Why science and faith are incompatible: my talk in Edinburgh

For your delectation (or revulsion), I present my talk to the Edinburgh University Humanists Society (also sponsored by the Glasgow Skeptics). Now online, it’s called “The Odd Couple: Why Science and Religion Shouldn’t Cohabit.” The video was professionally taped and they interpolated my Powerpoint slides, so it came out, at least technically, pretty well.

Thanks to all who sponsored me and the video people who did such a great job.

I’m told it’s also been posted on AtheismTV.

122 Comments

  1. Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Somebody posted a link to this lecture a little while back. You did well, though I don’t think you covered any ground there that you haven’t already covered here.

    The previous video posted didn’t have the QA session after the talk. Any chance that that’s available? That’s where the interesting stuff happens for those of us who already know the drill….

    b&

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      What? I’m supposed to tailor my talks for the people here instead of the people in the auditorium and YouTube, the vast majority of whom haven’t read this site?

      I don’t think the Q&A will be available as they weren’t taped, and many of the questions would be inaudible due to lack of microphones.

      • Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

        I thought you knew — yes, of course you’re supposed to tailor your talks for me. It’s all about me. Me, me, me!

        Too bad about the Q&A. If you remember anything particularly interesting, I’m sure I wouldn’t be alone in welcoming a recap.

        b&

        • Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

          Agreed. I watched the whole thing all the while recognizing that Jerry had said many of the same things online and in his debate with Haught. But I hung in there anticipating the Q&A at the end since I believe Jerry noted that there were some religious people in the audience. And then it ended… :-(

          BTW, I wish the video editor had used a split screen format with the slides in the left half and Jerry in the right half. So many times Jerry was clearly gesturing toward the slides but we never got to see what he was pointing at. But it was a good talk even if frequenters of this website have heard Jerry make these comments on religion many times before.

      • SLC
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        It would be interesting to know if there was a troll in the audience who tried to give Prof. Coyne a hard time.

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          There was; he failed.

          • Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

            Well, of course he failed. That’s like saying that the Joker failed to kill Batman, or that Voldemort failed to kill Harry Potter, or that the dragon failed to kill Bilbo.

            Details, man — we want details! It’s the story that’s the thing, not the final score.

            b&

            • HaggisForBrains
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

              Sorry Ben, too long ago now for my ageing memory to cope with details.

              Colin.

              • Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

                This is what happens when you have haggis for brains ;)

              • Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

                Actually, I think it has less to do with the haggis and more to do with the fact that he’s one of those Scottish blancmanges….

                b&

              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:39 am | Permalink

                But I’ve never been south of Berwick on Tweed! At least our tennis has improved.

      • Dave
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        I believe it is called ‘preaching to the choir’ in other circles.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    (Subscribing)

  3. Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    The video has been featured on Telly! http://telly.com/E6G5D

  4. Posted December 26, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    About 23 minutes into it where you say that is is possible that religion tries to incorporate science into it in order to be seen as “intelectual”: that makes sense to me. Drop into a Unitarian service and you will often see the minister trying to use “science sounding words” in their service..(and often misusing the words but never mind that).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Exactly the same thing is done by other voodoo cults like management and advertising…

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

        :)

      • Posted December 27, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

        If this were facebook I would have hit “like” :-)

  5. MJA
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    The theories of science are equal to the faiths of religion in that neither are absolute.
    Truth is,

    =

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      The theories of science are equal to the faiths of religion in that neither are absolute.

      On the contrary, religious faith does aspire to be absolute. That is one of the reasons why science and faith are not equal. Another is that scientific theories are based on factual observation and reason, while religious faith is based on emotional needs of the believer. The third is that science simply works. Religion can’t send a man to the Moon or cure a disease; science can.

      • MJA
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        What is the difference between the big bang theory and God said let there be?
        They both are hypothetical and both need a great amount of faith to believe.
        Truth simply is.

        • Posted December 27, 2012 at 1:49 am | Permalink

          ‘Simply is truth’ or ‘is truth simply’ would have as much meaning as the particular deepity way you chose to arrange those three words.

          • MJA
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

            Science and religion will One day soon be united by truth, but first they both will have to find it.
            Here, I’ll turn the light on!
            Truth is

            =

            • lamacher
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

              Highly doubtful. Religion has much farther to come to the melding point, and the slough of despond is in the way.

        • Posted December 27, 2012 at 4:54 am | Permalink

          “What is the difference between the big bang theory and God said let there be?”

          Well for starters, the BBT predicts the existence of an afterglow of sorts – the CMB or cosmic microwave background, which has been found & measured to fantastic precision. So you don’t really need faith to believe in the BBT when you can look for evidence of predictions the theory makes.

