Keith Kloor continues his crusade for accommodationism

As I said, the man can’t help himself.  Over at his Discover blog Collide-a-Scape, Kloor interviews Daniel Sarewitz, a man we’ve met before and one who emphasized, in the pages of Nature, the failure of science to address subjective sensations and spirituality.

I promised not to go after Kloor, so I’ll just quote a bit of his interview:

KK: The thesis to that column taps into a larger, on-going debate over the question of whether science and religion are compatible. Based on your piece, I would presume that you think the two are compatible. However, some of the prominent New Atheists, such as PZ Myers and Jerry Coyne, insist that science and religion are incompatible. Why has this discussion become so binary? Why the either/or mindset exhibited by some atheists?

DS: There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible. I got many emails from scientists who really liked my column on the experience of visiting Ankor Wat. (Interestingly, those who liked the column seemed to prefer to email me directly; those who hated it preferred a public venue for airing their irritation.) We have binary arguments because they are easy and mindless and comforting–no one has to acknowledge ambiguity or complexity; everyone gets to be right. Binary arguments are a refuge for orthodoxies, and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion. I say this as an atheist. I am not an agnostic. I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.

I’m also trained as a scientist, by the way, and I think science offers extraordinarily powerful ways of understanding our world–but there’s a lot that it can’t tell us, and a lot that it gets wrong, and a lot of claims made on its behalf that are terribly overstated. I’m more interested in whether a person is thoughtful, kind, and open-minded than whether they’re an atheist or religious. If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.

My one comment: it’s crucial in these arguments to define “compatibility”, and it makes a big difference whether you conceive of science/faith compatibility as “the ability to do both or accept both at the same time” (the common argument), or—as I do—”the comparative ability of science and religion, using their respective philosophies and methodologies, to discern (as they claim to be able) the truth about the universe.”

173 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    sub

  2. Tulse
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.

    There are lots of pedophiles who are also priests, so as an empirical matter Catholicism and child rape are apparently not incompatible.

    • steve oberski
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      As Eric MacDonald at Choice in Dying put it:

      Saying that science and religion are compatible is a bit like claiming that celibacy and sexual intercourse are compatible, because those claiming the former are often engaged in the latter.

      • Diane G.
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

        Love it.

  3. Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I think as was pointed out in earlier posts, these gentlemen who parrot this compatibility do not show specifically how science and religion are compatible and that really is the crux of the matter. We are not asking how many scientists are religious, all we want is them to show us to what extent science and religion are compatible.

    • beyondbelief007
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      And Jerry’s closing paragraph clearly, unequivocally sets the standard for that compatibility.

      But he apparently can shout it 1000 times, and people like Kloor will continue to argue the strawman “common” definition that Jerry is NOT putting forth. Sigh.

  4. Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    “If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.”

    And one more accomodationist who sticks his head in the sand when it comes to the horrors that religion has perpetrated, saying that imaginary friend “x” is better than imaginary friend “y”. It’s a pathetic sign of ignorance and laziness, thinking that religion is harmless when living in countries that have secular laws restricting what the theistic lunatics can do. All of the hard work has been done in those countries and we have to keep up with it to beat the delusional hordes back. In other countries, it remains to be done at all.

  5. Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I know the argument has more finesse than this, but ‘god did it’ is not compatible with science simply because it’s the same thing as saying satan did it.

    • Marella
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Or pixies.

      • Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, any magical mythical creature will do. If pixies are your favorite, by all means.

        • jose
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

          - God did it.
          – Indeed. Allahu Akbar!
          – Um, no, I meant Jesus.
          – What? That’s ridiculous.

          And then eight hundred years of war.

          • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            In light of that, science is actually more compatible with human life than religion is, never mind compatability with religion… hmmmmm

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:25 am | Permalink

            +1

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      Or Fred.

      /@

  6. Kevin
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I do think it’s critically important to make the distinction.

    The first (common) argument is “scientists go to church pot luck suppers, therefore religion is compatible with science.”

    Well, duh.

    The second is where the money is…the products of religious thought are inalterably in opposition to the products of scientific thought.

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Yes. The root of the problem seems to be equivocation with the word “compatible”. And the compatibilits/accomodationists seem to me to be doing so rather disingenuously (rather than ignorantly).

      Yes, it’s obvious to us all that some scientists are religious. That’s not the kind of compatibility in question. The scientific approach to ascertaining things is diametrically opposed to the religious approach. The two methods are not compatible and cannot be combined.

      Are accomodationists really unaware of the term “cognitive dissonance”?

  7. Posted January 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.

    Others have already addressed this, so let me simply ask this: That argument is still considered relevant by somebody? Don’t they read what the other side is saying, like, at all?

    We have binary arguments because they are easy and mindless and comforting–no one has to acknowledge ambiguity or complexity; everyone gets to be right. Binary arguments are a refuge for orthodoxies, and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion.

    And sometimes we have binary arguments because one side is simply right and the other is obfuscating and rationalizing.

    and a lot that [science] gets wrong,

    One wonders what he is thinking about, and what other way of knowing would be better at getting the same things right.

    If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.

    To paraphrase something I once read on the SEB blog: Religion is the precise opposite of coming to terms with death, religion is denying it. That is kinda the whole point of belief in the afterlife.

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      excellent post.

      • beyondbelief007
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        Ditto to “clubschadenfreude” ‘s statement. Very nice!

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

      These notes are very good. Thanks!

      I don’t understand the broad sweep of “and a lot of that [science] gets wrong.”

      If one can tell that the “science is wrong”, by definition one has discovered an alternative explanation that is “right”.

      “and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion.”

      Really!!! What is the “orthodox way” of “not playing golf” as a sport?? How thick is the rule book??

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:28 am | Permalink

      “Don’t they read what the other side is saying, like, at all?”

      Er… no.

      /@

    • marvol19
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      And sometimes we have binary arguments because there are no greyscales. Either religion and science are compatible, or they are not. They can’t be “a little bit compatible” just like one can’t be “somewhat dead” or “about half pregnant”.

      • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

        In principle, if you think of the components of (say) the philosophy that goes into both, there could be more or less compatibility. That this, broadly speaking, is not the case, is besides the point.

        However, I would claim that certain specific religions are closer to compatible, after a fashion. For example, those which hold that the universe – in the broad sense – is eternal – are more correct in that respect alone than those who insist that it came into being a finite time ago. Needless to say, though, that even in the former cases, the epistemology by which the former religions may be at odds. (Or not to some degree, if they show glimmering of insight about conservation laws, or even basic logic.)

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          The incompatibility between science and religion lies not in the ends but the means.

          A religion that declared the universe to be exactly as scientists have sussed it out to be would still not be compatible with science. If it managed to come to such a conclusion through means independent of science — say, had the Pope tweeted the precise mass of the Higgs a couple years ago — then that would be quite the remarkable indicator that perhaps there might be something to religion after all.

          But here, in the real world, how closely a religion aligns itself with reality is utterly irrelevant, until it takes that final step and proportions its beliefs according to a rational analysis of empirical observation.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted January 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            That’s why I mentioned it was more or less a tiny amount; the fact that religious epistemology is invariabily largely incompatible with that of science is quite true.

  8. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Maybe we should just turn the tables on accommodationists like Kloor, employ a bit of reverse psychology, and start vociferously agreeing with them:

    Okay Kloor, you win. These religious idiots are simply too dense to understand the nuances of the science vs. religion debate, so we’ll stop harrassing them, as you suggest. We’ll leave the poor sops alone to wallow in their ignorance, and allow them to pass their delusions onto our next generation of children..”

  9. Gary W
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Science and religion are incompatible because they use conflicting ways of generating beliefs about the world. Not just different ways. Conflicting ways. Like many accommodationists, Sarewitz simply ignores this problem and uses vacuous guff (“making sense of the world,” “coming to terms with the finiteness of life,” “a glimpse of the unknowable and the inexplicable”) to try and distract attention from it.

