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                a proposition that cannot be tested is indeed not scientific.

                I agree with that, of course. The word “unscientific” is ambiguous here. It could mean either “not amenable to scientific inquiry” or “in contradiction with science”. I was using the former sense.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

                H.H., your examples do not pose a problem. Perhaps you can tell us what you think the problem is.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                The problem should be obvious. Your definition of “compatible” is so broad as to make everything compatible with science, even pseudoscience.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                H.H., you took a few pseudoscience terms and modified them to be unverifiable and unfalsifiable. Homeopathy has been disproven, but your modified version of homeopathy cannot be disproven. Science is not compatible with homeopathy, but your tricked-out homeopathy is compatible.

                Last Thursdayism and things like it are epistemological gnats. They stand outside of scientific inquiry and thus can’t be swatted away by scientific inquiry. That’s just the way it is.

              • AT
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

                Corda,

                You are engaging in “word play”

                Science progresses by refinement of definitions towards preservation of its integrity and non-ambiguity as the whole body of knowledge

                the way you use language is counterproductive to scientific method as described above

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

                AT, you need be specific about your accusation. As it stands, it doesn’t make sense.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

                Homeopathy cannot be “disproven,” as I have demonstrated, because any hypothesis can be “tricked out” to avoid disproof. That’s the point. There is no such thing as an idea science can ever ultimately disprove, thus demonstrating that the distinction you were trying make between non-science and pseudoscience doesn’t actually exist. There is no such thing as “proven” or “disproven” claims. Only evidenced and unevidenced ones.

                Last Thursdayism and things like it are epistemological gnats. They stand outside of scientific inquiry and thus can’t be swatted away by scientific inquiry. That’s just the way it is.

                That’s only the way it is if we accept your standards, which have already proven to be epistemologically useless. The pragmatic alternative is to dismiss all untestable and unfalsifiable hypotheses as epistemologically invalid until such time as they can be justified with evidence.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                H.H., homeopathy in the “non-tricked” form can sure as hell be disproven. You are just playing a word game with “homeopathy”.

                Start with some falsifiable hypothesis A. You propose hypothesis B which has some similarity with A except that B cannot be falsified. Is B the same hypothesis as A? Of course not. This is the game you are playing. You label both A and B as “homeopathy” and proceed to say that “any hypothesis can be tricked out”. No, those are two different hypotheses. A is falsifiable and B is not.

                You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I am advocating the acceptance of Last Thursdayism along with every other epistemological gnat that comes along, just because they happen to be compatible with scientific evidence. Honestly I wonder what your problem is.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

                My only goal is to get you to admit that either both creationism and theistic evolution are compatible with science or that neither are. I wish I understood why you go out of your way to defend one as compatible but not the other, since they should both be found equally problematic for the same reasons. I also wish you would stop calling ideas which are antithetical to the very idea of scientific inquiry “compatible” with science since it is an abuse of the term.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

                H.H., obviously creationist claims like a young Earth or the sudden appearance of species are falsifiable. Those have, consequently, been disproven.

                However creationism in the form of Last Thursdayism (a God who tricks us with fossils and in-transit photons from galaxies) is not falsifiable and thus cannot be disproven on scientific grounds. We can argue effectively against it, but empirical evidence alone doesn’t get us there.

                Last Thursdayism is not “antithetical to the very idea of scientific inquiry.” In fact it illustrates the relationship between science and philosophy. Science alone cannot solve Last Thursdayism–some philosophy is needed.

                Insofar as theistic evolution makes no falsifiable claims, it cannot be scientifically disproven. There are compelling philosophical arguments against it, however.

              • Aratina Cage
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

                About Last Thursdayism, where is your evidence, Corda, that there is something capable of doing all the things that Last Thursdayism requires? I am fairly sure you have none. You just made it up, didn’t you? But you can’t just make things up and expect them to be taken seriously. Show us the evidence that something like Last Thursdayism is possible before acting like it is.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                Aratina—ummm, do you believe that I am a proponent of Last Thursdayism? I’m here at WEIT in order to win over some converts to Thursdayism?

                You must be kicking yourself for hitting the “Post Comment” button before thinking.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                Right. And I’m saying that it’s so trivially easy to avoid disproof that it’s not a worthwhile distinction to make in the first place. You, by constraining science to nothing mean nothing but empiricism, are rendering science completely toothless. Those “silly games” you accused me of playing are merely illustrations of the deficiencies in your epistemological categorizations.

                Instead, science should be correctly defined as a form of applied skepticism, absolutely inseparable from the philosophical principles it springs from, such as the principle of parsimony. The boundary you are trying to draw between science and philosophy is an artificial one and leads to inherent absurdities.

              • Aratina Cage
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                I don’t really know what you believe, Corda. I often see people defending Last Thursdayism with no thought for how it could be possible but acting like it should be taken seriously. In the end, it is no different from eschatology as it is completely baseless and does not follow from anything we know.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

                H.H., if your point was that you think the definition of science should change, then you should have said so from the beginning. Instead, you wasted everyone’s time with your pet project of changing the definition of science, a motive you reveal only now.

              • H.H.
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

                I’m not changing anything. Richard Feynman said that “The first principle of science is to not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Now does that sound like a practicing scientist who shares your definition of science? Obviously not. So you aren’t using the term the way most scientists use it, but are choosing to define the term in such a way that it allow for theological assumptions to be “compatible” with science. Clearly you are the one with an ideological driven agenda, not me.

              • Corda
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

                H.H., I don’t know why you think the Feynman quote supports your case. Feynman sounds exactly like a scientist who is using the common definition of science.

                You seem to think that science should be redefined so that Last Thursdayism does not become science. But Last Thursdayism is already not science: it’s unverifiable and untestable. It’s not a scientific hypothesis. We don’t need to expand the definition of science in order to obtain that conclusion.

                The most notable aspect of your response is that you did not quote any standard definition of science. Doing so immediately refutes your argument.

                Googling for “define:science” gives: “The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

                Wikipedia: “Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.”

                But instead of giving definitions like those, you quote Feynman and then wave your hands and say that you are right. You don’t even clearly state what your new definition of science is. Why don’t you? Finish the sentence: “Science is _____.” What does this new definition get us? What problem does it solve? Why should anyone care?

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

                But rejection of special pleading is not a *scientific* decision, per se.

                But (‘again* that but) that is precisely what it is, parsimony, naturality, continuity, uniformity, universality, Copernican principle and above all in this case the mediocrity principle; these scientific decisions or results all say that special pleading is either outside of science or make it not work (magic).

                “The mediocrity principle is the notion in philosophy of science that there is nothing very unusual about the evolution of our solar system, the Earth, any one nation, or humans.”

                So no gods needed to make humans “special”.

              • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                Last Thursdayism and things like it are epistemological gnats. They stand outside of scientific inquiry and thus can’t be swatted away by scientific inquiry. That’s just the way it is.

                Then you don’t understand the concept of theory. These things are indeed epistemological gnats, philosophical ideas, but they fall to theories.

