Karl Giberson defends accommodationism

Karl Giberson, whose accommodationist book Saving Darwin I reviewed in The New Republic, is vice president of The BioLogos Foundation, the Templeton-Foundation-Funded organization headed by born-again Christian Francis Collins.  Giberson is also a trained physicist, a professor at Eastern Nazarene College, and head of a faith and science initiative at Gordon College.

I criticized Saving Darwin — and BioLogos as well — for their insistence that the evolution of human beings (or of some humanlike form of devout animal) was inevitable.  As part of a scheme to accommodate evolution with Jesus, BioLogos (and other accommodationists like Kenneth Miller  and John Haught) must devise a way to reconcile naturalistic evolution with the Christian view that humans were made in the image of God as the goal of the whole creation.  This magic is accomplished by claiming that God either set up the evolutionary process so that it would produce H. sapiens as an inevitable outcome, or that He intervened at some juncture(s) to ensure that humans would appear.  Either way, such a view completely violates the scientific presumption (and evidence) that evolution is a purely materialistic and unguided process — a process without a goal or, indeed, any determined outcome.

A weekly feature of BioLogos (which provides hours of entertainment and nanoseconds of enlightenment) is “Science and The Sacred,” a weekly online column where “leaders of the BioLogos Foundation share insights on the latest ideas in science, faith and their integration.”  In this week’s column Giberson takes on yours truly:

God or Matter?

The University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne recently objected to the suggestion that humans might actually be a part of God’s creative plan. Like most of the so-called “new atheists,” he denounces the idea that evolution — all by its lonesome, blind, purposeless, unguided self — would ever find its way to such an improbably unique species as human beings.

Although we know a lot more than we used to about evolution, I don’t see how we can have any certainty whatsoever about what kinds of things evolution might or might not be able to do. It was not long ago we thought 100,000 genes were required to make a human being, and now we know it can be done with approximately 20,000, or roughly the same number as rice and sea urchins. There is a lot we still don’t know about how evolution works, but this is not the point I want to make, for I have no desire to hide inside the shadowy corners of science and hope that they are never illuminated by the light of scientific progress.

Coyne’s objections are really just the traditional objections to belief in God repackaged as scientific objections. Traditional theism — which is the foundation for a majority of people’s worldviews, including scientists — is a richer and more complex version of reality than materialism. As a theist with a deep respect for science, I believe in all the same remarkable laws and particles that undergird the worldviews of scientists. But I also believe this reality is rooted in the creative and sustaining activity of God. God can act in the world and provide a larger understanding of the way things are.

Theists have both God and science as important parts of their reality. But many Americans reject particular scientific ideas like evolution or the big bang theory because they think they are incompatible with belief in God. The BioLogos Foundation is committed to helping religious people make peace with such scientific ideas, a project Coyne describes as a “hilarious goldmine of accomodationism.”

But what about the accommodationism of materialists? How do they reconcile their materialism with the rationality of the world? It seems to me reality has to be grounded in one of two deeply mysterious foundations: God or matter. Each has its own set of questions. Theists wonder about the nature of God’s existence, the problem of evil, how and why God acts in the world and why God has chosen to remain hidden from us. These are difficult questions and certainly must trouble thoughtful believers. But don’t materialists have another set of mysteries? Don’t they have to wonder about the nature of physical existence? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are the laws of nature so rational? Why is our species so religious? Is the world just a big pointless accident?

In Coyne’s excellent book, Why Evolution is True, he suggests we can “make our own purposes, meaning, and morality.” I know I am not alone when I say I am not entirely satisfied with this. I think the materialists have their own accommodationist project to work on, and I suspect it may turn out to be even more hilarious than ours.

Karl Giberson is executive vice president of The BioLogos Foundation and director of the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass.

Well, I appreciate Giberson’s praise for my book but still disagree strongly with his views.  First of all, he mischaracterizes mine: “[Coyne] denounces the idea that evolution — all by its lonesome, blind, purposeless, unguided self — would ever find its way to such an improbably unique species as human beings.”

