The Hall of Shame: God, evolution, and quantum mechanics

For those who claim that no religious scientists allow their scientific statements and beliefs to be infected with religion, here’s a counterexample.  It’s from Francis Collins’s BioLogos website (funded by our friends at The John Templeton Foundation) and is a statement about how God may influence the world through quantum mechanics:

The mechanical worldview of the scientific revolution is now a relic. Modern physics has replaced it with a very different picture of the world. With quantum mechanical uncertainty and the chaotic unpredictability of complex systems, the world is now understood to have a certain freedom in its future development. Of course, the question remains whether this openness is a result of nature’s true intrinsic chanciness or the inevitable limit to humans’ understanding. Either way, one thing is clear: a complete and detailed explanation or prediction for nature’s behavior cannot be provided. This was already a problem for Newtonian mechanics; however, it was assumed that in principle, science might eventually provide a complete explanation of any natural event. Now, though, we see that the laws of nature are such that scientific prediction and explanation are ultimately limited.

It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation. In this way, modern science opens the door to divine action without the need for law breaking miracles. Given the impossibility of absolute prediction or explanation, the laws of nature no longer preclude God’s action in the world. Our perception of the world opens once again to the possibility of divine interaction.

This view is nearly identical to that of Kenneth Miller in his book Finding Darwin’s God.  What this means, of course, is that what appear to us to be random and unpredictable events on the subatomic level (for example, the decay of atoms) can really reflect God’s manipulation of those particles, and that this is the way a theistic God might intervene in the world.  And of course these interventions are said to be “subtle” and “unrecognizable.” (Theologians are always making a virtue of necessity.  They never explain why, if God wanted to answer a prayer, he would do it by tweaking electrons rather than, say,  directly killing cancer cells with his omnipotence. After all, a miracle is a miracle.  Theology might, in fact, be defined as the art of making religious virtues out of scientific necessities.)  And why did these interventions used to involve more blatant manipulations of nature (several thousand years ago, virgin human females gave birth to offspring, were taken bodily to heaven, and their offspring brought back to life after dying), while  in more recent years the manipulations have been confined to the subatomic level?

And think about how ludicrous this theology really is.  God:  “Well, let’s see.  Johnny’s parents have prayed for a cure for his leukemia.  They’re good people, so I’ll do it.   Now how to do the trick?.  If I can just change the position of this electron here, and that one over there, I can cause a mutation in gene X that will beef up his immune system and allow the chemotherapy to work.”  Why can’t God just say “Cancer, begone!”?  (He apparently did that in Baltimore.) I already how the theists will respond:  “That’s not the way God works, because we know how he works and it’s not that way!”

The BioLogos statement appears as part of the answer to the question, “What role could God have in evolution?”  I submit that the statement is a scientific one that is deeply infected with religious views.  The statement is this:  “God acts by tweaking electrons and other subatomic particles, constantly causing non-deterministic changes in the universe according to his desires.” Further, the clear implication is this:  “God intervened in the evolutionary process, tweaking some electrons to eventually ‘evolve’ a creature made in his image”.  That is a religious statement masquerading as science. And that appears to be the view of some religious theists, especially those Catholics who adhere to the Church’s position that God intervened in human evolution.

Well, what happens if we find out some day that the subatomic “nondeterministic” changes really turn out to be deterministic?  After all, quantum mechanics and its indeterminacy are provisional scientific theories; we might eventually find out that what appear to be totally unpredictable events really do have a deterministic causation.  Where does Collins’s deity go then?  Do you suppose for a minute that Collins and his fellow theistic evolutionists would say, “Right. Everything is in principle predictable after all.  Obviously, there’s no room for God to intervene in nature, so theism is wrong.”  I wouldn’t count on it.

Making quantum mechanics the bailiwick for celestial intervention is a God-of-the-gaps argument, no different in kind from many arguments for intelligent design. Do theistic evolutionists really want to make quantum mechanics God’s playground?  Remember the words of the martyred theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer about the dangers of mixing science and faith:

If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat.

______________________________

Note:  Someone once asked me what the “H.” in the expression “Jesus H. Christ!” came from.  I used to reply, “haploid,” since he came from an unfertilized egg.  But now I am starting to wonder if it might be “Heisenberg.”

191 Comments

  1. mk
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    If I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with Mr Collins or Miller I’d ask them when they thought human beings first started believing in gods. Did Homo erectus believe in gods? Homo habilus? Paranthropus? Australopithicus? How does Miller/Collins think we came to believe in gods? And why did we start with multiple gods the shift to only one? Why didn’t “the real” God make us clear on that at the get go?

    This is, to me, a clear case of smart people making clever inventions to fit their insecure notions about the universe and their place in it.

    It is all so ridiculous.

    • mike00000000001
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Whats truly wrong with this argument is all the needless dualties when this article could just get to the point. Instead its always material vs. spiritual, abstract vs. concrete, religious vs. nonreligious. Whether or not you consider something to be any of these, the bottom line is you are supposed to be seaking the TRUTH. So why does it matter to you if the truth is say “abstract” or “spiritual” or “religious”? Either there IS a creator or there ISN’T

  2. Richie P
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    The Biologos article states:

    “Of course, the question remains whether this openness is a result of nature’s true intrinsic chanciness or the inevitable limit to humans’ understanding.”

    But rather than concluding that this so-called openess casts doubt on Science’s ability to explain nature. Couldn’t we also sensibly come to a more Atheistic conclusion. If the weird behaviour of sub-atomic particles really is due to an intrinsic chanciness (and that is a big if!), doesn’t that increase the total number things that are possible and conceivable inside an entirely naturalistic framework. It seems to me that the inherent “chanciness” of nature would make God even more superfluous than he/she is already!!!!

  3. Sili
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I may be wrong, but my understanding is that we have pretty good experimental evidence that QM cannot have a deterministic background – ‘hidden variables’.

  4. Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Even if the proposed manipulations of the quantum states of electrons were certain, where would that place Natural Selection and other processes of evolution? It would seem to me that theodicy would still be a necessary function of an interventionist creator.

  5. newenglandbob
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Now, though, we see that the laws of nature are such that scientific prediction and explanation are ultimately limited.

    Of course they are, no one denies this. They are limited by human capabilities and by hard work. But religion has infinity more limits, since it is based on woo.

    If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed farther and farther back…

    No, the frontiers are being pushed FORWARD.

    So all this from the BioLogos website comes down to ‘goddidit’, with no evidence and laughable logic.

    Next they might do calculations to tell us how many gods can dance on the head of the quantum foam.

    Hey god! Come out, come out from where ever you are! Stop being a coward and show yourself. You are making fools of the Religionistas. Come on and give them some support!

    (oh, yeah god, while you are at it, the Red Sox have had their last four losses by one run each, late in the game. Give them a quantum kick so that will stop happening.)

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      While you raise an interesting point, telling God to “come out and prove yourself” is a bit silly.

      All good mathematicians know that there are some things that are true that cannot be proven to be true.

      God, who some consider to be the inventor of mathematics, could fall into that category… just a thought.

  6. Notorious P.A.T.
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    “It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation.”

    In other words, “there is no evidence whatsoever for this, but I’m going to believe it anyway.” How very scientific.

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      Something to think about: scientists have NO idea how gravity works.
      Don’t believe me? Research it.
      Gravity is a complete mystery. In fact, its inner workings are, at present, “unrecognizable to scientific observation”.

      However, no one disputes that gravity exists. And we don’t call these people unscientific.
      Again, this is just something to think about.

      • articulett
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

        Gravity is measurable, describable, we actually know quite a bit about it. Moreover, it’s a force that is distinguishable from a delusion.

        God isn’t any of those things.

        Something to think about. God belief is identical to demon belief and fairy belief as far as the evidence is concerned. That’s something for YOU to think about. Moreover, we have never actually explained any phenomena in science when we appeal to the supernatural. Although, humans have a tendency to make up explanations when they don’t have a ready one–never once has the correct answer turned out to be a supernatural answer. Never. Supernatural answers have a long history of leading people to false conclusions and false remedies to solve real problems.

      • Posted July 7, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

        I’ll concede that the supernatural does seem like a silly explanation in the face of science.
        And in no way am I suggesting that “God makes electrons behave the way they do”.
        However, I am suggesting that we don’t know how everything in the universe works.
        But that is not enough reason to discredit it.
        I think it could be the same with a God.
        Just because God cannot be proven true does not mean that he does not exist; Godel proved a similar concept in relation to God with his studies of mathematics and logic.

      • Posted July 7, 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        And in reply to your comments about God: we do know a lot about God. Read some of Godel’s logical proofs and one discovers that an omnipotent God falls into a certain category.

      • articulett
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        And just because fairies can’t be proven not to exist doesn’t mean that they don’t exist… the same for demons, engrams, alien wormhole visitors, reincarnated Atlanteans, etc.

        Welcome to Fantasy Island…

  7. Anders
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation.

    And its perfectly possible that I have a parallel universe hidden up my ass, but not very likely, since there is NO EVIDENCE in this statement’s favor. Thats the problem with the hogwash theists come up with. Anything is possible thats why we need science in the first place, to try and determine if it is likely to be TRUE, and not just possible. And with God, they just dont have the evidence, that is positive evidence suggesting the existence of God, not just the possibility, any idiot can understand that it is POSSIBLE, but it takes effort to make it LIKELY.

  8. יאיר רזק
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    It is a scientific statement contradicting quantum mechanics. QM purports to be a COMPLETE explanation of the workings of subatomic particles. If there is more explanation to be had, QM is wrong. QM has been rather rigorously established, and it is only Collins’ blatant disregard to scientific criteria of proof that allow him to dismiss this theory in favor of his pseudo-scientific one. It is a corruption of science, just like JC says.

    Specifically, as noted above, his theory is a “hidden variables” theory, in this case his hidden variable is the (presumably non-local) will of God. Non-local hidden variable theories ARE allowed by experiment, but in order for such a theory to conform to the rules of QM God would need not only to make changes that affect things causally as he wants but also to make other changes to “maintain the illusion” of following QM, even though these latter changes have nothing to do with the sought causal influences. In other words, Collins’ theory makes God into a liar, intentionally perpetuating the false QM theory. It’s not only bad science, it’s bad theology.

  9. Posted July 5, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    It’s perfectly possible that a parallel universe forms wherever milk turns sour, and that’s why we keep sniffing the carton even when we know the milk is sour.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      No one told me! It is the carton I am supposed to sniff.

  10. Bob
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    I saw on WEITs website a bouple of month’s ago that someone wondered what Miller or Collins thought of Neanderthal, a lineage that became extinct. I wonder if they believe that God works through extinction of human lines.

    • mk
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Neandertal was God’s own Edsel. ;^}

  11. santitafarella
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Prof. Coyne:

    I think that you are missing a bit of the theology behind Collins’s move. Collins (or whoever wrote the piece at Collins’s site) is trying to make space within a mechanistic scientific framework for God’s immanence. In other words, it is an attempt to avoid the Deist move of a clockwork universe that leaves God out in the distant past and not present in some sense within the universe itself.

    Also, there is nothing anti-scientific about the statement IF seen in Kantian terms. Contemporary theology tends to rely on Kant to keep a firm distance between the phenomenal and noumenal worlds. It makes it possible to retain a “two worlds” hypothesis by faith even as the one material world that we experience goes on its merry way by all appearances untouched by that second world.

    Collins is trying to make a space, via Kantian-style philosophical gestures, for being a scientist and a Christian who believes in God’s immanence. It’s precisely the kind of theological talk that you would expect a Christian who is a scientist to engage in. To read into it hysterically, implying that it is a threat to science is, in my view, silly. To insist that Christians mustn’t talk like this as scientists is to insist that Christians must not be scientists, or that Christianity must necessarily hurt scientific practice. This is absurd. Christians can be scientists, and obviously, so long as they maintain the Kantian boundary, do no harm to scientific practice.

    How would you, afterall, expect a Christian to retain the doctrine of immanence by faith, and his or her empirical scientific practice, without some sort of move akin to the one made by Collins?

    To be fair to Collins means letting Collins be a Christian and talk like a Christian to other Christians, and letting Collins work out reconciliations between his science and his religion that do not interfere with the functionings of science qua science. This is exactly the kind of thing that Collins is doing. He should be praised for it, not blamed, and precisely because to not do so opens the door for fundamentalism to fill the empty space of explanation.

    And it’s not reasonable to expect Christian scientists like Miller and Collins to talk like atheist scientists about ultimate things. So long as the Kantian boundary is maintained, the language that religion uses to square its faith doctrines with science is, well, up to those religious traditions.

    Only when the Kantian boundary is breached, in my view, should scientists become up in arms about the way Christians talk about God and science (as with young earth creationism etc.).

    Also, you express aggravation at theologians and Christian scientists who don’t just talk more bluntly about miracles. But this is exactly how you DON’T want theologians and Christian scientists talking (lest they become outright fundamentalists). It’s been a long and difficult historic road to getting Christians to talk about God in ways that do not, ultimately, interfere with science, and your impatience that they do not simply abandon religion altogether and run to atheism is a symptom of your own lack of perspective. Collins is talking about religion and science in sane and safe ways that atheist scientists ought to cheer. Islam will no doubt have to go through a similar struggle over the next century in reconciling itself to science. You are treating what is actually progress as reversal. Not smart.

    By the way, your Bonhoeffer quote is precisely the Deist problematic that Collins is trying to rescue Christianity from and WITHOUT interfering with the practice of empiricism. That’s an important thing to let Christians do (figure out how to make their religious faith positions accord with the facts of science without interfering with the practice of science).

    As an atheist, you should want Collins doing this. Otherwise, you get Christians who are alienated and driven away from science and toward crass forms of fundamentalism.

    —Santi

    • mk
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

      Why is it not reasonable to prefer that religious scientists keep the two seperate. Worship when and how you wish. And do science all other times.

      Why should we not comment when they insist on trying to explain the natural world with religion?

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      1st paragraph:

      No one missed it, it is obvious what he is trying to do. Wrong that it is.

      2nd paragraph:

      “Contemporary theology tends to rely…”

      That it because it has no evidence, just blind faith and woo.

      3rd paragraph:

      Same point as the 1st paragraph but more words. Still wrong.

      4th paragraph:

      Who cares. It is still incompatible.

      5th paragraph:

      “To be fair…” Let him/them do it in private and not try to foist it on the world.

      6th & 7th paragraph:

      Same as last paragraph, do it in private.

      8th paragraph:

      Convoluted logic. Santi does not even understand most Christians and they do not behave as stated. No point being successfully made.

      9th paragraph:

      Let him do it in his church where it belongs.

      10th paragraph:

      This is your opinion. Most here do not share it.

    • origin
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      “How would you, afterall, expect a Christian to retain the doctrine of immanence by faith, and his or her empirical scientific practice, without some sort of move akin to the one made by Collins?”

      This is not Jerry Coyne’s, or any other scientists’ business as a scientist.

      Scientists can retain what religious beliefs they want if they choose, and how they so rationalize it is up to them.

      If they do cross the line, fostering confusion about abstruse physics, then it is the job of scientific peers to inform the public that there is bullshit afoot.
      If someone wants to just say “I believe Jesus was born of a virgin” but, not specify by what mechanisms the developmental dead ends of human parthenogenesis were avoided, that’s their business.
      If they want to publicly claim van der waals interactions, cosmic quantum manipulations, or subtle magnetism from local archeology, or whatever,explains their admittedly emotionally-reached conclusions about parochial mythology, they need to put the objective evidence where their mouth is, or halt the extraordinary claims.

    • Posted July 5, 2009 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      By the way, your Bonhoeffer quote is precisely the Deist problematic that Collins is trying to rescue Christianity from and WITHOUT interfering with the practice of empiricism

      Why does Christianity need rescuing from deism to begin with? I’d say deism is far more likely to be true than Christianity.

      As an atheist, you should want Collins doing this. Otherwise, you get Christians who are alienated and driven away from science and toward crass forms of fundamentalism.

      You say that like there are only two alternatives for Christians: fundamentalism or weakly supported philosophical sky-castles. Clearly you think deism isn’t a good alternative, nor atheism. They may not be popular alternatives, but since when did popularity have anything to do with the validity of a position?

    • Critical Rationalist
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Santi, I was going to reply to your whole post, but others have done a good job of responding to most of it. So I’ll only address one specific point.

