A bit more about catering to the faithful

While going through the Berkeley website Understanding Science (discussed yesterday), I found something more of interest.  It’s a page called “Astrology: Is it Scientific?”, which sets out a checklist of questions that the student should answer to see if astrology is indeed a science.  Here’s part of the checklist:

Here we’ll use the Science Checklist to evaluate one way in which astrology is commonly used. See if you think it qualifies as scientific!

Focuses on the natural world?
Astrology’s basic premise is that heavenly bodies — the sun, moon, planets, and constellations — have influence over or are correlated with earthly events.

Aims to explain the natural world?
Astrology uses a set of rules about the relative positions and movements of heavenly bodies to generate predictions and explanations for events on Earth and human personality traits. For example, some forms of astrology predict that a person born just after the spring equinox is particularly likely to become an entrepreneur.
Uses testable ideas?
Some expectations generated by astrology are so general that any outcome could be interpreted as fitting the expectations; if treated this way, astrology is not testable. However, some have used astrology to generate very specific expectations that could be verified against outcomes in the natural world. For example, according to astrology, one’s zodiac sign impacts one’s ability to command respect and authority. Since these traits are important in politics, we might expect that if astrology really explained people’s personalities, scientists would be more likely to have zodiac signs that astrologers describe as “favorable” towards science.1 If used to generate specific expectations like this one, astrological ideas are testable.
Relies on evidence?
In the few cases where astrology has been used to generate testable expectations and the results were examined in a careful study, the evidence did not support the validity of astrological ideas.2 This experience is common in science — scientists often test ideas that turn out to be wrong. However, one of the hallmarks of science is that ideas are modified when warranted by the evidence. Astrology has not changed its ideas in response to contradictory evidence.

The page concludes by saying:

Astrology is not a very scientific way to answer questions. Although astrologers seek to explain the natural world, they don’t usually attempt to critically evaluate whether those explanations are valid — and this is a key part of science. The community of scientists evaluates its ideas against evidence from the natural world and rejects or modifies those ideas when evidence doesn’t support them. Astrologers do not take the same critical perspective on their own astrological ideas.

It seems to me that some of the claims of many faiths are similar to those of astrology–the four ideas given above.  Religion focusses on the natural world (at least some of the time), purports to explain it, uses testable ideas (e.g., efficacy of prayer), and relies on evidence (Scripture, archaeological findings, etc.)  Like astrology, religion fails all of these tests.

I’m not trying to say anything portentous, except that scientists are really keen to denigrate astrology while at the same time bending over backwards to respect religion, even though there is the same amount of evidence supporting each.  This is a point that science writer Natalie Angier makes in her wonderful essay, “My God Problem.”

Consider the very different treatments accorded two questions presented to Cornell University’s “Ask an Astronomer” Web site. To the query, “Do most astronomers believe in God, based on the available evidence?” the astronomer Dave Rothstein replies that, in his opinion, “modern science leaves plenty of room for the existence of God . . . places where people who do believe in God can fit their beliefs in the scientific framework without creating any contradictions.” He cites the Big Bang as offering solace to those who want to believe in a Genesis equivalent and the probabilistic realms of quantum mechanics as raising the possibility of “God intervening every time a measurement occurs” before concluding that, ultimately, science can never prove or disprove the existence of a god, and religious belief doesn’t—and shouldn’t—”have anything to do with scientific reasoning.”

How much less velveteen is the response to the reader asking whether astronomers believe in astrology. “No, astronomers do not believe in astrology,” snarls Dave Kornreich. “It is considered to be a ludicrous scam. There is no evidence that it works, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.” Dr. Kornreich ends his dismissal with the assertion that in science “one does not need a reason not to believe in something.” Skepticism is “the default position” and “one requires proof if one is to be convinced of something’s existence.”

In other words, for horoscope fans, the burden of proof is entirely on them, the poor gullible gits; while for the multitudes who believe that, in one way or another, a divine intelligence guides the path of every leaping lepton, there is no demand for evidence, no skepticism to surmount, no need to worry.

A couple more points of clarification about the last post:

1.  I am by no means denigrating the worthwhile achievements of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Center for Science Education in pushing back the tide of creationism.  Their effects (especially the NCSE’s) in court cases and school-board hearings have had a real and positive effect on keeping evolution in the schools.  My beef is that these effects are temporary ones.  Creationism is like herpes: it keeps coming back again and again until you extirpate the root cause.  The court cases and school board hearings are outbreaks of herpes, which are stanched by our colleagues.  But until the underlying virus is extirpated (that is, the kind of faith that is incompatible with evolution), the outbreaks will continue to occur.