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      “Conflicting” vs. “Different”.

      That is indeed the distinction.

      • Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        Percy Bysshe Shelley says this about such theology:” To suppose that some existence beyond, or above them [ the descriptions - laws- of Nature, S.K.] is to invent a second and superfluous hypothesis to account for what already is accounted for.” Should theologians then claim that that is a category mistake, they would beg the question.
        He is implicitly making Aquinas’ superfluity argument that boomerangs on the latter’s five ways and all theistic arguments! As Antony Flew notes, Aquinas implicitly notes [the Flew-Lamberth] the presumption of naturalism.
        People murder for this superfluity! And this superfluity reflects superstition.
        Per Lamberth’s the argument from pareidolia people see the pareidolias of supernatural intent and design when reality portrays instead mechanism and patterns just as people see the pareidola of the man in the Moon and Yeshua on a tortilla. Scientists are investigating how and why people see patterns and patterns as pareidolias.
        Theists use this superfluity to underscore their superstition of reduced animism!
        Thus, religion cannot be compatible from the side of science with religion.
        Science finds a there there, whilst religion never finds its there there!

  10. Paul S
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Are science and religion compatible? Sure they are, just like cats and dogs, or should that be cats and fish. I can like them both, but between the two, the fish will lose.

  11. jandansen
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    “Compatible” might have a good analogy to the word “mix”. Do water and oil “mix” in a glass? They’re both in there, but are the mixed.

  12. Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    “I’m more interested in whether a person is thoughtful, kind, and open-minded than whether they’re an atheist or religious.”

    I agree. But as JC points out in the final paragraph that completely misses the point of whether science and religion come into conflict on questions of fact. And the most visible conflict is that the theory of evolution leaves no room for intervention by a deity. Isn’t that really the central thing that theists can’t accept?

    • beyondbelief007
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      One of approximately 14,647 things they can’t accept. :-)

      • Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        I think with most things, theists can get away with “that’s the way god chose to do it”, “god caused the big bang” etc. The problem with evolution, though, is that random mutation is a central part of the theory, and it’s absolutely necessary to deny that if your god created man in his own image or any image for that matter. I think that’s why evolution, particularly, is anathema to creationists.

  13. MNb
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    In your definition the incompatibility of science and religion is a no brainer.

  14. brdke
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    My undergrad philosophy students were able to understand quite well, as evidenced by class discussion, that the “empirical” fact that there are scientists who are religious is completely irrelevant to the important issue of the compatibility. It is the most mundane point one can make, and as JC and others have pointed out again adn again and again and again…can’t we move on to other things that ARE relevant? These people apparently think there is something worth saying in it, since this guy is supposedly interesting enough to interview!

    Forget the whole big issue–just in this iteration of it with Kloor, JC and PZM have responded with arguments, positions, claims, propositions worth taking up!

    Yes, I’m much more interested in living around a pacifcist quaker than a raving lunatic non-believer. But that again skirts the issue. Given that relatively mundane fact, what about the arguments, positions, claims that we make??? Binary schminary! There is nothing “easy, mindless, and comforting” about what we believe! Even if we were wrong, we aren’t mindless in our acceptance of atheism and non-accomodationism. WE point out ambiguity, irrelevance, lack of complexity over and over again–nothing is seemingly even read, and WE get accused of being mindless and simplistic.

    You know, it doesn’t bother me, or JC, or PZM at all either (I’ve heard them speak to this a million times, so I will take this liberty) that someone chooses to be religious. IF it were just a belief with no consequences, like liking cats rather than whatever those ghastly things are that PZ likes (he he), it wouldn’t matter! But as we say over and over, it does have consequences, real life consequences that we incessantly point out. No one was better at this part of the argument than Hitchens, but we all do pretty well on this. These beliefs have dire consequences for real humans (and animals), and have for millenia. Don’t merely point out that “not every reliigious person does bad things!” We acknowledge that.

    I’ve been reading again about Bruno. Now there was someone who would fit in with us! I have no doubt that SOME forces in Catholicism (and other denominations) would burn him at stake today but not for the work and toil and suffering of so many nonbelievers who were militant enough to change things.

    We have to remember, as JC and PZ do so often, that we don’t often change the minds of the Kloor’s of the world, but we DO change the minds of so many who are out there, listening, reading, critiquing and coming to form their own beliefs.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s not just that religious belief has dangerous real-life consequences. We’re also deeply concerned that religious belief itself is presumed to be a sign of depth, sensitivity, maturity, optimism, morality and other virtues. This belief in belief leaves the atheist — who is foolish enough to evaluate religion analytically — out in the cold.

      People who believe in astrology cause no real harm as long as they only follow the sort of astrology you find in newspaper columns. But what would happen if avidly reading the Daily Horoscope became the touchstone of a common humanity — and those who don’t know their star sign are either pitied, scorned, or accepted only with the nervous insistence that criticism not be brought up? We’d get the same problem.

      We’re not being divisive here. They are.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

        You stated my self-proposed comment re astrology very well.

        You’ll hear people go on and on at parties about astrological details (“double Scorpio with such-and-such rising) and then you ask them if they really believe all of that, and you’ll hear “No….not really, but it’s fun!”

        As Ben Goran previously wrote, we all may enjoy a piece of religious music, but it doesn’t make us believers to sing, “..remember christ our saviour was born on Xmas day..”

        I’d describe the fact that some scientists are also religious as “cultural momentum”…. an idea in motion tends to stay in motion…

  15. Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Whenever scientists can find evidence for any intent to overcome what Simpson, Mayr and Coyne maintain, then compatibility betwixt superstition and science would occur.Until that never, never time,theism is as superstitious as full animism! How then could one find them compatible?
    Carneades notes that theists beg the question of directed outcomes. As Paul B. Weisz notes in ” The Science of Biology” to find teleology instead of causalism, there then would exist backwards causation, the future before the past, the event before the cause, and outcomes would always be the same, so scientists never would do experiments!
    By causalism, he means mechanism-teleonomy.
    Why won’t accommodatonists leave it at that some religious people from the side of religion find no incompatibility?

    Carneades, Fr.Griggs

  16. Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    There is one precept which naggs me and I can’t quite seem to let it go. It is the assumption that religion cannot be an evolutionary construct – there just not being enough evolutionary time for it to have arisen. In that language and the brain’s ability to use and understand it must obviously be evolutionary in development, why can’t religion have appeared some few hundred thousand years ago, almost from the first comprehensible grunts? Whether this would shed any light on the perversion of otherwise brainy individuals who themselves cannot let go of religion, even as intellectual aetheists, I do not know.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      In some individuals, the “need for creed” is unstoppable. It’s the same as any addiction. You get the “beta wave” thing going in your head, and it’s a very pleasant state of mind. I used to get it as a kid, getting my hair cut.

      Churches and clergy scared me as a kid. Nothing good there.

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      Have you considered Boyer’s hypothesis that it is in fact an spandrel of another useful faculty; viz. “theory of mind”?

  17. jose
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    “I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect.”
    (…)
    “If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.”

    Because they’re incorrect! What about this: “If people want to try to come to terms with their origin through creationism rather than evolution, I don’t see why that should bother me.”

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      How about if they subscribe to a religion like the Aztec religion (beating, disembodied hearts offered skyward toward the Gods).

      What the heck!! Might do better to cure the drought in Texas than all the Xian prayers!!!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

        Ages ago, we had a drought in North Canterbury, and a local vicar was leading his flock in praying for rain (this, in New Zealand, made the TV news, which shows (a) what a small country we are and (b) how bland Christianity here has become, that this should seem newsworthy). He was interviewed on TV and the reporter asked “Does it work?” and the vicar said “Yes, always. Eventually”.

