Stenger on science vs. religion

I swear, physicist and atheist Victor Stenger gets more “militant” with each new post in his HuffPo column, and I love it. The man speaks the unvarnished truth.

His latest is a strong and alliteratively titled discussion of the incompatibility of science and religion called “The fall of foolish faith.”  Besides urging scientists to help rid the world of religion, Stenger adds a new twist: that non-scientists should go after scientists who coddle faith.

I want to urge those of you who are not scientists to try to convince those who are to stop pussyfooting around with religion and confront the reality of what it is and always has been — a blight on humanity that has hindered our progress for millennia and now threatens our very existence.

Scientists have to help the rest of the secular community to work toward reducing the influence of religion to the point where it has negligible effect on society. I don’t believe this is impossible. Astrology and the reading of sheep entrails are no longer used to decide on courses of events, such as going to war. Why can’t we expect the same for the imagined dialogues with an ancient tribal sky god that at least one recent president has used to justify his actions?

Much of his message concerns the influence of religion on preventing the development of an energy-efficient America, one that, he says, should be using liquid thorium nuclear reactors (I have to confess I know nothing about these). Instead, the rich people, armed with the club of faith, continue to fight solar power and other new technologies, deny global warming, and foster the continued use of fossil fuels:

So why don’t we move in these directions already clearly marked out by science? Because since the late nineteenth century we have lived in a plutocracy in which petroleum and other fossil energies dominate almost every sector of our economy by virtue of the enormous wealth they bring to their producers and distributers.

Now, what does this have to do with religion? Since prehistoric times religion has served as the handmaiden to those in power, helping them to maintain that power. Tribal chiefs, kings, and emperors always had shamans and priests at their sides to assure their subjects that they led by divine right.

In America today, petro-dollars fuel a giant Christian propaganda machine that works to undermine the efforts of scientists to find solutions to the problems that face us with overpopulation, pollution, and climate change. They use techniques that were pioneered 30 years ago by the tobacco industry to suppress the evidence that smoking causes cancer and heart disease. And these techniques exploit the antiscience that is inherent in religious belief.

A new technique that in recent years has been added to the arsenal of global warming denialism is to frame climate change as a theological issue. Global warming deniers say that God would never allow life on Earth to be destroyed. After all, he gave humans dominion over the planet. Besides, the world is coming to an end soon anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

Energy matters are above my pay grade, though it’s clear that religion is behind (or at least used to justify) much of climate-change denialism.  There’s also a connection, says Stenger, though the kind of magical, nonscientific thinking fostered by faith:

While the petrocrats use science in every aspect of their businesses, they hypocritically exploit the antiscience that is inherent in religion in order to undermine any scientific findings that threaten their power and fortunes.

But my favorite part of Stenger’s longish piece is his no-nonsense pronouncements about the incompatibility of science and religion:

Most scientists do not realize that science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. This is not because they have thought about it. It is because they prefer not to think about it.

Fundamentalists know science and religion are incompatible, since science disputes so much of what is in the Bible, which they take as the literal word of God. To them, science is simply wrong and must be Christianized. A well-funded effort exists to do just that, while most scientists sit on the sidelines because they prefer not to get involved.

But science and religion have always been at war, and always will be. One of yesterday’s speakers said that he did not like to use the word “religion” but rather called it a “belief system.” Well, there are different kinds of belief systems. Science is a belief system based on reason and evidence. Religion is a belief system based on bullshit.

I love the last sentence, which I wouldn’t have the guts to publish in a forum like HuffPo.  He’s right of course, though I’d say “revelation and other forms of superstition” rather than “bullshit.”

And he’s absolutely on the mark with this:

Moderate Christians claim they support science, but they still hold to beliefs that have no empirical basis. Moderates will tell you that they accept evolution, but then they insist it is still guided by God. This is not Darwinian evolution. This is intelligent design. There is no guidance, divine or otherwise, in Darwinian evolution.

Yes, a hundred times yes!  The National Center for Science Education should take this to heart, as should the Ken Millers, Francis Collinses, and the 38% of the American public who accept evolution, but only a form guided by God (only 16% of Americans accept naturalistic evolution, while 40% are straight-out creationists).  Let us install this in our neurons: theistic evolution is not science, but creationism.

Among his other peeves is another I agree with: that science can indeed test the “supernatural,” or, if you don’t like that word, can test for the presence of a theistic god.

No doubt, science has its limits. However, the fact that science is limited doesn’t mean that religion or any alternative system of thought can or does provide insight into what lies beyond those limits. For example, science cannot yet show precisely how the universe originated naturally, although many plausible scenarios exist. But the fact that science does not–at present–have a definitive answer to this question does not mean that ancient creation myths such as those in Genesis have any substance, any chance of eventually being verified.