Not so. I never said this. Indeed, this would be a moronic assertion, since blind, purposeless evolution has found its way to human beings.  My position has always been that the evolution of human beings may not have been inevitable, nor is there any way we can confidently assert from the facts of science that it was.  I won’t go over my arguments, which you can find in The New Republic piece.  The onus is on crypto-creationists like Giberson and Miller to show that the nature of selection, environmental change, and genetic mutation makes the evolution of a creature with humanlike intelligence and rationality an inevitable outcome.  This they have not done, though they must if they wish to reconcile an inevitable appearance of humanoids with straight, undiluted Darwinism.

And Giberson claims that we rationalists have our own set of problems:  “Don’t they have to wonder about the nature of physical existence? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are the laws of nature so rational? Why is our species so religious? Is the world just a big pointless accident?”

The answer to the last question is “yes — so what?”   And why is there something rather than nothing? As physicist Victor Stenger has shown repeatedly (don’t these guys ever read him?), the answer is “because ‘nothing’ is unstable.”

Why is our species so religious?  We’re working on that, and there are lots of answers that don’t include the existence of celestial deities.

Finally, why are the laws of nature so rational?  That’s a dumb question. The laws of nature aren’t rational: WE are rational, and there are good reasons, based on natural selection and culture, why we should be.

The point is that there are provisional but testable answers to the questions that “plague” us rationalists (for example, physicists’ theories about how our universe came into being), but no testable answers to the questions that trouble supernaturalists like Giberson.  Take the existence of evil: we will never know why, if there is a god, innocent people undergo needless suffering (e.g., the death of children from horrible diseases and the death of thousands from “acts of God” like tsunamis).  There are lots of theological answers (every one ridiculous), and no way to discriminate among them. Indeed, the most sensible answer to the problem of evil is that there simply is no god.  I, for one, am content with the idea that bad things like tsunamis happen to good people for no reason at all other than movements of the Earth’s crust, and that small children get leukemia or cholera because of random mutations or the evolution of pathogenic organisms.

Behind all this, I think, is the longing for the “richer and more complex view of reality” that Giberson finds in religion.  But what could be richer or more complex than the material universe as we have it — a universe full of great mysteries and wonderful things to find out?  What Giberson means by “a richer and more complex view” is “after I die I’ll be able to meet my dead relatives in the sky.”  Such a view may be more complex, but it’s not richer.  It’s impoverished by adherence to magic and superstition.

42 Comments

  1. Posted May 26, 2009 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    “As physicist Victor Stenger has shown repeatedly (don’t these guys ever read him?)”

    I think they do; the problem is that many of Stenger’s opinions are fringe views outside of mainstream science.

    “the answer is “because ‘nothing’ is unstable.”

    ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ is a philosophical question. True nothing is absolutely nothing, and absolutely nothing (the philosophical nothing that is) has no properties whatsoever, and thus no potentiality towards anything, and therefore cannot generate anything. When cosmologists like Stenger talk about nothing, they usually mean the physical ‘nothing’ of the quantum vacuum, which really is not nothing at all. The Quantum Vacuum is not ‘nothing’ but an incredibly rich structure, teeming with possibilities and energy.

    • Posted May 26, 2009 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Here is an example of what I am talking about. In his new book Stenger seems to be promoting some kind of ‘Nihilist Cosmology’; he writes:

      “The model in which the universe is made of matter and nothing else and had a spontaneous, uncaused, natural origin from a state of chaos equivalent to “nothing” agrees with all the data. As a state of the universe, “something” is more natural than “nothing.” So we appear to have good evidence for a universe that came about spontaneously, without cause, from nothing. The laws of physics also came from nothing. The structure of the universe emerged from nothing. Indeed, we can view that structure, including Earth and humanity, as forms of frozen nothing.”

      So in the beginning there was nothing. Then suddenly – from this nothing – spontaneously erupted space-time, laws of physics and matter, the properties of which are all suspiciously fine tuned to allow the existence of concious observers (or bits of frozen nothing if you prefer). Clearly his conception of nothing is slightly different to mine.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted May 26, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        Stenger is not a fan of the fine tuned anthropic universe.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      It would be incumbent upon you to show that this philosophical concept of nothing with no potentiality actually exists, or existed. Good luck without making certain assumptions about causality which are not supported by our evidential knowledge of quantum mechanics.