        That just cracked me up. I have no idea whether the Vic realised the implications of his last word.

        • Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:37 am | Permalink

          “After the storm is over, the skies will clear.” — Asterix and the Soothsayer

          /@

  18. Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    “We have binary arguments because they are easy and mindless and comforting–no one has to acknowledge ambiguity or complexity;”
    So is the existence or not of god/dess/es ambiguous, or complex, or both, and if so, in what way?

    “everyone gets to be right.”
    Or wrong.

    “Binary arguments are a refuge for orthodoxies, and atheism can be as much an orthodoxy as religion.”

    Here we go again! No, you stupid twit, it can’t! Scientific claims can ALWAYS be challenged – but it helps to have evidence for your challenge if you want to be taken seriously.

    “I say this as an atheist. I am not an agnostic. I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.”

    How about, We have binary arguments because there either is a / are god/dess/es or there are none.

    (I love the Sophisticated Theology™ of a God who is “above” or “beyond existence” – until you try to get a straight answer to exactly what that means.)

    This seems very close to New Age “my reality / your reality” thinking. I am an atheist and in my reality there are no god/dess/es, but you are a theist and in your reality there is one. We’re both right! Except for the real reality out there in which there either is/are one/some or not – or is s/he / are they in a quantum superposition, only to be resolved when we open the box? (So we must never open the box, lest one of us be – gasp! – wrong!)

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:45 am | Permalink

      Hold on… “… humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.”

      Um, no, atheism is not a “way” of making sense of one’s experience of the world, it’s just a conclusion or conviction.

      Re your last para., maybe atheists are those who realise we can open the box from the inside! ;-)

      /@

    • Keith
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      The irony of Sarewitz’s “everyone gets to be right” statement is completely lost on Sarewitz, as accommodationism is all about allowing everyone to be “right” regardless of how much or how little sense a theological position makes.

      • Jaime Ospina
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:51 am | Permalink

        Indeed.

  19. wilzardthespy
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    “DS: There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.”
    Seems to define it as the common argument.
    “DS: I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect.”
    How shrill and militant, DS must be sneering when stating this sentence.
    “DS: I’m more interested in whether a person is thoughtful, kind, and open-minded than whether they’re an atheist or religious. If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.”
    Because the religions these thoughtful, king, open-minded people support act to try and curb human freedoms, like women’s health, access to contraception, LGBTQ right, etc.

  20. andreschuiteman
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t call PZ Myers a New Atheist. He wants to turn atheism into some kind of ideology. However well-intended, this is extraneous and potentially harmful to the promotion of atheism.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/01/03/i-think-youtube-culture-really-has-gone-pathological/comment-page-1/#comment-526953

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      PZ is a catherder. A wannabe catherder, of course; there’s no other kind.

      There will never be, as he calls it, an “atheist movement,” any more than there will ever be a “non-stamp-collector’s” movement.

      There may well be a secularist movement, of people who do not wish to see religionists have undue influence over our society. This would be comparable to a pushback against mandates that everybody must collect stamps whether they want to or not.

      But he’s trying to drag all sorts of other unrelated (though sometimes nobel) things along under the secular bus.

      Take, for example, Gary W and me. I’m pretty sure we both agree that religion has no place in classrooms nor policy. But you’d be hard pressed to find anything else that we agree upon. Now, include all the religious members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, those who sincerely believe all that Jesus bullshit but who don’t want it in classrooms nor policy…and you’re left with a bunch of people who can’t agree on anything at all except that there shouldn’t be any religion in classrooms nor policy.

      PZ, though, is hellbent on torpedoing this alliance of secularists by insisting that True Atheists™ are only those who subscribe to his particular brand of progressivism. Republican atheists, religious secularists, Communist religious secularists…they all get the exact same “FUCK YOU” that PZ is offering up to thunderf00t.

      Now, PZ is more than welcome to tell Thunderf00t to fuck off. Hell, I’d even join him on that particular chorus.

      But, please, PZ, don’t fool yourself that that has anything to do with atheism or even secularism, or think that you’re fooling anybody else that it does.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • wilzardthespy
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

        Read to me like PZ was using their version of “the movement”.

        • Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

          PZ regularly goes out of his way to declare liberalism as a natural conclusion of empiricism, and that people come to atheism through empiricism. (I’m over-simplifying his position, of course. It’s a one-sentence summary).

          Even if he intended to mean “A+,” what he actually wrote was “the atheist movement.” At best, he’s being sloppy in his writing, but it seems to me that it’s his thinking, not his writing, that’s sloppy.

          b&

      • Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        But, please, PZ, don’t fool yourself that that has anything to do with atheism or even secularism,
        veering offtopic but you need to look up the meaning of the word secular. Women’s rights is clearly a secular cause/interest and any secular movement would include it.

        • Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

          In a sociopolitical context, secularism does not apply to everything non-religious. By your definition, Second Amendment rights are equally secular. But is the secular position in favor of or opposed to the right to arm bears?

          Rather, in this context, secularism means keeping religion out of the works. A secularist could very well oppose women’s rights; many (though certainly not all) of the anti-suffrage arguments from a century ago were entirely secular. Rather, the secularist would object to determining what rights women should and shouldn’t have based upon what one religion or another claims.

          There is a definite tendency for secularists to be liberals, but the correlation is also there with greater education and living in an urban environment. I personally wouldn’t want to make claims as to which is cause and which is effect.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

            By your definition, Second Amendment rights are equally secular.
            Sure. Except it’s not my definition – http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/secular.

            A secularist could very well oppose women’s rights;
            Only if he can do so on secular grounds. Go ahead , try it as an intellectual exercise.

            • Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

              Thanks, but I’d rather not see my breakfast twice.

              If you really want to see examples, just look up some of the propaganda of the time and you’ll see blather about how it’s unkind to burden the weaker sex with such weighty responsibilities, and other nonsense even more noxious.

              Now, where’d I put that antiemetic…?

              b&

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:33 am | Permalink

                Perhaps you also believe that replacing the word God by Designer makes ID a scientific argument.
                Anyway its implicit that the “reasoning” be neither fallacious nor incorrect.

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                deepakshetty, I most emphatically do not think the name of the superbeing matters to determining the validity of theories that posit non-natural influences in the development of life on Earth.

                And what difference does it make how valid an argument is to whether or not it’s religious? Or would you have us believe that the Luminiferous Aether and Lysenkoism are both somehow mysteriously religious because they’re incorrect?

                There are lots of arguments against women’s rights. Some of them are based on religious precepts; some aren’t. I can’t think of a single one that’s valid, but others obviously disagree with me.

                There are lots of arguments in favor of women’s rights. Some of those are based on religious precepts, too, and others aren’t. And some of the favorable arguments are also invalid.

                You’re conflating all sorts of unrelated things here, I’m afraid.

                b&

          • Persto
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

            I am in favor of the right to arm bears, Ben!

            Although, it could prove difficult.

        • Gary W
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

          but you need to look up the meaning of the word secular. Women’s rights is clearly a secular cause/interest and any secular movement would include it.

          Secular, in this context, means without religion. Women’s rights is a social/political issue. Secularism itself does not imply any particular position with respect to women’s rights.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

            It seems Ben and Gary W (and I, fwiw) agree on this point. Somebody engrave this in stone, quick!

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

            Secular, in this context, means without religion.
            Sigh. Secular has many contexts – you choose to intepret it narrowly.
            Secularism itself does not imply any particular position with respect to women’s rights.
            Ofcourse it does! Using purely secular reasoning arrive at a reason to oppose womens rights (or gay rights or evolution) – if you cant then the secular position does imply.

            • Gary W
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

              Using purely secular reasoning arrive at a reason to oppose womens rights (or gay rights or evolution) – if you cant then the secular position does imply.