The scientific community in general goes along with the notion that science has nothing to say about the supernatural because the methods of science, as they are currently practiced, exclude supernatural causes. I strongly disagree with this position. If we truly possess an inner sense telling us about an unobservable reality that matters to us and influences our lives, then we should be able to observe the effects of that reality by scientific means.

If someone’s inner sense were to warn of an impending earthquake unpredicted by science, which then occurred on schedule, we would have evidence for an extrasensory source of knowledge.So far we see no evidence that the feelings people experience when they perceive themselves to be in touch with the supernatural correspond to anything outside their heads, and we have no reason to rely on those feelings when they occur. However, if such evidence or reason should show up, then scientists will have to consider it whether they like it or not.

So here’s one more thing to encode in our neurons:  a theistic god is indeed a god that can be examined with the tools of science and reason. Every good theologian knows that—the people who don’t are the scientific organizations who have made the “god-is not-testable” statements: the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education.

If I go on, I’ll wind up reproducing Stenger’s whole article.  So go read it: it’s all good.

Apropos of religion vs. the environment, reader Tom sent me a church sign from Syracuse, New York (Baptist, of course):

89 Comments

  1. Yi
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    “He’s right of course, though I’d say ‘revelation and other forms of superstition’ rather than ‘bullshit.’”

    –The same thing.

    • Nilou Ataie
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      -And more concise.

      • Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        At least BS can help the garden grow…

        /@

  2. Persto
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I love this! Victor is a bold man.

    “Religion is a belief system based on bullshit.”

    LOL!

  3. Steve
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    sub

    • Llwddythlw
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      “…though it’s clear that religion is behind (or at least used to justify) much of climate-change denialism.”

      I’m not sure that it’s the sole or even dominant factor, although there’s no doubt that some people continue to use religion in this manner. The article the other day about Inhofe was yet another example and only today Rick Santorum nailed his global warming denial credentials to the cathedral door. My reasons for doubting it are that in Michael Mann’s latest book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, the culprits (and the money) mainly come from the fossil fuel industry and its supporters, rather than overtly religious groups. Furthermore, when the NCSE decided to take up the cause of climate science as well as evolution in education, I recall hearing Eugenie Scott talking about the NCSE’s losing the support of some who had previously been on board in the defence of evolution. It’s unlikely, I think, that the disaffected would use religion for their climate change denial but not for evolution. Eugenie Scott suggested that climate denial might stem more from a libertarian attitude than a purely religious objection.

      • Dan L.
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

        Aren’t the Koch brothers big supporters of Templeton? There’s a petro industry/religion connection for you.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          They might well be, but it’s not clear to me whether their support for the global warming deniers is motivated by religion or their other corporate interests or both. Other corporate sponsors mentioned were BP and Exxon Mobil.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted March 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

            It’s not that religion motivates their climate change denial, it’s that they use religious organizations to spread propaganda.

        • SLC
          Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

          The Koch brothers, who are unbelievers, cynically are willing to use religion to further their economic interests, which are tied to fossil fuels.

      • Scientismist
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        But NCSE and Eugenie Scott have always been careful to allow room for “theistic evolution”; Scott actually got an AHA award shortly after talking an education group out of publishing a statement about the “unguided” nature of evolution. In biology, Divine Providence can still be imagined to hide out in the origins of life, or in the question of the “direction” of evolution. It will be a lot harder to promote climate change science and still allow for the Providence of God in saving us all from the consequences of global warming, while we still exploit fossil carbon to the max. Perhaps that is the reason previous supporters may no longer want to be on board with NCSE (though oil-based wealth is no doubt a big factor). Some sociological research of climate denialism is called for here. Think it has a chance of getting funded?

        BTW — When I mentioned NCSE & Scott’s accomodationism on Greg Laden’s blog a month or so ago, when NCSE first announced their climate change initiative, it made Greg very upset. I was unaware that this was an unmentionable topic there.

        • Llwddythlw
          Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          If I recall correctly, the quibble over “unguided” was raised by none other than Alvin Plantinga. Going back to the original topic, I do think the NCSE is doing the right thing by adding climate science to their scope of interest.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Except the believers aren’t driving the money train, the petrochemical interests are. The people funding the propaganda don’t care about evolution education, but they do care about global warming.

        The believers have to dip into the collection plate (and the profits from music, video, and book sales) to pay for evolution denial. For global warming denial they get funding from the Kochs and their buddies.

        • Neil
          Posted March 13, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

          As soon as the evangelicals are convinced that global warming is the fulfilment of the biblical prophecy “no more rain, but the fire next time”, they will be the most passionate proponents of the global warming hypothesis you can find. I’m surprised some enterprising charlatan hasn’t already tried this.