          • johncozijn
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:02 am | Permalink

            Furthermore, the BBT is productive — it has generated many further lines of research that are themselves giving rise to new observations, experiments and predictions. Thousands of years of religious cosmology produced nothing.

            • lamacher
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

              Not nothing, surely, John! Doesn’t Hell count for something?

            • MJA
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

              Science gives rise to more science buildings and religion gives rise to more churches.
              Both require money and belief or faith.
              Is space curved, is God bent?
              Perhaps we could collide them at Zern!
              Turn left at OZ and look for the guys in white coats. SCIENCE

              =

          • MJA
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

            You must be drinking a lot of Koolaid!
            Did the big bang make any sound?
            And if it didn’t can we call it the big dud?

            =

            • Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

              …if you are trolling then congratulations, you have successfully impersonated someone who is ignorant. You must be so proud.

              If you aren’t trolling then you are simply ignorant & I suggest you learn more about the topic (even Wikipedia would do, provided you make an effort to understand what you’re reading) before entering a comment thread on WEIT with such a sense of self satisfaction.

        • BornRight
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

          The Big Bang theory is not hypothetical. It’s based on observational evidence and testing. Edwin Hubble found that the universe is expanding. From the rate of expansion cosmologists calculated how long ago all the matter in the universe was clumped together in a singularity. The age of the universe calculated in this way agrees with the age of the oldest stars & galaxies calculated by radiometric dating. The Big Bang theory predicted the existence of a faint radiation left in its aftermath, called the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This was detected by Penzias & Wilson in 1964 exactly as predicted, and later measured by satellites such as WMAP. The European Planck satellite is now studying the CMB is more detail. Fluctuations in the CMB have also confirmed another prediction of the Big Bang theory – the ratio of primordial elements such as Helium & Deuterium to Hydrogen. Recently, astronomers measured the chemical composition of the primordial gas present in the early universe (approx. 12 billion years ago). They detected only the simplest elements Hydrogen & Deuterium, but no heavier elements, exactly as predicted by the Big Bang theory.

          So, the Big Bang is a proper scientific theory supported by multiple lines of evidence. It’s the best explanation we have for how the universe began. In contrast, God is just blind faith. There’s absolutely no evidence for its existence. Don’t even compare the two.

          • MJA
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

            ,,,and science is uncertain at best.
            Oh and I didn’t prove the uncertainty of science, science did.
            Ye must have faith!
            =

            • truthspeaker
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

              …says the person on a global computer network.

          • Brygida Berse
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

            BornRight, an excellent and systematic reply, somewhat wasted on the troll here, but I certainly appreciate the details (and, with your permission, will quote them in other internet discussions on the subject).

    • RFW
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      But science is an approximation to the truth and with time the approximation is refined ever more closely to the truth.

      Religion? Any truth it contains is there strictly by accident and any attempt at refinement is dismissed as heresy.

      • MJA
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:55 am | Permalink

        Close to the truth?
        Have you ever tried to measure the difference between close to the truth and truth?
        Would that be One god particle or two?
        Ye must have faith!

        =

        • truthspeaker
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          Saying the earth is a sphere isn’t true, but it’s closer to the truth than saying it’s flat.

          • MJA
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

            Its flat on the Great Salt Lake.
            And where I live it aint round our a sphere either, it mountains and valleys and be careful, some places you can fall right off the edge. You must be from outer space!

            =

  6. Larry Gay
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Jerry.

  7. laconicsax
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I almost feel that when you talk about the divergent “truths” that religions produce, you missed a great opportunity to casually mention that Christianity, on its own, has something in the neighborhood of 43,000 denominations (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary).

    This, to me, speaks far more to the falsehood of religion “seeking truth” than the simple Islam and Christianity are fundamentally at odds because of the status of Jesus, Muhammad, etc., and who burns in hell. Nevermind the huge discrepancies there, within a single religion, there are 43,000 versions of “truth” that are, on some level, directly contradictory.

    After all, isn’t that the whole point of schisms and the creation new denominations? That a population within a denomination is so strongly opposed to one or more teachings/policies that they leave and start their own church that comports to their opinions on what is “true?”

  8. Yi
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    An excellent talk! It appears to me that Jerry doesn’t usually make many jokes in his talks, but I always find his presentation as interesting and inspiring. It must be the content of his talk.

  9. Mel
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    In reading all those theology books, you did something important because you can come to some conclusions about how the religions mind works. I’ve read one because of its attacks on reason; I really wanted to see that in action. However, I doubt I’d want to read another. Yours was a heroic effort indeed and I learned some things. Also, I’ve never seen that cartoon of God watching the African kid die. Is it online someplace?