              Of course you can use “secular reasoning” to do that. No religious premises or religious “reasoning” is necessary. But your phrase “oppose women’s rights” is so vague it’s hard to know what it’s supposed to mean. “Women’s rights” may refer to any of a vast range of potential political and social rights relating to a broad range of issues — voting, employment, education, sex, marriage, parenting and so on. Obviously, someone may support some of these proposed rights but not others. And even among people who support a particular right, there may be disagreement about the nature and magnitide of the right. For example, two people may agree that women have a right to paid maternity leave from their job, but disagree about how much leave they should have, and other aspects of that right. So the idea that the issue can be reduced to simply “supporting women’s rights” or “opposing women’s rights” is nonsense.

      • abrotherhoodofman
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        This would be comparable to a pushback against mandates that everybody must collect stamps whether they want to or not.”

        And to those who don’t wish to collect the Atheism+ stamp (or have that logo tattooed to your forehead), the Pharyngula horde has kindly implemented a cattle-branding option.

        But he’s trying to drag all sorts of other unrelated (though sometimes nobel) things along under the secular bus.”

        Exactly. “Nobel” as in dynamite!
        ;)

      • Mateus
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Can’t quite explain why, but every time I read/heard the words “the atheist movement” I cringe.

      • gbjames
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think there are very many religious members of FFRF. A better example would be People For the American Way.

        • Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          Hmm…you may be right.

          Another example: the ACLU.

          I’d suggest the NCSE if they weren’t in reality an organization largely devoted to Christian evangelization.

          b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

          You beat me to it. ;)

      • jose
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

        That agreement between you and Gary might be enough to build a movement on.

        A secularist movement would accept liberal christians who like separation of church and state.

        • Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

          As Steve Zara pointed out in the comments, what’s needed isn’t an atheist movement so much as a secular movement.

          And I’d even go one further, that we already have enough secular movements as it is.

          Many organizations are already fully on board with keeping religion out of the public sphere (and simultaneously protecting the right to practice it in the private sphere). And I think it’s much more impressive to have a diverse group of groups of people, religious and non-religious alike, left and right, and all other opposites you can think of, come together when it’s appropriate.

          If it’s just a bunch of atheists whinging about prayer in schools (or whatever), that and $6.75 will get you a small over-sweetened over-caffeinated dark brown beverage at Starbucks.

          But if it’s the Jews and the Buddhists and the Unitarians and the liberal Christians and the ACLU and the NAACP and MSF and the Red Cross and scientists and (some of) the schoolteachers and oh-by-the-way also a small handful of atheists opposing government sponsorship of religion…now that‘ll get somebody’s attention.

          And, you know what? While there’s certainly room for improvement, that’s exactly the situation we already have today.

          We need to remain eternally vigilant, and we’ve certainly got a long ways to go, but we’ll get there by doing what we’re already doing, not by coming up with purity tests for atheists who then get to wear a special armband with the sacred logo.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Diane G.
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

            Hear, hear!

            I so agree with you about PZ. He is way overinflating the simple word ‘atheism.’ And in addition he acts as if he’s the first to propound a humanist approach to, well, everything.

            These movements have been around a long time, folks. I was sorry to see Paul Kurtz get thrown under the bus toward the end of his life, since for many years he was one of the loudest, most effective voices in the wilderness. Another who would dictate “proper” political views, of course, but at least he called it secular humanism, not atheism.

            Freethinking in general has a much longer and prouder pedigree than most realize nowadays.

            And despite the current threat level (orange?) to sanity in the US, we do seem to be hanging on to our secular constitutional republic.

      • Uncle Ebeneezer
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        What’s getting lost here is the relationship between atheism and secularism. There is an atheist movement. It consists of authors, bloggers, commenters etc. promoting the validity of atheism, arguing for why it’s more likely true than religious belief, showing why it is on the whole better for society than religion and a whole host of other actions all aimed at fighting the common stigma that the word commonly has in the minds of many. The goal is to convince people on the fence that atheism is not only right, but better when compared to superstition. All the books, blogs, conventions etc., are all trying to sway people to our point of view, or at the very least encourage them not to be afraid to explore it and possibly embrace it if they find the argument convincing.

        The secular movement is aimed at political ends: ridding the world of the perpetual preferred treatment given to religion, and persecution of minority religions and non-religion. True separation of church and state, and all that.

        I support both. I want secular policies, and am willing to enlist the faithful in that goal, but at the same time, I think the world would be a much better place with more atheists. I especially care about the atheist movement because of it’s focus on skepticism and rational thinking, and obviously religion is one of the biggest things that stands in the way of both.

        I think the logic of PZ (which I share) is that secular goals are more likely to be reached as the number of atheists increases. There may be Buddhists, Jews, Christians etc., who support secularism and that’s great. I applaud them. But if a secular option is on a ballot or a grossly religious law needs to be stricken down, I have more confidence that the atheist voter will cast the vote that I would prefer. So I want atheism to grow in order to give more strength to the secular movement, because I believe the two are related in a directly proportional way (even if some secularists aren’t atheists and not every atheist bothers to support secularism.)

        What PZ is arguing is that given that there are apparently large swaths of untapped potential atheists who are being turned off by the ongoing misogynist, racist, homophobic sentiments seen regularly in atheist forums, getting rid of these sorts of sentiments is not only proper from a moral perspective, but also inherently practical because creating a larger, more inviting tent is one of the best ways to promote atheism. The only argument against it would be that the new environment would turn away more people than it would attract. And that assumption would be that the people turned off would appreciably diminish the strength of the secular movement.

        As it stands, A+ is merely looking to create a subset of the atheist movement, a place where women, LGBT, minorities etc., can go and feel more welcome. The people who don’t like that sort of environment can go elsewhere to do their part for atheism or secularism, or both. Homophobes can still be apart of the atheist and/or secular movement. But now people who don’t tolerate homophobia too. Having the two groups doing their things in different rooms hardly seems deserving of all the fuss that people are making over it. Thunderfoot is free to say the things he likes. People are free to support him. And people are free to criticize him and attempt to marginalize the views that they find repellent.

        • Gary W
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

          I don’t think your argument makes sense. Even assuming all members of the “atheist movement” share your stated goal of promoting and expanding the movement, that doesn’t mean they should support your favored methods of doing so. I think attempts to tie the movement to a particular set of political and social positions that have nothing to do with atheism itself, especially on such hot-button issues as gender, race and sexuality, are seriously misguided.

        • abrotherhoodofman
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

          As it stands, A+ is merely looking to create a subset of the atheist movement, a place where women, LGBT, minorities etc., can go and feel more welcome. The people who don’t like that sort of environment can go elsewhere to do their part for atheism or secularism, or both..”

          Richard Carrier agrees with you, and even suggests a possible meeting place for this recalcitrant “subset” of which you speak:

          There is a new atheism brewing, and it’s the rift we need, to cut free the dead weight so we can kick the C.H.U.D.’s back into the sewers and finally disown them, once and for all.

          [...]

          And so I am declaring here and now, that anyone who acts like this, is not one of us, and should be marginalized and disowned, as not part of our movement, and not anyone we any longer wish to deal with.

          Subset, indeed!

        • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

          the ongoing misogynist, racist, homophobic sentiments seen regularly in atheist forums,

          Except that they are anecdotal, and we don’t see them here.

          What is your evidence?

          Honestly, to me it sounds like accommodationism warmed over. “You are rude.” It is much the same people promoting it even, Watson et cetera.

          And while I applaud the idea that organizations should have ethics programs, I don’t see why movements should. It is, I think, a Trojan horse idea for injecting accommodationism back into it.