                Because when we test them for “the best of breed” these not-theories fall to the side. Which is to say, theories works as evidenced by that science works. Then untestable not-theories obviously does not describe reality.

                It is that simple.

              • Corda
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

                Torbjörn, you hold the same misunderstanding as H.H holds. You think Last Thursdayism is a scientific hypothesis which requires a scientific refutation. It’s not and it doesn’t. Comparing it with scientific theories is a category mistake.

      • hf
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Come on. The people polled would parse the second option as saying, ‘Evolution is true and the Christian God exists.’ Since they treat the word “God” as an applause light, they’ll obviously prefer that option to the one that only mentions evolution. And the pollsters asked about “your own views” — the option that includes God gives a more complete picture of evangelicals’ views.

        I’d like to see what results you’d get by leaving out the second option. A poll that mentions ‘science’ or ‘schools’ in the question would also seem worthwhile. At present we have disturbing data (more rejected evolution than accepted it), but we don’t know what it means in any detail.

    • Kevin
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      No kidding, any viewpoint which inserts a deity at any point in the process is not compatible with science.

      You’re free to believe what you want, but just don’t try to tell us that a magic ghost is a required step in the evolutionary process.

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      Yeah, I have to agree.

      ID allows only for (what they call) microevolution. It’s basically just creationism.

      God-guided evolution, while still false, is significantly different in that it acknowledges that the entire diversity of life on this planet is due to evolution, as demonstrated by the fossil record, biogeography, genetics, comparative morphology, and embryology.

      Creationists don’t accept any of that. Therefore I would have to say that Answer #2 on the survey is indicative of quite a lot of acceptance of evolution, indeed. Respondants who chose #2 may have more to learn about science and rationalism in general than they have to learn about evolution.

      • Tulse
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        But do all ID folks deny all of the fossil record, biogeography, etc.? From what I can see, many of them argue simply that they are interpreting the data differently, and not that they are using different data.

        The difference between ID and TE seems more a matter of emphasis to me, rather than principled distinction. If I say that the eye was created by a process guided by god, doesn’t that mean that the end result was “designed” by an “intelligence”? The whole point of TE is to deny the alleged “randomness” of naturalistic evolution, but this is pretty much the position of ID as well.

        • Kevin
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

          Michael Behe certainly does not deny the fossil record or any other component of the evidence for the evolutionary process.

          Nor does he deny that humans evolved from an earlier ape species. In fact, he has said so explicitly in his books.

          The “Discovery Institute” folks do not agree with Behe. They believe the “intelligent designer” created fish with fins, birds with feathers in an instantaneous process, which they are loathe to define further.

          • Tulse
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:23 am | Permalink

            I think the problem is that there really is no principled distinction between creationism (in the general sense), ID, and theistic evolution. It’s all just a matter of degree, and those labels just sit on a continuum of how much and how obvious the supernatural intervention was.

            • Corda
              Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink

              Except that there is an absolute, principled distinction, as I explained. Creationism and ID both conflict with scientific evidence, while theistic evolution does not.

              • Kevin
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                Sorry, no.

                Theistic evolution just pushes the magic ghost to some spooky indeterminate timepoint and unknown action.

                Any time you reach a conclusion that says “and then magic happened”, that violates every scientific tenet I’m aware of.

              • David Sepkoski
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

                But Ken Miller (for example) never makes that “magic ghost” part of any of his scientific explanations for how the natural world works. He never, for example, appeals to god in his scientific publications (or textbooks). He doesn’t try to persuade others to accept his view. In fact, even in his popular books about faith and science, he doesn’t present theistic *arguments*, so much as explain why principles of science don’t dissuade his own personal faith. And unlike someone like, say, Simon Conway Morris, there’s no evidence that Miller has ever allowed his theism to influence his science in any way.

                So while I’d grant that there are examples that some versions of theistic evolution can have a detrimental influence on science (e.g. Conway Morris), I don’t think there’s any clear evidence that it always or necessarily does. Miller can keep on believing whatever he wants about the origin of the universe–it has no bearing on his science, harmful or otherwise.

              • AT
                Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

                science is not “personal enterprise”

                it is machine-that-goes-by-itself and is resident in continuos progression by refinement of definitions to preserve integrity and non-ambiguity throuought the whole body of scientific knowledge (scientific may be unnessary since “knowledge” can _only_ be scientific)

                scientists who leave any room for “faith” or any “unnatural” or “non-material” _substance_ underlying their words act in contradiction with scientific method

                mind (“ego”) is a poor judge of “scientific-ness” of its own beliefs because of the nature in which believs are formed to promote viability of an individual

                in other words our own believes will always seem the ultimate truth to us

                therefore only through interaction with other scientists and with strict adhearance to disciplined use of language we can examine our own beliefs and either abandon them as “non-scientific” or adapt the “new meaning” promoting integrity and non-ambiguity of our own internal body of knowledge

            • Margaret
              Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink

              … those labels just sit on a continuum of how much and how obvious the supernatural intervention was.

              They are on a continuum, but I think it may be more a matter of how rapid rather than how much the intervention was. The “creationist” choice in this survey is the young-earth creationist view: their god poofed everything into existence in one rapid bit of creation. The “theistic evolutionist” choice is also called the evolutionary creationist view: their god created everything in a long, slow, painfully drawn out process of creation. I tend to think of these as “rapid creation” vs. “slow creation” rather than young-earth creation vs. evolutionary creation. (And this makes the evolutionary creationist’s god even more of a sadist than the young-earth creationist’s god.)

        • Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

          I didn’t mean to imply that they deny that the data exists (although they do this as well). I meant that they deny that the fossil record, biogeography, etc. are evidence for evolution.

          I would say there’s quite a difference between believing that all living things were created whole hog as they are now, and believing that humans evolved from apes evolved from synapsids evolved from amniotes evolved from tetrapods, etc etc. Creationism rewrites all of that history, as well as the evidence behind it.

          • Tulse
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:43 am | Permalink

            I didn’t mean to imply that they deny that the data exists (although they do this as well). I meant that they deny that the fossil record, biogeography, etc. are evidence for evolution.

            Right, as I said, they are interpreting the data differently (including what counts as data).

          • TheBlackCat
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            I would say that ID proponents very much do deny the evidence, or try very hard to, even Behe. The infamous pile-of-books-on-the-desk stunt at the Dover trial, the issues with HIV evolution and the time needed for new protein-protein interactions to involve in his latest book, all these show he is intentionally avoiding looking at any evidence that could contradict his position, and in the process saying things that are flat-out contrary to the facts.

        • Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          PS: Behe is an outlier among ID proponents. AFAIK, he used to be a standard creationist, and only came out in support of evolution when he realized he couldn’t lie about the evidence anymore. He now accepts evolution, but not natural selection.

          So he is not a #3 creationist, but every other ID proponent I know of is.

      • Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Is there an Official Definition of ID? And if so, who is the custodian of it?

