A specious argument for the comity of evolution and faith

UPDATE:  Victor Stenger has just published a response to Tegmark at HuffPo, emphasizing the nonscientific attitude of the Catholic church toward evolution.

__________

I found a curious article at HuffPo (where else?) about why there isn’t really a conflict between evolution and religion.  The piece is by Max Tegmark, a Swedish physicist who is now a professor at MIT, and is called “Celebrating Darwin: religion and science are closer than you think”.  Closer than who thinks?, I wondered. It turns out that the piece gives a grossly distorted view of how compatible Americans consider evolution and faith to be.

Besides his activities as a cosmologist, Tegmark is also the founder of the MIT Survey on Science, Origins, and Religion.  And it’s this project, claims Tegmark, that shows how Americans grossly overestimate the conflict between science and faith. Tegmark notes:

We found that only 11 percent of Americans belong to religions openly rejecting evolution or our Big Bang. So if someone you know has the same stressful predicament as my student, chances are that they can relax as well. To find out for sure, check out this infographic.

So is there a conflict between science and religion? The religious organizations representing most Americans clearly don’t think so. Interestingly, the science organizations representing most American scientists don’t think so either: For example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that science and religion “live together quite comfortably, including in the minds of many scientists.” This shows that the main divide in the U.S. origins debate isn’t between science and religion, but between a small fundamentalist minority and mainstream religious communities who embrace science.

Well, right off the bat you see the problem here: Tegmark is taking as his criterion of conflict the official positions of scientific bodies and churches rather than that of scientists or believers themselves.  For instance, as I documented in my recent paper in Evolution, while the official position of the National Academy of Sciences is that there is no conflict between science and faith, 93% of the members of that Academy—the most elite body of scientists in America—are atheists or agnostics. As for scientists as a whole, I noted that:

“While only 6% of the American public describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, 64% of scientists at “elite” American universities fall into these classes (Ecklund 2010; similar results were found by Larson and Witham 1997).”

And take a look at these figures from a 2009 Pew Survey:

Picture 3

No conflict? Why is atheism among scientists tenfold more common than among the American public, and even higher among scientists at more elite universities or those who are members of more elite organizations?  The answer surely involves atheists going into science more often, but almost certainly the main reason for the discrepancy is simply that practicing science erodes one’s religious belief.  I needn’t explain why in this forum.

What about the believers? Tegmark claims that among these folks the conflict isn’t between science and faith, but between a “fundamentalist minority” and mainstream accommodationists. Here he is simply wrong.  His error comes from his taking as his view of the “mainstream” to be the official statements of churches, not the beliefs of their adherents:

So why is this small fundamentalist minority so influential? How can some politicians and school-board members get reelected even after claiming that our 14 billion-year-old universe might be only about 6,000 years old? That’s like claiming that 90-year-old aunt is only 20 minutes old. It’s tantamount to claiming that if you watch this video of a supernova explosion in the Centaurus A Galaxy about 10 million light-years away, you’re seeing something that never happened, because light from the explosion needs 10 million years to reach Earth. Why isn’t making such claims political suicide?

Part of the explanation may be a striking gap between Americans’ personal beliefs and the official views of the faiths to which they belong. Whereas only 11 percent belong to religions openly rejecting evolution, Gallup reports that 46 percent believe that God created humans in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. Why is this “belief gap” so large? Interestingly, this isn’t the only belief gap surrounding a science-religion controversy: whereas 0 percent of Americans belong to religions arguing that the Sun revolves around Earth, Gallup reports that as many as 18 percent nonetheless believe in this theory that used to be popular during the Middle Ages. This suggests that the belief gaps may have less to do with intellectual disputes and more to do with an epic failure of science education.

What? A failure of science education? That’s crazy, for although there is some correlation among Americans between level of education and acceptance of evolution, the main obstacle to accepting evolution, as I document in my paper (link above) is religion. I have met many intelligent people who reject evolution, but I’ve never met a single creationist whose views aren’t impelled directly by faith. As for the fact that we no longer believe in a earth-centered solar system, but still reject evolution, that’s because a heliocentric solar system doesn’t pose nearly the problems for our self-image, and our view of meaning, purpose and morality, that evolution does.  If it were merely a matter of education, there would be as few American believers in creationism as in an earth-centered solar system or a flat earth.

