Fulsome accommodationism at the AAAS meeting

This video really makes me queasy, for it’s made and partially funded by America’s largest association of scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS. And that organization has an official program to reconcile science and religion, the “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion,” also called the DoSER program (information here). DoSER is an example of the Templeton Foundation putting its sticky fingers into science; for Templeton started DoSER in 1996 with a 5.3 million dollar grant (!) that ends this month (and I’d bet money it’ll be renewed).

Here’s DoSER’s mission, as quoted on the Templeton site:

These grants established the AAAS program, Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER), and provide support for its ongoing infrastructure costs. DoSER engages the public on a range of questions in science and religion, including evolution, cosmology, astrobiology, and human evolution. The program seeks to establish stronger relationships between the scientific and religious communities and promotes multidisciplinary education and scholarship on the ethical and religious implications of advancements in science and technology.

I wonder how many AAAS members even know—or would approve if they knew—about the DoSER program. It is, in effect, a theological enterprise of a scientific organization, one devoted to telling the faithful that there’s no conflict between their beliefs and science—including evolution.

The head of DoSer is Jennifer Wiseman, who appears in this video along with a younger interlocutor whose name I can’t find (correct me if you find it). Wiseman is a Christian astronomer and head of the American Scientific Affiliation, a group of Christian scientists. The Test of FAITH website says this about her, though I don’t think she’s still president of the ASA:

 [Wiseman] is also the current Council President of the American Scientific Affiliation, and she enjoys speaking to student and church groups on the excitement of seeing God’s beauty and creativity in nature.

So here, filmed during last week’s AAAS meeting in Chicago, is Wiseman and her colleague promoting accommodation by interviewing Galen Carey from the National Association of Evangelicals, as well our old friend sociologist Elaine Eckland of Rice University, who has been funded by five Templeton grants and who has used her Templeton money to show that science and religion are perfectly compatible. She likes to take her survey data and twist it to show that scientists are far more friendly to religion than people think, and vice versa.

Most of the discussion in the video below is about Ecklund’s recent survey of the beliefs of scientists and religionists.

So what happens when you get a Templeton-funded Christian scientist interviewing a Templeton-funded sociologist on the question of whether science and religion can coexist? Guess! It’s a regular love-fest, with the answer not even remotely in dispute from the outset.

The AAAS site is Live Chat: Can science and religion coexist?, and the nearly hour-long video “chat” is embedded below. Watch it if you dare. I did watch the whole thing and nearly required insulin for the excessive sweetness and light. If you make it through the whole thing I will congratulate you. I do hope, however, that at least some of my fellow scientists find this AAAS endorsement of accommodationism (with an evangelical Christian chiming in, for crying out loud!) repugnant:

Here are a few highlights, if you can call them that:

12:00: The mission of this conversation is explicitly accommodationist, as Ecklund notes that her work is aimed at trying not to alienate religious people who want to go into science. She also mentions darkly the “implications for the funding of science” (i.e., don’t alienate religious legislators). Carey notes that religion can enhance the science-religion dialogue by adding “voices that bring a moral sensibility to the conversation.” (As if the faithful were more moral than scientists!)

Wiseman adds that accommodationism helps us retain science talent that would be otherwise alienated by science’s “overreaching into areas that science isn’t equipped to address”. The alienation of the faithful is, apparently, muddled by misperceptions that scientists have about the faithful, and vice versa. In other words, Ecklund, Wiseman et al. “want to make sure that we can move as much as we can away from misperceptions so we can have more honest dialogue.” There’s a lot of this fluffy talk throughout the conversation.

Carey, when asked, then defines evangelicals as those who take the Bible seriously, trust in Jesus as saviour and lord, focus on Bible as an authority for living, and try to discover how they have a personal relationship with Jesus. What is this doing in an AAAS-sponsored conservation?

17:20: The discussion turns to what science and religion have in common. What can bring them together? Ecklund notes that both show a “concern for diversity in American society” (e.g., fair gender representation),  as well as a desire to increasing the diversity of science by bringing in more religious people. Ecklund’s agenda, and that of DoSER, becomes manifestly clear here.

25:00: Carey says we shouldn’t ask scientists to provide data on “spiritual realities”, even though “Spiritual reality is there, but has to be approached with different methods and tools.” This is an explicit admission of a disparity, and a serious one, between science and religion. Carey admits that religion is looking for reality, but using tools different from those employed by science. Those tools, of course, are revelation and dogma—completely useless for finding any kind of relity.

29:30: Ecklund notes that, among Evangelicals, 42% favor teaching creationism instead of evolution, but the figure is only 13% for mainline Christians. That’s certainly a conflict! But of course she qualifies the figure by saying that evangelicals support science as much as does the general population. She is, in other words, getting around data that she doesn’t like. Notice how Ecklund nods along in agreement with what the evangelical Carey says. Good feelings and brotherhood all around!

33:30: Carey makes the outrageous claim that religion, like science, tests its claims every day, differing from science only in which tools are used for the testing. Right: empirical observation and reason versus revelation and authority.

Ecklund then promotes initiatives from the AAAS asking for more “collaboration” and “creative dialogue” for the sake of “everyone’s good”. The AAAS should try to get religious people together with scientists and “talk through the issues.” (It’s not clear to me what such a dialogue will really accomplish.) Once real agreement on some issues is established, then, says Ecklund “we can go forward with some of the much harder issues”. Like trying to get creationists to accept evolution?

37:15: Wiseman notes that religion can address questions that science can’t. Indeed, say I, but “addressing” questions is not the same as answering them.  She also implies that scientists aren’t really that good about interacting well with the public, and that scientists need to “be more communicative about their lives as a whole.”

45:30: The participants discuss how a religion-science dialogue can “help the planet.” Science is supposed to “provide the information,” but people “are the portal for that information, and “many people are religious”. That’s a pretty tenuous form of collaboration, cooked up to show false comity. I suppose the dialogue here is aimed at finding common ground between religious people and scientists so they can collaborate in matters of common interest. But I think they already are doing that (e.g., promoting environmental conservation), and further dialogue isn’t going to help matters much. Moreover, that dialogue, to me, merely gives credibility to magical thinking—the elephant in the room that is totally ignored in this conversation. 

Near the end, someone mentions that a collaboration between science and religion will help bring out the “broader context of scientific discoveries” because “religious communities are better at that”. That’s a base canard, for secular humanists and philosophers are also good at that. Why not foster a dialogue between philosophers and science instead? After all, most philosophers don’t believe in magical thinking.

The whole aspect missing in this “dialogue” is the recognition that science is more than just what professional scientists do for a living. It’s also a way of thinking about the world. And that way of thinking is in complete opposition to the way that people like Carey think about the world, at least about the world’s “realities.”

In the end, I’m still baffled by these repeated calls for “dialogue” between scientists and religious folks. These calls never come from secular scientists, but from religious people or religious scientists.

I don’t see the point of such a dialogue, or an attempt (costing millions of dollars) to find “common ground.” Like Steven Weinberg, I believe in a dialogue, but not a constructive one. I believe in a dialogue in which scientists undermine the habits of magical thinking and the reliance on faith. As for the faithful, I don’t think they have one iota to contribute to science.

86 Comments

  1. Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Why on Earth does the American Association for the Advancement of Science feel that it’s remit extends to promoting a “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion”?