      • Posted May 27, 2009 at 2:23 am | Permalink

        I see. So you are saying that ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ is a meaningless statement because I haven’t proven that ‘nothing’ can actually exist scientifically?.

        Perhaps another tack would be to ask why the Quantum Vacuum is a rich structure teaming with possibilities and energy instead of something else with very limited possibilities and energy, ‘why is there nothing which can create pretty much anything, rather than a rather boring nothing which doesn’t do much at all’. I suppose the answer will be ‘that’s just the way it is’.

  2. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Is there a proposal to inject material about the supernatural into 1, the formal literature of science; 2, public school science class rooms coming from this BioLogos thingy, because those are the only two problems I can see with any of this. Those are two places in which the supernatural absolutely does not belong, I’m ready to entertain others, as long as it’s a rational exclusion and not one based on mere personal preference.

    Otherwise, I don’t see where the problem is.

    There are lots of theological answers (every one ridiculous), and no way to discriminate among them. Indeed, the most sensible answer to the problem of evil is that there simply is no god.

    You’re familiar with “every one” of the theological theories about the existence of evil? How about that held by the adherents of Oomoto?

    • SeanK
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      What does it matter if he’s not familiar with every one? I doubt you’d find one that is 100% original from all the others since most religions copy their ideas from earlier versions.

  3. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    What does it matter if he’s not familiar with every one?

    Yeah, he’s the one who said “every one” is ridiculous. How can you know that is true unless you are familiar with “every one” of them?

    I will point out that he also claims the mantle of rationality for his POV, and as he goes into the matter of problems that said “rationalists” would have, one of those is backing up this kind of universal statement. Or is that too rational to expect from “rationalists”.

  4. newenglandbob
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Traditional theism — which is the foundation for a majority of people’s worldviews, including scientists — is a richer and more complex version of reality than materialism.

    This is a completely baseless statement of nonsense.

    Of course it is more difficult for science to describe reality because it is done with the work of observation and experiment and hypotheses and testing of theories and predictions, instead of the method of religion which is to make up fantasies and fiction and lies to cover their narrow minded dogmatic positions.

    • bric
      Posted May 27, 2009 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      ‘Traditional theism — which is the foundation for a majority of people’s worldviews, including scientists’ he means of course the majority of Americans, the only people whose opinion counts. The majority of Hindus and Buddhists, to name but two, see these things differently.

  5. Jeremy
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Giberson’s article is hilarious! The best bit, for my money, is the second paragraph, where he makes a completely vacuous point and then quickly retracts it, saying that he has no intention of making it!

    The rest is only slightly less ridiculous. Keep it coming, Karl.

    • Scott
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      I.m happy that you pointed to that odd 2nd paragraph. I recall that it seemed a bit disjointed when I read it quickly the first time. I’ve since gone back over it and it is, truly, an inane construction in its own right, and made more absurd by what follows.

      How these folks manage to live with their levels of cognitive dissonance is beyond my comprehension.

  6. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Theists wonder about the nature of God’s existence, the problem of evil, how and why God acts in the world and why God has chosen to remain hidden from us.

    I.e. why does it appear that God does not exist?

  7. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I.e. why does it appear that God does not exist?

    Apparently not to the vast majority of the human species.

    You know “because God doesn’t want us to be able to see God and is able to prevent it”, is an irrefutable assertion in answer to this. You don’t have to believe it but you can’t dismiss it on the basis of reason. Or is THAT too rational for the “rationalists” as well?

    • newenglandbob
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Why does it appear to some that a god exists? Show evidence that can not be just as likely as randomness or explained away easily. It can not be done.

      • Anthony McCarthy
        Posted May 26, 2009 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Why does it appear to some that a god exists? Show evidence that can not be just as likely as randomness or explained away easily. It can not be done.

        Maybe god only appears to who god wants to. Maybe god created the entire universe for the benefit of a single organism who has yet to be evolved, or a single individual of that species.