Tegmark gives this graph to show the comity of science and faith:

Screen shot 2013-02-13 at 7.08.25 AM

Look at that deceptive figure: NO conflict between Catholicism and evolution, or between Methodists and evolution! (You can click on the original to see official statements by the organizations approving of evolution.)  But that’s specious, and Tegmark knows it. Instead of looking at the official positions of churches, let’s look at the statistics on members of churches.  The blue bars show the proportions of adherents to each faith who are young-earth creationists:Picture 5

Those Catholics, then? Yes, Tegmark’s graph shows NO conflict between faith and evolution if you look at the official position of the church, but 27% of Catholics are young-earth creationists, compared to 31% of the American public as a whole. Another 25% of Catholics think that God guided evolution (indeed, that is the official position of the church, since God supposedly inserted a soul in the human lineage), and only 33% of them accept evolution as a naturalistic process—the truly scientific position. Theistic evolution is not a view that is in harmony with science.

What about “Mainline Protestants”? According to Tegmark’s graph there is nearly 100% comity, but only 32% of them take a truly scientific position on evolution, 26% are young-earth creationists, and 26% theistic evolutionists.

What we have here is not a failure of education, but (à la “Cool Hand Luke”) a failure to communicate: that is, Tegmark’s failure to deal with the statistics of individuals and not just organizations.

And here is how the American public perceives the conflict between religion and science as a whole, again taken from the Pew survey:

Picture 4

55% of the public, 53% of Catholics, and 54% of mainline Protestants see religion and science as “often in conflict”, and the figures are 38%, 44%, and 32% respectively when people are asked whether science conflicts with people’s own faith.  Of course, the figures for perceiving conflict are higher (68%) for the religiously unaffiliated, and lower (16%) for conflict with one’s own faith—i.e., lack of faith.

The picture painted here, and in my Evolution paper, is that creationism in America is almost wholly a problem of America’s religiosity, not America’s lack of science education. How else can we explain that we are at the bottom of first world countries in accepting evolution, but around the middle in our level of education?

It baffles me sometimes that people cannot see this simple point, and my only explanation is that Americans are so eager to coddle religion, and so unwilling to criticize it in the merest way, that they won’t even admit that creationism is a problem of religion. And I am infuriated at Tegmark’s distortion of the data (using official church positions rather than the beliefs of the faithful) to pretend that the problem is one not of religion, but of education.  He is thus able to arrive at the classic accomodationist conclusion:

I feel that people bent on science-religion conflict are picking the wrong battle. The real battle is against the daunting challenges facing the future of humanity, and regardless of our religious views, we’re all better off fighting this battle united.

But with whom, Dr. Tegmark, am I to be united? Those 58% of Catholics and Mainline Protestants who are either theistic evolutionists or young-earth creationists? Sorry, but I don’t make common cause with those who think that God guided evolution, or gave humans our special souls.

Tegmark can massage the figures any way he wants, but the problem remains religion, religion, and religion. We would not have creationism if there were no religion, even if the present educational system were to remain the same.  Yes, we do need better schools, and better education in biology, and that will make a difference in accepting evolution, but only a marginal one.  After having gone around the country promoting and discussing my book—a book that does educate people, that does give them the unassailable evidence for evolution—I see the universal resistance to my message produced by the brainwashing of Americans by faith.

Science education is not nearly enough. We have indeed picked the right battle, and it’s against religion.

77 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. david middle
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I read this the other day and after massaging the figures as you point out he blames everything on poor science education. This guy is blinkered.

  3. Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Tegmark seems to be taking the fact that religious scientists manage not to allow their faith and their science conflict internally means there is no conflict in principle or from evidence.

  4. Buzz
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    This is nothing new for Tegmark. Even in the realm of physics, he’s known for his unconventional (to put it mildly) notions. His operational definitions of terms like “true” and “exist” are patently absurd. As far I can tell, anything he says about topics other than the cosmic microwave background is rendered total rubbish by his omnipresent sophistry.

    • peter
      Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      “His operational definitions of terms like “true” and “exist” are patently absurd.”

      Can you let me know where exactly those are to be found? Thanks.

      • Jeff Johnson
        Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        I think in this case the word “operational” implies his definitions might be inferred from context by noting the manner in which the words are used.

        It suffices to say that Tegmark is a Platonist, and his mathematical universe hypothesis is a kind of modal realism for mathematics. In my view this makes him a kind of solopsist, barely distinguishable psychologically from the religious faithful in their hyper-optimism about their ability to mentally visualize real things.

        • peter
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

          He claims “his mathematical universe hypothesis” is empirically falsifiable. If not now, likely later. Is it not? If it is, that surely makes him rather different from “a kind of solopsist, barely distinguishable psychologically from the religious faithful in their hyper-optimism about their ability to mentally visualize real things.”

  5. Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I like the comparison between both analysis. It shows that religious people don’t think what they are supposed to think i.e. what their churches says is the Truth. They think for themselves (or believe what they want), sadly, it’s not critical thinking when evaluating their religious belief.