    One interesting short piece I read was by a religious philosophy teacher in Ottawa named Edward Tingley. It’s interesting because it’s an attack on the whole idea of the need to provide observational evidence. At one point he says: “What reason do I have to subordinate the possibility of God’s existence to the power of my senses?”
    The path of scientific evidence being closed, he finds conclusive evidence in Pascal, who, according to Tingley, says that there is an instrument better than the naked eye with which to see. What is that instrument? “The instrument is the heart.” He quotes Pascal as saying that “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” This heart is somehow not emotion. This bizarre online essay is titled “If Only Atheists Were the Skeptics They Think They Are” The whole thing is quote repulsive in its attacks on people like Dawkins.

    • Dave
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      ‘At one point he says: “What reason do I have to subordinate the possibility of God’s existence to the power of my senses?”’

      How many times do they need to be told the answer to this question? Some theologian types simply aren’t paying attention in class.

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Jerry Coyne is certainly correct in his claim that religion has contributed virtually nothing to human knowledge other than motivating the occasional Newton now and then.

    Unless religion is defined very loosely as a set of rituals surrounding some generically sacred value that bind together a community, then the method and process of science generally conflicts with (at least Western) religion. Dictionary.com’s first definition of religion is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies”. You can get NOMA only by major backpedaling- actually just uprooting- on the part of religion by simply removing the realm of fact from religious discourse. But don’t ever let folks say religion was always understood as metaphor- Karen Armstrong is dead wrong on that.

    Kierkegaard was a huge influence on religion-as-metaphor theologians (many also metaphorize the meaning of Jesus death to deal with Adam and Eve as metaphor), but Kierkegaard himself is not really in their number, only an influence on them. Coyne also discussed SK in this way in another post about a week ago.

  11. marycanada FCD
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Great lecture. Thanks for posting

  12. W.Benson
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a quote by theologian David Friedrich Strauss that I lifted from Gertie Himmlefarb’s anti-evolution work “Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution”:

    “Vainly did we philosophers and critical theologians over and over again decree the extermination of miracles; our ineffectual sentence died away, because we could neither dispense with miraculous agency, nor point to any natural force able to supply it, where it had hitherto seemed most indispensable. Darwin has demonstrated this force, this process of Nature; he has opened the door by which a happier coming race will cast out miracles, never to return. Everyone who knows what miracles imply will praise him, in consequence, as one of the greatest benefactors of the human race.” [David Friedrich Strauss. 1873. The Old Faith and the New, translated from the German by M. Blind, London, p. 305]

    Keep up the good work. Have a Cheery Holiday and a Happy New Year.

  13. Florian
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    You mentioned in the video that “USA Today” is a tabloid. I knew what you meant but it’s technically a broadsheet newspaper.

    -Florian

  14. coozoe
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Salient, interesting, sober discussion. How I wish I were a new student at the U of Chicago, taking some Evolution courses.

  15. Andrew
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know if the Q&A is going to be posted anywhere? The Q&A is usually my favourite part, lol

  16. Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this – thanks for sharing. Do you publish a calendar of your speaking engagements?

  17. johncozijn
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    While I don’t disagree with anything said in the video, I’m not sure it seals the deal against “accommodationism”. I may be wrong, but I reckon someone like Ken Miller would not assert any proposition that contradicted a well-established scientific finding. Nor would he disagree that science is the best method for discovering the workings of the natural world, including accepting materialism as an epistemological principle of scientific investigation.

    Now he unquestionably also subscribes to a selection of doctrines derived from his Catholic faith but if these don’t contradict scientific findings, in what sense is his religious belief incompatible with science? I suspect the same is true of Collins and Biologos (at least from my perusal of their site).

    Now it’s true that on something like the Adam-and-Eve problem they engage in some pretty blatant theological adhocery, but that’s a different proposition from saying they maintain a position of scientific incompatibility, which of course is the very thing they are trying to avoid.

    • Mel
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Wonder what he thinks of the Eucharist? There should be some extra human DNA around someplace and it should be the same in multiple Catholics.

      • Spirula
        Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

        There should be some extra human DNA around someplace

        I believe there is probably some divine lateral gene transfer, but the genes are only useful in the event of a zombie apocolypse…you know, like in The Book of Revelations.

        • Spirula
          Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

          Grrr…”apocalypse”

          Is there a name for the condition of ONLY discovering your grammatical or spelling errors AFTER you post them, despite repeated readings beforehand?

          • johncozijn
            Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, it’s called “WordPress sux”.

            • Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:01 am | Permalink

              Lamberth’s teleonomic [mechanism] argument that as science finds no divine intent, then theists make Lamberth’s new Omphalos argument that God deceives us with apparent mechanism when His telos-intent- rules just as Philip Gosse’s original Omphlaos arguments states that He deceives us with apparent ancient ages for things. No, that ti’s an argument from ignorance.
              No divine intent appears whatsoever!
              Theists divine the pareidolias of divine intent and design instead of the real mechanism and patterns just as people see the pareidolias of the man in the moon or Yeshua on a tortilla.
              Theism is as superstitious as full animism or polytheism,just being reduced animism, but to find that divine intent is just the same as finging the intent of the many!
              And theism fails on so many arguments!

            • Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

              johncozijn, the compatibilists should aver that some scientists find no incompatibiliy betwixt their faith and science; we non-compatibilists would agree. Where we disagree is that science does find no God for the Resurrection, miracles, etc. And ti’s a contradiction,not a complement to science, then to apply divine telos as the metaphysical ultimate explanation, primary cause and sufficient reason when science finds no telos.
              Thus, theistic evolution is no more than an oxymororonic obscurantism! It’ sux’!
              WEIT, Articulett and others, are my comments to ornate? Some say yea, and others say nay,even liking such.
              I appreciate feedback.

              • Timothy Hughbanks
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                I think you’re confusing the terms “compatibilist” and “accomodationist” as those terms are used on WEIT, at least. Compatibilism is about believing free will (whatever it means) and determinism are compatible. It has nothing to do with believing faith and religion are compatible with science – that is an accomodationist and that was the subject of Jerry’s talk – even though Jerry is not a compatibilist either. Compatibilists (at least virtually all those who hang around this web site) don’t adhere to dualist or “spiritual” origins of ‘free will’ – that would be inconsistent with determinism. There are plenty of “strident” atheists who are not all accomodationist but are compatibilist.

              • Posted January 9, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

                Thanks. I don’t see myself as a compatibilist in that instead of free will being a part of determinism as free will as a term is not to my liking as it also is part of libertarianism I call what we have determined volition.
                So, I still might be some sort of compatibilist. Am I? Anyway, I ‘m a determinist.
                My determinants caused me to seek therapy to overcome my shyness and paranoia that others talk about me- part of my schizotypy. I became better with better determinants on the nature part and doing so, helped me do better on the nurture part.
                Fortunately, I never really had the woo that other schizotypals have! I fault both the paranormal and the supernatural, what the late Paul Kurtz called ” The Transcendental Temptation,” a must read book
                Please, do post!

              • Timothy Hughbanks
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                Unfortunately, the word “compatible” does indeed get used thoughout this talk, which does lead one to think that “accomodationist” and “compatibilist” are synonymous.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Now he unquestionably also subscribes to a selection of doctrines derived from his Catholic faith but if these don’t contradict scientific findings, in what sense is his religious belief incompatible with science?

      Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, healed the blind, lepers and paralytics with nothing more than a word or a touch, and later rose from the dead. How is that for not contradicting science?

      • Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        Brygida Berse, yes, such contradict science,not complement it!
        You are indeed correct about those three differences!
        Aquinas’ deals the death blow to theism, boomeranging on his five ways, with Aquinas’ superfluity argument, which Percy Bysshe Shelley implicitly notes :” To suppose that some existence beyond, or above them [ the descriptions- laws- of Nature, S.G.] is to invent a second and superfluous hyposthesis to account for what already is accounted for.” Then for theists to call that a category mistake- metaphysical vs. physical- is to beg the question of the metaphysical.
        Science rules here!
        Blaise, Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard and Peter Kreeft urge people to self-brainwash for belief.What rational person cares for that twaddle?

    • H.H.
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      I may be wrong, but I reckon someone like Ken Miller would not assert any proposition that contradicted a well-established scientific finding.

      The conflict is not just between the findings of science and propositions of religion, but between their incompatible approaches to knowledge and irreconcilable positions on the reliability of faith.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 4:02 am | Permalink

        “The conflict is not just between the findings of science and propositions of religion, but between their incompatible approaches to knowledge and irreconcilable positions on the reliability of faith.”

        But if they don’t dispute either the methodology or findings of science, we are left with an “incompatibility” that exists at a purely philosophical level.

        • H.H.
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

          Well, they conflict their most fundamental level, the way cronyism is incompatible with a meritocracy, say, or like how slavery is incompatible with human rights.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      “but I reckon someone like Ken Miller would not assert any proposition that contradicted a well-established scientific finding”

      So he doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus or the virgin birth?

