Debate postmortem II: Phil Plait goes all accommodationist

Taking the same conciliatory tone that characterized his notorious “Don’t be a dick” speech, Phil Plait has taken it upon himself to tell us how to solve the problem of creationism in America. The answer is in Plait’s analysis of the Ham/Nye debate that he just posted at Slate: “The creation of debate.” In short, it’s this: scientists, says Plait, are doing an awful job at communicating evolution to the public, and that is why, at least in the U.S., there’s so much resistance to that branch of science. The answer is not in imparting more facts to people, but in convincing people that evolution is not contrary to their religion. In other words, he advocates the NCSE/Chris Mooney/BioLogos/Clergy Letter Project strategy of accommodationism.

What Plait doesn’t seem to realize is that that’s the strategy that people have been using for decades, and it hasn’t worked. Somehow, he thinks, evolution-promoters impart the message that evolution is antagonistic to religion, and tantamount to atheism.  Well, as a matter of fact it is, though it’s not always useful to discuss that explicitly that in public speeches. But we can’t pretend that it isn’t, for the message of evolution is one of pure materialism, of a process—natural selection—that involves horrible suffering, of ourselves as a species that is not in principle different in our evolution from any other species, of a species that doesn’t differ from other primates except by our bigger brains and our possession of culture and language—but not by our unique possession of a soul. The message of evolution is of an uncaring, unplanned, naturalistic process in which humans are just as evolved as, say, a possum.

And all of that is inimical to religious belief, which sees us as God’s Special Species, the one equipped with a soul and free will. The only way to comport theistic religion with evolution is by accepting theistic evolution, and the majority of those believers who accept evolution indeed adhere to the theistic version, believing that evolution was started and/or guided by God. Well excuse me, but that’s not the way scientists see it—any more than physicists see that God is really guiding the leptons and neutrinos in our cosmos.

But let me back up and give you some of Plait’s quotes:

Given that creationism is provably wrong, and science has enjoyed huge overwhelming success over the years, something is clearly broken in our country.

I suspect that what’s wrong is our messaging. For too long, scientists have thought that facts speak for themselves. They don’t. They need advocates. If we ignore the attacks on science, or simply counter them by reciting facts, we’ll lose. That much is clear from the statistics. Facts and stories of science are great for rallying those already on our side, but they do little to sway believers.

About last night’s debate, my colleague Mark Stern at Slate argues that Nye lost the debate just by showing up, and I see that same sentiment from people on social media. But I disagree. We’ve been losing this debate in the public’s mind all along by not showing up. Sure, science advocates are there when this topic comes up in court, and I’m glad for it. But I think that we need to have more of a voice, and that voice needs to change. What Nye did last night was at least a step in that direction, so in that sense I’m glad he did this.

Isn’t Richard Dawkins an advocate? Isn’t David Attenborough an advocate? Isn’t E. O. Wilson an advocate? Weren’t Steve Gould and Carl Sagan advocates? Does Plait really think that in this Era of Evolution, the way forward is to have more debates like the one with Ham and Nye? Well, it’s not that simple. According to Plait, we need not more popularizers like Dawkins (who, I think, has done more to promote the acceptance of evolution than any accommodationist around), but more accommodationists (my emphasis):

But we need more, and it’s not so much what we need as who. Let me explain.

. . .. But Ham is insidiously wrong on one important aspect: He insists evolution is anti-religious. But it’s not; it’s just anti-his-religion. This is, I think, the most critical aspect of this entire problem: The people who are attacking evolution are doing so because they think evolution is attacking their beliefs.

But unless they are the narrowest of fundamentalists, this simply is not true. There is no greater proof of this than Pope John Paul II—who, one must admit, was a deeply religious man—saying that evolution was an established fact. Clearly, not all religion has a problem with evolution. Given that a quarter of U.S. citizens are Catholics, this shows Ham’s claim that evolution is anti-religious to be wrong.

So evolution is not anti-religion in general. But is it atheistic? No. Evolution takes no stand on the existence or lack thereof of a god or gods. Whether you think life originated out of ever-more complex chemical reactions occurring on an ancient Earth, or was breathed into existence by God, evolution would take over after that moment. It’s a bit like the Big Bang; we don’t know how the Universe came into existence at that moment, but starting a tiny fraction of a second after that event our science does a pretty fair job of explanation.

I can’t stress this enough. The conflict over the teaching of evolution is based on the false assumption that evolution is antagonistic to religion. This is why, I think, evolution is so vehemently opposed by so many in the United States. The attacks on the specifics of evolution—the claims about irreducibility of the eye, for example, or other such incorrect statements—are a symptom, not a cause. I can talk about how we know the Universe is old until the Universe is substantially older and not convince someone whose heels are dug in. But if we can show them that the idea of evolution is not contrary to their faith, then we will make far, far more progress.

Phil Plait’s “false assumption” is in fact a true assumption. Not only is evolution antagonistic to religion, but the methods of science are antagonistic to religion. Evolution just happens to be the one branch of science whose implications are sufficiently antireligious to inspire direct, persistent, and vociferous opposition.  If you use the methods of science, then your religious beliefs don’t stand up under scrutiny.  Indeed, evolution takes no direct stand on gods, but can’t Plait see that its message is anti-God? That is why most evolutionists, and most good scientists, are atheists.

As  for the Catholic Church, they are not down with religion in the same way scientists are. Catholic dogma still holds that Adam and Eve were the literal progenitors of all humanity. Science tells us that’s wrong. And if Adam and Eve didn’t exist, and didn’t sin, then what’s the point of Jesus; indeed, what’s the point of Christianity? Catholics also believe in theistic evolution: it is their explicit dogma that humans were endowed by God with a soul at some point in our evolution. Does Plait believe that? If not, then scientific evolution is at odds with Catholicism. As I note in my 2012 paper in Evolution:

Nevertheless, 27% of American Catholics think that modern species were created instantaneously by God and have remained unchanged ever since, while 8% do not know or refuse to answer.

And most of the rest of them are probably theistic evolutionists who buy into the soul business, or think that Adam and Eve really existed.

Note that Plait is engaging in theology here, exactly as everyone who claims that evolution is compatible with religion engages in theology. Try telling a Southern Baptist, a devout Muslim, or a Pentacostal Christian that naturalistic evolution comports perfectly with their faith, and by so doing changing their mind! Even Bill Nye, with his accommodationist palaver at Tuesday’s debate, couldn’t accomplish that task. That is why BioLogos has failed, why the Clergy Letter Project has failed, and why the acceptance of evolution in the last 30 years has failed. (Note that New Atheism, if you date it from The End of Faith, is but a decade old.) During most of that time, the strategy has been one of accommodation (or saying nothing about religion). The reason why the statistics on accepting evolution are flat is not because people like Dawkins tell Americans that evolution is incompatible with their faith; it’s because people have faith, and that immunizes them against accepting evolution.

Plait has a kumbaya touch in his peroration:

That’s not to say I’ll stop talking about the science itself. That still needs to be discussed! But simply saying science is right and faith is wrong will never, ever fix the problem.

And this won’t be easy. As long as this discussion is framed as “science versus religion” there will never be a resolution. A religious person who doesn’t necessarily think the Bible is literal, but who is a very faithful Christian, will more likely be sympathetic to the Ken Hams than the Bill Nyes, as long as science is cast as an atheistic dogma. For example, on the Catholic Online website, the argument is made that both Ham and Nye are wrong, and casts science as an atheistic venture.

That must change for progress to be made.

And who should do this? The answer to me is clear: Religious people who understand the reality of science. They have a huge advantage over someone who is not a believer. Because atheism is so reviled in America, someone with faith will have a much more sympathetic soapbox from which to speak to those who are more rigid in their beliefs.

I know a lot of religious folks read my blog. I am not a believer, but I hope that my message of science, of investigation, of honesty, of the joy and wonder revealed though it, gets across to everyone. That’s why I don’t attack religion; there’s no need. I am fine with people believing in what they want. I only step up on my own soapbox when a specific religion overreaches, when that belief is imposed on others.

I think Plait has it backwards. To get broader acceptance of evolution, we have to change or dissolve those religions that immunize people against evolution—and that includes the faiths of least 46% (and more like 80%) of Americans. That is a lot of religions! We will always have creationism so long as religion is with us—even Catholicism.  I can’t prove this, but I don’t see BioLogos, or the Clergy Letter project, as having much influence; in fact, BioLogos got rid of those very people who insisted on the veracity of science, and now the organization is busy driving itself nuts about the Adam and Eve issue. That’s because many Christians won’t accept a science that tells them that Adam and Eve didn’t exist. Where’s the compatibility in that?

And, of course, the benefits of getting rid of religion extend far beyond allowing more acceptance of evolution. As I’ve always said, creationism is one of the smallest problems created by religion in America. You want a real problem? How about the guilt instilled in everyone by the Catholic Church? How about the way they police people’s marriages and sex lives, and torture children with thoughts of hell? How about the marginalization of women by nearly every faith, most pervasive in Islam? How about the inter-religious wars in other lands that kill so many? Next to those things, creationism is just a mote in the eye of the cosmos.

It does the world a profound disservice to try to make people accept evolution by coddling their delusions.  In the end, many religious folks are in some ways smarter than Plait, for they see more clearly than he that the implications of evolution undermine the foundations of their faith.

So my message to the good Dr. Plait is this: you are practicing theology in this piece, and it’s a form of theology not shared by many Americans. While I stand with you in wishing that Americans would abandon their foolish denial of evolution, we differ in our methods. I don’t think yours will work, but I won’t tell you to stop it. In return, please stop telling me to stifle myself. I am fully satisfied that I’ve brought more people to evolution than turned them away from it.

And remember, Dr. Plait, that your doctorate is in astronomy, not theology.

387 Comments

  1. francis
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    //

  2. gbjames
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps Dr. Plait needs a new “Bad Theology” web site?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      =D

      The problem is, he himself stands for some of the theology, and its badness. But else he is the “Bad Theologian” indeed.

  3. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    And who should do this? The answer to me is clear: Religious people who understand the reality of science.

    Ask Karl Giberson whether that will work.

  4. Sigmund
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    “But Ham is insidiously wrong on one important aspect: He insists evolution is anti-religious. But it’s not; it’s just anti-his-religion.”
    Considering that the Jesus of the bible was a creationist who believed in a literal Adam and Eve, acceptance of evolution contradicts a lot more than just the fundamentalist rump of Ham and his ilk. In revealing Jesus to be fallible, and wrong, it undermines the entire basis of the Christian faith.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Go beyond and outside of Christianity and you still run into problems with evolution — even when Spirit Itself is evolving. It’s all skyhooks — and the theory of evolution is cranes.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Ratchets?

        • Larry Gay
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:49 am | Permalink

          Didn’t Dennett switch from cranes to ratchets for an evolution metaphor? Neither one works for me.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

        Skyhook and cranes .. first time I read these dennettian words, it was “a small candle” – a little enlightement. Open up of a new point-of-view.

        Exactly the case here.
        The only consolation is that most people will never reach this kind of understanding (mostly not because they can’t but because they won’t) ..

  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t E. O. Wilson an advocate?

    Yes, but to be clear he does not identify himself as an atheist, but rather a “provisional deist.”

    • Barry Lyons
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      Wow, that’s a surprise. I wonder if Wilson still holds to that.

  6. Jim
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re wrong on a very important point.
    You write, “To get broader acceptance of evolution, we have to change or dissolve those religions that immunize people against evolution.” But *we* can’t change those religions. Only those involved in a religion can change it. Thus our real task is persuading followers of those anti-evolution-and-so-many-other-things religions that they needn’t fear change.
    The opposition to science is not, of course, based on factual arguments – it’s an emotional opposition, which seeks to justify itself by developing (spurious) factual critiques such as Ham’s creation museum. Basically, it’s a reaction of fear: fear of losing moral grounding, of diminished personal importance, of social consequences for breaking with traditional belief.
    I think Plait’s argument is at least on the right track. We needn’t demonstrate evolution’s compatibility with any particular religion, just allay such existential fears; then and only then might people be more willing to listen to the facts. As it is, any amount of facts we supply are rejected without consideration.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Thus our real task is persuading followers of those anti-evolution-and-so-many-other-things religions that they needn’t fear change.

      You can try to persuade the religious that they need not fear changing their religion in order to adapt it to modern science.

      You can try to persuade the religious that they need not fear throwing out their religion and becoming an atheist.

      Both tasks are difficult. But insisting that the second task is impossible — it’s just so horrible that they will never ever ever consider it — is not just defeatist.

      It’s insulting and dangerous. How the hell can atheists consistently take a position which reassures the religious that yes, indeed, atheism would be unthinkably awful but don’t worry it need not come to THAT?

      If they are afraid that they will lose their religion it’s not necessarily a bad strategy to have a lot of voices explaining that this would be not just okay — it would be great. It’s not a loss, it’s a gain. And they’ll agree. Don’t we usually agree after we’ve changed our minds about something?

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, Jerry, but: “This.”

        b&

      • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Exactly: the fundamentalists are *right*; evolution requires losing *their* religion. (This extends to more than fundies, but is harder to see when the target is the postmodern bafflegab, rather than the old-timy stuff.) Saying that “this other denomination accepts it and they are Christian too” over looks that they *are not members of that denomination*. Even when they are in disagreement with the official doctrine of their group, *religion is personal*. So again it doesn’t work.

        This also applies at the metalevel to the change in epistemology, metaphysics, even social behaviour (deferring to authorities of certain kinds, etc.) needed to get there.

        • SFaccountant
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

          I have to agree with Jim on this. Insisting that evolution DOES violate religious orthodoxy and principles justifies every concern creationists have about evolution (except, obviously, whether or not it’s true) and sets the debate firmly as “Religion versus Atheistic Science”.
          Perhaps that’s okay with some people, but I don’t see how that sort of attitude is helpful. The prospect of a world without religion is generations away, and if you go to people and tell them to choose between science and their faith, then you’re effectively writing off people who refuse to abandon their faith as being beyond help, and making them an enemy. It reduces science not to a distinct system of investigation, but a “side” to be taken in some ideological war.
          I do not believe this is a productive outcome. Trusting scientific consensus needn’t be some sort of purist stance that divides people. Individuals should believe in evolution because it makes a persuasive argument backed up by logic, not because they’ve taken the “right side”.

          • gbjames
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

            Your concern is noted.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

            The prospect of a world without religion is generations away…

            And the way we get from here to there is by showing the next generation that science’s “distinct system of investigation” and “persuasive argument[s] backed up by logic” can be and should be applied to all knowledge claims, including those made by religion.

            It’s not an ideological divide but an epistemological one. Beliefs about the world should be justified by reason and evidence, not by heartfelt personal conviction or wishful thinking. Convincing people of this is, in my opinion, a productive outcome.

    • darrelle
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      I think you make a good point, except for the comment about Phil Plait being on the right track. Phil Plait specifically states, and has numerous other times as well, that evolution is compatible with religion. Telling believers that “it’s okay to believe in evolution, it doesn’t conflict with your faith” is nothing like telling believers “it’s okay to change and even give up your religious belief, you won’t really go to hell or turn into a monster.”

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Why reassure them about their religious beliefs at all? How do you know that their religious beliefs are valid? Since you don’t, why would you lie to them?

        “Evolution is true, and here’s how we know it’s true. [Insert Jerry's book here, condensed to however little time you have.] That this contradicts your previous beliefs, especially your religious beliefs, may well cause you to feel some distress. I’m sorry about that, but your discomfort doesn’t change the fact that Evolution is true. How you come to grips with the truth of Evolution and what that means for your religious beliefs is, to be perfectly blunt, your problem. If I were in your shoes, I’d be reexamining your whole religion from scratch; if it went that far that spectacularly off the rails on something so basic, you’ve simply got to wonder what else it got worng.”

        Cheers,

        b&

        • darrelle
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t made myself clear. I have no freaking desire to assure anyone about their religious beliefs. Quite the opposite. I do think that trying to convince religious people that becoming non religious is nothing to fear, has merit. In principle at least, though it may not be practical in reality. Which is pretty much exactly opposite of what Phil prescribes, hence my comment that what Jim suggested is nothing like what Phil suggested.

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            Fair ’nuff — I clearly misunderstood. My apologies for the short fuse of the hair trigger….

            b&

            • darrelle
              Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

              Not necessary, but thanks. Sometimes trying to turn what I am thinking into written words that bear any resemblance to said thoughts, seems impossible. And somtimes I forget the thought before I can type it!

              Do they make anything for that?

              • Bob J.
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

                Scotch. It can make it even more rambling.

              • Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

                Reminds me of what my 4yo daughter said a few months ago:

                “Daddy, I need gingky bilbo.”

                “You mean ginkgo biloba. Why?”

                “I can’t remember any of my memories.”

      • Jim
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        I think it’s one step in an incremental process – actually, a double step: convincing people that even within their own denomination not everyone believes as rigidly as they do; and that people with religious beliefs and morals close to their own do not automatically reject science.

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      No, only those involved in the religion can implement a change in doctrine, but the rest of us can certainly apply pressure to cause them to do so. This has happened many times. Mormons now allow black people to hold the priesthood. Some religions have come around to female priests. Some have come around to allowing same-sex marriage. These were not random, spontaneous changes. They were responses to pressure from the external society.

    • Mark Causey
      Posted February 8, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Religions will go away just as soon as man’s fear of the unknown is gone. Right now their fear is of death. Get over it, it happens!
      S= k log W

  7. Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    In culture’s struggle against reality, bet on reality.

    • Scott_In_OH
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      But only if you have a lot of time before the bet is due.

  8. Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    It’s again the question of whether we want people to understand the science or gather them around us to cheer our science flag.

    Sure, if it’s the latter you’re after, accommodationism might work for you. Or it might not. Frankly, I don’t care; it’s the former I’m interested in.

    Phil thinks people can’t handle the truth. Whether or not he’s right, I at least would rather live in a world in which we give people the benefit of the doubt.

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Tulse
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Phil thinks people can’t handle the truth.

      Exactly — it is a patronizing view that is essentially the more optimistic version of “opiate for the masses”.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Phil is scared to hurt people and is willing to let them have their drug of ignorance.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      Right. I like your phrase — “the benefit of the doubt.”

      But simply saying science is right and faith is wrong will never, ever fix the problem.

      Never, ever? Hyperbole much? Plait needs to be more cautious — and look ahead a bit further.

      What if “religion” and “being spiritual” start to lose their privileged position of indicating who is deep, sensitive, wise, and loving — and instead the actual claims get analyzed … and eventually rejected? What if belonging to a religion or believing in God is no longer considered something to be very proud of? What if people start really caring about whether any of it is true — as opposed to smothering it in issues about personal identity, comfort, and communities of Us and Them?

      What if we atheists give the religious the benefit of the doubt — and stop giving ourselves so much credit for being so much wiser, smarter, and more honest than average, that we can handle atheism and “they” can’t?

      The Little People Argument doesn’t respect the religious. It condescends to them by pleading that we need to forebear when dealing with those weaker than us, those who can not and will not change. It’s ironic that the New Atheists are so constantly accuses of treating the theists like they’re “stupid” when it’s the other way around.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

        Today, almost nobody takes astrology seriously, even though many have fun reading their horoscopes in the paper on on the placemat at a Chinese restaurant. But, before the invention of modern astronomy, that exact same astrology was taken at least as seriously as religion is today.

        I think it entirely reasonable to get to the point where today’s religions are exactly like astrology. Richard Dawkins is an excellent example of what this might look like; he still gets a kick out of singing Christmas carols and I imagine he may well enjoy hot cross buns at Easter and I’m certain he’s moved by Michelangelo’s David or the roof of the Sistine Chapel and all the rest, but he certainly doesn’t take any of the stories seriously.

        When we get to the point that admitting that you actually, sincerely believe in some particular religion gets you as many weird looks as admitting that you actually, sincerely believe in astrology, then we’ll be in a decent position.

        For whatever reason that I simply can’t comprehend, Phil doesn’t see the value in that.

        b&

        • Sastra
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately, India has had some serious problems in the last 20 years or so with — yes — Vedic Astrology entering its universities and being taught as a science.

          Since he has personally argued with astrologers, Phil Plait is no doubt aware of what it looks like when people take astrology seriously. It looks like religion which starts out claiming it has convincing evidence … and then descends into insisting that the skeptics willfully disbelieve and cannot be convinced. Iow, all of them.

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            Wow — didn’t know that.

            And, if, as I’m sure you’re correct, Phil is well aware of that fact…then he has no excuse for his insistence that biologists accommodate creationists even while astronomers are free to rip astrologers a new one.

            I just lost a lot of respect for Phil….

            b&

            • Sastra
              Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

              In Phil’s defense, he probably takes the same position Eugenie Scott takes: the God concept can be so vague and nebulous that it makes no testable predictions. Astrology makes testable predictions.

              Also, I didn’t mean to imply that Phil has personally argued with the Vedic Astrologers in the Indian universities. I just meant that every astrologer takes astrology seriously. Skeptics are constantly dealing with standard religious apologetics applied to pseudoscience.

              • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                But aren’t the believers whose gods are that vague already on board with Evolution?

                Again, it comes down to a type of religious proselytizing. Phil thinks that Ham’s got Jesus all worng, and he thinks Ham should instead be praying to Karen Armstrong’s Jesus.

                …and, presumably, he’d be cool with the astrologers if they dropped astrology but picked up Armstrong’s Jesus in its place?

                I’m also left wondering how he can be passionate about debunking astrology and not be aware of such a major stronghold of it. Indeed, this is right there in the Wikipedia article on astrology, with added emphasis by me:

                In India, there is a long-established and widespread belief in astrology. It is commonly used for daily life, particularly in matters concerning marriage and career, and makes extensive use of electional, horary and karmic astrology.[135][136] Indian politics have also been influenced by astrology.[137] It is still considered a branch of the Vedanga.[138][139] In 2001, Indian scientists and politicians debated and critiqued a proposal to use state money to fund research into astrology,[140] resulting in permission for Indian universities to offer courses in Vedic astrology.[141]

                On February 2011, the Bombay High Court reaffirmed astrology’s standing in India when it dismissed a case which had challenged its status as a science.[142]

                Phil not being aware of Indian astrology would seem as bizarre to me as Jerry not being aware of Islamic creationism, especially that Harem Yoyo fishing lure nutjob.

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

                Yup, Phil (and other accomodationists) are taking a stance on religion and urging that the religious do religion the right way. While we can all agree that a religion which accepts evolution is in some sense less wrong than one which doesn’t, promoting these “better” religions not only involves the scientists in theology, but mingles science with faith.

                It would be like saying “if you’re going to use astrology, the columns in the newspapers are the best sources.” Because the newspaper astrologers get it right? No. Because the newspaper astrologers are trite and banal and so can never say anything which will seriously screw anyone up (“Today is a good day to get to those tasks you’ve been putting off!”)

                The most authentic voice of God is like that: it will never tell you anything you couldn’t have figured out as an atheist. Except, of course, that atheism is bad.

                I assume Phil knows about Vedic astrology in India. It’s been a topic among skeptics. I don’t know if he has — or hasn’t — personally gone after it.

            • darrelle
              Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

              Phil’s behavior is clearly hypocritical. When it comes to confronting his own pet peeve, astrology, he pulls no punches, makes no effort at accommodation. But when the brand of woo is one of the worlds major religions he is cloyingly accommodationist. It was one of the first things I noticed about him when I first came across him some years ago. He is so accommodationist that he seems to be a half way out “believer in belief.”

              • Uncle Ebeneezer
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

                This is the part that always drives me nuts. Holding a view (one that contains truth claims of any sort about the Universe) that has zero evidence to back it up is something that always opens the believer up to challenge, mockery, shaming…confrontation. Whether it’s climate science, the moon landing, astrology, whatever…most people have no problem challenging and even mocking the people who hold such empty beliefs, even if there’s no direct evidence to contradict the claims. Religion is the ONLY thing surrounded by the bubble of privilege and anyone who dares to try to burst that bubble is a big old meanie. Phil’s hypocritical stance of “kid gloves for religion but not for Astrology” just provides one more example.

              • Darrin M Carter
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

                A factor to take into consideration with the astrology analogy is that astrologers, though popular in newspapers and online, are not elected to congress because of their beliefs; creationists are.

                Take away the power these people wield and Phil would be all over them.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                “astrologers, though popular in newspapers and online, are not elected to congress”

                But they have been known to serve as Presidential advisors.

              • darrelle
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

                I acknowledge I may be wrong in this, but I’ve long had the feeling that the power Phil is . . . err, well, accommodating, is the power those people have to provide him with a comfortable living. Hey, we all have to make a living, and I’d love to have Phil’s kind of job(s), but I’d do it a bit different than Phil does. Probably wouldn’t make as comfortable a living either.

              • Jimbo
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

                Phil’s Plait-itudes are registering a 7.0 on the Mooney Accomodation Scale. Let’s swap places: evolution (which the religious think was started by God) is no problem to most politicians and school boards but astronomy is synonymous with atheism. Astrology should be taught in schools, not astronomy, and Texas is considering writing textbooks friendly to Astrology. All Republican presidential candidates swear publicly that astronomy is bunk.

                We evolutionists think the astronomers are going about this the wrong way. While some fundamentalist astrologers(like Virgos) think astronomy is against their religion it is not–it’s against their brand of astrology. Moderate astrologers are our allies and some of them even like astronomy such as the Pope.

                I can’t stress this enough. The conflict over the teaching of astronomy is based on the false assumption that astronomy is antagonistic to religion. So, astronomers, shut up about dissing astrology–my mom’s an Aquarius.

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 3:28 am | Permalink

                The faithful who are 100% behind science get butthurt when it is pointed out their religion is woo and somewhat childish

                An interesting result is these sciencey buddies of Jebus and their shruggies resort to the same faulty arguments and fallacies as the followers of the cult of $CAM

          • colnago80
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            When I was a graduate student a million years ago, there were a number of colleagues who were from India doing dissertations in elementary particle physics. A number of them also believed in astrology.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      And I argue that you aren’t going to be
      successful in a worthwhile way with accommodation. Jerry mentions the other pernicious outcomes of religion and a regular person could probably get through their life without knowing about evolution but he/she would certainly be affected by those other things.

      Now, I personally believe that people should embrace science because not doing so leaves you out of fully participating in society. I feel the same about knowing about history and philosophy. I also argue none of these things are possible with religion. At least not fully.