2.  The NAS and NCSE seem to always trot out the “religious scientists” or “scientific theologians” when they need to sell evolution: John Haught, Ken Miller, Michael Ruse, etc.  I would feel better about the whole issue if they’d also trot out Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the many other evolutionists who represent a non-accommodationist point of view.

3.   By saying that we should leave the reconciliation of faith and science to theologians, I am not endorsing the idea that they can or should be reconciled.  Personally, I don’t think they can be. I’m saying only that that reconciliation is not the job of scientists or pro-evolution organizations.


32 Comments

  1. Curt
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I think it is valuable to recognize that most any idea can be formulated as a proper scientific hypothesis. The problem is not that astrology (or ID, etc.) is inherently non-scientific, but rather that when it is tested as a scientific hypothesis it fails miserably.

  2. Posted March 25, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    It would not be hard to counter the analogy by a number of religions that in fact have modified their claims, at least vis-a-vis the “natural world.” So if a church does not claim that life was designed, or that lightning hits god’s intended targets, has it not indeed done better than the astrologist who makes the same claims regardless of the failed tests?
    And I believe that scientists would tend to tread lightly on religions that include astrology as, I believe, Hinduism does in some forms. Which doesn’t threaten the analogy, however, since astrology which is “religion” is treated differently.

    Nevertheless, organizations which attempt to persuade the public regarding science know that the public indeed considers religion to be in a “special category.” If they do believe it, then, practically, it is a social truth. One does not do well to simply ignore social truths.

    This is not, however, an endorsement of the criticisms made of the scientists who belt out the fact that scientific methods are superior both epistemologically and pragmatically than any religious “methods” have ever been. Harangue (or whatever) if you wish. Just don’t suppose that the NAS lacks good practical reasons to tread lightly around (or on) religion.

    Glen Davidson
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  3. downunder fan
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I really like these posts Jerry!

    The claim that there is a god has enormous implications for humanity and the universe. Therefore if someone takes the claim seriously, some basic questions should be addressed and have reasonable answers.

    Is there is compelling evidence that god exists, or is there no reasonable evidence?

    If someone is able to articulate a thorough and robust case for the evidence then comes the next question.

    If it is a personal god, there is most likely some attempt at communication. Let’s assume that it is in the form of religion.

    How can we distinguish which of the claims of god’s communication are real; how do we determine the correct religion (without reference to our own cultural context and/or upbringing)?

    I would expect that any thinking person would have clear and sound answers to the two questions. For example, you should be able to write a couple of pages outlining your evidence and it should stand up to some form of critical independent review.

  4. Posted March 25, 2009 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    It would not be hard to counter the analogy by a number of religions that in fact have modified their claims, at least vis-a-vis the “natural world.” So if a church does not claim that life was designed, or that lightning hits god’s intended targets, has it not indeed done better than the astrologist who makes the same claims regardless of the failed tests?

    This is not, however, an endorsement of the criticisms made of the scientists who belt out the fact that scientific methods are superior both epistemologically and pragmatically than any religious “methods” have ever been. Harangue (or whatever) if you wish. Just don’t suppose that the NAS lacks good practical reasons to tread lightly around (or on) religion.

    Glen Davidson
    http://electricconsciousness.tripod.com

  5. MelM
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    “Religion: Is it Scientific?”
    It would be great to see this on the Understanding Science site; but, it would draw a lawsuit immediately. Actually, the question focuses on the issue in a little different way than usual and could be effective. Maybe a secular 501c “Understanding Science” site someday could do it.

    Yes, I admire NCSE and Eugenie Scott greatly; we’d be really screwed without them. Also, their email update is invaluable for keeping up with what the pious are doing in legislatures and courts–at least on science issues.

    “But until the underlying virus is extirpated (that is, the kind of faith that is incompatible with evolution), the outbreaks will continue to occur.”

    I’ve watched a number of atheist debates with holy men and read some attacks on atheism. One thing is a constant and–at least to me–screams out. Over and over again holy men seek to undercut the efficacy of reason and to show that it provides no base from which to criticize religion. The gimmick is obvious. Religion knows its main enemy is reason; it needs and perpetuates a culture of unreason. Even if anti-science goes into remission, out of a culture of unreason, the fanatics will be reborn and mount their attacks again. So, until reason is a culturally dominant norm, religion is a danger–even “moderate” religion.