      Collins is not making a Kantian move here. Kant kept the phenomenal and noumenal completely separate. We cannot say anything at all about the noumenal realm. Collins, on the other hand, is making very specific claims about God, and bringing him directly into the empirical world by having him intervene in it.

    • Yair
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      santitafarella:

      Please do not invoke Kant’s name in vain. Collins is breaching the Kantian boundary when he speaks of God interfering with the world, whether this is detectable or not. The mere fact that God intervenes in some parts, some times, some places – already we’re deep into Kantian categories that do not exist in the noumena.

      If you insist on believing the noumena exists beyond the Kantian veil, then treat it as such – speak not of that which cannot be spoken of. Do not go about speaking about the noumena as if it were phenomena!

    • Posted October 14, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Exactly.

  12. RichardW
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    Well said, יאיר רזק.

    Moreover, the Biologos page doesn’t limit God to acting through QM. It makes the more general claim that God can “act outside the created physical laws”. But, if God can cause events to occur that violate known physical laws, then those laws are not as general as physicists currently believe them to be. It would mean, for example, that “E=mc^2″ should be replaced by the more accurate “E=mc^2 except when God decrees otherwise”. Theists are adopting a position that requires laws of physics that differ from those currently accepted by science.

  13. Posted July 5, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    The universe may no longer be predictable, but I can predict with near certainty that this won’t satisfy the John Kwoks and the Anthony McCarthys of the world. They’ll probably point out that this writing is not part of Collins’ real scientific work. Of course, that wouldn’t actually address any of the issues.

    The BioLogos statement appears as part of the answer to the question, “What role could God have in evolution?”

    Which of course is the wrong question to begin with. First, you have to ask “Did God have a role in evolution?” The only reason you need to assume God had a role in evolution at all, is if you already believe that man was created in God’s image. It’s rather ironic to see the unpredictability of nature used as an argument to defend the predestination of mankind.

    Well, what happens if we find out some day that the subatomic “nondeterministic” changes really turn out to be deterministic?

    The fun thing is that science has already caused a shift like this the other way. Back in Newton’s time, it was generally thought that God created order out of chaos, and that his laws kept the universe running like clockwork. I’ve even seen this used many times to credit Christianity with the birth of modern science, because it led scientist to try and discover God’s laws.

    The earlier Christians, however, would have been quite horrified to learn that God is no longer seen as the great bringer of Order, whose works can be seen everywhere. Instead, many present day Christians have now reduced God to a tinkerer who uses the chaotic nature of the universe to perform his work, and hide himself at the same time.

  14. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    If I make speak for the party of Chamberlain here for a minute, I think we should keep in mind that neither of these scientists have ever suggested that scientists should accept religion, and both have devoted a great deal to urging religious people to accept science. The same is true here. Dr. Collins isn’t speaking to us, and I can’t imagine that there’s an evangelical out there who’s almost ready to accept the human condition but for Ken Miller’s interference.

    It’s not the case that, if we just pull down all of the curtains, believers will see the light. They’ll just close their eyes.

  15. 386sx
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I think that you are missing a bit of the theology behind Collins’s move.

    I don’t think anybody is missing a bit of the theology behind Collins’s move.

    Also, there is nothing anti-scientific about the statement IF seen in Kantian terms.

    Yeah but it’s still some pretty blatant “gap seeking”. Surely Collins and company must realize that.

  16. Anders
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    It’s not the case that, if we just pull down all of the curtains, believers will see the light. They’ll just close their eyes.
    That may indeed be the case, but it is no excuse for painting a false, unscientific picture of the world in the name of religion. Like I’ve said before, this sneaky logic is dishonest. Collins, or whoever wrote the above peace, misleads the reader with this “its perfectly possible that God works on the quantum level” has NO place in an HONEST and scientifically sound article about science. It is like saying “It is perfectly possible that pigs will evolve wings by the year 3000″

    Statements like that are not good science at all, they are FOX News-style* sleazy, misleading, helpless, religious justifications of the sort Collins needs to maintain a bizarre dual-world view where bronze-age mythology is every bit as likely to be true as the theory of evolution, or the findings of quantum mechanics. It is just not the case. God-belief completely and utterly fails to be compatible with proper scientific reasoning. Sure, you can do like Collins, but then you are basically telling me that when you are in your lab-coat you are a scientist, and when you are not, you are a complete kook. Claiming that these two worldviews are “compatible” in any meaningful way is complete rubbish.

    *I’m thinking of their “fair and balanced” suggestive-assumption-tactics ie: Some people say.. Obama kills kittens for fun.. you could just as well put “It is perfectly possible” followed by anything you’d wish was true.

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      Exactly!

      How many superstitious notions come packaged in this argument:

      “QM is weird, therefore my woo could be true!”

      The problem with this argument is that it’s just as valid for conflicting woo beliefs and superstitions the believer doesn’t believe in. It could be used to promote the idea that demons influence humans interaction and thought and thus used to justify exorcism or witch burning.

      Science is the best tool we have for determining what is true from what might be true, and there is no scientifically valid reason to suggest that consciousness of any sort can exist without a material brain– not fairies, demons, gods, souls, or any of the other mythological entities humans have dreamed up!

      I don’t like it when people use science to act as if their brand of magical thinking is perfectly rational. They are lying to themselves and their audience even if they are not aware of it. I prefer more honesty from my scientists.

      I don’t think religion has ever provided a valid answer when science could not. They use the unfalsifiability of their claims as “evidence” of veracity even though they’d recognize the dishonesty of someone using such a method to promote a conflicting religion–a belief in reincarnation, for example.

  17. 386sx
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    It is thus perfectly possible that God might influence the creation in subtle ways that are unrecognizable to scientific observation.

    How dishonest. Since when was that not “perfectly possible”? It’s always been that way. God has always been the big “intelligent gap seeker” up there in the sky who occasionally performs the rare un-invisible not-gap-seeked miracle. The IGP Theory has been around for millenniums. (IGP: Intelligent Gap Seeking.)

  18. santitafarella
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Origin:

    You said: “It is the job of scientific peers to inform the public that there is bullshit afoot.”

    I’d ask you to think very carefully about what you are saying here. Collins is expressing a religious opinion about the implications of quantum physics to the Christian doctrine of God’s immanence. He is doing this from the vantage of a Christian who is a scientist. This religious opinion has no impact—zero—on how science is practiced by scientists. You are saying that it is the job of scientists to arbitrate the quality of religious opinions and decide which ones are “bullshit” and which ones are tolerable.

    To follow your advice is not to protect science from religion, but to set science dead center into the middle of theological disputes and claim authority to resolve them. I believe that a wiser course is to leave religious people to make their own reconciliations between their respective faiths and science, and that science should only become alarmed by religious groups who attempt, by public policy, to change the terms under which science is taught, practiced, and funded (as with young earth creationism in the public schools).

    I really think that Collins and Miller, as targets of atheist mockery, are ridiculously misplaced. Both of these men fully accept science qua science. You do not have to be an atheist to be a scientist, and other scientists needn’t feel a responsibility to police the degree of “bullshit” they find in their colleagues’ religious opinons, and warn the public away from those who express religious opinions. It’s nutty to treat empiricism as the arbiter for questions of ultimate meaning. Empiricism is simply not a very good tool for speaking to such questions. If Collins thinks that quantum indeterminacy fits well with the Christian doctrine of immanence, so what? I’m thinking of doing one of those “Leave Britney Spears alone” videos at Youtube for Dr. Collins. I’m going to see if I can borrow some of my wife’s mascara and find an onion in the fridge. Some of you guys are being serious pile-on assholes to a nice man who is speaking moderately and sanely to his own religious community. Dr. Collins is no Duane Gish. Have a sense of proportion.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

      I’ve thought about it.

      There’s bullshit afoot.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      articulett has it correct. Bullshit, dishonesty and games from Santi.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      You are saying that it is the job of scientists to arbitrate the quality of religious opinions and decide which ones are “bullshit” and which ones are tolerable.

      When religious opinions invoke science to back up their woo, yes, it is a good thing there are scientists willing to point out that their is bullshit afoot.

  19. Anders
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Both of these men fully accept science qua science. You do not have to be an atheist to be a scientist,

    I would argue that as far as these people are scientists, they are also atheists to some degree. Imagine if a student or co-worker of Collins had been sequencing the human genome, and said to Collins: “I think this particular mutation here was an act of God” Surely he would be met by laughter from Collins, who would, as a scientist, never assume anything as silly as that without a shred of evidence to back it up. Or would he? Or didn’t he just do so when smuggling God into quantum mechanics?

    In any case, Collins loses the argument with himself: he is either a de-facto atheist insofar as his science goes, or he is dilluting and polluting science with religious nonsense.

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      He certainly is an atheist to the Muslim god… and to the Jewish god… and too the god of the Young Earth Creationists.

      He’s an atheist to all the gods that don’t conflict with his heartfelt delusion.

  20. santitafarella
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Yair:

    You said: “Collins is breaching the Kantian boundary when he speaks of God interfering with the world, whether this is detectable or not.”

    Look, anytime a religious group—Muslim, Christian etc.—moves in the direction of Kantianism, we agnostics and atheists should applaud, not humiliate. The very fact that Collins can retain his doctrine of immanence and square it with science via a Kantian-like move is progress (even if it is not pure Kantianism). The very fact that Collins posits an empirically undetectable God via quantum physics (even as he posits God’s presence there) is a brilliant solution to someone who might want to practice empirical science and be a Christian. Thank you, Dr. Collins. Bravo.

    You should be kissing his ass, not spanking it. He’s doing good. You’ve got to give people honorable spaces for surrender. It makes no sense to embarrass moderate religious people who are meeting you far more than halfway, leaving science completely alone except within their community’s theological interpretations of scientific discoveries. These moderates open up a space for fundamentalist youth to moderate their own positions and move away from fundamentalism.

    All I am saying is give moderate religionists who are scientists some breathing space. They are, via Kantian-like moves, on our side in every major area of empirical importance. Miller, for example, did great at the Pennsylvania trial, and Collins was pivotal in giving us the fucking genome of the human race! He can believe that the ghost of St. Paul swings through the rings of Saturn for all I care. He gets a huge pass from me. What have you done for the human race lately?

    —Santi

    • mk
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      In other words… When Collins and Miller say something scientifcally untenable… please ignore it. Please do not say anything. Please shut up.

      Thank you Chris Moon.. er uh, Santi!

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      doctrine of immanence, doctrine of immanence, doctrine of immanence….

      A broken record of inanity.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      They can have all the breathing space they want so long as they keep their beliefs private. This is the same breathing space they give to others who have conflicting beliefs, right?

      If they are going to publicly state their opinions they ought to respond to peoples’ opinions of their opinions the way they want their own opinions responded to. Why shouldn’t Jerry et. al. be as free to state their opinion of FC’s article as FC is to write it?

      I think all people who believe in any invisible undetectable entities are deluded. I think all gods are mythological and the equivalent of imaginary friends. (From a scientific perspective, the evidence is in my favor, but the accommodationists would silence me and let FC’s more scurrilous commentary go uncommented upon.)

      I think your energies, might be better spent, Santi, in encouraging Francis Collins to keep his meanderings about his imaginary friend private…

    • Yair
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:29 am | Permalink

      the very fact that Collins can retain his doctrine of immanence and square it with science via a Kantian-like move is progress (even if it is not pure Kantianism).

      STOP using that word. Collins usn’t making a Kantian move, merely a god-of-the-gaps move.

      “All I am saying is give moderate religionists who are scientists some breathing space”

      We don’t need the breathing space, thank you. We’d rather stand up for the integrity of science and for the truth of atheism. That they have made “progress” and so are on “our” side is good; but shouldn’t stop us from goading them to make further progress.

      Nor are we alienating the theist scientists away. They’re gonna keep on doing good science and being on our side. They’re just going to realize that we think they’re being irrational in upholding their religious beliefs, that is all.

      You’re making a bad move here (in my view). Nature does not speak the language of atheism.

      Yes, it does. Any unbiased reasoning concludes that it does. Sure, you can read different things from it – but that’s true for any text. An unbiased reading reads atheism.

      But atheism is itself a form of “woo.” That is, atheism as an ideology, as an “ism,” must necessarily exceed the bounds of empiricism.
      Atheism against any god concept whatsoever – sure. Atheism against a meddling god – no, this is a scientific question, and answered in the strong negative.

      But it’s fine to have an opinion on philosophical matters, even if the degree of evidence we have for it is relatively weak. Naturalism is better supported than its alternatives, by virtue of its simplicity and the (empirical) nature of human minds.

      For example, atheism assumes (without evidence) that if we could “see” the moment just “prior” to the Big Bang, we would find that a tiny ball of highly condensed “blind” matter leaped from nothing.

      It absolutely does not. If it did, it would be because science told so. But science doesn’t say so, and you’re showing your scientific ignorance here.

      In any event, there is the ontological presumption in atheism that matter preceeds mind at the beginning

      I’m an atheist, and I don’t hold this view. I think mind and matter are coexisting. The beginning had very simple structures, both physically and mentally, but there is always mental content.

      and that matter has the property of self organizing its own laws

      Another misrepresentation. Matter doesn’t “organize” its own laws, matter has a certain nature, it behaves in certain ways – a basic, indeed probably necessary, philosophical assumption.

      When we come up against ultimate things, and the ontological mystery, all of us—theist, agnostic, and atheist alike—are up against assumptions about the universe that empiricism cannot readily decide among, and that entail a lot of “woo” guessing. God, multiverse, eternal matter, something from nothing?

      Somebody’s right, but we can’t know (empirically) who.

      No, we cannot. We can know philosophically, though. Metaphysical naturalism is a philosophical, not an empirical, position. Empiricism can still help us, though – e.g. providing information about the evolution of human consciousness that makes it absurd to posit that something like it undermines the universe.

  21. santitafarella
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Anders:

    You’re making a bad move here (in my view). Nature does not speak the language of atheism. The ultimate meaning of nature is what we infer from it. It is true that science emerged out of naturalism, and requires the presumptions of naturalism to function, but ultimate meaning resides in interpretation. If (as Bacon was quoted as saying at the beginning of the Origin of Species), nature is a “book,” it follows that people will put different interpretations upon what they read out of it.

    Procedurally, you have to be a naturalist to be a scientist—you are right there—but ultimately, you don’t have to be an atheist in the interpretation of nature’s metaphysical meaning. The distinction, I feel, is important.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      Sure, you can believe in any magic you want… you can believe the moon is made of cheese.

      But if you don’t want your beliefs ridiculed, then perhaps you ought to keep them as private as you keep your fetishes.

      When you respect peoples’ magical thinking… they feel entitled to respect for their magical thoughts. That’s a problem in science which prefers to show respect for that which is verifiable and true for everyone no matter what they “believe”.

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      You don’t have to be an a-leprechaunist, a-fairyist, or an a-demonist to do science either, but the scientific method tends to rule out supernatural entities as an explanation for anything.

      Heck, you can be schizophrenic and be a scientist, but one would hope other scientists would step in to make corrections when your delusions were influencing your results.

  22. CharlesInCharge
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    A god that’s indistinguishable from quantum randomness isn’t worth arguing about. They can have it.

    Although they’re still forced to answer why God didn’t use his quantum magic to prevent the Holocaust.

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Or why he uses it so willy nilly– he shows himself to Francis Collins via a waterfall and through Moses via a burning bush, but doesn’t hear the desperate pleas of parents of missing children…

      I think it’s arrogant of Francis Collins to imagine himself “in on” some mystical secret not available to science or empirical measurement– I think it’s hypocritical that he imagines himself humble for this “faith”. I really truly think he should keep it to himself if he doesn’t want other scientists to share opinions about his self-aggrandizing magical beliefs.

  23. santitafarella
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    MK:

    Rhetorically smash-mouth away at Miller and Collins if you want to. I’m just saying that it is extremely stupid strategy for the atheist/agnostic community to not make allies of moderate religious people who use Kantian-like moves to sequester their theology from the empirical world, and have thrown up the white flag with regard to the age of the earth and the fact that plants and animals have changed over time.