      Finally, in order for Phil’s hypothesis to be correct, you’d likely see science taught from an accomodationist approach in countries with religion and a high acceptance of evolution. Is there evidence of this? I don’t have the numbers for acceptance of evolution in Canada, but I certainly know evolution isn’t a bad word in Canada. I don’t fear using it. However, evolution isn’t taught with accommodation in mind when I learned about it. Canada isn’t as religious as the US but it’s no Europe. So, what’s different? I suspect it truly is religion impedes acceptance of evolution but can we say that being nice about it and pushing the lie of theistic evolution will solve that? Maybe you’ll convince a few liberal Christians but who cares? You’ve convoluted evolution and you still haven’t changed the minds of your target group which may be your majority. It’s likely those liberals would’ve changed already. The only answer is those folks aren’t going to buy theistic evolution for the reasons Jerry outlined. You hear it with Ham – it would make us all immoral animals not special god creatures. This is the issue and you can’t fix it.

      I’ve made assumptions above but I suspect you’d be able to back up a lot with data.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        I’m also at a loss as to how one is supposed to teach evolution in an accommodating manner.

        When we teach geography, do we make accommodations for those who believe the Earth is flat? “Please note that, although I’m showing that Australia is opposite Canada on this globe, that doesn’t at all mean that, for those of you who believe in Flat Earth theory, your beliefs are invalid. I don’t agree with them, but I still respect them.”

        When we teach astronomy, do we make accommodations for those who think their horoscopes really do have something meaningful to say? “For the Astrologers amongst you, don’t worry about the small force of gravity on human-scale objects over these distances; rather, concentrate on the fact that using these newfangled mathematical techniques you’ll be able to chart the locations of the Wanderers with that much more precision, thus enabling you to fine-tune your horoscopes all the better.”

        And when we teach chemistry do we make accommodations for the alchemists? “So, yes, you need a nuclear reactor for transmutation and there’s no economical method of turning lead into gold, but take heart that the principle of transmutation is nevertheless demonstrated real!”

        Fuck that noise.

        Teach that science. If your fantasies are threatened by what you learn in science class, either flunk out of the class or talk to your dungeon master for some soothing pablum to ease your anxiety.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

          Oh it works for History too. We’re going to teach about World War II using facts: both first person accounts and evidence in the form of existing artifacts. Now, some of you may not believe the Holocaust happened and if you prefer to think World War II didn’t have a Holocaust, that’s okay.

          Um no, I want history professors to ridicule those people and fail their ignorant asses!

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          What I tell my 600 first year students is that they can believe what they want to believe, that’s their affair, although I have quite strong opinions on the matter, it’s not appropriate for me to bring those views into the classroom.

          BUT if they want to be a scientist, they must not let their beliefs determine what scientific facts they accept.

          Then I point out that of the hundreds of millions of DNA sequences that have been analysed, of the hundreds of thousands of fossils that have been studied, not ONE fundamentally undermines evolution by natural selection, or the big picture of the pattern of evolution.

          A number of religious students over the years have told me that this approach has helped them break with religion,

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            It’s sad that you have to make that sort of a statement, but, especially for a publicly-funded school in America, that statement is probably perfect. I certainly don’t see how to improve upon it.

            I’d also suggest that it’s not at all accommodationist — at least, not according to any definition that’d make sense to me.

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              UK university (Manchester). It’s just a way of dealing with the issue if creationism in about 1 minute and setting out some guidelines for the rest of their Unviersity life…

              • Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

                Didn’t mean to imply that you’re a Yank! Rather, I was suggesting that for a Constitutionally-sppropriate model for people here….

                b&

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

              I had a high school science teacher who would say the same thing to thwart proselytizing by JWs in the class. The funny thing was he was religious – even was a pastor.

      • Nwalsh
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Diana, here are the numbers from this very site on 7/17/2010:
        Acceptance of evolution, Canada 61%, U.S.35% and U.K. 68%.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

          Interesting and I know that only ~23% are non religious (and these include the mystics and such) so that means about 80% of Canadians are religious – 67% are Christian. Yet, evolution acceptance is relatively high. However, evolution is taught in a straight forward, non accommodating manner as far as I remember being taught in high school & university.

  9. Scote
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    ““But Ham is insidiously wrong on one important aspect: He insists evolution is anti-religious. But it’s not; it’s just anti-his-religion.”

    And that would be different from being anti-religious how, exactly?

    So many clay feet in this arena. I used to like Chris Mooney, and Phil Plait. Now not so much. (Well, I used to really like PZ, too. But, ironically, in this thread I that agree with about how there isn’t a scientific middle ground about evolution, I also find Jerry to have the right take on how be appropriately civil without taking any guff, either. Not a middle ground, per se, nor a false middle, but neither a polemicist, either. Just right.)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Indeed and do we teach a different kind of evolution for each religion? Kind of starts being not science anymore.

    • Greg Peterson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      Chris Mooney has written some really good stuff for Mother Jones recently. He’s not PZ, he’s not even Jerry, but he’s become more uncompromising in his defense of science, I think.

  10. Kurt Helf
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I wondered if you’d pick this up. The column was a very disappointing read but I suppose we should’ve expected it.

  11. Sastra
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    As much as I admire Phil Plait, I disagree with him on this. If someone argued that the tenets of modern cosmology would be more acceptable to the public if they were framed in terms which would allow people to continue believing in astrology — a reasonable, rational astrology which took care to never come in direct conflict with astronomy, of course — then perhaps he would see the problem better.

    The goal is not to get people to “believe” evolution. It is to promote scientific thinking and all its virtues. These virtues include an honest search for truth, a willingness to go where the evidence leads, and a commitment to try to avoid personal bias as much as possible by opening one’s favorite theory up to the critical scrutiny of skeptics, in order to seek a rational consensus.

    And the spiritual virtue of “faith” dances up and down on all these scientific virtues — and spits.

    Does anyone really, truly think the solution is to sell the idea that one ought to have faith that God is a secular humanist? That, despite the miracles and the special revelations and subjective bias embraced as if it were rigorous self-restraint, when it gets right down to it in every instance in which it actually matters, ‘God” would never want anyone to believe anything that a reasonable, good-willed atheist wouldn’t believe? Be inconsistent. Compartmentalize. Tell them to draw the line HERE — and their self-interest will follow.

    Why? Because the atheists will be waiting in the wings, that’s why. They’d otherwise be very happy to give each other a pass, in a nod to an ecumenical spirit of not-pointing-a-finger lest the other ones point back at themselves. Don’t discount the value of someone holding them accountable.

    Method, method, method. Telling the religious that the atheists hold the standard on where to use faith and where to start using science is flattering to us atheists, certainly. Look down and manipulate the Little People by giving them only as much as we think they can handle, and allowing them as much as they can get away with.

    But the religious are not stupid. The whole point of religion and belief in God is to be different than atheism and different from an atheist. Unless we go after the privilege granted to faith, then scientists will be playing an endless game of peseudoscientific Whack-a-mole as the theists play their endless game of theological Calvinball.

    If Accomodationism is a good strategy, it is only good if it’s coupled with honest New Atheism. They believe in God because it makes sense to them, it explains ‘too much’ to ignore.

    It doesn’t explain anything. Not just science, but philosophy. They are not Little People. They are as grown up as Phil, Jerry, or any of us.

  12. gmaduck
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    The part of the debate I liked best is when Ham admitted that part of the bible was poetry and part was history. But the part that he calls history (Genesis) may just be “poetry.”

  13. Tulse
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I think that meteorologists should stop being so stridently anti-Thorist, and recognize that if they continue to insist that a scientific view of thunder is incompatible with belief in a hammer-wielding god, they are just pushing people into fundamentalist Asgardism. Surely we should be embracing the more liberal Thorists, who argue that thunder may be a natural process and don’t believe a literal Mjölnir, but who think that materialist meteorology is ultimately empty and uncaring, and believe in the notion of a thunder god as a concept.

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      Þórr? No! Zeus is the sky of all being!

      /@

      PS. Just being jovial …

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Spoken like a true Olympian.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        Zeus and Thor…are the same god!

        • Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:25 am | Permalink

          Hmm… my reading of that article is that Zeus and Týr are cognate, but not Þórr.

          /@

          • Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:02 am | Permalink

            Under the section “Deiwos Group” – the last bullet. Admittedly it is only “suggested”.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

              …er, “interpreted”.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:49 am | Permalink

              No that’s saying that Tharapita might be cognate with Zeus OR might be cognate with Þórr.

              /@

          • Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

            Do you have the term “brain fart” in the UK? Because that is what I’ve had here.

            I see now. The term under consideration in that bullet “bears some resemblance” to deus pater but can be interpreted as related to Thor instead/i>.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:50 am | Permalink

              Yep. It happens. Too much ground-up beans give you mental wind.

              /@

      • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Zeus, Schmeus. He’s just a bull in a reliquary.

        Now, Apollo — there’s a god worth worshipping. Music? Prophecy? Medicine? Sign me up!

        Besides, Zeus is all about the strum und drang, and always has a cloud over his head. Why have anything to do with somebody so gloomy when you could hang out with Apollo and his sunny disposition instead?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          I will have to muse on that . . .

          /@

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          But Zeus gets props for his lineage & moxy. His dad, Kronos was a Titan who heard of the prophesy that one of his kids would overthrow him so he promptly ate his kids. He landed in Hades doing some sort of manual, taunting labour for that. Then Zeus, born secretly & hidden away from being devoured, started up a whole army & overthrew him in a big war called the Titanomachy.

  14. Grania Spingies
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    “Scientists, says Plait, are doing an awful job at communicating evolution to the public, and that is why, at least in the U.S., there’s so much resistance to that branch of science. ”

    That’s not just true. Scientists in the US are no worse than scientists in the UK or Ireland at communicating science. For the most part evolution is accepted to be true over here because religions have not – until now – been allowed to inveigle their pet theories into the science classroom. I say until now, because thanks to certain changes to UK laws, religious schools are now able to teach creationism and ruin children’s education with impunity.

    Secondly, if the nice-guy Nye approach works so well, where are the hordes of converts to science and critical thinking after last night? Where are all the ex-Creationists who are now skeptical and researching for themselves? Why are Ken Miller and the NCSE still having to fight the endless fight in schools across the USA? They’ve been nice and respectful for years.

    I’m all for the many-pronged approach at tackling this problem. Different things work for different people, and there are ex-Creationists who came by different ways to their enlightenment. But if “don’t be mean” was a magic trick, Creationism would have died out about 60 years ago.

    • Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:00 am | Permalink

      The gnu atheists are consistently honest and up-front about religion and science being incompatible. Accommodationists have drank lukewarm Kool-Aid for so long they churlishly label honesty as rudeness, incivility, and gloating. People do appreciate when you don’t beat around the bush; they may balk at first, but then they realise that you are treating them with real respect. I think that is why prying open the Overton window eventually works.

  15. Sastra
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    So evolution is not anti-religion in general. But is it atheistic? No. Evolution takes no stand on the existence or lack thereof of a god or gods.

    The theory of evolution is atheistic if you follow it all the way down and apply it to God. It’s a universal acid, as Dennett calls it.

    Minds are the result of a long complicated process of development and must evolve to fit a social environment. You’re not going to find mind (Intelligence, Agency, Intention) or the products of mind (Love, Goodness, Beauty) at the beginning of the universe, before everything, the condition of the possibility of anything existing at all. Evolution just took a stand on God.

    That we DO NOT use science on God — that we do not put the God explanation up to objective public scrutiny — is not structured into the concept of God. No. That’s an immunizing strategy which only applies when science doesn’t find God. Demonstrate the paranormal and its mind/body dualism and watch the “science can say nothing for or against the supernatural” crowd spin on a dime.

    One might as well say that debunking every UFO claim takes “no stand” on whether or not aliens are visiting the earth. We can bring in why the physics, the biology, and all the evidence is against it. But hey — you’re allowed to believe in it if you make sure none of your constant public proclamations are taken seriously. Science is neutral and says nothing.

    Unless it does.

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      The theory of evolution is atheistic if you follow it all the way down and apply it to God.

      If this were a true statement then the religious folks who don’t think evolution should be taught in school would have a valid point. It would amount to a state-sponsored promotion of a particular religious belief.

      Fortunately most of the people who advocate that evolution is proper subject to be taught in public schools are aware that your and Dennett’s belief regarding the ultimate conclusion of evolutionary theory is not and cannot be scientifically justified.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        You can teach evolution without following it all the way down and applying it to God — same as you could, in theory, refuse to apply evolution to human beings but keep it otherwise the same. You can, as you say, leave the God part out. Given the separation of church and state, we have to.

        But there’s a problem built into the system which keeps religion out of public schools. It works only if we work on the assumption that we’re not supposed to take religious claims seriously, as if they were objective facts in reality. There’s a barrier here which is artificially created for strategic reasons. There’s nothing in science or its methods which rules out the supernatural up front. The reason we don’t include spiritual truths in science — truths like ESP, PK, souls, creationism and so forth — is not just because they’re “religious” … but because they’re wrong.

        The belief that evolution fatally undercuts the God hypothesis is fine science. It’s not politically justified. But you can scientifically justify it to the extent you can get a clear enough definition.

        And, of course, there are plenty of believers who will insist that you can’t apply scientific reasoning to the God hypothesis, it’s a unique combination of empirical claim, metaphysical assumption, and value statement. This is mostly self-serving because they have good reasons to believe that God exists. From the point of view of most their “faith” is a small assumption which signals a willingness to accept, not a wild invention which deliberately flies in the face of all common sense.

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

          [blockquote]There’s nothing in science or its methods which rules out the supernatural up front. [/blockquote]

          I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. The up front assumption of science is that nature is predictable – i.e. no unpredictable supernatural forces.

          Thus, because science excludes assuming such hypothesis from the get/go you can never scientifically justify conclusion that god/supernatural forces do not exist. I think that Massimo Pigliucci at http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/ has articulated this argument far better than I can.

          I can try to find some specific posts of his explaining this if you like.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

            I would say that nature is explainable through reason and science but predictable maybe only in theory. It may not be possible to predict everything in nature. I’m thinking in particular, being able to predict someone’s behaviour precisely and actually in essence know their future.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

              I agree. That doesn’t change the basic assumption of science though. The assumption is that things are explicable through natural mechanisms rather than unpredictable supernatural interventions.

          • Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:22 am | Permalink

            I disagree. The up-front assumption in science is that the world (saying “nature” begs the question) is explicable, but it doesn’t matter whether the explanation is natural (fundamentally material) or supernatural (fundamentally mental; h/t Sastra).

            If the supernatural (“pure mind”) has any impact on the natural (material) it is amenable to investigation by science.

            (If not, then it’s irrelevant.)

            Furthermore, in our present state of knowledge, we can rule out any force that can interact with matter that is not part of the standard model of physics (see Sean Carroll’s talk at Skepticon 5).

            I don’t think there’s room for any “supernatural of the gaps” argument.

            /@

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:49 am | Permalink

              The up-front assumption in science is that the world (saying “nature” begs the question) is explicable, but it doesn’t matter whether the explanation is natural (fundamentally material) or supernatural (fundamentally mental; h/t Sastra).

              I’m not sure how to interpret this. Are you saying that science doesn’t delineate between the material and the supernatural? In that case, it most certainly cannot result in a conclusion that no god exists.

              If the supernatural (“pure mind”) has any impact on the natural (material) it is amenable to investigation by science.

              Only if it is consistent and predictable. Those are qualities we can reasonably assume about the material but not the supernatural.

              (If not, then it’s irrelevant.)

              Irrelevant is not the same as non-existent. Something can be irrelevant and still exist.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

              Of course irrelevant is not the same as non-existent. But if a supernatural being cannot interact with the natural (material) world, why should we care? We’d never be aware of it. And it certainly couldn’t be any kind of theistic, intercessionary, god.

              So, science certainly can conclude that no theistic, intercessionary, god can exist.

              Again, the up-front assumption in science is that the world is explicable; consistency and predictability are a bonus. In any case, how do you know that we cannot make that assumption about the supernatural?

              /@

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                Of course irrelevant is not the same as non-existent. But if a supernatural being cannot interact with the natural (material) world, why should we care?

                Why should we care about anything, like whether evolution is true or false or taught in our public schools?

                So, science certainly can conclude that no theistic, intercessionary, god can exist.

                Er, no. Science cannot conclude that. The best science can tell us is that we can conclude that given certain definitions (coherent enough to test, not self-contradictory, consistent, predictable, etc.) of such gods, the probability of their existence can be estimated to be extremely low which for many people is sufficient to reject the hypothesis that they do exist. The conclusion you are claiming is an unjustified over-extension of what science tells us.

                Again, the up-front assumption in science is that the world is explicable; consistency and predictability are a bonus. In any case, how do you know that we cannot make that assumption about the supernatural?

                The problem is not that we can’t make that assumption. We can make any assumption we want. The problem is that given that assumption, we then can’t draw any conclusion about a god that is not consistent and predictable. Since that is what you are claiming that science can conclude, that’s why I disagree.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

                1. Seriously? You might as well just go and top yourself then.

                2. Yes, it can. I already did provide a narrower definition; the key here is “intercessionary”; i.e., intersecting with the material world. Science is very good at falsifying hypotheses; e.g. (Ben’s favourite), the luminiferous æther. And the LHC result is enough to tell us that there are no forces that interact with the material world (at human energy scales) than those we already know, meaning that an intercessionary God /is/ falsifiable.

                3. That is not my assumption about “God”. See #2.

                /@

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                @ Ant

                1. ‘Why should we care’ is irrelevant to any argument for or against existence of anything.

                2.

                I already did provide a narrower definition; the key here is “intercessionary”; i.e., intersecting with the material world. Science is very good at falsifying hypotheses;

                . Yes, I agree. I also agree that you can falsify some definitions of god. But those definitions perforce include an assumption of how god will respond in certain situations in order to test the hypothesis.

                For example, if your definition is that god will consistently answer prayers, then a study could conclude that that this intercessionary behavior has not happened. But anyone who believes in a god that does not consistently respond to prayers, well, such a god can’t be tested because you have no way to tell is such a god doesn’t exist or simply hasn’t choosen to respond.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                @ Beth

                1. I was never asserting it was. My point was that the existence or otherwise of any supernatural agency that does not interact with the material world (is) is irrelevant to the discussion of the existence of an intercessionary god. One is not the other.

                2. My point is not about responses It is about claims of what the god has /already/ done.

                /@

          • Sastra
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

            I’m aware of Pigliucci’s position and disagree with it. I’ll send you to Carrier and Clark.

            Supernatural forces are not defined as “unpredictable.” They are consistent within their own laws. Keep in mind that the definition of ‘supernatural’ is critical here and that the line between nature and supernature is one we create. Science does not confine itself to “nature.” It deals with reality. And even God is supposed to be remarkably consistent, the opposite of the utter and absolute chaos which would make any form of inquiry impossible.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:32 am | Permalink

              Thanks for this response but I think we’ll simply have to disagree on this. I don’t find either Carrier or Clark nearly as persuasive or their positions as well-supported and argued as Piglucci’s.

              • Sastra
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

                Perhaps it is not the philosophers but the believers themselves who should be appealed to in this matter.

                How do you think they would answer the question:

                If God chooses to reveal itself to everyone so that even science can confirm its existence– is it theoretically possible for God to do so?

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

                @ Sastra:

                If God chooses to reveal itself to everyone so that even science can confirm its existence– is it theoretically possible for God to do so?

                Certainly, at least according to some concepts of god. I don’t think that claim has even been in dispute. The claim I was disputing was that evolution leads to the conclusion that no gods exist.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

                We have overwhelming scientific evidence to support the claim that there has been no “outside” interference in terrestrial evolution, and not even at the level of “tweaking.” That sort of thing would show up in any sort of statistical analysis as surely as comparable shenanigans regularly show up in financial audits. At the very least, we can state with confidence that, if there has been any sort of “tweaking,” it is of so little significance as to be utterly irrelevant, akin to a single cashier in a fast food restaurant chain once or twice pocketing a customer’s change.

                There are certainly gods who are described to be completely uninvolved with the course of development of life on Earth, but their worshippers are almost non-existent. Essentially, you’re referring to the Deists and Pantheists, and they don’t even really register on the radar. The ones who fit that description are very small in number, and they don’t tend to worship their gods and generally aren’t significantly emotionally attached to them.

                If we consider the actual gods that actual people actually worship, they’re all passionately interested in humans and our origins and our affairs. And each and every one of those gods is demonstrated incompatible with what we actually know about actual biology.

                So, while your statement is technically true, it’s a distinction without a difference. In practice, biology really does demonstrate that the gods people believe in are fantasies.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

                Beth wrote:

                Certainly, at least according to some concepts of god. I don’t think that claim has even been in dispute. The claim I was disputing was that evolution leads to the conclusion that no gods exist.

                Then Pigliucci is mistaken: the supernatural is not outside of science because of anything concerning the nature of the supernatural. In theory, scientists doing science could find that some things are explicable through supernatural interventions. There is no “rule” that demands that they can never invoke the supernatural, any more than there is a “rule” that we can never invoke the paranormal.

                We could if the evidence were strong enough to establish its existence.

                No scientific theory ever leads to the conclusion “No X exists” if this statement is going to be interpreted strictly. The ether may exist in some corner of the universe we can’t see. If the theory of evolution and its important implications relating to the gradual development of complexity is applied to the God hypothesis, then the hypothesis is seriously weakened and ought to be discarded. It is no more “unscientific” to do so than it is to reject the existence of ESP and teach that.

                It may be unconstitutional if the ESP is called “prayer.”

            • gbjames
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

              “No scientific theory ever leads to the conclusion “No X exists” if this statement is going to be interpreted strictly.”

              Huh?

              I’m pretty sure the following scientific hypothesis can be tested and with 100% be determined to be true in very strictest of terms:

              “No African elephant is living in the closet of my office.”

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

                Also, “There is no such thing as the Luminiferous Aether.” Or, “No two fermions simultaneously occupy the same quantum state.” And, “Nothing in this Universe has a velocity faster than c.

                There always exist the caveats that we could be suffering from some sort of illusion, including Matrix-style brain-in-a-jar simulations. In that sense, no, you can’t be 100% sure.

                But you can be as sure about many things (including the nonexistence of gods) as you are that, for example, the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow.

                I have no problem describing that as absolute certainty, especially after tossing out the paranoid conspiracy theory caveat.

                So, yes. The absolutely certain conclusion that all sorts of things don’t exist is quite routine in science. Indeed, it’s one of the most common things scientists do: look for things just to be sure they’re not there.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

                I’m using the term “strictly” very strictly, which means it can involve all sorts of unreasonable objections. I’m making the same point as Sagan with his “dragon in the garage” analogy. The African elephant might be invisible and so on and so forth.

                Science can’t give 100% certainty because it deals with empirical claims. We can be certain enough for all practical purposes. Which leaves room for “faith” — an illegitimate move for personal purposes.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

                Science can’t get you to 100% any more than counting can get you to infinity.

                But science can get you as arbitrarily close to 100% as you might wish, well past the point of only having ludicrously insane conspiracy theories left as the only alternatives.

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Sastra, “invisible” isn’t an attribute of “African elephant”. Nor is “minuscule”. We’re talking regular African elephants here. We can empirically determine whether or not there is one over in the closet.

                If you want, I’ll get up and verify for you.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                Unless “embryonic” is part of the definition or the closet is larger than the typical cubicle, there’s not even any need to get up and look.

                Of course, the alien mind rays might be slipping through the gaps in your invisible tinfoil hat and thus causing you to be unaware of the very angry elephant in the stadium-sized closet…but is it really worthwhile worrying about that sort of thing?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Sastra
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

                Regular African elephants which have been enchanted by fairies!!!11!!1

                Ben is right. We cannot eliminate the ludicrously insane. Get enough people behind it and it’s supposed to become a spiritual “live option.”

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, Sastra, the definition of “regular African elephant” does not include any arbitrarily appended attributes not previously known to exist. Nor does it work to redefine what my closet looks like, what it’s dimensions are, etc. Redefining the proposition to be tested does not invalidate the negative existence of this empirically determinable hypothesis.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                Damn! I forgot my tinfoil hat!

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

                No worries. You’re already wearing my spare.

                (Can you prove you’re not?)

                b&

          • Scott_In_OH
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            The up front assumption of science is that nature is predictable

            Scientists have *found* that nature seems to be stunningly predictable in many ways. However, if in their investigations they were to find an unpredicted phenomenon, they would sit up and take notice (and have done so many times). They would initially expect that further investigation would uncover an understandable explanation, since that is what has happened over and over again historically. If, however, they continued to find large, seemingly patternless (i.e., unpredictable) events, there’s no reason they couldn’t eventually come around to arguing that there is a god out there influencing our world.

            It’s not that they *can’t* reach such a tentative conclusion; it’s that they *haven’t*, because there hasn’t been any reason to.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

              If, however, they continued to find large, seemingly patternless (i.e., unpredictable) events, there’s no reason they couldn’t eventually come around to arguing that there is a god out there influencing our world.

              I disagree. Given any unexplained and apparently unpredictable events, science/scientists don’t say ‘god must have done it’, but ‘I wonder what the explanation is’ and continue investigation to try and figure it out.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

                Of course it’s the job of scientists to look for explanations. But when archaeologists (for instance) unearth ancient artifacts, there’s no rule of science that prohibits them from hypothesizing intelligent agents (such as human ancestors) as part of the explanation for those artifacts.

                Similarly, if cosmologists or biologists were to uncover unequivocal evidence of intelligent agency in the design of the universe or of living organisms, there’s no rule that prohibits them from recognizing it as such.

                But the fact is that no such evidence has been found, so the (provisional) conclusion is that no such agency was involved. That’s a scientific result, not a ground rule for doing science in the first place.

                It remains logically possible that some supernatural agency could have intervened undetectably in the evolution of the universe and of the human species. But given a choice between an explanation involving undetectable supernatural agency and one that explains the same facts in terms of purely natural forces that are already well understood, Occam’s Razor tells us to reject the former and accept the latter as more parsimonious. And that’s something that certainly ought to be OK to say in a science classroom.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

                The case is actually much, much stronger than what you suggest.

                Not only is there no evidence of intelligence where it needs must be were it real, there are heaps of evidence of a distinct lack of intelligence — with the recurrent pharyngeal nerve being the archetypal example.

                The god hypothesis, by this point, is even more thoroughly refuted and discredited than the Luminiferous Aether hypothesis.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

                (See! /@)

      • darrelle
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        I am not clear on what you mean by “scientifically justified.” Do you mean science for some reason is not capable or not allowed to consider relgious claims?