    A dialogue on science and ethics would be just fine. If anyone wants to bring their religious baggage along on the ethics side, so be it. But to encourage that?

    /@

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      PS. But I’m reminded of the remark attributed to Sir John Gielgud when challenged on his taking part in Calligula: “There was no mention of the sex and violence when I read the original pay check.”

      • lisa parker
        Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        Always loved that guy!

    • eric
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      AAAS has science education and outreach as an explicit part of their mission, and they regularly address social and government policy issues (moreso than organizations like ACS or APS).

      So IMO its not surprising to me that they would address the topic of creationism and related subjects. Though I am surprised they come down so one-sided on the issue of accommodationism.

      • GM
        Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Why are you surprised?

        Name one organization of that caliber or bigger that does not kowtow to religion? I can’t think of any.

        Also, name me one supposedly scientific organization that defines science properly, as a method for understanding the world around us rather than a collection of fields of research? Once again, I can’t think of any, let alone someone officially coming out and declaring that science is the only valid (as in proven to work in practice) set of epistemological practices we have and therefore it should have priority in all decision making in all areas.

        Nobody ever dares say anything of that nature, because:

        1) They don’t understand it themselves – there is a strong element of self-selection that results in the unfortunate situation that the people who do have the intellectual curiosity and ability to figure these things out are generally not the people who end up running these organizations and determining their policies

        2) Even when 1) is not the case, the political reality of having to secure funding ensures that people are scared to speak against religion and they adopt accommodationist positions, and that’s when they are not directly bought, like it seems to be the case here.

        • lisa parker
          Posted February 21, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

          Only one comment. The USA is supposed to be a government “of, by and for” its citizens (yes, I know, it is ‘a process.) Most Americans have some religious beliefs. Even though it is written that no religion is to be favored or privileged or even more noticed, not even the absence of religion, people vote the way their unconscious demands them. At this time you will not ever find a viable politician denounce religion all together. Added to the fact that the loudest and most radical groups make themselves heard and garner the votes, their representation is large. The US is still a young nation going through to turbulent adolescent stage. Given time and patience, we’ll grow up nicely. I hope.

          • GM
            Posted February 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

            A system “of, by and for the citizens” only works if the citizens are sufficiently educated and knowledgeable to be able to make good decisions about their future.

            Unfortunately, the places and times in history where the population has met these criteria have been incredibly rare exceptions. Which makes that not a very good system. And before you accuse me of totalitarian tendencies, let me point out that even more unfortunately, the so called elites rarely meet these criteria either.

          • Posted February 22, 2014 at 1:37 am | Permalink

            “All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate which would be oppression.”

            • lisa parker
              Posted February 24, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

              All that you say is truth, it is just not easy to get people to do it. Someday, I hope

  2. The Militant One
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    They’re just trying to encourage more delusionals to enter scientific fields so as to sabotage from within as “credentialed scientists”.

    • tubby
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      And perhaps a kind of ‘controlling interest’ that looks a bit less heavy handed than it does just through controlling funding.

  3. Scientifik
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    AAAS = the American Association for the Advancement of Superstition?

  4. Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Ngaaaak…thanks for watching this for us, because it was painful enough just reading the summary. I don’t know that I could watch the actual thing without repeatedly attempting to dive head-first through the tile floor in the kitchen.

    b&

  5. H.H.
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    In the end, I’m still baffled by these repeated calls for “dialogue” between scientists and religious folks.

    Especially since whenever the faithful are given an opportunity to actually discuss these issues, they don’t have any new to say. Eckland doesn’t really want a “dialogue” between science and religion, she wants a truce between the two with actual discussion stifled.

  6. Kiwi Dave
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    What does ‘support science’ mean? I get the impression from internet comments that earnest believers support True Science only, unlike that nasty untrue science with which evilutionists indoctrinate innocent youth.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      I can only attest for one commonly use ddefinition of ‘support science’. That might be with regard to how a company/organization structures its R&D efforts. And each example I could give is different.

      An energy company might need better dielectrics to coat pipes for longevity or for compatible use with future exotic telecommunication uses. The effort within that company builds or contracts out for ‘support science’, i.e., not their main mission, but helping them stay cutting edge.

      Another example. Longevity of products. You build cars but you might want to know how long a specific polymer will last for a given UV exposure. It might be a small part of the industry and so it gets cast into ‘support science’. Managerially this can make companies more efficient, and sometimes the ‘support science’ can develop its own market…but that is another story.

      • Kiwi Dave
        Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for your definition and clear examples. Whether respondents to the questionnaire have thought as clearly about the term in the same way, or much more vaguely as I would have, could be another story.

  7. Kevin
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Most scientist readily admit that science fiction has, to some degree, played a role in shaping their motivations and possibly even ideas about how to develop an experiment, a real experiment. It is fair to have conversations about these connections, but prudent scientists know that anti-gravity machines, light sabers, Ironman suits, transporter beams are not real. There is no pretending (at least for most) but it can be useful to delineate how such imaginary technologies could work. But religion…

    Religion has nothing to offer science. Aesthetically unpleasant and peremptorily fixed…these properties are orthogonal to science. When will these people go home and realize that the worst science fiction movie ever is better than the sum of all organized religions.

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      I thought the worst science fiction movie ever is a work of organized religion?

      b&

      • Kevin
        Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        It is embarrassing to have not remembered that one. Alas, on a scale 1-10, Battlefield still got a 2 from me. I liked the tongue.

        • colnago80
          Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          It got a composite 2.4 over at IMDB, a positively awful rating. In the neighborhood of the productions of Ed Wood.

          • Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            To be honest, I haven’t actually seen it. I just might have to go looking for a torrent, only to see how truly awful it actually is.

            b&

      • jay
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        I was expecting that link to land on Plan 9, (which was partially funded by the Baptists). But that film is so much fun.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 24, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

          That was a bad movie but I have to say that Prometheus was even worse because it was made up of bad scientists and bad teams!

  8. Posted February 21, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    “I wonder how many AAAS members even know—or would approve if they knew—about the DoSER program. ”
    I will speculate that either they generally do not know, or they do not care enough to disapprove. As is often described here, a goodly % of scientists are either religious or spiritual, and so I expect they would take an accommodationist stance if pressed to decide how they feel about this matter.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Knowing that their funding comes from the public, a huge chunk of which is pretty religious, I suspect that many scientists would be relieved that someone at AAAS is talking to religious people just so they don’t have to. They might see it as a reasonable tradeoff to spend resources and and some of the prestige of the AAAS on this endeavor if it keeps religious people mollified so that they can get on with their research.

  9. eric
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Wiseman adds that accommodationism helps us retain science talent that would be otherwise alienated by science’s “overreaching into areas that science isn’t equipped to address”.

    Before adopting a solution, shouldn’t we check that there’s actually a problem? How about we figure out whether good quality scientists are leaving science because there’s not enough God in it, before we institute theological outreach programs to stop them from leaving?

    My guess is that there is no significant loss here to fix. People may leave science for reasons of lack of employment or poor pay or poor benefits. They may leave for personal reasons. And some unlucky or less competent scientists may leave if they can’t sustain grant funding. But I am highly skeptical that there is any significant number of scientists that pass all of those hurdles, then leave because they feel religiously alienated due to their colleagues not expressing the opinion that a belief in god is compatible with science. In my workplace experience, no such conversation is even sought, and everyone stays pretty happy when such conversations never even take place.

