More dubious claims that science and religion are compatible

Elaine Ecklund’s incessant discussion of the compatibility of science and religion (funded, of course, by the John Templeton Foundation), and her frequent spinning of the data to emphasize that comity—even when the data don’t really show it—are getting very tiresome. I’ve posted about this often before, but the distortions just keeps on coming. That’s because the Templeton money also keeps on coming.

There’s yet another article in Huffington Post describing the results of Ecklund’s latest research project: “New survey suggests science & religion are compatible, but scientists have their doubts.” Note that this is the third article in HuffPo on the very same survey (the other articles, which don’t differ materially, are here and here, from February. 16 and February 19). The trumpet-tooting never ends. Ecklund’s study was also done in collaboration with the U.S.’s most important science organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), to its eternal shame. You can see here a fulsome video from the recent AAAS meeting in Chicago, showing Ecklund and an evangelical Christian answering softball questions from AAAS employees about her survey.

In brief, her study canvassed 10,241 Americans: a mixture of scientists, “regular” Americans, and evangelical Christians.  Ecklund’s message, conveyed in the latest HuffPo piece is, as always, hopeful, and congenial to Templeton’s aims: science and religion are friends!

But the piece starts off with something that doesn’t look good for that friendship:

Are science and religion incompatible? That seems like a rational conclusion, especially in the wake of last month’s combative evolution-vs.-creationism debate, which pitted “Science Guy” Bill Nye against evangelist Ken Ham.

And indeed, the latest Gallup poll shows that 46% of Americans think humans were created ex nihilo by God within the last 10,000 years. Another 32% believe that God guided the evolutionary process (“theistic evolution”), and only 15% accept the scientific view of unguided and purely naturalistic evolution.  Doesn’t this show that, when the rubber meets the road (that is, when science and faith conflict), that science loses out? That’s supported by an 1996 Time Magazine poll showing that if science conflicted with one’s religious beliefs, 64% of Americans—nearly two-thirds—would reject the science and hold onto their false dogma.

But Ecklund has Good News: her survey shows that Americans don’t see much conflict!

But a new survey of more than 10,000 Americans (including scientists and evangelical Protestants) suggests that there may be more common ground between science and religion than is commonly believed.

The “Religious Understandings Of Science” survey showed that only 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict. In addition, it showed that nearly half of scientists and evangelicals believe that “science and religion can work together and support one another,” Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund, the Rice University sociologist who conducted the survey, said in a written statement.

“This is a hopeful message for science policymakers and educators, because the two groups don’t have to approach religion with an attitude of combat,” Ecklund said in the statement.

I criticized the results of that study here, and pointed out that other data, including some of Ecklund’s own, that aren’t so hopeful. They include these facts, taken from my earlier post:

  • A 2009 Pew poll showed that 55% of the U.S. public answered “yes” to the question “Are science and religion often in conflict?”As expected, the perception of general conflict was higher among people who weren’t affiliated with a church (68%). Why the big differences between Ecklund’s survey and the Pew survey? Have American attitudes changed that much in four years? Or was there a difference in how the questions were asked, or in the composition of the survey sample?
  • Surveying American scientists as a whole, regardless of status, a 2009 Pew poll showed 33% who admitted belief in God, with 41% of them atheists or agnostics. (The rest either didn’t answer, didn’t know, or believed in a “universal spirit or a higher power.”)  Among the general public, on the other hand, belief in God ran at 83% and nonbelief at 4%. In other words, the average scientist is ten times as likely to be an atheist or an agnostic than is the average American.
  • The degree of scientists’ nonbelief goes up with their professional status. Ecklund’s own earlier work found that 62% of scientists working at “elite” universities were atheists or agnostics, with only 33% professing belief in God. And, considering members of America’s most elite scientific body, the National Academy of Sciences, we see that only 7% believe in a personal God and 93% are atheists or agnostics about a personal God. (In contrast, 68% of Americans—nearly ten times the percentage of scientists—believe in a personal God.)  These figures, and the correlation of nonbelief with professional achievement, are well known. They may mean either that science turns people into nonbelievers, or that nonbelievers are attracted to science. Both factors are probably at work, but there’s some evidence that science does help dispel religious belief. Regardless, these data aren’t compelling evidence that science and religion are mutually supportive.
  • Finally, a 2011 survey by the Barna Group, a religious polling organization, found that, among the six major reasons young Christians leave the church, an important one is that they perceive their churches as unfriendly to science:

“Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.”

Finally, these data, from Ecklund’s own survey, put the lie to her claim that science and religion are compatible:

Nearly 60 percent of evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of all people surveyed believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”

What? Miracles? Well, we used to consider them, but that never worked. As Laplace supposedly said when asked by Napoleon why there was no mention of God in one of Laplace’s works on astronomy, “Sir, I had no need of that hypothesis.” This story may be apocryphal, but it makes a valid point: science has never needed the hypothesis of miracles, for we’ve been able to explain things adequately without invoking supernatural intervention.  Never have we encountered a phenomenon that demands the miraculous intervention of a deity. Indeed, tests of whether miracles occur (studies of the efficacy of intercessory prayer, investigations of supposed miracles like the Shroud of Turin, and so on) have always shown that God didn’t show up. But he could have: all he would have to do is, one night, to rearrange the stars in a pattern that spelled out “I am who I am” in Hebrew. Science would have a tough time explaining that one! There are innumerable phenomena that would, if verified, convince scientists that a god would exist. Sadly, none have occurred.

Because of this, we scientists have simply discarded the idea of considering the supernatural in our work. This is not simply our a priori conclusion that we won’t have anything to do with the supernatural, for, after all, God could have shown up. Petitionary prayer or religious healing might have worked, and other paranormal phenomena like ESP or remote viewing might have been found in laboratory studies. But they haven’t been seen. Science has therefore provisionally jettisoned miracles as something we should consider in our work. Until we find some, there’s every reason to ignore them, just as we ignore the possibility of ESP and UFOs.

The HuffPo piece does quote two scientists who disagree with Eckund’s conclusions, including Jason Rosenhouse. Jason pulls no punches, and agrees with me on the ludicrous idea of being “open to miracles”:

“Whether or not science and religion are in conflict depends on what you consider essential to religious faith,” Dr. Jason Rosenhouse, a mathematician at James Madison University and the author of “Among the Creationists: Dispatches From the Anti-Evolutionist Front Line,” told The Huffington Post in an email. “Science challenges religion both by refuting cherished dogmas, and by dismissing revelation and religious experience as legitimate sources of knowledge.” . . . [Rosenhouse] told HuffPost Science that the idea that evangelical ideas should be incorporated into scientific enquiry was “absurd,” adding that “religious beliefs ought to play no role at all in scientific practice.”

Physicist Lawrence Krauss also waved away the idea that science and religion are compatible:

 In an email to The Huffington Post, [Krauss] called the survey’s findings “irrelevant,” adding that “science itself is incompatible with the scriptures and doctrines of all the world’s religions… It is all well and good to say that scientists and evangelicals can work together toward common goals, like preserving the planet etc., but ultimately those goals will in the end illuminate a universe that has nothing to do with the revelations of the Bible, and should rationally lead to a world where religious myths disappear.”

Yes, there can be a “conversation” between science and religion, but it won’t be a constructive dialogue. It will be a destructive monologue, with science dispelling the truth claims of religion, and with religion having, as Krauss and Rosenhouse noted, nothing to contribute to science.

Indeed, the results of Ecklund’s survey are totally irrelevant, and for an important reason: you can’t settle the question of science/religion compatibility, which is really a methodological and philosophical question, by taking polls. What Ecklund means by “compatibility” is simply whether someone can hold in their head at the same time two completely disparate ways of thinking One is science, based on reason and evidence; the other is religion, based on revelation, faith (belief in the absence of convincing evidence) and dogma. These disparities were summed up by science writer Natalie Angier in her wonderful essay,”My God Problem”:

I admit I’m surprised whenever I encounter a religious scientist. How can a bench-hazed Ph. D., who might in an afternoon deftly purée a colleague’s PowerPoint presentation on the nematode genome into so much fish chow, then go home, read in a two-thousand-year-old chronicle, riddled with internal contradictions, of a meta-Nobel discovery like “Resurrection from the Dead,” and say, gee, that sounds convincing? Doesn’t the good doctor wonder what the control group looked like?

If you hold Ecklund’s definition of compatibility, then all sorts of bizarre bedmates become compatible. Indeed, if you took a poll of Americans 250 years ago, you’d find many people claiming that Christianity and slavery were compatible. Does that prove that they are? No: it proves that people who call themselves Christians could at the same time hold in their heads messages profoundly inimical to the principles of Christianity.

The real reason that science and religion are incompatible is threefold:

1. They both make truth claims about the universe, but only science has a way to settle those claims.  Except for deistic religions, or “religions” without Gods, like Taoism or some forms of Buddhism, most religions make existence claims about gods, the nature of those gods, and how their deities want us to live. Christiantity, for instance, argues that there is a single God (often tripartite with Jesus and the Holy Ghost), that he sent his son, born of a virgin, down to be murdered to atone for an original sin that imbues all humans, that Jesus came back to life three days after he was killed, and that he will return some day, judging all of us and giving us either eternal life or the flames of hell. Those are empirical claims: they are either true or false. But the problem is that they conflict with the “truth claims” of other faiths.  If you believe in Christ’s divinity as a Muslim, for instance, you’re doomed to hell. Hinduism has many Gods, and Jews don’t believe in an afterlife. Unitarians don’t accept the Trinity.  Almost all religious schisms, which have given rise to more than 10,000 Christian sects, are based on irresolvable claims about what is true.

Religion has no way to settle this panoply of conflicting existence claims, but science does, for science is a toolkit: a way of thinking and doing that actually helps us understand the universe. There are thousands of religions, but there is only one science. Scientists of all faiths and ethnicities use the same methodology, and agree on the same set of truths.  Think of how far the unanimity of scientific understanding has progressed since 1500! Now think how far theology has progressed since 1500, at least in terms of understanding the true nature of the divine. It hasn’t budged an inch. We can’t even settle the issue of how many gods there are, much less if there are any. That’s what happens when you rely on faith rather than reason, when you discern truth by listening to clerics or your own thoughts rather than by examining what actually exists in nature.

2. Science and religious “investigation” produce different outcomes. Religion’s search for “truth” could have resulted in the same things that science has discovered, but it never has.  The Bible, or God, could have revealed to people that washing your hands might help curbe epidemics, or that life wasn’t created de novo, but evolved from very simple precursors.  It didn’t do that, and science has repeatedly been forced to correct the false conclusions of religious revelations.

In response, theolgians say, “The Bible is not a textbook of science,” but what they really mean when they say that is “The Bible isn’t wholly true.” This then gives them license to pick which parts of the Bible are true (conveniently, it is the ones that science hasn’t yet disproven, and which comport with modern morality) and which are false (the approbation of stoning for adultery and death for homosexuality).  The disparity in outcomes is a result in the disparity of methods. Religion begins with conclusions that are comforting, and then picks and chooses evidence that supports those conclusions, ignoring the pesky counterevidence or fobbing it off as “metaphor.” In contrast science is designed to prevent you from that kind of confirmation bias—it’s a method, as Richard Feynman noted, that keeps you from fooling yourself, and discovering what you want instead of what’s true.

3. Science and religion have different philosophical bases. From centuries of experience, science has discarded the idea of God because it’s never been useful in explaining anything. Most religions still cling to the idea of deities, even in the absence of evidence, for a bad reason: faith.  Although theologians weave their web of obscurantist verbiage around the word “faith,” it all comes down to believing something without good reasons. How can you possibly find out what’s true if you base your search for truth on confirmation bias and on suppositions that lack any evidence? How can you want base your life based on such suppositions?  And, if you’re religious, how can you be sure that your religion is the right one, and that, say, the tenets of Islam are simply wrong? You can never know. Each religion is at odds with every other religion, and it will always be so.

In the end, the true conflict between science and religion cannot be effaced by polls answered by people who don’t want there to be a conflict. After all, most religionists pride themselves on modernity, and don’t want to be seen as unfriendly to a science that has improved their lives immeasurably. The real conflict—the one that will remain so long as religion pretends to find truth—is between rationality and superstition. It is a conflict between using faith to discern what is real as opposed to using reason and observation of the universe. Ecklund can take polls until she’s blue in the face, but she’ll never turn religion into a way to find truth or to help science find truth. And so the incompatibility remains.

207 Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    You can see here a fulsome video from the recent AAAS meeting in Chicago, showing Ecklund and an evangelical Christian answering softball questions about her survey from AAAS employees.

    Part of Ecklund’s job is to provide ‘academic cover’ to the Templeton’s notion of acommodationism. I attended a talk by her a few years ago, after her first round of publications, and I can say that she avoids the tough questions and the tough questioners.

  2. gbjames
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    sub

    • francis
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      //

  3. Tulse
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    There are innumerable phenomena that would, if verified, convince scientists that a god would exist. Sadly, none have occurred.

    “Noted atheist Jerry Coyne says he is sad that he doesn’t believe God exists.”

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      Okay, I’m gonna nip this one in the bud! What I MEANT, of course, was “sadly for theists”.

      There: the record is corrected.

      • Tulse
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        :-)

  4. Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Not sure I’d find a message in the stars all that convincing: A far more likely explanation would be an advanced alien species with a somewhat warped [sic] sense of humour. Or… it would be a great way of softening us up for an invasion, whereby they could take over the earth and turn us all into batteries to power their evil machines.

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      Well, maybe it would take more than one such “miracle” to convince people, but one reaches a point where one can accept a divine being PROVISIONALLY.

      • Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        But there still remains the question of at what point, especially considering all the evidence of the sciences to date, concluding that a god of some kind is responsible for the phenomenon is more reasonable than a conclusion of some sort of delusion.

        After all, aliens could have kidnapped you and put you in some sort of incredibly persuasive virtual reality simulator, at which point it’d be trivial for them to make you think you were watching Jesus’s second coming, complete with turning the Pacific into an ocean of wine and then walking across it to Tokyo in a matter of minutes. Or you could have ingested some powerful hallucinogen or simply have gone insane.

        What I don’t get is how you could, even in principle, conclude that you’re not deluded and that what you think you see before you as evidence of a god really is evidence of a god. Anything the god might do to convince you, so could the virtual reality aliens or your own now-crazy mind, so how do you go beyond delusion to divinity?

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

          For Instance, there’s no conceivable evidence that could persuade me that the story of Noah’s Ark is true, that would be more convincing than some other more prosaic explanation, such as that I was hallucinating. That’s essentially Hume’s point in his essay “On Miracles”. Science is an all nothing thing: Miraculous intervention, if true, would undermine the whole basis of reason and render us unable to then use the scientific method as a reliable basis for further predictions.

        • Old Rasputin
          Posted March 18, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

          Yeah… but if we’re open to throwing out the assumption that our senses are providing more or less accurate reports about reality, then the previous observations are just as suspect. Everything we know about science/reality to date could be part of a simulation controlled by aliens, gods, whoever. I say, unless there is some plausible evidence of deception, a wine-walking-upon, Tokyo-bound Jesus would be pretty good provisional evidence that the Christians were onto something. All of their theology (like the logically impossible/incoherent bits) may not be proven true, but I would see some of their claims as being provisionally justified.

          I could suppose myself insane, but if that, along with questioning my senses, is a live option, then I don’t know how you determine which state of affairs (pre-Jesus or post-Jesus) is the sane one and which insane, especially if the phenomenon continues for days, months, decades.

          • Posted March 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            The point is that the whole premise of religion is insane so that when you go down that rabbit hole you lose any connection to a compass that can give you a bearing on what is reality and what is fantasy.

          • Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

            The thing is, even if you did discovery yourself in what seemed to be an endless delusion that featured some sort of deity…well, even then, the best you could do is conclude that the deity has some sort of power over you. But the deity itself could simply be part of some bigger delusion — even if, as far as it’s concerned, it’s responsible for all of existence.

            The big point is that, once you go down the rabbit hole of delusion, all bets are off, sure…but even the gods themselves can’t escape that rabbit hole, so why call them gods?

            b&

        • Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          Kaiju Jesus!

          /@

          • Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

            Had to look that one up. I would pay good money to watch a three-way battle between Godzilla, Mothra, and Jesus.

            Hollywood? You paying attention? Forget the Ark — give us Kaiju Jesus!

            b&

    • John K.
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      I had always attributed that phrase to Popeye, only with slightly different spelling. Should we fear or welcome our new nautical overlord?

      If some religion had a testable claim that had some efficacy when corrected for with blinded trials, I would have to think they were on to something. If only Mormon prayers for healing had a positive coloration with desired effects, for example, it would lend some credibility to their narrative, which ought to lead to more testing and verification of other claims they have. Of course, that never happens and reasonable scientists have no choice but to leave such theories by the wayside along with any possible implications they might have had.

  5. Erp
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    The National Academy of Science figures should be specific that 93% are agnostic (20.8%) or atheistic (72.2%) in regards to a _personal god_. The numbers that believe in a deistic type god or a Buddhist view of what is are not revealed (though a question on belief in human immortality reveals that a slightly higher percentage believe in human immortality 7.9% than in a personal god).

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      I’ve clarified that statement and added the figures for the percentage of Americans (68%) who believe in a personal God, nearly ten times the percentage among NAS scientists.

  6. Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    It is noteworthy that according to the recent poll “only 27 percent of Americans feel that science and religion are in conflict”, despite the other polls that show widespread belief in god, miracles, and various other forms of magic and woo that are openly denied by science.
    One thing that strikes me here is how good people are at compartmentalizing their beliefs to protect them from other contradictory beliefs. So it looks like a lot of us (most of us?)could be considered a little bit psychotic.

    • Zetopan
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      “One thing that strikes me here is how good people are at compartmentalizing their beliefs to protect them from other contradictory beliefs.”

      I think there is a much simpler explanation than that. Remember that much of the public is scientifically illiterate, and also note the amount of pseudoscientific BS that gets promoted in the media (radio, TV, the web, etc.).
      The actual problem here is that much of the general public does not even recognize when science and religion are in conflict. As an example, the Vatican always has a handy doctor available to claim that science can’t explain someone’s (often alleged) medical condition change so that the Vatican can declare a miracle has occurred. The doctor is, of course, simply a shill.
      The fact that there are a large number of pseudoscience programs in the media also peddling religious BS surely has a detrimental effect on credulous believers causing them to think that science has confirmed some aspect of their religion. I have even known individuals who have claimed that religion is “evidence based” just like science. It requires a profound level of scientific illiteracy to reach that kind of conclusion.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

        This is a good point. A lot of factors can contribute to people thinking that science has somehow proven or supported at least one supernatural or paranormal claim — which now changes their understanding of reality enough to make religious claims plausible. If people can bend forks with their minds, then why couldn’t God intervene in nature the same way?

        In addition to the media selling sensational stories re ghosts, near death, ESP, psychic powers, and so forth, there is also the echo-chamber effect. Smaller sub-groups swap stories of miracles or pseudoscience and overestimate their group’s power and status. It’s very easy to think that extraordinary claims are either already accepted or a legitimate controversy within the science community — even when they’re really not.

        I remember a conversation I had with some JW’s who came to my door. They told me that hardly any scientists believed in evolution any more — and were surprised that I didn’t know that. It was common knowledge.

        • Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

          If only you could have pulled a Marshall McLuhan with Jerry….

          b&

  7. Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    “Science has therefore provisionally jettisoned miracles as something we should consider in our work.”

    And that’s being generous; miracles, by definition, occur very rarely. I wouldn’t want to climb on board a plane that relied on the principle that a miracle is required to keep it in the air.

    • Jon Mummaw
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      What about the other way around? According to CNN correspondent Don Lemmon we should consider the possibility that a miracle disappeared Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 out of the air.

      “Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural,” Lemon said. “We go to church, the supernatural power of God…people are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”

      Seriously.

      • Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:01 am | Permalink

        never considered green beer supernatural

  8. Chris
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    “Study shows that people can believe contradictory things that they haven’t really thought about very much.”

    It doesn’t sound quite as newsworthy put that way.

    *Sigh*

    • TJR
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      “People answering vaguely worded questionnaire put very little effort into it.”

  9. Cathy Anne
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Ecklund’s survey is misleading because it implies that public acceptance of science is the same as compatibility between science and religion. One is the careful study of reality and the other is fantasizing in order to make one feel better. There is no compatibility at all.

  10. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Great post.

    I guess many believers will claim, and probably rightly so, that they feel there’s no conflict between science and religion so long as science doesn’t have all the answers. Whatever the questions may be, which leads me to one I’ve been wondering recently:

    What scientific discovery(ies) would rapidly overthrow the minds of the faithful?

    I for one can’t think of any.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      Yeah, the poll itself is a victim of the religious need for science to be compatible. No one who wants religion to be right is going to admit it is incompatible with science. To do so, is to admit a much greater defeat.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        True. When you think about it, it’s a non-question that leaves plenty of room for ambiguity.

        To perceive science in conflict with your religion would be to perceive that your religion is false. So another way of phrasing it would be; “Do you think your religion is false”, to which the obvious answer for most people would be no.

        Furthermore cognitive dissonance doesn’t even come into play here if most people are ignorant about the science in question.

        Education, education, education.

        • Kevin
          Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

          How about this one:

          “Is religion compatible with religion?”

          Obviously, the answer is no. How many Christians have you met who either distrust or loathe (most hypocritically) Jews or Muslims, or _____ , not to mention Mormons.

          • Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

            How many Christians loathe Papists?

            Education?

            Only goes so far. If one wishes the magic sky monkey is their BFF and looks out for us, no amount of knowledge will dislodge that wish.

            There are plenty of people who are 100% behind all of science and still wish for a deity.

  11. Jeffery
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Surveys are useful in that they remind us of just how ignorant and biased the average American is.

  12. Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    “Religion has no way to settle this panoply of conflicting existence claims”

    Actually they do. It’s called War.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      War is the old fashioned way of resolving religious disputes when it becomes obvious that conversion just won’t work.

      The other method of settling differences is a sort of strict agreement to not argue about religious differences. Live and let live: “I won’t say to you that I think YOU are wrong … if you won’t tell me that you think I am wrong.” A Mutually-Assured Destruction Pact which looks like peace and harmony because nobody is fighting.

      That’s the underlying rationale for a lot of the anger at the gnu atheists. From this perspective they think open debate looks and sounds “just like fundamentalism.” If you’re a proponent of MAD, then the real crime of fundamentalism is its insistence on telling other religions that they are wrong. You can’t do that.

      Sects which otherwise qualify as “fundamentalist” but don’t proselytize (the Amish, the Orthodox Jews) are usually granted absolution from being really bad because they don’t argue with others. They don’t try to break the Peace Agreement where differences remain but hostilities are lessened because everyone stays nicely on their own side.

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

        “…the Orthodox Jews don’t argue with others”

        Are you serious? Stoning by them of outsiders if you ride on Sabbath, turn on a light, are female and wear a skirt that doesn’t reach the ground.

        I would rather they just argue.

        • Sastra
          Posted March 18, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

          So would I. I’d much prefer it.

          The fundamentalists who successfully isolate themselves from outsiders sometimes ‘pass’ as merely quaint and individualistic and gather some unearned approval for their ‘tolerance.’ The important aspect from the point of view of many accomodationists is that they don’t try to convert. On the surface, this can look like respect to others, if you’ve defined both proselytizing and reasoned debate as intrinsically disrespectful.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        It’s so beautifully captured in last week’s Big Bang Theory where Sheldon promises to condemn his mother on the inside by maintaining a facade of acceptance:

        Sheldon: Well, this is confusing for me. But I don’t want to stand in the way of your happiness. So, I will condemn you internally while maintaining an outward appearance of acceptance.
        Mary: That is very Christian of you.

        • Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:10 am | Permalink

          heh heh, I caught that too

          so very Christian

  13. Pete Taylor
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    “The real reason that science and religion are compatible is threefold:”

    Is that a typo Jerry? “Incompatible” sounds more apt.

  14. Leigh Jackson
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    How can you want to base your life on such suppositions?
    The answer is psychology. Need to believe that there is a way to something wished for. Deeply desired. Something which if true would be profoundly good. Desired so much as to be a need; needed so much to be true as to be believed to be true. All else follows; seek and ye shall find the “evidence” you want. Not evidence that stands up to the test of science. Sometimes not even to the most basic tests. Like simple factuality or basic logic.
    But though faith arises from need, the faithful will never admit it. Their non-scientific evidence is claimed as support for their belief. They do not know that their “evidence” is nothing more than confirmation bias. Wishful thinking. If only people of faith could be honest with themselves and admit that they believe because life would have no meaning and/or be too painful to bear, otherwise.

  15. Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Is it possible to put an automatic filter on stupid comments like “sub” which mean nothing and add no value?

    • gbjames
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink

      If you find a way, please let us all know.

      As for “add no value”, this isn’t exactly true since there is considerable value for those of us who do this. It allows us to get emailed notifications when comments are made.

      • Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        To subscribe without comment, I just tried to leave the comment box empty and only click the Notify Me…box – and that was a fail. Got a Please enter a comment prompt.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      Would you rather I waste your time posting a trumped up comment when I actually have nothing useful to contribute?

      sub

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      Is the comment less “stupid” if we sub with emoji Like this: 😾

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        I always get a square box when you guys do that.

        It’s a bit like playing wheel of fortune.

        • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

          Only the faithful can see!

          /@

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted March 20, 2014 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            Dammit!

            Better go do my hail mary’s then..

            • Posted March 20, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

              Oh, no! Its Hail Steve!

              /@

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted March 20, 2014 at 1:13 am | Permalink

                🐜!

                Steve and ye shall receive!

  16. Kevin
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Accommodationalists like Elaine Ecklund claim that science and religion are compatible but she and others have provided no reasons how this is the case. Could it be that this delusional state reveals the inequities in how different people view the world? Is it possible, some, i.e., mostly those who bolster a religious prerogative, are forcing their very own standards onto reason.

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      I encounter arguments like the one presented fairly often. What it seems to be is that people are interpreting “There are religious scientists!” and “People don’t think of them as being necessarily incompatible, so they aren’t.” Both are very *bad* arguments, needless to say.

  17. gmacginitie
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Religion gets Truth from Authority and ignores observations. Science gets truth from observation and ignores authority.
    There is no possibility of compatibility in principle.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      A nice aphorism, but maybe a little too neat. I don’t ignore authority. I respect the authority of the whole scientific enterprise when I accept as fact the assertion that the Inflation Theory has just been validated. Ultimately I believe in the integrity of the scientific system which is based on observation.

  18. keith jameson
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    ‘Science’ is more than science in the USA. Would Elaine Ecklund’s data look the same in W.Europe, India, Japan and China? Her view is very parochial.

  19. Richard Bond
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Yesterday I was visited by Jehovah’s (why cannot they even get the name right) Witnesses. Feeling in need of a little sport, I actually talked for a while. When one said that the Bible contained scientific truths, I asked for an example. The response was that people used to believe that the Earth was flat, but the Bible corrected this with the bit about “the circle of the Earth”. I pointed out that circles are flat, but got nowhere. Then I referred to”the four corners of the Earth”, and was informed that these were north, south, east and west! I complained that whoever wrote the Bible did not understand elementary geometry, but this got nowhere. When I asked about Jesus being taken to a high mountain to see all of the Earth, they quoted television as a possibility. I asked incredulously if Jesus had a television on the mountain. The answer was that anything that people could do, their god could do also. There was more along these lines.
    The really disappointing thing was, I realised afterwards, that the younger of the women was highly intelligent and seriously spirited. Once the indoctrination has set in, these people seem impervious to logic, let alone anything remotely scientific.

    • Gordon
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Odd isn’t it. I had a very intelligent woman friend, mathematician at a fairly advanced level, who seemed normal in most respects, but suddenly became a JW in her 30s. I believe there was a strong religious background in the family. Her husband was and remained a strict atheist.

      • gbjames
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

        Interesting. I had an encounter with something like the flip side of that. It happened at an FFRF convention. I sat next to a woman, an atheist and rather active, of course. She had been quite religious, was married to a Witness, but left the faith behind when their child was born. It seems that concerns for her child’s health cause her to think things through. Strangely (to me, not to her) she remains married to a still-JW man.

        If this lady happens to be reading this web-site, I hope my memory fairly represents what you told me!

  20. TJR
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Obviously they haven’t witnessed the correct spelling of Yahweh.

    • TJR
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Belgium, that was a response to #17 above.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      It is actually (Hebrew) יהוה‎

  21. Bea
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I heard Elaine (and others, including Eugenie Scott) speak at the recent AAAS conference.

    One positive point I took from the session as a whole:
    If we want everyone (even very religious people) to begin to understand and accept science (relying on material evidence to answer questions regarding material objects/processes), the rhetoric of warfare is probably less effective than that of peaceable exchanges.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Show me the data.

  22. Andrikzen
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Are Science and Religion compatible? Yes, I can text on my cell phone while siting in church and if I miss the service (due to my texting) I can watch a replay on the internet!

  23. Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Ecklund’s project smells of desperation. It seems that she, in common with many apologists, has come to a point that she knows deep down that religion is a crock, but hopes to find salvation by doing a deal bringing the ‘miracle’ of resurrection under the purlieus of science. No deal, and there will never be a deal because you, the apologist simply fail to understand that you live amid the ordure of historic fantasy. You are not only wrong, but your religious beliefs are nasty and embarrassing. Scientists accept miracles? Like asking my children to eat horseshit.
    For ourselves, atheism has come a long way, but has still to evolve a unified and powerful strategy to combat the dripping evil of religion. We really must drop using their word, ‘God’. Simply by using their word, we are acknowledging the possibility that such a thing (or being) exists, but it is only a religious construction We should always refer to ‘their gods’. It is a very powerful reversal of our positions. That change alone, puts them on the back foot. They can no longer think to thmselves that we recognise that there is a god but we, the atheists, simply don’t like him or it.
    Secondly, we should never talk about a ‘debate’, which implies equal sides. It is always an uneven confrontation, such as that between a guy carrying a bucket of chicken entrails who wants to ‘debate’ his method of diagnosing cancers. Again, no deal.
    Finally, just say ‘No!’ to those few evangelists who have come to believe that by chumming-up to science, they may get scientists to accept the preposterous idea of miracles, and so inject religious fantasy into the ongoing scientific monologue and thereby destroy science from within. There are two common explanations as to why someone is writhing on the ground. Most of the world believes that it is ‘possession by the devil’. A few think it to be epilepsy. There is no common ground between the two explanations; no possible compromise between a medic and a sorcerer.
    There is an American con-man who appears on religious channels now seen in Europe. He sets out to disprove evolution with charts and drawing, but his constant refrain is, ‘I will never mislead or deceive you’. But he does. Often he claims to have studied evolution at college, but omits to mention that it was a bible college. Oh, the lies, the lies! And is there no shame in religious apologetics?

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I thought “purlieus” was some strange misspelling of “purview”, but I find it is a word in it’s own right. Thanks for the addition to my vocabulary!

  24. moarscienceplz
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “…especially in the wake of last month’s combative evolution-vs.-creationism debate, which pitted “Science Guy” Bill Nye against evangelist Ken Ham.”