    I mean, what the hell? That’s a lot. These guys are at the vanguard of Christian moderation, and have the status to lead many lay Christians into a less frightened relationship to science. I’m saying give credit where credit’s due. Let’s not be Robespierre here, cutting off the heads of people because they aren’t 100% with us. It feels fanatical to me, this hysteria about the mild mannered Miller and Collins. My guess is that they both voted for Obama too. I mean, shit. They’re not the enemy. They’re not dangerous. Attacking them strikes me as the narcissism of small differences; an atheist substitute for sectarianism; a way to brandish your “tough atheist” street cred.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      Any evidence? How many people has your mush mouthed rhetoric enlightened?

      I think those you criticize are more honest and more likely to spread critical thinking than you are.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      I laugh and laugh at the twisting and turning of Santi, the only one here who is hysterical. Santi the fanatical appeaser.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

      • articulett
        Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

        But the responses are fun to read, and I get a chance to say the sorts of things I’m afraid to say to similar type people in my every day life. (What can I say… I’m a small woman and rather afraid of irrational people… sometimes they throw things…)

      • mk
        Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        Seriously… smash-mouth? Hysteria? Project much?

        Santi,

        You’re still telling people to keep their mouths shut… even when Collins and Miller and their ilk make supernatural claims regarding science! Please just look the other way! That’s what you are asking. Tell you what… you look the other way. You let them make ridiculous claims then ignore them. I for one am glad Prof Coyne does not.

      • mk
        Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

        Further… if the so-called “moderates” are going to run in the opposite direction because Coyne or Dawkins dares to point out inconsistencies with Collins and Miller… then I say don’t let the door hit ya!

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      Your comments are all straw men, Santi. No one is making Collins into a bad guy or an enemy… their just pointing out where he mixes “woo” with science. It’s the honest thing to do… the best way to find whats true and separate from what Francis Collins has come to “believe in”.

      Francis Collins has evidence to support common descent… he does not have evidence to support his belief in his Christian deity. There is no evidence that consciousness of any kind can exist outside a living material brain and scientists SHOULD call on those who suggest that there is. It’s a very manipulative belief, after all… and gets in the way of learning actual facts.

    • Ken Pidcock
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      It’s true that a problem with appeasement is that religious people are desperate to interpret our tolerance for support. But what of it? I don’t feel I’m compromising any principle by declining to jump down the throat of irrational believers.

      I recognize as a reasonable hypothesis the claim (nicely articulated by Sam Harris) that religious moderation abets fundamentalism, but I remain of the opinion that support for science among the moderately religious, as promoted by BioLogos and other endeavors, will lead to support for rationality among their children. The ends are the ends, my friends.

      As an avid student of the intelligent design movement, I know that the DI fellows despise Collins with a passion, because they know where this is leading. Maybe it’s worth considering that they read the terrain clearly.

      (Allusion to Churchill intended!)

      • articulett
        Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

        No one is asking you to jump down anyone’s throat or even participate in the conversation.

        But the “accommodationists” ARE asking Jerry Coyne and others to treat some types of magical thinking with more deference then they’d treat other type of magical thinking. Those who support coddling of some superstitions ought to be engaging with each other on which superstitions they are willing to accommodate and how and why… they should not be attempting to silence those who want no part of enabling such thinking.

        Collins and Miller are great examples of Christians who accept evolution; this does not make their particular supernatural beliefs more scientific or more worthy of deference from other scientists. These men denigrate science when they infer that it supports a particular supernatural belief. They are hitching their religion to the hard won respect of science and cheapening the scientific method in the process.

        Science is about finding out what’s true… but Collins has uses his association with science to drum up respect for his beliefs. In doing so, he is engaging in pseudoscience. It is similar to inferring that the fact that planets have gravitational effects means that astrology has validity.

        You are free to find this noble or not worth commenting upon. Others have more passion for the truth. They aren’t jumping down anyone’s throat… they are just making sure that the facts don’t get lost in the semantics of woo-speak.

        The fact that you see this conversation as “jumping down peoples’ throats” or a scolding of you for not doing the same speaks more about your own biases on the subject then what is actually occurring on this thread.

  24. Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    “It’s nutty to treat empiricism as the arbiter for questions of ultimate meaning. Empiricism is simply not a very good tool for speaking to such questions.”

    What is a good tool for speaking to such questions?

    Serious question.

  25. Gingerbaker
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    “Collins is expressing a religious opinion about the implications of quantum physics to the Christian doctrine of God’s immanence.”

    -Santi

    No. Seems to me that Collins is expressing a scientific opinion about the implications of the his Christian doctrine on quantum physics.

    “To follow your advice is not to protect science from religion, but to set science dead center into the middle of theological disputes and claim authority to resolve them”

    -Santi

    No – this is exactly what Collins is doing!

    Science is the bailiwick of scientists, who have the responsibility to defend the honor of the discipline. Collins is using his authority as a scientist of note, but rather than being prudent, he is talking out his ***, with no evidence whatsoever to bolster his rather outrageous claims.

    Honestly, do you think he would offer such rancid tripe to a scientific audience?

  26. Posted July 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    “It feels fanatical to me, this hysteria about the mild mannered Miller and Collins…Attacking them strikes me as the narcissism of small differences…”

    Hello? What hysteria? What attacking? The post is an epistemological disagreement, not an attack, and not a fit of hysterics. It feels fanatical to me to call that hysterical and an attack.

  27. Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Besides, when you read the dang thing (which I hadn’t yet) you see it’s full of wishful thinking and special pleading and pretending to know what can’t be known – but it’s presented (or ‘framed)) as sciencey and ‘reasonable.’

    Besides besides, accommodationists like to say that people can do both without either one messing up the other; the point of this post is to present an example of one messing up the other.

  28. Anders
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    but ultimately, you don’t have to be an atheist in the interpretation of nature’s metaphysical meaning. The distinction, I feel, is important.

    Then why is Collins God messing with my Quantum Physics?

    You cant have your cake and eat it too. Either God is some elusive answer to the “Why” of the universe that has no role in the “How” part, and thus have no business moving quantum particles around, or he is part of the “How” and thus inside the realm of science.

    Obviously, if you are a Christian, then God is of the meddling kind, who has a detectable by science impact on the world from time to time( imagine we had a doctor and recording material present to documents jesus complete death and later resurrection, surely this would pretty much prove the Christians are right, or if Muhammad had a video camera to document his flying horse ride it would confirm Islams authority to atleast some degree) This is the problem with the claims of compatibility, we are expected to agree on it by default, no matter how silly the claims of religion are, and if we ever ask too many questions, the theists neatly tuck god away in the invisible layers of metaphysical wishy-washyness where suddenly relgion answers “Other Questions” and nobody ever has to explain exactly what these questions are, and certainly not how religion is somehow qualified to answer them.

    Lets say, for example that one of the questions science/naturalism cannot answer is “Why are we ultimately here?” Ok, so lets turn to religion. Well, why are we here, O’great, random religion? To praise jesus?, to submit to gods will?

    Nevermind that any of these answers, (who vary from religion to religion of course) are usually silly and futile, but how did we find these answers? what method was used? how come there are so many different answers in different religions? What makes religion so uniquely qualified to give these answers? if we asked a magic 8-ball, wouldn’t it be just as good? if not, WHY not?

    The truth is that religion has bad and wrong answers to all the “how” questions and nothing but random and probably wrong answers to the “Why” questions as well.

    Scientists like Collins are playing a two-faced game with themselves and everybody else, when among fellow theists, they can ramble the most nonsensical, unscientific nonsense, and when talking to scientists, their god is like that very real spaceship that kid in third grade had in his garage, where the floor is either being painted, or his dad is “on the moon right now” whenever you ask to actually see it.

  29. Posted July 5, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    What Anders said – that’s what I just said.

    What is a good tool for speaking to questions of ultimate meaning?

    I asked the guy from Templeton that the other day, too. Funny how there is never an answer to that question.

  30. articulett
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    If faith is good, then more faith is better, right? But there’s no way to tell a true faith from a false one. And how does one prove faith unless they do something they wouldn’t do if not for their faith? If faith is good, then doubt is bad and those who lack faith are worse.

    So don’t ask me to accommodate the “faith is good” delusion. The price is too high– religion needs to denigrate science and scientists to pretend that there are other ways of knowing.

    They malign the truth tellers and elevate the status of liars expounding upon imaginary “higher truths”. Science gives you the evidence for most amazing facts humans have come to discover– religion claims to have truths that no one can verify.

    Bravo to those who stand up for the truth instead of being bullied into deferring to spe

  31. sailor1031
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    The uncertainty principle does not state that there are hidden processes at the quantum level that we cannot see and are therefore capable of being exploited by ‘god’ to provide unexpected results, thus proving the universe to be non-deterministic. It does say that we cannot at the same time observe both the speed and position of a subatomic particle and further that if we could it would change by the effect of the very act of observation. Not much room in there for ‘god’ to direct miracles of evolution. The way science works is that we make predictions based on our theories and then test those predictions. If we get correct results and they are repeatable then we know that our theories are correct or partly correct or correct as far as they go. Then we do it again, and again, and again, getting a little further each time. That’s it. The whole basis of science and it is deterministic in theory. In practice since the deterministic result is the entire universe it doesn’t really matter to individuals who may think that it is not deterministic if they so wish.
    Also please remember that while religion may claim to perfect knowledge by virtue of the schizoid revelations of a bunch of bronze age barbarians who found that hawking made-up religion was better than working for a living, Science is still working on finding answers and will continue to do so. Science is not arrogant enough to claim to have all the answers.

    • Stu Brown
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Hey, don’t dis the bronze age barbarians. They were a great improvement over the stone age barbarians. Also, I am of bronze age barbarian ancestry on both my mother’s and father’s side, so it’s a little personal. Not being fanatical, just trying to raise consciousness.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

        Hey, don’t dis the stone age barbarians. I am of stone age barbarian ancestry on both of my grandmothers’ and both of my grandfathers’ sides.

        Blame it on the Neanderthals. They are not related, so they are in the out group. :)

  32. articulett
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    …deferring to special interests.

    I am strongly on the side of Jerry, OB, Anders, Dawkins, PZ, et. al. in this debate.

    I think their critics could use their time better by educating others as to why “faith” is not a path towards understanding anything true.

  33. articulett
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m perfectly willing to accommodate religion to the same extent Collins accommodates religions that conflict with his own beliefs… and for the same reasons.

    I’ll accommodate religion the way Francis Collins accommodates Muslim beliefs and Scientology beliefs and reincarnation beliefs. Of course it’s a lot easier to accommodate peoples’ beliefs when they’re not trying to get respect or infer scientific validity of their beliefs– that is, if they keep them to themselves.

    I am a science teacher. I don’t want to worry about what assorted myths my students have been indoctrinated with… I just want to teach science. I don’t want to know or care what people feel special for believing in, and I don’t consider my beliefs or lack of belief anybody’s business.

    I also prefer my science undiluted– without the obfuscatory language and inferences used by Francis Collins so that he can convince himself that his nebulous religious beliefs are more respectworthy and scientifically valid than conflicting beliefs.

    From my perspective, all supernatural beliefs belong in that “other” magisteria.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

      Bravo, articulett. Well said.

  34. Michael K Gray
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Collins & Miller are just two more examples of the ability of religion to completely pervert large parts of an otherwise educated and rational mind.

    Reading their puerile excuses for their mental disorder make me feel quite sad at their loss.

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

      It makes me think of this:

      • Michael K Gray
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:28 am | Permalink

        Brilliantly observed!
        And a fellow Aussie too…

        Quite how the mind-virus of theism can block the OBVIOUS absurdity of religious claims from (what is left of) the higher centres of logic, and avoid the centres of comedic appreciation, is beyond my ken.

  35. santitafarella
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Articulett:

    You said that all that’s being done here is “pointing out where he [Collins] mixes ‘woo’ with science.”

    But atheism is itself a form of “woo.” That is, atheism as an ideology, as an “ism,” must necessarily exceed the bounds of empiricism.

    If you agree, for example, with Clark Clifford’s classic formulation that “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence,” then atheism is itself “wrong” and “woo.” Atheism makes numerous very large assumptions about the world that empirical evidence cannot offer support for.

    For example, atheism assumes (without evidence) that if we could “see” the moment just “prior” to the Big Bang, we would find that a tiny ball of highly condensed “blind” matter leaped from nothing. And if this ball did not leap from nothing, then it came from some eternal “blind” matter that was just always there or from some previous “birthing” universe as part of a “multiverse.”

    In any event, there is the ontological presumption in atheism that matter preceeds mind at the beginning—and that matter has the property of self organizing its own laws, and by great good fortune, life and consciousness. That’s a lot of “woo” to eat in one sitting. All “answers” to ultimate things—whether you say that mind preceeded matter or matter preceeded mind at the beginning—invite question begging. Atheism, when its assumption are stated openly, is no more based on empirical evidence than are theological premises such as “mind preceeded matter at the beginning.” When we come up against ultimate things, and the ontological mystery, all of us—theist, agnostic, and atheist alike—are up against assumptions about the universe that empiricism cannot readily decide among, and that entail a lot of “woo” guessing. God, multiverse, eternal matter, something from nothing?

    Somebody’s right, but we can’t know (empirically) who.

    —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

      Once again pure nonsense from the religionista, Santi:

      But atheism is itself a form of “woo.”…

      Where is the evidence of that malicious lie, Santi. Atheism is the lack of belief How is that an ideology. Pure nonsense, once again.

      Santi misuses and twists Clark Clifford’s quote, using it as a premise for an entirely malicious fabrication. Pure nonsense, once again.

      …atheism assumes (without evidence) that if we could “see” the moment just “prior” to the Big Bang…

      That has nothing to do with atheism whatsoever. It is a straw man argument at best, a malicious fabrication (most likely).

      ontological presumption in atheism that matter preceeds mind at the beginning

      Once again, that has nothing to do with atheism whatsoever.

      Somebody’s right, but we can’t know (empirically) who.

      Some body is always wrong – that is YOU, Santi.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

  36. Hempenstein
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    This is all just post-Dover creationist marketing strategy. They’ve tried conning people with redacted quotes from scientific papers (particularly rampant ~30yrs ago – as Yakaru put it so perfectly in the Buchanan thread, “every creationist quote has an equal and opposite rest of the quote”), claiming that it’s science Creation Science, claiming that it’s something different (Intelligent Design). Seems to me that while this is of course just God of the Gaps for the new Millenium, they’re hoping to find the Physics door ajar thru either a more gullible discipline or an on-average more sympathetic discipline. I think it’s safe to say that virtually all PhD-level biologists can lay out some pretty relevant examples from their own (sub-)discipline that support evolutionary theory but many find themselves on thin ice when discussing something far afield (eg biochemists when it comes to the fossil record).

    This quantum mechanical business is all just testing the water, or ice as it were, for the reception in a discipline which has no reason to incorporate evolution at its foundation. It’s the latest wedge – call it the New Wedge if you like, particularly in discourse with those who use New Atheist as an epithet.

  37. MadScientist
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    OH! What an epiphany! The God of the Bandgaps!

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:32 am | Permalink

      Were there an award for physics puns, that may well have won the Nobel surprize!

  38. MadScientist
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and as far as we currently know, quantum behavior will never be deterministic. If something were to happen, any number of events are likely (not necessarily same probability of each scenario though). When a block of Cobalt emits a particle, which way does it go? “Almost any direction” is the answer and this has been confirmed numerous times by experiment.

    The god being proposed by Collins allegedly makes statistically insignificant changes which result in statistically significant results – how bizarre. Alternatively the god makes statistically significant changes when no one is looking. What a funny god – why not have fun with the scientists and give them statistically significant deviations from expected results to prove that he’s out there and does indeed meddle on the quantum level? After all, if you can get a group of godless scientists to proclaim there is in fact a god (and people have inscrutable although not quite reproducible results), that’s really something.

    OK god, I’m waiting for a lump of Cobalt to radiate in an unexpected pattern – but I’m not holding my breath.

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:41 am | Permalink

      But on the opposite side of the ‘Coyne’, nothing has explicitly forbidden deterministic QM, e.g.:- Bohm &c.
      Whilst I agree that the likelihood is more than remote, determinism has not been ruled out.
      Yet.

      (One plausible deterministic argument that I have thought of for your example of ‘random’ Beta decay may well be due to the characteristics of the (enormous) neutrino flux that the pre-decay environment is experiencing.
      This could offer literally billions of degrees of freedom such that these decay events appears to be random.)

      • Greg. Tingey
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 4:13 am | Permalink

        See my post @ #45 on this list on that very subject.