    • Notagod
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      It could also be that the preachers aren’t preaching what the “official” position is. That is what I think is happening, such as when the catalicker poop speaks it sounds a lot more like doG did it then evolution is a natural outcome of evolutionary processes.

      The preachers are acting on the mythology not on the “official” position. I think the “official” position is there to make them appear less outdated, and for use in manipulating what the cause of the christian problem is, as Tegmark does. I think it is manipulation by design as is common practice within religious indoctrination. The education emanating from the pulpit is the largest part of the problem. Which then radiates out to those that think it is acceptable to smuggle christian gods into science classrooms.

      Which highlights one general problem that is strongly supported by christianity; deception and manipulation.

      • Pete D
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        I think that is right! My kids go to a Catholic elementary school and are taught about the Garden of Eden, talking snakes, Adam and Eve, and Noah’s flood as if these are beliefs held by the Catholic church. I don’t even think their (Catholic) teachers are aware of what the official church positions are on such things.

        My understanding is that it is difficult to teach sophistimicated theology to 6 yr olds because they ask too many challenging questions.

  6. Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Part of the reason that most “religious people” don’t see the contradiction between science and religion is because most religious believers don’t have a very good understanding of their own Theology.

    Look up the “controversy” on the “Historical Adam” in christian theology. The “liberal Christians” who accept evolution have to deny that we didn’t descend from only two humans, or they have major issues theologically. Their explanation for evil in the world being “mans fault, not god’s” falls apart. The idea of the “atonement” of Jesus starts to fall apart, and ultimately the “source of evil” ends up being god, having created humans as innately “sinful” in nature.

  7. r3formed
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Christians are the most difficult to talk to about things in my experience I just encounter them the most. I don’t think it’s a function of their faith though, even the limited description of blind religious faith you’re describing. The issue is ignorance but science education wouldn’t work because they don’t care to hear it. They have it all figured out.

    We see this claim of absolute truth outside of religions as well. So are you really waging the right war? Are you suffering from the same disease?

    Human nature seems to be the problem. Religion is just a tool that can be used for evil as well as good. Just like most things.

    • Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      Yes, religion and science are done by humans.

      But religions generally aim to affirm the belief, no matter what; and often value what in science would be considered fallibilities to be accounted for and maybe compensated for, such as intuition. Religion is pretty much guaranteed to affirm the wrong conclusion if you start with the wrong premise – the latter usually being a presupposition of God.

      The point of science is specifically to compensate for human fallibilities, as much as fallible humans compensate for their fallibilities; and then still to leave the door open for revision.

      Poles apart.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      The problem with the “religion is just a tool” approach is that religion is a tool expressly designed for encouraging and feeding into some of the worst aspects of human nature when it comes to how we arrive at our conclusions and how we hold or change them. It’s rather like arguing that automatic weapons are ‘just a tool’ like a hammer or a waffle iron. Tool for what though?

  8. Dominic
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Curious about the ‘higher power’ belief – is that mathematics? Seriouysly though, is that just not wanting to call it god/s? Do they mean ‘aliens’? (Are Mainline Protestants ones who take drugs?!)

    “I have met many intelligent people who reject evolution”. I have no wish to insult anyone but yet I would insert ‘supposedly’ after ‘many’ in that sentence, at least for people of that ilk with whom I have met.

  9. Emmanuel
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    Should the last sentence in the 1st paragraph read religion and science?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      Indeed! Fixed, thanks.

      • Emmanuel
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

        By the way lets find a way to get you to UGA in the next trip down south. We have to deal with people like this guy:
        http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_F._Schaefer,_III

        down here.

        It’d be nice to have more real scientists drop by this place. :)

        • peter
          Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

          I took a look, never having heard of Schaefer, and find it amusing that 2, of the 3 or 4 most immature adults I know, who are simultaneously highly competent in their technical fields, are also quantum computational chemists. (This is an occasion where being a bit anonymous was preferable, both for me and maybe them!) Are there scholars here in that field to put me down, deservedly I guess? Fortunately perhaps, their immaturity above does not manifest itself in religious nonsense, as far as I have experienced.

  10. DrBrydon
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of a butch I pulled in a paper on the Salem Witch Trials in college, where I argued that, since there are no such things as witches, what was going on at Salem couldn’t have been about witchcraft. The professor, very kindly, pointed out that that didn’t mean that people in Salem didn’t believe in witches. Ouch.

    Obviously, if people deviate from their sect’s doctrines or teachings, the problem can’t be with the information they are receiving through the ministry. I’d suggest Tegmark look up the term “heterodoxy”. Perhaps it’s his physics background, but just because there are rules, doesn’t mean people follow them. If the Catholic Church at the height of its power couldn’t illiminate heterodox opinions, there is no reason to think that a sect’s official theology is going to have primacy in today’s free-marketplace of religion.