    Funny, even that oh-so-thinskinned Ken Ham said he thought Bill Nye was civil and respectful, yet the debate gets labeled as “combative”. Surprised she didn’t lob in a “strident” as well, or is that adjective reserved for Dawkins alone?

  25. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    “New survey suggests science & religion are compatible”

    Reminiscent of the several-years-old USA Today parody headline (by National Lampoon):

    “Lead now the heaviest element, new survey shows”

  26. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    The simple fact that !*some*! religious folk are science-friendly and !*some*! scientists are religion-friendly hardly amounts to religion and science being !*mutually supportive*!(!!!) Even in my strongest moments of selectively defending (some) accomodationism, I would have argued that notion of “mutual support” is utter nonsense.

    Eckland’s phrasing, “science and religion can work together and support one another”, is destructive & stupid, because science first and foremost has to guard its autonomy from any and all kinds of external authority no matter how sacred it is deemed by others!!!

    There might be social common causes that scientists and (some) religious people agree upon re environmental or civil rights issues, but that doesn’t entail full endorsement or support of either of the other’s entire enterprise. (Americans United for Separation of Church and State includes both religious people and secular humanists in their membership, but it doesn’t mean they are fully supporting each other’s activities.)

    Both computer science and Unitarians distinguish between being a “member” of a community and a “friend” of a community. No scientific institution can ever be a member of a religious institution and retain the integrity of its mission.

  27. Sastra
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Finally, these data, from Ecklund’s own survey, put the lie to her claim that science and religion are compatible:

    Nearly 60 percent of evangelical Protestants and 38 percent of all people surveyed believe “scientists should be open to considering miracles in their theories or explanations.”

    Technically, this falls partly into the gnu atheist definition of “compatibility,” which is that science and religion will be compatible when

    1.) We consider religious beliefs (including God) as hypotheses

    and

    2.) Religious hypotheses then meet rigorous scientific criteria and are incorporated into a scientific model of reality.

    Sciientists ARE “open to considering miracles in their theories and explanations” in the same way that they are “open” to considering astrology, space aliens, and the ether. They were considered and discarded. That’s “open.” Scientists would accept them if they hadn’t turned out to be SO WRONG. Be careful what you wish for.

    At least the Evangelical Protestants LOOK as if they’re prepared to do the first one and start off by admitting that yes, God is an empirical claim. Of course, we know they think that their hypotheses HAVE been proven well enough when they haven’t. But this is beginning from a more reasonable position than the silly claim that “God” is not a fact — it’s an attitude, or a behavior, or a moral, or any other desperate attempt to make it fine and dandy that there’s no good empirical evidence because it’s not the sort of thing which would have or need any.

    Which is worse? Religious people who make bad pseudoscientific arguments for the existence of God (arguing for compatibility on our terms) … or religious people who make bad philosophical arguments for the existence of God (arguing for compatibility on spurious terms)?

    Pick your poison.

  28. gbjames
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Have they started looking in the Bermuda Triangle yet?

  29. Latverian Diplomat
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    I can’t quite agree to the proposition that slavery and Christianity are incompatible. Certainly many fine Christian people felt that to be true, but many others did not.

    There is no single Christian morality that all Christians agree to. There are very few moral propositions that can’t be argued one way or the other from Christian texts and teachings. This is useful to Christianity because it maximizes the number of people who can comfortably call themselves Christians, but it also negates, IMHO, most of the utility of Christianity as a source of moral wisdom.

    • Dermot C
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, in the NT, the translation ‘servant’ appears passim: the Jesus Seminar – the only translation of the Gospels which I know of not written under the auspices of a religious organization – translates the Greek as ‘slave’, explaining that this is what Jesus is actually referring to. And if you think about it, of course the Gospel writers would be writing about slaves, not servants.

      The religiously authorized translations euphemize the Greek: in the NT slaves owe their masters respect and obedience.

      Slaínte.

  30. Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Depends on what religion; Buddhism is the only compatible religion with science. It has no issues with evolution, being gay, about other planets and worlds etc. In fact the Buddha is the only one who said that the subject of the universe is unimaginable. All god believing religion is forever having issues with science. And what about stem cell research, power of meditation etc?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Buddhism is based on a view that includes reincarnation.

      • Richard Olson
        Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        I’m no Buddhist apologist, although I think a pair of lists (4 Noble Truths/8 Fold path) provide a concise, clearly expressed, and sensible set of timeless guidelines for harmonious living.

        The notion of physical reincarnation is an add-on to writings attributed to Gautama (whose historical existence is as factual as that of Jesus, King Arthur, or William Tell), not an included tenet of them.

        It is a fact, too, that a great many practitioner’s who self-identify as Buddhist sincerely believe in reincarnation. Even the Dalai Llama avoids denying reincarnation.

        http://buddhism.about.com/od/karmaandrebirth/a/reincarnation.htm

        • gbjames
          Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          I thought that reincarnation is the reason the Dalai Llama has the job.

          • Richard Olson
            Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            You are correct, sir. Not unlike Papal elections, there is a committee selection process that takes place whenever a replacement Dalai Llama is required. And this just about exhausts my knowledge of how the three major groupings operate within what is known as Buddhism.

            I know only a limited amount about Buddhist beliefs otherwise, either within individual factions or shared under the umbrella whole, aside from what I learned in comparative religion and picked up sporadically from time to time here and there.

            Those two lists interest me, but the stuff that took off after that is just another set of belief = knowledge claims + resulting actions based on them. Worth keeping a weather eye on, but unnecessary to clutter my mind with, same as all other religions.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      I was kind of with you until the Buddha the Predictor reared its ugly head.

      • Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:26 am | Permalink

        Buddha also said, “there is no creator but the mind’

        solipsism in spicy peanut sauce

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          With a side order of creation spice to boot just in case it get’s too lonely.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      Buddhism clearly isn’t compatible with science. Generally it describes souls, not minds (“vijñāna”).

      I’m sure that you can try to dump the magic beliefs, but … where is your evidence? In my experience people just claim this, while for outsiders it looks like a bold lie.

    • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Buddhism also traditionally involves subjective idealism, which is not compatible with science.

  31. Diana MacPherson
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Accomodationists seem to get a lot of press because they appear to be playing fair (the answer must be somewhere in the middle). People really must be educated at often the answer doesn’t lie somewhere in the middle and sometimes, probably many times one side is right and one side is wrong. One said has the truth and one side has a falsehood. Not everything can be seen as a shade of grey. What if we ran our legal system this way – base it on “well there’s two sides to every story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle”. Sorry, the criminal only sort of robbed your home – you must’ve enticed him with having those windows that break so easily! Come on! We all know glass breaks!

  32. Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how many of you have seen Richard Carrier’s 8 part talk on “Ancient Christian Hostility to Scientific Values” but here it is:

    He presents many quotations both from the new testament and from early church fathers. For example: 2 Corinthians 5:7 “We walk by faith and not by sight.”

    Carrier also shows that there was a reasonable foundation for science at that time and Christianity recognized it and was totally hostile to it.

  33. paxton
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Excellent knockdown! But in this sentence “The real reason that science and religion are compatible is threefold:” didn’t you mean “incompatible”?

  34. Posted March 18, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I think as you move further away from the extremist religious positions (scriptural dogmatists) and it’s counterpart in the scientific community in pure mechanism and/or materialism (what you might call naturalism perhaps) common ground opens up between science and religion. There are still many scientific mysteries, and will no doubt continue to be for the foreseeable future and even with a form faith in the belief that the universe is governed by laws that are all ultimately discoverable it still negs the question – not the answer mind you but the question – as to where the laws came from to begin with.

    And before anyone asks I for squarely in the agnostic school, we just don’t know nor do I think will we ever truly know, given the limits of knowledge in and of itself.

    snowconenyc.com

    • gbjames
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      This common ground you assert… I’m sure you can provide an example, no? Because it isn’t in the fact that many things remain unknown or poorly understood. If that weren’t true, there would be no science.

      Science provides tools for finding answers. Religion does not. Science acknowledges what is not understood. Religion asserts answered without the least bit of evidence.

      • Posted March 18, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

        I believe you are (incorrectly) assuming that everyone who is religious doesn’t believe in empiricism or the validity of scientific method and this intersection, between people that fall under a very broad definition of religious but who also believe in science, is the very common ground I’m speaking of. I don’t think being religious and being unable to think critically are synonymous.

        • Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          I believe you are (incorrectly) assuming that everyone who is religious doesnt believe in empiricism or the validity of scientific method

          That is self-evidently true, at least so far as religious claims go — that being, after all, a perfectly suitable definition of “faith.” Religious people, of necessity, at a minimum restrict empiricism to a subset of their attempts at understanding the world, and have concluded that empiricism is invalid in what they would describe the overwhelmingly most important facets of the Cosmos.

          Some people are able to perform that type of compartmentalization superbly well; Francis Collins and Ken Miller both come to mind. But it doesn’t make them any less crazy at those times that they reject empiricism.

          b&

        • Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

          So there is common ground between science and critically thinking people who nonetheless happen to be religious … where is the common ground between science and RELIGION?

          /@

          • Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

            Or, more coarsely: the fact that there are religious scientists and is no more evidence for the compatibility of science and religion than the fact that there are married people who regularly patronize prostitutes is evidence for the compatibility of marriage and adultery.

            Cheers,

            b&

          • Posted March 23, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

            Good question :)

            snowconenyc.com

        • gbjames
          Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

          When it comes to the subject of religion, faith, you are simply wrong, snowconenyc. There is precisely zero common ground on this matter. No religious person puts their beliefs up for empirical analysis unless they are prepared to abandon them. That’s how atheists are made.

          • Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:34 am | Permalink

            exactly, the scientifically religious absolutely refuse to examine their faith as any discussion of my religion is actually about them

          • Posted March 23, 2014 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

            Doesn’t that depend upon how you define a “religious” person and what constraints you put on their beliefs. You seem to imply that atheists rest their position on the very opposite of faith, but what evidence do you have that there is no God to put it bluntly. Can you prove unequivocally that no such notion, being, or thing exists, whatever you want to call it or however you want to describe it. Or do you simply suggest that because it has not been proven to exist then it therefore must not exist? Or perhaps that because the entire known universe will one day be completely described by a set of universal laws that predict the physical universe then this fact proves that no God exists. But my challenge to you is does not this atheistic belief system rest on the same element of faith as a “theistic” one? No matter how we define theos, or god, in this context? I’m not knocking one or the other by the way, my position is one of agnosticism and understanding the limits of knowledge as we define it, as well as pointing out what seems to be a very common trait of religion (theism) and atheism, FAITH and a belief that has no grounds in empirically verifiable and absolute and ineffable truth.

            respectfully

            snowconenyc.com

            • gbjames
              Posted March 23, 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              No, snowconenyc, it doesn’t depend on how you define “religious” persons or their beliefs, assuming normal language use.

              The ability of a religious person to think scientifically some of the time, a common enough phenomenon, does not make their faith-ideas compatible with science. Not in the least. All it demonstrates is the ability of the human mind to hold mutually incompatible ideas.

              And lordy, lordy, man. The “you can’t disprove” gambit? Really?

              I don’t need to prove the negative any more than you need to disprove the invisible pink pixies living under my desk. I know they exist because sometimes my feet itch.

        • Bea
          Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

          snowconenyc,
          Your point is good. Science is our best “knowledge” about “material” stuff (which happens to be observable and rather predictable, making empiricism possible). I’ve known many smart religious people who have no problem looking to material stuff to answer questions about material stuff.

          Thinking about what might lie beyond/behind material stuff is where human speculation begins (absolutely nothing? … or who knows what?), and disagreements abound.

          • gbjames
            Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:30 am | Permalink

            This is because making things up and pretending that they are true is outside the bounds of science, except to the extent that science provides ways to learn about how the human brain works and how it generates imaginary things.

            • Bea
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:34 am | Permalink

              I’m guessing that means you fall into the “only material stuff can possibly exist” camp.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

                We only await your evidence for non-material stuff. As soon as you provide it the rest of us will be willing to recognize that it exists.

                So, I guess that puts me in the “reality” camp.

              • Bea
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

                gbjames,
                I’m not here to provide evidence for other people’s beliefs about what lies beyond material stuff that is currently apparent to humans (aside from the obvious, like minds and ideas). I’m of the “we shall see” camp.

                You seem to be of the “I already know” camp, which is fine, if you’re comfortable with such a firm philosophical stance.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

                Bea,

                You are saying, unless I’m way off base, that there is some “non-material stuff”. If you aren’t here to provide evidence for it then there is no reason for any of us to pay the least attention to any comment you make about it. Or at least there is no more reason for us to do that than there is for you to pay serious attention to my description of the invisible 900 pound chihuahua I have in my closet. Please make it go away. I can’t afford to feed it any longer.

              • Bea
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

                gbjames,
                My [mental] human mind is simply unable to make the claim that only physical stuff could possibly exist.

                If your [mental] human mind does make such a claim, it is yourself you should ask for evidence in support of your seemingly firm belief. Look for counter-evidence as well, of course.

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                There’s a semantic problem here – if stuff “exists”, then it must be at some location in the universe. That is what is what it means for stuff to be physical. Stuff that isn’t physical is stuff that doesn’t exist. i.e. to say that something is “physical” is the same as saying that it exists.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:04 am | Permalink

                Bea, why should I pay any more attention to your un-specified but asserted “non-material stuff” than you do to my at-least-somewhat-specified non-material stuff?

                Please come and get this giant invisible chihuahua as soon as you can get here. It is hungry and I’m afraid it will eat me!

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

                I am in the *science has not shown that anything but material stuff exists and nor has any other **way of knowing** * camp.

                (Given that mental stuff that has been shown to exist does so only by virtue of material stuff.)

                /@

                Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

                >

              • paxton
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

                Bea, We have thoughts and emotions that seem non-material to us, but in fact are the result of material processes in our brains and bodies. In principle these can be explained by science, but we are still a long way from a complete understanding of these mechanisms or of the drivers of human consciousness.

                Where I think the “science as the font of all knowledge” advocates get it wrong is in dismissing human insights into phenomena that science has not yet been able to unravel. The human brain is the most powerful information processing tool in the universe (as far as we know). We still have only a vague understanding of how it works to reach a decision or understanding. Billions of human brains have been interacting with the world for at least 100,000 years. Many of the conclusions these brains have reached have been discredited by science and should be discarded. But we shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Human culture has accumulated a great deal of wisdom about the world that science cannot yet explain. As you say: “We shall see”. But that open mind to new understanding must be coupled with a willingness to reject received opinion that does not withstand the test of scientific investigation. The god(s) of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam fit in this category.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

                Ben, Keith, Ant, Paxton…

                My hat is off to you all.

                I think I’m too impatient. Or maybe I’m just too distracted by this damn invisible chihuahua I locked away in the office closet.

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

                gb – but, can you hear it bark?

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

                How do you know that it *is* in the closet?

                /@

                Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

                >

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

                Well, everybody knows about the poodle’s live-in boyfriend, but the poodle himself still insists that they’re just roommates. Probably has something to do with the poodle’s Catholic mother….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

                Paxton puts the “Pax” in Paxton. :D Oh I slay me!

              • paxton
                Posted March 21, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                pax vobiscum Diana.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 21, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

                Et vobiscum!

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

                It barks the same way it growls, inaudibly to all who are close-minded and refuse to open their hearts to other ways of knowing.

            • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

              & science tells us that certain imaginary things do not exist and cannot exist! Too often, people with imaginations do not, unfortunately, know this.

              /@

              Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse all creative spellings.