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I too would not be surprised if there is no problem to fix. So the reason for this ridiculous part of AAAS is (a) It exists for its own purpose. It serves no greater good, except to provide salaries for some Templetonians to run it. (b) Its presence provides a small reason to convince right wing republicans that not all scientists are godless atheists. So maybe they can be supported through taxpayer dollars. Maybe.

    • GM
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      There is no loss at all, in fact I would argue for the opposite

      1) We already have more qualified people than there are jobs for, given the clear trend of long-term contraction of the scientific enterprise

      2) There are all the reasons to think that people raised in a deeply religious environment are on average significantly less prepared for a career in science. It takes complete lack of understanding of how a scientist is developed to claim otherwise – of course there are many exceptions, but it is not at all true that once you enter college, you can be molded into an expert and then function at a high level in any research area. What you learned and what ideas you were exposed to in your early years is crucial for your later intellectual development.

      3) Thinking that faith is a virtue goes against the very core of the scientific practice. Sure, if you forget about it once you enter the lab, there will be no problem, but it’s far better not to have to rely on people being able to compartmentalize in their head. If I write a paper in which I did not bother to do any experiments supporting my claims, it would be at best ridiculed, and at worst, it would be research misconduct. There have in fact been such cases – people who got busted for research misconduct because they were so certain they were right that they did not bother doing the experiments. That’s what faith as an epsitemological approach does to science.

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

      I’m revising your post to reflect outreach to a slightly different demographic

      Before adopting a solution, shouldn’t we check that there’s actually a problem? How about we figure out whether good quality female scientists are leaving science because the atmosphere is too chilly, before we institute outreach programs to stop them from leaving?

      My guess is that there is no significant loss here to fix. Women may leave science for reasons of lack of employment or poor pay or poor benefits. They may leave for personal reasons. And some unlucky or less competent scientists may leave if they can’t sustain grant funding. But I am highly skeptical that there is any significant number of women scientists that pass all of those hurdles, then leave because they feel alienated due to their colleagues not expressing the opinion that a being a women is compatible with being a scientist. In my workplace experience, no such conversation is even sought, and everyone stays pretty happy when such conversations never even take place.

      Hmmm….this starts to sound familiar. How do you suppose it would work to disparage outreach efforts to people of color?

  10. frank43
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Yawn. Given that there is an increasing intrusion of religion into the public and political spheres, and that science as an enterprise depends almost entirely on government funding, it’s inevitable. I’m not saying that it’s ideal, just inevitable.

    Imagine if you will, the majority of the AAAS membership being Fabian Socialists. Would there be a “Dialogue on Science, Capitalism, and Economics”? Hell yes. Because we don’t pay our own bills.

    • Sastra
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      So if something is only to be expected, does that mean it can’t be challenged? Or shouldn’t be?

      “The inevitable” does not mean there can be no progress, or that it’s pointless to work for any.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I do not know about inevitable. But there is still dishonor among scientist for one us to come out say, “I am an atheist and religion has no role in science.” Luckily there is beginning to be some dishonor for scientists to come out and say, “I am a Christian and religion can be part of science.” A forced hope rather than an empirical claim.

      On the whole, more of these kinds of dialogues are being critically looked at. It is what is happening on the sidelines, over dinners, at the bar, or catting on the swimming pool deck. People will slowly talk with one another and see that religion and science are incompatible.

      • Anton
        Posted February 22, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

        “People will slowly talk with one another and see that religion and science are incompatible.”

        My concern is that this will not occur if the Ecklund’s of the world continue working to expand the definition of scientist and, thereby, science, to include physicians, dentists, engineers, etc. Why not include auto mechanics, since they also use the findings of science in their work? Is there anyone who doesn’t?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      “Yawn … not saying it’s ideal”.

      Notably science can’t be so blasé about effects.

      But really, this is actively encouraging creationists of some kind or other, the same groups that tries to counteract science.

      “inevitable”.

      It doesn’t need to be. The US constitution puts watertight walls between secular and religious areas of society, despite that religious people help fund the government.

      Actually, I would think that the constitution already was protecting both the political and the government funded science and education against this very intrusion!?

  11. Sastra
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    The discussion turns to what science and religion have in common. What can bring them together? Ecklund notes that both show a “concern for diversity in American society” (e.g., fair gender representation), as well as a desire to increasing the diversity of science by bringing in more religious people.

    I did not watch the video, but that reference to “diversity in American society” sounds to me like a common tactic used for protecting religious beliefs from scientific or rational criticism. Switch out the belief (which is a fact claim) for the believer — and then emphasize that this is their personal identity. It’s who they are.

    Now theology gets to hide in among race, sex, national origin, and other variations of a society which welcomes and accepts “all people.” Criticism is rude at best, and is interpreted as bigotry.

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      I’m actually a bit worried for Sean in tonight’s debate that he might pull some much-needed punches for fear of being perceived bigoted in that exact light.

      b&

    • Kevin
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Over-representation and emotional and irrational protection are what religion gets. That is not diversity, it is epistemological totalitarianism.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Nothing makes me think of a concern for “diversity in America” more than the word “Christian”.

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 23, 2014 at 5:11 am | Permalink

      “…that reference to “diversity in American society” sounds to me like a common tactic used for protecting religious beliefs from scientific or rational criticism. Switch out the belief (which is a fact claim) for the believer — and then emphasize that this is their personal identity. It’s who they are.”

      I agree. It’s a dishonest tactic because it confuses two issue: whether religious people can do science (they can) and whether their religious beliefs are compatible with science (they aren’t). In fact, tying their emotions and identities to those beliefs – such that rebuttal is interpreted as bigotry – pretty much indicates that they have already disqualified themselves from honest discussion, and I have no sympathy for it.

  12. Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I had a repellent thought that I could not resist sharing b/c I am, well, evil.
    What if the above ‘chat’ was used to build a new segment on religion and science by NPR? Imagine the rainbows and unicorns and pink, fluffy clouds spewing out of your radio.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      Don’t you mean “when”? As the sun rises, so this will happen.

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    AAAS is simply encouraging resistance against evolution by encouraging creationists of any kind, including ‘evolutionary’ creationists. ‘Evolutionary’ creationism and accommodationism are both examples of the pseudoscience of the type Feynman called cargo cult science:

    So we really ought to look into theories that don’t work, and science that isn’t science.

    I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

    Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they’re missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school–we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.”

    [ http://neurotheory.columbia.edu/~ken/cargo_cult.html ; my bold.]

    E.g. ‘evolutionary’ creationism doesn’t put down that the mechanisms of evolution disagree with magic action, and accommodationism doesn’t put down that religion outside of Sophisticated Theology™ – i.e. religion in practice – disagree with science results.

    whether science and religion can coexist

    I don’t think scientific societies should support evidence-free claims or theological claims, and of course NOMA is both.

    It isn’t just that it accepts unscientific procedure, it drags science down to the level of sectarian society.

    Wiseman notes that religion can address questions that science can’t. Indeed, say I, but “addressing” questions is not the same as answering them.

    Isn’t this simply a repeat of NOMA? I’m at a loss to find an example. Even internal questions of religious myths are answered by science. (E.g. they are precisely myths.)

  14. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    “don’t alienate religious legislators” – yikes. Time for atheists to start coming out now more than ever!