  11. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Catholics are due to get a new pope soon. Which means a new opportunity to put a regressive whackjob in power. Indeed, advance speculation has already mentioned Archbishop Christoph Schoenborn as a possibility. Schoenborn has taken a ride on the ‘Intelligent Design’ bandwagon. It seems unlikely that he would use the papal ex cathedra powers to declare Creationism to be infallibly a part of Catholic doctrine, but it is more likely that he would use the ‘bully pulpit’ of the papacy to muddy the waters in favor of anti-science.

  12. vstenger
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Good post, Please see my HuffPuff responding to Max at

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-stenger/no-belief-gap_b_2672842.html

    • gbjames
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the link. And thanks even more for your Huff-Posts.

    • marycanada FCD
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      +1

    • Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      +elebenty gazillon.

    • Occam
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

      It is instructive to compare the data with those of a corresponding survey from Germany (data 2005, published 2007):
      Creationism in Germany 2005
      The survey was undertaken by the “Forschungsgruppe Weltanschauungen in Deutschland” on behalf of the “Giordano-Bruno-Foundation” (the name defines the programme and outlook).

      Victor Stenger writes that Tegmark and colleagues didn’t as the right questions. Evidently correct, and blindingly obvious. In contrast, the fowid.de survey offered three distinct positions:

      (1) God created life on Earth, including all species, exactly as narrated in the Bible;
      (2) Life on Earth was initially created by some higher being (e.g., a god), but underwent a long evolutionary process, guided by a higher being (e.g., a god);
      (3) Life on Earth developed without any intervention from some higher being and underwent a natural evolutionary process.

      Clearly, position (2), “God-guided evolution” is intelligent design creationism exactly as defined by Victor Stenger, and clearly identified by the surveyors as such.

      Results? Look at the charts right on p.1 of the fowid.de survey.
      Briefly: on average: 61% agree with Naturalist Evolution, 25% theistic “evolution”/I.D.; 13% creationist literalists.
      Of course, the agreement with Naturalist Evolution among the “nons” (=Unaffiliated) is much higher: 86%.
      In 2005, there was still a marked gap between East and West Germany. In East Germany, after 40 yrs of “scientistic” education, whatever its faults, the acceptance of Naturalist Evolution was a whopping 82%.

      Going by the numbers, the peculiarity is evidently an American cultural/ideological phenomenon.

  13. darrelle
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Basing an analysis on what people say when they are asked is not effective. The statements made by organizations, religious and science, are propaganda intended to evince a particular response. They are biased. The same is very often true for individuals as well.

    And then there is the problem of people intentionally misunderstanding what the conflict is (no matter how often it is clearly stated) so that they can rationalize that they are reasonable in claiming that there is no conflict.

    It is naive to think that an analysis based on such statements is in any way accurate. What Tegmark needs to do is observe peoples behavior “in the wild”. What do they do, how do they act, what do they say when they are not being confronted specifically with this question by a journalist or surveyor?

    • gbjames
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      IMO, what Tegmark needs to do is review Richard Feynman’s First Principle and stop fooling himself.

      • darrelle
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        Yes, that gets right to the heart of it. Though I am not so sure he is fooling himself. Maybe I am pessimistic but when scientists like Tegmark make such statement my first thought is “what is his underlying motive here?”

        • gbjames
          Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          Ya. The underlying motive is why they are fooling themselves.

  14. Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I may be missing something…but I was under the distinct impression that the official position of the Catholic Church is that of monogenism, and that polygenism cannot be embraced by the faithful.

    That is, official dogma states that Adam and Eve were real people and that all humans take their origin through them.

    How that could even hypothetically be reconciled with anything vaguely resembling modern evolutionary theory is utterly beyond me, even if the Church does grant that most of the rest of the events in the history of life on Earth happened as understood by scientists.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Posted February 13, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Monogenism vs. polygenism is a 19th century debate as to whether the various human races had separate creations, and thus might be separate species (some thought they were). The Catholic Church opposed polygenism, and insisted (correctly) that all people were one species. Polygenism is not the opposite of believing in Adam and Eve, it’s believing that some humans are not part of the ‘brotherhood of man’.

      • Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        I’m not especially familiar with the origins of that particular debate, but it’s certainly since evolved into an integral part of the Church’s official position on human evolution.

        That is, because the Church rejects polygenism and embraces monogenism, the church must also reject the scientific disproval of a one-couple genetic bottleneck for H. sapiens sapiens.

        …even if they don’t often publicly trumpet that inconvenient contradiction….