  4. nichole
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Jolly good article. Only took three comments before a Godwin at PuffHo, that’s how you can tell it was a good one.
    …most of our social institutions – hospital, university, and social welfare systems, were not brought about by scientists, but by the Christian church. Oh yeah it was also Christians who abolished slavery. It was mistaken scientific rhetoric which gave birth to the evil of eugenics.

    But does anyone know what Stenger is talking about when he says “petro-dollars fuel a giant Christian propaganda machine”? Just out of curiosity.

  5. Frank
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Is it just my imagination, but does HuffPo intentionally publish rational discussions of science and religion in the SCIENCE section, while nonsensical ‘woo’ about accomodationism and excessive ‘scientism’ is more likely to go in the RELIGION page (e.g., Chopra)? Maybe they are on to something.

  6. Hayden
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    If you want some background info on thorium reactors, take a look at this video.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4

    The first five minutes is a kind of video abstract that summarizes the key points. After that there is about two hours of more detailed information.

    The point of that video is to advocate for thorium reactors, and I’m not a nuclear engineer, so I can’t speak to what other types of reactors might be feasible, but he makes a very good case for thorium as a viable option for our energy needs.

    • Dan L.
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium#Thorium_as_a_nuclear_fuel

      Looks like it has a few slight advantages over Uranium but the up-front, maintenance, and energy costs of nuclear reactors actually make them a piss-poor replacement for fossil fuels. We don’t have enough fossil fuel to build the reactors (regardless of what kind) and simultaneously satisfy our energy needs to put it bluntly. I think the Thorium zealots have their heads in the clouds.

      • nichole
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        as far as upfront costs go, Wikipedia says they cost as much to build as a coal plant. that sounds reasonable but IANA nuclear physicist :D what do I know.

  7. Veroxitatis
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    His polemic appears to be founded on a distinction made between scientists and non scientists. I am British and joined this forum only a few months ago. The articles and references by Jerry and others and consequential meanderings through linked topics have clearly demonstrated that so far as belief in God – even a fundamentalist belief – is concerned, such a distinction in the USA is without foundation. Whether the subject is cosmology, geology or any branch of the life sciences talking heads with doctorates and even professorships in these very subjects are always available to support and canvass utter nonsense. This simply does not happen in the UK. There may indeed be believers who are also scientists but rarely would they be fundamentalists. Even then, I would expect the potential for embarrassment would stop them proselytising.
    I find it difficult to get my head round this.

    • Darrell E
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      It just happens to be the case that you are wrong.

      Multiple surveys over a period of many years indicate that there is a substantial difference in incidence of religious belief amongst US scientists and the general US population.

      Though I must admit that compared to most other 1st world countries the US looks like a religious hell hole.

      And though I envy the UK its relative lack of religious infection, you also have some serious issues with it even, granted to a lesser degree, amongst your scientists. (by “regligious infection” I mean to include accommodationism as well)

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see how I am wrong in what I said. I neither said nor inferred that there was an equivalence in number between believers who are scientists and those who are not. I said there was an ever ready supply of apparently learned men and women working in scientific disciplines who were not simply Christian in the socio-cultural meaning of the term, as is not infrequently the case in the UK, but firm believers, and often to the extent that they accept the innerancy of scripture. I believe this is a predominantly US problem.

        • Darrell E
          Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          His polemic appears to be founded on a distinction made between scientists and non scientists.

          …. such a distinction in the USA is without foundation.

          You stated quite clearly the claim that their is no distinction between scientists and the general population in the US regarding religious belief. I don’t know about you but my reading comprehension is quite good. It seems to me that either you did not express yourself well or you misunderstand what Stenger is saying.

          • Veroxitatis
            Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

            Mea culpa. It would be interesting to have your thoughts on what I meant to say.

            • Darrell E
              Posted March 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

              Well, I am not sure I fully understand what you meant to say, but I do agree with this.

              Whether the subject is cosmology, geology or any branch of the life sciences talking heads with doctorates and even professorships in these very subjects are always available to support and canvass utter nonsense.

              And it engenders fairly equal amounts of disgust, anger, sadness and sometimes even shame.

              I do not completely agree with this.

              This simply does not happen in the UK.

              I would certainly agree that it is very much more rare in the UK, but your statement seems a bit of an exaggeration.

              However, I can certainly see how the stunningly brilliant religious insanity that spews constantly from the US could seem insignificant to people from much more sanely secular countries, and cause them to miss, or regard as inconsequential, the relatively rare little puff of religious insanity that occasionly wafts from somewhere closer to home.

              • Veroxitatis
                Posted March 13, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                OK, I do accept such behaviour occurs but is very rare in the UK.
                My question is a simple one. Why is tertiary education apparently a less effective deicide in the US than in the UK and indeed other western democracies.