        Can you also please explain in what way evolutionary theory requires or leaves any room for a god? The only option there is for a deistic god, and there are no sects of christianity that could be considered even remotely deistic. Though Sophisticated Theologians™ do like to play deist when scrutinized by non believing critics, they always seem to bait and switch with deism.

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

          [blockquote]I am not clear on what you mean by “scientifically justified.”[/blockquote]I mean that you can’t scientifically justify accepting a hypothesis that was assumed to start with.

          See my response to Sastra for more.

          [blockquote]Can you also please explain in what way evolutionary theory requires or leaves any room for a god?[/blockquote]

          It doesn’t require a god. In fact, it assumes no god is necessary. Which is the case. I don’t believe that god requires any room in order to exist. As Plait pointed out, the theory doesn’t imply anything about the existence or not of god. Showing that god was not required is not equivalent to showing that god does not exist.

          [blockquote] The only option there is for a deistic god, and there are no sects of christianity that could be considered even remotely deistic. [/blockquote]

          I would disagree with that statement in actual practice, but in theory I think you are correct.

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:05 am | Permalink

            Beth, try using < > instead of [ ] for your blockquotes.

          • darrelle
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

            ” In fact, it assumes no god is necessary.”

            A stock claim made by believers from the common church goer to doctors of theology. It is false. Neither science in general nor evolutionary theory specifically, assumes anything even remotely like that.

            “As Plait pointed out, the theory doesn’t imply anything about the existence or not of god.”

            Yes, it does. Quite clearly. Plait is wrong, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he understands that, but made the statement for “image maintenance” reasons. If he does believe it he has fallen prey to willful ignorance. He should know better.

            “Showing that god was not required is not equivalent to showing that god does not exist.”

            Another stock theist claim. What does this get you? What possible sense does it make to hold to a convoluted detailed belief system for which their is zero good evidence, enormous amounts of good evidence contrary to, and of which our most accurate models of reality indicate no trace of?

            “The up front assumption of science is that nature is predictable – i.e. no unpredictable supernatural forces.” [from your response to Sastra above]

            Another stock theist claim. Again, wrong. All these stock claims are held onto with such determination regardless of clear evidence, clearly explained, because if conceded there would be no place to hide deities. No such premise is necessary for science. Supernatural is a fallacy. There is only reality which by definition includes everything.

            If any aspect of a phenomenon is in any way perceptible to humans, science can be used to investigate it. If no aspect of it is in any way perceptible to humans then there is absolutely no reason to suppose that there is anything there in the first place. All science is, is a method of testing our ideas about what we perceive. And the test is simply to do more “perceiving” and compare those perceptions to our ideas. The ideas that are not disconfirmed by this testing are the ones that are held, provisionally, to be accurate. And the testing of even the most well verified of these ideas never ends.

            The predictability of reality that seems evident is a finding of science, not a premise necessary in order to do science. And in fact there are phenomena well verified and explained by science that are not predictable.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:53 am | Permalink

              +1

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

              Whether these are ‘stock theist claims’ I have no idea. I disagree that they are wrong and you do not provide any actual reasons for rejecting those claims other than your assertion that they, and Phil Plait, are wrong.

              The predictability of reality that seems evident is a finding of science, not a premise necessary in order to do science.

              I have to disagree. The assumption of consistency and therefore predictability is a necessary one that science must make in order to proceed.

              And in fact there are phenomena well verified and explained by science that are not predictable.

              Please give an example of phenomena that are well-verified and explained by science that cannot be predicted. If you meant well-verified and explained by science but not deterministic, that’s trivially true but not relevant to my point.

              The only thing I can think of is QM, which is a well-verified model with results that can be predicted with a statistical model but not a deterministic one.

              My understanding is that it isn’t really explained by science at this point. There are various interesting conjectures (such as the many-worlds hypothesis) but no firm conclusions regarding such explanations.

              • josh
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

                Beth,
                darrelle has it right. I, for one, am a practicing scientist so I can at least tell you what my job is like. At no point in my education or work did someone define ‘material’, ‘physical’, ‘natural’, etc. and say that these are the topics of my study. (We don’t even define ’cause’.) The idea that science is restricted to these things is largely a religious declaration after millenia of religious thought that regularly involved them was overturned. It’s a defensive action but not one that reflects reality or good epistemology.

                In practice, of course, most scientists are focused on relatively specialized questions within a set framework for their day to day living. A chemist assumes he’s dealing with atoms and electrons. A biologist thinks in terms of ‘physical’ animals. I, a physicist, don’t worry about ghosts moving my particles around. But these are not presumptions of science, they are working assumptions. They are built up from long success (and much trial and error). What we loosely call the ‘supernatural’ isn’t something beyond the purview of science, it is a category of explanation that most of us have discarded as unsuccessful and incoherent.

                Similarly, ‘science’ itself doesn’t assume the universe is regular, ordered, intelligible, etc. Science is actively testing to see if it appears that way. Much of it does, some of it is certainly not clear. Maybe the regularities are just an illusion, a conspiracy on the part of the universe, but science does take the point of view that it is irrational to assume a conspiracy when the evidence doesn’t require it.

                Again, there is nothing special about the supernatural. I can equally come up with a ‘physical’ theory that leaves no evidence. They both go in the same bin:”not supported by the evidence, unreasonable to assume true”.

      • Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        I don’t think you even need to go that far.

        The theory of evolution clearly denies creationism — thus teaching evolution in school is already a state-sponsored contradiction of a particular (set of) religious belief(s) (if not necessarily religious belief in general).

        In any case, promoting evolution in science class is not promotion of a particular religious belief.

        /@

        • Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

          I agree with what you’ve said here. It’s the claim that evolution inevitably leads to the conclusion that no god exists that I dispute. My point was that if that were true, it would mean that teaching evolution would be unconstitutional because it would be favoring one belief (there is no god) above all others.

          • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            That can’t be right. It is perfectly plausible to have a religion where it is an article of faith that little fairies move iron filings and magnetism is regarded as a hoax promoted by infidels. By the above understanding, teaching a scientific understanding of how magnets work would be unconstitutional, since it favours one belief over another. This can be repeated for any factual (or even formal: mathematics is not exempt) claim whatever.

          • josh
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            “My point was that if that were true, it would mean that teaching evolution would be unconstitutional…”

            Beth,
            As Ant points out, you are wrong. It is unconstitutional to have a a primarily religious purpose in what you teach. But if a consequence of a teaching with a secular purpose, e.g. evolution, has an impact on one’s religious beliefs, that is not by itself unconstitutional. If it is an inevitable effect or an inevitable conclusion that science ends up eliminating religious beliefs, that’s still not unconstitutional. As Ant points out, that God created the world in it’s present form 6000 years ago or that God exists at all are equally religious beliefs. That science may impact them in no way makes it unconstitutional. (You may not agree that science makes God-belief per se irrational, but that position doesn’t have anything to do with the legal framework.)

            • Sastra
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

              I think Beth is saying that if a public school teacher specifically said that “evolution shows that there is no God” then that would be a violation of the separation of church and state. It would be the direct teaching of atheism. The government can’t let either side take a position.

              I think she’s right — as far as this goes. But I also think that there’s a flaw in the otherwise fine intention to keep religion out of science. Religion is making empirical claims. This means that it technically does come into objective reasoning from evidence … and it’s wrong. Atheism doesn’t appeal to “faith.” It treats religious claims consistently.

              We’re not all really on an even footing here. The equality is a political one, not an epistemic one. There comes a point then when it breaks down.

              “My point was that if that were true, it would mean that teaching evolution would be unconstitutional…”

              There are two arguments here.

              1.) As a matter of fact and reason, the theory of evolution can’t be used either in support of or against the existence of God.

              2.) SHHHH, THEY’LL HEAR YOU!

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

                I think Beth is saying that if a public school teacher specifically said that “evolution shows that there is no God” then that would be a violation of the separation of church and state. It would be the direct teaching of atheism. The government can’t let either side take a position.

                Yes. Thank you for expressing that so concisely.

                I also hold the opinion that it isn’t a true statement. But even if it were, I don’t think it would be constitutional to teach it.

              • josh
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

                I agree that teaching ‘science says there is no god’ would get you in legal trouble, but that wouldn’t make it untrue, which was Beth’s claim.

                From a legal theoretical point of view, if your purpose wasn’t to take a religious position, it should be allowable but practically speaking you probably couldn’t get it past a court if you explicitly pointed out the conclusion. As others have said, technically, saying ‘Evolution disproves young Earth Creationism’ is taking a religious position. So teachers usually don’t explicitly say this, but saying ‘here is what science says’ is legal (and true!) and students can connect the dots (or not in some cases).

      • eric
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        If this were a true statement then the religious folks who don’t think evolution should be taught in school would have a valid point. It would amount to a state-sponsored promotion of a particular religious belief.

        Untrue. Its perfectly legal and constitutional to teach theories that have religious ramifications. There must be a secular purpose and effect to doing so, however.

        When some scientific theory works, that gives it it’s secular purpose and effect. The purpose is to teach a theory that helps people do things like find oil, find fossils, predict next year’s strains of flu.

        The problem with creationism (both ID and earlier forms) is that they don’t work. They don’t do anything recognizable as science. They don’t help people solve problems, discover new things, or invent new widgets. This leaves them with nothing but a religious purpose and religious effect. And THAT is what makes them unconstitutional to teach.

  16. Chris_the_moderate
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Come on, Jerry, you’re twisting the facts as badly as Ken Ham here. New Atheism, notable over traditional atheism mostly in its aggressive nature, is only ten years old, you say? Biologos has been online for about half that time, and it marks the first time theistic evolution was pushed into the mainstream on any significant level. Even if you point to Language of God as the start of the movement, it’s still three years after End of Faith.

    New atheism, in my opinion, is similar to young-earth creationism in that it’s tactics are polarizing. It simultaneously builds its own ranks and strengthens the ranks of its chief opponent. If that’s what you want, great. I don’t really care if people still hold religious beliefs as long as I can remain free of them.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      And you’re about as familiar with facts as Ken Ham. If “aggressive New Atheism” was the problem, the data on evolution acceptance would show a dramatic plunge into the abyss since 2005 roughly.

      However, data on this shows no such thing. Except for maybe Republicans.

      http://www.pewforum.org/2013/12/30/publics-views-on-human-evolution/

      • Chris_the_moderate
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        If new atheism is working, then why are the overall numbers stagnant? The major differences in the past five years indicate movement towards the extremes. That’s polarization.

        In any case, that has nothing to do with the fact that Jerry assigned a limited age to new atheism, presumably to avoid the obvious criticism that it has been every bit as irrelevant to the evolution argument. In reality, modern accomodationist entities like Biologos are younger than new atheism.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

          Evolution acceptance has increased but not dramatically. Arguing for more reason and making atheism acceptable is one ways to influence acceptance of evolution (ie: as religion goes away, science and reason are more accepted). The way you get to this point, is you find out why Americans are so religious. Once you find out why they are so religious, you have root cause and that’s where you focus your work.

          In the meantime, we can only work to reduce religious adherence.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Biologos has been online for about half that time, and it marks the first time theistic evolution was pushed into the mainstream on any significant level

      The papal encyclical Humani generis, which declared that theistic evolution was an acceptable belief for Catholics, was published in 1950. I think that counts as “pushed into the mainstream”.

      • Chris_the_moderate
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Honestly, you consider that “mainstream”? I’d guess Bertrand Russell had more readers among the non-clergy.

        • Tulse
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

          Honestly, you consider that “mainstream”?

          Given that it is the official doctrine for hundreds of millions of Catholics? Yeah, I think that’s mainstream.

          • Posted February 8, 2014 at 3:53 am | Permalink

            100s of millions of Catholics who likely haven’t a clue what those papal edicts say

            A bud was a Catholic who thought the cracker & plonk were only metaphors

            He’s now an Amorphous Blobist, who often refers to Jebus…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      Aggressive is not the right word. New Atheism calls out the foolish aspects of religion in the same way that it calls out the foolish aspects of other things. Religion gets no free pass. If it weren’t for the New Atheists calling out, as Sam Harris puts it, covering women in cloth bags, many would keep quiet about it and never discuss the oppressive nature of Islam.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Besides, the nonsense that the religious freely spout deeply offends me. Talking animals? Zombie cannibalism? Infinite torture for failing to eat the zombie?

        Do you hear me bitching that they shouldn’t be so strident, that they shouldn’t offend my delicate sensibilities?

        No?

        Then why are accommodationists so eager to shut me up to protect their delicate sensibilities?

        I’ll stop telling the religious they should be ashamed for promoting childish nonsense when they stop telling everybody about their childish nonsense. Seems like a fair deal to me.

        Cheers,

        b&

      • Chris_the_moderate
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know, maybe “proactive” is a better word. I’m referring to the idea of actively speaking one’s mind rather than being reactive.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      The relevant unit of time here is generations, not years or decades.

      • Scientifik
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:40 am | Permalink

        Agreed.

        The aim of new atheism is not to convince the ultra-dogmatic old farts, but to inspire the new generations of freethinkers.

        And we already see that it’s working, for young people are waking up to science and critical thinking.

        New atheism inspires their music, see Greydon Sqaure:

        Youtube channels, see Jaclyn Glenn:

        etc.

        • Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:01 am | Permalink

          Btw, Greydon Square’s music is available on bandcamp. Please support the artist; bandcamp takes less than 10% of the revenue from sales, the rest goes directly to the artist.

          /@

          • Scientifik
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:31 am | Permalink

            I know, I already purchased the Type I / The Kardashev Scale from the site, and definitely plan to get the Type II.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

              Hmmm, I may be purchasing too. I’ve left a tab open to listen later.

              • Scientifik
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

                Diana,

                Hope you gonna like it. Greydon packs more science and rational thinking into his rhymes than the entire pop-rock music industry. :)

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                I’m on board. Groovy shit.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 8, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

                Downloaded from iTunes. I want to support him – dude is a black atheist and it’s awesome he’s publicizing it. His stuff is pretty good too.

              • Posted February 8, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

                You should have used bandcamp! Dude gets more of the money that way; he needs it more than the folks in Cupertino! ;-)

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                It was sold out on band camp.

              • Posted February 9, 2014 at 1:25 am | Permalink

                @ Diana

                The CD is sold out, but it’s still available for download!

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                Oh I see. I’ll get his other stuff there then.

              • Scientifik
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

                BTW, do check out his interview for Creation Today ;)

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

                He was very good in that. I think he should be debating creationists!

              • Scientifik
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

                “You should have used bandcamp! Dude gets more of the money that way; he needs it more than the folks in Cupertino!”

                What’s more, Bandcamp gives you an option to download his albums in CD-quality FLAC format, whereas iTunes offers them only as lossy mp3s!

              • Posted February 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                And ALAC, since iTunes Player cant play FLACs.

                /@

              • Scientifik
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

                “He was very good in that. I think he should be debating creationists!”

                Agreed, he destroyed that creationist so badly that it wasn’t even funny.

  17. Nick
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    In his next article he answers questions from creationist and talks in circles. First he says, “There is more room for a god in science than there is no god in religious faith.” Then later, while answering a question on the big bang he says, “using a supernatural explanation without explaining why doesn’t give you any true understanding of it. That only leads to the stopping of learning, not the growth of it.” Clearly he doesn’t think the supernatural has a place in his understanding. Why does he allow the introduction of a supernatural being with evolution but not the big bang? He even encourages people to look into theistic evolution. “I suggest reading about theistic evolution, which is a fascinating area of philosophical argument.”

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/02/06/religion_and_science_answering_creationists_questions.html

    • colnago80
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      I commented on the thread and informed Plait that, IMHO, his response to question #6 on the big bang was less then adequate and told him why.

  18. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    And who should do this? The answer to me is clear: Religious people who understand the reality of science. They have a huge advantage over someone who is not a believer. Because atheism is so reviled in America, someone with faith will have a much more sympathetic soapbox from which to speak to those who are more rigid in their beliefs.

    I know a lot of religious folks read my blog. I am not a believer, but I hope that my message of science, of investigation, of honesty, of the joy and wonder revealed though it, gets across to everyone. That’s why I don’t attack religion; there’s no need. I am fine with people believing in what they want. I only step up on my own soapbox when a specific religion overreaches, when that belief is imposed on others.

    This passage kinda pisses me off and I think it shows the politician peeking out from behind the science curtain.

    He’s basically willing to accept that atheists are reviled becasue of their mere lack of belief, and instead of advocating for that to change he want’s to change the atheists ( or does he mean scientists….those two things aren’t related according to him, so I’m not really sure who he’s adressing ) way of communicating facts.

    I don’t get it and frankly it sounds a bit condescending towards all parties.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      We all know watering down doesn’t work. If you don’t like the medicine, is the answer to water it down? You may be comfortable but dead.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        It’s almost Evolution Light and it does leave you with a rather bland sensation in the earbuds.

        Students of a certain age shouldn’t expect extra special protection of their feelings. If evolution happens to conflict with their religious beliefs, well, so be it.

        Nature’s cool like that.

  19. John J. Fitzgerald
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I posted this on Facebook. I got fed up with listening to the religious nuts.

    Eric, your garbled response needs some kind of intelligent reply. This is my attempt at such a reply. Ever since the fifth century BCE, if not earlier, mankind has been struggling to escape from religious dogma and so called religious authorities. Read the Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers. Today we still have deranged popes, ignorant mullahs and child molesting ministers, priests and rabbis running around spreading ignorance, irrationality and stupidity. Charles Darwin was an honest man and did mankind a favor by telling the truth about where we came from. His theory is stronger today than ever. The BS about the Garden of Eden and Noah’s Ark belongs in the fiction section, perhaps on the meatheads’ shelf! Eric you should be ashamed of yourself for claiming there are problems with modern evolutionary theory and modern science. There are none. Your degree in theology entitles you to preach to your choir. (Along side modern fakirs like Pat Robertson and Billy Graham!) But that is about it. You have no credentials to speak beyond the evidence of modern science. If religion makes you a better person, then that is a plus. You are a rare case. It drives millions to support torture, sadistic cruelty and the smug satisfaction that they are God’s friends and atheists are God’s enemies. Religion is worse than a mental illness. It is a prescription for human disaster. Your brain needs an enema, because frankly I think that you are full of shit! You also need to learn how to spell. Read some Bertrand Russell and David Hume. Cf. Jerry Coyne- _Why Evolution is True.__ Onward! John J. Fitzgerald

  20. John J. Fitzgerald
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Please send on any comments.
    Thanks,

    John

  21. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I hope that my message of science, of investigation, of honesty…gets across to everyone…. I am fine with people believing in what they want.

    I’m having trouble seeing how these two statements add up to a coherent position on science and belief.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I hate that “I am fine with people believing in what they want.” It feeds into the idea that disagreement is disagreeable. Can’t we all get along?

      We don’t seem to feel the need to reassure opponents in other areas that we are “fine with them believing in what they want.” If the alternative to that statement involves rejecting them as human or sticking them in jail then of course we are “fine” with them believing what they want. But is that ever the alternative?

      The problem is that the accomodationists want religion to be treated like identity and preference (it’s who you are and what you care about) — the new atheists want religion to be treated like science and politics (it’s conclusions and claims) — and the religious happily want it to be treated as BOTH (I came to the true conclusion because I am who I am!) That’s what “faith” does. It blurs the distinction between fact and values. Argue against the fact and now you’re trying to take away their values!

      Who they are depends on being right. It’s a dangerous situation to be in — for both sides.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I think there is a conflation of not being fine with ignorance and being against freedom of religion/conscience. Yes, we don’t want to force belief on you but that doesn’t mean we are going to be quiet when your belief is harmful and irrational.

      • Larry Gay
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        “That’s what “faith” does. It blurs the distinction between fact and values.”

        Amen. (I don’t get to say that very often.)

  22. andreschuiteman
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I only step up on my own soapbox when a specific religion overreaches, when that belief is imposed on others.

    How does Plait think religions survive? How else but by imposing it on children?

    Maybe we should start teaching evolution to five-year-olds.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      As Jerry points out, the whole notion of religious “overreach” makes Plait’s position essentially one of theology. Evolution isn’t compatible with all religion, but only with those with the “correct” theological position. Why does Phil (and folks like the NCSE) insist on doing theology?

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Maybe we should start teaching evolution to five-year-olds.

      If that is the age where education starts in your neck of the woods, I don’t see why not.

      • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        That should actually be a pretty good age. Start with your own family tree; they should already know their cousins and the like. Next, help them understand that, the more generations you go back, the more cousins you have; that should be pretty obvious. Go back enough generations and everybody they’ll ever meet is a cousin, even if only through some obscure great-great-great-…grandparent. That’s a pretty good lesson to teach five-year-olds right there. Pull up pictures of weird-looking people from all over the planet

        Once you’ve made it that far, and perhaps in conjunction with an especially long road trip, explain how chimpanzees are our cousins, just reeeeeeeaaaaaaaaly distant, with the last shared great-…grandparent living some millions of years ago. And pull up that slide that Nye used last night to help paint the picture.

        At that point, you’re in the home stretch. It’s not just the chimps, but the rest of the apes. And not just the apes, but the monkeys. By that point, if the child has even a smidgen of intelligence, that all vertebrates are our cousins should be obvious. Getting from vertebrates to the rest of the animals, and from the animals to the other kingdoms, isn’t as obvious, but, if they’ve stuck with you that far, they can handle the rest.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          Also include plenty of discussion how we come to know these things and such, too. As I’ve said, “science begins at home”.

      • darrelle
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        I started earlier than that with my kids. Not a rigorous treatment of course, but with the voracious appetite kids have for learning about everything, and asking endless questions, there is plenty of opportunity to start teaching them key concepts of evolution pretty much as soon as they start talking. And the typical child is more than capable of learning such things.

        In some ways they appear to be more capable than adults. You give them some input and they work the shit out of it, trying it out in as many different ways as they can think of, trying to figure it out, trying to develop a context to fit it all into. It is amazing to experience them doing that kind of thing.

        In general our society drastically underestimates the learning ability of young children. We waste the years during which they are most capable of learning condescending their cognitive abilities by baby talking to them and dumbing things down to the point that what they are being taught is just flat out wrong, and you then have to correct all that misinformation later on down the road.

    • eric
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Earlier. There is no reason why you can’t give a stripped-down version of it to a 2-year-old’s question “why does a giraffe have a long neck.” Because once upon a time giraffes had short necks. Those giraffes had babies, and some of those babies had longer necks than others. The babies with the longest necks could reach higher leaves and ate better, and so they had had more babies themselves. And after many babies of babies of babies, the giraffes had long necks.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Plain and simple. And if it opens the door to even more questions about giraffes and other animals you’re halfway home already.

        It ain’t rocket science!

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          Actually, rocket science ain’t rocket science, either…for that same two-year-old, get some balloons, blow them up, and let them go without tying a knot in the end. There’s your rocket. Strap a long balloon to a toy car, and there’s your rocket car. When they’re old enough to play with fire, add a toy steam engine to the mix; there’re many varieties, including candle-powered boats.

          b&

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            I was never really a Lego Technics kind of kid, but animals of all sorts were an instant hit.

            I guess it depends on where the passion lies, for some of us, at least. :-)

            • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

              I’m honestly still a bit taken aback whenever I’m reminded that Legos aren’t just a small handful of different types of multi-colored blocks any more.

              Don’t get me worng — I have a nephew who’s really into them. And he almost never cares about what’s pictured on the box; it’s what interesting things he can make with the pieces that get him excited.

              But it’s still a jarring thought….

              b&

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                Technics is old school too….at least according to my time frame.

                They used to be pretty pedagogic about their product lines….as in everything was more or less connected with everything else.

                But I must admit that it’s been too long since I last built something.

              • TJR
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

                Agreed, I hate the whole idea of Lego “kits” to build a certain thing, which to me goes against the whole open-ended thing of kids using their imagination to build whatever they want.

                When I was about 30 my mum admitted that, when I was a kid, she often played with my Lego after I had gone to bed. So that’s why they were always so keen to put me to bed early.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        You left out the part about what happened to the short-necked giraffes and why we don’t see them around anymore.

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

          If you explained that, the 2 year old would start crying…

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            Only if you only focus on the ones that died out. I’m not up enough on my evolutionary tree to know the best examples to pick, but giraffes are “cows.” Trace back the most recent common ancestor between giraffes and other ungulates, and you’ll find what happened to the short-necked babies.

            And, yes, some of them died. Happens to all of us, but it probably won’t happen to you until you’re even older and more wrinkled than Grandpa.

            Cheers,

            b&

          • eric
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

            Depends on the two year old. Mine’s fine understanding that animals eat (“gloop”) other animals.
            I could tell him that the ones with short necks got glooped by lions because they didn’t get as many juicy leaves, and he’d be fine with it. But I don’t see why that has to be a necessary part of the story at that age. That’s a parental judgement call.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            Yes, they might, but my point was that you’d better have some answer ready if the two-year-old asks.

            • eric
              Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

              Well parents become pretty conversant in the “infinite string of why’s.” That includes both having answers ready and being able to defer some questions as needed. I don’t think a parent giving an evolutionary answer is going to face more or worse follow-on questions than one who doesn’t.

        • Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          Okapis, anyone?

          /@

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      If you believe that the truths of the spirit are the most important possible truths one can learn — just exactly how (and more importantly why) — would you want to make sure it kept out of the public square? Isn’t truth true? Doesn’t it matter to everyone? Shouldn’t it?

      The whole concept of “personal truth” in religion is ultimately unworkable. It only sounds like it might work because we are so used to statements like “it’s my personal belief that Star Trek 1 was the best Star Trek” or “it’s true for me that I do my best thinking in the morning but it might not be true for you.” Advocating a live-and-let-live approach where nobody tries to ‘force’ others to like the same thing or be the same way is common courtesy.

      But the truths of religion are objective truths usually arrived at through subjective means. That’s not at all similar. And they’re not only objectively true — to learn them is the meaning of life. Vital information which transforms all who discover it and changes the world!

      It’s just going to be too hard to continuously treat that — and watch it be treated — like an odd but harmless taste.

  23. Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Something about the blunt approach must be working because even Pat Robertson is implying he believes in evolution: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/even-pat-robertson-thinks-young-earth-creationism-joke

  24. eric
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Does Plait really think that in this Era of Evolution, the way forward is to have more debates like the one with Ham and Nye?