              >

          • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

            We are pretty sure there isn’t any such stuff; it would violate conservation laws if it interacted in any way with matter. (And if it doesn’t interact, it doesn’t interact with us, so …)

          • Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

            Bea, it’s actually pretty simple.

            We know that the material world exists and is real; if I have to convince you of that, you need immediate professional medical attention before you inadvertently cause harm to yourself or others.

            The question then becomes whether or not there’s something more.

            If there is, there are two possibilities: it either interacts with the material or it doesn’t.

            If it neither influences nor is influenced by the material world, even in principle, it is entirely irrelevant, even in principle. But I don’t think you’d be positing this possibility if you thought the immaterial is worthy of discussion.

            That leaves us with the immaterial interacting with the material. And while we might concede that we couldn’t directly observe the immaterial, we most certainly could observe what it does to the material.

            Not only could we do so, but exactly that type of observation is the entire point of physics, and has been ever since long before Newton figured out gravity.

            I hope you’d agree that an apple that falls from a tree will do so at an accelerating rate of about ten meters per second per second, with the usual caveats of other forces such as air resistance or the ground or somebody swinging a bat at it. And I hope you’d also agree that that applies to anything and everything else; that is, that gravity is a most thoroughly understood phenomenon (even if there are radical extremes such as quantum gravity that we don’t yet have exactly pinned down).

            What you’re likely not aware of, and almost certainly haven’t thought through, is that it’s not just gravity that we’ve got pinned down to umpteen brazilian decimal points, but everything else that even in principle could possibly be relevant to daily life as well. This Web site’s official physicist, Sean Carroll, has put it most eloquently in this essay:

            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2010/09/23/the-laws-underlying-the-physics-of-everyday-life-are-completely-understood/

            In short, if there was anything else, we would have found evidence for it long before we discovered the Higgs boson. You can be as certain that this is all there is as you can be that there isn’t right now in the room with you a stampeding horde of angry T-Rexes (T-Rexen? T-Rexi? T-Rexapodes?) wreaking havoc and about to devour you. Maybe that is the case and you’re only unaware of it because the aliens are controlling your thoughts with their mind rays…but you have to go to that level of insane paranoia in order to come up with an explanation consistent with the observations you actually have.

            You’ve made more than an hint that you think cognition is immaterial. I can assure you that that is not the case, and that what is going on in your head is no different in principle (though, obviously, it is different in complexity and character) from what is going on inside the computer you’re reading these words on. That cognition is a physical process should have been universal knowledge shortly after the discovery of beer. In the modern world, where we know for a fact that cognition can be trivially altered in so many precise and predictable ways by so many direct physical changes to the brain…well, thinking otherwise is right up there with the flat Earth and rain gods in terms of primitive superstitions. No, we don’t know everything there is to know about cognition — not by a long shot. But, just as we know that Helios doesn’t draw the Sun across the sky (even if we don’t understand everything there is to know about stellar physics) and that lighting doesn’t come from Thor’s Mjölnir (even if weather and climate are hot topics of research), we also know that there’s no invisible immaterial sprite controlling your body like a puppet. It’s merely your brain; what you’re experiencing is what it’s like to be a computer made out of meat. Pretty remarkable, of course, and all the more so for being so mundane…but it is what it is, without any need to invoke any mysterious magic.

            So it’s not arrogance or misplaced confidence that should lead you to a conclusion of materiality, but rather the same thought process that makes you confident that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow (due east, actually, since it’ll be the Equinox) or that taking a long walk off a short pier is generally a bad idea.

            If you still insist otherwise, then that would be a surefire sign of ignorance on your part — ignorance of the breadth and depth of modern science. But the good news is that such ignorance is readily curable…and the really good news is that it’s an amazing amount of fun to go on that particular journey of discovery. I imagine Neil is doing a good job with the Cosmos reboot, but I can’t recommend highly enough Sagan’s original, which is available to watch for free here:

            https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLBA8DC67D52968201

            That’s as good a crash course on modern science as you’re going to find…and, even better, it’s also (in my opinion) the greatest epic poem of the modern age.

            And it’s all really real, fantastic as it may feel. You can even confirm it for yourself by double-checking the work — and you should do so, too. Any decent college-level science class (including those offered by community colleges) should include plenty of time in the lab where you’ll do exactly that…and, in so doing, even further increase the confidence in our body of knowledge — or, who knows? You might be the first person to reliably observe the apple fall at something other than ~10 m/s/s, and thereby overturn all of science….

            Cheers,

            b&

            • Bea
              Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

              Hi Ben,
              The point is simple. Many religious people hold beliefs that do not conflict with the methodological naturalism that science entails. On the other hand, some nonreligious people hold beliefs in metaphysical naturalism that science neither requires nor defends. That’s okay… as long as we recognize such beliefs as distinct from actual science (which I’m not unfamiliar with).

              Any kind of beliefs (religious or otherwise) that conflict with actual science are problematic for science educators (at any level).

              You spent a lot of words to say brain/body activity affects mental activity. Of course it does. But you said nothing about how mental activity (awareness, perception, logic, understanding, meaning, purpose, curiosity, creativity, intention, etc.) affect brain/body activity. Bottom up AND top down.

              It’s that second half of the loop that is enabling you to mentally defend your beliefs here online. But the particulars of the physical pathway are comparatively inconsequential (e.g., such a debate could occur on a beach, writing in the sand with sticks, in Russian. Thank goodness for the internet).

              Ideas are operative in this world… from within minds, outward.

              Thinking critically, you might ask yourself why you feel you must neglect the mental drivers of the story (of such correlations). I do not agree that we should, since I do not share your metaphysical commitment.

              Back to the simple point… though I’m not religious (never have been), I find it hard to think of religious people as a monolith. Atheists either, for that matter. Not to mention all those who fall into neither category.

              Cheers to you too.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

                Bea, Perhaps we’re quibbling over the definition of “religion”?

                What is an example of a faith tradition (religion) that does not contain beliefs that are incompatible with science?

              • Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

                The point is simple. Many religious people hold beliefs that do not conflict with the methodological naturalism that science entails.

                I’m sorry, but that’s simply not even remotely close to true. Faith by its very nature is profoundly antithetical to science. And using faith to justify conclusions about the fundamental nature of reality? It just doesn’t get any more anti-scientific than that.

                Sure, you can probably find some negligible number of apophatic pantheists or philosophical Buddhists or the like who fit that description, and maybe even enough to be considered “many” by personal scale. But, in terms of percentages, those people are a rounding error and might as well not even exist.

                Any kind of beliefs (religious or otherwise) that conflict with actual science are problematic for science educators (at any level).

                Right. And that would include basically every religious teaching, from the existence of the supernatural to specifics such as the Jesus story.

                You spent a lot of words to say brain/body activity affects mental activity. Of course it does. But you said nothing about how mental activity (awareness, perception, logic, understanding, meaning, purpose, curiosity, creativity, intention, etc.) affect brain/body activity. Bottom up AND top down.

                I’m sorry, but the whole point of those many words seems to have flown right over your head.

                The “top-down” mental activity that lets you reach out, grab a steering wheel, and turn it to drive your car is exactly the same type of mental activity that lets an airplane autopilot activate the plane’s hydraulic systems to move the control surfaces and turn the plane. And we know this to be true from multiple independent lines of evidence and scientific conclusions, each of which individually is more than ample for such a conclusion; combined, we’re well into “Sun rises in East” levels of confidence. I’d be more than happy to walk you through some of it, if you like — but not if you’re just going to casually dismiss them as a lot of words. (That’s an hint: I already pointed to some of the ways we know this.)

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

                Hmmmm awareness, perception, logic, understanding, meaning, purpose, curiosity, creativity, intention — all those are abstractions so perhaps this is a language problem. If these things like say curiosity emerge from the brain – that’s what Ben described already. Now if these brain processes cause us to act and influence something that again is just our meat selves doing things to other materials. It’s not non-material but completely material and completely deterministic. We could even build a process flow for it and if we were really good, predict things with it if all the variables were known.

              • Bea
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

                Ben, I’ve personally observed that many religious people hold beliefs that do not conflict with the one kind of naturalism [methodological] that science actually entails.

                That is, they look to material stuff to answer questions about material stuff (nature)… and they share the same faith that you have in the predictability we’ve inferred from observing the behavior of material stuff.

                Speaking of faith… well, some people express sincere faith that reality includes nothing beyond physical stuff. Some other people express sincere faith in assorted [often inconsistent and incompatible] “spiritual” rules/environs/entities beyond physical stuff (many and varied religions). Still other people express neither of these kinds of faith.

                If and when people make erroneous claims “about physical stuff,” we seek to teach them the scientific view on the matter (and “matter” is exactly what material sciences have expert views upon, nothing less, nothing more).

                If and when people make claims about what is (or is not) “beyond physical stuff”… we can safely say, “We shall see.” That’s about it. Human experiences (our only source of knowledge) indicate that, if there is existence beyond this particular physical universe/spacetime, it does not seem to be easily or consistently discernible from “here.”
                ______________________________

                If by “nature” you mean only physical stuff, then mental minds and ideas (and experience itself) already qualify as “supernatural”… thus demonstrating the existence of the supernatural. Conflating them with correlating neural activity does nothing to hide their distinct nature (or to bolster physicalist beliefs).

                If by “nature” you mean everything and anything that might exist (physical, mental, spiritual, etc.?), then the term “supernatural” refers to nothing (and makes an ineffective epithet).

                If by “supernatural” you mean “anything a physicalist belief system cannot admit the existence of”… well, that then is exactly what you mean by it.

                Be careful not to misinterpret the existence of veto-able readiness potentials in simple experiments… remembering that evidence is theory-laden. So much complex human behavior is undeniably driven by abstractions/goals, which correlate with rather than equate to neural activity… while alive.

                Your example of an autopilot actually reinforces my point. Those are designed and programmed by purposeful minds full of abstract reasons for imagining, creating, and manipulating flying machines for experiential fun and/or profit. Human minds are behind the autopilot’s behavior just as obviously as human minds are behind the intentional movements of fingers and feet and vocal chords.

                Plus, I’d be quite surprised if you meant to imply that brains are just like autopilots/computers… somehow designed and created by minds to serve particular purposes (including experiential fun and/or profit). ;)
                Cheerio!

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

                If by nature you mean only physical stuff, then mental minds and ideas (and experience itself) already qualify as supernatural thus demonstrating the existence of the supernatural. Conflating them with correlating neural activity does nothing to hide their distinct nature (or to bolster physicalist beliefs).

                This is actually quite incorrect. It’s the type of reification of cognition that Sastra generally addresses.

                Though there’s no denying the “specialness” of the personal experience of thinking, we know with as much certainty as that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow that cognition is a purely physical phenomenon.

                The door-slammed-shut quick-and-simple reason we know that is that we know that the Church-Turing Thesis holds for classical scales. The Thesis states that anything that can be computed can be computed by a Turing Machine. As Sean Carroll so eloquently puts it, the laws underlying the physics of everyday life are completely understood. Those laws are Turing-computable; therefore, so is everything that happens in everyday life. In the absolute worst case scenario, all that you are could be duplicated by a sufficiently sophisticated computer simulation of you and your environment, even if that simulation had to be detailed down to the atomic level. (In practice, it could almost certainly be done with a much less detailed simulation.) That simulation would be even more — much more — like you than an hypothetical siamese twin, which I should think would be more than ample for these purposes.

                But even before modern physics and computer science, there’s no question but that cognition is an entirely physical phenomenon. Indeed, that conclusion should have become obvious shortly after the invention of beer, and the evidence became overwhelming with the likes of Phineas Gage and subsequent developments in neurophysiology. Your thoughts, your very essence, can be changed in supremely predictable ways by the use of various chemical or physical alterations to your brain, or even with the right types of electromagnetic fields. True, we don’t have a full understanding yet, but that’s no more an excuse to insert a “soul of the gaps” into our ignorance than it is to insert a god into the abiogenesis (or any other) gap.

                Your example of an autopilot actually reinforces my point. Those are designed and programmed by purposeful minds full of abstract reasons for imagining, creating, and manipulating flying machines for experiential fun and/or profit.

                That humans designed and built the autopilot is no more significant than that humans directed the evolution of the wolf to produce teacup poodles and great danes. The latter still provides a superlative laboratory demonstration of Evolution, just at the former provides a superlative laboratory demonstration of cognition.

                And you may not be aware, but computers have been doing all sorts of creative, abstract cognition for ages — even programming other computers. Yes, humans built computers and Evolution built humans, but they’re both fundamentally doing the same thing.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Bea
                Posted March 30, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

                It’s not logically possible to over-reify the only arbiter of what qualifies as “real” (mind).

                Indeed, the “physics of everyday life” are well understood… by minds (mental things). Minds (mental things) do not happen to be the object of study in the “physics of everyday life.”

                So… computing the macro behavior of purposeful sentient beings involves far more than just physics. If you disagree, you’ve simply woven your assumption (that only physical mechanisms can be causal) throughout your thought experiment.
                (Note the additional irony… you’re doing a “thought” experiment.)

                Again, no one disputes bottom-up feedback from body/brain to mind. While alive, anything that affects the brain affects mental activity. That’s no reason to willfully ignore that purposeful and meaningful top-down mental activity affects the brain/body (and hence, this world).

                The reason you assume that designed machines could easily “pretend” to have cognition is that you apparently think humans only pretend to have cognition (it isn’t “real”). You might as well be saying human minds only “pretend” to do science. Makes just as much (or rather, just as little) sense.

                Me, I don’t see any point in trying to categorize mental things as physical things. It doesn’t really simplify anything, it just pretends to.

                Physical things can be described in terms of mass, charge, spin, space, and time (pretty much). That’s what puts them into a [mental] category of things we call physical.

                Science focuses on relatively simple, predictable physical stuff. It does not make claims about what might lie beyond physical stuff, nor does it make the claim that nothing lies beyond physical stuff (only occasional humans do that).

                Religions contradict science to the degree that they make claims that are incompatible with our best knowledge about physical stuff… not what exists beyond it.

                Again, here I try to keep a bit of humility for the limitations of current “human” perception and cognition. It’s pretty obvious why universally sensed and consistently behaving “physical stuff” is more easily (and consistently) modeled and described… than are possible realms of experience that humans “alive” on earth can only see, as they say, “through a glass, darkly.”

                (We must also factor in our human nature, to take some bit of actual insight, embellish it beyond recognition, and try to make everybody else see it exactly our way… “building a religion”).

              • Posted March 30, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

                Bea,

                The illusion of the “specialness” of human cognition is one of the most powerful in the entire human experience…but it is no less an illusion than your favorite optical illusion.

                Quite literally, everything we know about science overwhelmingly tells us that brains are meat computers and that’s all. There isn’t a single branch of science that wouldn’t have to be revised from the ground up if minds were special.

                Let’s take one of the most fundamental examples: thermodynamics. Perhaps the single most solidly established scientific fact are the conservation laws. Anybody who tells you they can get around them is selling you a perpetual motion machine, the most shameless scam there is.

                One of the classic original thought experiments, since confirmed sixteen ways to Sunday, is of Maxwell’s Daemon. Imagine a container of air with a moveable but impermeable barrier down the middle. If both sides have the same number, temperature, and pressure of air molecules, the barrier just sits where it is and nothing happens. But if one side has more molecules or an higher temperature or pressure, the higher-energy side will exert a disproportionate force against the barrier compared with the lower-energy side, and the barrier will move towards the lower-energy side. The barrier then acts as a piston, and useful work can be extracted from the system in this way (lowering the total energy inside the container, effectively cooling it). This is, in fact, exactly how your car’s engine works: the gasoline burns at the bottom of the piston, increasing the temperature and pressure, which forces the piston away from the bottom; the other end of the piston is connected to rods that’s connected to gears that make the wheels go ’round. And the exhaust gasses are much cooler than they would have been had they been left to themselves without extracting energy from them.