    BTW, I’m now editing an email to go to the “Understanding Science” site. I’ll ask that the theology page be removed and that, at least, they should remove the insult to atheist scientists.

  6. newenglandbob
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, thanks for clearing things up, although your position was clear to me all along. Some people misinterpreted your earlier postings.

  7. SLC
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Just as a matter of curiosity, does Prof. Coyne think that it would have been preferable to call Prof. Dawkins (or Prof, Coyne himself) as the first witness in the Dover trial instead of Ken Miller?

  8. Posted March 26, 2009 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    The virus analogy works, but I tend to use the analogy of fire. Opposition to teaching evolution is a brushfire, opposition to stem cell research is a brushfire, efforts to keep brain dead people alive at all costs is a brushfire. Opposition to sensible family planning policies is a brushfire. The heat source continuously throwing off sparks into the kindling is organized religion in this country. We desperately need our Eugenie Scotts and Ken Millers to monitor the ID brushfires where they arise and help put them out. But we also need our Richard Dawkinses, Dan Dennetts, and Sam Harrises who are taking on the heat source itself. These are really are two different projects and strategy and framing of the arguments are going to sometimes be at odds. I agree, however, that when a science organization makes pronouncements about the compatibility of science and religion, to be intellectually honest (and isn’t this what science is fundamentally about?) they need to acknowledge that many scientists are of the opinion that they are not compatible and that 90-some percent of those in the National Academy of Sciences are atheists.

  9. Fr. Ted
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate your post, and your book WHY EVOLUTION IS TRUE is on my list of books to purchase. I am wondering if some of what happens between science and religion is not also a sociological phenomenon. Astronomers are alarmed and offended when the common folk mistake astrology for astronomy, and so are much more likely to forcefully distinguish between the two. Evolution on the other hand is much more in a fight with biblically literal Creationism than it is with astrology. Evolutionists rarely see the need to debate theistic scientists or theologians who accept evolution. I’m not sure your point on astrology fully illustrates your concern that science caters to the faithful – it may much more reflect a particular problem to which astronomers are particularly sensitive. I would agree with you though that culturally speaking, American politicians are sensitive to the concerns of the faithful because they represent a sizable voting block. Living in a democracy it seems to me normal and necessary for scientists to explain what they are doing and why to the populace not because there are believers in the population whose approval you need, but because that is the necessary price paid for living in a democracy where peole can vote and affect funding to science.

  10. Vronvron
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Re: “Lord have mercy”

    Are you using this expression literally or figuratively?

  11. Posted March 28, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I feel like everything you say is pretty much spot on.

  12. Citizen Z
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    The NAS and NCSE seem to always trot out the “religious scientists” or “scientific theologians” when they need to sell evolution: John Haught, Ken Miller, Michael Ruse, etc. I would feel better about the whole issue if they’d also trot out Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the many other evolutionists who represent a non-accommodationist point of view.

    They should not trot out the non-accomodationists precisely because they are trying to sell evolution. It’s a shame that the people they’re trying to reach will only listen to other religious people, but life isn’t fair.

  13. Posted March 28, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I must commend you for your clear stance on catering to the faithful.

    I think that yourself, PZ, and Richard are the real heroes in this.

    Thank you for your continued effort!

  14. Sebastian
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Creationism is like herpes: it keeps coming back again and again until you extirpate the root cause.

    Nicely put; unfortunately it is impossible to eradicate Herpes simplex viruses from the body once they’ve settled in – not in principle, I suppose, but with current medical arts. There are highly specific and effective antiviral drugs against herpes, but they only shorten the outbreaks 😦

  15. Stephen
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    You seem to suggest that Michael Ruse is a theist. He’s an atheist (or at least an agnostic), no?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 28, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, didn’t mean to imply that. I think Ruse is probably an agnostic, bordering on atheism. But he gets trotted out because he is deeply sympathetic to religion– one of those people who has what Dan Dennett calls “a belief in belief.” He not only believes that religion and evolution are compatible, but (in his bizarre book Can A Darwinian be a Christian?, says that the principles of Christianity are immanent in evolutionary biology. No possibility of him giving offense to the faithful!