  15. Anton
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I think lumping physicians and engineers in with scientists is disingenuous. While these folks may use the findings of science in their work they are not usually the ones generating those findings, and I know many who are young earth creationists. In addition, I cannot believe that Ecklund could not predict the effect that inclusion of these groups would have on the outcomes of this study relative to others. In short, I think the collection and analysis of the data is flawed, as are the conclusions drawn from it. And I am losing respect for the AAAS, which seems to condone it.

  16. Tony Rahilly
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    I must be rather simple for I do not understand how it is possible to reconcile religion with science when religion is not reconciled within itself!

    The religions of the book do not agree on matters of faith or morals and within each there are significant doctrinal differences, never mind looking at Hinduism, Jainism or others.

    There is only one science, not Christian physics, Islamic cosmology, Indian geology, or Celtic thermodynamics (though there may be much heat). There are a great many religious beliefs differing in fundamental ways.

    It boggles my mind that the AAAS has gone this route. Or maybe not, just follow the money.

  17. lisa parker
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, I tried. Couldn’t handle it for too long, mostly because the speakers put me to sleep pretty quickly. But just to make my stand, that little candle out in the blowing wind (and these debates really create a lot of wind; wonder how that effects climate change?) But back to the topic at hand. For the most part, I believe most credible scientific consensus on most subjects (I have some problems with established beliefs in the settlement of the Western Hemisphere and a few other things like that. Be all that as it may, I have no irreconcilable differences with my scientific knowledge and beliefs and my religious beliefs. But it is getting to be somewhat boring argument.

    • Posted February 21, 2014 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      What *are* your religious beliefs?

      /@

      • lisa parker
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        I believe there is a Creator, Source, Great Spirit, call it what you wish. I have two reasons; the least important one is the fact that humans have always believed in something greater than themselves; no civilization has ever developed without some kind of religion. I also think that this apparent need has been used, abused and manipulated almost from the beginning by people hungry for wealth and power. Most humans don’t handle power at all well.

        The second reason is that I do not see how the “Big Bang” banged without a ‘fuse’; I have never heard of anything remotely like this “something (or everything) from nothing” ever happening in any degree at any other time. If there is one, I would very much like to know about it.

        I don’t believe in the God of any organized religion; I do not believe that this God can be fully understood by humans at this time. In almost every instance, you do not find a ‘creator’ inside his work (no bakers in cakes, vintners in wine, engineers in buildings, etc.) At least not literally. A being that could create what we have would most likely be outside of our universe and so not hindered by its laws and not bound by our concept of time. (which doubtfully exists anywhere exactly as it does here; it is intrinsically a part of our universe, our space/time.) Being outside of our universe makes it impossible for us to study it or find any evidence that this God exists.
        I believe that such a creator set up our world to unfold according to Its plan. We cannot conceive of such an existence so far beyond us and unconstrained by time or any physical laws we find. Think of it like a really, really complex Rube Goldberg device. It will unfold according to plan. Our job is to be the best we can be, to try and understand our universe and take care of it and each other. And I don’t think God plays favorites.

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          The second reason is that I do not see how the Big Bang banged without a fuse; I have never heard of anything remotely like this something (or everything) from nothing ever happening in any degree at any other time.

          Then you owe it to yourself to get up to speed, pronto, on both quantum and relativistic mechanics. Especially the former; most generally known is that there’s nothing that causes an atom of a radioactive isotope to spontaneously decay, but more relevant is that the vacuum is seething with “virtual” particles that pop into and vanish from existence, again without cause. And sometimes they hang around long enough to be significant; see the Casimir effect for how we know this bizarre speculation is actually real.

          When you’ve got your basic handle on that, you’re then ready to realize that the Big Bang was both a quantum-scale and relativistic-scale event, with nothing classical about it. Your ordinary everyday intuitions are as inadequate to explaining it as a street map is at predicting Mercury’s orbit. And what we do know, without question, about the physics applicable to the Big Bang is that conventional notions of causality are even less relevant than bicycles are to fish.

          Cheers

          b&

        • Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          In short:

          1. Argument from popularity. 2. Argument from incredulity.

          That aside, your third para. is quite a nice exposition of deism: “(no bakers in cakes, vintners in wine, engineers in buildings, etc.)”

          (Although there are still arguments against such a deity.)

          But if it is impossible to study such a deity, what is the source of your belief that such a creator set up our world to unfold according to Its plan? How would (does?) a deistic universe look different from a wholly naturalistic universe?

          And how do you know we have a job? How would you know that we are not just an incidental accident, an inconsequential epiphenomenon, in some greater plan? As Feynman said, “The stage is too big for the drama.”

          /@

          • lisa parker
            Posted February 27, 2014 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

            1. Not an argument from popularity or incredulity, just an inquiry into how/why physical makeup and evolution drives belief systems.

            2. Even if there were a way to ‘study’ said deity, the limits of our understanding would most likely make it pointless. A creator capable of setting up our world is beyond us. And I have no idea how a deistic universe would differ from a wholly naturalistic or any other universe; I have a very limited understanding of the one we have. But a large group of various scientists posit the likelihood of more than one universe. And the source of my belief is that we and our universe exist.

            3. And how do I know we have a job? How would I know that we are not just an incidental accident, an inconsequential epiphenomenon, in some greater plan? I know this because of personal experience; one I cannot prove and have no inclination to try. But it is something I know to be true.

            • Posted February 27, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

              Even if there were a way to study said deity, the limits of our understanding would most likely make it pointless.

              Pointless? Why on Earth should that be?

              As a professional musician, I can assure you that there has never been a single perfect performance ever in the entire history of humanity. Every single performance has always had room for improvement, no matter how slight. A perfect example for trumpeters is a Mozart symphony; you won’t find easier, simpler, more sparse, and, frankly, more boring trumpet parts in the entire orchestral literature. Yet I’ve never even come close to playing a Mozart symphony perfectly; there’s always been an articulation not quite right, a fraction of a second to lock in intonation, balance (loudness) not in proper proportion to the other musicians, and so on. I’d normally first mention phrasing not expressed as eloquently as possible, but that’s rarely much of a concern at all for trumpet parts in Mozart symphonies.

              Yet, if I were to take your attitude, I wouldn’t even bother taking the horn out of the case. Why should I, if I already know I’m never going to actually achieve perfection?

              A creator capable of setting up our world is beyond us.

              Erm…empirically, we know that that’s not the case. We still have lots to learn about how the Universe works, granted, but the fundamental physics underlying the reality of everyday life is already completely understood, and we know all the significant outlines of almost everything else. Yes, there’s much we still don’t understand (such as quantum gravity and dark energy), but even there we’ve got a pretty good idea of the basic form the answers will take and we’ve got hard limits on the range of possible answers. And, yes, there’re all sorts of macro-scale phenomena still to figure out such as neurobiology and room temperature superconductors and the like, but, again, we know the basics and lots of the details.

              Sure, if there actually was a creator, its totality might be beyond us…but so what? For one, that creator may well have a super-creator equally beyond the creator. For another, simply giving up and assuming we’re too stupid to even have a chance is both defeatist and smacks much too much of “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

              I know this because of personal experience; one I cannot prove and have no inclination to try. But it is something I know to be true.

              Be most careful for, truly, that way madness lies.

              I’m perfectly serious.

              I have no (reasonable) doubt that you really did personally experience whatever it is you’re referring to, and that it was a very moving and powerful event in your life, one of great significance that left you forever changed and that you’ll never forget and likely (and hopefully) always treasure.