        I realize that of late, many of its public advocates have been recycling old creationist standards, but my recollection of 10 or 15 years ago (eg. Behe’s first book; something Philip Johnson said) was that it carefully avoided committing to any particular view of natural history. Instead it was presented as an almost content-free “X cannot be accomplished by ‘Darwinism'; recycled William Paley; ergo it was done by some intelligent entity (whose identity we will pretend to be agnostic about)”.

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

          According to Wickipedia :

          “Intelligent design is the proposition that “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

          I am not a “specialist” in ID but I endorse the concept.

          Whatever the final chapter on what life is it seems to me that the nineteen century concept of evolution – which achieves the most amazing ( say impossible) information technology by random un-directed processes – has to contend with concepts like the Epistemic and Cybernetic Cut proposed by Patte and David Abel.

          • Rilke's Granddaughte
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

            Unfortunately, Abel’s work on the Cybernetic Cut is mostly philosophical gobbledygook. Apparently he’s never heard of recursive systems. Fancy that.

            And ID varies in definition with every practitioner: there is no standard, because it can’t be defined as anything more than a vague concept. Untestable. Useless.

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:31 am | Permalink

              As I understand it Abel is saying that the syntax of a language (code) cannot be derived from the symbols used in that language (code) however evolutionary theory suggests that this is the manner in which the DNA code originated.

              Do recursive systems make ( create) their own syntax ?

          • TheBlackCat
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

            From my brief reading this seems to assume both free will and mind-brain dualism. If the mind and the brain are one in the same, then by definition physical reality does lead to intent. It also seems to assume that evolution has intent (which it doesn’t), and I am not sure how it deals with things like cellular automata and evolutionary algorithms (my guess would be the same way other ID proponents do, dismissing them out of hand or arguing against a strawman version like the front-loading argument).

            In other words it seems to be an obfuscated “life seems to complex to have evolved” argument from incredulity.

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

              At the moment this is simply a look at an aspect of information theory at its implications for our understanding of life and evolutionary theory.

          • Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:51 am | Permalink

            … evolution – which achieves the most amazing ( say impossible) information technology by random un-directed processes

            Well, there are (likely) two things wrong with this statement:

            • In what sense does evolution achieve “information technology”?

            • Evolution is not based on random processes. That’s a well-known creationist/IDiot straw man. See, e.g., http://scienceblogs.com/observations/2010/11/evolution_a_game_of_chance.php for a rebuttal.

            /@

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink

              http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information-biological/

              If we think of genes or cells as literally carrying semantic information, our problem changes. Paradigm cases of structures with semantic information — pictures, sentences, programs — are built by the thought and action of intelligent agents.

              http://www.biosemiotics.org/

              Biosemiotics is an interdisciplinary research agenda investigating the myriad forms of communication and signification found in and between living systems. It is thus the study of representation, meaning, sense, and the biological significance of codes and sign processes, from genetic code sequences to intercellular signaling processes to animal display behavior to human semiotic artifacts such as language and abstract symbolic thought.

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:09 am | Permalink

                If we think of genes or cells as literally carrying semantic information…

                That is, as they say, a big “if”. In any case, that’s quote mining, as the article goes on to say, inter alia, “genes and cells [are] neither intelligent systems themselves nor the products of intelligence”.

                I’m not quote sure what the point of your second link & quote is: We already know that humans (which we know to be the fruit of evolutionary processes) create, store, share and process information. So what if there’s a discipline of biosemiotics?

                You’re certainly not presenting a cogent argument for your assertion that evolution achieves “the most amazing ( say impossible) information technology”. [My emphasis.]

                And you have totally failed to defend your assertion that evolution is based on random processes – which is quite understandable, of course, as it’s an utterly indefensible position.

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

                “the article goes on to say, inter alia, “genes and cells [are] neither intelligent systems themselves nor the products of intelligence”.

                How do they know that they are not the products of intelligence ?

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:17 am | Permalink

                “We already know that humans (which we know to be the fruit of evolutionary processes) create, store, share and process information”.

                Biosemiosis is not simply the study of information produced by humans but also the study of information within living organisms including within humans

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                How do they know that they are not the products of intelligence ?

                Because there is no evidence of that.

                Biosemiosis is … the study of information within living organisms…

                Yes… so what? Are you stuck on extending semiosis back to genes? (Back to that big “if”, then.) Biosemiotics appears much, much broader than that.

                Note that parapsychology is, “the study of mental phenomena that are excluded from or inexplicable by orthodox scientific psychology”. But the existence of the discipline doesn’t imply that those phenomena themselves exist in reality.

                And, frankly, some of the quotations from that biosemiotics site seem full of the same kind of woo: ex. “The semiosphere poses constraints or boundary conditions upon species populations since these are forced to occupy specific semiotic niches i.e. they will have to master a set of signs of visual, acoustic, olfactory, tactile and chemical origin in order to survive in the semiosphere.”

                Give me a citation for a peer-reviewed biosemiotics research paper that unquivocally demonstrates that genes or cells do indeed carry semantic information and you might pique my interest.

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information-biological/

                If we think of genes or cells as literally carrying semantic information, our problem changes. Paradigm cases of structures with semantic information — pictures, sentences, programs — are built by the thought and action of intelligent agents.

                How do they know that they are not the products of intelligence ?

                Because there is no evidence of that.

                What scientific consideration prevents the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy making the inference that :

                ” If we think of genes or cells as literally carrying semantic information, our problem changes. Paradigm cases of structures with semantic information — pictures, sentences, programs — are built by the thought and action of intelligent agents.”

                then it is not unreasonable / illogical to conclude that genes and cells may well be the products of an intelligent agent or agents ?

                Peer-reviewed article:

                Abel, D.L.; Trevors, J.T. More than metaphor: Genomes are objective sign systems. Journal of BioSemiotics 2006, 1, (2), 253-267.

                http://books.google.com/books?id=GvRmYbN3n6UC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=%22The+GS+Principle%22&source=bl&ots=-ZK4mRBvqw&sig=52lPn3HuWpfD095dHEidlXr4cBM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result

              • Tulse
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

                Phosphy, here are some pictures of symbols — are the symbols indicative of intelligent design?

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                Phos —

                You’re first point is just the “watchmaker” made over.

                Re that citation, it’s not clear to me that that’s a peer reviewed paper – it’s in a book edited by a proponent of biosemantics. And it certainly isn’t unequivocal. In fact, it’s a deeply flawed paper. More after your response to Tulse.

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

                We fall shorter when we do entertain hypotheses which are unnecessary to explain the facts, which have no explanatory power, or which are flatly contradicted by the facts.

                ” If we think of genes or cells as literally carrying semantic information, our problem changes. Paradigm cases of structures with semantic information — pictures, sentences, programs — are built by the thought and action of intelligent agents.”

                That intelligent agents produce semantic information is a fact.

                That semantic information can arise from the laws of physics and chemistry is a belief.

              • Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:13 am | Permalink

                That semantic information can arise from the laws of physics and chemistry is a belief.

                It’s a hypothesis. Some scientists – the biosemanticists — conjecture that it is so; others, that it is only a metaphor.

                But neither position makes any practical difference, AFIAK, to the possibility that biopoiesis follows (from) the “laws” of physics and chemistry.