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

        He certainly believes in the resurrection but if I understand his position correctly God only performs such miracles “occasionally”, so they doesn’t affect the practice or methodology of science.

        I find his position philosophically incoherent, but I don’t think you can accuse it of being incompatible with the practice of science, which he goes to great and tortuous lengths to insulate from his theology.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

          Suggesting that miracles can occur at all is incompatible with the practice of science.

          • johncozijn
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:12 am | Permalink

            So you assert. Miller disagrees. My point is that the issue depends on your ontology, and that can’t be derived from science.

            • H.H.
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

              No, one’s ontology cannot be derived from science. It’s actually the reverse. The ontology on which science depends is incompatible with the ontology on which religion depends. There is no ontology which can simultaneously justify the pursuits of both science and religion. Depending on your starting premises, you can devise world views which justify one or the other. But never both. That’s the irresolvable conflict.

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                First, we are not talking about religion in general, but the accommodationist position, specifically Miller, Biologos, etc.

                Second, while science proceeds on the basis of methodological naturalism, that’s not the same as a materialist ontology.

              • H.H.
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

                No, materialism is a conclusion of science, not it’s methodology, which is applied skepticism.

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

                “materialism is a conclusion of science”

                No it’s not. There is a world of difference between saying that all we can study is the material universe (natural causes for natural phenomenon, etc), and that the material universe is all that exists. The first is the epistemological principle undergirding science, the second is an ontological stance that cannot be logically derived from science. There’s a brief introductory essay on this topic on TalkOrigins here:

                http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/naturalism.html

              • H.H.
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                That’s the old NOMA view, and it is not sound. Formulated properly, materialism is indeed a conclusion of science. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/barbara_forrest/naturalism.html

            • truthspeaker
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

              When doing scientific research, how does he rule out undetectable miraculous events?

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

                Theologically (which presumably doesn’t cut much ice on this blog and reads to me like so much adhocery), philosophically (because the universe was created to be materially self-sustaining), and empirically (because law-like behaviour is what is observed).

              • truthspeaker
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                But that contradicts his belief that miraculous events can occur.

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                He claims there is no contradiction. I actually don’t care too much about the internal coherence of his theology. My concern is that he puts a ring fence around science to keep faith out, specifically creationists and their ilk, was well as the woo brigade.

              • Notagod
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

                You would be more respectable if you were defending FSM johncozijn, at least that way you would have something real to lean on when you teeter.

                Each god exists only in the mind of the person proclaiming Its existence – they actually are their god. Which makes it particularly hilarious when christians proclaim that atheists think that they are bigger than god and that christians get some credit for thinking there is something bigger than them. It isn’t surprising that there are so many different christian gods; at least one unique god for each and every christian.

            • johncozijn
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

              I agree with Forrest that ontological materialism is more plausible, which is why I am a materialist :) But as she clearly states (and I keep on repeating), you cannot logically derive this position from either science or epistemological materialism. This is Philosophy 101, and has got nothing to do with NOMA.

              • Notagod
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                How do you distinguish Philosophy 101 from Magical Thinking 101?

              • johncozijn
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

                Meaningless quip. Get back to me when you have something to say.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                Stop the nastiness now, johncozijn. I won’t have this kind of “discussion”, if that’s what you call it, on this website.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Miller has made very clear that he believes in methodological naturalism but not philosophical naturalism. This makes him fairly true to his Catholic roots which since the era of Thomas Aquinas has distinguished “natural philosophy” and theology declaring the existence of a two-story universe with both a natural order and a supernatural order. All of this came out of Aquinas’ grand efforts to reconciled Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology.

      Modern theologian (and left-wing 9/11 conspiracy theorist) David Griffin has postulated what he calls “open naturalism” which suggests that natural world is “open” to influences beyond it.

      Thus of us in the rationalist camp agree with the already-cited Shelley that this supernatural order is a secondary and superfluous hypothesis.

      Basically, the Millers and Aquinas make grand moves to both allow room for science and then revise their theology to accomodate science- their religion “evolves” to “adapt” to it.

      Rationalists worry that even this can be a science-stopper, because if the science gets further revised, there’s a fuss (Galileo’s disconfirmation of Aristotelianism), and religion looks more and more like a POV that cannot be disconfirmed by !*anything*! and thus in a certain sense meaningless.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Agreed. And as for “religion looks more and more like a POV that cannot be disconfirmed by !*anything*! and thus in a certain sense meaningless”, I think that is the hole they’re in, but that’s their problem. It’s not a problem for science.

    • BornRight
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      For starters, almost all Biblical descriptions (such as a young earth, virgin birth, human lineage descended from just 2 people, noah’s flood etc) are starkly in contrast to scientific discoveries.