              But.

              You can observe countless other people who have had similarly profound experiences and come to radically different conclusions about them.

              You can also observe countless other people who have had similarly profound experiences as the result of psychotropic drugs or brain seizures or other similar phenomenon.

              The only rational conclusion is that your experience was real and powerful, but that it is not reliable evidence of the substance of your experience — just as, for example, your direct vision is not reliable evidence for untangling certain very popular and entertaining optical illusions.

              In other words, you owe it to yourself to embrace your experience for what it is, but not to use it as evidence for anything other than the fact that you had a very powerful experience.

              Otherwise…well, that’s the very definition of insanity, isn’t it? A disconnect from reality?

              I should also stress that I’m not trying to diminish your experience by suggesting it really wasn’t as real as it appeared to be. I hope you’ve had the privilege of experiencing some great masterworks of art that can be just as profoundly moving. Though those works of art are ultimately illusory, that in no way diminishes their significance; Mimi never really dies from consumption (or ever lives at all), for example, and Hamlet neither was nor is, his famous soliloquy to the contrary. Rather, you should think of your experience as akin to your own mind creating exactly that sort of a work of art, but one that only actually existed within your own skull.

              Cheers,

              b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted February 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

                I never brought up the idea of perfection, in understanding or performance. As for pointlessness, we cannot see the entire spectrum of light or hear the full range of sound without technological assistance. It is beyond our physical ability and would be pointless to try. We cannot study anything outside our universe and it is pointless to try until/unless we develop the technology to do so. That may or may not ever happen.

                I admitted I don’t know a great deal about our universe, but I know there are a lot of people who do. However, there is nothing in science that is completely understood. We (humans) make great strides everyday, but it will be a long time before we understand anything completely. Science finds this out over and over. Just take a look at how much we were so certain we knew in the past, only to find we were wrong. Once we decide we completely understand, it’s time to pack up and go home. That is when we will become stupid.

                As far as my experience goes, yes I have seen and known all kinds of people (sane, insane, drunk or drugged) who have also had experiences they believed to be absolute fact. Some of them are obviously delusional, but who am I to totally dismiss what they are so certain of? It is highly unlikely that I will guide my life by what they believe, but that doesn’t mean there is no truth in any of it. I said that my experience was unprovable; that I could not produce any reasonable or reliable evidence to persuade anybody of its truth. That is why I haven’t told anyone about it. But almost everybody has had something happen to them that they knew was absolutely, unquestionably was true. Just knew it. But I would never expect anyone else to believe it just because I said so.

                I have offered my ‘revelation’ to anyone who wants to hear it. If you want to know the answer to the big WHY, I can tell you. But I can’t give you any proof. And I don’t wish to post it here. If you send me a way to tell you privately, I will tell you. But I don’t expect you to want it. And I won’t be offended.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

                As for pointlessness, we cannot see the entire spectrum of light or hear the full range of sound without technological assistance. It is beyond our physical ability and would be pointless to try.

                But that’s just it! With the help of the right tools, we can see in the entire spectrum. And, oh, my! the things we see when we look. Flowers as they appear to bees, the inside of your own body, the echo of your footprints, the deaths of stars, and the very birth of the entire Universe itself!

                And we see all that because we dared to try!

                So, even if there is some sort of transcendent origin to the Universe (and you can be as certain as you are that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow that there actually isn’t), why wouldn’t you want to build the tools that would let you catch even a fleeting glimpse of it?

                However, there is nothing in science that is completely understood.

                Actually…you’e a few centuries behind the times. There’s lots in science that’s completely understood. Newtonian Mechanics is the perfect example, with Atomic Theory a close second. Indeed, as of the discovery of the Higgs, all physics relevant to your daily life and an awful lot more is perfectly understood.

                There is, of course, much that isn’t understood…but, here, an example will help. You’re at least familiar with both Quantum Mechanics and Relativistic Mechanics, right? Well, one of the very important ways that we know that both are right is because, if you do the math of either at human scales of size and energy, you get the exact same results as if you were to do the math with Newtonian Mechanics. You could, if you really wanted to, build your bridge using the math of Relativity or plot your rocket launch with Quantum math; it’s just that you’d do an amazing lot of additional calculations, just to wind up with the exact same answer as if you had gone the easy route with the familiar, everyday math. (Technically, of course, you do get slightly different answers…but the difference isn’t anything you’d be capable of measuring with even much more sophisticated instruments than you’d be using in the endeavors.)

                Now, there does happen to be a slight practical problem that keeps physicists up late at night: if you try to use the math of Quantum Mechanics to phenomenon which you’d normally use Relativistic Mechanics, or vice-versa…you don’t get all the right answers. Particularly vexing is a quantum theory of gravity. However, we already know one very critical element to the answer, whatever it might be: it must, of absolute necessity, produce the same answers as Quantum, Newtonian, and Relativistic Mechanics in each of their respective domains, just as Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics both reduce to Newtonian Mechanics at everyday scales. And we know that because all three systems are insanely correct at predicting phenomena, to more degrees of precision than your calculator has decimal places. All three are correct and sufficient…they just aren’t complete.

                Just take a look at how much we were so certain we knew in the past, only to find we were wrong.

                This, too, at least in recent centuries, is quite a misunderstanding.

                My favorite analogy for this is the shape of the Earth.

                In ancient times, of course, it was thought that the Earth is flat. And, while we know today that that’s not the whole story, we still know that we weren’t wrong. You see, to within any appreciable rounding error of measurement techniques readily available to those in pre-history, the Earth is flat; its curvature is so breathtakingly slight compared to human scales that there’s no reason to suspect otherwise. Indeed, the Earth is so flat that the curvature of an ideal sphere the same size of an Earth would be all of eight inches per mile. I don’t know about you, but I’m certain I wouldn’t be capable of accurately measuring out a distance of a mile to within eight inches with any of the tools at my disposal or that I could readily manufacture, and I’m certain I wouldn’t be able to build something stiff enough to remain straight to within eight inches over that distance.

                As for further proof that the Earth, to a very reasonable approximation, is flat, just go to your local gas station and buy a city or even regional map. There you have it, a flat model far more than adequate for navigating as far as you’d care to go in ancient times.

                Rather famously, Eratosthenes did a bit of very simple geometry using shadows cast at noon at two different latitudes to come up with a damned impressive estimation of the curvature of the Earth; since then, we’ve known that the Earth is “really” a sphere with a diameter of roughly four thousand miles.

                Much more recently, we’ve observed that the Earth isn’t a perfect sphere; the centripetal force of the Earth’s rotation causes a bulge along the equator and a flattening of the poles. The deviation is very slight, and amounts to all of about a couple dozen miles at most (out of the four thousand miles from the surface through the center back to the surface at the other side). Again, for all practical purposes, this is indistinguishable from a sphere; it’s just that we can finally measure the very slight deviation from a perfect sphere.

                So, at no stage in history were we ever reasonably worng about the shape of the Earth; for the applicable domains, we had the right answer all along. What, instead, we’ve managed to do is refine our answers over time, each time getting closer and closer to the “real” answer. And, also very encouragingly, the degree of change has diminished with each revision.

                Such has been the case in all other branches of science, where even radical revolutions in thought such as Quantum and Relativistic Mechanics only result in very minor revisions to the previously-used calculations.