  39. articulett
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Santi, atheism is a lack of belief in invisible undetectable (often unintelligible) entities that people call god. As such, it is no more a belief then lack of belief in demons, fairies, Thetans, ghosts, and succubi.

    When an entity is indistinguishable from a myth or delusion, then rational people treat these entities as imaginary. Calling atheism a belief is a common woo trick (all woos are “skeptical of the skeptics”), but it doesn’t make atheism a belief and it doesn’t make the invisible entities you believe in any more likely than the invisible entities you reject.

  40. Stu Brown
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    newenglandbob:

    I meant no disrespect to you or your stone age barbarian ancestors. In fact, I’ve been convinced that I cannot be 100% totally sure that my ancestors were bronze age barbarians. Given this uncertainty I have chosen to believe my ancestors were survivors of the lost continent of Atlantis.

    I further believe that peoples of all origins, whether barbarian of any epoch, or Atlantean refuge, are seeking the same destination. We may follow different paths, but they are all equally valid.
    There is no reason why we cannot coexist in peace.

    • articulett
      Posted July 5, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

      My ancestors seeded this planet with the ancestors of your ancestors to run experiments on coexistence…

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      I am listening right now to “Leroy Brown”, the baddest man in the whole damn town. Is he a close relative?

  41. gecko
    Posted July 5, 2009 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    I think t-shirts are in order- “Quantum Mechanics Has Nothing to Do With Your Crazy.”

    From the longest possible perspective, I can see where the likes of Miller and Collins fall in the intellectual strata as a sort of transitional species- fully functioning empirical, rational beings, but with a vestigial deference to certain pieces of flowery prose. Probably harmless, as their scientific successes and attacks on ID attest to, but all the same, certain vestigial organs have a tendency to get packed up with pus, burst, and give you gangrene.

    Furthermore, I have to admit, I have this image of Collins, wandering the wilderness, taking samples and examining them beneath a microscope, filling books with the observations, and then stumbling upon a locked safe, and exclaiming with glee that, out of all the things it could contain, (with preliminary examinations pointing to nothing at all) it must contain a gremlin, since this chain letter he carries from 1972 says gremlins are real.

  42. Anonymous
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Right… like we can trust anything coming from the Tempelton Foundation as not being biased. NOT.

  43. Matti K
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    It seems that the compatibility of religion and science requires a god or gods hiding eternally from empirical detection.

    Have the theologians ever discussed the possible reasons for this kind of shyness?

    • articulett
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:25 am | Permalink

      I think the convoluted reasoning involves god wanting his creations to prove they have “faith” in him in order to get the goodies…

      (I bet Francis Collins has a “Pascals wager” fear of losing faith that keeps him tightly tethered to his delusions.)

  44. Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    “They never explain why, if God wanted to answer a prayer, he would do it by tweaking electrons rather than, say, directly killing cancer cells with his omnipotence.”

    To tweak any matter, one must tweak it starting at the smallest level. So the “miraculous healing” of anything would begin at the atomic, or perhaps, sub-atomic level.

    Personally it only makes sense for ‘the divine’ to exist hand in hand with science. I do not claim to be of any particular religion, but I believe in God (whatever form that this God takes, as to place an image upon this divine thing, is only my feeble human brain trying to grasp and image this massive, almost unimaginable being).

    I mean, Einstein said it: e=mc2, energy can be turned into mass, mass into energy, neither destroyed just redistributed.

    If you think about it, thoughts begin as quarks, and then atoms, and then begin neuron pulses which then become chemicals. To realize that thoughts have actual matter is a, no pun, mind blowing, you know?

    I just think all this bickering scientists and the religious do is human stuff. Wanting to be absolutely correct instead of seeing that, likely, they are both correct and it is possible to co-exist.

  45. Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Sorry, my mistake, I didn’t realize Santi was an ID troll.

    Clark Clifford! Hahahahahahaha!

    Wrong guy, Santi.

  46. Brian English
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Have the theologians ever discussed the possible reasons for this kind of shyness?

    I’d say it has something to do with the outstanding success of science. Made God all shy, it did.

  47. Yair
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:36 am | Permalink

    Have the theologians ever discussed the possible reasons for this kind of shyness?

    Actually, to be fair, they have. “Hiddeness” is a major part of orthodox Jewish theology, for example, the core explanation being that God is letting us mature, letting us make our own choices without his meddling in our affairs so as to show our true colors.

    A silly and absurd excuse that is applied inconsistently as at the same time everything is supposed to “tell the glory of god”, be a “sign”, and so on – but nevertheless, theology does address the issue. As poorly as it addresses everything else.

  48. Greg. Tingey
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    At the start of the penultimate paragraph:
    “Well, what happens if we find out some day that the subatomic “nondeterministic” changes really turn out to be deterministic?”

    Well, it probably IS, but no-one has worked out the mechanism yet.

    It has been repeatedly shown, that if you perform the classic double-slit experiment, using SEPARATE, SINGLE photons, SINGLY RELEASED – i.e. more than one second between each photon being “shot” at the slits ….
    Then:
    At first, it looks as though the photons are completely random, and are going through a single slit.
    However, by the time between 1000 and 5000 photons have been let through, the usual interference pattern has appeared. (OR materialised, if you prefer! )

    Which means that:
    There MUST be a “hidden” layer of order, or a hidden variable in the controlling equations, somewhere.
    Nobel Prize in Physics to the first person to work it out, and publish.

    But, even at this level of knowledge the religious “god-is-hiding-in-the quantum-uncertainties” gap is shown to be the 100% pure unadulterated bullshit that it is.

    Oops.

  49. Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:10 am | Permalink

    “I already how the theists will respond: “That’s not the way God works, because we know how he works and it’s not that way!””

    Strike! A testable hypothesis!

  50. Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    omg (as it were), what a long thread. I’m too lazy/distracted to read it all at the moment.

    But I think my take on this is probably a bit different from most. What strikes me about it is that these guys (Collins and Miller) are deliberately putting forward a hypothesis designed (whether or not it succeeds) so that it could never be testable. Thus (if they’ve succeeded)there can never be any evidence for it, and no one could ever have a reason to actually believe it except on the basis of blind faith.

    It would be more honest, and no less scientifically acceptable, to hypothesise that God creates entire new species from time to time by saying “Let there be Tyrannosaurus rex!” or “Let there be Homo sapiens!” Thus, there could be the occasional divinely-produced, causally anomalous evolutionary leaps.

    It would still be very difficult for us to detect them, many thousands or millions of years later, especially if God did this in ways that blended into the fossil record(i.e. each new species would look similar, in its bone structure, etc., to others existing about the same time) but somebody with a time machine or some other incredibly powerful technology might be able to observe the event.

    Why does God have to hide in quantum events? Why doesn’t he simply perform the occasional miracle to help things along? Why is there some law that God can never produce causal anomalies that are, in principle, observable?

    Admittedly, the claim that God says “Let there be Panthera leo!” might look too much like a creationist position, but I don’t see how it is any less scientifically acceptable than the claim that God deliberately produces new forms by fudging quantum events.

    There’s presumably some kind of bizarre philosophy of science behind this proposal, such as that it’s unscientific to countenance causal anomalies above the quantum level. But I don’t see why we would require that as a rule while relaxing the rule of thumb in modern science that we avoid explanations in terms of acts of will by supernatural agencies. It is the latter, not the former, that we have good historical reasons to enforce (most of the time).

    Do these folk have some weird interpretation of what methodological naturalism is all about, or what? I just don’t understand what they think they achieve by proposing that God interferes in nature in undetectable ways.

    • articulett
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      I don’t think they are proposing anything about god… they are just trying to justify their beliefs under the Deepak Chopra-esque notion that QM = “scientific evidence that my woo could be true”.

      I’ve seen “quantum mechanics” used to imply a scientific respectability to all sorts of pseudoscience–including ones that conflict with Francis Collins’ pet delusion.

      This verbiage is Francis Collins’ way of telling himself that his beliefs are rational unlike the beliefs of hard core creationists. It’s word pablum that calms his cognitive dissonance as he imagines himself a peacekeeper between the Christians and the scientists who challenge some of their most cherished beliefs with scary things like facts.

      Sam Harris points out the conflict of interest very well when Nature Magazine gave their seeming stamp of approval to Francis Collins’ rationalizations: http://www.reasonproject.org/archive/item/what_should_science_dosam_harris_v_philip_ball/

      Of course, all this is to no avail… when honesty conflicts with Christianity the term “militant atheist” gets bandied about and we are told to “play nice” and “tone it down”. We mustn’t hurt the feelings of nice guys like Francis Collins because, apparently, he’s the supposed key for getting Christians to accept science that conflicts with their faith… (unless of course, it’s science that conflicts with Francis Collins’ faith.)

      Francis Collins is a man who believes that the (as) invisible creator of the universe sent him a sign in the form of a waterfall indicating that Christianity is “The Truth” TM. His understanding of genomes is very good. His understanding of how a mind can trick itself is not.

      • articulett
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        ETA: (a) not (as)

    • RichardW
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Time for a spot of devil’s advocacy…

      Russell: “What strikes me about it is that these guys (Collins and Miller) are deliberately putting forward a hypothesis designed (whether or not it succeeds) so that it could never be testable.”

      They seem to take the position that untestable claims are outside the purview of science and therefore cannot be considered incompatible with science.

      Russell: “Thus (if they’ve succeeded)there can never be any evidence for it, and no one could ever have a reason to actually believe it except on the basis of blind faith.”

      I think they would invoke “other ways of knowing”.

      Russell: “Why does God have to hide in quantum events? Why doesn’t he simply perform the occasional miracle to help things along?”

      I think the advantage of appealing to QM is that (to their way of thinking) it doesn’t involve a suspension of physical laws. Since QM is (according to some physicists) fundamentally probabilistic, not deterministic, God would only be choosing between physically possible outcomes, not making something happen that would be impossible according to physical law.

      However, they don’t restrict God to interfering through QM. They also claim that God can perform miracles by “suspending” physical laws. It seems they find the QM option more comfortable, but they don’t want to exclude the old brute force approach.

      Moreover, as far as I can see they don’t actually claim that God did interfere in evolution, only that his doing so could be compatible with science. The aim of Biologos seems to be to explain how miracle claims can be compatible with science, without making any specific miracle claims of their own.

      Russell: “But I don’t see why we would require that as a rule while relaxing the rule of thumb in modern science that we avoid explanations in terms of acts of will by supernatural agencies.”

      Remember, they aren’t claiming to be doing science, only showing that miracle claims can be compatible with science.

      Taking off my devil’s advocate wig, I don’t accept that theists can make their religious claims compatible with science just by saying those claims are based on revelation, not science. Collins and Miller seem to accept that young-earth claims are incompatible with science, even if they’re claimed to be based purely on revelation. But they’ve failed to give a justifiable criterion by which their own religious claims (such as the Resurrection) can be excluded from the purview of science without also excluding young-earth claims (not to mention any other variety of specious nonsense). They offer such criteria as testability, natural/supernatural and whether a claim is explictly contradicted by accepted scientific conclusions (in the way that young-earth claims are contradicted by the accepted scientific conclusion that the Earth is billions of years old). But none of these criteria can be justified.

      • articulett
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

        Yep. Moreover, the methods they use to prop up their own supernatural beliefs could just as readily be used to prop up supernatural beliefs that conflict with theirs– a demon haunted world, for example with demons influencing human thought through QM randomness.

        When it comes to unfalsifiable “possibilities” there’s an infinite number and varieties of claims and conflicting claims, but there is only one truth. So far, the scientific method is the hands down winner of delineating that truth.

    • Michael K Gray
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      Of those few humans who understand QM in enough detail to be able to counter the BS off-the-cuff, 99.9999% of them are staunch atheists**, and therefore to not be trusted in matters so important as physics.

      This leaves the rest of the plebeans vaguely baffled by their, (the giddy-garrulous-god-grovellers’), bogus bullshit.

      So: To the average punter, Collins wins, Coyne and Feynman lose.
      You see, physics is a decided by popularity to your man-on-the-street.
      ___________
      ** MKG Polls Inc, 2005.

  51. Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    The God of the quantum level, Jesus Quark, or whoever, only operates at this level in modern times. A couple of centuries ago he felt free to really let loose, performing miracles left right and center.

  52. Posted July 6, 2009 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    santitafarella: And what of all the philosophers who think that the Kantian divide is itself an example of an antiscientific attitude? (That the “quantum theologians” are not honouring the divide itself, as others have pointed out, is also true, but …)
    (Hint: A lot of philosophers think the divide cannot be maintained – and it almost certainly can’t without begging a whole bunch of questions, like for instance the nature of knowledge, mind, the self and so on. As one epistemology designed to “turn Kantianism inside out” (so to speak, see, for example, vol. 5-6 of Bunge’s Treatise on Basic Philosophy.)

  53. RichardW
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    By the way, I disapprove of the “Hall of Shame” title of this thread. Yes, the arguments of Biologos are misguided. But shameful? Surely not. If we use such strong language over minor foibles, then what’s left for the egregious nonsense of creationism and ID?

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      I completely disagree, RichardW. The mission statement right on the BioLogos web page:

      We believe that faith and science both lead to truth about God and creation.

      This is extremely shameful for a supposedly scientific organization. Science does not lead to truth about any god. Faith leads to no truth whatsoever.

      Also found on their site:

      Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative.

      Total nonsense.

      Shame on them!

  54. santitafarella
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    I like your Shakespeare name, by the way. I tried to persuade my wife to name one of our daughters Cordelia (after King Lear’s favorite daughter). She thought it too long, and we compromised with “Lia.”

    As for your troll suspicion, I’m an agnostic. I have been all of my adult life. When I was in my 20s I vigorously called myself an atheist. I’ve mellowed. I’ve never advocated that ID be incorporated into science. I’ve defended, for the agnostic/atheist community, a different strategy in dealing with religionists who show Kantian-like impulses with regard to their theology and accept an old earth and evolution.

    I use my real name when blogging and when writing here. See here for proof: http://santitafarella.wordpress.com/about/

    Feel free to do a search of my blog with regard to atheism, intelligent design, evolution, creationism etc. What you will find is a pro-science agnostic, not a closet religionist.

    What I have learned over the years of discussing religion with Christians is that there is very, very little chance that they will drop their religious beliefs completely. But I have seen (personally) conservative Christians who have gotten comfy with an old earth and plants and animals changing over time, as well as making Kantian-like moves with regard to their theological positions. From my vantage, when you see people getting that far along, that’s real progress. It’s good for religion, it’s good for reducing fanaticism and fundamentalism in the world as a whole. If people in other fundamentalist traditions (Islam etc.) can do the same over the next century, that’s good too.

    I think that atheists/agnostics should make strong alliances with people like Miller and Collins. I’d remind you that Miller and Collins are hated by IDers and young earth creationists. And Michael Shermer has said of Collins’s book that it is one of the clearest and moving defenses of evolution that he has ever read.

    As for the Clifford confusion, I was thinking of the 19th century fellow (“W.K.”).

    —Santi

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Santi

      Thanks. I would so much rather be named Cordelia – to say nothing of Rosalind, Viola, Miranda, Olivia, Kate.

      Of course Lady Macbeth would be best of all.

      I know, about the Clifford confusion – I was being a bit mean. Sorry!

      I understand what you mean of course (and I think so do/would other anti-accommodationists) – but I think it’s a false dichotomy. I don’t think, for instance, that pointing out the lack of epistemic foundations for a god of the quantummy bits is incompatible with making alliances against creationism.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia:

        You said: “I don’t think, for instance, that pointing out the lack of epistemic foundations for a god of the quantummy bits is incompatible with making alliances against creationism.”

        I can’t disagree with you on this. There is a need to point out when people are building castles out of thin air—not epistemically justifying their moves. But I also think that there is a point in which there is overkill—and a contempt for other peoples’ contingent “stupidities” that fails to turn the spotlight of epistemic justification back upon itself. I really think that if we are in a contingent universe, with billions of people experiencing their own contingencies of birth and life experiences differently, that it follows that we are going to have a lot of very weird, very contingent forms of “poetry” in the world—lots of wild hothouse plants. If we treat theology as a non-varifiable and historically contingent form of poetry, then we can understand why some people, in their contingency, salivate to it, and are obsessed by it, and others are not. As evolutionists, I think that we should absorb the implications for contingency in non-empirical settings. It means enormous variety and eccentricity.