        See the trouble you can get in when you try to apply standards you can apply to the study of the material? Those standards, including logic, don’t work. Not that, that hasn’t been known for ages, as novel as it seems to people who want to use it as an excuse to feel superior to other people.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

        Maybe god only appears to who god wants to…

        That is about the lamest excuse anyone could come up with on the topic. You should be embarrassed for using that as an argument. It is something a 12 year old would use.

        No, sorry, that post is pure baloney.

      • ivy privy
        Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Maybe god only appears… Maybe god created…

        Maybe pigs can fly, but choose to hide that capability from us. What evidence do you have to support any of those contentions?

        Retreat to the possible

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      You know “because God doesn’t want us to be able to see God and is able to prevent it”, is an irrefutable assertion in answer to this. You don’t have to believe it but you can’t dismiss it on the basis of reason. Or is THAT too rational for the “rationalists” as well?

      I believe that Occam’s Razor lies within the realm of reason.

  8. Hempenstein
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    The whole notion that humans represent the pinnacle of [creation/evolution] is a bit like the well-known but apparently apocryphal (http://unintentional-irony.blogspot.com/2007/05/playing-rent-ivpatently-obvious.html ) suggestion some 100yrs ago that the Patent Office be closed since everything that could be invented had already been invented.

  9. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I believe that Occam’s Razor lies within the realm of reason.

    Well, as William of Occam was a Franciscian monk, a “faith-head” par excellence, you’ve got a bit of a problem with that.

    Bertrand Russell didn’t call it more than a maxim. As I recall both Leibnitz and Kant didn’t accept the razor. Trouble is, you’ve got to be able to tell what you don’t need in order to use it and, sorry, when it comes to God, there’s no way to determine that. Occam didn’t seem to feel God was excludable.

    • ivy privy
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Well, as William of Occam was a Franciscan monk, a “faith-head” par excellence, you’ve got a bit of a problem with that.

      What problem? Please do not commit the genetic fallacy in your response.

      Trouble is, you’ve got to be able to tell what you don’t need in order to use it and, sorry, when it comes to God, there’s no way to determine that.

      Science has investigated a great many natural phenomena, and as yet has found no need for God. Whereas many previously-supposed needs for God (thunder, rain, fertility, health, etc) have been shown to be false.

  10. Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the problem lies in the terminology of “accomodationism”. This does not seem like an apt description of those who embrace mainstream science, but also leave room for the pondering of metaphysical questions. Many of those of us in the latter category not only accept but emphasize that any discussion of philosophical metaphysics is going to not only be speculative but also will use language that is metaphorical and symbolic, and will inevitably be wrong about a great deal. Many of us are not persuaded that engaging in metaphysical reflection means that we will see dead loved ones in the sky or anywhere else. And many contemporary theologians have rethought traditional religious beliefs in light of not only the natural sciences, but other philosophical issues such as the problem of evil.

    Ultimately the question is whether the overwhelming evidence for biological evolution shows that one can no longer engage in philosophical metaphysics or cosmology. And it is not at all clear that it does. What is clear, and most mainstream theologians would agree, is that those engaging in metaphysics cannot hope to do so persuasively in a way that is at odds with the data from the natural sciences.

    It seems to me that what is going on here is that Prof. Coyne is persuaded that the natural sciences lead inevitably to certain metaphysical conclusions. But that is not science vs. superstition. It is either an attempt to remain agnostic about metaphysical matters (in which case, it would be better to simply point out again and again how uncertain various metaphysical claims are), or to argue that a metaphysics is preferable in which there simply cannot be nothing because “nothing is unstable”. But that is no longer science, that is metaphysics, and if science can accomodate such metaphysical tenets, then another label ought to be found for those other metaphysical views with which Prof. Coyne disagrees.

  11. Posted May 26, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    “Like most of the so-called “new atheists,” he denounces the idea that evolution — all by its lonesome, blind, purposeless, unguided self — would ever find its way to such an improbably unique species as human beings.”