    Given the outcome, I would support a way forward that included another debate or two. The debate question was: “Is creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era?” I think Nye convinced more of the audience that the answer was “no” than Ham convinced the answer was “yes.” I think and believe that if there were young people watching it over the internet who were on the fence about creationism, most of them came away from the debate more interested in what science has to say and less interested in what creationism has to say. And if that happened, it’s well worth repeating.

    ****

    In terms of Plait’s accommodationism, I think there’s a point between it and Jerry’s that I occupy (if pure religion is 1, pure science is 0, and accommodationism 0.5, does that make me a 0.25?). We don’t make theological excuses or apologies when teaching F=ma, or E=mc^2, or germ theory, or any number of other scientific theories…but we also don’t teach that it’s contra religion. We don’t mention religion at all. On the religious side, religious folk mostly see no problem with an ‘absence of direct divine influence’ in those phenomena. They don’t care that there’s no God directly involved in pushing planets around. They don’t need him to be there, in that part of science, to accept the science.

    That’s where I’d like to get to with evolution. We teach it straight up, and it’s accepted straight up as just another phenomenon. Theists seeing it as no more pro- or con-theism than the conservation of momentum. Theists not needing God to be there, in that part of science, in order to accept the science.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      But how would that work, exactly? How are theists supposed to believe that they’re both created in God’s image, and also a contingent accident of God-free evolution?

      • eric
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        I don’t care how it works for them. It works for them for celestial mechanics. It works for them for everything else. It can work for them for evolution.

        In essence, you’re asking us scientists how to make their theology consistent with the TOE. That’s not my job and not my problem. It’s theirs. But history shows they can do it, so I see no problem in aiming for a world where they do do it.

        In some sense I’m invoking Charles’ Pierce’s notion of pragmatism. I don’t care what goes on in their heads or how they justify their beliefs, so long as they act like they accept science.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

          Actually I’m not asking scientists to make theology consistent with evolution. I’m expressing skepticism that it can be done by anybody as easily as you seem to think it can. Planetary motions are one thing; human origins are something else. So the fact that they’ve done it before on peripheral matters (like the motions of the planets) doesn’t guarantee that they’ll be able to do it again on the most important aspect of their faith.

          • Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

            Concur.

            They cannot accept naturalistic human evolution because that undermines humans’ special relationship with God.

            /@

          • Steve Gerrard
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            They just need to say that evolution produced humans, but then their God stepped in 6000 years ago to give humans souls. And that event was the beginning of their relationship with their God, which should be the important thing to them. Problem solved.

          • eric
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

            Gregory, I think you’re being historically myopic. The RCC (through proxies) tortured and arrested people for challenging geocentrism. It was a much much bigger theological issue at its time than undirected evolution is now, with much bigger political ramifications. It’s easy to think that today’s problem is the biggest theological issue fundie Christianity has ever faced, but IMO, it isn’t. Obviously isn’t, if you look back in history at some of the ways they fought against reforms which eventually took hold. In fact, today’s protestant fundies are an outcome of a reinterpretation of scripture that caused over a hundred years of war. I’m guessing the grandkids of today’s fundies will get over “descent with modification” with a lot less effort than that!

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted February 6, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps. But then today’s fundies are already the great-great-great-grandkids of Darwin’s contemporaries, and they’re not over it yet.

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

                Wikipedia tells me that it took 100-200 years for the church to even informally accept heliocentrism: Galileo’s trial was 1633. The vatican stopped forbidding heliocentric books in 1758, and the pope finally allowed church publishers to print heliocentric books in 1822. I expect that Newton had a lot to do with it – they simply couldn’t make any ban that included his books stick – and that without such a popular scientific figure, the ban would’ve been longer.

                So, we are pretty much on track, or at least within the statistical ballpark. The church not accepting ‘straight up’ evolution after 150 years is not a sign that they never will because 150+ years is pretty much how long these sort of changes have taken in the past.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

                The nice thing is we are in a secular state. We can win the minds of church followers through education and awareness. That wasn’t the case in Galileo’s time when the Church controlled literacy levels (kept people ignorant, esp of scripture because they didn’t allow its translation into the vernacular) & what people said (by torturing or killing them).

                Now we are free to say what we’d like – at least in the West and things can change quickly – I don’t care if the Church doesn’t change it’s doctrine; I care if its followers abandon it & change their minds for a modern scientific take because the Church is antiquated, traditional, and slow to change.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

                apostrophe fail. I suck.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

              I don’t think the idea of heliocentrism was more of a big deal but because of the times, it certainly had a deleterious affect on those that openly held it. That’s only because the Church was in charge and there were no secular states. If evolution was brought up back then, you’d probably find yourself in equally dire circumstances as Galileo and others.

              I somewhat agree with you on the outcome however; because the US is not under a theocracy, it is much easier to openly express scientific facts because they don’t go against an all powerful entity that can punish you. However, it should be concerning that a large portion of politicians do not accept evolution and the populus should be ever vigilant in protecting science against anti science teaching and legislation which can result when you have a disturbingly large group of scientifically illiterate & dogmatically god fearing political representatives.

  25. Róbert Konček
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Phil Plait says that evolution is compatible with religion, it’s just incompatible with some types of religions (e. g. Ken Ham’s). But a creationist is almost by definition a person whose religion is incompatible with evolution. Dr. Plait, how are you going to persuade them? By claiming evolution-religion compatibility? You need persuade the Ken Hams of the world, not the Ken Millers. And Ken Ham’s faith is explicitly incompatible with evolution. So it’s not going to work. (Well, maybe you were trying to say that Pentecostals etc. should convert to Roman Catholicism, but that would be matter appropriate for the aforementioned site Bad Theology.)

  26. Ralph
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    As always, I think there are many sides to this debate (the accommodationalism vs strict naturalism one – not the creationism / evolution one), and neither side is entirely right nor entirely wrong. The war is not going to be won by building an impregnable wall of facts and arguments to convert everyone to an atheistic worldview, nor will it be achieved by convincing every religious person out there that they evolution and their faith are just different aspects of the same truth. I see it as more of a slow dilution of fundamentalism, one mind at a time. For some, like myself, it will be a complete change of worldview from fundamentalist, young earth creationist to gnostic atheist, convinced by the likes of Hitchens, Dawkins and Coyne – but that that is always going to be a somewhat rare thing.

    Others will be entirely galvanised in their belief by such an approach – seeing the persecution as confirmation that they’re “living right for God”. With such people, they’re unlikely to ever give up their faith, and pushing them further towards a fundamentalist position does weaken our position. It means more Christian parents feeling God “calling” them to the local school board, or pulling kids out to homeschool them. In these cases, the softly-softly method of slowly convincing them of the beautiful way God has used evolution to bring about his plan might be a more productive strategy. You get one less pitchfork waving nutter, and more kids allowed to go through their science education without interference.

    The middle of the road, Anglican-style Christian is no real enemy of science. They’re quite happy accepting evolution, and the big bang, believing that God gave it a nudge here and there to ensure that the process was kept on track to culminate in their salvation. So we need to employ a variety of methods to convince some fundamentalists to be a bit more moderate; some moderates to be merely nominal / cultural Christians, and a few will wholeheartedly embrace secularism. I think this is achieved by never giving an inch when it comes to government and their passing laws enabling creationism, but at the same time trying not to raise the spectre of militant atheism out to corrupt their children in the mind of your average Joe. The atheist’s Wedge Document, if you will.

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      “They’re quite happy accepting evolution, and the big bang, believing that God gave it a nudge here and there to ensure that the process was kept on track to culminate in their salvation.”

      But then they are not accepting evolution and the Big Bang.

      /@

      • eric
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

        It depends on whether your goal is to win hearts or classrooms. I’m in it for the classrooms – the mainline believers can keep their little nudges as long as they support and promote sound science education.

        After all, aren’t we supposed to be the side that believes in critical thinking and – once they have a true and accurate picture of the facts and theories – letting people decide for themselves? If that’s the case, if that’s really what we think, then we should focus on teaching critical thinking and a true and accurate picture of the facts, and let the belief-chips fall where they may.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

          That’s a false choice. There is nothing preventing the teaching of sound science and also advocating against faith-based “reasoning”.

          • Glen
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

            If you’re a state-funded science teacher, then you can teach that the evidence shows the earth is billions of years old. You can’t teach that God never tweaked evolution, because you don’t have the evidence to support that conclusion. You also can’t teach that faith-based conclusions in general are a bad idea, because that would be advocating atheism in violation of the Establishment Clause.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

              I’m not teaching in a school. Most of us aren’t. Phil Plait’s comments aren’t made in a public school science class.

              Where is it claimed that this is an issue that is limited to public school science classes?

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

                To be fair, I was the one that brought up public school classrooms, not Glen. And that’s just a personal choice on my part; the acceptance of sound evolutionary science curricula in the classroom is the part of the science/religion issue that most concerns me. YMMV, and that’s fine.

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

              But can you teach that there is /no/ evidence to suggest that God /did/ tweak evolution? ;-)

              /@

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

                You can if the issue happens to come up. You can’t be singling out the beliefs of a particular religion on the curriculum in order to hold them up to a level of scrutiny not afforded other religious beliefs.

                And my point about not teaching that evolution hasn’t been tweaked by God, applies to every science-minded individual; not just state-funded teachers. We don’t have the evidence to scientifically conclude God didn’t tweak evolution. We can only say it’s unscientific to claim he did. If someone accepts that, then we should be happy with it, regardless of whether the person continues to believe in God-tweaked evolution for faith-based reasons. There is a difference between a faith-based belief that actively denies evidence, and one that does not. Creationism is of the former type, and that’s what we should be working to prevent.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Actually, I disagree. Absent !*any*! evidence that God did, I think it is a very valid scientific conclusion to that God did !*not*!. (Provisionally, as with all scientific conclusions, but with a high level of confidence.)

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                “We don’t have the evidence to scientifically conclude God didn’t tweak evolution.”

                Please supply a coherent definition of “God” and what it means for him to “tweak” evolution, and then we’ll determine if that sentence means anything at all.

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

                > Absent !*any*! evidence that God did, I think it is a very valid scientific conclusion to that God did !*not*!

                Why? I could see that conclusion being supported if we had reason to think that evidence should show up, but we nevertheless found none. Is this a situation like that?

                > Please supply a coherent definition of “God” and what it means for him to “tweak” evolution, and then we’ll determine if that sentence means anything at all.

                For my purposes in this discussion, “God” could be any intelligent non-corporeal entity. A religious believer would presumably further restrict the definition according to the precepts of her religion.

                By “tweaking evolution” I mean the manipulation of mating, survival, mutations, or environmental conditions so that evolutionary processes produce a desired outcome. Such manipulation would assumedly be difficult or impossible to distinguish from natural variation in those parameters.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

                Is this /not/ a situation like that?

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

                So, “God” = a ghost and “tweaking evolution” = stuff indistinguishable from natural processes.

                Given that, I’d say that you’ve defined yourself a meaningless test of a non-existent being.

                (Note, I’m going out on a limb here by claiming that ghosts don’t exist.)

              • Glen
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

                > Is this /not/ a situation like that?

                Yes, this is not a situation like that. If you disagree then kindly stop playing word games and provide examples of evidence we should expect to see if a God subtly tweaked evolution, but which we should not expect to see if no such tweaking occurred.

                > So, “God” = a ghost and “tweaking evolution” = stuff indistinguishable from natural processes.
                Given that, I’d say that you’ve defined yourself a meaningless test of a non-existent being.

                I agree that the claim that such tweaking occurs is untestable (assuming that’s what you’re trying to say). My point is that your claim that it does not occur is also untestable. That makes claims of subtle tweaking categorically different from religious claims that fail scientific testing, such as that there was a worldwide flood or that the earth is 6,000 years old. Hypothesis testing affirmatively shows those claims are false. It is unreasonable to react to those two categories of faith-based claims (those that have been scientifically shown false, and those that have not) in the same manner.

                > Note, I’m going out on a limb here by claiming that ghosts don’t exist.

                You’re going out on a limb because you can’t scientifically demonstrate the truth of your claim.

              • Posted February 9, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

                If you disagree then kindly stop playing word games and provide examples of evidence we should expect to see if a God subtly tweaked evolution, but which we should not expect to see if no such tweaking occurred.

                Oh, that’s trivial.

                The exact same sorts of statistics that financial auditors use to detect book-cooking apply equally well to any other type of dataset. Worse, the whole field of computational genomics is little more than looking for exactly those types of anomalies.

                Any divine influence in DNA sequences, especially in humans, can be overwhelmingly confidently be considered so trivial as to be less significant than any other well-known source of variation.

                But wait! There’s more!

                The LHC, you might have heard, has recently discovered the long-expected Higgs Boson. That discovery is especially pertinent to the discussion at hand, for it marks the completion of the Standard Model.

                The Standard Model is significant because, for every force that can even hypothetically influence human-scale affairs, there is an associated particle (and vice-versa). The LHC (and other projects) has now completely and exhaustively searched all energy levels up to and beyond that of the Higgs for particles; everything they’ve found is accounted for by the Standard Model, and there’s no way they could have missed any lighter particles. Thus, they also haven’t missed any forces, either.

                Now, while we know that there’s still many mysteries to solve in physics — especially quantum gravity and dark energy and dark matter — we also now know that whatever new theories we come up with must reduce to the Standard Model in the same way that Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics both reduce to Newtonian Mechanics at applicable scales.

                What that means for DNA-twerking gods is that they’d have to use the forces of the Standard Model in order to do their dirty deeds…but the Standard Model has no force that would permit such a thing.

                At this point, all that’s left is paranoid conspiracy theories, such as that we’re all brains in vats tied into the Matrix. You can’t disprove such fantasies…but, then again, even if that’s really the case, the dungeon masters themselves are in the same pickle: they can’t be certain that they themselves aren’t, in turn, being imagined into existence by Alice’s Red King.

                So, those’re your basic options if you really want to defend the gods: invalidate basically all of science, or retreat into a fanciful Never-Never Land of your own making.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 9, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

                What Ben said!

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                There’s a small and invisible pink unicorn hovering in the air just behind your head, Glen. You can’t prove me wrong.

                Now, can we have an adult conversation?

              • Glen
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                > The exact same sorts of statistics that financial auditors use to detect book-cooking apply equally well to any other type of dataset. Worse, the whole field of computational genomics is little more than looking for exactly those types of anomalies.

                I don’t think I understand what you think you’re ruling out. Computational genomics is used to try to identify what genes cause what phenotypic results, and the mechanics of how they do so. It couldn’t possibly distinguish between a natural mutation and one that was designed. And it would be useless for trying to determine whether other potential tweaks to the evolutionary history of a lineage, such as changes to environmental variables or chance mating opportunities, were caused by chance or design.

                > The Standard Model is significant because, for every force that can even hypothetically influence human-scale affairs, there is an associated particle (and vice-versa). The LHC (and other projects) has now completely and exhaustively searched all energy levels up to and beyond that of the Higgs for particles; everything they’ve found is accounted for by the Standard Model, and there’s no way they could have missed any lighter particles. Thus, they also haven’t missed any forces, either.

                From Wikipedia: “The Standard Model falls short of being a complete theory of fundamental interactions because it makes certain simplifying assumptions. It does not incorporate the full theory of gravitation as described by general relativity, or predict the accelerating expansion of the universe (as possibly described by dark energy). The theory does not contain any viable dark matter particle that possesses all of the required properties deduced from observational cosmology. It also does not correctly account for neutrino oscillations (and their non-zero masses). Although the Standard Model is believed to be theoretically self-consistent and has demonstrated huge and continued successes in providing experimental predictions, it does leave some phenomena unexplained.”

                So from what I gather from your argument, particles for gravity, dark matter, and dark energy can’t possibly exist. Therefore their associated forces can’t exist, the universe couldn’t have expanded, galaxies couldn’t have coalesced, gravitational collapse couldn’t have produced stars, and we can’t possibly be here.

                http://scienceblogs.com/mikethemadbiologist/2009/08/23/science-knows-it-doesnt-know-e/

                > There’s a small and invisible pink unicorn hovering in the air just behind your head, Glen. You can’t prove me wrong.
                > Now, can we have an adult conversation?

                If you’re still trying to argue that it’s not reasonable to hold faith-based beliefs, then I agree with you. Faith-based beliefs are not reasonable. You’d probably even get a lot of theists to agree with that.

                But we’re past that now. We’re currently considering whether some faith-based beliefs might be different from others inasmuch as some are disprovable while others are not. I’m saying that’s the case, and that belief in most gods, (and in invisible pink unicorns), while unreasonable, falls into the “not currently disprovable” category. If you disagree, then please do the adult thing and provide examples of how you would disprove such a belief.

              • Posted February 14, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

                It couldnt possibly distinguish between a natural mutation and one that was designed.

                Remember, we’re talking teleological mutations designed to “help” organisms surmount unsurmountable evolutionary challenges, or to ensure that humans evolved with specifically-human cosmetic features, and the like. That would, in turn, mean either more frequent mutations, or more significant ones, or one clustered around an unlikely “strange attractor” (to borrow a term from another field), or that sort of thing. It might even show incomprehensible discontinuities in the fossil record; an obvious example would be if the recurrent pharyngeal nerve in humans didn’t loop around the aorta.

                But we see not even the slightest hint of anything remotely like any of that; there is nothing at all in any of biology that indicates any intelligence designing any feature or class of features. Instead, it’s all one giant drunkard’s walk that inevitably takes the easiest pathway.

                So from what I gather from your argument, particles for gravity, dark matter, and dark energy cant possibly exist.

                The most polite way I could respond to such a statement would be to suggest that you should consider brushing up on your reading comprehension skills.

                Were currently considering whether some faith-based beliefs might be different from others inasmuch as some are disprovable while others are not.

                The phrase, “a little bit pregnant,” comes to mind.

                Once you embrace irrationality, how well your position reflects reality is either due to pure chance, or, more likely, the degree to which you secretly embrace rationality.

                Lastly, there is always an infinite number of disprovable theories for any phenomenon. It could be an hallucination. You could be trapped in a virtual reality. That virtual reality could be run by green lizard aliens. It could be run by blue insectoid aliens. Not a single such paranoid delusion can be disproven.

                But who cares?

                In the real world, there’s no point in wasting time with that sort of fantasy — or any other whose sole claim to respectability is, “You can’t prove me worng!”

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted February 14, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

                > Remember, we’re talking teleological mutations designed to “help” organisms surmount unsurmountable evolutionary challenges

                “Teleological”, yes. “unsurmountable evolutionary challenges”, no. Evolution is highly contingent. Getting from point A to point B in the evolutionary landscape depends on numerous instances in which circumstances could have taken a different turn by chance, resulting ultimately in a different evolutionary outcome. A particular mutation might not have occurred, or occurred differently. An individual with a favorable mutation might have gone left instead of right and ended up being eaten. An asteroid might have passed slightly closer to another asteroid and had its path diverted just enough to miss the earth later in its travels, thereby preventing the K-Pg extinction. There is no way to distinguish such presumably chance events from similar events that were in fact subtly guided.

                To use an analogy: In a given timeframe, wind and current may cause an ostensibly unmanned boat to move naturally from point A to any point within a large area X. If the boat in fact moves to point B within area X, then we can’t tell whether the boat was in fact unmanned or if instead it had someone at the tiller steering it to that specific location.

                > The most polite way I could respond to such a statement would be to suggest that you should consider brushing up on your reading comprehension skills.

                Because you mentioned that “quantum gravity and dark matter and dark energy” remained mysteries? That doesn’t help your case. You are trying to argue that all means by which a god could possibly tweak evolution are accounted for in the Standard Model, and no such means are used. In fact they aren’t all accounted for, and we don’t know that no such means are used:

                1) Gravitons, dark matter, and dark energy remain unaccounted for in the Standard Model. That means the Model does not comprehensively show all forces. A god could thus conceivably affect matter or energy by using one of those forces we know are unaccounted for, or even by using some hypothetical unknown force that is also unaccounted for.

                2) A god could also affect evolution using standard forces such as gravity or electromagnetism. For instance she might create a large asteroid with which to smite the earth, or a small X-ray with which to cause a specific mutation in a specific sperm cell. The energy for such creations or manipulations would presumably come from some other dimension outside our time and space, in which the god resides.

                > The phrase, “a little bit pregnant,” comes to mind.

                What exactly is your position? Is it that evolution disproves the existence of gods, or that belief in gods is irrational? You keep starting off making the first claim, but when your errors are pointed out you switch (as you’ve just done here) to the second. This is possibly the third time you’ve gone around that block. Please stop. If you still think evolution (or the Standard Model if you’d prefer) disproves the existence of gods, or of Christianity specifically, then demonstrate it. Otherwise we’re done here.

                I’ll be traveling until the 19th, so I might not submit any further posts till then.

              • Posted February 14, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

                To use an analogy: In a given timeframe, wind and current may cause an ostensibly unmanned boat to move naturally from point A to any point within a large area X. If the boat in fact moves to point B within area X, then we cant tell whether the boat was in fact unmanned or if instead it had someone at the tiller steering it to that specific location.

                Your analogy doesn’t hold in the case of the Christian claim.

                The Christians are claiming that there’s this one tiny little island in the middle of the ocean that Jesus wanted us to land on, as opposed to anywhere within a range of hundreds of miles on the coast. And reality, of course, is that we did happen to land on a stretch of the coastline not significantly different from any other part.

                Gravitons, dark matter, and dark energy remain unaccounted for in the Standard Model. That means the Model does not comprehensively show all forces. A god could thus conceivably affect matter or energy by using one of those forces we know are unaccounted for, or even by using some hypothetical unknown force that is also unaccounted for.

                The Standard Model does not (yet) encompass gravity, but, theory aside, gravity is far and away the best-documented of the forces. We don’t know why it does what it does, yes, but we know exactly what it does. Suggesting Jesus is necessary for gravity to influence the evolution of life on Earth is an even more insanely ludicrous claim than that he’s necessary to shepherd the orbits of the planets because we haven’t yet solved the N-body problem.

                And dark matter and energy we know are so weak / weakly interacting that they’re even less relevant to evolution than neutrinos — which, themselves, are beyond irrelevant.

                For instance she might create a large asteroid with which to smite the earth

                Create how, and with what? Either she’s a space alien, or she’s violating conservation.

                What exactly is your position? Is it that evolution disproves the existence of gods, or that belief in gods is irrational? You keep starting off making the first claim, but when your errors are pointed out you switch (as youve just done here) to the second.

                If it appears that I’m veering off course, it’s because the ID apologists — which, intentionally or otherwise, you empirically are — keep tossing out magical fantasy-powered bullshit that blatantly violates known physics as “possible” ways that Jesus could do his dirty deeds. I’m sorry, but suggesting that, because we don’t yet have a complete theory of quantum gravity Jesus could therefore magic gravitons from whole cloth in order to bombard the Earth with mutagenic X-ray asteroids in a precision attack designed to surreptitiously ensure that the human jawline is exactly what it is…well, frankly, that sort of nonsense doesn’t deserve a dignified response.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                > The Christians are claiming that there’s this one tiny little island in the middle of the ocean that Jesus wanted us to land on, as opposed to anywhere within a range of hundreds of miles on the coast. And reality, of course, is that we did happen to land on a stretch of the coastline not significantly different from any other part.

                I’m not following your distinction of “island” versus “coastline”. When I envisioned the analogy I was actually thinking of just a particular spot in the water (so as not to imply the journey was finished). If you’d like to think of that particular spot as having a beach, I suppose the underlying idea would still work. But I don’t see why it matters whether that beach is on a small island or part of hundreds of miles of coast. The point remains, we can’t disprove the idea that someone steered the boat. If you want to claim it’s unreasonable to assume someone steered it, I’m with you. If you want to claim we can demonstrate that no one did, then I challenge you to do so.

                > Suggesting Jesus is necessary for gravity to influence the evolution of life on Earth is an even more insanely ludicrous claim than that he’s necessary to shepherd the orbits of the planets because we haven’t yet solved the N-body problem.

                You’re losing track of the argument. I’m suggesting no such thing. *You* are claiming that the standard model shows that no deity could possibly have established or interfered with evolution. Your argument is that there is no force that a deity could use to cause the interference, because the standard model accounts for all such possible forces. My response is that it fails to account for at least 3 forces we know are there. It therefore does not account for all possible forces, and there may consequently be other forces out there that are unaccounted for as well. Furthermore, there is no reason to assume that a deity could not have used one or more forces that are accounted for. Your claim is thus unsupported.

                > Create how, and with what? Either she’s a space alien, or she’s violating conservation.

                I don’t have to explain how and with what a hypothetical deity might create a hypothetical asteroid. You claimed no deity could influence evolution, so you have the burden of proof to show that there is no possible way a deity could do it. Good luck with that. My hypothetical deity lives in a different dimension, and has access to an essentially infinite supply of energy, so conservation is not a problem.

                > it’s because the ID apologists — which, intentionally or otherwise, you empirically are — keep tossing out magical fantasy-powered bullshit

                Oy! First of all, I am emphatically not an ID apologist. Secondly, IDers do not toss out magical fantasy-powered bullshit. They toss out pseudo-science bullshit. That’s the problem. If they admitted their bullshit was faith-based, they could be dismissed out of hand. They’d never get their ideas into schoolhouses, and they’d have no more clout with the general populace than any other faith-based organization out there. It’s their dishonest attempts to claim that the scientific method supports them that make them dangerous. If they can convince a judge they’re doing science, then they can teach it in government-funded classrooms without violating the Establishment Clause. If they can convince enough members of the public that science backs them, then the public will lose track of how actual science works – how scientific claims differ from (and are more trustworthy than) political or religious ones. That’s why I’ve been arguing online against IDers and other Creationists for the past 20 years. And frankly, that’s why I’m arguing with you now. You also are undermining science by claiming it supports you when it doesn’t. We have not scientifically disproven either the existence of deities or the proposition that a deity has affected evolution. Those are not scientifically testable claims. As supporters of science, above all else, we need to be honest about what the data does and does not show.

              • Posted February 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

                Thanks Glen. I appreciate your posts. I agree with you, it also bothers me when I see people overhyping the idea that science has disproven god. Science has, IMO, established that we have no need of that hypothesis to explain the material universe, not that it is incorrect.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 4:39 am | Permalink

                But it has, for some values of God!

                Planck confirmed that we inhabit a net-zero-energy universe, thereby falsifying the hypothesis of an act of creation and thus ruling out the existence of any creator god as described by any significant religion.

                That leaves room for very few established conceptions of god some pan[en]theistic ones, perhaps.