                Let’s circle back to the original construction, and make two modifications to the apparatus. First, we’ll install a door in the barrier; second, we’ll put a Demon in charge of opening and closing the door. You may recall that gasses are made of large numbers of small molecules, and the properties we use to describe the gasses, especially temperature and pressure, are statements of the statistical average of the motions of the individual particles. Being an average, there will be some particles moving faster and slower than the average. So, what the Demon does is observe the motions of the individual particles. Whenever a faster-than-average particle on the left side approaches the door, the Demon opens the door just quick enough for the one particle to escape through to the right side. And, whenever a slower-than-average particle on the right approaches, the Demon selectively lets it escape to the left. After a while, the left side has nothing but slow-moving particles and the right has nothing but fast-moving particles. Here we have a temperature difference, and we can now let the barrier act as a piston just as before and extract that energy from the system.

                The problem is, the Demon is physically impossible. It has been demonstrated multiple ways that, while you could certainly construct a device that operated in such a fashion, you could never actually extract energy from the chamber in that fashion. The Demon must either use the energy of the system to power its operations, or it needs energy from an outside source — and the net result is actually a loss of energy.

                But, if your mind were an incorporeal non-physical phenomenon, it would be capable of acting as the Demon. It could simply know when to open and shut the door without having to bother with all that messy interaction of the environment that keeps the Demon from actually extracting “free” energy. It would be the idealized perpetual motion form of the Demon, instead of the prosaic mechanical calculator version that needs its clockwork kept wound up in order to function.

                Very similar hard, absolute, problems instantly crop up any time you attempt to treat cognition as immaterial. Claude Shannon discovered laws of communication that place similar hard limits on the energy requirements to transfer information from one source to another; if your mind is aware of its surroundings, either it’s bound by Shannon’s laws or else it’s extracting more energy from those surroundings than it’s radiating back to them. Alan Turing proposed a mathematical construct that we today call Turing Machines in his honor. There is what is called the Church-Turing Thesis that proposes that anything that can be computed can be computed by a Turing Machine, and all attempts at designing something that would be immune to the thesis have either required a perpetual motion machine or could be used to construct one. And there’s prosaic biochemical objections; if your mind can control your body, how does it do so if not through physical interaction with the body? And physicists have determined that any such interaction can only happen through the Standard Model of physics; anything outside of it that could even hypothetically change the position of your finger when you will it to be lifted would have long since been detected.

                And and and and and we come back to beer. We know that it’s theoretically impossible for minds to be non-corporeal, and we have the hard physical evidence that hard physical changes to brains comes with perfectly predictable changes to their associated minds.

                When it comes right down to it, the only remaining alternative hypotheses are nothing more than base conspiracy theories. You have to assume that everything we know about the way the Cosmos works is a lie in order to sustain a belief in non-physical minds. You can certainly do that, if you like, but that’s the very definition of a deluded paranoid break with reality — not exactly what one would generally consider good mental health.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Bea
                Posted April 3, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

                Ben, the fact that minds (and their contents) are what we call “mental” (but not what we call “physical”) does not make them “special.” They are simply what we are.

                There is no need to try to evade the fact that important nonphysical entities obviously exist. There is nothing scary or “woo” about the fact that “you” are a mental mind.

                If brains are meat computers, who/what programs them and uses them purposefully? Keep exploring your computer analogy. It might lead you to interesting places/ideas… and mind.

                Even in physics (especially stat mech and qm), we’re much more likely to speak of an event as “highly improbable” than “impossible.” But you seem to think that describing current [mental] models for [idealized] purely physical mechanistic systems somehow demonstrates that only purely physical mechanistic systems can possibly exist. Do you see the problem with that? It does not logically follow.

                You define causation as purely physical and then rely upon that definition to explain that, clearly, mental things cannot also be causal. Several problems with such circular reasoning (circularity is one).

                Before we ask “how” we ask “if.” Is the physical world all around you full of the influence of mental systems (mathematics and logic, for starters, awareness, intention, pleasure, pain, creativity, for a few more)? Yes, it is. So nothing could be more apparent than that the basic stuff of reality has both mental and physical aspects (at least). How does it all work together? We shall see.

                I do suppose reality to be of one basic “kind,” but that kind is evidently more than just [apparently] physical, else mentality would not exist (and it does).

                Know too that “laws” in science are descriptive, based on human observations. They are not absolute, prescriptive, or proscriptive regarding nature or ultimate reality. Human minds inform our science… and our science informs our human minds only in return.

                Yes, Ben, beer affects the brain affects the mind. We know. And the mind affects the brain affects the hand, which will then either pick up another beer bottle or pick up the sadistical mechanics book and seek to understand something new (projecting hopefully into the future in a way that fundamental forces do not, Ben).

                You seem to see only one direction to a system that moves both ways (thinking pistons again, maybe you keep closing your eyes during the downstroke).

                Sorry, but our “science of the cosmos” is not the least bit threatened by a reasonable acknowledgment of the nature of mind. And any eventual science of “all that exists” will require it.

              • Posted April 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

                If brains are meat computers, who/what programs them and uses them purposefully?

                That’s the theistic Argument from Design, and it falls most flat. Richard Dawkins expresses the point most eloquently that evolved organisms carry the appearance of design, though they were not designed by any intelligent agent; rather, they were designed by their environments.

                Even in physics (especially stat mech and qm), we’re much more likely to speak of an event as “highly improbable” than “impossible.”

                Eh…sorta.

                Technically, it is merely highly improbable that the Sun will rise in the West tomorrow morning, or that we will ever observe anything accelerate faster than c. But not only are the odds so negligible for such to happen, the only way that sort of thing could is if we are the victims of some sort of deluded paranoid conspiracy. In practice, we typically label those phenomena as “impossible” and don’t worry about whether or not we might be crazy after all.

                And minds as anything other than a purely physical phenomenon falls squarely into that category, I’m afraid.

                Know too that “laws” in science are descriptive, based on human observations. They are not absolute, prescriptive, or proscriptive regarding nature or ultimate reality.

                They’re more a matter of expressing odds.

                How much money would you be willing to bet that a ball that rolls off your kitchen countertop will fall up to the ceiling? If we add in a caveat of no Las Vegas magician or “Candid Camera” type of fakery, how much would you be willing to bet?

                Not a single penny?

                Me, neither.

                The odds of minds being exempt from the rest of physics are the same as that ball being exempt from the rest of physics. You’re welcome to place your bet on minds being supernatural, but that’s a bet you’ll lose every bit as often as you’d lose the ball-falls-up bet.

                Sorry, but our “science of the cosmos” is not the least bit threatened by a reasonable acknowledgment of the nature of mind. And any eventual science of “all that exists” will require it.

                Actually, we already know a great deal about the mind, much more than you’re indicating you’re aware of. And there’s no need to throw out the physics books — quite the contrary.

                For example, there’s now very good reason to strongly suspect that the sensation of consciousness is a manifestation of the same mirror neurons that permit us to estimate the internal mental states of others recursively turned upon ourselves. That is, you observe yourself the same way you observe other people, creating the illusion that you’re watching over your own shoulder.

                Cognition is a very hot topic of research, and I don’t think we have very much more before we’ll have working computational toy models of consciousness. At that point, it’s just a matter of increasing the level of detail.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Bea
                Posted April 6, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

                Ben,
                You said brains are computers. Computers are objects which are designed, built, and used by minds for various purposes. They do what minds have programmed them to do. If that means you’ve made “a theistic argument from Design,” you should be more careful with your analogies.

                Also, you’re speaking inaccurately. Neural connections/patterns are formed during interactions between mind/consciousness and its environment. An environment alone does not suffice (without mental activity at some level).

                To call minds “purely physical” is a basic category error, ontologically incoherent. You may as well say that justice is yellow… or that the source of all reality is a petty bearded man in the sky. Similarly unjustified, and strange sounding to nonbelievers.

                Minds describe physics… physics does not describe minds. Surely you realize this.

                And yes, I’m well aware of much recent work on cognition and neurology, and how they correlate (during life in the body). And sure, our minds can make all kinds of ever finer [mental] models of how minds and brains make and reflect decisions (both directions, and both consciously and subconsciously).

                Not sure why you think that would make mind any less mental in kind… being such an obviously aware, curious, and creative sort of thing (those qualities have meanings that your mind recognizes because they apply to itself as well). And neurology is still busy being all that it can be. ;)

                Cheerio

              • Posted April 7, 2014 at 6:50 am | Permalink

                Bea, I’m sure we’ve been down this path before.

                The existence of design no more implies a Designer than motion does a Mover. It is only within the framework of Aristotelian Metaphysics that such claims hold true, and Aristotelian Metaphysics was utterly and irretrievably demolished by Newton and Darwin. Worse, while some other ancient scientific endeavors, such as Euclidean Geometry, still retain limited utility today, there just isn’t anything left of Metaphysics that’s good for anything. Indeed, the comparison wouldn’t be with Euclidean Geometry or even the Flat Earth (which is still very useful for ground navigation at the city and state and even regional levels), but rather the demonic possession theory of disease.

                In fact, what you’re proposing is no more nor less than Intelligent Design Creationism — a primitive superstition with as much bearing on reality as haruspex and necromancy.

                If you’re willing to move past that, we might be able to make some progress. But if you’re going to insist that the fact that our bodies (including our brains) are machines means that some sort of intelligence engineered them, then no further progress in this discussion is possible.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • paxton
                Posted April 7, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

                Bea, How do you distinguish between mind and brain?

              • Posted April 7, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

                Perhaps in the same way that one distinguishes between running processes and the hardware they are running on.

              • Posted April 7, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

                That’s a very useful distinction to make at a conceptual level when designing or programming or otherwise working with computers.

                However, it’s also a conceit that doesn’t actually exist in the real world. What we think of as software is nothing more than physical changes in hardware to which we’ve attached particular semantic meaning. And even then, it’s still quite arbitrary. Why this voltage to distinguish between “on” and “off,” as opposed to some other? Why only two options with a single voltage as the dividing line, as opposed to three options with two voltage divisors? Why voltage as opposed to magnetic field strength?

                All is hardware. It’s just that some parts of hardware are more easily modified than others.

                If it helps, imagine it as some sort of steampunk contraption, with water pipes and tubing and valves and what-not. Clearly all hardware, with “software” just being this particular physical arrangement of the hardware as opposed to this other physical arrangement of the hardware. The only difference between that and your iPhone is that the iPhone is smaller, lighter, more energy-efficient, and has a few more circuits.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • Bea
                Posted April 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

                Ben,
                You must read what is actually written, and not imagine/pretend it says what you’d prefer to argue against. No one said (or meant) anything about a Designer with a capital D (except you). Humans “design” watches and buildings and computers (etc.). That hardly constitutes a slippery slope toward religious fundamentalism.

                Think about how we might look at certain “religious” stances and see all the assumptions and incongruities they harbor and fail to question. Well, quite sincerely, I must tell you that many perfectly scientific people have grown to see the “physicalist” [philosophical] stance in much the same way.

                One point that you keep trying to evade is very simple. Mentality is an aspect of reality, not merely “implied” but experienced constantly, demonstrated daily by the very existence of aware, purposeful, creative human minds (like you and me).

                Yes, the fact that the nature of reality includes mentality does undercut metaphysical naturalism (a belief system)… but it is perfectly harmonious with methodological naturalism (science). Good thing, since scientific [or any other kind of] “knowledge” can only exist within a “knower” (a mind).

                No need for “intelligent design creationism” (at the one pole)… no need for “physicalism” (at the other pole). Keep it simple, and let evidence rather than assumptions (or authority) be your guide.

                So when you have questions about material stuff, observe material stuff (don’t make up stuff about material stuff). When you have questions about mental/experiential aspects/layers of reality, pay attention to all kinds of meaningful mental experiences… at whatever level you are capable of discerning such events in yourself and in others.

              • Posted April 9, 2014 at 12:40 am | Permalink

                I would agree that we have minds, but suspect that they are in some way manifestations of the machinations of an underlying physical brain.

                The big divide is whether you think there is some unique mechanism in the brain, that couldn’t *in principle* be implemented by simulating a neural network on a computer (i.e. whether you support computational theory of mind).

                Certainly it’s still a mystery how our feeling of awareness could arise from a physical background: See Searle’s chinese room argument and the various responses from scientists and philosophers.

              • Bea
                Posted April 8, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                Paxton, roqoco, and Ben,
                How do you distinguish between mind and brain? I very much doubt that you are unable.

                Brain activity is physical activity… described [by mental minds, no less] in terms of mass, charge, spin, space, and time. Hardware and software/instructions are actually both physical too.

                But designing software (and hardware) is mental activity, with purposes, logic, and meaning. The pleasure of playing Portal on that machine is mental too, as is learning how to speak French.

                Yes, mental activity can be ‘reflected’ in physical activity (often in a wide variety of ways). We refer to that as correlation (especially when it’s a two-way street).

              • paxton
                Posted April 9, 2014 at 6:11 am | Permalink

                Bea, My mind tells me that there is no other viable cause of its operation than my brain, with associated neural and sensory systems. As Roqoqo says “it’s still a mystery how our feeling of awareness could arise from a physical background”, but it must be the case. Are you proposing something like a no-physical spirit that operates independently of the brain? What do you mean by “mental activity can be ‘reflected’ in physical activity”? I would say ’caused by’.

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      There are still many scientific mysteries

      Yes, but that’s irrelevant. Science at human scales has been basically settled for well over a century, and the CERN team’s discovery of the Higgs most emphatically settled all human-scale physics plus quite an awful lot more. What’s left is bound to be exciting, but the entire domain over which the gods could possibly have dominion has been most thoroughly scoured, and we know as certainly as we do that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow that there are not and never have been any gods active anywhere even remotely near humanity.

      a form faith in the belief that the universe is governed by laws that are all ultimately discoverable

      That’s a conclusion based on observation and has fuck-all to do with faith. People have been watching the Sun rise in the East for as long as there’ve been people; what more discoverable regularity could one ask for? And so with all the rest of science; what do you think the “five sigma confidence” that the CERN team expressed in the Higgs discovery means? Hint: they looked, found something, looked again and found it again, and kept looking and finding until they were satisfied that the possibility of it being a statistical fluke amounts to unreasonable paranoia.

      Same deal with BICEP2’s potentially even more significant discovery. Alan Guth and others proposed long before I was born that perhaps the Universe underwent inflation, and one of the predictions that fell out of that idea was a particular type of polarization in the light of the CMB. BICEP2 found that. (Incidentally, the CMB itself was a prediction of Big Bang Cosmogenesis, discovered long after the prediction, making this particular theory incredibly powerful.) And the best part of BICEP2’s discovery is that there’s a really good chance that it’s pointing out a shortcut to a solution to quantum gravity, which is the hairiest of today’s crop of mysteries and which in turn likely holds the key to the other hairy mysteries such as dark energy and dark matter.

      What, I ask you, does religion have to offer that’s even remotely comparable? Maybe gay marriage doesn’t make baby Jesus cry after all, but Obama is still the antichrist and Crimea is Meggido?

      b&

      • Posted March 23, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        All good points. I would simply respond with a question: is reality, existence, soley defined and bound by that which can proven by scientific theory? Is there nothing more than physical reality which defines us as individuals, as societies and as a race as a whole? (Ok that was two questions)

        Because if religion as you define it is that which lays outside the realm of the physical sciences then I’d say it has a lot to offer. I’m not arguing for the reality of religion, I’m arguing for the limits of science as it relates to knowledge within which it sits – versus the other way around where knowledge is defined by that which can be proven by the physical sciences and these laws that yes indeed are extraordinarily powerful but what do they tell us about how to live? About the meaning and purpose of life itself? And are these questions even important? And if so then what structure, what system of thought should we use to answer these questions? Religion has a place in this domain in my view, but only as a historical narrative as to how we’ve approached answering these questions throughout history. There is a scientific approach to gaining some insight into some of these questions but religion – as defined by teachings of individual historical figures – in this context is a guide, not an answer.

        snowconenyc.com

        • paxton
          Posted March 23, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

          I think this is very important and well said snowconenyc.