          • Persto
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:23 am | Permalink

            That’s it. Show me the data. The rational approach is to collect and analyze the data. Then determine the best course of action for addressing the misogyny in atheism. The emotional and irrational approach is the one that has been taken by PZ. I know sexism exists in the atheist community, but how are the issues of sexism and misogyny going to remedied without knowing what the data tells us about sexism and misogyny in the atheist community?

            It seems unscientific to me for someone to declare that atheism needs to be, not only, renamed but purged as well, when he does not even know what the data has told him about the problem he thinks has necessitated his purging and renaming.

        • jose
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:11 am | Permalink

          I went out of my way to find an advocate for an atheist movement who openly opposes A+ and PZ Myers because I did not want the conversation about an atheist movement hijacked by opinions about how much A+ and PZ Myers suck. We all know and accept that’s the side the wind blows in this part of the internet. But here we are, talking about how much A+ and PZ Myers suck anyway.

          Oh well.

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:55 am | Permalink

        I noticed that controversy between PZ and Thunderfoot, but haven’t quite been able to work out what the issue was. Neither of them appear to be candidates for diplomat of the year award though.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:24 am | Permalink

          That’s enough discussion on this issue here, which is irrelevant to the thread. I don’t want that toxic conversation spreading to this website, please.

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      and yet, for all of the chicken little claims of how atheism will be “destroyed, destroyed I tell you!”, by *anyone* who dares to link it to morality, we have yet to see one single instance of this happening. We have those who insist that atheism isn’t a movement, but those same people seem to think it is indeed a movement that can be destroyed by daring to have differences within it. Which is it, folks? You can’t have it both ways.

      Atheism isn’t a moral stance but saying that atheists simply can’t advocate for “atheism plus” because you don’t agree with them is just hilarious and quite a ball of hypocrisy. You see, “atheism plus” doesn’t mean atheism. Just like a burger without cheese isn’t a cheeseburger. Both can exist and if you are intelligent to know how to read, there should be no problem in figuring out which is which.

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

        sorry, Dr. Coyne, didn’t see your post. Please feel free to delete my post above.

  21. Jon Moles
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I disagree that it is necessary to define “compatibility”. The issue is a conflation of scientists with science. Scientists, being people, can rationalize and hold contradictory viewpoints, that much is undisputed, but scientists are not science. Science as a methodology is not compatible with religion. They aren’t compatible because religion isn’t a way of knowing anything. Scientists are compatible with religion, science is not, no matter the definition of compatible that is used.

    • Jaime Ospina
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      Quite correct. Some doctors smoke but that does not mean smoking is “compatible” with good health.

    • Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      If you don’t define compatibility Then you leave yourself open to NOMA arguments.

  22. Ken Pidcock
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect.

    Is there any other ideological position on which you think you should keep your mouth shut? Should climate change denialism be respected?

    With a capital T and that rhymes with D and that stands for deference.

  23. Marella
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.

    Since this falls under the heading of the bleeding obvious it’s hard to know why DS feels the need to either explain that it is true or discuss it as though it’s relevant to the subject at hand. Surely the meanest intelligence must realise that if people are asserting that religion and science are incompatible then this is not what they mean? And that if he wishes to make a meaningful contribution to the discourse he needs to move beyond such superficiality to address people’s actual points?

    Atheists who wish to patronise the religious in this fashion are worse than believers. What are these things that science gets wrong exactly? And if science gets them wrong how does he know this, a vision from god?

    • Gary W
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      What are these things that science gets wrong exactly? And if science gets them wrong how does he know this, a vision from god?

      Good questions. I’m not optimistic that Sarewitz will ever actually address this. Of course, science does sometimes get things wrong, but the only way we know that is through a later scientific finding that disproves an earlier one.

      • Marella
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

        My point exactly.

  24. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Daniel Sarewitz:

    If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.”

    How about Muslims who “come to terms” with life’s finiteness by strapping explosives around their bodies? No biggie?

  25. Michael Fugate
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Chana Messinger has a nice post on Sarewitz’s Nature piece.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2012/08/25/no-daniel-sarewitz-science-does-not-have-to-give-way-to-religion/

    Kloor bringing Sarewitz in is like ID bringing Behe in as star witness for the defense.

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me that a first core issue is that science must always claim complete autonomy and independence from any kind of religious authority whatsoever. It follows that no religious person should try to get science to confirm their religious beliefs. No one should try to get science to help religion.

    Secondly, science has consistently proved itself to me a more reliable, verifiable, and universal path to truth than any alternative “way of knowing”.

    Thirdly, a lot of religious claims have been disproved by science and/or historical investigation. (Adam and Eve for example).

    That said, science can weakly accommodate !*some*! forms of religiosity but only those which respect methodological naturalism rather than those that try to undermine it (William Dembski) and ideally only those which respect democracy (Rhode Island founder Roger Williams) rather than those that advocate theocracy (America’s Dominionist movement.)

    As I have stated before, I find it easier to live with accommodationists with very general non-specific religious views (Arthur Eddington) whereas those who are more detailed in their speculations and wheel-spinning are a bit more annoying. I suspect they are suffering from a more pernicious form of cognitive dissonance whereas the Eddingtons may just be like Walt Whitman saying “I contain multitudes”.

  27. Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    “There are lots of scientists who are also religious, so as an empirical matter science and religion are apparently not incompatible.”

    Is he serious? That’s like saying the rules of checkers and chess are compatible because you can play them in the same board.

    Of course you need to define “compatable” but also “science” and “religion”. Some people seem to mean you can reach similar conclusions or that one can back up the other, meaning compatability of outcomes. But that’s trivial. If archeology shows that a battle in the Bible actually happened that doesn’t say anything about the religion itself. Cargo cults are based on real events but their beliefs aren’t accurate.

    The only non-trivial meaning of compatable is the overlap of characterizing principles. What makes something a religion as opposed to a club is are the values of blind faith, revelation, dogma, unquestioning subordination to ultimate authority. What makes something science are the rejection of all of these things. Scientific values are aggregation of evidence, provisional acceptance, willingness to change beliefs, skepticism, questioning everything, and zero value in authority.

    Their defining principles are completely incompatable, almost to the point of being opposites.

  28. jose
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure how to reconcile these 2 ideas:

    1. Science and religion are intrinsically incompatible.
    2. Scientific evidence for God can exist.

    If you say evidence for the supernatural is possible, aren’t you opening the door to religion?

    • Sastra
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Science and religion are intrinsically incompatible in the same way that science and pseudoscience are intrinsically incompatible.

      You can take an example of any pseudoscience and recognize that, in theory, scientific evidence could exist. ESP, homeopathy, astrology, alchemy, dowsing and so forth could have been both been demonstrated with the scientific method and been part of the current scientific model.

      They qualify as pseudoscience, however, for two reasons: 1.) they are almost certainly wrong and 2.) they refuse to accept this by inventing new rules which protect them from falsification. This equates to an intrinsic incompatibility with science, on several levels.

      Religion is like that. Wrong AND without integrity. We open the door to religion — and religion refuses to step through.

      • jose
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

        If you could do science to prove that homeopathy works, then homeopathy would have a natural explanation. But the supernatural is by definition not natural. Science can’t take that leap, we’re stuck at the natural level.

        I don’t think pseudoscience is a good analogy because it deals with the natural world like science does, just in a misguided way. They have a method problem, is all. Spiritism would be a better comparison. Ghosts are sort of like God. Wizardry, too. They leap off the natural.

        • Marella
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          Homeopathy claims to be natural, not supernatural. It is not supposed to work by magic. Anything that claims to have effects in this universe can be investigated by science.

          • Sastra
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

            Homeopathy contains supernatural elements, though: the remedy ‘knows’ what needs to be remembered because the homeopath imbues “intention” into it. It also draws on ideas from sympathetic magic.