        Science is an attempt to reduce the effects of contingency on our analysis of the world. But where science can’t reach you are going to get varieties of intellectual “plants” and “animals” of the strangest sort. Like Spinoza says, this should be a source of wonder, not ridicule. We should not, necessarily, mock, but understand.

        Freud recognized that every human being has a variety of very individual contingencies from which he/she “dreams.” What we salivate to, and what objects in the world evoke in us associations, is deeply personal and peculiar. To treat others’ non-empirical and contingent dream-life with contempt is a kind of ignorance. What’s “shameful,” for example, for a Christian, in his contingency, trying to reconcile his “dream-life” with his science? We all do these things at some level. I salivate to the novels of Camus (and find not many other people who do). Is it shameful to mix my commitment to empiricism with the Myth of Sisyphus? Aren’t I too boxing with the indifferent air? Rebelling against what, exactly?

        Something that absorbs me is a matter of indifference—or even perceived as craziness—by others. I don’t think that we can, any of us, escape our contingencies. We can point them out to one another, and the faults in them, but I think there has to be some compassion all around to balance the dismissiveness.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        So what Santi says here in several hundred words is:

        Let us all sit around and sing Kumbaya and maybe “Row, row, row, your boat and be happier”.

        Freud? He quotes Freud. Wait, I need to stop laughing.

        Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

    • articulett
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      We can have allies in Collins and Miller without endorsing their supernatural beliefs and if their beliefs can’t stand up to criticism of their fellow scientists, then the problem is their beliefs and not the scientists that find them as unscientific as belief in demons.

      You have problems on this board because of your straw man view of what atheists are and what atheists believe. You repeatedly exaggerate, misstate, vilify, and make straw men regarding the statements that are made here… you try to back people into corners with loaded questions designed to infer an opinion–questions that you don’t want the answer too… and you are advocating that scientists treat one brand of superstition (christianity lite) differently than other superstitions. You pout when people don’t answer your loaded questions the way you want, but you fail to even grasp what others are saying in response.

      You seem to think that Jerry’s method harms some cause, but you’ve been unclear on “the cause” and very poor at providing evidence that your mollification approach is useful.

      ‘Just sayin…

  55. wice
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    “the chaotic unpredictability of complex systems” has nothing to do with the _freedom_ of the system. chaos theory deals with _deterministic_ systems, so they are pretty much “mechanical”. btw, a system doesn’t need to be _complex_ to be chaotic and therefore unpredictable.

    so much for the scientific credibility of Francis Collins’ arguments.

  56. Dave24
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    If the Universe were deterministic, the religious claim that such a system supports the notion of God because it means Nature operates according to strict cause-and-effect, making God the First Cause. Now that we see a probabilistic Universe, the religious claim that such a system supports the notion of God because it means Nature can be manipulated.

    Zero consistency, pure rationalization (which is not rationality), and the irony of using philosophical adaptation in order to survive: O, Religion.

  57. Tulse
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    “I think the convoluted reasoning involves god wanting his creations to prove they have “faith” in him in order to get the goodies…”

    This is obviously a very recent attitude, as in the past He seemed to be quite happy having people witness global deluges, sea partings, city smitings, dead raisings, etc. etc. etc.

    Again, the relegation of miracles to undetectability is nothing but special pleading. A god who didn’t directly and obviously affect the world wouldn’t have been recognized by the writers of the Hebrew bible.

    • articulett
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

      I agree… but this type of special pleading makes for a very virulent meme. It’s like a chain letter that promises rewards to those who pass it on and tragedy to those who don’t–only the stakes are “ETERNITY” and the output pretends to be small (just a wee bit-o-faith). Of course, if you lose faith, there’s HELL to pay.

      Religion offers a solution to our fear of death by telling us we have an immortal soul… then it invents a problem (eternal suffering) and provides the solution (faith). I think the key to breaking this mind virus for me is the realization that there is no evidence that any form of consciousness (not gods, suffering souls, demons, or ecstatic angels) could exist without a material brain. Consciousness of all sorts seems as intimately entwined with a brain as sound is entwined with matter. You can’t have happiness or suffering or memory or wants or 72 virgins or anything else in an afterlife because all those things depend on a material brain hooked up to sensory inputting organs. All material.

      When it comes to invisible entities god is on par with demons and fairies. I see most believers (and Santi) as people using obfuscatory language for fear of admitting this to themselves.

  58. santitafarella
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    Early on in this thread you asked me my opinion (and I didn’t get a chance to respond yet) about what I thought might substitute for empiricism with regards to getting at the truth of ultimate questions. I would say nothing.

    I think that empiricism and reason are the best that we can do.

    So then why am I defending Collins’s explicitly theological gestures?

    Here’s why: I think that, with regards to the ontological mystery and ultimate questions, we hit an impasse where empiricism can’t go (either because we lack evidence or because certain questions result in question begging regardless of what answer you might give—such as whether matter preceeds mind or mind preceeds matter at the beginning of the universe).

    From my vantage, everyone should therefore be an agnostic and simply say that “we don’t know” what we’re embedded in. But obviously we are “overgoing” people, never content with stalled answers. Max Weber once spoke of the human “inner compulsion to understand the world as a meaningful cosmos and to take up a position towards it.”

    I thus think of theology, philosophy, atheism, dance, religion, prayer, music, poetry, yoga, meditation, candle lighting, vows of silence, literature, art, zen koans, and song as very human responses to the “ontological mystery” (to use the Catholic existentialist Gabriel Marcel’s phrase). I think that these are all different ways of “talking” to and about the mystery of being and this weird/absurd/contingent “thing” that we find ourselves embedded in.

    A lot of this “talk” functions to bring the mystery under illusory control, to frame or cage the universe in such a way as to tame its strangeness.

    We all know the kinds of moves that theists make. But what about atheists? Here’s the moves I see atheists/agnostics make: We might build, akin to theology, philosophical ways of talking about the world. We might, for example, speak about the world in the language of Derrida, or Hegel, or Schopenhauer. We might read the novels of Camus and meditate on the universe’s absurdity and decide to rebel against the indifferent void, embracing “the myth of Sisyphus.” We might become Buddhists who explore the mind via Vipassana meditation. We might become Stoics or Epicurians who read Roman “therapeutic” and philosophical texts like Marcus A’s “Meditations”, or Lucretius’s “On the Nature of Things,” or the essays of Seneca. We might obliterate our despair in drugs or alcohol. We might read Nietzsche. We might join a movement.

    Religionists need outlets too.

    I just think that if we treat religious gestures (such as theology) toward the ontological mystery with literalness, rather than as just another form of language making—a placeholder—a poem—set before the “mystery”—then we are committing a category mistake.

    The genre of theology is poetry—it’s not science. It’s a form of beer drinking and dance. To get overworked about it is akin to getting worked up over the atheist who reads Nietzsche instead of just science textbooks. And it is not a characteristic of wisdom—especially if that theology is Kantian-like in nature, not touching upon the empirical world or interfering with science.

    The forms of theology that we worry about (or should worry about) are those that inspire fundamentalist violence or the restriction of freedom. (Just as we would worry about a philosopher advocating terrorism or the restriction of freedom). But so long as the philosopher or theologian or poet or novelist keeps his/her “art” over here and sequestered in the form of a peculiar myth-making language, and science and society over here, we’ve got little (in my view) to worry about. We ought to take theology of the sort that Collins does for what it is: harmless poetry; another way of speaking to—and taming the psyche before—the mystery.

    Human beings are always going to have eccentric outlets for addressing the ontological mystery. The key is to make all this eccentricity “harmless” and kept out of the way of the progress of academic and scientific empiricisms.

    We can have both, in my view.

    —Santi

    • mk
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Blah, blah, blah… When a scientist makes a scientific claim by invoking the supernatural you think nobody should point that out. You think people like us should just keep quiet.

      Nobody here wants Collins or Miller to stop being religious. Just stop trying to make scientific claims and attributing it to some god. Simple.

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Santi

      ‘I thus think of theology, philosophy, atheism, dance, religion, prayer, music, poetry, yoga, meditation, candle lighting, vows of silence, literature, art, zen koans, and song as very human responses to the “ontological mystery”…I think that these are all different ways of “talking” to and about the mystery of being and this weird/absurd/contingent “thing” that we find ourselves embedded in.”

      That’s where we differ then. Sure, all those items can be grouped together, but doing so doesn’t tell us much, and it especially doesn’t tell us much of interest. You could throw almost any human activity in there; granted; but that doesn’t take us anywhere. I would respond that theology is different from poetry, literature, art in very important ways, and that that is what is under discussion here. Yes of course they’re all human responses, but we already know we’re not talking about dolphin responses.

      “I just think that if we treat religious gestures (such as theology) toward the ontological mystery with literalness, rather than as just another form of language making—a placeholder—a poem—set before the “mystery”—then we are committing a category mistake.”

      I strongly disagree. Theology is much more than a ‘religious gesture’ – it’s an ology – it’s a discipline, a kind of inquiry, a study; it makes truth claims.

      “The genre of theology is poetry—it’s not science. It’s a form of beer drinking and dance.”

      Sorry, but that just isn’t true. I don’t even see why you think it is true. Some believers see their religions that way of course, but that doesn’t mean that that’s what theology is.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Ophelia:

        Okay, well then let’s put it this way. I’m hoping for the dignified surrender of philosophy and theology to poetry someday. That is, that people who engage in these system building gestures might do so with ironic distance. Maybe I’m engaged in wishful thinking. Maybe it’s too serious to treat as poetry. It’s easy, for example, to read a bit of historical philosophy or theology like a poem—a peculiar language created by a genius for talking about the world in a wild way—like listening in on someone’s dream. But when people take it seriously in the present, I may be too flippant about its real world consequences. But every theology or philosophy that does not acknowledge it’s contingency, and is not ironic towards itself, I suppose is potentially dangerous. I just would argue that we make peace with the less dangerous varieties (and I think that Collins’s version is extremely benign, however ridiculous to an agnostic like myself). If they are Kantian-like theologies, in my view they might just as well be dreams or poems.

        Ophelia, you’re very sharp, obviously. And I responded to your previous response to one of my comments above. Hopefully, you’ll scroll up and catch that one too. I reflected on contingency and am curious to discover if you think it sound. I respect your answers if you have the energy to reply (however briefly) to that one also. If not, I understand.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Santi says here:

        appeasement and accomadation, once again.

        Nothing to see here people; Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts. Keep the lines moving along.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      Ophelia, I agree with you that theology is an ology. It is also dogma and it is political entity also. Theology’s purpose is to control people, sometimes directly and drastically and sometimes only manipulatively and underhandedly.

      Santi might have just as well thrown in voodoo and seances and UFO belief and New_Age nonsense and magicians in his ‘talk’.

      Santi:

      …we hit an impasse where empiricism can’t go (either because we lack evidence or because certain questions result in question begging regardless of what answer you might give…

      Theology is particularly lacking in any type of authority or knowledge to any of your so-called bigger questions, especially your silly bugaboo “mind over matter”. I would say religion and theology are probably the most unsuitable to answer any of those. Let theology first clean up its acts of child molestations, gender suppression, dogma of attempting to control peoples’ freedoms of action and thought before they even attempt to come to the adult table for serious debate.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        NE Bob:

        You said: “Theology is particularly lacking in any type of authority or knowledge to any of your so-called bigger questions.”

        I never said anything differently. Theology, like poetry, has no epistemic justification. I’m saying it is something that people do as a place-holder where empiricism cannot (or has yet) to go. I’m not endorsing it. I’m trying to understand it as a human phenomenon.

        —Santi

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        Then go have a theology discussion in a literary blog.

        It certainly is an extremely poor placeholder. Theists kill millions of people. In the past and now. That is the reason I feel it needs to be eradicated. If that can not be accomplished then it needs to be forced to go private and stop trying to control the lives of everyone where is does not belong.

        I want religion to stop using MY tax money to try to control my actions and attempt to run my life. Is is unethical and immoral.

      • Posted July 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

        Santi said:

        I’m not endorsing it

        But you sure are defending Collins for using theology. You are also saying we should all stop criticizing it. If that is not endorsement, what is it?

  59. Forrester McLeod
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Maybe God is Science. Maybe God is the random, mad-hatter crazy man so many religious zealots believe in (really hoping that’s not the case!), maybe we’re trying to personify something that doesn’t fit into a box at all…

    All we know is we’re surrounded by miraculous beauty. What’s the harm of trying to figure it out? What’s so threatening about that? We’re a bunch of three year olds with an extremely amazing toy. Of course we’re gonna want to play with it and examine its every nook and cranny.

    • articulett
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      And what has religion offered in regards to what we’ve managed to figure out so far. In my experience it just gets in the way by claiming “magic” is an answer.

  60. Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I really don’t get the big deal between science and religion, if it answers some of the same question. Religion answers questions science can’t and science explains what mythology, folklore, and religion usually don’t, can’t, or won’t, because it ruins the story or in some cases history of events as those people assumed it happened in whereever. I think they are both are right, you just got to look at the correct angle to get the whole fuill view to see what others can’t or won’t, or are just too scared to understand. It doesn’t mean one shouldn’t believe in God, but that Evolution is like fighting over what to call yoursleves as a people. It’s minor and God answered it in most of the books of different religions. All I am trying to type for you to understand is have an open mind, sometimes the people that don’t, even if they have everything, and religion, their brains have metaphorically fallen out and they have made their friends make stupid decisions. Sadly, true I have seen that. Check out my blog too.

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Religion answers questions science can’t

      Such as? And how can you tell religion actually answers them, and answers them correctly?

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      1stboybandfan, that spew of unconsciousness was fun to see.

      Are you older than 12?

  61. articulett
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I think Natalie Angiers states the problem quite eloquently… http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/angier06/angier06_index.html

  62. Posted July 6, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Santi

    ‘But I also think that there is a point in which there is overkill—and a contempt for other peoples’ contingent “stupidities” that fails to turn the spotlight of epistemic justification back upon itself.’

    But Jerry Coyne is addressing claims by Francis Collins (or BioLogos), not by other people in general. So what you say here seems to be tangential (at best) to what Coyne is up to.

    ‘I’m hoping for the dignified surrender of philosophy and theology to poetry someday.’

    Well that’s where we differ, again!

    That would be okay for theology, but why on earth philosophy? Why do you lump them together? They’re more like opposites than like relatives.
    No time for more now, have to rush off.

  63. santitafarella
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    You said that philosophy and theology are “more like opposites than like relatives.”

    That’s interesting that you would say that. I wonder why you give substantially greater epistemic weight to the conclusions of philosophers than to theologians.

    When I think of some of the system builders in philosophy (people like Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Derrida, Heidegger, Marx, Sartre, Nietzsche etc.) I feel like I’m reading stimulating creative writers—poets of being, if you will—but not writers that I would characterize as generating systems that have strong or objective links with reality proper. I’m just wondering what distinction you would make between, say, a theological language like Aquinas’s and the languages generated by Spinoza and Heidegger.

    Do you think, for example, that Heidegger’s “dasein”, Hegel’s “geist”, Marx’s “dialectical materialism”, or Sartre’s notion of radical human freedom really have all that much better epistemic justification than, say, the trinity, immanence, or the notion that humans have souls?

    If you are speaking of philosophy in extremely narrow terms (as procedural logic, avoiding fallacies etc.) I don’t quarrel with that. But could you offer me an example of a philosopher (past or present) who is an intellectual system builder who you would say deserves high epistemic status (that is, his or her system corresponds, you think, quite closely with reality as it actually is).

    —Santi

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Santi:
      If you agree that science has epistemic justification, then you have to agree that at least some of philosophy has too. After all, there is no clear boundary between science and philosophy. In fact, what we now call “science”, used to be called “natural philosophy”. And of course, there is the field of the Philosophy of Science, which more or less underpins all of science. So there definitely exists philosophy that relates to the real world.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

        Deen,

        Yes, and if there were more people reading the philosophy of science, and thought about the epistemic and metaphysical premises undergirding it, there might be less dogmatism about science’s scope.

        And could you please give me one philosopher that you like and who you think has written a book that more or less corresponds with the world as it really is?

        I’d like to read it.

        I’m not talking about a philosopher who is writing the history of philosophy, or explaining an aspect of science. I mean a philosopher who has built a philosophical system or theory about the world, perhaps with a unique vocabulary, and who has worked out the theory in a book.