                (In fact, I don’t quite see how the semantic hypothesis adds any explanatory value. How, for example, would it allow you to distinguish between, say, the hydrothermal vent, freshwater lagoon and comet seeding hypotheses of biopoiesis?)

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 1, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

                “That semantic information can arise from the laws of physics and chemistry is a belief.

                It’s a hypothesis. Some scientists – the biosemanticists — conjecture that it is so; others, that it is only a metaphor.”

                http://www.skeptics.com.au/publications/articles/the-information-challenge/

                (Richard Dawkins)

                “DNA carries information in a very computer-like way, and we can measure the genome’s capacity in bits too, if we wish.”

                Do you hypothesize or do you believe that the computer-like information in DNA is the product of the un-directed laws of physics and chemistry ?

                Do you have evidence to contest Abel’s claim that it has never been demonstrated that syntax can be created from symbols ?

                Can rivers flow against gravity?

              • Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

                I seriously doubt that DNA is anything other than the product of the un-directed laws of physics and chemistry.

                But there you go mistaking metaphor for reality again!

                The Doctor: “Imagine a great big soap bubble with one of those tiny little bubbles on the outside.”
                Rory: “OK.”
                TD: “Well it’s nothing like that.”

                No. But it’s one thing to claim that it has never been demonstrated that syntax can be created from symbols, quite another to demonstrate that it cannot be. I’d be more impressed if Abel had evidence for the latter.

                Water, yes. But, rivers? No.

                Or maybe yes, in the case of a bore.

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 1, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

                “I seriously doubt that DNA is anything other than the product of the un-directed laws of physics and chemistry.”

                Does this mean that you believe that DNA is the product of the un-directed laws of physics and chemistry ?

                “But there you go mistaking metaphor for reality again!”

                But you agree that some scientist regard DNA as actual information not a metaphor so I believe that I am correct in saying that :

                That intelligent agents can produce semantic information is a fact.

                That semantic information can arise from the laws of physics and chemistry is a belief.

              • Posted July 2, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink

                No, I don’t believe that.

                You’re free to believe what you like. That doesn’t change the facts of the matter.

                I don’t think you’ve properly considered the notion of a river flowing against gravity.

                /@

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              Beautiful pictures.

              The argument is not about symbols but about language (syntax). If the symbols in those pictures ” conspired ” by natural forces only to read:

              ‘President Obama lives in the White House

              and is presently on holiday”

              they would have produced English syntax and descriptive information. If however they “conspired” to describe in detail how to construct a Ford motor car giving step by step detail they would not only have produced syntax but would have produced prescriptive information as well. A fest so remarkable it is mathematically impossible.

              • Tulse
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink

                it is mathematically impossible

                And the demonstration of that claim is…where? Impossible even for systems that change and grow and reproduce?

                Until you provide clear demonstration of the “impossibility” of the genetic code, all you have is an argument from incredulity, and one that flies in the face of all evidence.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

                “Until you provide clear demonstration of the “impossibility” of the genetic code, all you have is an argument from incredulity, and one that flies in the face of all evidence.”

                Any and all evidence of evolution is description of changes taking place within an infra-structure of information technology. Whilst the theory of evolution does not extend back to the origin of that information technology platform its descriptions assume the presence of the infra-structure and,for atheists, its origins from random un-directed forces based on the laws of physics and chemistry. It is the production of that information technology platform that Abel describes as the “Cybernetic Cut”. He has not only stated that what is required has never been observed to occur naturally but has stated the means by which his claims may be falsified.

                Abel, D.L.; Trevors, J.T. More than metaphor: Genomes are objective sign systems. Journal of BioSemiotics 2006, 1, (2), 253-267.

                http://books.google.com/books?id=GvRmYbN3n6UC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=%22The+GS+Principle%22&source=bl&ots=-ZK4mRBvqw&sig=52lPn3HuWpfD095dHEidlXr4cBM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result

              • Tulse
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

                Any and all evidence of evolution is description of changes taking place within an infra-structure of information technology

                Depends on what you mean by “information technology”. If your definition requires that the information be interpreted by an intelligent being, well then, you’re just begging the question at issue.

                It is the production of that information technology platform that Abel describes as the “Cybernetic Cut”. He has not only stated that what is required has never been observed to occur naturally but has stated the means by which his claims may be falsified.

                I take it that you have read his work. You can take it that I haven’t. Perhaps instead of trying to impress with citations, you can actually provide the arguments made, so that we can discuss them on an equal footing.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

                “If your definition requires that the information be interpreted by an intelligent being, well then, you’re just begging the question at issue.”

                It does not require interpretation by an intelligent being – to the same extent that the processes in a computer do not require such intervention

                .

                I would hate to do injustice to the thesis so please take a look.

                Abel, D.L.; Trevors, J.T. More than metaphor: Genomes are objective sign systems. Journal of BioSemiotics 2006, 1, (2), 253-267.

                http://books.google.com/books?id=GvRmYbN3n6UC&pg=PA1&lpg=PA1&dq=%22The+GS+Principle%22&source=bl&ots=-ZK4mRBvqw&sig=52lPn3HuWpfD095dHEidlXr4cBM&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                Abel & Trevor really don’t do a good job there. There is a lot of begging-the-question and some teleology in there.

                Yes, they have stated the means by which their claims may be falsified but: (i) that falsification seems to depend on hypotheses which are not themselves falsifiable; (ii) the consequent validity of their hypothesis seems to depend on a false dilemma (analogous to claiming that ID must be true if evolution is false); and (iii) one of the tests seems to imply the notion that RNA emerged from a preRNA world stochastically, which seems as unfounded as the assertion that evolution is a random process.

                I was struck by other flaws as well, but I have neither the time or (now) the inclination to deconstruct this further. Although lucid in parts, this reads more like pomo than solid science and the authors are far from establishing the credibility of their “more than metaphor” hypothesis. The very title of the paper (“are” rather than “may be”) clearly indicates their hubris.

                But even if this paper were sound, it would not help your “watchmaker” argument one iota! The authors themselves are quite clear that only naturalistic processes are involved: “To generate a plausible naturalistic model of the origin of life…” (p. 10).

                /@

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

                Oh, and this still wouldn’t be “information technology”! ;-P

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for the comments.

                I am aware that the authors are committed to pursuing exclusively naturalistic mechanisms to explain the origin of life.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

                Like Abel,The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy is also committed to a purely naturalistic mechanism for life.
                That’s OK.

                Everyone is entitled to their worldview commitments.

                We fall short however when we do not present or take into account all the facts and do not entertain logical inferences.

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

                We fall shorter when we do entertain hypotheses which are unnecessary to explain the facts, which have no explanatory power, or which are flatly contradicted by the facts.

                ID fails on at least 2 of those 3 criteria.

                /@

              • Posted June 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

                … or which provides no better explanation than a more parsimonious hypothesis.

                ID fails here too… the notional designer hasn’t designed anything differently than how it would be if it had arisen through neo-Darwinian evolution. So why not save a step…

                /@

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted June 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Missed the spot for my reply.