    Hmmm. Well, you can only respond to what he has written, but surely what he meant to write had to be:

    “Like most of the so-called “new atheists,” he denounces the idea that evolution — all by its lonesome, blind, purposeless, unguided self — would never find its way to such an improbably unique species as human beings.”

    that is, I suspect he meant “never” instead of “ever.” Only a suspicion, though.

  12. Emily
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    In his penultimate paragraph, Giberson asserts that materialists also practice a brand of accommodationism because they try to reconcile materialism and rationality.

    I don’t agree that the reconciliation of materialism and rationality is the same brand of accommodationism as that practiced by the BioLogos Foundation. Materialists do not try to reconcile God and science, which require two very different modes of thinking about life on earth (religion requires faith; science requires evidence). As Jerry points out, materialists wrestle with questions whose answers can be tested, while theists ask questions that cannot be tested.

    I think Giberson’s attempt to equate materialism/rationalism with accommodationism is a completely false comparison to his own brand of accommodationism, and that in no way could rationalism produce a more hilarious project than the BioLogos Foundation.

  13. Scarlet Letter
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    My favourite line from Giberson is,

    “I think the materialists have their own accommodationist project to work on, and I suspect it may turn out to be even more hilarious than ours.”

    He says that his/their project is hilarious; he is correct.

  14. newenglandbob
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Emily and Scarlet Letter:

    You both have it quite correct. Giberson realizes that there is no firmament underneath his position, so he is lashing out and accusing others to deflect from his illogical stance, thinking that the others need to defend themselves and will be incapable of finishing the rational dismantling of his position.

  15. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    That is about the lamest excuse anyone could come up with on the topic. You should be embarrassed for using that as an argument. It is something a 12 year old would use.

    No, sorry, that post is pure baloney.

    Unlike the Dawkins 747 or Bertrand Russell’s tea pot.

    I didn’t come up with it as an excuse but as an example of an irrefutable statement. Good God, aren’t you familiar with the literature of even your own cult?

    • newenglandbob
      Posted May 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

      I do not belong to any cult. Furthermore the 747 fallacy was originated by Sir Fred Hoyle and refuted by Dawkins. Using childish nonsense as an ‘example’ of an irrefutable statement shows you are not always coherent.

  16. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    newenglandbob, I notice you don’t touch the teapot and I’m not especially confident that the ambient scholarship goes back beyond Dawkins.

    As for going to “childish nonsense” to show someone is being incoherent, I really think what I was doing was trying to make it dramatic enough so some of these folks would get the point.

    If you read the first comment I made on this thread you’ll see what I figured the attempt to make a point was up against. Making a universal statement that the entire literature of theodicy was “ridiculous” has to rank as one of the easiest pitfalls to avoid in this kind of polemical attempt. You shouldn’t try it unless you can back it up.

    As it is, I’m not going to be spending much more of my time here because I’ve got a rule not to give more than a week to something that delivers a continual disappointment. I did, actually, come here fully prepared to like this place, considering it was recommended by one of the scientists I respect most in the world.

  17. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    Trouble is, you’ve got to be able to tell what you don’t need in order to use it and, sorry, when it comes to God, there’s no way to determine that. AM

    Science has investigated a great many natural phenomena, and as yet has found no need for God. ivy privy

    Apparently my answer to this yesterday wasn’t recorded.

    In coming up with its product, science doesn’t need to mention the separation of church and state, the no-test-of-faith provision for office holders, the First Amendment and a myriad of other things that I’d really rather not have to do without. How about you?

    The “genetic fallacy”. Really, you guys are like listening to a jr. varsity forensics team. You figure all you have to do is wave a few words around and apply an understanding of logic derived from the popular works of Carl Sagan and you think you’ve done something impressive.

    Get this straight, the questions science was made to deal with are how physical phenomena happen, it deals only with the material aspect of phenomena. Don’t bother reading on if you don’t understand that is true about the entire range of science.

    Math and logic are derived from the experience of the material world as well and can’t go beyond what it learned there. When applied to propositions that don’t have fairly fixed reference to the material universe, their usefulness is not as certain. In questions of any proposed supernatural, they are of entirely unknowable usefulness. Don’t bother reading on unless you know that.