            The supernatural, the paranormal, and the spiritual are all pretty much the same thing. Homeopaths usually don’t have much of a problem admitting that homeopathy works on “spiritual principles.” This is especially true if they think you like the idea.

          • gbjames
            Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:35 am | Permalink

            Practitioners in magic (the “serious” kind, not the parlor-trick kind) all believe that they are operating in the natural world. The thing is that their version of the “natural world” is populated with demons, spirits, and “forces” that most of us here realize don’t exist.

            I don’t think it is right to remove homeopathy from the world of magic. It is, in fact, a classic case of sympathetic magic, where “like cures like”. It is just as much a form of magic as the red string bracelet worn by Kabbalah followers to ward off the Evil Eye.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

              I agree it’s sympathetic magic, but in more ways than one! Skeptics (I think including RD) indicate that the main reason it may “work” is that a typical homeopathic consultation is much longer and “personalized” than a standard medical consultation. Tea and sympathy does work in many cases :)

              • gbjames
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:11 am | Permalink

                By some definitions of “work”, I suppose.

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

                I’ll just put this here.

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

                A classic.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

          I define the “supernatural” as “a ‘mind-first’ force or power or process: mental things which cannot be reduced to non-mental things.” That means that many pseudosciences (such as ESP and other dualisms) deal with the supernatural — and that science could in theory support the existence of the supernatural.

          Be careful that you don’t make naturalism and supernaturalism both unfalsifiable. None of the methods of science make any mention of what can and cannot be studied.

  29. Sastra
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m more interested in whether a person is thoughtful, kind, and open-minded than whether they’re an atheist or religious. If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.

    Translation:

    “Are science and religion compatible? Well … I think … CHANGE THE SUBJECT! People are nice! Religious people too! So who cares? It’s not important! Why can’t we talk about something else? Okay? OKAY!!”

    Why oh why can’t all atheists just admit that they don’t believe in God, other people do, and this means — hey! Look! Out the window!

    Where were we again?

    • Marella
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      ROFL!!

  30. Posted January 3, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    r—as I do—”the comparative ability of science and religion, using their respective philosophies and methodologies, to discern (as they claim to be able) the truth about the universe.”

    I used to phrase this as an evidence based system is incompatible with a faith based one. (Your honor the DNA matches the accuser’s v/s trust me , your honor, the accused really did commit the crime!)

  31. johncozijn
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I suspect the problem is not so much the definition of “compatible” (though that’s not philosophically straightforward, either) but talking about “science” and “religion” as abstract categories. If, by posing the question at that level of abstraction, we end up not being able to mark the difference between Ken Ham and Ken Miller we have a problem.

    A more useful distinction might be between those who deny the established findings of science because of their religious beliefs and those who don’t. Such an approach at least allows one to construct a practical politics of defending science through the kind of coalition building that is mandatory for success in any democratic society.

    • Gary W
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Science is more than just a body of knowledge. It is a method for acquiring knowledge. Any claim that science and religion are compatible must address methods, not just findings.

      • johncozijn
        Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

        Epistemology continues to be a matter of debate among philosophers. But it is not really relevant to the issue. If you assert that scientific knowledge is the only source of reliable (though always provisional) information about the workings of the natural world, then you have a practical basis for negotiating knowledge claims without getting into thorny methodological questions.

        • Gary W
          Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

          Epistemology continues to be a matter of debate among philosophers. But it is not really relevant to the issue.

          Of course it’s relevant to the issue. The scientific method precludes claims of knowledge that rest on religious faith. That’s why science and religion are incompatible.

          • johncozijn
            Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

            “The scientific method precludes claims of knowledge that rest on religious faith.”

            I’m afraid it’s not that simple. The theory of evolution does not logically “preclude” theistic evolution. It makes “God” redundant as an explanatory principle, but that’s not the same thing.

            Faith-based claims that *contradict* scientific findings, such as on the age of the earth, are a different matter, but they fall under the general principle I outlined above about the priority of science on empirical claims about the natural world.

            • Gary W
              Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

              The theory of evolution does not logically “preclude” theistic evolution.

              Yes it does. Science simply doesn’t allow you to insert a box labeled “Divine Intervention Here.” Invocations of magic aren’t just different from science; they’re inconsistent with science.

              Faith-based claims that *contradict* scientific findings, such as on the age of the earth, are a different matter,

              No they’re not. If faith is a legitimate basis for belief, then it’s a legitimate basis for the belief that the scientific evidence is false or misleading and that the earth is really only 6,000 years old. Since there’s no basis for deciding between competing claims of faith, once you allow it at all anything goes.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

                My first comment stated that it was untenable to not distinguish between Ken Ham and Ken Miller, which is exactly where you have just ended up. I rest my case.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

                If your case rests on simply calling a claim “untenable,” then you don’t have a case. You have to offer an actual, you know, argument for your claim of untenability to be justified.

                I would be most interested to see your argument for the proposition that faith is a legitimate basis for some beliefs but not others.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:11 am | Permalink

                If someone (Miller) agrees with all scientific findings but in addition wants to believe that “God made the laws of nature” or some such, then there is nothing science can say apart from the fact that such a proposition is untestable and redundant to any scientific investigation.

                This is totally different from someone (Ham) who says the earth is 10,000 years old, which is testable, has been tested, and shown to be wrong.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:22 am | Permalink

                You still don’t get it. If faith justifies the belief that God invisibly intervened to guide evolution (i.e., “theistic evolution”), why doesn’t faith also justify the belief that God invisibly planted evidence to make the earth look much older than it really is? There is no relevant difference. Both beliefs are held as a matter of faith. There’s no rational or empirical basis for either of them.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

                “There’s no rational or empirical basis for either of them.”

                I agree. Doesn’t make them same, though.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:35 am | Permalink

                They’re “the same” in that they’re both held as a matter of faith. So if one (young-earth creationism) isn’t justified, then neither is the other one (theistic evolution). As I said, once you allow faith, anything goes.

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:39 am | Permalink

                Okay, we disagree. I would just add that your position seems to me politically naive, to say the least.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:42 am | Permalink

                “We disagree” isn’t terribly helpful. What part of the argument I just made is it exactly that you disagree with, and why?

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:45 am | Permalink

                One involves science-denial, the other does not, which seems a pretty big difference to me.

              • Gary W
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:01 am | Permalink

                One involves science-denial, the other does not,

                That’s irrelevant to the point. Both beliefs involve invisible intervention by God in the natural world. It’s just different kinds of invisible intervention. Neither belief is supported by science or reason. Both beliefs are held as a matter of faith. If faith is a valid basis for belief, then it’s a valid basis for the belief that “involves science-denial” as well as the one that doesn’t. If faith is NOT a valid basis for belief, then neither belief is justified. You can’t have it both ways.

            • johncozijn
              Posted January 4, 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

              “That’s irrelevant to the point.”

              It’s not if you want Christians (including federal judges and school boards) to accept evolution as a correct and verified account of biological diversity.

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

                See, that’s just it.

                What we care most about is the truth.

                Even if lying to people to convince them to wave our banner might get more people to wave our banner…well, we really don’t care that much about how many people wave our banner.

                We care about the truth.

                As it so happens, there are lots of indications that elevating truth over expediency generally results in better long-term outcomes, even if it also often results in more short-term setbacks.

                But if you’d rather have huge crowds of people following you all day long telling you how great your ass looks, by all means, lie to them as much as it makes you feel good.

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

                I’ve been involved in many campaigns on many issues over many years. Most have included Christians as part of these coalitions. I have never had to “lie” to them, but neither have I gratuitously insulted their beliefs or held myself up as someone in possession of “the truth”.

                The recent worldwide campaigns for gay marriage are a case in point.

                Perhaps you have a more distant relationship to the kinds of activities that lead to meaningful social change, but in my experience coalition building does not mean sacrificing one’s own principles, but it does mean learning to respect other people’s.