                Please see above.

                My point :

                That intelligent agents can produce semantic information is a fact.

                That semantic information can arise from the laws of physics and chemistry is a belief

            • Phosphorus99
              Posted July 2, 2011 at 5:03 am | Permalink

              Actually the comment on the river flowing against gravity was a way of pointing to Abel’s concept of “The Cybernetic Cut”

              http://www.scitopics.com/The_Cybernetic_Cut.html

              “Thus a Configurable Switch (CS) Bridge traverses The Cybernetic Cut. The essence of The Cybernetic Cut principle is that traffic flow is unidirectional across this CS Bridge from formalism to physicality. Falsifying The Cybernetic Cut would require nothing more than demonstrating a bidirectional flow across the CS Bridge. Thus far, no one has ever observed physicality instructing, programming, or instituting non trivial formal organization and function.”

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 2, 2011 at 5:08 am | Permalink

                The above was posted to the wrong spot

              • Posted July 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

                Yes, indeed, you have missed the point.

                Abel seems to want to have his cake and eat it. Reading of his work (e.g., The ‘Cybernetic Cut’: Progressing from Description to Prescription in Systems Theory) is painful; he seems to go out of his way to be obtuse and, as far as I can decipher what he’s saying, often seems self-contradictory.

                Take this: “The reader is challenged to provide a single example of Artificial Intelligence arising spontaneously from inanimate nature.” (p. 256) Well, if intelligence did emerge “spontaneously” from inanimate nature, in what sense would it be artificial?

                Life emerged from inanimate nature through some as-yet-unknown biopoietic mechanism, and intelligence emerged from life. Well, this seems “spontaneous” in the sense that it occurred without external cause. But presumable this is not what Abel is seeking.

                He is also very clear that “evolution has no goal.” Yet he also says, “Genetic algorithms begin with a population of potential ‘solutions.’ Solutions are not physical entities. They are formalisms that inherently incorporate a quest for superior utility.” (p.256) Well, what is a quest if not activity with some goal? And later (p. 259) he says, “Biomessages [i.e., genetic information] … are sequenced so as to encrypt [he means “encode”] programmed instructions for the undeniable goal of achieving homeostatic metabolism.” [my emphasis]

                He also says, “The laws and constraints of inanimate nature operate without regard to pragmatic goals.” (p. 257) Well, this is true of evolution too – which is hardly inanimate nature.

                The whole idea of the Cybernetic Cut seems predicated on a notion of dualism – geneotype/phenotype, brain/mind – that is not clearly established. “The door is opened to formalism because the mind is free to choose any physical option with purpose.” (p. 257) No. From a naturalistic perspective – which Abel claims to espouse – he mind is not free, in any contra-causal sense. Any choices are determined by the “physicodynamics” of the brain and the body and wider environment within which the brain exists.

                Abel says that “[t]o look to laws … as an explanation for the derivation of formal controls of physicality” is a “category error”. (p. 257) But he makes a more fundamental error when he says, “Laws produce order.” (p. 257) In fact, just prior to that he gets things right: “Laws describe an orderliness…” [my emphasis] Physical “laws” are our (humanities) description of the intrinsic orderliness of nature. Essentially, they just abstract that orderliness into something we can describe (often mathematically). But, for example, no electron ever solves Schrödinger’s equation.

                Abel also makes some very fatuous comments; for example: “We cannot say with absolute certainty that the number of elementary particles does not change with time.” But we can say with absolute certainty that the number does change with time; for example, in the decay 𝜓*(4415)→DD̅ the number of quarks doubles (cc̅→uc̅+u̅c).

                This all seems very, very sloppy.

                /@

              • Posted July 2, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

                *(humanity’s)

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

                Your comments are appreciated.

                Will review.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 2, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

                “Life emerged from inanimate nature through some as-yet-unknown biopoietic mechanism, and intelligence emerged from life.”

                Life (is believed to have) emerged from inanimate nature through some as-yet-unknown biopoietic mechanism, and intelligence (is believed to have) emerged from life.

              • Phosphorus99
                Posted July 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

                more correctly

                (I believe that)Life emerged from inanimate nature through some as-yet-unknown biopoietic mechanism, and (I believe that) intelligence emerged from life.

              • Posted July 4, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

                Well, I knew you’d come around to our way of thinking!

                But, seriously, it is not a matter of belief.

                Unless you accept last-Thursdayism (in which case all bets are off), the mass of evidence testifies to this beyond reasonable doubt. Firstly, that there was a time when Earth was devoid of life and now life is abundant; ergo, life emerged from inanimate nature. Secondly, intelligence (defined by the abstract ability to solve problems) emerged from life not once, but several times, independently; in humans and other apes, in cetaceans, in corvids, in psittacines, in octopodes, …

                /@

    • Miles McCullough
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      The scientific theory of evolution requires acceptance of natural selection and denial of intelligent guidance. At best theistic evolution is a non-scientific theory of evolution, which I suppose is better than a non-scientific rejection of evolution.

      The poll is ideal in that it neatly identifies evangelicals that believe evolution is a natural phenomenon – i.e. that accept the scientific theory of evolution. It just happens that such a demographic may well be a population of 0 people.

      • Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

        I disagree.

        This is nigh-useless information. Any theist, by definition, does not accept the scientific understanding of physics. Why? Because theists believe that the supernatural affects the natural in some way, and since physics is based on natural phenomena, every theist is therefore – according to your definition – unaccepting of “scientific physics.”

        And we already knew this before this poll came out.

        What I would rather know is which evangelicals accept that the fossil record, biogeography, comparative morphology, genetics, and embryology are evidence for evolution. Why? Because a believer in theistic evolution can still understand how to calculate phylogenic trees from DNA sequence analysis. A believer in theistic evolution can still tell you why birds are dinosaurs. They can tell you why large mammals aren’t endemic to volcanic islands.

        But creationists reject all of this. The distinction between the creationist and the theistic evolutionist is potentially huge.

        Whereas there is no distinction between a theistic evolutionist and a scientific evolutionist who also believes in god (because you know that they believe that god interferes in nature in some other realm, if not the realm of evolution).

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          Nice work. I agree. To embrace the supernatural as real means that it exists within the natural world, yet does not follow natural world rules.

          This idea might seem OK in the past, when natural phenomena as familiar as rain falling from floating clouds, lightning strikes and flashes, all seemed confounding and “supernatural” compared with nearly any other phenomena, yet they were here and present in the natural world, with natural law. Notice that angels have wings, an attribute of “near supernatural” birds (heavier-than-air flight).

          Now that we know that ALL detectable phenomenon has an explanation within a natural world, one has to basically (but without specifics) reject science in its entirety. Shhhhhh…don’t tell, though!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted June 30, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

          That is the feathers, not the bird. The bird (the proposed mechanism) is still intelligent design.

    • gillt
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.