              • Darrell E
                Posted March 13, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

                I don’t know the answer to that. Cause, symptom and effect are difficult to determine in such a complex mish mash of interactions. I think it likely that the problem begins with poor education at the primary level, for various reasons such as poverty, cultural inertia and more.

                If you know the answer, don’t keep it to yourself. We need all the help we can get. If I had reached the point I am at right now by 2007, before I lost the resources to do so, I would have seriously considered relocating to another country. Even had a list started.

    • Dan L.
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      John Polkinghorne? No true scientist?

  8. jonjermey
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Well, actually the main reason people don’t believe in global warming is because it’s not happening. Out of the four recognised measures of global temperature only one shows a significant rise over the last ten years, and that’s compiled under the aegis of James Hansen, a ‘climate activist’ who has been arrested several times for his off-the-wall protests, and made many extreme predictions going back to the 1980s, none of which have been remotely accurate.

    Don’t blame religion for global warming skepticism — blame the absence of global warming.

    • Dan L.
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      And the fact that more than 95% of experts in the field disagree with you doesn’t give you the slightest pause? Oh, and if you could provide (legitimate, peer reviewed) citations for the “four recognized measures” bit?

    • Scientismist
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      “[A] significant rise over the last ten years” is practically a weather report, not climatology. Anyone who pretends differently is selling a bill of goods. Climate research requires looking at a much longer baseline.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Climate denialists shouldn’t comment on science blogs. The readership is very well aware that climate science has validated AGW and been able to reject other explanations to the satisfaction of the field. So please take your anti-science elsewhere!

      When you moreover repeat the stupid “you can always pick noise overwhelming the signal” claim as if it had any bearing on the rising temperature trend, we know you are just trolling.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      So, why is Kiribati planning the evacuation of at least 1000 residents per year over the next 20 years to NZ and Aust?

    • Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      When people like Senator Inhofe say there can’t be global warming because God wouldn’t let it and don’t mention lack of evidence, then we most certainly can blame religion.

    • steve oberski
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      So the Northwest Passage (previously ice locked arctic sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific) is not becoming passable due to a decrease in the thickness of the pack ice and various countries are not positioning themselves to take advantage of this new shipping corridor ?

      Is this an example of global warming not happening ?

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        That’s just evidence that Stan Rogers was so awesome that writing the song Northwest Passage caused the passage to come into existence.

    • Alexander Hellemans
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      “Don’t blame religion for global warming skepticism — blame the absence of global warming.”

      Tell that to the wine growers in France (the steady motion of good wine regions moving North is a reality they experience), and the wine growers in the UK, and even Denmark, who are quite excited.

    • Tim
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      …the main reason people don’t believe in global warming is because it’s not happening.

      Well, if it weren’t for multiply reproduced evidence that you’re absolutely wrong, your comment would be of some interest. But since the best estimates of arctic ice volume show that it’s summer minimum is about one-third of what is was 30 years ago, and since planet wide ice loss over the the past 8 years has been 500 billion tons per year, and since land temperature extremes are running about 3:1 in favor of new highs vs. new lows every year now, and since satellite-measured infrared emission has shown the expected decrease in the CO₂ bending region (600 ~ 720 cm⁻¹), … well, you’re a jackass who spouts bullshit in the blogosphere that contradicts what virtually every real scientist in the field is convinced is happening.

  9. Posted March 13, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely abhor asinine alliteration.

  10. Posted March 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, if you’d like to get up to speed easily and quickly about energy matters, head over to the blog, Do The Math. It’s run by Tom Murphy, a physics professor at UCSD.

    Start at the beginning and work your way forward. Don’t bother with the comments…Tom uses a too-heavy hand in moderation. But his actual posts are superlative.

    In all cases, he, quite literally, “does the math.” He generally starts with a big-picture view; for example, for tidal energy, he starts with the orbital properties that give rise to tidal motion and then calulates the theoretical maximum potential energy (such as if we were to ring the ocean with tidal genertors). He then double-checks himself, such as by working from the bottom up with published maps of tidal ener potenial along the coastlines and extrapolates from there.

    Short version? Continued growth of any form will very quickly (as in centuries) run into hard physical limits. Even if we had a limitless supply of cheap, clean easy-to-use energy, at our current rate of growth in energy expenditure, the waste heat would be enough to boil the oceans in (if I remember right) about 400 years. Even expanding into the galaxy doesn’t buy us nearly as much time as one might think.

    In the nearer term, he runs the numbers on all the various energy sources and categorizes them as, “abundant,” “useful (but not enough to meet demand by themselves),” and “niche.” The looming crisis is not an energy crisis; there are plenty of abundant non-petroleum alternatives, including solar (far more abundant than you could imagine) and even coal. The problem is a looming shortage of liquid fuels, around which the modern world is built.