  16. Posted March 29, 2009 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    I’m not at all sure that “focuses on the natural world” should be a criterion for science. Admittedly, evidence must come from the senses, whether or not via scientific instruments that extend them. I’m happy if that’s all that is meant.

    But many claims about how a supernatural realm behaves involve claims about how it affects things that we can observe with our senses. In principle, a claim about the supernatural realm could be tested in scientific ways, as long as there is supposed to be some kind of systematic causal connection between features of the supernatural realm (such as the powers and psychological dispositions of a god) and effects on things that we can observe.

    So, a body of theory about the features of a supernatural realm COULD arise from scientific investigation, and be tested by further scientific investigation, as long as it is framed in such a way that there could be systematic evidence (eventually) available to the senses.

    It seems to me that whether or not a claim is “scientific” depends on two things. First, does the claim arise from rational inquiry? Second, was the kind of rational inquiry one which incorporated certain techniques to reduce the uncertainty and speculation when direct observation of the phenomena is not possible and it’s necessary to rely on conjectures and chains of inference? Those techniques include: using more than one line of inquiry; testing hypotheses about unobservable causes by the use of experiments (controlling variables as far as possible); modelling the expected and actual effects of phenomena as precisely as possible, which requires the use of mathematics; refusing to “cheat” by ad hoc modification of hypotheses; utilising scientific instruments to extend the senses where possible (and giving some reliable justification for trusting these instruments). Maybe there are others, but overall we are trying to make the inquiry as precise, systematic, and honest as we can in order to make up for a degree of circumstantiality in our evidence of things that are not directly observable. How “scientific” a process of rational inquiry might be is a matter of degree.

    By those criteria, astrology’s claims about stellar influences are not remotely scientific. None of these claims are the result of any sort of rational inquiry, much less a process of rational inquiry that has been kept systematic and honest by using recognisably scientific techniques. The same applies to religion as we know it.

    But that’s because of how the current claims of religion and astrology have historically come about. There’s no reason in principle why claims that involve supernatural causal agencies could not have been derived from a process of scientific investigation.

    In short, methodological naturalism is false (except as a rule of thumb): i.e., claims about supernatural beings, forces, etc., are not, ipso facto, beyond investigation by science; and there could have been scientific knowledge of a supernatural realm if it actually existed.

    In practice, the proponents of supernatural agencies avoid any scientific scrutiny of their claims by their vagueness, excuses (“God will not be tested!”), and use of ad hoc modifications (e.g. all falsified claims are to be reinterpreted symbolically).

  17. duphenix
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Richard Dawkins does not do as much for your cause as you think. The few times I have seen him presenting his views he has shown to be as radical and fundamentalist as any religion. His outright denial of the possibility that a god exists without being able to prove such a thing, is as absurd as the religious who demand belief without proof. Affirming or disproving the existence of god is not possible, especially at our current level. Radicalizing atheism is exactly as bad as radicalizing religions, and exactly as absurd.

  18. newenglandbob
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Response to Russell Blackford @17

    So, a body of theory about the features of a supernatural realm COULD arise from scientific investigation

    If any evidence DID arise then it would NOT be supernatural. These kinds of test are done all the time, e.g.: tests of the (non) effectiveness of prayer.

    If the evidence can be detected, it is in the natural world and therefore not supernatural. Supernatural claims are nonsense, just like Harvey, the rabbit.

  19. newenglandbob
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Response to duphenix @18.

    Apparently you do not listen to what you heard when Dawkins spoke. He does NOT deny the possibility of a god. He says there is no evidence of a god and therefore one PROBABLY does not exist.

    “Affirming or disproving the existence of god is not possible, especially at our current level.” is the only statement you made that has merit, but the PROBABILITY of existence can be determined, and with the lack of evidence, is extremely low.

    The burden of proof is on those who claim a god exists, not on those who do not believe it.

    Most of your statements are absolutism and they are incorrect and show us real absurdity.

  20. Posted March 29, 2009 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    duphenix: Have you actually seen Dawkins give talks, or his own programmes, or have you only seen what others have shown about his views? Regardless, it is obvious that you have not read what he has written on the subject of religion. He is quite explicit that he is not dogmatic in his atheism. In “The God Delusion” he gives a scale of 1 to 7, 7 being what one might call faith that God does not exist. He categorises himself as a 6. He does not believe in gods, but that is not the same thing as believing that there are no gods.