        From my vantage, I would say that Richard Rorty has written a book pretty close to this in his “Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.” But in giving you this example, I’ve tipped my hand because Rorty is insistent that there ain’t no such critter—and I agree with him—and so his book functions as a meta-critique of philosophical/theological system building in general. I think that’s, ironically, philosophy’s closest reflection of reality—that it can’t correspond to reality. I think that non-empirical systems—including philosophical and theological ones—are, at bottom, poetry.

        Okay, I gave you mine. What’s yours?

        —Santi

      • Posted July 6, 2009 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

        Okay, I gave you mine. What’s yours?

        I nominate the entire body of science.

        You might protest that that doesn’t count, but then you’d be missing my point.

  64. Posted July 6, 2009 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Santi

    You’re right, I was thinking of philosophy as it is currently understood in the anglophone world – not as system-building.

  65. santitafarella
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    So to be clear then, if Collins was an obsessive existentialist, and wrote on a blog that quantum indeterminism seems (to him) to accord with Sartre’s doctrine of human freedom, and that there is room for it to exist because the quantum world is not strictly deterministic, but somehow open, would you be screwed up at the connection, and be taking Collins to task about his irrationality (even though he would be an atheist)? Can an existentialist atheist be a good scientist, or does adding existentialism to one’s atheism make one, at bottom, an irrationalist, or someone to be called out for irrationalism?

    Likewise, if Collins was an unreconstructed Marxist, obsessively reading Marx’s works in his spare time, and in an interview was asked about the direction of history, and he said he believed that Marx had uncovered the secret of its direction in dialectical materialism, should he be ashamed to have expressed such an opinion as a public scientist? Is it wrong for him to have non-empirical beliefs, and should he be called on it for expressing them publicly?

    Another example: If Collins was a Heidegger enthusiast, absorbing Heidegger’s works and language in his liesure time, and in an interview Collins declared that his reflections on Heidegger’s concept of “Dasein” had brought him to experiment with meditation and vegetarianism, and gave him a deeply ecological view of the world, with a suspicion of human technology, would we feel that an otherwise good scientist had flipped his wig? What if he punctuated his conversational speech with Heideggerian coinages like “bestand,” “gestell,” and “dwelling”? Is it tolerable for a scientist, outside the lab or science journal, to adopt ways of being in the world that are, well, quirky and non-evidential based, or not? What if Collins flatly declared in public: “I oppose zoos because by caging animals we lose contact with our relationship to Dasein—the Ground of Being. I agree with Heidegger that ‘mystery pervades the whole of man’s Dasein.’” Is this kind of “reasoning”—from a non-empirically derived concept to an opposition to caging animals—an outrageous abuse of reasoning by a scientist who ought to be committed to empiricism alone? Would Collins be a man guilty of believing and acting on something absent evidence—and therefore someone worthy to be made fun of by atheists?

    How, in short, does one read off one’s values and beliefs from empiricism alone? What if the Christian Collins said: “I think it’s okay to cage animals because God gave man dominion over the animal kingdom.” Which Collins—the Heidegger one or the Christian one—gets the most derision for his position on zoos, and his rationale for his position?

    What’s the empiricist “right answer” about caging animals? And if there isn’t one, and we have to go beyond empiricism to reason about it, then what’s the problem with expressions of non-empirically based beliefs by scientists? In short, don’t humans need non-empirical languages to frame their world, reason about it, and make choices within it? Who gets to make these languages, and who gets to say which non-empirical language is better than another?

    —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

      So what Santi asks is this:

      If the guy said something completely different than what he said and meant something completely different than what he meant, would you still disagree with him?

      How inane is that, Santi? You have gone completely over the edge. You have no mind left.

      I laugh at your wordy delusions.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

      Keep on moving along. Nothing to see here but a hole in a head.

    • Posted July 6, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      Are politicians using Heidegger to push their policies? Are people using his theories to tell others how to live? Can you see why religion gets much more vocal criticism?

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

        Deen:

        I can see that, yes. By the way, if a scientist uses science to justify his political positions, is that for you a misuse of science? For example, if Collins were to say—”I’ve read my Darwin, and it leads me to conclude that our economic system should be based on capitalism”—is that shameful of him to do that? You know, use evolutionary science to draw socio-economic conclusions?

        —Santi

      • Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

        Yes.

    • articulett
      Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Dennett is a philosopher I respect. And Bertrand Russel is damn good too.

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 6, 2009 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

        ariculett:

        I like both of them too. Dennett’s book on freedom is an example of philosophy adhering pretty close to the empirical, kind of contradicting Rorty for me a bit. As for Russell, I’ve always liked his little Stoic tract, “The Conquest of Happiness.” That’s a good example of sensible and sane philosophizing.

        —Santi

    • Posted July 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      Santi,

      In short, one can’t derive an ought from an is. But it doesn’t follow that all non-empiricism is of equal merit. It also doesn’t follow that moral reasoning must be or should be immune from analysis and interrogation.

  66. KP
    Posted July 6, 2009 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    To his credit, in “Only A Theory” Miller is not so emphatic about the intervention of the creator. I’ve been wondering if he took Niall Shanks’ criticism to heart. In “God, The Devil, and Darwin,” After quoting Miller’s statements about God’s intervention in “FDG” Shanks says, “I can only conclude that Miller, who is a well-known professional biologist, wants creationists out of his own backyard and is happy to see them dumped on hapless physicists and cosmologists.”

  67. Leigh Jackson
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    I’ve been too busy to tune in recently but wanted to show my appreciation for this blog on Biologos. In a hurry so have not yet looked at the other comments.

    First let me thank Biologos for bringing me to to Why evolution is true. It was Francis’ criticism of Jerry’s criticism of accomodationsism that brought me here.

    Quantum Theology? Oh God; oh my God… oh my bloody, bloody God.

    How thankful Collins is for uncertainty in science. How thankful for GAPS in our understanding. At the sub-atomic level a different set of equations apply to describe how nature works rather than the equations of classical physics – which were never derived from the direct study of atoms and their constituents.

    That nature can be described by the equations of Q mechanics is a brute fact. How exactly to interpret the equations is anyone’s guess. They work – enough said.

    But if God is somehow involved in the equations, then he/she/it must be in control of everything physical, and if mmind is the result of the physical – and that is the generally accepted scientific view – then free will goes out the window.

    On the theme of religion and physics generally. Physics and cosmology achieved big big successes through the work of early modern scientists: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Newton. All were devoutly religious individuals who felt that they were revealing God’s laws of nature – Descartes mentions the term and Galileo talks about God’s book of nature.

    From then on I think that physicists inherited something of this mindset as a tradition and it is interesting that there does appear to be a higher proportion of non-believers in the life sciences than there is in the physical sciences.

    Many of the early 20th century physicists had a markedly religious temperament – as indeed did many of the late classical physicists e.g. Kelvin and Faraday. I think that the notion of “Laws” of nature, and their mathematical nature in physics may tend to encourage a mystifying tendency. Also I think that perhaps there may be an inherent tendency for physicists to see their subject as being the ultimate science, and rather enjoy their semi-priest like status which often seems to attend them.

    Far more banal and humbling to have to descend to thinking that they are doing nothing more than finding out how nature works – and nothing more than that – just like every other science.

  68. Posted July 7, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Where is the “infection,” Jerry?

    All of the scientific statements in the BioLogos quote are accurate. The speculations about God are conditional; statements of possibility. They might be true. In your paraphrase you have changed this conditionality to a statement of fact: “God acts by tweaking electrons and other subatomic particles.” That’s not what the man said, though you’re welcome to believe he means it (are you using faith or lit-crit to divine this?)

    We already know that atheist-scientists and theist-scientists differ in their ontological assumptions, but if your contention here is that this ontology prevents theist scientists from making accurate and correct positive scientific statements, nothing in the BioLogos citations supports this idea.

    • santitafarella
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Chris S:

      Well said.

      —Santi

    • mk
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      “The speculations about God are conditional delusional…”

      There, fixed that for you.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

      From BioLogos web site:

      God’s Relationship to Time

      An important assumption undergirds this discussion: God’s action can be compared to our own. In locating space for divine interaction, we tend to assume that God would need the same sort of opening in nature’s mechanistic laws that humans would need were they to influence the unfolding course of events. However, there are plenty of ways in which God’s action is necessarily different from human action. For example, God’s relationship to time, a deep and enduring theological consideration, would greatly affect divine action. If God is creator of the universe as a whole — and if time is a part of this universe — then God’s relationship to time is not restricted to only the present moment as is the case with human action. Then, in the same way that God’s perception of time differs from our own, God’s action in time could differ from ours. Because we cannot understand God’s existence outside of time, we are obviously limited in our understanding of God’s action.

      This is purely whimsical speculation. There is no basis for these statements, no evidence. Some people like this think that if they preface every whim with “IF” then it is then fit for discussion.

      Not only is this god a made-up fantasy being, it is then endowed with attributes from thin air.

      From this point forward, I call this argument the “god-of-the-warm-fart” argument.

      • articulett
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        if sure does linger and leave a stench…

        It’s another “one-size-justifies- all-woo” type argument.

        The funny thing about these silly tales is that they could be used just as readily by those with conflicting beliefs to declare their similar pet delusions “possible” (and extrapoloate that to mean “probable”).

    • articulett
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Yes and the quote by Biologos could also be use to support demon theory or matrix theory or reincarnation new age woo… it could be used to show that belief systems that conflict with Francis Collins’ are true or that invisible pink unicorns really exist and The Secret” is the key to nirvana.

      As such, rational people call it pseudo scientific gobbledy-gook which Francis Collins’ is using to justify his unbelievable beliefs and make them sound more palatable than all the unbelievable beliefs he doesn’t have. Stick around in skeptic crowds–this is a common woo smoke and mirrors move.

      Sorry, no matter how you slice it, his statement boils down to “QM says that all sorts of weird things are possible… therefore my woo is true.”

      As Anders said, the same argument could be used to claim he has a parallel universe tucked up his ass. It’s a one-size-fits-all woo justification. And honest people point this out… they don’t make excuses for the deluded.

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      Collins uses the word BioLogos rather than “theistic evolution”. Theistic evolution says that God employs the mechanisms of natural selection to achieve
      the desired creation of humans. At least that’s what I think most people think of TE as saying. It looks to me as if Collins is trying to introduce
      quantum and chaos uncertainties into evolution to somehow show how God might do it. Hidden from view and only in certain circumstances God might have some involvement greater than just the setting up of the laws of nature. God as non-local hidden variable perhaps. But this is a patent God of the gaps or deus ex machina. Putative scientific non-local variables must necessarily be physical entities. But there’s no detail; just a nudge and a wink.

      I find this kind of stuff way beyond embarassing. For a scientist it’s a sell-out of intellectual integrity. Not as foul as as Michael Behe’s perhaps but foul nonetheless.

      They should both stick to stating that they believe in the Christain triune God as a matter of pure faith in divine revelation and make no comment as to how a loving God and evolution can be reconciled beyond saying that God knows how if the reality of a loving God and evolution are both facts. One denies what most biologists believe to be a patent fact; both of them peddle ludicrous pseudo-scientific nonsense to defend their respective theological positions.

  69. Vance Lunn
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I posted this on some sites as I mused on the whole evolution/creationism controversy as I just started to read “Why Evolution Is True”. It occurred to me then that, The fear that many Americans have towards evolution is not so much about religion or science, but about politics and the preservation vs. userpation of our rights. Read on:

    I have just started to read a book called Why Evolution is True by Jerry A. Coyne. I cannot yet speak with authority as to the book itself because I’ve only just started reading it. I do know that the author states that the theory of evolution is true and will show evidence supporting that case. He wondered that so many people seem to oppose evolution despite the amount of evidence supporting it. More, he wondered that this non-acceptance of the theory seems to be most prominent in the United States (with only Muslim Turkey seeing less acceptance). I believe I can understand this American hesitance to accept the theory of evolution as presented by some. I myself am a practicing Christian. I’ve never had a problem with evolution. In fact, I was surprised to learn when I entered college that there were many who did not accept evolution. And this non-acceptance did not always come from fundamentalist religious people either.

    I believe this high rate of non-acceptance has its origins in this statement from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” The theory of evolution has be used by elitists and politicians to dispel the notion of God. He either is diminished or non-existent in their view. This goes beyond religion and atheism for us. Our rights are given to us by God. No human entity thus has the right to interfere with them. However, if you remove God, then you can give or take rights at your will. You also don’t have to treat all people equally, because we just happened along if God is removed from the equation. In fact, the group in power feels that it is the most fit by mere reason that they have achieved the top spot in the human power structure and may feel that they thus have the right to treat groups of people who are not in power as inferior. They do…if there is no God who created all men to be equal. The fact is, the United States as we know it cannot exist without God. Everything we are has its foundations in the above statement.

    So when any concept is used to try to remove the importance of God and thus His provision of our rights, we Americans see it as a threat to our basic individual rights. Evolution is thus turned into our opponent that must be defeated to that we can continue to live free. While I accept the science behind the theory, I do hold that God created all things. I find no contradiction between science and the Bible. If you want to ignore our founding documents to control how much we’re paid, what food we eat, what car we drive, or how else we live our lives, you must get rid of God so that our rights are not of sacred untouchable origins.

    • articulett
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      I think it’s more than believers have been indoctrinated to believe that they must have faith in a particular unbelievable story in order to live happily ever after.

      Moreover, many are told that unbelievers will suffer eternally for their unbelief.

      Evolution makes “original sin” into a parable, and I don’t think many Christians are comfortable with their god killing his kid (who was really him) for a parable. It starts to make the whole thing look fuzzy, so they claim faith is a means of knowledge and attack all those that, like Galileo, attempt to throw a bit of reason into the equation.

      It’s fear of losing faith that is responsible for the purposeful ignorance people have about evolution. But it’s not the fault of reality, that the evidence does not support the assorted creation stories people have been indoctrinated with. And when people can’t find evidence to support their delusions, they start tossing stones at those whose facts threaten those delusions.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      Except, Vance Lunn where you said:

      Our rights are given to us by God. No human entity thus has the right to interfere with them.

      This is not what the the Declaration of Independence says, as you quoted above:

      that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights

      You might interpret “creator” as being a god, or it could be an evolutionary adaptation or an emergent property of matter, etc. It is a matter of morality which certainly does not come from religion.

      • Vance Lunn
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        Some interpret inailienable rights to be part of natural law. Our natural rights. THe Founding Fathers’ reasoning that lead to the Declaration and Constitution was based on Natural Rights that were a part of “Natural Law” with “Human Nature” being the human manifestation of Natural Rights. You are right, these could very well be explained as evolutionary processes. I would note that us Humans often believe (often wrongly) that we can control natural systems. (Many believe that by changing a few behaviors, we can control the Earth’s climate, for example.) So a dictator wannabe may figure that he still is entitled to control natural rights if they are simply part of a natural system. The founding Fathers were open to many interpretations of “Creator”. But in their view, we could not interfere without consequences in the system (natural law) set forth by that entity.

    • Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      News flash: rights are indeed given and taken at will.

      Ever since that Declaration of Independence was written, rights have been extended to blacks and women, rights that were only available to white men before. In fact, in both cases a lot of opposition came from Christians, arguing that blacks and women were not created equal. We can see similar struggles today with respect to gay rights, and again it’s mostly Christians who think gays are not created equal. Clearly, belief in God is not sufficient to equally protect people’s rights.

      And don’t tell me those aren’t real Christians. Or can you explain how I can tell the real ones from the fake ones? Not using the same arguments the “fake” Christians use to prove they are the real ones?

      You’re also wrong to presume that without a belief in God, people suddenly get the urge to “control how much we’re paid, what food we eat, what car we drive, or how else we live our lives”. Why would they? It’s terribly simple: if we don’t want others to tell us how to live, we in turn can’t in good consciousness tell other people how to live their lives either. At least, as long as they don’t infringe on other people’s freedoms either.

      Of course, not everyone will be stopped by that, but that’s true of Christians too.

      In the end, even if I thought you were right (which I clearly don’t), all you did is argue that we need God to exist. Unfortunately, the desirability or need for something to exist has never been enough reason to assume it does in fact exist. It’s really nothing more than wishful thinking.