    He’s just now moving into a “Well, what can we do?” phase, with suggestions oan how to reduce your personal energy consumption by an order of magnitude while still having a comfortable, modern lifestyle.

    It’s well worth spending an afternoon or so getting caught up with his past posts, and then bookmarking it to read every Tuesday when he puts up a new post.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      I looked briefly and he is a) assuming increased consumption which would follow from population growth, b) taking consumption growth as economical growth.

      Neither a) nor b) are necessarily true, that b) doesn’t hold is presumably why people want to spend on a government instead of being anarchistic libertarians.

      Economical growth is assured as long as market expands AFAIU, and the service market can expand almost indefinitely. (Especially if you can make AIs; they would want to consume too.)

      And of course you expect efficiency increasing as well, something he seems to take on board albeit in a linear fashion re economical growth. (I.e. calculating theoretical limits.) That should go as an exponential actually.

      • Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        You might want to look a litle deeper. He (as I recall) addresses why the economy can’t grow unbounded while disconnected from the real world; again, the math doesn’t work out.

        Regardless, the historical growth has been in real-world energy consumption, and that will no more continue indefinitely than bacteria growing in a petri dish.

        As I look at it, a healthy organism undergoes exponential growth in its developmental phase. That growth then slows down as it reaches maturity, at which point it stops growing. New growth in this phase is a cancer, a disease.

        It’s time for the human species to grow up, which means it’s time for us to stop growing. Because, if we don’t, then we really are a cancer, and we’ll kill our host — and ourselves along with it.

        There’s no reason we can’t grow up. All it takes is a bit of maturity, something you’d hope we’d have gained by now.

        b&

        • Posted March 14, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

          Nothing specifically related to this post. Just wanted to thank Ben for the suggestion to read the “Do the math” blog. I read a few posts there and found them to be quite informative and though provoking. Will go back and read more.

          • Posted March 14, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

            * that should be “thought provoking”.

  11. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Stenger’s view on energy is very realistic. Dan L has already provided a link to the pertinent information: thorium is too costly compared to uranium. A generation IV uranium is so efficient (1/100 less waste) that the current supply would last ~ 1000 years at current consumption.

    • Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Realistically speaking, nuclear is never going to be more than a minor player. It’s just too expensive and requires too much costly infrastructure.

      Yes, there are newer designs that do more with less, that have better failure modes, and so on. And that’s good, because there will undoubtedly be situations where plants like that will be a perfect fit. But they’ll be bit players.

      The future of electricity production is solar. Nothing else can come remotely close in terms of capacity. It’s the only thing that’s more abundant than petrochemicals, and it massively dwarfs them.

      And, expensive as it is, it’s already cheaper for a utility to build a PV plant than a nuclear plant.

      The other problem with solar (aside from expense) is its intermittancy. For today, that’s not a problem, as we don’t have enough solar capacity to cut into baseload generation. Grid-tied solar conceptually for the end user uses the grid as a battery. For the utilities it’s fantastic because it means they don’t have to spool up their expensive peak generators.

      It’s going to be a long time before there’s enough solar capacity for it to start to cut into baseload generation. By then, we’ll hopefully have cheap batteries that can provide baseload generation. But, even if not, there are other inefficient means of energy storage (such as pumping water uphill) that would work, but would require that many more PV panels to power.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        I should add…solar doesn’t help with liquid fuels (for transportation). Then again, of course, neither does nuclear.

        It is possible to generate any sort of hydrocarbon you like from carbon dioxide, water, and sufficient amounts of energy. Plants and cyanobacteria do this, and people can do it with Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. But it’s inefficient and (currently) much more expensive than drilling an oil well.

        That ratio will change as more oil wells dry up and we have to dig deeper and deeper (Deepwater Horizon was seven miles deep with the wellhead a mile below the surface of the ocean — why do you think gas prices are rising?). The big question will be whether or not we’ll be able to afford to keep civilization running long enough to build the facilities to make the fuels that power the tractors that harvest the food we eat that lets us keep civilization going….

        b&

        b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Despite Fukushima disaster, global nuclear power expansion continues:

        “The report is hesitant to draw firm conclusions, but admits that nuclear power will suffer in the court of public opinion, just as it did after the very different Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. However, it does go so far as to say that outside of Europe and Japan, there has been no “significant retraction” in nuclear power programs. The report attributes steadfastness from the majority of nations to “the economics of nuclear power” compared to other energy sources, especially in the face of rising demand coupled with a desire to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to bolster security of supply and combat climate change. It remains to be seen if the decommissioning of existing Japanese nuclear plants will put a dent in the expansion of nuclear energy.”