    It must be extremely frustrating to be so widely misunderstood and misrepresented!

  21. the green bastard
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    While I seriously doubt that religion will relinquish its hold over the 2-digit IQ population within our lives, I take solace in the fact that this is the period of history where religion is starting to lose its grip on people and is beginning to become obsolete. In 500 years this will be the equivalent of the renaissance in terms of rational thinking replacing sueprstition – by that time there is no way religion will have anywhere near as much power and will probably have been relegated to the status we currently give to cults with < 10 members.

  22. the green bastard
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Oh, duphenix, while I don’t disagree with you in that Dawkins does come across sometimes as just as radical as religists, I would say that he has asked the question ‘Does god exist?’ and answered it himself by looking around and evaluating the evidence; whereas religists were told that god exists and accepted it, much like a child accepts that Santa exists. When we get older we realise there is no way Santa could exists – indeed many children figure this out themselves without being told. Only difference is we are constantly bombarded with the propaganda that god does exist, but we hear nothing about Santa being real after the age of 10.

  23. Posted March 29, 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    New England Bob: what you say about investigating the efficacy of prayer is true, but it’s consistent with my point. In fact, the example of testing the efficacy of prayer is exactly the kind of thing that I had in mind.

    If we hypothesise a god that responds to prayer in certain ways, we can then test the hypothesis. In doing so, we are not, in any useful sense, focusing on the natural world, though of course the evidence must be something we have access to through our senses. If we find that the god actually exists, I don’t think it’s helpful to say that the god is now considered part of the natural world. That makes the claim that science can tell us only about the natural world *trivially* true (i.e. true by definition). Hence the claim can’t help us in the problem of demarcation between science and non-science.

    To the extent that methodological naturalism is a useful rule of thumb, it’s because certain kinds of hypotheses, e.g. those involving disembodied intelligences, have such a bad track record that we try to avoid them. They’re a last resort. Thus, in practice, the investigation of hypotheses relating to disembodied intelligences is quite rightly unusual in science.

    Insofar as metaphysical naturalism is true, which I’m sure it is, it’s not because it’s true *by definition* but because it’s a true substantive claim: we can be confident that certain kinds of things, such as supernatural intelligences, really don’t exist. Admittedly, it’s tricky defining just what else is ruled out by metaphysical naturalism. Disembodied intelligences provide the best example, and perhaps we could make it the only example if we don’t want metaphysical naturalism to be too vague (my memory may be faulty here, but that might be how Richard Carrier handles it). But I think there are other examples. One seems to be the causal efficacy of the moral status of actions. We can pretty much rule out not only the existence of disembodied intelligences but also the existence of spooky causal effects from an action’s moral rightness or wrongness, such as in the doctrine of karma.

    On another topic, I get so tired of the claim that Dawkins is something like a fundamentalist. This is not true, and it shows a misunderstanding of what fundamentalism is and what’s actually wrong with it. The word “fundamentalist” has a quite specific meaning, and there is something quite specific wrong with being a fundamentalist. Neither applies to Dawkins.

    Importantly, “fundamentalist” does not mean “passionate” or “forthright” or even “confident” or “stubborn”.

    If Dawkins has his faults, like everyone else, fundamentalism is not among them: i.e., there is no inflexible clinging to the words of a holy book, considered inerrant and interpreted in a literal-minded way.

    Rather than write a very long comment, I’ll just point to the discussion over here …

    http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2007/10/fundamentalism.html

  24. newenglandbob
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Russell Blackford @24:

    I think you and I basically agree but I am at an disadvantage by not having any training in philosophy.

    I read your long blog and I agree with what you said there. I think that fundamentalists are rigid and will not change their views/beliefs no matter what proof is presented. On the other hand, most atheists would change their minds in a microsecond if shown proof that their ideas are contradicted, so therefore they are not fundamentalists. I agree that there can be (and probable exists) atheists who might not ever change their mind shown proof that they are wrong.

  25. Fr. Ted
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    Though you might believe that scientists make their judgments about what they believe solely based on evidence, I think pyschological studies show that actually changing someone’s beliefs, even scientist’s, is rather difficult. Evidence often shores up one’s beliefs, but humans have a great ability to discount evidence that goes against their way of thinking – cognitive dissonance takes over and discounts evidence contrary to what we think. There have been numerous cases where scientists held to discredited ideas long after evidence had firmly supported the idea they personally rejected. It has led to the conlusion that paradigm shifts don’t occur when overwhelming evidence is presented supporting an idea, but only when the last adherents of the old idea die off. What you see in religious people (including fundamentalists) is human behavior which has its equivalent among politicians, scientists, and atheists.