      • Vance Lunn
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

        Rights are infringed upon or respected. We only think we can give or take them at will. The right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are part of natural law. What you said: “if we don’t want others to tell us how to live, we in turn can’t in good consciousness tell other people how to live their lives either. At least, as long as they don’t infringe on other people’s freedoms either.” is part of that natural law.

        Right now, the politicians in Washington are attempting to give and take rights as they see fit. Just read the Drudge headlines for new examples everyday of this. This same group of politicians publicly profess a weak view of God. So they don’t feel that they have to adhere to natural law and its inalienable rights.

        My post was mainly my thoughts on an observation made by Coyne in “Why Evolution Is True” that the incidence of non-acceptance of the very valid theory of Evolution in unusually high in the U.S. I only mention my active practice of Christianity to demonstrate that some Christians can, and do, accept evolutionary theory. I would agree with you that you can’t tell “real” Christians from “fake” Christians. That is a matter of faith between each person and his God. We must realize that Christians are a major part of the American melting pot with the same Inalienable rights as anyone else but they feel their rights are infringed upon when someone tells them they can’t express their faith in school. The same people then tell them of evolution and say “see, there is no God-it is a silly notion.” SO the Christians become defensive, and evolution is made into an opponent of their rights. It is not just the fundamentalist Christians that doubt evolution though. The incidence of non-acceptance is higher than the inccidence of fundamentalism. So I think that this goes deeper than mere creationism vs. evolution. Americans of all stripes have an ingrained wariness towards anything that is used to try to show that there is no God becuase they believe in “god-given” rights. It is seen as one step in getting rid of the concept of inalienable rights. It is the belief in an accountabilty to God, not neccessarily the actual existence of God (which can’t be proven to exist or not exist), that constrains those in power from infringing on rights or encouraging correction of past infringments. Reduce that belief, those in power are unconstrained. This is what many Americans unconsciously, inherently fear.

        I look at Evolution and I see the hand of God (like a potter creating a bowl from a lump of clay-the bowl slowly evolves in the potter’s hands from that simple beginning). I think most poeple who actually look into evolutionary theory would accept its validity, the evidence is so strong. BUt they see many evolution proponents as trying to “disprove” God. Evolution need not be presented as evidence against God. Just becuase He didn’t make life appear suddenly out of thin air, doesn’t mean he didn’t bring life into existence. Just present the science, let a person’s faith deal with Who or What caused it all.

      • articulett
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        I agree with your last line, Vance, but Francis Collins is attempting to use science to justify his beliefs. And it’s as wrong as if a Muslim used fuzzy science to imply that the hijackers were in heaven (since anything is possible and their families have dreamed they’ve gotten communications from them and… QM is weird).

        If you don’t want people abusing science to support wacky beliefs you don’t share, then I suggest you don’t use science to try and make your own supernatural beliefs appear to be other than faith based.

        I’m all for people doing whatever they need to do to reconcile their beliefs with the facts. I am opposed to them implying that science supports one brand of faith over any other. Science is no more supportive of god belief then it is of demon belief, and that’s why people ought to keep their beliefs private.

      • Posted July 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        @Vance Lunn: just to make it clear, I don’t doubt there are people who think that evolution poses a threat to their rights. I just think they are thoroughly mistaken to do so, for the reasons I outlined above. I can give you many more reasons, if you want.

        Right now, the politicians in Washington are attempting to give and take rights as they see fit.

        But didn’t you just say that rights can’t be given and taken away? You contradict yourself. Maybe rights are human-given after all? It definitely comes down to humans to uphold them, defend them and to spread them. God isn’t going to do that for us.

        This same group of politicians publicly profess a weak view of God.

        So you identify them as “fake” Christians, even though you admit you can’t tell the “fake” ones from the “real” ones?

        It is the belief in an accountabilty to God, not neccessarily the actual existence of God (which can’t be proven to exist or not exist), that constrains those in power from infringing on rights or encouraging correction of past infringments.

        So what you’re saying is that people can only be moral if they fear an invisible ultimate judge. Do you really feel like that yourself too? Do you feel that if it wasn’t for God, you’d be violating people’s rights left and right, because that’s what you’d really want to do?

        I’m getting really sick of this attitude. It’s demeaning to people in general, and insulting to atheists in particular. Isn’t it good enough to be moral simply because of the real-world bad consequences that amoral behavior has for you and other people?

        You are just going to have to come to terms with two simple facts: fear of God doesn’t stop people from doing bad things, and not believing in God doesn’t stop people from doing good things either.

        By the way, evolution doesn’t disprove God, but it sure does show that God was not necessary for the diversity of species. Show me one evolutionary process that couldn’t have happened without the “hand of God”.

        Personally, I’m quite happy that rights are not automatically considered sacred anymore. Like I said before, some have claimed the god-given right to own slaves not too long ago, and some still claim the god-given right to beat their wives. I’m glad we get to challenge these nowadays without having to fear blasphemy charges. Again, you could try to claim these examples aren’t really god-given rights, but they are still in the Bible. What criteria should we use to decide which are the “real” god-given rights, and which are human perversions? And as soon as you admit that there are ways to talk about morals and ethics outside of the Bible, you’ll find God isn’t really necessary for morals and ethics anymore either, just like he isn’t necessary for evolution.

      • Vance Lunn
        Posted July 8, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

        articulett, You are right that we shouldn’t try to use science to justify our faiths. YOu can’t scientifically prove or disprove GOd’s nature or existence. THere’s no way to test statements of faith. Any “result” could be said to be God’s action or could be said to be concidence.

        People who try to do this I think got exited by QUantum Mechanics becuase of the “weirdness” of it. This is not the firt time I’ve seen someone try to use QM to explain God.

      • Vance Lunn
        Posted July 8, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        Deen, you arre right that we want to question some of the claimed “rights” that various groups held over others. The rights I am refering to are those enumerated by our Founding Fathers. I think the world got very lucky to have such a group get together to chart a course for a new nation. They did hold that those certain rights were part of the natural order of the world. Instead of a god, many athiests/agnostics think of this as natural law, sort of like a physical law of nature. The only thing is that wihtout a god suprevising the whole thing, we humans then have to constrain ourselves in the way that you have suggested in your post. It is a goal worth working towards, because preservation from infringment of those rights enumerated by the Founding Fathers is what is important to me as well as many other Americans. We can have rights and evolution, too :)

        You are also right that a god is not needed to engineer evolutionary processes, as these have occured completely in the physical realm and are testable. Our task is to show that those who believe in a deity need not discard their deity either, because, in their faith, the deity simply engineers the physical processes that evolution operates within.

  70. articulett
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Every religion, if it is to survive and spread, must claim not to be in conflict with science. This is as true for the religions that conflict with Collins’ as it is for those who hold beliefs he finds laughable (Scientology) or Harmful (Islam).

    But there is a long way between “being possible” and being “the truth that is the same for everyone no matter what they believe”.

    When science doesn’t have an answer, no guru or holy book does either… and yet they all hide their woo claims in the gaps.

  71. Screechy Monkey
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    I’m still trying to figure out how santitafarella and others think that criticizing Collins et al makes it LESS likely that theists will “soften” their fundamentalist views by following Collins’ example.

    What is the proposed mechanism? Are there theists following this debate who think, “gee, that Francis Collins makes a lot of sense to me — I don’t need to retain these fundamentalist, literal creationist views to maintain some kind of Christian faith! But a lot of atheists really seem bothered by Collins, so he must be wrong after all. Because, you know, the opinions of atheists carry a lot of weight with fundamentalists like me.”

    It seems to me that it’s just the opposite. If Collins and Miller are being criticized by the New/Militant/Fundamentalist/Mean Atheists, that would seem to make their “moderate” version of Christianity a lot more attractive to fundie-leaning Christians than if Coyne and Dawkins and Myers et al embraced them.

    In other words, the criticism helps emphasize the differences between theist scientists and atheist ones, and gives comfort to theists that the Collins/Miller varieties of theism aren’t simply atheism in drag.

    I’m not saying that we should criticize them specifically with that effect in mind, as part of some kind of Kabuki show. It’s just a happy coincidence that atheists voicing sincere criticism is just as likely — if not more so — to “help” Collins win over fundies as it is to hurt.

    Or is the idea that criticism of Collins and Miller is going to make them take their marbles and go home? As if they’re totally cool with being the bete noire of creationists and having the sincerity of their faith questioned by their fellow Christians, but some criticism from a few atheists is going to make them abandon their efforts? Because I find that notion extraordinarily silly, and it seems like an insult to Collins and Miller to suggest that their committment to fighting creationism is so fragile.

    • santitafarella
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Screechy:

      You said: “It’s just a happy coincidence that atheists voicing sincere criticism is just as likely — if not more so — to “help” Collins win over fundies as it is to hurt.”

      You make a very good point. The rebellious religionist is in many ways Dostoevsky’s “Underground Man” and if you ease him too close to the rational establishment, he’s just as likely to rebel as find validation there. As a rhetorical observation, it’s a very good one.

      —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      Good points. I fail to understand the convoluted reasoning also.

      I think all this uproar about new atheists is a diversionary tactic. Religionistas don’t like their sacred beliefs treated the way they treat other superstitions. And yet from a scientific perspective, there is no reason to treat religious faith any differently than any other superstition. To the fundies, all people who don’t believe in their brand of religion may as well be atheists, and to atheists like myself, all believers in anything supernatural are “woo”– they are are entitled to the same respect they give those who believe in different “woo” than them (until or unless they have evidence that makes their “woo” more probable than conflicting “woo”).

      I can support Collins’ science without having to support his magical beliefs and the convoluted reasoning he uses to justify his particular supernatural beliefs. I don’t really know much about Millers’ beliefs, because he doesn’t parade them or justify them as publicly as FC does, and I don’t really care what he believes. I suspect he doesn’t really know anyhow. I feel sorry for these men and the mental gymnastics they have to do lest they (gasp) “lose faith”, and I want no part of enabling such delusions. They’ve backed themselves into a corner where they must continually lie to themselves in order to justify their magical beliefs or admit that science can and often does lead to a loss of faith.

      I think this undeserved deference towards faith (that Chris Mooney et. al. seem to be asking of us) has given the faithful a sense of entitlement for what they BELIEVE! I hate this bizarre deference to belief! Why should science respect what people believe over what can be demonstrated as true!? Why should we know or care what magical things other people “believe in”? And what business is it of theirs whether I share their delusions?

      And how in the world is Chris Mooney reaching his insane conclusion that commenting on this somehow leads to “unscientific America”?

      The emperor has no clothes, and Mooney’s kowtowing to the likes of FC just enables the delusional to feel “chosen” because they’ve convinced themselves that they truly caught a glimpse of the emperor’s magical robes. This delusion confirms their bias that those who see the emperor as naked are doing so because they are “unchosen”.

      I don’t care how nice people think FC is or how he’s managed to reconcile his faith with science– the fact is, he’s doing exactly what those who have conflicting beliefs are doing to confirm the biases they feel special for “believing in”. I find it smarmy to use science to lend credence to supernatural claims.

      And I find it doubly smarmy that accommodationists want to “tsk tsk” those who point it out as being harmful to some imagined “cause”.

      In order to keep their delusions alive, we are forced to prop up the lie that we are “unchosen” because we can’t see the magical robes of the emperor. Meanwhile the faithful are free to imagine whatever clothes they like and pat themselves on the back for their intuitive prowess as they tell themselves that QM makes magical clothes possible!

      • santitafarella
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

        Articulett:

        You said: “From a scientific perspective, there is no reason to treat religious faith any differently than any other superstition.”

        I agree. But atheism is not an empirical belief system either. In other words, it is a non-empirical belief system that exceeds the bounds of the empirical. Therefore it is also true with regards to atheism that “from a scientific perspective, there is no reason to treat [atheism] any differently than any other superstition.”

        If you speak and frame the world via a non-empirical language (and we all do), then (logically) science cannot be the final arbitrator of non-empirical language disputes.

        —Santi

      • Posted July 7, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

        Santi said:

        I agree. But atheism is not an empirical belief system either.

        You’re simply wrong. Atheism is not a firm conviction of the absence of god or gods, it’s simply the absence of belief in god or gods. Since empirical evidence doesn’t support a belief in god or gods (which you appear to agree with), then not believing in them is the empirically supported position.

        Or are you going to argue that not believing in unicorns, gnomes and the Flying Spaghetti monster isn’t empirically justified either?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        Once again, it fails to sink in with Santi.

        Atheism is not a belief system, no matter how many time you utter it. You sound like a Mullah chanting it over and over despite being soundly thrashed for it by a dozen people. It is the lack of belief.

    • Posted July 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      In other words, the criticism helps emphasize the differences between theist scientists and atheist ones, and gives comfort to theists that the Collins/Miller varieties of theism aren’t simply atheism in drag.

      Good point. This effect has been referred to as “shifting the Overton Window“. People have been pointing out to Mooney and others that this effect might be at play, and might be desirable to keep. As far as I’m aware, Mooney has yet to publicly respond to this, although I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this.

      • articulett
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it shifts the middle ground where people imagine the truth lies.

        I think people are better able to shed their superstitious thinking in increments and having a ground that shifts more towards reason helps. This is the way we’ve come to accept all the other findings of science. And I’m guessing this is how humans will come to understand that there is no valid reason for “believing in” any invisible forms of consciousness…

        They will come to understand that the soul and the supernatural are as much human perceptual illusions as a flat earth and a sun that moves across the sky.

        I think it’s important not to enable delusions that get in the way of this understanding, and I think the notion that “faith is good” (necessary for salvation, even) is a meme that gets in the way majorly. It’s certainly gotten in the way of Francis Collins’ thinking.

  72. santitafarella
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Ophelia:

    You said: “In short, one can’t derive an ought from an is. But it doesn’t follow that all non-empiricism is of equal merit. It also doesn’t follow that moral reasoning must be or should be immune from analysis and interrogation.”

    I agree with you that interrogation should not withold its scrutiny, nor need it pull its rhetorical punches. I think as a matter of strategy and alliance, you might want to withold punches, but that is a matter of rhetorical choice and who you want to be allied with in public disputes.

    Once the rhetorical fists start flying, however, I just want epistemic scrutiny to go all the way down, and in all directions. Once the empirical boundary is reached, and non-empirical languages begin to function, I want the premises undergirding those languages on the table.

    You said, for instance: “It doesn’t follow that all non-empiricism is of equal merit.” But how, exactly, does one discriminate between non-empirical languages? How do you discriminate between talking about society (for example) in Hobbesian language v. Lockean language? I prefer Lockean language, but I can’t justify it empirically, nor can I think of a way to demonstrate its superiority to Hobbesian language in ways that don’t invite question begging. Can you?

    Also, I vastly prefer talking about the world in Sartre/Camus existentialist terms as opposed to, say, Collins’s Evangelical terms. But since both of these languages are non-empirical, I’d like you to tell me why my existentialist language is more sane and veers closer to ‘reality,’ and is less problematic than the Christian way of talking. I can think of as many answers and assumptions in existentialism that invite question begging as I can for any religion. But I’m still an existentialist (though an ever doubting and ironic one).

    Is that the key? Not the content of the non-empirical language, but the degree to which you lack doubt and irony in holding onto it?

    If, for example, you meet an ironic Christian and a non-ironic atheist, who is the more absurd? The more irrational?

    Also, today they did a big hoo-haw memorial in my area of the world for Michael Jackson (in Los Angeles). What’s the best non-empirical language for burying Michael Jackson in? I thought the memorial at the Staples Center was eccentric on many levels, with people looking up into the sky and talking to Michael’s “spirit,” but why would a Richard Dawkins-style death ceremony be a more rational human response to death? In a confrontation with the ontological mystery, is there a way of burying someone and gesturing to their memory that invites the epistemic seal of approval from philosophers? I would think the exact opposite. When it comes to an encounter with death and the ontological mystery, praying, or sitting still, or cutting the throat of a goat on an altar, or reading a poem, or laying flowers on an altar, or reciting lyrics, or singing, are equally “rational” responses; that is, they are non-empirical ways of framing, controlling, and addressing the world in the face of mysteries. And their weirdness as behaviors have to do with the kinds of contingencies that science struggles to tame via empiricism.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Way to miss the point yet again to justify Francis Collins’ use of pseudoscience to support his beliefs…

      Atheists have all the same feelings and means of expressing fear, awe, depth, etc. as everyone else. We don’t, however, confuse our feelings with “objective truths” and we don’t attribute these feelings to supernatural interventions or an “inner knowingness” about mystical or divine “thingies”.