                So, no; I reject the notion that we keep finding that we’ve been worng. We keep revising our understanding with more and better theories and measurements, but flat-out errors have been rare and rapidly corrected.

                As far as my experience goes, yes I have seen and known all kinds of people (sane, insane, drunk or drugged) who have also had experiences they believed to be absolute fact. Some of them are obviously delusional, but who am I to totally dismiss what they are so certain of?

                Why shouldn’t you? As the Dire Straits song says, two men say they’re Jesus; one of them must be worng.

                If you were to honestly take a step back and apply what’s often called the “outsider’s test” to your experience, you’d very likely be forced to conclude that it’s no more realistic that it’s representative of real reality than any of the other similar (yet radically different) experiences other humans have been experiencing likely sing long before humans have been humans. Just as no Christian has no problem dismissing the notion that Quetzalcoatl or Thor or Haruman or any other non-Christian gods are really real, you owe it to yourself to apply those same standards you apply to everybody else also to yourself.

                Again, not to dismiss the experience as meaningless; that would be as profoundly misguided as dismissing La Bohème because Mimi isn’t really real. But, just as you wouldn’t leave a brilliant performance of the opera that moved you to uncontrollable tears thinking that she therefore really was really real, you also shouldn’t come to the same conclusion about your own experience.

                Not a small bit of perspective is called for, I think.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

                @Ben
                First, I must say that you are the nicest commenter I have virtually known. You are always polite and pleasant; never condescending, sarcastic or belittling. You give clear explanations of your opinions and reasoning. At the same time your comments bubble over with such enthusiasm that your love of learning and readiness to share it is palpable.

                Not that I always agree with you. The point I was trying to make is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot see the whole spectrum or hear every frequency without technological assistance. I get annoyed when people say they believe in what they can see and/or touch. I don’t keep a microscope at home, but I definitely believe in the ‘flu right now. It is a tribute to humanity’s greatness that we look for answers and build ways and tools to find them.

                And I might have been unfair. It is not so much that science has been wrong, but the more we look, the more complex things are. However, there have been a few wrong answers. One easy example is the existence of rouge waves. Sailors have told stories of them since the invention of boats, and the land-bound have rolled their eyes at every story. Not so long ago, physicists insisted that these stories were unfounded because it was not physically possible for such a wave to happen. But when ships became big enough to survive them and there was undeniable evidence and credible witnesses (the two I remember best were a NOAA lab/ship and a luxury cruise ship) of singly occurring waves in excess of 80-90 feet tall with correspondingly deep troughs, scientists scrambled to find a mathematical model to explain these waves, but got nowhere. Until someone tried chaos theory.

                As far as the peculiarities of quantum mechanics and non-linear time, although I am painfully uneducated on the particulars, I pretty much believe what I have read and seen by the experts, mostly because it isn’t relative to my life right now. Non-linear time I have no problem believing; as far as I am concerned it has always been relative. But the concept of effects with no cause just doesn’t sit well with me. Not that I doubt that what science says happens happens; I think there is cause; we just haven’t found it yet.

                And just to show how contrary my sad little brain is, I always try to apply the “outsider’s test” any time I experience something that cannot easily be pigeon-holed in excepted reality. Perhaps I just don’t believe in myself enough to just take my word for it. Never the less, I can’t totally dismiss what others say they have experienced and are certain was real. Contrary to the strictures I put on myself, if someone says something happened, I believe them until it is proven otherwise. When it all comes down to it, how can we tell who is the dreamer and who is the dream?

              • Posted March 1, 2014 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

                First, I must say that you are the nicest commenter I have virtually known.

                Thanks for the kind words — but, let me assure you, I can and do let ‘er rip with both barrels when warranted…such as when somebody of William Lane Craig’s ilk starts singing the praises of mass child rape. I try to apply Newtonian principles to discussion — equal and opposite reaction, that sort of thing. Your only “crime” lies in not trusting yourself to follow premises through to conclusion, which is hardly worthy of the virtual flamethrower.

                However, there have been a few wrong answers.

                Yes, there have — but, again, that’s the great thing about science; it’s self-correcting. Show a scientist incontrovertible evidence that, for example, the Sun doesn’t actually rise in the East, and, however grudgingly or incredulously, that scientist will, if true to the foundational principles of science, accept this new (and staggering) piece of data and reject any previously-held theories (no matter how dear) that predict an Eastern sunrise. Of course, the new theory will still have to be consistent with the past history of Eastern sunrises, which will likely present no small intellectual challenge, but some new theory would unquestionably be called for. (And, of course, on the shortest of short lists would be that some sort of deception at some level is at work.)

                As far as the peculiarities of quantum mechanics and non-linear time, although I am painfully uneducated on the particulars, I pretty much believe what I have read and seen by the experts, mostly because it isnt relative to my life right now. Non-linear time I have no problem believing; as far as I am concerned it has always been relative. But the concept of effects with no cause just doesnt sit well with me. Not that I doubt that what science says happens happens; I think there is cause; we just havent found it yet.

                To be honest, this paragraph right here is quite muddled and not a bit incoherent — and, frankly, I think it gets right to the heart of where you’ve gone off the rails. You’ve jumbled unrelated bits of physics together and come to a conclusion diametrically opposed to the one that physicists draw.

                But don’t be disheartened! This particular subject is one of the more counterintuitive ones, that takes no small bit of stretching to warp one’s brain ’round. What’s worse, unlike with the matter of a flat or spherical Earth, there aren’t any easy demonstrations I’m aware of — such as watch a ship disappear over the horizon hull first, sails next, and topmost last — that would make the concept more visceral.

                So, imagine that you believe in a flat Earth, but you carefully watch a ship sail over the horizon and you realize that what you see just isn’t consistent with your theory of a flat Earth. You might not yet be able to figure out the shape of the Earth, but you would be forced to conclude that your assumptions based on the shape of the Earth — such as that you’ll fall off if you sail too far out to sea — are not necessarily correct. Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t; but you couldn’t depend on your reasoning based on your assumption of a flat Earth to come to a conclusion.

                Further, any other conclusions you might come to would also have to be held in abeyance. For example, you would have to tentatively assume that sailing far out to sea might not actually result in falling off the edge, even if other dangers of extended sailing voyages might still remain.

                I would submit that that’s a good parallel for your current position with respect to the “First Cause” argument. You can’t as easily observe quantum or relativistic causality as you can a ship sailing over the horizon, but you can read and listen to the words of the people who figured out the ideas that power modern technology, and those words all come down to, “There is no causality outside the classical realm, and it’s not an especially coherent concept even there.” From there to, “You can’t use classical notions of causality to infer a Prime Mover or anything dependent on a Prime Mover” should be obvious. Even should there exist some sort of transcendent entity — and all of physics says there isn’t — what that entity would have done with respect to the Big Bang still couldn’t be described as having responsibility for it; that would make no more sense than it would to describe the Moon as such-and-such a distance away from the cliff at the edge of the Earth.

                When it all comes down to it, how can we tell who is the dreamer and who is the dream?

                Ah, but there’s the rub!

                ‘Tis true, neither you nor I can rule out the possibility that we are dreaming, even as I write and as you read these words. Or that another, such as Alice’s Red Kind is the dreamer and we are the dream, or even that the Red King is himself but a subroutine in the Matrix.