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

                John, uncalled-for proselytizing is just as rude and unproductive when it comes from rationalists as when it comes from fathiests.

                In particular, off-topic, out-of-context discussions of controversial subjects when you’re trying to work with a diverse group towards a shared goal is guaranteed to be a really bad idea.

                I think you’ll find that mature adults are perfectly capable of simply not doing that sort of thing, and of gracefully deflecting the matter when an obnoxious boob tries to force the matter.

                You know? “Hmm…George, how ’bout we leave the evolution debate for the pub after we’re done here discussing what we’re going to do about gay marriage. After all, that’s why we’re here, and I’d hate to see us get sidetracked and waste too much of our time on something unrelated to our core mission. So, Sally — any news from the Northeast?”

                Of course, if the subject actually is evolution, and George wants teachers to tell students that Jesus personally gave the soul gene to Adam and Eve in 4004 BCE, let him have it with both barrels.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • johncozijn
                Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

                I think that means we agree on something :)

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

      It is backwards. It is no problem with defining compatibility empirically rigorously, it is emphatically not a “philosophic” problem, since Jerry just did it in a measurable way (as ability).

      And then there is superficial difference between the two creationists Miller and Ham. They both deny natural processes, so science. And they are not useful to defend science wholesale. Miller spouts confusing quantum woo, when he feels he needs to defend his religion against science results.

      On the other hand there are religious, social, and political differences between these two individuals. And it is there one can make useful coalitions. It would be good if, say, one could get moderate religious to protest the fundamentalist encroachment on science and education, whether or not they themselves accept its results.

      • johncozijn
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 12:29 am | Permalink

        “They both deny natural processes …”

        Do they? I’d be interested to see where Miller does that.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

          Okay, John, you’re dominating this thread and I suggest you either quit posting or take it to private email.

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:18 am | Permalink

        Presumably, if you want to accept both god and a naturalistic unguided theory of evolution you would have say that the universe is a deterministic process and that the results of the process can be foreseen by god using his omniscience. To start off the universe, god just has to seed the random process that unwinds into the universe in such a way that evolution leading to man is a necessary consequence of the starting conditions.

        • Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          In such a universe, even the gods would have no ability to intervene and thus themselves lack what theologians describe as free will. Either they would be unable to perform miracles or they would have no choice but to perform them on command in accordance with the initial parameters.

          I don’t think there’re any religious folks who would consider those consequences compatible with the powers they presume the gods have.

          Of course, that’s all literary analysis. In the real world, quantum indeterminism quite nicely makes the whole point moot. Of course, the religious then try to hide their gods in the quantum woo, but that’s been soundly demonstrated false as well.

          b&

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

            Omniscience isn’t compatible with true randomness or “indeterminism” (if such a thing is indeed possible, which is dubious), since if a truly random event (rather than a pseudo random one) occurred, it could not have been foreseen by god. So a theist must logically be a determinist.

            I don’t see a problem with miracles though, since god operates outside of time and all events in the universe are simultaneous from his point of view. What to us appears to be a motion picture is to god a photograph album.

            • Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

              I’m sorry, but your last paragraph there is as incoherent and plain silly as telling a child that Santa lives north of the North Pole.

              b&

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

                No, it’s just a relativistic block space/time viewpoint: In special relativity time is an axis similar to the 3 dimensions of space and there is no absolute time or current moment.

                It’s just not so clear what the concept of a god existing outside of space and time actually means if anything. But if a god *did* exist outside of it our universe would look to him/it like a 4 dimensional tapestry where each location would be a four dimensional space time coordinate.

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                Um… an (at least) 11-dimensional tapestry.

                (Where the other 7+ dimensions represent the quantum fields in play at each space-time point.)

                /@

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                @Ant – Ah yes, you must be one of Brian Greene’s ants to notice those.

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                Or God … :-O

                /@

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                Roq, unless that godly set of dimensions actually existed, then it is precisely like being north of the North Pole.

                And we know that said dimensions, even if they were to exist, are completely and utterly disconnected from ours, with nothing going in either direction (including divine interaction), because we’ve accounted for everything and there’s nothing left over.

                So, yeah. Jingle Bells north of the North Pole, laughing all the way….

                b&

              • Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                @Ben – Actually, we have no idea whether the concept of time stretches back to before the big bang or whether there are are other universes similar to or different to our own (not to complicate things with theories such as eternal inflation). That’s because general relativity breaks down at the Planck scale and we will need a theory of quantum gravity to look further.

                The north of the north pole thing is an old chestnut and a misunderstanding that assumes that the big bang started from a singularity and there was no space/time outside of that. But, in fact we simply don’t know what happened in the early stages of the universe and what we call the universe may not be all that there is.

                One thing that atheists need to appreciate is that any ultimate explanation of the universe is likely to be very odd indeed and we are not even close to knowing the answers. But, there is no need to be defensive, since, in the absence of evidence the hypothesis that there is a creator of the universe and he had a son called Jesus isn’t high on the list of likely answers.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

                Roq, the question of whether the Big Bang marks the zero point on the time axis is irrelevant to the proposition that you’ve raised that there are additional time axes parallel and / or orthogonal to the one we’re familiar with.

                Not only is there no evidence of such axes, there is overwhelming evidence against their existence. Interaction such as you describe would constitute and / or require gross violations of both conservation and causality, and there is absolutely nothing that has been more firmly empirically established than the validity of both — at least, on macro and relativistic scales (the quantum world gets fuzzier, but not in any way that opens the door t anything remotely like what you’re describing).

                Can one imagine an hypothetical universe matching your description? Sure. But one can also imagine Flatland. For that matter, one can also imagine Santa, Superman, and Jesus.

                The point isn’t the imaginative plausibility of fantasies. The point is distinguishing such from reality.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                I’d say you’re wrong here, Ben, and Roq really isn’t “plain silly”. He’s certainly not claiming that a God-outside-of-time-and-space exists, but that if it did, that is what our space-time would look like. And, in fact, that description of “simultaneous” (in some meta-temporal sense) multi-dimensional points is precisely how some physicists and cosmologists describe things; see, e.g., the chapter “Time: The First Quantum Concept” in David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality.

                /@

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

                Hmmm…I’m not necessarily an expert on the latest multidimensional hypotheses, so I should probably bow out at this point.

                I will, however, insist that an intelligence acting upon (or even observing) us from “outside Einsteinian spacetime,” even if universal geometry might permit such a thing, would, by definition, be violating conservation and causality, and, as such, deserves no more serious consideration than a proposal for building a perpetual motion machine.

                In other words, until somebody actually goes and builds one and makes a mint selling power, it’s the absolutely least likely explanation imaginable.

                Cheers,

                b&

        • johncozijn
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          I think the most credible-seeming attempt is Conway Morris on convergence, but in truth I find all the stuff by theistic evolutionists sounds rather like special pleading. But does it matter if they’re not doing violence to the actual science?

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

            How is engaging in special pleading not doing violence to the actual science?

            Most days, when I start my car, it’s the expected process of a spark from the battery igniting the fuel leading to combustion and movement of the cylinders and compression and exhaust and all the rest.

            But, every so often, it’s the invisible dragon in my garage who starts the car, even though I’m still turning the key and the battery is charged and there’s fuel in the tank on the rest. If it weren’t for my invisible dragon, there are days when I’d be stranded. And the days when the car actually won’t start…well, sometimes that’s because the battery is dead, sure, but other times it’s because the dragon is on vacation in the Bahamas.

            There’s your accommodationism.

            b&

          • Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            Yes it’s like you explain to someone exactly how a TV works and then they ask where the little men appearing on the screen live: “Maybe it works how you say for nature programs, but surely that man reading the news must be in there somewhere”.