      Whenever someone claims to believe a god exists, they are making a claim about reality. Of course, they are often very fuzzy as to what they mean by “god” or “exists”– and even fuzzier as to how and what they consider evidence fro this claim.

      Your arguments fail again and again Santi, because they can be used to justify the idea that aberrant behavior is due to demon possession or to justify belief that we are in a matrix or your confusions are due to Thetan infestation. They can be used to support all manner of delusion–but science is about separating the fact from such misperceptions.

      You are just using semantics to garble the issue the same way FC is– you want some brands of supernatural beliefs to be seen as more respectable than others… and yet you cannot give a reason why. So then you pretend it’s about “subjective truths” (I maintain there is no such thing… just feelings, opinions, beliefs, notions, mottoes, etc.).

      But the theist doesn’t claim that their “god” is a feeling or an expression of their preferences like Opera… they are making a claim about reality… they believe their god really exists and is more likely to exist than the demons, gods, and invisible hobgoblins they don’t believe in. That is a lie that Francis Collins is telling himself with that verbiage… and that is a lie you support with your semantic nothingness at all.

      You are using words to try and convince yourself that belief in god is more rational than belief in fairies and when you can’t do that, you assert that lack of belief in god is a faith too… but lack of belief in god is no more a “faith” than a lack of belief in fairies. Really. All your verbiage cannot hide these facts. Only one who has an emotional need to believe in god can convince themselves that atheism is another faith… and when they can’t do that, they resort to attacking straw man atheists and atheist views.

      There is no more of reason to believe in Francis Collins’ God than there is to Believe in Tom Cruise’s Thetans. There is no more reason to believe in souls than to believe in demons. When you understand this, then you can be more honest in this conversation because you will be more honest with yourself. Instead you continue to obfuscate your own understanding so as to obscure just what shaky ground the belief in god stands on. We’ve all heard these manipulations before, you know, and we may have even engaged in them ourselves when we we coming to understand what shaky ground our own supernatural beliefs stood upon.

      Should you get to the other side of this bullshit game you are playing with semantics, then I assure you that you will hope that Francis Collins is able to do the same, and you’ll want no part of this enablement game you are playing.

      Faith is not a path towards the truth. It feels humble to the believer, but it’s exceptionally arrogant at it’s core because of the presumption that mystical beings are cluing some humans into “higher truths” that can’t be measured or detected by any normal means.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

        Hear, hear, articulett. You hit the bulls eye dead center.

  73. articulett
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Santi, if you are agnostic about god, are you similarly agnostic about fairies and demons and ghosts… or do you pick and choose which invisible undetectable entities your are “agnostic” about?

    It’s dishonest for you and Francis Collins and others to use scientific sounding arguments to make your beliefs sound rational when the same arguments could be used to justify beliefs you readily dismiss.

    It’s wrong for Chris Mooney to demand that we treat some sorts of superstitions differently than others because people like you and FC have managed to convince themselves that their beliefs are rational.

    The scientific method demands evidence, and believers in the supernatural have none… so they are stuck with philosophical games, false analogies, straw men, semantics that don’t mean anything, and attack of the skeptics via inference, loaded questions, and blame about “tone” hurting some “cause”. But the “tone” itself is manufactured by believers… it’s projected on us because we won’t give believers the scrap of approval they so desperately need to convince yourself that your pet delusion is more rational then the ones you reject.

    And when you get the dismissal your arguments deserve, you try to convince yourselves that your dismissing our skepticism of your claims on the same ground. But it’s the claimant that bears the burden of proof, not the one dismissing the claims due to lack of evidence.

    Believers in things you don’t believe in could use your same lame arguments to try and manipulate you into giving them the false sense that their beliefs are rational too, you know. That’s why people ignore you after a while. You seem as delusional as FC and as unnameable to reason as any brainwashed “true believer” in any “woo”. This is why faith is NOT a means of knowledge in the scientific method.

  74. santitafarella
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Deen:

    You said: “Since empirical evidence doesn’t support a belief in god or gods (which you appear to agree with), then not believing in them is the empirically supported position.”

    I think that you’ve tangled up a few things here that need to be untangled. First, empirical evidence qua evidence does not speak or support, we speak or support. The physical constants of nature (for example) have been interpreted as consistent with the idea that telos (mind) preceeds matter at the beginning of the universe. In other words, people do not interpret the implications of the book of nature the same (as two scientists, Prof. Coyne and Prof. Collins attest). Empiricism thus does not (and cannot) provide final warrant for either atheism or theism. Empirical discoveries can only be said to be more or less consistent with atheist or theist worldviews (depending on who is talking and interpreting). You may think that the heavens declare the glories of atheism (even as the religionist thinks that they declare the glories of God). Both of you are wrong. The heavens do not declare. The heavens must be interpreted and non-empirical inferences must be made where evidence is absent (or provides ambiguous implications—as in the universe’s physical constants).

    Second, we need to decouple gods with god to think clearly about these issues. You are certainly correct to say that a disbelief in a particular god (Zeus, Allah, Vishnu etc.) may tell us very little about what else one does or does not believe. You may be an atheist or a Christian, for example, and not believe in Krishna.

    But to say that you reject not just particular individual gods, but all gods (or the concept of God) necessarily entails that you must also believe that matter, energy, the laws of nature, and time are either eternal or self created from nothing. You must further believe that matter preceeds mind (telos) at the “beginning.” You must also believe that the universe is one (not two), and thus, in some sense, a closed system. These are just some of the things atheists necessarily believe, and for which empirical evidence cannot lend direct or final warrant to the atheist for believing.

    —Santi

    • articulett
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      Wrong… what I don’t believe does NOT define what I do believe. The myriad of invisible entities I don’t believe in are a side of effect of my strong belief in reason–but my disbeliefs don’t inspire me. My understanding of evolution does.

      I don’t believe that any sort of consciousness can exist absent a brain. Period. I’m open to evidence, but all I see is the same nothingness to support whatever supernatural entities and forces one has come to feel good for “believing in”. People reject other such beliefs such as belief in fairies for the same reason that I don’t believe in any gods. This disbelief in fairies and unicorns says nothing about matter coming from nothing. The same with gods. It’s just “disbelief”. There are no good reasons TO believe in such things. There are no good reasons to believe that mortals can have access to non-empirical evidence for such things. There’s eons of historical evidence that shows just how readily humans are prone to delusions involving invisible agents–how readily they use these explanations to explain that which they don’t understand. I understand why people would imagine a god brought good things and a demon brought tragedy, but I also understand why it’s an illusion.

      I am smart enough to know when I don’t know something. But I’m also smart enough to understand that when science doesn’t have an answer, that doesn’t mean some guru (or anyone else) does. If science has nothing to offer in regards to “before the big bang”, then neither do you, Santi- nor does Francis Collins nor do Scientologists or Popes or self-appointed prophets. Got it? There is no good reason to believe any of them over any other given the strong propensity for humans to fool themselves in the same ways through history.

      Quit trying to assume what I believe… this is just your brain trying to keep you from realizing that I don’t believe in gods for the same reason you don’t believe in fairies. I don’t support god belief for the same reason you don’t support belief in demons. None of this says anything about my assumptions. You may assume, however, that I will always find a scientific explanation more plausible than a supernatural one and I will also find “I don’t know” preferable to presuming “I DO know…and the answer is: (insert supernatural claim).” To me, a supernatural belief is the SAME as magical thinking. There is nothing to distinguish it from such. Just because something is theoretically possible does not make it true. I don’t feel how good and saved and humble and transcendent the belief makes people feel. It’s still just a feeling–not a fact.

      So are you agnostic about fairies, Santi or are you an a-fairyist? And does your lack of belief in fairies tell us anything about your other assumptions? How, exactly, is fairy belief different than god belief to you? You can’t prove that fairies aren’t whispering into your ear and tweaking your thoughts through QM means, now can you? And yet you don’t believe that they are nor do you find such beliefs tenable, do you?

      You are playing mind games with yourself and everyone else has stopped playing because you are like a child who desperately wants to believe Santa is real. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you are lying to yourself about atheists in order to support a delusion you desperately wish to hold on to. And I’m tired of those lies. They affect me and some of the most honest people I know. You are spreading a prejudice about atheists to shore up your own shaky beliefs about god(s). It’s… dishonest.

      I think it’s time for adults to start thinking like adults and quit deluding themselves and trying to shame others for not playing along. You came to this website to proffer your opinion and you don’t want to hear anyone else’s opinion of your opinion. We didn’t go to your philosophy site to tell you how vapid you are to use philosophy to justify your woo beliefs. You came here to tell us why our lack of belief is a woo-ish as your supposed agnosticism towards gods.

      You are spreading a false delusion about atheism in order to feel good about whatever faith you feel special for having. You want to believe that your faith is the key to something real… some higher truth… but you have no evidence for this. You have no evidence to show how your nebulous belief differs from a garden variety delusion about fairies or muses or demons or supposed miracles.

      I know this hurts, but bad mouthing those who force you to face the facts, doesn’t change the facts. There may actually be a time when you wish someone had done this “tough love” non-mincing of language earlier. You are forcing people into the position of having to hurt your feelings so that you can imagine that they are mean rather than hear what they are saying.

      This is in essence what Francis Collins is doing too, when he drags science into a quasi justification for his woo beliefs. And it stinks. You know, a kid could use the same nonsense arguments to justify a belief in Santa too.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

      Move along, people nothing to see here.

    • Posted July 8, 2009 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      Obfuscation and lies, Santi.

      The heavens must be interpreted and non-empirical inferences must be made where evidence is absent

      Nonsense. You only need the non-empirical inference if you have a strong desire to believe something despite the absence of empirical evidence. If you don’t believe in something because it lacks empirical evidence, you don’t need the non-empirical inference at all.

      It is perfectly rational to assume something doesn’t exist until evidence comes available, even while acknowledging that it could exist – you can always change your mind when it does. I just don’t see how that assumption is considered valid when it comes to everything else, except when it’s applied to someone’s most cherished beliefs – like the existence of God. I’ve yet to hear a good argument why we should allow such special pleading. I haven’t heard one from you yet either, Santi, even though you were asked for it before.

      Whether mind precedes matter, or whether it’s the other way around is a different question than whether there exists a god. It just happens to be traditional to answer both questions with religion. And that’s not the only reason I don’t “have to” believe matter precedes mind simply because I choose not to believe in gods. I can also simply accept the fact that science is finding more and more evidence that the brain causes mind.

      Since you love to throw around big words and big names from philosophy so much, I’m surprised why you seem to have so much trouble understanding the basics. Why else would you use the fact that there is no final warrant as an argument against atheism? There isn’t a final warrant for anything. Yet that doesn’t mean that all positions are equally rational.

      Maybe I should start listening to NewEnglandBob. I’m starting to doubt you have more to offer than showing off your faux intellectualism.

  75. santitafarella
    Posted July 7, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Articulett:

    I share your view that the specific gods, in their contingent culture-based personalities, do not exist. But I believe that the ontological mystery to which people direct their religious gestures (like prayer, candle-lighting etc.) speaks to the ontological mystery (the mystery of being), and I believe that this mystery is puzzling and not easily dismissed. In other words, I read off people’s weird and contingent religious beliefs a pointing toward something that is important: why is there something when there might have been nothing? Every one of us must come up against this perplexity: Was matter made by mind, or has it just always been, or did it make itself at some point from nothing in the beginning? Unfortunately, empiricism cannot resolve this “ultimate” question for us, and yet it is so profound and important that it is hard to imagine how to get one’s thoughts and actions in the world going in a meaningful direction without some sort of guess about it. And yet, whichever answer we give, we are driven into question begging.

    It is easy to critique the ridiculousness of individual religious beliefs, harder to critique what all those human “fingers” are pointing to. Rhetorically blasting away at the quirkiness of religion is (from my point of view) like someone focusing on the finger pointing to the moon. The point of all the pointing is a bigger thing—it’s us in our consciousness in a universe that seems “de trop.” What the hell is going on here? We don’t really know, do we? What does it mean to love and have kids? Does life have a purpose or is there a blind spider at the center of the universe (metaphorically)? This was a nightmare of Dostoevsky’s, by the way.

    In any case, empiricism cannot settle this issue for us. Yet here we are.

    I’d like to direct you to one of my favorite films of all time. Perhaps you know it. It’s called Baraka. I once saw it at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and to see it on a large screen is wonder-generating. I’d ask you to watch the first two segments on Youtube. There is no speaking in the film. It’s a wordless meditation on the ontological mystery, and the human response to it.

    —Santi

    • newenglandbob
      Posted July 7, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

      The only ‘mystery’ here is that anyone can spout this stuff.

      I read off people’s weird and contingent religious beliefs a pointing toward something that is important: why is there something when there might have been nothing?

      Why does Santi insist there has to be reasons for everything? This is all supernatural, spiritual nonsense. Just more Religious pandering here.

      Same old Santi nonsense – see his last 100 posts, people.

      Move along, people nothing to see here.

    • mk
      Posted July 8, 2009 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      Unfortunately, empiricism cannot resolve this “ultimate” question for us,

      Yet.

    • mk
      Posted July 8, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      And, yes, Baraka, was/is an amazingly beautiful film. Thanks for reminding me.

  76. Posted July 8, 2009 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    “With quantum mechanical uncertainty and the chaotic unpredictability of complex systems, the world is now understood to have a certain freedom in its future development.”

    Collins’ understanding of quantum mechanics and chaos theory seems to be at the “ZOMG! SPOOKY RANDOMNESS!” level. Engaging with it seriously is most likely a waste of time. As was said upthread, chaotic systems are deterministic: the trouble is that sensitive dependence upon initial conditions means that small uncertainties grow in time, and exponentially fast too. Also, chaotic systems are not necessarily “complex”: the logistic growth equation can show chaotic behaviour for some choices of parameter, but it’s just one equation, requiring a bare handful of symbols to write.

  77. Posted November 29, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Evolution is massivly verified. The mchanics of evoulution, however, is not so well verified, except that random changes in genes will be iherited further.

    But what if not all changes are random? And for a change to be propagated further, a feminine and masculine being must have the same change simultanously. That makes the chances less for evolutionary successful changes.

    Still they occur. Some purposeful determinism might be the solution to the problem.

    • articulett
      Posted November 29, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      I think you are a little confused about the basics of genetic changes.

      Many changes are not random in that they are “linked” or involve “hot spots”; whereas other genes are highly conserved or influenced by epigenetics. Most genes occur on autosomes, so they are passed on equally to both sexes.

      There really is no need or room for purposeful design in the process. I mean you can imagine a deity there (or other mystical process), but if so, this deity is cruel, slow, and wasteful and goes about things in a way that is indistinguishable from a blind process.

      Your confusion abut natural selection is not a reason to propose “magic” as a solution.

  78. s r das
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    our preoccupation with God or no God will continue.

    universe and its family in the mean while continue to go about its way without any hassle.
    human thinking limitations ,its ignorance are becoming more evident due to these piling up of cacophony
    of God/no God and what not.

  79. s r das
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    my god what theories,
    qm,deterministic, statistical, uncertainty,
    phenomenology,my i am 65 now.
    since my scool days my passion for truth drawn me towards science, specifically to physics and all its branches.i have practically exhausted all good books on qm serching for some evidence
    of corelations between science and religion.
    Schrodinger is uncertain, Einstein thinks God does not play dice; people like us drawn int the eyes of the vortex,my best advice to all from OSHO… live like a falling leaf..what bliss.
    regards.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] The Hall of Shame: God, evolution, and quantum mechanics For those who claim that no religious scientists allow their scientific statements and beliefs to be infected with [...] [...]

  2. [...] leave a comment » The Evangelical Christian geneticist, Francis Collins, has been taking some rather harsh rhetorical hits lately from atheist biologist and blogger, Jerry Coyne (of the University of Chicago). Collins recently started a foundation (The BioLogos Foundation) that explores intersections between science and religion, and he had an articleon the foundation’s website that included some reflections on what quantum physics might imply for the Christian doctrine of immanence. Coyne, for Collins’s eccentric Christian speculation, labelled the effort “shameful.” [...]

  3. [...] this analysis of yet another god of the gaps argument, I noted an intriguing passage: With quantum mechanical [...]

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