        Cheers,

        b&

  15. Sastra
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Part of the explanation may be a striking gap between Americans’ personal beliefs and the official views of the faiths to which they belong… This suggests that the belief gaps may have less to do with intellectual disputes and more to do with an epic failure of science education.

    Shouldn’t Tegmark be addressing this discrepancy by talking about an epic failure of religious education? After all, if people who go to a church are unaware of what their own religion says about a scientific theory, then it seems obvious to me that this curious cluelessness needs to be corrected by sectarian religious leaders, not public school teachers. That’s their job, isn’t it?

    I think the reason so many Catholics or Lutherans seem to be unaware that it’s officially “okay to believe in evolution” is that in religion beliefs about the world are less important than beliefs about God. Faith matters … it matters the most. And therefore it doesn’t much matter how you get there.

    So if someone’s faith in a religion is strengthened by believing that the earth is 6,000 years old, then that’s okay as far as the church is concerned. Evolution is not a church doctrine. It’s about the secular world. The only doctrine they have about it is that it doesn’t officially conflict with their religion so that it’s fine to accept it — and equally fine not to.

    Do what feels right for you. Do what brings you closer to God. Evolution, creationism, whatever. Faith matters. Keep your faith. It’s the main thing in a believer’s commitment.

    As Jerry regularly notes, in science faith is a vice and in religion it is a virtue. Even when the churches seemingly have “no conflict” with evolution or science there’s still an underlying and basic conflict. They still think that what they believe or say or rule or pronounce matters. They still think the most important thing is to keep faith by any method or means possible.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      After all, if people who go to a church are unaware of what their own religion says about a scientific theory

      Most of those churches Tegmark lists as no conflict merely do not oppose evolutionary theory. That does not mean they have taken a stand for it; only that they do not consider opposition to it to be an important part of their church doctrine. This is a low bar to set. It means that Catholics and other theists who oppose evolution are probably not violating their church’s teaching.

    • Posted February 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      I agree with this totally, Sastra. My mother attends a Lutheran church and she’s never heard anyone in “authority” discuss evolution. I hang out there Wednesday evenings for meals with her and I’ve been working up the courage to ask some of the pastors what they could do to better educate their flock.

  16. @eightyc
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    lol.

    Just send him a copy of Carl Sagan’s book, “The Demon-Haunted” world. That book is pretty awesomez.

  17. TJR
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    To summarise (and allowing for caveats on the usages of the word belief):

    Methods of science and methods of religion: totally incompatible and fundamentally in conflict.

    Belief in science and belief in religion: compatible, but clearly negatively correlated.

  18. Hempenstein
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Fascinating, up in the wheel of fortune, to find that Lutherans are much like Baptists in re. evolution. And Presbyterians too. I wouldda thought they’d be like Episcopalians or Methodists, but instead they’re officially more like Pentecostals. And then there’s no difference between Mormons and Muslims in the chart.

  19. eric
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    I do think that improving/more science education will change poll results, but not because it will teach people that religion and science have no conflict. I think it will change poll results because there is a large portion of poll respondents who currently don’t know what the TOE really means. If they did know, they would lean more strongly one way or the other and the ‘god guided’ response would shrink.

    I would guess that most people retain some concept of a ladder of development and the intuitive sense that there must have been two first humans, and think this is fully consistent with science because they don’t know any better. IOW, they are not consciously choosing some middle ground, they are in the middle because they don’t understand how their beliefs conflict with science. If and when they do, some will choose to maintain their faith, others will choose to accept what science says, and (IMO) the middle ground group will shrink.

  20. neil
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I think Tegmark might be bucking for a Templeton.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      From 2006 to 2009 Tegmark received $8.8 million from the Templeton Foundation to set up the Foundational Questions Institute [FQXi]

      I would supply a citation but this site no longer allows me to post links for some reason

      Perform a Google search with the terms…

      fqxi templeton

      • Hempenstein
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        I expect that Templeton supposed that he would wind up on the same shelf as Alfred Nobel and Howard Hughes. Pity.

      • peter
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        For what it’s worth, I certainly disagree with Tegmark completely on this one.

        As for Templeton, is there any evidence that they have attempted to use this connection you claim to try to legitimize themselves even more? They have done it in other cases, and that’s certainly a strong argument against scientists accepting from them. I’d be interested to see more detail on this claimed connection, and on any theological gobbledegook put out by people under the auspices of this (previously unknown to me) organization headed by Tegmark.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Even if Tegmark is right about (part of) the problem being an “epic fail” of science education, that in turn is surely in part due to school boards being afraid to fight religious fundamentalists, and thus Tegmark has not traced the problem back deeply enough.