    Your attempt to apply science and logic to the idea of a God is entirely unscientific, illogical and only of use of either pro-God or anti-God propaganda is your goal. Though bonding among people who want to vent about faith heads and to feel superior to them seems to be the real motive.

    • ivy privy
      Posted May 27, 2009 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      The “genetic fallacy”. Really, you guys are like listening to a jr. varsity forensics team. You figure all you have to do is wave a few words around and apply an understanding of logic derived from the popular works of Carl Sagan and you think you’ve done something impressive.

      I accurately identified the fallacy you were committing, and point out that in response you substitute ridicule for rebuttal. Go ahead and leave, you won’t be missed.

    • ivy privy
      Posted May 27, 2009 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      And if pointing out a fallacy committed by an appointment is junior varsity debate team level, committing such a fallacy is the sort of thing that would cause one to not make the cut for the junior varsity debate team.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted May 27, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      Apparently Anthony McCarthy just wants to hurl accusations at everyone who does not agree with his view that some god exists, even though there is no evidence to support it, so he criticizes his straw man pronouncements. He says he is leaving, but I doubt he will keep his word.

  18. Posted May 27, 2009 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    I am still trying to understand why God is their default mechanism for what they don’t understand. My 3 year old finds this explanation (not provided by his parents, I assure you) appealing but Giberson has more IQ in his pinkie than I do in my whole body. I just don’t get it.

    • Posted May 27, 2009 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      I think perhaps what is being missed is that, in the context of academic philosophy and theology, “God” is a term that denotes the ultimate, and so there are many philosophers and theologians (as well as scientists) who would accept the existence of God, but disagree starkly over the nature of God, over whether God is personal or impersonal (or beyond either), whether God “acts” in any meaningful sense, whether God pre-exists all universes or emerges from and is always “embodied” in some universe or other.

      The mystical and academic traditions in various streams of religious thought have often converged in agreement on the fact that all language used with reference to the ultimate is inadequate and at best symbolic and metaphorical. It is thus not surprising that metaphysics can be highly speculative and that many extremely intelligent people disagree about such matters. But what is extremely odd is the suggestion that intelligent people would necessarily forego all such discussions, and assume that “stuff just exists – deal with it” is the only possible way that a reasonable person might think about the mysteries of existence.

      • ivy privy
        Posted May 27, 2009 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        I think perhaps what is being missed is that, in the context of academic philosophy and theology, “God” is a term that denotes the ultimate, and so there are many philosophers and theologians (as well as scientists) who would accept the existence of God, but disagree starkly over the nature of God…

        I don’t miss this point. It is folly to agree that X exists when X has not been defined.

      • Posted May 27, 2009 at 7:46 am | Permalink

        It isn’t necessarily folly to believe that there are more fundamental particles or constituents of matter than those currently known, even while not agreeing on the precise nature thereof. In the same way, it is not necessarily folly to agree that there is might be an ultimate level of reality or a first existing principle, while disagreeing about the details and characteristics thereof.

        As for the discussion of the genetic fallacy, I think the point was that the person who invented Occam’s razor was also a religious believer. Surely the evidence of intelligent people who believe in some sort of God is not irrelevant to this discussion! There is a lot of non-intelligent and irrational thought about God. But there is also a lot of irrational thought about the significance of quantum physics, and you only have to watch Heroes to realize that there is a lot of popular misunderstanding of evolution even among those who accept it as scientific fact. Demonstrating that there are countless stupid beliefs doesn’t show the impossibility of intelligent ones.