        If it “too expensive and requires too much costly infrastructure”, why is it then growing steadily due to “”the economics of nuclear power””?

        I don’t know about solar power, except it is much more costlier today and that it will need wast resources compared to efficient nuclear energy production. I am sure it will have a role, but I am equally sure no production method will rule them all.

        • Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

          Though nuclear power provides a significant percentage of America’s electricity generation (and most of what comes out of the wall where I live, were it not for the solar panels on the roof), we haven’t broken ground on a new plant since about the same time Armstrong was on the moon. I’d hardly call that “growth.”

          And what waste resources for solar? Panels are almost entirely made of sand, with insignificant traces of metals and rare earths. Panel production is marginally worse for the enviroment than window manufacturing, and probably not quite as bad as cement production.

          Nuclear plants, on the other hand, quite literally depend on significant quantities of the nastiest substances known to science. Yes, we mostly do a good job of containing them…mostly….

          b&

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted March 13, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        I should also add that I was comparing gen IV with thorium reactors, not against other energy production.

  12. Posted March 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Bullshit.

    Harry G. Frankfurt would be proud!

  13. Alexander Hellemans
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Subscribe

  14. dunstar
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    The problem is that for most scientists, it’s just not a big deal. It’s just trivial to them. Put it this way, it’s like finding out someone believes that say star wars was real and they base their outlook on concepts of the movie. Lol. If you have a friend that’s like that, it’ just comical. This probably is how most scientists view the layperson that arrange their lives according to fantasy and supernatural beliefs. It’s just comical to them. It’s like seeing people who visit psychics and take advice from them. Lolz. Scientists don’t fully realize the danger of the event that more and more of the population starts to think this way. It will be very dangerous in the future because although they think mystically they can use 21st century technology and thats certainly dangerous.

  15. Posted March 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think anyone, not even Ben Goren (he’ll correct me if I’m wrong), claims a theistic god, were one to exist, couldn’t be examined with the tools of science.

    The claim is that we can confidently conclude that one doesn’t exist, for a variety of logical reasons.

    Likewise, the claim is not that we can’t examine phenomena that might be described as “supernatural.” The claim is that once we do, we can’t continue to call it “supernatural.” We would’ve shown that the phenomenon exists; that it is real; that it is natural.

    • Posted March 13, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Oh, and Victor Stenger, FTW!

      Srsly – good stuff.

    • Posted March 14, 2012 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Exactly, though it would (of course!) depend on what definition of the term, “god,” you were using.

      Were it not for his conscience, James “The Amazing” Randi would have no trouble setting himself up as a theistic god to a back-bush tribe. And, I’m sure he’d tell you that the first thing he’d do, were he to commit such a fraud, would be to investigate the extant local myths for something good to piggyback off of.

      One can easily imagine some sort of super-imagined space alien doing exactly that to us, though the logistics and economics of interstellar travel make the chances of that happening so small it amounts to a rounding error.

      One could also hypothesize that we are living in a simulated reality such as that depicted in The Matrix. And the programmers of the Matrix could be as gods to us…though, clearly, that’s just another example of somebody with more knowledge and power exploiting somebody lower down on the food chain.

      And, once you realize that, it become apparent that all the theistic gods ever proposed, even if they exist exactly as described, are no different. They’re “more advanced” technologically, perhaps, but they’re still charlatans having their way with the poor unsuspecting natives.

      Cheers,

      b&

  16. Mike Lee
    Posted March 13, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    That sign board – doesn’t it just reinforce the patriarchal nature of religion? “Father” God trumping “Mother” Nature!

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      Yes. I imagine that’s by design.

  17. Colugo
    Posted March 14, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    The energy industry funds Christian fundamentalism because the antiscientific nature of religion is crucial for fomenting climate change denial?

    Nope.

    Right wing libertarianism, not Christian fundamentalism, is the main force behind climate change denial. Right wing libertarianism – which comes in secular and even atheistic flavors – is responsible for modern conservative movement generalized anti-regulatory sentiment.

    Even among religious conservatives there are rifts on what constitutes proper enviromental stewardship. Progressive churches are of course environmentalist.

    For another example of an antiscientific lobby, the anti-vaccination movement is not mainly driven by Christianity. Christian right anti-Gardisil sentiment is driven by a asinine impulse to control female sexuality not opposition to vaccination in general, and there are also anti-Gardisil claims being made on the left side of the aisle. Indeed, there is considerable overlap between those who have antipathy to the energy industry, those are suspicious of Big Pharma, and anti-vaxers. No Christianity nor even conservatism necessary.

    Obviously, the anti-evolution movement in the US is the result of Christian fundamentalism. But creationism does not benefit the energy industry. Indeed, the industry employs earth science experts who are certainly not trained in young earth creationism.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      The industry only needs a few of those earth science experts as employees. It needs far more gullible, misinformed voters.