      Answering yes to this is not agreeing with the theory of evolution, as theories are explanatory. Of all possible scientific explanations for how evolution occurs none, at this time, entertain a guided process leading to humans. If the diddling finger of god hypothesis were true, it would be antithetical to most everything else we know about how evolution works (e.g., natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, mutation). I don’t see how that can be seen as compatible with our current understanding of evolution.

      • Corda
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        Of all possible scientific explanations for how evolution occurs none, at this time, entertain a guided process leading to humans.

        Um, except for several forms of theistic evolution. I don’t like playing devil’s advocate for TE, but I dislike proud ignorance even more.

        I would be willing to take you more seriously if you wrote a complaint letter to the Brown University biology department stating that Ken Miller does not agree with the scientific theory of evolution. Remember to put your real name on it. Go ahead.

        Expect to get exposed and ridiculed like you never have before.

        Yeah, thought not.

        • gillt
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

          You’re taunting a stranger on the internet? Seriously? Over this? And name-dropping Ken Miller is so obviously bad form around these parts.

          So, what does Corda think about divine guidance toward human beings as a mechanism of evolution and how that’s not obviously compatible with random mutations or genetic drift?

          Do you have anything to contribute besides Ken Miller?

          • Corda
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

            Well it was meant primarily as a joke, not as a taunt. I don’t take seriously the idea that Ken Miller (for example) does not accept the theory of evolution. Consequently, it’s hard to take you seriously.

            You have misunderstood the concept of name-dropping, which requires a stated connection between the name-dropper and the dropped name. It’s employed by the dropper in order to obtain cred by transitivity. In this case, Ken Miller is an example, not a name-drop. Hope this helps.

            I’ve already discussed TE far too much above. If you are still curious, google is your friend. Toodles.

            • gillt
              Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

              Yep, the non-answer I was expecting from you.

              You can at least leave knowing you’ve contributed nothing to the conversation.

        • Rilke's Granddaughte
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

          Theistic evolution is a non-starter. Since there’s no evidence whatever of theistic involvement, and no way to test for said involvement if it occurred, it’s not a scientific explanation.

          Sorry.

  7. Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    EXCELLENT article, Sigmund! Much thanks for your hard work!

  8. Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Re evolution question: I think there’s more variety subsumed under #2 than you’re allowing for. Back in my days as one of the talk.origins Christian contingent, I would likely have answered that way, and I think so would most of the other Christian Howlers (though not all of us were Evangelicals specifically).

    Anyone who believes in the Western theist god-concept pretty much has to believe that he’s guiding the course of events to accomplish his purposes. The key distinction is whether you claim that God’s guidance is empirically discernible. If not, then as far as I can see, you believe in a compatibilism that for practical purposes is indistinguishable from god-ignoring science. How much of #2 represents that kind of compatibilist position, I really couldn’t say.

    Now in practice, I think holding such a position requires playing the Divine Inscrutability card a lot, which raises (and for me, indeed did raise) doubts about whether the whole faith enterprise is worth the cost of maintaining it. If you’ve no idea what God is up to, and the universe looks the same either way, why bother?

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Presumably the position is also heretical in the vast majority of denominations. After all, even the most science friendly (though by no means science-compatible) groups have some version of “natural theology” still.

  9. wefijm
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    ofc they don’t see atheists as a threat. their main view of unbelivers is as prey, someone they can convert into believing what they believe. Because in their mind, unbelivers are undecided, empty spaces, wating to be filled by a belief. While other believers are already occupied. No point trying to fill a room which you perceive to be already full. And moving stuff out of a room to fill it with other stuff, is just heavy work.

    • Sajanas
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      And some of them actually are… I’ve known people who converted from ‘atheism’ to Christianity, probably because they had an absence of belief rather than a conscious disbelief. Its one of those things that I do worry about… non-religious parents might not worry enough to teach their kids why they aren’t religious, and that leaves them open to people that promise happy sparkling funtime afterlives.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM
        Posted July 3, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink

        There is a distinction between “apatheism” or “uninformed atheism” and “informed atheism” that is not well acknowledged by either the atheist or the theist community.

  10. Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Stretching for Jebus:

    http://www.christianyoga.us/home.htm

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      For the radical, progressive, and *nuanced* yogi moderate.

      • Dominic
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

        or even the Booboo…

  11. Dominic
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    What is our definition of an evangelist in this case? Does it include the Methodists, subsets of Anglicans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists? (There are so many of these nutters…)

    • Aratina Cage
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      The Global Survey of Evangelical Protestant Leaders says that being “born again” is the defining characteristic. That probably means there is no clear demarcation, that evangelicals can come from just about every Christian sect, and that evangelicals come from church- or leader-specific groups. It appears that the GSEPL considered everyone attending the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization to be an evangelical leader.

      • Posted June 30, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        There’s an implicit or explicit requirement for some minimum level of doctrinal orthodoxy — depart too far from eg. the Nicene Creed and you’re deemed a pseudo-Christian cult. Thus the JWs are out (and don’t want to be in anyway), as are the Mormons. Conservative Catholics might qualify, though I’ve never heard the modifier “Evangelical” applied to any Catholics, whereas I have heard it in connection with (some) Anglicans, United Church, etc. Roughly speaking, the theologically conservative denominations (eg. Baptist, Pentecostal) are by definition Evangelical, as are the conservative elements among the more mainstream Protestants.

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:42 am | Permalink

          My understanding is that evangelicals are characterized by :

          1.Scripture (The Bible) only for theology

          2. Salvation by God’s grace obtained through faith and which is made possible by the death of Christ.

          3.Accepting the responsibility to make disciples of all men (and women)

          if the manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit eg speaking in tongues are added to the above the evangelical becomes pentecostal.

          Baptists are evangelicals but not all Baptists are Pentecostals. Pentecostals are evangelicals.

  12. Kevin
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    So much for “divine” morality…

  13. Hempenstein
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Guess who evangelicals see as the top priority for evangelization?

    Yes! It’s us again!

    73% of evangelicals view the non-religious as the top target for evangelization.

    Reminiscent of the Republicans targeting the evangelical/fundamentalist types since they were historically apolitical. But in the latter case I think the situation was that the fundagelicals never felt that the politicians spoke to them, but the R’s shifted their tone to fix that. Do the fundies really equate atheism with mere apathy?

    • Kevin
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      …not apathy. Ignorance.

      They can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to bow down an worship an invisible man and conform your behavior to their norms for a chance to eternally bow down and worship the invisible man after you’re dead.

      What a prize to seek.

      As ever, it boils down to their fear of the after-death.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Yep, and I do not feel that this fear of death as final has been exploited properly. It is the fear of an unjust finality that keeps many people (such as my own brother) from stating that said person is an atheist. If, as humans, we can judge a decent life, unfairness in life, against-all-odds enrichment, undeserved suffering, certainly there must be “justice in the universe”.

        “It’s not fair! Some supernatural, no-cost-to-me Deity, please right this WRONG that is so obvious to me, a mere mortal!”

        Fear of death, with no justice. That IMO is why people cling to religion.

        • Kevin
          Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

          That and the deep desire to tell other people how to behave.