  32. g2-d34147f3f4e571d41cd1577a51e70a35
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    The identical case could be made for people who choose “to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time” through mind-numbing drug use. I can’t see how that would bother Kloor either (so long as they are thoughtful and kind!)
    It’s pretty weak sauce however as a persuasive argument for valuing both approaches equally if one seeks the truth of the matter.

  33. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted January 3, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    It’s Angkor Wat.

  34. Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    My one comment: it’s crucial in these arguments to define “compatibility”, and it makes a big difference whether you conceive of science/faith compatibility as “the ability to do both or accept both at the same time” (the common argument), or—as I do—”the comparative ability of science and religion, using their respective philosophies and methodologies, to discern (as they claim to be able) the truth about the universe.”

    The problem here is that by knowingly using a different definition of “compatibility” than your opponents, you render any debate meaningless. If what you mean when you say “science and religion are incompatible” is “science is really good at figuring out the truth about the physical universe; religion, not so much” then I think you’ll find that most of the accomodationists you deride wouldn’t disagree with you … especially the atheists. However, saying that science is really good at what it does — and likely, like Wolverine, the best there is at what it does — doesn’t impact the stance that you can have a consistent worldview that contains both scientific views and religious views.

    Quite literally, you and accomodationists are not talking about the same thing when you use the same words. And by moving to the definition you give, it really sounds like you are conceding their position, but perhaps saying that it isn’t an interesting compatibility (like Dennett). Since most accomodationists, then, would concede you your incompatibility but say the same thing about it, there is no clash at all; you are vigorously agreeing about the claims put forward, but are disagreeing about something else: whether, for example, someone SHOULD still believe in religion or a specific religion, or whether someone should make their religious beliefs consistent with science or just drop them altogether. Which are interesting debates — they form the heart of all atheist/theist debates over the past several thousand years — but have nothing to do with accomodationism or compatibilism as ANYONE defines the terms, even you.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      They don’t give a definition; I do. And no, most accommodationists wouldn’t agree with me even under my definition, because they think that religion is a valid way of knowing things about the physical universe.

      And how you think I concede their position is beyond me.

      You should read the theologians on ways of knowing before you claim that accommodationists agree with me. They sure as hell don’t–even under my definition. See John Haught, John Polkinghorne, and so on and so on.

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

        I’ll try to be brief here (since I want to write a post on this), but to me under your definition the question to ask is “If science had a proven scientific fact that conflicted with their religious beliefs, would these theologians argue that that scientific fact should not be considered one on the basis of religion?”

        All atheist accomodationists, clearly, wouldn’t.

        Haught wouldn’t. He talks clearly about levels of explanation and by definition a fact at another level of explanation isn’t contradictable by another one (er, more or less, since the facts at all levels have to be consistent in some sense).

        Plantinga is clear that he accepts all scientific facts, but not all of the metaphysical/philosophical conclusions that people take from those facts. His book — which I just read — is all about separating out the actual scientific facts from those other sorts of commitments.

        Given what Polkinghorne says about natural theology and how he has adapted his views in reaction to scientific facts, it is unlikely that he would do that as well.

        All of this is independent of whether they think that religion can produce some knowledge claims. And I really don’t want to start talking about ways of knowing because that would get really, really long.

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

          64% of Americans would reject the fact if it contravened their faith; that’s the result of a Time magazine poll. The question is whether these theologians accept as facts things that science wouldn’t, because there is no evidence.

        • Sastra
          Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          under your definition the question to ask is “If science had a proven scientific fact that conflicted with their religious beliefs, would these theologians argue that that scientific fact should not be considered one on the basis of religion?”

          No. Under Jerry’s definition of compatibilism, the question to ask is “If science had a proven scientific fact that conflicted with their religious beliefs, would these theologians argue that those religious beliefs should not be considered in conflict with that scientific fact, upon proper consideration?”

          In other words, compatibilists are more committed to keeping their faith than they are to being honest enough to revise their world view if it’s been falsified.

          And another important point: We are not saying that “science is really good at figuring out the physical universe.” We are saying that “science is really good at figuring out reality.”

          Of course the religious would have no problem agreeing with that first one.

          • Posted January 5, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

            Well, I think it clear that if your question means “Will they adapt their specific religious beliefs so that they aren’t in conflict with the scientific facts?”, then they absolutely will do that, and so will indeed revise their worldview. This is what theology and moderate religion is criticized for, remember. If you mean it, however, as “Will they abandon their belief in God and become atheists?” then the answer is that at least so far they haven’t, but that it isn’t clear when one is forced to abandon a theory or view of the world. Science has this precise problem, which is usually introduced in “Introduction of Philosophy of Science”, asking when you should abandon a theory in science or when you should keep patching it up, and pointing out that there’s no really clear way to tell that.

            Accomodationists are willing to change their worldview to keep their specific scientific and religious beliefs consistent. That’s pretty much their defining trait.

            As for the last point, you would need to establish that everything in reality is scientific, or that science gets the physical stuff and that’s all there is. Neither of these can be proven scientifically, and of course people challenge that philosophical move, since it isn’t really proven to any reasonable standard.

        • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          But Plantinga’s simply being inconsistent. It is an IBE that (say) general relativity is approximately true (to speak elliptically of having a theory be true rather than its individual propositions) in the same way that materialism is an IBE.

          • Michael Fugate
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

            Also Plantinga is a supporter of ID – an indicates that he does not accept all scientific facts.

            • Michael Fugate
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

              *indication*

  35. Robert Bray
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    At the beginning of 2012, Leon Wieseltier, the noted essayist and literary editor of ‘The New Republic,’ called Alex Rosenberg’s ‘An Atheist’s Guide to Reality’ ‘the worst book of the year’ (2011). Now, leaving aside the questions of what ‘worst’ might mean, and how many of the thousands of books published in 2011 Mr. W. could have read, those of us knew right away why he could make such a peevish judgment: He considered Rosenberg a devotee of ‘scientism,’ and no worse thing could one be short of a mass murderer. I mention this here and now because it’s pretty clear that many humanists who are atheists (myself included) simply hate the idea that science gets good answers to fundamental questions while humanism (in which I include history and the so-callled ‘soft’ social sciences) does not and (at least according to Rosenberg) cannot.

    What work do we humanists have?

  36. marvol19
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    “I don’t believe in god(s) and I think those that do are incorrect. But I think humans have lots of different ways of making sense of their experience of the world, and my way happens to be atheism.

    If people want to try to come to terms with the finiteness of life in the face of the infinitude of time through religion rather cosmology, I don’t see why that should bother me.”

    He doesn’t see why. Let me give my opinion (and why I push back against any and every form of religion)

    It’s because people like the Taliban use their “way of making sense of the world” and “coming to terms with the finiteness of time” to oppress everyone they get a chance to, not stopping at putting a gun to the head of a schoolgirl.

    And if you don’t dare to tell off the moderately religious for being wrong, you can’t tell off the Taliban either, because you have no way of deciding why their specific branch of stupid superstition is worse than, say, that of your average Catholic down the road.

    All religion is wrong – or none of it can be held wrong. Another binary choice.

    • Sastra
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Apparently ‘good’ atheists think they are able to say “there is no God — but if there WAS a God, then it would be like yours!” And the theists who hear this apparently think this strengthens the value of their religion and counts against the others.

      Greta Christina calls it “seeking The Atheist Seal of Approval.”

  37. Botanylife
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Keith Kloor and special interest groups funding stupid non scientific entries to push a predetermined financially beneficial agenda in a “science” magazine is incompatible with science too. That should be the debate. KK is one mean cherry picker though.

  38. Jaime Ospina
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I fully agree with marvol19. The promotion of nonsense is harmful and cannot be excused on the basis of its degree of harmfulness.

    Being “thoughtful, kind, and open-minded” is not a license for espousing nonsense; promoting nonsense is always dishonest and harmful.


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