      Here’s a quote from Ken Miller that I got from Wiki:

      “The issue of God is an issue on which reasonable people may differ, but I certainly think that it’s an over-statement of our scientific knowledge and understanding to argue that science in general, or evolutionary biology in particular, proves in any way that there is no God.”

      Science also doesn’t prove that there’s no “cookie monster” or no “superman”. But it makes these concepts irrelevant. Science demonstrates that in order to accept something we need evidence. And the evidence for God is totally lacking, just as it is for the cookie monster.
      How this supernatural God originated, where does he reside, how does he sustain himself for eons, how did he create everything – these are questions that all religions have totally failed to answer in thousands of years.

      Even if Ken Miller believes that evolution was played out by God, it doesn’t make any sense scientifically and logically. For one, earth is the only planet in the solar system with life. Why are there other seemingly useless planets if they can’t harbor life?! When the earth formed it was totally inhospitable with searing temperatures & a toxic atmosphere. This is not what you’d expect if God created the earth with life in mind! For the first billion years after its formation the earth was sterile. For the next 2 billion years there were only microbes on the planet. Complex life forms didn’t appear until about 4 billion years after the earth was born. Life on earth also had to face mass extinctions and disasters that nearly wiped out all living species. Again, this is not what you’d expect if a supernatural being with untold powers was overseeing the process. Now, you can argue that this is how God wanted to do it, but that’s just blind faith rather than a reason-based conclusion.

      So the very concept of God doesn’t fit logic and reasoning, let alone scientific discoveries. This is what accommodationists should understand.

    • Janette Miller
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      I had a short correspondence on the “Adam & Eve problem” with Ken Miller. I am a lapsed RC and he is a convert and like most converts does not understand that when the Pope says “You must believe even if it is nonsense” then you must believe or you go to hell.

      Well I have it in writing that Ken Miller does not believe in ‘Adam & Eve’. He doesn’t believe he has to! He thinks he can cherry pick with the Pope.

      The whole dogma of the Vatican is based on the real Original sin of this couple who Ken Miller acknowledges never existed. No Sin means no need for a Resurrection and no Pope, fallible or infallible.

      It seems Coyne is correct. Even if the religious know the truth DNA proves without doubt these two never sinned and that none of us is related to them they still chose to remain believers.

      What on earth for? The Templeton fortunes?

      Probably.

      I have been trying to bring the Adam & Eve problem to the fore for years so it was refreshing to hear at last one person in authority bring it up. It is the crushing evidence that the bible is not relevant and why the religious fear The Modern Scientific Theory of Evolution and DNA.

      Even for Islam this is a huge problem as Adam who is the first real prophet. Islam believes that Jesus never died because the Jews inserted a ringer!K Chapter 5 but as A&E never sinned it hardly matters.

      When will the world wake up?

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think belief in a historical Adam and Eve is required dogma for Catholics; the issue seems to be much more of problem for biblical literalists.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:25 am | Permalink

          It is required dogma for Catholics and I’ve published on thst. From Catholic answers;

          Adam and Eve: Real People

          It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as polygenism).

          In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

          The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

          I think you’ve posted enough on this thread; and posts like this come close to trolling. Enough out of you on this topic.

  18. johncozijn
    Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    As I understand it, Miller and his co-thinkers maintain the universe is materially self-sufficient, which means God is not required to explain its workings (contra Newtown), and science it able to progressively discover its empirical workings. Hence methodological naturalism (or epistemological materialism, in more traditional philosophical terms).

    But he also believes in a theistic God, who by definition can perform miracles if s/he chooses, and presumably did so for the resurrection and perhaps on other assorted occasions. This is ontological idealism.

    These two positions are not logically incompatible, and while I find the latter intellectually repugnant, it can no more be falsified or tested than the First Cause argument.

    • johncozijn
      Posted December 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, that’s a reply to Brygida Berse.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:48 am | Permalink

      I like to avoid giving any false identification to the god idea, so s/he as a pronoun is good.

      But perhaps we could use ‘shiput’ instead? She, he, it, past (for gods that no longer exist), us (for various pantheistic gods), and them (for multiple gods). I’m not sure if there ought not to be an extra ‘i’ in there for indescribable or ineffable – or even an ‘m’ for metaphorical. Perhaps the letters can be rearranged into a better mega-pronoun. I’m assuming that the non-existence of such a shiput god would be ashiput.

      After all there are so many ‘types’ of god that believers can weasel around any challenging use of a single pronoun god. Too much slack, not enough rigour.

      • lamacher
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        For the ‘ineffable’, we need a a symbol for a little puff of smoke.