    Back in the 1980s, I noted a Catholic bookstore selling and anti-evolution book, so in spite of the “official” position, there was a market for such, and there probably still is one. And as JC noted, while Tegner !*does*! admit “a striking gap between Americans’ personal beliefs and the official views of the faiths to which they belong”, he does not note the gap between scientists personal beliefs and the scientific institutes to which they belong.

    Although you can awkwardly reconcile science and (some) religion, my body may fit very well into a suit of clothes that may be too hard to take off or a poor match for other items in my wardrobe. Standard theology deals too much in creating arguments for a priori beliefs that can never gain universal assent, and as such science and theology are a difficult fit.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      Back in the 1980s, I noted a Catholic bookstore selling and anti-evolution book, so in spite of the “official” position, there was a market for such, and there probably still is one.

      Probably. The Catholic Church does not oppose evolution, but that doesn’t mean they stand up for it either. Catholics who are Creationists are not violating their church’s “official” position.

  22. Kevin
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    It is a well-known fact that 87% of statistics are made up on the spot.

    • Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      72%, according to my study. (Sample: one person.)

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        According to one study, adding a decimal place will make your statistics 23.6% more convincing.

        • Posted February 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

          Forgive me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t that the famous and highly authoritative 2005 study by R. Selkirk? :)

  23. Tony Debono
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    It appears that some folks in the Church of the Nazarene are more explicitly getting into the evolution-science accommodationism dialogue: http://exploringevolution.com/

    I realize that it probably represents an “honest” attempt by more-liberal Christians to reach out to Creationists, but to me the essays come off as disingenuous and pandering.

  24. Brian
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    “The real battle is against the daunting challenges facing the future of humanity”

    How do you battle those challenges if you believe in fairy tales? Are you willing to do something about e.g. global warming, or do you believe that praying will solve it?

  25. Dietrich
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    A bit of a tangent, but I’m suspicious of the percentage of respondents who supposedly believe in geocentrism. I have to think that most of them didn’t ponder the question seriously. My guess is that if this question was phrased as “Does the Earth rotate?” (which amounts to the same thing), almost all responses would be affirmative.

    • neil
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

      Except when Joshua commands it not to.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Do a little search on Gerardus Bouw – geocentrist with degrees in astronomy and astrophysics.

  26. Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    “The real battle is against the daunting challenges facing the future of humanity, and regardless of our religious views, we’re all better off fighting this battle united.”

    But what if certain religious views deny the reality of these challenges, or fall back on the old, reassuring idea that “god will sort it out”?

    And what if certain religious people welcome these daunting challenges, not as problems to be confronted, but as indications of an end time, that point when the Great Urban Legend will be resurrected to the sound of trumpets for the godly work of genocide?

    In all of this, where is unity, Mr. Tegmark?

  27. WiseApe
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    @MFD – Well said.

    I didn’t become an atheist by “doing science.” For me, it was learning about the scientific method which led to the erosion of the religious brainwashing that I had been subjected to.

    Thinking for yourself and being encouraged to question everything (to accept nothing “on faith”) is anathema to all religions.

  28. Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I think what happens is this: there are many people who belong to religions who are comfortable with cognitive dissonance. If their religion says one thing (e. g. humans were the intentional creation of a deity) and science says another (evolution is an unguided process) they simply don’t worry about it.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and then someone like Tegmark comes along and tells them that the truth doesn’t matter. That it’s perfectly OK for them to wallow in ignorance.

      All to be held in thrall to a primitive superstition, designed mainly to separate them from 10% of their hard-earned income.

      • Beth
        Posted February 13, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        How did you conclude that Tegmark “tells them that the the truth doesn’t matter. That it’s perfectly OK for them to wallow in ignorance.” from what he wrote in his article?

  29. SLC
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    The answer surely involves atheists going into science more often, but almost certainly the main reason for the discrepancy is simply that practicing science erodes one’s religious belief.

    The poster child for this is none other then Charles Darwin himself, who, when he stepped aboard the Beagle was, at least in appearance, a devout Anglican but who became less and less religious as he aged, until, by the time of the writing of the Origin of Species was, at best, an agnostic. The reason for this loss of faith, aside from the death of his daughter from scarlet fever, was his findings of common descent and natural selection.

  30. Ken Pidcock
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    For instance, as I documented in my recent paper in Evolution, while the official position of the National Academy of Sciences is that there is no conflict between science and faith, 93% of the members of that Academy—the most elite body of scientists in America—are atheists or agnostics.

    Yes, but how many of those are spiritual atheists and agnostics?

  31. Posted February 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    On science education; I started doing my little part this week as I’m student teaching. The unit I get to teach is “Evolution and Classification” and I get to soak in if for several weeks in my biology classes.