                But — and this is the important point — even the gods themselves cannot know if they are figments of somebody else’s imagination. It is provable, using a very close parallel to the logic used to prove Alan Turing’s famous Halting Problem, that no entity, no matter how knowledgeable or intelligent or powerful, can even theoretically absolutely rule out the possibility that it is somehow being deceived.

                That knowledge tells us two things. First, as you’re suggesting, it correctly implies that nobody can have absolute confidence in anything.

                But, second, it also answers the very question at the heart of this discussion. Even if we assume that there is some entity that would appear to us to be responsible for the Big Bang and whatever else, and even if that entity itself thinks it deserves responsibility, even that entity cannot know that it actually is responsible. Even this seemingly-super-powerful figure can’t rule out the possibility that it, itself, isn’t some minor bit player on an even bigger stage, with some puppet master pulling its strings.

                And that, of course, would also apply to these hypothesized puppet masters, and any other super-duper-extra-special puppet masters pulling strings upon strings upon strings. There is no point at which you can draw a final line and say, “This far and no more.” No matter how far you go up however many chains, there’s still the potential for still more chains even farther above.

                And if no entity, no matter how powerful can even in principle know that it actually is responsible for its own actions — let alone anything else — of what sense does it make to assign ultimate responsibility in the first place?

                So, once again, approaching the matter from a completely different perspective, we reach the same conclusion: the ancient Aristotelean concept of a Prime Mover, which is the logical equivalent of what you are proposing, is no more relevant to causality than it is to celestial mechanics. Inertia is responsible for the motions of the planets, and it doesn’t even make sense to ask what moves inertia that it might in turn move the planets. Thus it is with causality, as well; ultimately, shit really does just happen.

                There is one final point to be made. While it’s an absolute truth (heh) that absolute conviction is never warranted, it’s also the overwhelming experience of all of humanity that practical absolute conviction is commonly warranted. For example, there’s no need for doubt about whether or not the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow. Sure, you can construct conspiracy theories which conclude that it won’t, but that’s the very textbook definition of a paranoid break with reality. It’s good to acknowledge the possibility, and it’s healthy to move it to some disused corner of your consciousness once you’ve thought it through.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

                I agree almost completely with what you say. However, I still keep Voltaire’s watch in my pocket. (“As long as there is a watch, there is a watchmaker.”) The best part of it is, if you are right and there is no watchmaker, we work to discover what we can about our universe and behave as decent people who know how to dwell in harmony with everything and everyone that shares it with us. If I am right, there is a watchmaker, living outside of our time and universe, and we behave the same way.

              • Posted March 11, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

                But how do you know if the watchmaker is Seiko or Rolex or Corum or ? Each might expect you to behave in a different way from the others and from how decent people behave.

                /@

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

                I have never been much of a brand name kind of person. I have the watch, so I don’t need to deal with the watchmaker. There may be times when I might show it to someone who is interested who might then remark on its beauty and craftsmanship, but for now I can just be pleased to have it until it no longer works. I know how to tell time, and as I am already a decent person, I know how to behave as long as the watch ticks.

              • Posted March 11, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

                Ant and Diana have already addressed some of the problems with the watchmaker argument, but let me put my spin on it.

                The first is that it only makes sense within the context of Aristotelian metaphysics…and that’s the most useless and most thoroughly discredited scientific theory in the history of civilization. Since Newton we’ve known that not all motion has a Mover; since Darwin that not all designs have a Designer; and since Quantum Mechanics that not all actions have an Actor. Indeed, causality as humans understand it is as irrelevant at Quantum and Relativistic scales, as irrelevant as Newtonian Mechanics itself. And there’s no way for anything to “reach through” or “bypass” either Quantum or Relativistic mechanics that something “beyond” them might use to influence human-scale phenomena.

                …but even all that is irrelevant in the big scheme of things, for what I’ve come to think of as the Cookbook Problem.

                Let’s say that all of science is worng and there actually are gods, or at least one of them, running amok in the Cosmos. And let’s even go further and say that s/h/it cares about us and wants us to do good things and has made some sort of attempt to tell us what is good.

                The problem with that is that only humans are even theoretically capable of figuring out for ourselves what’s in our own best interests. As the Man who was about to be Served belatedly discovered, it could well be a cookbook. The good shepherd will care for and protect the sheep from the wolves…but not from himself and his family.

                So, even if there are gods, they’re not our friends. They might not be our enemies, but only equals can truly be friends — and gods, by definition, are superiors (and generally masters), not equals.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

                Sadly, the monks of the middle ages really loved Aristotle, even though those of Late Antiquity had moved on from Aristotle.

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

                I never though all that highly of Aristotle. Anyone who cannot see the innate wisdom in females cannot see much.

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

                I never learned the words to “I have a friend in Jesus” (for which I would say “Thank God!”, but that would just start something else) I cannot truly imagine the idea of being ‘friends’ with God. (I’m too tired right now to think up all the Facebook jokes here, so please just make them up and I will owe you a favor.)

                As for science, which I imagine everyone who reads this website must love in some way, the very best part of science is that it never ends. You and I will come and go, but not science. I suppose that their might be a finite amount to be know of life sciences, but it is bound to be more than humans will uncover. As for Physics in all their dresses, no matter how much we learn, what we mostly learn is how very much there is to learn.

                As for cookbooks (and I still giggle every time I think about “How to Serve Lemmings”)
                whether we’re served or served up, we all come to the table eventually. The good shepherd might be fond of mutton stew, but it doesn’t mean he wasn’t fond of the sheep as well. We all die sometime. I would prefer my life and death resulted in the health and well being of someone who was good to me.

                As for …only humans are even theoretically capable of figuring out for ourselves what’s in our own best interests…you have obviously never been a mother; really, really never a mother-in-law.

                And as for my watch, all I care about right now is that occasionally I can see what time it is.

              • Posted March 12, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

                Remember that science is all about refinements and setting limits. Yes, there’s lots more to discover and learn — but whatever we do learn will have to be consistent with what we already know. No new science is going to overturn Newton; even Einstein didn’t. What Einstein did was explain the outer fringes that Newton didn’t. You can’t actually observe or make use of Einstein except in those outer fringes — when you’re dealing with insane amounts of energy, basically, plus some related phenomena.

                What that means for you and me is that apples will always fall from the tree at an accelerating rate of about 10 m/s/s. Similarly, it means that all the rest of established science will always remain true — and that includes everything from orbital mechanics to organic chemistry, and encompasses everything that makes you you as thoroughly as it encompasses that apple falling from the tree.

                New discoveries in science will be exciting, no doubt, but they’ll be as relevant to your daily life as the refinement of the prediction of Mercury’s orbit that Einstein figured out. They’re not going to cause apples to start falling up from the tree.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 10:06 am | Permalink

                The watchmaker argument is tricky because then it’s turtles all the way down. As Greydon Square says:

                But I just wanna know who made your watch maker/Because to make the universe he must be just as complex/ad infinitum now let that motherfucker regress

              • Posted March 11, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

                To the point!

                /@

              • lisa parker
                Posted March 11, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

                I got the watch from my parents; I haven’t had any personal dealings with the watchmaker. You would have to ask her/him where he/she came from.

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

                I understand what you are talking about and would like to hear about your experience.

                You may email me at beth@bethclarkson.com

            • Posted February 27, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

              @ lisa

              “I have two reasons; the least important one is the fact that humans have always believed in something greater than themselves” — textbook example of argument from popularity; humans have always believed this, therefore I should too.