                /@

              • Glen
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                > Science has, IMO, established that we have no need of that hypothesis to explain the material universe, not that it is incorrect.

                Thanks Beth! My thoughts exactly.

                > Planck confirmed that we inhabit a net-zero-energy universe, thereby falsifying the hypothesis of an act of creation

                1. Planck confirmed no such thing.

                2. Claims of a net-zero-energy universe rely on the semantic trick of referring to the energy causing the universe to expand as “negative”. But there is no independent reason to call it such. If you were pushing two massive objects apart, you’d be exerting positive energy.

                3. Even if the universe does turn out to have zero net energy, that doesn’t explain the cause of the big bang. While it is admittedly ridiculous to assume the cause is a magic man in the sky, that possibility hasn’t been scientifically disproven.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

                “referring to the energy causing the universe to expand as ‘negative’”

                Nope.

                “If you were pushing two massive objects apart, you’d be exerting positive energy.”

                Exactly. (Although you /exert/ a force; you /expend/ energy.)

                A “magic man in the sky” most emphatically has been disproven! :-D

                /@

  27. Nick
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Shouldn’t line at start of para 8(?) “As for the Catholic Church, they are not down with religion in the same way scientists are.” replace ‘religion’ with ‘evolution’?

    Looking forward to next 2 post-mortems, since I spent much of yesterday looking at creationist reactions and now am ready for more rational input.

  28. eveysolara
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    evolution is anti-religion, no benign entity would use such suffering and death to get conscious humans.

    • Tulse
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      Who says a god has to be benign? Heck, hardcore Calvinists believe that the vast majority of humanity will be tortured for eternity in hell, and that their god decided who goes to hell before they were even born, and that there is nothing a person can do while alive to change that. If that isn’t malign, I don’t know what is.

  29. Greg Esres
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    What Plait doesn’t seem to realize is that that’s the strategy that people have been using for decades, and it hasn’t worked.

    Oh, it has. Every Christian who accepts evolution, which is a lot, embraces some version of accommodationism.

    But we do seem to have reached the point of zero marginal returns for this effort.

    • Jimbo
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      Good point Greg. I never really thought of accommodationism as working in both directions.

  30. Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Holy Australopithecines! Everyone getting into knots (et tu, Jerry) – should we debate, shouldn’t we, perhaps, perhaps not….
    Yet, I quietly smile watching kids move away in drones from the dogma of religion every day. Science is moving forward relentlessly, religion has nowhere to go. That’s not a good prognosis for religion. But hey, earth wasn’t built in a day, or 6000 years…

  31. Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Plait: But Ham is insidiously wrong on one important aspect: He insists evolution is anti-religious. But it’s not; it’s just anti-his-religion.

    He is exactly right here, but although he fails to see it that is just his problem.

    What he criticizes is people supposedly saying, “you need to accept evolution, your religion is wrong, you must become an atheist.” If we look at it carefully, the accommodationist stance is, “you need to accept evolution, your religion is wrong, you must become a deist or pantheist.”

    Why should a fundie find the second more attractive than the first?

    • Posted February 6, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      Or at least a liberal episcopalian.

      But otherwise… Bingo!

      Z

    • Sastra
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      Alex SL wrote:

      the accommodationist stance is, “you need to accept evolution, your religion is wrong, you must become a deist or pantheist.”

      No, no — an accomodationist would not be so blunt. Their stance is “you need to accept evolution, your religion is true (enough) … but you must reinterpret it in a way more consistent with both science AND God.”

      The fundie is presumably going to find that attractive because they’re dangling the REAL God in front of her eyes. Has to be.

      • Glen
        Posted February 9, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Agreed.

  32. Posted February 6, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I think Plait may be confusing moderate theists with creationists and ID-ers. I know moderate theists who accept the scientific truth of evolution without any reservation at all.

    I don’t think Plait’s strategy will ever work with the severely deluded types like creationists. But it just may work with at least some of the moderates.

    And let’s face it, all else being equal, the world would be a far better place without the creationists and ID-ers, and I truly think many moderates think that way too.

  33. Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    You can get a pretty good idea of what accommodationist evolution will look like in David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God.” After assuring his readers that not only is he way, way smarter than such “undergraduate atheists” as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, but also physicists such as Hawking, Feynman, and Weinberg, not to mention the whole tribe of evolutionary psychologists, those poor whipping boys of ideological zealots of every stripe, he writes,

    “As a species, we have been shaped evolutionarily, in large part at least, by transcendental ecstasies whose orientation exceeds the whole of nature. Instead of speaking vacuously of genetic selfishness, then, it would be immeasurably more accurate to say that compassion, generosity, love, and conscience have a unique claim on life.”

    and

    “The mystery remains: the transcendent good, which is invisible to the forces of natural selection, has made a dwelling for itself within the consciousness of rational animals. A capacity has appeared within nature that, in its very form, is supernatural: it cannot be accounted for entirely in terms of the economy of advantageous cooperation because it continually and exorbitantly exceeds any sane calculation of evolutionary benefits. Yet, in the effectual order of evolution, it is precisely this irrepressible excessiveness that, operating as a higher cause, inscribes its logic upon the largely inert substrate of genetic materials, and guides the evolution of rational nature toward an openness to ends that cannot be enclosed within mere physical processes.”

    No doubt this will inspire some serious rewriting of the mathematical models of the geneticists and evolutionary biologists.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 4:53 am | Permalink

      Where on earth do you learn to write like that?

      • Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        By reading books of metaphysics until your brain dries up, I guess. This guys schtick is that all the major religions really believe in the same “God,” which Dawkins et. al. are supposed to be unaware of. According to Hart, the “undergraduate atheists” and religious fundamentalists are all equally wrong, “chasing each others’ tails” arguing about a God that “adult” believers like him consider absurd. In fact, the “God” Hart talks about is the eastern philosophy 101 version, which I’m sure Dawkins and the rest are well aware of, along with anyone else who’s ever bothered to take an undergraduate philosophy course. He gets Christian priests, Moslem mullahs, and Hindu sadhus to all “agree” on this God by giving him a lobotomy, removing all his “dogmatic” bits, leaving the “philosophical” essence behind. The “dogmatic” bits are, for example, whether God is a unity or a trinity, whether he was “begotten” or not, how many wills he has, how many natures he has, what his “substance” is, etc., etc. You can certainly make a plausible case that the metaphysical junkies who make up a small fraction of the believers in the major religions really do more or less agree on this emasculated version of God. Then all you have to do is assume that all the inconvenient parts of the Bible are just “allegories,” and, voila, you have Harts “Ground of Being” version of God. The only problem with this rosy vision is that Muhammad explicitly told his followers that the Quran is no “allegory.” Among other things, it says quite clearly that anyone who believes in the Trinity, or who associates “begotten” with God in any way, as virtually all Christians do, will fry in hell forever. In other words, the artificial “agreement” that Hart claims among the major religions about his denatured version of God is nonsense.

  34. Steve
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Plait: “…something is clearly broken in our country.”

    I agree with his observation, but dispute his subsequent analysis. There are many advocates and popularizers of science, as Jerry points out. I suggest that the “something” that is clearly broken is popular reportage, which continues to misinform the public about science while simultaneously coddling religion and the religious.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      That is truly broken. The US doesn’t have the great news outlets it used to. It’s all biased stuff – like the news has to be left or right politically.

      Then there is just bad science journalism. Sensationalized, findings reported that are premature. It makes the general public cynical and/or horribly misinformed.

      • Steve
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        Right on. I’m lumping most of the science journalism in there too. Maybe you are thinking of the ‘journal’ New Scientist? It’s all contributing to the coarsening of our society.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          I’m also thinking of the bad recent reporting of the whole Hawking black hole extravaganza. I once had someone tell me they don’t trust science because scientists change their minds. At first I thought this was silly. Of course scientists change their minds when they discover something that contradicts what they previously thought was correct….however, what I think she meant was she’d read something then a couple weeks later that something was different. This isn’t the fault of science, but of science reporting!

          • Steve
            Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

            The Hawking’s example underscores the insidious and routine practice of cherry-picking, which is as bad as your point about drawing premature conclusions. Astronomers have been observing black holes for decades!

  35. Jimbo
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Sam Harris says it best. All social change for the better–whether abolishing slavery, fighting racism, advocating for womens’ rights, gay rights, or animal rights, stopping smoking, or stopping the spanking or corporal punishment of children–did not come about by accomodationism.

    It occurred by constant and persistent pressure, empathy, the Golden Rule, and every satire and mockery. Real harm comes from accomodationism. Secular justice never prosecuted pedophile priests because of the respect accorded the Catholic Church. Should secular medicine allow religious children to die from treatable disease? Don’t call them out on it, Phil? Make nice? Teach a generation astrology and creationism in school?

    • Kevin
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      I wish Phil would wake up to this notion. He fights for so much but sits behind a blanket of niceness. In the end he accomplishes little compared to the strong few who stand directly in opposition to religion.

    • eric
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Harris is right in spirit but wrong in fact. We still have a church but no slavery. The church accommodated. The change came about – in part – by this accommodation. By believers deciding that their theology did not mean what their grandparents thought it meant.

      But he’s right in spirit because the accommodaton that happened was the church to modern sensibilities, not modern sensibilities to the church. I expect the same thing will happen with the ToE. Acceptance will come by accommodation. Every generation, more theists will decide that, yes, unguided evolution is consistent with their theology.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        The scenario where accommodation continues to except what secularism strives for is a likely forecast of things to come. But this inevitably transforms religion into secularism. The religious continue to accommodate to a mean (averaged) principle driven by humanist motivations. It is a slow process of changing all persons to no-religion.

        • eric
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          Maybe you’re using the word ‘secularism’ differently than I am, but I take it to mean the idea the government should be areligious or nonreligious. In that sense, religions can be secular or not, and accommodating scientific findings doesn’t necessarily make them more or less secular. You could (to pick the two wierd extremes) have a secularist YEC who thinks the wall separating church and state should be strong, or some theistic evolutionist who thinks science is right about evolution but that the federal government should enforce the 10 commandments.

  36. Glen
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I say hit em where they live!

    It seems to me that if you are a Christian you should accept that God created the universe with intent and foresight, and thus left evidence for us to find and understand. You don’t call God a liar by ignoring that evidence. You recall that Christ taught in parables, and that Paul specifically stated that at least part of Genesis is an allegory (Gal 4:24). You listen to St Augustine when he says “we should not take in the literal sense any figurative phrase which in the proper meaning of its words would produce only nonsense”. You keep in mind that it was Adam’s soul that was made in the image of God; that Paul taught that man is the combination of a soul and a body (1 Cor 15:45); and that evolution only discusses the formation of the body. You also recall that Adam suffered spiritual death for eating of the tree (because he didn’t physically die on the day he ate it), so physical death need not have been a new thing. You remember that God is outside time, and omnipotent, and so could have created things that for him took a day but that took millions of years within our timeline. You keep in mind that you yourself grew naturally from a single-celled organism to an adult human despite passages in the Bible that would indicate otherwise if taken literally, such as “Thy hands have made me and fashioned me” (Psa 119:73).

    In short, you use the mind and evidence God gave you to deepen your understanding of how God created you. You respect scripture but don’t idolize it. You treat it like a riddle, with truths that are subtle and require some thought; not like a superficial shopping list.

    Seriously Jerry, if someone accepts evolution, and accepts that her belief in God and souls and whatnot is not scientific, then what’s the problem?

    • gbjames
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      Seriously, Glen, if someone accepts evolution, and accepts that her belief in Lord Voldemort and dementors and whatnot is not scientific, then what’s the problem?

      [And let's both assume that "she" is an adult.]

      • Glen
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I certainly wouldn’t make someone else’s belief in Lord Voldemort such a personal issue that I would forego some of my most effective arguments against Creationism.

        • gbjames
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

          Did someone advocate not using effective arguments against creationism? I missed that part.

          Pretending that bad thinking is OK as long it isn’t Young Earth Creationism is missing the point. The goal here isn’t to create more acceptance of evolution, it is to create more critical thinkers.

          • Glen Tarr
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

            > Did someone advocate not using effective arguments against creationism? I missed that part.

            Then please review my post (#36) at the start of this thread. Creationism runs contrary to a consistent belief in Christianity. That’s a very powerful argument to a Christian. You can’t use it if you’re simutaneously telling Christians to give up their faith.

            > The goal here isn’t to create more acceptance of evolution, it is to create more critical thinkers.

            The argument that Creationism is inconsistent with Christianity requires critical thought. You don’t appear to me to be advocating critical thought per se. You appear to be advocating that people avoid faith-based conclusions under all circumstances. My question to you, which I would hope you’d think critically about, is why it should matter to you if someone reaches a faith-based conclusion that only affects her and that doesn’t run contrary to available evidence. For example, if someone accepts evolution, but maintains an admittedly unscientific belief that God tweaked it, why should you or I care?

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

              Because few of them keep that goddamned belief to themselves! (If everyone were to do so, it would be a different matter.)

              /@

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

                Alright, but we’re not keeping our opinions to ourselves either, right? The goal has never been to get other people to shut up about their ideas. No one has that right. The goal has been to get them to stop claiming those ideas are scientifically supported when they’re not. We can do that without requiring people to give up their faith.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

                And why on Earth should we not encourage people to stop being so gullible as to make important decisions based on woefully inadequate and flat-out worng reasons?

                You do know that that’s the whole point of “faith,” no?

                I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather not have my neighbors beholden to the priests’s interpretations of the desires of some magic man in the sky.

                Faith is the enemy of all reason. Faith is evil. Faith needs to go.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

                It is not a STFU argument; it is about not foisting those ideas on others.

                /@

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

                > Faith is the enemy of all reason. Faith is evil. Faith needs to go.
                For a reasonable person, you’re sounding kind of fanatical there.

                I don’t personally care if you spend your time trying to get people to avoid faith. What I ask is that you (and others, including Dr. Coyne) avoid linking those efforts to the fight against Creationism. Such a link is not necessary, and is likely detrimental. Most evolutionists in the US are also theists. Telling them “we don’t want you in our camp” is not tactically clever. Furthermore, it is simply false to claim that science has disproven God, or disproven any subtle meddling by God in the processes of evolution. You have to restrict your claims to what the evidence directly supports. Fail to do that and you move into the realm of making faith-based claims yourself.

                > It is not a STFU argument; it is about not foisting those ideas on others.
                How are you distinguishing “don’t foist” from “STFU”?

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                What I ask is that you (and others, including Dr. Coyne) avoid linking those efforts to the fight against Creationism. Such a link is not necessary, and is likely detrimental.

                Except, of course, for the inconvenient facts that it, respectively, is and isn’t.

                There’s absolutely no way to get to “magic man done it” without faith. And the most amazingly childish of faith, too — that a fourth-rate faery tale about an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard can somehow “inform” us about the history of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

                And by suggesting that being honest with people about what science actually demonstrates is somehow “detrimental”…well, again, that’s the little people “You can’t handle the Truth!” argument.

                I’m sorry, but I can’t think of anything more arrogant, more insulting, and more counterproductive in this endeavor than to tell religionists that they’re so childishly stupid and foolish that we’re going to shield them from cold, hard facts because we don’t trust them to behave as rational adults about this.

                You may think that just because religious people believe in childish superstitions means that they’re constitutionally incapable of maturity. But the rest of us actually do think better of them.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                1. I am quit happy to welcome other theists as opponents of creationism. Why should that mean I cannot criticise them for uncritical acceptance of other religious tropes?

                2. The first is, You cannot tell me what you believe. The second, You cannot insist that I or others act in accordance with your belief.

                /@

              • Sastra
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

                Glen Tarr wrote:

                I don’t personally care if you spend your time trying to get people to avoid faith. What I ask is that you (and others, including Dr. Coyne) avoid linking those efforts to the fight against Creationism. Such a link is not necessary, and is likely detrimental. Most evolutionists in the US are also theists. Telling them “we don’t want you in our camp” is not tactically clever.

                The fight against Creationism doesn’t just involve promoting the theory of evolution. It also involves promoting WHY we believe the Theory of Evolution. A scientific mindset and a disinterested and honest search for truth.

                Theistic evolutionists are our allies and we are lucky to have them. Literally. They mix methods and bottom line we are lucky that they draw the lines as reasonably as they do, allowing in unscientific miracles and unscientific magic only when it doesn’t conflict with specific scientific discoveries like the theory of evolution. God is a secular humanist. Except that it can’t be — and neither can they.

                It may not be tactically clever to give up the larger point — on the virtues of applying the scientific method to reality regardless of where it leads — in order to win a smaller victory.

                Personally, I think we need both tactics. If nothing else, shifting the Overton Window to make ‘atheism’ an acceptable and reasonable conclusion may send people screaming from Creationism into the theistic evolutionist camp more than the other way around.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

                “I don’t personally care if you spend your time trying to get people to avoid faith. What I ask is that you (and others, including Dr. Coyne) avoid linking those efforts to the fight against Creationism.”

                I don’t personally care if you ask. But I can guarantee you that I will not (and I strongly suspect the same goes for Jerry and most of the rest of us “strident” types) agree to your request.

                I’m sorry to break it to you so bluntly, but the link between creationism and faith is very strong. Faith is why creationism exists. Faith is the root of creationism and a great many other very bad things.

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                > There’s absolutely no way to get to “magic man done it” without faith.

                Agreed, but “magic man done it” might still be true, given the available evidence. That’s why Dawkins is only a 6.9 on his 7 pt scale. In contrast, “modern species were poofed into being about 6000 years ago” is a faith-based claim as well, but in that case the evidence clearly shows it to be false. Those two claims should therefore be treated differently.

                > And by suggesting that being honest with people about what science actually demonstrates is somehow “detrimental”…well, again, that’s the little people “You can’t handle the Truth!” argument.

                I’m suggesting that treating those two faith-based claims as equally incorrect – equally disproven by what science actually demonstrates – is in fact being dishonest.

                > I am quit happy to welcome other theists as opponents of creationism. Why should that mean I cannot criticise them for uncritical acceptance of other religious tropes?

                Sorry if I haven’t been clear. I’m not trying to argue that you shouldn’t criticise. I’m trying to argue that the criticisms of belief in God and belief in Creationism should be different. The scientific method of hypothesis-testing shows Creationism to be false (assuming basic things such as that I’m not just dreaming the universe or that God isn’t manipulating the evidence to lie to us). The existence of God is not supported by the scientific method, and I can show a lot of evidence that would indicate God’s existence is extremely unlikely, but we can’t actually use evidence to disprove the existence of God with scientific rigor. So the criticism of Creationism should be: “that is false”, whereas the criticism of belief in God should be “that is not scientifically supported”.

                Now consider what would happen if we were to convince both the Creationist and the theistic evolutionist (respectively) of the truth of those two criticisms. The Creationist would stop being a Creationist. The theist might not stop being a theist. She might say: “I know my claims aren’t scientifically supported, but until such time as they are disproven I will continue to believe them. In the meantime, I can help you demonstrate the falsity of Creationism from a theist’s perspective.” I think we should accept that help gratefully, and acknowledge that the theistic evolutionist’s position is internally consistent and worthy of some respect. We might still disagree with it, but it simply isn’t fair or honest to suggest that the theistic evolutionists’ position is anywhere near as false or damaging as that of a Creationist.

                > Theistic evolutionists are our allies and we are lucky to have them. Literally. They mix methods and bottom line we are lucky that they draw the lines as reasonably as they do

                I don’t think they mix methods. They follow a consistent rule of accepting faith-based conclusions that have not been disproven by the evidence. I think that’s vastly more reasonable than the Creationists’ rule of accepting faith-based conclusions regardless of the evidence.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

                Agreed, but magic man done it might still be true, given the available evidence.

                Actually…no.

                It is certainly true that it’s impossible to rule out “magic man done it. However, the only way to get from where we actually are to “magic man done it” is by way of the most paranoid of conspiracy theories. The classic example is of a brain in a vat; the modern one, the Matrix. In literature, it’s Alice’s Red King; in the ancient world, it was Zhuangzi’s butterfly.

                Otherwise, “magic man done it” is as solidly refuted as geocentricism and the Luminiferous Aether. More solidly, in fact — it’s the overwhelming conclusion of every scientific observation that there’s no magic (outside, of course, in the poetic sense) of any kind

                Creationism and religion are both equally in the exact same “really bad pseudoscience” category as phrenology and astrology.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

                > “magic man done it” is as solidly refuted as geocentricism

                Great. Please cite to the peer-reviewed scientific paper in which the existence of God is disproven.

              • Posted February 11, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

                You’re not going to find that sort of thing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature any more than you’ll find disproofs of the existence of Quetzalcoatl or Harry Potter.

                But what science has done — and, most emphatically, I might add — is demonstrate that there are no mechanisms by which the supernatural of any form can influence humanity. (Again, with the paranoid conspiracy caveat I offered earlier.)

                Here’re two superlative resources that should get you up to speed in an hurry, both from this Web site’s Official Physicist™:

                http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

                In short, once you’ve done the very thorough accounting of nature that we’ve done, you find that you’ve accounted for everything that matters with nothing left over. Supernatural claims are therefore to reality what bounced checks are to banking.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

                > You’re not going to find that sort of thing in the peer-reviewed scientific literature any more than you’ll find disproofs of the existence of Quetzalcoatl or Harry Potter.

                No one would publish a disproof of Harry Potter because very few people claim Harry Potter actually exists. Billions of people claim a god of some sort exists, so a scientifically valid disproof of a commonly accepted god, or of gods in general, would certainly be published.

                > But what science has done — and, most emphatically, I might add — is demonstrate that there are no mechanisms by which the supernatural of any form can influence humanity.

                I don’t see how your links support that. The first one talks about being able to account for basic laws underlying everyday phenomena. It doesn’t say anything about those basic laws being the only forces that could possibly be operating, nor does it rule out the possibility of an omniscient creator setting up those basic laws and initial conditions at the beginning of time so that they would play out exactly as planned. He frankly doesn’t even make a good case that we can account for all the physics of our everyday lives. Current theory holds that galaxies avoid breaking up because of dark matter, and fly apart from other galaxies because of dark energy. We don’t know what either of those actually are or how they work.

                Your second link is to a 50 minute long lecture. I’m not going to sit through that whole thing on the off hand chance that Sean Carroll actually explains, in a talk about the Higgs boson, how he’s scientifically disproven God. If you’d like to direct me to the time at which he does that, I’ll be happy to take a look, however.

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 3:46 am | Permalink

                “He frankly doesnt even make a good case that we can account for all the physics of our !*everyday lives*!. Current theory holds that !*galaxies*! avoid breaking up because of dark matter, and fly apart from other galaxies because of dark energy.”

                I think you rather missed the point there.

                You really need to watch the lecture the whole way through to understand the force behind Seans conclusions about any kind of supernatural agency (in about the last five minutes, iirc).

                Even if you dont accept that conclusion, you will have a far better understanding of quantum field theory, which is a laudable goal in its own right.

                /@

              • Posted February 13, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                No one would publish a disproof of Harry Potter because very few people claim Harry Potter actually exists. Billions of people claim a god of some sort exists, so a scientifically valid disproof of a commonly accepted god, or of gods in general, would certainly be published.

                …and in which journal would one publish such a proof?

                Methinks you don’t understand modern science journal publications and how they work.

                I dont see how your links support that. The first one talks about being able to account for basic laws underlying everyday phenomena. It doesnt say anything about those basic laws being the only forces that could possibly be operating,

                That’s why I linked to the video. It includes enough of an introduction to Quantum Field Theory to get to Feynman Diagrams. A claim that there is a force that can change the vector of an electron (to pick an example) is mathematically and evidentially equivalent to a claim that a certain corresponding collision of electrons will produce a particle in a collider. Our colliders have collided all sorts of particles at all sorts of energies in a most thorough audit that rules out any unknown particles and thus any unknown forces — at least, over a domain that includes the matter of the everyday world.

                nor does it rule out the possibility of an omniscient creator setting up those basic laws and initial conditions at the beginning of time so that they would play out exactly as planned.

                Sean doesn’t address that, but we know enough about quantum indeterminacy that that’s simply not how the Universe works.

                He frankly doesnt even make a good case that we can account for all the physics of our everyday lives. Current theory holds that galaxies avoid breaking up because of dark matter, and fly apart from other galaxies because of dark energy.

                Neither dark matter nor dark energy are relevant to life on Earth unless you’re a cosmologist or working in a related field. While both are important at cosmic scales, they’re also far weaker than gravity (which is incredibly weak; anybody who can do a pull-up can overcome the gravitational force of the entire Earth) or interact less with normal matter than even neutrinos (uncountable brazilians of which are streaming through your body at nearly the speed of light as you read these words).

                Your second link is to a 50 minute long lecture. Im not going to sit through that whole thing on the off hand chance that Sean Carroll actually explains, in a talk about the Higgs boson, how hes scientifically disproven God.

                That’s a shame. Even if Sean doesn’t convince you that the supernatural is superstition, you’d be hard pressed to find a better introduction to the branch of physics that is Quantum Field Theory, and that’s one of the most exciting and significant disciplines today.

                What’s the point of living in the modern world at a time when we’re discovering all these things if you’re not even going to spend less than an hour learning about them?

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

                > I think you rather missed the point there.

                I think that if a force or substance makes our everyday lives possible, that counts as affecting our everyday lives.

                > You really need to watch the lecture the whole way through

                I did. I have an old Pentium 3 at home, without sound, so it was more of a project for me than it probably was for you.

                > …and in which journal would one publish such a proof?

                A clear and convincing scientific disproof of God? I’d start with Nature or Science. Probably they’d tell you your disproof wasn’t as clear and convincing as you thought it was. And probably they’d be right. You could also go for a Philosophy of Science journal such as “Philosophy of Science” http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/journals/journal/phos.html or the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science http://bjps.oxfordjournals.org/ .

                > A claim that there is a force that can change the vector of an electron (to pick an example) is mathematically and evidentially equivalent to a claim that a certain corresponding collision of electrons will produce a particle in a collider.

                Actually, the argument was that a claim that an unknown particle would affect a known particle such as an electron or proton could be tested by looking for whether collisions of the known particle produced that unknown particle. There are at least two problems with that: First, it doesn’t address the likely possibility that the known particle could be affected by an unknown field, rather than by the unknown particle directly. Every field has an associated particle, but the associated particle need not fall within the energy range that has so far been tested. That is presumably why massive objects are affected by gravitational fields, but we haven’t yet found a graviton. Alternatively, the particle may fall within the range of energies tested, but may immediately break down into other particles in ratios that don’t attract attention. The argument also doesn’t take more esoteric explanations into account, such as alternate dimensions or Maxwell’s demon. For even more ways a deity might hypothetically affect normal matter, see my comments elsewhere on this page by searching on “smite”.