  26. newenglandbob
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Fr. Ted @26

    How, then, can you explain that faith has a direct correlation to education?
    It has been clearly shown that the more education one achieves, the more likely that irrational faith is replaced by evidence, facts and rationality.

    Of course not all scientists are 100% rational, because they are human. The most prevalent display of cognitive dissonance is among the lesser educated fundamentalist who will not change their mind despite overwhelming evidence.

  27. Fr. Ted
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    newenglandbob@27
    I probably can’t explain what you ask, but then neither can I explain how it is possible for medical doctors to be biblical literalists or Creationists, and yet I know several who are.
    I do not know to which studies you are referring, nor exactly what you mean or intend to imply by “irrantional faith.” Children of alcoholics, of abusive parents and of parents with personality disorders often hold to a hope that their next encounter with their troubled parent will be different, and they grasp at any slightest indication that something is better in their parent. This often continues through their lives despite their educational levels. It is a form of insanity, but education doesnt cure it as they desparately want to trust their parent. It often takes therapy and years of hard work to overcome their dependency, which really is just an irrational faith.

  28. newenglandbob
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Sorry, I did not mean “irrational faith” since the term is redundant. Faith is irrational since there is no evidence to base it upon.

    45% with no education beyond high school believe in literal truth of the bible while only 29% with some college and 19% of college graduates think the same.

    Two-thirds of college graduates believe living beings evolved over time and only one-third of high school graduates believe that.

    – These are from Pew forum reports of August 24, 2006 and august 30, 2005

    The southern US states lag the northeast, midwest and west in education as a percentage who graduated high school or college but have a higher percentage of believers.

    – This is from ‘income & Education of the States of the United States 1840-2000 by Baier, et al.

  29. Posted March 30, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    If we find that the god actually exists, I don’t think it’s helpful to say that the god is now considered part of the natural world. That makes the claim that science can tell us only about the natural world *trivially* true (i.e. true by definition). Hence the claim can’t help us in the problem of demarcation between science and non-science.

    I would agree that the interpretation makes it trivially true that science only tells us about the natural world, but I don’t think that’s a problem. If a god exists and acts in ways that leave evidence, then it is a part of the natural world. That still limits what science can study. As an example, Last Thursdayism is out the window, because there’s no way for science to test that claim.

    I do think though, that this is a semantic problem, and that it’s confusing to people in general, especially considering the way most people use the words ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural.’ That’s why I prefer to tell people that science is evidence based, no matter where the evidence comes from. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s methodological naturalism, but it does at least avoid people’s confusion over methodological and metaphysical naturalism.

  30. Fr. Ted
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Newenglandbob 27 & 29,
    You are equating faith with biblical literalism in your question about the relationship of faith and education. Not all believers are biblical literalists. It is more amazing to me that 20% of college graduates still hold on to biblical literal ideas. That is the faith group you really have to look at to understand the phenomenon of faith. I think you have to look at faith in areas other than religion if you want to understand the phenomenon without getting caught up in religious prejudices. For example, I know plenty of Repbulicans and Democrats who cannot fathom how adherents to the other party can possibly believe the things they do. Same is true when one looks at economic theories – that is a faith based social science if there is one! It really is hard to explain why people believe or hold on to what they do no matter what evidence is put before them. Faith is, I would say non-rational, not irrational. Many people believe because they do trust their parents and others who say they have had religious experiences or who hold on to beliefs. These believers are not being irrational, but they base their faith in the witness of other believers. That is their evidence.

  31. newenglandbob
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Fr. Ted @31:

    1. “You are equating faith with biblical literalism” – I sure am. If taking the bible as literal truth is not faith then nothing else is either.

    2. Politics and economics: I would hope that people have reasons for their political beliefs or their economic choices. There are many, many valid reasons why they can support one way or another (as well as invalid reasons). If they do it on ‘faith’ only then they are just ignorant imbeciles. Contrast that with religion which has absolutely no evidence for belief. Being Brainwashed as children is the overwhelming reason. I was that way myself until I was about 12 years old and realized how foolish religion is for any thinking person.


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