    • corio37
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

      But while individual scientific claims may not contradict individual supernatural claims, there is a contradiction between the heart of science and the heart of religion. Science says: ‘If we have observed X happening under conditions Y, we can expect X to happen whenever conditions Y are met.” Religion says ‘God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants as often as he wants, and stop doing it whenever he wants.’ Under a religious viewpoint science is simply impossible: every claim has to be hedged with the caveat ‘unless God makes it happen otherwise’. And without any reliable way to establish how and when God is going to intervene, we can’t distinguish regular ‘natural’ regularities from contingent God-caused ones.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 4:13 am | Permalink

        Accommodationists say that since X does reliably happen under Y conditions, God does not in fact intervene in the workings of the universe. This is an important part of their argument against intelligent design and similar “natural theologies”.

        • H.H.
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          It’s not important what accommodationists say, only what they can justify.

        • corio37
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

          And their evidence for this is…?

          • corio37
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

            Let me elaborate on that. How do theologians distinguish between an event that normally occurs without God’s intervention, and an event that God ALWAYS intervenes in to achieve a desired result? What are the alleged criteria that allow them to make this distinction?

            • johncozijn
              Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

              They can’t, empirically at least. Neither can anyone else. The judgement is based on first principles.

      • lamacher
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        Let’s call this ‘The Law of Godly Contingency’.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      These two positions are not logically incompatible, and while I find the latter intellectually repugnant, it can no more be falsified or tested than the First Cause argument.

      A miracle is nothing else than a temporary suspension of the laws of physics and thus any claim of a miracle is certainly falsifiable, although for practical reasons it may be difficult to investigate. It’s no accident that the most spectacular miracles in any religion supposedly happened long ago and far away :-). But the Catholic Church also claims contemporary miracles; actually they are required for every beatification and canonization process. So every time a new saint is announced, the faithful (including Miller) are expected to believe that something happen that by definition can’t be explained by science.

      Another major religious assertion that directly contradicts science is of course the existence of an immortal soul, which calls for consciousness without/outside of a physical brain.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Well, I don’t really know what “immortal soul” means, but I’m pretty sure science has nothing to say on the matter.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

          Science says there’s no evidence they exist.

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted December 27, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          Well, I don’t really know what “immortal soul” means, but I’m pretty sure science has nothing to say on the matter.

          Of course, this is one of those situations when the accomodationists try to score points by being evasive (for example, trying to avoid giving a clear definition of the soul), but they can’t quite escape the stated doctrine of their faith.

          According to the Christian doctrine(s), a soul is the internal focus of human personality, equipped with free will that allows it to choose between good and evil. Since the soul directs human actions in the material world, one can’t insist that it belongs completely to “the other realm”.

          After death, the soul will be either punished for its sins in hell or rewarded in heaven. Regardless of whether heaven and hell are understood as physical places or simply different states of the soul, the above claims require at least some continuity between consciousness during life and what remains of it after death, otherwise for example the promise of being reunited with one’s loved ones means nothing (not to mention the whole concept of punishment and reward). This implies that a person’s memories, emotions, personality traits etc. survive, at least in part, the death of the body. That claim is directly contradicted by the findings of neuroscience, which explain the mind as a function of the living brain.

    • BornRight
      Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      These are incompatible simply because the first (the assertion of a natural universe) is based on evidence whereas the second belief (that there’s a theistic God on a supernatural plane outside the natural universe) is based totally on faith with no shred of evidence supporting it.

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

        These are incompatible simply because the first (the assertion of a natural universe) is based on evidence whereas the second belief (that there’s a theistic God on a supernatural plane outside the natural universe) is based totally on faith with no shred of evidence supporting it.

        That would simply mean that these two planes of existence constitute “non-overlapping magisteria”, a major tenet of the accommodationist position. Although you are correct that those two supposed “ways of knowing” are incompatible, to me they are not in direct conflict. The real conflict begins when religion starts making claims about God intervening in the natural universe (miracles, resurrection, a soul outliving the body, God directing evolution etc etc).

        A God existing exclusively in the supernatural realm is not a theistic, but a deistic proposition and the only one that is even remotely defensible by accommodationism. However, accommodationists go further and try to reconcile a personal, intervening God, who has specific attributes (all-powerful, loving etc) with what we know about the natural world. In this they fail miserably.

        • Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          Even the simplest deistic god is still interventionist — if nothing else, when s/h/it kicks off the Big Bang / creates the Multiverse / whatever.

          And, thanks to the recent work by Krauss, Hawking, et al., we know that there’s really no gap left for that type of deity, either.