                > Sean doesn’t address that, but we know enough about quantum indeterminacy that that’s simply not how the Universe works.

                We do not know enough about quantum indeterminacy to claim that quantum events are not predictable by hypothetical omniscient deities. Our sample size is too small, for one thing.

                > Neither dark matter nor dark energy are relevant to life on Earth unless you’re a cosmologist or working in a related field.

                Based on our current understanding, there wouldn’t be any life on Earth without dark matter or dark energy. How’s that for relevance?

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:12 am | Permalink

                @ Glen

                “I think that if a force or substance makes our everyday lives possible, that counts as affecting our everyday lives.” & “Based on our current understanding, there wouldn’t be any life on Earth without dark matter or dark energy. How’s that for relevance?”

                At this point, I suspect that you are being deliberately obtuse. There is a gulf between the physics fundamental to our existence and the physics of everyday life. Dark matter and dark energy do not impinge on our day to day lives; they’re too weakly interacting compared to have any appreciable effect on our neurochemistry, for example.

                “First, it doesn’t address the likely possibility that the known particle could be affected by an unknown field, rather than by the unknown particle directly.”

                It seems you haven’t understood QFT correctly. All gravitational interactions are mediated by gravitons, all electromagnetic interactions are propagated by photons, and so on. The distinction between particle and field is one without a difference in this context.

                “That is presumably why massive objects are affected by gravitational fields, but we haven’t yet found a graviton.”

                Yes! The point is, because we haven’t found any novel gauge bosons (force carriers) at the LHC means that they are superheavy and that the associated forces are significantly weaker than the weakest of the Standard Model forces – the weak nuclear force (whose bosons – the W⁺, W⁻ and Z⁰ – were discovered at the lower-energy collider at CERN in the 1980s).

                Therefore, any new force, if it existed, would be irrelevant to, say, neurochemistry.

                (Gravity seems different because of the very obvious effects on macroscopic bodies, but it is negligible in the context of chemical interactions, being 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times weaker than electromagnetism. Although it does affect macroscopic reactions because of its effects on convection, precipitation, and so on, those effects are not germane to neurochemistry.)

                “Alternatively, the particle may fall within the range of energies tested, but may immediately break down into other particles in ratios that don’t attract attention.”

                Well, we expect those supermassive gauge bosons to decay and we detect them from the energy distributions in their decay products. That’s exactly how we found the Higgs at the LHC and exactly how we found the W⁺, W⁻ and Z⁰ at CERN in the 1980s. Essentially, when we are at high enough energies to “create” a gauge boson (or any other particle, for that matter) what we are seeing is a resonance effect, like an opera singer breaking a wine glass, which is very hard to miss.

                “The argument also doesn’t take more esoteric explanations into account, such as alternate dimensions or Maxwell’s demon.”

                What do you mean by “alternate dimensions”? How would the argument differ by taking them into account?

                (Maxwell’s Demon seems to be a non sequitur; I don’t see why changes in entropy are relevant here.)

                /@

              • Glen
                Posted February 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

                > There is a gulf between the physics fundamental to our existence and the physics of everyday life.

                Please describe this gulf. Where do “the physics fundamental to our existence” end and “the physics of our everyday life” begin? On which side of this gulf would the weak nuclear force fall, given that it plays an important role in the sun’s conversion of mass to energy, but doesn’t directly affect our neurochemistry. If dark matter were to suddenly disappear, would we notice? Keep in mind that, because of frame dragging and the Lens-Thirring effect, the centrifugal force experienced by objects on the surface of the earth is affected by the strength of the gravitational field produced by other massive objects relative to which the earth is spinning. Would we notice if dark energy were to suddenly disappear? Given that we understand squat about it, how could you rule out indirect effects such as I’ve been describing with regard to the weak force and dark matter?

                > It seems you haven’t understood QFT correctly. All gravitational interactions are mediated by gravitons, all electromagnetic interactions are propagated by photons, and so on.

                Well at least one of us hasn’t understood it. I’d be interested in any quotes from Carroll you could provide that would support your position. I recall him saying that the question of waves versus particles is essentially settled in favor of waves, but that when you look at waves closely sometimes they resolve into particles. I’ll admit I don’t get why that should be so, and frankly I don’t think he understands it either, but taken at face value I’d think that would support my position (that the field itself, and waves in the field, cause effects) more than your position that effects are caused by direct interactions of particles. For additional support, consider the following: 1) General relativity treats gravity as a byproduct of folds and waves in spacetime. Gravitational attraction does not result from particles emitted by massive objects, hitting other massive objects, and then somehow grabbing those objects and pulling them back in the direction from which the particles came. 2) Magnets stick to your refrigerator without any apparent discharge of light. 3) Carroll’s description of how mass is imparted to objects involved interactions with the Higgs field, not with Higgs bosons directly. Mass couldn’t possibly involve direct interactions with Higgs bosons, because those decay so quickly.

                > The point is, because we haven’t found any novel gauge bosons (force carriers) at the LHC means that they are superheavy and that the associated forces are significantly weaker than the weakest of the Standard Model forces – the weak nuclear force

                So the heavier the gauge boson, the weaker the field? By that logic the strength of the strong-nuclear and electromagnetic fields ought to be the same. Also the Higgs field should be extremely weak, and affect almost nothing.

                > Therefore, any new force, if it existed, would be irrelevant to, say, neurochemistry.

                Our neurochemistry would certainly work differently in the absence of the Higgs field, yet the Higgs boson itself is extremely heavy, and exists at the limits of what we can produce. Given that, I don’t see how anyone could claim with a straight face that there couldn’t possibly be other gauge bosons out there whose fields also affect our neurochemistry.

                But even if you were able to demonstrate that, you’d still be a very long way from supporting your actual claim, which is that there is no way a hypothetical deity could affect our everyday lives. The hypothetical ways a hypothetical deity could affect our lives are endless, and most of them have nothing to do with neurochemistry.

                > Gravity seems different because of the very obvious effects on macroscopic bodies, but it is negligible in the context of chemical interactions

                If that were true it would simply demonstrate that it isn’t necessary to affect chemical reactions in order to affect our lives. In fact it’s false, because gravity causes heavier chemicals to coalesce, thereby increasing the chances of certain interactions and decreasing the chances of others. This would have mattered quite a bit during the abiotic chemical interactions that led to life on earth, but it also matters for things like our ability to obtain chemicals such as water that are necessary to our everyday lives.

                > Well, we expect those supermassive gauge bosons to decay and we detect them from the energy distributions in their decay products.

                Right, because the existence of the Higgs was hypothesized, and the hypothesis allowed a prediction of what we should find. You’re attempting to rule out any other gauge bosons, including any for which no such hypotheses currently exist, and thus for which no predictions of decay particle distributions are currently possible.

                > What do you mean by “alternate dimensions”? How would the argument differ by taking them into account?

                Suppose a fourth spatial dimension exists. Model the resulting universe as a three dimensional space within which our perceptible universe floats as a two-dimensional surface. This is the basic model underlying the ekpyrotic explanation for the big bang http://www.physics.princeton.edu/~steinh/npr/ . It is also supported by the simplest interpretation of general relativity, in which gravitational forces are produced by foldings of that two-dimensional surface that represents the spacetime of our known universe. It is also a basis of attempts to explain the weakness of gravity relative to the other forces (the hypothesis being that some of the force of gravity is shunted out of our 2-dimensional surface) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Large_extra_dimension . Other models, such as string theory, also incorporate additional dimensions as well.

                In such a basic four-dimensional model, a hypothetical gauge boson could be created in a collider and then shunted out of the surface that comprises our perceptible universe before we were aware of it. A hypothetical deity could travel “above” or “below” our surface and then interact with it at any point, using energy derived from the area outside our surface to produce effects.

                > Maxwell’s Demon seems to be a non sequitur; I don’t see why changes in entropy are relevant here.

                Maxwell’s demon was postulated as affecting the overall entropy of particles in a given area by shunting high-energy particles to one side and low-energy particles to the other. Such a demon, in it’s spare time, might decide to shunt undiscovered gauge bosons (or their component particles after decay) away from detectors. They’re very clever that way.

                My primary point in bringing up hypothetical particle-shunting demons is to point out that I have very few limits on the crap I can make up, whereas to scientifically disprove the existence of deities you have to show that everything I come up with is impossible (not just highly unlikely or ridiculous).

              • Posted February 25, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink
                It seems you havent understood QFT correctly.

                Well at least one of us hasnt understood it.

                That one would be you. Selected quotes demonstrating as much:

                General relativity treats gravity as a byproduct of folds and waves in spacetime. Gravitational attraction does not result from particles emitted by massive objects, hitting other massive objects, and then somehow grabbing those objects and pulling them back in the direction from which the particles came.

                Relativity is not part of Quantum Field Theory.

                Magnets stick to your refrigerator without any apparent discharge of light.

                Magnets stick to your refrigerator by virtue of their magnetic fields. Electromagnetic fields are mediated by an exchange of photons, though this does not involve visible light that reaches your retina.

                Carrolls description of how mass is imparted to objects involved interactions with the Higgs field, not with Higgs bosons directly.

                The Higgs Boson is a disturbance in the Higgs Field, just as a photon is a disturbance in the electromagnetic field. Ultimately, there are no particles at all, only waves in the respective fields, and we see those waves manifested as particles.

                Given that, I dont see how anyone could claim with a straight face that there couldnt possibly be other gauge bosons out there whose fields also affect our neurochemistry.

                And, yet, one of the world’s leading cosmologists and quantum physicists has devoted many hours of lectures and many blog posts attempting to explain the Standard Model demonstrating how, if the Standard Model is right, we can rule out exactly what you propose — as well as how we can have great confidence in the Standard Model. Your objection is analogous to objecting that something must be moving inertia in order for inertia to move the planets.

                My primary point in bringing up hypothetical particle-shunting demons is to point out that I have very few limits on the crap I can make up, whereas to scientifically disprove the existence of deities you have to show that everything I come up with is impossible (not just highly unlikely or ridiculous).

                That’s not how science works. Science does not, for example, rule out the possibility that you could be hallucinating your entire life, or be a brain in a vat, or that aliens are beaming mind rays into your head in order to control your thoughts, or that you’re a subroutine in a computer simulation, or any of an infinite number of paranoid fantasies you might care to come up with.

                Instead, science places error bars on hypotheses.

                For example, the error bars on the hypothesis that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow are so narrow they might as well be touching, and we can reasonably take the shortcut and say that it’s an absolute fact — even though there remains the negligible gap that encompasses all those conspiracy theories. On the other hand, any one of those conspiracy theories has error bars so wide that they encompass not only all the other conspiracy theories but anything else you might care to come up with, so the theory tells you nothing whatsoever.

                The conclusion that there are no gods, there is no magic, has error bars that are as close together as that the Sun will rise in the East. Short of insane conspiracy theories, there’s no other conclusion.

                If you wish to embrace insanity, please, go ahead; be my guest. But you’d have to be crazy to expect me or anybody else to follow you there.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 26, 2014 at 2:38 am | Permalink

                @ Glen

                Ben has addressed most of your points, I think.

                I’d probably characterise particles as resonances in the fields, rather than “disturbances”; the particle mass is the resonant energy when we can speak of “creating” the particle in a collider. But really, the key to QFT is there’s no discontinuity between particle and field; saying the particle mediates an interaction means that the field is involved and vice versa. This is nicely illustrated by the Feynman diagrams that you will find in any college textbook on particle physics.

                But I really love the fact that you criticise my comment about gravity not being important to chemical interactions by raising the very issue I mentioned immediately following that comment, that gravity *is* important to chemistry at the macroscopic level!

                I focused on neurochemistry because of a common religious claim that God speaks to people. Clearly this ostensibly happens within the brain, else others would hear Him, so he must be interacting with the brain at the level of neurochemistry, no? I could have mentioned gene chemistry, given the claims that God “tweaks” evolution. Same difference.

                I wasn’t aware of the ekpyrotic explanation of the Big Bang, but with respect to the multiple dimensions of string theory, the whole point of that “theory” is that the Standard Model emerges from it at lower energies. The higher dimensions “collapse” to give rise to the forces that we see in our lower energy realm. So, yes, a new dimension *could* give rise to a new gauge boson (a new force), but that dimension would “collapse” at a super-high energy and the boson would be superheavy. (Oh, and by the way, the mass of a gauge boson is not the only thing that determines the strength of the force. Gluons interact with other gluons, but photons don’t interact with other photons, leading to differences in behavior between strong and EM forces.) (And, oh, again. Of course we don’t see the photons involved when a magnet sticks to your fridge, because they’re busy sticking the magnet to the fridge! None are free to enter your eye!)

                You might want to check out some college texts about QFT, or some popular expositions such as Sean’s own The Particle at the End of the Universe. And for string theory, Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe and its sequels.

                /@
                /@

              • Glen
                Posted February 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

                > Relativity is not part of Quantum Field Theory.

                Either gravity acts in a manner similar to the forces accounted for in the Standard Model or it does not. If it does, then we can use it as a model to better understand the behavior of those other forces. If it does not, then that would mean there is at least one force out there that the Standard Model can’t account for. If that’s true, there could be others, and a deity could be influencing matter using one of those.

                > The Higgs Boson is a disturbance in the Higgs Field, just as a photon is a disturbance in the electromagnetic field.

                Not a disturbance, but a source. The photon (for instance) is the smallest possible source for an electromagnetic field. The strength of the field emitted by a photon is the smallest possible strength that an electromagnetic field can have. That doesn’t mean there can’t be larger sources, and it doesn’t mean that all exchanges of energy between an object and an electromagnetic field have to be “mediated” (made possible) by the creation or exchange of actual photons. If Higgs bosons were created every time something with mass was affected by the Higgs field, then we wouldn’t have needed a multi-billion dollar particle accelerator to find them.

                I have heard of photons referred to as “mediating” exchanges of electromagnetic energy, but what I think is meant by that is that the energy is transferred in packets that are integer multiples of the strength of the electromagnetic field emitted by a single photon. Some physicists might describe that as a transfer of virtual photons, but I don’t think any physicist would insist that an actual photon must be created or transferred with every transfer of energy through an electromagnetic field.

                Assuming that interpretation is correct, then there could be an unknown X field out there that a deity (or Professor X) could use to affect matter. The associated X particle might be quite heavy, and thus not producible using either the LHC or the engines of an SR71 Blackbird. But the minimum X energy transferred to a given particle (or hair follicle) through the X field need not be large at all. The mass of a quantum particle and the strength of the field it emits are two different and independent things (except for gravitational fields).

                > And, yet, one of the world’s leading cosmologists and quantum physicists has devoted many hours of lectures and many blog posts attempting to explain the Standard Model demonstrating how, if the Standard Model is right, we can rule out exactly what you propose

                I’m not sure about “many hours”, and I haven’t seen the “many blog posts”, but I’ll grant he did make that claim in the lecture you linked. The next time he and I happen to get together I’ll be sure to ask him about that. In the meantime I’m not going to simply accept what he says in a non-peer-reviewed lecture to the general public if it doesn’t make sense or conflicts with what I understand the evidence or accepted science to be. If I were the kind of person that did that I’d be a theist.

                For what it’s worth, I’ve also seen a video of a Feynman lecture in which he claimed there was no way to produce centrifugal effects on an object by revolving things around it. This, despite the fact that the Lense-Thirring effect was well-established at the time. I thought surely he must be joking.

                > That’s not how science works. … Instead, science places error bars on hypotheses.

                No it doesn’t. Statistics often places error bars on statistical conclusions, but science in general does not attempt to estimate the likelihood that a given conclusion (consistent with the available evidence) is nevertheless wrong, much less that the conclusion simply failed to account for a given hypothetical influence. How could science possibly estimate such likelihoods? Any given hypothesis is generally either going to be correct or incorrect, so its actual error bars are going to be either zero or 100 percent. How would we know which? We might use error bars as an attempt to quantify the likelihood that we have correct information or some such, but many competing hypotheses take the same information into account. In statistics, the error bars are limited to estimates of the likelihood that, because of the sampling process, the samples don’t happen to accurately reflect the properties of the population from which they’re drawn. The error bars aren’t able to reflect other possible sources of error because we lack information to identify or quantify those sources.

                What science does do is attempt to weed out as many incorrect hypotheses as it can by testing the predictions of those hypotheses against the evidence. This always leaves a group of hypotheses that can’t be distinguished in such a manner. If one of those remaining hypotheses allows more specific or useful predictions, then that’s the one we go ahead and use, because it’s more practical to do so. For instance, hypothesis testing will not tell us whether or not a deity has subtly manipulated evolution, but since the manipulation is assumed to be subtle it won’t produce predictions that differ from the hypothesis that evolution has proceeded naturally. When making predictions (such as where to find specific types of fossils, or the pattern of similarities we should see in the genomes of different species), it is therefore more practical to simply assume a lack of manipulation. If the evidence ever fails to bear out the predictions of that hypothesis, we’ll know about it.

                *********

                > But I really love the fact that you criticise my comment about gravity not being important to chemical interactions by raising the very issue I mentioned immediately following that comment, that gravity *is* important to chemistry at the macroscopic level!

                Chemical reactions don’t occur at the “macroscopic level”, they occur between atoms and molecules. So I had to guess at what you might have meant. You stated “Gravity seems different because of the very obvious effects on macroscopic bodies, but it is negligible in the context of chemical interactions” so I assumed that by “effects on macroscopic bodies” you meant things like planetary formation or apples falling from trees, and not things like chemical interactions. I therefore demonstrated that your statement about gravitational effects being “negligible in the context of chemical interactions” was incorrect.

                > I focused on neurochemistry because of a common religious claim that God speaks to people.

                Alright, but the original claim was that God couldn’t be affecting any natural processes. If you’re going to change or narrow the claim you have to tell me.

                > so he must be interacting with the brain at the level of neurochemistry, no?

                The brain’s processes involve neurochemistry, so the ultimate effect would presumably involve that. But it need not be direct. Maybe God pushes air molecules around so as to whisper in someone’s ear.

                > I could have mentioned gene chemistry, given the claims that God “tweaks” evolution. Same difference.

                God could tweak evolution through means other than (directly) manipulating gene chemistry. For instance he could have tossed an asteroid at the dinosaurs.

                > with respect to the multiple dimensions of string theory, the whole point of that “theory” is that the Standard Model emerges from it at lower energies. The higher dimensions “collapse” to give rise to the forces that we see in our lower energy realm.

                I threw in string theory to help show that the idea of extra dimensions is fairly common in physics. My supposition involved at least one additional dimension that did not collapse, so you’re right that string theory wouldn’t provide additional support with respect to that requirement. Since I don’t actually need to demonstrate the truth of my supposition, however, I’m OK with that.

                > So, yes, a new dimension *could* give rise to a new gauge boson (a new force), but that dimension would “collapse” at a super-high energy and the boson would be superheavy.

                I’m not supposing anything about new bosons arising from new dimensions. I’m saying that a hypothetical deity could use a dimension we can’t perceive in order to produce effects that we can perceive. As an example, if water striders were actually two-dimensional, and could only perceive things on the surface of the water on which they lived, then if you were to drop a pebble into the water they’d see it as an explosion that came out of nowhere. You didn’t have to use esoteric new gauge bosons to produce those effects. You merely applied mundane forces from an esoteric vantage point.

                > Oh, and by the way, the mass of a gauge boson is not the only thing that determines the strength of the force.

                Agreed. I don’t think the mass of the boson has anything to do with the strength of the force. That’s why a hypothetical deity could use a hypothetical new force to manipulate matter despite the associated gauge boson being too heavy for the LHC to detect.

                > Of course we don’t see the photons involved when a magnet sticks to your fridge, because they’re busy sticking the magnet to the fridge!

                I think in that case the “photons” are virtual, and don’t act like real photons except to the extent that they each transfer one photon’s worth of electromagnetic energy. See my comments above regarding transfer of energy in packets.

                > You might want to check out some college texts about QFT, or some popular expositions such as Sean’s own The Particle at the End of the Universe.

                They’re on my list.

              • Posted February 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                Your post contains more epic fail than I feel like addressing this evening, so I’ll just pick one point — the most important one, in fact.

                Thats not how science works. Instead, science places error bars on hypotheses.

                No it doesnt. Statistics often places error bars on statistical conclusions, but science in general does not attempt to estimate the likelihood that a given conclusion (consistent with the available evidence) is nevertheless wrong, much less that the conclusion simply failed to account for a given hypothetical influence. How could science possibly estimate such likelihoods?

                If I may make an observation: everything you think you know about science is worng.

                Everything.

                If I may make a suggestion: do not bother with anything else until you get this question of confidence aka significance aka error bars correct.

                There is, in fact, a small but non-zero chance that the CERN team did not, in fact, discover the Higgs. They found a five-sigma significance in their analysis, but that still leaves open the possibility that there was a measurement error or some random fluke or any number of other things that caused the results they observed other than the Higgs.

                Five sigmas is a very high expression of confidence, but it’s not quite “The Sun will rise in the East” confidence.

                The Wall Street Journal has a not-bad explanation of the statistical significance of the (presumed) Higgs discovery:

                http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303962304577509213491189098

                Once you’ve got that straightened out, then it might be worthwhile circling back to patch up the other misunderstandings in the post…but there’s likely no point until then.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted February 26, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

                > There is, in fact, a small but non-zero chance that the CERN team did not, in fact, discover the Higgs. They found a five-sigma significance in their analysis, but that still leaves open the possibility that there was a measurement error or some random fluke or any number of other things that caused the results they observed other than the Higgs.

                The Higgs discovery involved a statistical analysis. I covered that. They smashed protons into each other repeatedly at different speeds, and observed evidence of the resulting particles. A single measurement error would not have thrown off their conclusions. The five sigma amount was the very small chance that the particles they observed in all their samples were not representative of particles that would typically be produced by those proton collisions.

                > If I may make an observation: everything you think you know about science is worng.

                You’re getting pretty full of yourself for someone who can’t spell “wrong”. Why don’t you go ahead and calculate the “error bars” for me on your “scientific” conclusion that there are no gods. Please show your work.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 1:04 am | Permalink

                @ Glen

                “The photon (for instance) is the smallest possible source for an electromagnetic field. The strength of the field emitted by a photon is the smallest possible strength that an electromagnetic field can have.”

                This is just wrong. A photon isn’t the source of and does not emit an EM field. Photons are (the quanta of) the EM field; they are the gauge bosons that mediate EM interactions. The squiggly line in the Feynman diagram illustrating the interaction between two charged particles.

                >⁓⁓<

                /@

              • Glen
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

                > A photon isn’t the source of and does not emit an EM field.

                Would you consider a planet to be a source of a gravitational field? If so, consider what the planet’s effect is on the gravitational field lines around it. As it moves through space, all the field lines orient towards it, and the strength of each line increases or decreases in accordance with the square of its distance from the planet. If it were to move through an area of space in which the field lines were essentially at zero, those field lines would become positive in the vicinity of the planet. This is why it’s reasonable to treat the planet as a “source” of the field. If one preferred, however, one could also consider the planet’s effect to be something of a moving “bump” in a pre-existing field. Either way, when I refer to a “source” of a field, those are the kind of effects I’m talking about.

                Now consider the effects of an electron on the electric field lines around it as it moves through space. It works almost exactly the same way. (The one difference being that the electron is less localized in space.) So an electron is a source of an electric field, and thus of an electromagnetic field.

                Now consider a photon: Photons are typically described as consisting of alternating electric and magnetic field waves (bumps) moving through space. If we could follow the electric field wave crest for a given photon, we would observe the same effects in the electric field lines around it as we observed for the moving electron. (The difference being that the photon is even less localized than the electron.) So the photon is an electromagnetic field source, just as the electron is, and just as a planet is a gravitational field source.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

                I am sorry but I am not available for remedial quantum physics classes.

                /@

              • Glen
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                Good one! I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m feeling snooty and I can’t refute an argument.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                Glen, not to play the argument from authority card or anything, but you’ve explicitly expressed disagreement with Sean Carroll on this subject. And Sean is the real deal, an highly-respected theoretical physicist with all the credentials you could ask for, and possibly the most popular popularizer of quantum mechanics today.

                And you’re claiming he’s worng and you’re right when it comes to freshman-level physics major topics.

                You might — you just might — want to ask yourself what the odds are that you know more about introductory topics in physics than Sean does.

                Here’s something else you might find useful: Sean does a great job at distinguishing between the universal consensus of physicists and subjects of debate. When you’re convinced that he’s worng and you’re right about the former, you should especially ask yourself the odds that the entire collective wisdom of modern physics has gone so far astray and you’re the only one who sees the real truth of the matter.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

                Awww! You could teach it like Sheldon with a 2600 year journey from the Ancient Greek, through Isaac Newton, to Nielsen Bohr, to Edwin Schroedinger….

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                Of course, my *Ph.D. thesis* (argument from authority? /moi/?) did start with the ancient Greeks, elementalism and atomism.

                /@

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                C’mon — you can’t leave us hanging with a teaser like that. Got a link to the paper, or at least a copy/pasta of the introduction?

                b&

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

                This was thirty years ago; there’s no online version that I’m aware of.

                And my electronic copy went south with my BBC Micro and its hard drive.

                I might be able to OCR the hard copy

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

                I hope you started with, “It’s a warm summer evening in ancient Greece….”

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                So, I found an old webpage of mine which gives a slightly different version of it, and its easy to recreate the original:

                ~ ~ ~

                Many Ancient Greek philosophers considered the question, “Of what is the World made?” Naturally, different philosophers at different times gave different answers. Thales (636-546 BC) proposed that the primary substance, or element, of the Universe was water; Anaximenes (?570-502 BC), air; and Herakleitos (or Heracletus, ?540-?480 BC), fire. Empedokles of Acragas (or Empedocles, 492-432 BC) suggested that there could be more than one element, and to the list of water, air, and fire added a fourth, earth. A different concept was the atomist theory of Leucippus of Miletus (?480-?420 BC) and his disciple Democritus of Abdera (?460-?370 BC) in which all matter is composed of indivisible particles, or atoms, of the same stuff but with differing shapes. Aristotle (384-322 BCE), however, accepted the doctrine of four elements, combining in different proportions to form divers Earthly matter, and thus made it the canonical theory for over two thousand years.