    I’m presenting this matter-of-factly just like any other science concept. Many of these 9th and 10th graders know little about evolution based on the pre-test I gave them. I’ve already reviewed the definition of “theory” with them and hopefully hit some of their misconceptions hard.

    One young man asked me, with a pained look on his face, if he had to learn this and couldn’t he get excused with permission from his parents. He claimed I was teaching religion and he was fine with his, thankyouverymuch. I explained this was science class and I won’t teach religion, just science. I also told him I didn’t know if he could get out of class, but that the material would be on his end of course test and that it is part of the state curriculum. Poor kid, he’s really been indoctrinated.

  32. Jeff Johnson
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand how there is any room for debate on this issue. Of course one can look for specific points on which science and religion don’t conflict. For example many religious moral beliefs are not in conflict with any science. Sure some religious people even believe in evolution (but they may corrupt it with divine guidance).

    All of this is noise though. The points that nobody can avoid, whether talking about fundamentalists or liberals, is that all of the monotheistic religions assert certain claims about reality: that a creator god exists who listens to prayers, intervenes in the natural world, and that a soul exists in humans that can survive the death of the body. These are very definite claims about the natural world that come into direct conflict with the scientific view. Science recognizes no evidence for these claims, and in fact provides an enormous amount of evidence suggesting these claims are not true.

    There can be no doubt: either religion is right and scientific laws are violated, or religion is wrong and scientific laws hold true. They can not both be right. Conflict on these central claims of religion can in no way be avoided.

  33. Cremnomaniac
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    “Tegmark can massage the figures any way he wants, but the problem remains religion, religion, and religion…”
    Amen brother Jerry!

    No conflict between science and faith? Tegmark is either grossly ignorant or deceitful.

    I would like to add that not only is religion not compatible, but it’s a global threat because of it.

    From Pew in 2010 –
    Public Sees a Future Full of Promise and Peril

    As expected, predictions about whether Jesus Christ will return to earth in the next 40 years divide along religious lines. Fully 58% of white evangelical Christians say Jesus Christ will definitely or probably return to earth in this period, by far the highest percentage in any religious group. Only about a third of Catholics (32%), and even fewer white mainline Protestants (27%) and the religiously unaffiliated (20%) predict Jesus Christ’s return to earth.

    In addition, those with no college experience (59%) are much more likely than those with some college experience (35%) and college graduates (19%) to expect Jesus Christ’s return. By region, those in the South (52%) are the most likely to predict a Second Coming by 2050.

    As long as there are a bunch of ignorant “believers” thinking Jesus, Allah, or Santa is going to same them, it will interfere with our ability to address devastating issues like global warming.

    Again from the Pew -

    Republicans are substantially less negative than Democrats and independents in their long-term environmental outlook. Fewer than half of Republicans (48%) say the earth will definitely or probably get warmer over the next 40 years, while large majorities of Democrats (83%) and independents (68%) expect the earth to get warmer over this period.

    There is a strong correlation between the religiosity of conservatives and denial of environmental problems. No conflict my ass.

  34. Jonas
    Posted February 13, 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Off topic, soft of. 15 years ago I was at a wedding with my future-wife and couldn’t find her in the main room…wandered to the hotel lobby and found her getting chatted up by some dude.

    I kind of obnoxiously asked this guy what brought him to the place–turns out there was some kind of physics talk going on nearby. Wife took off but I spent about an hour talking about the fine tuning problem and anthropic principle. Tegmark, of course. He’s actually a very interesting guy–and his work on parallel universes ended up being pretty influential, although controversial to say the least.

  35. cornbread_r2
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I invite Mr. Tegmark to join catholicanswers.com and attempt to start a thread on biological evolution. It wouldn’t last five minutes before being deleted because the ToE is a banned topic there and has been for years. The site claims it’s because it leads to fights. The net effect is that one can go there and bang on and on about YECism without ever having to confront any evidence to the contrary.

  36. sailor1031
    Posted February 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    When catholics say there is no conflict between science and their religion they are either appallingly ignorant of one or the other, or they are simply lying.

    Check the catholic catechism (on the usccb.org website). Sections 396 onwards deal with original sin, fall of adam, adam as the ancestor of all mankind, etc etc – all dealt with as if it were completely true. How is that compatible with science in any way? And this stuff is the core of catholicism, that catholics must accept as dogma. No fall, no need for yeshue to be crucified as atonement, no resurrection, no need for the catholic church.