  18. jonjermey
    Posted March 14, 2012 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    It’s fascinating to see the kind of abuse a post can attract for failing to toe the line on AGW alarmism. One would almost think that I was posting in favour of atheism on a religious blog. ‘Jackass’, ‘shouldn’t comment’, the absurd ’95% of scientists’ claim which you can easily check on the spurious origins of, and a great deal of anecdotal ‘evidence’. You can clearly see the kind of moral outrage that inspires people like Peter Gleick to theft, imposture and probable forgery — all in the name of The Cause.

    I’m not going to argue the case against alarmism here — it’s too much like a game of dodgeball — but I urge anyone who is curious as to why the reactions of challenged AGW alarmists are so similar to those of threatened religious apologists to check out WattsUpWithThat.com — three times winner of Bloggies Best Science Blog and now the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award.

    Let the abuse recommence…

    • nichole
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      Watts is on the payroll of the Heartland Institute. I’d say there was no climate change for $90k/ year too.

      check it out, something you should start including: a reference.
      http://www.watoday.com.au/environment/climate-change/scientist-denies-he-is-mouthpiece-of-us-climatesceptic-think-tank-20120215-1t6yi.html

      I’m failing to find the spurious origins to the ’95% of climate scientists’ thing. You’ve got 122 source documents to refute at this page on Wikipedia, sir. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_opinion_on_climate_change
      Have funs, see ya next year.

    • Tim
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

      WattsUpWithThat? Seriously? If I’m going to weight the opinion of others in deciding where to get good information, I think I’ll stick with the “alarmists” who make up overwhelming majorities of the national science academies of every advanced nation on earth over people who write one-star reviews of books they’ve never read on Amazon. Somehow, the opinions of extremely bright people who have actually read the scientific literature carries more weight with me.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      Yes, it is fascinating how people respond to outright lies with abuse.

      Why do you think that is?

  19. David T.
    Posted March 14, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    I”m going to get blasted for saying this, but really why do atheists these days spend so much time attacking religion and trying to proselytize the religious and not just leave them be.

    Granted there are some fundies which need to be brought into a more liberal christianity, but I just don’t get this war on religion. Frankly, I find it quite tiring to continue to hear about it.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      The answer is simple: because religion is a manifest harm in the world and we need to either expunge it or loosen its grip on the planet. Do you want to “leave be” the Christians who oppose abortion and stem-cell research, evolution, and global warming?

      If you find this “quite tiring”, then I suggest you visit other websites, because that discussion is not going to stop over here. This is not a “blast,” but a suggestion that you might be on the wrong website.

      • David T.
        Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

        Well I do like it when the topics here gravitate towards evolution (the name of the blog) and Coyne’s book on evolution is one of my top 10 all time favorite books. I like some atheist / agnostic articles. What I don’t like is the new atheist militant atheism which gets tiring along with all the same rants.

        First the abortion and stem cell questions need to be addressed, but there are well known atheists such as Hitchens who have questioned these topics. Its not an easy solution and while religion plays a part its not everything. Not every thing is white or black.

        Second I get tired of hearing about all the evil religion is. I’m no longer a practicing theist, but I spent many years in churches growing up and there are both sides. I’ve went to terrible fundamentalist churches (perhaps harmful in some ways) and more liberal churches (far from harmful, these churches were very focused on helping the community and it was a great experience).

        It saddens me that these people (Dawkins, Harris, Coyne) are becoming the mouthpiece for atheism and the more tolerant and caring ones such as Sagan and Gould aren’t really known anymore.

        Note, I’ve also never said to tolerate extremism, religious extremism more often than not is harmful.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Since the fundamentalists you agree are harmful vastly outnumber the liberal Christians, why do you suggest we leave them be?

          The liberal Christians refuse to even try to convert the fundamentalists, so why shouldn’t we try to get them to convert to atheism?

          • David T.
            Posted March 14, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

            Extremism makes the other side more extremism. From my experience.

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 14, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

              Good thing we’re not engaging in extremism, then.

        • nichole
          Posted March 14, 2012 at 8:03 am | Permalink

          you need to check the handle of the person you’re responding to, bro. unless you always talk to people in the third person?
          Dr. Coyne doesn’t do focus groups regarding the subject of his blog. I like it that way.

      • David T.
        Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        I should better articulate my point. I fully think religion can and sometimes is harmful. I fully understand the frustration that Dr. Stenger is feeling. When I hear someone say that we don’t need to worry about the earth because jesus is coming back again I cringe and want to shout.