        If someone wishes to disagree with Einstein’s belief in “Spinoza’s God”, for instance, that is their prerogative. But to assume that thinkers like Einstein were either incapable of choosing the right words to express their views, or were really “sexed up atheists”, is insulting to their intelligence and their capacity to think great thoughts and express them clearly. And there is a real sense in which one cannot debate the existence of Spinoza’s God, since Spinoza spoke of Deus sive natura, “God or nature” as meaning the same thing. This is not entirely unlike the Christian theologian Paul Tillich’s talk of God as “Being itself”. But no one here seems to be discussing the merits of or problems with the metaphysical and cosmological concepts of Spinoza or Tillich. What I hear here time and again is a dismissing of philosophy and theology as simply not areas that intelligent people ought to be involved in. And this seems to me to be little different than the attitude of Don McLeroy: “Someone has to stand up to these experts”. But in fact, those who object in such a way simply show their failure to familiarize themselves with the academic discipline in question. There is plenty of room to engage in intelligent discussion of the existence of God, the meaning of the term, and various metaphysical questions. But to dismiss such discussions as ones that no intelligent person would engage in doesn’t demonstrate your own superior understanding, but rather suggests a lack of familiarity with the particular academic discipline in question.

  19. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I don’t miss this point. It is folly to agree that X exists when X has not been defined.

    You think it’s folly to agree that time exists?

    Apparently Anthony McCarthy just wants to hurl accusations at everyone who does not agree with his view that some god exists,

    newenglandbob, I’ve got no problem with atheists who aren’t bigots and who don’t pretend a level of intellectual honesty that they violate as they congratulate themselves on it. I don’t feel any obligation to not point out when they prove they can’t argue their way out of a wet paper bag. That can be uncomfortable but it’s what you should expect if you try to argue out of bigotry.

    I can’t recall if I have even said that I believed in a God here or not. I don’t recall making any arguments on the topic except on the basis of general principles.

  20. Anthony McCarthy
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    And if pointing out a fallacy committed by an appointment is junior varsity debate team level, committing such a fallacy is the sort of thing that would cause one to not make the cut for the junior varsity debate team.

    Sorry I missed this one, I didn’t see you pointing out any fallacy in anything I said, you just waved a couple of words and gave a link to a dubious looking online lexicon.

  21. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    It is time to wind up this thread; any further back and forth should be carried out by direct email. Unless you haven’t posted before, please don’t post further on this topic.

  22. pebird
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Have not posted before – feel free to criticize amply.

    This ‘debate’ seems to be just a rehash of the age-old mind-body split that cannot be reconciled, but seems to constantly miss each other’s points.

    As individuals become aware of their finitude and speculate on the notion of the infinite, the idea of universals and unbounded potential reinforces the concept of god.

    It isn’t irrational nor is it juvenile, its a fact of human existence. Whether you personalize the universal, or reduce it to abstract equations, or simply deny it existence, these are all responses to the need to deal with infinity and our personal limitations.

    Having said this, I don’t fully appreciate the believer’s desire to materialize infinity. On the one hand the faithful say only god is perfect – humans are error-prone by nature, yet they don’t believe in evolution – which is nothing but the process of change through error. If DNA copied perfectly every time, there would be no evolution (and probably no DNA).

    I think this comes from a confusion of categories. The infinite cannot be bound (of course) – it cannot be defined by definition – it is a contradiction in its very being. In this sense it is similar to consciousness. We can say that if something is material it has the sense of truth. Maybe consciousness is where we work out what can’t be objective – what can’t be materialized.

    Think of a chart with an x-axis of two categories: material and immaterial, and on the y-axis objective and subjective, and lets create some intersections:

    Objective/Material Science
    Objective/Immaterial Social relationships
    Subjective/Immaterial Universals / Consciousness
    Subjective/Material Fetish

    Thinking of god belongs in the sphere of subjective and immaterial – we will never exactly agree on the nature of truth, love, time, god and other universals. Note that as soon as we try to materialize a universal category, we end up with a fetish – an object that we think actually holds the properties of the infinite. Such as money – which we think holds value, or a book which we think holds the word of god, or a meme that we think holds thought. Its a backdoor attempt to materialize god and it does nothing but disrespect the notion of the infinite. And you have to doubt the power of someone’s belief if they have the need to materialize what should be left immaterial.

    Science hasn’t done us any favors either with stomping outside of its domain – trying to “disprove god”, please. Its fine for scientists to have opinions, but the popular press is not peer reviewed so it doesn’t count as science. But I’m sure it helps to sell books.


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