          • Scott near Berkeley
            Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

            More like “strongly motivated” than deep desire. I observe (“Der Beobachter!”) that we all innately enjoy instructing others, whether driving, hitting a baseball, raking leaves, getting a suntan…it’s an evolutionarily-derived characteristic that promoted success for the tribal unit.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        And not just their own death. I think there’s also a fear of your loved ones ceasing to exist. A person you communicated with, saw, touched is gone forever. That’s tough to deal with.

  14. Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    The scary part is how much power these folks have in the culture, media and policy making.

    They also attack any evidence-based policies and ideas in their battle against biology.

    But magic will always rule human verbal behavior.

  15. anon thoughts
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    A small correction:

    I think the asterisks in the report means less than 1 %. So it is not 0 % of the atheists that are more prone to violence (though still the smallest percentage) but just less than 1 %.

  16. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I saw Werner Herzog’s ‘Cave’ film last night (highest rec’), and came home to search “Cro-Magnon” at my wife’s behest (she wanted to see a artistic rendering of one).
    Surprisingly, some of the more “scientific”-sounding sites turned out to be pseudo-science, explaining all the “errors” by scientists, and how the Cro-Magnon man fit nicely into the story of Adam and Eve and a planet only 6000+ years old, there is no evolution, etc. I found it very revolting that people can put so much effort into extreme and earnest fabrication.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. Deeply revolting, for the amount of effort expended.

      • Posted June 29, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Imagine what could happen if these energies were somehow, even if partially, harnessed for some good. I suppose that was E. O. Wilson’s idea too …

  17. RFW
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Don’t take this poll too seriously. A fundamental objection is that the questions appear to have been written by an amateur. A caring, thoughtful, knowledgable amateur, but an amateur nonetheless. Corda at 6:40 am pointed out an important specific failure in this regard.

    Statistics Canada is a well-respected statistical organization that runs the Canadian census among other things, but even they have messed up occasionally. The Canadian census once asked if people lived in a “duplex” or a “semi-detached” dwelling, not realizing that the term “duplex” means one thing in Ontario and another in BC and in BC “semi-detached” means little or nothing. The responses had to be thrown away. If the pros can make this kind of mistake, you can be sure that the amateurs, no matter how careful, make even more.

    Second, the poll is of leaders, not followers. And the answers are what those leaders *say* they believe, not necessarily what they *actually* believe.

    Color me hopelessly cynical about fundamentalist leaders, but too often their behavior suggests that they are in on the scam for the power and money it brings them, not from any excess of religious belief. Consequently, they can be expected to lie through their teeth about their beliefs.

    What I’d really like to know: to what extent this convention resembled a convention of “alternative medicine practitioners” where the emphasis is glaringly focused on squeezing more money out of the shills.

    • Miles McCullough
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      Corda’s objection is baseless as has been discussed in the responses. Statistics – especially regarding public opinion – must always be read with a discerning eye, but they’re not as useless as some people seem to think.

      And amateurs are not always worse than professionals. I mean, Einstein was an amateur in 1905 for crying out loud.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted June 29, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Sort of an amateur. He had a degree in physics, but couldn’t find a teaching job.

    • gillt
      Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      What evidence is there that the poll questions were written by an amateur (i.e., by an incompetent)?

  18. Jim Jones
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that people are really sorted into epochal and non-epochal evolutionists. The genius of Darwin is that he saw that there was no good reason for an epoch; that what was happening now by artificial means (farmers breeding stock by ‘unnatural’, man directed selection) could and did happen as well by natural selection and had been doing so for much longer than 6,000 years.

    Evangelicals have so little faith that they need desperately to hang on to the illusion that they are ‘special’ and not just the lucky scum on the edge of the tidal pool of the universe.

    I, on the other hand, have complete faith in god. I know that she is running things as she sees fit and needs no help from me to manage the universe – and no ‘advice’ in the form of magic spells or profuse flattery. Nor does she need direct intervention from me in the lives of her other creatures by advising them on her ‘behalf’ as to how they should arrange their lives — or genitals.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      If someone is still “running things”, you take option B – intelligent design.

  19. MoonShark
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Very entertaining writeup. Thanks Sigmund!
    (lol, killing fjords)

  20. A-Tom-IC
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Not to nitpick, but …

    “Which statement comes closest to your own views?” – the options being:

    1. Humans and other living things have evolved over time due to natural processes such as natural selection.
    2. A supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.
    3. Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

    “… someone who believes that God set up the laws of nature and that biological evolution is just one of the consequences of these laws should answer option A.”

    Option A? Is that 1, 2, or 3?

  21. Tulse
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps to move the discussion a bit regarding theistic evolution, I’m really curious as to how proponents conceptualize the undetectability of their god’s intervention. Is this presumed to simply be a limitation of our current science? That is, is theistic evolution a contingent truth, one that could in principle be falsified, even though we don’t currently have the tools to do so?

    Or, is it the case that, no matter how our techniques and measures advance, we necessarily will never be able to detect their god’s intervention? That is, is it the case that their god is intentionally hiding its impacts on the world?

    It seems to me that the former position is at least potentially a scientific claim — even thought it is not currently testable, it admits the possibility of future empirical adjudication. But the latter is clearly not a scientific position, and indeed demands some fancy theology to explain their god’s insistence at providing a deceptive appearance to nature.

    So does anyone who is better versed in TE know which option tends to be advocated?

    See, my suspicion is that most TE promoters aren’t interested in these issues, and instead simply see it as a way of holding on to their religious commitments while not contradicting any current science. In other words, I don’t think it is a well-considered view, but just a defense mechanism.

    • Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      I suspect most people haven’t thought it through to a systematic position, though my guess would be that the tendency is likely to maintain some form of unexamined interventionism, though possibly fairly subtle. It may or may not be informative that when I did start thinking it through, during my talk.origins period, I eventually decided there was no “there” there. The limited compatibilism I have been arguing for in this thread may in fact be a numerically small position.

  22. Filippo
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    “Nearly all the evangelical leaders surveyed (94%) say they have received a direct answer to a specific prayer request at some point in the past.”

    There should have been the follow-up question, “How do you know that?”

    Of course, the response would be, “Who are you to deny that I had an answer/revelation?”

  23. Dave Ricks
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Sigmund, thank you for this well-documented perspective. And you reminded me, the United States still has “dry counties” (and other local jurisdictions) that prohibit sale of alcohol.

  24. Marichi
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Chortle, atheists, chortle all you can. While only 78% of the bible thumpers want to convert you blasphemers, 93% – almost everyone of them – wants to smother us Hindus and our yoga! So we heathens and pagans stand between you and the book burning mob. Because before they got you they trampled over us. And indeed that’s why I am scared of these hordes. Have you heard of Project Joshua or the 40-40 Project? These are evangelization plans for the regions lying between Lat.40N and Lat.40.S. China forbids proselytization (because rightly it sees the activity as a possible instigator of conflict). The Middle East, Israel as well as the oiligarchies are hidebound about it. Africa is a battleground of Islamic vs. Christian harvesters. That leaves India as the last untapped ground for Christ. Brazil, Argentina, Philippines, are all under the sway of competing strains of Xtianity. Ours is not a religion, we of course have our quirks but are fundamentally progressive, whatever you may think. We heathens and pagans don’t seek your approval or endorsement or even support. We don’t want any slack for Woo or Deepak Chopra or New Age flim flam. Just don’t feed us to the book burners, because we are your first and last line of defence.