        But here’s the thing, I live in Texas in the fundie panhandle parts. Deal with this crap every single day and with fundies to keep pushing this war between science and religion is only making the fundies worse. If you tell them that you can believe in god and accept evolution, then once they research evolution with an open mind they’ll realize that it makes perfect sense. Eventually they’ll realize that perhaps they don’t need the Judeo-Christian god for life and things go from there.

        When you present it as its either/or then most of the time they’ll shut evolution out and it won’t even be a possibility. If they have to deny god to accept evolution, then to the fundi evolution is just a deception by the devil.

        In my personal opinion, a more subtle infiltration will be the far more effective solution, sort of like the gradual desensitization of homophobia by introducing gay characters in popular TV shows. I’m not saying that I’m right, just from my bible belt fundie land experience, people like Dawkins are actually harming the cause for evolution (just watch the insane movie Expelled and see how evolution is portrayed to the fundie).

      • David T.
        Posted March 14, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

        I’m making too many posts here, so I’ll cut back. Just noticed who I was talking too (per another person’s posts), didn’t realize it before.

        Anyways, Dr. Coyne, my apologies for being rude (if I was). I do love your evolution book and I recommend it to anyone who will read it. In fact the highest praise that I could give it is, if it had been written 10 years earlier and had I read it then, today I would be in the field of biology and not went into computer science. Its the best general introduction to the evidence for evolution that I’ve read.

        I guess dealing with fundies all the time and having them shut down when you mention evolution because to them it means that they have to become an atheist frustrates me. I understand the want to stop the insanity, but in my experience if they don’t have the mental block (worsened by believing that to consider evolution means rejecting god), you present the facts eventually they’ll put reality together.

        And with this I’m done posting.

    • Tim
      Posted March 14, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      Did you read Stenger’s piece? If you’re looking for reasons, that will give you a start.

  20. Posted March 14, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    IT’s all kinds of extremists and especially the ultra-rich who are the primary climate change deniers. And unlike evolution, the scientific community has decades to go before the general public understand even the simplest global warming concepts. Is it even being taught in high schools?

  21. Posted March 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    David T. brings up an interesting point. Out of sheer curiosity, of what measures would Dr. Coyne or others be in favor – I mean, if the government unexpectedly offered to shut down all churches, forbid people from gathering to pray, would any atheists be in favor of that? I know Ben would.

    (Ben – just kidding. Don’t mean to presume, brother). ;)

    • Posted March 14, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure I can think of anything more horrific than a government-led assault on civil liberties such as you describe. And, no, I’m not exaggerating; I can’t imagine how such crimes could be perpetrated without full-on tyranny such as is associated with the worst atrocities in human history.

      I would fully support ending all government subsidy of religion, particularly the privileged tax status religions enjoy. Treat religions the same way one would treat any other social club.

      And religion should be kept out of the science classroom, and out of government agencies. No more Bible verses on Marine gunsights, please.

      That’s it, really. What more did you have in mind?

      b&

      • Posted March 14, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Wow, I agree with everything you said. How about that.

        I didn’t have anything in mind, really. Just wondering how an atheist on this blog would put into tangible measures their goals of keeping religion from harming society.

        • Posted March 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          Ceci n’est pas un blog.

          But now you ask a different question — what tangible measures I would adopt or advocate.

          What should the government do? Absolutely nothing.

          What should we the people do in our private, non-governmental capacity?

          Speak.

          It ain’t rocket science….

          b&

          • Posted March 14, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            “Speak” and ” nothing” are not teribly specific though, Ben. But your original comment was helpful.

            • Posted March 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

              Pfft Terribly. Spelling.

            • Posted March 14, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

              Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

              Is that specific enough for you?

              As for the type of speaking we should do…well, I think this very page is filled with excellent examples.

              Is that, too, specific enough?

              Cheers,

              b&

    • Posted March 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think many of us would. In any case, if we wanted to eradicate religion, we know from history that that would likely be ineffective, it would simply drive religion underground.

      But, yes, an end of religious privilege and true secularism in government, healthcare, education, &c. I’ll put by hand up for that.

      /@

  22. Peter Beattie
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    No doubt, science has its limits.

    This is a shibboleth one hears everywhere these days—but in what sense that is not mind-numbingly banal is it true? Where are the undoubtable examples of those limits?

  23. Lisa
    Posted April 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    From an evolutionary standpoint I am unsure why we should particularly care about global warming. After all it is a little arrogant of our neurons to assume we can actually destroy the planet. All that will happen is that we will destroy ourselves, naturally selecting us out of existence and making way for a new dominant species. I suppose social conscience does appease the herding instinct and concern for my children’s future my mammalian parent-offspring bond. But really at the end of the day isn’t all this fuss just a firing of our neurons and the flow of some chemicals through our systems? When we and our entire species cease to exist, however that inevitably happens, it will mean absolutely nothing to the blip we create in evolution’s timeline.


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