                Both Democrituss atomism and the Aristotelean world-view are elegant and compelling in their conceptual simplicity; however, each has one fundamental flaw — it is wrong!

                Nevertheless, Greek philosophy paved the way for the scientific investigation of the same question in recent centuries. Boyle was the first to propose the existence of chemical elements in the 17th century; Dalton provided a physical justification for Boyles ideas with his atomic theory in the 19th. Mendeleevs periodic table of chemical elements (1871) showed a pattern which suggested that there was some ordered substructure to Daltons atoms as, indeed, has been subsequently evinced by the work of Rutherford and others.

                In this century [i.e., the 20th!], the nucleons, mesons, and other sub-atomic particles were discovered. The patterns in the properties of these hadrons (the Eightfold Way of Gell-Mann and Neeman (1964)) suggested that these elementary particles, too, had a substructure, and that the fundamental constituents of matter were still to be discovered …

                ~ ~ ~

                /@

                PS. Apologies to Paul Braterman for any sleight to the early scientists.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for that!

                It occurs to me…even if there’s nothing groundbreaking in your dissertation, it would probably be worth it for society in general to upload an OCRed PDF somewhere that it can get crawled and maybe even squirreled away by the Internet Archive. And posting a link right here in this thread would likely be enough to trigger our robotic overlords to do just that….

                b&

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 2:55 am | Permalink

                Well, well! It is now online! http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/7091/1/7091_4273.PDF

                /@

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

                Wonderful — thank you! I has done did clicked on it

                I’m sure it’ll rapidly soar above my pay grade, but I can’t help but notice just how topical it is, what with it being about production of the Higgs Boson.

                Care to offer a spoiler? Did you get it right?

                I note from a bit of quick skimming of the conclusion that you were considering the possibility of an Higgs with a mass under 25 GeV, much less than the ~126 GeV the CERN team found, but that was also in the context of what to look for if that turned out to be the actual mass of the Higgs….

                b&

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                I think I had only a very soft result which was that there was no data that revealed the Higgs at masses less than the SPS energies.

                A 25 GeV Higgs could have been produced, but might not have been visible.

                So, either it was more than ~ 100 GeV or less than 25 GeV and “hard to see.

                I was not wrong!

                /@

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

                So, here’s something you might be able to help me understand.

                The SPS, according to Wikipedia, was originally specced as a 300 – 400 GeV accelerator. And, in the early ’80s, it was tossing around hadrons.

                300 GeV is a lot more than 126 GeV. So why didn’t the Higgs show up in SPS collisions? Or did it and they just didn’t spot it? Or…?

                b&

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:39 am | Permalink

                p. 44

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

                Let me know if this is right.

                Protons are composite particles, consisting of a pair of up quarks and a single down quark — or antiquarks in the case of the antiproton.

                Electrons are their own fundamental particles.

                In an electron collider, the energy goes into the single pair of electrons (or electron and positron) that collide.

                In a proton collider (such as the LHC, with protons being a subclass of baryons which are a subclass of Hadrons), the energy gets “smeared” across all three quarks plus the gluons that hold them together, effectively cutting the energy by over a third. Thus you need an accelerator that collides protons at (substantially?) more than 126 GeV * 3 = 378 GeV in order to get enough energy into an individual quark in order to make an Higgs.

                …at least, that’s my layman’s interpretation of pages 44 – 46 of your dissertation with respect to my question….

                b&

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

                In essence, yes.

                30 years on, I think Im nearly as lay as you. The equations frighten me now . . .

                /@

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

                That’s good to know…both that I was able to figure out that much from a dissertation, and that I’m not the only one who’s forgotten a non-trivial amount of what he learned in school. But at least I have the “advantage” that trumpet performance hasn’t changed all that much in the past couple decades, especially compared with physics….

                b&

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

                * Erwin

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                I blame my phone’s auto correct. At least I got the e in Schroedinger to work because this phone doesn’t have German installed on it like other one so I couldn’t make the umlaut and I was afraid because once someone chastised Jerry for the lack of umlaut on a picture he posted.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

                :-D

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

                Comments are getting badly shuffled here.

                And damn OS X’s automatic replacement of ‘ with ’ which don’t show up properly when posting via email; I should have come here straight away.

                The recent version of this had a nice pic to go with it, layering later hermetic symbolisms onto the Aristotelean elements.

                /@

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

                You know, there’s something quite poetic about the Four Elements Theory. Many artists in many media have created some beautiful art inspired by it, and I’m sure many future artists will draw similar inspiration.

                There is, of course, an entirely different type of beauty in the Periodic Table….

                b&

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

                * any slight

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

                @ Glen

                And we’ve rather gone beyond the point of this thread, but suffice to say, your conception of photons is stuck at a period around the beginning of the last para of the introduction to my thesis, above.

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 5:22 am | Permalink

                @Ant:

                You never told us you were actually an “Anthony”!

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 5:54 am | Permalink

                Yes, I have. Four times. Google: “short for anthony” inurl:whyevolutionistrue
                ;-)

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

                I can attest to witnessing Ant saying his name is short for Anthony because I remember remarking in an “ohhhh” type way as I finally understood.

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                As Ive also pointed out, its not because Im a myrmecologist called Allan (which was one persons assumption).

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

                I obviously ignore all explanations that don’t conform to my later memory. ;)

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

                Are you sure youre not religious?

                /@

              • Glen
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

                > Glen, not to play the argument from authority card or anything, but you’ve explicitly expressed disagreement with Sean Carroll on this subject.

                I’ve accepted his claims regarding the facts of QFT. I’ve disagreed with some of his speculative conclusions regarding the elimination of all possible means by which various proposed phenomena such as telekinesis might take place. I haven’t disagreed with him concerning the existence of gods because he didn’t mention those.

                Carroll provided a two part argument regarding the extent to which an unknown particle or force might affect our “everyday lives” (which he defined to mean affecting protons, neutrons or electrons directly). I’d missed that definition the first time. I’d also thought he was applying essentially a single argument regarding both particles and forces. On re-viewing it, I now think he used one argument for particles and a separate one for forces.

                His argument for particles was that if an X particle can affect a proton, then two colliding protons can produce an X particle. Fair enough. I don’t understand it, but I’ll assume Carroll knows what he’s talking about there, since that conclusion is covered by QFT. However, if X particles immediately shunt themselves to another dimension, then we wouldn’t necessarily detect them. Carroll didn’t mention other dimensions, and I have no reason to assume he considered them. This is particularly important for your attempts to extrapolate what Carroll said into a disproof of gods, because gods are typically described as residing in alternative dimensions. Accordingly, gods wouldn’t have to use unknown X particles. They could just use regular particles from the vantage point of that other dimension.

                That should be enough to end the discussion right there. Carroll’s non-peer-reviewed, unpublished convention speech does not support your contention that science has disproven the possibility of gods. I had a some other stuff to say about whether it disproves the things Carroll actually claimed it did, such as telekinesis, but I’ll hold off since it’s off-topic.

                > When you’re convinced that he’s worng and you’re right about the former, you should especially ask yourself the odds that the entire collective wisdom of modern physics has gone so far astray and you’re the only one who sees the real truth of the matter.

                I don’t disagree with the “entire collective wisdom of modern physics”. I just disagree with you. Neither Carroll, nor the “entire collective wisdom of modern physics” ever claimed to have disproven all possibility of gods. You did that. (I did appreciate your spelling choices, though.)

                > And we’ve rather gone beyond the point of this thread, but suffice to say, your conception of photons is stuck at a period around the beginning of the last para of the introduction to my thesis, above.

                According to the Table of Contents, the introduction runs from pp 1 to 6, after which comes “The Standard Model of strong and electroweak interactions”. The final paragraph prior to that discusses supersymmetry. I didn’t see anything in there relevant to what I said about photons.

                Don’t you think it might be easier (and more mature) to just specify what I said that you disagree with, and provide information supporting an alternate position? This makes at least twice now you’ve tried to work in little put-downs without actually staking out or supporting your own position.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

                However, if X particles immediately shunt themselves to another dimension, then we wouldnt necessarily detect them. Carroll didnt mention other dimensions, and I have no reason to assume he considered them.

                If you have no reason to assume that he considered such a possibility, then you don’t even have a beginning layman’s level of knowledge about the field.

                One of the prime topics of research in physics these days is precisely the effects of additional dimensions, with the most important of those effects being the strength of various force interactions. It is rather likely that additional dimensions will play a key role in a more complete explanation of the Big Bang, one of Carroll’s particular areas of interest, as well as a quantum theory of gravity, which is every theoretical physicist’s particular area of interest.

                Specifically, anything that could interact with baryonic matter by way of shunting back and forth between extra dimensions would, once again, have long since shown up in experiments done to date. Also, all proposals for additional dimensions have those dimensions being, as they’re commonly described, “small” and “curled up.”

                That should be enough to end the discussion right there.

                Yes, it should.

                You continue to argue that there’s space under the bed big enough for a T-Rex to hide in, despite reassurances to the contrary directly from somebody whose Phd. dissertation was in quantum mechanics and, indirectly, from one of the leading theoretical physicists and physics popularizers. And I could just as easily point you to Lawrence Krauss or Steven Weinberg or Brian Cox or any number of other big-name theoretical physicists who would be just as happy to tell you that Sean is absolutely right about there being no more human-scale loopholes in physics by which a god could sneak in miracles, save for the ever-present caveat of conspiracy theories.

                Why I’m perpetuating this conversation is a bit beyond me at this point….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

                > Specifically, anything that could interact with baryonic matter by way of shunting back and forth between extra dimensions would, once again, have long since shown up in experiments done to date.

                How? Please support your claim. I don’t know where you got the idea that insults and unsupported assertions are a substitute for evidence, but they are not.

                > Also, all proposals for additional dimensions have those dimensions being, as they’re commonly described, “small” and “curled up.”

                The ekpyrotic model doesn’t. General relativity doesn’t. But even if what you said were true, why would that matter? Would it mean we are therefore not free to hypothesize the existence of extra dimensions that were not small and curled up? If something actually rules out such a supposition, then you have the burden of identifying what it is.

                > You continue to argue that there’s space under the bed big enough for a T-Rex to hide in

                No, I continue to point out your failure to demonstrate that there is insufficient space under the bed. You have the burden of proof. So far you have presented no data to support your claim, other than a video of a physicist at a convention making a claim that is vaguely similar.

                > And I could just as easily point you to Lawrence Krauss or Steven Weinberg or Brian Cox or any number of other big-name theoretical physicists who would be just as happy to tell you that Sean is absolutely right about there being no more human-scale loopholes in physics by which a god could sneak in miracles

                As I pointed out, that’s not what Sean said. You got it wrong. I strongly suspect you got it wrong about what those other guys you name-dropped actually said as well. And while I’d find what they had to say on the matter interesting, I’d still expect to see the evidence or reasoning behind their claims.

                And you should expect to see that as well. From what I gather you consider yourself a supporter of science. Science works using evidence, hypothesis testing, repeatability of claims, independent review. It does not work using insults and unsubstantiated appeals to authority.

              • Posted March 3, 2014 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

                Glen, I’m sorry. As with Ant, I’m rather disinclined to attempt to teach you elementary modern theoretical physics, especially when the answers are a Wikipedia search away.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_theory#Number_of_dimensions

                You’re just not that interesting a student. You’re far more interested in preserving your ignorance than expanding your knowledge. When you want to stop playing irrelevant “gotcha” games based on your misunderstandings of the field, then maybe we can pick this up again. But first you’ll have to demonstrate some initiative and that you’ve filled the more glaring gaps in your knowledge and corrected the more painful misconceptions you’ve latched onto.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted March 3, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

                > I’m rather disinclined to attempt to teach you elementary modern theoretical physics, especially when the answers are a Wikipedia search away.

                I didn’t ask you to teach me elementary physics. I asked you to support your assertions. You haven’t done so. Your Wiki link is no exception. I frankly can’t even tell which assertion you think it supports.

                > You’re just not that interesting a student.

                My goodness, how do you get that big head of yours through the bathroom doorway in the morning?

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 3:15 am | Permalink

                @ Glen

                My remark was referring to the four paragraphs I quoted, beginning with the Ancient Greeks. Im sorry if the reference was too elliptical. My point was that the conception of the photon you set out above sounds very much like a turn-of-the-twentieth-century classical interpretation of the EM field, rather than our current best understanding and best model (i.e., QFT).

                So, my remark about remedial classes wasnt entirely facetious: To fully understand Carrolls argument and the force of his conclusions, you really need a firmer grasp of some basic QFT concepts; that particles are continuous with fields (you cant have one without the other) and that forces are continuous with their particles (gauge bosons or force carriers) and associated fields. Thus the argument against new particles that can be created in particle collisions is /also/ an argument against new forces that can interact with those particles.

                Also, that forces (and their particles) are manifestations of extra dimensions that curl up at low” energy regimes. Even if “gods are typically described as residing in alternative dimensions there is no reason to think that those dimensions are anything like the higher dimensions that are discussed in string theory or novel theories of gravity or anything else in /physics/. Really, those alternative dimensions are more like the “astral plane” or Asgard” or some other fanciful nonsense. Just because they happen to be labelled with the same word, doesnt mean they are the same kind of thing, any more than gluons are sticky or quarks of different colours have different absorption spectra.

                If you really cant grok this, you /do/ need to study.

                /@

              • Glen
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

                > you really need a firmer grasp of some basic QFT concepts; that particles are continuous with fields (you can’t have one without the other) and that forces are continuous with their particles (gauge bosons or force carriers) and associated fields.

                Thanks for the specifics. Nothing I’ve said suggests that particles are not cotinuous with fields or forces.

                > Thus the argument against new particles that can be created in particle collisions is /also/ an argument against new forces that can interact with those particles.

                Carroll’s argument was that if there were an unknown X particle that could interact with atomic particles, and if that X particle were of a mass that could be produced in a collider, then we would have seen it. I’m saying that doesn’t rule out the possibility of X particles of greater mass than could be produced in a collider. Such particles need not interact with atomic particles by colliding with them directly. They could interact through their associated fields. The graviton is (presumably) an example of such a particle.

                > Also, that forces (and their particles) are manifestations of extra dimensions that curl up at “low” energy regimes.

                Is that a supported conclusion of QFT, or a theoretical description from string theory?

                Regardless, does what you said (quoted above) rule out the possibility of at least one extra spatial dimension that is not curled up? If so, how is it ruled out?

                > Even if “gods are typically described as residing in alternative dimensions” there is no reason to think that those dimensions are anything like the higher dimensions that are discussed in string theory or novel theories of gravity or anything else in /physics/.

                Yes I know. I don’t care what the hypothetical “realm” of the hypothetical gods looks like. My point is that if such an (uncurled) dimension (direction in space) exists, then Carroll’s argument against unknown particles or forces would not apply. His argument is based on the assumption that the particles or forces stay within our 3 known spatial dimensions, where we can detect them. Furthermore, if such an additional dimension exists, then any hypothetical gods capable of navigating that dimension could use known particles and forces to produce “magical” effects. For instance, they could “create” an asteroid by transferring atoms from elsewhere in their 4 dimensional universe into our 3 dimensional universe at the desired location.

              • Posted March 4, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

                Such particles need not interact with atomic particles by colliding with them directly. They could interact through their associated fields.

                No.

                This is fundamental modern physics.

                Your “gotchas” are no more than somebody, post-Newton, suggesting that, if it’s inertia that moves the planets, then Jesus could move inertia if he wanted to.

                There are no particles, only harmonic vibrations in the fields. We’ve tried to explain this to you; you’ve ignored us. The rest of your “gotchas” follow from your now-insisted-upon ignorance.

                b&

              • Glen
                Posted March 4, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

                > There are no particles, only harmonic vibrations in the fields.

                So are you suggesting that particles don’t matter and I shouldn’t be talking about them? Carroll was talking about them. His argument (which you have cited in support of your position) involves them directly. I can’t address that argument without talking about them.

                I’ve said an X particle of large mass need not interact with atomic particles directly. By that I mean it need not bump into it and disturb it by virtue of its mass. Large mass gravitons can affect small mass electrons without using their mass to push them around.

                Now if you’re trying to say that particles never interact like that anyway, I’d be interested, but it wouldn’t change my underlying point, which is that X particles that are too massive to be created in colliders could still exist and could still affect atomic particles through their associated fields.

                As for there being no particles: it’s not that simple. Vibrations in a typical field (“harmonic” or otherwise) transfer their energy along the length of the wave. For instance, when an ocean wave hits the beach, the sand up and down the beach is impacted. But quantum waves transfer their energy as if they were particles, to a single location in space. The energy that was apparently spread out along the wave-front just prior to the transfer suddenly gets focused onto the one point. That’s what Carroll means when he says they appear as particles when we look at them. To look at them we have to get them to transfer their energy. That’s also why a single photon can interfere with itself (as if it were a wave) when it passes through two slits in a screen, but can still only be detected at a single point (as if it were a particle) on the other side of the slits.

                Now, some gauge bosons have mass and some don’t. So, as I understand it, when a boson with mass transfers the energy of its associated field, it may also transfers a certain amount of kinetic energy associated with its mass. Thus it has two ways to affect other particles. Those two ways are at least somewhat independent. For instance, electrons are consistently affected by the Higgs field, but they do not thereby gain any kinetic energy from the comparatively massive Higgs boson.

                > The rest of your “gotchas” follow from your now-insisted-upon ignorance.

                I’m not employing “gotchas” (whatever those are), and we’re all ignorant about something. If you think you know something I don’t (that’s on topic) then you should be able to convey that without being a prick about it. You should also be able to read and consider what I actually write before jumping to conclusions about ignorance.

            • Sastra
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

              Glen Tarr wrote:

              My question to you, which I would hope you’d think critically about, is why it should matter to you if someone reaches a faith-based conclusion that only affects her and that doesn’t run contrary to available evidence. For example, if someone accepts evolution, but maintains an admittedly unscientific belief that God tweaked it, why should you or I care?

              This wasn’t asked of me, but I’ll answer. The first part of my answer is to move the question over to the believer:

              Do you care if your belief is true, or only safe from people criticizing it? Does it matter to you whether God exists or not?

              My answer to you: I care because THEY care.

              And because they care, their top priority is not going to be making sure that there is never nothing obvious or overt enough for anyone to “criticize.” God’s Truth is always going to slip into Man’s truth and secular humanism isn’t going to be able to stop it if those are the terms that we’ve agreed on.

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

                If you’re arguing that the world would be a nicer place without faith I’d probably agree with you. But it would also be a nicer place if everyone were realistic about the likely consequences of their actions. And a likely consequence of telling people they have to give up their faith to accept evolution is that they’ll become much more committed Creationists. On the other hand, if you think you might be able to live on the same planet with Christians who accept evolution and who recognize the difference between a faith-based and evidence-based belief; and if you’re willing to take some fairly obvious steps in that direction, then I think you just might end up helping to make the world a nicer place.

              • Sastra
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                Glen Tarr wrote:

                And a likely consequence of telling people they have to give up their faith to accept evolution is that they’ll become much more committed Creationists.

                Would that be true for the many Christians who do accept evolution — they’ll become Creationists rather than consider applying the reasoning and discoveries from science to their religious views? I doubt it. I credit them with much more sense.

                I also suspect you underestimate the Creationists.

                On the other hand, if you think you might be able to live on the same planet with Christians who accept evolution …

                Oh, please do stop this. “Live on the same planet.” Of course we can be friends and allies with Christians-who-accept-evolution. But that doesn’t mean we can’t argue issues where we see an inconsistency. On the contrary, such arguments come from a standpoint of respect and common ground or we wouldn’t and couldn’t bother.

              • Glen
                Posted February 8, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

                > Of course we can be friends and allies with Christians-who-accept-evolution.

                Wouldn’t that be “accommodationist”? Coyne is calling for us to “change or dissolve those religions that immunize people against evolution”. That doesn’t sound like being ” friends and allies with Christians-who-accept-evolution” to me.

              • Sastra
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

                Glen Tarr wrote:

                Wouldn’t that be “accommodationist”? Coyne is calling for us to “change or dissolve those religions that immunize people against evolution”. That doesn’t sound like being ” friends and allies with Christians-who-accept-evolution” to me.

                Friends can disagree.

                We gnu atheists are allies of the accomodationists when we all band together on common ground to fight creationism. But we dispute each other when our tactics begin to differ. And yes, as part of our strategy we can and will try to persuade the nice, liberal religions that their methods and conclusions are wrong, too. Your belief that this obviously makes us your “enemy” is part of the reason we think religion itself is the problem.

              • Glen
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

                I never said it makes you my enemy, and I’m not suggesting you can’t criticize liberal religions. I’m saying it’s both incorrect and tactically stupid to suggest only atheists can or should accept evolution. And just to be clear, I say that as an atheist.

              • Sastra
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

                Glen wrote:

                I’m saying it’s both incorrect and tactically stupid to suggest only atheists can or should accept evolution.

                But that’s not what we’re saying. Everyone ought to accept evolution. That’s a common goal. We’ve never disagreed.

                We’re saying that theists who DO accept evolution by making it consistent with their religion can only do so by reigning in the scope of scientific inquiry and ignoring the implications evolution has to the very basis of their religious beliefs. This is a tenuous and fragile compromise which papers over a very real contradiction not just in conclusions, but methods.

                It may be correct and tactically wise to be honest.

                (I assumed you were an atheist, by the way. That’s usually my default assumption unless I’m given good reason to think otherwise.)

              • Glen
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

                > We’re saying that theists who DO accept evolution by making it consistent with their religion can only do so by reigning in the scope of scientific inquiry and ignoring the implications evolution has to the very basis of their religious beliefs.

                Well that’s an interesting take. Is there anything in Jerry’s post that you think supports that interpretation? And since many theists do accept evolution, how have they reigned in the scope of scientific inquiry? And given that it’s the theistic evolutionists’ religious beliefs we’re talking about here, what makes you think they’ve all ignored evolution’s implications while you have not?

                > It may be correct and tactically wise to be honest.

                Setting tactics aside, when I said it was incorrect to suggest that only atheists can or should accept evolution, I meant incorrect as in “false”. Suggesting things are true when they’re actually false isn’t honest. (Or at least not after the falsity has been brought to your attention.)

              • Sastra
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

                Glen wrote:

                Well that’s an interesting take. Is there anything in Jerry’s post that you think supports that interpretation?

                Yes, the second and third paragraph of the OP.

                Setting tactics aside, when I said it was incorrect to suggest that only atheists can or should accept evolution, I meant incorrect as in “false”.

                Theists can and should accept evolution. But only atheists do accept straight evolution and follow its implications through. When someone posits a magical explanation for an explanatory framework which explicitly eliminates any need for magic, they accept it on terms which doesn’t preclude sticking magic back in at any point where it will be convenient to them. The fact that this point varies widely from believer to believer is more of a problem than a solution. Religious faith is measured against a person’s original commitment to God, not their primary commitment to humanism.

              • Glen
                Posted February 18, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

                > Yes, the second and third paragraph of the OP.

                Right. So: “Somehow, he thinks, evolution-promoters impart the message that evolution is antagonistic to religion, and tantamount to atheism. Well, as a matter of fact it is”. So, you don’t think that amounts to saying that only atheists should accept evolution?

                > We’re saying that theists who DO accept evolution by making it consistent with their religion can only do so by reigning in the scope of scientific inquiry and ignoring the implications evolution has to the very basis of their religious beliefs.

                First: I’m not really getting the difference between what you say above and suggesting that only atheists can or should accept evolution. Maybe you have a different interpretation of “should” than I do. It seems to me that if what you said were true, and a theist were to reign in the scope of scientific inquiry and ignore the implications of evolution to her religious beliefs, then she really shouldn’t accept it. Those are bad things, right?

                Second: I don’t see how a theist who accepts evolution is thereby reigning in the scope of scientific inquiry.

                Third: I don’t see why either you or Jerry think you know what is contrary to a particular theist’s religious beliefs better than does that particular theist.

                Fourth: The reasoning I’ve seen in support of the claim that evolution runs contrary to Christianity, is poor. Most of it runs along the lines of “it’s not reasonable to believe in a magic man in the sky”. That doesn’t constitute support for the specific claim being made. Even if we assume that such belief is unreasonable, it doesn’t thereby lead us to conclude that acceptance of evolution necessarily conflicts with Christianity.

                You offered the following in support of the existence of that supposed necessary conflict:

                > When someone posits a magical explanation for an explanatory framework which explicitly eliminates any need for magic, they accept it on terms which doesn’t preclude sticking magic back in at any point where it will be convenient to them.

                Response: I don’t know that theistic evolutionists are trying to “explain” evolution, magically or otherwise. They are trying to interpret their religion in light of the evidence. They believe that God started evolution, and some of them believe God subtly tweeks evolutionary outcomes from time to time. There is nothing in what you’ve said, or in what Jerry has said, to disprove either of those beliefs.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

              Sorry, Glen, reviewing #36 illuminates nothing as far as I can tell.

              Claiming that “Creationism runs contrary to a consistent belief in Christianity” is a bit of a “no true Christian” argument, no? I would never use such a silly argument. Who gets to define what a True Christian™ believes? They fight wars over that question.

              That is not an argument that advances critical thought at all, except to the extent that it provides a fairly decent example of a very common fallacy.

              I don’t know many examples, if any, of faith-based conclusions that affect only a single person. Faith affects us all, even the non-faithful, because we need to deal with the never-ending consequences of bad thinking and those who don’t think bad thinking is a problem.

              • Glen Tarr
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

                > Claiming that “Creationism runs contrary to a consistent belief in Christianity” is a bit of a “no true Christian” argument, no?

                No. I’m not making any claims about who is or is not a true Christian. I’m tailoring a pro-evolution argument to a specific audience. Lots of Christian Creationists (possibly the majority) aren’t impressed by evidence because they think the Bible trumps it. So with those people it is counterproductive to be continually harping on the evidence alone. And it is extremely counterproductive to state or imply that the only way you’ll be satisfied is if they give up their faith. Applying such an argument to that group of people (and it is a large group) is simply going to make them more strident Creationists.

                What I’m pointing out instead is that the assumption that the Bible trumps evidence conflicts with generally accepted Christian beliefs. It is generally accepted in Christianity that God made the evidence (since he made the universe), but men wrote the Bible. If someone were to respond that God made the evidence to test people’s faith, and if that person wasn’t interested in the many examples I gave in which non-literal interpretations of the Bible were called for, then my argument wouldn’t work on that person. But most Christians won’t respond that way because it makes God look like a deliberate liar.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

                Here’s the thing, Glen… You’re asking me, and those similarly inclined to be dishonest. No I won’t agree to it. I won’t agree to pretend that faith is a virtue. I won’t pretend that science is compatible with religion. I will not agree to offer false respect in service of your stratification theory. I detest lying for Jesus and I’m not willing to lie for evolution.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

                Important comma missing there, gb: Youre asking me, and those similarly inclined/,/ to be dishonest.