  37. Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Lamberth’s mechanistic argument notes that as science finds no teleology but instead mechanism, why bring in that superfluity that the Aquinas -Shelley argument boomerangs on Aquinas’ five ways:’ 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.” And theists would beg the question in claiming that no, that’s a category mistake – from the physical to the metaphysical.
    Aquinas failed with his five ways to overcome implicitly the Flew-Lamberth the presumption of naturalism as implicitly Antony Garrard Newton Flew notes.
    Aquinas and others cannot overcome Lamberth’s ignostic-Ockham argument, which not only notes the superfluity but also the divine incoherence.
    Lamberth’s reduced animism – theism argument notes that without that divine intent, theism is thus animistic and just as superstitious as full animism or polytheism.
    WEIT, this is my update on why God has no relevance to anything whatsoever!
    You answer implicitly the mechanistic argument when you deny His involvement in evolution as with this essay today. No wonder theists would take umbrage at you for explicitly telling them that why, evolution has no director!
    Natural selection, drift and other mechanisms do not find that they must improve some living thing but just work out of Leucippus necessity, which I find includes randomness, as it does not favor any living thin but just works. Necessity favors no living thing! Mechanism as the pre-Socratics found, works.
    Carneades told Chrysippus that he begged the question of directed outcomes in his analogy of building with the world – begging the question of divinity as the builder. That for me, became Carneades’ atelic argument that all teleological arguments – from reason, to design, fine-tuning and probability- beg the question of directed outcomes. And they commit other logical fallacies that as Fr. Griggs I claim:” Logic is the bane of theists.” They depend on the arguments from personal incredulity and from ignorance, which are the basis for their other arguments.
    We naturalists have now many arguments against divinity!
    WEIT, that superfluity- people murder in His name! What evil that superfluity brings forth! Yet, advanced theologians double-talk that why, He’s ultimate reality! Prof. Irwin Cory makes more sense!

  38. Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    We naturalists depend on the argument from the conservation -background- of knowledge, which is as the mechanistic argument states in this case! Theists never will adduce evidence to overcome your findings, Jerry!

  39. Marvol
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Asking religious people whether there is a conflict between science and religion is like asking the lion whether there is a conflict in lions and antelopes living together on the steppe. “Most certainly not” says the lion.

  40. Max Tegmark
    Posted February 17, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks Jerry for your interest in our recent Science-Religion survey!
    It seems that your main critique isn’t of our statistical findings, but of our choice of topic: that we surveyed official positions rather than views of members: http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/survey/survey.pdf
    Why this choice? The key point I wanted to make is that there are two interesting science-religion controversies: 1) Between religion & atheism (your main focus) and 2) between religions who do & don’t attack science. Forces pushing for creationism in US schools etc. try to conflate the two so that they can pretend to represent the majority, and taunting religious groups that don’t attack science can play into their hands. IMHO, drawing attention to 2) is the most effective way to weaken the anti-scientific fringe and improve the prospects for future generations. In contrast, you appear to dismiss this strategy as “accommodationism”.

    I’m surprised that you’re attacking my critique of the US education system when a recent Gallup poll shows 46% believing that humanity is less than 10,000 years old. An education system failing to convince students of even rudimentary facts is IMHO inadequate, regardless of the reasons.

    On a personal note, given that I’m not religious myself, I’ve been surprised to get more vitriolic responses and ad-hominem attacks from anti-religious people than from creationists! For example, here’s a gem from this very comment thread: “As far I can tell, anything he says about topics other than the cosmic microwave background is rendered total rubbish by his omnipresent sophistry.”
    Since you’re clearly a firm believer in science and reason, perhaps you can stress to your readers the scientific value of debating the position rather than the person.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      I’m trying to wrap my brain around the idea of a religion that is pro-science yet is comprised of people who largely deny scientific facts.

      And what, exactly, do we mean by “attack science” anyway? Isn’t preaching central beliefs of Christianity (original sin, resurrection, virgin birth, etc.) just as much of an attack on science as preaching that the world is 6000 years old?

  41. Catholic Dad
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    A huge percentage of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist either. Here is what the Catholic Church believes and teaches: http://www.kolbecenter.org/the-traditional-catholic-doctrine-of-creation/

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted February 20, 2013 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      A perfect illustration if why anyone who wishes to put a priority on boldly pursuing truth above the desperate futility of trying to preserve tradition at all costs should be eager to unchain themselves from the Catholic Church. If the Pope can quit, so too can any Catholic quit the church.

  42. Ashley
    Posted February 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Agree 1,000%

    Another thing that drove me nuts about that stupid graph is that the author specifically colored religious institutions green (no conflict) when they had never released a statement with an opinion when he specifically had the option of insufficient information (gray). It’s almost like he was distorting the data!

    Poor journalism. Poor science.


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