          “what do they {physical laws] tell us about how to live?”

          Indeed. Exciting as the bosons and gravity waves are to many of us, what do they tell anyone about how to live?

          Science is being asked to do something it cannot do. Science can assist in telling us how to live by revealing the laws of the natural world, and these may give us powerful tools to achieve our goals. But science cannot decide what those goals should be, and currently can only provide rough guidelines on how to achieve them.

          Culture is the means by which societies develop rules on how we should live. Religion is the aspect of culture that most often addresses moral/ethical issues. Though all religions have gotten much wrong, and almost all are based on supernatural premises that are no longer tenable, we should not underestimate the value of the narratives thay have produced.

          As we struggle to understand and make decisions on how we should live, especially in a world where our decisions have so much consequence for our very survival, we would be fools to ignore the scientific understanding of the world, but we would also be fools to ignore the “historical narrative as to how we’ve approached answering these questions throughout history.”

          • Posted March 23, 2014 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

            Indeed. Exciting as the bosons and gravity waves are to many of us, what do they tell anyone about how to live?

            About as much as orbital mechanics tells you about how to repair an herniated disc.

            Science is being asked to do something it cannot do. Science can assist in telling us how to live by revealing the laws of the natural world, and these may give us powerful tools to achieve our goals. But science cannot decide what those goals should be, and currently can only provide rough guidelines on how to achieve them.

            As expected, when one starts with a contradiction or an absurdity, it’s trivial to derive any conclusion you might desire — as you’ve just so perfectly demonstrated.

            Because the fact of the matter is that not only is science up to the task, it’s the only thing that’s up to the task.

            Let’s start one step back; let’s assume that you have goals, however it is that you came to them. We’ll circle back to how to come to the goals in a moment; for right now, it matters not whether you used science or cast lots or sacrificed a goat or just pulled something out of your ass.

            You’ve already agreed that science gives us powerful tools to achieve our goals, in many specific instances. But it’s also virtually always the case that, to achieve one particular goal, you must also achieve other intermediate goals. Trivially, before you can run a marathon, you must first run a mile. More practically, before you can build an automobile, you must first build wheels and axles.

            But there are even more fundamental goals than all that. For one, you’ve got to be alive to do anything at all…and, as a modern human, that pretty much means you’ve got to be part of a society. And if your goals are anything at all beyond mere sustenance, you’ve also got to be a productive member of society; it’s pretty hard to build cars when your fellow humans have bound you in chains. Even beyond that, you’re going to need the help of other humans to get anything significant done; even if there is some engineer at Boeing who has all the knowledge necessary to build a 747 from raw materials, there’s still no way she could even theoretically mine and refine and assemble them all by herself; she needs to convince other people to help her in her goal of building a 747…and runways to get it into and out of the air, and fuel and air traffic control and marketers to convince people to buy tickets and somebody to grow the trees to make the paper to print the tickets on and…

            …and, clearly, any serious goal is utterly dependent on being a productive member of society. And science can tell us how to build productive societies and what individuals must do to be productive in them.

            Surprise, surprise, it turns out that what we call moral behavior is what’s required. Societies in which people go about murdering and raping and pillaging at the drop of the hat aren’t nearly as successful as ones in which people are peaceful and cooperative and respectful of each other’s rights and property. As it turns out, slavery is as bad for societies and economies as it is for the slaves; it just takes longer for the problems to become apparent. Societies which provide every reasonable opportunity for their citizens regardless of gender, race, and so on, have a much larger pool of talent to draw upon and thus, once again, are healthier as an whole and for the individuals within the society who follow those rules.

            So there’s your rational analysis of empirical observation demonstrating the effectiveness of moral behavior at the individual and societal levels — your scientific basis for morality. As with so much of science, it’s a statistical thing; there are error bars and outliers and all the rest. But the smartest way to roll the dice is to be moral, just as the smartest way to decide to dress for snow or 100° heat is to check the weather forecast. It ain’t perfect, but it’s the only thing we’ve got that actually works better than random chance.

            As for how you should figure out your own personal goals? Well, if you consult any competent counselor, you’ll find they recommend a very methodical and analytical approach, one that likely includes theorization and experimentation and observation and reevaluation and all the rest of the hallmarks of empiricism. So, yeah — if you want to figure out if you’re better off going to medical school or cleaning toilets, that’s again something best left to science (as opposed to goat entrails or priestly buggery or what-not).

            Cheers,

            b&

          • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:30 am | Permalink

            OK, so we don’t ignore that historical narrative. What can we learn from it? Insofar as religion has “answered” those questions, how did it arrive at those answers? Well, we see there’s no basis for the supernatural that lies behind some of those answers, so is every answer valid? Some may be (it is possible to arrive at the right answer for the wrong reasons!), but how do we decide which answers “will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science)” [Brian Aldiss]?

            Your comment reminds me of something Eric MacDonald claimed: “Gordon Kaufman, for instance, in his book In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology is very clear that religion is not just (or not even) a collection of beliefs in supernatural beings, but is primarily an attempt to understand what it means to be human, and how religious myths and metaphors may be used in order to provide the interpretive basis for doing this.”

            Looking to myths and metaphors to provide an interpretive basis seems likely to lead to confirmation bias and to leave you most vulnerable to availability heuristics and other biases that Daniel Kahneman discusses in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

            There are many sources (including religious myths) from which we might look to to understand and make decisions on how we should live, but how can a person determine which are practically helpful except by looking at the evidence in a (broadly) scientific way?

            Coincidentally, I came across this in a review of Thinking, Fast and Slow on GoodReads, which seem apposite:

            Dyson at 20 years old cranked statistics for the British Bombing [sic] Command in its youth. He was part of a small group that figured out the bombers were wrong about what mattered to surviving night time raids over Germany, a thing only about a quarter of the crews did over a tour. But no data driven changes were made because “the illusion of validity does not disappear just because facts prove it to be false. Everyone at Bomber Command, from the commander in chief to the flying crews, continued to believe in the illusion. The crews continued to die, experienced and inexperienced alike, until Germany was overrun and the war finally ended.”

            Why did the British military resist the changes? Because it was deeply inconsistent the heroic story of the RAF they believed in.

            Relying on myth, poetry, literature, and so forth to make sense of your life and to inform your life choices only fosters this illusion of validity. Maybe, like Slartibartfast, you would far rather be happy than right, but what if you are wrong and tens of thousands die?

            We have achieved at least a partial scientific understanding of the evolutionary and social origins of morality. We can frame ethical dilemmas in terms of game theory. We can, in principle, find scientific measures of humans and societal well-being.

            As with any scientific hypothesis, inspiration can come from anywhere (“First, we guess it.” — Richard Feynman), but science (broadly defined) really is the only way of sorting the wheat from the chaff.

            /@

            • paxton
              Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

              Ben Goren, Ant: I’m flattered to have evoked such detailed responses from two of the heavy hitters of WEIT. Coming on the heels of being recognized by Diana, this is likely to go to my head.

              Ant asks: “OK, so we don’t ignore that historical narrative [of how shall we live]. What can we learn from it? Insofar as religion has “answered” those questions, how did it arrive at those answers?”

              I would say that religionists have arrived at their moral codes and other strictures (e.g. diet, dress, who has authority over whom) on how to live from observing the consequences of actions. In other words, just like scientists, except without the scientists’ insistence on controls, quantitative analysis, etc. Yes, I agree with Ant that “Looking to myths and metaphors to provide an interpretive basis seems likely to lead to confirmation bias…” but I think that his conclusion that “Relying on myth, poetry, literature, and so forth to make sense of your life and to inform your life choices only fosters this illusion of validity” is a step too far. There is insight to be gained by those who seek to examine the evidence objectively. Readers (or hearers) of the Iliad in Homer’s day may have gleaned lessons about how to understand the intentions and cultivate the favor of Artemis or Aphrodite, but modern readers can read it as a source of information on how the ancient Greeks interpreted moral issues in terms of honor, love, loyalty, courage.

              Ant says: “We have achieved at least a partial scientific understanding of the evolutionary and social origins of morality.” I agree, but the sources of our evidence on the cultural evolution of morality are myths, literature, and religious documents. Examined closely, we can see that an “eye for an eye”, which we see as a primitive morality, is actually an advance on the morality of unrestrained retribution, an attempt to introduce notions of equity and fairness into human relationships.

              Is it obviously wrong for some people in a society to appropriate all the wealth and power and enslave, exploit and oppress the rest of the population? We can see the evolution of that notion in Hammurabi’s code, further developed by Amos, Hosea and other Jewish prophets. We can see Jesus as a moral revolutionary, with his doctrine of love thy neighbor, and his denunciation of the rich. We can trace the development of the US founding myth, the Declaration of Independence, with its radical notion that “all men are created equal.” We can see the arguments of Christian abolitionists in ending slavery, and the arguments of their Christian opponents in defending it.

              Ben says: “As it turns out, slavery is as bad for societies and economies as it is for the slaves; it just takes longer for the problems to become apparent.” It didn’t become apparent to the Romans in their 1000+ year history. It certainly wasn’t obvious to southern slaveholders on the eve of the American Civil war. Although science was well established by the time of abolition, it was the arguments of religion, more than the arguments of science that determined the issue. True, Darwin among others had begun to show that the differences among the “races” of humans were superficial and incidental, thus undermining the racial argument for slavery, but Roman slavery was not based on the racial argument.

              Ant says: “We can, in principle, find scientific measures of humans and societal well-being.” Yes, I agree that in principle, science can explain everything. But in terms of human thought and behavior science is so far short of that realization as to be practically useless in making many practical decisions. Does science tell me whether I should visit my aging mother or go to the ball game? Does it tell us whether we should boycott Israel over its occupation policies, or support an Israeli strike on Iran? Science may have revealed how to get more British flight crews back safely from their bombing runs, but does it tell us whether it was right to firebomb Dresden?

              I am not making an argument for the claims of any “revealed” religion. I am simply agreeing with snowconenyc that “Religion has a place in this domain [of deciding how we should live] …, but only as a historical narrative as to how we’ve approached answering these questions throughout history.” Science remains the bottom line on questions of fact, but it plays only a supporting role in the questions of how should we live.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:51 am | Permalink

                If facts don’t reside as the bottom line of deciding how one should live, then I think one in pretty serious trouble.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                This, of course, is what it all comes down to.

                Ignore reality at your peril, and there’s no better way to discern reality than with science.

                b&

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

                And what is the old saw? The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

                /@

              • paxton
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

                Take the question of whether we should raise taxes or cut benefits in order to balance our budget. The anti-taxers will say that although taxing the haves may seem more moral than cutting the safety net for the poor, in fact, since the rich hire the poor, increasing taxes will actually make even the poor worse off than cutting benefits. In principle, the science of economics can decide the economic consequences of both actions. In practice it cannot, much less decide on the psychological benefits of work vs. welfare, or the myriad other consequences of either decision. Do religions know better? Not necessarily, but they have addressed the matter and it may be useful to attend to their discussions.

              • gbjames
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 11:49 am | Permalink

                Paxton, I’m mystified that you would think the comments from religion regarding taxation would be of any use at all. Which religion? On what basis would you decide to take the advice from a priest who says “tax the rich” vs. a preacher who says “taxes on the rich are against God’s commandments”?

                Do you seriously think there is an answer there that is better than looking at the historical evidence for what happens when taxes on the wealthy are raised or lowered? You know…. that we might be better informed by considering facts?

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                Not just history. Look abroad. Sweden?

                /@

              • paxton
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

                gbjames: I would certainly look for historical evidence on the consequences of each action, but there are so many confounding variables that science cannot give me a definitive answer on what the consequence will be this time. Jesus and Mo each discussed charity and our responsibility for the poor at length. Both moved the moral goalposts in the direction of compassion and responsibility. Will consulting them provide a definitive answer as to what we should do? No there are no definitive answers to this or many other questions of how shall we live, but as Ant asked (quoting Aldiss) “how do we decide which answers “will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science)”? We need to use all resources available and make judgments based on partial knowledge.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

                I fail to understand how, when a rational analysis of the best-available empirical observations is insufficient to the task, consulting an ancient faery tale anthology complete with talking animals and zombies is going to do somehow do better.

                Sorry, but just because science doesn’t have all the answers that doesn’t mean that you actually can get answers by making shit up. It means you don’t have the answers, and you make the best of what you have.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • paxton
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                Ben: So how about Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Blake, do they have nothing to teach us regarding how we should live? They were not scientists and certainly did not employ scientific methods to reach their conclusions.

              • Posted March 24, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

                Insofar as there is reliable information to be had in works of literature with respect to advisable modes of human behavior, that information is supported by independent empirical observation.

                Shakespeare was a brilliant playwright with particular insight into the human condition, no doubt. But ask yourself: how do you distinguish between his analysis of human motivations from Bottom turning into an ass? And how do you distinguish between viewing Iago’s villainy as being something to emulate or eschew? What is one supposed to make of all the madness in so many characters?

                In general, I think you’ll find Shakespeare more of a mirror held up to humanity than a source of instructions on how to live your life. But even if the latter were the case, you’d still need some means of knowing that Shakespeare’s instructions are trustworthy…and the only way to bridge that gap to reality is with science.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted March 24, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                Paxton: Since when is science incapable of working in domains where multiple variables are in play?

                And science may not give you a definitive answer (yet)? So? This means you are going to turn to religion which has never provided consistent answers despite claims to having them? It is like you don’t know the depth of Lake Michigan, so you plan to look at chicken entrails for the answer. I can’t believe that you actually think that.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 25, 2014 at 5:16 am | Permalink

                For me literature, like Blake, gives me a perspective that is different from my own. It doesn’t tell me how to live, it helps me think. As Ben said, anything I might glean from how to live would be empirical and literature can provide examples (though fictional) of situations that characters move through. It helps me relate to those characters and think about my own reactions to them or their situations.

              • Posted March 25, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

                @ paxton (some way up)

                “There is insight to be gained by those who seek to examine the evidence objectively.”

                Exactly. Relying on the narratives *uncritically* fosters that illusion. At some point you have to validate the “truths” learned from the narrative agains the real world. Which is science (broadly defined).

                “Does science tell me whether I should visit my aging [sic] mother or go to the ball game?”

                How do you make that decision except by evaluating the likely consequences of each in light of your prior experience? Sure, there are weightings that are entirely subjective opinions, but it is in principle a rational decision. Which is science (broadly defined).

                (somewhat later)

                Economics is a science?

                Pace other comments, we can certainly look for the evidence, rather than religion, and that suggests that anything that reduces inequalities is the best thing for society as a whole (e.g., Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz and The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett).

                /@

            • paxton
              Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

              gbjames: “Since when is science incapable of working in domains where multiple variables are in play? And science may not give you a definitive answer (yet)? So?”

              Diana MacPherson: “literature, like Blake, gives me a perspective that is different from my own. It doesn’t tell me how to live, it helps me think.”

              Ant: “Sure, there are weightings that are entirely subjective opinions, but it is in principle a rational decision. Which is science (broadly defined).”