                /@

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

                Doh! Blame the iPad.

              • Glen
                Posted February 8, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

                > You’re asking me, and those similarly inclined to be dishonest.

                No I’m not. I’m saying it is an effective approach to point out the inconsistencies between mainline Christian belief and Creationism. That’s not dishonest, and I didn’t ask you personally to take that approach anyway. I am asking you personally to avoid undercutting Christians who argue effectively against Creationism, and to avoid making claims for which you don’t have scientific support.

                > I won’t agree to pretend that faith is a virtue. I won’t pretend that science is compatible with religion.

                I didn’t ask you to do those either. For someone who presumably cares about facts, you certainly seem to be reading a lot into what I’ve said that isn’t actually there.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 7:47 am | Permalink

                No, Glen. What I’m “reading into” your comments is that you want me, and these similarly inclined, to not speak our minds. That would be lying, as far as I’m concerned and I won’t agree to lie for you or our common cause.

                I will decline your directive to stop “undercutting Christians” because I do not agree with the strategy and I detest being asked to STFU. I would never ask something like that of you.

                Want a more detailed explanation of my position? One was just put online the other day by Dan Finke, a longtime (and now former) Christian. It says it far better than I have space to do here. Read it, please.

              • Glen
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

                > No, Glen. What I’m “reading into” your comments is that you want me, and these similarly inclined, to not speak our minds. That would be lying

                “Lying” means saying things that aren’t true, so it wouldn’t be lying. More importantly, I didn’t ask you not to speak your mind. My point is that suggesting Christians can’t or shouldn’t accept evolution is both poor tactics and factually incorrect. So if you won’t stop because of the former, stop because of the latter.

                > I detest being asked to STFU. I would never ask something like that of you.

                No, you’d just lie to me about whether I asked you to STFU. Kindly stop twisting words and explain why you think you know better than actual Christians whether acceptance of evolution is contrary to Christianity.

                > Read it, please.

                OK. Here’s part of his rant: “accepting the factual dynamic of natural selection philosophically requires either outright abandoning Christian theism or, at least, drastically revising it in ways few Christians are willing to deal with”

                Response: Seven pages of rant and I’m not finding where he supports that anywhere. Perhaps you’d like to take a crack at it?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 13, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

                “My point is that suggesting Christians can’t or shouldn’t accept evolution is both poor tactics and factually incorrect.”

                Your assertion to the contrary, for me to agree with this sentence would be for me to lie (given that “theistic evolution” is not evolution as understood by science, and assuming we’re talking about the genuine article). For me to grant respect to theistic evolution would be for me to lie. For me to suppress criticism of theistic evolution in order for whatever reason may not lie because it lacks the “say something” bit, but it would be dishonest none the less. I’ll decline, think you. The little people you are trying to protect need to grow up and you need to allow them to do so.

                And you are asking me (and those who see things as I do) to STFU. You said “I am asking you personally to avoid undercutting Christians…”. By what reading is that not equivalent to “Don’t say those things”? (aka “stop being strident/shrill/harsh”) You are very clearly asking us to STFU.

                Honestly, I don’t real care whether you feel that you, as a scientifically inclined Christian, feel undercut. I’m interested in honest conversation and that includes me (and those similarly inclined) get to point out that theistic evolution isn’t scientific evolution. And it includes telling believers that their acceptance of faith as a legitimate argument enables the atrocious behavior of the worst among them. Your goal may be limited to keeping creationists out of schools. Mine is rather broader than that. I’m interested in fighting the faith that underpins creationism. So, no, I’ll not agree to that, even if you think it makes your job harder.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      People who have incongruous believes will act and make choices which reflect their torn beliefs. Usually the consequences of their choices are not well thought out and demonstrate a lack of understanding with regard to science or monetary policy, ethics, and overall politeness.

      In truth, you provide a hypothetical example of a breed of human that is being extinquished by the ubiquity of information. Fewer people can concede a belief system that affords alignment between religion and science.

      On a personal note, I call these people the religiously moderate, and I have no respect for their choice in accomodation. It is like smoking. I have friends who smoke, not many, but I disdain that they smoke. It is unpleasant and I think people are not taking their lives seriously when they choose to smoke. It is hurtful to themselves and others and part of me thinks they just do not care as much as they could about existence.

      • eric
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

        People who have incongruous believes will act and make choices which reflect their torn beliefs.

        Ah yes, the “theist as ticking time bomb” argument. The problem is, its empirically unjustified. For every true positive that this theory predicts, there are on many many true negatives that it ignores; theists that don’t go off the deep end, ever.

        What your arguing is analogous to someone saying that we shouldn’t trust any 15-25 year olds because the group ’15-25 year olds’ commit most of the murders. Yeah, they do…but the in-group rate of bad behavior is still so low that, for any given person, your conclusion is going to be wrong far more often than it’s right.

        • darrelle
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

          I don’t claim to know exactly what is in Kevin’s mind, but I think you are off target here. Beating the shit out of a strawman, in other words. But, hey, maybe you’ve had past exchanges with Kevin and know your characterization is accurate.

          In any case, what part of the concept that believing things that don’t correspond with reality leads to undesirable outcomes is controversial? You imply that believers and non believers alike are susceptible to this. No argument there, absolutely agree. The main point of your counterargument is that religious believers are not significantly more prone to causing problems for society because of this. This seems really bizzare to me.

          All the attempts to insert religion into schools, government, law, the political process. All kinds of believers from the nice old couple next door who vote yes to denying legal rights to gays because Jesus, to raving lunatics like Phil Phelps. Religious beliefs are not, as you rightly imply, the only category of erroneous beliefs that can cause harm, but yes, they sure as hell are more problematic right now in our society than any other category.

          • eric
            Posted February 7, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            what part of the concept that believing things that don’t correspond with reality leads to undesirable outcomes is controversial?

            As a general statement, that’s fine. But I think you lack data to show any strong statistical correlation between theism and bad behavior. Just as the theists themselves lack any data showing any strong correlation between theism and good behavior.

            I am not saying that religion is not a cause for behavior. Of course it can be. What I’m saying is that “theism” is not a behavior predictor (and that I wish atheists would stop treating it like it is). At best, you’re leaping from ‘all murderers are men’ to ‘all men are murderers’ which is a fallacy on it’s own. But in this particular case, theists aren’t the only ones who lack understanding or behave badly, so you’re committing an even worse fallacy by leaping from “some/many murderers are men” to “all men are murderers.”

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

              Bad behavior is not the only undesirable outcome.

              Not accepting science (or worse, wasting science education resources by teaching thoroughly-debiunked ideas) is manifestly undesirable; opposing it is a social good.

              /@

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

                I agree, and oppose teaching creationism.

            • gbjames
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

              How about comparing the imprisonment rates for believers vs. nonbelievers? Does that count as evidence?

              How about comparing the rates of crime in places with high religiosity compared to places where it is low? Does that count as evidence?

              How about comparing restrictions on the freedoms of women in highly religious places compared to those with less religiosity? Does that count as evidence.

              • Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

                +3!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

                + a lot :)

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but you’re still focusing on the “which group does it” side rather than “what’s the in-group likelihood” side. The murder rate in this country is abot 5 per 100,000 per year. Let’s say 90% of murders are committed by christians even though they only make up 80% of the population; that was your first bit of evidence. Then for a million person city, in a year, you’ve got:

                199,999 innocent nonchristans
                799,991 innocent christians.
                1 killer nonchristian
                9 killer christians.

                Likelihood that some nonchristian you’ll meet is a ‘murder time bomb': 0.0005%. Likelihood that some christian you’ll meet is a ‘murder time bomb': 0.001%. If you paint christians as a murder threat, you’re going to be wrong 99.999% of the time.

                And the same is true about christian vs nonchristian scientists going off the deep end or becoming creationist. If you paint christians as a ‘bad scientist’ threat, you’re going to be wrong 99+% of the time. That makes it a bad generalization, because it’s not true more often than not. A lot more often than not.

                If someone made an equally bad generalization about you, wouldn’t you object? If james is your name, you’re probably a guy like me. Do you think it fair if someone says “ahhh, gbjames. Probably will rape someone at some point because the vast majority of rapes are committed by men.” Is that a fair characerization of you? Because that’s what you’re doing here.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                No, Eric, you misunderstand.

                If 10% of the population is atheist and 90% is believer, then if this distinction has no meaning for behavior outcomes you should see the same 10/90 ratio showing up in prisons.

                You should see equivalent levels of criminality in religious and non-religious (relatively speaking) countries.

                You should see equivalent rates of violence in religious and nonreligious (relatively) states in the US.

                These differences exist. They are real evidence.

              • Glen
                Posted February 8, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

                > These differences exist. They are real evidence.

                Oh my goodness! Seriously? You don’t think the higher percentage of poor, uneducated people in prisons might not be the real driver of many of those differences, given that fewer atheists are poor and uneducated? And has it not occurred to you that most prisoners have a strong incentive to declare themselves Christian in order to increase their chances of parole?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 8:14 am | Permalink

                Look, Glen, we all know that correlation is not causation and there is a question of whether less religion results in less social disfunction or if it operates the other way around. Either way these competitive statistics are real evidence.

                And yes, it has occurred to me, and probably most other commenters at WEIT, that there is a motive for prisoners to play up whatever they can to gain early release. So what? If anything that just demonstrates another angle of the religious con game and accounts for the incredibly high rate of social miscreants who end run churches. To say nothing of the entire institution of the Roman Catholic Church. Under the false guise of moral authority asserted by religion all kinds of con men prosper.

              • Glen
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                > there is a question of whether less religion results in less social disfunction or if it operates the other way around.

                It need not be either one. The two examples I gave show that.

                > Either way these competitive statistics are real evidence.

                They are not real evidence supporting your claims, and your use of italics doesn’t change that. You could use essentially the same “evidence” to claim that Blacks as a race are socially disfunctional. You’d be wrong about that too.

                > it has occurred to me, and probably most other commenters at WEIT, that there is a motive for prisoners to play up whatever they can to gain early release. So what?

                So your claim is unsupported by “real evidence”.

                > If anything that just demonstrates another angle of the religious con game and accounts for the incredibly high rate of social miscreants who end run churches.

                So now you’re going to switch over to a new claim without acknowledging that your old one didn’t hold up? How Gish-like of you. I’m not even following what this new claim is. How are you linking prisoners who claim to be (or honestly convert into) Christians with “miscreants who end run churches”? What does it even mean to “end run” a church?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                “End run” is an example of what we call a typo. “End up running.” Thanks for pointing it out.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 9, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

                As for the rest of your comment, I’m afraid I’ve lost track of what your point is, beyond the somewhat rude attempt to tie me to Duane Gish. Apparently you do not recognize that comparing populations in terms of religiosity is a legitimate effort. I presume because it doesn’t look good for highly religious communities. Or something.

              • Glen
                Posted February 12, 2014 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

                Nice. The next time I get my rear end handed to me for making ignorant, bigoted comments about an entire population, I’ll have to remember that trick. Let me try it out: “Umm, gosh, what were we talking about? I seem to have forgotten … even though it’s written in black and white a few inches up.” See, the really tricky part is keeping a straight face.

            • Sastra
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

              I think you’re right to an extent. Theists are not more likely to engage in “bad behavior” in general. Those who are encouraged to commit crimes because they believe that “God forgives everything” are probably balanced out by those who decide to not commit crimes because “God is watching.”

              But there are certain types of ‘bad behavior’ which they have an automatic lock on because its behavior which results ONLY from supernatural assumptions. Killing the infidel, convicting innocent people by using ‘revelations from God,’ and creationism, for example.

              On the other side, we have Christopher Hitchens’ challenge: “Tell me one good thing someone who believes in God could do that an atheist could not do.”

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                Well, yes and no. Yes there are some crimes or bad behavior motivated by religion and only religion. Creationism is probably your best example. But i suspect that a lot of behavior claimed in the name of religion, isn’t. Mideast sexism and polygamy is probably a lot older than 600 AD: Islam didn’t invent it, it adopted a pre-existing cultural more. Pretty much every iron age civilization sent armies to loot other lands: they may claim they did it for God, but the fact that they all did it tells me they’re just giving their religion credit for something they’d do anyways. If you’ve read Pinker’s Better Angels, you’ve read that wars are essentially random; their occurrence can be modeled stochastically. So the amount of times we decide to go off and kill foreigners has really no relation to whether we have a holy book that tells us to kill foreigners.

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

                Creationism isn’t nearly the worst example. I’d consider killing someone for being apostate considerably worse. Similarly, I think that telling people that condom use promotes the spread of HIV is quite a bit worse. I could go on, but I trust you get the point.

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                gbjames – when I said it was Sastra’s best example, I meant ‘clearest example of a behavior linked to religion.’ Not ‘worst behavior.’

            • Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

              There might be some atheists who consider religiosity a behaviour predictor but I would hazard that a far larger population of the planet believes a deity is required for some basis of morality/ethics than not.

              Given the facts gbjames kindly provided re: imprisonment, crime and misogyny and combined with the river of history, it is clear religiosity is not a behaviour predictor of any kind.

              The issue is most cultists consider cults to be reliable indicators of behaviour, not that anyone else does.

              Those cultists who see no just behaviour resulting from faith really don’t explain the purpose of it in any sensible way.

              What’s religiosity for?

              • eric
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

                The issue is most cultists consider cults to be reliable indicators of behaviour, not that anyone else does.

                You’re right that the bias is worse on the other side. I just hate to see us inheriting their bad logic.

                Its like watching someone from your own political party switch opinions on something like “filibustering is bad” simply because their party went from out of power to in-power. It bugs you more when your own folk do it.

            • eric
              Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

              gbjames,
              I understand your point. Do you understand that the ‘ticking time bomb’ generalization is fallacious when only 0.001% of the characterized group is likely to “go off”
              even if some other group “goes off” less often?

              • gbjames
                Posted February 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

                I understand it perfectly well, and many other things, too.

                I do not understand why you think it is relevant here.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Hey, Glen. I’m responding to your most recent post of 2/18 here, because you’d probably never see it otherwise.

      You wrote:

      It seems to me that if what you said were true, and a theist were to reign in the scope of scientific inquiry and ignore the implications of evolution to her religious beliefs, then she really shouldn’t accept it. Those are bad things, right?

      Once she is using an unscientific method to understand the nature of reality, whether she accepts evolution or not won’t depend on the science: ultimately, it will depend on her theology. Theology is a wild card: the whole point is that you DON’T play by rational, scientific rules at some place where you would if you were being rational and scientific.

      Second: I don’t see how a theist who accepts evolution is thereby reigning in the scope of scientific inquiry.

      She isn’t applying scientific inquiry on her religious beliefs. If she did, she’d lose them. That’s why she isn’t.

      Third: I don’t see why either you or Jerry think you know what is contrary to a particular theist’s religious beliefs better than does that particular theist.

      See above.

      Fourth: The reasoning I’ve seen in support of the claim that evolution runs contrary to Christianity, is poor.

      This depends on what sort of “conflict” you’re talking about. There are different levels. For example, someone’s decision to use homeopathy for only minor problems will not ‘conflict’ with their decision to accept science and use mainstream medicine for everything … till you start digging into that.

      They believe that God started evolution, and some of them believe God subtly tweeks evolutionary outcomes from time to time. There is nothing in what you’ve said, or in what Jerry has said, to disprove either of those beliefs.

      Those beliefs are ‘disproven’ well enough if you’re going to approach them as rational hypotheses and consider the implications of a bottom-up explanation of complexity and minds.

      But yes — nothing disproves faith. That’s the problem. “Trying to keep their religion” is not a laudable goal and justification, any more than atheists refusing to consider good reasons to reject evolution or believe in God because we are “trying to keep our atheism” would be a fine excuse.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        Correction:

        For example, someone’s decision to use homeopathy for only minor problems will not ‘conflict’ with their decision to accept science and use mainstream medicine for everything else … till you start digging into that.

        • Glen
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

          > Once she is using an unscientific method to understand the nature of reality, whether she accepts evolution or not won’t depend on the science

          That’s true for someone willing to make faith-based claims that run contrary to the evidence, such as most Creationists. It’s not true for someone who only makes faith-based claims that don’t run contrary to the evidence, such as most theistic evolutionists.

          > She isn’t applying scientific inquiry on her religious beliefs. If she did, she’d lose them.

          Normally, to say a person is “reining in the scope of scientific inquiry,” means that she’s reining in other people’s scope of scientific inquiry. So for instance, George W Bush reined in the scope of scientific inquiry with his restrictions on stem cell research. That’s not applicable here. A person can and should be able to rein in her own scope of inquiry however she wants. By having children, for instance.

          > See above.

          Not finding it there.

          Let me give you an example:

          Jerry: “And if Adam and Eve didn’t exist, and didn’t sin, then what’s the point of Jesus; indeed, what’s the point of Christianity?”

          Theistic Evolutionist: Adam and Eve did exist. They were our common ancestors, and the first humans with souls. But there were unsoulled “humans” around that predated Adam and Eve.

          Jerry: You don’t believe that. The Bible says Adam and Eve were the first humans. Also, science doesn’t support the idea of a soul.

          TE: You are not in a position to be telling me what I believe. Paul defines humans as combinations of bodies and souls (1 Cor 15:45), so Adam and Eve were the first true humans. But there must have been other unsoulled “humans” around, because the evidence shows we are related to other apes. Also because Cain married someone (Gen 4:17), and the Bible doesn’t mention any daughters of Adam and Eve until after Seth was born (Gen 5:4) (which was after Cain got married).

          TE: And as for science not supporting souls: if you can show me evidence that disproves them, I’ll accept it. Otherwise I will continue to believe in them whether science affirmatively supports them or not.

          Now then, while that is far from a scientific outlook, are you really going to tell me it’s as damaging or demonstrably wrong as Creationism? Personally, I’ve met plenty of atheists who were more unreasonable that that (about issues other than the existence of gods). I spoke at length with one who thought we should get rid of all statutory laws and just use the English common law system. If a company was polluting a lake, you’d have to get a bunch of people together, pool your resources to sue the company, try to demonstrate that the pollution damaged you all personally, and collect the relatively small compensation you’d get for the direct damage if, beyond all reasonable expectations, you actually managed to beat the company’s high-powered attorneys and win. Completely ridiculous. People can be idiots; and atheists are people.

  37. Dawn Oz
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    This is one joke talking about another – however has to be seen.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/02/05/pat-robertson-implores-creationist-ken-ham-to-shut-up-lets-not-make-a-joke-of-ourselves/

  38. Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    ‘I have a Book for that’ Ham of “Answers In Genesis” should study Genesis more. There are TWO creation stories, which totally contradict each other…
    Adam created from dust, then Eve made from Adam’s rib, because he was lonely…
    Adam & Eve created same time!

  39. markmevans
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    Determining whether dogma is compatible with reality is best left to sophisticated theologians. Scientists have better things to do.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      What does that mean? Are you suggesting that scientists STFU about the incompatibility of science and religion?

      • markmevans
        Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

        No, that’s not what I meant but I can see how you could think that. It was late and I did not word that well.

        If science disapproves of bit of dogma or the entire foundation of a religion, it’s not the scientist job to lie about that. That’s what “sophisticated theologians” are for. I think it is the scientist’s job to tell the truth, and a great example of that is Sean Carroll’s lecture “God is not a good theory.”

        • gbjames
          Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for clarifying.

  40. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    [Added before posting: Thanks for the thread making the astrology-creationism point for me. Creationism is way more erroneous than astrology, and Plait is an astronomer for sky's sake!]

    It boils down to that 1) Plait doesn’t know that accommodationism works, and 2) the rise in secularism and atheism in US happened after the 90-ish debates but before the rise of the Four Horsemen of atheism.

    What we can clearly state on the available evidence is that:
    – atheism isn’t harmful and likely helpful
    – accommodationism isn’t helpful and likely harmful.

    But I would never claim that accommodationism as such is “false”. (Outside of making some anti-factual theological claims such as NOMA, which Plait used to espouse IIRC but now seems to have abandoned, or Plait’s “false assumption”.) I would support people’s right to choose it, and my right to tell them they are likely harming science and education.

    And this[!]:

    Religious people who understand the reality of science. … honesty …

    Vile, and parked all the way inside the asylum.

    I won’t say that religious per definition doesn’t understand science, but as they don’t apply critical skepticism to the religious area they are definitely misunderstanding the essence of science and its use. It is not a test of “scientists”, it is a fact of science.

    Moreover, the honest thing is to look facts in the face and above all accept the religious on their own terms – if they have problems with science, it is dishonest to claim that they are wrong.

    ****

    Ignoring the theological and social claims Plait is erroneous on the astrobiology too, which he as astronomer should strive to rectify:

    Whether you think life originated out of ever-more complex chemical reactions occurring on an ancient Earth, or was breathed into existence by God, evolution would take over after that moment.

    Evolution is pervasive, from chemical evolution to likely lamarckian evolution to darwinian evolution. The last two are biological, and the switch between chemical to, it is presumed in some pathways, lamarckian evolution happened during a stage that some now call “almost life”. This is the stage that Plait describes as “ever-more complex chemical reactions”.

    For example, this is how Russell et al describes their alkaline hydrothermal theory. The hydrothermal system’s inorganic (at first) protocells acquire individual traits over time, both beneficial and harmful. Selection, a darwinian evolution mechanism, would then possibly kick in before heredity is localized to a genome. And moreover, Lane et al describes this as having phylogenetic character (with homologies), another characteristic of evolution at large.

    The correct claim would be, I think, that evolution is independent on abiogenesis in the same way that general relativity is independent on baryogenesis. But that parts of abiogenesis are due to evolution and parts of baryogenesis are due to relativity (dynamic phase changes were traveling at the universal speed limit, resulting in a required non-equilibrium).

  41. SFaccountant
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I find the argument that science and religion are fundamentally opposed enormously unhelpful on its own, but the way it’s presented here is especially counter-productive.
    To insist that the acceptance of scientific principles fundamentally opposes religion is to take up scientific consensus as a weapon in a much wider ideological battle between atheism and organized religion.
    This is a mistake first and foremost because it reduces science to an ideology. You’ve gathered those that believe in scientific consensus into an “us” camp, and labeled those the religious creationists as “them”, your enemy. What’s worse, you’ve even undermined the legitimacy of people who accept evolution but still accept their religion or don’t think it’s necessary to abandon faith to accept science.
    Science is not an ideology. It is a set of ideas tested by experimentation and established with evidence. Everything asserted by scientific study – if it’s correct – can be independently verified. But here it’s presented as just another “side” to be taken against an opposition. It’s especially telling with the way you even have labels for individuals who don’t share sufficient devotion to your cause: “accomodationist”.
    How can you expect to advance the cause of scientific acceptance this way? If you come to people and tell them to choose between religion and science, far too many are going to choose religion. Religion is a part of people. They identify much more with preachers than scientists. Maybe you’re okay with that, but it’s absurd to make opponents of so many people who would otherwise be perfectly willing to accept scientific evidence if you didn’t insist that God isn’t real.
    To summarize, I agree fully with Plait, and believe your view of Creationists and religion in general is uselessly confrontational and divisive.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Your concern is noted.

      Otherwise, bull pucky.

      The fact that science and religion are incompatible is not made in service of ideology. It is stated as the conclusion you must arrive at when you understand that the “good” of one is “bad” to the other.

      To religion, faith is a virtue. To science faith is a vice. To Religion, revelation is considered legitimate for explanation. Science rejects revelation as explanation and demands evidence that is accessible to whoever bothers to look.

    • Posted February 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      To insist that the acceptance of scientific principles fundamentally opposes religion is to take up scientific consensus as a weapon in a much wider ideological battle between atheism and organized religion.

      This may be true, but it’s a battle that the religionists started — and that they’re losing, badly.

      The fundamental dispute is over the value of faith. Religion is nothing without faith; faith is anathema to science.

      Faith is also the one element key to confidence scams. You wouldn’t buy an used car on faith, and none of us have trouble ridiculing (even if gently) those who do with the inevitable consequences. Yet those who buy an entire religion on faith we’re supposed to praise?

      Hell, no!

      Cheers,

      b&

  42. Posted February 9, 2014 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    I think Coyne is right. In the end the conclusions of evolutionary biology are simply incompatible with faith claims and not only scriptoral claims or the claims of literalists.

    I think at the heart of the incompatibility is not only that evolution gives a materialistic and naturalistic explanation for the diversity of species but I think there is something even more fundamental at the heart of the incompatibility.

    And that is the idea of creation itself. Darwin’s most revolutionary idea was to explain how diversity emerged from simplicity not from complexity and this, this idea of simplicity leading to complexity is simply incompatible with the idea of a top down creator at any level.

    Because at the heart of all religiout theology is the assumption that the wonder of the world, the wonder and mystery of life must have a creator. For centuries the natural world itself was the most compelling argument for god. Because there it was, in all its splendor. The religious could quite reasonably point to the diversity and beauty all around us and say “see, its here, its real, it had to have come from somewhere and most crucially, it had to have been made by someone.

    Darwin, at a stroke, destroyed that argument. He destroyed the idea that complexity required a more complex force to create it and in doing so he destroyed god and the best justification for belief in god. He showed, that life does not require complexity at all but could, from very simple principles, arise from simplicity into the enormous diversity, beauty and complexity around us.

    This is why natural selection was the most dangerous idea in the world and “the best idea anyone ever had. This is why the religious resist it.

  43. Posted March 2, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    “Evolution just happens to be the one branch of science whose implications are sufficiently antireligious to inspire direct, persistent, and vociferous opposition.”

    “The one”? Not at all. Astronomy is inimical to a religion that – if you read what it actually says – holds that God lives on top of the sky in heaven. It’s just that the religious lost that fight long ago.

    Another serious fight is over the science of the brain. Science is up against not just the religious, but every stripe of dualist, idealist and mystic.

    Evolution is just the battle peculiar to the ignorant swathe of the USA called the ‘bible belt’.


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  1. […] Coyne provides a sound critique of Phil Plait in Debate postmortem II: Phil Plait goes all accommodationist « Why Evolution Is True. I would, however, like to expand on his […]

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