              “The second reason is that I do not see how the “Big Bang” banged without a ‘fuse’;” — textbook example of argument from incredulity; I can’t understand how this could be so, therefore I’ll believe otherwise.

              (Thinking of the Big Bang as an explosion is misleading; the term was coined by the great but latterly deluded astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle with the intent of ridiculing the hypothesis, but was adopted by the hypothesis’s proponents to spite him!)

              /@

              • Posted February 27, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

                (Thinking of the Big Bang as an explosion is misleading; the term was coined by the great but latterly deluded astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle with the intent of ridiculing the hypothesis, but was adopted by the hypothesiss proponents to spite him!)

                I think it might help a bit to think of it more like a ripple in a pond. The waves at any individual point are all moving at the exact same speed, but there’s the appearance of much greater speed in the center.

                The Inflationary Model has a sharp discontinuity at the beginning where things really did expand dramatically faster in the first 0.00000000000000000000000000000001 seconds of the life of the Universe than they have since then; think of that as the “plop” of a stone being dropped in the pond. Since then, though, the expansion has been relatively constant (though slightly accelerating).

                Considering that the Big Bang was at least partly a Quantum Mechanical event and that Quantum Mechanics is all about waves and vibrations and disturbances in them, I don’t think this analogy is as misleading as the cosmic explosion one. One big caveat that should be mentioned with respect to either model, though, is that there wasn’t any center to the activity in any sense that would be familiar to human experience. Or, rather, everywhere has equal “rights” to claim itself as the center. You can thank Einstein for that bit of mind-blowing.

                Ant, do please feel free to rip me to shreds if I’m leading anybody down the garden path. I’m a musician, not a physicist, and my name isn’t, “Brian”….

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 2:48 am | Permalink

                Except that there was no pond and no stone to begin with.

                Perhaps more like an expanding bubble in a glass of soda, but we have no idea what the soda is.

                All analogies have something “outside”, but there’s really no outside to the universe, at least none we can reach.

                /@

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

                Yeah, that’s the really hard part to warp one’s brain ’round.

                It’s not entirely unlike one of those Koans: a ripple in a pond, save there’s no pond.

                b&

              • lisa parker
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

                @ANT That’s pretty much what I was trying to say.

              • lisa parker
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

                @ANT
                I think you are misconstruing my comments. It is not a case of “everybody has always believed, so I should or that they must be right.” It is that some part of the human makeup seems to cause us to look beyond what we see; to believe in something greater than ourselves. We always want to know ‘why’ or ‘what causes this’ or ‘what happened'; another part, or the same one, compels us to express ourselves through art in all its forms. All humans have these compulsions, for lack of another word, to some degree unless their lives are overwhelmed with cruelty, drudgery, hopelessness or something else that destroys their ability to dream; crushes their humanity. So what mechanism drives that? That part of us has been there since the beginning. Why have humans always believed in some kind of deity.

                My main reason for believing in a creator is that there is a creation. Physics has given us some insight in to why and how things work, but certainly not the answer to everything. Granted that quantum physics has found some things we can’t explain; a universal law for everything, dark matter and energy, even that some subatomic particles will just ‘go away’ or ceases to exist then suddenly come back. I believe science will find those answers. But there has never been another example of the ‘something from nothing’ event that gave birth to our universe. To me, that means something had to cause it. Sussing out the nature of that creator will not be easy, whether It is outside of our universe or beyond our reach.

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

                “I think you are misconstruing my comments.”

                I think you are shifting the goalposts.

                “My main reason for believing in a creator is that there is a creation.”

                Begging the question.

                “But there has never been another example of the something from nothing event that gave birth to our universe.”

                How do you *know* there was ever nothing? See Sean Carrolls debate with WLC to understand why phrases like “gave birth” are wildly inappropriate.

                /@

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

                Have you read Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain? He explains clearly why our brains tend to believe in the things you describe, mostly due to agency and pattern seeking.

              • lisa parker
                Posted February 28, 2014 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                Thanks. I will look for a copy.

              • Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

                But there has never been another example of the something from nothing event that gave birth to our universe.

                But that’s just it; there are such examples, and they represent most of the activity of the Universe. I’m referring, of course, to virtual particle production from the vacuum, a phenomenon that appears to be closely related to the Big Bang itself.

                In short, even in the void of completely empty space, elementary particles spontaneously pop into and immediately vanish from existence, and they do so constantly at a prodigious rate. We don’t (typically) observe this because the net effect is zero, but there are ways of experimentally confirming that this really is a real phenomenon. Specifically, the Casimir Effect:

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casimir_effect

                Indeed, practically all of Quantum Mechanics is one giant exercise in uncaused causes. “Shit just happens.” There’s nothing that causes a particular nucleus of, say, an uranium atom to decay into lead at a particular instant of time; it just happens. And, at the other end of the ruler, at Relativistic scales, there’s not even the universal time reference you’d need to be able to state that a particular event happened before another than thus could potentially have been its cause.

                It is not at all an exaggeration to compare a causality-based insistence on a “Prime Mover” to a similar insistence that one must stay close to shore lest the ship sail off the edge of the Earth. Yes, at scales of a few hundred miles and less, it’s perfectly reasonable (and extremely useful) to treat the Earth as being flat, but extrapolating past that to assume that it must therefore have a boundary is, as the saying goes, “not even worng.” It’s exactly the same with physics; it’s very useful to say that the reason the water in the teapot is boiling is because you put it on the stove and turned on the heat, but you simply can’t extrapolate from that to beyond your very limited horizon — not, at least, if you want to get answers that conform with observations of reality.

                Cheers,

                b&

  18. Dawn Oz
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    As someone who debates the ‘god’ question on Facebook, I find that when I push, it isn’t what I call the physicist’s god that they are talking about – they want to jump into the full dogma and doctrines of the Christian church. The physicist Paul Davies has a notion of whatever, however it has nothing to do with any of the 4000 gods identified so far.

    They don’t want to sit over a cup of coffee and consider the universe – it’s a cover for an extraordinary doxology.

    And the Templeton Foundation is the same.

  19. Derek Freyberg
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I thought DoSER was one of the particularly nasty gods in “Ghostbusters”.

  20. cremnomaniac
    Posted February 22, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    “…promotes multidisciplinary education and scholarship on the ethical and religious implications of advancements in science….”

    The only implication I see here is the ever increasing body of evidence that religious belief is delusive. The historical trajectory is clear, where science advances, religion retreats. Where it gets ridiculous is the attempt to co-opt scientific knowledge in order to establish religious credibility.

    Religion has nothing to add to any scientific discussion. That, in itself, is delusive.

    • lisa parker
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

      We cannot truthfully say that war and religion have had no good effect. Religion has given us art; war has given us technology. Too bad we didn’t leave it at that.

  21. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 23, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    Does Eckland really believe religion and science are “perfectly” compatible? I would say awkwardly and clumsily compatible in rather fragile ways. Religious people have contributed to science (especially in astronomy) but institutional religion and theology never really has.

  22. Yiam Cross
    Posted February 23, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Where I come from getting a dose is a slang term for contracting an unpleasant sexually transmitted disease, usually gonorrhea. The acronym DoSER seems rather appropriate for a mission to infect the world with a rather unpleasant idea.


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