              Ben Goren: “I think you’ll find Shakespeare more of a mirror held up to humanity than a source of instructions on how to live your life. But even if the latter were the case, you’d still need some means of knowing that Shakespeare’s instructions are trustworthy…and the only way to bridge that gap to reality is with science.”

              It seems that you are all looking for certainty or at least a mathematical probability. But few real world choices allow for either.

              If we drop a lead ball off the leaning tower of Pisa, science can tell us its position and velocity at every instant, when and where it will hit the ground. If we drop a sheet of notebook paper, even though it is entirely subject to the same physical laws as the ball, science may be able to set bounds on the outcomes, but cannot provide us the same certainty.

              This is the way it is with most human choices. The outcomes may in principle be predicted by science, but in practice they cannot, and often our unconscious inclinations may provide better guidance than a scientific approach of gathering evidence and reasoning toward a decision. Not that our unconscious is operating evidence-free. It is making decisions based on the evidence and experience it has stored in memory, much of which it has pre-processed, like Google, to access certain responses under certain conditions.

              Whether conscious or unconscious these decisions in our brains are also based on ideas and concepts received from literature, art, religion, nature, parents, friends and other sources. “Subjective weightings”, “perspectives different from my own”, and “mirrors held up to humanity” provide guidance on how to live our lives. If it helps you think, it tells you how to live. Sure, our brain has to evaluate all these sources of guidance and still make decisions the consequences of which are uncertain. But if all it had to rely upon was science, we’d be fumbling in the dark most of the time.

              This is not to deny that all of our behaviors are determined, or that science, in principle, can explain them. But we may doubt that it will ever get close enough to be an adequate guide for all of our behaviors. Even if it were possible for us to block out all these other influences on how we should live, it would be highly disadvantageous.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

                If we drop a sheet of notebook paper, even though it is entirely subject to the same physical laws as the ball, science may be able to set bounds on the outcomes, but cannot provide us the same certainty.

                This is true, but irrelevant.

                It is perfectly true that there is much uncertainty in the Cosmos, much we do not know and much we will likely never know.

                The fallacy is in concluding that you can therefore make shit up and pretend that that’s the actual answer and that you really do know it.

                Yes, of course, we often must make decisions in the face of uncertainty. And we have some rather impressive heuristics that we label “intuition” that work remarkably well. But all we’re doing is shooting in the dark but aiming in ways that tend to have better odds of hitting something than just aiming at random. And we know this to be the case…again, because we have the empirical evidence to back it up. We also know that our intuitions are often fallible, and worse than aiming randomly; part of coming to adulthood is learning how to recognize the fallible nature of intuitions and develop non-intuitive alternates.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • paxton
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

                Ben Goren wote: “The fallacy is in concluding that you can therefore make shit up and pretend that that’s the actual answer and that you really do know it.”

                I agree completely and hope I have not suggested otherwise. I’m simply saying that in most cases we have to recognize the uncertainty and make decisions on the best information available, which may include the authority of others who we respect, writers whose arguments and portrayals we have found convincing, etc. Science is essential to eliminate false information, but is seldom sufficient for assured outcomes. Even gravity waves and the Higgs boson, I have to take on the authority of others, as I have not the training to evaluate the evidence myself.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                Remember that science, broadly constructed, is not merely that which people do in labs with beakers whilst wearing white coats.

                Any time you’re apportioning belief in the proportion indicated by a rational analysis of available empirical observation, you’re basically doing science. If you don’t have much in the way of evidence and you therefore have rather loose error bars, you’re still doing science.

                b&

              • gbjames
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                “It seems that you are all looking for certainty or at least a mathematical probability.”

                I don’t think any of us are looking for certainty.

                All is probability. And your unconscious decisions aren’t just random events, they are responses that have been “automated” based on the probabilities around similar events in our evolutionary and developmental pasts.

                If you want to understand things, you need science (broadly construed). Otherwise all you are doing is exercising your imagination machine.

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think any of us are looking for certainty.

                Exactly.

                Every time I’ve defined science, it’s been as the apportioning of belief in proportions indicated by a rational analysis of empirical observation. There’s no absolute certainty in that, though there’s certainly the opportunity for overwhelming confidence. In practice, one can reasonably be certain that the Sun will rise in the East tomorrow morning, but that’s just a shorthand way of stating that the error bars are so small that you can’t even see them.

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

                So I think uncertainty is manageable. I work in process improvement. We are a development and infrastructure shop. We often know we will get unplanned items. We don’t know what that work will be, but we get it. These are our known unknowns. We can budget for it even though it’s unplanned and staff it up to handle it. Then there are our planned knowns – easy to address. The killer are the unknown unknowns. Those things we don’t see coming and never thought were coming. We try to drive those down and manage them. We want to plan so we grow our business – this is where we make money. None of this is ground breaking, it’s just good business.

                So, it’s using logic, statistics, and the scientific method to manage all that stuff, even the unknown stuff. We put metrics in place to see where we are. We make adjustments as we go.

                Now a foolish company would just react. That’s dangerous. You never can plan and grown.

                We’re talking about CI’s, error bars, etc. Typically, the majority of your interactions are managed and known; the rest we can handle but not by shooting blindly in the dark.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

                Ben said: Remember that science, broadly constructed, is not merely that which people do in labs with beakers whilst wearing white coats….

                Yep! I use the scientific method every day. I promote it and I expect it from others. I wouldn’t even think of going to my VP with an idea if I didn’t have solid metrics to back it up along with a POC!

              • Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

                Read David Deutsch’s _The Fabric of Reality_ (do anyway; it is good in so many ways). In it he discusses how the formal scientific method is just a special case of a general problem solving approach. And it is that more general approach which constitutes *science (broadly construed)*. (I think he reprises the discussion in _The Beginning of Infinity_.)

                /@

              • paxton
                Posted March 27, 2014 at 6:17 am | Permalink

                I guess I haven’t been construing science broadly enough. It seems that most things people do, when not relying on superstition or hallucinating, is science. Thanks all for the discussion.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      “we just don’t know nor do I think will we ever truly know, given the limits of knowledge in and of itself.”

      Spoken like a true believer in philosophy.

      Well, I have news for you. Or rather the BICEP2 team has. As of the day before yesterday, our universe is a new, exciting one. (Well, we need confirmation. Planck should release its complementary data in a few weeks, when we’ll see.)

      The smoking gun for making the case of inflation beyond reasonable doubt has been found. [It's all over the news.] That puts creationism*, aka theism/deism, as known to be more insanely erroneous than astrology and homeopathy.

      Astrology puts the influence of stars 10 orders of magnitude insanely wrong. Homeopathy puts the influence of diluted drugs 30 orders of magnitude insanely wrong. And creationism puts the influence of diluted initial spacetimes 90 orders of magnitude insanely wrong: the dilution and de novo structure formation (seeding today’s galaxies) from inflation and inflaton & graviton quantum fluctuations.

      “nor do I think will we ever truly know”, “the limits of knowledge”. Limits of knowledge, won’t know? Where is your evidence? You know, writing those unsupported, inane claims two days after we know for sure (pending confirmation) is simply hilarious. Science – theology 1-0. Thanks for the laugh!

      *Creationism writ small, if you want to argue this point. E.g. the idea that a magic agent has “created” something, here the universe.

      • Posted March 23, 2014 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

        Creationism does not equal religion or theism. Creationists are insanely stupid, extraordinarily naive or just terribly misinformed, were both in violent agreement about this.

        Cheers

        snowconenyc.com

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:05 am | Permalink

      with a form faith in the belief that the universe is governed by laws that are all ultimately discoverable it still negs the question

      There is no problem of principle here, and the idea that we can discover laws is not a faith but a fact. Resident physicist Sean Carroll has pointed out that the laws underlying everyday physics are completely known. (LHC clinched that.) That skewers your claim.

      So you are asking for exotic physics that are neither here nor in 99.99999999 % of cases there. (Black holes, dark matter, dark energy, inflation.)

      So what are the problems?

      – Measurement theory tells us observation accuracy and precision is affected by uncertainty, and that poor resolution (problems of poor data) factors into uncertainty.

      Those are practical problems, not problems of principle.

      – Computer science tells us learning is affected by resource availability and complexity.

      — The former factors into why science works, how can finite resources test for laws? It works because there is a finite number of laws (symmetries) in a convex deSitter universe (our type of universe).

      So again, a practical problem.

      — The latter factors into structural complexity. It is for example known that the complexifications of M theory (the possible universes) is a problem too hard to solve in principle.

      But our universe may not be such. Hawking has a quantum cosmology that takes a loophole around M theory and settles directly on our inflationary universe.

      So an open problem.

      To sum up: we don’t yet know if we will resolve the laws for the remaining 0.00000001 % of exotic physics.

      I’m sorry, but I am underwhelmed by the size of your purported problem.

  35. Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Also, the Catholics are piqued that Neil de Grasse Tyson and Seth McFarlane took shots at the Church. Here’s Father Barron extolling the compatibility of Catholicism and science: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3009/cosmos_and_one_more_telling_of_the_tired_myth.aspx#.UyjV0PldW4I

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

      I made as far as “Galileo was sponsored by the Church” before deciding that I’d like my appetite not to be ruined so soon before dinner.

      b&

      • Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

        Lol. Probably a good practice.

        For such an old and staid institution, the Roman Catholics seem to be rather sensitive about defending the indefensible. The Church murdered Giordano Bruno– murdered him dead as a public spectacle– but hey, sh*t happens. They arrested and imprisoned Galileo over a scientific finding, but hey, he enjoyed it! It’s as if V.I. Lenin stole the idea of telling a lie often enough make it the truth from the Church.

        • Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

          I think you might be thinking of Hitler’s Groß Lüge. And, make no mistrake, Hitler was every bit as Christian as any prominent American politician today, and Nazi Germany was every bit as Christian as today’s America.

          The basic idea entered Christianity when Eusebius adopted it from Plato. Proper thinking (orthodoxy) is valued in Christianity; truth is always secondary. Orwell was not forecasting 36 years into the future, but rather writing a parable of the Church and its daughter institutions.

          Cheers,

          b&

  36. Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Yes, there is (of course) a difference in the wording of the “conflict” question between Ecklund’s 27% one and the earlier one that produced a rather larger figure.

    According to http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/content_files/RU_AAASPresentationNotes_2014_0219%20%281%29.pdf Ecklund’s survey posed the question as follows:

    “For me personally, my understanding of science and religion can be described as a relationship of …”

    followed by four options: “Conflict… I consider myself to be on the side of religion”, “Conflict… I consider myself to be on the side of science”, “Independence… they refer to different aspects of reality”, and “Collaboration… each can be used to help support the other”.

    There is a great deal of difference between “science and religion often conflict” and “my understanding of the relationship between science and religion can be described as a relationship of conflict”, especially when the latter requires you to declare yourself specifically “on the side of” one and hence presumably *against* the other.

    I think it is very misleading for the HuffPo to summarize the result as “only 27% feel that science and religion are in conflict”.

  37. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:28 am | Permalink

    A good analysis.

    But I have some specific problems.

    Indeed, if you took a poll of Americans 250 years ago, you’d find many people claiming that Christianity and slavery were compatible. Does that prove that they are? No: it proves that people who call themselves Christians could at the same time hold in their heads messages profoundly inimical to the principles of Christianity.

    That is buying in to these sects own propaganda, which is based on picking and choosing of their texts. You can find pieces that are supportive of slavery, and it was so used. Remember the post asking us the question if supporting slavery/slave moral by telling the slaves that the texts sanction it was a good thing?

    If pick and choose is berated later in the analysis, it should be so here too. Do Christianity have good moral principles, where compatibility with slavery is inimical to those? What is your evidence?

    “religions” without Gods, like Taoism or some forms of Buddhism

    I think this is fuzzifying the description of religions.

    – These “isms” are described as “religious tradition” respectively “non-theistic religion” in Wikipedia.

    – Taoism describes a source and driving force behind everything (“Tao”), buddhism describes souls instead of minds (“vijñāna”).

    Such concepts are rejected by modern science. What was sourcing the universe isn’t the current driving force; minds, not souls. So these superstitious traditions fulfill your description of the fundamental conflict: “between rationality and superstition”.

    – They both propose magic, unnatural action as per above. So if religious tradition is the sectarian use of magic belief, they are such.

  38. Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.’ If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever. (Exodus 21:2-6 NLT)

    Christianity seems perfectly sympathetic with slavery based on these verses alone.

  39. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Now think how far theology has progressed since 1500, at least in terms of understanding the true nature of the divine. It hasn’t budged an inch.

    I think that it has actually wandered around a bit. It just seems to have not moved because the distance from anywhere to the non existent is more than a few inches.
    Religion has made progress. The pinheads are smaller and the angels have learned to line dance.

  40. Mohammad Nur Syamsu
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    This is nothing but an ordinary head vs heart struggle, where the atheists are the stereotypical bad guys, crushing emotions.

    The root of subjectivity is that what the agency of a decision is, is a matter of opinion. Where “agency” means, that which makes a decision turn out the way it does, and “opinion” means to reach a conclusion by a way of choosing the answer, expressing your emotions with free will.

    You don’t accept this, neither do you research common discourse how subjectivity works there, nor do you even have a stable idea about how subjectivity works. Subjectivity is neglected, ridiculed, and held to be wrong or inferior in respect to objectivity, that’s how it is with science minded intellectuals. And then they scoff at belief in God, as part of scoffing at subjectivity in general.

    You can see clearly this is so, because these science minded intellectuals always demand evidence of God. So the objection is not distaste with belief in God, the objection is that subjectivity is wrong in general, and should be replaced with objectivity.

    Communism and nazism were relatively more popular at universities than in the population in genera. With his rejection of free will, and objective knowledge of good and evil, he argues in that academic “tradition”. He exploits appearnces now that religious people are the bad guys, but nazi scientists made emotional disposition into a matter of fact issue, just as modern day neurologists are doing at present with the mri device.

    It is banal original sin of knowledge of good and evil, the head destroying the heart, dressed up with academic respectability.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted March 20, 2014 at 4:48 am | Permalink

      So the root of the problem to you is that one cannot demand evidence of god because it is a subjective experience?

      And who is this he you are referring to?

      • Mohammad Nur Syamsu
        Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        You cannot demand evidence for anything in reference to the agency of a decision, because it is a matter of opinion. The root of beauty being a matter of opinion is because the agency of a decision is a matter of opinion. All subjectivity, including taste and smell, hinges on the agency of a decision being regarded as a matter of opinion.

        With objectivity all you are really doing is copying information, making a model. If you have an exact model of the moon in mind, then you have all the facts about the moon.

        With subjectivity on the other hand you create new information yourself by choosing the answer.

        Love, hate, the human spirit, God the holy spirit, these are all agencies of decisions, and therefore it is a matter of opinion if they exist or not.

        The common notion of “creation” is really the theory of everything in abstract form. All of reality divides up into what chooses and what is chosen, all what is in the first category being a matter of opinion, the second being a matter of fact. Creator and created.

        This is the reason why science originally was based on empericism by creationists. You cannot possibly figure out what exists from your armchair using the theory of everything, you have to go out and see what has been chosen to be. All matter of fact issues are at base contingencies, they are in the category of what is chosen. All the universe can be brought to what is accurately and exhaustively described with a singular zero, if so decided, to which state of the universe only the rule of 0 potentiality applies, and not any other law of nature.

        You can see that always denial of free will comes together with making what is good and evil into a matter of fact issue, also called original sin. The nazi’s denied free will with biological determinism, and they made it into a matter of fact what emotional disposition people have. It is a matter of logic that these 2 come together. When you don’t use a logic of free will, then you use a logic of sorting for the word “choosing”, where the sorting criteria are then functionally the knowledge of good and evil. With free will the subjectively identified agency chooses, without free will the sortingcriteria determine the result.