    • Miles McCullough
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      We Children of the Enlightenment will always stand for the classical liberal ideals: evidence, reason, freedom of belief and expression, equal opportunity, democracy, peace, and love :D

      Though no doubt we’ll squabble all the way and lack the power for full implementation >_>

    • Patricia Kayden
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      There are plenty of Christians in India — to my knowledge. So I’m not sure what you mean when you claim that India is the last untapped ground for Christ.

  25. Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Phosphorous99 introduced me too the discipline of biosemiotics. Is anyone familiar with this?

    Is it anything but BS (and the doesn’t stand for biosemiotics!)?

    It’s hard to believe so, given this abstract from a paper chosen at random from the free sample issue of the Springer journal Biosemiotics

    The material underpinning of the action of signs is rooted in the priority of
    interactions. The evolutionary priority of interactions as envisioned from the protosemiotic perspective renders both space and time as derivable from interactions, as
    demonstrating a sharp contrast to the classical, physical and theoretical notion of
    interactions as occurring in a prior transcendental presupposed space and time that are
    given prior to interactions. The proto-semiotic framework obtains space as resulting
    from shared resources among the material participants, whereas time is derived from
    the act of allocating the mutually shared resource. Consequential upon the priority of
    interactions is a suspension of the principle of contradiction as keeping the on-going
    action of signification, since time, while presiding over and embodying the allocation,
    is constantly progressing. The results of the action of signs as registered in the finished
    record necessarily meet the principle of contradiction. Nonetheless, the fulfilment of
    the principle right in the process of the on-going action of signification is constantly
    out of reach because of the inevitable spill-over of those material disturbances
    perturbing the likelihood of attaining the principle from within. Interacting atoms and
    molecules, when viewed from the perspective of time as being derived from the
    interactions, can be seen as agential in precipitating the principle of contradiction in the
    finished record out of the on-going evanescent dangers of disturbing that principle
    from within. Naturalization of the action of signs is sought within the natural capacity
    of time being capable of changing its own tense.

    :-O

    Please, no-one tells me this makes sense to them…

    /@

    • Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      *tell me (oops)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 30, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      Consequential upon the priority of
      interactions is a suspension of the principle of contradiction as keeping the on-going
      action of signification,

      That nails it, this is an idea of ‘meaning’. This is also what “semiotics” implies, “the study of signs” (Wikipedia).

      Yes, it is pure unadulterated BS. Imagine a forthright crossing between eager pattern matching (“signs”) and agency (“meaning”), instead of the usually concealed one. It is religion^2.

      • Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! :-D

        /@

      • Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Thank you!

        :-D

        /@

        • Phosphorus99
          Posted July 1, 2011 at 4:29 am | Permalink

          That doesn’t make sense to me either but that’s not what I introduced you to.

  26. Pete
    Posted July 1, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Evangelicals: ignorant, feeling under threat from everything, and hating everyone. What a life!

  27. Me
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    You say:
    “In terms of converting atheists, though, this seems problematic.

    Evangelicals trying to convert atheists would need a missionary who is an atheist yet agrees with them on many core issues.”

    Actually, why do they need a missionary who is an atheist? Couldn’t they have a former (“recovering”) atheist, or understand atheists pretty well?

  28. Chester Hildebrand
    Posted November 9, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry and / or Sigmund,
    I’m wondering where you are basing the word ‘hate’ on, as I couldn’t find it in the Pew Study. FYI, here is what you wrote:

    “Atheists are the number one most hated group by evangelicals, 70% of whom say they have an unfavorable opinion of atheists.”

    “Unfavourable opinion” has nothing to do with Hate. Why would you do that? I saw another blog took your ‘hate’ and ran with it in their headline. And so on and on it goes. Aren’t we all trying to make this world a better place? I’m sure evangelicals don’t hate you, except for maybe odd freak that every camp has. Stereotyping kills harmony. I wonder if you are the one doing the hating? Let’s try to stick to the facts. (If I missed the word hate somewhere in the study, I deeply apologize.)

    BTW, speaking of the quality of Pew studies…
    Like you, and Dr Francis Collins at the other end of the spectrum, I love science of all kinds. (And people for that matter.) According to Scientific American, below, the recent Pew study showing Atheists were smarter about religion than any religious group — was pathetically and amateurly flawed. Their sample was far too small — and they basically separated atheists into 2 groups for no good reason, then counted only the smarter group as Athiests. Someone how the press didn’t pick up on the short and sweet article.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-science-of-disestimation.

    Excerpt:
    “The story gets even fuzzier because Pew left out one category altogether: those who believe “nothing in particular,” many of whom had specifically said they didn’t believe in God. Interestingly, this group scored worse than the typical American on the religion quiz. Had they been lumped together with atheists and agnostics, the group would have fared a little worse, on average, than evangelical Protestants.

    When Pew did a more stringent analysis, correcting for respondents’ education and income (which, sadly, was buried deep in the report), there was no significant difference between believers and nonbelievers. Those who said they did not believe in God scored a mere 0.3 point higher than the national average, a meaningless number, given how big the error bars are.

    The press leaped on the atheists versus believers headlines without critically examining the numbers. The Pew study revealed less about our faith in God than it did about our faith in polls—which, far too often, is blind.”


7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] According to the latest PEW survey: [...]

  2. [...] at Why Evolution is True they briefly go over the results from a PEW Foundation poll taken at the 2010 Congress On World [...]

  3. [...] Pew has put out a new survey in which it asks Evangelical Christians what they believe about life: First, and probably of no surprise to anyone, is the result of the question regarding acceptance of the scientific theory of evolution. The survey posed the question: [...]

  4. [...] Evangelicals, evolution and atheism: the 2011 Pew Foundation survey (via Why Evolution Is True) This is a guest piece by reader Sigmund, who read the entire 100-odd page Pew survey. My thanks for his written take on it. Compared to most developed nations, the proportion of evangelical Christians in the USA is far higher. In 2004 they comprised 26.3% of the population. At the same time, the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is significantly lower. The question of whether there is a direct connection between evangelicals and the … Read More [...]

  5. [...] A new Pew survey has just been released, examining opinions of a worldwide sample of evangelical Christian leaders on a number of issues. The survey questions relate to social issues, religious beliefs, gender roles, what to do about non-Christians, and more. It’s interesting reading, and there is an excellent summary of some of the findings regarding evolution, atheism, and conflicting Christian values over at Why Evolution Is True. [...]

  6. [...] Evangelicals, evolution and atheism: the 2011 Pew Foundation survey (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  7. [...] read it for yourself.  If you don’t want to do that, I don’t blame you.  So read this review instead.  I couldn’t have written it up any better myself.  It’s a really good [...]

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