          Indeed, the only gap even remotely logically defensible is one based on Matrix-style simulation / brain-in-a-vat / Last Thursdayism / whatever. That sort of thing makes for entertaining storytelling, but most of us stopped giving that sort of thing much consideration after we moved out of the dorm.

          b&

          • Brygida Berse
            Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

            And, thanks to the recent work by Krauss, Hawking, et al., we know that there’s really no gap left for that type of deity, either.

            I am no physicist, but I understand that in his latest book Hawking deemed God unnecessary for the Big Bang, but technically did not exclude the possibility of God’s existence.

            That being said, I agree that “we have no need for that hypothesis”.

            Last Thursdayism still stands, of course.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

        Incompatible is not a synonym for different. For me, incompatible would mean coming to irreconcilable conclusions on the same issue. This is clearly the case for creationists and ID. Much harder to make a case against accommodationists, precisely because they go out of their way to avoid this. That’s, after all, almost the definition of an accommodationist.

  19. Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:08 am | Permalink

    Why try to accommodate Religion, when ALL religion’s ‘Holy’ Books contain bad science and even worse, bad morals. It is time that these desert tribal books were relegated to myth. The only reason they survive is that States/Governments use religion to control the masses. Keeping people in fear is religion’s speciality.
    Scrap the dire holy books and we might take them a bit more seriously?

  20. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you Jerry. Thank you Edinburgh/Glasgow people. Good stuff!

    The part I appreciated the most [after I stopped laughing at the sophisticated theologian quotes] was your comments flowing from the slide displayed at 1:05:44

    My transcription of the slide:

    Odious positions of the Catholic Church
    * Opposition to birth control [also to prevent AIDS]
    * Opposition to abortion
    * Opposition to divorce
    * Opposition to homosexuality
    * Control of people’s sex lives
    * Oppression of women
    * Sexual abuse of children
    * instillation of fear & guilt in children

  21. Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting the video, will have to find the time to give it a watch!

    • Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      Oh, and btw Jerry, Peter Higgs disagrees with you about the (in)compatibility of science & religion (link). And now that his theoretical physics hypothesis has been vindicated to some extent, we should really listen to what he has to say about things that lie outside his field* of expertise!

      It basically boils down to him saying “Some scientists are religious, so the two concepts are compatible, also Dawkins is a meanie”.

      *Pun absolutely intended.

      • johncozijn
        Posted December 27, 2012 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately the El Mundo video clip of the interview with Higgs (to which the Guardian article links) does not contain any of the reported comments.

  22. quine001
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Excellent lecture. It was a good idea to “follow the money” behind accommodation.

  23. Owlglass
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    The lecture summed up many good arguments, thank you for that!

    I have a minor quibble: cognitive dissonance is a feeling that comes up when you are confronted with evidence contrary to your current views. It actually maintains a mental hygiene by making you uncomfortable with contradictions. What you meant was perhaps “compartmentalisation”, which is a psychological mechanism to actually avoid cognitive dissonance by allowing conflicting ideas to co-exist.

  24. Alvaro
    Posted December 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Around 19:10 you mentioned New Atheism started with RD’s book in 2006, it was actually Sam Harris’s “The End of Faith” in 2004 which started the whole thing…

  25. Posted December 28, 2012 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks to Jerry for a very good plain speaking presentation. Apart from his very apparent and deep knowledge. He comes over as a really nice chap.His arguments are straightforward and this makes me want to watch it over. I don’t do that too often.

  26. LW
    Posted December 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for a great presentation, Jerry. It was a welcome respite after too much William Lane Craig, whose debates I have been watching because they’re kind of like car accidents: So awful to see, and yet impossible not to stare at.

    By the way, I think there’s a theological weaseling technique you left off of your slide:

    -> Quoting scientists out of context.

    WLC is an accomplished practitioner of this feint. As is Dinesh D’Souza, whom we can all see on YouTube quoting Stephen Hawking on imaginary time, and then going on to assert that imaginary time is no more credible than imaginary numbers. (Yes, D’Souza is that slippery. Fast-forward to 19:40 in his debate with Dan Barker!)

    What annoys me is how theological debaters pepper their assertions with out-of-context quotes that they’ve previously looked up. It leaves opponents with no way to refute them in a real-time debate setting.

  27. Posted February 28, 2013 at 1:12 am | Permalink

    I’m not that much of a online reader to
    be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up!
    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the road. Cheers


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  1. […] and the evolutionary process that produces discrete groups in nature.  Coyne is an atheist that views religion as a hinderance to the progression of natural science.  He believes that religion and science are incompatible, that only rational evaluation of […]

  2. […] Why Science and Faith are Incompatible? by Jerry Coyne […]

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