        And that is what Jerry Coyne is doing, denying free will, and rejecting subjectivity wholesale. In the worst possible academic tradition of nazism and communism.

        • Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:32 am | Permalink

          Sorry, Mr. Syamsu, but you’re gone for good for putting me in the “worst possible academic tradition of nazism and communism.” Did you not read the rules about insulting the host?

          What a rude person you are. Well, ply your rudeness at another site. I’ve allowed you to have your say up to the point where you became insulting.

          • Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink

            I love the smell of napalm in the morning! Many thanks to our host for enforcing the rules, although it is unfortunate that he has to spend some time doing it.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:37 am | Permalink

          Ignoring for a minute that you’re being a grade A douchebag to our host ( and the rest of us ) which is against the rules and the fact that your dubious claims have no data supporting them, I simply have one question for you:

          If science evolved from creationism, then why are there still creationists?

        • Sastra
          Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

          Mohammad Nur Syamsu wrote:

          Love, hate, the human spirit, God the holy spirit, these are all agencies of decisions, and therefore it is a matter of opinion if they exist or not.

          Thanks. I’m copying this quote because it explicitly lays out what I’ve long considered a major problem regarding the belief in God: category error. Ironically, MNS is accusing us of the very fallacy he is committing himself.

          Look at where he is placing God: in with emotions. Emotions are inherently subjective, as are the values we build up around them. They are products of individual minds.

          Is “God” supposed to be an emotion? Is it supposed to be a product of our minds, something we believe in like a value or principle?

          Not unless you’re an atheist.

          To a theist, God is supposed to be an objective fact, an actual presence or essence or being which exists regardless of whether anyone believes in it. If someone really and truly thinks of it as being like “love,” then they’re either describing atheism or reifying an abstraction. This is like confusing romantic love with cupid.

          Theology is category error raised to the level of art form.

          • Jesper Both Pedersen
            Posted March 20, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

            In a sad way I think it illustrates why so many believers, regardless of religious flavor, instinctively distrusts heathens.

            Without even flinching infidels are branded as the worst of the worst….institutionalized dehumanisation sanctioned by fundamental religious premises.

        • Kevin Alexander
          Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:58 am | Permalink

          OK, I’ve read your comment several times and being insulting at the end it is otherwise simply incoherent.
          Subjectivity or opinion does not depend on free will. They just mean that one is not conscious of how the feeling or opinion was arrived at. If one could build a conscious computer it could have subjective feelings and opinions without being aware of it’s own software and it still wouldn’t have free will.

          Also, next time you want to insult someone, try poopyhead or some other infantile word. You have absolutely no idea what either National Socialism or Communism were about

    • Sastra
      Posted March 20, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      Communism and nazism were relatively more popular at universities than in the population in genera. With his rejection of free will, and objective knowledge of good and evil, he argues in that academic “tradition”.

      Excuse me, but I can’t let this one pass. The idea that good and evil are “objective” and inherent in the nature of things is a religious view, not a scientific one. It is rooted in the concept of God as “goodness” personified.

      The Nazis and Communists were borrowing from the Romantic tradition, where Nature was following a divine plan or progressive goal. The Romantic period is characterized as a rebellion against the reason and science of the Enlightenment, an attempt to once again invoke and embed spiritual fervor and its consequent certainty into beliefs and actions.

      The universities had to be purged of intellectuals who failed to be swayed by emotion into the Big Plan. Both communism and nazism appealed directly to the people, the common folk of heart and blood. Have you never seen the crowds and throngs worshiping Hitler with tears running down their cheeks? An “academic” tradition?

      In my opinion, you have no idea what you’re talking about.

      • Sastra
        Posted March 20, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Also … the Nazis rejected free will?

        Ever hear the phrase “Triumph of the Will?”

        Sheesh. You’re just ramming history into your point, aren’t you?

  41. Posted March 20, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Sorry to see MNS expelled so soon. Not often we get to see inside the offhand arguments of true believers; and a Muslim, perhaps, this time.
    Advice to MNS; always present your best arguments as a personal thing, “It seems to me that…” for example. But already I see that MNS has had his butt roasted on the barbecue by Sastra. We’ve all been there! And just wait until Ben wakes from his morning nap. He’s gonna be pissed!
    MNS’s arguments do seem to be a bit of a muddle, and largely self-contradictory. He seems to be saying that objective beliefs stemming from Free Will, automatically have their own credibility. If that were so, all nonsense has a free pass, and my wife should stop berating me when I tell her about the gnomes who live in our wood-shed (who are preventing me cutting logs)

    And so to a pet peeve; too many posters stick to the redundant idea that religion is based upon indoctrination. Doesn’t seem like that to me. Not at all. Religious people are right in claiming that they have reached their belief in their gods by the use of logic and reasoning. The problem being that they seem unaware that their beliefs are tribal, and shared with their neighbours, wherever they live.
    It is far more credible to understand that religious belief comes from a false assumption concerning the nature of reality, installed in adolescence. Dr Dawkins brilliantly put his finger on it when he said somewhere that all religious people of whatever religion have come to an early understanding that they live in an ‘intentional universe’ With that false belief deeply embedded under all thought processes, religious people have no option but to believe in their gods. It stays with them as an underlying conviction; similar in many ways to the ludicrous convictions held by paranoid people. The whole of the 3000 year old history of religious exegeses are drawn from that one dud assumption embedded in the brain of many. The whole of religion is very logical, – if you have accepted the one fatal mistake that we live in an intentional universe.
    The above analysis is the very beginning of Human Sub-Set Theory; that the brains of various groups within society operate in very different ways.

    • Posted March 20, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      George – I would expand upon this a bit to say that many religions are also based on the fear of finitude and the lack of explanation for evil and bad occurrences. A major fear of many xians is the loss of salvation, either for themselves or for their loved ones. A dogma of an eternal lake of fire is no doubt distressful to children and adults alike who buy into such a belief.

    • Kevin Alexander
      Posted March 20, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Not sure where I read it (Antonio Damasio?)but it seems to me that nervous systems evolved at first to react to external stimuli, essentially modelling the environment. In time the internal loops become so complex that they became part of the environment that the brain was evolving in until with humans the brain becomes the main part, becoming its own universe.
      The original mechanism is still there however so the result is that there is a nearly inescapable illusion that our emotions, originally triggered by the external still seem to be ‘out there’.

      If we are moved we can’t help the feeling that something moved us.

  42. peltonrandy
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    sub

  43. Posted March 20, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Great read! We examine the Incompatibility Hypothesis Science/Evolution vs. Religion in this book chapter 2013 http://faculty.rwu.edu/aespinosa/aespinosa/Publications_files/Paz-y-Mino-C_Espinosa_Everlasting_Conflict_Evol_Sci_Rel_NOVA_2013.pdf

  44. Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    “…there’s no question but that cognition is an entirely physical phenomenon….”

    I feel that the ‘Ben Hypothesis’ doesn’t address the complexity of cerebral activity. For a start the idea that human brain activity should eventually be mirrored by computers probably is not true. For a start there are several types of human brain described by Human Sub-Set Theory. Equivalent to several types of Brain Operating Systems (BOS)

    Ben seems to have an assumption that the sense of self, – the interrogating inner voice-, is a human attribute, when it is, in fact, confined to the Middle Classes, which are about 30% of all people. I remember it was Bernstein, fifty years ago in ‘Class, Codes and Control’ who first endorsed what I already knew; that the sense-of self, was not recognisably present in Blue Collar. I questioned the lads in my street and realised that their own inner sense of self was really a self-serving attempt to understand what they personally had seen or experienced. . They were always trying to nail down the facts of their lives, and not speculate at all. They were unable, for example, to discuss our observations we made together upon garden plants and insects that led to me proposing evolution at 13, before I had come across the idea in books. The lads had no such capacity, nor the inclination, to reason abstractly. (Curiously, their major sticking-point was the inability to factor-in the enormous amounts of time evolution usually takes. But also they could not envisage change without a conscious agent of change)

    A second point is that the Middle Class human brain is a dedicated to the formulation of ideology, which is a collection of false beliefs concerning the nature of external reality. It is almost the same, but not quite, of applying the brain to resolve problems of understanding. Science is an exception in that the ideology is decoupled from emotional needs. That leaves scientists with no emotional foundation, which is usually slowly made-up by proposing a heart-warming philosophy based upon cats, or the thought that we are stardust!

    The human brain is at least two independent mechanisms in conversation and conflict. This is illustrated by a writer’s experience of addressing his blank sheet of paper. Journalism, such as this note, is largely from the conscious brain and is a matter of assembling from conscious experience. But fiction comes from the sub-conscious, and seems to writers like me awfully like automatic writing, pouring from my brain with character and incident all pinned to a rough matrix previously outlined. Sometimes I am first surprised, and then heartily entertained by reading what I have just written. And writers learn to preoccupy the conscious mind to allow the unconscious to get to work. I do this by having a chess-game on the go on another computer, which seems to lock the conscious mind.

    Finally; the written literature itself isn’t a stream of conscious like ‘Finnegan’s Wake’. It ebbs and flows, builds and subsides, about-turns and strike-off in fresh directions. It is replete with Temporary Stable States (TSS), as is all human thinking. And it is the interaction of TSS’s that results in human cerebral activity. One must have experienced, learned and remembered many odd fleeting characters, circumstances and incidents in order to think forward and write fiction. And therefore behind it all is our evolved emotional needs. Maybe computers will never have that.

  45. Kevin Alexander
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    Ben seems to have an assumption that the sense of self, – the interrogating inner voice-, is a human attribute, when it is, in fact, confined to the Middle Classes, which are about 30% of all people. I remember it was Bernstein, fifty years ago in ‘Class, Codes and Control’ who first endorsed what I already knew; that the sense-of self, was not recognisably present in Blue Collar.

    Thanks for that George. All my life I have been under the illusion that I had a sense of self when, according to you, I don’t since I am blue collar myself. So I’ll just stop having a sense of self…..right now……shit…..It won’t go away!

    • Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      Thanks Kevin. I was a factory labourer at 16, and went on to do other things, as, I’m sure, you did. We are not exactly factory-workers now, are we? But spare a thought for all those who were not born with our brains, and could not find the door out of the factory.

      • Kevin Alexander
        Posted March 26, 2014 at 4:54 am | Permalink

        Let me suggest that you read ‘Self Comes to Mind’ by neurologist Antonio Domasio.
        He shows how consciousness and a sense of self is present not only in all humans but in any animal with a brain.

        • Posted March 26, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

          Kevin, thanks for the tip.
          Domasio’s ‘Enchainment of Precedences’ is the result of the middle Classes looking ONLY at the middle Classes. Such work is typical of the incestuous little talking-shop which first raised my serious doubts about the viability of the Social Sciences. If only he and his collaborators could get off campus for a couple of hours!

          Talking of which, – I see that the greatest failing of contemporary science is to offer blind support to the sophisticated promulgators of neuroscience woo. It seems odd to me that scientists can rapidly see through the inventions of Dr Sheldrake or Chopra, but fail to realise the fantasies being developed in the Social Science faculty right next door. It is a warning to us all that there are those who collect qualifications all around the world, and yet cannot grasp the simplest of foundational truths concerning the activity of the human brain. (See WLC) And, sadly, there are those who have rejected theology, but still work upon the theological model of quoting ‘authorities’ such as Domasio, rather than argue from first principles based upon sturdy observation. Regards, G

          • Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

            Whereas your Human Sub-Set “Theory” … Well, has it been published in peer-review journals? (Would a Wikipedia article about it be allowed?!)

            /@

            • Kevin Alexander
              Posted March 26, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

              Thanks Ant
              When I was a kid I was told that Catholic brains worked differently than Protestant brains and I’m sure the Protestant kids were told the same thing.
              There are human subset theories based on race, sex, culture, nationality or any other confection our tribally obsessed minds can come up with. George just reminded me of one more way that Marxist thinking has gone off the rails
              If our brains are constructed the same way then we can’t think differently. We can only think different things.

  46. Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that, Kevin. That was the understanding at my university fifty years ago. But then I began to travel and to spend a long time (forty years!) abroad, where I saw that the old model simply was not true. It is like insisting that there is only MS Dos, and no Apple or Linux. The brain is, of course, plastic, and can serve many purposes, and adopt any of a large number of Brain Operating Systems. Look at the apparent collapse of self-confidence at the time of deconversion. It doesn’t look like a simple matter of a brain simply changing its mind! It is the mass disconnection of billions of tried and trusted connections, and the slow rebuilding of a new model of brain, perhaps built this time upon the importance of Experiential Information. I observed that different groups within society may share very similar Brain Operating Systems, but between groups, they are mutually destructive. For me, the most entertaining of those differences was to be found between hippies and office-workers. They live in different worlds. Or try between those in the military, and creative artists.

    What is so very interesting is that posters to this site are baffled by the obtuse and ornery nature of religious belief, and always seem to put it down to ‘indoctrination’. It seems to me to be far more than that. The whole brain of the religious has been assembled with dud parts. Dr Dawkins put his finger on the problem when he said that all religious people suffer a conviction of an ‘Intentional Universe’. And so I see that the brain develops from adolescence onwards with a sense of self; an autobiography, predicated upon that false core belief.

    I wrote ‘Origins of Belief and Behaviour’ years ago to include evidence for what I am saying. I thought it would take 80 pages to explain the hypothesis, but with the mass of evidence I had accumulated over a lifetime, it runs to over 2000 pages. I really want to float the idea in public to see if any others have come to the same conclusions as I, and gratifyingly, several have.

  47. Posted March 27, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Compatibility, NCSE, BioLogos, Templeton, AAAS… all in one equation.

    Folks, NCSE has done amazing work supporting science/education, particularly evolution and more recently climate change. Although NCSE has been active for many years, the 2005 Dover-PA trial on Intelligent Design gave the Center much exposure and support, a well deserved reputation and public gratitude. Credibility. ID was defeated in court with limited involvement of religion, although some of the expert witnesses were know for being believers in a God. But the ripping of ID apart was primarily based on science, science-education principles, plus a team of lawyers and scholars competent to debunk ID.

    Now, the NCSE’s enchantment with BioLogos (creationism itself for relying on supernatural causation to explain cosmic laws) is a compromise, a marriage (even if short lasting), with BioLogos and its sympathizers, some funded by Templeton to encourage work on the “compatibility” of science and faith. It seems like when injection of funds is on the table, many join readily just in case.

    The new equation perhaps reads Compatibility equals NCSE plus BioLogos plus Templeton (even if the latter is in the far background): C = NCSE + BioLogos + Templeton

    Ecklund’s work rises from years of funded-effort attempting to merge science with the supernatural. The last endorsement by AAAS, of Ecklund’s study, adds an incredibly reputable organization, the serious AAAS, to the “dialog” about compatibility, an unfortunate situation (C = NCSE + BioLogos + Templeton + AAAS). The mix is complex, but it seems like the denominator is high-respect for religion as strategy to trade “science” with “its acceptance in society.” A high price to pay in the 21st century.

    So far NCSE has received public support, and the scientists’, for advocating for science without invoking religion. I am not sure how much the support will change now that the NCSE endorsement of “all faiths” is more evident. The US public is religious in principle and may simply adapt to seeing NCSE in joint communion with BioLogos. “Replacing extreme religion with moderate religion,” as I heard once from one of the major executives of NCSE, might be a smart “goal,” but the relationship with BioLogos might progress toward more serious engagements, hard to divorce from, and that is concerning.

    It is bad for science and science education to start, or continue, a discussion about evolution or climate change, or whatever science topic happens to be rejected at a time, with the blessings, approval or “Okay” from any religious agenda.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29,471 other followers

%d bloggers like this: